Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ind vs Pak: Should we leave the politics out of cricket?

(Published in Sify.com, on February 18, 2015, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/india-vs-pakistan-should-we-leave-the-politics-out-of-cricket-news-columns-pcsi9rjhfjbgd.html)





Picture Courtesy: Sify.com

Some years ago, when I was at university, a Pakistani asked me the sort of question that only a Pakistani can ask an Indian – “When India plays Pakistan, whom do the Indian Muslims support?”

And I gave him the sort of undiplomatic answer that only a Madrasi can give a Pakistani – “You mean Muslims like Pataudi and Syed Kirmani and Azharuddin and Irrfan Pathan and Zaheer Khan and Mohammad Kaif, whom do they support?”

I was a little shocked at the vehemence of my reply at the time, partly because I don’t get offended easily, and partly because I have never associated nationality with sport – geography is really a convenient way to band teams together. You could just as easily band them by language, or alphabet, or height. I’ve always watched cricket as I have watched football – I have my favourite teams, and they have nothing to do with either my nationality or my patriotism.

And so, I wonder both at the force of my reply, and at the fact that my patriotism suddenly finds expression in cricketing fervour every time India takes on Pakistan.

But, I know that my reply would be the same, if I were to be asked the question again.

Because, any attempt to further divide a nation where all any two people have in common could simply be the colour and design of their passports offends me deeply.

It would never occur to me to ask a Pakistani whom the Christians support when they play against Australia or England or New Zealand. It would never occur to me to ask a Pakistani whom the Hindus support when they play against India.

Having roots in the South, I have been as far away from the horror of Partition as an Indian could be. I have Pakistani friends for whose families Partition was far more painful, and who had as little say in that historical mistake as we Indians did.

But why does all the acrimony pour out into the cricket field?

Why are the supposed loyalties of Indian Muslims questioned, and the religions of Indian cricketers enumerated, every time India plays Pakistan? Because I’ve been asked that too – why there are so few Muslim players in the Indian team. I usually reply that a list of cricketers of distinction in the Indian side would include Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Parsis.

Is it fair, though, that the twenty-two men taking the field at any time should be burdened by the history of the two countries?

Is it fair for them to have to come back home to brickbats from the press, and fans tarring their houses, and burning them in effigy?

Yet, what choice do they have, when the first reaction of either side to a diplomatic fallout is to cut cricketing ties?

Now that the teams meet so rarely, every game has gained more significance.

The Pakistani team is haunted by its World Cup history, and the Indian team holds on to it for dear life. However beleaguered, it’s a do-or-die match, and neither can afford to lose. Because people from the two countries are stupid enough to give a first-round match the epithet “real final”.

If India were to lose to Pakistan at the World Cup, even winning the title would not remove the sourness of the loss, just as Pakistan is never allowed to forget that it lost to India in 1992.

And no sporting team deserves that kind of pressure.

As it happens, the camaraderie between the two teams has improved enormously over the years. One of my earliest cricketing memories is of Javed Miandad doing a kangaroo jump in imitation of Kiran More, and Azharuddin approaching the umpire in a rage to complain. On the 15th, Shahid Afridi made up for accidentally throwing the ball at Virat Kohli by playfully patting him where he had been hit.

If Pakistani players were not banned from the IPL, several of them would be sharing team colours with Indian players.

While I did have my fun baiting the Twitterati from Pakistan on match day, I was disturbed by some of the images people put up on Twitter. One was of the Pakistani twelfth man giving water to Virat Kohli, as if it were the most remarkable thing in the world. Would the image have been imbued with as much significance if India had been playing Australia, and their twelfth man had offered an Indian batsman water?

Perhaps it’s time we got mature about the game, and left the baggage behind.

Cricketers should be playing their sport; the politicians and diplomats can handle the rest.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

V-Day: Questions for the guardians of our sanskaar

(Published on Sify.com, on February 14, 2015, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/v-day-questions-for-the-guardians-of-our-sanskaar-news-columns-pcokGUdcjhfhi.html)




Dear Guardians of our Culture,

I greatly appreciate your plans of marrying off young people who have no respect for our sanskaar, and are actually caught celebrating the Western bane that threatens to corrupt our society – Valentine’s Day.

Over the last few years, you have beaten them, threatened to call their parents, and filed cases of obscenity against them for holding hands. But now, you’ve decided to teach them a lesson by actually ensuring that they stay together till death – or a family court – do them part. Congratulations.

However, as a Bharatiya Nari, and a strong proponent of our culture, I have some doubts.

First of all, there seems to be no clear mechanism in place to distinguish lovers from non-lovers. Of course, if the people in question are caught making out, it is clear that they are attracted to each other, and fully deserve the punishment of being forced into matrimony.

But, what if they happen to be out on work? Well, maybe they deserve to be married off too, for being in each other’s company, without due observance of purdah. I have some doubts in this regard, but we’ll come to those later.

Now, what if they are related? Over the years, male relatives have picked me up from airports and such. Aside from my personal disinclination to be married off to relatives, it would also greatly confuse the family tree. Also, I’m not sure that incest is an inherent part of our culture. Please do address this issue.

If they are just colleagues, or friends, to whom it hasn’t occurred that Valentine’s Day is any different from any other day, you would be imbuing it with significance for them, turning it into their wedding anniversary, and ensuring that they celebrate this Western concept every year, for desireasons.

Even so, I suppose it is better than having people of opposite sexes randomly hanging out at coffee shops and other dens of debauchery.

So, yeah, get them married.

There is just one small problem. What if one of the people involved here happens to be Muslim? Are you not facilitating their love jihad?

Of course, you could do the ghar wapsi ritual, thus nullifying the attempt at jihad.

Even so, there is another problem. What if the two people are not of the same caste? Since Muslims and Christians do not technically subscribe to a caste system, it is not clear to what caste their ghar wapsi will entitle them.

Let us assume that the Hindu partner in the couple is of one of the higher castes. If you start with the base level in conversion, you would essentially be fostering an inter-caste marriage. Surely, that is against our culture as well?

The only solution will be for the person who is converted to get a caste upgrade. Is there any provision for this in the ghar wapsi ritual?

My third doubt pertains to those criminal degenerates, whose horrific activities are kept at bay only by Section 377. Not only do they indulge in unnatural sex, but they are also allowed to escape marriage on Valentine’s Day through a loophole.

Your threat to marry off people of opposite sexes does not technically apply to lovers who belong to the same sex.

So, they will be celebrating this Western intrusion into our culture, without fear of having to worry about being married off.

Now, you have a choice between bringing them to book the way you would heterosexual couples, and discriminating against them. As you are aware, the last occasion on which proponents of various religions shared a platform for a cause was a protest against the decriminalisation of Section 377. Clearly, there is only one thing on which all our religions are agreed, and that is the idea that homosexuality is against Indian culture.

So, the question is, how will you resolve this issue?

Last of all, the basis of your protest is that “humans are not animals who can change partners at will”. However, science is dedicated to proving that humans are, indeed, animals. 

You would know this, since science has its roots in India, what with our ancestors inventing aeroplanes and cosmetic surgery and whatnot before the West got a whiff of the possibilities of science. Would we not be compromising on Indian culture by arguing against science, given that we are the pioneers of science? I mean, the Matsya Avatar sort of put humans and animals on the same platform, quite literally, eh?

As a proud Indian, I urge you to sort out all these loopholes.

Jokes on LGBT community just aren't funny


(Published in DailyO, on February 8, 2015, retrieved from http://www.dailyo.in/art-and-culture/jokes-on-lgbt-community-just-arent-funny-aib-roast-shankar-i/story/1/1909.html)

While most of the country is stewing over AIB – some are offended by the swearing, some are offended by those who claim swearing is offensive, and some are offended by the quality of humour it takes to get a standing ovation – I went to watch Shankar’s latest film I, which has caused a controversy over its portrayal of transgender people. As it happens, the film was no more offensive than the AIB Knockout, and its comic track was about as lowbrow.

That is to say, it is no more offensive to transgender people as it is to doctors, models, bodybuilders, makeup artistes, ad filmmakers, the disabled, the dark, the skinny, the obese, smokers, drinkers, men, women, medical science, the laws of physics, and really, any semblance of basic human intelligence.

What does worry me – and this is what worried me about the AIB Knockout as well – is that the audience appears to find the LGBT community hilarious; its members are the perfect target for mockery, meant to be ridiculed, and they are ‘good sports’ for taking it with a smile. As a stand-up comedian and humour writer, I personally believe that nothing ought to be considered sacred and beyond mockery. But, then, how many times is a Karan-Johar-won’t-admit-he’s-gay jibe funny? And how many times is a gay-men-have-anal-sex joke funny? Apparently, every time.

Fact: A lot of people who believe their sexual orientation is their business and no one else’s have been, and are being, pressured by both their fellow-homosexuals and the self-accredited liberal brigade to ‘come out’.

Fact: About as many gay couples have anal sex as straight couples.

Fact: Gay-rape jokes are as funny or unfunny as straight-rape jokes.

Fact: The majority of any audience, for a film or comedy show or theatre, will fall over itself laughing at stereotypes of LGBT individuals.

In Shankar’s I, the transgender makeup artist is played by Ojas Rajani, who is herself a transgender makeup artist. When she meets the hero, to give him a makeover, he and his friend mock her and dance around her. Shankar’s defence has been that this is faithful to reality. The hero is a bodybuilder who belongs to the lower-income group, and the milieu in which he would have grown up is the sort which would mock a trans-woman, he says. The trans-woman goes on to fall in love with the hero, despite his contempt for her, and decides to revenge his spurning of her advances by crippling him with a debilitating disease. Now, the realism of this particular sub-plot is barely an issue in a film where a dying man simultaneously fights off a bodybuilder and a male model played by Upen Patel.

However, there is a point of concern – not in the film, but in the audience’s reactions. A woman sitting a few seats away from me laughed so hard every time Rajani appeared on screen that she nearly keeled over. She was not the only one.

Shankar is not the first to portray the LGBT community as laughingstock.

Bollywood commercial cinema has had comedy tracks that revolve entirely around homophobia. There was the imbecilic Dostana; then, there was the even more imbecilic Happy New Year, where Anurag Kashyap and Vishal Dadlani play a gay couple who are worried about a leaked ‘sex tape’ that involves them dancing in corsets and feather boas.

Even Kamal Haasan, who has the reputation of being a ‘thinking actor’ – and director – has done his share of stereotyping. For some reason, he chose to play a Muslim posing as a Tam Brahm kathak exponent in Vishwaroop(am). For an equally incomprehensible reason, he had the dancer flapping his hands, and speaking in a high-pitched voice, and running on his tippy-toes to switch off the microwave. Because, guess what, this dancer is so effeminate, he makes the dinner, while his wife bitches about how gay he is.

Again, this had most of the audience in splits, during the show I watched. A group of young men started catcalling and making nasal noises every time Kamal Haasan’s character appeared on screen.

In Gautham Menon’s film Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu, where Kamal Haasan plays a cop who tracks down a pair of serial rapists and killers, he figures out that they are possessive of each other, and spits out, “Chi! What are you, gay?!”

The line drew its share of laughs, even applause.

No wonder, then, that the short film starring Randeep Hooda and Saqib Saleem in Bombay Talkies, was considered ‘sensitive’. Because even gay men hounding and assaulting and molesting each other is preferable to them dancing around in corsets.

First of all, the idea of ‘sensitive’ portrayals of members of the LGBT community is a patronising one. Sexual identity is not a disease. Portrayals can be intelligent, and they can be reductive, and they can be idiotic. But they can’t be ‘sensitive’.

Secondly, we need to think about whether these films are shaping the audience’s thinking – which is usually the allegation – or giving the mass what it wants.

If the latter is the case, and I suspect it is, the situation is far more disturbing. At a time when homosexuality and transsexuality are considered ‘unnatural’, and have been recriminalised, at a time when campaigns for the removal of Section 377 are being organised and ignored, the warped view a few people from the entertainment industry have is not the problem; the idea that this warped view is shared by the majority of Indians is the problem. Because sexual identity should not be an adjective. And to speak of someone as ‘a gay makeup artist’ or ‘a gay designer’ or ‘a gay actor’ is as ridiculous as portrayals of gay men dancing in corsets, and of lisping makeup artists calling everyone ‘dah-ling’. 

How to organise a successful Indian ‘roast’

(Published in Sify.com, on February 3, 2015, retrievd from http://www.sify.com/news/how-to-organise-a-successful-indian-roast-news-columns-pcdkIJahjifba.html)


Picture Courtesy: Sify.com



Want to notch up more than two million views on YouTube? Want to get lauded for ushering in a new era in India and Bollywood? Well, here’s your formula, in a few easy steps – and your jokes need never get more complicated than the average ‘Yo Momma’.

Prep:

First up, the setting is most important. Organise your event around several charities, so that you can justify the price of the ticket.

Second, ensure that you stage it in a city where the mutual back scratching culture is so deep-rooted that a standing ovation is an instinctive reaction to a curtain call.

Third, call in a celebrity host who is so important in the film industry that no one can afford to ignore an invitation, and no one can afford to be caught rolling his or her eyes at the camera. If he is a director who also hosts a talk show, and is used to gay jokes and casting couch jokes, all the better. If he is a director who stands to lose nothing irrespective of what he says about the people who depend on his big-budget films for launches, press coverage, relationships, and controversies, all the better-er.

Fourth, call in two dummy roastees, the kind who will lick the camera, scratch their heads, and shake their butts for the intro reel, and hump chairs and roll on the floor when they are insulted.

Constitute a panel that features friends of yours, and people with their own television shows. The more incestuous this panel is, the better for making fat jokes, black jokes, virgin jokes, ugly jokes, bald jokes, puns, and other elite forms of comedy that are central to this evening.

Populate the house with industry insiders, so that it looks like a knockoff version of a schoolroom version of the Academy Awards.

Also, watch the Academy Awards. A lot of them. These will be your chief source for Step 2 – and all the other steps, really.

Step 1:

Explain the term ‘roast’ to the audience, because this audience will need it.

Step 2:

As the most mundane, and most popular, award functions – such as those hosted by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler – show us, every ‘roast’ must begin with “X is here. Now, X has...”

When you have more people on stage than in the free seats, this tactic should kill a good deal of time. And as the people on stage as well as the people in the free seats are obliged to laugh at every jibe at them, this is a great way of warming up your audience.

Step 3:

Never underestimate the importance of naked jokes, fart jokes, anal sex jokes, and vaginal-anything jokes. They are nearly as crucial to a stand-up comedy event as fat jokes, black jokes, virgin jokes, gay jokes, and fat jokes – did I say ‘fat jokes’ before? Let me say ‘fat jokes’ again. It gets funnier every time.

Step 4:

When you’re not a professional stand-up comedian, and are not entirely sure of the audience’s IQ – despite the fact that everyone except the people who can afford it have paid Rs 4000 to watch you – and are not confident of its despair to laugh at anything (despite the fact that it has greeted a casting couch joke with a standing ovation), your best course of action is to make a self-deprecatory joke. Diss yourself, diss your show, or – and this is an excellent idea – go meta and diss the event itself.

Step 5:

On an audience that applauds a host who doesn’t know the difference between ‘uneducated’ and ‘illiterate’, a mixed metaphor like “skid-marks on the commode that is Bollywood” will work really well. And so will all toilet humour. Make a day of it.

Step 6:

Also take pot-shots at everyone you know in the audience. You need someone who has publicly dated more than two men, so that you can call her a slut; you need someone who is reputed to be dumb, you know, like Paris Hilton, so that she can be the target of all the Paris Hilton jokes you’ve recycled; you need someone who was, or is, fat – yes, in the audience as well as on stage. Fat jokes are very important. Have I said this? Well, fat jokes and black jokes. Black jokes about Indians. They are so important I’ll say it twice, or thrice.

Step 7:

Ensure that every person on the panel repeats the black jokes, fat jokes, virgin jokes, ugly jokes, gay jokes, bald jokes, and casting couch jokes that were cracked in the first five minutes.

If you feel compelled to follow a fat joke with another fat joke about the same person, do obey.

Just in case the audience laughs a little less the second time, convert your next fat joke into a chemo joke. It means pretty much the same thing, but there’s nothing like chemo to lighten the mood.

As funny on repetition as the fat joke and the black joke is the failed-twelfth-standard joke – it is particularly funny if the person in question failed around the time his parents were going through a divorce.

Another joke that never fails to work is 9/11. And ISIS. Ha ha. Those were the funniest things that have ever happened to the world. Avoid subtlety with these topics. You don’t want to do a Jim Jefferies and say something like, “If someone told me I couldn’t have alcohol and pork, hell, I’d fly a plane into a building”. Because, you know, an audience that gives every fat joke a standing ovation won’t get a punch line of that quality.

On the off-chance that the audience’s enthusiasm appears to wane a tad, throw in a swearword or two – nothing gets the Indian audience gasping for breath and falling off the seats like the word ‘fuck’. Except the word ‘choot’.

Then, go back to the fat jokes, black jokes, ugly jokes, casting couch jokes, gay jokes...did I say black joke? And fat joke?

Step 8:

Remember that in order for the roastees – who must compulsorily be nobodies – to take it all in good spirit, you must roast everyone else on stage, and only acknowledge them with the odd failed-twelfth-standard and you-so-slutty-you-gave-a-dildo-an-STD joke. That way, they will end up being the funniest people on the podium. To increase the feel-good factor, do say something ridiculous like, “You’re an inspiration to a generation” as you leave.

Step 9:

Ideally, keep all your jokes predictable, so that everyone knows what’s coming...you get the drift? An audience that has coughed up Rs 4000 a seat likes to know it got something right that evening.

When there is no laughter track provided, make sure you laugh at your own jokes, so the audience knows when each one is over.

Finally, see that the audience knows you’re carrying cue cards – the only thing funny about repeated jokes is the revelation that they were pre-planned

Once you do all this, rest assured that you will inspire an even lower grade of comedians, who are derivative enough to derive from you, and just maybe host a Kollywood roast.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Close encounters

(Published in The Friday Times, on January 30, 2015, retrieved from http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/close-encounters/)


Picture Courtesy: The Friday Times

Every time a bookshop closes in the city, it is a combination of tragedy, triumph, and guilt for the booklover.

It is a tragedy because no bookshop should close, ever.

It is a triumph because the kind of people who read books, who devour them, and relish them, and speak about them all the time, rarely make enough money to buy as many of them as they would like. Because, really, how could you ever put a figure on the number of books you need? And so, when the clearance sale begins, we watch the discount progress from fifty percent off, to seventy, to eighty, picking up more books at each step. And then, finally, when it hits ninety, we rush there, in silence, praying that we will get there before our fellow-readers. If you do manage to time it right, you walk away with some brilliant buys. And you know that every one of those books has found a loving home.

It causes guilt, because no one should feel triumph when a bookshop closes.

On the upside, the bad karma of feeling joy at paying thirty rupees for a book by J M Coetzee is partially offset by the good karma of treating that book the way it should be – you have rescued it from the recesses of a bookshop, the possible mildew of a go-down, the return to the publisher for pulping a damaged copy, or – worst of all – the hands of someone who makes dog-ears, and scribbles on the margins, and bends spines.

Also, your optimism is usually dampened by the sort of people you inevitably meet at these sales.

Recently, I spent less than five thousand rupees on ninety-eight books. I wasn’t counting. I filled three baskets, making two trips to my car with enormous plastic bags. It is a rare book you don’t want to buy even at a tenth of the cost.

But, despite spending three hours at the bookshop, my hair knotted firmly into a bun to stay off my face, my dupatta improvised into a towel, as I dug into piles of books and climbed the occasional shelf to reach the Ian McEwan I had spied between two John Grishams, I managed to hold several unsolicited conversations.

So, these are the categories of people I met:

The Vultures

They sense that you’re a good judge of books, the sort of person who will sniff out the wheat from the chaff. And so, they trail you, waiting for the odd book to fall out of one of your overloaded baskets.

“Are you not taking this?” they ask eagerly, pouncing on the book.

“I am!” you snarl, grabbing it back, flaring your nostrils and looking maniacally at the floor, searching for a book that just may have slipped while you were speaking to the vulture.

Some go so far as to try to distract you – “Hey, did you just drop a book?”

“No, I would have heard it fall,” you say, icily, daring him or her to come any closer to your loot.

The most decent breed of vulture comes up to you politely, and asks, “From which section did you get this book?”

“I don’t even remember,” you reply, usually honestly.

The Clueless-and-Unaware

These people think Jeffrey Archer ought, rightly, to have won a Nobel Prize.

They don’t recognise any of the names in your basket, but you look like you mean business.

“Tom Clancy is an excellent writer,” they tell you.

“Tom who?”

“Clancy. What are you buying? My Name is Red...what is it about?”

“The Nazis,” you reply.

They look at you, round-eyed. “What kind of book is it?”

“A murder mystery,” you reply, honestly.

“Where did you find it?”

The Clueless-and-Unashamed

These, I want to hit on the head with my basket. They’ve heard that there is a sale going on. The goods might just as well be sarees as books. All they care about is a good bargain.

So, they come up to you and ask you for your recommendations, since, you know, you’re struggling with two baskets, and wishing you had said yes to the last gymbo who asked you out.

“I don’t know...depends on what you read,” you say.

“I don’t read,” they reply, “but it’s ninety percent off...”

“Like your IQ.”

No book deserves to rot in their homes. These are, in all likelihood, the kind of people who scribble in the margins of borrowed books, and then lend them to other borrowers without permission from the original lender.

The Romeos

You know that stupid blog which was doing the rounds a while ago, that “Date a girl who reads” thing? So, some idiots decided to take it seriously, and decided to shop for girls who shop for books.

So, there you are with your baskets, trying to make sure their contents don’t spill over, even as you’re trying to jam a few more into them – yes, I’m aware that this reads like porn – and there stands the kind of man who reads blogs about dating girls who read, smiling benignly at you.

“So...uh...do you read a lot?”

That’s the sort of pick-up line you might expect from the kind of man who reads blogs about dating girls who read. And there is only one response.

“What? Me? No. These are just to throw at people who annoy me.”

Thursday, January 29, 2015

R K Laxman: He said it, when he said nothing

(Published in Sify.com, on January 28, 2015, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/r-k-laxman-he-said-it-when-he-said-nothing-news-national-pb2klcgjajcgg.html)


On January 26, 2015, we all felt the Common Man had died when we needed him most.

That very morning, for the three hours that the parade lasted – with its brilliant march pasts and garish floats, with its controversies about the Vice President’s salute and Barack Obama’s gum-chewing, with the image of Modi receiving the arriving guests in a splendid turban, quite like the father of the bride greeting the groom’s family in cars which he has organised – we had all been the Common Man, with an ironic eye and resigned smile.

Later that evening, the ailing 93-year-old cartoonist, who had drawn India through the eyes of the prototype of the aam aadmi for more than half a century, breathed his last.

I had one short encounter with R K Laxman, in 2005, when he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan. A rookie journalist at the time, I was assigned to do a telephonic interview with him.

I was terrified, partly because he had been a legend for decades before I was born, and partly because he was as famous for snapping at interviewers as he was for sending in his cartoons promptly, before 4:00 pm.

He agreed to the interview when I called him up, and said he would be free in an hour. I drew up a list of questions I should not ask – nothing about crows, nothing about how he thought of the Common Man, nothing about politics, and certainly not how he felt about the Padma Vibhushan.

When I called again, at the appointed time, he said, before I could ask anything, “Please don’t ask me how I feel about the award.”

“No, sir, I wasn’t going to,” I said, wishing I could see his expression.

“I don’t even know why all of you want to interview me,” he said, “I have said everything I need to say in the cartoons. Please ask people to go look at them.”

I laughed as he said it, and I thought I could detect a smile in his voice.

Again, he was right.

For, what had the Common Man not already said, with his signature raised eyebrows and pursed lips, his wisps of untamed hair, his Gandhi glasses, stolid dhoti and checked shirt?

In the confusion and surprise on his face, as he watched the rampant corruption that had begun to overrun our country, its perpetrators blind to the irony of it all, there was also hope. A shard of patriotism, a keen love for this country and all that it could be, shone through the brutal representations of all that it was.

Nothing escaped Laxman’s pen.

Whether it was specific issues such as the abolition of privy purses, the nationalisation of commercial banks, Jayprakash Narayan’s protest, the anti-Hindi agitation, and the excesses of the Emergency, or general issues like pointless foreign trips undertaken by ‘austere’ leaders, our proclivity to run to the UN and its agencies with a begging bowl, police violence, political about-turns, bribery, broken election promises, ridiculous security checks at airports, the propensity of politicians to ignore glaring truths while making optimistic speeches, American involvement in South Asia, and the grand failure of India to live up to the promises of a ‘tryst with destiny’, it was all in there.

And the tragedy of our nation, and the triumph of the cartoonist, is that they are still relevant today.

It has been more than fifty years since Laxman drew the famous cartoon of the wine shop perched on a hill, as the proprietor explains to the Common Man, “This is the only place which I could find which fits the rules – 250 feet away from any school, place of worship, hospital, S.T. stand, railway station, and so on.”

Who can forget his cartoon of Indira Gandhi being felicitated on the podium by Kamaraj, even as a stubborn Morarji Desai begins to sprint from the ‘Start’ line?

Who can forget his image of a politician quitting office, and saying, “No, no, now that I’ve stepped down, I won’t dream of using the official car”, favouring, instead, an enormous imported car parked by the side of an Ambassador rendered diminutive by comparison?

Looking through Laxman’s cartoons, we see how much remains unchanged. The rapid urbanisation, with no concern for its ramifications; its polar opposite, which is as dangerous – regressive policies in the guise of preserving our culture and roots; the arrogance and ignorance of politicians; the money stashed away in Swiss banks, which no one wants to bring back unless they are out of power...it all makes sense even today, down to his gentle mocking of the Republic Day floats.

There are parallels even to the specificities of forty years ago – a Mrs Gandhi tries to facilitate her son’s rise to power today; an idealistic party forgets to stop protesting even when it is in power today. The nepotism in government has not changed. The conditions of hygiene and poverty have not changed.

Yet, through all the seeming cynicism, there was a romantic – a man who continued to be surprised, his eyes round behind their glasses, his eyebrows raised, despite everything he had seen over the decades.

And, for all his seeming futility in the face of corruption, often a mere observer and at best an interlocutor, he was the symbol of people power, making a country laugh at the rulers who made fools of themselves.

This is why the Common Man is more enduring than his acerbic, talkative wife – because nothing was as powerful as the silence and bewilderment of this man, who, like Laxman, said it all, when he said nothing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Dear Justice Katju, please advise this unmarried woman!

(Published in Sify.com, on January 21, 2015, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/dear-justice-katju-please-advice-this-unmarried-woman-news-topnews-pbviRqccehijc.html)



Dear Justice Katju,

Unlike most of my ilk, I am a dedicated fan of yours. Every morning, I navigate to your Facebook page, and sometimes check out your blog, as much to keep up with your interpretations of literature, as to find out how I must live in this vile world.

Last month, I read with fascination your Facebook note Gay Relationships and Gay Marriages, and was moved to slow-clap when I came across your marvellous deconstruction of George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman.

Of course, I take it you’re aware of the number of children Shaw himself had. No doubt this overwhelming number, combined with the moral of his play Man and Superman, is proof of Shaw’s disapproval of homosexuality and homosexual marriages, which should be reason enough never to legalise them in India.

May the Life Force be with you, good sir, for that post immediately changed my perspective on life.

Inspired by your post, I was all set to “get hold of a man, not merely to make [me] pregnant, but also to look after [me] and provide for [me] financially while [I am] performing this role.”

Following your advice, I re-read Man and Superman, and watched Fatal Attraction, to fine-tune my mode of pursuit of young men. Unwittingly, I revealed my respect for you and your views on love, marriage, and sex.

And so, all the candidates I had shortlisted for the act of getting me pregnant, and looking after me financially, also read your post, enigmatically titled ‘Marriage’.

This has had a rather disastrous effect, as many of these men have begun to get wary of my pursuit, while others are confused.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m sure all the young men whom I know are charmed by the idea of my greeting them, and preparing a cup of tea for them after they get home from a hard day’s work. They are pleased at the idea that I will prepare good food for them.

However, one raised the point that this duty is just as well performed by the waiters at the restaurants we frequent on dates.

I, in turn, argued that you also suggest that they will have “someone to talk to, someone to take care of [them] when [they] are unwell”, but he said that that was what why he had a psychiatrist and family doctor, and so I was redundant.

When this question was posed to me by all my shortlisted suitors, I looked up your blog, and asked them to consider that I might want to “partake of their thoughts, worries, and aspirations”. That stuck for a while, but then one said that his thoughts, worries, and aspirations usually got a warmer response on Facebook. What can I do, I only have one ‘Like’ option at my disposal.

What has really done me in, though, is this line – “get love (and all that it entails), companionship and friendship.” Now, “all that it entails” is presumably either sex, or your translation of a Sanskrit sloka: "A woman is angry at one moment, happy at the next, angry again the moment thereafter, and happy again the next". 

Some of my suitors have now decided that I am too even-tempered to make a good wife. Indeed, I am too even-tempered to even be a woman.

Among those who remain, some tried following the advice you have to offer, from your 44-year experience of marriage. You said, “The way to handle your lady is to become mum when she [is] enraged, and wait till she is cool again. Thereafter you will find her very sweet and full of affection for you.”

Unfortunately, that is not the case with me. Kya karen, blame it on my being a columnist. When I find silence at the other end, in response to my rage, I get further enraged.

The other major problem your blog has caused in my pursuit of a suitable impregnator is your warning that “not all women are beautiful and wonderful”, and often the “very beautiful” ones have “terrible natures”, and can “make their husband’s lives hell”. You also suggested that “many plain or even ugly looking women who had such a good and kind nature that they made their husbands' lives heaven.” 

The prospective fathers of my unborn children are not sure to which of these categories I may belong.

So, some are checking with other people to see whether I qualify as very beautiful, plain, or ugly.

Others are trying to do a background check on me, but again, they are not sure what that entails.

The nail in the coffin of my grand marital and procreational plans was your suggestion that they should check my academic qualifications and work experience, since “in these days of high prices it may be necessary to have a working and earning wife”, to supplement their income in order to raise our “coming child or children”.

Some have asked me to send me my CV, which I can’t find, since I stopped working several years ago.

Some want proof that I received High Distinction or Distinction in each of my degrees – I am not sure whether this is with the intention of genetically engineering intelligent children, or channelling a good job.

One – and I must say he is the only suitor who is still vaguely interested in me – has suggested that the only way to ensure that I am working and earning, and also capable of greeting him with a smile, tea, good food, and conversation, while providing “love (and all that it entails)” is to become a geisha. Could you please guide me to a school that trains geishas today? Is it not against Indian culture? Or do you think we should look Eastwards for culture?

My training as a geisha is crucial, because, failing this, it appears I am doomed to remain single and become “prone to psychological problems”, as you kindly pointed out in your post about gay relationships.

For a moment, I considered getting a woman to live with me, so that I would not be single. Then, I remembered that “it is only sex between a man and a woman which will give birth to a child, not sex between a man and a man, or between a woman and a woman.”

And marriage which does not lead to the production of children is “humbug and nonsense”.

So, now, I am forced to choose between my sanity and my Life Force.

Please advise.

Hari Om.
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