Category Archives: Arbit Gyan

Picture showing a group of hybrid, super-efficient zombies who pass off as the Indian team today.

Why do all Indian cricketers look like each other?

Nostalgia, is a tricky monster.

Nostalgia makes people romanticise the trivial and the unpleasant. People glorify the agony of waiting a month for a telephone connection and LPG cylinder. Processing and accepting those emotions as some hogwash cathartic, life-coming-full-circle bullshit.

Cricket isn’t exempt from the vile clutches of nostalgia either.

I have met erstwhile fans who glorify the tension of watching the Indian cricket team in the 90s. Celebrate the anxiety of watching the Indian team totter and stutter their way to rare victories. ‘Glorious uncertainties’ – that term that Sunil Gavaskar dished out when we snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory in Bahubalean fashion. When S. Ramesh T. struggled to string together the winning runs while his partners strolled in and out of the pitch like drunk baaraatis. Most fans tend to romanticise these days of uncertainty, bracketing them unnecessarily under the umbrella of ‘nostalgia’.

I am not one of them. Give me ‘predictably good’ over ‘glorious uncertainty’ any day. Perhaps my brain had a premonition about my weak heart’s incapability to deal with these days for too long!

Cricket today is not just competing with Amul Surabhi and Chitrahaar. It’s competing with Netflix and Facebook and Tinder and Zomato. You don’t just have to win, you have to win while blowing my mind, or I’ll switch off. I’ll switch channels and devices and playlists and crawl far, far away from you.

I am happy with the state of the Indian cricket team today. I love the fact that after 80 years of international cricket, India is now feared and respected as a worthy adversary, like the Australian team we grew up watching. That we are counted among the top; that to beat us, you have to be top-shelf, surpass our strengths and exploit our weaknesses.

That you can’t beat India just because Sachin got out and the rest of the team has the batting skills of woodcutters. Not because chasing a big score in a final was ‘always going to be a difficult ask’. Not because, like my neighbour would say, ‘Today is Friday, Muslims will always win’.

To beat the Indian team of today, you have to be bloody good, play out of your skin. Elevate your standards to meet those of our many gods.

It’s a wonderful feeling. I am thrilled with with the state Indian cricket is in today. None of that nostalgia-vostalgia for me, thank you very much!

*

However, I would like to lodge a minor complaint.

It is human nature after all, to lodge such minor complaints from time to time. Jackie Shroff essayed the role of the legendary Ram in Teri Meherbaniyan, but is only remembered for the Bidu caricature. Bob Dylan lodged complaints against the times he lived in using cutting letters and biting phrases. Chenghis Khan complained about the size of his kingdom and went about redefining the meaning of ‘Father’s Day’ for most of Asia. The British complained about the lack of spices in their salads, and I’m sitting here thousands of miles away writing articles with clickbait headlines. It is human nature to complain.

My complaint is the headline of this article. The words you saw on your Facebook feed and decided to give a chance because you saw potential – much like the selectors did with Amay Khurasia years ago –

‘WHY DO ALL INDIAN CRICKETERS LOOK THE SAME?’

The Indian cricket today is a clone army of supremely fit, spiky-haired, tattoo-sporting, muscled athletes. Their beards are all perfectly trimmed and shaped, their hair spiked to perfection, vague tattoos on their left arms – everybody looks like everybody else.

How did a nation with as much diversity as ours, all those races and ethnicities, the chutney of languages and foods and dialects – how did our entire team morph into one another?

Kohli looks like Rahul who looks like Jadeja looks like Rahane looks like Dhawan looks like Pandya looks like Rohit Sharma. Even Ashwin, who till a few years back resembled the topper who eats three tiffin compartments of curd rice in the last bench, has morphed into the army. Suresh Raina, who looks like his father owns a sweet shop on MG Road, has also gone for the beard-spike look. Dhoni, who was once a long-haired Samson who sported a paunch but ran like Minotaur, has also bought into the scheme.

Picture showing a group of hybrid, super-efficient zombies who pass off as the Indian team today.

Picture showing a group of hybrid, super-efficient zombies who pass off as the Indian team today.

Don’t get me wrong! It’s great that the Indian team is faster, stronger, sharper. But at a narrative level, it is devoid of personalities. The Indian team I grew up with was a motley crew of distinctly different personalities. Like a pirate ship with cast-away crew from different lands. You could be watching the match on a grainy 7’ x 8’ black and white television in a paan shop, but you knew who was who. You could recognise them by their gait, their posture, their throws from the boundary, their hobble across the 22 yards.

They were uncle cricketers – who could vanish into any Indian crowd. They could be members of a summer picnic of SBI employees, or a Ganesh procession.

Group of Indian men waiting for traffic police to give permission for their Ganesh to start from the colony (PC: Cricinfo)

Group of Indian men waiting for traffic police to give permission for their Ganesh to start from the colony (PC: Cricinfo)

There were the paunchy, middle-aged men – Manoj Prabhakar, Saba Karim, Ashish Kapoor – whose moustaches and mullets served as tributes to the likes of Suneil Shetty and Sudesh Berry.

Then we had the Decent Gentlemen’s Club of South Indian bowlers – Srinath, Prasad and Kumble. Tall, gangly engineers who worked hard because they had to withdraw their PPF account before Diwali.

Anil Kumble, who with spectacles and moustache, slayed opposition tailenders like they were calculus problems. Srinath, who would come running in from the 30 yard circle, apologise to the batsman for hitting him on the head, and run back to his bowling mark sweating like a marathon runner. Or Prasad, who had the legs of a giraffe and the hands of a sloth. Who woke up early, wore a digital watch, bowled his 10 overs and retired to bed early (unless you were a certain Ameer Sohail).

Picture showing Indian men having a house party when their wives are away.

Picture showing Indian men having a house party when their wives are away.

There was Sunil Joshi, whose moustache was more glorious than his bowling average. Sanjay Manjrekar with his aadarsh-baalak white helmet. Robin Singh, who looked like an honest (and hence) harassed SBI employee – hard-working, sweating, his receding hairline a reflection of his worries. There was Sidhu with the 5 Ks of Sikhism, and one ‘G’ – Grin. Sachin with his curly mop of hair. Venkatpathy Raju and Vinod Kambli, who looked like boys who hung out with the seniors in the colony. Nayan Mongia, who looked like the guy who dropped out of school after 10th and was now doing a vocational course in Industrial Technology Institute.

Schoolboys clicking a picture with their class-teacher on a picnic. PC: Reddit.

Schoolboys clicking a picture with their class-teacher on a picnic. PC: Reddit.

There were the cricketers from Mumbai, their young shoulders drooping with the burden of legacy – Pravin Amre, Sairaj Bahutule, and Sameer Dighe. There were the south Indian batsmen – Sujith Somasunder, Vijay Bharadwaj and S. Ramesh – hardworking and honest (except when Ramesh faked an injury certificate and got booted out of the team!).

And then there was Ramesh Powar, who famously declared in an interview that he was ‘fat, but fit’. Who with his portly paunch and his gold chains and coloured sunglasses looked more capable of hypnotizing batsmen than bamboozling them. Who was probably given two Test matches to play because selectors placed bets on his ability to stand for five days!!  

Then there was the boss man – shoulders hunched, latching onto the ball like it was a golden snitch, flipping the ball with his shoe and catching it – all swag and coolness – Mohammad Swaggeruddin. The man who had his collar up all the time, like the World Cup semi final was just another ‘bet-match’ between Charminar and Begumpet.

You just didn’t follow cricketers, you aped their mannerisms. I tried to flick the ball up like Azharuddin all through my childhood and only learnt to do it at age 30. Ajay Jadeja’s ‘throw the ball quickly and smile’ trick was never possible because I suck as a fielder, and smiling after a misfield makes me look like a lunatic. Laxman’s tapping on the pitch was followed by millions of kids in India.

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You can’t do that with today’s team. KL Rahul has Virat’s beard and Dhawan has his tattoos, and they’re all fit and springy and quick and efficient. Their beards are all cropped to perfection and their tattoos are all dark-green mumbo-jumbo, and they all field well and rattle opposition batsmen.

I can’t tell one from the other. Even when I watch cricket on pimple-revealing HD clarity, I have to put my bottle of beer aside, and wait for the replay to curse the rare misfield. I have nobody to ape anymore, falling back upon Mohd. Swaggeruddin’s ball-flick, and Venkatesh Prasad’s sublime fielding skills.

It’s only a minor complaint, I know. But I’m only human, saar.

Like Sadagopan Ramesh.

***

quitting weed

Going a fortnight without smoking weed

It’s been a week since I quit weed.

I know, I know.

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Before you express displeasure or disapproval, kindly allow me to explain. There are a few reasons for my decision. I have listed them down below:

  1. I was in bed with a lady recently, and my performance reminded myself of Devang Gandhi in Australia in 1999. I have been swimming recently, and am reasonably fit, so it must have been all the smoking. Also, isn’t it funny? Smoking before sex makes you bad at it, and yet we light up a cigarette once we are done?

But wait, the reasons aren’t as shallow as lasting longer in bed.

  1.    I have been getting high EVERY SINGLE DAY for the last decade. Every single day, without any exceptions. It made me realise that my idea of reality could be distorted. My entire day revolved around scoring weed, rolling joints, smoking weed. I had positioned myself as some sort of a Baba for my friends, and I realised I was living up to my own image without bothering to question it.
  1.   I have been rather infatuated with a beautiful young woman, and would like to sort my shit out for a while so I don’t have to run away from another relationship again.

Alright, the reasons DO sound shallow, not that I think about it.

*

Be that as it may, the last fortnight has been quite pleasant.

I have a habit of hyping things up, so I had to give myself a few days before typing away a blogpost on the topic. These are the major effects I found in myself since I quit smoking pot.

  1. There’s just so much time!

 

My days usually began with me looking for the rolling paper and roach, to roll myself a beautiful morning joint. After which, I spend my time pouring over the joys of the Holy Trinity – Reddit, Facebook and X-art.

Since I quit pot, there’s so much time on my hands, I do not know what to do with it all. I sometimes treat myself like a British officers in the Raj. I step out for a morning walk, have myself a cup of tea and ponder about the meaning of life!

  1.   The ability to plan my day out

I am not big on planning. I have never planned anything in life, except probably when I used to work in an STD booth during my +2, and I made sure I finished all my work before the Friday night movie on DD1.

These days, I bring out my pen (Luxor V7 Hi-Tecpoint, in case you’re curious!) and my notebook (Classmate, cheap 25 Rs.) and chalk out my plan for the day. Of course, I am unable to finish all the items on my to-do list, but it’s better than not having a to-do list at all.

  1.   Withdrawal symptoms? I have Deposit symptoms

I was told that I’d feel a number of symptoms of quitting weed after such extended periods of usage. On the contrary, I feel perfectly fine. I wake up early and do not have to wait for my asshole stand-up comedian friends to get free so I can roll them a joint. Forget withdrawal symptoms, I am showing deposit symptoms!

  1.   Calming of ‘em nerves

I used to live under the impression that smoking weed calms me down. I used to smoke joints before I went up on stage, before I started writing, and before going to bed. Since I’ve gone cold turkey (quit cigarettes too!), I feel calmer before going up on stage.

Instead of the 15 minutes I used to smoke 3 cigarettes before going up, I now calmly run through my content. If anything, I feel a sense of tranquility, a sense of surety.

 

*

I don’t mean to preach at all.

I don’t believe marijuana is harmful (except the damage to the lungs, of course), and don’t mean to stop you from smoking up. In fact, I still roll joints for all my friends because of the sense of power and abstinence it gives me. Please feel free to smoke up as much weed as you want.

However, if you decide to quit, remember it’s not that difficult. Marijuana has a number of magical properties, but perhaps the most magical of them all is the complete lack of dependency on the substance itself.

So if you’re looking to quit, please do so by all means.

(Issued in public interest. If you have any issues with quitting weed/cigarettes/your job, feel free to write to Hriday at writetohriday@gmail.com! :D)

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(Featured Image courtesy: wikihow.com)

To be in love with a ‘committed’ woman

At 31, I have nearly given up on love and companionship.

While love is determined on dreamy foundations in your early 20s, as you get to your late 20s, it is about pragmatism and practicality. I have the discipline of a drunk sloth, and do not aim to ever have a job or get married.

At 31, friends do not try to link you up with their friends. Tinder is too shallow for my tastes, and going to meet somebody is too deep for me. My game is not really that of looks – you need to speak to me for a few days before even considering meeting me. Most people have that ONE bad relationship in their lives, all of my 9 relationships were disasters. And I don’t even mean flings, I mean proper relationships.

(Wow, I sound depressing!)

I spent the last one year sleeping around, but how long can a man keep doing that? Flings are great when the night is long and sinful. But once the sun has risen and you have to discuss realities like ‘How do I get back home?’ or ‘When will he be back?’, I feel terribly cheap.

And so my life was hurtling along, when I met this woman.

And thus, the saga began all over again.

*

Call me soppy, but most of my relationships begin when I dream about the person (I know, I know!).  

In my dreams, I am super confident about myself, a healthy mix of Dev Anand and Shammi Kapoor who can serenade and sweep off nimble feet. All the women I have dated have been stunning, and I look like the actor Harish having a bad hair day. Which means I require high levels of confidence before taking my stance.

And just when I had given up on myself, I came across this woman.

There is a distinct pattern to all the woman I had the chance to spend time with. For some reason, they all love dogs, Harry Potter and marijuana.

Talking to a woman you like for the first time is like doing acid. You pop the tab and wait for it to take effect. You smile and you grin and forget that you’re a monster deep within. The world around you opens up in beautiful, vivid colours. Your broken, jagged soul fits into the horizon like a jigsaw puzzle.

Only problem though, she has a boyfriend!

*

When I meet a woman I like who’s committed, there are two paths to take. One, a completely physical, wanton ‘Wham, bam, Bol Bam’. The second, I avoid them completely.

That was the plan. The plan was to forget her and move on, try to be a better person.

But I cannot stop thinking about her. I keep checking out the timezone she is in, wondering what she might be doing at this moment. I keep checking to see if she is online, keep fighting off those dark, evil thoughts that knock on the outside of my brain.

To be in love with a woman who is committed to someone else feels like injustice. Like pain somewhere deep within that cannot be diagnosed. Like running for miles like a maniac, and discovering you’re on a treadmill.

I long for a time when we were all early men and women. When society hadn’t drawn up these lines and divisions. When the only ‘commitment’ humans had was to hunt for the deer that evening.

Of course, I could put an end to all this misery. I could ask her if she wanted to be with me, and she might probably agree. Might. But I have zero confidence in my own abilities. In my morals and ethics. What if I go back to being the lazy sloth that I am? What if I cheat on her too?

Do I have the right to uproot her from her magical life and bring her into mine, full of monsters and demons?

And so I sit here in my shallow pit and wallow in self-pity.

For being in love with a committed woman, is worse than being in love at all.

***

Wallpaper courtesy: WallpaperCave.com. 
Text: You get the idea!

I’ll be in Hufflepuff, thank you very much!

If you were in Hogwarts, which house would you be in?

I have been asked this question since 8th grade, when I first laid my hands on a Harry Potter book. Back then, it seemed like a stupid question. Gryffindor was my window to the world of Hogwarts, it was where all the action happened. Why would anybody choose any other house?

Also, I display a general abhorrence for such leading, pointed questions – Who is your favourite cricketer? Which is your favourite movie? Why the fuck do you want to know, man? And what will you do with this data? And why should I put myself through the ordeal of scanning through all my favourite films to reach an answer – only to be judged by you in the end? Adava Kedavra!!

However, like Lupin in his teaching days, I have toned myself down with age. I understand that humans come with varying levels of intelligence, and it’s not their fault that there’s MSG in Maggi noodles. As we were stubbing out some herb today, my friend asked me the same question after all these years. I did what I do when people ask me this question – I pouted, looked into the distance and nodded wisely.

This was a serious question, and needed serious introspection. But what logical peripheries are we operating within? What timelines are we looking at? Are we talking about present day Hogwarts or during the time of the books? To answer such a question, we first need to set the rules.

I gave it much consideration, and decided I would not want to be in Hogwarts in the present day. What fun would Hogwarts be without Snape and Dumbledore? And McGonagall as Headmistress? Never liked her too much!

So I first went about setting the rules. I first began reading the epics when I was 13, two years older to Neville Longbottom & Co.. So I would have to be in the same era, two years senior to the infamous batch, and present in Hogwarts while the events mentioned in the book happen around me.

In such circumstances, I would choose to be in Hupplepuff, thank you very much! Kindly find my reasons stated below!

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Original wallpaper source: http://hdpicturez.com. Text: Yours Truly

Original wallpaper source: http://hdpicturez.com. Text: Yours Truly

When asked the crucial question, most hipsters reply with ‘Slytherin’. In their heads, this is a wildly imaginative answer, much like their tattoos and cruiser motorcycles. Diffindo!!

On the outside, Slytherin might seem like an adventurous, mysterious side to be in. But can you imagine spending your days and nights amidst those horrible green corridors? And would you want to stay in a house where 11 year olds propagate ideas of bigotry? I am a mixed breed in real life, so it’s quite obvious that I’d be called the ‘M’ word in Slytherin corridors. Living in Slytherin would be like living in India with its caste system, and honestly, who wants to go through that?

Of course, some of you might say that there is more to the house than their cunning nature. That they have produced wizards like Severus and Salazar, that the house signifies resourcefulness, and ambition.

But you have to understand that I’m thinking like a 13 year old here. I do not crave the Mirror of Erised, or the Elder Wand. My motives are driven by da punani!

So no thank you, Slytherin. You’re too slimy for my taste.

*

Wallpaper from: wallpapersafari.com. Text: Me, in collaboration with Sorting Hat

Wallpaper from: wallpapersafari.com. Text: Me, in collaboration with Sorting Hat

I have always found Ravenclaws to be too overbearing, and this might be due to a particular ex-girlfriend of mine. She always knew my passwords, and went so far as revealing the climax of Book no. 6 after reading it herself. While I dished out a string of Crutacius curses under my breath, I have forgiven her now!

She was the first person I met from Ravenclaw, and the image has stuck, for better or worse. I find Ravenclaw to be a wannabe Gryffindor, constantly going on about wit, wisdom, intelligence and creativity. It could also be because Cho Chang, the first Ravenclaw I met, was the blandest character in the books.

I was never a fan of Ravenclaw girls – they were too snooty! (Please don’t judge me. This was my thinking as a 13 year old, an age where you don’t arrive at decisions by referring to the latest edition of Malayala Manorama!).  I imagine the Ravenclaw common room to be full of (wannabe) Hermiones, strutting about in their robes, memorising books from cover to cover.

Thanks but no thanks, Ravena. I won’t be choosing any of your house mates. As Molly Weasley puts it so succinctly, ‘Not your daughters, you bitch!’

*

Wallpaper Source: TheLadyAvatar - DeviantArt.  Text: Moi

Wallpaper Source: TheLadyAvatar – DeviantArt.
Text: Moi

Much like in Hollywood films where aliens always attack the US of A, Gryffindor is the house where it all happens. This is the house where Harry Insufferable Potter decides to set off on adventures that would seem risky to Peter Pettigrew on absynthe. Where everybody agrees with Harry when he decides it’s perfectly alright for a 12 year old to take on the most powerful dark lord the world has ever seen.

Can you imagine how unsettling it must be to hang out in the Gryffindor common room? You’re finishing up your assignments, and suddenly realise a weird man’s face in the fireplace. Or you’re sleeping (because your parents didn’t take you in for holidays) when suddenly a Death Eater decides to have breakfast with you! Duels, plans, conspiracies – the Gryffindor Common Room knows no chill.

If I were in Gryffindor, I’d have punched Harry right in his smug face, challenged Ron to a duel of ‘Whose wand is newer?’, and proposed to Hermione at least twice in a year. I would have whooped Harry’s punk ass, and later paid the price, as the guy is Dumbledore’s pet!

Too much drama, too much risk! As a 13 year old, I do not wish to be brawny and brainy; I want da punaani!

 

*

Wallpaper courtesy: WallpaperCave.com.  Text: You get the idea!

Wallpaper courtesy: WallpaperCave.com.
Text: You get the idea!

Hufflepuff is the most chill house there is in the magical world, and even Alastor Moody wouldn’t disagree with me. While Hufflepuff gets the least screen time, even JK Rowling (herself a Gryffindor), agrees that Hufflepuff is the best house there is!

Hufflepuff has no celebrities, no heroes – even the most famous Hufflepuffs are the Harsha Bhogles of the magical worlds – Pomona Sprout and Silvanus Kettleburn. Also, Hufflepuffs are dignified and hard working. Take Cedric Diggory, for example – the guy drove girls wild for five years, then represented Hogwarts in the Triwizard Tournament, died, and came back to play Edward in a mind-numbing series for the rest of the decade.

Hufflepuffs are all-round nice people – no fuss, no starry airs. They are kids acting like kids, not like teenage pop stars throwing tantrums all the time. While the excitement in Gryffindor and Slytherin might seem attractive in the beginning, would you really want to go through the nerve-wrecking experience every single day? I would much prefer the Hufflepuff Common Room, where students choose to blow away their worries. For what’s a little herb when the Dark Lord’s reign is nigh! How much difference will a few blots of acid make, when there are Death Eaters hanging out in the corridors?

Also, Hufflepuff women are my idea of ideal women. Kind, patient, intelligent, and good with rolling joints. The kind who experiment with potions and positions, ogres and orgies. Since I’m no great looker, my game is more of intelligence and wit, and I’d fit into Hufflepuff like a brick in Diagon Alley.

Also remember, I am two years senior to Harry Potter, and given below is an accurate description of my life at Hogwarts:

my years in hogwarts

So I’ll remain at Hufflepuff, thank you very much!

You can have your dragons and phoenixes; I’m happy with my slugs and shrubs. I would like to make the best of my seven years in this place, and stay as far away from the limelight as possible.

You can call me dull, you can mock me, and our Quidditch team is probably shit. But I’ll gladly finish my years in Hufflepuff, get a clerical job in the Ministry of Magic, and enjoy some peace of mind there!

Professor Trelawney tells me the asshole with the scar is coming there in a few years!  

Vizag_city_aerial_view

Goodbye Vizag, you beautiful, beautiful city!

If there is any place that I have a strong bond with (after of course Bhubaneswar, where I was born, and Puttaparthi – where I studied), it is Vishakapatnam.

A city with so much character that it needs three names to go by – the traditional Vishakapatnam, the outdated Waltair, and the more modern yuppy name – Vizag.

All through my childhood, Vizag was a relief from the mundane life that I led in Bhubaneswar and Puttaparthi. Puttaparthi was where my school was, and it was criminal to stay there during vacations. Bhubaneswar back in the 90s was so hot, even cold cakes sold like hot cakes. Every summer vacation brought with it news of 50 deaths due to sunstrokes. Also, my parents were conservative and their idea of vacation fun was to lock up the television when I visited home. The television was considered an obstacle in my pursuit of moksha.

The only relief from these troubles was going to Vishakapatnam – eight hours away, with four trains everyday – one for each of the platforms at Bhubaneswar railway station.

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Vishakapatnam wasn’t much bigger than Bhubaneswar, but offered so much more than temples and street food. My cousins lived in MVP colony, a sleepy residential colony that was large enough to qualify as a town by itself.

Nimmakai soda was sold on the streets for two bucks, and the said amount could be easily fleeced off grandmother by singing her a Mohd. Rafi song. It was a different matter that my cousins ran up a baaki  bill of 10,000 rupees in the neighbourhood goli soda shop!!

The BPL TV at my cousin’s place could not be controlled by my mother and was the source of some of the earliest movies I watched – Kondapalli Raja, Premikudu, and Baaghi.

Large, spacious roads shielded by trees on both sides, Vijaya milk delivered in the morning as MS Subbalaxmi’s Bhaja Govindam wafted out of every single house.  

The Young Rising Star Youth Club where my cousin played cricket every evening as I sat awkwardly at the boundary. Daspalla Hotel, where Kashmiri Pulao and Paneer Butter Masala was ordered every single time, as I hadn’t told my folks that I had turned non-vegetarian (still haven’t!).

But most of all, Vizag has that one feature that adds immense character to a city – a beach. The beach in Vizag is accessible, with every place in the city about ten minutes away from the other. The beach is a curious spectacle, with people from all walks of life getting on the rocky shores for a few moments of solitude. A beach allows you to switch off from the humdrum of everyday life and tune in to the sea. How can you remain in a bad mood as waves crash at your feet majestically?

Every trip to Vizag has been memorable – a welcome break from the mundane life that I was living. It was in Vizag that I serenaded a breathtaking woman, travelling to the city on the pretext of meeting my cousins, and singing Pehla Nasha on a sea deck restaurant. Ever since I entered my teens, Vizag provided me with excellent weed sourced from nearby Aruku. I once offered a man a joint while getting on the bus to Hyderabad, only to look down at his shoes and discover he was a cop!

Vizag was fun, eventful, and dreamy.

*

After many years, I was travelling to Vizag – this time as a stand up comic. Me and Rohit Swain are travelling across the country with Silly Point – India’s First Cricket Themed Stand Up Comedy Show (Wow! What a subtle plug in – I’m Subtle Behari Vajpayee!!).

This time, I was not travelling to partake of the city’s beauty and serenity, but to give it something of my own – something I had created and curated. I was going to peddle my wares to the city that has given me so much.

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Of course it wouldn’t be a sellout show – it’s Vizag we are talking about! But in the same way that a parent ignores the kid’s spelling mistakes while showing her off to relatives, I was prepared to let it go. The show was organised in Kala Art Cafe, a tiny location with a seating capacity of 50, lemonade served to the guests, and a white screen for film screenings.

The stage was sweaty, and the mics refused to work after fifteen minutes – this was going to be a struggle! And yet, we persisted. The laughs came slowly at first, but grew stronger and stronger from there on. By the end of the show, we had won over the audience. It was like an India vs Sri Lanka One Day International at Vadodara where India needs to chase 287 but takes 48 overs to get there – bumpy, but successful.

*

As the plane lifts off from Vizag, and the doors of the plane are shut to the salty, humid air of Vizag, I take a final look at this city that has given me so much!

With Andhra Pradesh now a separate state, Chandrababu Naidu has grand plans for the ‘City of Destiny’. The roads are getting wider, the buildings shooting out of the ground are taller, stronger, dapper.

And yet, in a strange, selfish way, I do not want Vizag to become a hotbed of development.

I want Vizag to remain as it is. A beautiful chutney of the new and the old. Mom and pop stores with intricate muggu outside the doors, goli soda bottles being bought by thirsty kids, Venkatesh films playing on tiny TVs during sleepy afternoons, Ladies Tailor – Fall & Pico centres next to Apple showrooms. And the outdated Bunny dustbins in VUDA Park.

*

Of course these are but a nostalgic man’s fantasies. The City of Destiny is destined to transform into a zip-zap-zoom city. The muggu in front of houses will be replaced by cold, impersonal placards saying ‘NO PARKING IN FRONT OF THE GATE’.

But even then, I’ll come back and visit you. I’ll love you for who you are, Vizag.

Until next time then, Vizag!

***

Indian-Railway-Bonus

Train journeys aren’t the same anymore

Train journeys just aren’t the same anymore

There was a time when I looked forward to train journeys. Even if it meant going back to my school, without seeing the world for another 10 months.
Embarking on a train journey was like setting sail on a ship to a distant land. The journey spanning 2 to 3 days, and the preparations to be made accordingly. The caterers, who seemed to be traveling through the journey of life, rarely bothered with your requests and had to be coaxed and cajoled to fulfill their responsibilities.

Bundles of food in polythene packets, bread-jam-pickle, water in Milton camper bottles, bed sheets, air-pillows and blankets. Spare clothes for the night, towels and blankets, paper-soap packets with the creepy Bengali woman on the cover, snacks, fries and the uncle who hides his cigarettes in a shaving kit.

Newspapers, magazines, comics and novels sold at AH Wheeler push-carts. Hawkers streaming in with a variety of products – from Ludo-Snake & Ladders, to zippers and suitcase chains, to toys, wallets and flutes. A taste of every place you cross on the journey – fruits cut and peppered with salt and chilli powder, local fried snacks served on yesterday’s newspaper.

Climbing on, and clamouring over seats and berths. Lower berths were least preferred and given to the parents, Upper berths were coveted, and Middle berths fought over. Side Upper and Side Lower were preferred when there was a pretty girl in the compartment, for they provided excellent vantage points.

The thrill of running through the reservation charts to find girls – quickly scanning through their names, age, and destination. Once the target was locked down upon, walking this way and that, speaking loudly. Striking up conversations with the girls, promising to write or call, dreaming of life-long companionship – till the next train journey.

The frozen expression when eunuchs announce their entry with claps and screams. Pretending to stare into the distance when they nudge for a few coins. Sharing food with co-passengers in spite of rumours of robbers who offered you Frooti and ran away with your booty.

Talking to strangers, laughing over the problems of the country. Conversations, debates, and antaksharis that served as universal ice-breakers.

The hustle bustle of the railway station – getting down to fill water, stepping back on the train to feel older. The sounds of trains pulling in at the station, the asexual aunty announcing arrivals and departures, the ebb and flow of the sea of humanity.
Train journeys were planned for weeks, and then remembered for months.

***

Time and Tide wait for none. Neither do Tips and Ariel.

Everything I used to love about train journeys is a sore today.

To embark on a journey over an entire day seems like a punishment when you could fly across the country in a few hours. Five-year plans are no more needed for train journeys. Tatkal tickets can be booked on the phone in a few minutes. There is no need to pack in spare clothes, or food, pillows and bed sheets. The train staff are now alert, conscious of the fact that a complaint can be lodged with the Railway Minister in a matter of minutes.

Newspapers, magazines and comics lie untouched at the AH Wheeler pushcarts, their products having failed the test of the wheel of time. Phones loaded with movies, TV shows and Kindle-full on novels and poetry fit into low-rise pockets. Hawkers aren’t allowed on AC compartments anymore, and niche start-ups could deliver Ludo-Snake & Ladder at your doorstep. In place of new food springing up at every station, the government regulated, minimum-quality, minimum-quantity sterile food is served throughout the journey.

There is no more clamouring for seats. My body, semi-retired due to escapades, sexcapades, and alcohol, craves the Lower Berth. The Upper Berth is still alright, but under no circumstance will the Middle Berth be preferred. Side Upper and Side Lower are curses now, my limbs struggling to fit in, like teenagers in society.

I do not look at reservation charts for women anymore; I mock lifelong companionship. I am wary of talking to a woman in my compartment, for fear of featuring on Facebook the next day with the caption – ‘This creep tried to harass a woman, and got a fitting reply!’. I quietly fire up Tinder to swipe this way and that.

Strangers have gotten even stranger. Compartments of people staring into their phones, tablets and laptops – their worlds shrunk into smaller and smaller spaces, till it fits into their pocket. Loud music plays from different phones across the compartment, the only loud voices that of children, who will grow up and become disillusioned with all the fun they are having at the moment.

The hustle-bustle of the railway stations scares me now. The ocean of humanity, the crush of the rush. I scan through the platform, planning an escape route if a gunman appears and begins to shoot down people. I run to my train and enter it in a hurry.

*

Train journeys, they just aren’t the same anymore!

(Featured Image courtesy: www.studycopter.com)

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TVF Snitchers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

(Featured image courtesy: LiveMint)

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November Masturbation Month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

I mean, not in that sense.

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The Slow Metamorphosis of my bike into a horse

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I am going to get my own bike.

*

I walked out of the showroom with a Bajaj Discover.

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

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

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

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

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

*

In a few weeks, I hated my bike.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What followed was…

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

Indian man taking offence. Www.heartranjan.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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