Author Archives: Hriday Ranjan

Shower_head

The luxury of taking a hot shower

In the much-hyped world that we live in, we often miss everyday, commonplace joys. Our hashtags are reserved for the life-changing, the earth-shattering, the path-breaking.

But taking a hot shower is no less of a modern miracle.

This everyday chore often gets side-stepped on the path to larger things in life. But not too long ago, it would have been inconceivable for you to be taking a hot shower at the time of your choice.

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There is just enough time.

Just enough time to smoke a joint, and switch on the geyser. And as you launch into your thought pool of the day, the water is getting heated up. Just as you near the last few puffs of the joint, you cough the TB cough, and step into the shower.

Into a luxury that you are probably the first generation to enjoy in your youth, in our long history of 2000/3000/5000 years (subject to your education, political inclination and patriotism).

It must be noted here that it is ‘showers’ that I will be harping on about, and not a

  • ‘bath’ in a tub (for you certainly aren’t the first generation hot-bath consumer)
  • a tap-bucket-mug (you have a certain climbing up in life to do, my friend).

The tap-bucket-mug method is too tedious and demands a lot of coordination to execute. Profound thoughts do not come visiting when you’re busy trying not to slip on soap. And I haven’t ever enjoyed a bath. When I am put up at luxurious hotels when I travel for shows, I don’t really know what to do in the tub. My only references are Bollywood villains, or vamps who seduce heroes. Since none of those options are available to me, I sit like an awkward Vishnu on an uncomfortable Sheshnaag.

This article is mostly about taking a shower. The kind with a working geyser (hence the term ‘hot shower’ in the title). The fact that a shower can be had is in itself a modern luxury. If we travel back in time as early as two generations ago, to the time of our grandfathers-

They needed to wake up and bathe in the mornings. There was no hot water, no shower; and in my village in Balasore, he would have to go to the village pond. I have seen it, and let’s just say there is no san-sanananana happening there. My grandfather could not skip it and stay in bed, as he did not want any adulting that day. #Adulting #DontWant

You go to the pond or river and perform your morning ablutions, well aware that you could slip and vanish forever. Then there are crocodiles and snakes to be watchful of. And if you evade all of that, there are still human beings that you need to take a bath with. Neighbours, uncles and relatives, since bathing was more social ritual than hygiene chore.

And why only take the male perspective? What about women? What if you were your ancestor – a noble, law-abiding lady about 500 years ago?

You needed to get to a waterfall or water body before the sun rose. If you lived in a rural area, it must be a headache. For you needed to carry water back with you too! Imagine taking a shower and coming back with two buckets of water, that you needed to carry to your office and manage the entire day with!

And if you lived in an urban area, it did not make your life any easier. You had to find your way to a public bath, or go with the women in your friends circle/family. Which meant you problems were not only with animals, but humans too! I don’t believe in the glorification that our past was all vedas and sunshine and nobility. There must have been creeps to deal with. You might live in the greatest civilisation of all time, but had no control over the time and place of your bath.

Or what if we went deeper into our past, say a 1000 years ago?

1018 was the year when the first Islamic invader – Mahmud Ghazni – entered India. We were still a civilisation that ranked low in the Maslow’s hierarchy of need theory.

If you managed to survive the ongoing wars, you still needed to rush to a water body. And it wasn’t exclusive to you, you had to share it with animals of the jungle too. Deers and tigers and wild boars and crocodiles. And goddamn bears! Bears who roamed the jungle and discovered that you had stolen their honey.

Honey they had discovered and nurtured, only to find that you and your soldier friends burnt a hole in its dreams, partied overnight, and left. And just as you were having a bath by yourself, the bear would ambush you and insert its paw deep in your posterior.

It was a dangerous time. A risky time.

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Taking  shower is a luxury that we have taken for granted.

This magic cubicle that you enter, and come out a calmer, better looking version of yourself. A space that nobody else can intrude upon; not your family, friends, not Mark Zuckerberg.

A place where tiny plastic bottles contain specially formulated oils and liquids to make your hair shine, your skin glow. A place where you turn a knob, and thoughts come flowing down.

And why not? When you needn’t worry about tigers and bears, and Golu the neighborhood sex-offender – that’s when nobler thoughts come to us. I daresay that is when we evolve as a species.

It’s when you take a shower that you are truly with yourself. When you can think higher thoughts, when you can whip up a blog, and thousands of strangers could read your thoughts and nod in agreement.

*

On our path towards evolution and revolution, our efforts to be better humans, to save the planet and bring about peace and prosperity, we humans have forgotten what a luxury it is to take a hot shower.

*****

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Flipkart and the Myth of the Indian Startup Revolution

Walmart’s decision to purchase a chunk of Flipkart last week was hailed as ‘revolutionary’ by sections of the Indian press. Economic Times, the business arm of The Sensational Times of India, went so far as to call Sachin Bansal the ‘poster boy of Indian e-commerce who redefined 21st century startups’.

In some ways, it was relief for the company that had witnessed its valuation dip by a few billion dollars last year. Amidst news of Amazon and Walmart vying for a piece of the Flipkart pie, the $16 Billion deal with Walmart must have been a sigh of relief.

As expected, the acquisition caused social to go berserk, and over-zealous patriots began pompomming the deal as a matter of pride for India; a shot in the arm for our ‘startup revolution’. At the risk of sounding like an anti-national presstitute, here is my not-so-rosy opinion on Flipkart and the Walmart deal.

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Flipkart gave me my first real experience with e-commerce. I had read about the magic of e-commerce on The Economic Times – that intimidating newspaper that I chucked the moment I started studying journalism.

To their credit, Flipkart were the first ones to fully trust Indians with a Cash on Delivery option. Earlier, sites like Rediff Shopping and Indiatimes offered COD, but you needed a Credit Card, a shopping history, and four pet tigers. And even then, the items available were limited to ‘safe’ products like baseball caps and talcum powder.

My first online order was placed in the year 2011. Ironically, as the world was moving towards smartphones, I was ordering a feature phone – Nokia X2 – the poor man’s Blackberry. This phone set new standards in over-promising and under-delivering.

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I placed my order and the phone got delivered in three days. I even got a mail saying the delivery guys tried getting in touch with me. So low were my expectations, that I was moved to tears.

Flipkart impressed

Ain’t no appreciation like genuine appreciation!

*

This genuinely good impression aside, I did not become a huge fan of Flipkart in the coming years.

At its very essence, Flipkart is a rip-off of Amazon – the world’s largest e-commerce site. I find it amusing that the founders took the same path that Amazon did – books. However, Amazon did it in 1995, and Flipkart in 2007!  What’s even more shocking is that the founders are ex-employees of Amazon. Imagine you’re employed by a company, and quit to start your own clone of the same company. I’m not too familiar with business lingo, but that’s kind of a dick move.

If you look carefully, Flipkart’s business strategy is lifted from the world’s largest e-commerce site. And even it’s logo seems to be lifted from the logo of the world’s largest social media site.

In the years that followed, Flipkart and Amazon went head to head, often with similar strategies, similar logistical decisions. After Amazon did it, Flipkart launched their own music player Flyte, which took flight after a few years. Flipkart also launched their own e-book reader that had more than a few similarities to Amazon’s Kindle. The service was later transported to Kobo, and eventually shut down.

Flipkart’s few bold moves backfired badly. The decision to go app-only with Myntra was quickly aborted. Flipkart’s in-app chat service Ping was also dumped in less than a year. Nearby, the grocery-delivery add-on sank without a trace.

Flipkart’s only real innovation must have been those annoying sales. Big Billion Sale, Gazillion Sale and Poonam Dhillon Sale.

As Amazon announced its arrival to Indian shores, Flipkart did everything to prepare itself, including buying the rest of the market – eBay and Jabong, and a long, gruelling negotiation with Snapdeal.

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But then, India has never been the torchbearer of innovation. Our much-lauded IT revolution has been around for more than 20 years now. And yet, we haven’t shaken up the world with a single product, service or organisation. For the most part, we are cheaper alternative for high-end labour. An advantage that is expected to slip away from us as our brethren in Philippines and other countries wake up to the wonders of Rapidex English Speaking Course.

May be that is why we are so hung up on our past. Everybody from your friendly neighbourhood social media troll to ministers at the highest echelons of power – they love to hark back to that magical era. We love to stake claim to every modern technological thought, claiming we had done everything in the Vedic age (except sex, of course. Indians don’t have sex. They do tapasya and babies are born).

And this lack of innovation is not limited to Flipkart alone. If you search for the largest Indian startup companies, you’ll find they are all clones of global companies. Often times, the products and services are nearly identical. Ola is Uber without the professionalism. PayTM began with phone recharges and jumped on the smartphone revolution to follow the path of WeChat and other payment carriers. Swiggy does what global companies like JustEat and Takeaway do. OyoRooms is a shameless rip-off of AirBnB.

It’s perhaps telling that most of the founders of these clone companies are from IIT-IIMs – those haloed meccas of education in our country. And our media keeps worshipping these guys as visionaries and trailblazers. Whereas in reality, it is a case of first-mover in a booming economy. The strategy has been charted by others. It just needs some money and good replication skills.

I am yet to come across a single Indian startup company that is working towards a unique Indian solution to a uniquely Indian problem. (If you do, please let me know in the comments – I would love to read up on them!).

I am sure there must be organisations that are honestly trying to blaze trails. But they will never enjoy the funding or popularity that the copycats will enjoy in our culture. A culture where we go down on our knees to suck off anybody who got ‘foreign ka paisa’.

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The Flipkart deal with Walmart might be celebrated among India Inc, but please do not call them ‘change-makers’.

It makes me cringe when the founders of these companies are hailed as ‘change-makers’. They are bringing as much change to the world as Venkatapathy Raju brought to the world of fashion designing.

*****

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Movie Review: Jaani Dushman aur Mani ki Khoj

Allow me to say at the very outset that I did not enjoy the film at all. Not one bit.

While I am critical of most films in general, I give some leeway to superhero movies. Probably due to a childhood spent reading comics (Indrajal, Raj and Diamond Comics). Or probably because it is a Herculean task to make an engrossing superhero movie when the audience could slip into their phones in seconds.

Avengers: Infinity War was disappointing on several levels. The shocks were not shocking enough, the jokes weren’t funny enough, and the twists weren’t twisted enough. The film was predictable and unnecessarily long, making the entire experience highly uncomfortable.

 

Too Many Heroes

How many heroes is too many heroes?

I guess the folks at Marvel didn’t bother asking themselves this question. One fails to understand Marvel’s need to constantly up and better their earlier movies. To make explosions larger, the stakes higher, their heroes funnier. Every explosion in the film makes the film’s soul smaller.

In the end, it feels like a moral values lesson from the pantheon of Hindu gods, each of them meeting each other in a number of stories; a three-dimensional Amar Chitra Katha if you may. Throw an infinity stone, and it will land on a superhero. With so many heroes, the film feels like it’s forcing itself to be taken seriously.

What Marvel movies did so wonderfully along the years, was to be self-aware. They mixed the supernatural with the real-worldly in a magical blend. These were heroes using cutting edge technology, while popping pop-culture references. Heroes who were saving the world while facing high-school bullying issues. It was a marvel that would have won the nod of Marquez.

Sadly, Avengers Infinity War takes itself too seriously. With stakes stacked up so high, it really has no other option.

And in doing so, it is not ‘self-aware’ enough, the very factor that made MCU movies so enjoyable in the first place. There are too few lines distributed among too many people, and by the first one hour, you feel like pulling your hair out in frustration with the change in locations and characters.

 

Graphics hi graphics

The other problem with the film is too many tacky graphics. There is the pink planet, the blue planet, and the brown planet. Then there are the powers of the heroes – the woman with the red rays, the men with the golden circles, the ones with green strings. The makers went about the VFX like a kid who just discovered WordArt on MS Paint.

It begins to feel like a mythological Doordarshan TV show. Which is why when the battle reaches the lush greens of Wakanda, your eyes breathe a Sai of relief.

 

The Deaths

By the time the laborious film draws to a close, you feel nothing. The deaths feel limp, lazy and poorly written. You don’t care too much about these dudes – you watched their films years ago, and they had too little screen time for you to make a connection.

Perhaps this movie is pralaya for superhero movies in general. The Armageddon that ushers in a new era of superhero films. And while we are at it, could somebody do something about the 3D technology as well?

What was supposed to be a cutting-edge technological revolution has over the years become a tacky, lazy tool. Everything in the 3D world looks small, idiotic and too silly to be taken seriously. And no filmmaker seems to truly exploit the medium for what it can do.

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As a teenager, a friend and me would crash weddings in the government college that we studied in. His father was a professor, and the weddings would mostly be organised by the non-teaching staff, so we walked in with confidence.

We would put on our best shirts, swagger in, and begin hogging the food. Since the aim was to eat as much as possible, we would begin by doing the rounds of the stalls. And then filling the plate with the good stuff – chicken and sweets and butter naans and momos and rasmalai and pani puri and biriyani and dahi vada and…you get the idea.

We stacked our plates with these items because we had enjoyed them as individual dishes. But in our greed, we consumed them all at once, unaware of the summer blockbuster that would play out in our stomachs a few hours later.

The original Avengers movie is still my favourite among all of Marvel films. It had the scale, the banter, the cheekiness. This one is a greedy plate of buffet. Too much of too many good things, till you are left with a bad aftertaste.

*****

 

Jackie

Articles published in April

Some of you requested a post on all the articles I wrote through the month on other sites.

I have pasted links to the articles below, along with a small description. There are two things to keep in mind.

  1. These articles were written for a particular time/incident/event. So some of them might not be as relevant today. But read them nonetheless.
  2. The headlines are not mine. Some of the headlines are too attention-whory, the others are written to attract people to read them. As a writer, I have no control over the headlines given to the articles.

Here are the links:

1. The Cult of Bhai 

In this article, I have tried to keep aside my bias against Bhai, his fuckall movies, and his zombie legions of fans. I have tried to analyse why he is so popular, and if he has overtaken his so-called more intelligent colleagues, there must be something about the person.

This article looks at his life, his choice of films, and what makes him so huge among fans. Writing the article was a lot of fun. More importantly, I got messages from people thanking me for the article, and that it changed the way they perceive Bhai. Find the link to the article below:

https://www.101india.com/people/what-makes-salman-khan-biggest-superstar-country-has-seen

 

2. Osho the Enigma 

If you’ve watched Wild Wild Country, the stunning documentary on Netflix on Osho and Rajneeshpuram, your interest in Osho must have been piqued. I wrote a quasi-review of the documentary, along with my arguments on how Osho was the original dude.

There will be many Babas in India, but all of them are doing what Osho did, to some extent. Now, personally I am a fan of Osho and like what he says, but since the article was for another site, and I need to keep a check on my raving, I had to present a balanced point of view.

The article did moderately well, and Osho followers and groups started following me on Instagram, which is a minor achievement of sorts.

https://www.101india.com/people/wild-wild-country-not-so-much-about-osho-woman-who-led-rise-his-cult

 

3. Bobby Darling Deol 

With a comeback on the cards, Bobby Deol is pushing 50 and attempting to rule the hearts of his original fan-club, who are now women in their late 30s. He is coming back in a film with Bhai and others.

The article looks at his meteoric rise, and how he dragged himself into irrelevance. A career that began with dizzying heights, and by the end, all his roles looked like a stoner imitation of Dharmendra. This article was published on Arre, a terrific website that you must follow.

Are We Ready for Bobby Deol’s Dhai Kilo Ka Comeback?

 

4. 20 Years since Desert Storm 

Exactly 20 years ago, Sachin Tendulkar established himself as the Numero Uno batsman in the world. This article looks at those two innings, and what they meant for Sachin and his legacy.

As a batsman, Sachin does not have too many marquee moments – last ball finishes, finals of big tournaments, etc. But the Desert Storm in Sharjah will be remembered as the apex of Sachin’s cricketing career. This article was published in DailyO.

https://www.dailyo.in/sports/happy-birthday-sachin-tendulkar-april-1998-australia-versus-india/story/1/23664.html

 

5. Ball Tampering and Cheating Aussies

After the brazen ball-tampering incident came to light, both David Warner and Steven Smith cried in front of the media and pleaded forgiveness. As someone who grew up watching Australian cricket, it infuriated me no end that the captain of a premier international side got away with something like this.

The incident meant that there must be so much more going on that did not get caught. I mean, it certainly couldn’t be the first time something like this was being done. The article is a (slightly harsh) piece on how Australians were always the bullies of international cricket, and have none of my sympathy (which I had clearly exhausted on Salman Bhai and Bobby Deol).

https://www.dailyo.in/sports/steven-smith-ball-tampering-australia-cricket-racism-sledging/story/1/23193.html

 

So there you go, those are the articles I wrote through April. I plan to write more this month, and will share the links a little earlier this time. 🙂

empty stage

How it feels to bomb on stage

At its most basic form, Standup Comedy is an absurd art form.

To go up on stage (and people like Jerry Seinfeld have said this in more eloquent terms), and try to get laughs from strangers, by spilling out the insides of your mind is absolutely weird. Jokes themselves are so subjective – they can either change your world-view, or get you shot in the head by fanatics.

The closest art form is probably singing – you go up on stage, you have a mic, an audience. You have words, and use tunes and tones to communicate. But that is where the similarity ends. A singer can replicate another singer’s song, and is appreciated for how close the singer comes to the original.

In any other art form (cinema, theatre, sports), you have a team working with you. Your success is dependent on how they collaborate with you. Your failures too, can be divided equally. That’s not the case with stand-up.

It is you, standing alone in a dark room of strangers in front of you. They are your thoughts, your words, your performance. Forget sounding like someone else, if you ever tell a joke that belongs to any other comic in the world, it’s the death-knell of your career. Forget copying a joke, even a similar strain of thought could mean THE END, beautiful friend.

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It is this auteristic nature of Standup comedy that makes it unique. There is no team to fall back on, no companions who will see you through. There are friends, of course, but they cannot get on stage with you, or for you.

In other forms, you can always come back. You could muff through the first half of a match, and make a heroic return in the next. You could screw up the first two paras of a song, and come back with a terrific solo in the end. In standup, the audience’s laughter is the only validation. You need validation every few seconds. If the audience does not connect to you in the first few minutes, fat healthy chance of them doing so in a while.

Also, the context to the art form. You could be the greatest standup comedian in the world, but a newbie from Warangal could steal your thunder on his day and sell it in the black market for 250 bucks.

*

There are two terms used in Standup – ‘kill’ and ‘bomb’. (Trust comics to use two such terms to describe how they fare!). To ‘kill’ is to do well – to have a good show and get laughs. Of course, kill has other superlatives – murder, destroy, aatank, etc.

On the other end of the spectrum is – ‘to bomb’. To have a shit-show, to muff and fumble and mumble and grumble.

Of course, a lot has been said, written and filmed about ‘killing’ – the success and the glitz of standup. There are books written, shows made, films shot – there is modern folklore associated with successful standup stories.

But nobody talks about bombing. About standing on stage alone and watching your words fizzle out into a silent audience. About standing alone on a stage with your mic, with hundreds of people looking at you, and then slowly looking into their phones.

At one level, bombing is beautiful.

It is like yellow fever – you cannot predict when it’s going to come. It happens to the best, and it happens (more frequently) to the worst. It comes unannounced on some days, and on other, it RSVPs its attendance days in advance. There are days when you expect to bring the roof down, but end up swimming in a sea of silence.

*

 

I obviously can not claim to speak for standup comedians in general, and this is where the blog becomes personal.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve seen me perform, but my jokes are not really family friendly. I don’t know why or how that has come about. Perhaps it is the shock, or the audacity of such jokes that make them such an integral part of my shallow quiver. Or perhaps it was the silly joy in cracking a ‘non-veg’ joke that has somehow shaped who I am as a person.

Which is why I don’t have a great strike rate when it comes to events that ask for ‘clean humour’. ‘Clean comedy’ is an albatross that hangs around every comedian’s neck (I am unsure if that’s the right metaphor – but it looks dramatic enough!). There is money on offer – lots of money – if you’re willing to toe the line.

There are corporate shows – shows for corporate India – mostly bored corporate employees who have been tricked by their HR into an illusion of a good time at an expensive hotel. I can see a bad show coming. Whether it comes announced or unannounced, when you get up on stage – you just know!

For a show to work, there are a number of factors that need to work – I don’t mean the sound and lights and other such paraphernalia. The audience has to be in the right frame of mind, they need to be on the same bandwidth – since a joke is always going to poke fun at somebody or something. They must also belong to your socio-eco-cultural surroundings because standup is subjective and contextual. And to top it all, the audience needs to find what you’re saying funny (or at the very least – stimulating/entertaining enough).

 

So, how does it feel?

It feels crushing. Absolutely heart-wrenching. You have nobody to blame – it is you, thoughts that emanated from your head, told in your voice. And the silence that ensues – is all yours! The humiliation is deeply personal. It is embarrassing, shameful even.

Like a number of tourists who walk towards a man selling clinkets on a bicycle, stare and ask about every product, and casually walk past without buying a thing. There is no redemption, no salvation. There are no second takes, or peppier second-halves. It’s just you, and the mic, and the silence through which you can hear your soul being ripped apart.

So, what do you do?

You feel the sweat trickle down the back of your neck, and patches of sweat in your underarms. You continue to look at the audience, and find a few people looking at you with sympathy – hoping you do well, but curious to see how cringey it can get. You can see in their eyes a rich blend of curiosity and sympathy.

You stand and you take it. You wade through the soul-crushing sorrow and do your time on stage. You soak it all in, say goodbye, and rush out. You smoke a ton of cigarettes and wonder what went wrong.

You wonder why anybody would subject themselves to this? Why would someone put themselves on stage in front of strangers and think they’re funny? Why??

But later, you meet your comedian friends and tell them of the ordeal. And the first thing your friends will do – no matter which city or what age – is laugh. They will laugh long and hard – more than all the laughter that you could have got, if the show had gone well.

And then, you realise it’s alright. They’ve gone through it too, or probably will. That if you cannot see the funny side of your failure, why would you even want to be a comic in the first place?

And then you smile and go back home. Wondering what a strange fucking profession this is.

Strange. But nice.

 

*****

Why I don’t post blogs these days

The last few months have been really slow on the blog.

If you have been a loyal reader, I am utterly sorry to disappoint. All the posts have been about cricket and films, and not even good posts at that. Just lazy, haphazard shit that I scribbled out in the last minute. I know, I know.

I received a snorter of a mail in my mailbox about the lack of posts, and I gave it some thought. I introspected for a little while and found the answer waft its way to me in brilliant bullet points. Ancient sages and thinkers were firm believers in the belief that the better the herbs utilised in the thinking process, the clearer the Bullet Points come to you when you seek answers.

So, without much ado, allow me to list out the reasons below for your kind perusal.

  1. Laziness: 

The primeval reason. The reason why millions of humans are not writers. The laziness of sitting down and thinking of something, to articulate, give examples, extend the thought, provide counter-points and rebuttals, and then reply to erudite comments like ‘Fuck yourself!’ – it is energy sapping after a point. I have been reporting to a day job, and then sparing time for open mics and shows in the night – leaving me with no motivation to update the blog.

 

2. The Lure of Money 

Again, not the most original of explanations. In the last one year, I have begun writing for a few websites. I write a weekly humour column for the Bangalore edition of The New Indian Express (Bangaloreans, check it out – every Saturday with TNIE), and articles on sites like Arre, DailyO and 101India.

The pay is decent, and the presence of a deadline makes it urgent and binding. Also, there are people to go through the article, suggest changes, make sure it is served well. And at the end of the day, I get paid for it too.

When I write for my blog, there are no such amenities. I have to drag my ass off to the chair and think about writing it. Just before I begin writing, I notice there are 345 comments out of which 325 are spam comments about Viagra and gardening tools from Russia. Deleting them takes a while, and the idea that was fresh as salad in your head now looks like mango chikki.

I then have to type out the blog, and then share it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Which is a pain in the ass. And if an article does well, Facebook sneaks up the suggestion to spend some money and boost it so more people can read it!

 

3. A little clued out of the scene 

Before I started blogging professionally, writing an article was rather easy. I just had to scroll through Facebook and ideas would spring out of the screen and wave to me. I had to smoke a joint, gather my thoughts, and fire away at the keyboard to much appreciation and fanfare.

However, like a fantastic drug that overstays its welcome in your system, that began to backfire. Due to my background and the work I do, I have three distinct kinds of people on my Facebook list –

a. University students who believe in bringing about revolution

b. Engineers/IT employees

c. Standup Comedians.

Each of these categories have their own stance and opinions on everything, and scrolling through my feed became a nightmare. I would read an Arundhati Roy article about Afzal Guru, and then a SwarajMag piece on how she’s full of shit. It was chaotic.

I quit Facebook for a few months, but that resulted in nothing except mosquitoes turning up for my shows. So I returned to Facebook, but this time armed with a boon from Sage Vishwamitra (the world’s friend – the original Zuckerberg). I unfollowed each and every person on my Facebook list.

Everybody. I know not everybody is evil, and it is probably extreme – but how does it matter? It took me about an hour, but was completely worth it. Now my wall is a blank slate with a few desperate ads suggested by Facebook. The only two pages I get content from are Writers Write – a page for aspiring writers, and The Dodo – a page that posts about dogs, cats, and animal rescues.

This has resulted in me retaining my sanity. And my Facebook wall becoming a warm, fuzzy place rather than the digital Kurukshetra that it was earlier. However, with this unfollowing business, I am also a little clueless about what is happening. I’m not necessarily complaining, but it’s part of the reasons that came to me in clear Bullet Points, so I had to mention it here.

 

4. The times we live in

When I look at my earlier posts, I notice one common thread running through all my posts – a certain anger. A frustration about the state of affairs, governance, jurisdiction. I have had people come up to me and ask if I have anger issues (which I most certain do, of course – but I don’t tell them. Why should I? Fuck those guys!).

However, over the years, I have refrained from expressing my opinion on my blog due to the cacophony of opinions. I mean, have a look at Twitter and Facebook – opinions and rage being hurled about from every side. After a point, it doesn’t matter if you are on the right side, just participating in a discussion brings about ugliness and leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

And that is what stops me from expressing my opinion here. I may be right, or I may be wrong – it’s an opinion, after all. But anything I say will be used to buffer one side of an argument, and none of it will be clean or civil. I felt like my blogs were dung cakes that are being taken off my wall and used to fuel larger bonfires on social media.

And when was the last time you saw someone admit in facebook comments – “Hey you know, you’re right. Let me read up on that, it might help change my opinion”? I’ll give you a hint – the number of Test centuries that Venkatesh Prasad has scored in his life – SHUNYA.

So what’s the point?

 

5. What do I want the blog to be? 

The blog was pretty much the first creative platform where I wrote and expressed myself. But after 11 years, and with me becoming a professional writer and humorist – I am unsure of where to take the blog.

I mean, it has to be different from the other platforms that I write on, or what’s the point? It already seems like a white, WordPress-like elephant in the room. I am unsure of the direction the blog needs to take. But here is what I have in mind –

a. A blog cut off from the ugliness of the world. Watching a number of Dodo videos for months at stretch, I began to wonder why the blog cannot be a happy place. A place where politics, or films/sports are not discussed. There’s lot of shit-sites for such shit-posting. The blog could be a place where other stuff can be discussed.

b. A journal of sorts. I know, I know. The idea makes me flinch a little, but I do not mean a ‘Dear Diary, it is snowing in Sambalpur today’ sort of a journal. I mean an unorganised stream of thoughts.

c. An angry space. This was the final option. I thought, instead of running from my weakness – anger – I will bring it all out here. No sharing on social media, no replying to comments. Just a space to vent out all my anger and frustration.

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I am still confused about the direction the blog needs to take. It’s been 11 years after all.

But those are the reasons I haven’t been posting on my blog frequently. I just thought you should know…

Imperfect Sanjay Manjrekar

Book Review: ‘Imperfect’ by Sanjay Manjrekar

I have always felt that great cricketers make poor writers.

Writing requires the discipline and sage-like patience of the first session of a Test match. And I believe most great players have run out of their patience and hence choose to either steal cheeky singles or go for the almighty slog while writing their books.

I had read Allan Donald’s White Lightning – but the book tells us a lot about the man, his thinking, and his motivations – but reveals little about apartheid, and the colourful days of South Africa’s return to cricket. Shoaib Akhtar’s Controversially Yours suffered from the author ‘performing’ too much. In his effort to present a colourful story, Shoaib sacrifices narrative for histrionics.

And then, the most boring book I’ve ever read in my life – Sachin Tendulkar’s Playing It My Way – written in collaboration with Bore-ya Mazumdar. Sachin’s book – like his track record in Rajya Sabha – is devoid of any excitement. It has been stripped of any human emotion like fear, envy or resentment.

Which brings me to Sanjay Manjrekar.

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My earliest memories of Sanjay Manjrekar are of confusing him with Sachin Tendulkar. They were both openers, and around the same height. They both batted with impeccable technique, but for a few key differences – Sanjay wore a white helmet and played a lot slower than Sachin did.

He was however, a terrific fielder – and has pulled off some amazing catches in his playing days. I also recall that he retired sometime around 1997 and then went on to sing songs, before finding his voice in the commentary box.

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Now, the problem with writing a book in India is the classic India question – Tune Kya Kiya Hai, bhai?

It is a problem people like Sanjay Manjrekar and Murali Karthik face in the commentary box. Every time they make a comment on a player’s game, the first thing trolls ask on social media is ‘What right do YOU have to talk about a player like Kohli’? Unfortunately, in our pea-brained understanding of critique, you have to achieve something equal or greater than the person you are critiquing to be able to say anything about the person.

Sanjay Manjrekar – a well read and erudite cricketer – knows the importance of an impactful first chapter. And he takes a leg stump guard from the very first ball. In fact, the very first line in the book talks about how the author has never touched a bat since the day he retired. That his idea of a perfect day is to sit in the darkness of a theater and watch a movie. That if his father wasn’t Vijay Manjrekar, he probably would have been something else in life.

Sanjay Manjrekar understands the importance that cynicism plays in the life of an Indian, and rests those fears from the first over. Having forced the reader to change his line and length, Sanjay Manjrekar goes on to play the steady, assured innings that he had built a reputation for.

What Manjrekar does differently – and thank god for that! – is refusing to rabble in numbers and statistics. I find most Indian autobiographies to be detailed statistical sheets. What he does instead, is to make it an engaging personal story. The name ‘Imperfect’ makes a lot of sense as you go on to read about the man, his obsession with technique, and the constant, looming fear of a perfectionist.

Instead of cramming the book with chronological numbers and statistics, Manjrekar takes a path of his own. The first chapter is dedicated to his father – the legendary Vijay Manjrekar – and yet, he does not adopt a reverential tone. Chucking a chronological narrative, the author has divided the chapters as ‘Pakistan’, ‘West Indies’, ‘Australia’ – and my favourite – Mumbai school of batting.

Shivaji Park in Mumbai.

Shivaji Park in Mumbai.

Having read Arvind Adiga’s Selection Day, I have been fascinated with Mumbai, and the constant churning out of batting geniuses who arrive from the jagged shorelines of Mumbai. In the chapter ‘Mumbai school of batting’, Manjrekar lays bare the grind, grime and grit that makes Mumbai kids bat for days at stretch. There are wonderful snippets – like the ‘mantra’ Mumbai kids tell themselves before every ball – ‘I am not going to get out this ball’.

The book also changed my opinion on a few characters – Ravi Shastri and Gavaskar, for example. I generally find the duo overbearing and omnipresent. But reading the book, I was able to see Shastri in new light. A man who could have chilled out, joined politics, run a business – and earned millions. But the fact that he has been involved with cricket since the day he retired – is proof of his love for the game. Similarly too, with Gavaskar. There are heart-warming stories of Gavaskar being Sanjay’s senior at Nirlep (cricketers in those days worked desk jobs during off-seasons), and how Gavaskar would give him advice to tackle bouncy pitches from his cabin.

There is also my personal favourite – the much-maligned Manoj Prabhakar. Stories of his humanity, his jest, and how he was the first Indian bowler to learn the art of reverse swing from the Pakistanis. One of my pet-goals in life is to redeem Manoj Prabhakar in Indian media, and Manjrekar’s book paints a warm picture of the man who bore the brunt for match-fixing.

Instead of talking down to the reader, Sanjay peppers the book with wonderful anecdotes

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But more than anything, the book is an honest portrayal of the man himself. For someone who sounds unabashedly biased towards India in the commentary box, Sanjay Manjrekar displays tremendous maturity as a writer. He is comfortable talking about his slide, his lack of form, or the need for fame.

He has no qualms admitting that he wanted the ‘fame’ that came with Indian cricket. He admits to shouting at Mumbai bowlers while he was the state captain. He also admits that he was not the most talented and used hard-work and OCD-levels of preparation in his technique. He bares his heart out in the portions where he was dropped from the national side, and on playing in the domestic league after tasting the giddying heights of being a national player.

Sanjay Manjrekar comes across as a logical, rational, disciplined man. A man obsessed with his craft, a man who clamoured for fame, but also realised when he saw Rahul Dravid, ‘that his time was up’.

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The last cricket book I read – Sachin’s Playing it my way – reads like a Sanjay Manjrekar innings of the 90s – slow, safe, steady. Sanjay’s book reads like a Sachin Tendulkar innings in the late 2000s. He starts a little shakily, takes time to settle in, and then pulls out glorious drives, completely at ease.

Sanjay Manjrekar’s Imperfect could not have been better named. It is humane, witty, and a thoroughly satisfying read. I’d go so far as to say it’s the best cricket-based book that I’ve read.

*****

Why Indians cannot connect to Shape of Water

Why Indians Cannot Connect to ‘The Shape of Water’

Directed by Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water swept away the Academy Awards, winning Best Picture, Director, Original Score, and Production Design. The story of a mute woman who rescues and falls in love with an amphibian god had swept the world away.

I have never been a fan of the Oscars and hate the way they are looked at as the gold standard for cinema. Nonetheless, I walked into the hall and took my seat amidst a fully packed hall. In spite of the Indian government’s best efforts to make you squirm in your seat before the movie begins, there was a sense of excitement as the movie began.

Around half an hour later, I found that the audience wasn’t really enraptured by the film.

You can always tell when the audience is blown away by the film. There are stray giggles that escape in the darkness, gasps and groans that dance in the silent darkness. There was none of that in this movie. It didn’t take me to long to figure out why.

As Indians, we have seen this premise over and over again. Picture this – what comes to your mind when I tell you the following premise?

The underdog protagonist is going about life, when an otherworldly creature enters their life. The protagonist can’t help falling in love with the creature, as they see themselves in new light for the first time. After changing the protagonist’s life, the creature has to go back to its world in a heartbreaking climax.

What image does this description flash in your mind?

If you are an Indian who grew up on local cinema, there are high chances you can name at least three movies with a similar theme. The most obvious answer would be Koi Mil Gaya. Not only did it have a blue creature, it also used halogen lights that lit up when Jadoo was happy or excited.

I also remember watching a film called Sahasa Veerudu Sagara Kanya, where a young Venkatesh rescues a mermaid who acts like Shilpa Shetty. Indian cinema has an obsession with otherworldly creatures – apsaras and fairies and angels. We also have movies with dogs, horses and elephants as lead characters. Not to mention our obsession with snake-women!

(ALSO READ: The Greatest Bollywood Snake Movies of all time)

 

The most horrifying ‘outerworld’ movie I’ve seen though, is an Odiya film called Keun Duniyaru Asila Bandhu (Which world have you come from, friend?). The filmmakers wanted to capitalise on the success of Koi Mil Gaya, so they hired a midget, painted him brown, gave him a little space suit and made him dance around. The result was a creature who would give Odiya kids sleepless nights for years!

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Indians have watched the story play out screens over and over. To an extent where the story isn’t gripping enough anymore. Admittedly, Guillermo del Toro is a visionary – a unique filmmaker amidst factories that churn out wholesome packages. But how can a delicate love story compare to the excitement of Moti the dog killing Amrish Puri to avenge Jackie Shroff’s death in Teri Meherbaniyan?

 

How can Indians be moved by the Amphibian God leaving to his world, when they’ve already seen Ramu the elephant sacrifice his life for Rajesh Khanna? Which emotion in the world can compare to Rohit Mehra getting dissed by the computer teacher for being unable to copy a folder?

You see, Indians cannot be excited about the shape of water – we have songs called Paani ka rang vekhke. We are quite familiar with the shape, colour, and shape of water. To make a film a hit in India, you need to have Salman Khan blasting his way to Mars, and then convincing three aliens to be nice to three other aliens.

Guillermo del Toro is a visionary and a modern great. The Shape of Water has been garnering accolades around the world. But sorry, Mr. del Toro, we are used to more. We are used to extraterrestrial beings talking to us and praying to Krishna. The film is great, but it did not have any songs, and there was no post-interval twist.

So good luck with your next movie, Mr. del Toro! Or as Jadoo would say-

‘Dhooooooop!’.

*****

Sudan Rhino Tinder

The Art of Guilting People into your Ideology

Last week, Sudan the last Northern White Rhino died in Kenya, signaling the end of a species.

His death raked up a social media storm, and animal lovers shared his pictures countless times across platforms. While the incident itself was tragic, it ruffled a few imaginary feathers in me.

Firstly, who is an ‘animal lover’? I like dogs and cats, and will stop my commute if an animal is in danger – does that qualify me as an animal lover? And even assuming I’m counted as an animal lover, what REALLY is my contribution to the cause – except for a personal gratification of feeding a needy stray puppy?

But more than the death of the animal, it was the tone of the social media posts that irked me. They all had this condescending tone to them – ‘Hey, while you were surfing through your feed, the last Northern White Rhino just died. Thanks a lot!’.

I find this preachy tone extremely toxic. And that is the reason why I do not jump on to social media campaigns. Most such campaigns exploit people’s anger against an imagined enemy – a nameless, immoral person who is responsible for all the problems in the world. The knack of burning the imagined enemy has been in vogue in the last decade.

Take for example the Anna Hazare anti-corruption campaign in 2011. I was never for the movement because I found it vague and dangerous. However, the campaign worked because the imagined enemy was a corrupt politician – a vague image of Danny Denzongpa in a Sunny Deol movie of the 90s.

Or take the run up to the 2014 elections. Media organisations started throwing out terms for Narendra Modi. Dangerous terms like ‘mass murderer’ and ‘Killer of Muslims’ were used by columnists and our nation’s intellectuals. Every single follower of Modi was called a ‘Bhakt’ – a highly insulting and generalising term that chastises someone for having basic expectations from politics. And how that backfired!

Modi swept to power, and his fans went on to give their own names to mainstream media – Presstitutes. Today, nobody on either side of the political spectrum trusts the other, and even a Facebook discussion on politics takes a few minutes to descend into anarchy.

The framing of an ‘imagined enemy’ is both dangerous and lazy. It is lazy because it gives journalists and social media influencers a low-hanging target. In the same way that Arundhati Roy paints the ‘establishment’ with broad, blood-red brush-strokes to draw attention to the problems of tribals, it is such lazy journalism that gives rise to hatred and mistrust. It is dangerous because there will always be a backlash. By pinning a villain to every problem, you are turning people away  from an otherwise noble cause.

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During my University days, I used to closely follow a political organisation that claimed to run on the lines of Ambedkar’s ideology. I attended a few meetings, and wanted to get to know the organisation better. I had just read Mr. Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste, and my head was ringing with the ideas the great man had propagated.

And yet, I was highly uncomfortable in the meetings. The rhetoric was filled with hatred and abuse, the enemy was this imagined Brahmin who was vehemently torturing lower castes physically, mentally and emotionally. And when I came out of the University, I found that most urban, general caste people have the same hackneyed opinion about reservations and the caste problem.

Or take my favourite pet peeve – vegetarians. Vegetarians walk about with an invisible halo, like they’re blessed children of god who have unlocked the truth. And everybody else is a moron who is yet to see the ultimate truth. As a pure vegetarian who saw through the hollowness of vegetarian argument and now eats all animals and birds – I fucking can’t stand it. The funny thing is, most Indian vegetarians will peddle PETA videos shot in the US to prove their point. The even funnier bit is that most of these guys are vegetarians not because they truly understood the issue – but because their family is vegetarian. That’s like trying to create a mathematical equation to explain the superiority of your family name – to win a fucking argument on Facebook!

 

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Social messages cannot be divisive. If you wish to bring about change, you need to be inclusive. By antagonising and chastising random people, nothing really is achieved. You have the same number of people who disagree with you, with a few more who hate you for being an insufferable prick

Targeting an ‘imaginary enemy’ alienates people, and gives rise to the classic Indian question – What did YOU do for the cause? It is lazy activism and makes your come across as a weirdo with a 11 inch rigid unicorn-hair wand stuck up your ass.

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I am sorry Sudan died, but I don’t know how else to say this – YOU DIDN’T DO SHIT!!

Your contribution to the cause was a grand total of NOTHING. You live in the same time as the other people you chastise, burn the same fuels, and consume as much toxic plastic and waste that your imaginary enemy does.

It’s sad that Sudan died, but making me feel guilty for it isn’t going to bring him back to life. So shut the fuck up!

*****

Of Hockey bats, tyres and torches

In spite of following politics keenly, I am usually ambivalent towards the Supreme Court.

For one, I do not understand the legal world too much. The closest I have come to legal matters is by dating a lawyer, and the only cool thing that came off that was juicy gossip about some venerable legal personalities in the country.

Then there is also the question of understanding. Can I, a Commerce graduate who studied journalism, and now tells jokes on stage for a living – fully understand and imbibe the workings of the highest court of the country? Can a B.Com (Hons.) comment on the Honourable Supreme Court?

I think of it this way. Inside my head, there’s a cynical monkey waiting to go ‘Bola tha; sab chutiyaap hai’ at the drop of a hat. Whenever there’s news of a hero of mine accused of a heinous act, or if the tiffin guy gives me less chutney to go with two idlis and a vada – the monkey gets into action.

This cynical monkey is waiting to go ‘Bola tha’ when I read about Supreme Court mishaps. But deep within, the existential question of ‘Are you smart enough to even understand what’s going on’ – a feeling that last arose while watching Humraaz – crops up at the same time.

But given my limited understanding of legal matters, the Supreme Court’s recent observation warmed by cold, cynical heart. While hearing a case against a Gorkha Janmukti Sangha leader for violence in the region, a bench of Supreme Court judges announced that destroying public property and indulging in violence is not a basic right, no matter how genuine the reason might be.

Read – Violent protests not a basic right: Supreme Court (The Hindu).

This is a phenomenon that we have taken for granted in India. The habit of political parties taking to the streets and burning vehicles, destroying property, and pelting stones. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, political parties employ jobless youth in arson and loot – and we stay indoors and watch the news on television.

Nobody raises a word, nobody lodges a complaint. Sometimes, the threat of violence is used as a bargaining ploy. On other times, parties announce their presence by burning and breaking. This is a habit that unites all political parties in the wide spectrum of ideologies in this country – this is the common thread – the knowledge that havoc can be wrecked. On the contrary, when a teenager complained on Facebook about the mess due to the death of a political leader, an FIR was filed against her.

I wonder what gives us the absolute confidence to take to the roads. Perhaps it is the nature of our festivals – Holi and Diwali. Celebrated by everybody, out on the roads. And I don’t just mean Hindu festivals either. Muslim festivals are equally outdoorsy – whether it is Muharram processions or Christian carnivals. Our festivals are also celebrated along with other mobs.

A decade ago, one would hear of violence from the norther parts of India. North India, that discordant where the prettiest locations give birth to the ghastliest incidents. But of late, there are reports of vandalism and violence even in the North-east, arguably the most well-behaved part of the country. As if that wasn’t enough, this has become a common sight in south India too.

And what protests they have been! Who can forget that shady guru who had AK-47 wielding devotees protecting their guru. Or those bunch of morons who burnt cars to defend their godman – Ram Rahim Rapist. Or the demands for reservations, or for a separate state – the latter always baffles me. It’s like saying ‘Hey, give us our own state, or we’ll fuck up the one that we already have with us’. And what happens if you get the state, but you’ve broken all the infrastructure? Well, who gives a fuck?

Ironically, the most famous man from our country was famous for a non-violent protest. Like the Kamasutra, non-violent protest is another branch of knowledge that we rarely resort to in everyday life.

Another possible reason for the increase of public violence is the media spotlight that these incidents gain. Bajrang Dal wakes to life when Valentines’ Day is around the corner. Karni Sena has made a name for itself by protesting against Padmavat – inadvertently looking like a bunch of nincompoop morons due to the excessive praise and bravado dialogues in the movie. With 24-hour coverage, the violence has gotten louder, more destructive. And no political party will take real action because grassroot workers of every political party are involved in these incidents. From Congress to BJP to TMC – every political party in India has a history of public violence.

However, if we needed an example, we need to look no further than the farmer protests that happened last week in Maharashtra. These were not urban, English-educated folks; and yet, the dignity with which they handled themselves makes one question the purpose of literacy in our lives.

When the first strains of news about the protests began flowing in, the response from urban Indians was sickening. Log into any news site, and you saw youngsters putting up moronic statements like ‘These guys just want freebies. They are a waste of taxpayer money’.

I’m sick of hearing urban Indians complain about ‘taxpayer money’. What is the fuss about taxpayer money? The term is thrown around every time reservations, or subsidies are mentioned. Should urban India only enjoy the benefits of taxation? And you’re not doing anybody a favour by paying your taxes – it’s your fucking duty!

The farmers’ protest was exemplary when compared to the usual rowdy Indian standards. There was no violence, arson or looting. They came in huge numbers and arrived in the city early in the morning so as to avoid disrupting life of the average Mumbaikar. They put forth their issues, got an assurance from the Chief Minister, and silently went back to their lives.

For all the talk of ‘taxpayers’ money’, those farmers showed us that literacy and wisdom are two diverse concepts. That we might be a developing country, but we are far from being a civil state.

 

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