Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Anatomy of a Moment

(An abridged version of this article first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

We never heard the door open. Swati and I had been going at it for more than two hours. We were having so much fun that we did not see her Mother entering the room. Swati’s mother shrieked when she saw what we were up to. She told us to stop and we did as we were told. She slapped her daughter and threw me out of her house. As I walked home, I wondered what we had done wrong. After all, we were only doing what kids our age have done for centuries. It came so naturally to us! And if we had done something wrong, why was Swati the only person to be punished, when both of us were consensual partners to the alleged crime?  Of course, when you’re eight, you don’t realize that gender politics enables people to find something sinister in even a silly game of ‘house.’  (Hey, it was the 80’s! Time passed really slow back then. It was either this or watching bored doordarshan anchors give farming advice).

Whenever I hear bigots like NCW chairperson Mamta Sharma blame the victims in the aftermath of horrific incidents, I am filled with the same thought that I had on that lonely walk home almost three decades ago: But the victims did nothing wrong!  According to ‘Logic for Assholes 101,’ the victim of the assault must have done something to bring this upon herself. She must have dressed provocatively! Remember ladies, If you don’t cover yourself properly then you’re just tempting people to invade your space and touch you inappropriately. If you go in front of a man dressed in a skirt, do you expect him not to rape you? Ha! Men who rape are fine upstanding members of their community who are blinded by a woman in a skirt to such an extent that they lose control of their mental faculties and automatically start raping anything they can get their hands on!

Maybe it’s the pubs! These dens of depravity which dare to serve decadent western values along with each portion of chicken wings. It is because of them that girls today know more about different types of Tequila than about different ways to cook eggplant. Only a person who hasn’t ever been to a pub or nightclub would say that. They base their opinion on what they see in the media. When the leading female protagonist of a movie or a teevee show goes to a club, something bad always happens. Some guy will spot her, drug her and then poke her with his penis.  And then everyone around her will throw a hissy fit and blame her for everything. She will then proceed to get pregnant (what are the odds!) and become the shame of her family until the valiant male protagonist - who was silently brooding in the corner until now - will offer to marry her. Or she will find herself waking up naked next to a black guy whilst having no recollection of the events of the previous night. (In a Hindi movie, that’s when you know a woman has gone too far. When she intercourses a black drug dealer. This way, we’re able to simultaneously dehumanize two sets of people: women and drug dealers). The moral of story is that going to any place which has strangers and alcohol will ultimately lead to rape.

Maybe we’re just old-fashioned! We prefer our women to realize they are second class citizens and were sent to this earth to cook, clean and put out whenever their husband wants to fall asleep on top of them. It’s our culture! No! You’re not old fashioned; you’re a bigot. Old-fashioned people collect vinyl records or still subscribe to the yellow pages. Bigots use “blindly aping western values” as a code for saying “Put down that drink, throw away that cigarette, and head back home, you filthy whore!”

We rarely assign responsibility where it really lies: on the men who commit such crimes or who contribute to turning any place into a toxic environment unsafe for women. Everything is dismissed with a simple sweep of boys will be boys! You can be as inconsiderate as you want to other human beings as long as you can pee standing up! Hey, ladies, if God wanted you to have freedom and the ability to make decisions affecting your own life, then he would have given you a useful, nifty appendage - instead of whatever gross ladyparts you currently possess - which most of the time would function as your primary brain.

A couple of years ago, a best-selling author who claims to be a ‘youth icon’ was handing out dating advice to young men who were having trouble in the search for a companion. However, he did not extend this privilege to women because according to him, all a woman has to do is say make herself available for dating purposes and then men will flock to her like worker bees flock to their Queen. Because women can’t be be horny, needy, ugly, geeky, emotionally unavailable, unfit for human companionship. They’re simple creatures who must be spoken about in patronizing terms! According to this douchebag, the best way to build a permanent residence in a women’s heart is to irritate her. Pull her ponytails and she will literally marry you on the spot!  If you have feelings for her, irritate her. If you really like her, quit your job and follow her around wherever she goes. If she calls the police, she probably likes you back and wants you to follow her even more. Do not stop, continue to follow her around and this time, make obscene gestures. And if you really, really love her, just go ahead and punch her in her face. Nothing says "I love you long time" like a broken frikin' jaw!

Once, in violation of the Geneva convention against torture, I was made to witness a Hindi teevee show. During a particular harrowing scene, a woman’s face was being blackened by a group of other, larger, angry women. Apparently, her crime was “stealing” a married woman’s husband. Because that’s always the woman’s fault! The men are just like footballs who can be kicked around by various women. They don’t want to have an affair! In fact, they’re being forced to have sex against their will by the hot lady on whom they conveniently always had a crush!

Perhaps that is the greatest trick the patriarchy ever pulled. Convincing successive generations of women to be it’s enforcers.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

It’s the law, stupid!

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

Ever since Mumbai’s latest self-appointed moral guardian, ‘Herr Inspektor’ Vasant Dhoble started his blitzkrieg to rid Mumbai of unsympathetic scum like people trying to have an overpriced drink, he has been heralded as a pioneer. Look, someone is finally doing something! Someone brave enough to apply the law! Stop waiting and make him Prime Minister already! Those who support Supreme Commander Dhoble and Brigade of the Righteous are upright citizens who believe in the rule of law and those who don’t are probably know-nothing elitists who hate democracy, freedom and punishing criminals.

In Maharashtra, possession, consumption or transportation of alcohol without a permit is illegal and can invite a fine up to fifty thousand rupees and/or a prison sentence for up to five years thanks to the Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949. In some states, you cannot keep more than two litres of liquor in your house. You cannot bring a copy of the Satanic Verses into the country because of a customs ban. Doordarshan has repeatedly used provisions of the Indian Telegraph Act 1865 to claim its right to broadcast all important sporting events in the country. In 2010, the Indian government used a provision of the IT act - which allows it to ban websites that threaten “the sovereignty or integrity of India, defence and security of the state” or that endanger “friendly relations with foreign states” – to briefly block an adult website displaying pornographic images in cartoon form. A website which displayed cartoons against corruption was refused hosting privileges by a service provider after a complaint by an official from the crime branch.

Yet, like good, obedient members of the proletariat, we have been led to believe that the police are not trying to harass us, they’re just doing their job. It’s the law, stupid! If only the law wasn’t structured in such a way, the police would not have to arrest you under sub-section Fuck(U) of the What You Looking At Punk Act, 1860.

The problem here is not just the bad laws in our books. It’s also the careful selection of which laws to enforce. Using the example of the raids conducted by the Right Honourable Captain Dhoble, how did those places skirting the law exist in the first place? Did they exist in a parallel dimension not hereto visible to honest, non-self serving police officers? Did they follow each and every law in the books in its letter and spirit until the day they were suddenly raided? What about raiding those people in the government who benefited from the very establishments who were allowed to function despite violating the law? Why aren’t those people paraded in front of news cameras for teevee viewers to cast their judgement on and tut-tut at the deploring state of morality in the country? It’s easy to bully juice vendors with hockey sticks. What about those establishments which flout a lot of laws but are spared because they are either owned by the politicians in power or by people close to them?

As anybody who has tried to run a business in this country will tell you, the law is structured in such a way that even if everything is in order you will be violating some asshole provision or the other. They will always find a loophole. A few weeks ago, I was at a popular market in Delhi when it was being raided by officials from a government department. These officials received ‘gift vouchers’ from all the shops in the market. As the owner of one of the shops later explained to me, if your papers are not in order, you pay fifty thousand rupees. If your papers are in order, you pay five thousand. You cannot conduct business in this country without having to give a bribe at one stage or the other. Anybody who thinks that should sign up for my very profitable home business in which all you have to do is sell some exclusive world class products and recruit lots of other people to do the same and then sit back and watch the money roll in and no it is not a pyramid scheme why do you ask?

We’ve had various law commissions over the decades who have recommended removing the old laws from the books. Some of these laws are older than AK Hangal! And yet they persist. They do so because they’re part of our government-industry complex. You’re going to have to take away those laws from the cold, retired hands of all those officers from the various government departments who have ‘invested’ a lot of money to be transferred to lucrative posts. The law is blind; and for those who can afford it, it’ll play dumb too.

Those who think just repealing the laws will fix the problem, please pick a number and get in line. A concerned official will be with you shortly.

Meanwhile, there are some exclusive products we would like to show you . . .

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Fifty Shades of Brown

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

Famous teevee channel for old and censored shows, Star World India, is currently in the middle of broadcasting the latest season (this is a rare event; the words “latest season” and “Star World India” being used in the same sentence!) of Masterchef Australia. This is one of the most watched shows on Star World India because it involves ordering around people making the food and then being an unappreciative asshole when they present the final product. Finally a show on teevee most Indian men can identify with!

This season Star World’s marketing department has given us another reason to watch the show. The show finally has a contestant of Indian origin! So all their promos about the show are centred around said contestant, a Ms. Dalvinder Dhami. Because they know that the only thing – other than badly recreated dramatic representations of real life crimes or fake reality shows about people torturing each other for no fame and mild fortune – that we love to see on teevee is a brown person make it in white people la-la land! And this Masterchef contestant is going to be very popular. She’s a professional woman sharing her three kids, her husband (by arranged marriage!) and house with her parents-in-law. She is like every popular, ‘prim and proper’ female soap opera protagonist on Star Plus.

Unfortunately, she got eliminated from the show because of her inability to make a Greek salad. We have failed you again, King Porus. Thousands of years later and we still get foiled by the Greeks! Damn you, descendants of Alexander. Why couldn’t you have been happy with eating a ‘green salad’ like normal people? This is why you have no money, Greece. Because not only do you insist on fancy ingredients for even inconsequential parts of the meal, you also keep breaking your plates after you finish it. 

When she was eliminated, Ms. Dhami not only lost the title of Masterchef, she also lost her impending ‘Indian of the Year’ awards that our news channels would have bestowed upon her had she won. Now, instead of gracing Indian Idol with her presence and being felicitated by Anu Malik as a ‘true Indian’ – even though the last person in her family to set foot in the country was born more than a hundred years ago – she now has to remain contented with being recognized and mobbed at the very Indian weddings she is going to cater.

We love to cheer anyone with a remote connection to us even before we ask if that person wants to be hero worshipped or not. Not everybody wants to be the representative of India’s ‘soft-power,’ which is carefully taking over the world one reality show at a time. People like Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. Jindal was the first Indian-American politician to become the Governor of an American state. But Bobby Jindal feels the same way about being Indian like Mitt Romney feels about being a moderate Republican. They both pretend that it never happened even in the face of indisputable evidence.

Bobby never fails to remind his constituents and pretty much everybody else he meets that he is just like them. Just another normal! He also doesn’t fail to recount the lucky break his parents got when they escaped to America from their poor frail home in Punjab where fifty people shared a single room apartment and when you went outside to the bathroom you had to sing while you occupied it because locks were a western concept!

When Obama held his first state dinner in honour of the Indian Prime Minister, Bobby Jindal was one of the prominent invited guests. While everybody else dressed in their best exotic Indian regalia, Bobby Jindal and his wife both came dressed like rich hicks from Small Town, USA. Really, guy? You’re named after a movie character portrayed by Dimple Kapadia! You do know that you’re brown on the outside, don’t you, Bobby? The last time I saw a person going to such desperate lengths to deny who he is, a certain scientologist was jumping on Oprah’s couch while declaring his love for Katie Holmes.

It’s okay to be Indian now, Bobby! We’re in these days! Everyone loves us now even if they keep asking us to fix their computer! We’re so popular that lovable douchebag and human wikipedia Aaron Sorkin included an Indian-American character in his latest libtard fantasy teevee series (through which Sorkin speaks truth to stupid while being mean to women). We might not have the roughish charm of the British or the sexual openness of the French or the raw, suppressed cold war resentment of the Russians, but we will always own awkwardness. Be yourself, Bobby. And who knows! Maybe one day you might even be the first openly-Indian President of the United States of America! If that ever happens, Arnab Goswami will be so happy that everything in a 100 kilometre radius around him will be deluged in jizz.

Speaking of overreacting, our national discourse this week consisted of discussing the Time Magazine cover which called Manmohan Singh an underachiever! Great insight, Time! Only in India can people take something which has fewer readers than LK Advani’s blog at face value. Who else would know more about the zeitgeist than a magazine which, a few weeks ago, had an over-age toddler suckling on his Mom’s breast on its cover? Beats me!

We still celebrate every non-achievement an Indian makes in foreign lands and/or are upset by negative foreign press because we put so much cache in what others think of us. Specially those who live in the great, big, white hope. We are constantly seeking validation from other father figure countries. Our country has more daddy issues than a ‘Playboy Playmate’ dating Hugh Hefner. 

The thing is, we haven’t arrived until we stop trying to prove that we have. It is a terrible state of existence if you spend all your time trying to meet someone else’s expectations of who you should be.

Hey, if you don’t believe me, ask Bobby.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Hundred Percent or Bust!

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

Usually in July, the monsoons help colleges all over the country piss on the hopes and dreams of recent high school graduates. This year, since the monsoons are delayed thanks to a letter written by Subramanian Swamy asking the Himalayan Mountains to block any clouds of foreign origin, the colleges had to perform this task alone. And, as always, the colleges performed the task with enough cruelty to pass this test with flying colours, unlike the students whose applications they rejected.

Every year as we hear about cut-off percentages hovering between the 99 to 100 percentile zones, we try to have a trite national debate over the state of education in the country. Even though we’ve all contributed to the boiling down of the essence of a thirteen year education into a double digit percentage, we somehow seem to be surprised to see our handiwork in action. Look what people who’re not us have done! How did this happen? All we did was pressurize our children to compete with others like an element in a Darwinian equation fighting for survival. What do you mean asking them to get a hundred percent or die trying is not good parenting?  

We teach children that their life’s mission should be to lead a zombie-like existence wherein the only thing they should dedicate their energy to is to getting a perfect score in their exams. Don’t try to be creative! Don’t ask too many questions. Don’t look for things outside the syllabus. Don’t read chapters your teachers aren’t comfortable teaching you. You don’t have to understand it; you just have to learn it!

We make our children define their self-worth by their marks. People who get near perfect or perfect scores are treated like royalty by parents and teachers. If you get good marks life will be so good that even the air you breathe will not have been sullied by the inferior nostrils of someone who has never even been in any honour roll! No need to talk to your friends, they only want to distract you from your goal!

People are obsessed with getting perfect or near-perfect scores because these are important for students to get into a ‘prestigious college.’ Even though the most important lessons in college are learnt outside the classroom, which college you go to does have an impact on your future. For example, it helps determine the level of douchiness you will exhibit for the rest of your life.

While our prestigious institutions are busy churning out alumni who spend the rest of their lives producing large number of badly written campus novels, there is a whole industry built around trying to exploit the people who want to get into them. From the neighbourhood tuition centres who charge an exorbitant amount of money to ‘guarantee’ admission into one of these institutions; to touts who promise to get you in if you reward them with a cut of the ‘donation’ you plan to give to your favourite educational institution.

We need good colleges for everyone. Even for those whose don’t get ‘good’ marks in high school. We cannot leave their education to pontytail-ed conmen – whose only purpose of existence is to raise their own profile while they fleece large swaths of students who join their diploma shop – to fill the gap.  Or to fake foreign universities with prestigious sounding names which only exist on websites filled with stock photos. (I’m looking at you, Belford 'University.)

There should be more actual options for people who want to pursue things that interest them (like literature or alcohol). Like me in college, they might just scrape by the passing mark by pulling an all-nighter, but, hey, all’s well that ends well! 

Come to think of it, maybe I should open my own college and let people study whatever they want.

Will you sign up if I offer free laptops and a diploma from a fancy college in England?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Don’t break my glass house, bro!

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

Everybody’s favourite failed state and South Asia’s #1 source of terrorism and the sort of music which makes you want to rip your heart out, throw it in the air and shoot it with an AK-47 just to make yourself feel better, was having a ‘crisis of democracy’ again. Pakistan has had more crises of democracy than the number of dossiers the Indian government has sent them.

The Pakistani Supreme Court thought that the best way to preserve democracy was to kick it in the nuts and bloody it’s face with a sledgehammer. Prime Ministerial careers were dying faster than a North Korean rocket. Just like a superhero franchise losing popularity, Pakistan rebooted its government and appointed a new – allegedly corrupt – Prime Minister. What are the odds! If a guy who looks like Ratan Tata mated with Killer Khalsa cannot restore the trust of the people in democracy, I don’t know who can.

Speaking of failed states, Greece, the birthplace of democracy and toga parties, also got over it’s weird Nazi phase and elected a semi-coherent government. Since the new government is made of coalition partners diametrically opposed to each other, this bodes well for the Euro. Because if there is one thing coalition governments are good at, it’s taking tough, unpopular decisions.

Which brings us to Egypt. For the first time in modern history, Egypt has an almost-popularly elected President who is not beholden to the army. Since he belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, right wing nutjobs all over the world are wetting their pants in both fear and gleeful anticipation depending on their chosen theocracy of allegiance. Are you saying that a ruthless dictator supported by the United States who was lording over a middle eastern country with an iron hand and who – among other things suppressed religion, and was overthrown by a revolution led by young people – has been replaced by religious parties? If only history had given us some indication that this would happen!

People presume that just because they ‘liked’ that photo of all the people gathered in Tahir Square and re-tweeted actual revolutionaries, that they have a say in who Egypt elects as President. They don’t! It’s like we’re telling them, Hey Egypt, you can have a democratically elected President as long as we get to approve who it is! Even if the new government goes south very soon, having had even a small say in the policies of the government which lords over them is a big step. The old system is not going to give way so easily. And democracy is not something you get right from the get-go. You’re always striving to be better at it. Democracy is the ability to choose which road you want to pave with your good intentions while you lazily saunter towards hell.

Back home in India, we still continue to try different combinations even after sixty four years. Our current head of government is a man who started playing ‘statue’ when he was five years old and till this day ignores everyone who asks him to ‘stop.’ The last President of America did not know his way around a pretzel. Democracy in Pakistan has had more false starts than a Scooter manufactured in the 80’s. Even people in Greece behave like amateurs when you send them to the voting booth. 

Dictatorships are like the iPhone. They may look good and have a controlled environment nearing perfection, but the slave labour required to achieve such a state remains invisible. Democracy is like Android. It’s messy, it’s chaotic, and nobody who makes it agrees with each other and it’s always in need of improvement.

Electing religious parties to government is not all that bad. Many countries have had governments led by parties which have religion deeply embedded into their DNA. It’s not like these governments started killing members of other . . .  


Be afraid, Egypt.

Be very afraid.