Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Time to Give You Up, Technology

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

In every person’s life, there comes a time when you realize that the world around you is changing too fast. So you have to ask the world to stop the car so that you can get down and start your slow walk towards obscurity. Of course, this is not the easy path. Many before me have dared to traverse it but haven’t been able to make it safely to the other side. I pledge to never forget the sacrifices made by those that came before me.  Whether it was brave grandmothers who spent all their golden years trying to load a YouTube video of their grandson performing at his college talent competition along with his acapella group on their ancient computer with 256MB RAM and a 4GB hard drive, or those brave connoisseurs of culture who spent all their money collecting vinyl records for which they didn’t even have a compatible turntable. I know that it won’t be easy. But when has blazing a trail and leaving others to follow in your stead been easy? If you don’t believe me, ask Buddha. (Disclaimer: The buddha doesn’t provide actual solutions to your questions because of the whole ‘look inside your own self for all the answers’ thing he had going on. Warning: Don’t try this at home. That one time I tried looking inside myself and was disgusted by what I found.)

This day come for me recently when I found that my favourite texting application would be introducing something called ‘voice messaging.’ Using your own voice to communicate through a phone – what a unique idea! Why didn’t anyone think of this before? I was outraged at this development because the whole point of modern technology is to help people avoid all human interaction. For example, if I ‘interact’ with another person using just my voice how will I let them know I laughed at their joke without the use of LOL? How will someone I send a voice message to determine that I am angry with them unless I also include a red smiley of a serious face?

What’s next? Keeping your phone down when you’re in a restaurant and talking to the person you’re meeting for dinner? Making eye contact with strangers in a waiting room? Not looking at the small teevee on the dashboard while driving down a highway? Walking up to the colleague at work who sits in the next cubicle to resolve an issue instead of sending him passive aggressive emails that complicate everything? Not letting everyone in the movie theatre know that I’m a douchebag by not putting my phone on ‘silent’ because I might receive an important call? I, for one, refuse to walk down this slippery slope.

Even an idiot can win games with me! My disillusionment with modern technology probably started when I discovered  video games that require actual physical exertion. Is nothing sacred anymore? The primary purpose of video games is to enable you to avoid all sorts of physical exertion. Back in my day, all you needed to do while playing a video game was sit back on the sofa, use one hand to move the joystick that controlled your player while indiscriminately stuffing various snack foods into your mouth with the other. Nowadays, people play video games which require them to simulate the action they want their player to mimic in the game. If you want to play tennis on these newfangled video game consoles, you probably need to have the expertise and experience of a grand slam titleholder to win a match.  It’s just like being there! If I wanted to be there, I would, you know, go there. I don’t buy your crappy video games so that they can remind me of my lack of physical ability. What part of “inside good, outside bad” is hard to understand? Sheesh! Even being lazy requires so much hard work these days.

So that’s it, folks. I refuse to comply with technological advancements anymore. I don’t want to wake up one day and find out that not only have my eyelids become a google glass clone, but whenever I think about asking for directions, an angry British ladyee automatically shouts them into my ears.

Now please excuse me while I spend the next year and a half trying to reboot my old 486 desktop.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Revolving Doors of Indian Politics

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

It was late in the night. The year was 1998. The setting was a teevee studio in a remote corner of New Delhi. The participants in the discussion were then ‘senior Congress leader’ Sharad Pawar, bearded trampoline Prannoy Roy and a whole litany of non-Prannoy Roys, none of whom had fled the nest yet. As the votes came in, initial projections told us that – as expected – no party or coalition had a clear majority. As per its senior leader in the studio, the Congress was still intent on keeping the BJP out of power. When asked by one of the non-Prannoys how they would manage that, Pawar said that they would try to kiss and make up with the United Front. This shocked the non-Prannoy, who spent the next hour expressing his shock that the Congress was ready to prop up the same government that it had withdrawn support from twice in the last one year. It was ready to return to the status quo after foistering an expensive mid-term poll on the taxpayers. A political party playing politics! When did that start happening, the non-Prannoy wondered out loud.

This same naiveté was on display recently when we were informed that voter disenfranchisement enthusiast, Subramanian Swamy, was merging his one man party with the BJP. Because if there is one thing that the BJP needs, it’s another megalomaniac bigot who desperately wants to be Prime Minister. While scary music played over a montage of Swamy meeting and posing with various BJP leaders, questions were raised about how this came about. Wasn’t this the same guy who until a few years ago was the mortal enemy of one of the BJP’s tallest leaders? Didn’t he engineer the downfall of the first NDA government? All the Prannoys and non-Prannoys were shocked! Even though anyone who wasn’t in a coma would have seen this coming, the people whose job is to know things were dumbfounded.

Mortal enemies becoming best friends or best friends becoming mortal enemies is something that happens very often in Indian politics. As one irritating non-Prannoy never fails to remind us, a week is a long time in Indian politics. That is why our politicians’ favourite parlour game is ‘Six Degrees of Ajit Singh.’ The current civil aviation and the human embodiment of everything that is wrong with Indian politics has been in more parties than Suhel Seth at New Year’s eve. Almost every party or politician has been in an alliance with him at some stage in the past few decades. It’s sort of a rite of passage in Indian politics! Everybody has a mind-numbing, terrible, Ajit Singh anecdote. 

Political parties usually discover how horrible their former ally is as soon as they end their alliance. Like when the Trinamool Congress found out that the UPA is corrupt the day after they withdrew support. Or the current exchange of rhetoric between the BJP and the JD(U). Suddenly, the JD(U) finds the BJP communal and the BJP finds the JD(U) incompetent! You know what they say, keep your friends close for seventeen years and have no compunction in taking support from your enemies. Mulayam Singh Yadav never fails to remind people that the Congress party is a parasite on the Indian polity whose only purpose is its own sustenance. Yet, the Samajwadi Party is always the one to pull the UPA out of its self-made rubble. After the last general election, a humbled Mayawati declared her party’s support for the UPA, a year after trying to topple it to make herself the Prime Minister. Since our political parties don’t really have an ideology, they have no qualms in aligning with whoever gives them the best deal. 

Most of our politicians would like you to forget about the past. Smriti Irani once threatened to go on a ‘fast unto death’ if Modi didn’t resign but now she is one of his trusted lieutenants. Najma Heputulla found the BJP ‘politically acceptable’ and ‘totally secular’ when she figured the Congress wouldn’t be nominating her for another term in the Rajya Sabha. Buta Singh has been a minister in both Congress-led and BJP-led governments, but would like you to most remember him for being “Rajiv Gandhi’s #2,” according to whichever lowly intern was paid to edit his wikipedia page.

However, since August is now ‘Anna Hazare awareness month,’ it’s fitting that this week’s award for the most hilarious incident of hypocrisy goes to the un-caped anti-corruption crusader. Hazare, known hater of western ideas is now heading on an American junket. He is scheduled to ring the bell at the NASDAQ stock exchange. Apparently, the best way to fight corruption is letting yourself be used as a prop at the ground zero of crony capitalism. Looks like all that fasting made Ralegan Siddhi’s worst nightmare quite irony deficient.

As he felt the wheels of the plane touching the ground, Anna Hazare took off his ‘gandhi topi’ and put it in his bag. He wouldn’t need it for the next few days. Finally, he was going to be able to fulfil his childhood dream. He never imagined that he could ever travel to America. So he pretended to hate it. Now that he was here, he could live his life. Be himself, without being judged for it. All he wants to do is get a drink, find a nice lady to dance with and then take her to his hotel room. For how long has he denied himself these simple pleasures just because he was expected to? All that ends today! He could do anything here! And he wouldn’t need to explain his actions to anyone. “Whatever happens in America, stays in America,” he happily mumbled to himself. He felt his heart would burst with joy. Which was new to him, because since 1942, the only emotion he’d allowed himself to feel was acute misery. Seems like Christmas was going to be a little early this year.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Keep Calm and Wank On

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

Time stood still as the process to anoint its new lord began. Gunfire informed all the commoners that they now had a new master. Celebrations broke out all over the kingdom and the various realms of the commonwealth. The peasants broke into spontaneous cheer while the royals allowed a hint of a smile to appear on their face. The animal kingdom too was awash with the news of their new protector. The fauna all over the land turned green with delight. The sun, the moon and every other celestial body bowed to their future ruler. A new heir, succeeding a long line of outstanding luminaries, would take his rightful place as the chosen one, leading his people to new heights.  But enough about the appointment of the new Doctor Who!

What's soft, squishy and fits in the palm of my hands? Speaking of appointment by royal decree, whenever a vacant position in Britain is not filled by shadow chancellor Ed Balls, her majesty the queen personally chokes the life out of a corgi. If there really was a god, Ed would be elected the next Prime Minister of Britain. I’m no economist – even though I once ruined a party by constantly talking about the law of diminishing averages – but even I’m pretty sure that the only thing that will save Britain’s economy is making Ed Balls the Prime Minister. Just think of the tourism revenues! Also, he’d be able to get favourable agreements from leaders of foreign countries because they’d want something to quench their guilt after they impolitely laughed while addressing him. (Hey, you try saying “Welcome Mr. Balls” or “Presenting His Excellency, Prime Minister Balls” with a straight face.) Plus, he’s a bloke’s bloke! You can’t get more bloke-y than having “Balls” as your last name. That’s like a magician called “Cast A Spell” or a terrible cricket player called “Albert Hit Wicket.”  

Chill out, you nutter! There is no way anyone will ever find out what you're *really* thinking about. Speaking of Prime Ministers, what’s up with Britain’s ‘Tony Blair 2.0,’ David Cameron? He continues to burnish his reputation as a wanker without a stiffy by threatening to pass a law banning all pornography on the internet. Just like national security is used as a backdoor to spying on all citizens, Cameron is using his crusade against child pornography to ban all sorts of pornography. That should end well! I didn’t even know Cameron was a graduate of ‘The Kapil Sibal International Institute of Thought Control.’ Apparently, he passed out with five eyebrows, their highest honour. Good luck in keeping horny teenagers (and hornier adults) away from pornography, Speaking from experience, if vigilant parents who know how to use a computer, slow dial-up connections which took an hour to download a single jpeg and password protected pornography sites couldn’t keep them away, then your silly law isn’t going to be able to do that either. Also, if you ban pornography then how will all of her majesty’s subjects look at pictures of Prince Harry? It seems like the only reason David Cameron is so intent on banning pornography is because he doesn’t want people to look at pictures of his face and figure out that he’s a huge asshole. 

Speaking of not letting people in through the backdoor, Cameron’s government also introduced a law – that goes into effect in November – which allows British Embassies in developing countries to ask people planning to enter Britain to deposit a small fortune with them as ‘security.’ Because if there is one thing Britain is good at, it’s returning things to their rightful owner. Hey David, if all those laws that penalise people for ‘flying while brown’ couldn’t keep us out, if being treated like sub-human entities by our own national airlines couldn’t keep us out, if being duped by hundreds of people pretending to get us a legitimate visa couldn’t keep us out, then your silly little law wouldn’t be able to do that either. Also, you started it. If your ancestors hadn’t come to our shores and seduced us with their gunpowder and fancy words for going to the loo, we wouldn’t have to come to your shores and participate in the secret operation to turn Trafalgar Square into an extension of Karol Bagh. The only thing that can keep us out is if your economy turns into shite. Which, to be fair, is something you personally seem determined to achieve.

Speaking of racist people with repressed sexual urges, the good folks at the economist – Britain’s #1 source of empire nostalgia – recently discovered another problem with immigrants. Apparently, Indian billionaires are participating in ‘reverse colonialism’ by buying up all the expensive real estate in Mayfair while spending all their dirty money at Harrods. Yes, because that is what colonialism was all about! Shopping! Not decimating the local population’s indigenous industry and stealing all their natural resources while selling them your overpriced junk. Nope! Neither was destroying their identity and making them feel like second class citizens in their own home. That was just some wild rumour spread by some ungrateful natives! Aren’t you glad we got all that cleared up now?

Speaking of being a presumptuous douchebag, one shouldn’t generalize a whole country based on the crimes of a few. Unless of course, one is talking about immigrants from Bangladesh. Those people come here, take our low-paying jobs, vote in our elections and overcrowd our fledging social services.

If only there was some way we could penalize them for overstaying their welcome.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hey Sister, Leave the Kid Alone

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

If you’ve ever watched a movie in a theatre in Maharashtra – India’s premium supplier of sub-inspectors and autocratic assholes – then you would know that every theatre is required to play the national anthem before every show of every movie. Last week, at a nondescript theatre in a nondescript part of Mumbai, a brave patriot ladyee was busy standing in solemn attention, honouring Tagore’s most popular poem the way our forefathers intended when from the corner of her eye she saw that a young, fancy lookin’ fella hadn’t bothered to stand up for the anthem. Incensed at this unforgivable blasphemy, she naturally did what the constitution says is the duty of every citizen: she slapped him. Now, some people might react differently, like giving the young man disapproving looks, or by rolling their eyes whilst tut-tut-ing the state of the youth or maybe even ignoring him because as long as they’re not harming you then what other people do is none of your business. But those people are amateurs. Real patriots choose violence!

Turns out, the disrespectful young man wasn’t even an Indian citizen. He was an Australian citizen of Indian origin. And that is the excuse he gave our brave patriotic ladyee. Thankfully, she was having none of it. She was sure he was Indian! He looked vaguely brown, had a fake accent and after being physically assaulted by some weird woman for no logical reason whatsoever, did not take the next available flight to a saner country.

The incident came to light (and was front page news for a Mumbai tabloid) because the lady in question is married to a mildly famous actor who was in that thing that one time. On twitter, while there were a few people mocking her for her idiocy, there were also a lot of them defending her. We don’t condone her actions, but we agree with the sentiment.

Recently, a BJP MP demanded that the next NDA government take back Amartya Sen’s Bharat Ratna because while answering a question asked in an interview, Sen said in his opinion, you-know-who is not an appropriate candidate for Prime Minister. The BJP was shocked – shocked! – that someone didn’t think that their dear leader wasn’t the greatest thing since the knife that was used to invent sliced bread.

Meanwhile, a restaurant in Mumbai had to close down temporarily after “allegedly” being threatened by youth congress ‘workers.’  No, they weren't protesting the restaurant's pledge to serve only “pure-vegetarian” food (because the sad, lonely, and boring group of people called ‘vegetarians’ also have a right to gather with their own kind), rather they were protesting the restaurant's practice of serving a satirical dig at the UPA along with the bill and no mouth freshener. (Maybe this is how vegetarian restaurants work? I wouldn’t know! In fact, I am pretty sure asking someone to eat at a restaurant which only serves vegetarian fare is a violation of the Geneva Convention against torture.) The youth congress workers went back to bullying some other helpless law abiding citizen only after the owner of the restaurant “voluntarily” apologized. The Congress was shocked – shocked! – that a person badly affected by their idiotic policies would express dissatisfaction with how they were running the government.

Maybe it’s because I interrupted my busy schedule of learning how to sleep with my eyes open to pay attention in civics class, all this doesn’t seem right? Maybe forcing people to show superficial respect for things that you hold in high esteem for some reason is a little, I don’t know, twisted? Or physically harming someone for not paying obeisance to a man-made symbol of reverence appears to be a little umm, excessive?

Our collective compulsion to make everyone agree with us and see things our way all the time is an indication of a much deeper malaise. We’re never short of things to be chauvinistic about: patriotism, religion, sports teams, phone companies. Anything to prove that I’m better than you! Those who have the courage of their convictions don’t need random strangers to validate them. The point of living in a free country is that if you don’t want to stand up while they’re playing the national anthem, then you don’t have to. Other people don’t get to decide for you.

It boggles the mind that most of our debates come around to trying to make people understand that not everyone shares their worldview and that’s okay. We adopted a democratic system of governance so that random douchebags couldn’t impose their will on us. Leaving people alone to do their own thing is one of the major features of democracy.

Now please excuse me as I go back to writing a series of strongly worded letters to the government asking them to ban the evil practice of vegetarianism.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

You can stop using this headline format, stupid

Hey news organizations, let’s all pledge to retire usage of the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid” and any of its variations thereof. Because, really?

Let’s talk about the growth strategy, stupid [Tehelka, 10/08/13]

It’s Not the GDP, Stupid! [Tehelka, 27/07/13]

Not secularism, stupid [HT, 26/07/13]

It really is the economy, stupid [The Hindu, 22/07/13]

It’s the economy stupid: Why UPA-3 can’t be ruled out [Firstpost, 06/04/13]

It’s the economy, stupid! The alienation of the middle class [The New Indian Express, 19/01/13]

Spend. It helps the economy, stupid! [HT, 31/12/12]

It’s the economy, stupid! [Tehelka, 21/12/12]

It's not the economy, stupid: Barack Obama has won a closely contested culture war in the presidential election [TOI, 10/11/12]

It's The Economy Again, Stupid! [Outlook, 10/09/12]

It’s not about the economy, stupid [Pioneer, 05/05/12]

It's the economy and we're not stupid, we're just Indians [Mid-Day, 30/04/12]

It's the economy, stupid: Techies holding on to jobs [DNA, 10/01/12]

It's (still) the economy, stupid [TOI Crest, 17/12/11]

It’s the economy, stupid [Mint, 24/09/12]

Indo-US ties: it's the economies, stupid [BS, 20/04/11]

It’s the Economy, Stupid [Caravan, 01/01/11]

(I didn’t include international publications, blog posts or anything written by think tanks. Did not also include any article which uses the phrase as a sub-heading or as a point in the article. I might have missed a few because I wasn’t willing to spend more than ten minutes on the google machine researching this.)

(Full Disclosure: I have used the tired headline format myself. I’m not trying to point fingers. Just saying that all of us could be a little bit more creative.)