Thursday, August 28, 2008

Stop Running Around With Glass Slippers!!!!

(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, dated 22nd August 2008)

"Can you believe I told him I was reading Orhan Pamuk, and he said 'oh, I've never heard of a book called Orhan Pamuk'???!!!!" said the traumatised woman, "and the worst part is, that wasn't even a joke!"

The speaker was an intelligent woman in her mid-twenties, who makes more money than most of her prospective husbands, has a trail of boyfriends behind her and with good reason. But unfortunately, she is also the oldest unmarried person on both sides of her family, and therefore her parents and most of her relatives are in a constant state of panic – for which reason, she has been meeting or speaking to prospective husbands whose wavelengths are so different from hers that each rendezvous could be converted into a Seinfeld episode.

I was talking to a friend of mine about the most successful women we know. Most of them either married late, or never married…um, maybe it would be more politically correct to say "are not married yet". But however much someone accomplishes, the world seems to think it is a call for pity that that person 'has everything, but is not married'. The men don't get off too easy either.

A friend in his forties, who loves his work, is very good at it, and changes girlfriends about twice as often as he gets his car serviced, worked his way into the list of things another friend wants to set right about the world. "What a waste of a brilliant, good-looking guy!" she sighed once, "he is so funny and makes more money than he can use, he has a job he likes, and he doesn't have anyone to come home to!"

"Well, he has someone to take out pretty often," I replied.

"No, no, all that's a reaction," she said, as convinced as married people are wont to be about the relationship curves of their unmarried friends, "if he had a home and a wife and kids, he wouldn't be a Casanova."

"Yeah, well, it would count as infidelity."

"You know the problem with unmarried people?" she said, miffed, "they don't know what they're missing out on! We have to introduce him to someone whom he can get married to."

Ironically, though, she also has the habit of telling people who are on the verge of marriage that they don't know what they're getting into, and it is not the same thing as a relationship, and takes much more sacrifice and willpower to get through. From my observation of marriages, at least the ones that have begun after the turn of the century, I think the best aphorism to sum them up would be:

All happy marriages are nonexistent; each marriage is unhappy in its own way.

And the reason? When Faust signed a deal with the devil, and Maugham's Lotus Eater decided to live out twenty-five years in Capri, the inalterable reality of their fate probably struck them as a romantic destiny, and their cavalier decisions were elevated in their minds to hamartia. But the truth is, if someone told you that you could have only one pair of shoes for the rest of your life, you're never going to be happy with the commitment until you make really sure they look lovely, are a perfect fit, go with everything you have, make everyone else envious and are way too good for you (and ideally, pliable to alteration or transmogrification if you wish it). Then again, those Manolo Blahniks Sarah Jessica Parker flaunts might just have you screaming for freedom from Faust's hellfires or Thomas Wilson's bankruptcy! So isn't it about time the world stopped running around with glass slippers, to speed up the Prince's journey to Cinderella??

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Flying Lama, Hidden Banner

(Published in Zeitgesit, The New Indian Express, dated 9th August, 2008)

"Guess what!” a friend who works on the international desk of a news channel said, excitedly, “China’s gone and put up missiles near its stadium!”

“Whatever for?” another friend said, languidly, “to shoot down flying lamas?”

Quite likely . If a country could brand arguably the most peace-loving man on earth as ‘A Dark Force’, they might be quite justified in thinking he was building an army of Shaolin monks fighting with light sabers, an ensemble that could inspire a new generation of George Lucas movies.

But what one can’t fathom is the purpose behind segregating specially designated zones for protestors. I mean, come on! Let’s get into the semantics of ‘protest’. Surely, it is quite clear that the intent is to draw attention to something — a purpose that could be achieved in more effective ways than by waving a white (or for that matter, red) flag in a little park, which is a few hundred kilometres from the Olympic venues.

True, these games were intended to be China’s platform to showcase its progress to the world. And thanks to the Tibetan agitation, its not-soprogressive ideas where humanism and tolerance were concerned ended up being showcased. The idea of special zones for protesters in the same country where the Tienanmen Square massacre took place could be interpreted in several ways.

Is it a host country going out of its way to prove its hospitality? ‘We know you’re trying to worsen our already dubious reputation where humanism is concerned, but you’re welcome to protest in this park’?

Does it have a slightly sarcastic twinge to it? ‘Well, so much for your worldwide agitation against us; everyone’s here at the opening ceremony and you can watch too!’

Or is the motivation more sinister? ‘Well, now that you’re all packed inside, we’ll show you what those missiles were intended for…’

What next? A special spot where all anti-China banners can be kept for display before going through the shredder the next day? A video game called ‘Need for Free’ (some grammatical errors may be excused in an English-as-second-language country) where you get to play the protester, racing against the cops? Or maybe another one called ‘Hu vs Dalai Lama’?

Perhaps India should take a leaf out of China’s book, too. With the Commonwealth Games due to take place in a couple of years, and the million reasons the billion of us have cause to protest, perhaps Delhi should be divided into special zones, where each cause can be championed.

One can so picture the home minister and sports minister standing on a podium and calling out in turns, ‘all those wanting to conduct marches on the reservation issue, step this side’, ‘people upset about inflation, this way, please’, ‘all those protesting against spiritual gurus, this side’, ‘all those holding dharnas on Jallikattu, this is your area’, ‘all those for gay rights, here’s where you can sit’, ‘everyone concerned about infanticide and foeticide, here’, animal rights activists, this way please’… well, you get the picture.

More than anything else, think of the focused manner in which the media (bloggers included) could report on these issues. There would be no running from pillar to post to locate which activist is to be found, or searching for news. You’d know in advance what you could cover for entertainment or food for thought. You could even vary it up a little bit so you cater to the various groups of your target audience.

And then again, think of all the money that would be saved on ‘junior artists’ every time a Bollywood director wants to show a whole lot of people protesting about some issue or the other. Perhaps the government should consider putting in a nominal charge for all those who want to get a peek of these protests too. Might just solve the inflation problem!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Spare me the Schemes, Main Course Will Do

(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, dated 26th July, 2008)

It was one of those unfortunate times when one member of the party has had a setback in his or her love life, another suggests it would be a good idea to drink and a third would rather go to a fancy restaurant than drink at home.

Now, let me not say anything more about the restaurant than that part of its name refers to a precious stone and the other half to a day of the week. So we’re sitting there, and we’ve just about ordered and sat back to tear relationships as a concept apart, when the waiter grins,
“ma’am, do you know about the membership programme?”

“Yes, I do, but I’m not keen at the moment.”

“Ma’am, actually, we have some new schemes.”

“See, let me see how long I’m going to be in Delhi, and then I’ll decide.”

“Ma’am, actually, we have some short-term schemes also.”

“Yeah…can I think about them and let you know?”

A stiff smile, and off he goes. We’ve just taken up our pitchforks and are spreading butter on the concept of relationships, and are just about ready to light the fire, when the Smiling Waiter makes a reappearance.

“Ma’am, here.” A laminated, A-4 sized card is thrust into my hands. “These are all our schemes.”
I tiredly thank him, and after a few minutes of his hovering about, say, “okay, I’ve had a look at them. Let me think about it and get back to you.”

Relationships as a concept have now roasted to a golden-brown, and we’re pouring fuel into the fire, quite warmed up to the idea of charring them and stamping on the remains when the Smiling Waiter plays phoenix.

“Ma’am, have you thought about it?”

“We’d like to order the main course, please.”

“Yes, ma’am, I’ll certainly take your order, but before that, would you like to take up the
membership? Because then I can offer you free drinks?”

“No, just the main courses please.”

“Ma’am, would you like to hear the schemes, again?”

“No, see, I’ve read them. Could we order the main course?”

“Ma’am, certainly, ma’am.” He takes the order, and then, “ma’am, see, your bill will be approximately three thousand. Now, a membership is four thousand, and you’ll get vouchers worth three thousand, and free drinks and for three people, you’ll get thirty-three percent off.”

How does he even know this treat is not on me???

“I would really appreciate it if you could bring the main course, please.”

“Ma’am, shall I register you as a member?”

“Let me think about it. Could you bring the main courses, please?”

“Yes, ma’am. Will you be taking up the membership?

“Let me think about it. Could you bring the main courses, please?”

“Yes, ma’am. One last offer from my side. Pay me thousand for the bill, I’ll write it off against your vouchers, and also give you free drinks.”

“See, the math doesn’t add up. I’m still going to be paying a lot more than the bill. Now, just the main courses, please?”

The Smiling Waiter gives me the kind of look people at Manolo Blahnik and Versace give you when you notice there is no price tag, on your first visit there in your Pepe jeans and export-surplus shoes, and tell them you’ll be back later.

The episode repeats itself after the main courses are brought, when the dessert order is being taken, and after the dessert is brought.

“Can I have the cheque, please?” I ask.

“Ma’am, your bill is three thousand one hundred and five rupees. If you pay me thousand now, I will register you as a member, give you drinks on the house and write off the bill against your three thousand rupees’ worth of vouchers!”

“Just the cheque, thank you.”

At which point the manager comes up to the table and asks, “ma’am, do you not come here that often?!”


“After this, we’re not!” my friend hisses to me.

The one thing that salvaged my mood that evening was that the only tip I left the waiter was an unspoken one – “do NOT harass your customers!”
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