Friday, November 11, 2011

Chennai Blues

“Frog in the rain…”

A rude screeching sound awakes me from my reverie while I’m lying down in my room. “What the hell is that?” I ask my roommate who seems to be the originator of that noise.

“It’s only a song” he says in an injured tone.

“What song is that?”I ask incredulously.

“Uh…I think it is a famous song. Haven’t you heard it?”

I shake my head, while eying him wearily.

The rain already has me in somber moods. Coupled with his singing I could go crazy. When the rains started in Chennai I thought it would be a relief from the sweltering heat. It was, but it also brought torrential floods, muddy and slime-filled roads and overflowing sewers.

“I have never heard it before” I say. “Is it by any band? From a movie? What’s the correct tune?” I ask.

“I can’t remember whose song it is. The tune is correct though” he argues and again starts “Frog in the rain…”

“Stop!” I command.

The rains here have left us all affected in strange ways. We have become more despondent. Now we can’t go out anywhere. To eat something from the only Malayali hotel near our lodging means trudging through knee-deep dirty water. It was quite a shock from the magical scenario back in Kerala, where every rain simply invites you to drench yourself.

“What are the rest of the lines?” I ask. My roommate’s expression indicates his brain is overworking but he can’t seem to remember.

The only thing common thing between the rains here and back home is that once the rain starts the cable goes and that means no TV, the only other source of entertainment I had in my room. So here I am stuck with my roommate, staring at the ceiling with nothing to do.

“What is the song about? Do you at least remember that?” I ask exasperatedly.

“Well” he says after some considerable thought “it is about a frog in the rain.”

I sigh.

A moment of silence. My friend clears his throat. I know he is about to go for it again. Well, what the hell. I have no choice. What else to do. This time I too join in:

“Frooooog in the rain….”


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Deadly Business

Sometime ago at the death of a neighbor, we guys were huddled in a corner of his house when we saw someone distributing visiting cards among the people who had gathered there.

“What’s that?” someone asked. “Must be the catering guys” another replied for it is usual for relatives to appoint catering guys to arrange snacks and tea for visitors.

So we called him near and asked for the card. The name of the group was “Sivasakthi…” something. But it turned out they were not catering guys. They were the ready-made chitha (funeral pyre) people. If you were dead you only had to call them and they would reach your house within three hours with all the necessary equipments, i.e. wood, coconut shells and husks, ghee, - in short, all the stuff that you needed to burn properly. They were also experts in rituals, the man explained. That was good to know. In case you had any doubts on which road to take somewhere in your afterlife journey, they could probably fill in all the details. Book which paradise hotel you want and that sort.

“The leader of our group has burned over 3000 people” the assistant burner said with pride. It only worsened our despair. It felt like he was inviting us to die so we could experience their superior services.

“We have no other branches” he announced before moving away to distribute the cards to the other will-die-one-day-anyway people.

Can’t blame him. After all death is everyone’s business.

This last day I met another guy at the airport. A dead body was arriving on a plane and he was there to collect it. I saw him sign for the body and accompany it to the ambulance and drive away. Must be a close relative I thought. Then two days later I saw the same guy at the airport and again he was accompanying a dead body. Jeez! All his relatives abroad must be dying in quick succession, I thought. So I went over and talked to him. Turned out he wasn’t a relative at all. He was running an agency that specialized in helping retrieve the bodies of people who had died abroad to their relatives back home – for a price of course. The relatives just had to sign a contract and hand over the money and he would take care of everything.

“There are other agencies in this business also” he informed me. “But we have a specialty that they don’t”, he said to me beaming. I couldn’t wait to hear what it was.

“We offer free door delivery!” he said with a flourish.

Now wasn’t that an attractive offer. Free door-delivery?? Like grocery or a fridge or laundry. My parents bought a washing machine last week. They had free door delivery. This was just like that.

Who said death was all despair and gloom. It’s a bloody good business. And you can always count on people to die. People may stop buying clothes, or grocery, or electronic goods. But they just can’t stop dying. And so the business shall flourish too.

I took his visiting card too. If I die at least I get a free trip home!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Beg to differ

A lot of my friends are very compassionate.

They give to alms to every other beggar they see on the street. Here, in Chennai, the subways are besieged by beggars of all age groups and my friends insist on giving alms to at least someone each day.

Call me a miser but I don’t give alms. And I request everyone to stop giving alms and thereby stop promoting the begging rackets.

Listen carefully: that old cripple you know who drags himself from compartment to compartment tugging at your feet for a few paise? He always has a stash of ganja with him, for that is what he uses the money for. He even peddles to other beggars to earn extra. You can see him by the bathroom door smoking his hash.

Please don’t soothe your conscience by helping him.

Why are you so guilty? Come on, admit it. You are not helping him to save humanity and out of your love and compassion for the universal downtrodden. You just hope he paves your path to heaven. Or perhaps you are doing a penance, eh?

Social equality will not come from begging.

Beggar rackets are one of the biggest underground mafias operating in this country. They steal and maim children to create more sympathy. If you promote them you only encourage them to kidnap more children. Think prostitution, criminalization and illegal human trafficking.

During festivals in temples, mosques and churches the hordes of beggars you see are driven there by handlers and their ‘loot’ goes not to the hungry starved children but to the middlemen behind them. Buy them food. Give them clothes. Don’t give them money.

Didn’t you watch 'Slumdog Millionaire'? The operation of these rackets are portrayed somewhat truthfully (not forgetting the other controversies surrounding the movie and its commercial exploitation of the very same slum children).

Say no to beggars. The moment you say no to a beggar, there is a chance someone ceases being a beggar. The moment you give a rupee, a hundred more beggars are born.

So stop riding your high horse of morality. All you philanthropists killed Soumya. Don’t forget that.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In Defence of Ranjini Haridas

Ranjini Haridas is now a fixed part of our lives thanks to Idea Star Singer in Asianet. In the evening we hear the familiar voice shouting "Aideeyaah Staaa Singaahhh" and immediately chairs are re-arranged, snacks are opened, phones are put in silent modes and we are glued to our television sets. The programme is watched by young and old alike. And no sooner than Ranjini's face appear snorts, smirks and comments are heard, mostly in a negative sense.

In my home, my father and I get into a regular argument over Ranjini Haridas. Whenever Ranjini Haridas appears with her trademark laughter or colourful dresses my father passes the invariable comment "ho!...ivale sahikkan patoola!" Now this is a comment I have heard in various homes (in varied versions) and mostly from members of the older generation, both male and female. Though everyone sits open-mouthed whenever she says something once the commercial break comes, everyone rubs her off saying she is insufferable. Now coming from the older generation this is understandable. But I'm at a loss when my contemporaries too share the same opinion. In their opinion she is vain, proud and "athra sheriyalla". Talks about some snappy photos doing the rounds in the internet.

So we arrive at the common conclusion - Ranjini Haridas is a bad influence on the younger generation, especially "our daughters". Because the most common argument we hear when we try to defend her is "would you allow your daughter or sister to dress or talk like that??"

Now let me state my frank opinion and may I be crucified for telling the truth - Ranjini Haridas is a great anchor or comperer, whatever word you chose. She revolutionised TV anchoring in a way like never before. So much so that every new anchor is now compared to her and evaluated as better or worse than or "just like" Ranjini Haridas.

Not to forget stage shows. I happened to work backstage for a couple of mega shows and saw the live work of a couple of comperers, including Ranjini Haridas. And I must say she is quite a phenomenon. I never saw her throw a tantrum or make a fuss. She was composed and confident. And compare this to other anchors. Even unknown ones throw quite a fit if they don't get their diet colas on time.

Once I remember there were two female anchors who were with us from the morning of the event, script in hand and practising their lines in the suite of a five star hotel. But when the show started they were still stumbling over their lines and that too with the script in their hands. Compare this to Ranjini Haridas who on one occasion got lost in the traffic and arrived just minutes before the inauguration of the show. She had her makeup done right at the backstage, asked for the script, which I handed over to her. She glanced at them for a few seconds before going on stage and making a grand entrance. She was electrifying even without carrying the written script with her. Now that is a good comperer. That was the day I started developing a respect for her. As a comperer, mind you. Her personal life doesn't concern me. And it shouldn't concern you.

I also remember another small incident during another stage show. Ranjini Haridas started to walk off backstage when one of the organizers, a political leader in his own right, jumped up and asked her where she was going (you know how politicians are paranoid. Maybe he thought she was walking off the show) and she coolly replied "To urinate" ("moothramozhikkan"). The leader looked shocked as if the thought that women could urinate never crossed his mind. The fact was Ranjini Haridas didn't show the pseudo modesty associated with women in such matters (" ...uh...wanted to go to the...mmm...bathroom"). Bold. That is the one word to describe Ranjini Haridas.

Coming to her dresses. I find that more often than not, her costumes are graceful and in good taste. I simply don't understand why people go so gaga over it.You know how modern dresses are associated with evil women in Kerala. Just check the other TV programmes or Malayalam movies. If there is a villainess, she is bound to be dressed in modern clothes. The "pathivritha" Malayalee woman always wears saree. Frankly Ranjini Haridas doesn't have a sexy figure. Atleast not in the traditional Malayali sort of way. Which is probably why she doesn't appear vulgar. Supposedly the traditional beautiful Malayalee girl should be voluptuous. Curved and rounded. For such a girl some of those costumes might look vulgar. But not on Ranjini Haridas. They look perfect on her.

A slight diversion. More on sarees. Personally I'm not a big fan of sarees. Sarees help women to cover up their increasing weight and waistline. If most women wore jeans or other modern dresses, they would have to be more conscious about their figures. This in turn would prompt them to check their lifestyles and diet, thus changing them into healthy people. You see its not just about having sexy bodies. It is about having healthy bodies. Sarees are the greatest threat to a woman's healthy lifestyle in Kerala. And so women who wear modern dresses, like Ranjini Haridas, being crucified is something I cannot digest. The court verdict banning women who wear sarees from pillion riding in bikes should be enforced immediately.

And then her laughter. The way Ranjini Haridas laughs also draw much derision because it is not the traditional hesitant smile expected from a Malayalee woman. Malayalee 'mankas' should cover half their faces while laughing or atleast laugh only modestly, and if possible slightly bow down their faces or give sly looks to the men appreciating her laugh. Not the open-mouthed laughter (a symbol that it comes straight from the heart) that Ranjini Haridas gives.

So that is what I have to say in the defence of Ranjini Haridas. She is unconventional and modern. She is skilled and has a gift. She is tremendously bold without having to consciously prove it. I would not go so far as to state that she is the face of the changing Malayalee woman. But I wouldn't mind if she were. Ranjini Haridas is an icon of the modern Keralite women, who wear modern clothes and are bold and independent, and have to pay the price of being demonised for it.

I urge you to consider all the above before you pass judgement on her.
That's all, your Honour.

PS - And I'm not a feminist. If at all I have been accused of being anything, it is of being a male chauvinist. I just like Ranjini Haridas. That's all.


Sunday, January 2, 2011

India not yet ready for permanent UN seat

India has been clamoring for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council – to join ranks with the five 'major powers' viz. US, UK, Russia, France and China. But as an Indian, and a proud one, I believe that India is not yet ready to take on that role. We should instead focus on our domestic affairs and set our house in order before taking on the role of the world police.

And I’m not just referring to the recent wave of appalling corruption deals that have come in the spotlight.

We have a lot of internal issues to resolve. Starting with Kasmir, a nuclear flashpoint, and border disputes with China we are also under a major Maoist menace. These are in addition to the threat of terrorists based from Pakistan.

On the international relations front we have an ambiguous stand on many issues. The current issue with Iran, for example. We stopped payment to Iran for oil, citing UN sanctions, and Iran responded by refusing to sell oil to us. We immediately had to backtrack.

We are a relatively young nation. We have time to take on a major global role. Our leaders are unfortunately obsessed with the term ‘global power’ using it in every other context to say we have become one. Two recent examples were the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony and the visit of US President Barack Obama. All our leaders who made a speech were seen saying “now India has become a global power, we have proved it to the whole world”, and so on. Who we really need to prove it to are the common people of our country and not any Western political leaders.

We need to prove that we are a ‘great power’ to the millions of people who struggle with poverty inside our country. Our leaders should focus within our country first and foremost. Of course we cannot live in isolation and issues all around the globe affect our economy, politics and decisions. But, the thing to remember is only if we have a great democracy, great political leaders and greater vision and greater integration, will we become a truly great nation.

We can prove it to the world later after we have proved it ourselves first.