Sunday, August 26, 2012

Manmohan’s Minions Make Martyrs of Morons

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

It’s that time of the month again, when the UPA government tries to cancel the country’s Internet connection. While trying to handle another national crisis, the UPA, – spoiler alert! – made its 43225428746543th historic blunder, cementing its status as India’s #1 comedy troupe.  Faced with a serious show of no-confidence in the government apparatus by thousands of citizens fleeing back to the North East, the government performed it’s favourite form of exercise: doing too little too late and using the opportunity to settle its own scores.

First they oppose you, then they arrest you and then you turn into a popular public figure. The UPA has made a career of turning molehills into mountains. They are more paranoid than a person tripping on LSD who thinks that he just saw a unicorn. After spending the whole of last year turning every political opponent into a public martyr, they are now focussing all their energies feeding the persecution complex of people on the Internet.

As of the time of writing this article, the government continued to block various websites and twitter accounts belonging to people unsympathetic to their cause. Most of these had nothing to do with the recent crisis. Of course, since it was the UPA, the block was easily circumvented. They are not some sinister genius hell bent on world domination but a bunch of incompetent nincompoops who are led by a man who has spoken less words than a monk meditating in an undiscovered Himalayan mountain for the past two hundred years. They cannot be relied upon to even do something wrong properly.

They tell us that India is under the most dangerous cyber attack since the founding of the republic and the best defence they can come up with is blocking twitter accounts of people whose views they don’t subscribe to? How can we expect them to preserve the ‘integrity & sovereignty’ of the country if they can’t take a couple of jokes from some guy on the Internet? How do they conduct diplomatic negotiations, by holding their breath until the other side acquiesces to their demands?

Almost all our ‘political parties’ are really just cults with political power. Their only purpose of existence is to keep their infallible prophet-in-chief happy. All’s well that ends with a smile on the face of the ‘high command.’ None of them are really adept at handling any sort of criticism. Nor do they care what the people really think about them. And they’re going to do anything to make sure you keep your opinions to yourself. If they can’t buy you, they’ll bully you. If they can’t bully you, they’ll give you things to be worried about. If they can’t distract you, they can always call you an anti-national seditionist. And if that also doesn’t work, they can simply make you go away. Permanently.

Political parties are not the only ones who would like people on the Internet to put a sock in it. Recently, even Sagarika Ghose, a human person with less functional grey cells than the Pillsbury Doughboy, called for censorship of ‘social media.’ She’s not the only one. Even her counterpart on NDTV, the one who pretends to be the greatest thing to happen to Indian journalism since Huen-Tsang - because she once went to an army outpost during a war and binged on the soldiers’ limited rations – isn't a big fan of people who don’t possess a fancy journalism degree and yet still insist on having opinions. Not that any of our ‘news anchors’ report the news anymore. All we get is the same bunch of people saying the same things to each other in the same passive aggressive manner. It’s not news unless it can be shown with scary music playing in the background. Hey people starving in villages without electricity, if you want people to pay attention to you, invade the Indo-Chinese border. Why leave the studio when you can keep talking and still say nothing all day long? People love to watch a condescending asshole talk down to them, don’t they?

Trying to censor the Internet is like trying to put humpty dumpty back together again. If all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t do it, then you can’t either, ‘esteemed’ members of the establishment. Being on the Internet is like being trapped with a bunch of monkeys in a cage. You can duck all you want, but one of these days you’re going to end up with shit on your face. The best you can do is to wipe it off and hope that no one figures out where the stench is coming from.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Then We Came To The End

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

Looking through the small window of his cottage, as he saw the sun set, he couldn’t help but think of it as a metaphor for his own career. He turned to look at the Gandhi Topi on his dresser and sighed wistfully. A year ago at this time, he was the most popular man in the country. People couldn’t have enough of him! Everyone wanted to talk to him, touch him, seek his blessings, and name their children after him. Now they sneer at him when they pass him on the street. Last year, every self-important news anchor hung on his every word. They flew hundreds of miles and then waited for hours in the unforgiving heat without any of the creature comforts they were used to, just to interview him for ten minutes. Now they don’t even pick up his call. This country will rue the day they stopped supporting him. Until then, he will not let anyone know how heartbroken he really is. He will not let them have the satisfaction of knowing that these days, instead of surveying the village to find people to beat up, he spends his mornings curled up in the corner of his hut listening to Adele on his iPod and his nights curled up on his bed watching re-runs of Gilmore Girls, while binging on large gallons of ice-cream. Public display of emotion is an acceptable course of action only for women or people from weaker castes. Not for people of his stature.  

For a large part of last year, India was forced to pay attention to lessons on how to practice democracy from a tiny, Gollum-shaped tyrant - who lorded over his village like it was his personal fiefdom - called Anna Hazare. As he rode the Let’s Do Something Express to his first fast at Jantar Mantar, Hazare captured the nation’s imagination. If there is one thing India loves, its leaders who promise to bring about change without us having to lift a finger. You can clean up a mess without getting your hands dirty! Anybody who agrees with our totally unbiased assessment - that the main problem in this country is other people - is fit to lead us onto the light. Remember when our favourite mode of protest was sending people ‘get well soon’ cards because we saw some guy doing that in a movie? Yeah, good times! I bet our freedom fighters feel really stupid for sacrificing their lives when, instead of participating in a sustained, peaceful campaign spanning decades they could have driven the British out by simply liking the ‘Free India’ page on Facebook or sending abusive tweets to British leaders on Twitter. What a bunch of amateurs!

The Anna Hazare led anti-corruption movement reached its peak last August when for about two weeks everything in the country seemed to revolve around its leader. People were forced into ‘spontaneous’ protests of solidarity all over the country in which they took to the streets wearing official Anna-themed swag. No one appeared to be bothered by the fact that passing a law to create a bloated bureaucracy to keep a check on another bloated bureaucracy seemed a tad wasteful. Who has time for nuance when you’re promised that all you have to do to help eradicate corruption from the country is to spend a couple of days participating in a procession whose only task is to arbitrarily march to the nearest television camera while shouting slogans proclaiming the superiority of ‘Bharat Mata’ over other lesser countries who do not have the privilege to be born of such divine parentage. Some cities even saw people dressed as famous freedom fighters of yore proclaiming that this nation full of pure, incorruptible people being made to suffer because of a few dozen bad apples who also happen to be our elected representatives. Like most politicians being investigated by the CBI, the people of this country gave themselves a ‘clean chit.’

The government responded in the same way it reacts to every situation: doing something rash after the initial panic sets in, then denying that anything is wrong at all and that they were not responsible for any steps taken by the so called ‘independent agencies.’ Afterwards, as slow acceptance creeps in that a problem really exists, they go ahead and suddenly capitulate to the demands of whoever is holding them hostage. The opposition parties ceded their space to the crypto-fascist from Ralegan Siddhi and then tried to hijack the issue with such hilarious shamelessness that it made them even less relevant.    

However, with great popularity comes even greater scrutiny. A few days after his ascension as the India’s newest saviour, the country watched in horror as Hazare revealed himself to be less the ‘new Gandhi’ and more of ‘an embarrassing cranky old family member who always says inappropriate, bigoted things in front of dinner guests.’ As the country was exposed to Hazare’s gratuitous opinions - Childless women are barren! People who drink should be beaten up within an inch of their life! Vigilante justice is probably the best thing since sliced bread! – it began to fall out of love with him. Of course, the people around him knew exactly what sort of a person he was (them and everybody else with basic Google skills), but that didn’t stop them from fostering this fossil on all of us. Team Anna doesn’t want to stop corruption. They’re more interested in promoting themselves and selling their books and other official merchandise like Hazare’s patented beat-a-drunk genuine leather belt. Which is why now they’re launching their “political party,” which will tell you which candidates you should vote for in the next general election. It’ll be like Yelp, but even less useful.

As Hazare’s public image deteriorated, so did the attendance and popularity of his subsequent ‘road shows.’ They flopped more miserably than a Harman Baweja movie. His latest protest was such a non-event that Kiran Bedi took to twitter to literally beg celebrities and/or ‘senior’ television journalists to show up. The best they could get was Indian television’s laughs-a-lot-lady and her husband, Whatishisname. Shockingly, no one really wants to hitch a ride on a sinking ship.

As Hazare aimlessly walks around his small hut, he feels like a defeated man. Played like a piano by forces superior to him. Abandoned and desolate, constantly wearing a forlorn expression. Then, suddenly, he hears a knock on the door. He ignores it. What’s the point, anyway? But the persistent knocking continues. “Anna,” says the person behind the door, “I’m from Magazine X. And I have a few questions.”  He wipes the tears off his face and runs to the door. When he opens it, he sees nothing but an empty wasteland. Another hallucination! He’d been having a lot of them these days. Then, he walked outside into the darkness, letting it engulf him.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Eat. Watch TV. Get rid of your love handles.

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

Before there was the northern grid blackout, there was the great Internet blackout of 2012. Thanks to some strange conspiracy to make office workers more productive, last week the twin pillars on which internet junkies build their castle of procrastination, were unavailable for a few hours. First they came for our Google Talk. Then they came for our Twitter. Not only are they my last remaining connection to the outside world, them being out of circulation is the start of my most horrid nightmare. It starts with both these tools being unavailable and ends three thousand years later when the last remaining human with a non-primate brain takes his amphibian girlfriend and heads to what he thinks is his home to find that his whole civilization has been destroyed and the only proof of its existence is half a statue - which shares it’s likeness with the former chief minister of a populous North Indian state – that has washed up on the shore.

Thankfully, my nightmare did not initialize. But it was a very tense few hours and to avoid clicking on the Google Plus button in desperation (if you don’t know what Google Plus is, don’t worry! Neither does anybody at Google!) I had to leave the comfortable environs of the internet and head on to the chaos of television. I didn’t try to call someone or have a face-to-face conversation because why try to establish a connection with another living being when you can watch other people attempt it unsuccessfully?

Now, admittedly, the last time I had aimlessly ‘surfed’ the teevee, Manmohan Singh was still a popular reformist. But these things are like not riding a bike; it all comes back to you within the first few seconds. As I travelled through this familiar yet strange territory, I noticed a bizarre pattern. Instead of regular programming, most channels were showing ‘tele-shoppng’ adverts: Exclusive products available for a limited time only!

Even though most of these products were more dubious than the BJP’s promise to combat corruption, but for some reason they were being allowed to be sold to a large number of consumers. I noticed that no matter what these hacks are selling, their modus operandi seems to be quite similar. Hire an out of work celebrity – because nothing says ‘this is authentic’ like a person who has been out of work for more than a decade and would jump at any opportunity to make a buck – make them talk to hilariously bad extras who couldn’t convince a person about to faint from dehydration to have a drink of water; add a few doctors with vague qualifications and voila, you’ve got a product which you can sell for thousands of rupees to millions of unsuspecting customers. Remember, if you want to make your product look extra trustworthy, add a made up certificate or make sure to mention ‘ayurveda’ a couple of hundred times every two minutes.

One of the most frequent tele-shopping advertisements are regarding products which claim to help you lose weight. Shockingly, according to the sellers of these products, exercising and controlling your food intake is not the right way to go about it. The correct way is to only consume their product and not doing anything else. Eat anything you want! Don’t move a muscle! Just have an cup of ‘herbal’ tea twice a day or wear this magical belt and you will not only lose all your weight, you will somehow also look like a person who has spent the last decade living in a gym. Hey, if you don’t believe them, check out those totally truthful confessions from formerly fat people whose ‘before’ pictures are so badly photoshopped that the head they affix on pictures of obese bodies they steal from the internet doesn’t match the body either in proportion or skin tone.

Other exploitative products include dubious ‘education packs’ pretending to teach people how to speak chaste English in a couple of weeks. If you listen to this old man with a long beard and a deep baritone, then you too can speak horrible, grammatically incorrect English in a faux American accent. To make sure religious people don’t feel left out, there are hundreds of fake products that promise nothing short of nirvana. You can order amulets, conical photos, replicas of ancient palaces, and you’re all set for life. You don’t even have to go out and try to make a living. People will literally walk into your house and hand you money. You will never have to face any problems whatsoever. No one you know will ever fall sick or score less than hundred percent or take a wrong business decision. Say adieu to your ennui!

These people are successful in conning a large swathe of the population because people really want to believe them. If you ignore the kitschy production values or the obviously untrained actors, they offer a pretty good deal. Be successful without doing any hard work! You can lose weight just by having two shitty cups of our tea. You can turn into Mr. Universe without moving a muscle. You can speak English like the Queen in two weeks even if you haven’t spoken a word of it all your life. If you use our expensive amulet, God will personally annihilate anyone who dares to even think of looking at you in the wrong way.

But isn’t that how things are nowadays? Politicians are elected just because they have a famous surname. Reality show contestants become famous for being famous. News anchors win awards for never leaving their studios and passing off banal panel discussions as ‘news.’ Old fascist men from small villages in Maharashtra want to run the country without bothering to run for office.

At least these fake products have the decency to disappear into the ether after their time is up.