Category Archives: Arbit Gyan

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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.

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I’m proud of you, Pan Bahar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How it all crumbles

It is called ‘chasing’ for a reason.

There is a predatory feel to it. You first identify, and then track. You familiarise yourself with their patterns and movements. You wait for the ideal time, and then pounce! Hence the sense of achievement.

The euphoria of success, a congratulatory victory in the air. The pursuit is always the finale, the climax.

They don’t tell you that it’s just the beginning.

What follows is Book – keeping.

Debit what goes out. Credit what comes in.

That day, you said that. Cha-ching!

But I didn’t reply at all. Cha-ching!

See how tolerant I am. Cha-ching cha-ching cha-ching!

We kept account. Like hardworking gnomes at Gringotts. Carefully keeping score, tallying balance sheets, checking for discrepancies and misappropriations.

What follows is strategy and maneuvers. And what maneuvers they were! Jose Mourinho would stop and shake our hands. A careful twist here, an innocuous pulling out of context there. Just the right amount of pressure applied at exactly the right time, leading to volcanic results.

What games they were! Mind games and soul games. Punching harder and lower and harder and lower till it became cathartic pleasure. Checking how low we could go, and then reaching that bitter spot. Only to punch harder and lower the next time.

Some people bring out the best in each other. And some the absolute worst. The most vicious, the most vile. We were the latter.

How strange it is. Just a few months ago two people are absolute strangers. Checking each other out in their beds, on their smartphones. Swiping through information put out there. And then suddenly, it is a splash of water and boiling lava at the same time.

At some point of time in life, we can say a few things about ourselves with utter confidence. We know our bodies – the tweaks, pain and pleasure points. We know our mind,our strengths and weaknesses. If there is one thing I know with absolute certainty, it is that relationships are not my cup of vodka.

In fact, it was a fling I was chasing. But there is no warning when a fling spills over stealthily into a relationship, like a hand reaching out in the dark. There is no notification – ‘You have used up 90% of your fling balance. You will henceforth be charged’.

And as always, we had to walk down the dark lane again. Like dropping acid and watching the stars spin you lay on the grass. Only to wake up the next morning and realise the trip is fading. That the tiles that seemed to swerve seductively last night are regular tiles – off-white, with crumbs of dirt around the edges.

I had tried to remove some of the skeletons in the closet. I ended up taking their place. You’ll probably find me standing reluctantly when you open the closet again.

For how it is love if we don’t claw into the other’s heart and yank out the soul? How is it love if we haven’t changed the other person permanently? Left wounds that will singe for a while and then retire as scars.

For now though, my beloved, we must part. For we aren’t meant to be. We will be memories in each other’s heads. We’ll be monsters waiting in the dark, slashing angrily every time the closet is opened. Only to be shut off again.
And that, my love, is how it crumbles. 

***

 

(Featured image courtesy: http://www.ascendyourlimits.com)

sallu bhai

Why are we pissed off with Salman Khan’s statement?

Why does Salman Khan’s statement piss us off?

More than the statement, I am surprised that people are outraging over the man. I mean, he’s uneducated, has killed people, is known to have a violent streak, and destroy people who don’t lick his ass. For decades now, the guy has been getting away with actual crimes – killing animals, threatening them, beating up people – and we are shocked that he made a stray comment about feeling like a rape victim.

What did you expect anyway? A lecture on the Palestinian crisis? A detail thesis to deal with the Venezuelan agricultural crisis? A three-part treatise on the Bhagwad Gita? He’s Salman Khan, for fuck’s sake. The guy would flunk the 7th standard exam if he sat for them!

I don’t mean to sound pompous, but I have never dated a Salman Khan fan. Of course, it’s no sign of greatness, nor am I Ali Zafar. It probably doesn’t make any difference to the eternal bachelor. A bhai who is so bhai that he can’t find a behen to get married to. I’ve always nurtured a rather terrible opinion of Salman Khan and his films. And most Salman Khan fans are like the man himself – slightly less educated, crude, morons who wouldn’t be on Twitter if there was an eligibility test.

And why should Salman give a shit? Honestly, the man has spent his entire life in an industry that doesn’t give a rat’s ass about women. Go through the history of Hindi films, and you’ll find a handful of filmmakers who actually write meaningful roles for women. So gender-skewed are our films, that actresses who have equal dialogues as the heroes in a film are labelled ‘Intelligent’/parallel/arthouse actors.

If Salman Khan’s statement shocked you, I daresay Balakrishna’s statement a few months back wouldn’t make you bat an eyelid. Balakrishna is a bull who has confused screaming and slapping his thighs as acting for more than two decades now.

balakrishna-o

 

Or the statement by Mulayalam Singh Yadav. Or by any other religious guru, be it Hindu or Muslim, when he talks about women. Asaram Bapu, the pedophile Baba wanted women to call their rapists ‘Bhaiyya’. And if it’s insensitive statements that we are worried about, we need to look no further than our Prime Minister. The shining beacon of light and hope and energy and goodness and everything soft and fluffy in the world. Not too long ago, he called out to Sunanda Pushkar, a businesswoman in her own right, as a ‘50 crore ki girlfriend’.

The fact is, we as a nation have a long history of rape culture. Look at our mythology – most of our leading women in mythological stories are either suspected of adultery, or banished, or stripped, or their noses chopped off for expressing love. Gomata has more of our trust that Sita mata ever did.

We are a nation where politicians openly condone rapes as ‘mistakes boys commit’. Every political party fields candidates who have a history of crimes against women. On Twitter, fans of our Prime Minister openly challenge women journalists to statements, followed by threats to rape them.

Those with good hearts use women as shields in an argument. ‘How would you feel if it were your mother and sister?’. That one statement knocks sense into all our heads because, let’s face it, how else can one explain an analogy without bringing in imaginary mothers and sisters? We have sexualised every single woman in mainstream consciousness.

Sportswomen, IAS Officers, police officers, politicians, just about anybody. Search Sania Mirza on the web and you’ll find a genius who records her videos, converts them into 3X slow-motion so he can see her boobs jiggle. Saina Nehwal? Her too. In fact, on the day Tendulkar retired, I remember going to a cafe nearby to rewatch his video, and the first comment that popped up was this – His daughter is hot. She was barely a teenager back then.

The fact is that we have been objectifying women for a long time in our country. And don’t forget, a few years ago, Aamir Khan, our beacon of wisdom, featured an extended balaatkaar joke. Everybody laughed, and went back home happy.

We need to stop expecting our film stars to refrain from making sensible statements. Most of them haven’t really gone to college, read books, participated in discussions. Some of them are certified criminals too.

Arnab Goswami will scream about it tonight. A few articles will feature on PoopScoop, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, we’ll be fussing over Princess Charlotte’s upskirt pictures.

Go home, folks! We live in the age of one-day outrage.

Kim Fung Restaurant Hyderabad

Chicken Soup for the Asshole

Kim Fung is a tiny Chinese eatery off the Tarnaka Main Road in Hyderabad.

You wouldn’t be able to find it while walking along the road. The signboard has gotten dark with time, lost amidst the glaring neon reds and blues.

A mundane hoarding of Pepsi above the door might mislead you into mistaking it for a paan shop. Walk into Kim Fung, and you’ll find a small, dimly lit room, six tables of varying sizes stuffed in for maximum efficiency. You’ll also find hungry youngsters gorging down food on the appropriately fitted tables. A woman with Mongoloid features mans the cash desk, and three little children walk around taking orders, helping her out with work. They’re not child labour, just little schoolchildren helping out during summer vacations.

Outside the restaurant, you’ll find groups of youngsters waiting for their turn, hunger churning inside their stomach, frustration writ large on their faces. You won’t find Kim Fung topping the charts on Zomato or Food Panda. They do not proscribe to the modern craze of quick home-delivery, perhaps they’re stuck in the 90s, when all you needed for a successful restaurant was good food.

The food in Kim Fung is delicious. It has the volatile spice of authentic Chinese cuisine, combined with the calming tranquility of home-cooked food. The food is delicious, the prices fair. The journey from outside the restaurant to inside is that of a frustrated frown to a contented smile.

Or so I’ve heard.

For you see, I’ve never had the good fortune of eating at the restaurant. It’s been a month and my Bae speaks very highly about the place. And once a week, we ride down to the restaurant to chance our luck, only to be met with apologetic smiles from the little kids.

The first time we were there, we were asked to write down our names on a list. We were 18th on that Waiting List, a dark throwback to the days when you had to rush to the Railway Station a few hours before the journey to check your status.

The next hour was spent in walking aimlessly, smoking unnecessary cigarettes, and kicking pebbles off the road. At the end of an hour, we were served a few more apologetic smiles, until we left with grace.

The second time was worse, as the restaurant was being manned by the children – two girls and a frail bespectacled boy dressed in a soccer jersey. They must be about 12 years old, going about their work in clockwork precision. Taking down names, placing orders, serving the food. But it was after an hour that we were informed outside the door – ‘Mother just now called and told to inform that we have a power problem and so we have to shut down now’.

In my mind, I was running amok, stabbing a thousand rabbits to death, but on the exterior, I was calm as Buddha. ‘Oh no, that’s fine, that’s fine. We’ll come again some other time’.

The next some-other-time wasn’t very different. The dreaded notepad with names spilling out of the pages, the unnecessary cigarettes smoked to pass time. I wanted to make eye contact with the little girl, see if a sad expression could trigger sympathy in her little heart. But they must have taught her discipline during Shaolin training, for she was unmoved by it.

And just yesterday, we set off for Kim Fung yet again. Without hopes or aspirations – like an alcoholic waking up and going about his day, unsure of himself, sure of his failure. And when we reached the dark, dingy portico outside the restaurant, we were met with groups of youngsters laughing nervously in the way that youngsters do. Nudging and poking the silent one in the group because what else can one do when there’s nothing to be done?

‘I’ll go see if I can manage something,’ she says. I love her optimism – bright and shiny, streaming into a dark, dingy bat-cave. The woman at the counter smiled, and from a distance, I knew what the smile meant. We nodded and left the place.

*

Four times in a month. Once every week, I have tried to have food at the restaurant. And have failed each and every time.

I wonder what sort of place Kim Fung really is. Are there elves inside the kitchen, stirring up wonderful dishes, albeit at a very slow rate? Is that why there are children running the place all the time? Do the children go to school? Or are they mystical, magical creatures who reward deserving people with food, and politely shut the door on the undeserving?

Has the restaurant heard of Zomato, FoodPanda, and Swiggy? Do they know that mobile technology has evolved since the days Shaolin Soccer was shot? And what about the Power Problem – is it a recurring feature? Is the restaurant on the verge of shutting down. My mind is brimming with questions.

If anything, my resolve has been strengthened. I will go to the place again this week. Land up before the rest, before the sun has even set. And I will sit down on a table and stretch my legs out.

Because I can.

And then I shall order food and devour it like Tadakasura. And then order more food, watch the children bring me my orders, only to have it finished off in a few minutes. Only to go back and get more food.

And when that happens, dear Kim Fung, and dear kind, soft woman at the counter, and the three little kids who are probably elves – the food better be good.

It better.

Of Soppy Facebook posts and Uni-dimensional Mothers

May be it’s because I hail from a dysfunctional family, that I find the entire online charade of Mothers’ Day a little too soppy for my liking.

All the YouTube ads that I skip savagely, the marketing campaigns that sell uni-dimensional women who love and give and forgive and sacrifice for their children. Those status updates and sloppy Facebook pictures where the mothers are clearly uncomfortable, but are holding up a smile so their moronic kid could tag them on social media.

Quotes that have clearly been lifted from the Internet, followed by a one-line cursory tribute that often reads – ‘You stayed up for me when I had to study, you gave me all that I need, including a kidney for my dialysis. I love you, mom!

Not only do I fail to understand the need for such hoopla, I also find it terribly demeaning to women in general, and mothers in particular.

*

Since childhood, I have had a problem with the Indian custom of worshiping parents. Matru Devo Bhava, Pitru Devo Bhava – these lines never made sense to me.

How can a natural act of producing a progeny elevate one to the status of a god? If producing the next generation of the species is all it takes, then every creature on earth does it. What makes us so unique? Dogs do it, as do cats and monkeys and donkeys and camels – why do we humans enjoy the exclusive privilege of godliness? Surely monkeys should be gods too? And cows as …oh well!

My disillusionment also probably stemmed from seeing my own parents. They were both products of the 70s – born with generations of tradition, but blessed with an education that allowed them to break free and make their own choices. They both met and fell in love and got married and started living together, two minor blips in a nation that was trudging along the chosen lines of tradition. But somewhere along the lines of fighting customs and tradition, they began fighting among themselves.

All this before they even reached the age of 25. It was an age where you couldn’t make mistakes. An age that expected you to act on your impulses, and live with them hanging across your shoulders for one and all to see. It was an age that expected you to wear your scars, that did not allow you options, or dates, or make-up or break-up. And they were humans after all. While other parents continued being devas for their children, I saw my parents for what they were – confused 30 year olds who had no idea what to do with their marriage, or the kids that had resulted thereof.

*

But my parents belonged to an earlier generation. What about our generation?

Nearly every girl I know has a career of her own. One that is not a detour till marriage happens, something to pass time off with till the inevitable ‘M’ word. What happens to our generation when we grow up to become fathers and mothers?

Is there a guarantee they will all be wonderful women – giving and forgiving and caring and sharing?

Why does a woman have to be all of the above, anyway? Do we know what sort of a mother Marie Curie was? Or Florence Nightingale? Rosa Parks?? Does it even matter? They were all women who changed the world just by who they were. Brilliant, caring individuals whose genius benefited millions around the world.

By celebrating the ‘giving, forgiving, sacrificing’ aspects of your mother, you are only reducing her to a cardboard cutout. You are pandering to the image of mothers that advertisements and marketing campaigns create for you.

If you truly love your mother, you should be celebrating her flaws as well, her weaknesses. You should be celebrating her for who she is, warts and all. As it is, the world is hell bent on straight-jacketing women into pre-decided roles – Daughter, Wife, Mother, Mother-in-law, Grandmother. Your posts only add to the existing tropes.

If she’s amazing, she’s amazing just as she is. Whether she stayed up all night for your Board Exams or not. She’s amazing if she gave up her career for you, but more so if she didn’t. There’s more to your mother than her equation with you. She was someone before you came into her life and it’s utterly disdainful to assume you are her entire life. May be you’re not. May be if you stopped being such a narcissistic piece of shit, you’d think twice before assuming the sun shines out of your ass.

By celebrating the one facet of her that advertisers want you to, you are reducing your mother to a caricature. Every time you post a picture of her with a hashtag, some intern in a marketing office is jacking off to a new advertising campaign.

Your mother doesn’t need your hashtag and your Facebook update. She doesn’t need to be giving and forgiving and sacrificing or kidney-donating. And if you truly loved her, you wouldn’t reduce her to a cardboard caricature.

Happy Mother’s Day!