Indyeah has resurfaced with another long (no surprises there!), well-meaning post that asks why we seem to be Punjabis, Jats, Malayalis, Yadavs, Dalits and Kannadigas, but not Indians. A post written, I suspect, more in hope, idealism and perhaps frustration than anything else.

So, who is an Indian? Ask me. I really don’t belong anywhere – including the place where my ancestors lived. At any place in India, wherever I go, my identity and acceptance –and therefore my ability to function as a normal human – seem to hinge on my speaking a particular language, or my belonging to a certain caste, a certain religion, a certain ethnicity. The boundaries of identity that we have been drawing around ourselves seem to be getting tighter and tighter, as we discover reason after reason for some new fissure, a fresh fracture. Ironically, the only place within India where I will be labelled and identified (and therefore hated) as Indian is Kashmir.

I don’t see this changing. If anything, I see these fissures getting wider and deeper. Why, you ask? Well, for one, constitutionally-guaranteed-right-to-work-anywhere-in-India or not, migration will always happen. Both from within the country and outside. We might grow from 6 cities that are economic magnets, for instance, to 12 cities that attract the bulk of the migrants. But the flow of migrants is not going to stop – at most, it might ease somewhat. Then there’s this wonderful concept of identity, honed to a fine art in this country called India. The politics of identity feeds on the concept of the ‘other’. My thesis is that migration will not stop. Ergo, the conclusion is that neither will the politics of identity. Not here, not anywhere. But here’s what’s worse – even if I am wrong, and migration does stop, the politics of identity will never go away. If there’s no ‘other’ from ‘outside’, well, a new ‘other’ will be created, from the existing, deceptively homogeneous mass. There will always be new players who will want power and a piece of the pie – and they will slice and dice identities until, quite literally, there might come a day when the politics of identity will reach ridiculous levels. You know, when we have political parties like the Mylapore Dravida Nadar Catholic Kazhagam, or the Nizamuddin East Punjabi Hindu Khatri Janata Vikas Manch.

And don’t think I’m trying to be funny here. (Well, maybe a little…). But isn’t it true that we have moved into an era of even greater fragmentation, where everyone seems to be getting violently agitated about the same things – caste, language, religion, region – but in a more granular way? Witness the rise of the sub-categories: sub-castes, dialects, sects, sub-sects and sub-ethnicities.

Of course, we will have the usual apologists who dole out the same tired clichés about how great India is notwithstanding all this…their arguments (and that’s being charitable) seem to be in the form of ‘only 60 years, so much progress, growing economy, survived global recession, hum honge kaamyab, superpower’ without looking at either our trajectory or the direction in which we are heading.

A bunch of businessmen getting richer and entering the global list of billionaires is great. The emergence of a middle class more prosperous than the previous generation is wonderful. A million or so bloggers having collective orgasms about India’s place in the world is fantastic. But we seem to forget that timelines have been seriously crunched in this age we live in. Each generation demands faster and quicker change. All this optimism – we shall overcome, we are the best and other such infantile fantasies – does not seem to have much basis in reality, unless of course the reality is that these optimists live in a mythical India far, far way from the dust, grime and poverty of the real one. The real India in which – depending on which definition you use – around a third of the population lives in poverty. The real India in which a great part of the country is wracked by a deeply-entrenched and violent Maoist insurgency. The real India where half the children are underweight. The real India where the forgotten millions live, struggling to make ends meet, without access to water or basic health care. Did I mention primary education? This cheery list could go on.

But Indyeah’s article was more an attempt to find solutions. Well, to be proud of being Indians, we first need to be proud of India. And we can be proud of a better India. So there we go. That’s the ultimate question, as far as we are concerned. Do you want Better India? Yes. Can we expect anything good from Our Great Rulers? No. So now it’s down to us.

I believe small things can make a difference. While Indians don’t give back to society and are not philanthropists in any sense of the word, we could – and should – guide the next generation in that direction. We can just start by behaving like good citizens. Let’s be courteous to our fellow citizens – in small ways, in the way that we dispose off our trash, in the way we drive, in the way we stand in queues and generally in the way we behave, especially in public areas. Let’s teach our children these small things. Perhaps they’ll be better people than us. Better People.

Pay for an underprivileged child’s education – fees, books, the works. Any child in your immediate vicinity. Ideally, as far as resources and time permit, do more than that – take an interest in her education. Monitor her progress. Interact with her. Hopefully, that child will learn something other than what is in books, and perhaps the India of 2030 might be a slightly better place than the one of today – and that’s not really a big ask!

I truly believe this is something small enough to easily do, but big enough to matter.

(The Original Cynical QI Will Be Back In The Next Post)

It’s been a commonly held – and cherished – belief of those of us who live in an India far removed from reality that much of the rot in Indian politics stems from the predominance of uneducated, uncouth and ‘unlike-us’ politicians, and that the entry of more ‘people-like-us’ into politics would – almost magically – change everything.

News flash, people…..there ain’t no magic, though it seems there’s been considerable sleight of hand.

Take the good diplomat-turned-conjurer, Shashi Tharoor. He was everything we hoped for in this new breed of saviour-politician that we so desperately craved. Educated, erudite, intelligent, cultured, professional, progressive, independent (in the sense of not belonging to a political dynasty)…..the adjectives could go on and on. We gave him a long rope and looked on with amused indulgence when he used Twitter almost like a policy forum…..at least he could spell twitter correctly, we thought to ourselves. Finally, we tittered, someone of class amongst the cattle.

And then the man goes and does something stupid. He lobbies for a team on the grounds that it represents his home state, and does not disclose that his girlfriend gets a free equity stake worth a very substantial amount of money in the same team. It reeks of quid pro quo, and when this point was raised – albeit by a man who has quite a few skeletons in the closet himself – it seemed the easiest thing in the world to resort to an ad hominem argument. So we had some smarmy aide of Tharoor implying that all allegations made by Modi were false, because – get this – the accuser was charged with drug possession while a student in the USA, and entered into a plea bargain later. Well, we know that. He may be all that you say he is, and more. But there’s a difference between discrediting the man (an easy enough job, when you consider whom we’re talking about) and discrediting the argument. And the fact is, the allegation has not been refuted. It has been denied and then it has been ignored.

Shashi Tharoor denies any impropriety, but has not bothered to explain how his girlfriend –also referred to as his fiancée – coincidentally, some would say almost magically, happened to get free equity in the very team he lobbied for. And why was this very relevant detail not disclosed in the initial protests of innocence? The lady in question claims that the payment was made in lieu of her ‘marketing expertise’, and that she had also been approached by KKR for similar services – something SRK promptly denied. So if it all seems murky, underhand and tiresomely déjà vu-ish, there’s good reason to believe it probably is. And I’m sorry Shashi, but calling your accuser names and questioning his admittedly ambivalent integrity do not make his accusations false. Though one has to admire the neat side-stepping and evasiveness on your part. One can see why you were such a successful UN employee.

Of course, the Congress spin doctors, aided by the usual suspects in the media, have very competently swung this around. By bringing The Other Modi in, they have ensured the debate about Shashi’s impropriety and possible misuse of power and position gets completely sidelined. Because, as we all know, the moment The Other Modi is brought into the picture, it’s all his fault, blah blah blah, from Dantewada to the Iceland volcano, yada yada yada. And so Shashi Tharoor, like so many before him, and undoubtedly like so many more to follow, survives and lives to lobby another day.

Speaking only for myself, though I have no doubt that others share similar sentiments, I think the ‘who’ is more galling in this case than the betrayal itself. Hell, the ‘betrayal’ itself is so commonplace and pedestrian in post-independence India that we would be surprised if a politician did not take advantage of such opportunities. Only in this case, we were hoping to be surprised. I think what we are most upset about is that our fondest hope – the idea that the ‘right kind’ of person in politics would make a difference – has died a very public death. We were hoping that our fantasies of politicians with integrity would be validated by Shashi’s performance. For wasn’t he almost like our own Clean-Sweep Ignatius? And which is why this incident really rankles. Because it tells us that educated or drop-out, social worker or criminal, professional wrestler or professional diplomat, our politicians are all the same. They are well and truly taking this country down the tubes, and there’s bugger all we can do to stop it.

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Let’s also take a minute to examine our own biases – whether based on caste, gender or class. Many people panned Mayawati for accepting a garland of currency notes. But are we looking the other way now because this time it is a well-groomed, well-spoken man from the right caste and the right political party who is involved?

Dear Terrorists,

I hate you. Why can’t you stick to patterns? Do you have to change tactics all the time?

After more than a year of careful study and observation, we were that close to nailing the MO of you bastards when it came to a 26/11 type of situation. A few more years of focus on that, and we would have almost certainly been able to prevent a recurrence of such attacks – unless we had prior intelligence inputs, in which case things could get a little dodgy…

Anyway, just when I was feeling secure, you guys go all unpredictable and set off a bomb in a bakery. I mean, is that even fair? I agree with the honourable Home Minister. It was insidious. That’s essentially college-talk for “sneaky and treacherous”. Yep, it was sneaky. Imagine going into a crowded place and leaving a bag stuffed with explosives there. What a dirty, underhand thing to do. Well spotted, Mr. Home Minister. We’re with you on that one. How dare the terrorists not send a press release out in advance, giving the location and time of the blast?

And now we’re all stumped. What could you unreliable fanatics be up to next? How can we trust you now? Is that the way for any civilised person to behave? Here we are, in all our magnanimity, literally turning the other cheek. And you shaft us somewhere else.

Cut us some slack now, will you? We have you guys sneaking – insidiously – across the border in Kashmir and creating all kinds of mischief. Pakistan indulges in periodic sabre-rattling. China bullies us and gives us wedgies in the playgrounds of the North-East and Ladakh ever so often. These friggin’ Maoists are causing a ruckus in large parts of the country, blowing up stuff and killing people. And, to top it all, our own good citizens are hounding and attacking each other all over the place. Besides, there will be other films that we shall have to help release. And then there’s inflation. And Mamta Bannerjee. And the Bihar elections. How many things can we deal with? Mercy. Please!

But we’re not going to be cowed down. Apparently, we have something called “spirit” which keeps us going. Unkind people call it apathy, but let’s not split hair. The point is, we know you’re out there, but we’ll keep doing exactly what we have been doing all this while. Which is basically nothing. So there.

Our investigations into the bakery blast have led to a number of clues. For starters, some explosive was almost certainly used. Additionally, we can, as of now, be completely certain of the involvement of that diabolical “foreign hand” that has bedevilled us for decades. But we have finally identified it for sure. Thing, you might have escaped the Addams Family Mansion but you can’t escape us. You can hide but you can’t run. (Ha ha ha…..see, that’s the spirit I talked about earlier. Humour in adversity.) We know you’re hand-in-glove (He he heh) with the bad guys. But we’ll get you. Hell, we’ll even revoke your visa if you’re not careful. If you didn’t come in using a visa, boy, are you in trouble!

As for the rest of you, you have been warned. Don’t fuck with us. This is not the way to treat an emerging superpower, with the second highest rate of economic growth in the world. We demand to be treated with respect, with civility and deference. Do not force us to get nasty. If you do not cease and desist, we can unleash our deadliest weapon on you and then you’re screwed.

Death-by-press-conference is painful, I kid you not.

Indignantly,

The Quirky Indian

I have been a fan of Shimit’s since Ab Tak Chappan, and while disappointed by Chak De, still went into this film hoping he’d redeem himself.

The story is fairly simplistic – and I shall get to its flaws later – but writer Jaideep Sahni sticks to what he knows best – the realistic middle-class Punjabi milieu. Note the phrase ‘realistic middle class’. As in Khosla Ka Ghosla. This explains why his worst efforts have been set in Sarsson-da-Khet-land, populated by Chopra-esque Punjabis. Fortunately for us, this film has none of that.

The characterisation is good, and the casting is perfect. The porn-addict Giri is brilliantly cast, as is Nitin Rathore. Gauhar Khan slips into her role of Koena Shaikh with ease. Boss Puri is good. Even the other salespersons are outstanding, right down to their attire. Ranbir is superb. The only sore thumb is the Padamsee girl, but if you can accept her as a flaky SoBo (sorry, SoMu) type, she passes muster. So what if she’s a Dadar girl in the film.

It is a story that most of us will identify with – we’ve all had to sell something at some point in our lives, and we’ve all had to deal with pesky colleagues and a prick of a boss. While Shimit initially captured the office politics perfectly, the politics quickly changed into more of middle-school-classroom-type bullying. And you kind of wonder at HP’s (as Ranbir’s character is known) restraint, till you realise that the full effects of any incident hit him with a lag. And is that why the otherwise calm HP gives in to some late and uncharacteristic ranting? You feel for HP, but you wish that Shimit had dared to attach some questionable morals to the character. In my opinion, that would have raised the film to another level. He’s tried a middle-of-the-road approach that works in parts but leaves you wondering about what might have been. But – and this is saying a lot – even when you know how this is going to end, you still wait for it to happen, to reach its very predictable conclusion, because the character works for you. And I also felt it was paisa-vasool just because of the great dialogue and witty lines.

The film plays out at more or less a low level and we thankfully do not have the melodrama that most Indian directors love to resort to. And no songs!

And just in case you were wondering, of course it has its flaws. The whole romance bit, even though its tone was low and even, seemed grafted on as an after-thought – and Padamsee’s lacklustre performance only makes it worse.

Let’s look at the glitches in the story. There’s the bit where HP refuses to bribe a Purchase Manager and even puts in a written complaint against him. For some unfathomable reason, he’s not sacked, but let off with a tongue lashing, and is even given time to complete his training! Convenient, and, in a film that relies simply on the power of a realistic script, it struck a very jarring note. As did the part in the second half where Boss Puri discovers the secret of the phone numbers. So far so good. But why would he keep calling the numbers when it is clear – especially to him – that the office is empty? The reveal was such that it would be clear even to a moron that the receptionist was involved. Why the drama? Why the pathetically amateurish attempt at suspense and entrapment? He could have simply called in the morning. More effective, greater probability of success and, as far as the audience is concerned, more plausible.

Then, the ‘evil’ Boss finally gets his comeuppance, but his resultant change of heart is so mysterious, it comes so suddenly and silently that you go “What the fuck made that happen? What epiphany, what catharsis?” And the explanation seems contrived, inadequate. But I suppose God and Indian film-makers work in mysterious ways.

Having said that, I would still recommend you watch Rocket Singh to see a different kind of Hindi film. Refreshingly low-key. Free of hyperbole, item-numbers, mustard fields and Manhattan. It’s quite likely that you will watch the film in a near-empty theatre, and that will make you truly understand just how painful the tastes (Love Aaj Kal, De Dana Dan) of the Indian movie audience are. I am one of the harshest critics of the Yash Raj School of film-making, but I wish we had given this film a chance. And that’s the unfortunate lesson the fate of this film teaches all of us, including Shimit – in real life, nice guys do finish last.

But for a couple of hours in that dark and depressingly empty theatre, this film made me wish that weren’t true.

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Poonam, Vee, Vimal and the rest have come up with the Avant Garde Bloggers Award 2009. Please visit Poonam’s blog or Vee’s blog to learn about the categories and the rules. There’s just a week left before nominations close, so get over there and nominate your favourite posts!

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.

What does it take to get desis moving?

Well, in the pubs I frequent, it could be any one of four songs; until any one of these songs is played, we’re all there, staring into our drinks and minding our own business, or talking to other members of our group. But when the song begins, we feel this incredible urge to join in – even if we only know the refrain. Some may even want to make a few moves, and there’s a lot of foot-stompin’, clapping, shaking and a horribly out-of-tune chorus that invariably accompanies these songs.

And it’s always one of these four songs:

I personally don’t rate any one of these songs very highly.

Take Another Brick in the Wall. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why this song is preferred to other fantastic songs in the same album – Mother, Goodbye Blue Sky and Comfortably Numb among them. But everyone, without exception, perks up when this number is played, and starts mouthing the lyrics.

Similarly with I Want to Break Fee. Many other brilliant songs to choose from – Don’t Stop Me Now, It’s a Hard Life, Bohemian Rhapsody, We are the Champions, Man on the Prowl – and this is the song that brings the house down.

Money for Nothing has to be the worst song ever from the Dire Straits stable. Brothers in Arms wins top honours in that particular album – though Why Worry and So Far Away are also very good. OK, so they’re not exactly pub songs, but what’s wrong with Walk of Life? And if I have to go across albums, why not Sultans of Swing, or even something like Heavy Fuel? And let’s not even talk Shakespeare or go down the Telegraph Road.

I have saved the Doors for last because I always seem to rub people the wrong way when I tell them that, in my humble opinion, this is the most overrated band in history. And they still managed to come up with songs better than Roadhouse Blues. So, if someone must play the Doors, play another number instead! How about Light My Fire?

What do you think? Do you have a list of songs that you are absolutely sick and tired of hearing?

Did you know that parrots make good investment bankers? At least, that’s what an experiment in a stock investment programme in Seoul would have us believe. A parrot took part, along with 10 other human investors, and was ranked third in the final tally…with a positive rate of return. The human average was negative!

Many have always suspected that the allegedly predictive models bandied about in research reports and lectures on stock picks – as well as the claim that this is a highly specialised ‘science’ – actually serve as fanciful methods of camouflaging what is essentially a ‘pin-the-tail-to-the-donkey’ game. Stories like this only serve to strengthen those beliefs.

One could always argue that this is just what the world financial system was looking for. One sore point with most people has been the bonuses that investment bankers (to be fair, not all of them were analysts or equity sales persons) took home despite plunging the world into the worst recession in history. And since everyone’s now wondering how best to clean the system, may I offer a suggestion?

Let the Goldmans of the world revamp…..hire parrots across the board. That should take care of the bonus problems that everyone keeps complaining about. Even if the parrots keep getting larger and fancier cages every year, and demand progressively more organically produced seeds and fruit, it’ll still save billions that can be redeployed in other businesses. So we have statistically better performance at a significantly lower cost….what’s there to argue?

Sheer genius, even if I say so myself.

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Can someone please design a similar experiment where parrots take part in the business of government?