Sunday, October 28, 2012

You’re So Vain, You Probably Think This Article Is About You

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

As he switched off the teevee, he could see the sun rising from his window. However, today this view wouldn’t cheer him up. He had just watched the foreign policy debate between Obama and Romney and he was disappointed that India wasn’t even mentioned once. How many more times will he have to face such humiliation? He feels his country is just a dirty little secret for the President. He took billions of dollars of our hard-earned money and then totally forgot about us. Each time he ignores us, it’s a slap in the face of the awesome future we had planned together. How can you do that to us, Barry? How can you slap?

As a country full of people who need constant validation, it was no surprise that the main point of discussion after the Presidential debate broadcast was that no one mentioned India during the debate. We’re like that character in sitcom who only pays attention to what other people are saying only when they’re talking about him. Even though the debate revolved around which candidate would be more awesome at bombing more brown people, people were upset that no one gave us a shout-out. After all, we invented the zero, bhangra music and Anil Kapoor. Isn’t that reason enough for everyone to keep talking about us, all the time?

Our politicians, diplomats and journalists have a schizophrenic love/hate relationship with America and its President.

Our politicians love to blame the ‘ubiquitous’ foreign hand for everything they are unable to explain. A foreign hand is behind the grassroots protest against nuclear power. The foreign hand teaches people that Internet censorship is bad. The foreign hand is in your telephone, tapping all your calls. And yet, the very same people trample over each other to shake the foreign hand when he comes over for a visit.

Our diplomats carry around a secret boner for the Republicans. Especially for their knight in faux cowboy boots, George W.  Bush. Because he does things they have always wanted to do. He didn't worry about "global warming" or the "Geneva convention" or "International treaties"  and would bomb, whoever he wanted, whenever he wanted. So what if a lot of civilians died as collateral damage? Who has time to find out if they’re bombing the right target or invading the right country when they’re busy choking on a pretzel? Christopher Columbus took a wrong turn - because he was using Apple Maps for navigation - and look how well it turned out for him. Republicans are always good for India! Who even remembers the time a Republican Administration sent a battleship to the Bay of Bengal to try to intimidate India during the ‘71 war or the time when another Republican administration funded the start of Osama Bin Laden and his ‘Jihad Jamboree.’ And don’t forget that while the last Republican administration might have given billions of dollars to the architect of the Kargil invasion to go shopping for weapons, they probably never intended to start another arms-race.  

Our news anchors act like entitled fangirls. They’re quite brave when they’re shouting at the teevee screen but turn to an embarrassing pile of mush once they’re actually faced with a member of the American government. One news anchor even asked Hillary Clinton on her first visit to India as Secretary of State to affirm America’s ‘love’ for India? What are we, a geopolitical entity or a girl in a rom-com who is about to lose her virginity to the wrong guy? Our journalists’ creepy obsession with America isn’t just limited to having a love-hate relationship with their political system. Our domestic news is also framed in American terms. Every terrorist attack in the country is India’s ‘9/11.’ Every government scandal is India’s ‘watergate.’ Every award ceremony in the country is India’s version of the Oscars. Aamir Khan’s teevee show talks about social issues, so naturally, he is India’s Oprah. And India has had more versions of Obama than the population of Kenya.

Our politicians, South Block mandarins and news anchors forget that only British Prime Ministers are constitutionally obligated to have unrequited feelings for the American President.

And that they’re supposed to get over him once he leaves office.

He knows that one day, Barry will be his friend. Until then he will sing Barry Can You Hear Me/Barry Can You See Me to the moon every night. He can take solace in the fact that some time in the near future, we will take our rightful place, right next to America, and both of us together will heal the world and make it a better place for you and for me and the entire human race. One day Barry will come home. Until then he will do what he does best. After all, the nation deserves to know.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Entitlement’s Children

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

A few years ago, a rent-a-mob ‘protesting’ a book attacked the institute where the author had done his research and destroyed important historical artifacts. A few months ago, the Indian government lodged an official protest with the US state department over a joke on a teevee show. A few weeks ago, an MP from Gujarat threatened a toll booth operator who dared to ask him to pay the toll.  A few days ago, members of the Pune police force physically attacked organizers of a music festival who refused to provide them with free tickets to a concert. These disparate events are connected not only by their absurdity, but by the feeling of entitlement present in the attitude of each of the perpetrators.

We’ve become a society of entitled individuals.

Our politicians feel entitled to living a privileged life on the taxpayer’s expense. Why pay for anything ever again when someone was foolish enough to send you to a legislative body? What do you mean I went for a vacation to Las Vegas? I was there in an official capacity: to study the effects of topless ladies doing amazing circus stunts on the general population. My luggage was a few hundred kilos over the allowed limit because as your elected representative I carry a heavy burden on my shoulders. One of the few times our MPs come together is to either give themselves more perks or to censure a private citizen who has dared to criticize them. Just because we barely show up to work or leave early if we do, doesn’t mean you should be criticizing us. If you think this is easy why don’t you try it? Haha, kidding! If you even think about doing this we’re going to send you into oblivion.

Our police lords over the very people they are hired to serve. The police in this country are like the ‘guardian’ of an underage heir in a 1980’s Hindi movie. Not only does the guardian cheat the heir out of all her money; he also turns her into his own personal slave. What do you mean your car got stolen? Are you sure? Why do you even need a car? You should try walking. Nobody walks to their destination anymore. Maybe the thief did you a favour? No, no need to write down a formal complaint. I’ll remember all the details. They don’t call me ‘Detective Karamchand’ for nothing!

Our governments feel entitled enough to tell us what books we can read or what movies we can see or which words on teevee we don’t deserve to hear. Because in real life nobody ever abuses anybody else and children are born when two flowers suddenly fall on each other. Why should we let you decide what you want to watch or read? Who do you think you are, an adult? The government can also place any restriction on the Internet because they’re entitled to their own interpretation of the law.  You can’t see this because . . . terrorism?

One of the major myths in this country which has become part of the conventional wisdom is that old people always know better. This is the sort of thinking that empowers arbitrary groups like the ‘Khap Panchayats’ to make decisions for other people, especially the young. A bunch of old, entitled men sitting around, making idiotic pronouncements which their community takes as gospel truth. A group of people so wise that they force members of the same family to kill each other for violating their ‘code.’

We’ve also convinced ourselves that we’re entitled to everything that we want. Whether it’s the parking spot someone else has been waiting for, or the first place in the line. If we don’t like something in the public domain, we’re entitled to break public property to protest against it. We’re entitled to discriminate against people based on an attribute of theirs we don’t like, but when other people do the same then they’re being racists. We’re entitled to use loudspeakers for our early morning prayers because what sort of heathen would object to worshipping god?

Nowadays, everyone seems to be entitled to their own facts too. Foreign investment equals colonialism! Global warming is a hoax! Eating crappy Chinese food makes you want to rape!

Now please excuse me while I let my dog out so he can relieve himself on my neighbour’s car.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Another One Bites The Dust

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

As the lights dimmed and he headed back to his ‘make-up’ room, he looked back once again to the stage to see the last remnants of his dignity. He had just done a scripted-to-look-impromptu dance with a former leading lady who appeared on his show to promote her comeback movie. He used to be the biggest superstar in the country and now he has to suffer a thousand indignities everyday being a circus monkey for people he wouldn’t even have looked at when he was at the peak of his career. People who only are allowed to appear on his show because he needs them. His first teevee show gave the channel enough ratings to keep them on the top for a decade. Now, to attract a decent audience, he needs to use people with sad stories to sell as a crutch. His father was right: if you want people to stop caring about you, grow old.

One of the most popular tropes on twitter among people who don’t have anything funny or original to say is to make a ‘joke’ about someone in the news being a contestant on Bigg Boss. This sort of came true last week when commode enthusiast and alleged cartoonist Aseem Trivedi became a contestant on that show. Because the best way to fight injustice is to participate in a show famous for playing psychotic mind games with its contestants and is moderated by a man whose career is dedicated to making bullying seem kitschy-cool! Trivedi made so much noise about being in jail and when he was freed he voluntarily entered a large compound in which he, along with other inmates, has to follow a rigid set of rules – which if broken invite their own set of penalties, receive food rations barely enough for sustenance, and can only exit when asked to do so by a presiding authority. Well played! Seems like all our modern messiahs want to do is become famous enough to get on teevee.

Of course, in India, the shortest route to fame - other than leading a vague protest against the government’s policies - is to become a contestant on a reality show. We love the people on reality shows! Sure, we forget about them the minute the current season of the show ends, but electing a proper Indian Idol is more important than electing a proper government.

And we have a whole spate of reality shows to choose from! You have your regular talent shows, in which people who didn’t succeed in their actual chosen profession select people who are going to fail in theirs. Nowadays, most of these shows have turned into a contest to determine who is more poor and desperate. Will you vote for the grocery vendor from a village without electricity situated deep inside the Himalayan mountains whose parents have to trek 200 kilometres just to catch a glimpse of their only offspring on teevee or would you vote for the orphan from the streets of the badlands of UP who survived famine, caste war, family feuds, dacoit recruitment officers and Anu Malik’s poetry to reach the finale. Why wouldn’t you help them achieve their lifelong dream of winning a show that didn’t exist until a month ago, you monster? Some shows also feature celebrities – and by celebrities I mean anyone who might have appeared in a movie or television show or had their photo appear in the newspaper that one time  – dancing and singing away, shamelessly asking their ‘fans’ to vote for them. Perhaps the only thing more pathetic than contestants on reality shows assuming that they have fans is people on twitter assuming that those who follow them actually give a crap about which first world problem prevented them from sharing their bon mots with the rest of the world. Even the scripted banter on these shows is more banal and cliché ridden than Ravi Shashtri’s commentary.

Then there are a zillion ‘crime shows’ which portray crude dramatizations of real-life incidents while the anchor pops in after every scene to give a very serious monologue requiring very serious background music. Judging by the ratings of these shows, it seems India really loves watching ‘people like us’ suffer fatal consequences for bad decisions.

The worst of the lot are those interchangeable ‘youth-centric’ shows. Their basic conceit is to humiliate everyone involved in the show on national television. A whole generation has been brought up watching these shows, confusing notoriety with fame. Possessing a real talent has been replaced by possessing an ability to bully, cajole, outwit or seduce. Bonus points if you get bleeped every two seconds.

Perhaps that is going to be this generation’s teevee legacy: a bunch of illiterate people shouting the f-word at each other, completely devoid of any context.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Everybody got Oscar Fever

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

I never understand why publishers put book blurbs on the first few pages of a book. I get the blurbs on the back; you know a book isn’t worth reading if it hasn’t even been blurbed by Gary Shteyngart. But why put them on the inside? I’ve already bought the book! You won me over! Stop trying to tell me how good the book is; just let me start reading it! And why should I care about what the ‘Denver Post’ said about the book? I don’t even like Denver! It’s like going into a restaurant, ordering your meal and then being told by the waiter how good the food in the restaurant is until your order is served. The chicken you’re about to eat was called ‘Superb!’ by the San Francisco Chronicle. The ‘Denver Post’ gave it three stars! And the Times of India was kind enough to state ‘come for the waitresses, stay for the chicken!’  What’s with all the insecurity, bro?

The same sort of insecurity that rears its ugly head every year around the time when we first hear about India’s entry to the Oscars for the ‘Best Foreign Film’ category. If only we'd nominated a better movie; we might even have won this year!

Here is how the nominating process works: If the producers of a movie released in the past year – and which stayed in the theatres for at least seven consecutive days –  want it to be considered for ‘Best Foreign Film’ at the Oscars, they have to fill a form, pay a service charge and send a copy of their movie – with subtitles in English – to the Film Federation of India (FFI) by the middle of September. In the last fortnight of the same month, a secret cabal of alleged ‘bollywood insiders’ chosen by the FFI meets at an undisclosed location and takes a look at all the movies that people have bothered to submit. They choose the least crappy movie and ship a copy of it to the Academy as India’s official entry. Then the Academy takes the movie and screens it for a secret cabal of Academy members who choose which movie to nominate.

Each nominated movie follows such a long and tedious process. And the process is easily influenced by marketing, bias, corruption, prejudice, bullying and the favour economy. It’s really a stretch to presume that the ‘best’ movie gets nominated each year. And yet there is always lots of ‘controversy’ and hand-wringing whenever the nomination period rolls around. Another self-inflicted wound on our national insecurities! Remember when we lost our national marbles over Slumdog Millionare, a movie that flopped miserably when it was released in the country but became a national obsession when it was nominated for a couple of Oscars. We are so desperate for validation that we pretended that a badly made British clone of a 1980’s Hindi movie was the greatest thing to happen to Indian cinema since Alam Ara.

Granted, award shows in our country are a farce and people generally get awards just for showing up and the Oscars are a much lesser sham than our shitty award shows, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is not some infallible earthly representative of the movie gods. Why get so hot & bothered about a random group of people giving awards to a random list of movies? An award show will always share the sensibilities of the people organizing it. 

Not that we make a lot of movies which can compete with the best in the world! It’s a wonder people in the rest of the world don’t like movies which tackle serious issues with the sensitivity of a starving otter who just spotted a school of fish. Hey Italy, you might be able to make a critically acclaimed, universally praised, inspiring movie about a group of blind orphans who went on to become Europe’s most popular dance troupe, but can you make the ‘leading men’ in your movies act like neanderthals with an I.Q. of a human toddler and the libido of an orangutan in heat? I don’t think so!

Next time we have a national freakout over sending the ‘wrong’ movie for a nomination, let us remember that we’re fretting about not winning an award from the same Academy who thought ‘The King’s Speech’ was the best movie of 2010.

A movie about a guy giving a good speech.

You know who else liked to give good speeches?