Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Blame it on the Boogie

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

A few weeks ago, the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh was gripped by anticipation. All the illegal gambling dens selling illicit liquor had their radios tuned into a single station. Somewhere deep inside the bowels of the hinterland, dacoit groups sent whichever member of their group owned a nokia asha to the abandoned safehouse which got the best reception. Teevee channels all over the state interrupted their regular programming for this special broadcast. Laptops given to college students by the UP government automatically connected to the internet and opened their browser window to the homepage of the Samajwadi party. After all, the party’s anthem for the next election was about to be released! Then, as the clock struck twelve, the airways all over the state were filled by words extolling the virtues of one Mulayam Singh Yadav set to the tune of Billy Joel’s We didn’t start the fire.

Yes, that’s right. The Samajwadi Party thought using a song with the lyrics We didn’t start the fire was totally appropriate. What happened, was Bob Marley’s I Shot the Sheriff taken? The day they chose this song, irony died in a fire started by a riot in Muzaffarnagar while the police stood on the side, watching the proceedings, doing nothing.  Maybe they confused ‘theme song’ with ‘legal defence?’

Although, to be fair, I think this is a capital idea. Every political party in India should have an official anthem based on a song from the 80’s. Think of the possibilities! The Congress could use Europe’s The Final Countdown as the people of this country count the days until the UPA is sent to the dustbin of history. Nothing describes the BJP’s campaign better than the Aretha Franklin & George Michael duet I Knew You Were Waiting For Me. U2’s I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For seems like it was tailor-made for the AAP. The DMK can hum Whitney Houston’s I Want to Dance With Somebody while looking for somebody, anybody, who will align with them. The BSP should put a small device under Mayawati’s statues which constantly pumps out The Bangles’ hit Walk Like an Egyptian because of their dear leader’s Cleopatra-like obsession with herself. Laloo Prasad Yadav should have used all his free time in the penitentiary learning the lyrics to Michael Jackson’s I Just Can't Stop Loving You while wondering why the RJD still has feelings for the Congress despite being continuously shunned by the latter. Bow Wow Wow’s I Want Candy seems perfect for Ajit Singh’s political outfit as it is perpetually available for lease to the highest bidder. The TMC should start playing Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven Is a Place on Earth from the loudspeakers they put up next to Calcutta’s many traffic lights so as to remind the people of that city of their luck in being alive during Didi’s glorious reign of peace and prosperity. Nitish Kumar’s version of the Janata Dal should keep Milli Vanilli’s Baby Don't Forget My Number handy in case they change their mind after the election and suddenly find their former ally quite acceptable once again. The left parties should definitely play La Bamba by the Los Lobos at their rallies because just like the current version of the band, they’re a cheap imitation of their former selves. 

One may wonder why the Samajwadi Party is trying to reach out to anyone who isn’t into criminal activity. Well, apparently someone told them that all the young people, at least those who aren’t patrolling the neighbourhood in their party issued standard jeep looking for someone to pick on, are spending all their time on the internets. So they made a website to show people what they’re all about. Which is why the website is low on information and high on proving how the party supremo is god’s greatest gift to the people of Uttar Pradesh. Hey, just because they are against everything that the modern world stands for doesn’t mean that they don’t want to at least give the impression of living in the twenty first century.

It’s not just Mulayam Singh Yadav’s ancient tribal council that wants to keep the past alive. Most of our political parties suffer from the same ailment. They imagine that by having a website or twitter account and letting their leaders take friendly questions from internet users will make them appear like they are Y2K okay. Yet, they don’t realize that no matter what the medium, their message remains the same. Like our page on Facebook to receive updates consisting of the same regressive pabulum we always talk about!

You can’t cover up outdated policies and an incomprehensible worldview with fancy gadgets. Leaders seeped in intolerance, misogyny, homophobia and religious bigotry want us to believe that they are ready to face the challenges of the modern world because of their ability to hire someone who knows what email is. Can’t thinkfluence my vote, bro!

Political parties in India are modern like the Khap Panchayats are acceptable of young love. Political parties in India are modern like Iran is a democracy. Political parties in India are modern like “baba” ramdev is spiritual. No matter how much you try to shine a turd, at the end of the day, it’s still a turd.

If only there was some sort of communication network our political parties could use to find out what people really want.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

All Hail the Supreme Court

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

On the second day of the seventh month of 2009, a few wise men of the Delhi High Court–who thought they knew better than everyone else–criminalised heterosexuality in India. Things were never the same again! The whole country became a haven for same gender attraction. Suddenly, men started wearing pink, shaved off all their chest hair, learned how to cook French cuisine, left their wives and moved in with their ‘business partner.’ Women started using motor oil as shampoo, wore only ill-fitting denims, stopped worrying about their weight and moved in with their ‘hostel roommate.’ The children who were left to fend for themselves were kidnapped and transported to gay and lesbian conversion camps. Here, they were taught gay and lesbian behaviour, like making extraordinarily beautiful paintings or fighting to preserve the environment.

In a few short days, yearning to mate with a member of the opposite sex became something taboo. It began to be discouraged! Heterosexual individuals brave enough to come out would find that people hitherto close to them suddenly treating them differently. Parents who found out that their children did not want to conform to the norm tried to talk some sense into them. A few of these children were even forced to go to reparative therapy to get rid of their natural desire for the opposite sex. No cure was ever found in spite of corporations and governments spending massive amounts of money on such research.

Coming out would cause heterosexual individuals to lose some of their friends too. Children who discovered that they only felt attracted to the opposite sex had to pretend to like someone of the same gender so as to not make anyone suspicious. If their peers found out, they would be mocked mercilessly. Even gay children who defied stereotypes and wanted to participate in typical heterosexual activities like having a messy room or wearing plaid shirts with corduroy pants were on the receiving end of ugly epithets usually reserved for those with opposite sex desires.

Heterosexual people were constantly reminded that they were different. Guys and girls could hold hands in public, but only as friends. If they looked like a couple, they could hear audible gasps and couldn't do anything but sigh at those head shakes of disapproval. Sometimes, private parties consisting only of heterosexuals were raided by the police and all the people attending were made to do the perp walk in front of a gleeful camera-wielding media to set an example and give a stern warning to other secret heterosexuals out there to keep to themselves. Work colleagues f heterosexual individuals would laugh behind their back and make terrible insinuations to their face. Heterosexual couples were routinely turned away from most hotels if the owner did not approve of their lifestyle choices. Straight characters in movies would be only used for comic relief. Most of their story arcs involved being the recipient of cruel jokes lobed to them by other characters. Those celebrities rumoured to be heterosexual were often the target of demeaning words from bigoted individuals. In fact, some heterosexual filmmakers had to make heterophobic movies because they were not brave enough to live the truth. Teevee programs routinely showed popular leading actors pretending to be attracted to the opposite sex for a few cheap laughs.

As the injustices piled up, some heterosexual people began to form organizations to fight for their so-called rights. They didn’t want to be a silent minority anymore! They decided that they did not want to be treated as second-class citizens in their own country. They even managed to hold rallies expressing their pride in who they were, shouting slogans, refusing to be in the shadows anymore. We’re here, we’re not queer, deal with it!

These organizations even filed various court cases to get back their rights. After a long battle, this case finally ended up in the Supreme Court. On the eleventh day of the twelfth month of this century’s thirteenth year, the prayers of millions of heterosexuals were finally answered. The Supreme Court quashed the senseless 2009 judgement and uncriminalised heterosexuality. Finally, all those oppressed heterosexuals could be free. It was like a huge boulder was lifted from their backs. No more could anyone tell them that they were deviant perverts who needed to be kept away from other members of society. No more could anyone blackmail them by threatening to reveal their sexual identify. No more could the law treat them any differently. No more would they be silenced. No more did they have to live a lie. This was India’s second tryst with destiny!

The Supreme Court upheld the highest principles of the constitution. If our founding fathers were alive today, they would be proud. This is the sort of court they envisioned. One which would not abandon a small minority of people to the tyranny of the majority. A court which would stand up to all those fake purveyors of morality.

Imagine a fourteen year old living in a small town, struggling with feelings he does not yet understand, but still aware enough that he is different. Thanks to society’s attitude towards his natural orientation, he constantly gets the message that his kind of people are not welcome in this world. People find out and mock him for being “a straight.” And then one day, after a very terrible bout of teasing, he contemplates suicide. But before he can do anything drastic, he hears about the Supreme Court judgement and stops himself. For a moment, he doesn’t feel alone. Someone understands him! It dawns on him that not everyone in the world will treat him like a pariah because of his natural human desire to love someone he is attracted to.

After all, what sort of fucked up society would allow such a thing? 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Slouching Towards New Delhi

(A condensed version of this article first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

You know election time is neigh when roads start getting rebuilt, potholes begin to be temporarily covered again and even some government employees begin to show up for ‘work.’ Sure, most of them still don’t do anything, but, remember, it’s the thought that counts! As always, any election in Delhi garners national attention. Not only because it is conveniently located in the same city as the main office of most of our major news organizations, it’s also supposed to provide an indication of which party and their supporters will be more smug while we head to the general election. However, this time there was even more attention paid to the election because instead of the usual two mediocre alternatives, the people of Delhi had three despicable candidates to choose from. Three cheers for democracy!  

As the votes are counted this week and Delhi’s new liaison to the central government to continuously ask for more money is selected, let us not forget the mind numbing and melodramatic campaign that got us here.

Fighting for another record term is our first candidate, the current incumbent and the only senior citizen in Delhi to actually have access to various government services, Sheila Dikshit. She spent most of the campaign being offended at anyone who had the temerity to suggest that she didn’t put her best foot forward each and every day she has been in office. For the past decade and a half, her first and last thought has been to wonder how she can make the life of the citizens of her city-state better. And she was ready to debate anyone who dared to suggest that she made any mistakes. Anyone! At an independent public forum! Of course, she couldn’t do that during the elections. She did not have any time! Why would anyone want to see leaders of different political parties debate each other during an election, anyway? What purpose does it serve? None, as far as she is concerned. She just wants to spend all her time with the people of the city. The people she thinks about every minute of her life. They’re her only concern.

That is why she spent the last two weeks of the campaign pretending to be a really humble person. Nothing to see here! Just your friendly neighbourhood grandmother fighting an election! What sort of monster doesn’t vote for their grandmother? She even admitted to making a couple of mistakes. Like the BRT corridor. She gave into popular sentiment and finally admitted her disappointment with what she once claimed to be her signature achievement. She promised to start dismantling it the minute she was elected to her fourth term. Look, if you’re only focusing on her mistakes then you must have a secret agenda of your own. Why not focus on all the positive changes? Look at all the flyovers! Also, the large number of public facilities for all those people who get stuck in traffic while traversing the road between those flyovers. No one even mentions the abundance of electricity! Also, the number of hospitals for all those who get a heart attack after looking at their electricity bills. Vote for the Congress and give us a chance to solve all the problems we created!

The story of the BJP’s campaign is the story of how one deserving candidate was cheated of his rightful place as his party’s chief ministerial nominee. This man was none other than Vijay Goel. Not only is he an obedient worker, he is also a renowned activist. He has spent the past few decades quietly building the party in the city, waiting for his turn. Sure, he is alleged to have made some money and is possibly the only person in Delhi who is less popular than Shiela Dikshit, but everyone knows elections are not popularity contests. You don’t need people to like you to get them to vote for you. Especially not in India, where people vote for candidates they despise at regular intervals. You just have to make them realize that your opponent is the worst person in the world. This was his time to shine, dammit! But they took his dream and gave it to an unknown person like Harsh Vardan. What sort of name is that, anyway? What is he, a character from a Karan Johar movie? Now, Vijay, that’s a name. It literally means victory! VICTORY!

Anyway, it didn’t matter much because the only candidate for every election the BJP runs in for the next few months is Narendra Modi. He was what traders in Delhi call the “all-in-all” of the BJP’s election campaign. The candidate, the chief campaigner and every item in the manifesto. Just don’t ask him any questions. Real patriots don’t want such a great leader to actually specify policy positions. Get your legitimate concerns off my lawn!  Vote for the BJP, because all you need is Narendra Modi!

Almost all of us have that that weird uncle who will show up at your family function and try to be ultra-helpful for no discernible reason. He will admonish the catering staff for being lazy, stand with the family to welcome the guests and will force you to let him do all the inevitable last minute errands. But, instead of helping, he ends up making the catering staff more rude, creeps out the guests who have no idea who this strange man repeatedly asking them to have dinner is and cannot finish any errand because he has no idea where anything is. Well, Arvind Kejriwal’s fledging political outfit, the AAP, is Delhi’s weird uncle. They’re here for you, no matter what you want. Just don’t leave without having dinner!

Throughout the campaign, they promised to change the world, one resident welfare association at a time. Nothing could dampen their enthusiasm! Neither empty threats from the government nor fake stings from shady news organizations. They didn’t even flinch when India’s only living leprechaun, Anna Hazare, tried to rain in on their parade. They promised to give the people whatever they wanted. Their manifesto read like a suggestion box in a high school that accepts anonymous submissions. To them, there are no bad ideas. Five day weekends? You got it! Can you pass a law that makes it so that we don’t have to pay for anything we don’t like? On it! Can you put CCTVs all over the city whose sole purpose is to monitor other CCTVs? What an idea, sirjee!  Your wish is their command. Vote for the AAP, because we don’t think you’re crazy!

Now please excuse me while I mock viewers of reality shows for having a really shitty list of contestants to vote for.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

For Whom the Fans Troll

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

There was a feeling of sadness permeating through the air. The streets were empty. Families gathered together to lean on each other for support. Those without anyone reached out to others like them so that they wouldn’t be alone. A dark cloud had descended over the country. The sun had been eclipsed by an even bigger star. No one was ready to say goodbye yet. But they still had to. First there was the silence. Followed by the tears. And then, there was the chanting. A billion-plus people shouting his name. A nation whose citizens spend every day of the year fighting with each other was united for one short, solitary moment. In five, ten, fifty years, those who survive the nuclear winter will recall this day and let their radiated descendants know how time itself stopped to say goodbye to Sachin Tendulkar.

Okay, none of that actually happened. But if you were a fan of Sachin Tendulkar, then this is probably how you will remember the last day of the last match of his cricketing career. And if you were one of the unfortunate people who didn’t subscribe to the school of thought that proclaimed that he was the greatest thing to happen to this world since the oven that was used to bake the first batch of sliced bread, then you probably will remember that day for the elaborate system of passwords and secret handshakes you needed to use to find any remote safehouse that kept you away from the brainwashed masses.  

That must have been a difficult task because those people were everywhere. In your house, ruining what is supposed to be your haven away from the world. Or at your local cafe, disturbing your “me time” with their incessant need to discuss strange things like “batting average” while making snide insinuations about some chap called Bradman. They didn’t even spare your favourite bar, desecrating the holiest of holy places by boldly asking the shocked manager to switch off the ‘bacardi blast’ cd playing on repeat and putting on the match commentary instead. They took over all the newspapers too! Instead of reporting important salacious details about whom Ranbir Kapoor was dating, our broadsheets were printing interviews with all the important people in Tendulkar’s life, like that guy who once stood next to him at a school bus stop. All the news channels stopped focusing on silly political non-events for a while and instead held panel discussions involving various cricketing legends like Shobha De and Suhel Seth.

Members of the Sachin sect took over twitter too. Between tweeting links to youtube clips of Sachin’s best innings and blogposts that were supposed to make your eyes water while you swallowed that temporary lump in your throat, they spent the day of the final goodbye accusing those who did not agree with them of being dead on the inside. (When did being dead on the inside stop being a thing that should be encouraged? I, for one, highly recommend it!) They declared that anyone who didn’t feel an overwhelming sense of loss on Tendulkar’s retirement must be less emotionally equipped than the Frankenstein monster. They were shocked – shocked! – that not everyone talked about their lord and saviour with the same reverence that they did. They even wondered out loud why everyone else in world couldn’t see that he was the chosen one.

Recently, a court in UP banned the screening of a movie because some stupid people were faux-offended by the use of the words ‘Ram-leela’ in the title. A few months ago, a court in Malaysia banned non-Muslims from saying or writing ‘Allah’ in any form. Earlier this year, when the lead actor for the movie version of the Fifty Shades of Grey series was announced, he got death threats from some of the most obsessive readers of the ‘books’ because according to them, he didn’t resemble the version of the eponymous character that they had in their head.

We’ve let those who believe in the magical powers of ancient storybooks, fairytales, man-made symbols, octogenarian actors, politicians, sportsmen with a cinematic narrative for a life story and other fictional characters determine how we talk about their object of reverence. That is a slippery slope. One minute you’re agreeing to not make silly jokes about a way-past-his-prime cricket player to avoid a confrontation or to please his fans, the next minute you’re going to find yourself prostrating in front of his life-sized statue, as your life flashes in front of your eyes and you wonder how you got here.

I’m all for worshipping whomever you like!  We pretend it’s a free country, after all. We’re all entitled to our delusions. But the insistence that other people follow suit? We’re not entitled to that.

Now please excuse me as I make a change dot org petition asking Obama to sign an executive order banning Ben Affleck from ever wearing a Batman costume.