Monday, February 16, 2009

The Twilight Man

K. Beechka stared blankly into open space. He was confused as ever. As his head meandered through events in his short life, he looked for that one thread that linked all these events together. All events, including the day he chose to jump through that hole in the Sea of Khas.

Beechka had had a fairly fulfilling life. He grew up in a good family, and while the going was tough sometimes, things had never really unravelled for him. He studied in a good school, went to a great college, and made many friends and then lost some of them. He was, at the end of the day, the usual guy, who lived his usual life with all the hits and misses. All through his shortlived life, however, he felt this distinct sense of a mission he must complete. Much the same, he was rather disenchanted with something in life. Something that never crystallized enough to be completely visible to him, but was grainy enough to hurt his insides when his mind unknowingly strayed upon it.

He thought about the island of Tiid in the Sea of Khas. The island and its inhabitants were treated with an ambivalent eye by people who lived outside it. They called themselves The People of the Mainland. While they respected its inhabitants and turned to them when in doubt, their behaviour was hardly cordial when need found itself absent from proceedings. The people of Tiid, amused at first, then bewildered, and then hurt found solace in each other. The fact that it was difficult to access the island made it much easier for them to shun the outside world and behave in a manner (in the absence of external contact), peculiar to them. They developed their own codes of social conduct, governing bodies, even their own ideas of what they were. The few residents who had seen the Mainland before the separation began, ensured that everything in Tiid was in antagonism to the Mainland. To conform with the outside world was a heinous crime. To not conform with the inside world was even worse.

Every year, Tiid would conduct a scouting operation, where it would call residents of the Mainland, who found themselves at a loss with their world to migrate to Tiid. Of course, Tiid being an island, there wasn't enough space to accomodate everyone. Only those beyond a threshold level of disenchantment with their surroundings (barring those with political connections) were taken in; to live and to conform. Society within Tiid wasn't utopic, as it's founders had (day)dreamed it would be. The heirarchy was almost unbreakable. The cycle of exploitation, endless. All new entrants were subjected to heavy handed behaviour by their superiors, and they grew up to do the same to their inferiors. There were defections, thousands of them. Inhabitants who were disillusioned with isolation on the island, found their way back to the Mainland every year. The authorities in Tiid, tried to clamp down on this defection, but the stronger they clamped down, the harder it got. There were loyalists, of course, who would close their eyes to promises of a better life on the Mainland (on the compromise of conformation of course) and stay with their bretheren on the island.

Then Beechka arrived. He materialized out of nowhere. The story of that man with immense talent, that outsider who fell through the Sea of Khas spread like wildfire amongst the inhabitants of the island. The unknown usually invokes fear and respect. And this was the case with Beechka. He was showered with praise and respect, for no one knew who he was outside the island. Beechka absorbed all the respect with a hunger that knew no bounds. He had never received such adulation prior to the fateful day he fell through that hole in the sea. What Beechka realised soon after, was that this process was not irreversible. Unlike other inhabitants of the island, he could have a double life. One on the Mainland, another on the island.

One would be tempted to think that Beechka's life was now all peaches and cream. Best of both worlds, as one might put it. But Beechka wasn't happy. That something had still not crystallized.

The wildfire amongst the inhabitants of Tiid had died. Beechka himself had fallen into that twilight zone where he wasn't different enough to be considered unique, but was different enough to be cast aside. In the midst of all the angst eating up his insides, and the heat of Tiid eating up his outsides, Beechka was sent to the cooler climes of the city of B. Something inside Beechka told him that he was on the cusp of something. He was to be a part of an international congregation, where he would meet people from around the world, each representing a section of society that had been sidelined by the majority, and sought an alliance with islands such as Tiid. Over the two weeks, that he spent there, the storm inside Beechka grew more and more turbulent. Things always seemed like they were coming to a head, but they never did. And here he was, on the last day, looking over the city of B. and reflecting on his life, confused as ever.

And then, in that moment, he had an epiphany. All questions became answers, and all answers, questions. The face of every person he had met over the last two weeks flashed in front of his eyes. Then, every inhabitant of the island followed by every Mainland dweller made an appearance. He had suddenly found that missing link. Every person he had met in the last two weeks had only one thing on their mind. Everyone wanted to isolate themselves from the majority. This was precisely what had happened to Tiid when it began. Everyone had run in the opposite direction to begin with, and then as time wore on, everyone (except the miserable defectors) forgot about the existence of the Mainland. No one knew of the existence of a faster and easier life. Everyone was so happily ignorant in the mess of their own lives, that they never sought anything beyond it. Not seeking anything meant not losing anything. Work was life, and life was work. There existed no Mainland for them. Beechka, however, was not one of them. He had never been one of 'Them'. Whether growing up in the Mainland, or lost at Tiid, apathy was something he had never cultivated. 'Cultivated', he thought. Not 'succumbed to'. Because it was this lack of apathy that had landed him where he was. That 'something'. He had known both sides of the coin. And because of that, he could never get himself to conform at Tiid, and was never one of them. To the people of the Mainland, he was always the outsider who didn't belong.

Questions became answers, and answers became questions. It had started raining. He got up, and began his quest for that third land, that El Dorado where he would belong.

Was there such a land? Or was he the only one who belonged nowhere?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Doesn't Remind Me

I mentioned to a friend last night that having your life hanging in a limbo with a lot of free time on your hand is a dangerous cocktail. If anything, it causes you to want to forget (if not write blog posts at a prolific rate) a few things. Memory has never been my friend. I have a very good memory and it hasn't served me well many times in the past. Random things fly, and random things stick, often indefinitely.
So, in the current spell of wanting to forget, I came across this song by Audioslave (surprise surprise) called Doesn't Remind Me. It flew, and it stuck. The song itself was written by Cornell as a depiction of a rough childhood and how just wanted to do things to forget those rough days.
The video for the song adds a new dimension to the song. It depicts a young child who loses his father in a war, and then just wants to do things that don't remind him of anything. So here's me, not reminding myself of anything.
I walk the streets of Japan till I get lost
Cause it doesn't remind me of anything
With a graveyard tan carrying a cross
Cause it doesn't remind me of anything
I like studying faces in a parking lot
Cause it doesn't remind me of anything
I like driving backwards in the fog
Cause it doesn't remind me of anything
The things that I've loved the things that I've lost
The things I've held sacred that I've dropped
I won't lie no more you can bet
I don't want to learn what I'll need to forget
I like gypsy moths and radio talk
Cause it doesn't remind me of anything
I like gospel music and canned applause
Cause it doesn't remind me of anything
I like colorful clothing in the sun
Cause it doesn't remind me of anything
I ilke hammering nails and speaking in tongues
Cause it doesn't remind me of anything
Bend and shape me, I love the way you are
Slow and sweetly, Like never before
Calm and sleeping, We won't stir up the past
So discreetly, We won't look back
I like throwing my voice and breaking guitars
Cause it doesn't remind me of anything
I like playing in the sand what's mine is ours
If it doesn't remind me of anything
For the video, visit the link below, it's worth a watch.

Much Ado About the Jhuggi ka Kutta

Yep...I'm talking about Slumdog of course. I saw it a couple of days back (late on the fad scene as usual). The thing is, with all the hype surrounding it, and all the 'Jai Ho's I had heard and seen on status messages in the last few days, I was quite excited to watch the movie. Unfortunately, I ended up being a tad bit disappointed.
In my opinion, while it's not half bad a movie, it certainly is not Oscar-worthy. It's essentially a Hindi movie with good screenplay in English, while also being a strong anti-India travel advisory. Some of the characters also look rather uncomfortable with English dialogues. For one, it's funny to hear a Hindi hardcore abuse word right at the end of a sentence in English. What I'm wondering is if the movie would receive the same attention if it had an Indian director and was a completely Indian venture.
Having said that, I also think it might just pull off the Oscars, given that it plays very well to the pseudo-spiritual Western conception of a bhookha-nanga India. While a huge chunk of the reality, that's not the only side to the coin, which unfortunately is what it looks like.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Turning 22

I turn 22 exactly when this post goes up. Funny feeling, this turning 22 business. Everytime you cross an extra year, you make plans, you break plans, you bend plans, or do none of that. This particular birthday, I find myself sitting in bed with my laptop, writing a blog post. This is the part where you ask me to get a life and I ask you where to get one.
Over the last two weeks I've noticed a distinct lack of excitement surrounding this birthday. I still can't figure out why, but there seems to be a lack a certain bien etre that most people feel when they add that extra candle. It's also got me thinking of all the birthdays past; the good, the bad, the crazy and the mundane.
Birthdays were simple when I was in school. I was a simple kid. Birthdays would usually entail my school buddies coming over for lunch and then all of us playing cricket in the nearby park till it was dark, we broke someone's window, or for that matter some kid cried because some other kid was cheating.
Then came the wacky birthdays in college. They were quite innocuous to begin with. We'd go out to our dearest Al Bake (it's not a bakery) for our dose of Lebanese food. Then the ominous signs began to appear. First there were the your cake-my hand-your face episodes. Then, as we began to get bored of the place, we decided to make birthdays more interesting by setting bill targets at Al Bake. Very soon, birthday gifts got infected. We began the practice of giving what we called "symbolic gifts" to the birthday boy or girl. For example, a friend of mine nicknamed "Truck" got a Leo Toys dump truck as a birthday gift, another got a jockey underwear set, which he was made to wear in public. Birthday pranks got more and more complex and elaborate, and one would just wait for one's birthday to see what was hurled at oneself. (Below: Birthday casualties)

Now, of course, birthdays are rather sombre affairs, what with the polite Happy Birthday-Thank you routines. I personally used to get a huge kick out of surprising people on their birthdays; I myself never having been at the receiving end of one, so that's a wish I'd like to see fulfilled in the coming years. I loved being 19, hated being 20, and was indifferent to 21. I hope 22 brings along something good. It's one of the most crucial years of my life and I hope it swings the right way.

What better way to conclude than to let my pal Ed Vedder make a birthday wish for me,
I wish I was a sailor with someone who waited for me
I wish I was as fortunate, as fortunate as me
I wish I was a messenger and all the news was good
I wish I was the full moon shining off a camaro's hood
Happy Birthday, SK .
(...and Abhishek Bachchan, Cristiano Ronaldo and Sven Goran Eriksson)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Humidity and Hard Water - Part II

After having completed his recondite ruminations in the shower, Free Labour Man set out to fulfil his noble mission in life, hopeful that today would be the day he would get to carry the umbrella and lead the procession of half naked uncles. That, apart from carrying boxes, bags and octogenarians to and fro.
I finally wound my way down to where the ceremonies were taking place. It was still only five in the a.m. and things were in full swing. The trouble with waking up early us T.Bs in the motherland do, is that six hours into the day when you cast a bored look on your watch, you're horrified to find that the clock has just struck ten. Compare this to my day at home in Delhi when six hours into my day, the sun has already set. For my views on marriage, I must refer you to paragraphs 10-15 of the following article:
It was with these thoughts, then that I sat there, brooding, and waiting to be drafted into the wedding work force. The draft came, then came breakfast, the umbrella and the procession of the aforementioned uncles came and passed as I looked on in horror (my noble mission would only be half complete now), then came lunch, and the evening tea, but the ceremonies refused to end. An interesting, albeit masochistic twist was added to the tale by the fact that both bride and groom were forbidden from eating anything (religion, being the most handy excuse for us T.Bs) till everything was done and over. It wasn't until half past eight that the proceedings had ground to a halt. There it was, a full fledged sixteen hour long wedding. In this time I had woken up, ruminated in the shower, sat bored for 5 hours, watched the procession in horror, had some four meals, napped for three hours and also managed to take a small tour of the temple town. All this while the poor bride and groom sat there, waiting for the torture to end on empty stomachs and short fuses. My brother (the groom) very aptly described their condition at the end of the ceremony as PhDs - Phate Haal Dampattis (literally, Torn Condition Couple).
At the end of it all, the priest was kind enough to hand my brother a little chit before he left with some mantra written on it (probably as home work). The hopeful of course titled this little chit the Libido Mantra.
Things soon wound down to a close and everyone settled into their respective rooms, one trying to memorize the Libido Mantra, leaving me alone to ponder yet again. This time the pondering produced something more than the humidity and hard water paradox. It produced a slogan. A slogan that would probably define every single Indian marriage that ever was held. A slogan which would have to be the centerpiece of any ad we create to market an Indian wedding:
"Brevity is not our priority"
True story.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Humidity and Hard Water - Part I

Before I get into the actual content of this post, I want to make a couple of clarifications,
  1. This post is not a lecture on the chemistry of either humidity or hard water (That is not a given, thank your stars).
  2. This post is not about the environment. I think my pal Al Gore's doing his best. God bless him.

Right about now you're thinking, "This guy is such an attention-grabbing, slimy old prick. He comes up with these snazzy titles and clarifications in every post, and then forces everyone to read more". I'd say you're right. Having suitably gratified ourselves with pleasantries, read on.

About a week ago I mentioned to a friend of mine that I was going to be Best Man at my brother's wedding the coming Monday. "Oh really? That's so cool! So is it a Christian wedding?", she enquired, rather excited. The answer to her question was negative; it wasn't a Christian wedding but in fact a Tamil Brahmin wedding (in future to be referred to as Tam Brahm, or if I'm too lazy, T.B., not the disease). It was probably her infectious excitement that caused me to look forward to playing my role this Monday. It turns out (for the uninformed) that the role of the "Best Man" in a T.B. (I'm getting lazy already) wedding is much less glamorous than his counterpart in a Christian wedding. For all practical purposes, a Best Man is really "Free Labour Umbrella Holding Man". That's all the Best Man does, slog his brown bottom off and then get up at four in the morning (a painful subject I shall approach later in this post) and hold an umbrella over the groom's head while the groom takes a supposed trip to Kashi (usually about 100 feet away from the venue so that everyone gets a share of the entertainment). The entertainment I'm referring to here is getting to see a full grown, half naked man, with kajal on his eyes and one spot on his cheek, being followed by an entourage of full-grown-half-naked men, led by the Best Man himself, holding the umbrella. As events transpired, I didn't even get to hold the umbrella. So at the end of the day, I was "Free Labour Man".

Back to the actual wedding itself then. We first flew some ten thousand miles (exaggerated by a factor of about 4) and then drove another five thousand (exaggerated by a factor of 80) to get to the wedding venue. Needless to say, any place that far away from the north of the country and still within the country, has to be, the south of the country. Guruvayur, to be precise. Guruvayur is a temple town, complete with scores of plush hotels and markets, and of course, not to be left behind, a five hundred year old shrine.

Let me then discuss a few peculiar things about the way of life of my people (The T.Bs, note the attempt to make us sound like a cool lot). They like to get up early. Period. They love, adore, have a thing for getting up early and making noise. If you head out in a small South Indian town at five in the morning, you'd probably find the kind of rush you'll find on Delhi roads at ten. And it's not just the people. I was woken up on the second day at half past three by the chirping of a bird that had a very warped sense of time. It's not a surprise then, that Free Labour Man (FLM from now on) was woken up at four by the sound of the band-baja playing at the venue, the morning of the wedding. If I haven't mentioned it, allow me to mention it now; us T.Bs marry in the morning. Not just morning, really early in the morning, but that shouldn't be a surprise anymore.

At this point, you're scratching your head and wondering one of two things. One, you're wondering if the scratching is because of dandruff, or more likely (hopefully), you're wondering why I christened this post thus. Turns out, as I was grumbling to myself in the shower after having being woken up rather violently, my mind began to wander. I noticed that most places down south are grossly humid. To compound your trouble, the water is hard and salty. So, when you're having a bath down south, first, the soap refuses to come off. Once you've laboured your life away to get the soap off your back, the water refuses to dry. This is the awe-inspiring cycle of humidity and hard water, the quagmire that traps all us T.Bs when we're in the motherland (And that's not somewhere in Sri Lanka). At this point, I assure you that such thoughts arise only when I'm grumbling to myself in a shower in the motherland. The world is still a safe place to live.