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Monday, 1 April 2019

# 62 - 1983

All of us were excited, except my mother, who looked worried.

“At least give me a number, do you have any idea how many guests might show up?”

My father scratched his ear, coughed a little, and mumbled, “At last count, around 20 confirmed guests.”

Maa was suitably shocked, “Even if I could manage the cooking, you know very well that we don’t have anywhere near enough plates to serve these many guests.”

Father knew this very well and under different circumstances he would immediately rush to buy plates and other utensils, and possibly a saree for Maa, but buying a 21-inch colour television specifically for the world cup meant that he had to be more calculative than usual.

“Don’t worry, I have clearly told everyone that tea is the only thing that would be served, they obviously understand.”

Yet, after a few minutes, I was made to rush to market to buy groceries and disposable plates.
Half an hour before the toss, the house was bustling with activity, I made a rough calculation, more than thirty-two people had shown up, well above father’s estimation, but knowing Maa, I am sure she had accounted for the extra people.

The young ones like me were fortunate enough to sit closest to the action, and for once were not being reprimanded about sitting too close to the TV, the adults sat directly behind us, the elderly ones were given access to the sofa and chairs out of courtesy, my father, while not the oldest by any stretch, occupied a sofa by virtue of being the host and the master of the house.
The womenfolk drifted in and out of the room, speaking in hushed tones so that the cricket experts on TV and outside of TV were not interrupted.

By the time the match started, the number of visitors had increased. There was barely any room for us to move, I had correctly predicted that going to the toilet would prove to be a difficult chore, so had finished my deed just before the first ball was bowled, and for the rest of the match, had decided to minimize water intake. Maa kept the pakodas coming and the tea flowing and the other women chipped in, there must have been forty people inside our moderately sized living room and twenty outside it.



Only us children and a handful of unrealistic adults gave India a chance, we were facing the mighty West Indies at their peak, the best bowling unit of all time, and Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, though worshipped back home, were yet to be fully regarded as gods.

The cracks on our fragile hopes started appearing early, the West Indian pace quartet ripped through India’s batting order as they were largely expected to do, the tail-enders however put up some fight, India ended up with an almost respectable 183.

The sun had begun setting and as much as we wanted to be hopeful, it was difficult. One of us kids wondered aloud if we should just go out and play some cricket while we still could instead of watching a match whose results were already a foregone conclusion, the rest of us who hadn’t queued in front of the loo, shushed him.

The second innings began, and within minutes, that legend of a man, Gordon Greenidge was out-  bowled. We started shouting and screaming in unison, and a few aunties somehow made their way inside the room, curious if we were happy or sad.In spite of all the difficulties, the pakodas, sweets, and chai managed to go from hand to hand until they reached their intended recipient.

No one was listening to the commentators any more, all of us gave our own take on the game, and for a while we thought that there was a chance, a chance for us to win the game.
And then came Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards - chewing gum, looking menacing without trying, and treating the bowlers and fielders with equal disdain. Boundaries flowed and once again the mood of the room turned glum.

Few of the uncles rose from time to time to leave, but the others, led by my father, cajoled them into staying, “we have come this far, might as well see the end of the journey.”

And then it happened - Desmond Haynes fell and King Richards departed soon after, Clive Lloyd didn’t stick around for too long either, and we sensed that slowly but steadily, the tide was turning, India was back in the game.

Jeff Dujon stood like a rock, defying the Indian attack and more than once the oldest man in the room shook his head in an all-knowing manner, “as long as Dujon is there, we won’t be able to win it.”
More tea, more snacks.

Dujon finally fell after a gritty inning, and then the end was quick. India had managed to do the unthinkable, the world cup was ours.

We celebrated as much as the Indian players on screen, irrespective of the age, all of us jumped, shouted and sang, there were some fireworks outside, and a lot of us went out into the streets to celebrate. People were calling on the landline to confirm that India had indeed won.

All of us were rejoicing well into midnight. On 25th June, 1983, close to four decades after our Independence, India had well and truly arrived in the global scene.

I still remember that night vividly, every moment from the match firmly etched into my memory, of course, it was India’s first world cup victory, how could anyone who saw the match that day ever forget it.
36 years on, it’s inevitable that my memories from that June night resurface.

It’s 2019, India is playing the world cup finals once again, and we aren’t the underdogs this time, in fact, we are on the verge of winning the match.

The living room in which I am sitting and enjoying what is left of the game is comparable in size to my living room from my childhood years.

But it’s just me here.

My wife isn’t interested in cricket and has gone off to sleep, my son is watching the match on his iPad in his room.

For some reason, I think of my friends who were in the room with me that night, I struggle to remember their names.


And I wonder what they are doing now. 
___

Work of fiction. Image from here.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

# 61 - Short Story - The Boot Polish Boy

The hardest thing about the transition from college life to working life is the pain of waking up early, that, and the post-lunch drowsiness. 

In a flat occupied by 3 with only one toilet cum bathroom, we had to go through our morning rituals with Swiss watch precision, 5 minutes here or there could lead to a half-day absence and since all of us were staying away from home, we needed our leaves. 

Yet, we survived, always somehow managing to punch our cards or get our fingers scanned seconds before the clock read 9:31:00. 

The obvious casualty of this was our breakfast.

Usually, after marking my entry in office, I came out and treated myself to the most important meal of the day - a packet of Good Day biscuits and a cup of chai. I also utilized this time to button my sleeves and have my shoes polished. 

There was a kid, no more than 8 or 9 years old, who used to polish shoes in the vicinity, what was odd about him was that unlike other boys of his age who were engaged in similar professions, this one wore a school uniform and had a school bag too.



One day, my curiosity got the better of me and I asked him, “Kya re, instead of going to school, you’re doing all this. Do your parents know?” As soon as I had uttered the words, I realised that there was a good chance that it was the parents themselves who might have coerced the boy into this boot polish business. 

Without the slightest bit of hesitation, he said “Nahin saab, I have started this on my own. You see, school is supposed to start from 9, but no one is there till 9.45, so I thought why not take this time to earn some money.” He tapped his brush against the box to indicate that I had to put my other foot up.

There was something about the boy’s earnestness that appealed to me. And while I continued to call him somewhat derogatorily as “Chhotu” and didn’t pay him any more than his usual 10 rupees, I did get him to polish my shoes when they didn’t need any polishing, and always gave a couple of my biscuits to him, even when I was left hungry. What I liked about him was that unlike many others he didn’t seem to be apologetic about what he was doing, and even if there was a sob-story, he didn’t peddle it. He did his business and went running back to school. 

I asked him once what he planned to be when he grew up, “bijness man” he said. 

-          “But don’t you want a job instead? Businesses may not always work, with a job you can earn risk-free money every month.” 

Naah”, pat came the reply, “I want to be my own boss. Naukri toh naukar karte hai.” 

The boy was something alright, even when he spoke of his family's financial woes, he spoke matter-of-factly, never seeking sympathy. 

One morning, once the boy was done polishing, I realised that all I had in my wallet was a couple of 100s and a single 500 rupee note, for some reason I handed him the 500 rupee note and asked if he had change, he shook his head unhappily and tried to hand it back, "Kal de dena aap", he said. 

"You give the change tomorrow", I said and rushed to my office, not looking back. I didn’t want the change, I wanted to help the boy, maybe because I had developed a liking for him, maybe because I knew that he would use the money for a better cause than I would, maybe because I was feeling particularly generous with my boss out of town and the day being a Friday, who knows. 

For the rest of the day though, I felt mixed emotions, on one hand I felt good about myself that I had helped someone in financial need, another part of me said that I had treated him like a beggar, which was everything he wasn’t, and yet another part chastised and humiliated me by pointing out that I wasn’t wealthy enough to be doling out 500 rupee notes to people who were financially less fortunate than I was. 

But over the course of the weekend, I forgot about it. And on Monday morning while dipping my biscuit in chai, I realised that Chhotu was nowhere to be seen. I asked the chaiwala and he was as clueless as I was. 

And just like that Chhotu’s guest appearance in my life had come to an end. 

I did see him once more a couple of months later, I was on my way to office when I saw him walking cheerfully, his shoe polishing kit in his hand, still wearing the uniform, the school bag slung over his shoulder. 

I couldn’t help myself, I stopped the bike and called out “Oye Chhotu”, he turned around and when our eyes met the colour drained from his face, he froze for a moment but recovered quickly enough. He was soon running and within seconds he was out of my sight. 

For some inexplicable reason, I felt a wave of sadness come over me, I am not sure why, but I think I lost something that day, something more than 500 rupees. 

Image from here.

Monday, 18 February 2019

# 60 - An ode to 'Deewar'

I can't recall the first Bollywood movie I saw, but the first movie I remember watching was ‘Deewar’.

Back in the good old days of DD1 and DD2, we had a colour TV and a VCP (Video Cassette Player, Funai branded - if you must know), and one fine evening when I was probably 6 or 7, my father, returning home, proudly announced that he had rented the video cassette of Deewar, and he had brought mutton.

I knew that something special was in the offing because mutton (usually a Sunday lunch affair) was served to coincide with the start of the movie. 

How much of the movie I actually understood at the time is debatable, but I remember being awed, awed enough to watch it again the next day, and over the years, I have seen Deewar time and again, to the extent that I pretty much know every line, every pause, every gesture. 

But then, most people over the age of 18 probably do as well. 

Deewar was a special movie and had many firsts to its credit. A leading man who blurred the lines between being a hero and a villain (thereby introducing the term 'anti-hero'), a female lead with a morally ambiguous character, very few songs, and the list goes on. 

And unlike so many movies which were critically and commercially successful at the time of release, Deewar has stood the test of time, you would be hard-pressed to find faults in the movie even now, 44 years after its cinematic release. 

But what made Deewar really special was Amitabh Bachchan.

It is tough to imagine any other actor from any era playing the role of Vijay; of course, Amitabh Bachchan acted brilliantly, but there were bits where better actors would have faltered, and it was there that Amitabh Bachchan, the star, that came to fore. Deewar may have been a great film, but it was essentially a masala movie, and Bachchan played to gallery perfectly.  
 
What're ya looking at punk?

The thrill of seeing Bachchan emerge victorious in a fight where the odds were overwhelmingly stacked against him or the goosebump-inducing Salim-Javed lines still haven't lost their intended impact. The scenes, the dialogues, The cocky arrogance that Only Amitabh Bachchan  could carry so convincingly, who can forget the scene when Bachchan puts his feet up on the table coming to terms over his newly-acquired power, the coolness he exudes when he says that he doesn’t think he can pull off a seemingly suicidal mission, but knows that he can, the utter disdain with which he tells a gang of thugs that he had been waiting for them in their den when they had been out looking for him. 

As a teenager, on the extremely rare occasions that I managed to perform half decently with a cricket bat (my highest score is 21, the dream of scoring a half-century may remain unfulfilled) immediately after the innings I would run to the nearby tap, turn it on and place my head under the stream of water, a desperate attempt at highlighting how the efforts had taken their toll. 

Even now, every year, post-appraisal, I have to stop myself from saying things like “Main aaj bhi feke hue paisa nahin uthata,” to HR. 

Yup, that's me on the left. 

Unfortunately for Deewar, it released in the same year as Sholay, the biggest Hindi film of all time, and for the lack of a better word, a more ‘wholesome’ one. Sholay had everything Deewar had and everything that Deewar lacked - romance, songs, a larger than life villain, comedy, memorable supporting characters. But the fact that Deewar is more often than not mentioned in the same breath as Sholay is a testament of its importance.

They say that Bollywood is going places, that the stories are coming of age and that the era of the mindless blockbusters is finally coming to an end.

They say that with the Bhatts and the Kapoors in front of the camera and the Kashyaps and Hiranis behind it, things can only get better.

They are right, the times, they are certainly a changing, but call me old fashioned (or straight up old), but when it’s a Sunday and mutton is on the cards, there’s only one thing I prefer watching, and it’s not the latest critically acclaimed Ranbir/Ranveer/Alia/Kangana starrer.

Images are screencaps from here. 


Monday, 29 October 2018

# 59 - Short Story - Unbelievable!

I know that you probably won’t believe me, I wouldn’t blame you. No one in their right mind would believe a guy who hangs out with a bunch of drug-addicts and losers and does nothing all day. 

You'd probably laugh it off, shoo me away like you would wave off a beggar child with dried snot sticking out of his nose, the smirk on your face that might as well have said "your brain's gotten soft druggie boy. You imagined the whole thing."

Maybe you might give me a lecture on how bad drugs are. How even ganja is not okay, even though it comes from plants. 

But here's the thing, even though all my buddies are high most of the time from ganja, cheap home-brewed alcohol, and that stuff they inject into themselves - I am clean.

Well sure, I have tried the desi booze a couple of times, and when in the mood I do smoke a bidi or two, but that's it...Never did any of the hard stuff myself - no weed, no heroin, no nothing. Probably even cleaner than you privileged chutiyas.

But reputation matters, you are probably the office going kind, have a family, maybe even own a house; and if you say that I am full of shit, then everyone would believe you.

It's okay, that's how things are, I can't change any of that, all I can do is put my story out there, and leave it to you, if you want to believe it or not. 

Now Vishram society lane is fine by the day, school kids wandering about, fleets of autos lined up to refuse people, vegetable vendors with their carts, housewives in nightgowns arguing with the said vegetable vendors over onion prices.

And of course, us. 

Sitting right by Chaurasia Paan House, you would find me and the gang, doing absolutely nothing.
And since you have smelled the strong smell of weed or country liquor as you walked by us, you must have assumed that along with Vishnu, Chhote and Iqbal, I too must have been high.

Can't really blame you there. 

And of course had you cared to find out, the 4 of us did stay at the same chawl, so why should I be any different?

The difference was I actually made an honest living. Well more honest than those other three anyway.
See, when the clock strikes 12 in the night and your neighbourhood stores pull down their shutters, it’s then that I walked out to your rescue, with my trusty cycle and metal canister, selling tea, cigarettes, chocolate drinks, and if you asked the right questions, maybe even some of the hard stuff.

You probably have bought things from me, stopping your car long enough to buy your goods, never noticing my face or the surroundings, you drive in a car after all, you zoom past buildings and trees and other things, keeping your eyes on the road.

But if you were in my place, standing beside a rickety cycle on Vishram Society Lane daily from 12 in the night to 4 in the morning, you would probably start respecting me and my kind. At least a little.

Now I have been in this business for five years now, and I am still not used to it.
Let me elaborate.

Till 1.30am, there are enough cars and people on the road, folks returning to their homes, respectable people like you, drunkards, rag pickers, call centre fellows, and girls you wouldn’t introduce to your mother.

After that though, mostly nothing.

You know how they say that this city never sleeps? It’s true. But you can barely tell that it’s awake.
The cars and people gradually vanish, but not entirely. There are still cars that pass the street, but it’s rare, there are still people walking by, but only an odd one or two.

And that’s when the surroundings get to you. That’s when you start feeling colder than usual.
You start to note the little things, like how the street lights, in spite of their brightness, leave so many things in the dark. How it’s not exactly as quiet as it should be, how rats make so much noise by rummaging through the garbage and piles of leaves that are collected on the sides of the roads and still manage to be unseen.

And you wonder......are those really rats?


You look up at the buildings, their lights all turned off, and then you spot a window from which the glow of a solitary bulb shines through. This is comforting to you until you spot another window from which someone seems to have been watching you, the figure disappears as soon as you catch its sight, in panic you look back at the window which had brought you relief, but the light is off now.

Sometimes you get the feeling that someone or something is standing behind you, but when you look, of course, there’s nothing.

On other days, you are convinced that there’s someone behind you and on those days you don’t turn back to look. Too afraid of what you would end up seeing. 

The dogs growl at things you can’t see, and then they whimper and run away, their tails tucked between their legs.

And there’s that other thing.

I hear footsteps from around the corner of the street. The click-clack of shoes or pitter-patter of chappals gradually become louder and just as I hope to see a potential customer emerging – it stops. There’s no one there.

It is terrifying; everything about the night and my work is terrifying. And I haven’t gotten used to it over time, and never will.

If this hadn’t been the easiest way for me to make money, I would have done something else, long back.... but it’s only at these ungodly hours that you can sell a 15 rupee cigarette for 18 rupees, a cup of chai that otherwise costs 5 bucks during the day, you can get away with selling for 10 bucks and no one would even care.

And so I carried on.

Till 22nd April, 2017.

I don’t even know when my birthday is, but I don’t think I will ever forget the 22nd of April.

The night was almost over and I shook my canister to check how much milk was left; estimating that I could still sell three or four cups, I decided to wait a while longer. My phone told me it was 3:15.

One of my regulars showed up – he frequented mostly on weekends, I knew he stayed nearby because he walked to my place, he was in his mid-20s and looked like the office going sort.

Cigarette pila do yaar Mohan bhaiya.”
  
"Milds na, Aman sir?" I asked him, he nodded with a smile, “aaj pura din sutta nahin maara”, his eyes returned to his phone, and then he added “Coffee bhi dena” as an afterthought.

I stepped back to get the coffee when I heard the roar of a car’s engines and almost instantly saw it – a car swerving down the street at an alarming speed, the windows were up but the muffled music could still be heard over the engine.

I knew it was trouble the second I saw it, but it was one of the things that you can’t look or step away from. You have to see it even when you know that it might not end well. From the corner of my eye, I could see that Aman was looking at the car too.

The driver lost control as the car climbed the footpath, and even though it probably couldn’t have taken more than a couple of seconds, I recall the scene in excruciating detail.

The car missed the cycle narrowly and crashed into my customer. It happened so quickly that he didn’t even have the time to scream.

I heard the crunching of bones momentarily and then the sound blended into other sounds as the car crashed into a tree barely 10 feet away, pinning Aman to its trunk.
The hood of the car had given away and the windshield was completely shattered. The head of the driver poked out, shards of glass stuck all over it. His fancy golden yellow shirt was rapidly turning crimson, and of course, he wasn’t moving.
 I couldn’t tell if there were anyone else in the car, and frankly, wasn’t thinking about it either.

A mass of flesh resembling a human body was what was left of Aman.

Yo yo honeyyy singhhhhhhhhhhh.

Now that everything else had gone quiet, the music from the car’s speakers was the only sound in the vicinity.

And then came the smell - the overpowering and nauseating smell of blood. I had seen accidents before but never from this close, and my legs almost gave away, I could have fainted then and there but I somehow managed to collect everything and cycled away as fast as I could. It was a lesson I had learnt soon after I had come to this city and it had served me well many times - anything goes wrong, don’t be the hero, run like your life depended on it.

And so I cycled to my chawl, woke the others and told them everything, they laughed when they saw how I was shaking and when they realised what I had been through they told me that I had done the right thing and offered me a bidi.

I had the bidi and then smoked a couple of my own cigarettes.

It’s simple, Chhote told me, just don’t sell your things at that spot for a week, if the cops come to ask you questions tell them that you weren’t there because you had a fever.

Then they went to sleep again.

The incident did make its way to page 6 of an English newspaper after two days, no pictures though, the man inside the car was alone, so just two casualties. I also found out that Aman sir had lied to me about being from Delhi, like me he was a Bihari.

I stayed indoors like my friends advised, reliving the incident again and again.

On the third day, the police showed up, it’s amazing how good the police can be when they want to. They asked me a few questions, I told them about my fever, maybe they took pity on me because even though I didn’t appear convincing with my alibi, they figured that there was no use in pestering me.

Now here’s where you say that while the incident may have traumatized me, it wasn’t an unusual story. Bade bade shehro mein aisi chhote chhote baatein hote rehta hai.

Yes, the incident had shaken me up, and I couldn’t help but think of Aman, he was no friend, but he had been buying cigarettes from me for years...I knew the man.

But I was in the city to make money.

And so, in spite of everything, in ten days I was back to my business like nothing had happened, the bruised tree trunk apart there were no other signs of the accident. It was as if the city had lifted a rug and brushed two human beings underneath it. Their lives weren’t important enough to matter.

But, bade bade shehro mein aisi chhote chhote baatein hote rehta hai. And I all but forgot the accident in a couple of more weeks.

Of course the place was creepy, but it had always been like that.

22nd May, 2017.

As Sunday turned into Monday, I recalled that it had been one month. And for a moment I even felt sad for Aman, and angry at the other man, whose name was mentioned in the newspaper, but I had forgotten.

Just another night.

I had all but dozed off when a familiar voice got me out of my slumber...with a jolt.

Cigarette peela do, Mohan bhaiya...

It was him. Wearing the same blue shirt, the same glasses, the same smile and the same slightly crooked teeth.

I gasped for air and felt that I was going to lose my consciousness.

It would have probably been better if I had.

He stepped closer, the light from the streetlight confirmed that it was Aman.

Bahut dino se peeya nahin hu” he said and licked his lips. He looked sad. 

And then with some hesitation, he said, “Aur haan, coffee bhi dena....do”, he showed two fingers.

And that’s when I saw it.

Aman hadn't come alone.

Standing right beside me was another man, and while I couldn’t recognise him by face, I knew I had seen that shirt before, and I knew where I had seen it before.

Trembling, I left my cycle, my canister of milk, I left everything and ran, refusing to look back.

So that was it. I don't care if you believe it or not. All I ask is for a piece of advice. Be honest. Do you think it's safe for me to continue selling my things from that spot? You see, there's no other place nearby.  


Image from....my phone's camera. 

Thursday, 4 October 2018

# 58 - Short Story - The Spectator(s)

I kept my umbrella and the bag of vegetables at the counter of the tea stall, next to the jar of biscuits, and wiped the sweat off my forehead.

It was a cloudy Sunday morning and it looked like it could rain at any moment, but I was not exactly in a hurry.

I ordered a cutting chai and sipped on it leisurely. The rains would be more than welcome, it was hot.
The resident stray dog of the shop stood nearby, his hopeful eyes caught my sight and he started wagging his tail, I had fed him a couple of times earlier and he was probably expecting a treat from me.
I asked for a packet of Parle-G and gave him a couple of biscuits. 

From the dilapidated building complex across the street, harsh words from what appeared to be a young man’s voice spilled over.

“We are done, you hear? We are through, it’s finished”, said the voice.

Ah, matters of the heart.

















That no replies could be heard along with the fact that the owner of the voice fell silent from time to time, I figured that the young man (or boy) was having this conversation over the phone. Of course, the ten feet high wall around the garden meant that I wasn’t able to see him.

How dare you? I’ve told you thousands of times, and every freaking time you’ve said that you won’t do it again. Not anymore.”

My mind wandered off to a time long forgotten, a time when I couldn’t care less about the increasing price of vegetables, a time when I was not a father, not a husband, a time when I was more than a sales-officer at a small company earning an even smaller salary.

I brushed my hand over my scalp, facing little resistance from the hair I had once been so proud of.

How time flies.

“What do you mean it’s my fault? Tell me how many times I have done that?”

The words may have been different, but the tone and the pain sounded awfully familiar; how many times and with how many people have I had similar conversations? But then, who hadn’t?

“Don’t you dare hang up when I am talking to you. Don’t you dare.”

The last remnants of his pride were about to be shred apart. The extended pause told me that the person at the other end of the line had, in spite of the threats, or probably because of them, had hung up.

But our unseen protagonist was not going to take it lightly, was he?

“Hello. I told you not to hang up.”

My tea was finished, and I should have left for home, I instead fumbled around for a while around my pocket, brought out two worn-out notes and asked for another cup.

Surely, I could spend a bit of my Sunday the way I fancied.

The rage had evaporated from the boy’s voice now.
“Why are you doing this to me? You know I can’t live without you.”

I chuckled sadly, still no originality.

“Okay, I am sorry okay? Just, just, please don’t do this.”

He was about to cry.

I had a sudden urge to see the boy, to tell him that he was going to be alright, that she would move on, and so would he, that in a year’s time, he would probably forget all of this ever happened.

Instead, I took a long sip of my tea and listened on.

And then I saw him.

No, not the boy, an old man, inside the building complex, he was leaning against the window grill of his third-floor apartment, and he was following the conversation with as much interest as I was.
He was looking at the boy from above and his gaze followed the path of the boy much like a predator preparing for his kill. His face betrayed the pleasure he received from seeing and hearing others who were not aware that they were being watched and heard.

Meanwhile, our protagonist had started sobbing.

“I am sorry. Just that I read everything, and I couldn’t think properly.”


The old man licked his lips, he was enjoying this, probably more than I was. Maybe when I am his age –

“FUCK OFF. JUST FUCK OFF.”
Oh, he is gonna regret that.

“Wait wait, don’t hang up, I am sorry.”

The clouds rumbled and almost immediately it started raining, a slow drizzle to start off with, but I knew that it would start pouring soon.
I was safe under the shed and checking that my bag of vegetables was still in place, I asked for a cigarette.

“Let’s just forget all of this ever happened. Let’s go back to how things were.”

Yeah, sure kid. Good luck with that.

“I want to meet you. Right now.”

The old man’s unhappy stare told me that the boy was going inside his building.

He craned his neck as the subject of our interest went out of his sight and out of my earshot.
The man sighed and looked at the sky, and then muffling a cough; his eyes darted around for anything else worthy of his interest, and then our eyes met.

The abruptness of the moment got the better of me and I let out a smile, meant to convey that we had been witnesses to the scene that had been playing out.

Caught unawares, he shuddered and for a brief moment didn’t know what to do, and then in an instant he vanished inside his room.

Tsk-tsk.

I chided myself for smiling, I had probably embarrassed him, at his age he probably had little to look forward to; that window was in all likelihood, literally and figuratively, his window to the world.

“Ahem”.

I turned and saw the shopkeeper looking at me.

“Sir, will you be taking anything else?  I am about to close the shop. The rain doesn’t look good”.


I paid for my cigarette, grabbed hold of my umbrella and rushed out in a hurry, forgetting all about my bag of vegetables.

Image from here. 

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

# 57 - Movie Review - Veere Di Wedding - ek "commercial" film

Cast:Kareena Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Swara Bhaskar, Shikha Talsania, Sumeet Vyas.

Directed By: Shashanka Ghosh

Once upon a time, there lived a group of friends. One day, they decided to collaborate on a project that would showcase to the world their talent. Each contributed to the work in his/her own way. But once the project was complete and almost ready to be unveiled before the public, tragedy struck. One of the friends decided that she was getting a raw deal, and chose to back out. Not that this would affect the product - her work on it was done, it was just that her name wouldn’t be featured. So, the other friends went ahead and put the work on exhibition, and most of the people who saw it said that it was glorious. Critics were bowled over, the public hailed it as path-breaking, and while a few said that it made them uncomfortable, they were quickly termed ancient and standing in the way of progress.

In case it isn’t clear, the product in question is Veere Di Wedding and the friends are a car company, a ride-sharing app, a matrimonial website, an ice cream brand, a bank, a jewellery company, an airline that has seen better times, an educational institution, and a snack brand.

I may have missed a few.

Veere Di Wedding isn’t a movie, it is a series of advertisements around which something resembling a plot has been woven, rather hurriedly and rather shoddily.

Not since Yaadein (“Lo paas paas khao”) and the Krrish series (“Bournvita, Bournvita, Bournvitaaaaa”) have we been subjected to such blatant product placement in a film. Entire scenes, conversations and songs are set up so that a brand can be showcased.

"Oh Bournvita, is there anything you can't do?"


The plot is simple enough, four best friends with their own sets of issues and complications meet up when one of them gets married.

There’s  Kalindi (Kareena Kapoor) who is scared of getting married because she has seen the unhappy marriage of her parents, and oh, by the way, she is the one getting married here.

Avni (Sonam Kapoor), who is being forced to get married by her mother.

There’s Sakshi (Swara Bhaskar), the richest of the rich ones, she is the rebel of the gang as evidenced by her character always being depicted smoking, drinking, abusing, and wearing the least clothes.

Yes, yesterday’s vamp is today’s rebel.

Meera (Shikha Talsania) brings up the quartet, she is married to a firang, which is why her family has ceased all forms of communication with her.

"Okay gurlzz, just act like you are having fun."


There’s also Rishabh (Sumeet Vyas) who Kalindi’s getting married to and Bhandari (Vishwas Kini), who looks like a beefier version of Biswa and basically plays a skirt chaser who doesn't know where to draw the line Delhite

The plot could have worked and we could have had a light, frothy (but enjoyable) film, but way too much time is wasted in building up camaraderie, which in turn is basically an excuse for getting the characters to say out loud or use the many products written about above.

 Apart from the individual struggle of the protagonists, there are also a couple of subplots involving family disputes and gay relatives (a notch below typical gay depictions in Bollywood, but still playing up the stereotypes).

Of the performers, Shikha Talsania is the best of the lot while Swara Bhaskar puts up a fine performance as well (and no, she doesn’t seem out of place playing a rich girl). Sumeet Vyas is quite decent and Kareena Kapoor Khan is strictly okay.

But for me, the performance that really stood out was that of Sonam Kapoor’s.

In the industry for 11 years now, she is not counted amongst the better actors in spite of her winning a national award.

There’s a reason for that.

She is, to put it mildly, terrible at acting. I would say that Katrina Kaif looks like a three-time academy award winner when compared to Sonam Kapoor.

Sonam has two and a half expressions and no matter what a scene requires her to do she emotes and speaks the same way – somewhere between an 'awww' and an ‘ewwww’.

Sonam Kapoor is the one who settles the nepotism debate once and for all and single-handedly makes up for the talent that other star kids possess.

Thankfully, in Veere Di Wedding, it is her pathetic performance that makes up for an extremely dull second half.

"That's no compliment, is it?"

In films exploring the theme of friendship, it is not uncommon to have a confrontation scene which is followed by a period when the friends stop being friends. This is usually a transformative experience through which the protagonists understand the value of their friendship and often undergo a journey towards self-discovery.

In Veere Di Wedding there is such a scene, post which the friends stop being friends for an onscreen duration of 54 seconds.

How do they reunite? By one of them randomly proposing that they make a trip to Phuket.

One airline ad later all is right with the world again. Truly, a journey towards self-discovery.

Is Veere Di Wedding a progressive film? Yes, yes, it is, but only if you are the kind that feels a movie’s progressiveness quotient is directly proportional to the number of cuss words being spoken by the female protagonists.

Recommended for Sonam Kapoor fans.

PS. In case you’re wondering what the opening para is about, the jewellery brand is never mentioned (one friend backs out) even though there is a dedicated scene to promote jewellery.

PPS. The makers missed a trick. Kareena Kapoor is shown scratching her neck whenever she is nervous or indecisive, surely there was room for an ItchGuard ad. 

RATING: 2/5.

Here's a review of another masterpiece - Sarkar 3.

Images taken from here, here, and here.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

# 56 - Loadshedding - ek purani katha

A couple of months back, there was a power cut in my area. It was unusual given that during my half-a-decade stay in Mumbai, this had never happened.

The heat bothered me, the lack of wifi connectivity bothered me, the darkness bothered me, but what bothered me the most was that I had nothing to do.

So, I left my flat and the building, and walked around in circles around my society.

Dark and quiet but for the sound of vehicles carried over from the main road.




I wasn't alone.

Hordes of others had taken my approach and come out, we shuffled along slowly, zombie-like, our eyes unaccustomed to the blackness that the moon failed to penetrate. The uncertainty regarding what was to be done had drawn us out.

Almost like a post-apocalyptic event.


Someone commented that a transformer nearby had given up after years of dedicated service, and work was on to repair it, it shouldn't take more than 45 minutes.

Reassured, I walked on.

Load-shedding.

How long since I had used the term?

Growing up in a town near Kolkata, loadsheddings were a daily occurrence.

I remember that we got a generator, and subsequently an inverter, but before then, I had grown accustomed to it.

It wasn't unusual for the power-cuts to last an entire night. No fan, no AC, all we had was hand-fans, serving the dual purpose of a fan, and the weapon of choice for my mother on my exam result days.

Back before I knew what Murphy's law was, I knew the load-shedding law.

Exciting cricket match, one over to go, 6 runs needed, (yes, that was nail-biting), the power-cut WILL happen.

The night before exams, load-shedding will happen, and will last longer than usual. Note that this was used as an excuse come result day.

Peak of summer, with newspapers declaring that this has been the hottest summer in ten years, load-shedding will last the longest on the hottest day.

Just as you enter the loo to do your business and you are just starting to aim....well, you get the idea.

And while I don't know the scientific name of that insect that you see in the rainy season, I can describe it as the one which loses its wings, a lot. In times of loadshedding, they used to gather by thousands at the sight of a source of light, and since the light used to be from the lanterns and candles, you had those pesky little things all around you.

So, god help you if you happen to be having dinner.

But, it wasn't all bad.

More often than not, along with the old hurricane lamp, out came the ludo board, and we as a family cherished that ludo time.


On the summer days when the odds of the power coming back seemed remote, we went to the terrace with our pillows and chatais and just lay down and looked at the stars, and then slept without a worry in the world.

Sometimes our neighbours were also up to the same thing and we had conversations from our rooftops. It was like yahoo chatrooms, with different discussions taking place simultaneously.


My father, otherwise a man who uses his words with extreme economy, for some reason regaled us with stories on nights like those.


It could be because of the age-gap, or because of where you are from....but maybe you haven't faced load-shedding like I have.

And I am not sure if that's entirely a good thing.

I came back from my sepia-tinted memories and decided to call my parents, the number of zombies around me had increased in the meantime.

I asked my mother about load shedding and she confirmed what I feared, they had stopped decades back.

I asked if we could sleep on the terrace when I go home for Dusshera and she asked why would we want to do that, besides, it wasn't safe anymore, with all the crimes and robberies in the area.

I asked if we still had a hurricane lantern because it had been ages since I saw an actual one besides the ones seen in decor stores and village themed restaurants, or of course as an election symbol.

She said she was watching TV and that I should call later.

I hung up.

Someone around me commented that fixing the transformer would take longer than anticipated.

Thankfully, I was still getting a 4g connection and had more than 70 percent battery left on my cell phone.

I downloaded an app for ludo and started playing.

Image from here and here.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

# 55 - Guest Post - My way or the highway

My dear friend Vijay Purohit has written a piece which I felt is quite topical and needed to be shared....

And if it's going to be shared might as well be via www.uselessramblings.com - the blog could use some gravity.

And now, Vijay's words:
.......

The Bhagwat Gita begins with calling Kurukshetra (the battlefield) as“Dharmakshetra”. So what is “dharma”? Shri Krishna goes on to describe Dharma to Arjun as “righteous duty”. As a Kshatriya, it was Arjun’s duty to remain on the battlefield and fight the enemy. Krishna even asks Arjun how at this hour the illusion (of running away from the battlefield) struck him?

The death of Karna

The purpose of setting out what Dharma is or rather ought to be is to comment upon the extremely distorted & politically convenient connotation the word has achieved. With the evolution of time, various sects evolved world over. To call such sects as “religion” is an anomaly in itself!

The present situation or atmosphere of disallowing dissent of any sort is a dangerous development which our country has witnessed over the past 5-6 years, with ease of access to mobile phones, social media and the internet in general. Every scientific invention has two sides to it -while the internet is something which has completely revolutionised information & technology globally, it now appears to be a double-edged sword which has the potential to cause damages at various levels.

Ours has been a civilization which has historically allowed dissent. 

I am reminded of a crippled Ashtavakra who could just walk into King Janaka’s court and challenge his most celebrated scholar on shastras, Bandi. Ashtavakra was laughed at because of his physical condition but once he defeated Bandi in a debate, King Janaka bowed down to him and requested Ashtavakra to teach him the mysteries of life. Or take the example of Karna who openly challenged Dronacharya’s best pupil Arjun in an open arena. Despite killing Ravana’s son Akshay Kumar, it was felt that Hanuman should not be killed because he is a messenger of his master! It has been a civilisation which has accepted contrary views rather than discarding them. Our civilization has been inclusionary and not exclusionary.

I very much second Justice Markendeya Katju when he says that ours is a “Sanskrit-Urdu” culture. 
I personally have had the privilege of growing in a household where on one hand Valmiki’s Ramayan was perhaps the most revered book - where Lord Ram was revered as an epitome of principles and considered a perfect example of an ideal son while on the other Mirza Ghalib’s Bazicha-E-Atfaal hai duniya mere aage was also wholeheartedly accepted. While the humour of P.G Wodehouse was adored, the depth of Sahir Ludhianvi was also talked about. It was (and is) a household where Kafka, Harishankar Parsai and Saadat Hasan Manto were talked about with equal vigour. 

My father had this amazing capability of enjoying (or rather accepting) two completely different ideas with the same zeal or neutrality. If this is termed as being “liberal”, I have no qualms about being called one.

Recently, noted author & novelist (!?) Chetan Bhagat wrote an open letter wherein he alleged that liberals are those who belong to a privileged class of society, go to luxurious & expensive schools, have ‘hot dogs’ for lunch and dinner and so on. That I don’t read Chetan Bhagat and don’t consider him to be someone worth reading is my opinion, however, his understanding of being “liberal” is completely flawed. We as a country are (or rather were) essentially liberal and it has got nothing to do with the school we went to or the food we ate.

On the other hand, we do have a so-called “urban elite” class which talks about political theories and concepts, purport to be the ideologue of the masses. However, till now the urban elite was not ready to let the masses speak their mind. Why? Because the urban elite had the language!

The venom that is being spewed on the social media today is a juxtaposition of a flawed understanding of being liberal and also the regression that the not-so-liberal-and-elite have faced.
Now they have a medium, a platform and there is no one to control their voice (in fact it is being encouraged). Therefore, the result is to abuse one and all including women and increased use of words such as presstitutes, libtards, commies. It is also a reflection of their mindset. It appears that battle-lines have been drawn and whosoever has a contrary political opinion or raises a voice is suddenly on the other side of the wall. 

There is just black and white and no grey. “Constructive criticism” is a concept long forgotten.

We belong to a civilisation where a cow had the potential to turn an angry, greedy and egotist king into a supreme spiritual master. It is believed that while still a King, Vishwamitra was amazed at the powers of the cow Kamdhenu, using which Sage Vashishta fed Vishwamitra and his army. Vashista battled with Vishwamitra to get the holy cow but was defeated because of sheer spiritual veneration of Vashishta. Vishwamitra vowed to acquire spiritual powers which would make him great. Eventually, Vishwamitra became a “Brahmarshi”. 

Today, self-proclaimed cow protection groups are lynching and killing people in the name of the cow! I support vegetarianism and do not fancy the idea of killing and eating animals. But that certainly does not give me a license to lynch and kill people. The ideal way to put forth this view is to increase awareness and tell people about the probable ill-effects of eating animals.

The notion of nationalism, it appears is under a siege. A straight jacketed formula is given and anything and everything outside that formula is considered “anti-national”. So if I say that it’s absurd to compare a soldier with someone standing in a line to withdraw money from the ATM, I automatically fall into the “anti-national” bracket. If I question one step of the ruling disposition, the ones supporting that point of view will quickly quip “what about the last government”? Whataboutism is another thing which has grown manifolds and it is abundantly visible and available on the internet.

Online abuse is something which will only grow in magnitude but what worries me is the standardization of the entire concept of liberty. The National anthem, soldiers, Pakistan and now arts & cinema are few things which have become linear topics and concepts. There cannot exist, a view contrary to what is being dispensed by the ruling disposition and the so-called right wing. Take, for instance, the case of the national anthem. Ever since my childhood, whenever it is being played, I automatically stand up and also request those around me to stand. But suddenly, I am being told that I have to stand up, even if it is a 9-12 show of a movie. If someone tries to find logic in it, you are termed as “anti-national”.

We will try and delve deeper into the complexity of the so-called outrage that has captivated the country and the likely consequences which one can expect in the times to come. 

....................

Mandatory Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the guest-author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the blog's primary author. 

Vijay Purohit blogs at The Narrative.

Image from here.



Sunday, 8 October 2017

# 54 - Of Insans, aunties, blue whales, and X years of the iPhone

TV reporters have never had it better, the last couple of months have provided enough fodder for news channels to pick and choose. 

No need of 'JUST IN: Amitabh Bachchan catches a cold' type of news tickers, there's Kangana Ranaut and Hrithik Roshan, Blue Whale, Ram Rahim Insaan and his recently arrested daughter, Omprakash Mishra, and last but definitely not the least, the iPhone X.

No, scratch that, given that stellar list, the iPhone X is least likely to grab the eyeballs, despite the Face ID.

Rest assured that this is not an exhaustive list, regular features continue to occupy their slots – the complaining politicians, the ‘y we need this tho’ of the month (this month it’s the Bullet Train), Arnab Goswami, the Mumbai rains, the Mumbai trains, and so on.

But back to the main highlights.

Dhinchak Pooja is last season’s stuff, it's Omprakash Mishra who's raking up the YouTube views counter.

And I have to admit, ‘Bol naa Aunty aoo, kya’ is catchy. 



There was some hullabaloo about the song dissing (main bhi rapper) the concept of consent, and therefore, open letters were written, effigies were burnt and trolls (from both sides) activated.

And of course, activists made their own videos saying that trends such as this should not be encouraged. 

Bullshit.

Sure, the song is crass, has little or no production values, and is probably sexist.

But I swear on my rapidly receding hairline, I didn't even care for the lyrics or tried to decipher them until I read the article about it.

And on second thoughts, are your sensibilities on personal leave when the Honey Singhs and Badshahs of the world release their tracks? 

Bas sab campaigning mere Omprakash ke saath hi? Am I going to be the only one to stand up for the underdog with the 2 megapixel camera and the 30-day free-trial of auto-tune? 
  
Speaking of underdogs, remember the time when Apple used to be one?

Me neither.

I have written about iPhones in the past, and like every year, this year too, hundreds and thousands have written it off even before it’s released, and I am confident that like every year, this year too, millions will go on to purchase it. 

But, how much longer? Sure, you are rewarded for staying in the Apple ecosystem, I love the Apple Watch but I can't have it since I use an Android (also, I am saving my kidney for something really special).

Let's face it, the phones are still good, but ‘good’ doesn't cut it anymore, especially when you were the one who set the bar so damn high in the first place.

Talking poop and clucking like a chicken is great, but that Face ID faux pas right after dollops of self-praise and the repeated 'you've never seen anything like this before' would have made Steve Jobs a very, very angry man had he been alive. 

And what's with the X being pronounced Ten? Remember that Doordarshan goof-up when the anchor referred to Xi Jinping as "Eleven Jingping"?

I demand she be reinstated!
                       
I wish that was the only case of terrible nomenclature, but they have come out with something which they call 'Air power'. 

And I thought OnePlus was unfortunately named.

Air power sounds like something I produce after I have had a can of beans.

Do better, Apple, Your-die hard fans deserve it. And while at it, they deserve bundled air-pods and fast-chargers too.

And now, to address the elephant in the room.

I, of course, refer to Dr. Sant Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan (hereinafter referred to as ‘Dr. S’ for the sake of brevity and levity).

I had seen the first MSG movie at a PVR with a friend whose name I shall not reveal, but Anand (Okay, no surname then) and I knew that we were witnessing cinematic history being created in front of us when Dr. S turned a bullet threatening to blow his brains out into a.....pink flower that matched his lungi. Not content with this feat, he followed it up by breaking the fourth wall and telling us viewers, “Koi hum e sant kehta hai, koi kehta hai farishta, koi kehta hai guru, toh koi kehta hai bhagwan ... lekin hum toh hai sirf ek....insaan,” (Some call me a saint, some call me an angel, some call me a teacher, and some call me god ... but I'm just a....human).

Pavitra Rishta


Yeah right! You didn’t fool us for a second, Dr. S. We knew there was something off about you then, and it was only much later we came to know that your crimes weren’t just restricted to creating the MSG Series and ‘Jattu Engineer’.

But that’s been discussed enough already, I am curious about a different phenomenon altogether.

Why did the media suddenly get so obsessed about Honeypreet, over Dr. S?
Sure, she was absconding and all, but showing her life history and interviewing anyone and everyone connected to her at the cost of ignoring other insights into Dr.S’s diabolical schemes (allegedly: tunnels from fatcave leading to girls hostel, skeletons being unearthed, etc.) was surely a tad excessive.

And even though you know why, I’ll spell it out 

M-U-C-K. Muck.

We love dirt - on other people. It’s why the media loved going on and on about the Sheena Bora murder case, delving into details and at times creating it, it’s why they are still trying to make money out of the Nanavati case, and it’s why shows like Bigg Boss sell. 

Why does this shit sell though? I am not sure, but I am as guilty as you are, I can tell you that - I am trying to get you to read my blog by using similar tactics, ain’t I?

Now the last one, promise.

The first time I heard that 'Blue Whale' is a dangerous trend that's going viral, I thought it was a Honey Singh song fat-shaming someone.

Then the newspapers gave it more coverage, and the first thing it reminded me of was a Black Mirror episode (‘Shut up and Dance’, if you must know). 

Off-late, India has become a hot spot for these dubious records, most selfie-related deaths, most blue whale-related incidents, rape capital of the world; we have built quite a reputation.

I am not entirely sure how the blue whale thing works, but from what I have read, it involves tasks that one has to complete and prove to some unknown entity on the internet. 

The tasks include, getting up at the middle of the night, drawing a blue whale on one's hand by making cuts, watching a horror movie at 2am, etc. etc. culminating into....suicide.

Wait, what?

The guy who claimed to have created the thing had been arrested quite some time back and he's said that we should be thankful to him for his service because he is cleansing the society by getting rid of 'biological waste'. 

Sounds like a villain straight from the DC universe. 

But every day the news reports get weirder and weirder.

There's apparently a kid who tried to commit suicide and when stopped he said he was promised one crore rupees if he successfully committed the act.

I repeat, this kid was told that if he managed to commit suicide, he would be given Rs. 10000000.

Perhaps understandably, he was unhappy when he was stopped from taking his life. 

I wonder what he planned on doing with the money. After-life-after-party?

But this is not a laughing matter, what the hell is wrong with the kids?  Weren't they supposed to be getting smarter?  

But it's not about being smart, it's about being unhappy, being vulnerable, believing that no one cares about you and nothing good will ever come out of your life.

We all feel like shit sometimes, age has nothing to do with it, but when you have teenagers and adolescents feeling this way, and the people around are too busy playing candy crush, reading the latest gossip about Honeypreet or wondering how Kangana will strike back now, that's when the affected persons become susceptible to games like 'Blue Whale'.

I am no Dr. Phil, but I have a hunch that It's not just 'Blue Whale', emotionally vulnerable people are more likely to harm themselves, 'Blue Whale' is just a push, it might as well be Sharma Ji Ka Beta who convinces the victim that there's nothing left in his life. 

Social (media) validation is as crucial as ever in this time and age, we go to unbelievable extents in our quest for likes and shares - The duck face is too passe, how about a selfie with a tiger instead, or maybe from the top of a building, standing on a ledge. That would surely spike up the likes? 

The Blue Whale game is probably a twisted, f'd up sort of validation - out there, someone or something pretends to understand you, befriends you, promises you rewards when you complete a challenge, and before you know it, you become a slave to it, and then it reinforces your belief that you are no good, that your life doesn't make any difference to anyone out there. That, you are, truly alone and will always be, so why not, just end it all? 

Sounds crazy? That's because it is. But maybe the joker was onto something when he uttered those lines in 'The Dark Knight'.

Madness is a lot like gravity, all you need is a little push.

Take a good look around you, ladies and gentlemen, it's a mad world out there, and if anything, it is only getting worse. 

Don't believe your friendly blue themed social media site that gives you the impression that everybody except you is leading perfect lives, we are all miserable in our not-so-unique ways. 


So the next time you see a teenager pouting, or flaunting a perfect smile for the camera, take a moment to consider how happy he/she actually is,...

And yes, look out for the cuts.

See you when the next fad hits the fan....

Video from here, image from here.