Author Archives: Hriday Ranjan

2017 media

The Most Annoying Media Stories of 2017

As a writer and journalist, I get pissed off when I hear terms like ‘Presstitude’ or ‘Paid Media’.

Not because I’m touchy about my field or such grand principles. But because these are lazy terms that put a cold blanket over the many earnest journalists, vernacular news agencies, and independent organisations.

Crib all you want, but the media in India has had a large role in weaving the fabric of our nation. In fact, in Shashi Tharoor’s brilliantly imagined The Great Indian Novel, where he fuses the Mahabharata with the Indian Freedom Struggle – Indira Gandhi is re-imagined as Duryodhana, the Emergency is the Kurukshetra war, and Indian media is Arjuna.

For every large media house that was created by leftover sperms from Mukesh Ambani, there are hundreds of independent media houses that strive to survive and bring out the truth. That strive to take on the powers that be, that lose lives and jobs in the process.

And yet, I can’t deny that the popular media houses in India drive me to insanity. In fact, it has reached such a level that I have stopped reading the newspapers, and deactivated my Facebook account. I follow the news on reddit (even though it has its biases), or the updates that Google provides on Google Now.

I passed out of my Journalism Masters in 2012. One of the assignments we were given was to track two newspapers for a week, and analyse the coverage of the news. I still have my assignments in my mailbox and even a few years ago, there wasn’t as much fluff in our newspapers.

As the nation jumped onto the smartphone bandwagon and Facebook/Twitter became a legitimate source of news. Ever since, there has been no barrier, no check on the floodgates. We have reached a stage in our consumption of news that a brawl between two actors grabbed more eyeballs than children dying in a hospital.

Here are the most annoying news stories of 2016, covered with aplomb by our media houses.

 

1. The Padmavati Controversy

It’s funny that the present government projected itself as pro-youth, pro-development – and yet it has failed to curb in death threats by parties affiliated to them. Every leader worth his saffron shawl began throwing death threats at the filmmaker.

What is absurd is that the controversy could have been nipped in the bud if it wasn’t awarded the kind of coverage it attained. But we know that anything pertaining to Bollywood in India is news-fodder. And the citizens are cows that will chew upon it, ruminate, and bring it out in a few days even though they haven’t fully digested what was served to them.

The Padmavati controversy is absurd on three basic levels – 1. Nobody has even seen the goddamned movie. So, nobody really knows what the film shows. How can you be offended by something that you haven’t seen?  It’s like me getting offended by Siddharth Malhotra’s acting skills – there aren’t any to begin with!

The second reason is that the filmmaker has clearly stated that the two leads don’t meet in the movie. They have no lines together, not even a single scene. Is it the idea that the evil emperor thought about the queen that offends these morons?

The third and most tragic reason is that Padmavati is not even a real person! There is no substantial proof of there being a queen like this. All the accounts of the queen are from poems and folklore. What next? We have protests for Tenali Raman and Santa-Banta?

What is tragic is that the government sat like a limp duck as the controversy raged on. Not one of our esteemed leaders bothered to assuage the fears of the filmmaker. Death threats, violence, vandalism – not a single arrest was made, nobody was held accountable.

And the media had a field day!

 

2. The Government’s Masturbatory Propaganda

2017 was filled with news and articles on how terrific GST was, on the numerous benefits of Demonetisation. And guess who the source was? The government itself!

Every single report that came from outside the country about demonetisation brought with it some criticism – ranging from mild to intense. And yet the government went on telling us how awesome its policies were.

This reminded me of all those ‘Khaana Khazana’ shows on television. Where Sanjeev Kapoor cooks up a dish, adds namak swaad anusaar, and then tastes the dish himself. Wah! Mazaa aagaya, Sanjeev Kapoor would exclaim, about his own dish.

 

3. Kangana Ranaut – Hrithik Roshan

It started as a kitchen fight, and become a national obsession. This was a topic that made me ashamed to be a journalist.

For more than a month, every single media house in the country went about publishing sordid details of the fight between Hrithik and Kangana. Open letters and closed mails, fan clubs and Twitter trends – you’d imagine for a moment that India had solved all its problems and had nothing else to worry about.

What was even more shocking was that the entire issue was given slants of feminism.

 

4. Taimur breaking the Internet

Among last year’s useless controversies was the naming of Taimur. If Taimur the name should be avoided because the man was violent, so should Ashok and Parshuram.

This year, our media decided to splash us with images of Taimur breaking the Internet. The kid has broken the Internet so many times, you’d need Dr. Fixit to fix the Internet. At an age when he should be breaking toys and cutlery, the kid has been under constant media scrutiny. I fail to wrap my head around the obsession with star-kids in our country.

And don’t even get me started on the ‘hot’ pictures of teenage kids of stars. The abysmal lows that our media would stoop down to for a few extra clicks is truly depressing.

 

5. Varun Pruthi

This was not really covered by the media, but I need to get this off my chest.

Fuck Varun Pruthi.

The guy makes emotionally exploitative videos involving beggars, street vendors and children, and every single video has a single theme – Varun Pruthi the Jesus Christ. I clicked on one video by mistake and my YouTube page has been flooded with his shitty good-samaritan videos.

I find his videos cancerously preachy. And I fail to understand how the fuck somebody’s life is going to change if you give him 2,000 rupees! Varun Pruthi milks poor people’s sorrow to earn money on his YouTube channel. And what he promotes is not charity or service, but a new-age tokenism that is tailor-made for views, clicks and shares.

I want to watch a video where he takes a man suffering from AIDS and cure him of the disease. Or one where he solves the Iraq crisis by wearing a burkha. Fuck Varun Pruthi! Seriously!!

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As for me, the year has been lackluster at best. If you’re a subscriber of my blog, I’d like to apologise for my erratic posts. I got caught up with matters of the heart, and gave classic step-motherly treatment to my blog.

Also, I’m tired of writing posts on Bollywood films and stars. The Saif Ali Khan blog went viral and I ended up receiving a ton of hate mail from fans of Saif Ali Khan. Ek toh I didn’t know he had so many fans to begin with. And fans so passionate that they’d write hate mails to support their useless fucking star.

Most of my blogs are just rants that I type out after getting drunk and stoned. There is not journalistic depth in my rants, nor is there any valid point (except in odes to Jackie Shroff, of course!).

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As the last day of the year comes to an end, I am sitting in balcony and smoking a joint, reflecting on the year that whizzes past me with alarming speed. I am too old and unwise to resort to New Year Resolutions, having broken each and every resolution I chose for myself.

After years of pressure, I go back to some realistic new year resolutions this year. They are:

  1. I shall not murder anybody in 2018.
  2. I shall not win the Australian Open in 2018.
  3. I shall not masturbate to Sharad Pawar.

On Wednesdays.

Happy New Year. And thank you for reading my blog. I go on and on about myself without thanking you, dear reader! You are the reason these rants and rambles exist. Have a great year ahead! 🙂

*****

Tiger Zinda Hai

This Tiger Needs to be Endangered.

We Indians have a knack for knock-offs.

The heroes of our start-up revolution are essentially knock-offs of international giants – Flipkart, Ola and Campa Cola. Our films aren’t too different either. We like our own knock-offs of international heroes.

Which is why projects such as Tiger Zinda Hai get bankrolled. In the film, Bhai is Indiana Jones cum James Bond zyada Jason Bourne. Tiger Zinda Hai is yet another film made with a process to target a specific audience – Bhai’s fans.

Whatever their quality, Salman Khan’s films possess a truly unique quality. They are a throwback to unabashed fandom. To a time when you hooted and whooped and whistled when your star came on screen. Salman Khan is able to bring out single-screen reactions from a multiplex audience. It is a strange sight, one that I realised I’d secretly missed.

Bhai’s films are essentially college plays. Where the most popular, most-loved dude of the college plays the lead. What he does, and the story – are secondary to their best friend mouthing his lines and playing the role.

*

If this were an article on The New Yorker, the Editor would have rejected it without a second thought. Ethically, I’m not qualified to write a review, as I was asleep for about an hour of the film’s runtime.

I’m not saying the film was solely responsible. I had spent the entire day chilling, and as Chunkey Pandey will tell you, chilling can get tiring too. I walked from Gachibowli to Indiranagar to eat keema pav. And then a friend graciously agreed to share some herb, and I walked into the hall happy and stuffed.

But the film played a substantial role in me falling asleep. Salman Khan’s movies might be a lot of things, but surprising is not one of them. You know that Salman Khan will charm his way into the heroine’s heart. You know that Bhai will win in the end, no matter how complicated or powerful the enemy is. Bhai will defeat entire armies with Katrina Kaif on his side. He can solve corruption by introducing some sort of 3-member Amway membership. Solve global warming while having sex with a polar bear.

I find that kind of predictability boring. But like all pieces of art, Bhai’s films are subjective and dopey.

*

Having dealt with the problem of Pakistani terrorism in the earlier episode of Strangest Things, Bhai is now happily married in a secluded European country and has a son. Like all Bollywood children, this kid is so sweet that you want to strangle him. Kids in Bollywood are wise beyond Yoda’s ears, dish out life-advice on love and belonging to their parents, and exist in a permanent limbo of cuteness. Their primary reason for living is to invoke giggles from the audience in their attempt to make the hero appear wholesome.

Bhai is going about his daily life fighting wolves and chopping wood outside his house, when he gets a call from RAW – Bhai needs to save the day. The only problem? Bhai doesn’t look like a top military agent anymore. He looks like the marwari businessman who owns the sweet-shop down the lane.

Bhai used to be fit at one point.

Salman Khan’s contribution to Indian cinema might not be of the cinematic nature. But if there’s one thing he has contributed to, it is in drawing attention to the fact that our heroes need to look fit. Before Bhai came on to the scene, it was okay to be frail and limp. Like Dev Anand, who like the answer, was always blowing in the wind.

Bhai in a still from the 1998 superhit - 'Body banaaya toh Acting Karna Kya?'

Bhai in a still from the 1998 superhit – ‘Body banaaya toh Acting Kya?’

At one point, the whole purpose of Bhai’s films was to show off his body. It was one of the primary tasks of filmmaking – Director, Producer, Cinematographer, Salmanbodyshower. But abhi Bhai ka paet nikal gaya hai. Also, he hasn’t wielded a gun for eight years, and has computers at home that track every single development taking place in RAW. Instead of being tried for espionage, his senior dismisses it with a pat on the back. Bhai smiles. RAW ne mujhe bhula diya, par main unhein bhoola nahi. The director comes in his pants.

This is a secret agent who is called ‘Tiger’ by everybody around him. His boss, his wife, his son. Even the friendly neighbourhood tigers call him tiger. He eats Tiger biscuits and applies Tiger Balm.

His team consists of Angad Bedi, who when he delivers a dialogue – is scarier than ISIS terrorists. There’s a hacker who uploads a virus using a program that says ‘Uploading Virus’ in big, green letters. After uploading the virus, he says ‘Yayyyy! Ho gaya!’ and pumps his fists. The secret code used by RAW is – hold your breath – ‘Tu tu tu…tu tu taara. Aa gaya dost humaara’. Right below ‘Dulhan ki bidaai ka waqt ho gaya’.  The villain of the film looks like the illegitimate child of Osama and Gaddafi. He speaks Hindi in a manner that could bring about Javed Akhtar’s early demise.

Be that as it may, the RAW likes its agents raw, and hire him to get back into action. The enemy is bigger this time. How big? Well, think of the biggest terrorist organisation in the world. ISIS, you say? Done!

Bhai enters the most dreaded terror organisation with a few friends and agents. His plan is to blow up the place, kill the leader of the organisation, bring a group of Indian and Pakistani nurses to safety. And show body.

What follows is truly mind-blowing. Bhai smiles and simpers his way to the desert to take on the most dreaded terror organisation. With tactical missiles and weaponry, through intricate search and rescue operations? Nope.

By using neend ki dawayi and paet kharaab hone ka dawa.

Yes, dear brothers and sisters. Film is stranger than truth is stranger than fiction.

Mind you, this is the most dreaded terror organisation in the world. These are the dudes who assembled a team of fearless fighters from across the globe,set up a state-nation of their own, and even produced nuclear missiles. But in their quest for perfection, the insipid fools had overlooked the disastrous effects of paet ka dard.

Many years ago, Gandhi countered the might of the largest army in the world using non-violence. Much like Bapu, the Brother of the Nation goes about his mission armed with Angad Bedi and Dabur Hajmola.

He also rides a horse and fires a rocket. While riding the horse. He shuts down a rabid wolf by saying ‘Sshhh. Bas. Bahut ho gaya’. And the wolf falls asleep.

You know a film well and truly sucks donkey-balls when Katrina Kaif is the best actor in it. In spite of her Neptunian accent, she manages to look like the only professional in this film (apart from the VFX guys who created Bhai’s abs, of course – those guys worked extremely hard in every film!).

*

By the end of the film, the enemy has been vanquished, and Aman ki Asha has also been restored. Having killed two blackbucks with one stone, Bhai returns home, ready to be called for the next mission.

I’m told in the next film, Bhai will solve climate change by masturbating in the Great Barrier Reef. Or he could solve water scarcity in Mars. Mangalyaan se aage Mangal hai.

It’s a good thing that ISIS has been defeated by the Iraqi forces. That they will not be able to watch Tiger Zinda Hai. For even terrorists are human beings, and can only tolerate so much humiliation.

Bhai is bhai, man. Critics and reviews and dopehead bloggers don’t make a difference. Go ahead and watch the film if you have to. Or don’t if you don’t want to. Bhai is sniffling and grimacing and grinning his way to the bank.

Oh, wait. It’s his driver.

*****

chetan-bhagat759

The Hatred for Chetan Bhagat in India

I’ll admit I have hated Chetan Bhagat ever since he chose to become the voice of the generation.

I have lambasted him on my blog a number of times (back in the days when I would wake up in the morning, smoke a joint and shoot off blogs). I hated his annoying, all-knowing attitude, his IIT-IIM White-Lightning face, and his knack of reducing the complex problems of the nation into simplistic solutions reminiscent of Govinda-Kader Khan movies.

And yet, my hatred for him is his annoying public persona, his elevation to some sort of public intellectual on the basis of his novels. Over the years however, I have softened towards the man.

Primarily because in the years since, I have been a struggling author myself. Every year for the last three years, I do acid in the month of January and plan out the book for that year. I spend the next 11 months toiling and wrestling and struggling with that book. I then send it out to publishers in December and get rejected – year after year, every year.

So I get the pain. I don’t condone Chetan Bhagat’s public persona and opinions, but the utter hatred for the man has baffled me.

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I have noticed two distinct traits in how we Indians consume art.

1. Overdose: If something works, there are a hundred clones of that genre. Take for example all those authors who wrote books called ‘I had a love story’, ‘You had a love story’, ‘We all had a love story’, Modi had a love story’, ‘Can love happen  twice/thrice/746 times’.

We take a winning formula and churn it out till we are up to it in our necks. That is the

reason why Shah Rukh Khan still plays a lovelorn romantic hero. It is the reason why our singers spend their entire lifetime singing a particular kind of songs. It’s the reason that as a nation (with all our diversity and languages), the only kind of music we have is film music.

2. The phenomenon of ‘too massy’: If something becomes too popular (meaning it seeps past the urban minority and reaches out to Tier-II, III and rural areas), it is considered crass and distasteful. This happened to Govinda’s movies, Comedy Nights with Kapil Sharma, and Reliance Jio.

In a nation that suffers from a crippling inequality of wealth, anything that is consumed by the masses is automatically assumed to be cheap and crass. The same happened to Chetan Bhagat and his books too. Till about 2008, he was being hailed as a game-changer, someone who finally spoke the language of the masses, about issues that a newer India could relate to. But as soon as he become a nation-wide phenomenon, he was deemed too ‘low-market’. 

Most people I meet actually don’t hate him for his opinions, but for his writing.

These are mostly urban, elite, youngsters who were brought up on Hemingway and Prost, and grew up to echo the opinions of everybody else around them. 

I don’t even know where to begin with this argument. Writing, like any other art form, is highly subjective. There’s no real saying about what’s good or bad. Some of the greatest literary epics – from Grapes of Wrath to Moby Dick to A Catcher in the Rye were panned by critics and readers.

This is even shocking in a nation like India where knowledge of English Literature is a direct reflection of the social capital that you enjoy. Your taste in books is ‘better’ because of your upbringing – your parents, school, the company you keep. It does not make you wiser, or more tasteful, it just makes you a privileged fucking snob who chooses to piss over other’s tastes

About 10% of India’s population speak English. Out of those, these people are about 5% – the ones with access to books and literature. And yet, the sheer snobbery when it comes to Bhagat and his books is appalling.

To mock the themes of his books, the idiotic stereotyping is one thing. But to say that the English/grammar in his book ‘sucks’ – I’m sorry – makes you an elite prick.

 

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Chetan Bhagat might not be a literary force de majeur, but he has encouraged millions of Indians to pick up a book and read for pleasure. Before Bhagat, a book by an Indian author cost above 350 rupees, and a small jar of Amrutanjan Pain Relief Balm.

As someone who mails publishing houses every year with a manuscript idea, I have a fair idea about the industry – a gigantic incestuous family that churns out shit year after year. This is hardly a new phenomenon and legendary Indian writers have had a problem with this hackneyed Indian publishing industry that is reeling from a 70 year colonial hangover. Manto had his own share of problems, as did RK Narayan – who self-published his books after years of frustration.

Indian publishing houses put the ‘prof’ in ‘unprofessional’. There are no prompt responses, no acknowledgment of acceptance. You are supposed to shoot in a mail and wait in the darkness for months at end. Try getting a phone number and pinging/calling (something that would be considered alright in any other industry) is looked down upon.

And in spite of all this attitude, the kind of books that are published are not worth wiping your shit with. And Chetan Bhagat cracked this market.

Hate him as much as you want, but young India is reading his books. They don’t give two shits about Vikram Seth and his unsuitable balls, or Arundhati Roy cribbing about the state, its mechanisations and the colour of aliens’ underwears.

First generation Indian English speakers are free of the colonial burden of Indian literature and are picking up Chetan Bhagat’s books. His works are accessible, relatable and palatable.

 

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Which is why I smiled when my Tinder date complained about Chetan Bhagat books. She went on about how she thought he was ‘disgusting’, and wished that Indians would read Neil Gaiman and Murakami instead. Sure thing, Little Princess. I quickly asked for the cheque and looked for the exit.

I assume she thought she was being remarkably different – a cut above the rest. While all she was, was an intellectual five point someone!

*****

 

Suggested Reading:

Forbes’ Article on Chetan Bhagat and his impact on Indian Literature 

 

My own blog where I discuss how Chetan Bhagat’s solutions are reminiscent of David Dhawan-Govinda movies.

New York Times article titled ‘How English Ruined Indian Literature’ – a different perspective on the same issue. (which I thought was rubbish, but I’m trying to be unbiased here! 😀 )

 

project_quotes____troy_ending_by_panca21

Dealing with the Death of a Hero

Over the last month, a number of my heroes have been buried in public consciousness.

It’s a phenomenon that has been in place over the last few decades, but the nature of the Internet has accelerated that process in the last few years. It’s something I like to call ‘Death by Internet’.

Where accusations surface, and articles are put up, hash-tags are created, till the personality eventually apologises for the mistake, and his career comes to a grinding halt in a few hours. It happened to Kevin Spacey, and Woody Allen, and Louis CK.

They were all my heroes. They were all artists who enriched my life in numerous ways, people who I watched and heard and read over and over again. These were people who inspired me to be better at what I was doing. People I looked up to, in a mix of admiration and envy.

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Kevin Spacey

I had watched a few of his films earlier, but it was during my Masters that I truly discovered the genius of the man. We were assigned a task to watch a film, write about it and give the professor our opinions on a few subjects.

I happened to watch American Beauty and was blown away by the man. As is my habit, I looked him up and started reading about the man. I learnt of the cult status that he enjoyed, and how he kept his private life intensely private. I learnt about how he never gives interviews or appears on social media.

Over the next few years, my admiration for the man only increased. There is something about the way Kevin Spacey essays his characters. Unlike lesser actors *cough cough Aamir Khan cough cough*, he doesn’t need to resort to gimmicks like physical transformation or makeup. His face was a canvas. His eyes were tools.

Kevin Spacey was not an actor. He was a ghost who inhabited the souls of the characters he played. Watch him curb a smile as he is being driven to the field in the climax of Se7en, or the chameleon-like calmness with which he switches in The Usual Suspects. There was something Kevin Spacey did with his self that no other actor managed to do.

And yet, when he was accused of sleeping with young boys, his response was a sheepish, cheap ploy. It was disheartening and unbelievable at the same time; the kind of apology you’d expect from an Arjun Rampal, from a Suneil Shetty.

And yet, he did it. He decided to come out in the open about being gay, hoping to put in a final performance for the world.

I was never an actor, but Kevin Spacey’s films encouraged me to write. They encouraged me to scratch beyond the obvious surface, to explore the darker, sinister side of me.

 

Woody Allen

Even if Woody Allen didn’t make a single movie, his place in popular culture would be cemented simply through his stand-up work. The pioneer of the shy, under-confident, awkward comic – Woody Allen is consistently ranked in the Top 5 lists of the greatest stand up comics of all time.

His movies have made me marvel at the man. Beguilingly simple, and yet disarmingly complex – Woody Allen’s movies were always about two people talking to each other. The settings could be present day Rome, or 19th century Paris – his films were driven not by set-pieces or graphics – they were stories narrated by tormented characters. I spent a good part of the previous month going through his movies, and they never fail to impress me with their brilliance.

And yet, the accusations against him are horrifying. That he would molest a young girl, that he would take pictures of the adopted daughter of the woman he was dating, and then go on to marry her – was this the tormented artist, or a twisted human being?

 

Louis CK

It won’t be far-fetched to say that Louis CK was partly responsible for me becoming a stand up comic. I had participated in a stand up competition and went with a fucking PPT!

A friend of mine pinged me saying he loved the fact that I was doing a Ricky Gervais (I’d no clue who that was!), and that I should start watching Louis CK. The next few weeks were spent in watching his videos on loop.

The manner in which he turned his misery into humour, his demented desires into punchlines – there was a morbid beauty to Louis CK’s work. While most comics adopt the ‘I’m a stud’ persona, he took self-loathing to the level of an art form.

The allegations against Louis CK have been floating around the comedy scene for a long time now. So I wasn’t particularly saddened when he was outed, but it’s heartening to see that his apology was the most honest, the most earnest.

 

Mohammad Azharuddin

I have written about the impact of Azharuddin’s match-fixing scandal on my life earlier.

As a child, you are blind to statistics and logic. You worship people because you heard someone praise them. Mohammad Azharuddin was my first real heartbreak. My family, never one to back off from an opportunity to drill sorrow into my life, taunted me for months about the match-fixing scandal.

I remember weeping in my room. The scandal had shattered my beliefs, broken my heart, and twisted me in ways that are difficult to describe in a blog on a cold winter morning.

*

How does one deal with the death of their hero?

How does one grapple with the fact that the person they worshiped all their lives is a monster? I have spent many a sleepless night pondering about this. I wish I could say that it is easy to separate the art from the artist – but I know that is hardly true!

Has it changed the way I look at these people?

Nope! I still enjoy Woody Allen’s movies, I still marvel at Louis CK’s sets.

Perhaps we are wired to only take the best from the people we love. Woody Allen taught me to stay true to my voice, Louis CK to embrace my demons. Kevin Spacey’s astonishing talent still makes me stare in awe, and Mohammad Azharuddin…fuck that guy! Fucking piece of shit!

*****

 

 

 

Recommended Reading:

Mohammad Azharuddin and the match-fixing scandal

‘The Last Jedi’ is Chandrakanta in Outer Space

When it comes to books and movies, I’m a bit of a cultural parasite. If something is popular, I’ll watch it even if I haven’t been seeped in its cult. On most occasions, this has paid off. I happily dived into the GoT cult, and now spend every single day cursing and blessing George RR Martin. I had read the Harry Potter books because of the hype around them, slowly passing on the virus to my friends like a sexually transmitted disease.

And yet, in spite of all my urges and tendencies, I have never been able to warm up to the Star Wars franchise. I know, I know!

I know that when the films came out, they were revolutionary and cutting-edge. I understand that the films changed the way we look at space films, and created a genre called ‘space opera’. I understand that the film gave us legendary characters like Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia.

And yet, I’m sorry. I have never been able to invest in the series. I have watched all the films in the series, and I have found them tacky. The graphics don’t hold up after all these years (kindly have a look at 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)), and for someone who grew up in India amidst dramatic family sagas, the entire ‘soap opera in space’ doesn’t do it for me.

In spite of this, I have watched the movies. Right from fighting off sleep through the tepid Episodes I, II, III in the 2000s, I have tried my best to invest in the films, and yet, I couldn’t. I understand it isn’t fair to assume that my choice is the definite word on the films. And yet, how can not one of the films impress me? Not one in the list of nine films? Really??

But as humans, we survive on hope. And I decided to go ahead and watch the latest episode of the space opera.

 

*

It was the worst film of the year, and I say this after watching the suicide-inducing Munna Michael and Raabta.

It’s difficult to point out a single flaw in a film that has flaws the size of black holes (I’m trying to use space terms to fit into the gigantic cult that the film commands!). The actors have the screen presence of boiled potatoes. Their lines are delivered like stoned high-schoolers rehearsing for the annual play. The young actors who have been entrusted with carrying the legacy of the movies are (and there’s no nice way to say this) severely incompetent.

In fact, they’re so bad that the film has to fall back on a 66 year old Mark Hamill and a 60 Carrie Fisher to deliver the acting chops. You know an action film is doomed when sexagenarians have more sex-appeal that 20 year olds!

Since the film knows it commands a loyal legion of movies, it gives two shits about logic or common sense. When Leia gets blasted away, she flies for a while in outer space and hops back to life. Clearly, usne script ko mooh mein leia.

The villain of the film is killed abruptly with more than an hour to spare. Two of the characters connect to each other through some sort of tantric-space healing technique.

What annoys me the most is 20 year old Indians claiming to be a die-hard fan of the series. Really? How bad is your Fear Of Missing out?? And can we spend a minute to talk about Chewbacca? How the fuck is that red pubic hair costumed creature supposed to be cute? As if looking at that abomination is not good enough, Disney went ahead and added some cute animals for cheap giggles.

Chewbacca: Putting the 'Chew' in 'Chewtiyapa'.

Chewbacca: Putting the ‘Chew’ in ‘Chewtiyapa’.

*

Out of curiosity, I checked out the reviews of the film and was shocked to found that it has been rated 93% fresh. That shook me a little. Perhaps there was something about the films I didn’t understand. May be my tastes, my cinematic aesthetics weren’t the same as most people in the world.

And yet, this is what I will say. The film is Chandrakanta in outer space. Naugarh-Vijaygarh mein thi takraar…and nobody gives a shit, yaar. If the same film was made in Hindi, it would be lambasted to outer space. But it’s a Hollywood film, so our heads will automatically twist and stuff itself into our asses.

The latest Star Wars movie is a nostalgia whore of a movie that counts on people trying to fit into a cult that was created long before they were born. In many ways, the Star Wars cult like religion.

You try your best to fit in. Logic and reason do not matter. And if you tell people you hated the movie, people will look at you like like there’s something wrong with you.

*****

NaNoWriMo Day 2 Updates: Best Music to Listen to while Writing

I am taking part in NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. An event where thousands of aspiring writers sit down to write the first drafts of their novel in a span of 30 days.

I have been attempting it for the last three years, but failing spectacularly (Imagine Manoj Prabhakar in a World Cup semi-final). I found that it was because I was ill prepared, and had no idea where my plot was going to take me. This year, I spent a few weeks in October getting my plot ready, diving my story into chapters, and developing the sub-plots in my head.

This seems to be working wonders, as I don’t have to sit down to think about what to write. I have a brief idea of what happens, so it’s only a case of how to write it. It reduces the burden on me to come up with an interesting story; all I need to do is focus on maintaining the flow.

If you’re an aspiring writer, I urge you to follow my Facebook page, where I shall be putting up regular tips, updates and follow-ups of my struggle with trying to finish my first draft in a month. If you’re not a writer, kindly bear with my posts this coming month. They will mostly be scrambled rants about the vagaries of trying to write. If you do not connect to the rants, I am sorry.

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#NaNoWriMo DAY 2

It’s the second day of NaNoWriMo, and the challenge really, was to sustain the josh of the first day. First days are beautiful and sunny and inspirational and all things Rocky Balboa. But it’s the day after that’s an acid test.

Assuming the average first draft of a book is 50,000 words, the average word count per day in NaNoWriMo is 1666 words per day. At first, the number seems daunting. But scratch a little deeper, and you’ll find it isn’t as unsurmountable as it seems.

On days when I’m well and truly stuck, I like to divide my day’s writing into paragraphs. Assuming every paragraph is about 200 words on average, I have to write about 8 – 9 paragraphs. Doesn’t sound so difficult, does it?

And if you further break it down, a paragraph usually deals with a single idea – a description, an action, a memory, or a set of dialogues. Which means that I have to trudge my way through 8 or 9 key ideas. And THAT, sounds extremely doable!

And so I sat down to write for the second day.

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But before I get down to the mundane events of the day, let me answer a question I’ve been asked related to writing.

WHAT SORT OF MUSIC TO LISTEN TO WHILE WRITING?

Most writers wouldn’t recommend listening to any music at all. However, most writers do not possess the focus of a coked-up squirrel, like I do. Which is why I need a distraction to end all distractions.

Also, in the world we live in, it has become harder to focus, tougher to push away our distractions. A ping from a friend, a forward from a relative, a buzz from an actor on Twitter – we are a ping away from distraction crumbling down like Kuki Sharda. (Dear God! I beg your forgiveness).

However, listening to music while writing is a tricky matter. Unlike running, or working out, or cooking – you can’t have music that pushes you forward. It cannot be music that makes you feel pumped up. It has to have a calming effect.

At the same time, it cannot be AR Rahman’s greatest instrumental playlist either. Great and evocative as they are, Rahman’s tracks bring with them a memory tucked away in the back of your head. They carry with them recollections and reminders and thoughts and feelings. Thoughts and feelings are distractions when you’re sitting down to write.

The song cannot have lyrics too, as the words of the song will mess with the words you’re trying to write. So that eliminates most music forms popular in our times. The music shouldn’t evoke strong emotions, its work must merely be to calm you down. To get your monkey mind to transform into a saint.

I tried a number of options – white noise, sound of trains and sounds of rains. And yet, none of them seemed to work. I tried elevator music – Brian Emo’s Music for Airports and Thursday Afternoon. They’re both fantastic albums, but they’re too elevator-y. Too bland, they invoke no inspiration, they inspire no provocation. Instead of egging me to write, I felt that the music made me feel like a crack addict who was tied to the metal bed in a psychiatric hospital.

It was after much searching through the underbelly of the Internet that I found my answer – classical music. Western symphony music has no lyrics, moves from emotions in a smooth manner, and makes everything seem grand.

Don’t believe me? Play Rossini’s overture to The Thieving Magpie the next time you’re taking a dump. Tell me if you don’t feel like it’s the greatest dump taken in the history of human civilization. I found a fantastic radio station – KDFC – run by the University of Southern California. They have playlists, request shows and mostly classical music that helps me to calm down, focus and type. I often find my fingers keeping tempo with the music, speeding up towards the end of the performances, and slowing down when the next one begins. I’d highly recommend listening to western classical music.

Before you accuse me of being an anti-national, here’s why Indian classical music didn’t work for me. I have listened to a lot of Indian classical music. The instruments evoke memories in me, and I cannot be completely detached to Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, Zakir Hussain and Shivkumar Sharma. These beautiful gentlemen were a part of my growing years, and I needed something that was neutral and unemotional for me.

However, I would also highly recommend Hariprasad Chaurasia’s albums Morning to Midnight – Morning to Dusk, Pure Joy, and (for completely biased reasons), Hriday.

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Day 2 Updates:

I got back from my office at 9.45. Our cook had cooked meal-maker curry in the day, and had merely added daal to the menu. This prompted me to have a Masala Dosa in the office (a huge shoutout to the wonderful cooks who make the dosa in the Microsoft campus).

I reached home to find that the geyser (which was installed in the heyday of Bahadur Shah Zafar) had been repaired, and I took a shower. I rolled a joint, and sat down to jot down what I’d be writing today.

At 12, I began writing, going smooth till I’d hit 890 words. I found myself stuck with a particular question (What sort of food would students in the Mahabharat era eat?). I had a quick discussion with my friend, and the harmless question stretched on for an hour and a half.

By the end of the discussion, we had charted out the daily schedule for the Kaurava princes at Dronacharya’s ashram. We knew what they would do on regular days, and on holidays and festive occasions.

We had also created a menu for students in the Dwaapar Yuga, and what they’d be given to eat on holidays. By the end of the discussion, we saw that the time was 3.30. I wished my friend goodnight and sat down to write myself to sleep, managing a healthy 1682 words for the day.

Lessons learnt on Day 2:

  1. If you’re stuck with descriptions, carry an exam pad and sketch out the places, doodle out the exact details, and then proceed to explain them one after the other.
  1. If you’re finding it difficult to focus, classical music is a great option to resort to.

So, on the third day of November, I stand at 3315 words, and well into the second chapter of my fourth book.

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If you’re an aspiring writer, I implore you to take part in NaNoWriMo. There are wonderful fora across the Internet where authors sit and discuss, debate, and bitch about the world. All through this month, I shall be posting unsolicited advice, tips, and updates about my struggles to finish my book in a month.

If you’re not an aspiring writer…I envy your life!  🙂

crackers-festival

Diwali Crackers ranked according to awesomeness (and Risk Levels)

I have been writing about Diwali over the last one week, and as expected, the discussions have all descended into a Hindu vs Muslim argument.

Honestly, I’m a little tired of putting forth my opinions and being labelled. There’s already been so much said on the subject, and the reader will mostly only take the opinion based on the ideology that they belong to, so it’s like singing a Qawwali to a cow.

While I’m an atheist and strongly detest anything to do with religion and religious rituals, I cannot deny that I’ve had my share of fun on Diwali. I cannot deny that Diwali is more than bursting crackers or creating an India-shaped hole in the Ozone layer. It is about families getting together. About joy, happiness, and explaining technology to family members.

Also, no matter what I say about crackers, I can’t change the fact that I’ve burst thousands of crackers in my lifetime. I realise that just because I’ve grown up and slanted towards a particular line of thought, I cannot expect kids of today not to burst crackers. That would be very uncle-y of me, and not something I’d do.

What I’d like to do, on the other hand, is to list out all Diwali crackers on the basis of awesomeness (and the risk involved).

So here it is. The definitive list of Diwali crackers, ranked on the basis of awesomeness.

  1. SNAKE BOMB:

This name is a misnomer. It is not really a bomb; and no prizes for guessing – it isn’t really a snake either.

The snake bomb (also called snake pellet/Evil Hajmola/Kill Grandmother Tablet) is a small, black button-like object that is placed on the floor. Light it with a matchstick, and nothing happens – only a thick, black line of soot comes out of the tablet, leaving a permanent scar on the floor, and in your heart. I always felt this was the Lifebuoy of crackers – that after all the crackers were made, this was coughed up with whatever gun-powder remained in Sivakasi. It has now been banned by the government, which came as a surprise to nobody.

RISK LEVEL: Zilch. Except that your grandparents might feel they gave birth to a degenerate.

 

  1. MAALA:

If the Indian government wishes to track black money, they needn’t run after Swiss Bank accounts. They need to place taxmen in colonies and track down the man who’s bursting the longest maala on Diwali.

The most annoying Diwali cracker in the history of Diwali crackers. If the Maala existed in the time of Ramayan, Lakshmana would have shot arrows straight through the hearts of the monkey army for lighting up maalas.

The Maala (which comes in varieties of 10,000 wala, 1 lakh wala and 10 lakh wala) is a ‘fuck-you’ cracker that serves no purpose but to display the wealth of its owner. The most annoying bit about the Maala (also called the ladi) is the fact that while it goes on for over 9 minutes like a thumri, all you can do is sit and wait.

RISK LEVEL: Make sure grandparents have had dinner, play Raina Beeti Jaaye on Sony Mix, and the begin lighting the Maala.

 

9. FOUNTAIN/FLOWERPOT/KUMPI

The flowerpot (also called an ‘Anaar’ by people who studied at Rishi Valley School) is symbolic of Diwali and is often the first cracker to get out of the way. It is easy, fun to watch, and like a human orgasm, is fantastic for a few seconds.

However, the reason for its low ranking is the fact that the Flowerpot scores very low on the Money : Chaos theory. You can’t direct it at neighbours, or use it to spook the guy next to you lighting up an Atom Bomb. The riskiest thing you can do with this is to hold it in your hand while lighting up, something Jackie Shroff did as an infant. In fact, Jackie Shroff came out of the hospital ward holding a lit up fireworker in his left hand (he’s right-handed). But more on that later, for Diwali is an occasion to celebrate other heroes.

Another reason for its particularly low ranking is the fact that it has become rather expensive these days.

RISK LEVEL: Breeze. Like watching Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham on Star Gold on a Wednesday afternoon.

 

8. CHAKRI

The Chakri is based on a simple concept – that if you wrap barood in thin strips of paper and tie them around in a circle, it will rotate and spew sparkling lights across. It has a fairly long wick and can be lit by people of all ages. The only problem I have with the Chakri (and hence, the low ranking) is the fact that it needs a lot of prep time.

Chakris need to be properly sunned in the afternoon, failing which they go through the scientific phenomenon known as ‘phusss ho gaya’.

RISK LEVEL: Just wear a pair of Paragon chappals.

 

7. BIJLI:

The Bijli Bomb (bit of a stretch to call it a bomb, honestly) is a value for money, efficient cracker that does its job. You can light it up before, after, or during Diwali – the Bijli is the French Fries of Diwali crackers.

When many Bijlis come together, they create the annoying maala, but as individual sticks, they are quite palatable. Proving that in the world of crackers, the adage holds true – ‘United we Terrorise, Divided we chill’.

The Bijli bomb can be enjoyed be oneself. Light a candle, light the wick of the Bijli, throw it away from you. Relight the candle.

RISK LEVEL: Mild surprise when grandmother is praying in front of the Tulasi plant, but no physical damage.

 

6. SPARKLER:

Non-exciting and completely vegetarian, the Sparkler is the only real surprise in this list. However, it has earned its place on the basis of solid facts. The sparkler is pretty much the first real cracker that anybody in their lives ever held. It is also the only cracker that every single member of the family could hold, loop around in the air for a few times, and then safely throw away to the side.

The sparkler is also used when matchsticks are too mundane to light up other dangerous bombs, and on the basis of efficiency and their ubiquitous nature, the Sparkler ranks high in the list.

RISK LEVEL: Very low. In fact, grandparents will smile, and give you their blessings. And some pocket money as well, if they aren’t my grandparents.

 

5. CHOCOLATE BOMB:

No fuss, does what it’s supposed to do, comes cheap, and looks like it was made from Minnie Mouse’s old underpants – what’s not to like about the classic Chocolate Bomb?

The Chocolate Bomb used to cost a rupee in my childhood and I’m glad to announce that it only costs about 10 rupees now (5 if you buy on Diwali evening). In fact, if Bajaj Motors released a Diwali cracker, it would be the chocolat bomb. Cheap, efficient, won’t last too long.

RISK LEVEL: It has a very small wick, and requires precision while lighting. Grandparents could throw their walking stick at you.

 

4. ROCKET

The perennial favourite, the ‘Rocket’ was such a legendary cracker that Chacha Chaudhry named his dog after this delightful essential household item.

Comes in attractive packaging, with tantalising pictures of Katrina K and Kareena KK. The rocket also scores highly due to its flexible usage. It can be lit up in various modes – fitting the complete range of sadomasochism – from the Arun Govil technique of filling a cool drink bottle with sand, to the ISIS approved method of holding it in your hand and pointing it to the neighbour’s window.

RISK LEVEL: ‘Stick it with the pointy end’, Jon Snow said, as he smiled at Arya.

 

3. ONION BOMB:

I don’t know if this bomb is still available and legal, but it was one of my favourites while growing up. The Onion Bomb had no wick to light, and burst on impact when you threw it with force against a wall, floor, or ceiling.

Shaped like an onion and looked like a garlic, I used it extensively as an imaginary cricket ball. I would draw wickets on the wall, take a run up and bowl fast (being careful not to pitch the ball short). On the other end, I would imagine Pakistani batsmen buckling under pressure (What can I say! Disturbed childhood). I also used it as grenades to fling at imaginary villains, as shown in the film Zalzala.

RISK LEVEL: Do not buy too many at one time and put them in the same bag. Do not put the bag on the floor with force once you’ve reached home. Do not put them in your pockets, as you might slip and fall. Do not ask your grandparents to cook you anything that involves onion or garlic.

 

2. GUN AND BULLETS:

Okay, I take back my words. The Gun and Bullets are the ACTUAL surprise on the list, but kindly give me a minute to explain my choice, M’lord.

While Diwali might be a festival that raises many questions on the socio-political spectrum today, this wasn’t always the case. Back then, Diwali only came on the news when people suffered third degree burns. And even then, I didn’t spend a lot of time fussing over bombs and creating imaginary lists in order of awesomeness.

There were two other boys in our lane and the three of us ensured we got decent guns in our pockets. We collected coins and pooled in the brown cardboard boxes that had rolls of red, barood-filled bindis in them. And then we set out.

An abandoned truck had been lying by the side of a road for a few years, and if you climbed from the back, you could open its doors and sit inside. The back was empty, and the great vessel that once carried sand and cement and chips was now a fortress. I spent many an afternoon hopping on to the truck, killing enemies while ducking Bullets, and holding dear friends as they died in my arms from bullet wounds…only to rush home to drink a glass of Bournvita and return as a new hero!! For, tell me O Partha, how can you remove the concept of Punarjanam from a festival?

RISK LEVEL: Barely any. Keep away from the dressing table and cousins attempting Medical/CA courses to avoid minor scares.

 

1. HYDROGEN BOMB:

The elder brother of the Atom Bomb, the Hydrogen Bomb is a large ball of destruction that is rolled up in green woollen threads and a shiny sticker to hold the wick in.

If the Atom Bomb is the gateway to the Dark Side, the Hydrogen Bomb is where things get real. Not every wizard who bought guns from Ollivander’s shop will step over into the dark green, Slytherin world of the Hydrogen Bomb. But the ones that do, will heed the call of the Death Eaters, and purchase boxes full of these potent crackers.

In Game of Thrones, Ser Beric Dondarrion lights up the Lightbringer sword and comes back to life, but it kills a bit of him every single time. As we know, everything originated in India, and George RR Martin was inspired for this idea from the great Vishwa RR Mitra, an Indian Maharishi. Much like the Lightbringer sword, the Hydrogen Bomb startles everybody, but particularly rearranges the insides of the person who lit it up. Other conspiracy theories say that it was invented by Tyler Durden on a particularly gloomy Wednesday afternoon.

The Hydrogen Bomb is all the more relevant in the times we live in. As we speak, Kim Jon Un and Donald Trump are threatening each other with Hydrogen Bombs of larger sizes, as Death Eaters around the world cheer with glee. It might be the last Diwali out there folks, enjoy it while it lasts!

RISK LEVEL: Grandparents could strike out your name from the family’s inheritance.

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So that is it.

That is ALL I know about Diwali crackers. I literally no nothing else on the subject. If I ever make it to KBC and Mr. B asks me ‘Haiiiinnnn…. Hriday ji, agla sawaal… Kaun sa Bharatiya neta ne ‘Lakshmi Bomb’ ko naam diya?’; I’d have to quit the game, for there is nothing more I know about crackers.

Some 10 years ago, I started this blog as a teenager, unaware that it would mean anything, unaware that it would open doors, that thousands of strangers would connect to it. But it has survived 10 years.

If this blog survives another 30 odd years, and some kid is reading it and looks back on our times, let them not think that Diwali was only a festival that brought on controversies, debates and confrontations on the news and Internet. Let them know that Diwali was a festival when people shared sweets, met their loved ones, got high, smiled, and laughed.

I am nobody to preach to you. Burst crackers if you have to. Don’t burst them if you don’t.

Stay safe! Happy Diwali. 🙂 🙂

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Featured Image Courtesy: www.hindugodwallpaper.com

‘The Lunchbox’ is an ode to loneliness

In the last one year, a strange practice has taken over my film-viewing habits.

Instead of hunting for new movies to watch, new stories to trip on – I have been revisiting films that struck a chord with me in the last few years. I like to rewatch them, go back to my review and opinions of the film, and see if anything has changed. If I still feel the same way about the film.

I found that I’m kinder to Imtiaz Ali’s films (Tamasha, Highway), and find myself having been overtly kind to a few other films (Matru ki Bijli ka Mandola).

However, the experience of watching a film without the urgent, binding pressure to review it, to pronounce a verdict; is a much better way to watch the film.

It was in this journey of re-reviewing films that I came across The Lunchbox a few days back.

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The overwhelming emotion that the film evokes, is that of loneliness. The entire film is an ode to loneliness – not the sudden, crushing loneliness of losing a loved one. But the slow, corroding loneliness that gets deeper and darker. Like the rods of old trains that have gotten rusted with time.

The look and feel of the film carries a minimalistic tone. The name, the trailer, and even the sets of the film evoke a feeling of overwhelming loneliness.

On the surface, the film is the story of Ila and Sajan. But scratch this fragile surface, and you’ll find that each and every character in the film is lonely. Each of them distinct from the other, and yet; each of them lonely in a distinct, different way.

There’s Nawazuddin Siddiqui. A man rooted in no family or home, a man who carries his kitchen with him in his briefcase. Who makes up an imaginary mother and feeds her memorable quotes. Who latches on to his superior in the office, bearing insults and jibes – striking up conversations from the limited matchsticks in his armoury. Nawazuddin is probably the happiest person in the film, finally pleading with another lonely man to join him on the happiest day of his life.

There is Ila – dressed in  sepia toned chudidars. A husband who doesn’t care, a father on his deathbed. She’s a housewife, a non-economic entity in the City of Dreams, surrounded by lonely people.

The aunty upstairs is lonely, having spent 15 years tending to a paralysed man who has been staring at the ceiling fan for a decade and a half. Ila’s daughter is lonely too – her large, round eyes lack the boisterous exuberance of a child. She plays by herself, with a doll that he mother used to play with. Ila’s mother is lonely too, a wife with no tears to spare for her dead husband. Her husband is pursuing an extramarital affair at work. So disconnected is he to life that even though he’s been eating the same curry for weeks at stretch, it evokes a mere complaint to his wife. Her brother has committed suicide, his death hanging over them like a family ghost.

Which is why Ila clings on to that little connection when it comes her way. Which is why she checks if her daughter is around before opening his letters. Why she giggles when she reads them, and lies to Aunty about the brinjals she bought. She clings on to it, even if the feeble, gossamer of a connection is with Sajan Fernandes.

A man who doesn’t just look old, he smells old. A man who has resigned to life, and by extension, to death. Who discusses vertical coffins like it was an item in his grocery list. A man who gets his food from nearby hotels, who religiously performs his duties, and has nobody else in the entire world. As a child, when we would play cricket in the bylanes of my colony in Bhubaneswar, I used to wonder what sort of people didn’t return the ball when it fell into their compound. Perhaps there are Sajan Fernandes-es all around us.

Which is why Sajan grasps onto the gossamer too. The secret is a window of indulgence in the pale grey room that is his life. The terror in his eyes when the ceiling fan above him stops moving; the pride he feels when Sheikh praises his food. Sajan is a man who would meticulously cling on to a thread in a storm.

And when the two leads begin to connect, they do not discuss the bright, colourful joys of life. They do not connect over dreams of tomorrow, but over morbid themes – lung cancer, a woman who jumped off a building with her daughter, and the distance between two people who live together.

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Which is why when the film ends on a cliffhanger, you as a viewer feel neither ecstatic, or crushed, or moved, or elated. The last shot of the film is a group of dabbawalas, singing bhajans, carrying empty tiffin boxes back. It will be another day tomorrow.

Perhaps the two will meet. Perhaps they won’t.  

 

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Diwali pollution

A cracker of a decision

Sometimes, I wonder if there’s any issue we can discuss in India without giving it communal undertones.

And then, I remember that this is India and if I want to have fancy dreams, I might as well think of Aditi Rao Hydari on a bright summer beach. We might be the oldest existing civilisation in the world, but we discuss and argue with the intellectual maturity of adolescent grasshoppers.

Unlike what Twitter will tell you, the directive to ban the sale of firecrackers in Delhi and NCR does not stem from the Supreme Court being a ‘liberal gandu’. It was actually a petition signed by three kids from Delhi who believed that firecrackers were polluting the air.

And before you dismiss it as some childish dream by three naadaan bachhe, here’s some facts that will stir up the patriotism in you – India has a problem of pollution. 13 of our cities rank among the 30 most polluted cities in the world. We have the most number of polluted cities, and share this unique distinction with China, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Which means that we live in the most polluted region in the world, and if we don’t start acting up, shit gonna hit da fan, bruh!

According to other reports, 50 lakh kilograms of firecrackers are set to be sold in the NCR region, and 1 lakh kilos in Delhi alone. Which of course, has some benefits. For example, we learn new words every year. Like SMOKE + FOG = SMOG. After all, Indian culture is the best. Even if you pollute the fuck out of the environment, Indian culture will give you something back in return.

Most critics of the ban have a singular, solid point of defence. Why single out only Hindu festivals? Are you fucking kidding me? You’re going to be bursting 2 crore kilograms of firecrackers in one night, and you want a fucking pat on the back??

Funnily enough, most patriots nurture a strange notion that crackers are an integral part of Diwali celebrations. They actually believe that our ancestors from the Vedic age burst crackers on Diwali. What fertile minds! What vivid imaginations!!

So they must be thinking that the day Rama returned from Lanka after defeating Ravana, Vishwamitra and Vashishta went and bought some bijli bombs and started lighting up ladis along the road. That Narada went and brought some rockets and Shatrughana (since he didn’t have much to do throughout) made sure the crackers were dried in the sun the previous day!

And leading this pack of morons is the largest selling author of our country – Chetan Bhagat. It’s been five years since I’ve bitched about the guy, and I’m thrilled to announce that the dude has just got more and more stupid as the years have gone by. Mr. Bhagat has tweeted about how firecrackers are being targeted, and slaughtering goats is not touched upon. Bhagat is a funny man. All through the UPA regime, he fussed and cribbed about the government being a sellout by making policies appeasing Muslims. One would assume he would shut the fuck up now that his wet dreams have come true with a majority BJP government. But one must never underestimate the power of stupidity!

And that is the sad part about having any discussion in India today. You cannot broach any topic without some intellectually challenged dude like Chetan Bhagat questioning your secular credentials. I fail to understand how pollution has any religion. What is the religion of a child’s lungs? And which God rescues older people and children when they get asthma attacks after every Diwali?

I understand the skepticism in the minds of people. But it is not impossible. Smaller cities like Ranchi and Bhubaneswar have set up specific locations in the city where crackers can be sold. Some cities in China have completely banned the use of firecrackers – no exceptions, no by-laws. Even Mumbai has laws (at least on paper) that you cannot burst crackers on the roads.

Laws are the beginning of change. And when you fight the forming of laws, what change do you expect to see in the country?

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Unfortunately, Hinduism began as a religion that worshipped nature. Rig Veda, the oldest of the Vedas, is a collection of hymns that praise nature as gods. In India, we worship the wind, water, oceans, trees, and hills.

And yet, come any festival, and we pollute like today’s the last day on earth. Like tomorrow morning Kalki Avatar is going to arrive on his white horse and wipe out everybody on the face of this planet.

Diwali? We celebrate Rama’s victory by dirtying our roads, scaring patients in hospitals, and inducing thousands of injuries from fire wounds. Holi? We throw toxic chemicals on each other, and decide to also colour dogs, cows and buffaloes. Ganesh Puja? We hail the God of Knowledge by doing the dumbest fucking thing on earth – dumping him in water bodies. Durga Puja? We worship The Mother by laying her to rest in filthy rivers and lakes.

THIS is our culture. We are a nation that loves to pollute. That loves to spread filth and celebrate it as our ‘rich’ culture. Ironically, all the fools who support firecrackers will shut their mouths and follow the laws of the land when they’re in a different country. But when in India…

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I find it sad when I see teenagers and youngsters talk about our rich heritage. When I see them reason that we have been bursting crackers for hundreds of years – why should we stop now? 

Well, times change. And we would be idiots not to change with it. Do you still wear dhotis, write letters in post cards, and travel in horse-drawn taangaas? Then what’s the problem in acknowledging a problem that is real, and getting worse by the year?

What is the reluctance in accepting change, in understanding that we cannot as a nation keep on polluting our air and rivers? What sort of a intellectually warped nation have we become that we cannot even see beyond our flaws as a nation?

What IS this culture that we keep celebrating??

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(Featured Image courtesy Flicker)

Rajiv_Gandhi_International_Airport

Tripping in airports

The last week was spent traveling, and as I navigated through cities with my blue oversized Wildcraft rucksack, I reveled in the joy of tripping in airports.

As a writer and comedian, traveling to other cities has become a constant attempt to come up with observations. Some of them are rather mundane (did you know that vada pavs across the country are exactly the same? I mean, there are no variations at all, it’s exactly the same).

But some observations were genuinely interesting. For example, I noticed that you could gauge how much the women of a city trusted their city, by looking at their Tinder profiles. In Hyderabad, I find women usually build walls around themselves on their Tinder profile (Not interested in hook-ups. Swipe right if you want to go traveling together).  In Mumbai, I found women quite open about their likes and dislikes, their choices and needs. In Bhubaneswar, easily the most conservative among the three cities, I found women on Tinder putting up absurd excuses for meeting (Swipe Right if you want to take part in Ekamra Walks on Sunday morning 9 AM!!). 

But keeping forced observations aside, most of my time was spent tripping

It has been a custom for the last few years. On the day of the journey, I panic, stuff stuff in my rucksack, and make sure I’m sufficiently toked before getting to the airport. It helps that the Hyderabad airport is forty kilometres away, and give me a very ‘Swades’ feeling. Of staring into the distance and pondering over the many myriad meanings of life. I plug in my earphones, fire up a clichéd playlist of travel songs, and stare philosophically into the sky.

I took my first flight about seven years ago. And in spite of having to travel around as a comic, I am blown away by the experience every single time. I love the hustle and bustle, the feeling of success everytime the guard with the machine gun checks my ID and lets me in.

I grew up on train nostalgia, but train journeys are simply not the same anymore. They are noisy, dirty, chaotic, and I have a constant fear that a terrorist is going to blow up the railway station. So I trip on airports these days.

So I trip in airports these days.

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I understand that the primary job of an airport people by airplanes. But if there was a second reason, it seems like they were built to let people trip. Long white corridors, abstract paintings on the walls, music playing through speakers, sights and sounds, smells and flavours.

I find children and old people to be the only ones who still revel in the joy of an airport. The children are fiddling with things, getting yanked by their parents, pointing and wanting stuff. The older ones are curiously judging everything, asking their guardians for tips on navigating the gigantic technological glacier they’ve been trying to ride. Everybody that’s not a child or old, is simply jaded. Music is playing in their ears, but their eyes are glazed. The frequent travelers have no time to wonder, no need to marvel.

I wander through the outlets, buying nothing, and judging everything. ‘Achha. 11,000 ka shirt. Wah! Tera baap khareedega, saale!’ I wander through the food counters, looking at the menus, their prices and imagining I’m in the future where a plate of idli costs 350 bucks. I wonder if these shops would then be shooting other stoned passengers like me into the future.

There is a mild panic before the Security Check. I don’t know why, but it’s always there. I have had nightmares of being stopped by the security guards because a friend stuffed some weed for me in my rucksack. The police stop me, and I run, and then they shoot me down.

None of this happens, and I feel victorious after my boarding pass has been stamped. You remember the satisfaction in school when there was an investigation going on for a crime, but you knew you had nothing to do with it, and were being unusually cocky about your confidence? Something like that.

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But more than anything else, it is the thrill of being in the sky that gets to me. I once did acid on a flight and I felt like I had died and God had approved of my membership into the gated community called heaven. No matter how many times I fly, I make it a point to look out of the window and gasp at the enormity of it all.

Of being able to sit and write out a blog in the sky.

As I sit down to type out this blog, we have taken off and when I look to my right (and past the man who looks at me and my shabby hair with suspicion), I see clouds of white in skies of blue. Bright blessed days and dark sacred nights.

The announcements have come on, I need to close my tray. I return the Cello Gripper ball pen to the air hostess, close my note book and slip my tablet and keyboard into my bag. In the time that it took me to write this blog, I, Veda Vyasa, have travelled from my Karmabhoomi to my Matrubhoomi.

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And that is why I trip in airports.

And that is why I trip on airports.