Category Archives: Childhood

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)

images

Live well, Dead Man!!

If you didn’t follow WWF as a child, you might never be able to appreciate the greatness of the man who went by the name of The Undertaker – Mark Calaway.

Those who do not follow wrestling mock those who do with the one line that they think is both original and creative – ‘Arey, sab fixed hai yaar’. Like we don’t know. Like they work for Discovery Channel and are paid to enlighten third world people who still believe that the world is flat, that God exists, and that WWE matches are fixed.

Of course we know that the stories are written, enacted, played out. It doesn’t take a genius to arrive at the conclusion. However, ask a lifelong fan of WWF, and they’ll insist it’s more than just the results. WWF as a franchise has survived and thrived due to a team of excellent writers who gave the performers excellent storylines, characters, gimmicks and stellar finishing moves. There have been a number of good looking, well built wrestlers, but the ones that fans appreciate are the ones with the greatest character.

Whether it was the anti-establishment tirade of Stone Cold Steve Austin, or the myth surrounding The Undertaker, the high-flying moves of Shawn Michaels, or the absurd wild fighting style of the Ultimate Warrior, the WWF was not about sport. It was about a story that was played out over years. Like a really, really long test match whose results are pre-decided as it happens over the years.

Which is why as a WWF fan, I hate it when people bring up the authenticity factor in a discussion, with the smug all-knowing attitude of Plato. Fuck you, guys! Hogwarts and Middle-earth aren’t real either, but we’ve all lived in them temporarity, haven’t we?

*

WWF in our childhood was a wild, whacky form of entertainment that did not exist anywhere else in the world. Before they turned themselves into WWE and went PG 13 on us, the World Wrestling Federation was a colourful bunch of characters who appeared on our TV screens and brought to us sex, violence and action every week. It was like Game of Thrones that could be watched at home with friends.

Wrestlers come in a variety of shapes, sizes and characters. There are naturally gifted wrestlers like Brock Lesnar and Ultimate Warrior, who created legions of fans with their natural skills and ability. Then there are those that aren’t truly gifted, but offered the viewers thrilling moves, magnetic personas and an attitude that personified the Attitude Era.

The Undertaker belonged to a unique world of his own. At six feet ten inches, he was huge and intimidating. But there was more to The Undertaker than just his size. For more than twenty five years, the man lived out a number of characters and storylines, staying true to every one of them. When his ghostly cemetery music came on, you knew there was an exciting match on your hands. When he stepped out of his coffin, you knew it was going to get ugly. When the lights dimmed and the first strains of the church gongs sounded in the arena, fans, friends and aficionados high-fived each other and cheered in glee.

Through his long bejewelled career, The Undertaker has played a number of characters. From the brother who couldn’t get along with Kane. To the biker who had no fucks to give to the franchise, Vince McMahon, or the universe in general, to the wizened champion who intimidated his opponents with his sheer entrance. The Undertaker was truly the face of wrestling for the longest time.

While those around him took to drugs, killed themselves and their partners, or faded away due to their bodies and minds giving up on them, The Undertaker was a workhorse who turned up match after match, tournament after tournament, year after year, decade after decade. Whether he was the ‘push’ or the ‘heel’, The Undertaker gave it his everything.

He also holds the unique distinction of having the most myths associated with his name. That he had 21 lies, and there were abut 17 left! That he was from hell and was going to take Kane back with him one day. Of how he killed people and threw their ashes in an urn.
The Undertaker symbolised the dark, magical world that we imagined the WWE to be. A world where morals, discipline and good intentions took you nowhere. A world where the rogues, the tyrants, the ones who challenge their masters, are the ones who come out trumps. They are the ones that the fans cheer for the loudest. It isn’t all that different from the real world, now that I zoom out and look at the larger picture.

*

As Undertaker walked away from Wrestlemania, WWE’s prime annual event, the effect showed. The tall, imposing man was now stooping. His gait seemed bent and slow, his jowls sagging, his eyes tired.

And that is when The Undertaker did something he had never done earlier – he hugged a fan. After two and a half decades of shattering limbs, arms and bones, The Undertaker broke the fourth wall. He stopped for a moment and let a fan hug him.
If you’re not a WWE fan, you’ll probably never understand what The Undertaker brought to wrestling. If you’re not a fan of WWE, you probably wouldn’t acknowledge that he was one of the greatest sports entertainers of all time.

But that’s the thing. The Dead Man couldn’t care less!

***

Featured image courtesy: WWE.com

harry-potter-series

On Reading the final Harry Potter Book

It’s lying right there.

The person who bought the book has finished reading it. She had mixed, but mostly positive reviews of the book.

It’s lying there, and I could pick it up and finish it once and for all.  The entire series, as declared by Ms. Rowling herself, is done and dusted after this. There will be no more speculation, no more additions. No The Return of Harry Potter, or Harry Potter Strikes Back. The entire universe will now be nailed and put up for history to discover, observe, and critique. There will be no more additions, alterations, or explanations.

For those who grew up in the 90s, it was a decade of memories but little else. The 70s had rock music, gaanja, and the hippie universe. Our parents in the 80s experienced the first middle-class revolution that followed a path that would be laid out for decades later –  ‘Study, get job, settle’.

In the 90s, there were a number of external factors at play. The liberalisation and the impact it was having on our lives in whatever ways that it was. The nature of the country changing quickly, adapting to changes while adhering to morals from a different time.
Even though ScoopWhoop and its brethren would have you believe that a lot of interesting stuff was happening, it really wasn’t. Everything around us in the public view was rather ordinary.

Politics was a weird game of Musical Chairs (with the Prime Minister changing 7 times in 10 years!),  sports held no great rewards either. Pakistan was beating India consistently, and the only time one saw hockey sticks was when the villain’s henchmen would bring them along for fights. That Mithun, Govinda and Jackie Shroff were among the top stars must tell you the quality of films. So there wasn’t a lot that was good. The good stuff was passed on, or given to us, or handed down, or spoken about.

We had a lot of ‘new’. But not a lot of ‘great’.

If the generation that grew up in the 90s could further be divided into two halves, I’d belong in the second half. The first five years in the 90s flew by like a blur, there’s not much I remember from the time. But the latter half of the 90s is when I first discovered my own consciousness. There was a lot of new, but not a lot of great.

Which is why when you ask someone who grew up around the Harry Potter books what the books mean, it is hard to describe.

If you asked me too, for example, it’d be hard. I wasn’t all that young when I read the first book. I must have been in 9th standard, and came across a junior reading the books. Like a surprising number of people I know, I started the series with the 3rd book. The next few months were spent in running after the rest of the books.

The books themselves, like the Golden Snitch, played with Seekers like us. I’d find someone reading the book in a corridor, request him to give it to me; only to have the book disappear and appear with somebody else. The book was read on the sly since my school encouraged reading of only one kind –  the kind that took you closer to God.

Which meant that reading the books was a way to slip into a hidden world of my own. At the risk of sounding rather preposterous and judgmental, I’d humbly like to state that the Harry Potter series is probably the last great fictional book series that will see a global craze among children again. I’d gladly be proven wrong, but I doubt it.

The Harry Potter books came out just before the boom of the Internet and mobile technology, and with Pokemon Go and Pick-a-Chu and all that shit, I doubt books will ever enjoy the sort of reception that this series did.

In a way, I have never been able to outgrow the Harry Potter books. All the books I’ve written (but haven’t been published –  Rowling has made literary failure magical too!) are basically a rehash of the Harry Potter trajectory. Strip them all of their settings, the characters, and the facades, and they’re all journeys into magical lands.

I have tried rereading the books a lot of times. I have begun with Book 3, and sometimes with Book 1. There have been times when I directly jumped to the Quidditch World Cup in Book 4 – but it was never the same.

If you ask people who grew up reading Harry Potter what they loved about the series, very few would say it was the actual story. Most old-timers like myself would be fudgy about the stories. It wasn’t the stories.

It was the world.

Harry Potter was what we did before we discovered drugs. Before the magical powers of Marijuana and LSD were bestowed upon us, we all got high on Harry Potter. We took little potions, and then large portions. And we taught ourselves to enjoy the high. We stayed up at nights, or lied to our parents, and joined friends, and sat down, and got high.

Every time I tried to reread the books, there was something missing. I was undergoing a classic case of ‘chasing the dragon’, and it has been proven futile, always a shadow of the first trip –  the robes and the jewelry intact, but no flesh and bones underneath.

When I finished reading the 7th book, I spent a lot of time thinking about it. Thinking of how I was going to miss these guys, miss their universe. I remember a gutting sadness, the kind that sank into the pit of my stomach when summer holidays came to an end. Or when I was called to the Principal’s Office.

Years later, I still knocked on the doors of Diagon Alley when I needed help. When I ran out of ideas, or I got bogged down by the weight of what I was writing. Whenever I felt trapped inside the comparatively insipid world I had created, I hopped on to Diagon Alley for a break. But I was only a visitor. My membership had long run out, as I knew the course of events that would take place in that universe.

It was one of those things you live with –  a little sadness that has become a part of your life. Like losing a tooth, a pet that has passed away, or realising you blew away the most beautiful relationship of your life.

I had come to terms with the fact that the Harry Potter trip was done. I could go back once in a while, but had to return quickly.

Until there began news of a new book.

*

Of course it wasn’t the same.

Firstly, JK Rowling wasn’t writing it herself. Like going to Bangkok with your parents, a great place is not the same without the right kind of people.
There were also the mixed reviews that the book received.

Back when JK Rowling released the original books, there weren’t so much reviews of the books, just levels of appreciation from everybody in the universe. I don’t remember a single friend/acquaintance/relative saying, ‘Yaar, this book was just about OK, yaar. Theek-thaak’.

Probably because it was a given that the books were brilliant. Probably because nobody really cared how good the book really was. They were on all their own trips, waiting to go further, to the next level.

But with this book, there are reviews. People speak about plot-holes, and conflicting character expansions. It is not really the 8th book in the series in the real sense, some of them say. And I know that.

But what the heck! It IS a Harry Potter book. The guide might not be the same, but it is the universe she created.

*

The book is lying right here on the table.

I keep staring at it, almost as if I expect it to rise up, and do something.

I think the book knows I’m going to read it, after all. A final trip to the universe; to my first drug.

A final ride on a magical train, and then like Rowling herself said, there’ll be no more.

I plan to roll a joint now. And begin reading the book. And when it is done and dusted, I will get along with life.

Growing old, looking at past writings, dying. That sort of thing.

***

Indian pet names thumbnail

The Slow, Tragic Death of Pet Names

The relation between ‘Good Name’ and ‘Pet Name’ has always fascinated me.

I love the fact that in India, your pet name is not a shorter form of your name, like Bill for William, or Chris for Christopher. Our pet names are living entities by themselves.

Pet names are fairly popular in Orissa, and the names given are fairly common too. Boys are named Pappu, Babuna, Ricky, Kaalia, etc. Girls are called Mamuni, Kunmun, Munmun and Baby.

Giving a child its ‘Good Name’ is a fairly well documented process. There is a complex assortment of beliefs thrown in – Astrology, Numerology, position of the planets, and the mood of the local pujari on that particular day. There is a lot of thought given, a few options are thrown around, and finally, one name is picked. Your Good Name sticks with you for your life, it becomes who you are. It connotes an emotion every time your friends hear the name. Your name becomes you.

And I have a theory that educated Oriya parents of my generation gave their children distinctly long, dramatic names. Shiva Sundar, Debashish, Biswa Kalyan – most Oriya names are long-winding and theatrical. I often joke that it is educated Oriya people’s way of asserting their educated status over the rest of society.

I am no exception. Sai Hrudaya Ranjan is not exactly what you’d call a common name.

 

But how nick-names come to be, has always fascinated me.

Since in Orissa, there are a few commonly used pet names, you have about 10-12 choices, and a pragmatic name is allotted, probably keeping in mind that there’s no other Pappu, Ricky, or Mamuni around. A simple, informal, pragmatic solution.

There is no feeling of historic importance, no histrionics or ceremonies – a pet name sticks to you, a second identity of yours. The one you grow up with outside school, the one your childhood friends call you by.

Some guys have two pet names. One that is given at home, and one that their friends give them. The second pet names are generally not very flattering – Chamba, for example. Some are so bad, they can be interchanged with names of actual pets – Litton, Chepa, Tara, Moti.

I have met a wide vista of pet names in my life. From the ubiquitous ‘Pappu’, to the exotic ‘Lord’, pet names have flashed themselves across my timeline of memories. Chintu, Chimpa, Jhikki, Popuna, Bapuni, Tippul, Babool and Litton.

I have lost my heart to many a Munmun and Kunmun. Sang imaginary songs of love to Chulbul, careful to avoid her sister Bulbul. Written letters to Pinky, Rosy, Reena and Baby.

Pet names generally abided by a simple rule of thumb. They had to be short (maximum 2-3 syllables), easy to remember (Chepa, for example, leaves a distinct imprint), and unique (but not too unique, like Chamba).

Now, this is where I got a real raw deal.

Much of my childhood was determined by this one particular relative. They weren’t really related to us in anyway, but asserted an unbelievable amount of control over what I did. Someone there gave me the most fuckall pet name in the history of fuckall pet names – Puppu.

I remember when my folks would come to visit me at school, and we’d be walking in lines, when all of a sudden, a shrill voice would ring out,

‘Aye, Puuuupppppppppppppppppuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu……………’

A long, intense call that echoed in my ears for about five minutes. I remember being embarrassed by my pet name; I’d look down and walk as quickly as I could.

Folks at school had no idea about the pet name though, as we were referred to by our initials. And admittedly, SHR sounded remarkably more suave and nuanced than Puppu.

*

However, I have noticed a strange phenomenon of late.

Oriya people have started adopting strange, anglicised names for their children. I happened to teach at a school in Bhubaneswar for about six months, and the names I came across had no resemblance to the ones I had known.

They were all neutralised, shorn of any MTI – sterile names like Nivaan and Ayaan and Aman and Aabhya.

Of course, I have no right to comment about the names parents choose to give their children. I can’t sit like Bishen Singh Bedi, complain and crib. Naming your child is something you have complete rights over. That’s fine.

But it is the pet names that I am worried about.

Most of these modern names can double up as pet names as well. They are all short and unique, and assume the same importance at home and at school.

I doubt Aabhya, for example, would want to be referred to Bulbul? Nivaan is going to throw his iPhone 6 at your face if you call him Chepa.

In the way that smartphones ate into the market for alarm clocks, these modern names have extinguished the need for short pet names.

I am afraid in a few years, there will be no more Kalias in Bhubaneswar.

There will be no Tippul, with his group of friends on their bikes. No Bapuna hitting on Baby while texting Mamuni.

Pet names, I fear, will die a slow, sad death.

*

(Featured Image Courtesy: Pran’s characters Billoo and Pinky, Copyright Diamond Comics India Ltd.)

The 2015 ICC Cricket Old Cup

The World Cup that begins today feels like a birthday that comes close on the heels of a wedding.

I do not feel the surge of excitement that I did for the earlier World Cups.

It’s strange how World Cups have acted as pegs to hang my memories on. Any particular year I think of, its association is deeply embedded with the nearest world cup. World Cups have acted as bookmarks in my mind, sorting things out, giving me a quick recap of what was what.

I began following cricket from the 1996 World Cup.

Before the Wills World Cup, memories of cricket are hazy. Cricketers dressed in white, playing cricket on a hot afternoon – Shastri and Kapil and Srikkanth. A few television ads for Dinesh Suitings and Palmolive Shaving Cream.

The Wills World Cup got me hooked to the game.

I was in Primary School, and didn’t watch a single match in the entire tournament. Yet I got my information from two sources – letters from home with updates about India’s matches. And a teacher named Shruti Raja.

She taught us Maths, and was one of those rare Maths teachers who didn’t try to pull out your appendix if you didn’t know 7 Table. She regaled us with stories of her trips to Paris, and bubble-baths that she enjoyed, and other colourful tales that caused mayhem in my mind.

During the World Cup, she would give us updates about the matches. It was the first time I heard the names Azhar, Tendulkar, Jadeja – my first heroes. The passing of information was very basic. She would walk into the class and announce – “Boys, India won the match”.

Yay!! An eruption of cheers followed, even if the only thing we knew about the situation was that we belonged to India.

She would then add some frugal details, like “Srinath took four wickets”, or “Jadeja scored a fifty”, which was followed by more cheers.

But I had no idea about the format, the counties that played in the tournament, or what the World Cup actually was. It was when I went home that year and found an Outlook 96 World Cup special that my interest in cricket was born.

It was a beautiful edition – pictures and articles and team profiles and opinion pieces. I remember going through each and every team profile, and I could tell you all the players from all the teams. It was like a magical Hogwarts book, a world I could dive into when I wanted.

I brought the magazine back with me to school. I began playing cricket, following it through The Hindu, and generally fantasising about sharing the dressing room with Sachin Tendulkar one day.

That time when Bengalis behaved like Khap Panchayats.

That time when Bengalis behaved like Khap Panchayats.

1999 World Cup : Teenage was arriving at the horizon. Along with pimples, sly thoughts of the sexual kind, and a generally more holistic knowledge of cricket, the 1999 world cup gave me a glimpse of what cricket meant to Indians.

It was the time of Indipop music. Of Come On India, Dikhado…duniya ko hilado. It was also the time when Britannia ran its extensive Britannia Khao World Cup Jao (Passport kya tera baap dega) Offer.

The company from Hungerford Street had decided to tempt gullible young cricket fanatics like me into gulping down packets after packets of biscuits and cakes with the hope of going to England to watch the world cup.

Like an idiot, I fell for it. Any money I saved was spent on Tiger biscuits. I’d eat those shitty biscuits, telling myself it would all be worth it when I meet Deba in London and discuss the nuances of cricket with him.

The 99 World Cup was also the first time I learnt that sports was not just about following a team playing a sport. It was about pain and anguish and hurt and disappointment. Shortly after the world cup, the match fixing scandal broke out. Azhar, my hero, was shamed in front of the entire world. I remember shedding a few tears in a particularly delicate moment. I remember feeling aghast, wondering what sort of a person would do something like that.

The 99 World Cup also taught me that we take cricket very seriously. But teenage was knocking on the door, and I pushed cricket out of my mind, and rushed to open the door.

A picture of the Australian team with the World Cup.

A picture of the Australian team with the World Cup.

2003 World Cup: This was my Angry Young Kid phase. I think the phase is called Intermediate because at that age, all of us are intermediaries between donkeys and real, thinking adolescents.

I had issues with people, ran away from home, and took up work and residence at a small PCO booth cum travel agency in the outskirts of Bhubaneswar. The PCO booth was located in front of a leprosy colony, and a shady basti called Prem Nagar where eloped love birds built their nests.

Which meant a strange motley crew of people who came in to watch the match on the tiny black and white television. Drunkards, children with fingers missing, teenage mothers holding children with permanently running noses, drunkards, alms-seekers, drivers, and drunkards.

I’d finish school, go back by the school bus, take off my uniform and sneak into my secret dual life. I watched each and every match of that tournament (except Scotland vs UAE sort of matches, for which the guy would never lend his TV).

During the final, I watched with horror as Ganguly chose to bowl after winning the toss. I looked away as tears welled up in my eyes when Sachin lofted a mishit shot off McGrath. I played fervently as rain poured in briefly in the middle overs. I went to bed that night, Sachin’s words ringing in my ears like gigantic cymbals – “I’m happy to receive this award, but I’d have been happier had we won the tournament.”

Another picture of the Australian team with the World Cup.

Another picture of the Australian team with the World Cup.

2007 World Cup: By this time, cynicism had creeped into my system like a virus that originates in Africa and spreads its tentacles to Switzerland. Hurt as I was from India’s disheartening show in the previous outing, I was too scared to invest any emotions into this edition.

Somehow, my feelings seemed to resonate with the Indian cricket team as well. Most of the stars seemed drugged, we lost matches to smaller teams, and didn’t even qualify for the India-Pakistan match in the second round.

Between shitty jobs and scabby relationships, I spent a few hours every day watching the matches, but my heart was looking forward to the sun sinking. And then, when the clock struck 6, I’d rush out to have Bhang. And as the hostel swam in a slow, steady motion, I sat on the cot and looked at the world and smiled.

The 2007 World Cup had nothing going for it. The matches seemed like they were being played in a local park. The commentary was drab, the matches seemed like friendly encounters, a coach was killed mysteriously in the middle of the tournament. It was almost as if the World Cup itself was embarrassed by what was going on.

I couldn’t care less.

2007

2011 World Cup: There has been enough said about the 2011 World Cup. Of how the stage was set to perfection. India matches on weekends, an India-Pakistan semi-final where 5 catches were dropped off a single batsman by the name of Sachin Tendulkar. A final at Mumbai, a six to finish the match.

Much of the World Cup passed by in a drunken, smoky stupor. Old Monk from the local store (you could still find it in Hyderabad at the time), and top notch pot from Dhoolpet, friends with flats where you could drink like Ravana and pass out like Kumbhakarna.

This time, I fell for the blitz. I hummed the tournament’s catchy tune, created my Fantasy team and rooted for them. On the day of the semi-final, I had to drop off my ex-girlfriend at the airport. I was getting messages from friends about Sehwag taking on the Pakistani bowlers, and the trip to the airport and back would take a good two hours.

As she looked at me with her lovely doe eyes, I told her I couldn’t do it. I asked her to go to the airport by herself. I have often questioned myself if I did the right thing. If I was a selfish bastard. If things would have turned out otherwise…

But when I reached the room and saw Sehwag belt five fours off an Umar Gul over, I forgot about everything and settled in front of the television.

When Dhoni hit the final six, I felt a sense of calm. I felt vindicated for all the years I had invested in the sport. All the hours defending Sachin Tendulkar against morons who considered Ganguly to be the greatest Indian cricketer. The hours spent hunting for the score, the awkward hanging around paan shops to watch the match after buying a packet of Tiger biscuits for three rupees.

I had invested so much in the sport, and it all came together beautifully when Sachin was hoisted on top of his teammates’ shoulders. I ran downstairs to the streets and found people dancing. I joined them and danced, in spite of my two left Jeetendra feet.

I watched as a crazy fan waving an India flag jumped on to the back of an APSRTC bus. But time, tide, and APSRTC buses wait for none, and the man had to come walking back an hour later, the spring in his step lost somewhere near Jubilee Hills.

I drank myself to sleep and crashed some time in the night. Cricket had given me back everything I had given it.

2011 WC

Sreesanth be like ‘Eeeeee, now let me fix matches in the IPL heeheehee’. Gandu saala!

2015 World Cup: This time around, I am too old to do it.

I can’t take the glossy advertising campaigns, the stupid jingoism associated with every cricket world cup. I can’t take the Pakistan-bashing, the lame jokes, the waking up early and sleeping late to catch each and every match. I can’t take two nine-hour matches everyday, and the gigantic dhobi-bundle of statistics that every World Cup dumps on my head.

I am too old for that shit.

This year, I’ll be watching cricket for the sake of the game. I will pick and choose games that I like, irrespective of whether India is playing in them or not.

I love tournaments played in Australia. The commentary is better, the stadiums are beautiful, the ball bounces up to a good level. There are spectators lazing about, drinking beer, running to catch the ball, laughing heartily when it slips right through their hands.

I am going to watch the tournament like that pot-bellied Australian you see on the screen – sipping his beer, waving his hand, drunk out of his wits.

I am going to support South Africa and New Zealand. If India wins, good. If it doesn’t, too bad.

I remember this one particular man who would walk in to watch the matches in Munna Travels (where I watched the 2003 World Cup). He would sit at the back, stoic and composed, indulging in a smile every once in a while when he saw us go berserk. I would wonder how he could watch the match so passively.

I am that guy now. I will sit back and smile.

You are free to go crazy.

I have retired as a cricket fan. Let the youngsters have their fun.

***

Of Amul Surabhi and Kinetic Luna

Long long ago, before television became about quarreling women and fake reality stars, television was a much saner experience. Adding most of the sanity to the hallowed rectangular box was a programme called Amul Surabhi.

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From 1993 – 2001, Amul Surabhi acted as the window to the world for middle class Indians. Presented by Siddharth Kak and Renuka Sahane, the show presented well-researched segments on history, cultures, science, sports and music. It was a show that the elders of the house wouldn’t miss for anything in the world, and sitting down to watch the show would earn children some brownie points for the immediate future.

This was the age before SMS, call, like, share and subscribe. The only way to reach out to Surabhi was through post, by writing a letter to the show. There was a sense of belonging that Amul Surabhi brought in to television viewing. People would send in artefacts created by them. Sometimes, letters of appreciation would be read out, while at other times, errors pointed out by viewers would be graciously acknowledged.

I was watching one episode where a girl named Shazia writes to the show. So inspired was she by their section on underwater life, that she had decided to research on it. Renuka Sahane immediately announced that all the research material that the show had collected on underwater life, along with the footage, was being shipped to Shazia!

While such moments brought warmth to the heart, there was another reason for which I watched the show. Surabhi being among the most popular shows of the time, their weekly contest was much coveted for. And what prizes they were!

Trips aboard the Orient Express – the luxury on wheels train, stays at premium hotels in travel destinations from Rajasthan to Kerala, goodies worth 1000 rupees (in 1993, mind you) from Amul. And in case of the bumber prize, a fully paid trip to South Africa, Greece, and other such exotic locations!

You can imagine the dreams they triggered in us. Every week, someone in the family would be allotted the responsibility of noting down the question (‘No, you give it to her. She can write fast, na’). While there was general excitement about the question, I had been possessed by dreams of my own. My hopes were pinned on the one item –

Kinetic Luna.

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Kinetic Luna was generally the 3rd prize, but it had captured my mind in a way that the magnificient palaces of Rajasthan, or the lush backwaters of Kerala coudn’t.

I had seen advertisements for Luna on television, and had been suitably impressed. It didn’t seem intimidating (like the Rajdoot and Bullet), appealing to the slim and let’s just say, agile like me. I had also seen a number of Lunas on the road, and the humble moped had acquired decent street rep in quick time. It was supposed to give you good mileage, and it was easy to ride. It had pedals, so if you ran out of petrol, lalalala you could always cycle your way back home. And then, it was very handy for carrying luggage. In fact, if you loaded up a Luna to its maximum capacity, people might mistake you for Nadir Shah, returning home after ransacking Agra.

Also, I knew some relatives who had not one, but three-three Lunas at their home. What freedom, what joy! I envied them as they rode by themselves on Thursday evenings for bhajans – the wind in their hair, vibhuti applied over the forehead – coolness was made of stuff like this!

Having decided that it was the Luna that I aspired for, I had my task cut out. I had to find the answer to the weekly question. The only problem was that the questions weren’t dumb, like the contest questions of today: What do you need to score a girl? A: Axe Effect B: Tax Effect C: Wax Effect. Screw you.

Amul Surabhi’s questions were dug out from the deep pot of knowledge that appeared in the promos. Unearthed from this great treasure, was a question that required you to run around, to pursue its answer with passion and perseverance.

There was no Wikipedia, no internet. One had to remember the question, and spend the next few days hunting for the answer, a knicker-clad Indiana Jones bustling about in every home. One had to request to be taken to a library, or heckle a knowledgable relative, or go to a Book Fair in quest for the answer. You had one week to send in your answer, and parents were lending their support like typical 90s parents. “Arey, you can’t trust this postman-vostman fellows. You better send it in 2-3 days, what if there is a strike?”

After spending a few days finding the solution, one had to scribble down neatly write down the answer on the yellow Competition Post Card (sold at the nearest post office), and send it to Sawaal Jawaab, Amul Surabhi, Post Box No. 2453, New Delhi – 11.

Having gingerly dropped the post card in the shiny red box, the rest of the days were spent in flights of fantasy. My Luna!

My green, shiny Luna that I would ride on. Zipping through the streets like Jackie Shroff in his youth, charming one and all with my daredevilry. Riding on it into the sunset like Alexander the Great, my faithful Luna, that I would use to rescue people in distress. And sometimes, if my friends requested, I would even let them ride pillion behind me (but not all the time, for one doesn’t want them to get used to the luxury).

And then, in two weeks, it was time for the results to be declared!

The lights would be switched off, and the melancholic signature tune would float out of the magic box. Renuka Sahane and Siddharth Kak would smile, and inform us of all the wonderful things they would tell us about on today’s show. Interesting snippets from history, an exciting new excavation that sheds light on our glorious ancestors, and the beautiful apple gardens in Himachal Pradesh. And all the while, I’m fidgeting on the floor, thinking ‘Yeah yeah, India is a beautiful country, now let’s talk about the prizes’. And three rounds of advertisements, and a good number of nails on my fingers bitten off, Renuka Sahane would smile and say, ‘Now it is time for the weekly contest’. My back would stiffen.

Voiceover: This week, we received 48,986 letters in total (accompanied by footage of men carrying letters in suitcases). ‘Out of which, the number of correct replies were 4,756’ – shot of the letters being sorted out, cut to Siddharth Kak and Renuka Sahane sitting in front of a huge pile of yellow, 15 paise post cards, with names, addresses, and middle class dreams scrawled on the back.

‘We will choose four lucky winners for this week…’ and as Renuka Sahane slipped a delicate hand into the heap of letters, I handed over a quick mental prayer to all my favourite gods. My Luna was the third prize, so I waited with bated breath…

And the winner is, (Renuka Sahane would pick a post card, show it to the camera, the camera would zoom in…)

“…Random Kumar, from Nashik”.

My heart sank, but not for too long.

“…cos now it’s time for this week’s contest question…”

I would run to grab the notepad and Reynold 045 Fine Carbure. Another question, another expedition for knowledge, another date with the Luna.

*
I never won the Kinetic Luna.

In fact, I learnt to ride the bicycle quite late in life. In Class 3, while my classmates were zipping around in sleek, red BSA Mongoose bicycles for the annual cultural event, I was put in a dumb drill called ‘Horse and Stars’. Which involved running around with a plastic horse head attached to a stick, in between one’s legs (10/10 for symbolism), AND gigantic golden stars stuck on both of one’s palms.

Even today, when I see a Kinetic Luna zipping about carelessly on the road, laden with bags, vegetables, and fruits, I feel a tinge of pain. But then, I notice the cop whistling at the Luna and asking him to pull over, and I feel alright.
*
Amul Surabhi. Kinetic Luna. Simpler days with simpler daydreams.

Even now when I watch episodes of Amul Surabhi on YouTube, nostalgia often gives way to some pain, hidden in remote corners of the heart. I put my faith in you, Amul Surabhi, and you never returned my love.

You never chose my letter, Renuka Sahane. And Siddharth, you can suck my Kak.

*
(Crass jokes such as the above would never feature on Amul Surabhi. It was a classy show. Just saying)

Growing Up in the ’90s – Comics (Part 2)

My world was in a general state of despair.

Chacha Chaudhary had taken over the kingdom of Indian comics, releasing legions after legions of inane characters that would stand in a line and blast my senses. I stood there in front of them, waiting like a man who knew he could fight no more.

Among the litany of characters who came, were Mahabali Shaka, a He Man clone who gave up the forests to fight crime in urban spaces. All the while wearing a costume of a loincloth and a bob cut. Then there was Agniputra – Abhay.

Diamond comics used to give free audio cassettes with Agniputra Abhay comics, and I remember one of them describes Agniputra’s powers, and the entire clip lasted for about five minutes. If Superman met Agniputra for tea, Agniputra would boil the man of steel in a pot and sip on him, he was that badass. And Abhay was his sidekick, a guy who spoke in innuendos with his motorcycle. Depressing!

And it was on a train that I first glanced at them. Graphic illustrations, men with arms that looked like real Arms, albeit Shwarzenegger’s. Women with curves, revealing their cleavages and flying along with heroes.

A smile, some hellos, and a other niceties later, I was reading, for the first time in my life – Raj Comics. Those of you who haven’t heard of Raj Comics should look them up. They were India’s answer to DC and Marvel. Characters like Nagraj – the snake who charmed women and killed bad guys. Super Commando Dhruva – a fighter who could drive US Seals to suicide. The two of them, along with their friends flew, fought, and punched the daylights out of villains.

Also, the stakes were higher here. It was not just a case of a jewellery shop owner approaching Chacha and telling him a gold necklace was missing. Fuck that. Here, real shit was happening.

Evil villains were taking over the world. Villains who weren’t named Gobar Singh and Tingu Master. Here, villains could torment the hero, they were villains I wanted to see dead. Raj Comics was India’s first true graphic novel.

The illustrations were kick ass. Raj Comics kept away from the usual uni-sized boxes narrating the story like other guys who won awards from Indira Gandhi. Here, I had to follow the panels, look at the story. Nagraj’s punch would break out from the panel, blow my mind, and land on the villain on the bottom panel.

The only problem was that they were all in Hindi. It was rare to find a Raj Comic in English, and since we were taught Hindi by a Tamil teacher, my Hindi was practically useless. Yet, I read on, devouring each of the books like a hungry glutton. There were other characters I discovered.

Doga, on whom Anurag Kashyap has long wanted to make a movie. Tiranga, a patriotic superhero who fought for the country. Parmanu who did something related to science that I didn’t bother further researching on. Inspector Steel, who had balls of, well, you get the idea. These were all beautifully illustrated characters who looked like fighters, and spoke like fighters. They didn’t sit at home and enjoy Chachi’s parathas in the evening. Fuck you.

Raj Comics began as a dream.

And sadly, ended like someone poured a mug of cold water on my face and shook me awake.

A friend of mine had brought a comic from ‘foreign’, and I got to see heroes from DC and Marvel for the first time. I read Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and turned the pages in disbelief.

Every character that I had loved in Raj Comics, had been lifted. Some of the characteristics were subtle, some blatant.

My heroes, they didn’t even belong to their creators. They were mere bastardised versions of existing heroes. Not only were they blatant copies, they took plagiarism to Pritam Chakraborty levels. Tiranga was Captain America, Inspector Steel was Robocop, Iron Man was Parmanu, Fighter Toads were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Heroes, villains, characters, plots – Raj Comics left no stone unturned.

It was a heartbreak of gigantic, superhuman proportions.  I don’t remember what I read in those days of depression. Probably Archies. Him with his stupid stories that weren’t funny, and which I could never, ever relate to. Here was a guy who would call two hot girls to the beach after school, and they would come dressed in bikinis. In India, we call it porn, thank you very much!

It was during this phase, that I found the friend I had dismissed and tossed away. Years ago.

The first teacher I ever had, was a Christian woman who taught me English. She was kind of scary to look at, but she had a sweet voice, and like all English teachers in the world, a heart of gold.

She would encourage me to read them, but I seldom followed her advice – enticed as I was, by Chacha and his computer se tez brain. There was too much text in the comics she was trying to make me read. I wanted more pictures. Somehow, things didn’t work out between us.

Back then, Amar Chitra Katha, though not technically a child of the 90’s, was fast gaining ground. Part of the trick was that most of the books were based on mythology. This meant that no one could object to us reading them, so there was more social sanction.

Again, while the stories were well narrated, the illustrations on ACK seemed limiting. Again, all the characters looked the same. The only way to tell the difference between the characters was that the gods would be blue in colour. All the women were curvy and had big eyes, and the elders all had the same flowing white beard.

I remember enjoying their Mega packs – Ramayan, Mahabharata, Dashavatar. But there is only so much you can read of Amar Chitra Katha as a child. After a point, you want real people, real roads, real heroes kicking real villain’s asses. Stories that you couldn’t predict the end of. Stories that had a bit for everybody – especially us underprivileged ashramites whose wardens would get a stroke if they saw the cleavage on those women in Raj Comics.

And like a Bollywood film, after the interval, the friend made a come back into my life.

 

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The one image I have of our school warden is of her sitting and reading in the lobby.

She was a tall, frightful woman. She could make you piss your pants by growling at you, and she could punch like Muhammad Ali. And she would sit there in the lobby, a pen in the bun of her hair, smiling at this book.

Tinkle.

Now, I know some of you are groaning. But put yourself in my shoes.

The shoes of a kid who has been disillusioned. Whose heart has been broken because he put his trust and love with someone, only to be devastated. Me and Tinkle did not begin as a torrid affair. There were other children’s books floating around, and so I was skeptical.

There was Champak, with Chiku, that joyless character who did stuff that was neither cute nor funny, in Champakavana. There was Chandamama, where there was one illustration for every 500 words. There was Gokulam, which was full of grammatical errors that would make me want to throw up even as a ten year old. So you couldn’t blame me for taking my time to warm up to Tinkle. By then, the rest of my class had actively gotten into Tinkle. They would share Suppandi stories with me, and I would simply smile.

It was only sometime around my Class 5, that I really started reading Tinkle. Tinkle took the best out of Amar Chitra Katha – the decent illustrations, and the penchant for not making grammatical and spelling mistakes, and carved it to make something new. The biggest trick, for me, however – was something else.

Tinkle did not have one single illustrator. There were specific illustrators for specific stories. While there was the brilliant Savio Masceranhas, there was the more traditional art of Ram Waeerkar too. Tinkle also had its own language. A set of sounds and expressions that you would only find in a Tinkle comic.

Like when someone came running, they would say, “I am coming *puff pant* from the palace *puff*”

Or if it was cold, they would say “Brrr it’s cold”. And if someone was drinking something, they would make a ‘Glug glug’ sound, or a *chomp chomp* sound if they were devouring something.

Tinkle probably got it right with their market research. There was truly bits in it for everybody. I know what you’re thinking: That comics shouldn’t appeal to everybody. They are crafted around a niche, loyal readership. But you forget this is India we are talking about.

Here, parents supervised what we read, sometimes going through the entire comic before giving it to us. And my mother had these ‘Censor Sensors’ that beeped like crazy when she suspected something was going to corrupt my pure, innocent mind. She had already thrown out an illustrated book that contained fairy tales by the Grimm brothers. Stories like Cinderella and Rapunzel that she suspected would make me fall in love. Little did she know that little boys don’t fall in love. They fall in lust. And I had already read the Nagraj comic where Sarpini makes an appearance. Whenever she frowned about me reading comics, all I had to say was that ‘Warden Aunty’ reads them too, and she had nothing to reply.

And so, I began to read Tinkle at home, without a fear of it being snatched from my hand and thrown in the gutter.

Tinkle, like I was saying, understood the market dynamics and produced comics that could be digested by the entire family. It was not just one story, but a series of different stories that were colourful and interesting, and if you didn’t like something, you could just skip to the next in the line. They didn’t give freebies like stickers and audio cassettes, probably because they knew that the comics were enough to hook us on.

I generally skipped the parts that had Uncle Pai explaining the wonders of science to some enthusiastic kids who spent their summer holidays with an old man in his laboratory. I also skipped the ‘It Happened To Me’ bits – some of them seemed made up, and anyway, they could be read when you were done with the rest of the book and before you passed it on to your friend. There were the others that I didn’t give too much attention to – like Little Raji and Ramu and Shamu, though I remember that Ramu – Shamu’s mother had big eyes, wore polka dotted sarees, and had a curvy body. But the stories were just one page long, and there was nothing in it for me.

I also skipped the ‘See and Smile’ and ‘You Said It’ sections – I thought they were just there for infants and very young children in the family.

You keep these out, and what you have, is a very good comic.

Tantri the Mantri, that man with the peculiar chin who for some reason reminds me of L.K. Advani. His misadventures in trying to attain the throne, and his indomitable spirit.  Shikari Shambhu, that adorable hunter whose eyes I never saw, but I remember the bisons and deer that would be hung on his wall. They would smile when he entered the house, and frown when something was wrong.

I hated Kapish and Kalia the Crow. Again, stuff that you read before you passed it on. I mean, what was Kalia’s problem with nature? Why was he trying to fuck with the food chain? If Doob Doob and Chamataka wanted to eat rabbits, they should be allowed to. Why were these people interfering? And At least Kalia did something smart in every book, outwitting Doob Doob. What the hell was Kapish doing?

You rescue your friends my stretching your tail, man? Seriously? I understand we are a Hindu majority nation and all that, but why take it that far?

My true love, however, were the new stories that would come in every book. The ones that would be contributed by other children, people like me. If you waited till the Summer Vacations, Tinkle brought out this large sheet, thick edition of their comics called Summer Special. These were the ones I sought out.

My parents would never buy me a comic that cost more than 50 rupees, so the start of a new year at school always had on the top of its priority list hunting for Summer Special editions.

You spotted them being read on Sundays. You approached the guy, smiled, tried to talk nicely and ask it from him. Or, you approached the guy, smiled, snatched the comic and ran like hell. Either way, it ended up with you after some effort. I remember reading them in a quiet place, where there would be no distractions.

The Summer Special comics had adventure stories in them. Contributions of children that had children who went to their grandparents’ home in the summer and met this shady looking man with a stubble. There was always something suspicious about him, and all hell broke loose when someone noticed that there was a theft. There was no murder, of course (remember the family audience funda?), but the crimes were grave enough to run after. Especially if you were children in a Summer Special Tinkle who came to their grandparents’ house for the summer.

The children would follow the man, and he would often lead them to a secluded building, or a lighthouse. They would enter the building, but something would give in – their dog would bark, or someone would trip on a stone, and they would have to rush back.   They would go back home, discuss the events, and hatch a plan. The plan was never revealed to us, all we got was the dialogue box going ‘psst…psst’.

The next day, they would execute the plan. The dreaded criminal would be on the verge of pulling off a dangerous job, and they would barge in with the police to save the day.   The police would congratulate the kids’ parents for the smart children they have, and they would walk into the sunset, happy.

Not all stories were like this, of course. But they were always well written stories. Written by children like me.

If you zoom out and look back at the larger picture, Tinkle comics would be undisputed winner of Indian comics. They understood that it was all about loving your family, and published stories that you could read while loving your family. After all, they were going to give you the money to buy your next comic.

I remember trying to write a story that I would send to Tinkle. I would write down these stories and reread them. But then I would remember the exciting stories I had read, and doubt if mine would match up to them.

I never came up with anything to send to Tinkle, but I had the address written on my notebook all the time – just in case.

I doubt Tinkle will accept any of my stories now!

Growing Up In The 90’s – COMICS

When I watched V For Vendetta, I was surprised that it was adapted from a graphic novel. While the film didn’t shake me up so much, reading the graphic novel was a different experience altogether.

It shook me and stirred me. Not so much for the content, but for the form. That a graphic novel, after all just a fancy word for a ‘comic book’, could be an experience like that. I moved on to ‘Watchmen’ and the lesser known ‘Lost Girls’, and while they were two different genres, I am still bowled over by how much a comic can do.

I started reading Asterix around Class 9. It would of course take a few more years to understand all the puns. Everytime I reread an Asterix comic, I seem to understand something which I am sure I wouldn’t have understood the last time I read it. It’s like a Treasure Hunt in a book.

Tintin was always easier on the mind. I started reading Tintin in Class 7. They were beautifully crafted and every comic took you to a different place, like a magical journey.

But of course, like Coca Cola, these were foreign imports that came into my life much later.

Because you see, comics were just things that were bought while travelling on a train.

 

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Whenever I would leave for my boarding school, my parents would buy me a Chacha Chaudhary comic. You can snigger at the amount of respect they gave to my comic reading habit, but you wouldn’t laugh if you saw the girl who was travelling with us. Her parents always bought her the 5 Rs. ‘Wisdom’ magazine that had a picture of a creepy smiling kid on the cover.

Those Wisdom magazines, like the name, had pearls of wisdom strung together with toilet paper and terrible pictures. The entire book looked a dull maroon, and there was just too much information on it, with too few pictures. There were anecdotes, facts, information about places, every page had a quotation at the bottom of the page. I always found the magazine stifling – like an adult is trying to shove some food into your mouth. Large morsels that you couldn’t swallow and hated in the first place.

No wonder the girl next to me cried.

But my parents bought me the Chacha Chaudhary comics and sent me to the school. After I had fought off tears so that my friends did not think of me as a sissy (“Ah! There’s something in my eye, let me wash it and come.”), the time to leave would arrive.

The train would chug off from the station, and after crossing the station, would be near the smelly slum next to the station. People would be shitting behind their huts, which was right in your face. Which made looking out of the window a little difficult. So I would settle down and open the comic.

And what shitty comics they were!

You know how we romanticise nostalgia? How everything that was a part of our past is glorified as ‘Those Magical Days’ and ‘We didn’t Have Video Games, We Played Real Games’ and all that?

I think some of that is bull.

Like, for example, I am glad we have other comics now. I was glad that Big Babool came into the market, ridding us forever of those 50 paisa coins that were so bad that when our teacher told us bubble gums were made from pigs’ tails, we believed her. They had to be, they were that bad.

Similarly with the comics. The comics I used to read were terrible, and I don’t even know where to begin.

First of all, the terrible illustrations. Every Chacha Chaudhry comic would have a cover that would somehow entice you into buying it (Like Sabu hitting a cricket shot), and then you would open it to soak in the disappointment. The cover had a brief introduction about the creator – Pran – and how he had won this award from Indira Gandhi for creating this outstanding comic.

Now, I am sure as adults they saw something deep and stimulating in the comics. Because as a kid, I didn’t see shit.

The illustrations were terrible. All the people looked the same, and their arms, legs, expressions, even their bloody chins looked the same. And the hands!

Pick up any Chacha Chaudhry comic, and notice- The Hand.

The Hand Final

The Hand will be like that no matter what is the story, character, or scene in any page of the book. Character sitting on sofa? Creepy hand comes into play. Character bowling in cricket match, the hand will be there.

And it wasn’t just the illustrations, the comics screwed with my head. I remember reading them in Class 2, and feeling all warm and fuzzy when I read that Sabu is from Jupiter.

My science teacher in school, however, had other notions. She taught us how to mug up the names of nine planets so that we could vomit them in our examinations (My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets). She went on to tell us that there was absolutely no life on any planet (even Jupiter). But Chacha Chaudhry comics had stories where they went to Jupiter and everyone there is a giant like Sabu. I was confused, and shocked.

Now, I understand comics are supposed to be taken with a stretch of imagination. If it was possible for a young boy to go around the world solving cases with his dog and an alcoholic sailor, why was it unbelievable that a man from Jupiter lived with a man and rid the world of evil?

I am fine with that. Its just that the comics were terribly pieces of work. Everytime I finished reading one, I would feel crestfallen. Like a crack addict who is disappointed that he fell for the temptation again.

The comics neither had a great plot, nor any interesting twists. I remember stories where Chacha Chaudhry would outwit the opponent by pointing behind him and saying “Look!”. The person would look, and Chacha would hit him on his head and take his gun*.

[* Chacha Chaudhary’s brain works faster than a computer ]

When all the while there was this giant next to him who could pick up the culprit, dip him in hot oil and eat him up.

It was just bad comics – badly written, and badly illustrated.

I read the comics for a few years. There were other characters in the Diamond Comics stable too. Billoo, Pinky (who incidentally had a comic called ‘Pinky’s Pussy’), and Agniputra Abhay. The last one about a man who had every power known to man and his friend Abhay – a man who had a talking motorcycle that he called ‘Princess’.

Yes, things were that bad.

The Experience of Reading Chacha Chaudhary

Fortunately or not, my mother had weird interpretations of the teachings of Sai Baba, whom we worshipped. She would listen to a discourse and infer that he was asking his followers not to wear jeans. In another, she inferred that comics were bad for children.

There was a blanket ban on comics. Those evil things that could encourage violence among children. Little did she know that it wouldn’t even encourage Garfield to pick it up and swat a spider with.

Comics were banned, and I could read nothing on the train. In those desperate times, I even contemplated getting a peek into ‘Wisdom’ magazines. I needed my fix, my next hit.

And then, peeping in from the darkness, came the ray of colour and shine.

Any guesses what they could be?

 

(To be continued)

“Aye, Shoo! Why are you talking?”

As a student in school, I was the Class Asshole.

The perennial backbencher, I would sleep, talk, or day dream. If it was Maths class, I was an ostrich, trying to bury my head between the others in class. If it was English, I was a meerkat, peering out of my hole, making some noise, grabbing attention. For the other subjects, I generally switched between ostrich, meerkat, and hippopotamus.

In our school, talking was a crime. I swear. Students would get report cards sent home with the remark – “He talks a lot” or “His marks will improve if he reduces his talking”. Once, my friend got a remark saying he was getting spoilt because he was talking to me.

The whole thing pissed me off. I mean, what is the big deal about talking?

But then, that was our school. Where talking was among many other grave crimes – entering another room, whistling, singing a film song, and reading a book.

Of all these, it was this big deal about talking that pissed me off the most. I mean, children are children. They will talk. And when the teachers would ask me ‘What do you have to talk so much about?’, I would feel like screaming, ‘I’m not a goddamn 40 year old, things still surprise me.’

There are a million things that a kid would want to talk about. How do you explain to him that Pythagoras’ 2500 year old theorem is more important than the hot girl in class? How are Harappan excavations ever going to be more important than his favourite cricketer – his personal hero?

So I kept on talking, and got thrashed like a carpet seller thrashes his carpets to clean them. I have had sticks broken on me, been pinched, slapped, boxed, and once, even been given a langdi by the hostel warden.

The sad part is, most people from my school still think greatly about the way we were brought up.

The sadder part is, I never really stopped talking.

The saddest part is, the teachers never got it, and went on thrashing.

**********************************

Now, life has this way of screwing you over in such a beautiful way that you can’t help smiling.

After all these years, after all these jobs, I teach school children in Kurnool. Classes 5 to 8.

And I have to deal with the exact, same issues that I faced when I was a student.

I never shout, or raise my hand. So I am the cool teacher.

I smile, I crack jokes, I encourage the silent students to speak, and spend half an hour before every class, thinking of the most interesting way to teach that particular concept. Through stories, quizzes, videos, or games. Also, every now and then, I give them two minutes to discuss, so that they can blurt out that thing that’s on top of their minds, and on the tips of their tongues.

And in spite of all this, I find that some of the kids aren’t interested. Some of them are talking to the person next to them, others are looking out of the window. Some are staring at me blankly, like the kid from Sixth Sense who sees dead people.

It drives me nuts. I am tempted to scream.

But it just needs a second to take me back to my own school days, and think about what I would have done. And I am calm as the Buddha all over again.

It has been five months now, and I can safely say that the students trust me a little now. They know I am never going to hit or shout at them, and this means they trust me a little bit. Over these months, there are two important things I have learnt.

1. Training and Sensitisation: In most schools, teachers are selected on the basis of their academic qualifications. But like Kapil Dev was miserable as the Indian coach, a great student is never going to guarantee a great teacher.

Even after securing the job, the teacher is never trained. Which means that in the first few years, there is some josh to be a good teacher. But without any sensitisation, after a point, the kids seem like ten year old tadpoles who can be made to toe the line by raising your voice. The ones that don’t, can be tamed by delivering a nice, tight slap. After a point, they stop seeming like children – with individual needs and concerns, and they seem more like a herd of sheep.

2. Assholes make better teachers: Most of the teachers in schools are the studious sort. The ones who never broke a rule, never spoke out of turn, and turned in shiny report cards at the end of every test.

How will these people ever know what it means to have something to say in class while the teacher is talking? How will they ever realise that for the kid, there are more things going on in the mind than angles and triangles? These teachers have lived such a life of discipline that they will never be able to empathise with the ones who are not reflections of their own ten year old selves. And that’s why, assholes make better teachers.

***********************************

So now, when a kid talks in class, I don’t say, “Aye, shoo! Why are you talking?”

I know why the kid is talking.

I try to beat the thought in his head, by putting in a more interesting one. And if I fail, it’s ok. I understand.

Because, as a student in school, I was the Class Asshole.

civics text book

HOW CIVICS BECAME HISTORY

Back in school, every subject would have its own set of ardent followers. Students who loved the subject, did the home work, and went about their roles as students dutifully.

Maths and Science was lapped up by the brilliant, the rankers – the ‘Ramu is a Good Boy’ prototypes who studied well and made parents proud and neighbours envious. The arty-farty group of the class would read English and languages. The geeks in class would love Computer Science.

Amidst all this, if there was one subject that no one truly gave a fuck about, it was Social Science.

If all the subjects were houses in Hogwarts, Social Sciences would be the Hufflepuff among them. There, but unnoticeable.

I think it also had a lot to do with the teachers who taught Social Studies. Maths teachers were strict, English teachers were sweet. Science teachers were Dr. Jekyll at times and Mr. Hyde at others. Social Studies teachers had nothing distinct about them. They would walk into class, do their work, and step out, all the while carrying an air of detached enlightenment.

And that’s really sad. Because Social Studies could easily be the most interesting subject taught at school. The sheer range that could be brought into it is vast, and could sensitise children to so many ideas at an early age.

But then, there is the NCERT. The National Council for Educational Research and Training, the body in charge of publishing stunningly boring books that reduce the most exciting years of a country’s history into dreary, brown pages of text, accompanied by a barely visible, grainy image.

It didn’t help, either, that the subject in itself was fragmented into three bits – each with their own set of weird teachers.

HISTORY:

If one were to make a history text book, there couldn’t be a better country than India to do it on. Home to the oldest inhabited city in the world, India has been the home to many civilisations, trades, wars, kings, queens, and their tombs.

There were gory wars, triumphant monuments, philosophical inscriptions, and so much more. The people friendly measures by Akbar, the brave wars by Shivaji, and the brutality of Alauddin Khilji could have been the stuff of exciting novels. Instead, they were reduced to mere pages of a book. Taught by a teacher who seemed to walking in her sleep and talking in her sleep.

In the later years, there were the World Wars, and India’s Nationalist movement. Again, apart from glorification of a few of our leaders, there wasn’t much context to put the facts into. No wonder then that these facts were merely reduced to something you mugged up for the exam.

GEOGRAPHY:

Now, with geography, we don’t have much choice. I mean, there is only one earth, and there are seven continents, and some 30 odd states in our country.

Working within these barriers, the NCERT came out with another outstandingly mind-numbing book. If we want to avoid alien invasion, all we need to do is release a Class 6 Geography Text Book into outer space. If an alien ship comes across the book, they’ll realise there is no point in attacking this planet.

Surprisingly, I remember only two words from all the Geography I learnt at school – Black Soil and Alluvial Soil. I can’t remember anything else that I learnt in Geography. Also, the fact that we had a teacher who would often mistake us for yaks and bring out his cane and whack the hell out of us, didn’t help my learning process.

CIVICS:

In my opinion the most important of all the three subjects, but it was given the least importance in our curriculum.

The amount of footage that Civics got was laughable. 10 marks out of 100, and 4 out of 25 in Unit Tests.

Seriously, who is going to study for a subject that counts for 10 marks at the end of the year?

Even if you skipped all the classes, did none of the assignments, didn’t attend any Unit Tests, and knew absolutely zilch about the subject, what do you lose? 10 marks. Big Fucking Deal.

I felt sorry for the Civics teachers sometimes. I always imagined that the Physics and Maths teachers must be sniggering at the Civics teachers behind their backs.

So, at the end of it, Social Studies became a subject to display your mugging skills. How much raw data you could swallow, and then how much of it you could spew on the paper. There was no analytical skills involved, no new skills taught, no real world connections to make. Nothing.

Zilch. Shunya. Nil.

Which is not to say that we fared badly at these subjects. Oh no, sir. We mugged up, stuffing ourselves with information of all sorts. And we puked it out magnificently, out surpassing each other, adding another 90 marks to our Final Percentage – that cruel determinant of everything our lives would be after that.

*******

Now, when I look at myself, and others from my generation, I realise how wrong it all was.

I don’t speak in Sankrit these days. I don’t count more than three digit numbers. I know nothing of the Periodic Table and show my little finger and leave the room when Science is being talked about. I do use English though, for my writing.

We have distorted notions of history, know practically nothing about other states and cultures, leave alone other countries and continents. We know very little about the electoral system, or what our roles as citizens are, and how we could make use of civic resources available to us.

If only Social Studies was taught better, it would have made my life so much richer.