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Overpopulation, Who?

August 12, 2011

When I was in school, we had a chapter in Social Studies called “Problems Facing the Country”. It contained some 10-12 sub-topics each of which dealt with a national problem. Off the top of my head I remember-

  • religion and caste divide
  • disparity of wealth
  • malnutrition and poor health services
  • illiteracy; and
  • overpopulation
Even within this rich variety of problems, overpopulation was special. It was seen as key to everything else. “If only the problem of overpopulation was solved,” our teachers would tell us, “everything else will solve itself .”  
When you had to write an essay in the English-I paper on “What I would do if I was PM” or “How I would serve my country”, the smart kids wrote about overpopulation.
Yesterday, a tweet from The Acorn got me thinking of this again. He tweeted: “What is overpopulation? Is there a magical population density above which it is ‘over’?”
I was dumbstruck. It was such wonderful and staggeringly basic question. But it was one I had never asked.
I never thought  “why do we think India is overpopulated?’ or  “by how many people are we overpopulated exactly?”  I had simply accepted that India had an overpopulation problem. I didn’t think to ask what number we were aiming for, or whether anybody had thought at what point we would stop and say ‘mission accomplished, we are now optimally populated.”
It just felt so obvious that India was overpopulated.Now I don’t know any more.

Why buy another train? Much better to reduce the number of people. Yeah, that makes sense

Maybe the only problem was too few resources, not too many people. I’m not sure anymore that there is even such a thing as too many people. After all, resources such as money and infrastructure can be built up to feed the population. Urbanisation and industrialisation reduce per-capita-square-footage but also boost standards of living. Population density is not an evil of itself if the State ensures access to services.
I don’t say that family planning doesn’t have its place. It does, but its place is within the household- if a family cannot feed a child, it has no right to bring one into the world. But to conflate that domestic argument into a national policy  is dangerous. It is not justified for the State to spend preciously scarce resources convincing people that the national good demands that the country drive its population downwards, because that’s just not true.
The benefits of population- the so-called demographic dividend, large domestic consumption and demand, among others – are now well known. Advances in agricultural technology are providing exponentially larger harvests on far lesser land and water access tech ensures better access to clean water cheaper than ever before. There’s no overarching “reduce-the-population-now-or-we-will-all-die” argument that I can see.
Maybe there’s something I’m missing. But right now, it feels like we were fed a lie, plain and simple. It was a lie that convinced Indians that India would never be able to feed all her people and that the only solution lay in reducing the number of people. A lie that was like some colonial thought-experiment in cultivated self-loathing: the kind that throws up crackpots like Sanjay Gandhi and his band of scalpel-weilding patriots.
I remember a few lone voices who said that India’s population could be its strength. I’m listening to those voices now.

Why do I care who runs the fastest? Or jumps really high?

September 24, 2010

For several years now, my attitude towards organised competitive sport – and its wild tribe of supporters- has been of unqualified disdain. Unsurprisingly, people don’t take it well when I tell them this.

Usually they respond with a knowing leer, dismising me as a pretentious “bookish type” trying to drown my atheletic shortcomings in incomprehensible and irrelevant writings and fancy-talk.

In a liberal world where most opinions are up for challenge and honest debate, the love of competitive sport is surprisingly off-bounds. It is acceptable to dislike a sport, but to disparage sport itself is considered high treason. So I thought that with all the scandal emerging from the Commonwealth Games, if there was ever a time to argue for my dislike of competitive sport, it is now.

See, the truth is I genuinely enjoy playing sports! I think its fun.

But I can’t bear watching or *shudder* supporting sports teams with any degree of seriousness or passion. And the only thing more tiresome than people who take their team loyalties hyper-seriously are the haughty explanations they offer:

Explanation 1: “It is a form of human achievement”

Not really. It has always mystified me why, centuries after our furry anscenstors moved out of caves and decided to become civilised, it is still considered a human achievement to run really fast or jump really high or very long. Of what relevance to humanity is the information that some people, if they train, can swim really fast? Of what significance is it that now an Indian man is better at wrestling other men, than anyone else in the world?

Some of our more blanatly medival sports are shining examples of non-achievement: throwing a spear (javelin), throwing a heavy black ball (shot putt), shooting arrows (archery), sword fighting (fencing) and that pinnacle of non-achievement- lifting really heavy things(weight lifting)!  Now really, how the copulation is lifting heavy things a sport? Or an achievement? Or even desirable? For gods sake, why should it matter which human being can lift the most amout of weight???  Who cares?

I don’t buy the “it’s a human achievement” line.

Explanation 2: “But sports requires skill, self-discipline and concentration”

So does shooting peas from your nostril. Or spitting into a tea cup from across the lawn. Or balancing an umbrella on your fingertip. Or catching a window-seat on the 7.15 Virar-fast out of Churchgate station. But you don’t see those on the Olympics list.

It’s high time we admit that the division between pea-snorting freaks and long-jumping atheletes is a false and arbitrary one. There is no other explanation for why throwing a heavy black ball is considered a sport but pulling a truck with your tongue isn’t.

Explanation 3: “But sports builds bridges and brings people together”

Bullshit! Modern competitive sport is one of the most divisive and polarising civilian activities I can think of. 

George Orwell wrote this in an essay “I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations…Even if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred,one could deduce it from general principles. In sport essentially people want to see one side on top and the other side humiliated. Serious sport…is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting”.

If any of you have ever attended an India-Pakistan cricket match you know what Orwell was talking about. If you followed the French team in the SA World Cup, you know he means. And if you ever had a “colony team” that played cricket tournaments with the “baahar waali” teams, you know exactly what he means.

Sports players are often referred to as gladiators. The comparison isn’t a coincidence. Gladiators weren’t exactly ambassors of peace. Neither are sportsmen.

(NOTE: If your illusions of sport as tool of global peace and unity persist, I suggest you read this brilliant piece from the Onion “You Will Suffer Humiliation When The Sports Team From My Area Defeats The Sports Team From Your Area”

I would like to end this rant by paying tribute to the only thing more useless than sports- Sports Quizzes.

Ever since the weak and the nerdy were excommunicated from society for not caring enough to kick a ball or whack a bat at it, they have searched for a way back in. Along came the sports quiz.

The nerds reasoned, “Sure, we can’t run really fast or kick a ball with much accuracy. But we can memorise who can! And we can compete with each other to see who memorises more information!! And then people can test us to see whether we know who was the fastest swimmer in 1987 or who jumped the longest jump in 2005. Was it longer than the longest jump in 2008? We’ll memorise everything! Why? Because we also love sports! Gaarrrhh!! Woo Hoo!! and Wooo!!”

Pathetic.

Rt. Hon’ble Bill Shakespeare, M.P

May 12, 2010

The most delicious literary discovery of my youth was P. G. Wodehouse’s Carry on Jeeves in the 8th standard. Being raised on a strict diet of swashbuckling novels like Kidnapped, Call of the Wild, Treasure Island and, of course, Sherlock Holmes, I approached Wodehouse with about as much enthusiasm as a tangdi-kabab connoisseur to a bowl of Gazpacho soup.

From one-legged pirates and murderous uncles I was expected to shift to long-winded tales of love affairs between lazy English nobles and London chorus girls (whatever those are!), with some butlers and eccentric old people thrown in for good measure. I’d never read any book that was supposed to make you laugh. I didn’t think I would like it all.

But I loved it!

Carry on Jeeves was soon followed by Hot Water and then Leave it to Psmith until soon I couldn’t get enough of Wodehouse. I delighted in the exquisitely unfamiliar sensation of laughing out loud in a book. This was my big introduction to British humour.

I loved its irreverence. Take for example this-

“It’s only about once in a lifetime that anything sensational ever happens to one, and when it does, you don’t want people taking all the colour out of it. I remember at school having to read that stuff where that chap, Othello, tells the girl what a hell of a time he’d been having among the cannibals and what not. Well, imagine his feelings if, after he had described some particularly sticky passage with a cannibal chief and was waiting for the awestruck “Oh-h! Not really?”, she had said that the whole thing had no doubt been greatly exaggerated and that the man had probably really been a prominent local vegetarian.”

Exquisite!

By the time I discovered the Yes Minister books/show by Lynn & Jay, I was a die hard quotes-on-the-back-of-my-hand fan of Wodehouse. But reading through the adventures of the Rt. Hon’ble James Hacker M.P, the brilliant Sir Humphrey Appleby GCB, KBE, MVO, MA (Oxon) and the awesomely pedantic Principal Private Secretary Bernard Wooley, I fell in love all over again.

An excerpt-

“Hacker: Who else is in this department?

Sir Humphrey: Well briefly, sir, I am the Permanent Under Secretary of State, known as the Permanent Secretary. Woolley here is your Principal Private Secretary. I too have a Principal Private Secretary and he is the Principal Private Secretary to the Permanent Secretary. Directly responsible to me are ten Deputy Secretaries, 87 Under Secretaries and 219 Assistant Secretaries. Directly responsible to the Principal Private Secretaries are plain Private Secretaries, and the Prime Minister will be appointing two Parliamentary Under-Secretaries and you will be appointing your own Parliamentary Private Secretary

Hacker: Can they all type?

Sir Humphrey: None of us can type. Mrs Mackay types: she’s the secretary.

Minister: Pity, we could have opened an agency.

Sir Humphrey: Very droll, Minister.”

By the time I got to college, a lot of well-read people were saying that the old British humour was dead. I refused to believe it.

Today, when they point out that hip-hop is the most popular “music” in England these days, and ask how could a country of FUBU-wearing Akon-listening teenagers be possibly expected to throw up any new Wodehouses or Wildes, I still refuse to listen.

Partly because I can’t bear the thought.

But partly because in my mind, some suitably eccentric Englishman is right now preparing the script of a new show featuring Bill Shakespeare M.P, Minister of Theatre and Artistic Affairs.

(In the first episode the Minister’s awesomely pedantic Principal Private Secretary Bernard Wooley is correcting a first draft of a new play by the Minister titled P. Hamlet and the Goblet of Poison. The Minister’s Permanent Under-Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby is just concluding his speech on the dangers of allowing Ministers to write their own work)

Humphrey: So you see Bernard, the next time your Minister goes on a walkabout, you had better be there to stop it. Else we could be stuck with another Pericles, Prince of Tyre. I don’t need to tell you Bernard, I hardly think your permanent record would be able to sustain another debacle like that.

Bernard: Terribly sorry sir, but I was given to understand that the people actually quite liked that play.

Humphrey: Well of course the people liked it, the people like anything with sex and murder in it. But the purpose of theatre isn’t to entertain the people, it is to educate them. If they’re having fun, that beats the point doesn’t it Bernard? And as the Minister’s Principal Private Secretary, it is your duty to prevent the Minister taking such liberties. You must bear in mind that while you and I have had the benefit of an Oxford education, the Minister was unable to access any learning beyond the King’s Grammar School at Stratford, a fine institution no doubt but prone to the kind of creeping intellectual laxity that comes to people who take their woodwork more seriously than their Latin. While the Minister’s semi-literate background may endear him to his constituents, it does not equip him for his job. That is why, Bernard, we are supposed to do his job. Speaking of which, how is your reading of the Minister’s latest play coming along? The Minister seems rather pleased with it.

Bernard: Erm.. the play is somewhat.. um that is to say… Act III… I mean, some portions of it are… confused….

Humphrey: Confused, Bernard?

(The Minister enters)

Shakespeare: What’s all this about confused? Who’s confused?

Humphrey: Bernard was just discussing your newest play Hamlet and the Goblet of Poison…

Shakespeare: It confused you Bernard? Shall I say, “in sooth I know not why” you are so confused “it wearies me, you say it wearies you” eh ha ha ha what do you think of that?

Humphrey: Very clever, Minister. Though perhaps Bernard would….

Bernard: Thank you sir… as I was telling Sir Humphrey, Minister, Hamlet’s speech in Act II, Scene I….

Shakespeare: Aah, my masterpiece! “To be or not to be – that is the question/ Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer/ the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune/ Or to take arms against a sea or troubles/ And, by opposing, end them….”

Bernard: Exactly sir, well, it isn’t really possible to take arms against a sea of troubles. I mean to say, it’s a mixed metaphor sir.

Shakespeare: A mixed who?

Bernard: A mixed metaphor, Minister. So, one the one hand, Hamlet could legitimately take arms against an army of troubles. No problem. Alternately, he could equally take ship against a sea of troubles, if he were so disposed- though it is doubtful that this would convey the same thing, you see if one takes ship against a sea of troubles one signals that one is perhaps equipped to face the sea of troubles, even survive it, but not exactly “end” the troubles- since the troubles here refer to the troublesome sea and – seeing as how one can’t choose the weather- one would assume the sea of troubles would continue to be troublesome until the storm blew over and the sun came out and that the ship would continue to face the troubles until that time.That is, in my opinion, not what Hamlet would’ve wished under the circumstances.

Shakespeare: Er-

Bernard: Also, under no circumstances can one take arms against a sea of troubles. You see, Minister, it would be totally ineffective. The swords would simply slice through the water like this.. swishhhh.. swishhhhswishhhhh.. and the spears would simply- plop– collect in a heap on the ocean floor; also it is quite likely that if the sea were really troublesome Hamlet may even risk drowning, something his “arms” would be extremely ineffective to guard against. If I may digress somewhat, it’s quite interesting Minister, that if Hamlet were to actually take arms against the sea he would not be the first European noble to do so. The Roman Emperor Caligula – frequently referred to as Mad Caligula- once waged a war against the English Channel which he claimed to win and doing so anointed himself a God. History, of course, has a very different opinion of him as you know, or as you undoubtedly would have known had you attended any institution beyond Grammar School. So in conclusion Minister, unless one were making an elaborate yet suitably subtle hint that Hamlet was a bit…. cuckooooo…in the head one would be ill-advised to have him deliberately attacking the sea, even a metaphorical one.

Shakespeare: Humphrey, Bernard, I’m making an elaborate yet suitably subtle hint right now that unless my office – that means the two of you – restricts itself to administration of theatre, which is its job, instead of continuously interfering with formulation of theatre, which is my job, I might be too distracted to, say, prevent an anonymous leak from informing The Times that the story for Pericles was in fact suggested by the two of you! Is that too confusing for you Bernard?

Bernard: No, Minister

Shakespeare: Perfect….. aah Humphrey, don’t you just love it when the ship of state runs like clockwork?

Bernard: Erm, Minist-

Humphrey: YES MINISTER!

Remembering Kabuliwallah

May 7, 2010

It’s Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday today and I found myself thinking about the man, his literature and his politics. But most of all I found myself thinking about his hauntingly beautiful short story – Kabuliwallah. If you haven’t already, read it now.

In my mind, Tagore’s Kabuliwallah epitomises all that is best about the old-school of Indian literature. The story is beautifully bare, the language is straightforward and unaffected, the narrative is  linear and the characters are wholesome, unpretentious and instantly identifiable.

Tagore creates such a disarmingly simple what-happened-next air about the story that its easy to mistake it for a childhood storytelling session with your grandmother.

But unlike your grandmother’s stories, here, beneath the uncomplicated narrative lies something else. In Kabuliwallah, it the calm and utterly amoral beast of Time which plods detemindly though the lives of the three characters pausing for neither dramatic counterpoints nor romantic reminisces. Life-as-usual continues, respecting nothing, trampling everything.  Kabuliwallah glides from the banal to the tragic and from the joyous to the indescribable with dignity, restraint and an earthy Indianness that permeates every word.

I will not suggest that Kabuliwallah was written as an allegory-  Tagore was above such things. But I will surely say that, just like that other Indian literary genius R. K. Narayan, Tagore says a lot more through his purposeful omissions and silences and minimalism than any cheeky new-age magic realist. And when Tagore speaks to us in that manner, those to whom he tells his secrets come away with a quiet inner smile at his message and not a little sadness at being unable to share it.

P.S: Simply to remember this breed of real people is reason enough to keep this little gem alive. My mother actually recalls being a child in small-town Maharashtra getting goosebumps as she heard the cry from the street, “Kabuliwalaaaah, Kaaaabuliwalaaaah..” That’s a world we will never know. And Tagore’s Kabuliwallah is a painful reminder of what we are missing.

A Gray Nation

April 19, 2010

Oscar Wilde’s “Picture of Dorian Gray” is one of the best books I’ve read. It is the story of a modern day Adonis- Dorian Gray- who commissions a portrait of himself to capture and preserve his beauty and ends up trapping his soul in that “perfect” painting. Having removed his soul, his body becomes immune to the ravages of time and vice and he is led along a path of destructive decadence by the seductive Lord Henry Wotton. As he glides from debauchery to violence, his painting begins to transform to reveal the slow rotting away of his soul. Hating all ugly things, Dorian locks the painting away in the attic forbidding anyone to see it. Here the painting lies growing ever more disfigured, ugly, wrinkled and bent while his soulless body glows with his artificial never-ending youth.  As Dorian’s sins mount up, the painting rots away all the more. At the climax, Dorian Gray attempts to destroy the ugly painting to eliminate all evidence of his sins ,but ends up killing himself instead. He is found as a weak emaciated old man lying in a pool of blood beside the painting- now young and beautiful. The reality restored to the man. The artificiality restored to the painting.

I don’t know how he does it but by the end of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde leaves you laughing, thinking and terrified. Arundhati Roy’s propoganda piece on the Naxals produced much the same reaction in me, and in that order. So does every new announcement out of the Home Ministry regarding Operation Green Hunt.

Laughter, because of both the farcical hyperbole of Ms. Roy’s indictment of the State as the author of all ills as well as the State’s ham-handed attempts to spin the Maoists as vermin to be “exterminated” so that our tribals may be rescued.

Thinking, because despite the burlesque show in the media , this remains a very very serious issue.

And terror because once one begins to think about what the Maoists, and our response to them, is doing to this State one can’t avoid the dark foreboding of where this road is taking us.

It is indisputable that the State has a legal and moral right to develop tribal lands, for the greater good of the country.

It is also indisputable that the State has completely and utterly failed  to provide compensation or resettlement for our displaced populations .every. single. time. it has attempted any such project.

There is no reason for the tribals of Jharkhand and Chatisgarh to believe that their fate will be any different.

Because every time the tribal populations of this country have trusted the State, the State has responded with a sharp kick in the groin as punishment for their gullibility.

Agreed, that does not justify the “mindless violence” that the Naxal have inflicted on the State.  But though I find the tribal insurgency indefensible, I honestly cannot say that I find it inexplicable.

Violence is the currency of the State.

Consider that in this greatest of Indian cities- Bombay- no public leader can defend north-Indians without risking widespread riots. Consider that students cannot peacefully protest the government’s reservation policy without risking a police-led lathi charge. Consider that in the first case the police will largely ignore the violence, but in the latter they will happily dole it out on the “troublemakers” demonstrating against government policy. Consider that citizens of far-flung suburbs in Bombay who petition for years for BMC water-lines to be laid to their houses are routinely ignored, until they perform a rail-roko bringing public transport to a grinding halt. After the due demonstration of their disruptive powers, water lines are quickly laid. Or consider that, were I even a mildly public figure, my use of the city’s old name- Bombay, in a previous sentence, would be reason enough for me to be slapped around in my home or beaten up on the streets by the defenders of this city. Consider also that most of you would probably shake your heads and mutter “he asked for it” when you heard. And this is just in Bombay. The rest of this country is, arguably, at least as violent.

The inescapable truth is that we have institutionalised in our country a culture of violence, both State and non-State, and we consistently reward disruptive and destructive behaviour.

This being so, how can we tell the Naxals that their barbaric methods have no place in modern India? 

Or take the case of Vidharbha, Maharashtra where nobody wants to talk to, or even about, poor farmers killing themselves in the tens of thousands year after year, to escape starvation and debt. Yet this same society finds nothing wrong in publicly wondering, “why don’t the Naxals just talk to us?”.

If the State only addresses issues raised by the most disruptive groups in society, and by those with the most destructive power, how can we convince the Naxals that their horrific means will not succeed? 

At every stage the tribals will find precedents that give them heart. I can think of no better instance of sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind as this Naxalite problem.

I do not for a moment question that the Naxalite problem  (and it is, without qualification, a problem) is one that must be solved. I fully endorse that a large part of the strategy must be military. But this is as good a time as any to reflect upon the nature of the State that we, the people have created and acknowledge our larger problems, of which the Naxalites are but a symptom.

One of the biggest problems, in my mind, is how we see ourselves.

“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself.”

“The reason we all like to think so well of others is that we’re all afraid for ourselves. The basis of optimism is sheer terror.”

Once upon a time, Indians willed into existence a perfect picture of the Indian State. And what a painting that was! A wonderful modern mythological canvas in true Indian tradition. Facts and not-quite-facts blending seamlessly to create the perfect civilisation back on the ascending path. Rising like a phoenix from colonial ashes to claim (that tired phrase) its rightful place in the world….Oh how we admired our beauty.

Deep down we knew that the painting was never really of India, but of us Indians as we wished we were; of our self-image in all its glorious wishfulness and contradiction. Yet somewhere along the line we convinced ourselves that that painting was our reality. We fell in love with ourselves.

Today that self-love has become obsessive and intolerant to criticism. We want only praises. “Don’t give us complexities and negativity,” we plead with tiresome jholawallahs and Indian Express types, “give us GDP figures and growth rates, give us stories of hope and money and sex, tell us how far we’ve come, tell us how we are better off  than our neighbouring states… no matter, tell us again”

We hide away our ugly realities in the attic, away from our eyes, to convince ourselves that we are indeed that beautiful place of the India of our minds. We commit countless ugly cruelties in the name of our beauty. As we stare transfixed by our false beauty, our media gleefully massages our egos. It plays the perfect Lord Henry to our Dorian Gray. 

Look no further for proof of this than that it took the Naxalites a full-fledged massacre, claiming the lives of 76 Indian paramilitary officers, to rouse us, howsoever temorarily, from our IPL and Sho-nia induced reverie.

In all this, our moral weakness hangs naked for the world to see. As we desperately seek validation from others we demonstrate our anxiety to preserve our fragile self-image, if by nothing else then by our wilful blindness. We seek only reinforcement of our manifest destiny of superpowerdom and reject anything that does not fit into that narrative. We want only to stare at our beautiful face and silence anyone who reminds us that we ceased to look like that a long, long time ago, if indeed we ever did.

We want to be surrounded by beauty and joy just like Wilde’s Dorian Gray. And just as surely as Dorian Gray, the Indian State has today become debauched, violent and intolerant. And just as Dorian Gray we wish to attack and destroy, in our anger, the ugly painting of ourselves that mutated in the attic while we tried in vain to forget all about it. And just as Dorian Gray, we will perhaps realise too late that that ugly painting is really us and not the “other”. That the Naxalites and their tribal followers are a direct result of our failings and neglect as a State. That they represent nothing more than the horrible social disfigurations that systemic violence and apathy will inevitably produce. That our beauty faded a long time ago. And that the best possible remedy is to acknowledge that the ugly painting in the attic is actually us.

‘It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution”

It is time to bring out the painting from the attic and put it back up on the mantlepiece.

[NOTE: Incidentally, I also have a problem with our laguage. I accept the State’s rationale on using words like “exterminate” and “Naxalite infested”. But, for example, when PC tells Naxalites to abjure violence, I start to have a problem. “Abjure”??? For god’s sake, can’t PC leave his harvard-man vocabulary aside for a minute especially when he is supposed to be making a direct plea to illiterate tribals? Perhaps I’m overreacting but in my mind his hi-fi english only reinforces the view that he is in fact addressing the urban middle-class elite who appreciate a clipped voice and a smart turn of phrase and not the tribals, who form only a rustic native background to his intellectual gymnastics.]

1/3rd down, 2/3rd to go: A Birthday Post

April 6, 2010

 

“Happy Birthday! And congratulations on turning 25:  1/3rd of your life is now over. I hope you enjoyed it. Hahahhahaha”– Bawa (26)

 “Dude, forget about smashing the cake. We’re too old for that”-Thana (25)

So it’s my 25th birthday. Sad, no?

I’m not someone who worries about age or frets about getting older. So you can imagine that when the moment came, I lightly concluded that hitting the big half-half-century mark was no cause for either worry or *shudder* reflection.

As far as I was concerned, it marked nothing more than the 4th year of legally celebrating birthdays the way God intended them to be-  sitting with friends sharing a cold pitcher of the good stuff. Unfortunately, the joy-sucking Death Eaters of Azkaban who pose as my friends would have none of it.

Just in case Bawa and Thana’s mordant vs morbid act weren’t enough, my Death Eaters came over to press the point home. They arrived sharp at midnight to assault me with sympathetic pats on the back where sentimental kicks-on-the-rear once reigned peacefully. They hurled firms shakes of the hand at me when once nothing less than a loving double-pasting of rotten cake+toothpaste+ketchup would’ve satisfied.

This was not what I was expecting. The pasting, filthy as it was, was a tradition. The dog-pile was practically a ritual! All abandoned because “we are older now.” As you can imagine, my joy at not needing to wash out out icing from my facial cavities was completely overshadowed by the loneliness that comes when my Death Eaters decide they’ve outgrown a beloved tradition.

See, getting older does freak him out. No, I still say that its not the getting older that worries me. At least not in the I-can’t-do-what-I-used-to or those-were-the-days kind of way.  I think my real umm… apprehension… is not that I’m getting older and changing too fast but rather that I don’t feel I am getting older or changing at all.  I feel I sort of plateaued after 19.

I’m almost certain that’s weird.

Meanwhile, the family speaks of fast-approaching responsibilities and of responsibilities that whizzed past me in my early twenties – now behind me – while I was busy being “footloose and fancy free” (more on growing up in a vedic-gurukul-meets-1900s-british-prep-school, later). They remind me that I will have to catch up on these responsibilities sometime soon. And just to make sure I get it, they clarify that by sometime soon of course they mean Now. Like, rather-than-writing-this-blog NOW.

It seems that getting older comes with its own peculiar air of breathless urgency and a dark creepy sense of performing actions whose consequences are rippling invisibly into the future.

I don’t like it.

So I’m going to address this problem the only way I know how to. The next Death Eater whose birthday comes up is going to get the filthiest double-smashnig of rotten cake+shaving foam+ chilly sauce and ketchup that has ever blighted a birthday boy, no matter what!

I don’t care if you’re “older” or not; whether 1/3rd of your life is over or not; whether you’re feeling “more mature” or whether you’re-married-and-you’re-wife-thinks-we’re-juvenile or not, the cake smashing, treat-taking, dog-pile giving traditions will continue till I’m physically capable of indulging in them!

Denial ki maa!

P.S: To clarify for the Death Eaters, this only means we revive our fine traditions for the next birthday. The window for kicking and cakeing me has closed. Bwahahahahahahaha!

The Incongruous Basterds

March 23, 2010

My school was one of those colonial-era establishments which pride themselves on their unrelenting refusal to abandon medival means of torture as instruments of discipline.

Our school anthem even had had us extol our teachers’ methods, singing “They spare no pains/Nor yet the rod/ To see our tasks well done”. “Tasks” being in this case, presumably, taking  us pre-pubescent barbarians and thrashing us until we became civilized.

(On a side-note, the similarity in the methods of the British Colonial Empire and British Colonial Schools is striking!)

One of the more unhappy consequences of this civilising process was the slow erosion of any pesky individualism in us students that might have stood in the way of the “tasks”.

By a winning combination of latent tribal tendencies (a la Lord of the Flies) and a well-substantiated fear of non-conformity, students soon learnt to sort themselves into available and acceptable “types” that the school could then deal with through available and acceptable types of establishmentarian violence.

This made “our tasks” far easier on everybody and allegedly produced better young-citizens than those rare sissy-schools who considered whacking 10-year olds with dusters and rulers to be “too-much”. Pansies.

Sooner or later, willingly or under protest, everybody in my school became a “type” of person: the strutting Jock who played 5 different team sports and got his ass kicked by the Don Bosco B-team in all of them, the hair-oiled-flat Nerd whose revulsion-factor fluctuated at an inverse proportion to the proximity of term exams, the Yo!-types who said things like “my bad” and used cell phones at a time when other students’ parents were still kicked about their pagers, the new-age Leftists who got their supercilious attitude and worldliness from the same shadowy institution that distributed commie lit. to 14 year olds, the overly responsible mamma’s boys who were terrified of “getting corrupted” with bad words and short skirts and the Vernac who could have obtained a good education but decided to acquire a victim mentality instead.

As for me, I found myself wedged in a decidedly down-market position somewhere between non-creepy-Loser and semi-Nerd. It was not the worst thing to be, but it wasn’t exactly a boost to the self esteem either.

On bad days I was convinced that my hatred for this school level caste-ification was so intense that it eclipsed even my hatred for lungdi sessions in the compulsory PT period, and that’s saying a lot! (Friggin hated those lungdi sessions)

But on my good days, I braved the rigours of an uncool reputation by adopting a philosophical attitude towards my lot. I was bound in the nutshell of my school and I had best be content to count myself as a petty courtier of its infinite space, I told myself  (maybe not in those exact words).

I tumbled out of school still fatalistic and with my lack of a reputation completely intact.

However, this blissful state of karmic self-acceptance was not to be. Within a few short months I gave the ‘ol ok-ta-ta-bye-bye to my peace of mind as I looked forward to the re-caste-ification process of college!

You see, what college does is it takes the comparative freewheeling filppancy of school identities and applies a Samurai-like discipline and sophistication to it till everybody from college-ka-don down to college-ke-chaprasi-ka-peon is duly identified, announced, marked and filed away according to the Dewey-Decimal system.

From what I saw of Bombay’s colleges, they introduced such rigour, technique and subtlety into their divisions as would put any respectable Iyengar Brahmin priest to shame. Their customs were positively tribal; their rules non-negotiable.

Being a bookish Dadar-boy with a hopelessly cash-poor personal economy, a feeble command over non-ghaati dance moves and a debilitating incapacity to drink any alcohol that wasn’t of the persuation of a certain geriatric clergical personality, I was firmly shunned by the cool crowd.

This was when I finally decided to jettison any notions of ever becoming “cool” in this lifetime. (Of course everybody I had ever met till then had already decided that about me a long time ago, but still). It was the best decision of my life.

What followed was a rapid series of utterly-predictable-if-this-was-a-teen-flick events which had me suddenly meet and befriend some of the weirdest, craziest, different-est, funniest, deep-down-nice-est and all the other -est people, in a breakthtakingly short time.

Many of these were chaps from my much-vaunted penitentiary-like colonial school who, after similar liberating/humiliating experiences also abandoned the mad scramble for cool-giri. Some were folks I met in junior college; others were at law school with me.

I can say with a fair bit of confidence that they form probably the most diverse and incongrous bunch of yahoos you can capture in one photo frame. Personally/intelluctually/how-many-drinks-it-takes-them-to-start-singing-Rafi-lly they are so radically different that our peaceful co-existence and stubborn getting-along-ness is probably worth some sociological research experiment.

I can’t think of them fitting in with any one else or even (at a theoretic level) with each other. But they do. I don’t know how, but somehow it works.

What was the point of this post?

Ah, yes! It seems I finally found my “type”. Now, don’t ask me what that type is because I can’t define it. These chaps seem to defy any but the broadest joint-catgorisations. Still, if I had to, very broadly, with no subtlety, only generally, I’d say its somewhere between non-creepy Losers and semi-Nerds.