Kochi_airport_aerial_view

An ode to Kochi’s beautiful airport

Among the many genres of writing and journalism, I have special envy reserved for travel writers. Their words bring to life the sights and the sounds, the smells and the tastes of the places they visit. Most travel writers spend their lives travelling, living in different places and writing extensively about those places.

I am the opposite of such travel writers.

I travel to places for a maximum of one or two days; barely step out of the room before the sun sets, and am quite contended to look at the city from my hotel window, tucked comfortably under the blanket while watching Zee Cinema. If I were writing this for Travel and Living or Discovery Travel, I doubt they would publish it – the research is shoddy and selective, the facts are not grounded in figures and numbers. The opinions are clouded by personal judgement and bias.

But thankfully, this isn’t a magazine, and since you haven’t paid 140 bucks for glossy pictures of Ranveer Singh chilling in Switzerland, you’ll have to make do with this poorly researched, not-grounded-in-facts article.

*

The first thing that strikes you in Kochi is the unforgiving summer heat. You could be the noblest person in the history of Kochi, or you could be Sreesanth – the Kochi heat forgives no one. It was 6.45 AM when I landed, and I immediately put on my shades.

The second thing that strikes you about Kochi is the cleanliness. If you’ve wondered about the impact of 100% literacy in the state, you just have to look at the roads. They are wide, clean, efficient – and there are no beggars!! I did not see one, single beggar in the two days I spent at Kochi.

The other effect of 100% literacy in Kerala is the discipline that people have inculcated in their day to day lives. Traffic rules are adhered to, there are no Uday Chopras on yellow bikes carting through the wrong side of the road. Pedestrians are allowed to use the zebra crossing through out the day.

And the food!!

Rohit and me walked into restaurants and asked them for recommendations – and ended up eating orgasm-inducing Idiyappam and chicken/beef curry. Followed by Dubai Shake and Sharjah Sheikh, which makes you feel like the owner of a fleet of camels in the Middle East.

The recent tragedy that struck Kerala – bars were banned in the state and a heavy police crackdown on marijuana – was a dampener to our otherwise happy, humid spirits, but we allowed ourselves the luxury of a three hour nap before the show.

*

If you’ve wondered about the effect of 100% literacy in Kerala, here’s a discovery I made – Kochi people do not turn up to stand up comedy shows! We had publicised the show well in advance, giving interviews to three newspapers. By the time the show began, the number of people in the audience made me feel less like a comedian and more like a stripper!

But the show had to go on as (whoever that asshole was!) said. By the end of the show, we had a few happy gentlemen, a few bemused teenagers, and one 12 year old boy who had closed his ears for the second half of the show!!

The most striking aspect of Kochi though, struck me as we were leaving the city – the Cochin International Airport.

*

Another side effect of 100% literacy in Kerala is that Cochin people decided to wave a middle finger at other airports in the city. They did things their style.

As the plane descended down on the airport, I craned my neck to get a first aerial look of the city.

I like making shallow first impressions of the city before landing in the city. If you ever fly to Chandigarh for example, you’ll find beautiful, planned patches of land in varying shades of green. If you plane descends down on Hyderabad, you get to witness brown barren land that will remind you of Aurangzeb’s tenure in the Deccan Plateau.

The Kochi airport looks like a beautiful private estate, akin to the vast estates that Bollywood villains possess in their ‘den’, as they plan to spread poison in the veins of the country.

Most airports in India are clones of each other. They are all desperately trying to look glossy, friendly, jazzy. Polished floors and bored janitors sweeping up after spilled Coca-Colas. Stores with shiny brands on both sides, salespersons challenging you to buy even a single product from them! Eateries where they charge 300 bucks for a 2 idlis, 1 vada, and some healthy Oxygen.

The Cochin International Airport does none of this.

*

Everything about the airport is old school. The overpowering colour in the airport is a maple, wooden brown. The first impression you get when you walk in, is of a railway station in 1995.

The stalls sell regular stuff like Malayala Manorama Yearbooks, Ayurveda potions and Ponds Dreamflower Talc bottles in pink and violet variants. The eateries sell food that is targeted not at Donald Trump, but at Arvind Kejriwal. The aunty who serves the food does not have the snooty look of the Rado salesperson, but the warm smile of Kaveriamma.

The waiting area in the airport gives off a warm vibe – the chairs have thick cushions on them, the airport assistants are curt and friendly – like friendly relatives who wear a mock-sad expression when you leave their house. The entire space has a cosy, intimate feeling – like we are all strangers who turned up for a wedding, standing in line patiently to greet the newly-weds on the stage. Also, I found that the prettiest girls in Kochi were in the airport, leaving the city!

*

As I sat on my seat, and the girl next to me took out her Bible for some quick revision, I made two quick decisions – 1. I need to visit Kochi again, 2. It needed to be in the winter.

Bye bye, Kochi. Your airport fucking rocks!! Keep it that way.

Vizag_city_aerial_view

Goodbye Vizag, you beautiful, beautiful city!

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vizag was fun, eventful, and dreamy.

*

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

Until next time then, Vizag!

***

What really happens when I get stoned

As a struggling writer and successful stoner, I have been fascinated by the technicalities of getting high.

I don’t mean the effects of THC or ethyl acetamine or some chemical shit that happens in my brain; I couldn’t give lesser of a fuck about that. I am fascinated by the artistic, aesthetic side of it. How do my thoughts change when I get high? What really changes in perception of sounds and visuals?

This thought has lingered at the back of my head for a long time, floating out of my mouth occasionally when I blow out smoke. But then it would go back to the dark corridors of my brain, waiting to get out again, a skinny little Casper of a thought.

*

When I woke up this morning, I decided to pursue research on this topic. To shed light on this dark corner of my brain and find out the secrets once and for all. The day has begun on a good note, and there seems to be a lighter at the end of the tunnel.

I woke up at 7.45, wasted time on the phone till 8.45 and proceeded to brush, bathe, and step out for food. Thanks to Modiji, the ATMs are in incognito mode again, and I walked till I found a Kannada tiffin stalls. I have a soft corner for Kannada tiffin stalls – I am no foodie, and couldn’t care less about cuisines, tastes, nuances and Tarla Dalal. I will eat anything as long as it has enough salt and masala in it. There are quite a few of us, the Brethren of Dontgivafuk, who assemble at Kannada tiffin stalls to partake of the food. It’s quick, clean, and cheap – our own McDosalds. I packed three plates of idli for the brethren that live with me and took a quick bath.

And then, as I sat down to roll my joint for research purposes, I felt a bit like Jeff Corwin. The herbs of Dhoolpet were laid out, along with the other paraphernalia. I proceeded to roll a joint quickly, and succeeded in rolling an efficient one. Not a Kookaburra Kahuna Pro, but more of a BAS Vampire 500. I quickly made mental notes.

MENTAL NOTES:

Objective: To study the paradigmatic shift in thought process after the consumption of Lord Shiva’s prasadam. To analyse the change in sensory perceptions.

Required material: Immaterial

Conditions under which study was conducted: Wednesday morning. Summer season. 10.30 AM.

*

Most stoners prefer smoking in large groups – sitting in a circle and discussing music, cinema and the space. Fuck those guys.

I prefer two, or a maximum of three guys. So you don’t have to look longingly at the joint, mentally calculating how long before it came to you, applying absurd cocktail of mathematics, psychology and astrology. A joint is best smoked between two people.

My friend has woken up and sent his manager a message that he would be chilling from home today – another message from the heavens. Finally, I wore my lungi and brown aviator shades and lit the joint.

*

The change is not drastic.

After all these years, it takes me about ten minutes for Mahaprasad to kick in. It begins slowly, but if you’re watching out for the signs, they are quite noticeable.

It begins with a slight numbing at the back of the head. But contrary to evil cousins Migraine and S.Headache, this is a gentle pain. The body’s posture is the next to get affected, it gets slouchy and relaxed. I am no Vivekananda, and I subconsciously shift a few inches to the back to lean on my cajon.

What follows is a craving for stimulation. I look around furtively to find all my devices low on battery. The phone is playing a Test innings, building up on a strong foundation of 16% battery, and my tablet was going down like a warrior, bleeding battery at 14% – I choose the tablet because I don’t like it too much.

My fingers float magically and click on the YouTube icon, firing up a range of videos I could watch. I see an interview of a music director I’ve been following – Vivek Sagar. I had seen the thumbnail of the video earlier, but never felt like clicking it.

The interview begins, and the interviewer asks him a few questions. He looks at her for a few seconds and then looks vaguely at the wall as he answers, his eyes shifty, his body language uncomfortable. A stoner!

I smile at the connection. But I’m researching! I cannot let me brain get swayed by emotions. Why did I smile? Would I have smiled normally, if I wasn’t stoned? Scientific questions shoot out of my brain, turn around and go right back into my own brain.

I give it some thought. I smiled because stoners deep inside believe that other stoners are good people. That in spite of their flaws and personality tics, there’s something about them that’s in the right place. It’s hard to tell if this is due to the nature of Sattiva Indica, or due to the Brethren of Bholenath that propagates the idea.

He is now talking about how it is always about struggle. That he never wanted to create music for ten films or anything like that, that he just wanted to make music. Ah! Yes. What a thought! Something strikes again! What is this? – my brain asks me.

I psychoanalyse my own thoughts, and find that when stoned, my emotions are run wild. I laugh like Bishan Singh Bedi, and cry like Kapil Dev. I am inspired by people, sights, sounds, words, sentences, songs, tunes, lines, writers, musicians, and Mimoh Chakravarty.

That’s the other thing! You notice that? I sometimes insert unnecessary jokes that kill the flow. I sacrifice the flow of a beautiful thought for a cheap laugh at the end. Did I always do that? Or it a recent addition to my armoury of sure-shot social arrows?

A song by the music director begins to play and the tunes sound clear to my head. When the drums crash, I can hear it like it’s in front of me. The sound of the bass guitar rings loud and clear. The perception of sound is astoundingly beautiful, thank you dear Lord!

I do a sub-conscious check of my surroundings. The joint is now at 25% levels, the song wafting out from the back of my tablet sounds the right amount of melodious. There are 3 packets of idli (parcel) in the other room, a bottle of water at arm’s distance, and my friend’s ‘chill from home’ request has been approved.

Satisfied that basic security criteria have been met, my brain gets up to close the shutters, to  take a nap in the summer morning. There’s a bit of light seeping in from under the shutters, but the rest of it is dark and comfortable, with table fans and Symphony Air Coolers (with ice inside) keeping the surroundings clean. And slowly, the brain slumps into a fiesta of a siesta.

But hello brother! Research ka kya hua?

My brain gets up, shakes his head and slowly pulls the shutter up. It was a short nap, a powerless nap. What is happening? What observations and conclusions have you arrived at? – urgent questions that my brain throws at me.

I sit up and take stock of the surroundings. It is submission time! I bring out a mental pen, to fill out the mental notes. I might have to use a lot of filler words to hit the word limit.

*

MENTAL NOTES:

Observations: Overall, the effects of the consumption of Mahaprasad could be said to be primarily of the sensual and aesthetic level. Basic alterations to the perceptions of the senses of the conductor of the experiment were noticed, and it was found that sounds seemed to undergo an enhancement. Conversations revolved around jovial and amiable topics.

The observant made an observation that the conductor of the experiment does not look people in the eye while talking to them, choosing instead to look at the space between their eyes and their lips – the vacant nose area because, naakon ke aankh nahi hote.

Effects: While the physical and mental effects were seen to wear off after a while, it was noticed that there were significant changes in the time-table of the observant. Before the experiment began, we found that there were clearly marked to-do lists for the day, arranged neatly in terms of priority and urgency.

However, after Mahaprasad was administered, it was found that the ideas that sprung up in the head were usually lofty, and sometimes far-fetched. It was found that the decisions taken had no grounding with immediacy, targets, or other worldly factors. For eg, the observant chose to write a blog on this topic, instead of choosing to attack the to-do list.

It was found that the observant chooses shots of dopamine over dollops of satisfaction from fulfilling targets.

***

Manohar-Parrikar1

Culture ke Vulture

In an age when tragic and depressing news hits you everyday, there are some that give you sleepless nights. That make you toss and turn in your bed and curse the stupidity that drives this nation in a mass hysteria.

The CM of Goa Mr. Manohar Partykar announced that in two weeks, Goa will have no more late-night parties. Reasons thrown up were the welfare of old people, and that age-old excuse that works with Fevi-Kwik like efficiency – Indian culture.

As for elderly people getting affected by the loud noise, I don’t even know what to say. It’s Goa, for fuck’s sake, not Sabarimalai. If you’ve spent 60-70 years surviving in India, why would you choose to live near shacks and clubs in Goa? It’s like buying a house near a masjid and complaining about insomnia. But it’s elders we are talking about, and even Pakistan knows that in India, elders are always right. By virtue of passing their sperms to meet eggs, they have automatically risen over logic and questioning.

About the second excuse – Indian Culture – I have lots to say.

Firstly, what the fuck is Indian culture?

India today is the oldest surviving civilisation, with a history dating back to over 5000 years. At which point in history did you decide Indian culture is against partying? What the fuck is Holi, then? When the entire nation descends onto the streets and partakes of a giant orgy of a rave party? And what is Diwali, if not for a nation-wide acid trip – a whole cuntry tripping on sights and sounds?

Who is your point of reference? Do you know for a fact if the Bhils fought off invading forces because of their Techno-house-EDM-BPL music? Or did Aurangzeb have people beheaded for head-banging? Do you know if Ashoka went to sleep at 10 PM every night? How the fuck can someone throw in ‘Indian culture’ for every single argument?

I am wary of political leaders who have been deified by mainstream media. Manohar Partykar is an IIT-ian who leads the simple life. He has no criminal cases against him (Wah!Taj) and travels using economy class and public transport. Which is great! Shabaash! Fifty points to Slytherin.

But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t get called out for his bullshit.

A great person doesn’t make a great politician. Look at Kapil Dev’s stint as coach of the Indian cricket team. When Sachin Tendulkar entered the field everyday feeling like the gladiator in the film The Gladiator. Or even Govinda, who danced into people’s hearts in his movies, but moonwalked the fuck out of his constitutional responsibilities.

As it is, Goa is the only proper party place in the entire country. Doesn’t it strike you as absurd? The 7th largest country in the world, with the 2nd largest number of people has ONE party place!

It’s not like DJs are setting up rave parties at Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam. It’s not like the Dalai Lama got caught with cocaine, pills and stamps. Then what pray, is the logic behind this ban on late night parties?

If you’ve been to Goa in the last few years and spoken to locals there, you’ll know that Goa has been witnessing a steady decline in foreign tourists. With rising disposable income and the benefits of capitalism, young Indians in Goa far outnumber foreigners. It’s their only place to party, but Uttam IIT Purush has other ideas!

That is my problem with the BJP. Their idea of development and growth comes with a caveat – the development will be on our terms. We decide what you eat, what you wear, who you make love to – else fuck off! Go vote for Congress.

The multitude of BJP fans across social media will NEVER call out their party for their bullshit, but will share links of how Modi swatted away flies with his balls on his Vietnam tour. If you cannot grow a spine to criticise your party and leaders when they goof up, you’re not a fan. You’re fucking sheep.

But who will bell the tiger? Who will call out the CM for his myopic, Islamic view of the world? Nobody. Why? Because he is an IIT-ian who travels by economy class! Every single debate follows a single trajectory-

Me: That is bullshit. How can you decide what’s right for the people?
BJP Sheep: Andhera Kaayam Rahe…
Me: Don’t you realise that mixing religion with politics is disastrous? It has never worked out, for any country, in the history of human civilisation…
BJP Sheep: Shakti shakti shaktimaan…shakti shakti shaktimaan…Adbhut adhamya saahas ki…
Me: …?
BJP Sheep: Fucking go vote for Congress, then!

Even after 70 years as a democracy, after surviving demonic dictators and dynastic politics, all our political acumen has boiled down to whataboutery. How does one explain to them that electoral politics is not like going to a paan dabba to buy smokes. It’s not like Gold Flake nahi hai toh main beedi pee lunga.

*

Or may be in his own twisted way, the CM of Goa is following Indian culture in its truest form. A 61 year old deciding what’s right for 20 year-olds, is well and truly Indian culture.

So kiss your Goa plans goodbye, guys! And book those tickets to Thailand. Spend all that glorious demonetised money in another country, because clubs and shacks in Goa are run by evil ISI agents and beef-eating aliens.

Because if you party after 10 PM,

Uncle police bulaa lenge,
Uncle police bulaa lenge,
Uncle police bulaa lenge,
Par development yun hi chalegi.

Party all night till 10 PM 
Party all night till 10 PM 
Party all night  till 10 PM 
We do party all night  till 10 PM

 

***

(Featured Image courtesy: www.askIITiansblog.com)

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)

Paes Bhupathi Indian Express

When will the Leander Paes – Mahesh Bhupathi soap opera end?

I had read about Ramanathan Krishnan and Vijay Amritraj in Wisdom magazine and Competition Success Reviews; in GK quizzes and on Bournvita Quiz Contests. But they belonged to a different era – they existed in black and white photographs and colourful memories.

But when Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi broke into the scene, they made a gigantic, whooping splash!

They were all over – winning Grand Slams, gracing the covers of sports magazines, featuring in advertisements on TV and on hoardings atop buildings. They were young, brash and excelling at a sport India had never been good at. Now, I cannot lie. Cricket was still my primary love, and if an issue of Sportstar didn’t feature cricket on the cover, I’d probably not purchase it. But if Lee-Hesh were the Star Poster of the Week, I’d be pleasantly happy.

There was something about the two of them.

Even as 10 year olds, we knew that cricket was played among only 8 nations. But this was tennis, a fast-paced aggressive sport. Being ruled by two young Indians who were handsome, suave and the best in the world.

Even their names sounded fresh – ‘Paes’ – rhymes with pace, brace, grace. And Bhu-pathi – the Lord of the land, who stood at the baseline – his fierce, powerful serve unlike anything from an Indian before.

Together, Lee-Hesh were a force to reckon with.

First pairing up in 1995, the two youngsters went on to string together a career wins record of 303-103. They hold the record for the longest winning streak in Davis Cup, with 23 straight wins. They won 3 grand slam titles, graced the finals thrice, and won a whopping 26 ATP tournaments. They were the world’s top ranked doubles team for nearly a decade, bulldozing through grass and clay courts.

They were suave, pleasant to the eye, smooth with the media. They gave out speeches, featured in ads and even flirted with Bollywood – Paes has acted in a movie and Bhupathi is married to Lara Dutta.

And then in 2006, it all came crashing down.

Having won the Doubles Gold at the Asian Games in Doha, Bhupathi is quoted to have announced their split. In his own words, ‘Honestly, our story is the biggest tragedy that has ever happened to Indian sport, and I say that I am glad that this tragedy ended on a high note with a gold in the Asian Games,”.

Do dil...mil rahe the...magar...jhagda ho gaya!  PC: Rediff.com

Do dil…mil rahe the…magar…jhagda ho gaya!
PC: Rediff.com

And that is when the soap opera started. Paes gave Bhupathi grief for hiring his ex-coach. Bhupathi complained that Paes cheated on him with another doubles partner while he recovered from an injury.

The duo maintained that they would return to play for the country in Davis Cup and Olympics, but that has come with its own set of shenanigans. After much speculation, they teamed up for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, managing to reach the quarters. Individually, they had both moved on to different partners.

When it was time for the next Olympics (2012, London), three members of the Indian contingent announced they didn’t want anything to do with Paes. Sania Mirza, who by then was India’s biggest tennis star (by far!) opined that she was being used as a bait between the two. Paes’ father, the hockey Olympian Vece Paes demanded an undertaking in writing from Mirza. Because what is an epic Indian battle without the father playing his part? There were also reports of Leander having called Sania Mirza a ‘fatty’, a comment that didn’t go down too well with her (or Shoaib Malik, I’d presume!).

It’s been 22 years since the two men partnered each other on a tennis court. Since then, their equation resembles a couple who need counseling. Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have gotten back together, broken up, bitched about each other, patched up, and then broken up again.

As you can see form the image, Paes got all the medals, and Bhupathi has to huge his backside while faking a laugh!! PC: India Today

As you can see from the image, Paes got all the medals, and Bhupathi had to laugh and hug his backside!! PC: India Today

Bhupathi has referred to Paes as a problematic character, and Paes has pointed to the fact that he has won many more medals for the nation – a posh way of saying ‘Tera aukaat kya hai, bhadwe?’

Before every Olympics and Davis Cup, the two of them start their drama – bitching, cribbing, mud-slinging. I doubt there are any international sportsmen who bicker and shame each other in public as Paes and Bhupathi. Forget washing dirty linen in public, Paes and Bhupathi have set up open-air laundromat for themselves. Their fights are ugly, petty, and fed to a hungry media waiting to bite the flesh off their bodies. Instead of becoming inspirational senior pros who guide the next generation, Paes and Bhupathi have shamelessly entwined younger players like Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza in their squabbles.

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I think back to the days when I would read of their exploits on Sportstar, and it fills me with sadness. To see the two faces of Indian tennis metamorphose into an ugly Two-Face, each taking turns to be gracious and disgusting.

How much longer will this bickering go on? Yesterday, Bhupathi released on Twitter screenshots of their WhatsApp conversations – much like a couple of teenagers bickering over a school match.

Paes and Bhupathi are no more the strapping youngsters who chest-bumped each other in full glory after winning grand slams around the world. They are both over 40 years old. Paes continues to play, harnessing superhuman power even after battling a brain tumour. Bhupathi is one of the most important personalities in Indian tennis – Davis Cup (non-playing) captain and a coach instrumental in the rise of younger players like Mirza and Bopanna.

The phrase ‘give back to the game’ might sound like a cliche in the age we live in. An age when aging cricketers continue to peddle endorsements and brand associations. An age when  sports-persons’ popularity is affected not only by the medals they win, but how many likes they got on Instagram pictures. ‘To give back to the game’ sounds like an old-fashioned deed to do.

And yet, it is exactly in this aspect that Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have failed miserably. If you could travel back to the time when I used to read their interviews under the desk in a Geography class, you’d see the image of Indian tennis I had.

Of Indian tennis players storming the world circuit. Winning grand slams, top 10 world ranking in doubles and singles. Of tennis becoming the second most popular sport in India.

What we have instead, are two aging players constantly duelling it out in matches of ‘Mera lund bada hai’.  

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Featured Image courtesy: India Today (Check out their impressive coverage of the Lee-Hesh saga.

If you’re a fan of cricket, me and Rohit (@rhtswn) will be touring the country with Silly Point – India’s First Cricket Based Stand Up Show. Please come down, and drag your friends along! 

Silly Point India's first cricket based stand up comedy show. Hriday Ranjan and Rohit Swain

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Sachin’s new song almost took me to rehab!

Last week, I had written a blog about Sachin’s business enterprises and commercial projects. About how his contemporaries are now coaching and mentoring the future generation, while Sachin promotes ‘Sach’ banian and 100 Not Out Paan Masala.

And just as I had posted it and made my peace with the thought, Sachin released a new song. This time with Sonu Nigam – the last time he sang, it was deemed a security threat on aeroplanes. The song is so bad that they had to get Sonu Nigam, one of the country’s best singers just to amp up the missing sur in the song.

Like a moth to a flame, I am attracted to anything to do with the little master. I watched the song, and I have called the suicide helpline four times already. Like Shane Warne in 1998, I have had nightmares of the song, woken up in cold sweat and gone back to sleep, only to return to the song.

The song is so bad, I wished I was deaf. I called the Deaf and Dumb helpline, only to disconnect the call at the last moment. A cringe fest of the highest order, the video is responsible for Sachin fans converting to Dravid fans. I wonder what Rahul Dravid thinks of the song. I wonder if he sent the link to Anil Kumble and received a ‘Hmmmm….’ as reply.

Why do Indian stars end up singing songs? We made Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir sing songs. We made Amitabh Bachchan sing, and then Brett Lee. It was only a matter of time before Sachin would enter a studio and sing a song. And if the song is enema for the ears, it ain’t no treat for the eyes either. Featuring animation straight from the makers of Chhota Bheem and Motu Patlu, the video has Sachin smashing 2D bowlers all around the park.

And just when you get over the singing and the graphics, Sachin delivers another googly – the lyrics of the song. Just have a look at the lyrics of the song –

Sachin Lyrics 1

I looked up the song and found the lyrics were written by a dude called Varun Likhate. He should have been named Varun nahi Likhate, considering there were no actual lyrics written for the song.

The song then goes to the next para, and the lyrics go one level up –

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While I’m touched that Sachin mentioned Debashis Mohanty, I have to admit what you see above are not lyrics. They are answers to a GK question –

Q3: Name all cricketers who played with Sachin

A3: Praveen, Ravi, Subroto, Kapil, Kiran, Vinod, Azhar, Anil, Krishnamachari, Ashish Kapoor (who dafuq is this guy anyway?).

I must have watched the song five times, and it’s now stuck in my head. When I meet people, they wonder what I’m smoking. I show them the link and the song gets transmitted to their heads, as they walk around like zombies spreading the virus.

I used to think there were mindless fans who consume everything Sachin peddles. That they would come rushing to the song and download it a million times and tattoo Sachin is God on their scrotum.

Turns out, I was wrong. Turns out a lot of people are jaded by Sachin’s constant hawking of products, services and exclusive experiences. I ran through the comments section and found a few gems.

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Now you know Vinod Kambli’s YouTube channel.

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Dr. Strange Ap has the final word!

I don’t understand the point of the song. I know it is to feature in the film Sachin, starring Sachin, produced by Sachin. But I don’t understand why Sachin needs to keep churning out one bullshit product after another, when he is a member of the Rajya Sabha, and has been awarded the highest civilian award in the country.

It’s the Bharat Ratna, Sachin. Not Manikchand Screen Awards – at least behave like you deserve the award.

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If you’re a fan of cricket, me and Rohit (@rhtswn) will be touring the country with Silly Point – India’s First Cricket Based Stand Up Show. Please come down, and drag your friends along! 

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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

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A short note on the bulls and dogs of Bhubaneswar

I have long believed that one can predict the status of a city by looking at the condition of the dogs. The stray dog is the only creature that has managed to co-inhabit urban and rural spaces with humans.

Everytime I visit a new place, I keep an eye out for the stray dogs. I have had to encounter them on dark, lonely roads, holding my breath and ready to scram at a moment’s notice. I have also had groups of stray dogs wag their tails and jump up on me gleefully.

In the bits of Himachal Pradesh I have experienced, I found the stray dogs to be healthy, friendly and generally Instagram-ready. Goa too has a healthy population of stray dogs, but with a dark, evil side. The stray dogs of Goa (tired of all the noise, littering and EDM bullshit) have become a fearful lot that bark and chase away lonely trespassers, romantics on scooters, and harmless drunks such as myself.

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When in Bhubaneswar, I spend most of the day lazing in bed, watching trashy films on the television, waiting for the sun to set. Once Surya devata has retired for the day, I step out to gulp down Bhang from the friendly neighbourhood chhennawala, and look for the guy who sells pre-rolled joints for 20 bucks.

As a nocturnal being, I have to encounter stray dogs on a daily basis, stuttering home late into the night, or walking into a shady lane where a peddler has set up his humble empire.

The stray dogs of Bhubaneswar are friendly, cordial and mostly interested in matters pertaining to their own business. I have never been chased by stray dogs – whether I was walking, stumbling, rolling, or being dragged up.

I pin this down to two reasons. 1. Bhubaneswar mostly goes to sleep by 9 PM. Stray dogs have been given their time and space to exist, and they reciprocate the gesture by being nice to the entirety of the homo sapien specie.
The second reason could be attributed to a recent proliferation of Shirdi Sai Baba devotees in the city. Sai Baba temples have sprung up around the city, and unlike other gods, Sai Baba’s principles are relaxed, secular and attuned with 21st century ideals. As a Shirdi Sai Baba devotee, you needn’t fast on Mondays, consume only salt on Tuesday, and offer your small intestine on Wednesdays.

Shiridi Sai Baba’s emphasis on providing for needy humans and animals, and the many pictures of Sai Baba with dogs at his feet, seem to have had a lasting impact on the denizens of Bhubaneswar.

THE BULLS OF BHUBANESWAR

I have been surrounded by cows throughout my life. In fact, if I could somehow avoid the dung and the stench, I’d go so far as to state that cows are among my favourite animals on earth.
Of course, I am partially biased towards the Buffalo, for reasons both spirtitual as well as Rastafari. [Read my blog on my favouritest animal in the world – The Buffalo!]

But that doesn’t change the fact that I have grown up around the sights, smells and sounds of cows. Like the family who’d been alloted a government quarter below ours, and had generously brought along with them three cows and two calves.

Amidst the brouhaha and worshipping of cows, we have doled out a rather raw deal to the bulls of the nation. Those that come from a sturdy lineage are castrated and sent to farms to work as oxen. Those that aren’t sent to slog in harsh conditions are retained only for the purpose of procreation. And yet, in our cruel, capitalistic world, we have chosen to deny bulls even that final pleasure – choosing instead to artificially inseminate the finest bull semen into cows – rending the bulls of India practically jobless.

All over the country, bulls roam around homeless and desolate. They haunt obscure lanes, surviving only on the sympathy of Facebook photographers who add a watermark and pimp the photographs for personal glorification.

The Bulls of Bhubaneswar however, differ from their brethren around the nation. Owing partially to the predominant Shiva culture that presides in the city, bulls are worshipped, respected and well fed. There are shelters that only take in wounded and aged stray bulls, shopkeepers feed them an eclectic diet of fruit buns, bananas, and (on bad days) cheap laddoos.

 

The bulls of Bhubaneswar amble about merrily from street to street, colony to colony, helping the laymen of the city absolve themselves of their sins by feeding them a banana. They are healthy, agile and nimble (in case a BMC towing truck happens to pass by). Bhubaneswar is said to have more than 500 temples, and this has spun off quite well for the bulls. They are a cheerful, happy lot.

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And as I stumble back home, drunk on the sins of the night, the two of them stand on the roads looking at me from a distance. They perceive me as neither a friend nor an enemy. Just a co-inhabitor of the same planet.

As I close the gate to retire for the night, I catch the bull swatting flies away with its tail, a wide smile acroos his face.

Like the logo of a milk production company.

And these are stats from 2015 !!

How much more money will Sachin Tendulkar make?

When Sachin Tendulkar retired on November 13, 2013, the entire nation stood still to wipe away tears.

Mike in hand, as he addressed the nation in whites for the last time, the sun set on an era of cricket followers. When he choked up in the final leg of his speech, three generations of Indians stopped their work to realised that time had passed. Like Sachin, the entire nation had grown softer around the edges, pudgy on the sides.

There will always be whispers about the lack of celebration when Dravid or Laxman retired, but Sachin Tendulkar retiring was a true turning of the pages of Indian cricket.

The very next day, Sachin was awarded the Bharat Ratna – the greatest civilian award in India. He was made an honorary member of the Rajya Sabha, India’s Upper House in the Parliament. As he stepped off the field that day, Sachin wound up an entire era of cricket. [Read my blog on Sachin’s retirement].

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As a voracious consumer of popular culture, I am fascinated by brand stories.

I like to track the trajectory of people once their glory days are behind them. That is how I know of Zayed Khan’s production house with Dia Mirza; and that Ravi Shastri lives in the apartment below Sunil Gavaskar’s.

When Sachin Tendulkar retired, I assumed he would go on to lead the dignified life of a modern great. That he would take up adminstrative, coaching, or mentoring programs at domestic, national, and international level. He was never a man of words, so the commentary box would be too much of an ask (Also, how would he feel sitting next to Laxman Sivaramakrishnan?).

Nearly four years since his retirement, Sachin Tendulkar continues to set up business establishments across the country. Sachin today owns enterprises in sports, telecasting, clothing, sports entertainment arcades, and restaurants. This is keeping aside the numerous brand endorsements he is a part of.

Every time you see a mention of Sachin in the papers, it is in relation to the launch of a new product. In his own unique way, Sachin has moved from the Sports page to the Business page of newspapers.

But for how much longer?

One is free to argue that it is his life, and what he chooses to do with the rest of it is completely up to him. Which of course is an irrefutable argument. After spending 30 years of his life to the sport, he is free to choose how he spends the rest of it. But the question remains – aur kitna paisa banayega Sachin?

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Sachin’s contemporaries have all moved in different directions. Anil Kumble and Venkatest Prasad have taken up coaching roles, along with contesting the Karnataka State Cricket Association elections. Javagal Srinath is a match referee.

Saurav Ganguly serves in an administrative position in the Bengal Cricket Academy. Rahul Dravid is the coach and mentor of the under-19 Indian team and recently refused an honorary degree from Bangalore University because he wanted to pursue it as a full time course.

Sachin meanwhile, just launched a new app called 100MB which will provide users with a unique, fresh view into the life of India’s greatest sporting star. Another platform with ‘Yayy India won’ tweets and pictures in front of Ganesh idols.

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When you’ve been the richest sportsperson in the country for two decades, how much is too much?

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As a devout Sachin bhakt, the reports about his lack of activity in Rajya Sabha did not come across as a shocker. In an uncanny coincidence, Lata Mangeshkar – the other Bharat Ratna who was made MP and featured in Tanmay Bhat’s video – was also accused of not doing enough for her constituency.

And these are stats from 2015 !!

And these are stats from 2015 !!

There is no doubt that Sachin remains arguably the most loved Indian alive. That he has a pull over target demographies across age and geography. That Indians will buy anything he promotes – from Rorito Racer Gel to ‘Sach’ Innerwear. Through our entire lives, Sachin has sold us every single product. Want a pen? Reynolds. Want a car? Fiat Palio. Not getting your periods? National Egg Co-ordination Committee. Sachin has endorsed and sold every product that can be stocked, from the glitziest malls to the tiniest kiraana shop. From Infinity Mall to the infinitesimal.

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But as an icon of the game, as the face of a generation, should Sachin Tendulkar be contributing more to the game? Shouldn’t Tendulkar retire from our televisions, and feature in the aspirations of youngsters pursuing the game across the country?

So here it is, from a terrible poet to a great cricketer, a poem filled with hope.

My poem to Sachin, on my blog – 'How much more money will Sachin make?'

A post shared by Hriday Ranjan (@heartranjan) on

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Cover Picture Image courtesy: Factly.

If you are a cricket fan, look out for our show Silly Point – India’s First Cricket based Stand Up Comedy Show as me and Rohit Swain embark on an 8 city tour with the show. Please come down or spread the word. 🙂