Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How to be a Real Tourist

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

Do you like to travel? If you do, then have you ever made a whole bunch of your fellow travellers uncomfortable with your cringe inducing presence? Have you ever improved the quality of a tourist spot just by leaving it? Do you have that application on Facebook which shows the various cities and countries that you have travelled to? If your answer to any or all of the above questions is a loud no, then ladies and gentlemen, consider this an intervention. Clearly, you’ve been missing out. And as a concerned citizen, I consider it my patriotic duty to help you correct that.

First things first. If you’re using public transportation to get to your destination, remember that you paid good money for your ticket. So you better avail every service that they provide. For starters, you should charge all your electronic items on the train. That’s what they’re there for! You should monopolize all the electronic sockets near your seat for as long as your journey lasts. Other people should’ve planned ahead. Why didn’t those moochers charge their cheap tablet at home anyway? Also, grab every food or beverage they serve you. Even if you’re not either hungry or thirsty. Even if it looks like it carries a thousand diseases. Don’t be one of those hippies who don’t take things that they’re legally entitled to because they don’t feel like it. The service providers probably expect you to take those sachets of sugar or those cheap headphones with you anyway. Why add extra work for the staff by leaving things behind?

Then, as soon as you are a few minutes away from the end of your journey, stand in the aisle with all your luggage so that you're ready to get down the second the blurry visuals passing by vaguely resemble your destination. Remember, it’s a race! Whoever leaves first wins! Even if it’s only the satisfaction of leaving a claustrophobic confines of a public transportation vessel a few minutes before the rest of your fellow passengers. Don’t wait for your mode of transport to slow down before you start taking down your luggage from the overhead compartment. It’s always safer to do it while trying to stand still in an object moving at a high speed! You’re not liable to fall down or cause injury to other people at all. The laws of motion, like other laws you don’t care about, were meant to be broken.

Further, always haggle with the porter for cheaper rates. They expect you do it. Even if it is in a foreign country where they don’t include the possibility of bargaining in their pricing strategies. Hey, if those who survive on minimum wage want to scam you for your money, why don’t they open a fancy resort like normal people? This is why you also never tip at restaurants. You’re not going to show up at this place again anyway, so why reward good service?

Don’t forget to take pictures of everything, so that many years later you can remember the time when you were present to see this awesome sight befolding in front of you and you were taking a picture so that you could enjoy the experience later. Even if you’re never going to look at any of these photos again! A grainy cellphone picture is always better than actually being there. You should even take pictures of museum items like old paintings. Sure, the light from the flash in your camera might damage them, and you can buy a replica at the souvenir store, but why should you be forced to buy something which the shitty camera in your phone can record for free?

Your experience is not going to be complete without sharing your pictures with a few thousand of your closest friends on social media. It’s the modern version of the classic ‘wish you were here!’ postcard. Except more passive-aggressive and self-aggrandising. You could be a little subtle and let the location tags in your pictures and tweets reveal where you really are. Or you could go all guns blazing like a real townie and let everybody know where you really are by talking about your existential experience at a famous landmark.

When you’re looking for food to eat, always look for something familiar. You didn’t come all this way to try something new! Who does that? Look for a restaurant serving your native cuisine or a local franchise of a fast food chain. Most of the time time the food will taste very different from what you’re used to. This will give you a great opportunity to feel superior and talk about your travels when you’re back home. Oh, I couldn’t find a decent portion of butter chicken anywhere in Florence! Even a rodent could whip up a more edible casserole of Ratatouille than what they serve in Kanpur!

Now that you’re armed with these tips, go forth and see the world. Don’t let silly things like “common courtesy” or “the opinion of other people” bother you. 

After all, they still don’t allow Yelp reviews of individual tourists.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Two Countries, a World and an Agency With an Insatiable Thirst For Your Personal Data

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

In a world, where conflict rules, borders keep on changing, friendships are based on self-interest, there have been two countries whose destinies fate has entwined together. Two countries, who will one day embark on a journey, to once again change the world.

The relationship between the largest and the oldest democracies in the world has been like a rollercoaster, seeing many ups & downs. In the beginning, there was the initial spark, when both of them met at a party where they bonded over their love for multiculturalism as well as large movie making industries and their disdain for British colonialism as well as state sanctioned religion. They went home excited, thinking they were on the brink of a new and exciting chapter in their lives. However, fate had different plans! A misunderstanding ensued and both of them took alternate paths and found themselves on different sides of a majority of issues. Neither of them wanted to act on their feelings now and they buried whatever affection and fondness they had for each other deep inside their heart. And to get back at the one who hurt them the most, they tried to form a relationship with the other’s arch-nemesis. This went on for a few decades.

However, fate intervened and various interconnected events led to both countries finding themselves on the same side once again. Trying to work towards the same goals together made them realize how well they get along with one another. So their anger thawed and they were reminded again of the things they adored about each other. They decided to try to give their relationship another chance.

The next decade was their honeymoon period. Their love for one another seemed to grow every year. And they couldn’t keep their hands off each other! You found them conducting bilateral meetings while attending international conferences. Or sneaking away with their whole entourage during boring UN assembly sessions. They forgave each other for things that they would get mad at other countries for. They supported each other’s international adventures, even when other countries were against them. They never gave the other a hard time for their international follies like invading the wrong country or paying lip-service to democracy while supporting totalitarian regimes.

Yet, they again began to drift apart. Their work took them to different continents and they found themselves on opposite sides once more. They tried to preserve their relationship by deciding not to discuss things that they didn’t agree on whenever they tried having a conversation. However, as it always does, the resentment carried over. Both countries began to build a life that wouldn’t involve the other. Making new friends, holding summits without inviting their so called ‘most important strategic partner,’ trying to re-negotiate treaties that had already been settled, they began to fall back on old patterns of passive aggressiveness. They barely had time to conduct an awkward conversation when they saw each other at breakfast. America spent most of its time in the office and India got used to having dinner alone everyday, after spending days doing nothing but waiting and then falling asleep on the couch, absentmindedly watching some crap on teevee.

However, this relationship received a jolt of life recently when it was revealed that India is one of the top targets of the American surveillance state. “They care! They still care!” as one Indian government official put it, trying to hide his tears of happiness by pretending that he has a small pebble stuck in his eye.

Now before the privacy ayatollahs try to turn this revelation into something it’s not, don’t forget that America isn’t saying that it doesn’t trust India. It does! So much! With its life, even! But it doesn’t trust the other countries. So it’s hacking into our systems and stealing all our important information to keep it safe! It’s not America’s fault that our systems are so easy to get into. America was just trying a million different combinations as a goof and ended up extracting information from every computer in the country, as a gag. We shouldn’t use a password which is so easy to figure out!

Let’s face it. The surveillance state isn’t going anywhere. No political party with a serious shot at coming to power in any country is going to oppose it. Even Canada – Canada! – is getting into the whole ‘keep track of what other people are doing’ game. Finding out that Canada is spying on other countries is like finding out that the cool hippie uncle whom every child in the family idolizes is a paedophile.

So don’t get upset that America wants to know everything we do, everyone we talk to and where we are at any given moment. Some may call it extreme possessiveness, but as hindi movies teach us, isn’t that just the purest form of love? Their actions are driven by fondness! For example, one of the NSA programs that surreptitiously collects all our information is called ‘Boundless Informant.’  You see? Just like the data that they can access, their love for us knows no bounds.

India and America totally complete each other. One of them is a country starved for attention. The other is obsessed with keeping track of everything every person in the world is doing.

That is a match made in romantic comedy heaven.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Great Day for Indian Shamocracy

A billion people shall wait night and day,
for this child of man to have his say;
for he will be the one to whom they pray,
this child of man who just wants to play.
- A modern day ‘re-boot’ of one of Nostradamus’ predictions 

Many many moons ago, when the sky was dark and the air was suffocating, a man sat looking at the future of the human race in the majestic portal that lived in the small lake near his house. Now, some people say that that old man was just trippin’ and most of his predictions are vague enough that they can be made to fit any event in human history. However, we true believers know in our heart of hearts that he always knew what we did last summer.  

As the great seer predicted, the people of this country spend their days and nights waiting for their favourite man-child to emerge from his man-cave to vocalize his most recent epiphany. India is a computer! Poor people are like spaceships! We’re all living in virtual world while our real bodies are used by our robotic overlords for their own sustenance!

Recently, while part-time Prime Minister and full time employee of Gandhi Inc., Manmohan Singh, was in Washington to meet the self-proclaimed leader of the free world so that they could have an awkward conversation of epic proportions, our childus emeritus decided to steal away the meagre spotlight from his company’s most loyal employee. 

Some members of Team Rahul (Yup, that’s a thing now. Apparently, every moniker these days must be dumbed down to buzzwords so stupid that even teenagers whose only point of reference is a book about vampires can understand them.) had a bright idea! They thought that it would cause no harm if they let their ward appear briefly on teevee to pronounce his opposition to a recent step taken by the government that would benefit members of the political establishment who, let’s just say, were a little creative in their interpretation of what is considered ‘lawful activity.’ Why not let the second most powerful person in the party directly contradict the Prime Minister while he is on an important international tour? That wouldn’t diminish the Prime Minister’s standing in the international community or anything. 

So a choreographed hijack of a press conference was arranged for maximum dramatic effect! It was a perfect setup. From the sycophantic welcome he received from the press club representative, to his pause for gasps and pearl clutching while declaring his opinion, to the metaphorical mic drop and stage exit. Another episode of ‘Two Minute Political Wisdom,’ brought to you by the information age. As easy to make as a packet of noodles!

Now usually the Prime Minister can win a couple of newscycles whenever he returns from a meeting with President Barry America. Just last week, if he’d let one of the bureaucratic adoptees working for him mention, in confidence of course, to an agency reporter that Barry himself walked Singh towards his car, it would have gotten him about three days worth of positive press. Even Arnab Goswami would have been impressed enough to call a large panel of Pakistani generals to his show so he could spend a couple of hours gloating to their face. (Although to be fair it doesn’t take much to impress Arnab Goswami. Just yesterday, Arnab spent five hours watching a goldfish swimming in a glass container full of water. In the end, it turned out to be a piece of toast that Arnab had dropped into the water when he bent down to look inside.) However, thanks to his younger boss, the only time the PM’s name was mentioned at all last week was in conjunction with the words “resignation” and “what a miserable state of existence to be in.” 

In fact, the clamour for Manmohan Singh to resign reached ridiculous levels. Someone who is considered a very serious person with intelligent opinions by most of our news organizations said that the Prime Minister should resign while he is on a bilateral visit! Because that is how you run a country. Just take your toys and go home because the mean kid from down the street questions your ability to authentically replicate the sound a train makes while in motion. In the whole sordid episode, the only person who actually seemed most like an adult human was Manmohan Singh. The man who wouldn’t be able to sell space on a lifeboat to passengers of a sinking ship! He was the designate driver in a car full of irresponsible idiots who couldn’t hold their alcohol! People planning on having kids, do you really want to bring them up in a world in which Manmohan Singh is deemed the sanest person around?

The only silver lining in the whole ordeal was watching the sycophants who had spent the past few days trying to sell the ordinance to the public, turning around and calling it the worst thing to happen to mankind since the bubonic plague. As a connoisseur of hilarity, it was rather entertaining. As a citizen though, it was disconcerting to watch the speed at which the members of our political cults inhabited the opinion of their dear leader and made it their own. As ‘India’s nightingale’ Jayanti Natrajan put it, if the scion takes a view everyone else will obviously fall in line. Obviously! Because in a shamocracy, holding an opinion contrary to the stated position of the object of your worship even though it might be official party policy is like trying to hold two radioactive nuclei in a box made of uranium-238.

If only someone had predicted that this would happen.

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What’s a nice beer like you doing inside my shampoo?

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

A few days ago, some crazy people in my neighbourhood were celebrating their favourite festival by ‘unintentionally’ waking up everyone else early in the morning. So, to drown out the incessant ass-kissing of an invisible wish-granter in the sky so that I could go back to arguing with people on the internet, I had to switch on the teevee. It was the least worst option and it helped me maintain my tenuous hold on sanity. Suddenly, just as I was about to satisfactorily end a particularly strained exchange of sly-tweets by calling my rhetorical opponent the H-word, a stream of grunts and other cave man noises emanating from the teevee grabbed my attention and I was able to witness the most mesmerizing piece of media that I have ever seen: a commercial for a shampoo made from beer.

Remember when paying small-time conmen a lot of money to pretend to put your name on a single grain of rice was a thing people were into? Watching this advert was like that. Someone boiled down the essence of conventional wisdom about being a man and put it in a single fifty second advert. The ad begins with the model—who is obviously a real man because he has a large moustache—‘getting his neanderthal on’ by  continuously shouting the words ‘man hair’ at the screen, as if that’s a concept which exists in real life. And while he continues to repeat those two words, he does other manly things like hitting a piece of log with an axe, scaring away a large bear by using only his booming voice and arm wrestling. The ad also contains things every ‘dude’ is supposed to love – Beer! Women! Presentations! Men with waxed chests!

Now, this may come as a shock to a lot of you, but I’m not really a ‘spiritual’ person. But the first time I laid eyes on this work of art was the closest I’ve come to believing in the existence of god. This advertisement is the Picasso of prickery. The David Lynch of douchebaggery. The Mozart of misplaced masculinity. Maybe even the Jhumpa Lahiri of jackassery. 

I have no idea why the makers of this wonderful product even need to advertise it. It sells itself. Who doesn’t want to spend all day smelling like they just woke up in their own alcohol induced vomit? And who wouldn’t want to get with that? Isn’t it very woman’s dream to end up with a guy so riddled with insecurity that he needs to add beer to his shampoo to prove something to himself? And let’s face it. Women’s hair is different from men’s hair. Why? Maybe hormones or something. I don’t know! I’m not a bearded lesbian enrolled in gender studies working on a thesis discussing the impact of exploiting a person’s lack of self-belief as a marketing strategy. Blergh!

Look, women have it so easy. As India’s #1 love guru Chetan Bhagat once said, women don’t have to do anything to attract the opposite sex. They come on their own! (Also, if you’re taking dating advice from Chetan Bhagat, then you’re probably going to spend the rest of your life coming on your own.) It’s the men that have to do all the hard work. Like a dancing peacock, a man whose hair smells like beer is telling the female members of his species that he’s ready to mate. And as most of the adverts on teevee tell us, the only reason men do things is because they want to get laid. From deciding which deodorant to mask their body odour with to offering a ride to a senior citizen in distress, the motivation behind every action is the possibility of sexual intercourse. Any other reason will force the other members of the ‘Real Mens’ Club’ to throw them out and confiscate their man card.

My favourite part of the advertisement is when the protagonist warns prospective consumers to not drink the shampoo just because it is shaped like a beer bottle. Is that such a big problem? Of course, these days’ shampoos have less chemical content than our actual food, but is there really a huge outbreak of people falling sick after drinking their shampoo? You see, drinking beer shampoo is hazardous to one’s health because it is basically a tasteless mishmash of hops, water and surly carbohydrates. It shouldn’t go anywhere near your mouth, no matter how much its manufacturing process also describes how regular beer is made.

In two thousand years, when our future generations finally recover from nuclear destruction and are able to find their way back to civilization, they will look at this ad and hold it as an example of how the ancients were really crazy, just like we look at the historical porn at Khajuraho and discover that the people that came before us were really into some kinky stuff. Who knew the human body could even bend that way? I know what you’re going to say: It’s not porn! It’s art! Look, I don’t make the rules here. As per the guardians of Indian culture, it’s not art if it involves any sort of nudity. Wait, does that mean that the people who started Indian culture were against Indian culture?

That makes my head hurt.

If only there were a beverage I could consume that would make me temporarily forget my confusion.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Tale of Two Indian-Americans

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times! In the two thousandth and thirteenth year of our lord Oprah, a man with a small jaw and a plain face took to the virtual pages of the journalistic version of a flaming-bag-of-dog-poo called Politico, to declare that since he had dominion over the state of Louisiana and a ‘dark skinned man’ called Barack Hussein Obama was the ruler of all of the United States, her colonies, her allies and the heart of the current British Prime Minister, racism was finally over. This man was none other than undiagnosed village simpleton, Bobby Jindal.

It was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity! That he wrote his screed in the same week when a jury in Florida declared that the murderer of an innocent black teenager – whose only fault was taking a shortcut while heading home – was not guilty of any crime, did not give him any pause. That he wrote his screed in the same month that a federal judge declared that the New York Police Department’s policy of ‘Stop & Frisk’ unfairly targeted the city’s minority residents and mentioned in her judgement that most targets of this policy were “blacks and hispanics who would not have been stopped were they white,” did not make him reconsider. That he wrote his screed in the same year that the conservative majority of the US Supreme court struck down one of the major provisions of the historic voting rights act, allowing the states with Republican-majority legislatures to start the process of purging of minority citizens from the voter rolls under silly pretexts, did not help him reconcile his cognitive dissonance.

It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness! In his piece, he also asked all minorities to stop being so different and try to be more,Louisiana Governor, Bobby Jindal  you know, white. Yes, why can’t all of you forget something that is such an integral part of who you are! We should all be same, like a mass-market trouser, where even one out-of-place thread will make sure you’re kept away from the others. We should all be like Bobby Jindal, the poster boy of trying too hard. Bobby lives his life like he orders food in a restaurant - he walks in, sees what the white couple at the next table are ordering, and tells the waiter that he’ll have what they’re having. Bobby has spent a lifetime keeping up appearances. All he has ever wanted to do was fit in. Just be like everyone else! And he wants all you idiots who insist on being different to do the same.

Nina doing her best Mata Hari impression! It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair! Earlier this month, millions of Americans watched as history was made when Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America, becoming the first American of Indian origin to win the pageant. She didn’t actually run away from being part Indian! This angered a lot of racists who took to twitter to lament for the good old days, when all these outsiders knew their place. They can take our spelling bee contests, our petrol pump mini-supermarkets, become handsome surgeons on CNN, but letting an immigrant participate in the Miss America pageant is going too far! As the inscription on the Statue of Liberty says, keep your filthy masses and don’t you dare send us your beauty queens. 

It was the season of light, it was the season of darkness! Since the internet abuse against Nina became the racial slur heard around the world, this also angered a lot of people living in India. How dare does any American say racist things about a person of Indian origin. Who do they think they are, Indian? Which is why Bobby Jindal’s assertion about the end of racism is even more ironical. There is nothing more Indian than denying the existence of an actual problem that affects millions of people. Bobby loves to tell people that they shouldn’t bother with being who they are, they should think about what they can be. There is nothing more Indian than hating who you are!

We had everything before us, we had nothing before us! Bobby extrapolated his own experience to portray it as a general norm. He made assumptions about the experiences of others. He passive aggressively ‘explained’ to other people what they should be doing with their life. He gave a clean chit to people who were guilty of a crime.  Bobby Jindal is as Indian as a song sequence in a Sooraj Bharjatiya movie. Bobby Jindal is as Indian as the ‘VIP’ section in a place of worship. Bobby Jindal is as Indian as a historical monument defaced by declarations of puppy love.

Your identity is like a quicksand. The more you try to escape it, the more you sink in. 

If only there were a country famous for helping people find themselves that Bobby Jindal could visit.

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)