Anuja Chauhan en Tue Aug 06 15:22:32 IST 2019 bjp-cannot-be-allowed-to-dumb-down-and-weaponise-hinduism-says-anuja-chauhan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It seems like every day there is a new colloquialism for us oldies to learn. Like “finish”, for example, is the cool young people’s new word for reaching your uh, climactic peak. At the end of an intimate session, it is now de rigueur for your partner to tenderly murmur, “Did you finish?” Which is why I now find it wildly amusing to watch perspiring people bellow, “I haven’t finished!”, “If I could just finish?”,&nbsp;“Let me FINISH!”, on the nightly news channel panel discussions.</p> <p>There is “beef” and “hook-up” and “judgy” and “cringe”. There are also more weighty terms like gaslighting, and mansplaining and cultural appropriation. But the term I was instantly appreciative of the moment I heard it, for the void it manages to fill, is “spectrum”.</p> <p>A spectrum is a continuum stretching from one binary to another, a sort of sliding scale that includes all positions in between. I first heard the term in connection with autism, but now I see it being used to define so many things we earlier thought of as black and white. So, gender is a spectrum, stretching from “masculine” to “feminine”. Sexuality is a spectrum, too, and includes everything from heterosexual to bisexual to homosexual to asexual, and all the places in between. More and more relationships, too, seem to exist on a spectrum, and include all those messy, nebulous spaces that Facebook dubbed “it is complicated” and Chetan Bhagat called “Half-Girlfriend”.&nbsp;</p> <p>Spectrum also chimes in with another phenomenon that has been cropping up recently. Hyphenation. Not just as a surname or a place of origin—like Chopra-Jonas, say, or American-Desi—but also as a personal descriptor on sites like LinkedIn. It is now increasingly common for people to straddle two or even three or multiple identities at once—actor-activist, billionaire-politician, lawyer-writer-life coach and so on.&nbsp;</p> <p>Both hyphenation and spectrum subvert the neat, binary labelling that fascists feel comfortable around. They prefer for people to stay in their boxes—labelled Jew! Gypsy! Homosexual! Aryan!&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Or, closer home—Hindu! Minority! Anti-national!&nbsp;</p> <p>Actresses should just dance, and not have so many opinions. Farmers should just grow what they are told to grow and never demand their rights. Hindus should just donate to the Ram Temple and vote for the bearded one. Because if we are left free to explore and grow, we may discover the biggest secret of all—that Hinduism is also a spectrum.</p> <p>With not just Lord Ram as the principal deity, but a pantheon of 33 million gods and goddesses, and calibrated all the way&nbsp;from the harsh laws of the Manusmriti to the breezy ‘you-do-you, bro’ enshrined in our Constitution (stripped of the evils of the caste system).</p> <p>Shirdi Sai baba and his&nbsp;<i>sab ka maalik ek</i>&nbsp;belief are on that spectrum. Durga Mata is on that spectrum. <i>Bhang</i>-smoking Shiv&nbsp;<i>bhakts</i>&nbsp;are on that spectrum. So are beef-eaters, and menstruating women who dare to enter temples. So are chief ministers with the&nbsp;gotra&nbsp;Shandilya.</p> <p>Come election season, a lot of liberal leaders, like Atishi Marlena, Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal, or now Mamata Banerjee, have played what has come to be called “the Hindu card”. And while there is a lot of tut-tutting on the news channels and a lot of gloating in the BJP about how she has “blinked”, and had to speak “their language”, I am happy every time liberal leaders flex their Hindu creds. The BJP cannot be allowed to appropriate, dumb down and weaponise Hinduism. It belongs to everybody on the spectrum.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>To me, the story of how Mamata Banerjee, despite being born into the ghastly binds of her “Shandilya&nbsp;gotra”, rose to a belief in&nbsp;Ma, Mati, Manush&nbsp;(Mother, Motherland and People) is a classic Hindu journey of a soul finding salvation.</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Apr 08 17:43:08 IST 2021 ashoka-university-should-take-some-tough-calls-says-anuja-chauhan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Ashoka, a liberal arts university at par with the best in the world, has been blooming in an improbable, air-conditioned bubble in the middle of the bemused Haryana heartland, for quite a few years now. I heard about it first on the lit-fest circuit in Jaipur, where several writers and translators I really respect spoke about it in glowing terms. So did the headmaster of my daughter’s school in Bengaluru.</p> <p>And so, a year later (in spite of my Stephenian husband’s misgivings) we became Ashoka parents. Our younger daughter is an alumna (class of 2019), and our son is currently an undergrad, half way through his second year. We found the fees astronomical by Delhi University standards, but still only a tiny fraction of what one would pay for such universities abroad. The kids are razor sharp and fairly representative of all economic strata (48 per cent of them are on financial aid), and the professors, drawn from the best universities from across the world, are almost maniacal about interdisciplinary learning. Every student, no matter what his/her major, is taught to study every situation from multi-dimensional lenses—political, sociological, economic, biological, historic, philosophical....</p> <p>There is also a mandatory course called introduction to critical thinking, which teaches a lot of good little boys and girls exactly that—to be critical, to analyse, and to challenge.</p> <p>Every time we would drive back from the dreaming spires (or rather the gleaming blocks) of Ashoka, we would discuss how the cocky kids cocooned in there are in some ways very (in fact unusually!) aware of what is going on in the country, but at the same time, also curiously detached from it. Or perhaps, immune is a better word. It is like they seem to think that yes, the liberal space is shrinking dangerously outside, but things are never gonna get shrinky in here.</p> <p>And now suddenly, they have.</p> <p>Ashoka’s smug, academic La La land has been hit with by the cement truck of another kind of a lala land. The moneybags who fund the place have flexed, and the citadel is consequently teeter-tottering. Statement upon statement, each one more agonised and more impeccably composed than the last, is making it to the news as the dons attempt to finesse the fact that their founders/funders crudely commanded their shiniest intellectual superstar to pull his political punches, causing him to toss his (metaphorical) curls and dash off a letter of resignation.</p> <p>Naturally, the students are all stirred up. They are denouncing the moneybags roundly, boycotting classes, but are showing up in large numbers to attend their chosen hero Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s final lectures. Using the critical thinking they have been taught, they are turning upon the institution that taught it to them.</p> <p>Watching all the hand-wringing the chancellor and his team are now indulging in I am tempted to eye-roll and wonder, did they really think that what is happening at JNU, and IIMC, and FTII, and DU and the IIMs, would not happen, eventually, at Ashoka?</p> <p>To quote Harry Styles’ broody ballad, ‘Just stop your crying, it’s a sign of the times.’</p> <p>Now, I truly believe that Ashoka, just like the institutions named above, is a special place. It has been created with a lot of passion, and a lot of purity. It has done a great job in the short time it has been around, and their students are proof of it.</p> <p>But if it really wants to stand true to its avowed, entirely laudable, and urgently needed mission of ‘providing India a truly world-class liberal arts education, in an atmosphere of complete academic autonomy and intellectual fearlessness’, then it is going to have to stop pussy-footing about. It should exhibit some of that rust-resistant, enduring iron the emperor it has named itself for put into his pillars, and take some tough calls.</p> <p>Or sink into intellectual (if not financial) insignificance.</p> Thu Mar 25 16:00:26 IST 2021 castles-desi-cliches <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>So cute how all of America is shocked and speechless because an unnamed member of the British royal family expressed concern over how brown/black Harry and Meghan’s baby could potentially look. In India, nobody would be in the least surprised at such an un-woke, tone-deaf “concern”, especially coming from a member of the older generation. Because the first question our oldies ask upon learning about the birth of a new baby is, “Is it a boy or a girl?” And the second is, well, “Is it fair or dark?” The imputation, quite clearly, is that the order of preference goes thus: 1) Fair boy; 2) dark boy; 3) fair girl; 4) dark girl. Hmm...could the Windsors just be Walias, or Wadias, or Warsis under the skin?</p> <p>Then there is the dismissive treatment they reportedly dished out to the new <i>bahu</i> when she came to them saying she is worried she has mental health issues and is contemplating suicide. A mixture of “stiff-upper-lip”, “get-a-grip” and “stop making excuses” that would do any old-school, desi parent proud.</p> <p>There are also reports of the two sisters-in-law (or co-sisters as we call it in <i>namma</i> south India) being at war with each other over issues as inconsequential as the famous <i>rasode-mein-kaun-tha</i>. The vapid factoid that Kate Middleton wanted the six flower girls at the Harry-Meghan wedding to wear lady-like tights under their darling little bell-shaped frocks, while Meghan preferred for them to be all Bohemian and bare-legged. (A good tabloid headline could have been ‘Meghan: Naked Ambition!’ Or ‘Kate: Tight Control!’) Truly an issue worthy of a one-hour episode on any leading desi daily soap opera. You know, with all those dramatic freeze frames, triple cuts and sword-blades-slicing-through-the-air sound effects. So damningly desi!</p> <p>These ladies have also been accused of “setting brother against brother” and “making” their husbands fight―like the two grown men have no shared history, or bond, or minds of their own, and can be moved like pawns by their scheming “commoner” wives. That is a desi trope if ever I saw one.</p> <p>And finally, there is this whole deal with threatening to disinherit a whole, entire son simply because he wants to have a love marriage with a woman from a different, “inferior” community. Talk about <i>Mughal-E-Azam Redux</i>. Or <i>Bobby 2021</i>. Or <i>Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Revisited</i>. But with homelier looking leads, of course. Because let us face it, William is no Shah Rukh and the Queen (God save her) is no Prithviraj.</p> <p>Add to that the entire joint-family ensemble cast, headed by a sweet old grandparent―in the “Ba” or “Bauji” tradition, and a chock-full of evil stepmothers, randy uncles, opportunistic hangers-on, compromised in-laws and muzzled out-laws, all of which could so easily be played out in an overdecorated haveli in Ahmedabad or Amritsar. Swap the Corgi dogs and the horses for goats and buffaloes, change the scones to samosas, the English breakfast tea to masala chai, and what you have got is something Sooraj Barjatya could have directed without even stirring out of his mirror-work embellished razai.</p> <p>Still, it cannot be denied that they have managed to grab global headlines with this rich-people non-issue.</p> <p>Could we all be better occupied discussing something more significant? Of course. But with the pandemic continuing, and so many worrying “internal issues of India” to deal with, it is so restful to give one’s brain a gossipy little break by discussing all the tea the Windsors have been spilling.</p> <p>It is just so low-key hilarious that they have got their collective knickers in a twist because their pristinely white royal house has been “tainted” with a bit of lowly brown. Do they not realise they are the biggest brown cliché that can ever be?</p> <p><b></b></p> Wed Mar 10 19:16:44 IST 2021 in-the-beard-we-trust <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I must confess I am hypnotised by ‘the beard’. It was always faultlessly groomed and very dapper, but in the past year, irrigated perhaps by the copious sweat and tears its owner has shed in the service of the nation, it has grown both in lushness and lustre. Today it shimmers with a saintly Gandalf/Dumbledore/Guru Nanak/Valmiki/Chhatrapati Shivaji/Obi-Wan Kenobi/Robi Babu-like gravitas, which immediately disarms the beholder, and floods him/her with a sense of reverent reassurance. All must be well with the nation when ‘the bearded one’ is in charge.</p> <p>Thus have people been mesmerised in the past by the optics of Indira Gandhi’s iconic white streak, by Mahatma Gandhi’s naked, emaciated chest, by Bhagat Singh’s handlebar moustache, by M.F. Husain’s bare feet, and by the elaborate bindis of many a television serial vamp.</p> <p>Coupled with an impressive collection of flowing shawls and elegantly cut long kurtas, ‘the beard’ persuades all to fold their hands and bow before its luminescence. It is a beard that elicits a flood of obedient #IndiaTogether and #IndiaAgainstPropaganda tweets from our highest achievers and celebrities without even asking for them. A beard that looks only slightly (and even handsomely!) ruffled by the winds of international criticism. A beard that has attained so much stature that it can openly scoff at a peaceful protest―that time-honoured right of all citizens of our democratic republic and the very weapon that won us our independence―and dub everybody exercising it “parasites” and “<i>andolan jeevis</i>”. (A nice word that could be the new “Chowkidaar”―somebody must already be printing T-shirts with it emblazoned across the chest in shiny pink and gold glitter.)</p> <p>We just saw ‘the beard’ in full, glorious action in the Rajya Sabha, where during a garrulous, grandfatherly speech, it silently semaphored the message that unlike the rich farmers and opportunists seeking to mislead the poor farmers, ‘the bearded one’ is genuinely on their team. Do not worry about A2 and FL, it signalled wordlessly, <i>main hoon na</i>, I will C2 everything!</p> <p>I must confess that after watching ‘the beard’ beam out this message in the Rajya Sabha, I was fully convinced. Especially as the opposition has never seemed more clueless, petulant, self-righteous and opportunistic.</p> <p>Inconveniently though, the farmers are proving to be much harder to convince. They are unimpressed with the rhetorical “MSP was there, MSP is there and MSP will always be there” reassurance, and are demanding something a little more concrete and cast-iron―not the concrete that has been poured into the borders and studded with cast-iron spikes to keep them out of the national capital, but an unqualified, categorical, written-down bit of legislation. That guarantees them various things, but most importantly, that guarantees them the M.S. Swaminathan Report definition of minimum support price, i.e. comprehensive cost (or C2) + 50 per cent of C2.</p> <p>The BJP came into power in Haryana in 2014 by promising exactly this to the farmers of the state. But one year later threw up its hands saying the Swaminathan report MSP recommendations were impossible to implement. And, two years later, claimed it had already implemented them! So, maybe the farmers’ demand to have things debated, and written down, is justified.</p> <p>Now, any hairstylist worth his/her salt will tell you that the key to cultivating a thick, glossy mane (both on your head and on your face) is primarily nourishment to the roots. Nourishment in a vegetarian diet comes from things which are grown by farmers.</p> <p>Do not bite the hand that feeds your beard would be a good cautionary aphorism then, for the bearded one to consider.</p> <p>Otherwise, the conflict could become an extremely hairy one.</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Feb 11 16:43:03 IST 2021 who-rained-on-whose-parade <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is called hijack marketing. You know, like back in the 1990s when Coca Cola paid millions to be the official sponsor of the ICC World Cup and Sachin Tendulkar sauntered into the the frame, chugged from a blue can and cheekily said ‘Pepsi, Nothing official about it’ and stole everybody’s hearts? Or, like those videos that go viral nowadays, of a best man proposing to his girlfriend while making the bridal toast that is supposed to be in honour of the bride and groom. Or, like grumpy Bernie Sanders in his <i>dadaji</i> mittens stealing the limelight from Lady Gaga in her huge, poofy red skirt, and everybody else at Joe Biden’s inauguration.</p> <p>At least that is what it was supposed to be. The farmers’ parade, I mean. It was supposed to steal the thunder of the official 72nd Republic Day parade (which was already looking pretty non-thundery, to be honest... because no chief guest, shorter route and all those masks). Not to mention an entirely unenthused looking VIP audience, sitting slumped and unsmiling in their spaced apart chairs (I mean, would it have killed them to at least look upwards when Group Captain Harkirat Singh, Shaurya Chakra awardee, whizzed over their heads, risking his life performing death-defying aerobatics in the new Rafale aircraft? C’mon, aunties and uncles, you don’t see that every day, even in your Lutyens <i>banglas</i>!)</p> <p>I, for one, was all ready to be wooed and wowed. Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan is my favorite patriotic slogan and this January 26 seemed to be promising me all that and more. Except that things started to go horribly wrong.</p> <p>Somewhere along the way, the hijackers got highjacked. Or so they claim. Marketeers far wilier than themselves infiltrated their ranks and sought to overthrow their agenda and destroy the goodwill they have built up over two months through peaceful, disciplined protest.</p> <p>Such are the perils of hijack marketing! Frankly, the farmer groups should have seen it coming and been better prepared.</p> <p>Anyway, their claim has not been proven yet. The only thing we can say for sure, as the sun sets on our 72nd Republic Day, is that the visuals on our screens are invoking a horrible sense of deja-vu.</p> <p>An angry mob running amuck as its leaders stand by, helpless and ignored. Police unable to prevail. Ant-like figures swarming up the rounded curves of Islamic domes, silhouetted against the sun. Chaos and anarchy.</p> <p>But while, in 1992, the day ended with the razing of a 16th century masjid and left behind wounds that have still not healed, today our <i>tiranga</i> still continues to flutter triumphantly from the ramparts of the Red Fort. Yes, a few Sikh flags seem to be nibbling at its toes (or, as some of the farmers put it, paying obeisance at its feet), but whatever. And to the people who say no religious flag should have been displayed at the Red Fort at all today, I say yes, and no Ram temple should have been displayed in the tableau of Uttar Pradesh either.</p> <p>One farmer has died tragically and it is reported accidently, and many police folk have been injured. But almost miraculously, the genie seems to have been put back, somewhat sloppily, into its bottle. The bulk of the tractors seem to have retreated. This is no small feat and a testimony to the discipline of both the farmers and the Delhi Police.</p> <p>The farmers’ cause is valid. The laws they are fighting are cruel and unfair. They have the support of all of us. Now all they need to do is stay as icy cool as the Delhi winter, and not let opportunistic marketeers hijack their agenda.</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Jan 28 16:06:32 IST 2021 thank-you-america <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Regular readers of this column may remember the four desi stray puppies (Happy, Kali, Rani and Cola) whom my family and I have been fostering since last October. I had reached out to everybody I knew and used every platform I have access to (Facebook, Instagram, school and college groups, this column) to find somebody who would give them a loving home. And the response was universally zero, zip, zilch, nada.</p> <p>And then suddenly, miraculously, help came from a source I least expected. From the east coast of the United States of America, people started writing to my sister (who is Boston-based, and fosters for the organisation Rescue Without Borders) that they would love to adopt a rescue puppy from India and that they would be happy to pay a hefty adoption fee to cover the cost of the puppy’s travel and medical bills!</p> <p>These people humbly filled out what I can only describe as an extremely nosy application form designed by Rescue Without Borders (‘Is your home owned or rented? How did your last pet die? Where will your pet stay when you travel?’), and mailed my sister repeatedly and anxiously for updates on when the puppies would be arriving.</p> <p>And now Happy, Rani, Kali and Cola are spending their days running about happily in my sister’s backyard in Boston, discussing whether they prefer the family with the two-acre fenced yard in Cape Cod, or the family in the Catskills with seven speckled hens, or the single writer lady by the River Charles with miles of walkways just outside her door.</p> <p>Oh, and when it starts to snow, they run into her warm house, jump onto her couch, and watch the news on the telly with great interest.</p> <p>They are puzzled by the fact that America is trying to impeach its head of state, just for “incitement of insurrection”. Surely, that is entirely reasonable? Ask the Bengaluru-born puppies. Do all heads of state not incite violence and cause insurrection? We thought it is part of their job description! How very unpatriotic of these people to raise their voice against their head of state. Do they not know that a head-of-state is the <i>mai-baap</i>, the top dog, all-powerful and unquestionable, more powerful than a mere Constitution, and the concept of democracy, and the founding fathers’ ideologies?</p> <p>They are even more astonished by the fact that this movement is cutting across party lines, that not only the Democrats but a growing number of Republicans are agreeing that Donald Trump is unfit for office and needs to be tossed into the dustbin of history, asap.</p> <p>Firstly, dustbins are good places, say the puppies, we have found some amazingly tasty morsels inside dustbins, and secondly, it is unheard of for different parties to agree on anything. That is like one of the basic tenets of politics in a dog-eat-dog world.</p> <p>They are also very concerned by the fact that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Twitch and Reddit have had the gumption to ban a serving head of state from their platforms. As dogs, they understand the importance of a rigidly maintained social hierarchy, where the alpha rules with an iron fist and nobody gives him any lip, or everybody gets hurt, “real baddd”.</p> <p>I did try to tell them, on our last Zoom call, that perhaps the “hoomans” of America know what they are doing. They adopted you, after all, I pointed out. Maybe their systems of governance and checks and balances are better and more robust than what we have here, back in India?</p> <p>Maybe, finally, America is setting a good example for us, and for every other democracy enamoured of “strong” leadership to follow.</p> <p>The puppies have agreed to listen to the news more carefully. And I, in my finally-puppy-free home, for once have nothing but admiration and gratitude in my heart for America.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jan 14 13:48:16 IST 2021 the-black-duke-and-dalit-kings <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Netflix’s Christmas Day release <i>Bridgerton</i>, a historical romance series set in 1803, has created quite a stir by casting a black actor in the role of the wealthy, immensely privileged Duke of Hastings—something that is entirely period-incorrect and wildly improbable. In doing so, the show is following the example set by the superhit musical <i>Hamilton</i> that cast black actors in the roles of several of America’s founding fathers. The logic for such casting is not so much colour blindness (casting the best actors in the parts regardless of ethnicity) but colour-awareness—casting persons of colour in order to give young viewers role models to aspire to. And not let historicals become a way of covertly celebrating the ‘good old days’ when white people called all the shots, and people of colour could only be either slaves or criminals. (This is something we are seeing a lot of in Indian historicals nowadays, which, in the name of period-correctness, seems to be full of demonised Muslim invaders, patriotic Hindu kings who kowtow to wise, sacred-thread wearing Brahmins, docile women who know their place in society, and mute dalits.)</p> <p>Of course, I see how the <i>Bridgerton</i> kind of casting can be problematic, especially in a country like ours where huge swathes of people are still uneducated, uninformed or only hazily informed about our history and mythologies. We tend to take our movies as gospel truth, especially the so-called ‘biopics’. I even know of some schools that are screening these films during their history and civics periods.</p> <p>And so we have collectively swallowed the notion that when Milkha Singh was running the 400 metre race in the Olympics in 1960, he was traumatised by flashbacks of the partition in 1947, and so it was really the fault of the British and Muslims that he ended up coming fourth. We fully believe that Allauddin Khilji ate raw meat with his bare hands, that Sanjay Dutt once hilariously put a toilet seat around the neck of his girlfriend instead of a mangalsutra, that Bal Narendra sold tea to soldiers heading to the war front, and more recently, that Princess Diana used to roller-skate down the corridors of Buckingham Palace listening to ‘Duran Duran’, and that this Christmas Eve, Anurag Kashyap kidnapped Anil Kapoor’s daughter.</p> <p>Internationally, Netflix’s series <i>The Crown</i> has been accused of wildly misrepresenting the lives of the British royal family and passing off tabloid gossip as history. <i>The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel</i> and <i>The Queen’s Gambit</i>, both very popular Netflix shows, also take liberties with historical accuracy, imagining a female stand-up comic and a female chess prodigy during an era when no such person existed.</p> <p>Purists argue that narratives like this get in the way of genuine introspection. In the Milkha example, for instance, why did he end up coming fourth, really? What were the shortcomings in his training, his gear, his preparation? How can we, as a nation with sporting ambitions, improve upon that? Which is valid, I guess.</p> <p>But then again, we live in a world where fact blurs with fiction constantly. We are all about ‘display pictures’ and ‘cover photos’ and faking it. So everything is up for re-representation, really.</p> <p>And sometimes, the sight of a handsome black duke riding about all Wakanda-like, clicking his fingers to summon white manservants to do his bidding can be more empowering and more of a course-corrector than an in-depth documentary into the evils of slavery.</p> <p>If our ‘historicals’ are gonna be inaccurate in any case, why can’t we make them so, in a good and empowering way? I am all for handsome black dukes in the 1800s. And sassy female chess grandmasters and stand-up comics in the nineteen fifties. Netflix, now just give us a hot dalit king and a shudra dynasty or two.</p> Thu Dec 31 11:32:59 IST 2020 look-whos-surprised <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Why does the GoI always insist on acting so coy? Like, with information? Why don’t they ever just <i>tell</i>&nbsp;us before they pull a major piece of legislation out of a hat? Seriously, they remind me a little of those over-enthu, slightly obsessive boyfriends who always want to throw surprise parties for you on your birthday. You're walking around all chill and clueless, humming a little song perhaps, and <i>bam</i>, they leap out from behind the sofa holding a cake you never asked for, blazing with candles, dripping wax all over your clean floor, and bellow <i>SURPRIISSSSE </i>so loudly that you die of a heart attack.</p> <p><br> Right now, it is our farmers who are in danger of dying of a heart attack. Last year, pretty much on these dates exactly, it was our minorities. A little before that, it was the much-put-upon Kashmiris. And before that, of course, it was all of us, reeling wildly in shock as GoI, beaming from ear to ear, leapt out and brandished a two-tiered cake at us, the lower one iced ‘Demonetisation’ and the upper, ‘GST’.</p> <p><br> ‘Isn’t it <i>pretty</i>?’ they chortled. ‘Aren’t you <i>happy</i>? C’mon, let’s all sing Bharat Mata Ki Jai and blow its candles out! Lol, don’t be afraid of this big knife we’re holding! We’re not going to <i>slit your throat with it! So funny!</i>’</p> <p><br> And just like the toxic boyfriend, they sulk if you don’t like the surprise. Sometimes they get nasty. They call you ungrateful. Like, look at us busting Rs20,000 crore on giving New Delhi this amazing new Central Vista, and you are so ungrateful you don’t even like it! What do you mean we should have asked you what sort of new Central Vista you wanted, or if you wanted a new Central Vista at all? What do you mean <i>you won’t pay for it</i>? How ungrateful! You think this is some sort of democracy? Just say thank you nicely, and suck it up, okay?</p> <p><br> The reason why toxic boyfriends love throwing surprise parties is that they are control freaks. They like to micro-manage everything, while keeping their ‘loved’ one in the dark, high-handedly avoiding all debate and discussion and the seeking of consent, and after the party, hogging all the credit for being so loving and sensitive and proactive. While a genuinely loving boyfriend may actually surprise his partner with something she wants, a sociopath will generally give her what is good for <i>him,</i>&nbsp;not her.<br> Which leads one to suspect that the reason why our government holds its cards so close to its chest is similar. They don’t want us to know <i>ki choli ki peechay kya hai</i>. They don’t want debate and discussion. They don’t want Nobel Prize winners in Economics or (God forbid!) actual farmers weighing in on these issues and confusing everybody. They don’t want ‘too much of a democracy’. Just fait accompli after fait accompli.</p> <p><br> But the farmers don’t seem to have gotten this memo. They are persisting in calmly but very firmly rejecting GoI’s three lavishly decorated cakes, one iced Minimum Support Price <i>ka</i>&nbsp;The End, one iced Legal Recourse <i>ka</i>&nbsp;The End, and one iced Hoarding and Stockpiling. Your surprise cakes are poisoned, they are saying politely. We won’t eat them. Because if we do, <i>we'll</i>&nbsp;be the new cake. And the people who will blow our candles out, and eat us up, are Big Business.</p> <p><br> I don’t know, but there is something about the look in their eyes. They have sowed their crops, packed up enough food to see them through the winter, and come to town to settle in for the long haul. Maybe this time, the surprise givers will end up being surprised themselves.<br> </p> Thu Dec 17 16:53:11 IST 2020 anything-for-karan-uncle <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Imagine a show called the Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Husbands. Starring (just off the top of my head) Zaheer Khan, Siddharth Roy Kapoor and Anand Ahuja. Where they talk a little about cricket, movie production and the shoe-making industry, and a lot about what they wear, where they party and with whom, while swearing that they are going to put aside their entire career till their children (to be) are grown, because you know, career-shareer <i>toh theek hai</i>, but my kids need me and you know, fatherhood comes first. We get lots of shots of them walking in slow motion, wearing sunglasses, and partying, and in the end, Virat Kohli/Nick Jonas/Anil Ambani shows up and they all fawn at him, give him a king-like throne to sit on, and get teary-eyed about how he was always there for them through their hardest times.</p> <p>The mind boggles, right? Because, OMG, everybody knows that Bollywood husbands are not just husbands, ya. They are their own person first, with their own independent career and identity. Whereas in the new Netflix show <i>The Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives</i> (produced by Karan Johar’s ‘Dharmatic’ productions) Bollywood wives are clearly just... wives. Being the wife of a dud member of a star family and the mother of a (potential) future star, is their only identity and symbol of success. To do the ladies justice, and to use with-it lingo, they try to ‘own’ this badge as unapologetically and as sassily as they can, but there is no forgetting the fact that, to quote the obnoxious Kabir Singh from the movie <i>Kabir Singh</i>, “You had no <i>aukaat</i> in this college before you became my girlfriend.”</p> <p>To make things worse, one does not feel anything for them. And this is not because their problems are rich people problems. I think we would all concede that a rich girl starving herself, like Princess Diana is currently doing in Season 4 of <i>The Crown</i>, suffers as much as a poor girl starving in poverty in a third world country. But the dilemmas the wives face in <i>FLBW</i> are so trite that one simply cannot be moved by them. It is a world so vacuous that when the daughter of one of the wives is asked why she chose to wear red to a debutante ball in Paris (don’t even ask) she artlessly confides “so that everybody will look at me”, where a certain wife is considered edgy and out-there because she repeatedly says “a......” and “f...”, and where nobody speaks in Hindi except to their domestic staff but everybody wants their children to make it big in the Hindi movies.</p> <p>In Margaret Atwood’s <i>The Handmaid’s Tale</i>, the women are named after their keepers. Fred’s handmaid is Offred, Glen’s handmaid is Ofglen and Warren’s is Ofwarren. Bearing children for these men is literally their entire identity, and this is so eerily reminiscent of <i>FLBW</i>, where the wives are clearly hoping to be the next Pinky Roshan or Lalli Dhawan―and that the children they have birthed, all of whom have ‘proven’ DNA in their veins, are going to be the next superstar.</p> <p>If one puts feminist quibbles aside, there is something quite fascinating about this bloody, no-holds-barred battle for succession. Frankly, I lost track of the Kapoor and Khan spawn as I watched; there seem to be dozens of south Bombay <i>shehzadas</i> and<i> shehzadis</i>, all first cousins and childhood friends―and all hoping to be launched by Karan uncle. (This probably explains why their machinating mamas did this vapid show in the first place.)</p> <p>Unfortunately, the show captures none of these Game of Throne-ish undercurrents and stays determinedly superficial.</p> <p>They say every country gets the leaders it deserves. Also, the entertainment it deserves. As <i>FLBW</i> tops Netflix India, beating out <i>Ludo</i>, <i>Mismatched</i> and the Emmy award-winning <i>Delhi Crime</i>, it says less about the wives and more about us as a country.&nbsp;</p> Thu Dec 03 14:32:47 IST 2020 time-for-a-pup-talk <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Did you know Donald Trump was the first POTUS in 120 years to not own a dog? And when this was pointed out to him, he said he was “too busy to own a dog”, and “how would I look walking a dog on the White House lawn?” and that getting one now just to “pander to the public” would be “phony”.</p> <p>Donald dislikes dogs. And the feeling appears to be mutual. In her memoir, <i>Raising Trump</i>, his ex-wife Ivana says that her dog Chappie barked and growled every time the future president tried to approach him.</p> <p>Today, large swathes of the American public are looking forward to the arrival of Major and Champ (Joe Biden’s dogs) into the White House with greater joy than they are hailing the arrival of Joe Biden himself. They seem to think that a person who does not love dogs is a person who is not to be trusted, and I, for one, cannot help wondering if they have a point.</p> <p>Nehru loved his golden retrievers. Rabindranath Tagore was very fond of Lalu, his stray dog. Ambedkar cried “like a bereaved mother” at the death of his doggo. Rahul Gandhi has a bright-eyed little dog called Pidi, who has often been called more intelligent than his master. The recent wildly popular web series <i>Pataal Lok</i> made the point that people who are kind to stray dogs are good people, even if they may also be hitmen and murderers. It is a documented fact that pictures of young men holding a puppy get many more right swipes on Tinder than pictures of young men holding a protein shake or a baby, though less than pictures of a young man holding the keys to an expensive car.</p> <p>The logic seems to be that just as dogs can sniff out drugs and other illicit substances, they can sniff out duplicity, cruelty and assholery in human beings, and so basically, “dog-approved” is a verification everybody should strive for.</p> <p>Okay, time for me to confess that I am harping on about dogs today because I am anxious to get the three stray girl puppies I am fostering adopted into good homes.</p> <p>This litter of three girls used to be a litter of six. I had a flurry of inquiries and a choice of many candidates to take home the boy pups, but once all three of them were gone, inquiries have abruptly and very definitely dried up. Nobody wants a girl pup, even though the neutering surgery costs only Rs4,000 in a good clinic, and even though the girls are as intelligent and as alert as, if not more than, the boys. It is such a depressing glimpse into the vice-like grip patriarchy has on our country, limited not just to uneducated or rural folk, but flourishing among the educated middle classes, and the super-privileged as well.</p> <p>And so, I feel Modiji should strike a blow for the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign and come forward to adopt my Rani, Kali or Cola himself. They are all fully local and very vocal, so they can be the mascots of his Vocal for Local campaign, too. Besides, the “dog-approved” verification (so much cooler than the Obama-approved validation everybody is currently clamouring for) will give him a lot of added political clout. The fact that he picked them over all the glamorous Siberian huskies and German shepherds he could adopt will underline the fact that <i>desi</i> design and <i>desi</i> engineering are best suited to <i>desi</i> terrain.</p> <p>Modiji, do think about it. A lovely girl doggo to liven up your lonely, fakir-ish home. A warm welcome when you return to 7, Lok Kalyan Marg after a hard day’s work. The thrill of knowing you are loved, unconditionally and always, just for the person you are!</p> <p>And, if Modiji cannot come through, folks, you please do? Write to me @theweeklive, and take home a gorgeous <i>desi</i> girl.</p> Thu Nov 19 17:04:26 IST 2020 root-for-your-roots <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I like to believe I am broadminded and inclusive and tolerant of everything except intolerance. Regular readers of this column may recall how I have often praised Manyaawar’s Har tyohaar India ka tyohaar (every festival is India’s festival) campaign for its large-hearted embracing of all joyful occasions regardless of religious origin. But there’s one festival, celebrated with increasing gusto year on year in India, which seriously makes me roll my eyes and groan out loud. Halloween.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am not even particularly ashamed to admit that this American import brings out the ranting, raving Ram Sena Bhakt in me. Indian kids, living in India, clueless of the origins of All Souls’ Day and All Hallows’ Eve, running around ringing doorbells, dressed as witches and spooks and bats out of hell, demanding candy with great entitlement in faux American accents. Of course they don’t dress as Vikram, or Betaal, or Stree, or a Chudail with feet turned the wrong way, because OMG that would be so weird—all of them are properly attired as zombies or mummies or vampires or something else sufficiently western and therefore reassuringly cool.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first time a caboodle of such kids showed up at my doorstep about ten years ago, I asked them what exactly they were celebrating and none of them had a clue. One sassy specimen dressed as a spider tried to shame me by flipping the question back at me crowing ‘Haw, auntie, you don’t know what is a Halloween?’ So I told him Halloween was the ghost of his recently dead grandmother returning to visit the family and was he ready to feel her fingers stroking his hair in the dark at 3am, and that shut him up good. Then I gave them all some batashas and told them to leave.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So why does it get me so worked up? It’s just kids being kids, isn’t it? And ya, sometimes I even agree with the school-moms’ WhatsApp groups that Holi can get rowdy and unhygienic, and Ram Leela dress-ups have been totally appropriated by hardcore Bhakt types, and if you send your kids out to collect eidi (or Ganpati chanda or Lohri goodies) who knows what people might say to them, and so let’s just roll with Halloween (or St. Patricks Day, or even freaking Cinco de Mayo) because it’s cute and harmless and non-controversial and Instagram-friendly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But I think it goes deeper than that. Pardon my sweeping generalisations but I think a majority of these candy-eating little ghouls and vampire-bats with their clocks set to Pacific time are soon going to take their SATs and run off to expensive colleges abroad. Then they will post Black Lives Matter hashtags on Instagram, while remaining entirely clueless about say, Dalit Lives Matter. Which sucks because they’re sitting right on top of the privilege pyramid and could do so much to help the people below them. And it also sucks because these are children cut off from their roots and it is love and pride for our roots that eventually give us wings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And so ends my prosy little Manoj Kumar rant. Celebrate every festival of the world, if you like. Heck, Indians even ‘celebrated’ Corona with thali-bangings and band-baajaa! But don’t shudder and abandon our glorious, colourful, eminently Instagram worthy desi festivals to the loony fringe. If you think they’re regressive or polluting, reform them, reinvent them and reclaim them. Even ghastly old Karva Chauth may become less of a pill if both spouses keep it together. Or must we wait for a New Yorker to discover that, and then sell it to us like turmeric latte?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Nov 06 16:34:46 IST 2020 canning-the-goosebumps <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>Carnation Milk is the best in the land,</i></p> <p><i>Here I stand with a can in my hand,</i></p> <p><i>No t*ts to pull, no hay to pitch,</i></p> <p><i>Just punch a hole in the sunnovabitch!</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This slogan for Carnation Milk, dating back to the early 1900s, is a classic example of first-wave advertising. In a simple, folksy style, it promises only nourishment and rest—needs which sit at the very base of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchically stacked pyramid of needs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the early 1900s, that was enough to get the job done. But today, we live in far more complicated times. Products in our overcrowded marketplace can no longer appeal to just the brain or just the stomach of their targeted consumer; they must vie for a share of the heart or even of the soul. Cos, that is where the feels and the goosebumps are. And, where the feels and the goosebumps are, Nike and Apple and Dove will tell you, is where the big money is.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, milk advertising can no longer be just about having no cow t*ts to pull. It can no longer even just croon “doodh doodh doodh doodh, doodh hai wonderful, pee sakte hain roz glassful,” like the immensely popular Operation Flood ad did in the nineties. It must reach higher.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amul met with this challenge by dialing up patriotism and the need to succeed. They showcased folks from different regions and religions of India all knocking back their glassfuls of milk in their own inimitable style and forging ahead purposefully to create a united India powered by Amul Milk, to a kickass jingle that went, “Aagey badhta hai India, Amul Doodh peeta hai India”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bajaj gave us Buland Bharat ki Buland Tasveer, Hamara Bajaj. Mountain Dew spoke loftily about vanquishing not thirst but fear. Manyavar recently had Virat Kohli enthusing about how Hume toh bas khushi ka bahaana chahiye yaar, har tyohaar, India ka Tyohaar, and showcased every festival from Christmas to Eid to Gurpurab to Holi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last year Surf Excel showed a young Hindu girl shielding her younger Muslim friend from getting splattered by Holi balloons, so he could reach the mosque in clean clothes to say his namaz. The ad concluded that if getting dirty helps others, then Dirt is Good. A commendable, higher-ground, inclusive message nobody can object to, surely.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But India has now become a country that objects to absolutely everything. This style of higher-ground advertising has now been condemned as “creative terrorism” by millions of right-wing trolls and Kangana Ranaut. And, Tanishq has had its knuckles sharply slapped for daring to show a Muslim family being nice to their Hindu daughter-in-law, and gifting her with a Tanishq gold set during her Godh Bharai ceremony.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aukaat mein raho, the ad frat has sternly been told. Stick to your brief. Stay in your little idiot box. Talk about dirt removal and thirst-quenching, and cut and carat. No more lectures in acceptance, forgiveness and loving-kindness, and challenging of narrow thinking by detergents and dairy products and jewellers, please. No more thought-leadership, basically. No more battle for the heart of India. The heart of India must belong only to Ram, nobody else.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Where earlier, we were somehow investing in the exciting idea of a sparkling, progressive, large-hearted and pluralistic India, we are now just buying a gold necklace.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our rulers are mandating advertising sans the feels and the goosebumps.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Heck, they are mandating life without the feels and the goosebumps.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Are we really gonna let them sell us that?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Oct 22 16:43:58 IST 2020 demolishing-the-hathras-girl <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>So the august courts have concluded that the Babri Masjid pretty much fell down by itself. The hefty amount of photographic and audio-video evidence that the CBI submitted was dismissed because it “could have been tampered with”. The accused were acquitted because “nobody saw them making any hand gestures or in any other way exhorting the crowd to break down the mosque”. The fact that they were right there, sitting on a stage and watching as the demolition happened is not proof of anything apparently. There is a lot of focus on the “noise” and the “dust” that prevented anybody present from quite comprehending what was going on. And so, for lack of evidence, everybody has been declared blameless and squeaky clean, and BJP cadres across the nation celebrated with laddoos.</p> <p>Give the propaganda makers a few years and they will have us swearing that it was Lord Ram himself who made the hand gesture that caused an earthquake to happen at the disputed site at the very moment the <i>kar seva</i> was being performed, and it was the consequent shifting and rumbling of the mighty tectonic plates that did the evil mosque in. (In fact, I am willing to bet good money that that will be the climax of the much-touted Kangana Ranaut directorial <i>Ayodhya</i>, set to release any time around a big election. So cinematically appealing and so much fresher and goose-bumpier than the other, always available but slightly bleh option, i.e., a Pakistani conspiracy.)</p> <p>Of course, the verdict is an obscenity. What is equally obscene is that #Hathras is starting to look ominously like our new #Babri.</p> <p>Attacked for merely existing, the Hathras rape victim, too, was knocked to the ground, violated, reduced to rubble and left for dead. Clear proof and a dying declaration are being negated as we watch, and loved ones are being brutally arm-twisted and muzzled. Worried perhaps, that the eye of the international press is on India post #BLM and about a new and growing awareness of the plight of dalits, and determined that Hathras should not become as big as Nirbhaya, the UP government has hired a fancy public relations firm to put out a version saying there was no rape at all! A damaging “alleged” is being tacked on to every mention of rape to snip the “false binary” between Hathras and Nirbhaya. Anonymous WhatsApp messages are assuring us cosily that the death was an honour killing carried out by the victim’s own family because she was infatuated with high-caste boys.</p> <p>And, it is working. A sweet old lady in a white lace dupatta confided quite earnestly to me in my yoga class that the girl’s own mother had strangled her, broken her spinal cord and inserted a rod up her vagina. The sweet old lady had read all about it on her phone.</p> <p>Following a policy of throw-everything-you-can-and-hope-it-sticks—again reminiscent of the Babri model—a line is also being trotted out about how the girl’s family are the tools of a shadowy foreign power that wants to destabilise UP and unleash a civil war statewide, because it is so jealous of the developmental leaps (LOL!) UP has made under Yogi Adityanath.</p> <p>That will probably work too.</p> <p>Going forward, we can expect more denials, more delays, more demonising of the victim and her family, and better strategy and spin than what is currently on display at the IPL.</p> <p>To use current parlance, Hathras is being cancelled. Just like the Babri Masjid demolition was cancelled. With a wave of its all-powerful and super-expensive PR brush, the Adityanath government is whitewashing the whole gruesome incident just in time for Diwali. Because if you do not whitewash, Lakshmi<i>ji</i> cannot be enticed into entering your home and blessing you with prosperity, <i>na</i>.</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Oct 09 16:10:26 IST 2020 weed-ing-out-the-liberal <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>So bhang is the new beef. It is evil, depraved and anti-national, and you can be arrested/assaulted on the spot, no questions asked, for consuming it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Never mind that Zeenat Aman made bhang/marijuana/cannabis/weed the epitome of rebellion in 1971’s Hare Rama Hare Krishna; that Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz mainstreamed it from edgy #hippiecool to wholesome #honeymoongoals with 1974’s ‘Jai Shiv Shankar’, shot in Gulmarg in a Shiva temple no less; that Amitabh Bachchan took it down to every street and mohalla in 1978’s Don with the lyrics ‘Bhang ka rang jama ho chakachak, phir lo paan chabaye’ from the super-hit ‘Khai ke paan Banaras wala’ (Banaras, of course, being our venerated prime minister’s constituency); that the line ‘Mary-Jane ka ek packet’ in the iconic ‘Meri laundry ka ek bill’ song from 2008’s Rock On!! is a wink-and-nudge reference to the open consumption of marijuana in colleges; that Amish Tripathi’s first and best novel The Immortals of Meluha from his bestselling Shiva trilogy has Lord Shiva taking a long drag from a marijuana bong in his introductory scene; and that even a channel as prissy and sanskari as Star Plus showed Arnav and Khushi, the iconic super-couple from 2012’s Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon? finally confessing their love for each other while stoned on the happy, liberating hit of Holi bhang.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cannabis is practically prasad for heaven’s sake; it is the air that hangs over Manasarovar lake, it has clearly proven medicinal and pain-relieving benefits, it features in the Atharva Veda’s list of five most holy plants, and although the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1985 prohibits the production, sale and consumption of certain parts of the plant, the leaves are an exception.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So why is the GOI bent on demonising it?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Well firstly, Lord Shiva is not too popular with the hindutva types. He is too much of an outlier, too broad-minded, too unworldly or ‘bhola’. He mixes with all kinds of lowlife (his wedding procession famously comprised of demons, apparitions, witches and ghouls who cannot be plotted into the meticulously hierarchical caste and class system) and unlike the poster gods of muscular Hinduism, Ram (famous for abandoning his spouse) and Krishna (famous for being polyamorous), he loves, respects and is fiercely loyal to his wife and is therefore a natural ally of the #SmashThePatriarchy army fighting for #JusticeForRhea.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Secondly, it is always good to have something to hit liberals on the head with, especially now that homosexuality has been de-criminalised. Students, poets, writers, filmmakers, vocal creative people who disturb the nationalistic narrative with subversive babble about free speech, unity in diversity and democracy can now be gagged and suppressed for being stoners, if nothing else.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thirdly, wild speculation, crackdowns and witch-hunting of Bollywood A-listers for using marijuana (and other drugs) provides great circus-style entertainment on our news channels and feeds the schadenfreude-need of the masses (who have nothing to celebrate nowadays apart from the misery of others, preferably those who are richer, from a different religion, or more privileged than themselves.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And finally, and most importantly, it diverts attention from the real issues, like the high-handed passing of two farmers bills in Parliament, without any discussion or voting or probing by a parliamentary committee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the end of the day, cannabis is as good or as bad as alcohol or cigarettes—cheaper than ciggies and less fattening than booze (which is perhaps why it is popular with celebrities.) Overindulgence in any kind of intoxicant is eventually bad for you, but surely, in a reasonable society, adults should have the right to choose.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But reason isn’t really in vogue these days. What is in vogue is stoning the stoners.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Sep 25 17:14:19 IST 2020 let-look-to-our-aukaat <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>So, in one of the new, ever-plummeting lows that have taken over our national discourse, the Bihar Police has sneered at Rhea Chakraborty for not possessing any aukaat. To be exact, Bihar DGP Gupteshwar Pandey has stated: ‘What is her aukaat that she dares to question the Chief Minister of Bihar?’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And Rhea, wracked with grief, weakened by badgering and as caught up in the circus as the next Indian, proudly replies, “My aukaat is that Sushant Singh Rajput—whom everybody claims to love—loved me.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sweet, I suppose. Very sound-bitey, and Kabir Singh-ki-girlfriend-ish. But, incorrect.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because, no, Rhea, you do not need to be loved by Sushant Singh Rajput or any other major movie star to possess aukaat (an obnoxious, very north-Indian word, impossible to translate into English, but loosely meaning social status/power/wealth)—this is still a democracy and your aukaat as an Indian citizen and a human being is enough for you to question the chief minister of Bihar, or the prime minister of India or the Supreme Court of the country for that matter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In today’s gangland style Kalyug, aukaat has become who we are loved by, or protected by, or in whose ‘camp’ we are. And as Rhea’s aukaat provider, ie, Sushant, is unfortunately dead, she is mobbed and grabbed and vilified every time she steps out of her house, a mere girlfriend in a nation where every man, woman and child is acting like a shrill, betrayed housewife, a shiny, helpless pawn in a much larger game of distract and misrule in a misogynistic story that is rapidly becoming about Mumbai versus Bihar—even as the economy spirals downwards, Kashmir continues to bleed, Ladakh is endangered, and all national institutions go slowly to hell.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These are crazy times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And so the hour has come, ladies and gentleman, for all of us to look to our aukaat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How much do we have? How do we assert it, protect it and project it?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I would urge all of you to take Kangana Ranaut as your role model. Here is a middle-class outsider who has earned some hefty aukaat! From being a defiant nobody who toed nobody’s line but her own, she has gone to being an obedient somebody who loyally toes the GOI line, and for her pains, she has been awarded with Y-plus security. (Because, you know, of all the death threats she has been getting.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What is that you say? Swara Bhasker, Barkha Dutt and Rana Ayyub all get rape and death threats on a daily basis? Perhaps more than Kangana does? Yes, but clearly they are neither loved by somebody important, nor protected by a powerful camp.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hmmm… now I am starting to wonder if aukaat equals Y+/Z+ security. Maybe stepping out of a vehicle surrounded by a posse of heavily armed and uniformed guards is what it means to signal that one is important. I mean, look how much aukaat the Gandhis have lost ever since they were stripped of all their fancy security!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Maybe, like the recent story in the Economist about billionaires paying to have a herd of skimpily-clad elite supermodels accompany them to every party so that they look all sexy and happening, the thing to do now, to have aukaat in India, is to hire a posse of sunglass-wearing, buff and tough security guards dressed all in black, and take them with you wherever you go, preferably with Yo-Yo Honey Singh or Badshah songs playing from portable speakers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like, walk into your PTA meeting surrounded by them, or go to get milk from the Mother Dairy booth surrounded by them, or saunter into your boss’s cabin surrounded with them. Heads will turn, whispers will fly, your aukaat will be magically enhanced. And you will create so much employment, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is a clear win-win. Do it for Mother India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Sep 11 18:20:11 IST 2020 learn-from-prashant-bhushan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I do not know about you guys, but ‘a visible and full-time Congress president’ sounds like a damn fine thing to me. (I would have thrown in ‘accountable’, too, but I am greedy like that.) In fact the whole letter, signed by 23 legit, long-standing party men and women—which addressed the issues of uncertainty over leadership, drift in the party, ideological vagueness, delay in organisational appointments and the absence of free and frank discussions—sounded like pretty much what the doctor ordered for the ailing party.</p> <p>Of course, resentment and low-key rebellion have been simmering in the Congress pot longer than meat and rice in a dough-sealed <i>dum pukth handi, </i>but this is the first time the seal was actually broken, the steam released and a heart, <i>jigar</i> and kidney biryani that bared the soul of suffering party workers everywhere was humbly and reverentially offered up to the ‘high command.’</p> <p>Which is why it sucks that all it seems to have given said high command is a bad case of constipation. The Oliver Twists who were demanding a little ‘more’ have magnanimously and glacially been told that no ill-will will be harboured against them (why would something so obvious even have to be stated in a healthy and vigorous democracy?). And pathetically grateful for this reassurance, they have dropped their guns, back-tracked hastily erasing their own footprints while swearing total and complete loyalty, and the status quo, or rather status comatose, has been clamped down again—but only for another six months, we are told.</p> <p>And every voter seeking a viable option to the BJP has again been left mystified and wondering why in a nation that seems to condemn nepotism as ferociously as India—just look at all the uproar around the death of Sushant Singh Rajput!—the Congress insists on remaining tongue-tied and slavish before its leadership. So just like a disappointed mother who compares and contrasts her children unfavourably with the neighbour’s children (you know the whole ‘Sharma <i>ji ke bete ko dekho’</i> tactic) I would urge the ex-rebels from the Congress camp to look at, and be shamed by, the stellar example being set by Bhushan <i>ji ka beta</i>, Prashant.</p> <p>Here is a man who knows how to:</p> <p>1) Call out misrule and miscarriage of justice for what it is.</p> <p>2) Stoutly stick to his guns when the going gets stormy.</p> <p>I mean just look at the tweet he put out: “When historians in the future look back at the last six years to see how democracy has been destroyed in India even without a formal Emergency, they will particularly mark the role of the SC in this destruction, and more particularly the role of the last four CJIs.”</p> <p>That is telling it with total and devastating clarity, and without even seeking the support of 22 other signatories to give himself a warm feeling.</p> <p>And when he was hauled up for contempt of the Supreme Court and asked to apologise he stoutly said, “If I retract a statement before this court that I otherwise believe to be true, and offer an insincere apology, that in my eyes would amount to the contempt of my conscience and of an institution I hold in highest esteem.”</p> <p><i>Wah</i>, Bhushan <i>ji-ke-bete, waah</i>. Matlab, I did not know legalese could be lyrical, but surely these revolutionary, gently rebuking words are sweeter than any lines penned by Rumi or Gulzar. I would put them in the ICSE English poetry syllabus and teach them to all Indian children if I could. And, of course make them compulsory study material for all Congress Working Committee members before their next ‘meeting’.</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Aug 27 16:32:40 IST 2020 a-lesson-soaked-with-sweat <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>We are all snobs, at the end of the day. If we pride ourselves on being entirely unaffected by caste, wealth or religion, chances are that we may sneer at bad pronunciation. If we mingle freely and without judgment with people of all faiths and origin, and we are chill with bad grammar or intellectual ignorance, then perhaps we are the sort who look with pitying non-comprehension at people who are overweight or unfit.</p> <p>Or, maybe we are beauty-snobs. Or brand-snobs, or grammar snobs, or travel snobs, or grad-school snobs, or animal-lover/vegan snobs, or literary snobs, or handloom snobs, or single-malt snobs—the varieties are endless.</p> <p>Of course, the things you love, and the things you do, do not define the individual you are. They fuel great college rivalries, good-natured competition and sparkling party conversation. Snobbery can be constructive and aspirational. But when it tips over into wilful misunderstanding, prejudice and bigotry, then we have a problem.</p> <p>A couple of years ago, I was at a party where a young stylist, known for her work in various Bollywood productions happened to say to me, “Oh, you work out at a public gym? Oh, but you are from Bangalore, na! So lucky! I would love to join a Gold’s Gym or a Fitness First or whatever, because I hate working out alone. But bro, here in Bombay, I just cannot. There is,” she gave a delicate little shudder, “TV actor sweat all over the machines and it just makes me want to throw up.”</p> <p>I came back with something weak like, “Wow, that is pretty bitchy, even for a fashion designer!”(a remark that reveals a lot of my prejudices), and we both laughed and sipped our wine and moved on to talking about something else. But when the news of Sushant Singh Rajput’s death came out, this cruel little exchange came back to haunt me.</p> <p>It is stupid to look down at TV talent, because TV has given us not just Shah Rukh Khan, Ayushmann Khurrana (<i>Roadies</i>) and Arijit Singh (<i>Fame Gurukul</i>), but also Smriti Irani, the giant slayer of Amethi, who took down a fourth-generation political superstar from his home bastion. TV discoveries (of both genders) are just as goodlooking, charming and hot as the ones on the big screen, and not one-tenth as pampered and fussy besides.</p> <p>It is stupid to look down at TV talent when my 72-year-old housekeeper, whenever she is asked which movie she would like to see, invariably answers “Maanav ki picture dekhni hai (I want to see Maanav’s movie), which, of course, is Sushant’s character’s name in <i>Pavitra Rishta</i>—the show that made him wildly popular all across north India for six whole years. And, that is why all the big Bollywood stars, in spite of all their snobbery, show up meekly at Kapil Sharma’s <i>Comedy Nights with Kapil </i>when they have a film to promote.</p> <p>Probably the stylist I met had memories of costumes being returned to her after an over-extended, eighteen-hour, non-AC shift, damp and heavy with hardworking sweat? Of course, that would never happen on a shoot with a top star, for whom four copies of the same costume would have been stitched, so he could remain daisy-fresh right through his contract-mandated, fully air-conditioned, eight-hour shift.</p> <p>The crux of Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning film, <i>Parasite</i>, is the smell of rancid sweat. It is what sets the rich people apart from the poor folk, and it is the rich man’s fastidious, involuntary, almost imperceptible wince at the whiff of the poor man’s sweat that tips the poor man over into stabbing the rich man to death in the climax.</p> <p>Nowadays, of course, Covid-19 has made everybody’s sweat a big no-no, Amitabh Bachchan downwards. It has proved that blockbuster sweat, at the end of the day, is just the same as TV actor sweat. And that both can be equally tainted, or equally talented.</p> <p>Perhaps that is a little lesson all of us snobs should sit back and absorb.</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Aug 13 14:04:53 IST 2020 the-cheerleader-effect <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Everybody loves a boy band. From the Beatles, to Backstreet Boys and Boyz II Men, to BTS and One Direction who made the hashtag #10yearsof1D trend just a few days ago, we love the freshness, energy and sheer frisson they bring into our jaded lives. There is just something about the combined impact created by a grouping of four or five comely youths, with freshly broken voices, tousled hair and eager eyes (seemingly) seeking true love, that creates a veritable pheromone storm in the bosoms of women everywhere. Girls want them, boys want to be them and everybody across the board is quite comprehensively enchanted.</p> <p>Of course, the cheerleader effect, also known as the group attractiveness effect—a cognitive bias which causes people to think individuals are more attractive when they are in a group—has a major role to play here. The term was first coined by that fictional “high-functioning-sociopath” Barney Stinson on the show <i>How I Met Your Mother</i>. Canny, womanising Barney pointed out knowledgeably to his more naïve friends that women (like cheerleaders) always look more attractive in a group, but when separated out, and met one-on-one, cease to look as attractive.</p> <p>Like a grouping of scatter cushions on a couch, if you are into home décor. Or a group of fighter planes flying in formation, if you are into the action stuff. Anyway, the point I am trying to make here is that record producer and media personality Simon Cowell knew what he was doing when he picked out a motley crew of ordinary-ish British lads with strong singing voices and put them together to create hysteria and history with One Direction ten years ago, and that Rahul Gandhi is looking pretty sad now that he has been separated from Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia—and they are cutting a pretty sorry figure on their own, too. Rumours of Milind Deora and Jitin Prasada getting itchy feet are not helping either.</p> <p>See, if you are a very strong talent, you do not need a boy band. They then fade into the background to become merely your accompanists— like Bruce Springsteen and the E street band, for example. Or Indira Gandhi and the sycophants. Or Narendra Modi and the Pink Lotus Gang. But if the group is greater than the sum of its parts, and nobody is a stand-out performer on their own, then it makes sense to stick with the band. Ditch it, and you end up in obscurity or, to paraphrase a One D superhit, you end up feeling “so low, since you went solo, hole in the middle of your heart like a polo”.</p> <p>Rahul—the Harry Styles of the Congress Party Boy Band, if you will—put out a solo album recently, namely, his China videos. They seem vaguely reminiscent of Harry Styles’s first solo ballad, the overproduced, world-weary-ish ‘stop your crying, it’s a sign of the times’, ie, hardcore Harry fans felt vindicated in their belief that Harry was the talent that powered One D, but everybody else on the planet was left pretty much unshaken.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Sachin and Jyotiraditya are prowling around radiating a sort of sullen, wronged Zayn Malik vibe, all broody angst and enigmatic utterances, intermittently belting out Sufi-style wails and romancing beautiful women, and wondering why their life has been reduced to just “f#@king and fighting on, it’s a paradise and it’s a war zone”.</p> <p>I was never a groupie of the Congress Party Boy Band, but I did dig a couple of their early hits. My advice to them would be to put their petulance and egos aside, kiss and make up and reunite as a band. Sure, they are older, and stouter, and staler, but they are definitely better together. None of them are going to create history on their own.</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Jul 30 14:55:53 IST 2020 shameful-disgusting-forcefulness <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>This week one Shubham Mishra, who I have never heard of before—unleashed a vile diatribe against a stand-up comic called Agrima Joshua—who I had never heard of before either, for daring to poke fun at Shivaji—who, of course, we have all heard of.</p> <p>Agrima’s video, posted in 2019, is quite amusing, and anybody with even a modicum of intelligence and impartiality will grasp that she is not poking fun at Shivaji, but at the self-styled Shivaji <i>bhakts</i> on Quora. Anyway, such are the political and social realities on the ground today, that once her video caught the eye and the ire of the moral police, she took it down at once, and issued an unconditional apology.</p> <p>But this was not enough to appease Shubham, who released a video describing graphically how he would rape Agrima, in language so violent and hate-filled that it has given me nightmares. Shubham has over three lakh followers on Instagram, and the video has over 25.4 K likes. Which means that over 25,000 people watched this man describing how he would violate this young woman anally with his c**k, which would ram through her body like a snake till it emerged from her mouth and shut her up forever, and when they had finished watching, they pressed the red little heart that on Instagram connotes ‘like.’ Essentially, they all said, ya Shubham, go for it, we’re with you, <i>hum tumhare saath hain</i>.</p> <p>Thankfully, the real police stepped in and arrested the moral policer, who deleted his post, and put up a more cowed video, muttering that he never said anything about raping anyone, and how he respects women. This filthy piece of doublespeak, in which he continues to heap subdued hate on Agrima, has more than five lakh likes on YouTube already.</p> <p>I’ve no idea why people like Shubham zero in on people like Agrima—is it because she is attractive, and English speaking and earns a decent living, because she is on a stage with lipstick on, airing her political opinions, and not behind a kitchen counter swathed in a <i>ghoonghat</i>, silently rolling out <i>theplas</i>? Are they doing it to be popular? Or powerful? Do they really revere Shivaji so much? &nbsp;I am not clear, but the one thing that stands out quite clearly when you go through his feed is the desperate need to project forcefulness. This person thinks people respect that kind of macho, dominating figure, that adopting that persona is gonna make his life bloom with bright-red little hearts all the way.</p> <p>Another incident of brute force unfolded horribly in Tamil Nadu recently. Father and son duo Jayaraj and Bennix were arrested by the police and beaten so savagely for an entire weekend for the crime of keeping their mobile spare parts shop open 15 minutes past the curfew deadline, that they died in lock-up. Their family were then ordered to take the bodies home, and instructed to bring ‘dark lungis’ with them­—to hide the multiple fractures and the rectal bleeding the abuse had caused.</p> <p>Apart from the sheer impunity on display, again, what stood out was the brutality overkill. And we are seeing it everywhere. Whether in the shooting down of Vikas Dubey, or in the tone of our popular TV news anchors, what we are increasingly seeing everywhere (except re: China) is a romancing and a fetishising of the tough, vigilante-ish, dominatrix persona.</p> <p>Donald Trump summed up this thinking well when he told his governors how they should handle the #BLM protestors: ‘You must dominate. You’re gonna have to dominate, or you’re gonna look like a bunch of jerks.’</p> <p>In a world growing increasingly chaotic, with all systems compromised and all institutions crumbling, sometimes, people who project a superficial, toxic kind of toughness can appear to have all the answers. But here is the thing.</p> <p>They never do.</p> <p></p> Thu Jul 16 16:22:45 IST 2020 the-spectacle-that-life-is <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Remember the good old days when you did not have to prove you loved your country by chanting Bharat Mata ki Jai every time somebody asked you to? When standing up for the national anthem was optional? Something you did voluntarily, out of love, and not with one eye on the other people in the movie theatre who may record a video of you sitting it out and report you to the cops? Remember the good old days when chief ministers did not have to recite the Hanuman Chalisa to appease the media and prove they were true believers? When fans did not zoom aggressively into the social media photographs of movie stars, discover a cross in their <i>pooja ghar</i>, and immediately call them out for being a ‘fake’ Hindu?</p> <p>Remember when you could get married without the whole world wanting to know the price and brand of your lehenga, and the number and quality of hors d’oeuvres you served and to whom? Remember when a national disaster, like a flood or a pandemic, was a time for the nation to unite and hunker down to fight it together, instead of an excuse to extort money from various celebrities, corporates or religious institutions?</p> <p>When charity was not some sort of open, vulgar competition? With in-favour celebrities like Akshay Kumar flexing about the 025 crore he donated to the (slightly questionable) PM Cares fund and basically throwing down a gauntlet to other celebrities to donate loudly and visibly to the same fund too, or be torn apart by trolls and rabid media with Twitter hastags like #AjmerSharifPaiseNikaal and #SRKproveyourlove? Remember a time when the tragic suicide of a handsome young star at the top of his game could be mourned by the people who were close to him in peace and privacy, without photographs of his corpse going viral on social media, and trolls and the press breathing down their necks badgering them to put out a public profession of their grief?</p> <p>As I write this, people are aggressively bullying and castigating people from the industry for not looking sad enough at the news of Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, or looking too hypocritically sad and being two-faced fakers or whatever, while in the same breath speaking glibly about mental health and the importance of kindness and<br> empathy!</p> <p>Do they not realize that it is precisely this sort of relentless scrutiny that drives people to take such extreme steps in the first place? Grief used to be a private thing. Charity used to be a private thing. Religion used to be a private thing. Love used to be a private thing.</p> <p>But not any longer. Now, everything is spectacle, everything is a performance, the world is the coliseum and we all spend our lives sometimes hissing from the stands, and sometimes fighting in the ring. When everything is externalised, then inevitably, the core gets hollowed out. When we have one eye on our ‘performance’ and one eye on our highly judgmental, and mostly hostile ‘audience’, it is inevitable that we will begin to feel less, and to be less authentic as human beings.</p> <p>As a writer, I know that a sense of audience kills all spontaneity. The moment somebody stands behind me and starts to read what I am writing on my laptop, I freeze and start worrying about what they will think of me, and have to shut the lid quickly. This is what all of us are doing to ourselves every day. Not just celebrities, but even little teenage girls who have just, very excitedly and hopefully, opened their Insta or TikTok accounts. We are all constantly self-censoring, deleting real bits and pieces of our lives that we think are not good enough, surrendering to the society of the spectacle, and shutting down the lids on our inner living, breathing, authentic selves. It is death by collective suicide, a sort of Johar-of-the-soul, and it has to stop.</p> Mon Jun 22 08:22:45 IST 2020 poor-Indian-lives-matter <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>My daughter came to me really triggered a couple of days ago. (That is current youth-speak for being upset, btw). She said she has a beef (i.e. issues, or a bone to pick with, nothing to do with eating cows) with most of her contemporaries on Instagram because they are all so shook (i.e. shaken/upset) by the death of George Floyd at the hands of the state police in Minneapolis.</p> <p>And, I am like accha, why? Because is it not good that your friends are aware and vocal about such a ghastly incident, an incident that may go on to be bigger than the Rodney King incident back in the early 1990s?</p> <p>And now suddenly, she has a beef with me, too. “Why do you know who Rodney King is?” she demands.</p> <p>I say something about it being a big story back then, when I was young and her age-ish.</p> <p>“Were you not all caught up in the Mandal Commission agitation then?” she demands next. “Why do you even remember Rodney King?”</p> <p>I explain that I had been really ambivalent on the Mandal issue; girls from my college (Miranda House, Delhi University) had agitated against the implementation of the report. They had gone to the Boat Club lawns with boot-polish kits, and offered to polish the shoes of passersby, to symbolically demonstrate that this would be the only job regular, non-reservation kids would get after graduation, as candidates from the reserved castes would grab all the creamy layer white-collar jobs. I had found this problematic on many levels, and so had not joined in these protests, even though it had all seemed like a lot of fun and a general atmosphere of revolution had prevailed in the college corridors and so on.</p> <p>She is slightly mollified. But only slightly. “What about the Babri Masjid demolition? What did you do then?”</p> <p>“And, I have to confess that I had not ‘done’ anything then either. I had just started working in advertising, and so had spent that December writing headline options for a combined print advertisement for the Christmas and New Year Celebrations at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Bhikaji Cama Place. I had been particularly proud of ‘25th ko Mother Mary, 31st ko Bloody Mary!’ The client had bombed it though.”</p> <p>She looks at me witheringly. Very ashamed, I lower my gaze.</p> <p>“And, yet, you remember Rodney King.”</p> <p>In my defense, I say that I remember the Babri Masjid demolition, too. I just had had no platform on which to register my protest, those days. “You are lucky,” I conclude. “So, what exactly do you find so triggering about your friends’ Insta stories?”</p> <p>“Do you know who Arvina Khatun is?” she counter-questions.</p> <p>“No,” I admit.</p> <p>“She is the dead lady on the railway station. The one with the baby playing by her side, in that video that just went viral. Do you know how many of my so-called ‘woke’ friends made an Insta story on her? None! Or, on the migrant workers walking home, and dying on the train tracks? Or on the police beating up poor women with lathis in the name of doing their duty? None! So, according to them, American black lives matter, and poor Indian lives do not!”</p> <p>The point she seems to be making is that her “liberal”, privileged friends live in India, but set their clocks to Eastern Standard Time or whatever. At this point I tell her that her slang is very Americanised too, but she waves this aside as a frivolous point.</p> <p>Maybe, these kids feel safer criticising the American government than they feel criticising their own, I suggest. “Because here there could be a backlash, na.”</p> <p>But she does not even think it is that.</p> <p>“Poor Indian deaths are just not considered cool, mamma,” she tells me bitterly. “It is as simple as that. Nobody gafs (i.e. gives a f#@%).”</p> Thu Jun 04 15:59:00 IST 2020 taking-bus-11-home <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>My grandmother had a rather charming description for pedestrian travel. If she wanted to go some place, and my grandfather would rue the cost of petrol involved in ferrying her there in the car, she would retort, very airily, “Theek hai, phir hum gyaarah number ki bus le lenge (Okay then, we will take the number 11 bus).”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Named for one’s two legs, the number 11 bus is a popular mode of travel in our country. For poorer people, it is often the only bus they can actually afford. Unlike the rich, who strap on Fitbits to obsessively count the number of steps they take in a day, poor people think nothing of walking a few kilometres to and from their workplaces daily. Nor do schoolchildren. People who live in north India are used to the annual influx of Kanwariyas—Shiva bhakts—who travel on foot from villages to the source of the Ganga to collect and carry home its holy water as an act of piety. Gandhiji iconised walking during the 384km-long Dandi March. Refugees walked with all their belongings on their backs during the partition. The logic of the walker is that if all else fails, and there is no other option, I will bloody well walk for it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And therein lies the nub—all else has failed and there is no other option. For my grandmother, taking the #11 bus was an assertion of independence and self-sufficiency, but for the crores of poor Indians walking thousands of kilometres to their hometowns and villages, it is a defiant, double middle finger salute to the power structures that would deny them their liberty, emotions, mobility, nutrition, security and their very humanity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And so we have a situation where a callous, clueless government and an elite bunch of banana-bread bakers sit out the quarantine on their privileged butts, while out there in real life, crores of poor people walk 1,000-plus kilometres to their homes, blistering their soles and birthing their babies on the dusty highways, getting crushed by goods trains one day or electrocuted by dangling wires on another.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is so ironic that our prime minister and his finance minister—the thin-lipped lady who thinks talking to these long-distance walkers is “troubling them and wasting their time” (as if the whole freaking lockdown with no prior planning or provision was not troubling them or wasting their time!)—have dubbed their Lays Magic Masala (maximum air, minimum potato) Rs20 lakh crore package atmanirbhar, that is self-reliant. It is clear that if anybody wants to get out of this shit-fest alive, they should rely on nobody but their own self. No 56-inch chested superhero is gonna ride on a lotus-festooned golden chariot and save them. It is not an election rally after all! If it were, there would be buses for the poor folk, and an orange tee and packed meals and Rs500 a day. If it were a Kanwar yatra, there would be string beds and showers and music and dancing as well! But it is not. And so it is just going to have to be one foot in front of another, the camaraderie of other grindingly poor folk on the road, and the erratic, undependable kindness of the banana-bread bakers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When asked why they were not waiting a few days to take a bus or train, as these services are being reopened, the walkers just shook their heads. They have learnt the hard lesson well. A regime, marked by incompetence, callousness, bombast and hate, cannot be counted upon to deliver anything but more misery and a dilution of labour laws.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Have no expectations and you will not be disappointed. It is all about atmanirbharta now. Every man for himself and God for all. And a #11 bus ride home, or to hell.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri May 22 16:54:20 IST 2020 behind-boislockerroom <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Bade bade deshon mein aisi choti choti baaten hoti rehti hain. In big-big countries, these small-small things keep happening. I am not sure what exactly Shah Rukh Khan’s character meant when he kept repeating this line in DDLJ (1995). He was probably going for a breezy, man-of-the-world larger picture vibe in order to impress the sheltered girl he had fallen for. But I find it so horribly apt for all the ghastly things that keep happening repeatedly in our country, no, all countries, and which we tend to let slide because there is, you know, larger stuff going on. Like we have a pandemic to fight, and the enemies of hindutva to battle, and a new central vista for Rajpath to build, and stuff.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But here is the thing: The little stuff is all mixed up ­­with the big stuff; it is both the fallout and the cause of the big stuff; and if we ignore it, it will snowball into the big-big stuff of tomorrow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This week, all the moms in the richer schools in Delhi are shook because some young girls have revealed an Instagram chat group called #boislockerroom, which has several hundred members and which exists basically to rate, discuss, dehumanise, and share nudes and morphed photos of attractive girls who go to the same schools as the boys. They have also come up with a list of ‘Girls we would like to Rape’ with the names of 20 underage Delhi schoolgirls on it.All the girls on this list ( I have known one of them since she was a baby) are attractive and active on Instagram—that is, they are “proud” and “uppity” and “flexing” on their hotness, and therefore need to be taken down by the self-appointed, morally-righteous ones on #boislockerroom.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What is really getting to me is all these Delhi moms shaking their head and wondering, where did we go wrong, how did this happen?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Did they really think that all the filth that goes down on Twitter, the relentless, misogynistic unchecked trolling of any woman with an opinion, be it Mahua Moitra, Smriti Irani, Gauri Lankesh, Kangana Ranaut, Swara Bhasker, Payal Rohatgi, Sonia Gandhi, Barkha Dutt, Sania Mirza or Rana Ayyub—calling them randi (prostitute), kutiya (bitch), bar dancer—would have no fallout on the plastic young minds of our children?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Did they really think that when a man who is followed by the prime minister of India rolls his eyes at the assassination of a respected journalist and tweets t­­­hat all the puppies are crying because the bitch is dead, that our children would not be listening and learning?Did we really think when Neha Dhupia gets viciously trolled for telling a man on Roadies that he cannot hit his girlfriend even if she cheats on him with four guys, that our children would not be listening and learning?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And do they really think that the obnoxious, violent, self-righteous language that Arnab Goswami used against Sonia Gandhi recently is OK? That repeatedly invoking her maiden name and ordering her to go back to Italy and demonising her parents and her home, and basically acting like a nasty old mother-in-law from some creepy TV serial is OK?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why the hell should Sonia Gandhi go back to Italy? Or, back to the kitchen? Or, back to the periphery, which is where Arnab and his paymasters clearly think women belong? Every time we normalise this language of violence and degradation, every time we let this shit slide, we are contributing to the hateful misogyny that is flourishing openly in our country. A boys-will-be-boys culture of rape-rap lyrics and item numbers, of selective, opportunistic outrage, where Jai Sita Ram has morphed into Jai Shri Ram and Sita has been reduced to a meek, complicit handmaiden, and all the Shurpanakhas get their noses cut off for daring to be bold. It is all one. It is all connected.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri May 08 17:31:25 IST 2020 lockdown-breakdown <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Horrible things are happening. As cabin fever intensifies on a locked down world, people are cracking up in strange and unprecedented ways. Salman Khan, for instance, has penned and crooned an utterly ghastly little ditty that makes every song from every Sooraj Barjatya film sound like a PhD thesis. It is so syrupy that after I played it on my phone, the screen felt sticky and chipp-chipp. I had to wipe it down with hand sanitiser.</p> <p>Ramchandra Guha has thrown a hissy fit and sacked Delhi’s #1 newspaper for refusing to publish his column questioning the government’s aesthetically hideous Rs20,000 crore project to ‘revamp’ New Delhi’s Central Vista (what will they call New Delhi after this revamp? New New Delhi, like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar?). I feel his pain and frustration, but I think he should have sucked it up and continued his column. People like him need to be seen and read in mainstream newspapers. If their writings only appear in liberal online publications, the kind BJP supporters wash their eyes out with Ganga jal after accidentally glimpsing, then they will just be preaching to the choir.</p> <p>Channeling Frida Kahlo with suitably thick quarantined eyebrows from her Swiss Chalet-like home in Manali, Kangana Ranaut has stated with a straight face that she is okay with people being shot to death, if they are attacking doctors and essential service providers. Yeah, straight away shot to death, not tear-gassed or water-cannoned or shot in the leg. She also called such people mullahs and secular media. And said people can call her a Nazi if they like. And asked the government to shut down Twitter and start its own micro-blogging site (Quitter? Litter? Bootlicker?). And ended by wishing all viewers a Happy Lockdown, like we are celebrating some festival over here.</p> <p>I have taken this particularly hard because I like Kangana. I like her acting, feminism, her amazing style, her doggedly learned English, her stance against nepotism in Bollywood and the fact that she had no godfather. But now, she seems to be soliciting a godfather with a vengeance. Becoming the latest Bhagwa Babe will make ever-pliant Bollywood cower before her for sure, but it will happen at the cost of being thought-controlled by the BJP and compromising on the individualist, feminist and artistic ideals she so fiercely cherishes. So not worth it.</p> <p>In Lucknow, a teenage Muslim boy, whose parents say he was beaten by the police for flouting the lockdown to buy biscuits and was nursed at home because his family was afraid to flout the lockdown again, succumbed to his injuries and died. No statements condemning the act were made by the state government.</p> <p>In Palghar, two saffron-robed Hindu sadhus and their driver were beaten to death by a frenzied mob who thought they were child snatchers, as the police stood by ineffectually. The footage of this bloody outburst was gut-wrenching. Equally disturbing was the way right-wing Twitter trolls frantically tried to find a communal angle to the incident. First they alleged somebody was shouting ‘Shoaib, Shoaib’ in the video (nobody was), then they said the area was ‘missionary-infested’. Nothing stuck. Finally, they resorted to posting graphic sketches of cowering sadhus being lathi-struck by men with long beards and no mustaches. Ah, well.</p> <p>Oh, and the International Monetary Fund just announced that our growth rate is down to 1.9 per cent.</p> <p>And finally, using a peculiar orangey-pink filter and wearing fake eyelashes, Rakhi Sawant posted an impassioned speech in which she reminded us that Hindu-Muslim-Sikh-Isai are all one God’s offspring and bhai-bhai. She said people who sought to divide India were evil, and warned, with grimaces and dramatic eyebrow wriggles, that they would suffer terribly for sowing seeds of hatred.</p> <p>In these weird times, it is only fitting that Rakhi Sawant is making complete sense.</p> Thu Apr 23 18:05:55 IST 2020 time-for-a-better-world <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>So, my 86-year-old father, who is spending his quarantine alone in his apartment in Bengaluru—being socially distant from my tainted London/Mumbai/Delhi returned brood—just posted a picture of himself jauntily modelling an extremely trendy-looking mask improvised from a premium brand of underwear, on our family WhatsApp group.</p> <p>“Only superheroes wear their undies on the outside,” said the caption below the picture. Apparently, you push your head through one leg hole, position the crotch over your nose and mouth, then pull the rest of the undie behind your neck, give it a twist, then yank the other leg hole like a bandanna over your head.</p> <p>It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, ‘getting your knickers in a twist’.</p> <p>These are truly dystopian times. Our planet is being stalked by a virus that attacks poor folk and prime ministers with equal and dreadful democracy. Locked down in their homes, people are oscillating between euphoria (so much free time! I made banana bread!) and despair (financial losses, fear for their loved ones) and working up a high degree of cabin fever.</p> <p>As usual, the poorest and the minorities have it the worst. Home quarantine makes no sense if you have no home, and the concept of a united “Us” against the “VirUs” is rendered moot if people ostracise essential service providers, right-wing trolls make “corona jihad” trend at #1 on Twitter, and students from the northeast get spat upon and told to go back to China.</p> <p>On the positive side, those of us privileged enough to have home, health and hand sanitiser, are relearning the concepts of perspective and gratitude. Every Facebook post is either an epiphany, an existential crisis or an ode to household help, and nature is so flattered by the sudden surge of appreciation her sunsets and flowers are getting that she is thinking of installing a Like button.</p> <p>Facebook has become one massive coaching centre, offering free tutorials in Kathak, karate, Zumba, knitting, baking, video editing, Indian classical music, guitar, painting, stand-up comedy, nail art, advanced calculus and nuclear bomb-making. Matlab, the possibilities are truly infinite. I, for one, am determined to emerge from this quarantine with three new skills mastered: hula hooping; conversing in French with street dogs; flying in my pink-checked nightie on moonless nights using only my black umbrella.</p> <p>“From scratch” has become a thing. Malaika Arora is making besan ka ladoo from scratch. Sonam Kapoor is making stir-fried tofu from scratch. Maria Goretti is making sourdough starter from scratch. People are making frothy coffee, momos and Maruti cars from scratch. And, of course, I am sure a whole lot of folks are making babies from scratch.</p> <p>This new generation will be called the Coronnials. They shall be born without fingerprints because their parents washed their hands so often, hand sanitiser shall flow in their veins instead of blood, they shall come onto their balconies like a billion Juliets at 5pm sharp every day to light candles and bang on utensils for their grey-bearded Romeo, and on low-pollution days, they shall possess the ability to see Mount Everest from India Gate.</p> <p>Speaking unironically now, I have to admit that I am positive about the post-corona world. Surely, we will gain more from this than just a rash of topical movies and web series titled Virus, Quarantine and Corona Heist.</p> <p>Surely, this incarceration has made us better, more sympathetic, more sensible people, who are capable of rising above our petty differences to preserve our beautiful and much-abused planet.</p> <p>Nature has cleaned our slate for us.</p> <p>Let us emerge from our homes holding sparkly chalks dipped in hope and love and creativity, and write something worthwhile with it.</p> Thu Apr 09 16:01:31 IST 2020 iron-men-or-feet-of-clay <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>&quot;If you really feel the urge to milk something, go find a cow,” read the rather terse headline of a print ad issued by a leading newspaper on March 20. Accompanied by the image of a scowling bovine, it went on to state that the publication would not carry any ad that seemed to take advantage of the panic around the coronavirus pandemic for personal or material gain. However, if the messaging was responsible, considerate and empathetic towards the situation, the publication would be more than happy to carry it.</p> <p>This came a couple of days after Arihant Mattress claimed its mattresses to be ‘anti-coronavirus’and Patanjali’s Baba Ramdev claimed that its Giloy remedy could fight the virus. Such ads have prompted the self-regulating advertising industry watchdog, Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), to issue a statement that it would be taking action against companies that make unsubstantiated and irresponsible claims.</p> <p>Every crisis is also a time of great opportunity, and there is nothing wrong with seizing that opportunity, but it cannot be denied that it is very difficult in these confusing times to figure exactly where the line between filling a genuine demand and the greed for profit or popularity begins to blur. And, there is no ASCI to regulate personal behaviour here—we have to regulate it ourselves.</p> <p>So when we compose a song or a poem on the issue, are we really trying to educate people, or just you know, hoping to go viral and score an avalanche of likes? Or, when we post a video of ourselves banging a karchi (ladle) on a thaali (plate) and yelling Go-Corona-Go, are we really thanking essential service providers from the bottom of our hearts, or are we just trying to be more-patriotic-than-thou? Or indeed, as the head of a nation or a province, when we appear on television and address the citizens who elected us, are we just competing with the heads of other nations or provinces in a stupid game of one-upmanship, again for profit or popularity, or are we genuinely trying to do the best for the people in our stewardship?</p> <p>These issues are especially tricky for celebrities—if they donate money for coronavirus relief work, people accuse them of climbing on to the bandwagon and trying to ‘buy’ good publicity. If they do not donate money, people immediately throw Rihanna’s $5 million donation in their face and ask them how they are giving back. The nicest celebrities deal with this by giving very quietly. And this, in these deafening times when we are all reeling from the sound of utensils being clanged from the rooftops, is an example worth emulating.</p> <p>Actions speak so much louder than words.</p> <p>So if you are a regular person, put down your thaali. Go inside your house and quietly give all your domestic help paid leave for the month (a real test of patriotism this one and so much more difficult than thaali-banging!) Then clean your own home like a good Gandhian, do your office work, speak up loudly and fearlessly if your leaders seem to be waffling about, and for heaven’s sake, refrain from forwarding weird WhatsApp messages from opportunistic godmen clearly out to get famous.</p> <p>If you are an elected representative, and human enough to want to shine during this crisis not just for the sake of the people who elected you but also for your own profit/popularity, know that this is the best shot at immortality you will ever get. Steer India through this crisis sincerely, with minimum economic and human loss, resist the urge to milk the situation, and you will have created a legacy far greater than the one that could be earned by raising an 182m statue of Sardar Patel, building a temple to Lord Ram at Ayodhya, or indeed, redoing Delhi’s Central Vista at the cost of Rs20,000 crore.</p> <p>That is called having your milk, and drinking it, too.</p> Mon Mar 30 19:50:54 IST 2020 show-offs-to-stay-home <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Phew, thank God for the coronavirus. Usually, I dread the summer vacations because everybody I know posts pictures of their holidays abroad, you know—with the Colosseum or the Eiffel Tower or some random Trump Tower in the background, and pretentious hashtags that sound like the names of SUVs in the foreground—#Gypsy #Wanderer #Vagabond. Which is ridiculous because show me one legit vagabond or gypsy who can fill out all the mind-numbing, hair-splitting details demanded by a Schengen Visa form?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Or, their pics featuring beach resorts in Spain and France, where they click close-ups of their sandy toes, or the beads in their hair with hashtags like #sunkissed #tangledhairdontcare and #beachbum. Which is even more ridiculous because which Indian likes or needs to be sun-kissed or tangled or to have dusty feet? We get all that for free right here at home! And, you can be sure that the women in those pics are going to head straight into the arms of their regular therapists at their beauty parlour once they are back, who will coo and tsk-tsk over them and immediately prescribe a de-tanning-facial-mani-pedi-hair-spa marathon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the expensive holiday hashtags that really get me triggered are the humblebrag ones, like #famjam #qualitytime and #OGgang, kyunki, if all you wanted to do was bond with the OG gang then you could have invited them all home only for quality conversation, biryani and beer on your balcony, no? You could have turned on the fairy lights, put a nice Spotify playlist, played Monopoly and just hung out. You did not go all the way to the freaking Kruger National Park to #famjam. You went there to #showoff #flaunt #taunt #suckitupcheapos.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, coming back to the coronavirus, I am really sorry that so many people have died and so many are suffering terribly, but I am also really glad that so many more people have been grounded. Thanks to Covid-19, they can no longer go stomping all over the world causing a pandemic of heartburn, envy and competitive conspicuous consumption. And cash-strapped, under-pressure people like me can give a light, rueful laugh and say: “We had to cancel our tickets to Italy and Korea at the last minute, can you imagine? It’s too sad ya, and we lost two L on the deal, and the kids are devastated, but what to do, safety first, no?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hopefully, it is going to be a quiet, low-cost summer of staying in, reading, Swiggy-ing, Nexflix-ing and video-gaming. Perhaps, the grounded brigade will even do the whole become-a-tourist-in-your-own-city thing! We do tend to overlook our local attractions: I was part of the One Show ad-festival jury in New York once, and when they took us on a Liberty Island cruise, we found out that none of the New Yorkers on our jury had ever seen the Statue of Liberty before, though all of us international jurors had.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, hopefully, desi tourism will get a boost. People will queue up to visit Qutab Minar or the Gateway of India, or walk through Cubbon Park in the early morning and rediscover the beauty of their own cities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Or maybe not. I hear that people whose international travel plans have been foiled because of the coronavirus have now been bitten by conspicuous consumption vulgaris. They are rushing out and buying cars and jewellery in order to prove that even though they are holed up at home for the summer, they still have money to burn.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Luckily, I have an answer all prepared for this. If anybody asks me, “Oh, why you didn’t buy any nice jewellery this summer, ya?”, I am going to glibly tell them: “I can’t pull out and spend more than fifty thou tops ya, because all my money is in Yes Bank, na.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Mar 13 12:13:15 IST 2020 delhi-punishment-for-picking-love <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Last fortnight, buoyed by the Delhi election verdict, I wrote what now seems to be a naïve piece about how the forces of communalism had been dispelled. I gushed that Dilliwallas had proved that the ‘dil’ in Dilli was still beating strong and ended by wishing everyone a Happy Valentine’s Day. Pretty dumb, huh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tonight, as I write this, mayhem is descending over Delhi. The images being beamed on TV seem as horrific as anything we saw in 2002 or 1984. It seems pretty clear, to me at least, that these are images of a city that is being punished. Punished for voting as it did. Punished for rejecting a hate-monger like Kapil Mishra, who now feels the need to regain lost face by making provocative remarks at a rally that led to pro-CAA protesters descending on Delhi’s streets. Punished exactly how Parvesh Verma promised we would be if we chose an option that is not the BJP—“tomorrow, if people enter your homes and rape your sisters and daughters, don’t ask Modiji to save you.” Punished for choosing love and development over hate and unemployment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tonight is a night of conspiracy theories. The Muslims/Pakistanis/Urban Naxals are flexing to make Modi look small during Trump’s visit. There seems to be a schism in the BJP with a more militant faction frantic to show, while the world’s media is in town, how brilliantly the Gujarat model has been reproduced across India. It’s all the doing of the Congress. It is being done to declare President’s rule and kick out the pesky Kejriwal. Pick whatever option suits your confirmation bias. What is clear is that communal forces are far from being dispelled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Bengaluru, young Amulya Leona Norohna has been charged with sedition for chanting ‘Pakistan Zindabad’. The fact that she was trying to make the point that we should wish all nations zindabad and none murdabad is lost on a country that has been hopelessly polarised. Amulya has been arrested, but the Sri Ram Sena, which issued a Hindu fatwa (a bhagwa sounds like an appropriate branding for it) to people to kill her and receive a bounty of Rs10 lakh, has not even been chastised yet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Across India, communal fault-lines have been stoked, and anti-CAA protesters, despite being goaded, have struggled to stay non-violent because they know that the moment they raise their voice, news channels will beam out images, screaming, “See! See! Muslim terror!” But after 60 days of blatant baiting, a man allegedly called Shahrukh may have finally provided the riot-porn image that will make the wet dreams of the communalists come true.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Trump tamasha has wound up with no concrete trade deal, but at least the Rs130 crore we spent resulted in some good optics. Trump got to strut on stage before 1.2 lakh people to the deathless lyrics—Macho macho man, ready to get down with anyone he can! The trio stood with devoutness before Gandhi’s charkha for photographs, and then the happy couple posed before the Taj Mahal, the Monument of Love. And, Melania was seen visiting a Delhi government school to study the Happiness Project, even as schools in North East Delhi stayed shut. Mutton biryani and malpua was consumed at the Rashtrapati Bhavan banquet, and I am guessing the two Neroes chatted cosily about whether John Oliver is a lower life form than Kunal Kamra and how award standards have fallen so abysmally (Best Picture Oscar for a Korean film? Nobel for Abhijeet Banerjee? McGill Medal for Rana Ayyub?).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile we, the people of Delhi, remember the optics from Gujarat 2002 and shudder. And then comfort ourselves with the thought that Qutubuddin Ansari and Ashok Mochi, the subjects of the two riot-porn images that went viral then, met peacefully 17 years later to inaugurate Ashok’s chappal shop and state that their emotions had been stoked by communal forces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Democracy and better sense will, eventually, triumph in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Feb 28 14:49:05 IST 2020 love-not-lotus-blooms-in-delhi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I will be honest, it has sucked to be a Delhiite in recent times. Because no matter where you go in India or the world, you are sneered at for hailing from what is known either as the ‘rape capital of India’ or the ‘pollution capital of the world’. One does try to talk weakly about our amazing markets, awesome food and ancient monuments, but ‘what can you even see in that ghastly smog?’ and ‘where can you shop? There are molesters everywhere’ shut us up. Because, after all, these are good and valid points.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, in the last month, as the battle for the capital got darker and dirtier and more desperate, as the peaceful protests against the National Register of Indian Citizens were demonised, as Home Minister Amit Shah spoke of pressing the lotus button so hard that it delivered a ‘currant’ in Shaheen Bagh, as the Delhi Police turned on the very students and citizens it is paid to protect, as Agent Adityanath arrived to stir the communal pot with talk of biryani and bullets, as brainwashed young men waved guns and spouted propaganda, as MP Parvesh Verma told us that the Shaheen Bagh ‘gang’ (who, by the way, are 80 per cent women) was going to rape our daughters and sisters and Modiji was the only PM who cared enough about us to save them, as #DilliMeinDangay trended on Twitter, it seemed it might earn another title for itself—hate capital of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The louder the politicians got, the quieter the electorate became. Ominously quiet. Nobody knew what the silence meant.</p> <p>And then came the story of a ‘Jai Sri Ram’ shouting mob from a pro-NRC rally forcing its way into a prominent Delhi girls college—Gargi College—during their annual festival, Reverie. While the mob gawked, groped, fondled and masturbated at the horrified girls, the principal attempted to hush up the matter, but thankfully the students proved to be way too gutsy and vexingly non-sanskaari, and would not sit quiet and hush when told to do so. Willy-nilly, the news spread through the city.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Forty hours later, Delhi went to the polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>‘A fight for India’s soul’ was a phrase used to describe the Lok Sabha 2019 elections, and it was used yet again for the Delhi assembly polls. The turnout started out low, but then Delhiites are notorious for being fashionably late. By 6pm, a healthy 60-plus percentage had been achieved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The moment the exit polls went on air, and it seemed that the Aam Aadmi Party was headed for a landslide victory, various tame anchors started to shame Delhiites for prioritising practical, mundane ‘selfish’ things like water, electricity, health and education over ‘noble’ issues like the nation’s safety and unity, terrorism and clamping down on the (80 per cent female) rapists in Shaheen Bagh. This was right in tune with the earlier BJP-driven narrative where giving up your gas subsidy or standing in line to exchange your old currency for new was seen as an honour and a duty by every patriotic Indian citizen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But this is Delhi. We are... er... shameless. And also quite openly selfish.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The message we have sent out, which hopefully has delivered a ‘currant’ right into the thalamus of the BJP lotus, is loud and clear—less Ram, more kaam, thank you very much!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And with a thumping victory for the performance-driven record of the AAP (62 of 70 seats) and a resounding rejection of the politics of hate and vitriol as practised in this election by the BJP, I am, once again, proud to be a Dilliwaali.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three days before what Asaram Bapu calls Matru-Pitru Pujan Diwas and the rest of the world calls the Festival of Love, our ancient, canny, blunt, profane, practical capital has rejected hate, chosen love and put the dil right back into Dilli. Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Feb 14 11:31:16 IST 2020 amit-shah-bitter-lemonade <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Because India is a country of many languages, because illiteracy is so rampant and connectivity such a challenge, it is very, very hard for an idea or a person to become truly, legitimately, grassroots-level famous here. For an individual, nationwide fame happens only if they do something radical, like win the nation its independence from the British, or win India its first cricket World Cup, or its first Nobel prize, or its first Miss Universe title or an Olympic medal or become the first world famous porn star of Indian descent. Similarly, an idea can only grab the nation’s imagination if it is strong, simple, goosebumpy and if insane amounts of money is pumped into making sure the entire country gets to hear of it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The good part is that once a person or idea achieves this level of fame and acceptance, it is very, very hard for them/it to be dislodged from the nation’s consciousness. They become as rock-solid as Rajnikanth. Or, as the notion that nighties are acceptable out-of-home attire if teamed with a dupatta. Or, as the concept of unity-in-diversity—a blast from the past that we thought was dead but which now seems to be making a comeback as strong as a Rocky sequel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The shortcut to achieving this level of fame instantly is to piggyback onto the people or ideas who/that have already established themselves at this mega level. If it is a person, you could kill or marry them or shamelessly appropriate their legacy (Nathuram Godse, Mira Rajput and the Sardar Patel statue are all good examples). If it is an idea, you can somehow pervert it, subvert it or give it a major spin and thus grab the nation’s eyeballs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is something that political parties, especially the BJP’s PR machinery, understand well. Again and again, they identify the strong, simple symbols and ideas closest to the nation’s heart, give them a spin and then hammer those twisted version into our national psyche with their massive media spends.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And so, concepts as ubiquitous as Lord Ram, cows, momos, Muslims, Pakistan, soldiers, 11,000 note, gas cylinders and famous universities have all been perverted and piggy-backed upon. If Modi is a chaiwala, Amit Shah is a nimbu pani waala. The man possesses the undeniable gift of taking the lemons life deals him with and turning them into lemonade. Uri turned into surgical strikes, Pulwama into Balakot, JNU into tukde-tukde gang, ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ turned into #MainBhiChowkidar, the crappy economy turned into Bangladeshi-immigrants-stealing-your-jobs, and right now, he is busily trying to turn the Shaheen Bagh protest into a BJP victory in Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The top hashtags on Twitter as I write this are #370inShaheenBagh and #SurgicalstrikeinShaheenbagh—rabid saffron trolls are screaming for these measures, which a government would use against a national enemy, to be employed against citizens of India indulging in peaceful, Gandhi-style satyagraha. Sinister conspiracies abound—about a den of terrorists plotting mayhem and murder, about brainwashed children marching to jihadi tunes, about a paid rate of 1700 a day and a plateful of biryani. The master himself is busily stirring the pot, trying to activate ancient fault lines, telling Delhiites that 30 per cent of them are Hindu immigrants from Pakistan, and that Shaheen Bagh is a horror that must be clamped down upon by pressing the button on the Lotus on poll day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But what he has not factored in is that India, in its infancy, was nursed and nourished on the idea of Hindu-Muslim-Sikh-Isai. Unity-in-diversity is our soul food, our oldest and most goosebumpy idea, our dearest collective memory, the mother’s milk we were all fed. And every movie-going Indian knows that you cannot mess with that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Coupled with the bijli, pani, education and health that Kejriwal has delivered, this mother’s milk may yet prove more delicious to Delhiites than a lemonade of hate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Jan 31 11:08:41 IST 2020 wake-up-and-smell-the-vagina <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Overheard at a party recently. A drunken gent talking to an attractive woman, who seems to be in her mid-thirties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Kya yaar, where-where you keep going to protest and what-what you keep on posting on social media nowadays? Be careful! You will get into trouble.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The woman tells her boozy well-wisher that he should not worry about her and that she is perfectly at peace with what she is doing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But he is far from convinced.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My dear, I worry about you. Why do you want to be at cross-purposes with the powers-that-be?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She tells him that she finds she can no longer keep her frustrations with what is happening in the country to herself, and adds, with an ironic eye roll, that maybe she is just having a mid-life crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Arrey!”He stares at her, shocked, then offers what (to him) is clearly extremely obvious advice: “If you are having a mid-life crisis then just do some ‘adultery-shadultery’, na! Why are you protesting?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is a question more and more women are being asked this month. From the girls in Jamia to the old ladies reciting shayari at Shaheen Bagh, to JNU president Aishe Ghosh, wearing her injuries like a badge of honour, to Deepika Padukone, so somber and black-clad and incredibly beautiful as she stood side-by-side with peacefully protesting students at JNU, to the students of Jyoti Nivas (Girls) College in Bengaluru who stood up to BJP workers. The surprise, the disapproval and the entitlement is clear in the manner in which they address the women.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Heroines should stay in Mumbai and dance,” said a BJP MLA from Madhya Pradesh of Deepika’s JNU visit, clearly having forgotten the fact that Smriti Irani, Hema Malini and Kirron Kher are MPs from his party. Or, maybe this is his real grudge—that heroines are trickling out of Mumbai and grabbing positions meant only to go to ‘real’politicians. Who knows?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“This is nothing to do with you or your principal. We have spoken directly to the owners of your college. You focus on your studies, please. It is none of your business,” said a bunch of BJP workers to students from Jyoti Nivas college who protested against a pro-Citizenship Amendment Act banner that the men had displayed prominently across the main gate of their campus. The streets are no place for women. They do not understand politics. Why are they talking so loudly? Why have they left their homes and hearths? Why are they here at all?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps the most worrying are the women of Shaheen Bagh, who even brought in the New Year sipping tea and singing songs of protest and the national anthem at their protest site. They have inspired similar sit-ins in Gaya in Bihar and Park Circus in Kolkata. Female bonding—that powerful, dangerous thing—is rippling out and flexing its muscles all over the country. It is a heady time to be a woman with passion and an opinion in India today. Far more heady than ‘adultery-shadultery’ certainly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over in the weird, weird west, Gwyneth Paltrow, who, for all her projected ditziness, possesses a large amount of entrepreneurial canniness, has perhaps felt these cosmic vibrations, and been moved to launch a scented candle called ‘This Smells Like My Vagina.’ It claims to be made with “geranium, citrusy bergamot and cedar absolutes juxtaposed with damask rose and ambrette seed”, and possesses “a funny, gorgeous, sexy and beautifully unexpected scent”. It is priced at $75, and looks like it will burn for approximately three hours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The candle has sold out already. Gwyneth, yet again, seems to have cashed in on the mood of the times. Clearly, it is time for people to wake up and smell the vagina.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Jan 17 12:53:24 IST 2020 four-words-against-fascism <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>You can always judge how organic a protest is by the kind of placards and banners people carry to it. If it is genuinely spontaneous and representative of a legitimate ground swell, its slogans will be varied, witty and original. And if it is a ‘bought’ crowd (strange how bought rhymes with bot), the slogans will seem on-the-nose, mass-produced and bland—sort of untouched-by-human-hand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You know where I am going with this, don’t you? In the protests we have been seeing in city after city through the second half of December, the pro CAA+NRC+NPR rally placards have seemed robotic, while the anti ones have been evocative—Hindustan kisi ke baap ka nahi hai (Hindustan does not belong to anyone’s father), Hum kagaz nahi dikhaenge (We will not show our papers), The cow ate my documents, Hindu-Muslim raazi, toh kya karega Nazi (If Hindus and Muslims unite, what can the Nazi do). But the one that summed up the prevailing zeitgeist, for me at least, was the straightforward, pithy and extremely exasperated ‘Hindu hoon, chutiya nahi’ (I am a Hindu, not a dumbfuck).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What a slogan! A slogan that can bring an entire ideology to its knees. I would have congratulated whoever came up with it, but its canny creator was smart enough to not own up to it. Perhaps, because of the brutal backlash peaceful protesters are facing in Uttar Pradesh or even because of ominous, passive-aggressive tweets like this one from the Bengaluru police on December 20: “Dear citizens, we are watching and storing every provoke posts, Please beware of spreading hatred for you own good.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Putting aside the Bengaluru police’s execrable grammar and the ugliness unfolding in UP for the time being, let us delve deeper into this wonderful slogan, reminiscent in a way of the title of the 2010 film My Name Is Khan, in which Shah Rukh Khan (shamefully silent on this burning issue) proudly proclaims his Muslim identity, but disassociates from all jihadist ideology by repeating, “My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist”. The anti-NRC slogan equally proudly proclaims its Hindu identity, but refuses to be incorporated into the lunatic saffron fringe, by saying (I am personalising this to my name, feel free to do so with yours), ‘My name is Chauhan and I am not a chutiya’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the hit Avengers series, seriously messed up arch-villain Thanos murders half the people in the universe to solve a scarcity of resources. This is the same ‘solution’ hate-mongers have hit upon, arguing that if we get rid of all the ‘outsiders’ there will be resources enough for all of us—Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs. It is good to see that kids as young as 18-year-old Sana Ganguly are clear-sighted enough to recognise this for the bullshit genocidal blame-gaming it is; to spot that there is no economic growth and no jobs not because the Muslims have stolen them, but because the government has not created any; and that it is, in fact, wrecking our economy at an epic level, and then dicking around with our national data and democratic institutions to cover up the hideous mess it has made.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Muslim bogey, Pakistan bogey and the illegal alien bogey are finally being recognised for what they are. Students, thinkers and the intelligentsia—in the absence of any strong political leadership or Bollywood fire—are doing an admirable job of disseminating this recognition to the general public, which is not as privileged and educated as themselves, through slogans like my new favourite.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>2019 has been a depressing year for people who care for the idea of India, but it seems to be ending with a bang. Tsunamis often strike in late December. When we think the year is all dusted and done, a national epiphany of ‘Hindu hoon, chutiya nahi’ could well be the game-changing tidal wave all genuinely patriotic Indians have been waiting for.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Jan 03 14:37:55 IST 2020 will-the-real-police-stand-up <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>SOMETHING STRANGE</b> is going on in central Bengaluru. As commuters intermittently cursed, weaved, honked and crawled through traffic along the choked streets of the “garden” city last week, belt-less in their cars and helmet-less on their two-wheelers, they were forced to pull to a screaming halt at the sight of a very fit and fair-complexioned traffic policeman, wearing orange-glow jackets, aviator glasses and a pollution mask, one hand raised commandingly over his (her?) head.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On closer inspection, this groovy Dabangg-like vision turned out to be a dummy. The Bengaluru Police have actually acquired thirty such dummies and are placing them at intersections where the traffic is thick and the misdemeanours many. The expectation is that the commuters, speeding along merrily, will see what they assume is a traffic policeman on duty, and immediately remember to be good drivers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To further confound commuters, Bengaluru Police cunningly keep shuffling the mannequins in vans, from one intersection to the other. So just when you have started to relax and think, “hah, that is a dummy scarecrow cop, do they think that I am a crow?” and jump the red light, the plastic policeman turns out to be a real one, and bam, you have been handed a ticket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The police have also started a rumour that some of these dummies have cameras in their eyes that record your every move, so even if they are dummies, the real dummy could still be you. Several real, retired cops have rubbished the move, albeit anonymously: “It will make people think that the police lie and are bound to be stupid. They will no longer take us seriously. People have already started posting selfies with these dummies, smiling, pointing and hugging them in a manner which is distinctly disrespectful. We will become a joke if this continues.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a fortnight when the police have been so much in the news, first for their tardiness in reacting to the Hyderabad vet rape case, then for shooting down the four accused as they allegedly tried to escape, and then for their role in the student protests in Delhi and the northeast, I find the plastic policemen of Bengaluru, standing sinisterly about the street corners, faceless, unfeeling, deaf and dumb, disquietingly representative of our police force in general.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They turn a deaf ear to you when you come in pleading for assistance. “Come back after you get raped,” the cops in Unnao allegedly told a young woman recently. But they smoothly switch to life when activated by the powers that be, thrashing, tear-gassing and opening actual fire on peacefully protesting students or “escaping” rape accused with impunity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many have invoked the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 to describe the ghastly other-ing that is taking place in our country right now. One of the key symptoms of that time was how automaton-like and alienated from regular folk the keepers of the law became.What must it be like to be a policeman today? Torn between the sexy, aviator-wearing, much-fetishised prototype of macho characters who gun down proven rapists with powerful connections, or the lobotomised, eager-to-please, selectively outraged prototype as seems to be flourishing under the ministry of home affairs nowadays?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To me, the Bengaluru mannequins seem to have adopted the worst traits of both varieties. A thinking, empowered police force, made entirely of flesh and blood, decently paid, highly motivated, gender-sensitised and politically neutral is the need of the hour, not a bunch of mentally-defunct, fair &amp; lovely plastic dummies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Dec 20 18:08:26 IST 2019 bollywood-changing-storylines <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>One only has to compare the handsome, heroic, syncretic Akbar from Jodhaa Akbar (2008) played by Hrithik Roshan, with the animalistic, fur-robed, blood-thirsty Ahmad Shah Abdali played by Sanjay Dutt in Panipat (2019), to see how much Oscar nominated director Ashutosh Gowariker has ‘evolved’ as a filmmaker, and how much we, the people of India, have ‘matured’ as an audience over the last 11 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact that this clearly biased film is releasing on December 6, the date of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, cannot possibly be a coincidence. It is just one more telltale sign that Bollywood—and even top-notch directors now fallen upon hard times with three flop films in a row—have no issues with pandering to the lowest common denominator, and in fact will do so with full gusto and an untroubled conscience, as long as it pays them rich dividends at the box office.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But why pick on just poor Gowariker? There is also Ajay Devgn’s Ffilms (no, that’s not a spelling mistake, it’s a numerologically propitious spelling.) Ya, so this Ffilm company has just released the trailer of Tanhaji, featuring Saif Ali Khan as a rajput general in the employ of the Mughals, taking on a righteous, strapping Devgn. Tanhaji is full of all the in-vogue tropes, you know lots of har-har-Mahadeving and talk of restoring the good old days when the bhagwa (saffron) flag fluttered over the happy homeland. Tanhaji’s wife, played by Devgn’s IRL wife, the purportedly woke Kajol, even mouths a dialogue about how, with hubby dear in charge, ‘the sacred threads of brahmins and the veils on the heads of women will remain safely in place’. Basically, she endorses the caste system and the subjugation of women in one crisp, block-buster ensuring sentence. Kajol! Our sweet, sorted Anjali from Chandni Chowk, who in the good old days when the Raichands were ruling the box-office and life was all Khushi and minimum Ghum, used to sing quawaalis at the wedding of her Muslim bestie!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is all just too depressing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And even if you look away from these cookie-cutter mythologicals, there is not much joy to be had. Just look at Pati, Patni Aur Woh, which is riding the other big wave surging through Bollywood currently, ie rampant misogyny. This one features popular heartthrob Kartik Aaryan making a comment that seeks to normalise marital rape. Thankfully, the comment got slammed so hard on Twitter that the makers of the film have had to remove it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But my point here is that Bollywood is not full of fools. They are all highly intelligent people with huge entourages full of advisers, media-managers, financiers and strategists. They do a lot of research. So if stars appear on screen making statements valorising regressive thinking, it is not happening by mistake. It is happening on purpose. Kajol is endorsing a sacred thread and a ghoonghat knowingly, on purpose. Aaryan is bemoaning a man who extorts sex from his wife being called balatkari, on purpose. Gowariker is releasing his film on December 6 on purpose, with his eyes wide open.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So what do we do about this? Aaryan’s rumoured love interest, the very sensible Sara Ali Khan, said recently that we should not go to watch such films. If we do not go, then Bollywood will stop making them. Which, of course, is true.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Bollywood is not just a mode of entertainment. It is, in this country still besieged with ignorance and prejudice, also a medium of education. Which is something that Gowariker, back in his heyday, when he directed Lagaan (2001), Jodhaa Akbar and especially the genuinely patriotic and idealistic Swades (2004), seemed to understand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Maybe somebody should sit him down and run him through a retrospective of his own cinema.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Nov 23 16:11:28 IST 2019 halloweens-win-over-dated-politics <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I remember that a few years ago, there was a not-so-subtle move by the freshly anointed BJP government to declare December 25 as Good Governance Day in honour of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. People were instructed to come to work and effectively ignore the other famous birthday boy.</p> <p>Before you could say Subtle Bihari, India was up in arms. Christians or non-Christians, all of us love our kitschy Christmas celebrations, complete with cotton-wool bearded creepy Santas, mawa plum cake, gota-decorated trees, and the licence to lurk outside churches and (maybe) get to kiss pretty girls on both cheeks.</p> <p>There have been small communal skirmishes when Holi comes up during Ramzan—Surf Excel even made a rather nice ad about a small girl getting herself drenched with colour to protect an even smaller Muslim boy, so he can reach the mosque without getting colour on his clothes— but the next biggest tussle for the ownership of meaningful dates happens on October 31.</p> <p>Indira Gandhi was assassinated on this date in New Delhi in 1984. Almost 100 years before that, in 1875, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was born on the same date in Nadiad, Gujarat. Back in the day when the Congress was calling the shots, pictures of all the leaders, sombre and crisp in white, cotton kurta-pyjamas or saris, paying homage to the slain leader would dominate the front page. Now, we see images of the entire BJP pantheon flagging off Unity runs, and the prime minister laying flowers at the feet of the Patel statue that was built at a cost of Rs2,989 crore, purportedly in the virtuous cause of celebrating the legacy of the Iron Man of India (but perhaps also in the not-so-virtuous cause of obliterating the memory of Mrs Gandhi’s ‘sacrifice’.)</p> <p>The Congress deals with this blatant appropriation of both the date as well as of Sardar Patel, who despised the RSS and was a staunch Congressman, by saying that the BJP has no leaders of stature of its own and therefore has to appropriate the Congress’s. But this is just a case of making nimbu-pani because life served you nimbus.</p> <p>This year, another event of major significance happened on October 31—Jammu and Kashmir ceased to be a state and was bifurcated into the Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. Surely this is an event of major import and Kashmiris everywhere will probably want their children to remember the date.</p> <p>But I think they are all fighting a losing battle. Because India—or rather rich and upper middle class India, which is all that seems to matter to our politicians nowadays—voted NOTA on all these contenders for ownership of October 31. Today, thanks to social media connectivity, rampant wannabe-ness and the supremacy of American popular culture, October 31 belongs, not to Mrs Gandhi or to Sardar Patel or to the newly birthed UTs, but only to Halloween.</p> <p>Pint-sized spooks, bhoots, zombies and witches have been ringing my doorbell all night, screaming trick or treat. Their fake American accents stirred up the slumbering Sri Ram Sena bhakt that I did not know I was housing inside my pseudo-liberal soul. So I gave them a snarky lecture on Indian culture and booted them out empty-handed.</p> <p>“Come around for Lohri or Eidi, and maybe I’ll give you something,” I said, as I banged the door shut in their faces.</p> <p>“What’s that?” I heard them whisper to each other.</p> <p>“Ask your parents!” I yelled. “Or, at least come back next year dressed as a desi monster—perhaps a random politician!”</p> <p>“Mean auntie! Cheap auntie!” They chorused loudly and scampered away.</p> <p>Yeah.</p> <p>Forget Rashtriya Sankalp Diwas or Rashtriya Ekta Diwas, Happy Halloween, everyone.</p> Sat Nov 09 12:27:14 IST 2019 redefining-winning-and-losing <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is so good that all of Bollywood showed up at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s residence to discuss how to include Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophies in their films. The people who said the footage from the function looked like hostage videos released by kidnappers are just being mean. Didn’t Shah Rukh Khan describe the event as ‘very nice’? The fact that his usual choice of adjectives is awesome, tremendous, mind-blowing cannot possibly mean anything.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then there was another bunch of cynics who said that Bollywood-flexing plus Pakistan-bombing is something our government does to ensure success before every election. Last time, it was ‘Rendezvous with Akshay Kumar’ plus Balakot, where we reportedly killed about 250-300 JeM militants. This time, it was Selfie-with-Shah Rukh-Aamir plus the artillery attack in the Neelam valley where we reportedly killed at least five Pakistani soldiers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But I choose not to be cynical. I think the government is genuine in its professed desire to embrace the learnings of Gandhiji. And I will tell you why I am so sure. It is because they want to award a Bharat Ratna to Veer Savarkar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Matlab, didn’t Gandhiji say embrace those who hate you, turn the other cheek and so on? Yeah, so he would have probably approved the fact that the man who popularised the term hindutva, who was passionately in favour of the two-nation theory and against the concept of a democratic, secular India that Gandhi died defending (some say at the hands of the disciples of this Savarkar) should be awarded a Bharat Ratna by a nation that the Mahatma is the father of (or at least used to be, till United States President Donald Trump declared his friend Modiji ‘Father of India’).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact that Savarkar, while imprisoned in the Andamans, wrote a grovelling letter to the British, whining about being caned and pleading for clemency and swore not to indulge in any revolutionary activities once released, could only have endeared him to Gandhiji, who loved the weak and the frail passionately. Gandhiji taught us to disdain the glittering people at the top and embrace the losers, and this government is doing precisely that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Look no further than their admirably unimpressed attitude when it comes to ‘winners’. They have made it quite clear to Abhijit Banerjee that they are not to gush over him obsequiously just because he won a Nobel prize. They are way too Gandhian for that—never mind that Abhijit’s economic policies are actually policies that Gandhiji might have approved whole-heartedly of! And just before Abhijit, there was Ravish Kumar, whose Ramon Magsaysay award for journalism, went unacknowledged by Modiji—another admirable display of the Gandhian philosophy of not kowtowing to winners at work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And then look at the tenderness with which the government treats the ones who were relatively unsuccessful. Like Abhinandan Varthaman, an IAF pilot who downed a Pakistani F-16, got shot down across the LoC, was captured by the Pakistanis and made to record a statement praising their treatment of him. Other governments might have berated him for this ‘failure’—even Modiji’s friend Trump had to say this about John McCain: “He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people that were not captured.’ But this government, being a true Gandhian, declared Abhinandan a hero, put his pictures on its campaign posters and awarded him a Vir Chakra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They did the same with Indian Space Research Organisation director K. Sivan after the unsuccessful moon landing. Modiji himself took Sivan to his bosom in a heart-breaking, internet-breaking hug that silenced all criticism and ushered in a deluge of ISRO-loving tweets from the entire nation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are truly living in an India where winning is losing and losing is winning. Isn’t it (to use Shah Rukh Khan’s adjective) ‘very nice’?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Oct 25 11:31:31 IST 2019 look-who-openly-defecating <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Recently, I read in the papers with great interest (but without any surprise, because nothing I read in the papers surprises me anymore) that apparently our country in now open-defecation free. Thanks to the hard work done by the prime minister’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, we are now 110 million latrines richer! In fact, all 1.3 billion of us have been toilet-trained in five years flat. That is efficiency for you!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, there is a bunch of naysayers out there saying that just building latrines is not enough. They are asking if these latrines are actually being used? Do they even have water supply? Are they being maintained properly? How is the sludge being disposed of? Has there been any improvement in our infectious disease and groundwater statistics since we became open-defecation free?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But nobody is interested in such anti-national questions. All good, toilet-trained Indians are praising the prime minister’s brilliant Swachh Bharat Mission, which won him a doughnut-shaped, rainbow-hued Global Goalkeeper award from the Gates Foundation—a trophy he can line up right next to the 110 million shiny, white latrines, which are also trophies of a sort, being for show only.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The truth on the ground is that very soon after our prime minister was awarded his multi-coloured doughnut, two young dalit children were beaten to death by upper caste men for defecating in the open in Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh. Journalists reported that far from being open-defecation free, most houses in Shivpuri do not have any toilets at all.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Open defecation, you see, is still rampant in India. Not only in the literal sense, as done by the two hapless little dalit children, but also in the metaphorical sense. Because we live in a society where our elected leaders are openly taking a dump on us every day—on our Constitution, our human rights, our liberty, our history, our democracy, our forests and our nation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This open defecation (and desecration) is happening, as defecation normally does—on a daily basis. Regular as clockwork. Sometimes even, if the state has indigestion, several times a day! It has become completely normalised.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When a perfectly legal and entirely constructive letter, written out of concern for the state of the nation, results in sedition charges being slapped on you, that is open defecation on our liberty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When we are told that the ordinary people in Kashmir are perfectly happy living in what has become virtually an open prison, that is open defecation on our intelligence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When our home minister says that all Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain refugees will not have to leave the country, that they will get Indian citizenship and enjoy all the rights of an Indian national, then the deliberate and glaring omission of Muslims is open defecation on our secularism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the Supreme Court intervenes only after more than 2,000 trees have been cut down in the Aarey forest, to make way for a metro shed that could have easily been built somewhere else, it is open defecation on our environment, our trees, our lungs and our health.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, of course, when our shattered, limping economy is passed off as a tremendous success, and the current dark ages we are living in are described as acche din, that is open defecation on our credulity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Any doctor will tell you that open defecation on a rampant scale poisons both the groundwater and the air and can make people terribly ill. And so, with the commendable zeal and evangelical fervor that is the best quality of the BJP/RSS worker, we, ordinary citizens, too, must set about boldly condemning and dedicatedly weeding out all such open defecators in our society. Only then will our nation truly be open-defecation free.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Oct 12 11:15:14 IST 2019 mr-amit-shah-hit-tracks <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Any executive producer worth his/her salt knows that on a daily prime-time soap there is no rest for the wicked. One has to run to stay in the same place, and continuously dream up new drama to keep the rankings amped. They also know that no matter how noble and high-minded the purported USP of the TV serial—it could be about a woman wanting to climb Mount Everest or becoming an IAF fighter pilot, or an open heart surgeon—what the audience really want to watch is: 1) Her romance with some alpha guy. 2) Her conflict with all these scheming chicks who are also lusting after said alpha guy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>3) Her skirmishes with alpha guy’s mom—her mother-in-law. Everything else is sheer window dressing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And this is why, by the 50th episode of every ‘woman-powering’ TV serial ever made in India, you will find the fighter pilot, the surgeon and the mountaineer in some ghastly over-decorated kitchen, sindoor in their hair-parting, chooda on their wrists, all professional ambition forgotten, alternately gazing deeply into the eyes of their alpha-men as their breasts heave decorously below their pallus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think our esteemed home minister would make an excellent executive producer on a daily soap. His ratings would be way off the charts. He stirs the pot with so much finesse—and knows that while the theme song and stated purpose of his government is development and economic growth, what really gets the people stoked is sensationalistic ‘maha-episodes’ appealing to the lowest common denominator, new ‘tracks’ as it were—and on this Hindi Divas he has come up with a real humdinger—the introduction of Hindi as the ‘bhasha number one’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I predict that this particular track will do well for the Shah soap factory as well as his other hit tracks—black money, temples, love jihad, beef-eating, surgical strikes et al—have done.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In fact, this one is good enough to be a movie even—fittingly titled ‘Hindi Hai Hum’, and starring Akshay Kumar, who would play an earnest Hindi government school teacher from Benaras, with a name to warm the cockles of the high caste cow-belt heart—Dubeyji/Mishraji/Pandeyji/Sharmaji. He would be summoned to Vidya Bhavan to meet a kindly education minister, who would tell him that he has been chosen to be the first government school teacher to be posted deep into the heart of the exotic, barbarous buffalo-eating north-east/idli-eating south India to teach the noble language to the unschooled savages there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dubeyji/Mishraji/Pandeyji/Sharmaji would humbly seek the blessings of his local temple priest, and journey intrepidly to this dangerous territory, and then, armed with the dohas of Kabir and the poetry of Maithili Sharan Gupt, he would diss the local barbaric languages, dole out karate chops to the chinkie/darkie locals who speak it, indulge in low, supremacist humour and eventually tame the savages and get them all high-paying government jobs. Oh, and to show he was a progressive fellow, he would romance one of the local lasses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, there are those who say that a government ought not to model itself on an entertainment factory—a hollow thing of sensation and spectacle. But no canny politician listens to these fools anymore. The only rider, as anybody in the entertainment business will tell you, is that people get jaded really quick. The gag or track that created a sensation a few months ago, becomes passe very fast. There are decreasing returns to scale. And so, inevitably, every hit show becomes progressively ghastlier and ghastlier till it finally implodes in a hot, hysterical mess of plastic surgeries, memory-loss, suicides, murders, rape and miracles-from-God, and has to be cancelled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Currently, that is the only hope we have got.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Sep 20 11:37:53 IST 2019 leprosy-of-the-soul <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I think it is pretty clear now that some fairly terrible things are happening in Kashmir. There has been a total lockdown for more than a month now, with seven million Kashmiris under virtual house arrest, their phones dead, their internet connections cut, and their democratic rights stripped away. It is the kind of high-handed, totalitarian situation that calls for outrage from the general citizenry, but the attitude that prevails in our big cities is one of quiet compliance and Government’s-Work-Is-God’s-Work. People who insist on “raking up” the issue at polite social gatherings are frowned upon as shrill, unmannered killjoys, totally lacking in etiquette, if not outright anti-nationals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In fact “raking up” anything is considered impolite now. The broken economy, the resurgence of misogyny, the disappearance of buffalo meat from menus, the routine violence against minorities. These polarising topics interrupt the even flow of living room conversation and cast a dampener on social gatherings. Far better to avoid them altogether, and stick to the (increasingly shrinking!) list of safe topics we can all agree upon— like weight loss and fitness regimes, cricket, Bollywood and Hollywood gossip, and Brexit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apparently, the primary symptom of leprosy is desensitisation of the nerves. Basically, one loses the ability to feel pain, which in turn slowly and inexorably leads to the loss of extremities from repeated injuries or infection due to unnoticed wounds. Sufferers often notice nothing even as the disease inches inwards and upwards from the extremities to the vital organs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Back in 2005, India claimed to have eradicated this dread disease through our public health programmes, but this was a false claim. Leprosy is still very much around, not just in its literal form, but also in a much more frightening avatar—a leprosy of the soul.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Desensitised, voluntarily lobotomised, dressed in our Navarata best, we chatter on brightly about nothing at all, even as around us, the powers that be declare that the gaps in Romila Thapar’s CV are bigger than the potholes on Bengaluru’s roads, or haul up journalists for recording a video of school children being fed roti and salt as nutritious midday meals. They are sinking their tentacles into over-the-top media platforms for airing “Hinduphobic” content like Prayaag Akbar’s Leila, and Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act, and are working to bring in a law that will be “aware and respectful of Indian cultural context when commissioning content”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, in another country, a democracy much older than ours, a fading, ageing actor with his best movies behind him has had the guts to take on the prime minister no less, in language that is very far from parliamentary. Not that I am a fan of foul language for foul language’s sake, but surely is it not an indicator of the health of a democracy when citizens can speak up fearlessly?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“You will not f*** with my children’s future. You will not destroy the freedoms my grandfather fought two world wars to defend. F*** off you over-promoted rubber bath toy. Britain is revolted by you and you little gang of masturbatory prefects.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Worse things than Brexit are happening in India today. But Bollywood’s favourite four letter F-word, “feel”, is totally missing from our reactions to them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Clearly, hume feel nahi aa rahi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, so, inwards and upwards from the extremities of Kashmir to the heartlands of our living rooms the disease will spread, dancing merrily to the tune of mindless songs from “historically accurate” biopics starring muscly, righteous non-Khan heroes and scantily dressed but sanskari heroines. Maybe we will feel something when it finally hits our vitals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Sep 06 11:31:13 IST 2019 democracy-clipped <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A small dot of black voting ink has been travelling slowly up the nail of my left index finger over the last two and a half months. This morning I find it has finally reached high enough to be snipped off. I am reluctant to do so. Recently, that black dot seems to be the only sign left to testify that we do, in fact, still live in a democracy. But I press down with the nail clippers nevertheless. And just like that, my nail is short and squeaky-swacch—all evidence that I had specially taken a Bengaluru-Delhi flight to cast my vote for an ailing, disunited, arrogant and corrupt party in a desperate, futile bid to ‘keep Modi out’ is gone. All that remains is the reality of Modi and Shah. Shah and Modi. What a jodi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you go on the internet today, all is triumph and celebration. There is no talk of the fact that Indian stocks have just seen their worst July in 17 years, there is no talk of Kuldeep Singh Sengar, BJP MLA and rape and murder accused, even though he appeared before a Delhi Court, there is no talk of the suicide of V.G. Siddhartha Hegde and what this government’s policies are doing to entrepreneurs across the nation. All is chest-thumping and rah-rahing. Everybody is suddenly a Kashmir expert, they know articles 370, 367 and 35(A) inside out, they hail the strong decisive leaders who have made Kashmir’s special status as defunct as a thousand-rupee note, they applaud the preventive detention of elected leaders, the snapping of internet, broadband and landlines of ordinary citizens, they speak glibly of PoK and CoK and clearly I am the one who does not know CoK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And so, I do not bother to even voice the obvious questions—why, if he had sworn to do tukde-tukde of Pakistan, is Amit Shah doing tukde-tukde of Kashmir instead? Also, what is to stop him doing this in your state tomorrow, huh? Or, make the obvious snide comments? Way to earn populist brownie points before the Delhi, Haryana and Maharashtra elections! Also, nice way to wriggle out of a state election you were 100 per cent going to lose—just dissolve the state itself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, as the feeble, headless mess that is the Congress makes spluttering, apoplectic noises and issues no consolidated reply even a day after the event, I just sit back and think about how insidiously clever the ‘Gujarat model’ is. How Modi and Shah go about regularly, scientifically feeding the goosebumps-seeking, reality show audience that India has become. The drama of demonetisation, the sexiness of surgical strikes, the zooming in on triple talaq, Modiji doing his very own ‘Discovery of India’ on Discovery Channel, Pragya Singh Thakur’s championing of Godse and subsequent maun vrat of repentance, there are cheap thrills on offer constantly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kashmir is just the latest. And, of course, this show of toxic masculinity, of stern correction, of thappar (slap) being an expression of pure, intense pyaar (love) is being lapped by a nation that has made Arjun Reddy a hit and Kabir Singh a super-hit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Narendra Modi quoted from Star Wars during his much-touted New York visit, causing talk show host John Oliver to speculate (rather wittily) what he could have possibly meant by his random “May the force be with you” quote. Now that 28,000 extra troops have been rushed into Kashmir, Modi supporters on the internet are applauding the move and cackling gleefully, “See? He meant ‘may the Forces be with you!’”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The sickening eagerness and excitement with which we are willfully compromising our Constitution and surrendering our democratic rights makes me want to paraphrase a Star Wars quote, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“So this is how liberty dies. With thunderous applause.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Aug 09 11:26:15 IST 2019 delhi-sheila-sultana <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>My children grew up in Sheila Dikshit’s Delhi. Much before Narendra Modi’s Mann Ki Baat became a thing, it was her calm, grave voice they heard on the radio, every year during the exam season, exhorting them to stay calm and write their papers well. “Apne parche achhi tarah likhna, bina kisi tension ke likhna.” It was a small, but very fresh and thoughtful initiative for those times, and it made them fond of her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She is rightly credited for giving Delhi the only thing it can be proud of in recent times—the Delhi Metro. And, as Bombay and Bengaluru bumble about trying to get theirs up and running, an ungrateful populace realises what a mammoth task it actually was, and how deceptively easy she made it look. She also privatised the distribution of electricity, got buses and autos to use cleaner fuel, and fittingly, chose to be cremated at a CNG crematorium.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the good old days, she could be spotted enjoying the city-state she ruled—at the movies, at the melas, always paying for whatever she bought, a small stately figure, hazel eyes shining in appreciation of all things tasteful and aesthetic. Once she zoomed in on a pair of bright red, three-inch-high wooden block heels I was wearing, exclaiming, “I used to have heels like that! Are they back in fashion?” When I told her they most certainly were, the slightly gap-toothed grin flashed. “Maybe I should dig out mine....”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The name plate outside her official residence had her name engraved in English, Hindi, Urdu and Gurmukhi and every time my ‘secular libtard’ children passed it, they would comment on how inclusive that was, and how cool she was.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She was definitely ‘cool’. Her name cropped up repeatedly, (along with president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s, another ‘cool dude’) in surveys funded by Pepsi, a brand on which I worked on those days, in the category ‘Youth Icons of India’. They both proved that you did not have to be young in order to appeal to the young, that what we call a Perennial today can have vastly more youth connect than many Millennials.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another urban legend about her was that as a young mother she was absolutely ruthless about keeping a spick-and-span home. If her kids did not pick up their stuff and put it away by the end of the day, she would apparently just throw it out, donating it as she saw fit. This quickly taught them to be neat. I was much inspired by this parenting technique and decided to employ it. “She’s doing a Sheila!” the kids would scream as I swept ruthlessly through the house, picking up their favorite toys and clothes and tossing them remorselessly into a church box. “Stop her! Stop her!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Maybe I am being appallingly sexist here, but I do feel really safe when there is a lady leader in charge. The older, the better. If I board a flight and hear a woman’s voice go, “Good morning, this is your captain speaking,” I slide back into my seat, all my tension eased away, and eat the most fattening thing on the menu. As CEOs, presidents, prime ministers and chief ministers, the best of women bring so much competence and calm to the workplace. But even among this small elite brigade, Mrs Dikshit’s name stands out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After 15 rock-steady years in power, she was finally undone by public anger at the unbridled corruption of the UPA in general and the Commonwealth Games committees in particular, as well as people’s anger over the Nirbhaya rape case (even though the Delhi Police did not report to her, something Arvind Kejriwal has used in his defence so many times since then.) But she was as much an Empress of Delhi as Sultana Razia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It goes without saying that she will live on in her city-state’s heart. But, Delhi, you need to name a road after her ASAP. A good one. A long one. With lots of trees and flowers lining it. And a big fat Metro station.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Jul 26 11:35:35 IST 2019 akbarnama-for-abdication-drama <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>David Ogilvy, arguably the “father of advertising”, used to send all new office heads a Matryoshka doll from Gorky on their first day on the job. If the new appointee had the curiosity to open the doll, and keep opening till he came to the inside of the smallest doll, he would find this message:“If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is easier said than done, of course. Only people with genuine smarts, high self-esteem, an appetite for healthy competition and a hunger for achievement can follow this policy. The Mughal emperor Akbar did it. He was an unlettered, unschooled man, but he surrounded himself with brilliant men. His nine jewels included an economist, a general, an administrator, wits, poets and philosophers. They spoke truth to power without fear or intimidation, and the general public profited from their combined wisdom.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But lazy, mediocre, entitled people are always too insecure to empower anybody who can become a “threat” to them. They tend to systematically weed out high-profile performers, and favour people with talents and passion inferior to their own. It is a policy that hollows out the organisation and inevitably ends with dumb, dumber and dumbest monkeys dangling at the bottom of the food chain, a phenomena economists describe rather piquantly as a bozo explosion, the kind that is currently plaguing the Congress party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Does Rahul Gandhi have the appetite to be an Akbar or an Ogilvy? Will he be able to look past the bozos and genuinely empower a Sachin Pilot, a Jyotiraditya Scindia, or a Shashi Tharoor—a youngish, dynamic, well spoken, popular leader? Sometimes I think he actually will. And if he does, it will be an amazingly courageous, unselfish and patriotic act on his part, one that will pay rich dividends to the party, and in the long term, even to him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Or, will he do what everybody is pretty much expecting him to do, and place some nameless, faceless, no-threat cipher in the top job? It is ironic that while Ayodhya is a Camelot of the BJP, it is the Congress which has been playing out so many scenes from the Ramleela lately. We have got righteous Prince Rama swearing he will go into exile, we have got everybody moaning and breast-beating trying to get him to stop.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Just like loyal brother Bharat, we have got any number of loyal lieutenants vowing that they are unworthy to rule, and will do so only in big brother’s name, with his sandals on the singhasan, and devout obedience in their hearts. We have even got a swelling band of loyal Laxman/Sita types who have resigned in solidarity with big brother and are all set to ‘go into exile’ themselves! The whole thing stinks of sycophancy and it is pathetic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let us hope Rahul is zen enough to be the smallest Matryoshka doll—the one that goes on to father giants. He certainly seems to be talking the talk; it is time to see if he will walk the walk.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And to the ‘faithful’ within the party, I would advice a little less Ramayana-style toadying, and a little more Mughal swag, please. An old-fashioned, bloody war of succession where little brothers take on big brothers for the throne is the need of the hour. The time for timidity, modesty and pehle aap is past. Please step up and stake your claim strongly. Because we, the people of India, are holding auditions for future leaders, too. And our eyes are on you.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Jul 12 11:34:48 IST 2019 kabir-singh-is-toxic-masculinity-at-its-worst <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>So Arjun Reddy has been remade in Hindi, with minimal changes, as Kabir Singh, and is on its way to becoming a super-duper hit. There is a whole lot of people wah-wahing the “intense” love story, even as rational people and feminists everywhere trash it for romanticising both toxic masculinity and timid, doe-eyed female passiveness—the kind made famous in sicko international films and books like Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight and Beautiful Disaster.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These kind of stories usually follow the same doomed Beauty and the Beast tropes, you know the one that says that every f#$ked-up guy can be “fixed” by marriage to the right girl. There is a handsome, successful, hyper-sexualised alpha male, who becomes obsessed with a quiet, submissive girl who attracts his attention by (as Kabir puts it) simply breathing. He “falls in love” with her in a single sighting; conversation, interchange of thoughts, opinions, hopes and dreams are not at all necessary. She then becomes the only beauty who can “calm” this crazy, raging beast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The “intensity” of their love is depicted through scenes in which he seeks her out to collapse in her lap (without asking her for permission) after devouring mountain lions (that is Twilight), pulverising opponents in a boxing ring (that is Beautiful Disaster) or working all night on his thesis (that is Kabir Singh.) He then wakes up the next day to obsess about her diet, her sleep, the drape of her chunni, the boys who may be looking at her and her menstrual cycle. This constant surveillance, again, is supposed to show his “intense” love for her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact that he literally calls dibs on her—by issuing a firman to the entire student body that nobody should talk to “the new girl in the white salwar kameez” or rag her or flirt with her because she is “Kabir Sir’s interest”? Not an issue. Madly arousing? Not an issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact that he kisses her on the cheek on the very day they meet, again without permission, and after exchanging only three cursory sentences with her, which definitely does not include the question ‘would you like to date me?’ Oh, and did I mention that a groaning alaap kicks in as his smacking lips make contact with her shrinking flesh? Yeah, it is that kind of movie.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is worse. He does not even let her choose her own friends, shooing away the girls she has chosen to sit with, and haughtily beckoning what he repeatedly calls a “fat chick” to sit next to her, instead. Be friends with her, he tells the impassive Preethi. Fat chicks and beautiful girls should hang out together. Those other chicks will not stay your friend, but the fat chick will. Trust me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Preethi clearly digs this kind of abusive behavior. Because, after a few interactions she is shown to start smiling secretively to herself every time Kabir shows up, and very very soon, she puts out her hand to interlace her fingers with his. And then, reeling with lust and gratitude at being the alpha’s chosen one, she sleeps with him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They still have not had a single conversation at this point.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The defenders of Kabir Singh are saying, “Oh! It is just a movie, do not over-intellectualise it.” But the fact of the matter is that filmmaking is a very precise, expensive science, and all these depictions and dialogues have been carefully vetted and deliberately, cynically selected. Shahid Kapoor has seen the Telugu version, and then knowing full well what he is getting into, given it the thumbs up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Make no mistake, hooliganism, bouts of rage, drunkenness, drug abuse, lack of consent and violence-as-love are being both normalised and glamourised in a theatre near you.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pass the popcorn.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Jun 28 14:26:43 IST 2019 we-need-more-of-virat-kohli-sportsmanlike-logic-of-empathy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Nice of Virat Kohli to reprimand the boorish desis in the crowd for booing Steve Smith, who has started playing again after the one-year ban. They were chanting “cheater, cheater” at him so loudly that Virat could hear it; he came over to scowl and gesture at them to quit the booing and get clapping instead. The crowd piped down, Steve grinned gratefully at Virat, and the nation at large went gaga over this show of gentlemanliness by our skipper. “Aggressive player, benevolent man—so easy to love!” tweeted his wife, and a smitten nation agreed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the press conference that followed, Virat seemed rather startled at all the attention his gesture got, and stated that it was all quite simple, really. If he had done something wrong, taken his punishment, and come back to play after a ban, he would have felt really upset if the spectators had taunted him. That is why he had urged them to stop. A use of basic empathy and ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ which we should see often in public (and private) life, but which is becoming increasingly scarce on the ground.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I found this gesture of Virat’s so much cleaner, and so much easier an example to hold up to small children, than all that brouhaha about M.S. Dhoni’s balidan badge. How to explain that to children now? Look, children, Dhoni is trying to show respect and gratitude to the Indian Army by wearing this badge, but the ICC will not let him, because their rules say that the logos on players uniforms must carry no political, religious or racial connotations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why does the ICC say this? The children may ask. Because politics, religion and race have no place on the sports field, where all players are equal, and the only ranking used to differentiate between them is their playing ability.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Children might even innocently ask that if Dhoni cares for the Army so much, why can he not just donate his match fee to them, or get a balidan tattoo, or (best option of all) play brilliantly, win the match and dedicate the victory to our Army instead? And, then, what would we tell them?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The whole thing smells of a needlessly ‘created’ controversy, the type that excites Twitter and gives our vacuous news channels an excuse to bang on bombastically about freedom of speech, while under-reporting genuine freedom of speech issues like the absolutely random detention of journalist Prashant Kanojia which happened pretty much at the same time. In fact I could not help noticing that some of them are not even calling him a journalist, but a “man” who “claims” to be a “freelance journalist”, in a tone that is clearly sceptical. This, when Prashant is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Mass Communications, Delhi, with work experience in The Indian Express and The Wire Hindi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prashant’s tweet was actually mildly funny—it shared a video of a lady who was eager to marry Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, along with a message urging him to run away with her, adding that the nation would support him if he did so. Anybody less paranoid would have ignored it, but clearly the chief minister of UP is not that man. He has decided to use Prashant Kanojia to send out the chilling message that he is above the law, and not to be joked about.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is really high time we all applied Virat’s simple, sportsmanlike logic of empathy and ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ to our national situation. Come out in support of Prashant, because tomorrow, if (or rather when) we are not Hindu enough, not vegetarian enough, not respectful enough, not north Indian enough, not patriotic enough, we will need people to speak up for us, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat Jun 15 20:13:33 IST 2019 get-up-dust-your-knees-off-and-learn <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Ugh. The last time I was so pumped up, and proved so disastrously wrong, was back in 2007, when the Indian cricket team crawled back home from the West Indies after failing to make it to even the super-eights round of the ICC World Cup. It totally broke my heart.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There I was in my blue billion T-shirt, both cheeks painted bright blue, tirangas clutched in both my hands, a ticket to Jamaica all booked and confirmed, and there were my dreams, dashed to smithereens on the ground.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That team was led by a Rahul, too. It was the ‘strongest team in the world on paper,’ comprising the golden trinity of Rahul-Sachin-Sourav, not to mention young talents like Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. They lost to Bangladesh, barely beat Bermuda, then collapsed utterly in a must-win match to Sri Lanka and had to bow ignominiously out of the tournament in the preliminary round itself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Young fans looking forward to the 2019 World Cup may not recollect this story, but the cowering, chastened team was actually herded into a police van when they reached the airport under the cover of darkness, even as fans bayed for their blood outside.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, that particular story has a fairytale ending. There was introspection, overhauling, and brutal, large scale culling. Heads rolled, new blood gushed in, a talented, earthy new captain was appointed and empowered, and four years later, India finally had its fairytale ending, when our team held the glittering ICC World Cup trophy in their sweaty, triumphant hands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, I am guilty of gross over-simplification, but what I am trying to say is there is a lot to be learned from failure if one is grounded enough, hungry enough, and courageous enough to get up, dust one’s knees off, and learn from it. (Ask Smriti Irani!)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is my fervent message to the Congress. For heaven’s sake, pull together and work bloody hard for a change. Introspect, overhaul, resign, recruit, reinvent, be brutally honest and dig deep to re-find the essence that makes you you.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, if Rahul wants to quit, then take the man at his word and let him quit. Find out what you are, when there’s no Nehru-Gandhi around to front you. And when you find out, tell us—loudly and clearly and unequivocally, without any me-tooing, and panicking and hesitation. Learn a lesson from the BJP—they have made it categorically clear that their dream is a Hindu Rashtra, and everybody who does not like the idea of that can just shut the f@#k up, roll up their Janamaz rugs and go live in Pakistan. Sure, Modi and Shah have to throw a bone to the minorities and mouth platitudes now and then, but this never confuses their workers or their supporters. They all remain quite serene and understand ki yeh sab toh kehna padta hai (it’s all lip-service); the real agenda remains Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, where is your inversely corresponding, uncompromising vision for India? Where is your clearly stated stand that people who oppose the Constitution of the Republic of India can just board their Pushpak Vimaans and go live in freaking Mahishmati? Where is your spine, your unequivocal stand on non-appeasement, and your zero-tolerance to intolerance?</p> <p>Also, this time, do not take another three-and-a-half years to choose your next president. Pick one now. Or stick with the one you have got. Whatever. We do not really care. Just tell us what you stand for please (hopefully democracy, institutions, secularism, honesty) and you may yet become relevant once again. As a third Rahul once said, ‘Picture abhi baki hai’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri May 31 11:49:50 IST 2019 anuja-chauhans-prediction-a-new-PM-with-a-lagaan-type-crew-in-tow <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is prediction time. Everybody and their parrot, their god-man and their Nandi bull are prophesying who will score big on May 23. Will an ensemble cast film—a sort of Ocean’s Eleven or Lagaan—win the big day, or will the victor be a single hero movie —starring a white-bearded Munna Bhai and a bald, chubby Circuit?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The predictions vary wildly. Anywhere you turn, somebody or the other is animatedly making their own bhavishyavani based on a mixture of wild hunch, ear-to-the-ground info (chats with Uber drivers are very popular), pseudo-mathematical calculations about the way the numbers add up, travels into the heart of Uttar Pradesh (which generally means one conference in Noida) and plain, old-fashioned wishful thinking.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a lot of ‘remember, you heard it here first’ going on on the TV channels. And at social gatherings, people are placing bets left, right and centre. I keep hearing that ‘the soul of the nation is at stake in this election’. But from what I am seeing all around me, there is a whole lot of single malt at stake, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Naturally, I, too, have a prediction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As I hardly ever take Ubers, and never have conferences in Noida, mine is based purely on the body language of our key players in their public interviews and interactions. And my reading tells me that Narendra Modi has lost his mojo, while Rahul Gandhi has finally found his.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After years of public ridicule, and more ignominious flat-on-your-back landings than the first half of a Rambo movie, Rahul appears serenely confident. He has all his policy answers in place, his manifesto on his fingertips, he is disarmingly frank in his answers on the coalition question, and the binary he has been seeking to create, between hate, as characterised by Modi, and love, as characterised by himself, is finally sticking. He smiles, holds eye-contact, interrupts politely yet confidently, makes his point coherently, and uses the name of his interviewer with an insouciance that would warm the cockles of Dale Carnegie’s heart.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His long-suffering cheerleaders, thrilled and grateful that their chosen one is finally leading ably and coherently, are providing support fire with gusto. Of course, they should have gotten their act together six months ago, and they may have to pay a heavy price for that, but at least their act is finally together.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi’s graph seems to be moving in the other direction. I first detected a certain wistfulness in his eyes at the end of the January 26 parade this year, when he walked down Rajpath after the president had left, waving to the crowds. It was the look Farooq Sheikh had in his eyes in the ‘dekh lo aaj humko ji bhar ke’ song from Bazaar, when he looks at Supriya Pathak in her wedding finery, knowing he may never see her again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And it has been downhill all the way since then. We have seen maha-bluster and chest-thumping through Pulwama and Balakot, a gratuitous national broadcast to announce the successful ASAT testing by DRDO, the peculiar Main Bhi Chowkidar campaign, the desperately crowd-appeasing Akshay Kumar interaction, and most recently, the ‘cloudy’ interview, where our prime minister gave off the vibes of a child who has not done his homework trying to bluff his way through an interaction with the strict teacher ma’am. There are hesitations, lip-licks and more dropped eyelashes than in a hero-heroine interaction on a StarPlus daily.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And so, here is my prediction: A new prime minister (may he/she reign for five full years!) with a ragtag Lagaan-like crew in tow. Tumultuous times ahead, basically. Good thing I will have all that single malt to fortify me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri May 17 20:55:05 IST 2019 why-dont-women-host-bollywood-film-award-shows <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Can you guys keep track of the number of awards Bollywood hands out? There’s IIFA and Filmfare and Star Screen and Cine-something and almost a dozen others…. I happened to watch one (or some?) of them lately—I’m really not sure which, but it had Ayushmann Khurrana and Vicky Kaushal and Rajkummar Rao and Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan all ‘anchoring’ on stage. They made all these self-deprecating jokes and took potshots at each other and moaned about how new heroes are spawning like frogs in the Mumbai rain, while an adoring audience chuckled and applauded at what good sports they all were. (Of course one never knows if the adoring audience was actually there while the show unfolded; very often VIPs come, give reaction shots of themselves smiling and applauding and go home—and the channel then edits the footage to make it look like they were there all along.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In between the jolly, witty anchoring that was being done on stage by the leading men, the so-called ‘leading’ women appeared to do dance performances and be at the receiving end of various ‘jokes’ and wisecracks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is the same, depressing format every single time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One that sends out the clear, unmistakable message that the heroes are the alphas of Bollywood—they stride the stage like colossuses, in command of the entire performance—while the women are just shiny decorative little item numbers, with no agency and no speaking time, shoved in hurriedly between the heroes’ self-centred monologues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why haven’t Priyanka Chopra and Katrina Kaif hosted a Filmfare awards night yet? I’m sure they’d do a brilliant job of it! Why didn’t Sridevi and Madhuri ever do one? I can’t believe me missed on a performance like that! Why hasn’t Alia Bhatt hosted one yet? Or Taapsee Pannu? Or Parineeti Chopra? Is Alia in any way a less brilliant newcomer than, say, a Vicky Kaushal? Is Taapsee not as talented as Kartik Aaryan? How come nobody in marketing or event management or production has had the bright idea to entrust that all-empowering mic into a woman’s hands? How come none of our gutsy new girls are striding up and down those glittering stages, taking potshots at the industry and at the older guard and how the beauty pageants are spawning new girls every year ha-ha-ha and making some sharp mentions of me-too and the inequality of the pay-grade? And stepping aside now and then for Aaryan and Varun Dhawan to come put on an item number?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Oscars are hosted by both men and women. Whoopi Goldberg’s done it. Ellen De Generes’s done it. Liza Minnelli, Goldie Hawn. It’s a long list of witty, confident women, who cracked up the audience and sent out the strong, unequivocal message that anchoring such a big night can be a woman-sized job.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have equally witty, confident women in Bollywood—how come nobody thought of giving the job to say, the cast of Veere-Di-Wedding last year? Kareena, Sonam, Swara and Shikha? How come nobody even though of giving them a section to host?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bollywood seems to believe that on awards night, the woman’s role is either to dance, or hand out an award, while wearing high heels and some dumb-ass, tent-sized gown. The only conversation she is allowed, is a little prepared speech on the red carpet about the designer she bought her gown from. She cannot wear something sensible (yet flattering) with flat shoes and neat hair, and talk about anything remotely intelligent. No matter how big a hit her movie has turned out to be, she cannot make politically incorrect jokes or take pot-shots at Shah Rukh or Salman.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is like we are living in some macho, jungle raj. Where Sarabi and Nala can never hope to be Mufasa or Simba.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Sat May 04 12:20:24 IST 2019 my-struggles-with-religion <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Exciting times! I’m being trolled on Twitter for pointing out, on an NDTV debate, that #MainBhiChowkidaar is essentially a reaction to #ChowkidaarChorHai, and therefore a defensive position and an acknowledgement that the ‘chor’ barb hurt, and hurt hard. Now this is my personal opinion as an advertising professional. Anybody is free to agree or disagree with it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I had hoped for intelligent debate on the issue, but all I got was a herd of pseudo-chowkidaars stampeding all over my Twitter feed, eagerly informing the world that I am Congress politician Margaret Alva’s daughter-in-law (so what?) and that I have absolutely no legit status as an advertising professional (not true, I have worked in the field for 17 years and my work in PepsiCo is very well known). They also accuse me of ‘hiding my real name’ (again, not true—my given name is Anuja Chauhan, and I am feminist enough to keep it that way.) They call me all kinds of exotic names like ‘rice-bag convert’ and ‘crypto-evangelist’ and ‘chudail’ and triumphantly dredge up an ancient tweet I had posted in the early, heady days of Twitter, about converting to Christianity ten years after my marriage, and stating that it is a free country and if anybody wants to change their religion, they should be allowed to do so.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They keep trotting this tweet out periodically as proof that I am ‘hiding’ my identity. I fail to see how I am ‘hiding’ it, if it is out there on a public Twitter post for heaven’s sake, not to mention in the acknowledgements pages of every book I have written—and I have written five.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But I digress. I do not want to talk about trolls today, or about pseudo-chowkidaars, I want to talk about something much more important (to me anyway)—my struggles with religion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have become, to mangle Pink Floyd, ‘Spiritually Numb’. Or post-religious, if there is such a term.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When I was a child, I had intense, unquestioning faith in ‘Bhagwaanji’, whatever that childish term meant. As I grew older, I got disenchanted with organised religion. Christianity appealed to me as a simple, clean faith; I was much struck by the idea of a man sacrificing himself to save the world, and also, I had a list of selfish boons I was hoping Jesus would grant. So I converted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A good many years later, I realised that Christianity was as good or as bad as any other organised religion—the same claiming of a higher moral ground, the same insistence that it was the only true way and that all other ways were false, the same harping on the fact that no miracles were happening for me because my faith was not strong enough. Very traumatised and heartbroken, I realised that I was back to square one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This time around, I did not bother to tweet my position to the world. I knew the world had enough drama going on already, thank you very much, and it did not really give two hoots about my private epiphany, which was this: I do not think anybody alive has the answer to the God question. We are all just stumbling around, making wild guesses, and extrapolating and hoping hard, really.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have not lost all hope in a Maker, but I know that nobody has a patent on him. And that he does not dwell in brick or mortar or in purported birthplaces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The larger point I am trying to make, I guess, is that everybody’s religion is their own personal business and nobody else’s. And that more evil has been done in the name of religion than in the name of anything else in world history. At the moment, an entire election seems to be centering, willy-nilly, upon it, and upon its ghoulish twin sibling—muscular patriotism. Please let us not let it become the reason why we pick a particular party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Apr 18 12:22:00 IST 2019 chowkidars-we-are-not-stupid <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>This has got to be the most dumbed-down election ever. The other day, Twitter was awash with major political leaders all thumping their chests and insisting they were chowkidars. Chowkidars themselves are puzzled by how their profession has become so high-class and sought-after suddenly. They have been gathering at the bottom of the buildings in my colony, leaning on their lathis, and discussing if there is a pay rise in there for them, somewhere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But of course there is not.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is like last fortnight everybody was walking around in camouflage fatigues (including Virat Kohli and his merry crew) insisting they were faujis, but the faujis got nothing out of it. Nor did the chai-wallahs, a little while ago, when our PM was thumping his chest and proudly saying ki haan, main chaiwalla hoon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anyway, I suspect #MainBhiChowkidar has been churned out in a hurry, in a blind panic actually, because the Congress’s chowkidar chor hai slogan has been gathering momentum. And also because the Modi hai toh mumkin hai (which is a shameless lift of the old Airtel Magic hai toh mumkin hai line, I wonder if they are considering suing) has created as much as a ripple as the new Pepsi commercial (none). The fast-talking marketing team has sold the panicked party some glib, twisted logic of ‘embracing a negative and turning it into a positive’ with the result that now Modi is now lumped with calling himself Chowkidar Narendra Modi, surely a sad comedown from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and horribly reminiscent of the Insaan suffix that follows the names of all members of the Dera Sacha Sauda cult.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is actually pretty funny, but also rather scary—as it begs the question that if everybody is standing outside, holding a lathi, smoking a beedi and guarding the building, then who the hell is inside the building doing the vital work of governance? There is contempt for education, skills and white-collar workers in the line. There is watchdog-ism in the line. There is khap-ism in the line. You get the sense that the country has tuned into a Big Boss set, and there are surveillance cameras everywhere—watching you narrowly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And of course, there is the point that if indeed Modi is a chowkidar, then he is a pretty lousy one. Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi have all happily run out of the country on his watch, and he has done absolutely zip about getting them back. He has not been very good at guarding the institutions of democracy either—the Supreme Court, the CBI, the RBI, and the Constitution of India itself, have all been messed with and compromised in various ways on his watch. Crimes against women have been on a rampant rise as well—so no kudos for his chowkidari in that department either. The only thing he has been successful at, is a certain regressive, sternly paternalistic sort of moral policing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So the BJP’s usage of this particular line strays beyond irony into absolute dishonesty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Supporters of the BJP may say in his defence that at least he has a campaign in place. There is a film and a line and it is all rolling out on time. The Congress, on the other hand, still remains absolutely mum about their slogan, campaign and manifesto for elections 2019. Which, of course, is really quite unforgivable. They should have been out there, united, alliances in place, firing from all cylinders by now. I mean, do they want to win or not? Seriously, what gives?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But I would say the BJP is worse.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because while the Congress’s lethargy and silence can (and should) be considered stupid, the BJP’s campaign reveals something much much worse. It reveals that the self-styled pseudo-chowkidars in the BJP think that we, the voters, are stupid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Thu Mar 21 11:01:29 IST 2019 lets-send-a-majboot-message <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>Yeh hamara siddhant hai….</i></p> <p><i>Hum ghar mein ghus kar marangey!</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said our prime minister in a rally, to a thin crowd of lustily baying supporters. (It loosely translates to ‘These are our principles.... We will enter your home, and kill you.’)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, his fans—he still has many, though fewer than he used to—will rush to assure me that he was talking to Pakistanis/terrorists/enemies of Bharat Mata. It is their homes that he will enter, and because he is a man of principles, it is them that he will kill.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trouble is, the definition of enemy of Bharat Mata is growing vaguer by the day. In our increasingly insular country, it is fast becoming the most inclusive club of all. Pretty much anybody can gain entry. Hindu, but don’t believe in idol worship? Congratulations, you are in! Hindu, but married a descendent of a ‘raped-by-the-armies-of-Muhammad Ghori’ Muslim or ‘converted-for-a-bag-of-rice’ Christian? In! Any sort of religious minority? In! Did not stand up for the national anthem because you are a decorated soldier who lost both legs in war? You are in, too! Dared to ask for proof of the death of 300+ Jaish terrorists in Balakot? In you go. Wondered why our intelligence agencies did not know that 350kg of RDX had entered Kashmir? In! Demanded why our fighter pilots—the cream of the cream of our armed forces—are defending our nation in rickety old MiG-21s, while the Tejas remains unready, HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) languishes, and our order of 126 Rafale jets gets whittled down to 36? In! In! In! Sniggered when the Vande Bharat Express broke down on its maiden run from Varanasi to Delhi? In! Reposted a Humans of Hindutva post saying that Hindu and Islamic fundamentalists both have loads in common? In! Asked why our prime minister was at his party’s rally, pushing his party’s agenda, and rabbiting on about his booths being sabse majboot (strongest), when the nation was at the brink of war? In! Raised an eyebrow when the PM publicly poked fun at the problems of dyslexic children and their anxious mothers? In! Drank a shot of Beefeater gin? Yup, you are in for sure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And so, when my prime minister says that he will ghuso (enter) the homes of the enemies of Bharat Mata and kill them, I feel he is basically saying that he will enter my home and kill me. That is the definite feeling I get. This man is out to get me—a moderate, law-abiding, tax-paying Indian citizen, with a fondness for meat, and for hearing meaty answers to pertinent, reasonable questions, and a complete contempt for the fawning, snarling lapdog that is the Indian media today. I am sure I am not the only person who feels this way. Crores of others do, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have stopped watching Indian news channels entirely, and I usually avoid Twitter because it is so damn toxic, but I did go there this week and was amused to see a lot of people proposing a very desirable switcheroo to Pakistan. “Take Arnab!” they suggested. “Take Arnab and give us back Abhinandan! Please!” To which clever, clever Imran Khan swiftly and politely responded—err, no thanks, here is Abhinandan back already, and you can keep Arnab, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A nation gets the media and the prime minister it deserves. Looking at the people we have got in the posts today, I have to say that we are a weak, vain, greedy and foolish nation and it is high time we mended our ways. Let us ghuso into those polling booths and vote in somebody genuinely majboot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b></b></p> Fri Mar 08 12:09:19 IST 2019