Thursday, 27 November 2014

Gullible's (Indians) Travails

Last week was a landmark week for Indian Christians, or I would say for all Indians. Two Indians were anointed with Sainthood by the Vatican. Yet the Papal office overlooked some other great contenders for Sainthood. And why blame just the Vatican? So did the Shahi Imam, who was too busy anointing and appointing his own flesh and blood to religious fiefdom. So did the other fiefs of other religions, who were horrified just looking at the goings-on at one such fiefdom: "Satlok" of "Sant Rampal". Saint"hood"?!

And so Facebook and WhatsApp missed their official Sainthood. Now what makes them prime candidates for such an elevation from the ranks of ordinary mortals? Of course, their extraordinary powers, which were not earned at the Hogwarts School. And, hence, remain beyond the realm of explanation. Even the Vatican requires proof and illustrations of extraordinary powers of the contemplated Saints. So here I present a case for Sainthood for Facebook and WhatsApp.

1. Turning Bread to Stone.  Yes, even the Almighty could only turn stone to bread. But our candidates can even turn bread to stone. Numerous posts and messages are in circulation, which try to find innovative explanations for formation of stones in the gall bladder, kidneys, or wherever they want. The explanations invariably lie in the consumption of food, like tomatoes, spinach, blah-blah-blah, and of course bread. And history will one day correct itself for labeling Marie Antoinette a monster. You see, she actually wanted to save the bourgeoisie by preempting them from consuming bread, and replacing it with artery-clogging cake. At least she didn't want them "stoned"!

2. Promoting the belief that Man love Man. And I'm not talking "Yaarana" or the H-word. What I mean is that Facebook and WhatsApp have turned all users into philanthropists. Everyone. Any message or post which even remotely refers to human health and cure for diseases, is promptly forwarded. Without even being read, i.e. Naturally, who has the time to read long posts and messages? Not the ones who forward messages in bulk when they could have made a personal call, at least to a few. If only such virtual philanthropy actually translated into real common good, alas! 

3. Miracle Cures. O yes. There is a miracle cure for everything. From Cancer to Constipation. Turmeric, lime juice, lemon juice, karela juice.......anything that can be juiced. Or not. And studies quoted in support? None!! Miracles cannot be scientifically explained, can they? So no questions asked. Juice Do It!!

4. Producing mass hysteria. Pictures taken in one part of the world have been found to cause riots in another unrelated part of the world. All because some people chose to manipulate public sentiment in a place, which had their vested interests, by forwarding morphed versions of these pics to show how a particular community or society was being persecuted. 

5. Producing mass hypnosis. And the PR machinery of the powerful and the wealthy have been using this particular aspect of Facebook and WhatsApp to their hearts' content, or maybe pockets' contents. A particular industrial house, which was found with its hands inside the 2G till, and which had pockets, and pockets of influence, deep enough to affect ministerial berths, keeps promoting its owner as a visionary all over social media. And people lap it all up. A man on trial for running over homeless pavement dwellers, has a court hearing on Nov 24. His so-called "adopted" sister gets married amidst a media blitzkreig on Nov 18. The functions run close to Nov 24. And two days before the trial, people enthusiastically forward a message which claims that the man on trial "adopted" a pavement dweller's daughter as his "sister" and spent crores on her lavish wedding. People laud this, without any proof. And what is unbelievable is that people laud the wastage of crores of Rupees in a wedding feast - the same crores that could have fed an entire village of needy people for days! 

6.  Transforming non-believers into believers. The whole concept of Modern Medicine sprang forth from the well-founded mistrust that the Medicine Man had of the medicine man. The former being the pioneers of modern Medicine and the latter being the village quack. Yet it is actually an amazing feat of modern technology that Facebook and WhatsApp are making Doctors forget what they have spent precious years of their lives in trying to learn - modern Medicine. So it defies all logic, the phenomenon of doctors forwarding messages and endorsing posts which are against all principles of modern medical research. "Prolonged use of sanitary napkins causes uterine cancer" : and we all thought that the cause for uterine cancer was still unknown! Only co-existing factors had been identified.....!!

7. Empowering women. Any woman who spends time on Facebook and WhatsApp would know how empowered she is. Women's only groups on WhatsApp never tire of sending messages to each other which keep emphasizing how woman is God's special creation. How women are angels, only that they forget to remember so.......! Dear God, what did you do?! You created one whole gender without angelic qualities? Not fair to "Man"kind! Women keep perpetuating the quid pro quo. Recently, a video, which asked women to forget weight-watching and eat what they want as they are beautiful just the way they are, became a rage. Of course, the women watching it forgot to notice that the women in the video were all models...!! And if you eat sugar when you are diabetic, which, unfortunately, increasingly younger women are becoming, you may lose your eye-sight and not even know what beautiful looks are!!!!

8. Encouraging Love. And not just romantic love. Brotherly love. Sisterly love. It is amusing to see endearments pour forth so generously, on WhatsApp especially. Darlings, sweethearts, sweetie-pies.....much such sweet, sweet love! Makes the eyes all moist and teared-up. In real life, the "darlings" don't have time even to talk to each other; the "sweethearts" would cross each other on the streets, without a trace of recognition; and the "sweetie-pies" probably would love to push each others' faces into pies - the '70s Bollywood movies' style - or feed each other pies filled with Karela inside and glazed with Neem outside!

9. Inspiring ordinary souls to become Motivational Gurus. Everyone is a Guru these days. For themselves? Yes, they should be, for everyone should know what they want in life and how they want it. But Facebook and WhatsApp have turned every Netizen into a motivational Guru. Now Deepak Chopras and Wayne Dyers of the world have very, very tough competition.

10. Making people "Gullible". People are ready to believe anything and everything that goes around. More than ready. They also become a part of the machinery that speeds the passing around. Half-truths, untruths, lies, falsehoods, propaganda, self-defeating beliefs - all. Without using them grey cells, much to the horror of Hercule Poirot, had he been alive. Without any proof.

Which makes one wonder: what happened? Why have we Indians become so gullible? Part of the 19th century and the whole of the 20th century were notable for the efforts made by luminaries like Raja Ram Mohun Roy, for inculcating a scientific temper in the Indians. Myths and superstitions were sought to be debunked. The awakening of the spirit of inquiry was an integral part of the Independence Movement. Mahatma Gandhi's Swadeshi movement was not just about spinning khadi and economic self-reliance, but also about self-reliance in temperament. Examine facts and decide for oneself what they mean. Self-belief, self-reliance, self-respect. And what is most amusing is the fact that the instruments used for quelling scientific temper in Indians are products of science itself. Technology. In terms of the Computer, Cell Phone, Internet, mobile telephony etc. 

Fads pass quickly. And I am sure hoping and praying that this is a fad, a phase, and the faster it fades away, the better it is.

Till then, Talk Talk mein confers Saint-"hood" on Facebook and WhatsApp. Now we all shall be using St. Facebook and St. WhatsApp. Or maybe, Sant FacePal and Sant WhatsPal ?!

Disclaimer: This blog post is written in a humorous vein and does not intend to question or make fun of any religion, or religious beliefs.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Surviving the Ocean : Airlock

Copyright (c) Shubhrata V Prakash

I have survived. The Ocean of Darkness? Yes.
The point of light guided me back to the shores
Not just out of the Ocean of Darkness
But to the shelter of some rocky coves

The shore is just a short way from the coves
The path from one to the other shown by stepped-on stones
The path literally glittering like a gem-studded treasure trove
The stones like gems, with the light the sun chose to shone

I sat in the cove, feeling numb, for a while
I caught my breath, rested my tired arms and legs
Felt my face unfreeze by the warmth into a smile
My lungs and muscles hung out to dry on memory pegs

Memories of the darkness that almost did obliterate
A living being and its self, happiness and its will to live
Its dreams, aspirations, joys and all raison d'etre
And wrung out its complete spirit, its innate desire to survive

And then, in the distance, over mists thick like a screen
The spirit that did survive laid out more memories to play
A tide of memories of times before the dark ocean
That now came rushing, gushing; conquering the time delay

Of smiles, joys, happiness, and the loving people around
Family, friends, dear ones, who were hidden in the darkness
Though they were there always, yet I didn't feel them surround
Me with their everlasting love, keeping me secured with love as a harness

Kept me safe from drowning; yet not my fault that I couldn't see
The anchors, the harbours, the lift rafts which kept me from going under
For the darkness - cunning, inclement and insidious - enveloping me
Would lie to me, show me horror, and all evil; and tear my mind asunder

Now the darkness has lost. Other memories rush even faster
A life full of love, colour, laughter, happiness and drive, so much
A life so full of rock-like determination to exist and to live, no matter (what)
A life that filled love and special things, into all other lives it touched

A life in which I didn't walk but sometimes skipped, sometimes glided
On air, with a song on my lips, a smile in my eyes and ideas in my head
Rules were rules but were no rules by which my crazy mind abided
And flew across miles in seconds, back and forth, no fear, no dread

The movie flew by; my life's movie on the imaginary screen
I'd been on a perch taking deep breaths and putting an airlock:
An airlock between the dark waters and the shore with its golden sheen
The sheltered cove my airlock hub, dark waters left beyond the rocks

And now that I am somewhat dry, I take a few more breaths
And rise to cover, the last few steps towards the journey's end
Slowly at first, then with growing spirit, I make the last of the trek
To the shore, the proverbial pot of gold, made so by the sun on the sand

I can see the blue sky and puffs of white clouds, such joy almost forgotten
I can now see people and that they not phantoms but real, whole and alive
I can see them just enjoying their lives, and in it what they've begotten,
I can see all, I can feel all, I can read all, and still be happy: God I'm happy to be alive!

And now, further dry, I enjoy just soaking in some more sun
Sun, light, warmth; such wonderful wonderful sun sun, sun - I cry
Tears of joy, just salt water added to some brine, and then some
Joy that knows no bounds, I'm back to safety, back - home and dry.

Monday, 17 November 2014

An Ocean of Darkness

People see the smile outside. No one sees the darkness inside. Not just a spot or two of darkness. A whole ocean of darkness. I am drowning in it. Many times I’ve tried to keep my head above. Many times I’ve resurfaced when I couldn’t keep my head up and had gone down under. But every time I go under, I find resurfacing a little more difficult than the last time. Every time I go under, I need to hold my breath. For letting go of my breath means letting go of my life. If I let the air leave my lungs, my lungs, starved of air and strained with the effort of holding out on their own, are programmed to suck in the dark waters. Dark waters of the ocean of darkness. And once the darkness enters my body through my lungs……my lungs starved of breath, know nothing else but that it is time to tell me that this is what drowning is. Like, “I’m sorry but I’ve failed. I held out very long but, starved of air, the need to suck in whatever was available to fill myself up, was pressing. Just like a hungry child feels compelled to devour rotten remnants of other people’s meals to fill up his empty stomach.”

The suffocating dark waters swirl around, all around. I flail my arms and legs about. My strength ebbs with all the effort. My muscles, devoid of oxygen, also begin to start giving up. But some point of light in some recess in my brain pushes me to exert myself once more. With this psychic strength, I push down with all my remaining energy and resurface. After resurfacing, every initial breath is painful. My lungs, my heart, my nose, my eyes, my ears; all hurt. Slowly, with great effort, the breathing becomes normal and the pain recedes. But then, I am not as strong as I was before I went under, am I? There is wear and tear of my muscles, everywhere, from my extremities to my lungs and heart. There is nothing out there to replenish the energy store. So the muscles never recover, however much the body may want them to.

And then, when the next wave of darkness rushes towards me, I find it more difficult to brace myself. The entire process of holding out and fighting the wave, then going under when that fails, and then resurfacing, and then returning to a semblance of normality, leaves me even more depleted of energy than the time before. The process goes on without a break. My body is tired. My mind is tired too. My spirit is probably the point of light in my brain which pushes me to fight each time, despite knowledge of the inevitable outcome.

This point of light too, is dimming with each episode. The body and mind try to put some more oil into the burning lamp. Meditation, writing, playing, yoga, spirituality. They are all supposed to give strength to the flame inside my brain, to what I think is my spirit. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. The number of times they work is fast reducing while the number of times they don’t is accelerating like a car with the gas pedal pressed all the way down to the floor. So the light gets dimmer and dimmer. And when it goes out, I may find the ocean of darkness, surrounding me, too comforting to be worth fighting against. My body, dead tired; my mind, totally blank; and my spirit, out. Oh look, the ocean bed tempts. How nice would it be to just lie down there, curled up like a new born. How nice would it be not to fight any more. How nice would it be not to make an effort any more. How nice would it be to feel no pain. How nice would it be to float, weightlessly, in the darkness. Float and float and float. To let it guide and let me follow. To let it cushion me from all that lies above. To let me be. Just let it be.

PS : Please don't give up........perhaps there will be a day when the waves of darkness shall recede.....and you have to keep fighting to see the light of THAT day.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Not A Feisty Heist

Image courtesy Wikipedia 
This year, New Year Eve came early. Two-months-and-a-week in advance. It came with the new SRK movie titled "Happy New Year". Ahaaa...! Now that title was surely misleading but more on it later. Farah Khan may not have hit the bull's eye with "Tees Maar Khan", but her husband surely took a hit from SRK. Ram Jaane what transpired after that but things between them were all well again - Om Shanti Om- and here was "Happy New Year".

In the movie, Shah Rukh Khan is "Charlie" aka Chandramohan Sharma, who cannot "earn an honest living in his city". Now as someone who went to Pardes to earn a degree, why should he not be able to earn honestly in Swades, pray? The question is answered in a flashback where his father Manohar Sharma (Anupam Kher in a cameo), a safe-maker, is defrauded by the Ra.One-esque Charan Grover (Jackie Shroff) by stealing diamonds and laying the blame on Manohar. Manohar is jailed and Charlie doesn't know how to say "My Name is Charlie and mera baap chor nahin hai". So Charlie hatches a plan to clear his father's name by stealing the Shalimar diamonds, which are being transported by Grover and his son Vicky (Abhishek Bachchan), and which will be stored in a safe in the Atlantis Hotel in Dubai on Christmas eve. To steal the diamonds, Charlie plans a One-Two Ka Four heist.

Now there are no Mohabbatein lost between Charlie and the Don, Charan Grover, and hence Charlie has planned the revenge and the heist quite Dil Se. So he picks up an Army, which needs a bit describing. Jag (Sonu Sood) is actually an ex-Army guy who is smoking hot and has all Maya Memsahebs salivating "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai". Tammy (Boman Irani) is a safemaker-cum-safecracker who is Manohar's friend. Rohan (Vivaan Shah) is a whizkid who can hack systems with Josh. Nandu Bhide (Abhishek Bachchan again) is Vicky Grover's Duplicate. He is quite a Chamatkar of a man who can throw-up (yes, i.e., vomit) at will. Hey Ram!

But wait! Isn't this a Farah Khan movie? So where is the dancing? At the time the heist is to be pulled off, the World Dancing Championship (WDC) is happening in the Atlantis Hotel. So, what better way to get to the venue of the heist than by representing India at the WDC? But, the Paheli is, how? How do five two-left-footed men get to the WDC? The English Babu Charlie finds a Desi Mem - a bar dancer - Mohini Joshi (Deepika Padukone) to teach them how to dance. The English is her the weakness and the Charlie manages to make her the Dil To Paagal Hai.

So, the team members get together. They rehearse their roles and practice dance. With lots of drama happening all around, the team manages to make a Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman of even Nandu Bhide (dimaag mein keede) and put together some sort of performance for the selection rounds. They get jeered and boo-ed at, but with Rohan's manipulation of the scoring system, they manage to reach Dubai. When they reach Dubai, like the Congress MLAs of the last Delhi Assembly, they are packed off into an Innova and delivered to the Atlantis. As team after team of stalwart dancers arrives on shining wheels,  the crowd sees Charlie and his team, and decry "Oh darling, YEH hai  India?!"

And so the story unfolds......There are "unexpected" twists like the diamonds not arriving on Christmas eve as scheduled. There are some fight sequences and some weird songs and dances. Ultimately, the diamonds arrive on New Year's eve, and Charlie is worried. Kal Ho Na Ho? Then, when it is time for Team India to perform, only Mohini is there. For her, what are diamonds but a form of Koyla? And she may be in Dubai, Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani. She decides to dance alone till Jab Tak Hai Jaan. The climax has moments of Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, and Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna. Ufff.....Kitna Konfusion! And it is not even an Ekta Kapoor movie. Then, finally, it is Chak De India! King Uncle Charan Grover suffers the Anjaam of his being a Baazigar, and Charlie celebrates the Happy New Year of his new life.

The film is quite below average. Faran Khan misses the bull's eye again. The music is absolutely mediocre and a huge let-down, especially as this is a dance movie. The only saving grace is "Indiawale". There are too many many that one gets confused whether Sarah Jane Dias had a role or a cameo on the dias. The safe with the diamonds has all kinds of security systems including a high energy invisible shield but no encrypted password?! Any Badshah, Guddu or Asoka could get it to sing "Hum tumhare hain sanam"! And btw, one wonders what were Anurag Kashyap and Vishal Dadlani doing in the film: playing "Veer-Zara"?!!

As far as performances go, well, a 50-yr-old man with eight-pack abs and facial wrinkles falling till his feet - how is it possible? Only SRK and his Dil Aashna Hai! It is a pity to see the actual man of action, the one time Yuva, having to strip to entertain. Mohini has got the moves but not the music to be a patch on the "Ek-Do-Teen" Mohini. Jackie Shroff looks in desperate need of the services of Billu Barber. Boman Irani, Sonu Sood and Vivaan Shah do a good job though.

Now for why the title is a misnomer. Happy New Year. First of all it was released on Diwali, not New Year's Eve. There was nothing "New" in the story. The heist was cut, copy, paste and rehash, from many Hollywood heist movies. "Year"? No, ear. The music was actually quite a strain on the ears. So, in the end, one does not end up "Happy" after watching the movie. Farah Khan could easily have titled it "Diwali Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge". It doesn't take Rohan's hacking skills to change the date of the heist from New Year's Eve to Diwali. The overpriced tickets sure made her and SRK have a special Diwali. And as for us, oh we are so used to taking out our diwala (bankruptcy) by putting fire to our money on Diwali, aren't we?!

But then, Karma has a way of working. Shayaad mere Karan-Arjun aayenge, zaroor aayenge..........

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Racist Who?

A couple of years back, on a Saturday morning, I found myself at a leading Delhi hospital with my husband. My husband needed some blood tests done and then we had to see his doctor with the reports. There were only three counters for outpatient payment and the queue before each of these was long. In between the queues at two of these counters was a parked wheelchair, occupied by a tall, large-built African man and flanked on one side by an equally tall, hugely-built African woman. While the queue snailed forward, a hospital attendant came by and tried to move the wheelchair with its occupant to one side. The African gentleman screamed.

Meanwhile, a middle-aged woman, dressed in what has perhaps become urban India’s middle-aged uniform- Kurti with a pair of trousers- with a boy perhaps just past his teens and dressed in what were perhaps his school shorts, walked up to the payment counters and asked, rather demanded of me, whether there was any other counter for payment. Yes, I wanted to say, and we are all bereft of brains and gifted with eons of time to kill when there are time-saving options available. No, I said aloud. Of course, it was unfair, the sentence of standing in a long queue that had been just handed out to Her Highness, and quite outraged, she proceeded to the counter sideways demanding to know again whether there was any other counter for payment. No, she was informed by the counter staff. Resignedly, she settled for standing in the queue behind us.

The African gentleman, by now, was in the middle of a major temper tantrum. He was screaming and screeching. Language played the biggest baddie in all this drama. The hospital attendant, through gestures, was trying to explain that he just wanted to move the wheelchair aside so as to clear the passage and to ensure that its occupant was not hurt by the crowd milling around. By then the row had been escalated by the active participation of the wheelchair occupant’s companion. The Africans seemed quite agitated and ready to hand out a punch or two to the hospital attendant, who then started backing off, and finally gave up and slipped away. Bystanders like us watched and heard, but did not react, for there were no cues in this drama for us. But Her Highness from behind me could not help herself. In the most sophisticated and Anglicized English she could manage, she advised the African couple that they must complain to the hospital management. Not once, not twice, but thrice she reiterated that the hospital authorities must be informed of how innocent foreigners were being harassed in their hospital. “Money. All that these hospital attendants want is money. They will harass foreigners all they can to squeeze some money out of them,” she pronounced with offended dignity.

My poor husband, the loyal Indian that he is, could not take it anymore. He opened his mouth to say, “Excuse me, Ma’am, but the hospital attendant was not at fault. He was only trying to clear the blocked passage. The patient’s and his companion’s reactions were extreme.” Prompted by this support from unexpected quarters, the manager of the outpatients payment counter came out from behind one of the glass counters and said, “Sir, you have rightly said it is not our attendant’s fault. This particular patient is quite a regular visitor here. He is generally violent. He has once bitten a nurse and assaulted a lab technician”. “Oh but then, if the hospital attendant was not harassing him, why were the Africans shouting and screaming?”, Her Highness wanted to know of my husband. “They are troubled enough by whatever health problems life has given them….woh apni bimariyon se pareshan hain. But please don’t complain against the hospital attendant for no fault of his. The poor man may lose his job and livelihood, and his family will suffer”, my husband said with utmost politeness. His turn had come and he moved up to the counter to pay. I felt immensely proud of him. Trust him to always speak up for the truth.

“Such bias….”, Her Highness kept whispering behind my back, “…only because they were Africans! Had they been Americans, people’s reactions would have been different. We would have been bending backwards to please them”, she said indignantly. The “We” that she had used was very obviously meant to exclude herself and her overgrown teenager.  By then my husband had already walked off and I followed suit, concentrating all my energies in avoiding the African gentleman, whose wheel chair was again found parked in the busy, crowded corridor. Who knows when he would decide that a bite on my plump arm or plump neck is what I've been asking for. I even hid behind a paper cup of cappuccino in the hospital CafĂ© Coffee Day outlet while my husband kept walking up and down the corridor, checking the status of his token number. Of course, he is a greater mortal than me and I’m never ashamed of it. 

My husband’s tests finally got over and as we were waiting for our car, I just couldn't help thinking that there are so many pseudo-sophisticated, pseudo-urbane Indians walking around who wouldn't think twice before endangering a poor Indian family’s livelihood just to poke their snooty noses into affairs which are not theirs. For what? Bleeding heart anti-racist activism? Or a sense of self aggrandizement? After all, it isn't everyday that they encounter Africans or Americans. Their daily life is spent trying to distinguish themselves from the common, unsophisticated, poor and not-so-urbane Indian….for after all you need to define inferior in order to feel superior?! The car had come. We sat and drove off into the sunset.