Category Archives: Growing Up in the 90’s

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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?

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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.

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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!

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Featured image courtesy: WWE.com

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.

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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.
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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.

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

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)