Not that we needed any proof. But if ever we did, then this experiment of the National Trust in Britain would be evidence enough. Evidence that our cultural arrogance is not only justified, it also has its basis in sound scientific reasoning. What else can you expect from the people who gave the world zero, all those centuries ago?

The National Trust is conducting an experiment at one of its heritage properties to conserve water. Its gardeners have therefore been instructed to pee in the open, on beds of straw provided for the purpose. Finally, vindication of the fact that Indian men whipping out their penises to pee when confronted with walls is nothing but concern for the environment! If, as the Trust claims, just 10 male staff members following this recommendation will result in a reduction of the estate’s water consumption by a third, can one imagine the trillions of litres that we have saved as a nation? After all, our sex ratio is skewed in favour of males.

Given this fact, it’s even more critical now that we stand our ground at the Climate Change Meet at Copenhagen. Bolstered by such third-party data substantiating our continued active concern for this planet’s fragile ecosystem and scarce resources, we can grab the moral high ground.

We should actually go a step further – we should humbly (but not too humbly – remember, pride in one’s culture is a good thing, and we should slap that point home), underline the fact that even our great defecating tradition, apart from being as environmentally friendly as our urinating habit, is actually a precursor of organic farming.

In fact, we could actually pep up the agricultural sector’s numbers by some clever marketing, selling our farm produce at premium prices by labelling them ‘100% organic’. Let’s set up a Green Certification Authority that certifies agricultural products as completely natural, with little stickers that say, for instance, that “This carrot was nurtured by pure, uncontaminated human faecal matter, carefully, personally and naturally sprayed on by the farmer and his family”. In time, like with the great wine estates of France, particular fields in India will also develop their own characteristic identity. You know, potatoes with a unique taste and aroma from one estate, and distinctive enticingly-flavoured cauliflowers from another. India’s fruits and vegetables will become global brands!

But we still need to take one last small step in our journey towards being one with the environment. While we are an “Outdoors” people (not to be confused with the Canadians, who are just an “outdoors” people), we still use water to, well, clean up after. That has to change if we are to preserve water. No, I’m not recommending paper – that only destroys rainforests. But surely we can use leaves? Completely natural, totally bio-degradable, absolutely environmentally friendly.

Let not Copenhagen be another exercise in papering over the cracks.

Let’s wipe the planet green. Let’s bare and green it!

In 1947, there were approximately 568 princely families controlling our destinies. They, along with a few thousand zamindars and other members of the minor royalty, formed an elite corp, completely insulated from the rest of India. Going by their incomes and lifestyles, they may as well have been from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse as far as the rest of India was concerned. By and large, these families had no abiding interest in the progress, development or betterment of their fiefdoms and peoples and sought only to perpetuate their power, which was the source of their incomes and therefore lifestyles. The faceless masses, with their aspirations, dreams and nightmares, may as well have been from some other planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse as far as this bunch was concerned.

In 2009, there are approximately 543 princely families controlling our destinies. They, along with a few thousand MLAs, MLCs, Corporators and other members of the minor royalty, form an elite corp, completely insulated from the rest of India. Going by their incomes and lifestyles, they may as well be from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse as far as the rest of India is concerned. By and large, these families have no abiding interest in the progress, development or betterment of their fiefdoms and peoples and seek only to perpetuate their power, which is the source of their incomes and therefore lifestyles. The faceless masses, with their aspirations, dreams and nightmares, may as well be from some other small planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse as far as this bunch is concerned.

We sure have come a long way!

I was having no luck getting an auto-rickshaw yesterday, and was resigned to a spirited sprint in the rain (admire the alliteration?), when I saw one just ahead of me, with the disembarking passengers paying the driver what they owed him. As I ran towards the auto, I thought I caught a smirk of sorts from one the passengers as he walked away.

The driver leaned across and said something in Hindi that I couldn’t catch. I thought he was saying that he couldn’t go, or wouldn’t go, or some such thing, and I geared myself up for another one of those fights – till I realised that what the driver was saying to me was “Bhaisaab, mujhe abhi number 2 jaana hain”.

Which is the Hindi Victorianism for “Dude, I so gotta take a dump right now”.

He’d apparently told his previous passengers to get off as well…..and that is why they were laughing as they walked in the rain.

Shit happens.

Why all this uproar about Shah Rukh Khan being detained and questioned by an American immigration official? It is unfortunate, and nobody likes it when it happens, but it is a fact of life. Happens to all of us brown-skinned people all the time. So he’s a superstar in India. That does not mean an American immigration official should know him. Last I heard, SRK hadn’t been issued a diplomatic or otherwise special passport by the Government of India that would enable him to be shown some consideration, or even exemption from such procedures. (Trouble is, in India, everybody and her son-in-law probably wants – and has – that exemption, so it probably wouldn’t count for much even if he had it!)

We have all been ‘selected at random’ for special checking in the US. I have had to take off my shoes once. On another occasion, my checked-in baggage had been opened – locks and all – and a card left in which said my luggage had been ‘randomly selected’ for inspection by, if I remember right, the Transportation Security Authority. Sure. It was randomly selected from a bunch of luggage that belonged to other brown people who also had funny, foreign sounding – perhaps Ay-rab – names. Many people I know have had similar experiences. None of us liked it. But hey, shit happens. Having said that, at another time, an immigration official, on seeing I was from India, actually spent 5 minutes raving to me about how beautiful Aishwarya Rai is. Perhaps there’s a lesson for SRK in there somewhere. If you want inconsequential immigration officials in the US to recognise you, act in crappy Hollywood movies instead of crappy Bollywood movies.

And yes, neither the US government nor anyone else has asked us to bow and genuflect and generally be model servile Indians when Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and others visit India. It is just our pathetic mindset which makes us roll out the red carpet for every white jock and bimbo that visits India. Just because we do it doesn’t mean that every other country abandons its processes or procedures – whether right or wrong, justified or not is another matter; but they exist –  to accommodate the million or so Indian VIPs.

Moral of the story: Don’t travel to the US if you have such a problem. Ask your friend not to shoot each and every one of his ‘Indian’ films there. And that goes for all the other people who have expressed anguished outrage over this act. I follow what I preach – I don’t visit the US unless I absolutely have to. As long as someone else can do the job, I am happy to let that person go. And when I do travel to the US, I go with the full knowledge that I will be ‘randomly selected’ for at least a closer look.

Enough with the fucking whining, already.

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Another example of Indian hysterics. Some Chinese guy wrote about how it is in China’s interest to break up India into 20 or 30 states and all good Indians are up in arms! Patriotism is suddenly the flavour of the season, and what with 15th August and all that, Mera Bharat Mahan seems to be the new catch-phrase.

It is amusing to see the palpable sense of indignation over that article. Indian machismo is suddenly all around us. On various sites and fora where this article is being discussed, many comments range from the wannabe-sublime to the truly-ridiculous, but all combine typical Indian hyperbole with characteristic desi bluster: from Watch out China, we shall break you up instead, to This is not 62 and we have nukes to Boycott all Chinese goods, to Our democracy is the best to Unity in Diversity shall prevail and other such lines that would seem more at home in a book written by a certain Danish gentleman called Mr. Andersen.

How dare the Chinese try and meddle in our affairs? To them, all I can say is: Don’t presume you can do to us what we seem to excel at doing to ourselves. We don’t need you. We can do all of that ourselves. And do a better job of it at that. So there. Pfftttt.

Just be around to pick up the pieces.

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And finally, a few words about Indiameme. Chirag, one of the most helpful individuals in the blogosphere, has spent his hiatus designing a new site that seeks to bring to you the best news and stories concerning India. His site links to interesting and credible blogs and websites (Disclosure: Mine is among them) and wants to be a one-stop shop for all India related news in the online space.

Do show your support for his initiative by visiting Indiameme.

The Indian bureaucracy, it seems, is not without a sense of humour. Really perverse humour, but humour nevertheless.

Lalgarh, like Nandigram and Naxalbari, has become another addition, courtesy West Bengal, to our socio-political lexicon. Here’s an article where one of the Maoists has said that their movement’s raison d’être is the Government – or more accurately, the lack of it. So whether it is healthcare, roads or irrigation, the People have taken matters into their own hands and seem to have a done a surprising amount of work. And it’s not just Lalgarh – it is estimated that in around a third of India’s total districts, the state really doesn’t exist – which is why, from time to time, it tries to prove its existence by swatting a couple of hapless citizens to keep the rest of us in line.

So it was with some surprise that I read this piece about the performance appraisal of civil servants. Given this country’s experience with the performance appraisal system for politicians – also known as elections – you will forgive my scepticism about this whole business. Performance and Government really don’t belong together in the same sentence. Not in India, at least.

Even if one discounts surveys like the one quoted here, which ranks Indian bureaucrats – and by implication, the Indian state – as the least efficient among the 12 Asian nations surveyed, very many Indians would agree that the state, where it exists, rarely rises above its torpor and lethargy, and where it doesn’t exist, well, it just doesn’t exist. So how on earth, with the state absent from about a third of the country, and in self-aggrandising mode in the rest, can people in the various branches that make up the civil services actually give themselves and their colleagues 10/10? But that’s exactly what our fine Babus have done.

Like I said, these people have a devilish sense of humour.

Unfortunately, as always, the joke’s on us.

I feel like a tiger. Not like the ones in Mumbai. The real ones. In other words, I’m endangered.

But there’s no need to start mourning celebrating (Note: Edited to reflect popular opinion!) just yet…..I have 5 million more years to go (which is considerably more time than tigers have), according to Prof. Jennifer Graves of the University of Canberra. Prof. Graves has confirmed the inevitability of every woman’s secret and guilty sci-fi fantasy: a world without men.

Another blow to my macho sensibilities came from a study conducted in Israel by Prof. Marek Glezerman. Not only am I endangered, it turns out I’m not even a tiger. I am a wimp. A tabby. WTF?!

I mean, it’s bad enough that I have no future, but then you rub it in by telling me that I’m weak and that manly is actually, well, unmanly. Like I said, WTF??

But let’s make the best of this; let’s not go out without a fight (no pun intended!)…..we should start organizing ourselves, demanding rights and privileges – including protected habitats where I can scratch my crotch and smash things without fear – so that our unique way of life can be preserved. Next demand: Reservations, as in quotas. Not as in habitats. I am also currently accepting subscriptions and donations for the WWF (World WeakerSex Fund!)…… please give generously!

I never thought this would be possible, but over the past few weeks, my cynicism has hit new highs! I have been observing the circus around us, and all I have to show for it is an increasing sense of dismay and dread.

For starters, here’s another brilliant example of Indian lawmaking: under-trials in India can’t vote. But what utterly confounds me is the fact that while an under-trial can’t vote, he sure as hell can contest elections and even become a minister. Go figure.

What about the fact that all candidates, across all parties, seem to be millionaires and billionaires? Some inherited their wealth. Some are self-made businesspersons and professionals. And then there is the vast majority whose net worth runs into many hundreds of millions, and no one has a clue about where this money came from. It’s such a cliché, this “impoverished-nation-rich-politicians” bit, but it seems to be the hallmark of Indian politics today. There can only be two explanations. Either only the rich become politicians, or all politicians become rich. Neither answer bodes well for the sham we’ve got going.

Then there’re these amazing news-blackouts that happen. Varun Gandhi is hauled over the coals, but Srinivas and Laloo’s peccadilloes are looked upon way more indulgently. The amount of coverage given to Modi in connection with the Gujarat riots is phenomenal. We are united in condemning, over and over, his acts of villainy and the many acts of commission and omission that followed. But when it comes to news reports that Teesta Setalvad coached, tutored and made witnesses lie in the Gujarat riots case, cooking up macabre incidents and concocting crimes that apparently never happened, the sense of national outrage is missing. The talking heads on TV maintain a studied silence, as do the pundits of print. And I fail to see any outpourings of rage in the many blogs that are so quick to judge, condemn and crucify otherwise. (Update: The CJP has questioned the veracity of the report, the TOI journalist stands by his story, and the SIT chief refuses to comment on whether the ‘leaked’ reports were true or not. We’re still no closer to the truth.)

Comparisons may be odious. But one can’t help recall how the US navy’s snipers kicked Somalian butt and rescued the Merchant Navy Captain held hostage. Would we ever have had the courage to do something like that? Will we ever be respected as a nation, forget feared?

When Harbhajan and Dhoni skipped the Padma Shri awards, our Impartial-Election-Commissioner-turned-Sports-Minister started foaming at the mouth. But some idiot has actually filed a lawsuit against the duo, alleging hurt and defamation. Hundreds of other issues to choose from, but this moron was offended because two cricketers found the opportunity cost of attending an award ceremony too high. Clearly, unemployment is a serious problem.

The first phase of polling saw a voter turnout of 54%. That’s it. Just 54%. Good going, India. And most of them would, predictably, have voted based on caste, language and religion. Everyone forgot the famines, the hunger, the suicides, the malnutrition, the desperate and unhealthy squalor that so many of our fellow citizens live in. Development, the criminalisation of politics, security and safety weren’t concerns. All that mattered was the surname and caste-certificate of the candidate. Was he one of us, or an outsider? Well done, people! That should see us change. That should ensure we prosper. Go India Go!

Did I forget to mention that I find it funny that most political parties in India are run like fiefdoms? They are autocratic – either autocratic-dynastic (most of the parties – Congress, DMK, NCP, NC, SP, SS etc), or first-generation autocratic (BSP, AIADMK). There is no such thing as intra-party democracy. Tell me, how can we trust any of these people to safeguard the country’s democratic institutions and systems when they clearly don’t believe in democracy in the first place?

To sum up, is there anything to smile about? There are criminals and law-breakers who will represent us and make laws. The increasing evidence of the unaccountable and immense wealth of candidates points to a rotten and hollow political system. Laws are modified and conventions broken to ensure politicians, as a class, proper and survive at our expense. With each passing session, individual freedoms and liberties are curtailed. The law and the police seem to have become instruments of oppression, used to subjugate the citizen. We naively join the happy chorus of the “we-are-a-democracy-and-an-emerging-superpower” song, forgetting that while the political parties themselves don’t practise democracy, when we deign to vote, we do so based on issues of caste, language and religion. We deserve each other.

A few years ago, I had taken a guided tour of the Louvre. The guide stopped in front of Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People”. As she explained the significance of the painting to us, one sentence really hit home. Pointing to the dead bodies Liberty was marching on, she said “Delacroix painted those to remind us that liberty does not come free. You have to fight to obtain freedom, and fight to preserve it. And perhaps die for it”.

Are we taking too much for granted? Is that why we, the people, are systematically squandering the most valuable thing we have as a nation – constitutional democracy? Is that what will finally hasten our transition into a failed state?

All we Indians have achieved as a nation is to prove to the world, that yes, you can fool all of the people, all of the time.

Smita recently wrote a post about a train journey. And that made me very nostalgic. During my student days, I travelled a lot by train. My post on Indian toilets wouldn’t have been possible without years of experience in using train-toilets, for instance. Good old Indian Railways – they were definitely not for the faint of heart.

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As a sleeper-class passenger, one always had to deal with travellers who did not have any reservation and insisted on sitting at the edge of one’s berth all through the night. Having been a veteran of many “general dabba” journeys myself, I sympathised with such people and generally let them be.

Some of them even laid out their sheets and slept in the corridor. One such individual did the same just outside our compartment. There was a Bengali gentleman on the berth opposite me who did not like this very much. So he looked down and indignantly called out “Ae, tum niche kyun sota hain?” Pat came the reply, in Jattu: “Toh apne saath sula le!

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I seemed to attract families with lots of luggage and at least two squawking kids. And so it was on this one particular journey. Harried parents, an older boy – infuriatingly whiny and always ready to throw a tantrum – and a quieter younger sister, with an incredibly runny nose. The boy was a brat. Ready to howl at the slightest excuse, and the parents, after feeble attempts at discipline, invariably let him have his own way. Which was to run riot, scramble all over the place, buy something from every vendor in sight and generally be an insufferable pest.

The compartment soon resembled a monkey cage….peanut shells and bits of food and wrappers strewn all over, the boy scrambling up and down, insisting on eating on the top berth, spilling and littering with abandon, climbing down again, throwing another tantrum and then eating some more.

And then, while sitting on the top berth, he spat out a mouthful of some cucumber he was eating, which narrowly missed my head, but landed on my jeans. My first instinct was to stand up and whack the little shit, but the mother quickly intervened with “sorry bhaisaheb, baccha hai”, while the father proceeded to wipe the green goo off my jeans with a towel.

Their apologetic and long-suffering demeanour calmed me down, until I remembered that this was the same towel that had been used to swab wet berths and wipe copious amounts of snot and spit off the face of the other kid. At which point I just gave up. There’s no point fighting when the universe is determined to screw you.

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Of course, I was luckier than a friend of mine. He had gone to attend a sports camp down south, and had a very long journey back, in the middle of an Indian summer. Somewhere (I think it was in Andhra), they were waiting for a connecting train that was late by more than 12 hours and was expected only in the early hours of the morning. So you had a hundred or so high-school kids spending the night on the platform, along with the other passengers.

Soon there was no food left at the station, and predictably, there was no water left either. And then my friend had to use the loo. Quite urgently, too. And that was when he made the most stupid mistake of his life. One that he’s not been allowed to forget to this day. Any sensible person would’ve used paper – any kind of paper from somewhere. Anywhere. But no, not my pucca Indian (left-hand-only) friend. He decided to use the only liquid available. GoldSpot.

I’d rather not get into the gory details, but let’s just say it was a very sticky situation.

I was driving to a friend’s late Wednesday night, and stopped at a traffic light. And my eye caught this brightly-lit yellow sign. The secret of Dhoni’s good looks and sex-appeal is out. No surprises that he is a client, since this is obviously a very classy establishment. But will someone please tell me what “For She and Has” means? Is it some secret communication in an arcane language, known only to the well-groomed?

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The beauty of Indian English, ladeej and gentlemans, is beautiful, no?

We Indians don’t know how to use toilets.

I avoid using the men’s room in public places, and when I entered the loo at the office the other day, I was reminded why. I was assaulted by the sight of water all around the stall…..it was like someone had had a frigging shower in there. There were shoe-marks on the seat and some stubborn crap had resisted the flush’s onslaught and tenaciously clung on to the inside of the bowl.

I mean, is shitting in a socially-friendly way really beyond us? Can’t we show some more concern for our fellow-citizens?

Think I’m exaggerating? Do any of you remember the toilets in Indian trains? The squatting ones are actually marginally better than the seats….though you have to be careful……we don’t seem to have too much of an aim at the best of times, and in a moving train, we splatter our turds everywhere but the ceiling. There’s a hand-grip screwed into the wall in front of you, and you’re supposed to hold tight (for the hypochondriacs – think of all the dirty hands that have gripped it before you!) and let yourself go. If you’re fortunate, some wise-ass (no pun intended) hasn’t dumped on the slightly elevated parts where you’re supposed to plant your feet. And there’s the apparatus (for lack of a better word) itself, once bright and shiny, the colour of new steel, now a palette of strange yellow and brown stains…..yup, it is painful. And if all that doesn’t get you, the constant inhalation of ammonia will! Of course the faucet has no water, and there’s no roll. So the newspaper will have to do…..if you had the foresight to carry it. Good luck if you didn’t.

If you are unfortunate enough to have to go to a toilet with a seat in it in an Indian train, you’re fucked. To begin with, we don’t sit on the pot like we’re supposed to. We squat on the rim; if we’re considerate, we squat with the seat up, but mostly – as much out of spite for those who may want to sit after us as for reasons of a better foothold – we squat with the seat down. The better foothold is important, particularly given the sway-lurch movements of the train, where a sudden acceleration or deceleration will have your leg in the pot, amidst freshly spattered shit, semi-fossilised tatti and some ancient stubborn fungoid goob….not a very pleasant thing.

Think that’s the worst of it? You haven’t seen toilets in non-mobile establishments then, where some twit installed a pot without checking if there was a regular water supply (if there is regular water supply, the flush doesn’t work)…..which means that the tatti piles up, the place stinks, and you squat there, perched a few inches above some very serious shit….in a restaurant, you can probably kill time by identifying what previous incumbents of the seat have eaten – in my experience, peas, the seeds of bhindi and tomato and the like are very easy to identify…..along with methi and saag. And somehow, even without the miracle of regular water-supply, the floor looks like someone’s just had a shower.

It’s enough to make you anal-retentive.