Can’t Put My Finger On It. But I Know Something’s Wrong.

Something has gone terribly wrong with the basic fiber.

Most people find it okay to jump traffic signals. There is a perverse delight even in being able to jump a light and jump the cop who tries to catch you shortly afterwards. Driving on the wrong side is fine. Incidentally, I live in this residential area, which, by conservative estimates, is higher middle class with a large proportion of educated (graduates and above) families. And yet, every morning, I find people driving the wrong way on a one way street in this residential area, just to avoid driving an extra 100–150 meters. Expensive fuel. I also see a lot of people whose driving license should be revoked given their parking skills.

Most people find it OK to not worry about their driving license, and let an extra 500 bucks to a grand take care of it. Most government offices and officials find it OK to take a bribe. Easier than having to check whether someone actually knows how to drive. The driving school guys also find it easier to get the license than to teach you how to drive.

Most service professionals find it perfectly alright to not deliver on their commitments. Most plumbers or carpenters mean one hour when they say they are 15 minutes away. Most technology companies find it OK to delay a project by a few months. Most hardware manufacturers find a 10–15% defect rate in their products OK.

In the most affluent city of this country, a metro rail project gets delayed by several years, and the city fails to buy the services of the best planners and builders, with all the money it has. In this process, every day, thousands of professionals who charge their clients and their organizations by the hour, spend several hours on the road just trying to get to their respective destinations. In the political power center of this country, a girl gets brutally raped and beaten and murdered, and it takes citizen rallies and candle light marches for the authorities to remember that this might need some attention.

Most people find it okay to be disrespectful towards a woman’s identity and her physicality. Teasing, groping, fondling, grabbing — they are all just fine. Somehow, a survey conducted on women suggests that more than 90% of them have been teased. Interesting, not more than 10% men commit to having participated or observed it.

In a certain state, men are married off without their consent and at gun-point, and in another, daughters are burnt or killed for expressing their desire to marry someone of their choice.

It has to be disturbing that a man often charged with abetting the murder of hundreds and thousands of people is the supreme political leader of this country, because a majority of constituencies felt that they had no other choice. It has to be unnerving that education minister of this country has had to refer to a certificate course of x days as her best credential for the job, only to be seriously undermined. It is even more disturbing that a politician universally acknowledged as the most corrupt ever has a gold plated Lanka of his own in a small Maharashtrian town that is now known for nothing else but this politician. It is also quite disturbing that the biggest democracy in the world has but one family owned business as the real political alternative.

The accident of having found a great president is almost immediately corrected by finding one that even hard fought despair could not have cared about. And a prime minister who could have done something is put on mute by a remote, ably handled by the buffoons of a family legacy.

The government actively bans harmful stuff — beef, porn. A college/ university even banned certain dresses. Harmful for the Indian culture. But religious, acidic and dividing speeches are not banned. Religious tolerance.

In broad public eye, 540 odd chosen people waste a nation’s precious time and money and do not let the office function, and nothing happens to them. In some companies, people are fired for showing dissent against their bosses.

Most are trained to respect our bosses. And not respect those who are not our bosses. Or peers. It is unacceptable to let your educated children work in a restaurant part time, and acceptable to laugh at the poor English of the unskilled service person. Most people want to have someone who could do their work. All the time. Maids, delivery boys, office boys… are, jara mera ye kaam kar dena… but find it rude if someone asks them to do something extra.

Most people find it an extra and unrequited effort to hold the door for someone coming from behind. But they find it OK to jump a queue and get in front of someone who might be ahead. They do make the extra effort for that.

Speaking of time and effort, our judiciary is piling over with the number of cases it has to handle. And it still keeps a case running for decades. An actor gets a bail after running over many people. Several years after running them over. Being Human? A young drunk lawyer can’t get bail for running over one. Fair and Blind Justice. A certain politician is still in contention, and gets support from the torch bearers of “anti-corruption and fairness”, having siphoned of a little over a 1000 crores in the name of fodder. And people will still vote for him. National Blindness.

They either support, or they are against. People take sides too easily. More importantly, they want people to take sides. Or they choose people’s sides. If one says Aye, one never gets to say Nay. The walls of protest have become too easy to paint — a digital swish, or a 140 character momentary wish. Every debate is black or white, no shades of grey for this nation of mine. “Jo galat nahi hai, wo jaroori nahi ki sahi ho”, I had read somewhere long back.

Something is terribly wrong with the fiber. I just can’t put my finger on it.

p.s. This post deserves a lot of hyperlinks. I am not in the mood though.

Social. Anti-Social. Happy 2015

About a few years back, I loved social media and the possibilities it created. It gave people a chance to say that they care about issues that were otherwise not getting picked up by mainstream media. There were the great crowdsourced help groups that were helping people during floods and terrorist attacks and tsunamis. There were candlelight vigils against blatant miscarriages of justice. There were hashtags that organized the chaotic voice of the masses.

Today, I get worried. We live in a very angry world. For every voice of reason, there are many many more that are just angry, intolerant, venomous and vicious.

The world that we live in is not a black and white world. There are few issues out there that are just perfectly black and white. Like rape. Or murder. Everything else, is a matter of opinion and perspective and vantage points. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter or victim. The terror in the valley had two sides.. Iraq war – a few. Islamophobia has a few ore. Hitler does as well.

Yet, every day, my social media feed is increasingly becoming an assault on the senses. The opinions are absolute. Debate is not possible. Insults and slurs (that seemed to be a popular feature on rediff discussion boards in the earlier years) have become all pervasive. Patience is no longer a virtue. Not for the masses, it would seem.

Yet, every now and then, like a whiff of freshly brewed coffee, you come across a deep-web link or a near-perfectly researched piece that sparks off a debate amongst the people who still have the patience to understand and analyse and not react to the “headlines”.

The headlines are increasingly sensational. The reactions increasingly alarmist. But its not all lost. You can grab that cup of coffee a little tighter, press it against your face, feel its warmth.

 

So, here’s to an year gone by. And to a momentous year coming up ahead. That the anger around me doesn’t take me over. And that the cup of coffee stays warm. That there be more debates and less altercations that are worthy of a life so short. That there be learning that stay with me on this long journey.

थी गर्म हवाएं, तूफाँ का था अंदेशा
ये वक़्त गुज़र जाए, दे सब्र मुझे ऐसा

Names, Urdu, Religion and Us

The other day, I was thinking about the strong religious connotations a name has. Or, a regional connotation. Almost everyone I meet, thinks of me as a bengali, because of my supremely common name combined with a supremely common bengali surname. It’s a different matter that Das can be a bengali, bihari, oriya, assamese (and others?). Now, imagine the confusion someone who would be in if I had an urdu first name and my original surname. Or, my original first name and an otherwise urdu surname. Amit Shah Zafar, or Justjoo Das.

Which leads me to the conundrum I faced several months back. As me and the missus were going through names for laddoo, we were stuck on Guthli (the seed) as his or her pet name. But the formal name was a challenge. My love for urdu language in general, and ghazals as a a genre of poetry meant that I would often come up with (beautiful) names that would be immediately considered muslim. Not that me and the Missus have a problem with that, but this would have meant a lifetime of questions for the poor laddoo/ guthli. Imagine being asked five times a day, “you aren’t going for your namaaz? You are a non believer, eh?” or, “your parents are hindus, but you are a muslim! how?”. Imagine him repeating many more times in a day – My surname is Das and I am not a Bengali.

Just imagine the possibilities of beautiful names if such forced observations could be done away with. Instead of the Aaravs and Aanyas who have replaced Amits and Nehas these days, we could experiment with Arsh, Nihaa, Soz, Ghazal, Ashaar, Rehbar… Irrespective of the irreparable damage a boring surname like Das would have done to a Ghazal, an Ashaar Das would probably still sound beautiful. Imagine a Gurumurthy down south being called Soz Ramakrishnan – the firy Ramakrishnan. Or, Jatinder up north being called Sabr Singh- the patient lion. Such joy. Lost.

I just think that when you (can) bring other languages to your own, in an increasingly cosmopolitan world, it has the possibility to make it so much more beautiful. Alas, the only accepted confluence is english. So, David Patel or Arlene Mehrotra might be ok, but we will have to wait some more for a  Naaz Tendulkar or a Shoorveer Ahmad.

*It’s odd to be posting this at the fading end of a political debate where one gentleman is an extremist Hindu with a reasonably well documented hatred towards Muslims, another whose party has a long history of promoting religious/regional divide and rule, and a rookie whose name has been lent to an egg based delicacy at a place which claims to serve the food of the Greek gods.

A New Year Post (Customary Thing To Do As A Blogger)

First up, a very happy new year to you all. Thank you for being so faithful, using random search terms to land here, appreciating some of the cock-a-meme offline, and every now and then, asking me to write more. Its a short life, and one must be thankful for the gifts that one gets – deservedly or undeservedly.

funny-new-years-day_1388107407I hope all of you continue to make resolutions, keep up the spirit for a week or so (or maybe longer), plan out the gory details of your life, and then, live it up like only you can. I hope there are no regrets about the unfulfilled plans, and there is some joy still left in accidental discoveries.

I hope all of you continue to be who you are, or a better version thereof.

As for myself, I have decided that I will try and rediscover my forgotten maxims –
1. Be happy. Given who I am, and what I have to offer to the world, the world has been very kind to me.
2. Do everything with a lot of love. I was never the guy who did everything, or anything for that matter, with a lot of passion. But I get by with a fair bit of love.
3. Meet people, say hello, smile a lot, think a little less. Be interested. In myself. And others. Rekindle the forgotten relationships, let go of the biases that creep in, give myself another chance. And then another.
4. Try and be better than myself. Of today. Every day.
5. Not have a plan, but have many goals.

And one of the goals is more than 313 posts this year. Which amounts to less than one off-blog day per week. The only way to improve your writing is by writing. A lot. And I think the half baked stories need to be completed. And the yet to be fleshed out script. The last year started off OK, but I dropped the ball somewhere. And never really picked it up. But the good news is – I am a father. The better news is – much as I find Aaroh the most adorable thing in my life, I am not turning this into a daddy blog. Daddysan does it better. Hop over to that site.

Have you guys seen “The Wonder Years”? One of the most amazing things about the TV series was the closing thought that the older Kevin would often end an episode with. And it often started with – And the funny thing is/was…

But the funny thing is – I have no idea what I am going to write.

Rudeness Pays?

In 1995, Gajendra Chauhan came up with (or repurposed) a musical talent show called Saregama. TVS Saregama, I think was the first season. It seems like it happened a lifetime back. Talent shows were about talent, and people on these shows generally seemed nice and humble. Sonu Nigam came across as a guy who couldn’t stop learning. This was also around the same time that Meri Awaaz Suno went live on doordarshan. Meri Awaaz Suno’s final was judged by Lata Mangeshkar, and Sunidhi Chauhan was a discovery of that show. Before this, most musical talent shows (like the one that discovered the voice of Mahendra Kapoor) were on radio.

 

A deeply etched memory from Saregama is of late-Rajkumari ji singing “guard babu guard babu seeti na baja” and “ghabra ke jo hum sar ko, takraye to acha”. The megafinal had ensemble judges like Anil Biswas, Khayyam, O P Nayyar, Naushaad, Parveen Sultana, Kalyanji-Anandji, Pandit Jasraj, etc. Jagjit Singh once performed a medley of songs as a tribute to the other judges – including “Seene Mein Sulagte Hain ArmaaN” and “Mitti Da Baawa”. Another memory is that of Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia asking one of the participants (Sanjeev, I think, who had come from US) to sing without music, and then telling him where he dropped a note. In the same episode, he asked Mohd. Vakil to sing the aaroh and avaroh of Raag Bhoopkali, not before the confusion between Raag Bhoopkali and Rag Bhoopali. And through all this, Sonu Nigam planted himself on the Indian music scene, never to look back again on his days of coming up with 25 rupee cover version of Mohd. Rafi songs for T-series.

 

The earlier years had Sanjeevani (who sang Chura lo na dil mera in Kareeb), Shreya Ghoshal (what do I need to tell you about her, except that her first break was “Isshhhh” for Devdas, after Bhansali spotted her in the show), Kunal Ganjawala (Bheege Hoth Tere), Parthiv Gohil (Saawariya), Pandit Jasraj, etc. The general humility and reverence that the participants had, was well supplemented by the purely musical format of the show, and the focus of the judges on singing.  I don’t remember a moment of bickering, complaining, fighting, or melodrama on the show. The only emotional element was when someone was not able to move to the next round. In the video of Rajkumariji (link above), Sonu Nigam starts with how they were not able to show all this footage because airing the show left them little time.

 

Back in the days, the judges were the judges(1). Public votes were not the deciding factor. Participants had to come and sing, and not plead for audience mercy. Even boogie woogie was squarely judged by Javed, Naved and Ravi Behl. Usually, there would be just one judge for a particular episode. And for the finals, and semifinals there would be more judges. The Mahafinal of Saregama featured their earlier winners, and I think Mohd. Vakil went on to win the Mahafinal, along with Bela Shende. Sanjeevani and Sudeshna missed it by a whisker.

 

 

I was totally and absolutely in love with the show. And I read this article on OPEN (Rudeness Pays) that prompted this post. I don’t follow the musical talent shows  as much these days. Most of them have 20 minutes of real stuff and 30 minutes of idiocy. The article rightly points out that Raghu (of Roadies) has made

a career out of abuses. That there is too much riding on idiots like Dolly Bindra in Big Boss. Rationale – TRP. But if that were true, no one should watch Kaun Banega Crorepati, right? Amitabh Bachchan still handles the show with extreme affability and humility. There is a general air of bonhomie on the show. And that probably explains why the only reality show I can tolerate these days is Dance Indian Dance. There is a lot of peripheral time wastage, but thankfully the judges don’t bicker, and Mithunda is happily drunk most of the days.

 

Does this bother you?

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(1) By the way, one of my earliest memories of an audience based decision is a sequence from the movie Bhoot Bangla, where Tanuja sings “O Mere Pyaar Aaja”, followed by “Aao Twist Karein”. The performance is measured through a Taali-meter, and compered by Amin Sayani. Absolutely wonderful songs, both of them.  The movie has some wonderful songs by the way – “Jaago Sone Walon”, being one of my favorites.

 

(2) A big thank you to the good folks who keep sharing these videos on youtube. I had no hope of finding these, but here they are.

 

Renewal

I had written this one for the Caferati readmeet which I could not go for due to some last minute thing that came up. So, I think I should post it here. The theme for this readmeet was going to be renewal

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It was the June of 2004, I think. We were having a chat at the Barista. The one on MG Road in Bangalore. It wasn’t a singularly profound conversation. We were discussing music from the era where Mohd. Rafi was at the peak of his prowess. His flawless voice, and the smooth turns his  voice could take from one song to another and within a particular composition, and that surge of emotion that only he could handle at those high notes. We both loved him. The world might be divided on whether Kishore Kumar was better than Mohammad Rafi, but at the least, the world is not divided on the greatness of Rafi. The discussion started with the song that was playing  in the background – mujhe dard-e-dil ka pata na tha (I knew not of the pain of love, why did you come into my life), mujhe aap kis liye mil gaye! We discussed many more, our favorites, the poetry, the rendition, the love and the tears. And we realized the common favorites in the process. “Aap ke haseen rukh pe aaj naya noor hai, mera dil machal gaya to mera kya kasoor hai”. A new light shines on your beautiful face, how am I at a fault, if my heart did a double take!

And yet, here, today, in 2012, as the end of world is near, we bump into each other. This time, in a crowded mall. R City Mall, it’s known as. Had we been in touch? I wonder. I know all about your vacations, and your son, and the work that’s made you travel from here to there, and the friends you’ve met. I also know about the Thai place where you were dining last week. And I am sure you are clued in about me as well. Though, I haven’t met you in these 8 years. There were those couple of conversations that we had. Yes. But what did we talk about? Guess some congratulations and some work. Do you remember what it was? I don’t. And my guess is the same as yours. That it must have been something really… really important.

We talk about a lot of things. And we talk about the noisy mall. And that we should meet again. At a quieter place. Because there’s much to catch up on. Much beyond the frivolously inane facebook, twitter and foursquare updates. Because we, as individuals, are still the same. It takes a while for us to talk about the real updates from our lives.

It’s at a mall that I visit almost every week. And so do you. And yet we have missed each other almost every time. Except this one. You know what I loved the most – the way the conversation started – “aap ke haseen rukh pe aaj naya noor hai!, we had said almost in a chorus.

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Someone I met the other day shared a factoid with me – The median number of friends in the pre-facebook era was 4. In the post-facebook era, it’s “0 (zero)”.
There is a little something about Mumbai that you never take time out to appreciate.  You “bump “into your friends invariably at Phoenix Mills, NCPA, R-City Mall, Leopold, Bandstand, etc. The city localizes everything in small pockets, and has these nerve centers for everything. And in this process, this city increases the odds of your bumping into someone. Despite the city being so huge.

Your friends. An accident. A serendipity.

 

IQR 2013 – The Reading Challenge

I have decided to sign up for the IQR reading challenge. Through blogadda, booklovers, etc. I have been getting access to some Indian authors’ work, which I might have skipped earlier. Despite my initial complaints, the quality and quantity are both improving with each passing day.

So, the target’s going to be,…. well.. I guess about 12 books by Indian authors this year. If I do more, good for the writers 😉

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