12 November 2010

Actions speak louder than words

I'm not a big fan of heavy traffic. Something about bleeping horns and cussing drivers- it upsets my delicate artistic sensibilities. Oh all right, it's not so much that, as it is the being bullied into inconvenience, that grates on my nerves. A combination of Diwali in India and the Obamas visiting, had perched me on a near-Prozac like edge.

He's gone, the traffic's almost back to normal and the heightened chatter that preceded his visit has dwindled to a useless whisper. Apparently it was a great honour that he visited India and skipped the old enemy Pakistan. Apparently it warranted all kinds of cleaning sprees in the city and Bombay was made to resemble a little urchin child, whose face was washed clean, hair spit-pressed down to the sides and shorts tightened with a borrowed belt. Then he smartly snapped a salute to the American president. who patted it kindly on the head and moved on.

It was almost amusing to see the city and indeed the country fall over its bureaucratic self trying to please the man of the moment. He must have felt great too, considering the drubbing he had just taken in DC. You're welcome Mr. Obama; anytime you need an ego boost, fly towards India.

I was idly wondering- in between feverish tirades of the media moguls on the telly and the traffic police holding up 'road closed' signs everywhere- what the average man in Bombay thought of this visit. I got my answer from two rather surprising places.

One cabbie - the chatty variety I hate- said: Madam what's he come for? To beg for money? They've emptied their treasury with their stupidity and greed, so now do they have their eye on ours?

One postman- yes, we still have the old-fashioned ones in India- said: My son saw him address students at the college. He admired the way Mr. Obama spoke; with courage and dignity. But when you say many things which mean nothing, it still means you've said nothing.

A cabbie and a postman- not the higher tax echelon of this city- were both left wondering, why, in the scheme of things in India with its multitudinal problems, this visit was such a big deal.

Why didn't anyone come when Bhopal lost its people to a leaking poisonous gas?

Why is everyone here when India's winning the economic jackpot?

How long before India gets a seat at the Security Council?

How long do we have to bite down on our lips while Michelle Obama dances like an uncoordinated, condescending one-woman circus act, instead of actually spending time observing what Indian women teach their children, since she places such a high value on children's education?

How long can vagueness and empty promises be gaily cloaked in diplomacy?

Thanks Mr. and Mrs. Obama for visiting. We hope you enjoyed it. The rest of us will hold our judgement on that until such time, when we see more evidence of that 'special relationship' you all are so fond of referring to.

In Mr. Obama's own words: India is not a rising country. It has already risen.

Someone should remind politicians on both sides of the ocean, of that keen observation.

25 October 2010

In the land of contradiction

India was once known as the land of milk and honey. Then it was known as the land of the corrupt and the poor. Then it was known as the land of Slumdog Millionaire. Now it's oft known as the Land of Plenty. I don't argue with any of this. All of it is true and sometimes untrue as well. I've realised that to try and give India any kind of singularity, whether in name or deed or verse is a futile task. So I'd like to add another name. The Land of Contradiction. Perhaps you've heard this one before as well.

It was a Friday evening. I was out with my friend M, shopping, drinking, eating. Doing the things that the idle upper middle class do. An indulgence that neither of us begrudged ourselves because we know ourselves. Until we came upon this sight. If Henri Cartier-Bresson were still alive, he might have turned this into an iconic image in his own inimitable style. As it happened, there were only two women, laden with shopping bags and a throbbing conscience, debating if they should take a photograph of this cruel slice of life. The throbbing conscience won and they decided not to.

But let me describe it for you. There was a mall. With a hideous McDonald's fronting it. There was a wooden bench upon which sat the life-size figure of Ronald the Clown with his arms spreadeagled across the back of the bench. Pressed to the left side of old Ronald, as if sheltered by a father figure, was a little urchin boy. Fast asleep. His very real, child's palm pressed against Ronald's wooden ribcage, his mouth half-open in deep, innocent sleep, unresponsive to the noise and din of a busy Bombay street.

We stood there for a long time, not knowing whether to wake him up and feed him or take a picture of the unbelievable cruelty of urban life or to inform the security guard that he shouldn't wake him up and shoo him away like an errant pigeon soiling their pristine doorstep.

So we continued to stand there, an internal debate marring our faces. Then a lady emerged with a doggy bag from inside and tried to shake him awake and give him a burger. He moved but his eyes didn't open. He changed positions, snuggled further into the hard clown's side and continued to emit sounds of deep sleep. She shook her head helplessly and looked at us. We shook our heads too. Helplessness and lack of true wisdom speak the same universal language.

Finally, life intruded. We went our way and the kind lady went hers. The clown looked on. Unaware in his wooden heart of how truly unfunny the situation was.

And the child slept on. Unperturbed. The peaceful sleep that still weighs on my conscience.

07 April 2010

Scrabbling for words

Is that a word? Scrabbling? I don't know, you tell me. But perhaps that won't matter one whit considering that Mattel has announced that proper nouns are now allowed in Scrabble. Proper nouns. Meaning your aunt's obscure embarrasing first name Tallulahdelilahchimchimneychim is a triple word score.

Now you may be wondering why I'm choosing to comment on something insignificant like Scrabble changing some rules when there are deaths galore in Iraq, India, Indonesia, Baja and Pakistan. When Gordon Brown v/s David Cameron v/s Nick Clegg is going to make a mad world of a difference (not) to Blighty. What's the significance of Scrabble eh?

Probably nothing. But it's my blog, remember. If it matters to me, then I'll write about it. Do I sound high-handed? Good. Because that's how high-handedness sounds. That's what Mattel sounds like. It's our bloody game. We market it. We'll change the damn rules if it suits us. And yes 'LOL' is a legitimate word. After all, you use it in chats and text messages and emails, don't you? Then why can't you win a few measly points off of it?

I'm not extremely resistant to change. I can embrace it if it comes to me with logic, champagne and a new pair of pantyhose. Really, I'm quite flexible then. But when Mattel went all GW Bush on my pretty posterior, I got annoyed. This is a game which actually helps educate the youth, some of whom write like this: Gr8, C U ltr and thinks it's perfectly reasonable to expect an A in the essay paper for the final exam. So by taking away its illuminating quality of words in the Oxford English Dictionary or Webster or Collins what does it hope to create?

First of all, family feuds. How easy will it be to cheat here? How will you ever find out if my aunt living on the shores of Lake Malawi isn't named Tallulahdelilahchimchimneychim? By the time you try and make a call to her, the game will be abandoned for a quick round of whatchamacallit play station something or the other.

Secondly, you're turning a generation of non-readers into non-speakers as well. How do you propose to enunciate Gr8? Grrrr-eight?

Thirdly, you've no business to mutilate beyond acceptance and redemption a game that so beautifully upheld the grace of the English language.

And fourthly, if this is a rejuvenating drive for cheap publicity and to compete against other games, shame on you for thinking that what has endured several wars and generational conflicts, won't survive the current onslaught of games that cost more than a pied-a-terre in Kensington.

Now if Mattel had announced a brand new game where only proper nouns and SMS language are allowed, then it would have truly contributed to the education of the senior generation. After all, they don't understand what Grrr-eight means and probably think it's an announcement of the Apocalypse at eight pm and run into their cellars every night.

Don't screw with what's good. There's plenty bad in the world already.

16 February 2010

Round and Round the Merry Go Round.

The wonderful thing about Merry Go Rounds is that you keep spinning and never have to get off until it stops or you're thrown off. That's why children love them. The joyful repetitive nature of a Merry Go Round appeals to their simple instincts.

Perhaps that then is the same reason we keep committing the same mistakes, the same follies, the same murders, the same errors in judgement and we never tire of it. Case in point: the bomb blast at the much-loved German Bakery in Poona.

Between the gazillion conspiracy theories, the buck-passing, the admonishments, the speculation, the show of responsibility, the blame game and the false sympathies, one thing remains clear. It's the same Merry Go Round.

Poona will never be the same again. Just as Bombay was never the same after the 1992-1993 horrors and then again 26/11, Poona will change. At first subtly, then obviously and finally, irrevocably.

Eventually as children grow up, they tire of the Merry Go Round and experiment with slides and swings and monkey bars. But as adults, we don't seem to want to experiment with peace, tolerance, respect or honesty. No, we're quite happy to hop on and stay on or hop on and be pushed off to our deaths.

Those of us who have memories attached to German Bakery suffer our loss quietly. Almost stoically. Almost in preparation for the next kid to be flung off the Merry Go Round.

13 January 2010

Resolutely Unresolved

They say New Year's Resolutions always fly out the window once the first week of Jan slips away along with the fuzzy furry feeling that all's well with the world in the new year and as the last of the champagne sticks to the roof of your mouth like an old shoe clamped under the bed, you wonder.... Since it's now the 13th of January, I wondered if I could come up with at least ten seemingly universal resolutions that stuck.

1. Let's watch we eat- Yup, watch yourself sneak an extra piece of full fat ham and an unspeakable forkfull of sinful chocolate goodness. Tick!

2. Let's work out more- Oh this one is a classic one, innit? After 10 kms or 10 days, whichever comes earlier, please see Point 1, above. Tick!

3. Let's do more charity- Absolutely. Throw out (err....donate) perfectly good pairs of shoes (soooo last year, babe!) and spend double the amount on new ones. Tick!

4. Call that friend you've been meaning to call- You did and you lunched with her and then went back to your other 'real friends' to gossip about how fat she is and how sallow her skin is and how pathetic her dress sense is and OMG, lunch was a nightmare, girls! Tick!

5. Focus on my career- This is a big one for most of us. Yes, really, focus focus focus. Come on now, stop staring out the window, don't spend 4 hours a day texting and don't spend half the morning on Facebook telling people about the colour of your bra. Focus! Tick, anyone?

6. Read better books- Do let's trudge to the latest bookstore and browse through the classics where you're met with a pimply faced attendant who thinks Alice in Wonderland is a children's book. Really? Well, then can't be bothered with that. But the new Vogue looks good. As do empty headed tales of Generation Y exclusively speaking Hinglish. Tick anyone?

7. Travel more- Oh lovely. Now if only I could get an alphabetised list of where all the shopping festivals are, where the celebs hang out and what's the latest 'It' destination, I'll just grab my passport, shall I? Tick anyone?

8. I'll learn something new- I've always wanted to learn how to play the violin. Ooh yoga, that's meant to be sooooo cool and trendy, babe. What about salsa dancing? Oodles of fun, yeah! But it's so time-consuming! Tick anyone?

9. Thinking positive- So done with the negativity! Read 'The Secret' and listen to Deepak Chopra's advice! And take an Art of Living class! I'm so down with that. Now if only I wasn't surrounded by such bitchy, negative people! Tick anyone?

10. New Year Resolutions are stupid- Really people, how can you be so childish? Nothing changes! It's all humbug. Seriously, pass me the ham sandwich and the beer. And shut the bloody door on your way out. Tick everyone?