The sheer irreverence of it all

It is hot at Pune. The kind of heat that sort of reminds you how a roti would feel inside of a tandoor. Dry, searing and overlapping heat in layers that defy the languid stupor which is such a blessing during summer. In between sporadic bouts of work, IRC and tweets, I figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to vent out a couple of things. Bits which are unique because they somewhat hold up the mirror to the irreverence that we see around us. The (ab)normality which we have become used to and the (in)sanity that is part of our daily existence.

  • Let’s talk about the (Kolkata)KnightRiders or, KKR as they claim to be their “handle”. To begin with, it is somewhat interesting to note that they are slowly dropping the city affiliation from their name. So, even though the title on their website still has “Kolkata”, the content within tends to be more “Knight Rider”. Either way, the aim is to generate money and, if separating the city and the team is worth doing that, I am pretty much sure that someone must have thought this through ? Or, have they ? As they clash with the Royal Challengers Bangalore today in what can be called the battle of the scums, it is a data point that (K)KR have the most abysmally unbalanced team. The 4 captain theory notwithstanding, what kind of a team goes into a pressure cooker tournament with only 3 batsmen of which one (the captain) seems to be have taken a vow of winning the underperfomer of the tournament award ? It is a separate story that there is tough fight for that category from the captain of the Bangalore team. Anyways, besides some ill-advised batting strength, the bowling line-up is iffy. The main bowler seems to revel in spending at least 10 bowls to find the right line and length and, thereafter spend the next 14 getting thrashed all over the park. So, what happened to the wonder-kid from Bangladesh who caused all that media hype ? Getting an all expenses paid trip to South Africa perhaps. Who knows ? There must be some “strategy” hidden somewhere that mere mortals cannot fathom. A team that fails in the basic blocking-and-tackling department because they cannot get their fundamentals right, would be more impacted by that rather than a bumbling leader and a curiously Page3 hungry management. Either the (K)KR have decided not to make an attempt to win anything or, they have figured out a way that is the “way of Rocky Balboa” – get pummeled long enough to drain out your opponents and, thereon use the last round to stage a glorious comeback amidst mounting tension, rousing scenes and thumping music. In short, I wasn’t too keen on watching IPL matches except those which have the Deccan Chargers or, the Delhi Daredevils and, now, I am pretty much sure that I have had enough of the idiocy that goes on in the name of T20 cricket.
  • India goes to the polls. These are not good times at all – the economy is in dire straits, the so-called captains of various industries are talking about a “global reset”, the indices are going “loco”, the neighbourhood has heat turned on. In times like these citizens look up to their leaders to provide some assurance and assuage the feelings of panic. So, what do we see ? Footwear throwing competition and, the resultant hoopla over news channels, leaders arguing about their physical strength (it is an irony when both parties are politely called geriatrics), candidates asking about the manifestations of physical beauty, election manifestos that seem to have landed up in this century from a time warp and, a rag tag collation of parties who would in all eventuality hold the decider to the leadership role. What a roaring farce ! And, we assume that we can march towards progress based on this extreme lack of vision, strategy or mission. Yet, in some sad way, we deserve what we see. For we are not worthy of anything better. Change can come kiss my posterior.
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Of readers and authors

Javed Akhtar has a strange lament about “true book readers going missing”. He quotes that old chestnut anecdote about books being chosen by interior designers based on the colour patterns of the house etc (there is more than one short story in Bengali around the same theme by the way). Instead of talking about the lack of book readers, I’d try and see just what’s wrong with books written by Indian authors. In a way, this genre of books remind me of the puzzled look I had when I noticed that there was a restaurant opening near the house which claimed to provide “Authentic Indian Cuisine”. Question is – what is an authentic Indian cuisine anyway ?

To begin with, books by Indian authors seem to be adhering to some template diktat given down by the publishing houses. I read enough books to be able to foresee and predict patterns or, the “Indian” theme that runs strongly through any book. Couple that with the fact that the books tend to dumb down the basic element of story-telling – the human drama and psycho-analysis and play up the gaudiness or, the diaspora nature of the country. This is in addition to the fact that the language in the books are somewhat odd-ball. They are neither here ie. reflect the true inflections of English used across the nation and, nor there ie. reflect a classical trend in the selection of English words and construction of sentences. The question then remains – who are these characters in the books ? Where do they come from and, why should they be relevant to the readers ?

That’s just the “Indian writing in English” – there is this somewhat not visible quantum of Indian writing in the local languages. When I say not visible – I allude to the lack of an effective marketing presence for them. So, coming back to the lament – I wonder why is it so difficult for the authors to reach out to a newer audience over the web ? Taking the content to the internet would probably allow a much active group of readers to learn about and read the works of new authors. True book readers are not born overnight – they are cultivated and coached while being provided content that is of high quality.

Where are the true authors who take the trouble to break out from the existing morass of publishing companies and attempt to strike a chord amongst the target audience ?

Laws of relativity

A somewhat uncomfortable question is “Do you know XYZ ?” Happens all the time at social gatherings, nearly every time at some event or formal event. What I have figured out is that there is no correct way to handle this. No template response. This is a deep, probing question into your social network, the folks you hang out with and ultimately, the person you are. Vague responses won’t cut the ice and, too specific ones have the ingrained chance of making you an outcast.

So, why do folks ask it ?

At one point in time I used to think that it was more of showing off, some sort of “look at me, I know XYZ via ABC who is so and so” With time, I tend to figure that it is more aimed at figuring out the social pecking order based on relativity. My all time favorite responses include “Oh ! we have had a torrid affair” (delivered dead-pan and with perfect tone and pitch) and, “I don’t think I know her, she knows me” (delivered cynically given the “she” in question was the wife-to-be). Fuguring out things with respect to other things has always been a nice hobby. In fact, relativity is ‘cool’. Until, it becomes all consuming and leads to all sorts of jumbled introspections.

An off-hand tendency is to figure that laws are relativity are applicable only to the young. Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, the not-so-young suffer equally if not more and pretend to mask the great appeal. Knowing someone takes more than a social contact anyway.

Aspirations, biggerism and bigotry

It has been a week since the Bengali New Year (নববর্ষ) etc and it is hot as hell in Pune. There’s a question right there. Why should hell be hot anyway ? If all the happening ‘sinners’ end up in hell, it should be a cool hangout. Anyways, 14th/15th April each year does make me feel uncomfortable. I am not too much into the usual ‘bengali’ routine of celebrating the new year. After all, how many ‘new year’ days can a mind wrap itself around. And, the traditional ‘sing songs, recite poetry’ kind of celebrations have always been facetious for me. A bengali by birth, bumped around all over the globe, I like Tagore’s poetry – pushed I can even recite a few of them (I have my favorites and no, all of them are not in শেষের কবিতা). But the pseudo intellectual inanity that goes for celebrations gets me to pop a nerve.

That is probably one of the reasons I dislike ‘reality shows’. These days they are like unwanted fungus on every channel and, I just rush to flip through if I land up with any one of them. Every day I spend countless hours watching apparently sensible folks make idiotic decisions that bring them down a notch in my book. Watching humiliation in the name of reality is just too much. Especially because the ‘elements’ in the shows are scripted, hyped, dramatized and, over exposed. The bitchiness, the love and affection, the adulation and the humiliation all look superficial and appear as fragile as anything. The aspirational quotient or, the insanity of greed that the shows thrive on are mind numbing.

In some ways, the Nano is as much playing up the psychological demons of aspirations as it is trying to strum the chords of national pride. Politics of course is a given. Over the weekend, we had a glimpse at the Nano at Westside. It isn’t any different from other small cars of the same genre. In fact, the Nano might end up with the same kind of enhancement cycle which the first generation Maruti cars went through. Quick iteration of features, more stuff added leading to biggerism. Biggerism is a plague that is contagious and, is affecting the students too. Not much thought is being given to what they want to be but more focus on who they want to be.

What are we doing wrong ?

Of elections and theories

This time around at Kolkata, the campaigns for the Lok Sabha elections were themed around “Change”. As much as a back-hand tribute to Obama it is, the interesting bit which I never heard questioned was “change from what” ? The theme would make sense if it were elections about the state legislative assembly. The ruling Left Front has been around for 30 years (close to a single generation – mine, specifically) and, the so-called ‘anti-incumbency’ factor might have been coupled with “Change” to make some sense.

But these are not state elections. And, that’s where the fun lies. Most of the voting population do not seem to be appreciating the difference, or, are able to distinguish between these two. Whether that is a political immaturity or, the state-of-affairs, is a different blog perhaps, but the bottom line is that it does indicate a serious change in the political spectrum of the country.

From 1947 till around 3 decades, the political spectrum was dominated by ‘national’ parties. Or, parties which did have a pan-India presence, had leaders who had participated during the Freedom Struggle and, involved work towards building and constructionism. More often than not, the parties had a ‘national’ vision and, while in power, attempted to develop and implement policies of change that had a national character to them. Sometime around the late 1970s, the political base of the ‘national’ parties began to be eroded. What came up to replace the vacuum were regional parties or, parties/alliances formed around single issues which had immediate local relevance. Political philosophy and political practice were replaced by political convenience.

This in fact has had a greater impact on the development of the nation. The lack of strong national parties and the overwhelmening dominance of regional and local players mean that vision or policies are not easy to come up with. And, they are most certainly very hard to implement. Nowhere is it more evident than in the election manifestos of the leading parties of the 3 fronts. Each of them have subtle underlinings of accommodating the demands and pulls of their regional partners and, make a deliberate attempt to shy away from over-arching national goals. Which isn’t really good for the nation in the long term. The reason is somewhat two fold. One obvious reason is that the local parties are more concerned about being relevant in their constituencies and hence they do have a sharp focus on issues relevant to them. The other not so obvious reason is the lack of effort in building up policy formulating bodies within the parties. So, for instance, a local/regional/single-issue-based party doesn’t really need to invest time and effort in building up a ‘think tank’ for issues of national interest unless they conflict with the reason_to_exist goals for the party.

That is precisely where the shoe pinches in a coalition government. Not specifically because the coalition itself is weak. But because there isn’t a mission-vision match.

Travel and trivia

I don’t like to travel. I am too fussy and, to top it all, I am a bit of a nerve wracking chap when it comes to going somewhere. Conjuring up curious corner cases which can delay me is a natural thing for me. However, once I do get out of the house and, since I inevitably reach the destination ahead of time, I end up enjoying the ‘peoplewatching’ part of it. Stations, patios, airports, terminals, lounges – you name it, peoplewatching and noting the quirks help me while away the time. In fact, before I got a bit addicted to microblogging and ended up with a reasonably smartphone that allows me to indulge in micro-blogs, watching humanity was a favorite hobby.

The only place that beats airports in their variety and availability of human quirks would be the inside of a train compartment. Specifically because there is a significant amount of space crunch and adjustment which makes it an entertaining ride. I might end up writing about trains later, airports are the best place however. The one odd thing I have noticed is that folks take care to be their very best when they are travelling. So, you end up seeing a lot of new clothes, tres-chic, urbane and wannabe cool, or, the totally clued-out dresser. Especially if you are on a morning flight, it is fun. Watch out for those travelling on various flights in groups of 4 or more. Most of the males would be strutting around all puffed up eager to sip a cup of hot coffee while the ladies circle together in groups at the same time trying to keep an eye on the children. If there are younger males, it might be fairly obvious that they are watching the cabin crew teams passing by.

It is an interesting sight and leads to lots of insights. Well worth it.