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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. 


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 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.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

# 53 - Short Story - The Wait

It couldn’t have been timed better.

For months the temperature had been rising and even though our collective wish for a drop in the mango prices had been granted, we now longed for the rains and an air conditioner in our flat.

The latter was definitely out of our budget, so Karthik and I focussed on the rains.

And that noon, almost when we had given up hope, it rained. And how.

For hours the rains pounded everything that stood in its way, people caught unaware ran helter-skelter, kids danced and splashed the muddy water until their parents grabbed them by the ears and forcibly took them home, the people working in offices looked at the world outside their glass prisons with equal measures of awe and fear - most hadn’t brought their umbrellas.

The monsoons had finally arrived.

We stood on the balcony and enjoyed the sight, both of us had left office early, but the delay in the trains meant that we had reached well past our usual time.

“Aren’t you glad that it’s a Friday?” asked Karthik.

I smiled, “Glad? Freaking ecstatic! The best day of the week meets the best time of the year.”

Karthik and I shared the flat, we had studied together in college and now worked at the same company, and to the best of my knowledge, earned the same salary.

Which, in a city like Mumbai, was too low for our liking.

But even my financial woes couldn’t get the better of me this evening. Of course, the fact that we had received our salaries a couple of days earlier meant that we could afford a little luxury.

“Bring out the booze,” I declared, and went to take out the ice tray myself (yes, our landlord was benevolent enough to grant us a fridge).

We dragged out a couple of chairs to the balcony and poured ourselves a drink.

“Cheers”, said Karthik and we clinked our glasses and took a quick sip.

The rains had finally slowed down to a more comfortable drizzle, and we enjoyed the atmosphere in silence. This was an old society, fairly large by today’s standards, there were trees and open spaces which are usually a dream for most middle-class Mumbaikars. It was probably this luxury that made the original owners resist the temptation of re-development.  

“Not bad huh?” said Karthik, staring outside, looking at the tree that stood just outside our building, overlooking the street.

“Not bad at all.”

It was the kind of evening that made you want to write poetry, I for one couldn’t and thus made do with memories of a better time.

I wondered if Mansi was thinking of me.

Post our break up shortly after college, she too had shifted to Mumbai, I hadn’t met her yet but from what I had heard from a few friends she was doing well. Better than me at least. I knew that she didn’t stay far from where we lived, and I always hoped that one of these days we would bump into each other and would get back together.

Wishful thinking? Yes.

Impossible? Most likely, because my over-smart friends had also let me know that she was dating someone from her office.

I got up, “where did you keep the cigarettes?”

Karthik looked at me, puzzled, “What do you mean? I thought you were getting them.”

After a few minutes of heated discussions, I was able to convince Karthik that I had told him “Cigarette le aa tu” (You get the cigarettes) and not “Cigarette laya hu” (I have got the cigarettes).
Grumbling to himself, Karthik grabbed his umbrella and wallet. “I doubt that Naresh bhai’s shop would be open in this weather.”

“Oh come on, it’s only 9pm, his place is open till 10, and even if it’s not, you need to walk just a hundred meters more to find another store.”

Still complaining, Karthik took his own sweet time before he left.

I got back to the balcony and resumed drinking.

Dinner would be here soon; courtesy ‘Basu’s Tiffin Service’ – meaning on a good day - food that tasted like yesterday’s leftovers, and on bad days, well, we dared not ask how fresh the food was.

But I couldn’t bring myself to eat a preparation of an unknown vegetable with dry, papad-like chapattis tonight, so I called Basu and cancelled the meal, and not quite done - I impulsively ordered Chicken-taka-tak pizzas for both of us.

I was drinking as slowly as possible, savouring every sip, the rains had picked up again, and though it was still beautiful outside, it had a gloomy sight to it.

My thoughts veered back to Mansi; the tragedy of relationships is that the person who calls it off only associates the time spent with the sad moments, and the other person only recalls the happier bits.
We had spent four years together, and all it had taken for her to abandon it was one single argument. And she hadn’t looked back, just ended it and moved on like it had meant nothing to her.  

Was it possible that she had been having an affair on the sly before we broke up?

I shook my head; I was getting drunk.  Trying to think of other thoughts, I found myself unable to do so, ‘goddamn this weather, and goddamn this alcohol’.

Thankfully the bell rang, I could do with a cigarette now.

But it was the pizza.

It was past ten, Karthik had left more than an hour back. It shouldn’t have taken him this long. I called him up but the somewhat ironical tune of “Smoke on the water” playing in the room told me that the idiot had forgotten to take his cell phone. 

Sighing, I started with my pizza, hoping that by the time he returned, his would still be warm.

Another hour slipped by.

It was getting late enough to be worried. I looked down from the balcony. Except for a drenched street dog that was lying down miserably near the gate, there was not a soul to be seen anywhere. Thunder rumbled in the distance and the cool breeze no longer felt soothing. Did I hear a soft knock at the door? I turned back...

There was no reason for anyone to knock, the flat had a perfectly working doorbell, Karthik knew about it too.

From a faraway corner of my mind, something warned me, ‘this doesn’t seem right’.

I walked slowly and hesitantly, and before my brain could tell me otherwise, I flung open the doors.


A chill travelled down my spine.

Every part of me forbid it, but I couldn’t help myself, with my heart beating as loudly as a sledgehammer, I poked my head out and took a quick look on either side, the hallway was empty.
I shut the doors hurriedly.

“It was the wind,” I said aloud, trying to convince myself. The rains had turned positively sinister by then, it looked like it wouldn’t stop until everything and everyone were destroyed.

Karthik should have been back by matter how many shops were closed and how far he had to go, it shouldn’t have taken him this long.

Unless something had happened to him, something bad.

Another flash of lightning, much closer this time, I waited for the sound of thunder that would inevitably follow, and when it did it reverberated within the four walls of our modest flat.

And almost on cue, all the lights went off.


What perfect timing.

I made my way to the balcony, the street lights were gone too. There was a power-cut in the area.

Another knock on the door, there was no mistaking it this time.

I hesitated, but then relented as soon as I heard the familiar voice.

“Come on man, open the door, will you?”

It was Karthik.

After some fumbling, I located the latch and opened the door, Karthik stepped in, bringing a puddle of water along with him.

Though I couldn’t see him clearly, I could make out that he was thoroughly drenched.

“What happened to you? Where’s your umbrella? Why are you so fucking late?”

“Naresh’s shop was closed alright, so were the others, I had to go a long way. Forget the umbrella, it’s ruined, almost couldn’t make it back myself. Do you have any idea how much water-logging has taken place by the main road? It feels as if it’s been raining for months.”

I admit it was a bit selfish of me, but I had to ask, else all of Karthik’s efforts would have gone in vain, “the cigarettes must have gotten soaked too, huh?” I said, trying my best to sound as nonchalant as possible.

“I was too clever for that. After all this, couldn’t afford to get it wet. Protected it with my life.” 

Karthik revealed a plastic pouch, within which he kept the cigarette box.

We sat on the balcony, two figures in the shadows, I took out two cigarettes, and offered one to Karthik.

I lit my cigarette and passed the matchstick to Karthik, and that’s when I saw it.

The obscurity provided by the power-cut and the night had been diminished by the flame from the matchstick, and though the light provided by it was faint, it revealed enough.

Karthik had lit his cigarette, and puffed on it gently, as he did smoke came out from a hole in his head where there had been once his eye-socket.
His skull was smashed in and chunks of brain were visible, his jaw was crooked and barely hanged on to the rest of his face, he was drenched but not with water, blood dripped from every portion of his body, and his hand was set at an impossible angle the sights of which I had never seen.

Never seen on a living person that is.

And then the flame died.

And as I started to lose consciousness, I heard him say, “Sorry buddy. I hate to have done this to you. But desperately wanted to have a smoke with you before I left.”

It was probably the chirping of the birds that had woken me up.
The rains had stopped and even with the cloudy skies, I could make out that the sun was coming up.
Still drowsy, I realised that I had fallen asleep on the balcony itself, and then having recalled the events from last night, I woke up fully with a start.

The power must have been back because all the lights were on, but there was no sign of Karthik.

Was it really a bad dream? Where was Karthik?

And then I saw the ashtray on the other chair. I remembered having emptied it last night - before we had poured our drinks.

There were two cigarettes on it, one barely smoked, and the other – enjoyed right down to the end.


Mumbai: A man was killed when he was hit by a speeding car sometime on Friday evening.
Police said the accident occurred around 11 p.m. on S.V. Road when the victim was attempting to cross the road. Based on eyewitness reports, a white sedan is suspected to have caused the accident and had fled the scene. The victim was immediately rushed to the nearest hospital where he was declared dead before admission.
The victim has been identified as Karthik Sharma, 24, and was said to have been an employee of Bestsource Private Limited. He was living with his colleague in Kandivali in a shared apartment. What is strange is that the flatmate has been under severe trauma and shock since the incident occurred and has been unable to speak since then. He is currently under medical supervision. Medical experts say that while it isn’t unusual for relatives or loved ones of an accident victim to undergo extreme stress, it is very rare for someone to completely stop communicating. 

Image from here.