Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Clique of the Frowny Baba

(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, on 14th November, 2009)

“So why aren’t you doing the yoga-meditation course?” has apparently been the most-used sentence over the past few weeks in most corporate offices where I have sources.

The one industry that has benefited from the effects of recession is what one future legend (on whose proposed life and work I will shortly elaborate) calls the ‘pop philosophy jingbang’. As layoffs continue across the board, and the corporate world firmly persists in the belief that the recession is not over despite the stocks looking greener on the other side of the globe, the survivors of these layoffs are beginning to show symptoms of hypertension, disillusionment and premature aging.

And rather than hike up the salaries of these bedraggled survivors, corporates are spending huge amounts of money on new age gurus who are hired to impart the art of leaving gracefully, hyperventilating smoothly and dealing with being forced to assume embarrassing positions. While those who’ve not cut sorry figures yet aspire to sinewy ones, having foregone meaty paycheques, some of us who aren’t interested in aspirating techniques have been chalking up our own recession plans.

I happened to mention to a group of my friends in the media that I intend to become a disburser-of-secrets-to-a-peaceful-life when I have enough grey hairs on my head to pull that off. It turned out every one of them nursed this PoA. While we were making wisecracks about The Art, The Secret and The Hackneyed Phrase (“When you want something, the entire universe conspires yadda-yadda-yadda”), the Future Legend coined the phrase ‘pop philosophy jingbang’.

“Oh my God, he is perfect Baba material!” I said, to which The Mastermind of Our Clique said “yes, yes, he can just sit and frown. Now, all we need is a good name for him and for us.” After a few moments of deep contemplation, The Mastermind pronounced, “Frowny Baba” and then came up with the tagline, “Just have a brownie, baba.”

Our group, which goes by The Brownie Clique, has decided to conduct special courses on The Art of Leaving, and will cater exclusively to disillusioned-or-sacked corporate workers. (Our recently-laid-off former marketing-consultant-friends have told us that an exclusive mass audience is integral to the success of any venture.) The course will comprise three crucial components:

· Inhaling (smoke): the Frowny Baba will teach inductees into the course how to maximise the effects of a single cigarette (whose prices haven’t reduced despite a large percentage of consumers having been relieved of their corporate responsibilities).

· Forgetting (oneself): the Frowny Baba will send out teams of inductees to search out the cheapest and most effective brands of alcohol available. Inside information has indicated these liqueurs are known by the names of the gangs that brew them in little known jungles. Some of these brands are also known to expedite one’s passage into one’s next birth and a new life.

· Yo! Gah! : the Frowny Baba will induct signees into The Brownie Clique’s mantra. The “Yo!” and the “Gah!” are the two most used expressions when one is watching television. The first of these is usually used when someone gets in the way, while the second is most often used at the beginning of an ad break. Both are known to be very effective in relieving stress.

But our followers must keep in mind that consumption of water interferes with the destruction of the liver that is the aim of our Forgetting (oneself) component and therefore will be prohibited. And to state the obvious, all food except brownies is contraband in the Clique’s soon-to-be-established sprawling premises. For the moment, we are using our Facebook farms.

(With special thanks to The Mastermind, who will go by the name of Abhinav Sahay until his impending success, and Frowny Baba, who will stay anonymous by decree of our branding team.)

Sunday, November 01, 2009

"Where Do You See Yourself Five Years From Now?"

It's the one question I've always wanted to hate. But it's hard for me to hate things, because I usually find the things I want to hate so hilariously stupid, they end up being funny. Yeah, from my last ex-man...umm, I'm not sure the macho gender fits because it was so effeminate it once confessed "sometimes I feel like the chick in this relationship" to which I couldn't stop myself from saying "yeah? What's that like?"... to colleagues who've got on my wrong side to women who flirt with the object of my affection to Harry Potter, my hatred turns into amusement somewhere along the way.

I've been at enough job interviews and scholarship interviews and university entrance interviews to be asked that one question that is the holy grail of all HR theorists, hundreds of times.

I've come up with a series of innovative and impressive answers to where I saw myself five years from now, for a couple of decades now. (Yes, of course there were these people who would pinch my obese cheeks and ask if I wanted to be an engineer like Daddy or a doctor like Mummy or a lawyer like Patti.)

Every single time, I've been wrong. Hell, how do I know where I see myself five years from now when I'm not sure what's around the corner a month from now? When I was trying to deal with a radio show host whom no one else in the station would work with, did I think I would end up about seven thousand kilometres away from her tantrums and receiving an award for my documentary a few months later? When I decided to humour this effeminate dude right before I left for Delhi, did I think it would write me the most ridiculous poem I've had the misfortune to read? When I finally dumped the effeminate dude in the middle of its temper tantrum about four months after I began to wonder what it was doing in my life, did I think I would meet someone who would make it impossible for me (me who has always preferred long-distance relationships) to leave a city that didn't have a beach?

I've not known when the most painful, most hilarious and most wonderful parts of my life were round the corner or about to slip into my past.

But there's always been an urge in me to leave something of me in this world before I moved on. Most people see that as the motive force to have children, but as a wise man once said, progeny are not so much the assertion of one's will to live on as the insistence of life on asserting itself. I myself was never keen on having children until about a year ago. The somethings of me I always wanted to leave behind then, are the brainchildren I dream of - the ones I keep cocooned in my head, nurse into birth and spill out on paper. I long to dress them up in thick sheets of printed paper and hard-bound covers with blurbs and praise all over them.

My fear of death has less to do with the manner in which I will die and my emotions at the moment of death than the work I will leave undone. The idea of a photograph in an obituary column in place of the tributes in edit pages and mournful news bulletins, would be the realisation of this fear of death.

In the race to do something that will make me ready to die at any moment without feeling that fear, I feel another fear creeping up on me. Do I have the confidence, at this moment, now, to go the distance? Can I create that perfect brainchild that will speak for me long after I am gone? That brainchild in whom people who know me will see me, and people who don't will imagine me?

The answer came to me last night, while I was talking about it to someone I fondly think of as Superman. Perhaps it is these moments of doubt that are the birth pangs of that brainchild. Perhaps it is only after the scum of the earth have seeped into your life that you recognise the best things in the world when they happen to you. Perhaps it is only after your confidence has been shaken that you find the energy to prove yourself. Long before Barack Obama made it a cliche, some of us knew "Yes, we can" every day of our lives. Some of us took it for granted that "Yes, we would." Some of us grew up knowing we could never be mediocre. Perhaps it is only when we feel the pull of mediocrity that we can resist with our true strength.

Isn't that what happened to Kal-El?

A Convenient Truth

(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, dated 31st October, 2009)

There are some of us left, in this world that could end by 2012, who wish it would survive long enough for people to learn to nurture their neuroses rather than pour out their deep, dark confessions in an inexhaustible flow.

We don’t have roommates because we can’t bear to listen to them crib about boyfriends and parents. We start blogs in an effort to reduce human-to-human verbal contact. Our status on gtalk is nearly always ‘Invisible’. We were among the last to buy mobile phones and convert most of our incoming calls to messages that read, “Sorry I missed your call. Was in the shower. At a friend’s party now, text me if it’s important?”

Oh, we never go to parties, and Havana, Dublin and Q-BA are geographical names to us.

But to the world, we also have a titular moniker – “the good listeners.”

We never talk, and so we’re always called out to coffee breaks during office hours, so our colleagues can whine uninterrupted about their husbands, children, jobs, pimples, eyebrows, hair fall, receding hairlines, unrequited love etc..

Our best displays of uninterestedness have quite the opposite effect.

Display of uninterest: “I’m sorry, what?”
Response: “Yes, can you believe that! You heard right, he actually said that!”

Display of uninterest: (Makes poor attempt at hiding elaborate yawn and mumbles “sorry”)
Response: “I’ve been having hiccups all morning too. That means someone is thinking of you! Whom do you think it could be? In my case, it’s…”

Display of uninterest: (Begins detailed study of contours on the back of own palm.)
Response: “Oh, you do that too? You know, they say you can always tell a woman’s age by studying the back of her palm. And in our industry, it’s so important to look young. You know, but once, someone thought…”

And it spills over to the phone. Where most normal human beings’ unnatural silence would prompt enquiries as to the strength of the signal, disturbance on the line, soundness of one’s hearing etc. etc., the reticence of the “good listeners” is simply a foil to the outpourings of the interlocutor’s soul.

What’s even more annoying than the mega-serial-like histrionics of an interlocutor’s personal life is a ball-by-ball update of the subtle changes in the environs of the interlocutor.

There are these Compulsive Interlocutors who watch their phones like mousetraps. You send them a text apologising for not being available, and the next thing you hear is a ring.

“Hiiiiii! You’ve been ignoring me!” says the Compulsive Interlocutor.

“With good reason,” you reply, only half-ironically.

“Oh, I have so much to tell you. Yesterday…oh, Anjana has bought a new mobile phone. Anjana! Anjana!!! Come here…it’s kind of like mine, but you know, I think it’s a different colour…oh my God, they’re bringing new chairs into the office…show me your mobile…yeah, it’s kind of like mine, but it’s a different colour…let’s compare the…”

“Hey, why don’t you compare your panels and call me back later?”

“No, no, hang on a sec, I’ll get my hands free on…I’m talking to Nandini, and she’s getting irritated because I’m carrying on a parallel conversation…why do you think they’re bringing new chairs?...Yeah, the panel is different…”

But the magnitude of the problem struck me only recently, when a hitherto not-too-solicitous colleague texted me an enquiry as to whether I’d reached my vacation spot safely, and the statuses of my personal health and the health of my family.

My reply was followed by “Miss u a lot. Bad day @ ofc.”

It was at that moment that I took a stand for all Good Listeners across the world and texted back, “Don’t worry about office. Unhealthy to think about it when you’re away.”

The reply was a historical triumph: “Ya, u rt. Swtch off ur fone and relax.”
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