Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Bombay challenge

   It's been a whirlwind month- half of which I spent in freezing temperatures and frosted roads and the rest in sultry heat and showering twice a day. As you may have imagined, moving cities comes with its own set of baggage; countries, even more so.
    This blog is for those friends who asked me to spell out what it actually is like. You know, the BIG return, so here goes. The rest of you are more than welcome to read too, but remember, this is not going to be a romanticized post about desh ki mitti with violins in the background. Read, enjoy, laugh, be horrified and then return to your country.
    1. All stereotypes about big Indian cities (in my case, Bombay) stem from truth. The moment you step out of the international airport, the heat, humidity and stench hit you like a Fireball shot. And if you are in Bombay, which is quite a different animal altogether, you'll also be hit by this omnipresent noise.
    2. The Noise, mainly from indiscriminate honking, is a thing in Bombay. If you are in Delhi or Bangalore, you can get away from it, but in Mumbai, no. Mumbaikars revel in their noise. They don't want to change their habits. Because, "everyone gets used to the noise, you will too." Sound pollution? Say what?
    3. You will fall sick. The food will tempt you and you will give in. You'll be careless with the water you drink. No matter how expensive the restaurant is, you will still fall sick. Caveat: has never happened to me when I hit Bangalore on my trips, but I got the Delhi Belly in Bombay. The doctor said it's the water.
    4. Bombay is an expensive city. If you have a budget for house rents in your mind, add 10k INR a month to that already, for that is what you'll end up spending. Or considerably diminish your expectations of what a house should look like.
    5. No matter how much you pay for rent and what locality you choose to live in, you'll never be too far from the omnipresent slums. Unless you live outside the city altogether. Burberry showrooms coexist with multi-tiered slums like happy neighbours. I have almost forgiven all white men who have, for years, written, filmed and documented this phenomena. I have also laughed at my conversation in LA about how a high end store was placed right next to a Target , and about wondering how they hadn't planned the city that well. Someone was laughing up there when my friend (incidentally, a Mumbaikar) and I were having that chat.
    6. You'll take time to adjust. I am still unable to ignore the city noises, but every single person I've met or have spoken to has assured me it takes time. And then, suddenly, you fall right back in love with the city. I'm still in the "maybe" stage.
    7. People are helpful. They understand the challenges a newbie faces in the city. This is true for all of India, but Bombay will go out on a limb to help you fit in. If you give it a chance, that is. Step one is to lower your defenses. Step two is to accept the city, dirt, noise, sweat included. Step three is to go to Cafe Mondegar.
    8. Everyone knows it is a city that will and does overwhelm any outsider. So they make sure you are ok during the adjustment phase. The broker who helps you with house hunting will check on you to make sure you have dinner at home, colleagues will ask you out and to dinner till you have your house set up, cab guys will give you right directions or will even help you find your way, acquaintances will walk you through the city's system-- how to ride the trains, how to work the traffic, how to find your rhythm.
    Oh also, adjustment phases are subject to changes. A colleague has been here for three years and says he's still adjusting. Another one took three months.
    8. Don't expect anything to be done the American way when you are in India. No matter how tony a neighbourhood you are in or how fancy your office is, never forget this is not the USA, it is another country and has its own dos and don'ts. So no, your plumber might not be right on time when you make an appointment, but know what? If you are thirsty and have no water at home, he will get you a bottle of Bisleri. And sometimes, not even accept money for it. The autos may drive you crazy, but if you are lost, they will take you to the point where you can get into a cab and wait till you are safely on your way. And you don't need to tip. In fact, they'll happily take a 50 if the meter says 52 and you don't have change.
    9. If India is chaotic, Bombay is its crown jewel. But like a friend born and raised in Mumbai said, you need to find your rhythm in the city. I am guessing it is more or less true for all new cities you move to, but in Bombay it is not just a "good to do", it is a must. And once you find it, the city suddenly becomes very beautiful.
    10. For all the disadvantages, you are home. If you are not Indian, how about this: for as long as you stay here you will never have to do your dishes, do laundry or even go grocery shopping out of necessity. There are helping hands who do it for you. And the local grocer will be only too happy to take your orders via phone. And even pick up other stuff on the way if you become friends.
 
    That's about it for now. I'll let you know how things change when they do.

PS: adding one more. Total dependence on plastic money does not fly in India. Always keep some cash with you. If you're in Bombay, keep a lot of cash with you.
 
    

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Our fragile egos

The other day, I was out with a few friends and as the nature of many such “outings” go, the group got bigger and more acquaintances joined with time.
After suffering some, I have long set up a rule of thumb as far as “meeting new people” goes. I avoid this game as much as I can, unless the new people are somewhat vetted by a friend I genuinely like to spend time with.
The rule has served me well—I no longer spend time trying to make nice with people I couldn't care less about, I save others the same trauma and most importantly, I am not stuck in the middle of boring conversations any more. If I am, I leave.
But no man is an island and I have a lot of work to do before I get an Iron Will, so sometimes, the group gets bigger and if it is not a mortifying experience, I play along.  
And sometimes, it pays to stick around; because you learn interesting lessons.
So in this motley group was a girl who walked up to me and said “you were so much fun the other day, you should hang out with us more.”
It took me 2 minutes to figure out she had me mixed up with another Indian girl. It was a casual conversation, so I playfully retorted with “It’s OK, we all look the same, don’t we” and got on with it, never giving it a second thought till my friend came up to apologize to me, dragging said offender with him.
And then there was a barrage of apologies about her being ignorant, his being mortified and so on till I had to tell them it was really OK, sometimes white men and women look the same to me too.
Then I started getting accolades about “being a sport” and I realized, that I was not offended or was not making it into a big racial discrimination issue was so new that I was being looked at as a novelty.
“Thanks so much for not letting her offend you!”
I was about to protest against the ridiculousness of it all when I realized it was true: we get “offended” too easily these days and we give too little thought to whether we should be, or are even entitled to be.
So it does not matter that a kid is 15 and cannot still spell basic words correctly- a teacher has to weigh her words while talking to her parents so as not to cause any offence. It does not matter that a man is totally uncouth and upsetting your dinner table, if you are the host you have to be careful not offend him by asking him to shut up.  It does not matter most people don’t know what they are talking about when they call for bans on books, but because they are still “offended” by what is in them,  governments and publishing houses have to destroy or ban them.
So how did our egos get so fragile that we are not able to distinguish between genuine offence, honest mistakes and plain non-issues? Why has it come to this that a teacher who fails a kid because she has done miserably or says “your child is a brat” with good reason is answerable to parents and school board; that you cannot tell a mother that dancing is not something she should push her daughter towards; that an author cannot write a book of honest discourse without running the risk of “offending” political activists?
And no, I am not mixing little instances with big ones, because think about it. It is the same gloated and friable ego that makes a child howl "injustice" when a teacher fails it, that makes angry mobs scream "murder" when an author questions them. The basic sense is not that different, is it?
"How can s/he challenge me?. How can they think I am not as invincible as I think I am? I have a right to be angry, so I will make sure the entire world knows I am!"
Does it draw directly from that massive sense of self importance that I wrote about last time?  That we are all so important in our little heads that any word of criticism, anyone challenging our thoughts or any small sign of unpredictability gets us unsettled to such an extent, we start taking things personally.  We get offended.
We rally our friends and look for support, we decide to wall out the guilty or go after them with our pitchforks and then, when the adrenaline runs out we retract into the pathetic little worlds we build for ourselves, feeling good about our non-existent victories.
Parents justify this by saying they are protecting their kids. Are they really, though?
I see a world where kids are increasingly growing up to think they can get what they want, when they want, lack manners and sulk all the time.
I see fragile young girls “going into depression” because a boss or a friend has been rude, or not given them as much attention as they thought they deserved.
I see a world where teachers (not just school, any kind. Think art, games, music) are increasingly afraid to give honest feedback, lest they hurt someone’s ego.
I see a world where grown-ups cannot talk to each other without sounding like corporate jargon machines, because hey, you never know what upsets the other person. So it's safer to pepper sentences with the insipid "that is interesting, but...",  "we should touch base" (this one really annoys me. When I was a teenager, 'touching base' was not something you wanted to do with every Tom, Dick and Harry you met. Why can't we just say "I'll get in touch with you"? Maybe I'll write about these phrases the next time) and other mind numbingly dull expressions that'll make any reasonably sensible person want to flee.
And worse, we sometimes don’t even pause to reconsider if something even merits our getting so upset. Take for example my experience with the girl I mentioned in the beginning.
I know of other Indians who got upset about it when I shared the story, ones who have otherwise happily shortened their surnames so they go easy on Western tongues. That does not dilute their sense of identity, but if someone mixes me up for another person (and also apologises for it), it’s a problem.
And I wonder how this case of fragile egos is ever going to serve us well, if it is true that all great ideas and movements in this world have been a result of honest and enlightening discussions. That criticism is necessary; it calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.
We all want to live in a free society, and yet somehow we have decided we’ll only account for the good of that arrangement without being responsible for the bad.
That because we live in a free world, we will say it is our right to blast music at 3 am in the morning and blame our neighbour if he complains about disturbance. And yet, when he wakes up early at 6 am and turns on the lawn mower/ says his prayers loud, he is the insufferable one.
We think because we live in a free world where we have a right to be heard, we can call for the banishment of an artist, can call someone we don’t like evil names, can kill people and burn communities because what they did “offended” us.
Like one of my favourite authors famously reminded us, no one in this world has the right not to be offended. That right simply does not exist. It is then, on us to decide and differentiate between what we take as offence and what is criticism, what is a challenge, what is an honest mistake, what is a question and what is a crime.
We live in a big world, my dad is fond of reminding my mom. It is full of things that can upset us, but it makes sense to deal with them with what I thought was common sense.  If you think your neighbour is being too prying, ask her to stop, don’t build a wall so high that no one else can get in.
If you think you have overstepped a mark with a friend, apologize and don’t do it again. At least, try. If you don’t like a movie, a painting, a boss, a teacher, book, talk about why not, instead of burning and banishing. Or move away.
But more than anything isn’t it important we think before we decide to get upset? What is it that is upsetting us so much, so frequently? Does it even merit that much heart burn? Or are you simply being silly because you think your ego has been hurt.
There are real issues in this world that merit our getting offended and upset. When someone shoots a young girl because she dared to go to school, it merits our being upset. When kids drop out of school because they can’t pay for tuition, it merits our being upset. When a deserving candidate is passed over because of blatant favoritism, even that merits our being upset. And in all those cases, we need to do more than just be offended. We need to do what we can to stop the offenders.
But if  we keep mixing criticism with offense, if we cannot handle a contrarian view, if we do not know self importance from a worthy cause, we are going to keep getting offended over little things that do not count, and we’ll keep living in that little sad world we build inside our heads.
This would be fine, except that the real world, the one which does not really care about your fragile ego, will not make an exception when you’re the one who “gives offence.” And you never know when you do.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Princess Attacks!

I never thought I’d admire any actress as much as Meryl Streep until I watched 30 Rock and discovered Tina Fey.
And I think I justified my admiration for Fey when I read her book, “Bossypants” yesterday on a flight and was blown by her intelligence, humility and sharp sense of humor. Not that I didn't know any of that about Fey before—being a good comedian is hard work, especially if you’re the kind who relies on sarcasm and dry wit. In a world where most people only laugh at fart jokes, made by men.
The book is not a great piece of literature—I already told you I read it on a flight (and finished it by the time I was home.) But I think it takes a great deal of courage , down-to-earth-ness (ok, I just made up that word) , wit, knowledge and forbearance to make it work as a woman comedy writer in the TV industry, who’s also looking to change TV. Fey not only managed to make it work, but built a successful satirical show that somehow included politics, gender debates, fart jokes (mostly to show how they are disgusting) and men peeing in pots (again, same reason) and still went on to win Emmy s and Golden Globes.  Factoid : 30 Rock woo’d juries and judges but struggled to get enough audience, at least until it won all those awards.  Memory jog: a world where most people only laugh at crude buffoonery.
Then she had the guts to write a book while still in the industry, in which she is not afraid to put up pictures of herself that are not photo-shopped, to compare to ones that are and boldly admits that every single woman including herself that you've seen on cover pages are only able to wear those really weirdly small dresses because those are not zipped up. No one, she says, not even Heidi Klum can get into those and zip all the way up, so we are really all O.K.
And that brings me to the actual point. Which is this one place in the book where my wonder woman talks about how dangerous it is that young kids in this country (and now also in India, from what I hear) are conditioned to think that they are very important people. She talks about a lot of other things in the book—I am telling you, read it. It is a good example of deceptively light hearted reading that makes some very serious points.
When I was going through that part, I couldn't help but think of my own experiences, as I often do while reading.  So I thought of all the instances where self importance wore me out so much I wanted to cry. Or laugh, depending. Because it’s not just in kids. Or maybe it starts with kids but then they grow up into men and women who still somehow continue to think that way. And god save us if they are also “young and pretty.”
Perfectly likeable women turn into insufferable pains when they get what I have termed “princess attacks”, perfectly bearable men become validated jerks when they do this, and there is no going back. In my experience this disease is more common in women, though because of social settings it is more deplorable in a man.
I can’t decide if this means we are more stupid or that we are more beautiful, but either way, it does no good to anyone.
So here’s something I've wanted to yell at many people for a very long time and somehow haven’t. If you think there is some kind of nobility in being a princess (I’ll just say princess all through. You can read it as “prince” if you want to) and/or declaring the same at a gathering, please stop. It is not a good thing, chiefly because you are not. And like Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews have taught us, real princesses do not have to declare to the world that they are one. Much like real bosses, real ladies, real power brokers, real drug dealers. No one in that room, not even your friend who awwwws at you is really interested or impressed. You are a drag. If you are lucky, you’ll have that one friend who’ll say as much. But judging by the amount of princesses I've had to interact with, there are not many good friends around. So here goes:-
1. You are NOT a real princess, so don’t act like one because you get it all wrong. It’s the attitude equivalent of fake accents. If you have a fake accent and pretend to be a princess and you’re above 21, you should stop reading this now.
        If you are a real princess, can I be your friend?
2. Expecting men to treat you well, adding sparkly things to your phone/clothes and acting naïve about the world do not make you a princess. All women should expect men to treat them well; most women like some shine and sparkle in their wardrobes and no one should fake naiveté because when faked, it comes across as stupidity. Is not cute that you do not know that child prostitution exists and/or you cannot speak in your regional language without an accent because you went to a pricey school.  Look around you, eyes wide open. Priyanka Gandhi speaks perfect Hindi when she does and her family is more pricey/storied than yours will ever be. Angelina Jolie is way more beautiful, famous and rich than you are and she is politically and socially aware.  So if you’re not Sleeping Beauty and can legitimately claim you've not come in contact with the world of men and women for decades, don’t say you “never saw those dirty markets” because if you've not, go walk through one.
3. You are the apple of your dad’s eye. If you are lucky, maybe your husband/boyfriend’s. No one else is really obliged to like you. Actually, correction. No one, not even your parents are obliged to like you, but because they are parents they’ll probably not abandon you. But don’t expect that from others. Don’t ever think saying “I need attention” will get you anything apart from snide chuckles or the tired but forced company of a loyal friend. If you want attention, say something really funny at the dinner table. Some people do it because that's who they are. If you are not that person, slave at it. Or do/say something clever and/or knowledgeable. Or, strip. But beware, if you are stripping to get attention, don’t complain “no one ever listens to you”, because you are asking them not to. Same rules for men and women, I keep saying.
4. Are you young and pretty? If the average life expectancy is 70 years, 35 is middle age. Now place yourself in that age graph. How close are you to 35? I thought so. Just saying you are young does not make you so. And here’s a word about beauty—it lies in the eyes of the beholder. Our school books taught us that, remember? So quit using that as leverage, because the only people that’ll give you leverage over those are people who are only looking to sleep with you or otherwise want something from you. And you are obviously free to be OK with that because after all, free world. But in which case, cross reference to point about stripping above. Also, reality check for all wannabe Megan Foxs : you will be shocked to know how many of the men who are putty around you actually don’t think you are beautiful at all. Hot body? That is mostly it. Or, easy catch. How do I know? Because I have male friends who have very little secrets from me. Or me from them, but we are getting distracted. So, here’s to your being a butherface.  I learnt that term from the Kardashians. We all have our uses.
5. Nobody cares if you think you’re important. Unless you’ve done something to prove you have, the world does not care, except for very stupid people. And your having tonnes of money is not exactly = your being important. Just to make it clear for once and for all: Richard Branson is rich, Mandela was important. Warren Buffet is the one example I think probably makes it to both sets, but they are a very very rare species. But coming back to my point, 1. very few of you actually even have tonnes of money. 2., if you made that money by selling your family life to a cable network or feuding over an ex lover on TV, you are not important. You’re just a rich loser and people laugh at you. So stop tormenting everyone around you with your tantrums and just relax a little and gel with the crowd. Maybe even donate some of that money to people who need it. I promise you it is a nice thing to do.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Man on man.



An ex-colleague shared this on his FB wall. Before my work day was over a few others had done so and all their walls were populated with comments on how this was an atrocious bit of writing, ranging from how it is in bad taste that the columnist is using Tejpal as an example of anything good, to how he is "cashing in".  
But to my reader's eyes, the writer does not come across as championing Tejpal's case. He isn't suggesting that Tejpal, if guilty of abusing a colleague, should be allowed to go free. 
 He is asking if we, as a society, swing wildly from one extreme to the other. And taking forward his point, I’m wondering that if that is indeed so, whether such a society -- so prone to teenage-like mood swings --  should indeed be given the right to make any important decision.
And maybe more pertinently in this context, if male-bashing has become the ultimate symbol of liberalism, especially if taken up by the Man of Today.
That most women have long forgotten what feminism had originally set out to achieve is not news today. Or, maybe because it did achieve a lot of its goals, we decided to let the end fizzle out. Like Mehrotra says, women like Lessing (and all others who have worked for the equality of men and women) have themselves pointed out many times that the solution to the woes of women does not lie in some vindictive turning of the tables. I’m thinking, neither does it lie in stubbornly refusing to look at our own problems, or by blindly supporting whatever pro-woman statement is issued by whichever talking head is free to take to Twitter.
And it makes me wonder why our men are more ready to go into ostrich mode today than our women are. Not so long ago, this post by Chetan Bhagat went viral on the net. As can be expected, there were many debates and arguments over this. Just like in the case of the Mehrotra article, there were more men bashing Bhagat than there were women.
In fact, I clearly remember many of my girl friends and acquaintances (including me. I really do think this is one of those rare articles where Bhagat make sense) freely agreed that his assessment was right.  
But the men won’t agree. “What gives him the right to tell women what they should do”, raged a man friend. Many "likes" followed.
How about this: why not? Why can a man, if he is sensible and observant and balanced enough, not have the right to point out what is wrong with women today?
Why is it considered audacity if an even keeled person calls out that the needless laughing at jokes that are not funny to feed a man’s ego does not doing anything for the cause that everyone from Wollstonecraft to Rammohan Roy fought for?  And if gender is not important when it comes to evaluating a woman social commentator’s point of view on men, how is the fact that Bhagat is a man important here?
Here’s what gives him the right to write : not that he is a man, but that he is a person who is making a fair point.
Now my question is, how do men not see that? Do they really not see, or is it that they do, but choose to go silent for fear of being labeled insensitive MCPs?
I am a woman. I presume I get the trials and tribulations and restrictions of being a woman a little better than a man does, simply because while a man can understand, I live through it. I have lived through judgmental snubs about how my “looks could never tell you understand politics”, supposedly meant as a compliment. I make sartorial decisions based on the locality I’d be travelling to/through. I constantly battle the “you’re a girl, you need to settle” preachers. Driven to a snapping point, I've slapped a co-passenger in a crowded train. I've been asked to not “do that again because you never know what he’ll do in return”. I've been afraid of getting mugged in dark alleys. For me, the fear is compounded because as a woman, I can get mugged and raped – a fear the average man does not face every day while travelling to or from work or from partying. I've felt helpless rage when well wishers of the family have expressed concerns about “young girls these days living by themselves and doing what they want.” I know there’s a very good chance if I get into trouble while I’m out with my friends, it will more readily be put down to my “looking for it” or “pushing fate” than it would if I were a man.
I am grateful I've never had to face anything more worrying. But even so, I would think “feeling for us” as we fight these everyday troubles is not the same as living through them.
And yet surprisingly, I still see more women ready to give the Man a chance than men are.
And there, I can’t help wondering if this is really about change, or about a fad. That it is cool to be a man basher these days. That it is so important to be in fashion that we should completely crush all voices of reason, lest we get thrown out of the cool kids’ group.
For I know from personal experience that the same men who rave about feminism on FB also smile when they say “Delhi is a man’s city, nothing you can do about it.”
The statement, stated as a fact, does not bother. What bothers is the smugness in the saying of it.  
And I know most of those liberated men will not help me out if I am lying in a street corner beaten and bleeding, for fear of getting involved with the authorities.
I also know many will act outraged when they read this, but will silently know in their heads that they won’t lift a finger when it comes to that.
Like you, I’m tired of dealing with this eternal debate of man vs woman. I’m tired of having people judge things I do as done by a woman, instead of just being done by someone who can do it. I think it’s all rather silly: people who really move mountains have never cared about that stuff anyway; they just go ahead and do it, and the rest fall in line. But I’m also tired of this ridiculous man-bashing that I see growing among people . And I’m scared, because this is not stuff fads should be made of. Violating a woman’s right is a serious issue: people do it every day, sometimes even unknowingly.  And there is nothing fun or fashionable about being on the receiving end. If you’re thinking raising hell on FB for a couple of days is your contribution to correcting this wrong, you are mistaken.The truth is, you are only adding to the traffic, creating confusion and distracting those who are really trying to help.
 If you really do care, start at home. The next time your mother berates a girl for wearing “short clothes”, or staying out late, teach her a thing about individual choice instead of standing there like an idiot.
The next time your brother makes a lewd comment about the college heartthrob, talk to him about being respectful towards others instead of smiling indulgently. When your dad says your kid sister should not go to another city to get her college education because she’s a girl, stand up to him.
The point of my post is not to insist every man, no matter how evil, should be forgiven. It is to say that every person, not matter a man or woman, should be given a fair chance. I know there are people, many of them women, who think it is OK to let the scales tip the other way just a little to make a point. To let a man or two be more sinned against than sinning, just to drive home a message. To say and show, “this is what will happen to you if you dare cross your limits. This is for all the centuries of thinking you can get away with being cocky, simply because you are a man.”
 And I’ll be honest. There have been times when I've agreed. When you hear of what men can do to women just because they can,one wishes the scales did tip over to the other side.
But a voice in my head keeps telling me that is not, cannot be the answer.
I’m not a feminist. I quite like Victoria’s Secret. I think there are things a man is better at, and there are things a woman is better at. Broadly, for exceptions do prove the rule. I don’t see how it is important for me to be able to lift heavy suitcases or dress like a man to prove that I am equal to him. So yes, I shop at MAC, love shoes and am interested in reading about politics.  I am not seeking to be a man, I’m saying respect me for who I am and what I bring to the table. And if I am to be respected for who I am, I must give back that respect, no? And also learn to acknowledge that there are problems with us and that just because someone is pointing that out and raising a few valid questions, it does not automatically make him (or her) evil. 


Friday, October 25, 2013

10,000!


A reader told me he did not like my last post as much as the earlier ones and I decided to re read again. And I saw my page of rant had hit 10,047 clicks!
While it is a free widget that calculates traffic for me, there is a setting that has allowed me to discount my own clicks, so I figured this is where I should say thank you.
For clicking, reading, commenting, critiquing  and most importantly, sticking by.
When I started scribbling here, I was in J-school and was living in what would be the second in the line of many adopted cities I'd call home.
10,000 visits later, I'm not in school any more, have lived in two countries, four more cities ranging from a couple of months to a couple of years, met scores of new people, had a few adventures of my own and am hopefully somewhat wiser for that.
Eh, I guess the blog will tell if I am. For now, thanks again. Let's move on before this turns into one of those long, doleful thank you notes. It's a Friday, let's bring out the wine!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Things I do not understand. Do you?

I’ve been sick lately, and in the tradition of sickness all over the world, I stayed in bed (or couch) and watched TV and read and wondered as the world passed by. Kind of.  As I was swallowing Amoxicillin and taking shots, the government of the world’s most powerful nation shut down, a leader in the world’s biggest democracy cried “mummy”, Mahalaya (and so, Durga Puja) settled in, another Gandhi Jayanti came and went, Jhumpa Lahiri brought out yet another book to talk about identity loss among second and later generation immigrants, mad men killed almost 70 people in Nairobi, Tom Clancy died, there was a car chase in D.C, and I re-learnt the use of the Oxford comma. I also realized there are some things I never understood well and ask as I may, have never really gotten good answers to. Worse, I've been carrying around some of these for years and have debated and fought over with friends every single time we’ve met over chai, but be that as it may, there have never been satisfactory answers. I’ll list some here, not is order of preference. If you know the whys and hows, do tell:

   We’ll start with the Government shutdown: apart from the fact that no one should be totally surprised by it, no matter how outrageous the concept, I never really understood the opposition to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. I've very little political sympathies; my question is based on general curiosity. Everyone understands the concept of universal healthcare, and from what I read, Obamacare is broadly based on the premise that those who can afford to, will pay more in taxes so that that money can be used to expand health coverage to those who cannot afford to get it. Mitt Romney used this model and it was successful. So it can’t be a Democrat/Republican thing. So what is the deal? And whatever it is, is it worth shutting the Government down over? My tax refunds are stranded because the office is closed. Come on, now.
For those of you who want a ready reckoner, I think this is easy. If I share the other stuff I read on Obamacare, you’ll think me mad for reading that through a fever. But I did re read Harry Potter and Famous Five, so we’re good. Meaning to say, I’m not a nerd. Ok, maybe a little.
I also don’t totally get the transformation of the Republicans into conservatives. I mean, given that this is Lincoln’s party, won’t you think they’d be more tolerant? Yeah fine, he was a moderate and this is no more Lincoln’s party than the Congress in India is Gandhi’s, but I still can’t help wondering. About both.

 Somewhat related, but more broadly, here’s a rider to question 1. Why do we grumble so much about paying taxes? If we pay up, they get to have money to do stuff like build schools, roads, get potable water and feed the army. Of course, if you’re a corrupt Indian politician you’ll eat up all that money and build a bridge that breaks in two months, but those who think that is reason enough to grumble about paying taxes, what is your better solution?
Also, from what I see, corruption is an unavoidable by-product of democracy. Even of autocracy, but the point is, as long as there are taxes, how is it unfair to say that the rich should pay more than the poor?
And while at it, how on earth do we think we can demand better trains, roads and other public facilities but not pay for those? Strictly in the Indian context, we yelp every time they raise fuel rates. Even those of us who read the papers and know that India subsidizes fuel to a fault.  Or public transport charges. So what do we really want? World class service at rates that were good in the 1950s? And when the government says that cannot be done, they are no good. Sure.

  Talking about public transport made me think of this fight between aesthetics and utility. I visited Jamaica recently and found out that the big cities there (at least the two I visited) are very much like the tier two cities in India. The roads are potholed; the bazaars a melee of make-shift stalls put together in a haphazard way, there's a lot of use of plastic, even the Caribbean could have been so much more attractive if they’d beautified it more. I see the same in India: we have so much prettiness, but we take it for granted and do nothing to conserve it. And we’re always shouting about how beautifying things are a waste of money. On my last visit home I found out that the chief of a state that is not doing very well had installed street lights and put a fresh coat of paint on structures that had been discolored by paan stains for decades. I thought residents would be happy about it, but local university boys (and their fathers) were grumbling the same: if you have no money, why spend it on beautification? Ok, so no one’s really saying starve to make yourself look good, but as a state (or a country) trying to impress investors, I’d think a well-lit street, an international standard airport and a city that does not look impoverished are important. Why do we always think utility and aesthetics have to be mutually exclusive? When I looked at the reading room in the Library of Congress, with its airy room and stained glass windows and oculus, I wanted to spend time there and read. When I looked into a classroom in Calcutta University with its broken furniture and cobwebbed halls, I wanted to write my epitaph. I know great minds have come from both places but there has to be a reason why Washington built that city so beautifully and why they have a “reflecting pool” outside the Capitol, right? Or why Apple spends so much time over design and looks? If just utility was everything, they wouldn't spend so much time, energy and money on beautification. And Keats wouldn't write Endymion.

 I’m also getting a little tired of the Modi vs Rahul G shout outs. At one point I’d wished they’d put out Gadkari/Kumar and Chidambaram as candidates but despite what the Economist said, a small part of my head knew it was wishful thinking. RG suddenly woke up from his slumber and like a high school student, ranted against the potential ordinance. While I support the rant, I laughed out loud when I read about how he did it, and how he returned to salvage himself. If you still need your mom to tell you that using words like “nonsense” at a presser is wrong, I don’t know what to say. I laughed. Yes, I laugh when my brain freezes. It helps the brain unfreeze. And then he thought it is fine to somehow salvage his situation by the feeble excuse of his being “young”. My cousin of 18 is young. RG, you’re 43, for god’s sake. I am almost as scared to see you as my chief as I am your opponent.

 This will bring me to my eternal gripe. Why will people not read? How are these two related, you ask? Here’s how: Julius Caesar. Gharey Bairey. Godaan. The Mahabharat. Grapes of Wrath. To Kill a Mockingbird. Great Expectations. Every single piece of good literature (fiction, even if autobiographies get too tedious) have taught us, no spelled it out for us. That the fear of missing out is not the same as support. That not thinking is not a good thing. That the “fool multitude” does not know. That tempestuousness is not the same as patriotism. That no greater good comes out of cheating yourself.  That the only thing new on earth is the history that we do not know. That was Harry Truman, by the way. Yet, like idiots, we go on repeating the same mistakes. Is it because it is important for every person to make their own mistakes and then understand? But surely, learning from someone else’s mistake is the more effective way? I don’t know, I’m asking. And if reading helps sort out so many problems, why won’t we still do it? All great men and women do. They run countries, invent life-changing things, make history and still find time to read. We copy-paste software codes or stuff we hope will pass off for "thesis" (and often don’t even get paid for the extra hours) and claim we don’t have time.  

    This list is making me sad, and adding to it is going to make it longer still, so I’ll stop now. I’m thinking I’ll deal with the other questions in part II. Let’s see. For now, I’m going to go laugh my brain freeze off.

Monday, August 5, 2013

ADD is the new thing?

   There are too many people around me, my age and younger, who I notice, cannot, or will not read anything that does not stick to twenglish. Correction: will not do anything that requires any form of long term involvement. And we have a fashionable term for it. ADD.
    For a long time, when friends said "I can't focus, I think I have ADD", I used to think that is a concern. That s/he realises it's a problem (ADD stands for Attention Deficit Disorder. See? Disorder. It is now called ADHD too) and wants to correct it, just like I do. My attention span has dwindled and reading any article that is more than 60 lines is peppered with browsing and checking the phone. Sure, everyone's has, but that does not make it okay. It's like saying because everyone around me has a skin disease that spreads easily, I should be fine with it.
     So I make an effort because it bothers me and cannot, for the life of me, imagine a situation where I can complacently  declare, "I can't process information if it comes to me in a string of more than 10 words at a time. God help me if there's a comma involved somewhere."
    I wonder how this happened. I understand young kids brought up on FB and Twitter say that, but those born in the 80s (and before, at least in India) were not even trained on sms language. Most of us got our first cell phones only after we were grown up teens, so what is the excuse?
    Hang on, I know of one. Texting was costly when I first got my cellphone so I used to squeeze in as much information into one message as I could. But was that enough to catch on so badly that  we simply forgot normal writing? Seriously, how many nanoseconds does it save you when you annoyingly type "lyf" instead of "life"?
    And if this be true, why are youngsters now taking to that kind of language? Texting is mostly free now, or at least not a quarter as costly.
    Or do we really believe we can "simplify" language that way and honestly do not see the difference between simplification and dumbing down?
    Noble as that thought is, I think it's better we just accept that most of us just don't have the calibre to do that. Change the course of language for the better, I mean. Things like that are best left to the experts. Same reason as why we won't ever go and perform surgery on a man just because we know how to use a pair of scissors or wield the scalpel on a dead roach.
    We are too ignorant, and please, it took the likes of Johnson and Shakespeare and Premchand and Tagore to modernize their languages. If it were everyone's cup of tea, Everyman would be pundits. But we are not.  Plus, it took almost 30 years for them to put together the Oxford English Dictionary, and our problem seems to be a lack of time, patience and concentration.
    Shouldn't then we take a step back from our uber inane arguments of "I can say what I like because I have a mouth"?
    Really, for all of us who have had more than 12 years of formal education, I would think it's a little shameful.    
    I keep getting reminded by Sir: all animals have mouths. We are different because god gave us a head with brains inside that allows us to think and process.  And they say that is one thing that actually grows with use.
    I try it in my limited capacities, feels great.  So I would volunteer help to fellow sufferers, or share what works for me: "try to take time out to read, it helps concentrate," or, "read your news, don't just listen to it. NYT's OPed is really good" and so on.
    But over repeated conversations, I now realize that it is not concern that makes people talk about their, let's call it "situation". Many are proud of it. I've been trying to understand just how that works inside their heads:
    "I can't process anything that goes beyond junior school english (or any language), yeay!"
    "I will not even read the news anymore, though I used to/could do so when I was a child because I can't sit still and read anything that forces me to think. And I won't do anything about it. Because ADD is cool!"
    Here's the thing. It is not cool. It is, if anything, embarrassing. So maybe, just maybe, instead of being complacent about this disease or worse, pulling others down to our ranks,  we should start taking steps to correct it.
    And no, I will NOT change my style to write five word sentences.
    Because, none of the world's best movies or literature has come out of Twitter. Yet. And that is why, reading Meg Cabot is a little different from reading Hardy. And watching James Bond rough up cars and women on screen  is a little different from, say, watching Wild Strawberries. Take your pick, there are many examples across the world for both kinds.
    Of course there is a need for both, I for one can watch Pierce Brosnan chasing villains over and over again. And yes, I do think he's the best Bond, Connery notwithstanding. Come on, what is Bond without Brosnan's blue eyed glint?
   Oh and here's the other thing. Even if we, with our small capacities and bloated egos refuse to accept the truth in what I said just because we cannot accept it, how about this: don't plain facts tell you which is the better kind of book or movie that we should invest more time in? Unless we have decided we will make a concerted effort to only like trash, that is.
    How is it that all the bests and greats of the world tried to keep things simple, sure, but were not trying to play to the gallery too much by dumbing themselves down?
    And let's not get into the "oh they have to sell their trade" argument. Shakespeare had to sell his plays as well and he did include scenes which would entertain the stalls (some of which can make you go very crimson. Crassness is not something he was a stranger to). But he did not make his plays all about crass humour and short sentences. He was not writing for the stalls.
    More importantly, we don't remember his plays for the slapstick bits that don't make us think, his most famous plays and lines are ones that contain deep philosophy.  So would SRK gain more respect or less if he chose to give the "lungi dance " a pass? Really, someone should talk to the man, he makes me see red these days.
    And we, as audience/ readers: why do we consistently want to be part of the stalls and why will be ridicule anyone who says s/he does not choose that?
    Bullet points are for power point presentations and CVs. But then, the world can't keep communicating though PPTs. I know the few people who love talking to me and spend time with me don't do that because I talk in PPT language. I don't. In fact, I often ramble. I had a friend say this to me today itself. He decided he'd rather spend time chatting with me than go out and spend time with people who can't talk about much else than work, money or shopping, so I'm not making this up.
So, if you cannot process simple but long-ish sentences, it is your problem. Fix it.
Meanwhile, if you want to check out the other extreme, try  this. I found this on Twitter, by the way. :)
http://writing-program.uchicago.edu/toys/randomsentence/write-sentence.htm

where the mind is without fear and the head is held high..

where the mind is without fear and the head is held high..