Monday, July 25, 2005

Mumbai Madness I. "Crazy roomies".

NOTE : Be warned !!! This post is long and is from an unabashed mumbai fan. If you are in mood for a short bite, perhaps this is not the place and time.

Every morning I am jolted out of my bed with a recurring bad feeling that I overslept. More precisely I am out of step and rythm with the life around me. All dictated and clocked by one thing called the Eight.14 Andheri Slow local. Here is a samll slice of my mumbai life. It was a typical friday morning. We were excited saturday is coming and just one more day of the week to endure. The weather gloomy and threatening to dump. "Ats" and "Sangy" two room mates. Now life cant get more crazy, a tam brahm (vegetarian) a maharashtrian (sauve sopesticatd financial whizkid and "Ats" - an ahomese (he made me pronounce ahom), with a raw sense of humour and an even rawer sense of cullinary taste. "Ats" had a vivid imagination and a potly figure which can pull a smile even from an Ambedkar statue. "Sangy" losened up and laughed only when "Ats" was around. Quoting "Ats". "Like sangy has a choice. I would crack offensive, adult jokes anyway. he can laugh if he wants to". "Sangy" relented often.

six.30 : The old mechanical alarm from yester years shrieked and I
was scared. I realised that if I dont haul my ass out of bed, I
am going to feel very very sorry. I would be late to office and
I hate arriving late and I missing my appointments (Thanks to an
ever moving life in the big bad city). I could hear

"Ats" moaning "Ughhhh Noooo Man..." Madrasi , throw the thing out of the
window man. I make a mental note today is the day I got to do it. put an
extra spoon of chilli poder in the sambar. "Ats" loves sambar. "Sangy"
sleeps like a rock. Of course, he can afford it. Afterall he goes to
goregaon for work and travels the opposite direction.

Six. 35 : I got to get out of my bed. 5 minutes of my grace time is over.
Time is up. Move it man..
Six.40 : pour a hot cup of coffee down my throat and feel it
reach the cells in my eye lids. Wake up stage II accomplished.
Time to do the dew ;)..
Six.45 : "Ats" banging on the loo door .. Madrasi Madhru... bahar aa
behen Ki Laude (my sister's lover) come out man..
Six.50 : "Ats" banging on the loo door .. Madrasi Madhru... bahar aa
behen Ki Laude (my sister's lover) come out man..
Six.55 : "Ats" rushing into the bathroom with mumbai times in hand.
"Crappy paper man and I am going to use it as a toilet roll".
"Ats" likes to read up his morning share of bollywood gossip.
He particularly likes Rambha and calls her
"The-thunder-thighed-wonder". (Dear reader, Offended reading
it ? Imagine, we were roomies for 2 years. I couldnt afford to
get offended. With a little attiude, patience and practice,
I got to enjoy it)

Seven.00 : "Sangy" banging on the loo door .. "Ats"... bahar aa
behen Ki Laude (my sister's lover) come out man..

Seven.15 : "Sangy" to "Ats" - Sale how many times I have asked you not to take the
paper into the loo. You have to change man. "Ats" responding. Sale, the
paper had a story on rambha man.

"Sangy" is a true gent. calm, composed, sauve, sophesticated and professional. Maharashtrian sums up his character. "Ats" was hopeless. Laughing at everything, ogling at MTV grunch at 1.00, hitting at my HR manager "Soni" when she asked me to refer somone for a marketing position. He was so openly flirting with "Soni" and the word went around that "Soni" was interviewd by "Ats" and not the other way around. I later explained to "Ats" telling him that "Soni" was a mallu and not a (TTT) tam thunder thighs. As usual "Ats" sulked for like 20 secs. "Ats" once decided that he would seek the surreal and went upto dharamshala (Himachal) to become a budhist monk. His descent to the plains was equally surreal and quciker than the ascent, when he realised the monks had their balls frozen to marbles living in cold and that was the unavoidable path to salvation. "Ats" in his own words lamented, "Marriage is better than aching balls man".

Seven.25: "Savant" (our domestic help. "Ats" calls him domestic Hell) rings the bell. Fires a salvo to "Sangy". If the bathroom is not free in 10 minutes, I would not wash the clothes. "Sangy" pleads with him in marathi and abuses ahomese bath habits just to please "Savant". Life is hell without "Savant" and its heller with "Savant". Precisely life sux.

Seven.40 The run begins.

I always felt that everyone in mumbai is running. I very carefully observed that even if I have enough time, I invariably run and hurry. Somehow I want to reach the station and catch the first train. I have never waited and observed the architectural wonders of a mumbai suburb railway stations. Even on sundays, I run. Its not about being punctual. It is psychological. Everyone hates missing the train. Not just missing their appointed regular train. But missing any train. Thats why a mumbai station is a mass of bodyies, dodging squeezing and running. Like an animal pumping blood. Thats why I like mumbai. Its a constant adrenaline rush, and I am a selfconfessed Mumbai addict.

Eight.04 I reach Andheri station and see the train standing on its bay. A fast train moves in and I leap and jump a bunch of stairs at a time so that I make it to the train before the maddening crowd comes out. Its a personal race to the finish line. Its not just getting into the train. Its running to get your spot. The first in line of the four people standing on the door.

Eight.14 The Andheri slow local leaves at Eight.14. Not a minute earlier and not a minute later. It is just waiting for the borivili fast to leave. I open up my packet of hide and seek. With the right hand clutching the holder, I eat with my left hand. The white bhajan and clapping competes with the "dhadhak-dhadhak" of the train and I get the white goli prasad. Its my favourite mint variety. Metropolitanism and devotion go hand in hand. Even though I am not particularly relegious and god fearing, I like these guys. They have fun. Loud throaty music and the rythemic clapping. It has its own high cresendo which sometimes mesmerises me. The rains lash my new shirt and the monsoon spray refreshes me completely. I just pray its not too heavy, cos I want to reach office.

Nine.05 I reach office and slug on my chair. I space out for like 10 minutes (even spacing out in mumbai is compressed. No more one hour spacing out like in US. For more gyan on spacing out, watch the movie "office space".)

The day rumbles and grumbles. Like any day its got its highs and lows. Awaiting the dubba and hogging the meager meal. eating with my whole team including my project manager. Cracking jokes at "Bhupi" the lone surd in Cool cool canada. thats our server room and the only airconditioned spot in our rundown office.

Five.00 "Ats" gives a call and says we should meet up for a beer, before heading home. He has invited new Ahomese friends home for lunch the next day and wants to cook them some good ahomese food. Fish, mutton and chicken. I just mumbled to myself "Sangy" is fucked tomorrow.

Six.30 "Ats" rolls his way through the crowd and we meet as usual at McDonalds. he is smiling widely. Abe sale Madharchode.. how come you dint tell me you have a hot cousin ? "Oh my god...", I blurted out. "So 'Ats' got to 'S'". He explained how his day was full of life and how he bumped into her during a client call and how both of them chatted and finally figured out that his Mad Madrasi roomie is cousin of this hot chick. First time in my life, I hated beer. To tell "Ats" to stop it or to display any sign of irritation would be like throwing petrol on fire or more precisely "Axe" in a bonfire... Ever tried that ?. I silently mumbled keeping a fine balance between showing my displeasure and not airing it. I just wanted the topic to pass and die a natural death. "Ats" seemed to guess what is happening and proceeded to reassure me. "Vasu, dont feel bad I am hitting on your sister. If you hit on my sister, I wouldnt mind.". I just couldnt take it any more and said. "Ats, enough da.."

Seven.00 : "Delicate daisy" (the model type mumbai woman, who thinks that a little smile and a boob show would melt the battle hardened commuters) bypasses the cue of half irritated, half anxious and on the edge BEST (local buses) commuters. Daisy flies like a butterfly and non-challently ignoring the shouts and cries boards the bus and occupies the seat. Now no one cares enough for gender in mumbai as regards to catching a train. It gives many women (they say) the anonymity to do what they want and not be judged. But the flip side to this lack of "C"hauvenism is a total lack of "C"hivelry. "Delicate daisies stay away" screams the mumbai life and sorry there are no exceptions. I found myself a seat and when it came to "Ats" all seats were taken. "Ats" walks upto the "delicate daisy" and lectures her in a totally fake-moral voice of how everyone should follow rules. "Delicate daisy" sheds a tear and exasperately asks "Ats" " Tell me what do you want me to do, get up and give you a seat ??? !!! ". Obviously she doesnt know "Ats". With a gleeful 100 watt smile "Ats" says "I wouldnt mind that". Thus delicate daisy stands the whole way on the BEST bus and feels totally humiliated. I am sure she would think twice before breaking rules again. My heart went out to her but that was for like 10 seconds. I couldnt care less as I was reading "Mid day". Though one might think that "Ats" is inhuman. He has a softhearted side too. He admitted that he felt bad for the "delicate daisy" and wanted to offer her a seat. "On my lap", he added later with an obnoxiously throaty laugh.

Eight.00 The fish market was full of fresh arrivals and "Ats" was picking up the best of the pick. I was telling him about my latest meeting with "Admiral Ding" who is a famous bodyshopper. I have a job offer for US, I added. "Ats" looked at me and smiled. "You know what Vasu ? This body shopping thing is demeaning man. They look at you, examine your tounge and peek down your asshole and decide that you are a good body to be sent to US. ITs like me buying this Rohu. If I dont like it, I would not pick it up.". I just hated his guts.

Nine.45 The kootu is boiling(I am the sambar + kootu + rasam guy). By popular demand we decided that todays menu would be kootu and rasam. "Sangy" voted against pappaya sabji in khar, bamboo shoot pickle and pumpkin flower fry. According to "Sangy" we cant experiment on fridays. No logic just an absurd criteia to disqualify khar and vote in kootu. Again "Ats" sulked for 10 seconds. Meanwhile the kootu was boiling and the rest of the guys having a good laugh at Rajdeep sardesai's guffaws. "Sangy" anounces, "Guys, you are now looking at a lakhpathi. I won the Brand Equity quiz contest. I won cielo". I watched Atanu's eyes change shape. His mouth fell open and said "madhroo". We listened with rapt attention and found out that the clinching deal was the caption which had to be filled by the participants. "Sangy" had written "ET is part of my family". He was laughing loudly as how much of a sucker for sentimentality these ET (Economic times) chuthias were.
"Ats" had a profound look on his face. He sounded conciletary and asked "sangy". "Who is your family man ?", "who cooks for you, pays the bill, helps you wake up ?". He was intense with emotion. "Us sangy, us. We are your family". "Sangy" was dumb struck and some gutteral sound smilar to "ughhkkkjkj" came out. "Sangy" was shut. "Ats" was brilliant. He made "Sangy" promise to take us movie, mondegaar and bade miyan that sunday.

11.00 The kootu and rice are done. the t.v. room is silent. It generally goes quiet when MTV grunch starts. And after that no one talks, just watch a bunch of booties and boobs dance to glory on some beachside swimming pool in jamica. Its animal-like and even "sangy" sports a weekness for grunch. I clutch the kadai full of kootu with a pair of clippers and bring it to the living room. Sangy engrossed with grunch was blocking the way. I found myself shouting "move Sangy. move" and before clayfoot could get out of the way I could feel the kadai slip the clipper. I could feel the pit in my stomach and instinctively clutch the kadai harder. Sometimes I am possesive of my diner and food. I like to cook well and have people eat food and say "The food is good". Its a good feeling. No one can fake that kind of feeling. Meanwhile the kadai slowly slipped down the clippers (idukkis. Used for picking up hot vessels and transporting them small distances). With a bang the kada hits the floor and splashes hot kootu al over. Less than one spoon of kootu is left.

Thats it, I hit rock bottom. Blood rushes through the face and I thought, "there goes the dinner". The first few minutes of losses are the worst. Like when you realise that your pocket has been picked or you lost your cellphone. This one was similar. "How can I do something stupid ?? " is what I end up asking myself. I feel shitty and extremely angry at myself. Anger is an understatement of the mood that prevailed that day. Rage was more like it. All of us look at each other and one wrong word uttered would have sent two of us at each others' throat there would have been murder. I was shivering with rage. Intelligently "Ats" shut his mouth and quietly picked up the telephone. "Sangy", picked up a wet cloth and wipes the floor clean. I stare emptily not knowing what to do. I dont get too emotional that easily. That instant I was in a delicate condition. I could have murdered, cried or commited suicide. It was too intense.

Eleven.45 Three room mates living in a matchbox-in-the-city quietly munch through tripple schezwaan noodles and egg fried rice. All one can hear is "munch" "munch" and "munch".

Ten.00 a.m. saturday. "Ats" comes to me and says. I think MTV grunch was the reason. Bad karma got you man. Predictably he lets out a throaty laugh. I dont resist and let out peals of laughter.

After an exhausted laugh, I just sigh, "What a day. Thank god its a weekend".

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Hypocricy or Ostrich

“Don’t lead a hypocrite’s life. That’s all I say”,thundered “V” in response to the discussion we were having. She was not following the discussion that was happening but citing superficial examples of how capitalism is the only way forward. It was eerily similar to her famous words “The media is the torchbearer of truth and without it the world would be in hell”. Yet her comment on hypocrisy sounded instinctive and absolutely natural, I couldn’t deny that, even to her. I thought, “this was one of the few moments were a genuine reaction has come out of hermind. I should respect that. maybe I should do more discuss that. Am I a hypocrite ? and if so ? is that necessarily bad ?"

Today Indian economy is ruled by a pervert version ofcapitalist economy where very little government spending happens for the benefit of the poor and reaches the poor. Most of it goes to sustaining the age-old feudal systems re-born in new avatars as corporates. Fairness is sacrificed for profits and justice for equity. In this equity and profit culture everyone else is sucked into. By virtue of engaging in gainful economic activity, many Indians are part of this create-more-wealth mania. In this stampede, we step on others, laws and justice are manipulated to suit balance sheets, and standards of humanity are re-defined to suit our own “Arrived instyle” Image. Otherwise how would you explain Government giving a drug offender a certificate of good conduct and help secure his release ? (Read : Bidappa released from dubai Jail) Obviously money has exchanged hands. Shouldn’t there be seething anger at this? There are hundreds of innocents languishing in foreign prisons for small and petty crimes. In this seasaw debate on communist and capitalist debate the commonest of all statements is "Dont be a hypocrite". There is no middle ground and we free thinkers have no place.

The political spectrum is crudely and falsely divided in India as “Left” and “Right” based on ill-fitting western classification. If on some opinions I agree with a particular group’s views, Do I have to conformto all views of that group? And If I don’t I am labeled a hypocrite ? The economic views of the communists and RSS are very similar , but that of BJP and Congress (allies of both the right and left) are exactly the opposite. “How would then one analyse the spectrum and give it labels?”, one is tempted to ask. Do we require labels tohelp us analyse ? Is it really useful ? Can we not adopt stances purely based on issues ?

The basis of everyone’s political position is on what is good for himself/herself. This infinite variation in a huge population of ours is funneled into a few political choices. Depending on the primacy of these chosen. The government however is a combination of changing people’s representative and an unchanging structure (bureaucracy) that can be manipulated by people who know which levers to pull and which buttons to push (basically the rich and famous). Here money and influence talks. This is where capitalism has succeeded in influencing the rules to suit itself against a set of disadvantaged people who don’t know how to influence the rules. Is it possible in this wide spectrum, to isolate a few opinions and call a person hypocrite?

The answer is Yes and is because of a narrow black and white analysis of the issue. Hence the outburst “You are a hypocrite” carries withit the sting of adverse judgment and humiliation. My political views are never etched in stone and are constantly calibrated to changing situations. Being McCauley kids we are taught the Victorian views of black and white in an Anglo-Saxon context. Obviously the delirious among us still believe in the same Anglo-Saxon context to exist in an India werehardly 10 % speak the language. The language is not a major issue here, The issue is of the context. Good and bad. Right and Wrong. God and Devil. Such black and white thinking pattern spills liberally in political analysis thus forcing everyone to take sides across an artificially drawn line, which serves no purpose, except enact a distractive battle. This artificial line is drawn and re-drawn all the time to divert attention to other pressing problems. It also diverts the attention of simple folks who trust and believe in our form of governance. “Hypocrisy” has become what “Witch” was during the dark ages in Salem,USA. Anyone raising uncomfortable questions is labeled “hypocrite”. It is the style of looking at people using pre-defined labels.

It starts from the assumption

"If one is working in a capitalistic structure, he or she has to defend the structure".

I can for matters of survival and benifit be a part of a structure but still think of poor and marginalised. Profit need not be the guiding motive for everything in life. I know everyone dies and deserves a decent life before he dies. If you are an American you can still stand up against the wrong policies of your country. It is not hypocricy. It is being brave and standing up for your beliefs. If you are an Indian and see corruption and unbriddled capitalism harming the poor, you can stand up and say "this should stop". The very aspect that you are part of the wheel which churns out the profit cannot deny you the right.

It is choosing to become an ostrich in fear of becoming a hypocrite.

Between becoming an ostrich and a hypocrite,

I chose to be a hypocrite.

Now How is that huh ?

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Monday, July 18, 2005

Monsoon days !!!

Monsoons are magical. The thick multilayered clouds are way different form the whiffy and pasty out of season wanderer. For a biker like me the rains are a great time to hit the roads. Last weekend was one such night. A saturday evening movie took me onto airport road and it was pouring real hard. Needles falling painfully on my face, hands twisted on the accelerator, eyes focussed on bleary vision trying to make out the road from the pavement. I sped fast and away. The roads were surprisingly empty of the rickshaws and other sensitiver bikers. Just a few large cars, gingerly inching ahead and avoiding the water-traps called potholes. I zigged and zagged through the crowd and just wondered "dont these cars have better shocks ?". Windows shut and jazzy panel lights lit, I cuold feel the warmth of the family inside these cars. But on the bike is my world and I am the master of it.

Sitting inside these behemoths were kids playing with water streaming down the window panes. people young and world listining to Raaydiohhh cityyyy.... There were even a couple of busses on the road but not like usual days. The road was empty. Everyone must be waiting in their offices for the rains to stop. Thankfully I dont suffer from hydrophobia. As I reached domulur the traffic was stopped to allow some politician to whizz past. The motely crowd of cars soon accumulated and I found myself surrounded by cars. One lone biker in a car world. Looked like America. It was raining harder and a couple of claustrophobic cars, opened their windows to savour the monsson sprays and the hindi song of the century wafted out "Rim jim Gire Saawan..." I grew hungry waiting for the blocade to be lifted. I switched off the engine and opend out the shourma... It was wet.. On an usual day, I would have thrown it out. But today I was in my adventurous best. I was wearing my favourite blue shirt and my lucky Nicholas (I used to work in mumbai with NPIL) tie. Today was a great day rain and all. Completely drenched wet and soaked, the soggy shourma was the driest thing around. I ate and ate and relished the piece of meal in the middle of the monsoon. Vow!! The car engines stopped and I could hear all the conversations now. Moms asking kids about homeworks, loud cellphone conversations about codes, releases and invoices, politics, movies and everything else. Sudenly there was silence and I found the eyes peering from the two cars either side of me. Looked to me like the collective wondering of people "what is this bloke doing in the rain" ? "what a crappy life ?" or "I wished I can do that ?" or Just an empty glare at this freak of nature called Vasu. Here I was standing there, hunched over my gast tank with one leg on the kick starter waiting to bring the beast to life and scorch the goddam roads. The moment of silence did not last long..

The pilot cars zipped past with NSG cover and the blacked out windows of the stately ambazidor boomed past. The engines started and the music was revived. The "purr" of the monsoon rains was once again drowned by the cacaphony of life.. kids back to their games, mom back to her quizzing, couples back to their bickerings. Even the mobiles buzzed alive.

Soon it was green and the moment passed. I just smiled and lied to myself, "I would never give up my bike".

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Saturday, July 09, 2005

Erotica, Brahminism and the hilarious Five point someone...

I walked into crossword and ambled as usual in the Indian section. Trying to see some good books on history, constitution, ancient history etc. I have been bitten by this bug and man the infection is spreading. Its like black coffee or beer. Bitter and unpalatable to start with but then in a really fetish sort of way amazingly addictive and satisfying. Basically I was looking out for some big book which will last me for a month atleast (at 20 pages a day. A little reading on the shit pot and a little before bed) . All of the books had jazzy reviews, glossy covers and dollar rates. I somehow stepped out of that world because I felt my knowledge growth should be selctive and controlled. Its like splits training in body building. you want to isolate a muscle and train it to breakdown. I just ambled by not impressed by the title untill I hit the "EROTICA" section... Vow... that transformed the whole experience.. I pulled a seat for myself and poured into one of the best EROTICA dictionairies ever come across.. literally every term had been laid out thread bare from sitophilia to necrophilia. With illustrations, drawings and clinical explainations. It was mindboggling. I wanted to steal that book (dollar rates remember). I did the next best thing. Hid the book in the travel and living sectoin. No one but me can find it.. hee hee.. Meanwhile I saw one elderly lady groan and complain about falling standards of social norms. It felt wierd because I could hear this background whining as I sat engrossed pouring over books and books of Erotica. I turned and looked and I saw her with two 20 something girls sitting. She just stared back and I smiled (genuine and corteus).. The girls were giggling and I think I saw them flush when they looked back at me. I said to myself, If I were twenty I would have cared a fuck for her aunt/grandma or who ever it was and went there to talk to them. She frowned back and told me "are you not ashamed sitting there and looking at nude women ?" "no aunty. why should I be ashamed. I like it", I said thumbing a nude photo album. The girls were silent and were flushing more. Somehow I thought to myself, here is someone offended by these books. But I dint intend to do it, and I was simply enjoying myself and having a good evening out without encroaching onto anyone. Is that wrong ?

I think like sex, food, friends, entertainment and hewnceforth dress are nothing but choices. Here I got sucked into this mammoth discussion spawned out by Srivatsan's blog and adequately debated by Senthil's blog. To give you a brief, it is about brahmins, their identity and its display. Srivatsan firstly pointed out that how a brahmin displayed his identity against all odds and how harshly the world in general (including himself), and an MNC company in particular (HP) judged the brahmin. He goes on to ask "what's wrong if a brahmin does the same thing, as a sikh does in India". Srivatsan's blog is more about the displays and trappings of brahmins rathar than being a brahmin or not. Is appearance itself function of identity ? I found myself asking. I had blogged about language and identity because I am convinced of that. language gives man to express and it is his first form of expression. Is appearance so critical ?. I am being simplistic here to say appearance. But includes, cultural practices, rituals etc.

Senthil's blog spoke about how inconvinent Dhothi is and how salwar is not traditional south Indian etc. It is a debater's point by point resopnse to Srivatsan. Some brownie points but nothing beyond that. No aspects of identity addressed. Vishitra made a beautiful point of answering the fundamental questions unstated in Srivatsan's blog and asked by me in the previous para (see in bold). In some cases it is and in some cases it isnt. Its purely individual choice and definitely a personal one. Being born brahmin, Iyengar (thengalai-vadagalai, madhwa) or iyer (smartha, iyers) is not in any way demeaning or lesser. Afterall some of the great thinkers are exactly that. Basava, Ramanuja, Subramanya Bharathi. Yes Brahminism has some really bad and retrograd practices. And they have to go. period.

1) Descrimination between people of various castes.
2) Too much ritualism.
3) Orthodoxy.
4) Too clanish a mentality.

The greats that they are never consigned the identity they were attributed to. The changed what the identity meant and stood for. Basava created the veerashaiva community. Ramanuja convered lowercastes to brahminism. Subramanya barathi taught a greater concept of Indianness and so did many other greats. What matters is what is acomplished in the world and how identity helps us lift people marginalised socially and economically and make them stand on their own feet, proud of their achievements. If this is not possible by identity. Identity is useless.

The 60s identity struggle in tamilnadu was a complex one of reaction to caste suppression, abolition of ritualism (masqureded as hinduism) and more importantly giving the marginalised people a chance to look up and feel better. No longer would chandala or ambattan be an abuse. It is manifested in the growth and identity of each community asserting itself for its share of legitimate political, economuic and social space.

So it is left to see what my dear friend Srivatsans' acquaintance in college seeks to achieve by asserting his identity. The key question is does it translate into a larger good ? I mean if it is, I would support that irrespective of what others say. If it isnt, its just another cerbral exercise of vanity. Good for his ego and pride. Nothing beyond that.

I studied in a pune colelge (B-School) and for every major college function, there would be one man in a dhothi and white shirt (yours truly). Sometimes the dhothi wuold go above my knees and reveal a beautiful set of calf muscles and thighs.. (I mean I thought so). Somehow my unabashed comfort with the dhothi made it damm cool in college. I have always worn lungi in my hostel.. its thin, airy and you know all the benifits...

It never really bothered me that the dhothi will slip off. I was good at that. Infact, I secretly wished it would slip off. I was a closet exhibitionist :D..

Infact, I was so moved by "mustafa mustafa" song when it came out in 1997 that I did a stage performance of that song including the electric guitar piece in the begining (with my voice)... Never really bothered me that no one except my prof GI and one fellow chennaiite (she always called herself madrasi and was embaressed to talk to me in tamil) understood tamil. Just two in my whole batch. But then, I was singing for myself and not for anyone else.

You think its wierd.. ever heard of kumar gandharv ? he sings with one lung and man his voice isnt traditionally beautiful but will keep you rivvetted and on a trip much better than the best grass..

Some of the biggest industrialists in tamil nadu were indegenous entreprenuers like PSG group, TVS, Murugappa etc. ever seen any of the board meetings you will have crisply clad directors in starched dhothis. I thought there used to be an ad for premier dhothis... I think it is wrong to say dhothi is not professional. Some may like it some may not.. infact If I want to, I wouldnt for a moment flinch to wear a dhothi. Ofcourse it will be on occassion and with a purpose.

let people judge others on basis of their dresses and customs at their own peril. History has been changed by these people wrongly judged. Remember the story of Dannanda and Kautilya ?

Anyway as I was walking out of crossword, adequately chastised by the elderly lady (she was lilke an aunt, and I could see the struggle in her mind. I sufficiently convinced her that I am not a bad guy - a rapist or a eve teaser. Just that I liekd erotica), I remebered sachin (Bong Machan) saying read "Five point someone" "dont miss it man. Its like our IMDR days. Eerilly simialr to Aapka apartments (ITs an apartment complex where my friends used to stay. Its on the road just before roopali on FC road)".. I picked up the book and instinctively turned to the last page. I was glad that it was just Rs. 95. I told myself "This is fiction, but at Rs. 95 and Sachin's reco what the heck..", I succumbed.

The book was amazingly mindblowing. I was readig about IIT and was imagining about IMDR and fergi campus. the hanuman tekdi, our trivial trials and tribulations. The only sad thing (which saruabh also agreed too ) was that our group of seven had enough life experience language skills, hilarious annectodes to have written the very same book. I just felt that, man we should have done it. Anyway.. Kudos Chetan Bagath. That is a beautiful and alltime favouirite reads.

I think Indian writers are surely coming of age. I just wish the amazing thought purge that is happening continues and tells more endearing stories.

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Friday, July 01, 2005

A collage of books that inspired me and my thoughts (strong and black like my coffee) on language and identity

I am reading this amazing book (not found usually in bookstores) which talks of a different perspective of history. Written by "Saki", the book is titled "Making History : Karnataka's People And Their Past" in two volumes. I picked up this book from a CPI book stall in bangalore and I have altered some of the ageold perceptions held steadfast in my mind. This book narrates history from the common man's perspective under different dynasties. Instead of talking of which king killed whom and which monument was built by whom, it talks of how people lived and existed during the various periods of karnataka's history.

Another book that I really enjoyed reading is a book by James Michner titled "The source". Set in Israel, this story traces through time, the travels of a mound of earth from early neolethic periods to the current day complex West asia situation. In between it traverses through the Kingdom of Israel and Judah, Greeks, Romans, Early christians, Turks, Crusaders, Arabs, Ottaman empire, British and the raise of Israel. Surprisingly it has a non-relgious, non-racial tone and just seeks to tell, that all that comes will one day pass and things wont be much different from what it was.

"Guns germs and steel", another brilliant work by Jared Diamond clinically analyses and looks at human civilisation from a socio-cultural, scientific and biological slant without getting into any of the cliched arguments of civilised and uncivilised. In fact it is a breath of fresh air from many of the indophiles who hail India as the cradle of all wisdom. It neither has the arrogance of "West is the best" widely displayed by Americans and Westerners seeking to civilise the world. A must read for people who like objectivity and deep thinking analysis.

Often my friends have asked me, "why do people in Tamil Nadu dont speak hindi ? Whats wrong if they learn hindi ? Comeon ya, its the national language it would be good if they learnt it". My reactions used to be just that, reactions of a strong kind acidic, sarcastic and even jingoistic. Over the years (as any good wine would), I have matured and became more inside looking in analysing issue. Why dint I learn hindi in Chennai. I thought, I did. Afterall isnt "Lavadekabal" a hindi abuse ? I had started using this word as early as class X and as frequently as "ongamma..." or "Ongakaa.." ("your mom", "your sis" genre of abuses). Havent we given the prized position of abuses (Its difficult to make it up there) to a hindi word ?

Down the line, we altered some of the meanings of hindi words. Lets look at "dil". The hindi take on "Dil" is love, romance, emotion, coooing and all those mushy-sushy things people engage in (sans the rock-and-roll. Atleast that was what was portrayed in the movies).. Instead the tam version of dil is rock hard bravery, jumping from cliffs, challenging an army of 100 men, catching the bullet with left hand and sending it back faster than it came. But overall the image is one of courage, bravado, action, danger and daring. Havent we took a hindi word and made it as cool as it can get ? We took Paratha and made it Brrrrrota. We even invented kothu brrrota. Infact adaptation of other language words and giving it a tamil twist is a fine art practiced and perfected by the common man of the streets. My uncle exclaimed that hot chicks (he said "modern" but he meant "hot") in besant nagar beach speak in chaste gaana tamil and make it a cool statement. One of my last remaining friends in chennai still exclaims "dai dubukku" whenever I visit her in chennai... Eeirily similar to my chum buddy, punjab da puttar who addressed me by "VASU - Gandu, Madarchod, how are you" ? Vow he made the "ma ki" gaali so cool and so endearing. I guess, all this explains the tremendous level of self confidence and pride people have in their identity. I have. That was the reason when someone in pune called me, "Madorchod LTTE idhar aa... ", I couldnt tolerate it and shouted back "Sardar behen ke laude, bhara bhaj gaya kya ? thu idhar aa". Ofcourse we became good friends, but on equal terms. He saw for himself that the only tam in the class is not going to take it lying down.

As again, I grew up. I met a lot of friends and genuinely and openly wanted to learn their way of life. I lost that attitude "Tamil is superior to everyone else" and re-caliberated it to "Vernacular is superior". Somehow my taste for hot retorts hadnt changed. The other day My uncle (who has lived over 25 years) in bangalore said "These Kannadigas, they are all somberis (lazy)", blood shot through my face. I just without thought reacted "Chithappa (uncle), have some gratitude for the place where you lived. you have eaten their salt. Dont be an ettapa (The tam equivalent of brutus who betrayed Ceaser, bhaji rao who betrayed shivaji)". Weeks later, through informal channels, it was communicated that I am a "Persona-Non-Grata". I felt very bad, not for the comment but the virulence with which it came out. I managed to soothe his ruffled feather, massage his ego and do the dew ;).. dint I tell you that I have no fucking shame or pretentions ? (dont believe all that I say huhh...?)

Anyway, I realised that we tamils or no better too. We shouldnt just talk about tamil and tamil greatness whereever we go. Wherever I cite examples of tamil having achieved this or that, please consider "tamil" as a vernacular experiment. There is nothing exceptional or unique in tamil which has achieved it. It is a call to resurrect the identity of an oppressed set of people and was tagged along with the language. Afterall language is an important component of identity, isnt it ? My use of tamil is in that spirit and not as a statement of "I am greater than you". Who ever you are, oriya, parsi, Punjabi, Urdu, Hariyanvi, bhojpuri, telugu, tulu, konkani.. I wish you well and when I live in your part of the world, I will lend my might to you..

Jai Vernacular :D

In this spirit, I believe strongly that Tamil promotion should be confined to inside tamil nadu. When we live elsewhere we should also seek to learn other languages. Afterall, we know the hard journey and the tough choices that were in front of us in the 60s. The onus is on us, to lend our voice and support to others in the struggle against hagemony (dominance of one way of life over all others). Its impoirtant we dont become hagemons ourselves. When I say, "We should help others" it is not out of the arrogance displayed in full bloom like when an American says "We will free people from tyranny", but of the way the French helped settlers throw the british out of the colonies in "1756" with warmth, respect and a desire to help friends. Silent yet respectfull of others. Thats why today, no one in America remembered that the statue of liberty an icon of full blodded american patriotism, jingoistic and all was a gift from the french upon winning the civil war. The true americans (who cherished the freedom but not the jingoism) nevertheless knew that and were not seen dumping fine french wine in the gutters or renaming french fries as freedom fries.

Helping should not be touted as a proof of superiorirty. Its just coincidental we found the path and we want to share this with others out of genuine goodwill, with respect and honour.

In retrospect, I realised that my tamil identity should be perceived as non-threatening to others. The onus, lies in me make it so and not in others to percieve it so (remember the parsi message back to the king of cochin, saying "we will be like sugar in milk" when asked "who are you ? friend or foe ?". Its that way).

I realised that "when in rome", be a roman. I have made it a point to speak in kannada every available opportunity. To the autowaala, when asking directions, in hotels, everywhere. I feel everyone should do that too in bangalore.. No questions. Period. There are no logics here. It should be a rule, a silently enforced one by the people. It is not a crime "not knowing or not having learnt kannada in bangalore". But it is one "Not wanting or needing to learn Kannada in bangalore". Yes it is not so practical for people who dont know kannada. But once you give it a start with "saku", "beku" you can soon graduate and become a good speaker within a year's time. Dont feel shy to stumble and make mistakes. Do your mistakes with flair that the other person says "gothuaithu... heli" (I understood it, you just continue). Slowly friends (almost embaressed for having to correct you) would help you upgrade your language (correct your mistakes, improve your vocablary).

For a long time, I used hogi for "I have finished" with my friends mom. She understood that I was confusing the word "hogaya" (hindi) with "aiithu". But she never openly corrected me, just sent a message to her sons who are my good friends. She understood what I meant and yet never spoke in anything other than kannada. I realised that unless, I stretch and exert myself. I will never learn the language. Now I am good enough to converse with her. The best complement ever received was an unsolicited comment from their mom (with awe) saying "Vow... your kannada has improved". The comment was so natural that a very very modest person like her wouldnt dare make it so openly, if it hadnt been an instinctive reaction on my fluency. She used the spinal chord here.

I gave a self pat on my back. None of my friends appreciated me, well thats another story..

I feel sad, that marathi is not spoken much in mumbai as much as kannda is not spoken in bangalore. The sense of loss is asif it is tamil. Vernacular gives the indegenous, the common man, the poor man, the farmer, the non-english educated, the weaker sections a strong sense of confidence and identity. In TN, developement has been uniform throughout the states with industries in tirunelveli, Tiruppur, madurai, coimbatore, salem, vellore, karur, namakkal, kanyakumari. All this because in the 60s a virulent campaign to install Tamil as the prima-lingua was done despite criticisms and reaction. As an afterthought, it was a great move because, indegeneous people have developed. Tamils all over have developed the strong sense of confidence which was long shattered by colonial and fuedal mis-rule.

No more is it considered a slick english speaking "Peter" or "Mary" (btw, thats the slang for an english speaking duo.. spelt as and peeetar and mayri) is superior to the tamil medium educated diploma holder. The reaction in my college (coimbatore) would have been one of disdain and they can easily spot the fake guy. Nobody gets awestruck by a fluent and articulate vasu if he is articulating crap. They would just say "dai peetar mooduda (addressed to me, and asking me to cock up)" (refer the start of the para for explainations on peetar and mayri). This is because there is no sense of lesser or greater associated with language. Its a level playing field.

I used to think when in school "whats wrong with learning national language and speaking it in tamil nadu ?". The answer came to me from an uneducated farmer in dhindukkal district where I was attending an NSS-YFI camp (trying to teach uneducated people to sign their names in tamil. build toilets for schools).

The farmer : "Whats the use of education" ?
My reply : "Education will liberate you from under-developement".
The farmer : "All that is fine. Whats the practical use" ?
My reply : "Nobody would cheat you anymore ? you can do business with city folks. your son
can expand and make your farms more productive".
<..totally exasperated by now...>
My reply : "If you complete XII they will give you more loans".
The farmer : "Ya, that I know, thats why both my sons are doing their degree and besides I
dont have the time. I got to export these mangoes abroad no..." ?

That sent a hard assed slap right on my face (not literally, figuritively) and I found a new found respect for him. When someone has not been educated and has no practical use for hindi, is it reasonable ? acceptable ? and worthwhile to teach him hindi ? He doesent even know how to read and write tamil. But let me tell you, this guy is a mind reader, he will nail you if you try to take him for a ride. If he does get cheated once, he will hunt you and mow you dowm. Such is his confidence. He is the king of his small town. Thats the way every villager and oppressed man should feel. Thats the India that will take us to greatness. One of the reasons for his confidence is a strong sense self belief. He did go on and learn to read, write and sign (just in case). I learnt the importance of self belief and confidence in one's life. Predominantly from movies and the tamil movement. They just told him that "you are cool" and dont lose you are protected. They gave him the confidence to not feel low about who he is and think practically upon situation.

I also learnt that if found practical uses, these self confident and smart people would learn dutch or german (if he needs to impress an exporter). If you think I am talking shit, just look at tirrupur a hoisery town of entreprenuers. The largest in Asia and one of the growing areas for SAP implementations. They would use other languages as a tool to further their life, because their own language has given them the confidence to stand up and feel proud. I know some would say "what crap", but from the point of view of people who have been suppressed and oppressed forever, it is a great moral booster and an assertion of their own worth as citizens of this country, weather or not they are educated. This sense of mass infusion of pride is what was achieved by the heroes of tamil movement. Kudos to them.... If not for them, We might have missed the fiery dialogues of "Parashakthi.." (an earth shaking movie penend by Karunanidhi and rendered by Shivaji" or the great lyrics of "Veera pandi kattabomman" (one of the few chiefteins in India who opposed the british on sound principles of anniyargal (foreigners) and not because he was opposed to someone else. The "Kanni pengalukku Manjal araithaya ? edharku vendum vaddi ?" dialouge rings in my ears like a strong medicine to the tierd soul rejuveneting and giving it eternal life. I wish every language in India have such a revival of position. Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada, Bhojpuri, Urdu, Assamese, Mizo (isnt it sad, they have lost their script and are using english to write their own tounge ?).

Here I have to grant credit to the Saets of Chennai (marwaris and gujjus) who speak flawless tamil, The enterprising sardars of Namakkal, Salem who literally control the spareparts market and truck/busses body building market. Nammakal also is the second largest poultry farm in Asia. Its millions of eggs and lolly pops baby...ummm... The sardar speaking tamil literally made me dumbstruck... I was gaping so widely, it made the sardar very very uneasy. He just barked "ennap pakara ?", "what are you gaping at ?". The tone was bordering on irritation. I just scooted.

I very strongly believe a re-assertion of vernacular in general and kannada in particular would be beneficial in the long run. Ofcourse the "children of libertalisation" (a.k.a the IT companies, the MNCs) would run away to gurgaon or hyderabad. But 25 years from now, we would have more farmers and a stronger set of indegeneous people. ITs actually a minute price to pay for the large and cascading benefits that would accrue later. IT doesent take much, just 10-15 years of a strong implementation of kannada in day-to-day life. Infact all people should be encouraged to stay here and learn kannada.

World over, the indegeneous people are getting diluted and losing the race for a better life because there is a strong attempt to dilute their political voices by promoting uni-cultural and uni-lingual images. It cant work in India and I would be a sad man to see a glorious and beautiful language like kannada see an untimely demise.

As a parting statement since I am in bangalore, I owe my aleigence to the vernacular of the land. That side of Miraj, it would be Jai Maharashtra, cross over to hosur - It would be Jai tamil. For now it is


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