Saturday, November 10, 2018

Why, for me, India is still the best



Hello, Priya Ramani

Just wanted to respond to your opinion piece in LiveMint (if you haven't read it, click here) which talks about leaving India for a better life

A little bit about me - have lived abroad for approx 11 years, travel very frequently (over 60 countries, been to all 7 continents) + and my son has just moved to London to study (had gone for a couple of weeks to settle him in, so some experiences are fresh in my mind). I'd returned to India in 2006 and, after stints in Gurgaon, Bangalore, Kolkata and Mumbai, my home has been in Pune last few years

Also, a disclaimer - all that I say, as in your article, applies only to people with means.It most definitely doesn't apply to our impoverished millions, those without access to sanitation, shelter and food / water.

Now - firstly, the areas I agree with you. Intolerance is increasing. It has been for the last 10-15 years, and with the spread of social media, has spiked to unforeseen levels, the safety and relative anonymity of various platforms - Twitter, WhatsApp - making people indulge in name calling at the drop of a hat. I completely understand what you mean about living in a bubble - we live in a great one in Pune and it takes a lot to make me venture out. Also, our politicians and bureaucracy has completely failed us, over the last few decades - driven by personal aggrandizement and vested interests, rather than the greater good.

So, why do I still feel India is the best place to be for Indians with means ?

Intolerance - unfortunately, India isn't the only place to be afflicted with this malaise - it's on the rise all over, and I don't just mean in Trumpistan. The Far Right movement has been increasing in Europe too (read this article in Time about Italy, Germany, France, Hungary and even Sweden) and is always rearing it's head in Australia as well. Brexit's immediate aftermath was a 30% increase in hate crimes in the UK (a BBC report based on Home Office statistics - the biggest increase, btw, since they began to record these numbers). Idyllic Brazil just voted in anti-immigration right winger as President too. As history has repeatedly shown us, the slightest of economic downturns leads to a rise in xenophobia. Recent events conclusively demonstrate that we, the human race, hasn't improved on this front despite all our other advances.

Bubble - don't people live in bubbles everywhere ? I remember walking around in Louisville, Kentucky, USA a couple of decades ago and it was startling how there was a complete ghetto like feel to one part of the town, where people of a certain skin colour lived and a completely different feel (with the manicured lawns, pretty sidewalks and white fences that Hollywood shows us) just across the street where people of a different skin colour lived. All cities have dodgy areas too - Los Angeles isn't all Pretty Woman's Rodeo Drive and Beverly Hills and a neighbour recently scolded her daughter's fiancee for walking around in Queens at night, saying he was going to get mugged and he should stick to Manhattan. I remember, even in London, we lived in a nice, gated community - that spared us from the vandalism, graffiti and break-ins that afflicted neighbouring streets.

Also, one point you don't mention at all is racism. Not saying that Indian's are not racist (or casteist) but have found other countries no better. Encountered multiple instances for self + numerous incidents for friends.

Now, the points where I feel India scores over the West

Service levels - if you want a cable connection, in India you can get one in a day. In Holland, in 2005, it took 3 weeks to merely activate a dormant one (was renting, and my landlord hadn't used his connection for a while) and no amount of pleading (my kids were arriving in a week) or offering to pay more led to even a day's reduction in the lead time. We arrived in Gurgaon just a year later and sure enough, it took just a day to get TV and internet (there were just 2 providers in Holland and the lead time there was 2 weeks). My son is still struggling to open a bank account in UK - the documents they want and the format provided by his Uni vary just a little and no, you can't combine document one with document two - the system doesn't allow it and common sense be damned. Meeting bank officials is out of the question as a) they open student accounts exclusively online b) even the officials we did meet informally said their hands were tied. Can you imagine this happening in India ? Here you can get a doctor to visit you, if you are unwell. There you have to make an appointment and it's highly possible, has happened to us, that if you have a cold you may get asked to visit after 2 weeks.

Warmth - Am sure there is a study somewhere that links human warmth with the quantum of sunshine they receive (and if there isn't, there should be) - but that's what I missed the most while I was abroad and enjoy the most while I'm here. In Hindi, I would say 'wahan ke log rookhe hain'. Here, I find, overall, there is more warmth and love. The ability to just drop in to a neighbour's place, unannounced. The random chats on a train ride from Pune to Mumbai. The helpfulness of strangers. Imagine you're 5 bucks short of your taxi fare - where would you rather be, in India or the West ?

Finally, being an eternal optimist, what gives me greatest hope for my country is the spread of the internet, and consequently of knowledge, thanks to the lowest data rates anywhere in the world (obviously doesn't include the countries where it's free). I feel the era of e-everything will help dramatically shake off the barriers of the physical infrastructures that have led to many of the ills that plague us. I envision a not so distant future where kids even in the remotest of locations will get access to free education via their mobiles, medical diagnosis will happen swiftly via video calls and for crimes, e-FIRs will be lodged instantly. Fingers crossed, but if e-courts happen (ie trials, at least of lower courts, begin to happen via the internet) + our politicians / bureaucrats are taken to task via the spread of data /
information for failures to fulfil their duties, then our future is truly bright.

I also think my ideal life, going ahead, once my daughter also leaves for college + we can find a solution for my sister (who is handicapped and in our care), would involve a 3 month in, 3 month out kind of format. Probably in places like Sri Lanka, Bali, Brazil, where I can be comfortable in my brown skin and maybe, being a sun-worshipper, in Europe during the summer (the people there change with sunshine).

BTW - wonder how do you / anyone know that 17 million Indians left the country last year, especially as we no longer fill any forms while going out or coming in ? Wouldn't any number also include tourists ?

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Delhi Punjabi Party & #MeToo



(This is a highly fictionalized, irreverent account of a party we, my wife and I, flew in to attend in Delhi, a couple’s silver jubilee anniversary. The trip coincided with the onslaught of #MeToo revelations on Twitter and so the conversation was dominated by that topic, in an inimitable Delhi way. Just sharing snippets. User discretion advised – my wife and daughter enjoyed reading it but for those who take offence easily best not to read further)

Chapter 1 : Setting The Scene

Timeline : Number of accusers : MJAkbar 3, Suhel Seth 1, Bollywood 3 (one producer, one casting director and one director)


We arrive at their place. My wife’s wearing what she wore at our first cousin’s wedding the previous year. When I suggest she may be a tad overdressed she rolls her eyes in exasperation.

Our friends had sent their car to pick us up. We were staying in Gurgaon, they had just moved from Gurgaon to some swanky new pad in Delhi, overlooking the golf course. He was scrawny, diminutive and a Bengali, nerdy, techie types while she was sizzling, fiery, full-blooded Punjabi, taller than him by about 6 inches, chewed and spat out 4 men before breakfast and ran a boutique financial investment firm. They had moved to Delhi to be closer to her work, his office was still Gurgaon. Just like N D Tiwari, and more recently Anoop Jalota, had given hope to millions of Indian men, our BT (Bong Techie) friend had given hope to many in our circle, when he got married to FHP (Fiery, Hot Punjabi) – agar uska kuch ho sakta hai, to hum bhi umeed laga sakte hain (if something can happen to him, we shouldn’t lose hope).

When I had messaged her, asking for their new address, she called back immediately.
“Apurv, what’s your address ? I’ll send my car over”
“(putting it on speaker so that my wife can hear too) Hi FHP ! Nice to speak to you after ages ! How are you ? Just message me your address na, I’ll just take an Uber / Ola ?”
“Apurv – it’s Delhi – Uber / Ola aren’t safe ! Just tell me your address and I’ll send my driver over”
(my wife’s gesticulating in the background – I told you it wasn’t safe and you never listen to me – I don’t know how she enacted it but I got it, loud and clear. The same wife who’s movies I never manage to get during Dumb Charades)
“Oho – I’ll take the metro and come”
“Apurv !!”
(my wife rolls her eyes in exasperation. I can sense FHP doing the same over the phone).

An hour later, her car had arrived. As we walked up to their flat, I realized eyes had been rolled at me thrice already. It was going to be that kind of a night. After the effusive greeting, I look over the crowd. 99.8% of the crowd was Punjabi (apart from his parents who were Bong), everyone was on their third or fifth (apart from his parents who were sipping nimbu pani). It was going to be that kind of a night.

***

“Bhaktawar, Apurv ke liye drink bana na ?”, FHP yelled across the room

Bhaktawar Singh, their fabled barman, who does all their parties over the last fifteen years. Legend has it he never forgets a drink he’s served you. Bhaktawar looks at me, from across the hall. It must have been 4 years since I attended a party at their place. He smiled a superior smile “Sir, single malt, lots of ice and Thums Up ?”. All the men and some of the women turn around to look at me, aghast. My wife, who drinks it the ‘approved’ way, with a solitary rock and a splash of water, slides her hand in mine. What, I never said she wasn’t supportive ?
***
Some of us are admiring the view of the golf course, while meditatively sipping our drinks. BT comes over and points out that it’s overlooking the 13th hole tee off and the 18th green. One of the women ask him if he plays.
“Yeah, yeah,” he responds nonchalantly, “and now I’m going to get serious !”, in a Tiger-Woods-better-watch-out tone !
“You know, I just went and saw the Ryder Cup”, I pipe in, slapping him jovially on the back
“Ryder Cup ???” BT looks at me quizzically ?

***

Chapter 2 : Hashtag MeToo makes it’s appearance

Timeline : Number of Accusers : MJA 7, Suhel 2, Journalists 4, Bollywood 5, Chetan Bhagat 1


“What do you think of this whole Hashtag MeToo, yeah ?”

Tall woman in short, maroon dress is talking to tall woman in short, red dress and tall woman in short, rust dress. Yes, 21 years of marriage does that to you. Helps you distinguish colours. Anyways, I perked up my ears, stopped paying any attention to the group I was standing, chatting with, and single-mindedly eavesdropped.

“I think it’s so sad, na ?” Red dress speaks out.
“What’s sad ?” FHP joins in
Rust dress “This MeToo thing – so sad that women had to go through all that and wait for so many years to speak up”
“Oh, no no, no no”, Red dress speaks again “I think it’s so sad the women didn’t do anything about it then and waited so long to speak up!”
“Totally, I don’t understand at all why they didn’t do anything about it then. I would have slapped them then and there”, FHP announces fiercely. The other women nod. She has. Rumour has it FHP has slapped 7 men. 3 she’s admitted to – one on a flight, one at office, one in a bar (apparently the outraged guy was wearing pink pants and took out a gun but slunk away when she glared at him).
“But what if the guy is your boss and you need the job?” Rust dress wasn’t about to give up.
“I think you owe it to womankind to just whack him so hard, he never tries this with anyone again !”
“Amen !” Red dress
“That’s what I tell my daughter” Rusty
“Bilkul” Maroon agrees “And if you couldn’t do anything about it then, for God’s sake keep quiet now. Show some dignity, na ?
Everyone clinks their glasses.
“You know, BT wanted to put up a sign outside the house”, FHP whispers conspiratorially, “saying ‘#MeToo doesn’t apply to this party’. But I told him it our neighbours may feel we aren’t sensitive to the movement”
“Oh no, we are, we are”
“Totally”
“Cheers !”

***

“He’s going to be the next guy named in #MeToo” is how I was introduced to Burgundy shirt. Open to the fourth button, his chest hair clearly visible, a photo of the curly haired (no, not Suhel) Sai Baba nestled amongst his curls. He shook hands with me and turned to his accuser.
“Arre nahin. My wife knows all about the stuff from 20 years ago. No problem even if they say something. My wife said ‘Main Hoon Na’, don’t worry”
“What if they are from 5 years ago ?”, the gent on his right questions.
“Right now they are happy. They’ll only speak twenty years later !! Then I’ll see what to do”. Everyone guffaws !
Someone furtively points out to me a woman dressed in fuchsia.
“She’s his mistress. His wife (points out another woman dressed in magenta) knows.”
“Oh”, I marvel at both being there at the same party.
“She (the mistress) works for his friend’s company, in marketing. Travels with him for all of his business trips. Even though she has no connection with his work. And on weekends, he’s fully devoted to his wife, doesn’t even look at his phone. Everyone’s happy, including the mistress’ husband (pointing out a tired looking, paunchy, balding guy who’s standing by himself in a corner, drinking).”
“Oh”, I marvel at the arrangement
Just then Study In Scarlett walks over and proceeds to shake hands with some of the guys in our circle (including me) and hug some of the others. But when she gets to Burgundy Shirt, he steps back just as she’s about to hug him and does a polite Namaste. She’s clearly taken aback.
“What’s the matter, BS?”
“Boss, now with Hashtag MeToo, that’s all I’m going to do with all women. Zamana kharab hai, don’t know who ends up complaining”
“What the hell is wrong with you, BS !”
They hug

***

Chapter 3 : MeToo Unplugged

Timeline : MJA 12. Suhel 5. Journalists now lead Bollywood 7 to 6. Ad agencies and corporate also appear on the scoreboard. Chetan Bhagat does a +1/-1 ie one new accuser but he apologises to a previous accuser in the fourth para of a Facebook post promoting his new book.


“But it’s so confusing now, you don’t know what to do anymore ?” says Man in Tight TShirt, placing his hands on the shoulder of Woman in Saree + a blouse that is two sizes smaller than the one Priyanka wore for Desi Girl.
“I mean, is it ok to touch, hug, kiss or not”, another guy, wearing a Bow Tie (the only one in the party)
“Yeah”, says a guy in a Hawaiian shirt, “and if I cracked a joke ten years ago, at office, everyone laughed then. How can someone turn around today and say it was sexist ? That’s cheating !”
This group comprises these three guys and Desi Girl, who has an exasperated air about her.
“Sexist is sexist”, she tells Hawaiian shirt, with a matronly air, while removing Tight TShirt’s hand from her shoulder. “Would you be comfortable saying the joke to your sister?”
“It’s all about consent” she tells Bow Tie. “Bring your hand forward”, she commands him. He nervously extends his hand. “Now, if I bring my hand forward too and take your hand”, she says as she reaches forward and grabs his hand, “then I’m fine shaking hands with you. Else I’m not! Simple !”
She pauses for a moment, eats a gol gappa, then yells – “Bhaiya – aap ko bola tha teekha zyada!”, waiting till she gets another one. Tight TShirt orders a drink refill from Bhaktawar before casually placing his hand on her shoulder again.
“And you also have to be careful where you place your hand”, she tells him, removing his hand again.
He now puts his hand around her waist “But what would be the fun in that ?”
She first moves forward, really close but then smoothly untangles herself, “It has to be fun for both, darling”, she says, while carelessly tapping his face.
Three expressions pass through Tight TShirt’s face, searching for a suitable repartee. But then, not finding one, he quickly takes a cube of ice, drops it in her blouse and before she can react, runs away.
She shrieks, yells a couple of Hindi abuses and begins chasing him while he yells “But I didn’t touch you !”.
The other two guys look at my shocked expression “I think they went to school together”, they shrug

***

Final Chapter

Timeline : NGOs have also made their appearance. Chetan has gone all guns blazing after another accuser, sharing screenshots of a private conversation, instantly dividing Twitterati. Three people are sacked and the first defamation case is filed.


Four women in various lengths of LBDs, from short to mini, are standing near the bar. I can hear them plainly, while getting a refill from Bhaktawar.

“All these women coming out with tales of molestation”
“So sad, na”
“Yes – no one has ever tried anything with me”
“I know, how boring, na ?”
“I mean, hum mein kya kami hai ?”
“Pehle we used to still get a little attention, now with #MeToo, bilkul khatam ho jayega”
“What happened to your gym guy?”
“Stopped since three months”
“And your guy in office, the cute one with specs who used to sit opposite your cubicle?”
“He used to ask me for coffee whenever he went to get one for himself. But now he’s stopped drinking coffee altogether after the office posted #MeToo guidelines”
“So boring !”
They all nod in vehement agreement
“You know what”, one of them perks up. “We should start a #WhyNotMeToo movement”
“Ooh, what a great idea !”
“I agree, I agree”
“Sign me up, Sister !”
They all clink glasses

***

It’s time for the cake cutting
BT and FHP come together and pose for photos, before kissing, cutting the cake, hugging and delicately feeding each other some cake.

FHP moves away, to organize some food and shortly all hell breaks loose. Tight T Shirt runs in and smears BT’s face with cake. Burgundy Shirt goes a step further and arranges a meeting between the two - the cake and the face. Study in Scarlett comes in, taking advantage of BT’s temporary blindness, and smears cake inside his shirt, opening a couple of buttons in the process. Maroon and Rust Dress appear and rip his shirt off entirely. Desi Girl walks in and rubs cake all over his chest, Hawaiian Shirt dunks his drink over him, Bow Tie pulls down his jeans.

I think more would’ve happened but FHP walks back in at that precise moment. Everyone freezes. Tight Tshirt takes a step towards her, with cake in hand but FHP locks eyes with him and glares fiercely, making him wilt away. Everyone moves away from BT, as he covers his bare torso with his hands, standing, smeared with cake, wearing Winnie The Pooh boxers, shrieking ‘MeToo, MeToo’ in his shrill voice as FHP looks on…

***

On the way back, I ask my wife how was the party ?
She shrugs her shoulder, looking out of the window
“Normal”, she said…

Movie Reviews Have Moved to my YouTube Channel



I will no longer be writing any movie reviews, having succumbed to the lure of the quicker, easier video reviews

Those are available on my YouTube Channel

One of my recent movie reviews, Badhai Ho posted here