Thursday, September 29, 2011

No More Pesky Calls: It's the End of an Era!

(Published in Sify.com, on 29 September 2011, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/no-more-pesky-calls-it-s-the-end-of-an-era-news-columns-lj2x3Eghici.html)




(Picture Courtesy: Sify.com. Unauthorised use of this image is prohibited.)


It was with mixed feelings that I read the newspapers on 27 September, 2011. Not only will we know which calls are telemarketing ones, we get paid if we accept any after blocking them.
However, I wasn’t exempt to a sense of nostalgia, as I recalled how often I’d let off steam on ‘nuisance callers’. And, when they persisted in calling despite instructions to strike my name off their list, how I put them off permanently.
It usually happened when I was asleep in the mid-afternoon, right after getting back home from my night shift. My phone wasn’t on silent mode, just in case there was an emergency and someone needed to reach me.
The only ‘emergencies’ came from telemarketers. I have too many fond memories to reconstruct in their entirety, but here are some of my favourites.
‘I really need that pre-approved loan!’
Telemarketer: Madam, based on your account transactions, we have pre-approved a loan for you, up to...
Me: Really? Really? Tell me, how much?
Telemarketer: Ma’am, actually...
Me: Pre-approved means you don’t need collateral, right?
Telemarketer: Yes, ma’am. Ma’am...uh...
Me: Oh, thank God, thank God! I’m so happy to hear from you! Can you give me your details immediately? You know, I just lost my job today, and I have so many loans to repay!
Telemarketer: Uh, ma’am, actually...
Me: You know, my whole family needs this! The US bank at which my sister works just closed down! Okay, quickly, give me your details!
Telemarketer: Ma’am, uh...ma’am, actually, I’ll just check up on the schemes and call you back with...uh, with the ones that are best suitable, ma’am. (sic.)
Me: But, please call, ok? My life depends on this call! Seriously!
Telemarketer: Umm, yes, ma’am, surely, ma’am.
Click.
Español Roto
Me: Hello?
Telemarketer: Hello, ma’am, actually I’m calling from…
Me: Si?
Telemarketer: Ma’am, actually…
Me: No hablo inglés.
Telemarketer: Sorry, ma’am?
Me: No hablo inglés ¿Puedo posible hablar en español roto?
Telemarketer: Sorry, ma’am? I cannot able to understand you. (sic.)
Me: No hablo inglés ¿Puedo posible hablar en español roto?
Telemarketer:  Uh, sorry, ma’am.
Click.
‘Do I sound like a “ma’am”?’
Me: Hello?
Telemarketer: Hello, ma’am.
Me: Excuse me?
Telemarketer: Ma’am, I’m calling from...
Me: Did you just say ‘ma’am’?
Telemarketer: Ma’am, yes, ma’am...
Me: Do I sound like a ‘ma’am’ to you?
Telemarketer: Uh, sorry, ma’am?
Me: I’m a sir, damnit!
Telemarketer: Oh! Uh, sorry, sir.
Me: You think I sound like a ‘ma’am’?
Telemarketer: No, ma’am. I mean, sorry, sir, no, sir, definitely not.
Me: Are you sure?
Telemarketer: Yes, ma’am...I mean, yes, sir.
Me: But you said ‘ma’am’, again!
Telemarketer:  No, sir, sorry, sir.
Me: Give me your name and number immediately. I want to make a complaint with your employer.
Click.
‘Do you have those movies?’
Telemarketer: Hello, ma’am, I’m calling from XY mm DVD rental store...
Me: You rent out DVDs?
Telemarketer: Yes, ma’am...
Me: Okay, quickly, do you have those movies?
Telemarketer: Ma’am, we have movies, ma’am.
Me: No, quickly, tell me, do you have those movies? That type of movies?
Telemarketer: Ma’am, we have every type of movies, ma’am.
Me: Hush, softly. I don’t want every type. I want that type.
Telemarketer:  Which type, ma’am?
Me: You know what I mean. I want to come pick them up. In exactly 10 minutes. Keep them ready, ok? I’ll send someone. He’ll say type to you. Hand them over quickly.
Telemarketer: I’m sorry, ma’am, what type of movies?
Me: That type. I can’t say it over the phone, man! Is this conversation recorded?
Telemarketer:  Ma’am?
Me: Oh, God! Can you give me that type or not? I really need that type of movies!
Telemarketer: Uh, sorry, ma’am, we are not having any type you’re looking for, ma’am.
Click.
‘Do you know what time it is?’
Telemarketer: Ma’am, I’m calling from...
Me: Is this a telemarketing call?
Telemarketer: Uh, ma’am, actually I’m calling from...
Me: You’re costing me five dollars a second, tell me right now!
Telemarketer: Yes, ma’am, yes, ma’am!
Me: Do you know where I am? I’m on roaming in the US, and it’s 3 am right now!
Telemarketer: Uh, sorry, ma’am. Very sorry, ma’am. Good night, ma’am.
Click.
‘Do you know whom you’re speaking to?’
Telemarketer: Is that Nandini?
Me: What did you say?
Telemarketer: Hi, Nandini, I’m calling from...
Me: Do you know whom you’re speaking to, missy?
Telemarketer: Sorry, Nandini?
Me: You just addressed the Telecom Minister of your country by her first name, missy!
Telemarketer: Ma’am?! I’m so sorry, ma’am!
Me: And I’m in a meeting with the Honourable Prime Minister. How dare you disturb me now?
Telemarketer: Very sorry for the disturbance, ma’am.
Me: Why are you speaking in English? Say Jai, Hind!
Telemarketer: Jai Hind, ma’am!
Click.
‘Ayman Eedyat’
Telemarketer: Ma’am, am I speaking to Nandini Krishnan, ma’am?
Me: No, my name’s not Nandini.
Telemarketer: Oh, ma’am, it says here...
Me: Are you saying I don’t know my own name?
Telemarketer: Sorry, ma’am, please tell me, what’s your name?
Me: Can you take it down?
Telemarketer: Yes, ma’am
Me: A-Y-M-A-N...
Telemarketer: Yes, ma’am?
Me: E-E-D...
Telemarketer: Yes, ma’am?
Me: Y-A-T.
Telemarketer: Ma’am, A-Y-M-A-N, E-E-D-Y-A-T?
Me: Yes...can you read that aloud, please?
Telemarketer: Ay-man eed-yat?
Me: Yes, you are.
Click.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I Root for the Speedy Singhs



(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, dated 27th September, retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/entertainment/reviews/speedy-singhs/317851.html)







Cast: Vinay Virmani, Anupam Kher, Rob Lowe, Camilla Belle, Russell Peters, Noureen DeWulf
Director: Robert Lieberman
Rating: 4 stars
We all know what happens in a feel-good move about a sports team – a bunch of people passionate about a sport (but who suck at it) get together, and the underdog emerges victorious thanks to the coach, a man whose promising career withered away thanks to his tragic flaw – injury, scandal, or ego. But unlike Bend it Like Beckham and Chak de India, this movie’s not about a team of tomboyish girls with short hair, but manly men with long hair. Well, mostly. And no one on the team falls for the coach. Too bad for gay rights.
So, the freshness of the movie rests entirely on the presentation, sub-plot and humour. And Speedy Singhs scores on all three counts. Within the framework of its formula, the story is truly original. Yes, the family does not understand the game or their child’s obsession with it, and things will only change when the Indianness of it all hits them. But the specifically Indian stigma of a son who drops out of college and can’t stick to a job because it bores him is sure to strike a chord with the audience. And in a desi production, no one plays the NRI father trying to hold on to his roots better than Anupam Kher.
However, the clash of cultures and impact of racism do not come across as strands forced into the picture. They seem incidental, part of the fabric of the story. In this particular case, the issue is not so much racism, as perception of the ‘other’. And, for once, the question of identity is not a typical NRI dilemma. Anyone who’s been to school anywhere in the world has witnessed or taken part in the bullying of kids with thick glasses, fat stomachs and/or turbans. The child actor who plays the protagonist’s brother in Speedy Singhs does a wonderful job in his role, transitioning easily from cheery and boisterous to lonely and depressed.
Where humour’s concerned, it plays out like Loins of Punjab Presents meets Delhi Belly, with a side-serving of Harold and Kumar. Russell Peters plays Sonu, the despicable fiancé of Reena (Noureen DeWulf), the cousin of Rajveer Singh (Vinay Virmani). His run-ins with Rajveer provide for some great repartee. He slips in his regular stand-up routines, complete with exaggerations of racial stereotypes. They’re rather funnier on celluloid because, with actors taking the place of a live audience, the target doesn’t have to grin and bear it. But the wit does not hinge on Peters. The situational comedy and the one-liners, especially the asides in Hindi and Punjabi, will make you double up.
The cast of the movie, largely comprising first-time actors, is well-chosen. The actors are spontaneous, making the dialogues sound natural, and the screenplay facilitates both timing and content delivery. Sample this:
She’s so hot, yaar.
But she’s not your type.
What’s my type?
Inflatable.
The impromptu song-and-dance dream sequences make you think, “Whatever the makers of this movie were on when they shot this, I want two of those.” The closing song, featuring Ludacris and Akshay Kumar alongside the rest of the cast, gets you grooving in your seat.
Speedy Singhs makes you well up a couple of times, though you’re cracking up far more often. Some may find the special appearance of Akshay Kumar, and the effect his words in the movie-within-a-movie have on the main character, contrived. But taking into account the glamour Bollywood holds for the desi audience, and the fact that something someone says could well assume significance when you’re looking for a signal, I think it works.
And if none of the above is enough reason for you to go watch Speedy Singhs, try this – chances are that you’ve never seen Anupam Kher knotting up his long hair into a turban before.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Mausam kharaab hai, but don’t miss it!


(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, dated 26 September, 2011)

Cast: Shahid Kapur, Sonam Kapoor, Supriya Pathak, Anupam Kher
Director: Pankaj Kapur
Rating: 3 stars
Mausam had me at the trailer. Shahid Kapur sporting teen mousche and Tom Cruise aviators, Sonam Kapoor dancing ballet with kathak hands, and the Indian Air Force unwillingly dragged into the mix...a must-watch.
The movie opens with a disclaimer: “The Indian Air Force sequence is a work of fiction and may not represent the actual working of the Air Force.” One hopes. Fervently. Because later in the movie, Shahid Kapur describes the anatomy of a fighter jet to three serious-looking Squadron Leaders, hours before they set out to capture Tiger Hill. Minutes before they hop into their cockpits, he asks, almost as an afterthought, “did you check the fuse on the bombs?” He also drives a bike with a Punjab registration number in the middle of an airfield near Drass, but never mind.
Now, this is the story of love at first sight between a Kashmiri Muslim girl, Aayat, and a Punjabi Sikh boy, Harinder ‘Harry’ Singh. Complicated, right? Uh, no. Surprisingly, both families are happy in the knowledge that their future child-in-law is a good person, and doesn’t drink. Aww. So, where’s the conflict? After three hours of watching the two trace and miss each other across several countries, my conclusion is – they’re just bad at keeping in touch.
When the movie begins, and until a little after Sonam appears, you’re laughing with it. By the time it ends, you’re laughing at it. With his boyish cheeky appeal, winning smile and goofy friends, Shahid Kapur sets the pace at the start. All the other ingredients are in place – the Punjabi patriarch, the malfunctioning car, the silly politician, the dutiful son, the buck-toothed single aunt who beats up her nephews at the least provocation, and a roomful of turbaned little boys. Even the slapstick sequences are artfully choreographed, and will have you guffawing.
Enter Aayat, the daughter of a man who will save his Kashmiri Pundit friend from the militancy that’s just broken out – oh, yeah, it’s 1992 – even at the cost of his own life. She spends the next two and a half hours of our lives – and the next ten of hers – alternating between burkhas and cleavage-showing tank tops.  Yep, the movie lasts ten years and beyond. It takes us through Ayodhya, the Bombay Blasts, Kargil, 9/11, and just when you begin to anticipate Mumbai 2008, it stops at Gujarat 2002.
So, where were we? Yes, Aayat. Among her other talents is positioning herself at the window such that her right profile is displayed when she does namaaz, irrespective of which part of the world she is in. Inexplicably, everyone in her family does namaaz at different times, and facing different directions. She’s proficient at writing Devanagari, despite having lived in Kashmir all her life. She also has a penchant for dipping Harry’s handwritten notes in water, which no one in the movie hall quite got the logic of. And she makes orgasmic noises every now and again – apparently, that’s how she wakes up from a bad dream. Another quirk is that she paints her lips scarlet whenever she wants to kiss Harry.
Harry falls in love – a sequence that begins with him falling back on sheaves of wheat, and is a callback to the nineties. You’ve been with the movie thus far, so you wonder whether it’s parodying the genre. Turns out it’s not. Only Shahid Kapur’s considerable talent for underplaying a character saves the montage. Then, you wonder why Sonam wears the same white dress and red sweater throughout the song, which takes place over several days. Turns out she’s in school. Yeah, right.
Without bigots in the picture, we must depend on political events to intervene. And they send Aayat to Punjab, Bombay, Scotland, Punjab, Ahmedabad, US, Switzerland, Punjab and Ahmedabad. They send Harry to Scotland, Rajasthan, Kargil, Punjab, Switzerland, Punjab and Ahmedabad. And every time the two meet, the scriptwriters throw in a couple of lines about religion, as if to remind themselves that communal harmony could become a sub-plot if the need arises.
Well, fast-forward to Scotland, where Sonam’s doing all right with the accent, till she begins to sell tickets for “twontty pounds”. And this is where the movie starts going downhill. Aayat and Harry reunite at a silent lunch where they read each other’s minds. Harry leaves with Aayat’s handkerchief, which he sniffs regularly, grossing the audience out. Aayat takes one ballet class, before the camera cuts to a ballroom dance right out of the early twentieth century, seemingly for no better reason than to let the audience watch Sonam try to avoid stepping on the more graceful Shahid’s toes. Shahid’s character has become Squadron Leader Harinder Singh, within seven years of registering for training in the armed forces – and in peace time too. As if to make up, he doesn’t get any more promotions, despite his heroics in the Kargil War.
Aside from the fact that Harry doesn’t race trains with a cycle a la Anil Kapoor, the movie’s fidelity to reality also comes through in the failure of the village-belle-who-once-loved-Harry to want to unite him with his one true love. Its other positives are good music, lovely cinematography, and Anupam Kher, five of whose eleven lines are funny.
But the movie has more to offer – the thrill of watching a partially disabled pilot rescue animals from burning fields and babies from Ferris Wheels, even as he and his girlfriend tear off each other’s clothes to douse their fires (I’m not being metaphorical); the image of a happy family walking off into the sunset after a riot, complete with a white horse; the sight of a pregnant woman catwalking as she protectively clutches the lopsided bundle around her middle; the same woman – now with abs– jiving, gyrating and slow dancing to bhangra at a discotheque, soon after delivery (Don’t worry about the baby, there’s an Aunty on hand to relieve her of it every time she wants to molest her husband); dialogues that beg to be spoofed.
So, go with a gang of friends, and entertain the audience with the best asides you can come up with.

Abduction Keeps You on the Edge...In More Ways than One


(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, dated 26 September, 2011)

Cast: Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins, Alfred Molina, Jason Isaacs, Maria Bello, Sigourney Weaver, Michael Nyqvist
Director: John Singleton
Rating: 3 stars
If you want to make a movie that knits together the love story of a commitment-phobic teenager and the girl next door whom he made out with four years ago with an adrenaline-pumping catch-me-if-you-can, you’re best off picking a teenager from the Twilight franchise to star in it. Taylor Lautner does what he does best – stare at a distant object, frown in confusion, breath heavily, spit out his words, and grab his chin consciously in a gesture apparently indicating thoughtfulness.
Abduction begins deceptively, like a regular teen movie. There’s the black kid who thinks his white friends are too mainstream, and wants to show them some underground. Naturally, he’s the guy who’ll steal cars, make fake IDs, and fix passes to the baseball game of the year, all for a good cause, when the need arises. Oh, no, Hollywood can’t be deemed racist till Morgan Freeman stops playing God. Well, and there’s the black kid’s white friend Nathan, who’s on the wrestling team, looks like he drinks steroids every morning, and gets into fights all the time.
When Nathan wakes up half-naked on a lawn after a party, and his furious dad picks him up and challenges him to a boxing match, you think “no wonder this kid goes to the shrink.” Turns out Nathan has other issues too. He has a recurring dream about a woman being attacked by a masked man, and he feels he doesn’t belong at the breakfast table. Screwing up his face as if he’s trying really hard to remember his lines, Lautner pronounces that he wonders who the people sitting across from him are.
Even as his psychiatrist helps him work through his rage issues, Nathan finds something that convinces him his parents are not his parents – his picture on a website carrying details of missing children. After discussing this with the girl next door, and trying to contact the agency that runs the website, he turns to his black friend, who obviously knows all about computers and technology, and figures out that his baby pictures have been morphed.
And as the film’s poster promises, the fight for the truth becomes the fight of his life. Before you know it, the CIA and Russian-speaking intelligence guys (but of course!) who fake fingerprints at the airport are trying to get at Nathan.
As he fights them off trains and plunges into forests with his now-girlfriend in tow, Nathan finds enough time for retrospective. Not the brightest crayon in the box to start off with, he finally figures out that his dad wasn’t so much a freak, as a trainer preparing him for his big day. His girlfriend Karen (Lily Collins) also decides that it’s the right time to confront him about why he didn’t ask her out after they kissed at a family outing in eighth grade. Then, they find some time for the good old nice-nice while fending off the bad guys.
To its credit, and unlike many of its genre, the movie doesn’t overload you with suspense to the extent you lose interest and decide you’ll just look up the Wikipedia entry once you get home. Every now and again, discussions between the CIA and the Russian spies give you a little bit to go on. And most of it gets undone at the next twist. By the end, you’re about as paranoid as Nathan, and have no clue whom to trust. The climactic scene and the denouement soon after are neatly orchestrated, and for once, an action thriller sidesteps the cliché of mush at the end. Despite the presence of Russian bad guys, there’s no torture sequence, so yay for that.
There are times when you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat. And others when you find yourself at the edge of your patience (“I mean, guys, you want to make out now? Get a room once you’re done saving your lives, for God’s sake!”)  Thankfully, one-liners that are designed to sound clever, but never elicit more than a groan in a thriller, have been largely avoided.
The movie’s not particularly different from the others of its ilk, and the acting isn’t any better than you can expect from an action thriller. But chances are that it will hold your attention through its entire duration.

The Zookeeper: You'll Find More Entertainment in Bungee Jumping

(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express on 24 September, 2011, retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/entertainment/reviews/the-zookeeper/316989.html)





Cast: Kevin James, Leslie Bibb, Rosario Dawson, Donnie Wahlberg, Joe Rogan, Nat Faxon, Ken Jeong
Voice cast: Nick Nolte, Sylvester Stallone, Adam Sandler, Cher, Jon Favreau
Director: Frank Coraci
Rating: 2 stars
You know there’s something tricky about marrying a rom-com along the lines of Some Kind of Wonderful to a kiddy movie along the lines of Dr Doolittle. And you know it isn’t working when it begins to remind you simultaneously of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.
The movie has a promising cast. Well, Kevin James is promising in just about anything. But despite his knack of turning stupid into endearing, even he can’t do much to lift an inept storyline. He plays the zookeeper Griffin, who’s dating the ravishing Stephanie (Leslie Bibb), who dumps him because he’s a zookeeper. We’re not sure whether it has to do with the state of his bank balance, or the aroma of his workplace.
Five years later, Griffin – whom you guess has got over a breakup and moved on – is shown to be the awesomest zookeeper ever, but apparently single and miserable. When he spots his old flame at a pre-wedding party, he has an epiphany – “Whoopsie! This is why my life sucks. I’ll win her back, and it’ll all be all right!” Inexplicably, Stephanie, for all her sexiness, is still unmarried. But she has a snooty boyfriend Gale (Joe Rogan), who’s designed to tick you off.
Next comes the dilemma. “Now, how do I win back a girl who doesn’t like me because I’m a zookeeper, when my brother runs a luxury car dealership? Heyyyy! Wait a minute! Let me quit as a zookeeper, and start work at the dealership! Whaaa, why didn’t I think of this five years ago?”
And then comes the conflict. The animals adore Griffin, and are loath to let him go. So, they decide to help him win over Stephanie by unleashing their terror on zoo visitors to make him appear the life-saving hero. What happens next is a precursor of what happens for the next hour and a half – Griffin screams, falls, pounces, dives, rolls and makes a fool of himself.
The animals decide to take charge, and break their golden rule – never talk to humans – by teaching Griffin their mating techniques. The lioness has a tip that will turn out to be the crux of the movie – to make a female jealous, date another female.  And so, Griffin approaches Kate (Rosario Dawson), whose beauty is camouflaged by a simple ponytail – shampoo ad, anyone? – and asks her to his brother’s wedding.
Meanwhile, the social misfit finds companionship in a cynical misanthrope – well, we’re talking about a gorilla here – who gives him such good advice that he ends up having to choose between two hot chicks – well, the human kind.
The problem with the story, aside from the fact that it’s about as predictable as Lagaan, is that you can’t figure out what age it’s intended for. You don’t want to be taking your kids to a movie where talking animals discuss marking territory and displaying genitalia. You probably don’t want to introduce your children to smoking, drinking, and drugs right now. But do you want to see Kevin James fall over often enough to make Kramer from Seinfeld go “huh, this dude’s kinda clumsy”? Will you be entertained by a bunch of animals ordering in from a pizzeria, and tickled by the quantity of food they eat? Are you interested in lessons in scatology? And do you wonder what the folks at TGIF would think if you took a gorilla there?
As an old fan of The King of Queens, I found myself pitying Kevin James for getting mixed up in a script that looks like it’s been forged out of the discarded first drafts of a bunch of predecessors. (Uh, what was it doing with five scriptwriters?!) Having watched Kutti Shaitanin 3D in my childhood, I find myself rather taken with the newer products of this technology, and may have been mollified if the lion had jumped out at me, or if one of the animals had threatened to empty its bladder into the camera. But without the juvenile thrills of 3D, the infantile spills, clichéd puns, eye-rolling and strained humour are even less impressive.
You may want to go to the movie if you’re really bored, and can’t find tickets to anything else. Chances are that it’s a better watch thanVandhaan Vendraan.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Naarth-Sauth War: A Madrasi's Take

(Published in Sify.com, on 22 September, 2011, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/the-naarth-sauth-war-a-madrasi-s-take-news-columns-ljwkWphgcfd.html)




(Image Courtesy: Sify.com. Unauthorised reproduction of this image is prohibited.)



We’ve seen good-natured pleas for the case of the South Indian man by a couple of IIM grads, a few years apart, followed by a bitterly-vituperative-and-perhaps-not-quite-sober rant against Delhi men that took social networking sites by storm a few days ago.
As the folks from either side of the Vindhyas fire salvos at each other, being a Madrasi foreign return who found relatively more acceptance in Hindi heartland than in her hometown, I find myself in a rather unique position to analyse the mutual distrust and dislike.
Part 1: Billi Ek Paaltu Jaanwar Hai
My adherences to social and linguistic traditions began a while before my arrival on the scene. My grandfather was a twentieth century coconut, without ever crossing the seas – a member of the Indian Civil Services in the British Era.
My mother and her siblings spent their Post-Independence childhood in the North and North East, sipping British tea from Chinese porcelain, and learning to use more pieces of cutlery than the digits on their hands at dinner.
My father, the only son in a family of four children, shocked pastors at a spartan missionary school by arriving in a procession complete with elephant and trumpets.
As a result, I grew up speaking English at home, in a state where the Dravidian parties believed my ilk – well, Tam Brahms as we style ourselves now – were Aryan/German/Sanskrit-speaking aliens who had no claim to the language of Tamil Nadu.
I was schooled in the prestigious Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan, whose few Non-Tam-Brahms picked up avaa-ivaa Tamil and, to the abject horror of their parents, switched to a vegetarian diet of saathumdhu saadam (uh, mulligatawny rice, if you will) and dudhyonam (curd rice, duh), and most of whose Tam Brahms – taught to think out of the box – began to eat animals.
All this time, my awareness of the Naarthie-Madrasi divide was limited to arguments over whether Woh Saat Din or Andha Ezhu Naatkal came first, and which had inspired Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Thank heavens producers have made it simpler these days – you can’t quite argue whether Ghajini or Ghajini came first, or Singham or Singham. I suppose you could argue about Gajini and Ghajini, and Singam and Singham, though. And my younger brother told me a comparison of the relative merits of Chandramukhi and Bhool Bhulaiyya ended when a Mohanlal fan said both were equally bad. Well, you get the picture.
As a student of Tamil, my awareness of Hindi was limited to the proud vocabulary of the third language student– billi ek paaltu janwar hai, billi miaow miaow karti hai, Akbar ke darbar mein navratan kaun kaun thhe?
Part 2: ‘What language you’re talkin’, chile?’
Right after, I went to a convent living off its past glory, where nuns would cross themselves at the sight of kurtas that stopped above the knee (“These gerls are yegsbosing their jeans pant!”), shy of the elbow (“These gerls are showing den yinchez of forearm!”), or T-shirts that grazed the waistband (“Oh my Goat, the Dyevil has his grasp on this chile!”)
My perception of language underwent drastic changes too – the Head of my Department, English Literature, assured me that T S Eliot was “naat nusussary from yegzam payint of view” and another teacher pondered over whether Measure for Measure was written by Shakespeare or Marlowe. And while no one in my class seemed to make sense of the Tamil I spoke, my Tamil teacher adored me.
In college, the divisions were clear.
The Naarthie girls coloured their hair, wore heels, smoked outside college, and flaunted mobile phones their boyfriends had bought them.
The girls of the Synthetic Salwar Brigade oiled their hair, wore Hawaii slippers, giggled together outside college, and flaunted amber flowers that one could smell a floor away.
The Anglo-Indians tittered over the overtures of the “sly conners” and “wanton buggers” they were dating.
The Malayalis transcended all other barriers and spoke Malayalam.
The Tam Brahms, drawn from three schools – mine, Vidya Mandir, and P S Senior – met up during lunch to speak the Tamil everyone pretended not to understand, and joined whichever other group happened to be nearest.
Part 3: ‘So, you mean you’re from Sri Lanka?’
Finally, I did that thing all Tam Brahms must do for a decent education, thanks to the reservation quota of my state – went abroad.
And that was when the Madrasi status I’d been deprived of since an old man decided to rename my city – setting off a trend that choked on Mumbai, Kolkata, and Bengaluru before finally throwing up the illogical Paschim Banga – hit me. I was the only Sauth Indian in a group united by language. Well, one of two, but the other one was an Army kid who’d grown up all over the country, and spoke better Hindi than English.
My first inkling of this difference was when my British roommate’s parents thought I was British-born since they’d never met a first-generation Indian who didn’t speak Hindi on the phone to her mom. Later, it struck me that they’d probably not met too many legal immigrants.
Then, I flummoxed a professor, who greeted me with a friendly, “You’re from India! So you speak Hindy at home!”
“No, I don’t know Hindi.”
“Ah! You must be Kashmiri, then. So, you speak Err-do?”
“No, I speak Tamil.”
The puzzled man frowned, “so, you’re Sri Lankan then, not Indian?”
I would shrug helplessly when I saw my international friends looking at me quizzically for translations as the other Indians chattered away. Even more bizarrely, I would turn to my Afghan friends for interpretation of the Hindi and Urdu everyone else was speaking. Soon after a girl from Pune praised the Army kid for not being a “typical Sauth Indian”, the anti-Hindi sentiment crept into me for the first time.
Part 4: Of Raghu Thatha and Maya Baganji
After returning home, to a town where the Marwari traders spoke better Tamil than local housewives and Tamils ordered chaat in broken Hindi, the sting was dulled to an extent.
But within a year, I took my indeterminate accent and foreign degree to the National Capital Region, and settled in a pocket extending into Uttar Pradesh, the land ruled by Lord Rama, and later Lord Krishna, and now Mayawati.
I’d forgotten the little Hindi I’d picked up in London – well, except for a YouTube clip that became a rage during my time there. I could now confidently say ‘Yek gaavon my yek kisan raghu thatha’, giving me three topics of conversation – Akbar, cats and farmers.
My good natured landlords, having made valiant attempts to reach out to me, decided to introduce me to a fellow Sauth Indian family. Sadly for them, the friendship didn’t take off, as both the family and I were bilingual. They spoke Telugu and Hindi; I spoke English and Tamil.
However, my monolingual landlords continued to offer me support through sign language, which didn’t go off too well either. My request for a mirror got me a plate, water, a glass tumbler, the address of an optometrist, and, inexplicably, a bed sheet. Forgetting the word for pickle got me ripe mangoes, lime juice, curd, rice, dough, flour and an offer of chapattis.
The one good thing about not knowing Hindi in a city where everyone spoke only it, I decided, was that I wouldn’t understand eve-teasers’ taunts. That was before I figured out that Delhi’s Road Romeos don’t spout vulgar proposals. They stare. And stare.
In Madras (as I still call it), a guy by your side would keep them off, even if he was shorter, narrower and weaker than you. Hell, even if he wore glasses. But in Delhi, you could have a hulking body-builder by your side, and the starers would thwart his attempts at fierce eye contact by focusing complacently on you till you disappeared from sight.
I was in the land of fights over girls that end in shootouts, where men don’t sprout moustaches unless they’re in the army, where everyone – well, everyone who’s not Bengali – thinks you’re depressed if you read a book.
Working in a news organisation meant I had very little time for Mata Hari-ish indulgences. But I did figure out the following:

  •  From a metro where men would be happy to Dutch on a first date, I’d moved to one where they would panic that you thought they were poor if you took out your purse, and eliminate the notion with a night ride around the city in Daddy’s Merc.
  • Two beers may get the average South Indian man to profess his love for you, but the Naarthie man can last up to five whiskeys, and then insist he did ten.
  • When you say you did some work in the theatre, Naarthies assume you manned the ticketing desk at the cinema. When you explain, and bring in NSD (National School of Drama), they give you a pitying oh-you-must-have-parents-who-are-addicted-to-drugs look.
  • The Aunties are the same across India. You figure out Aunties you meet for the first time have been spying on you when they tell you you’ve become dark, put on weight, got wrinkles, wear the same clothes too often, and lost hair.
  •  On both sides of the Vindhyas, people intend it as a compliment when they say “you look like a North Indian.”

Three years after I moved to Delhi, I finally forced myself not to leave my slippers outside as a mark of respect for clean floors, carpets, and elders. I convinced a couple of my Naarthie friends that they were the ones who spoke English with an ‘Indian’ accent. I dug into the history of the Chola, Chera, Pandiya wars when the Naarthies said South Indians never had to fend off attacks. I figured out that ‘Madrasi’ was a pleasant reminder of what I used to be till the whims of a former government made me a ‘Chennaiite’ – which, to me, sounds more like a mineral ore than a people. And I learnt to say ‘ek gaon mein ek kisan rahha, rahha, rahhata thha.’
Having been mistaken for a Punjabi, Malayali, Arab and Latina, and having confused people with my Anglicised Tamil, Tamilised Hindi and Hinglished English, I now feel an affinity to several contrasting cultures at war with each other. And if parochial forwards have taught me anything, it’s that everyone has ugly prejudices – some being uglier than others. Well, that, and South Indians tend to write long angry diatribes, while North Indians tend to respond with long angry comments.

What You Should Know About the Lokpal Bill

(Published in The New Indian Express, School Edition, on 21 September 2011, retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/school/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-lokpal-bill/316249.html)


NOTE: This article is not opinion. It's a factual summary of the events surrounding the Lokpal Bill.







Given how recently Team Anna Hazare and the India Against Corruption movement took the nation by storm, it may come as a surprise that the Lokpal Bill was first proposed more than forty years ago – before a lot of the activists agitating for it today were even born!

‘Lokpal’, which means ‘Protector of the People’, was conceived as an anti-corruption agency, independent of the government. This way, people will be able to file complaints against politicians with a neutral ombudsman.

But disagreements over the people and institutions that could be investigated by the Lokpal, as well as the powers of the Lokpal, have delayed the enactment of the law. The government and civil society came to a head over the issue earlier this year, and finally reached a compromise regarding the discussion of the Lokpal Bill.

The History of the Lokpal Bill

The idea of the ‘Lokpal’ came up during a Parliamentary debate about redressal of grievances, as early as 1963. It was envisioned as a committee headed by an ombudsman, with its own prosecution and investigation wing.

Five years later, Shanti Bhushan – who was part of the panel formulating the Lokpal Bill in 2011 – introduced a version, which was passed in the Lok Sabha in 1969, but was not taken up in the Rajya Sabha.

The Bill was reintroduced nine more times, but lapsed each time. Worse, it came to be associated with a jinx, as every government that took up the Bill for discussion was voted out of office in the subsequent election.

What Happened in 2011?

The country was hit by an unusual number of scams, involving politicians, in 2010. First, Suresh Kalmadi was implicated in the Commonwealth Games scam. Next, tapes of corporate lobbyist Niira Radia’s conversations with several politicians and industry captains leaked to the media, exposing collusions that led to the 2G spectrum allocation scam. Meanwhile, Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde’s investigations into illegal mining showed that two of the state’s Cabinet Ministers had been using their connections to smooth over irregularities.
With trust in the government at the state and centre at an all-time low, in April 2011, social activist Anna Hazare went on an indefinite fast at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, demanding immediate passing of the Bill. With his pristine white clothes and air of simplicity, the seventy-three-year-old Gandhian became the ideal anti-corruption mascot, with the media covering his fast round the clock.

After a four-day hunger strike, the Centre caved in to his demands, and Prime Minister Manmohan singh promised to re-introduce the Lokpal Bill in the monsoon session of Parliament.

But that did not satisfy Hazare. He and his supporters, who included the likes of former IPS officer Kiran Bedi and Magsaysay Award winner Arvind Kejriwal, said the civil society must be involved in the drafting of the Bill.

In an unprecedented move, the government agreed to a Joint Drafting Committee involving both politicians and civilians. Five Cabinet Ministers (P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Pranab Mukherjee, Veerappa Moily and Salman Khurshid) and five civil society members – Hazare, Kejriwal, Santosh Hegde, Shanti Bhushan and his son Prashant Bhushan – hashed out their versions of the Bill.

However, they could not agree upon various key provisions of the Bill (see box) despite several meetings. Meanwhile, allegations of corruption against the civil society members themselves sullied their campaign. The civil society panel walked out of a meeting in disgust, and called the version of the Bill the government came up with “toothless”.

Lokpal Bill vs Jan Lokpal Bill

The version of the Bill mooted by the civil society panel came to be known as the ‘Jan Lokpal Bill’. Using social networks and the media, Team Anna (as the civil society panel was dubbed) spread awareness about the main features of the two versions.

The Jan Lokpal Bill wanted the Prime Minister, the conduct of MPs in Parliament, the lower bureaucracy and higher judiciary brought under the ambit of the Lokpal. It also wanted the Lokpal to be able to initiate investigations suo motu, without having to wait for complaints. However, the government staunchly refused.

In the end, it seemed the only issue both Bills could agree on was the strength of the Lokpal committee – a Chairperson and eight other members. However, they did not see eye to eye on what qualifications the members must have! (See box for more details on the differences.)

Anna Hazare’s Second Agitation

Anna Hazare had announced that unless the civil society panel’s version of the Lokpal Bill, or a Bill accommodating their most crucial concerns, was taken up in the monsoon session of Parliament, he would go on another hunger strike. And when the government introduced its own version of the Bill, to the criticism of various Opposition parties, he promptly announced a fast-unto-death at Jantar Mantar or JP Park in Delhi.

On the back of a midnight crackdown on supporters of yoga guru Baba Ramdev at Ramlila Maidan, the government had already been lambasted by the media and other parties for its high-handedness and brutality in sending baton-wielding police to subdue unarmed civilians.

The panicked authorities arrested Anna Hazare on the morning of his proposed fast. Other activists from his team, including Kiran Bedi, were detained too. As the media and social networks streamed in minute-by-minute updates, the government claimed it was not involved in the arrest, and that Delhi Police had taken action of its own accord.

Hazare began his fast in jail. He refused to leave the jail, despite being released, unless he was given permission to fast on his own terms, without restrictions on the number of days or people at the venue.

Finally, he was allowed to fast at Ramlila Maidan. The next twelve days saw their fair share of drama, even as negotiations between Team Anna and the Centre broke down repeatedly. Kiran Bedi improvised a skit, using a dupatta as a mask, to show how two-faced politicians were. Prominent actors from Bollywood and Kollywood, including Aamir Khan, Om Puri and Vijay, made their way to the dais to voice their support for Hazare’s movement.

But there were critics too. The BJP, which had earlier jumped on the Anna bandwagon, began to hem and haw about the civil society trying to force its hand in an unparliamentary manner. Santosh Hegde voiced his doubts too, and distanced himself from the movement. Arguably the strangest protest came from a Dalit group, which accused the civil society of insulting Ambedkar by criticising the provisions in the Constitution. Social activist Aruna Roy called the civil society panel’s version of the Bill “draconian” and drafted her own version.

Others cautioned that without another body to monitor the Lokpal itself, the anti-corruption agency may turn corrupt. Still others worried about the lack of clarity on various points, such as the exact powers of the Lokpal, and the provisions for appeal for cases under trial.

Within the Congress itself, MPs were divided. Some, including Priya Dutt and Datta Meghe, came out in support of the Jan Lokpal Bill, over the government’s version.

As talks failed, Anna Hazare encouraged his supporters to court arrest to break the deadlock. He also announced that the government should agree to three conditions in order for him to break his fast - a citizen charter on the Bill, the inclusion of the lower bureaucracy under the ambit of the Lokpal, and the establishment of Lokayukta in all states.

Following a discussion in Parliament, the government agreed to his demands in principle. The activist broke his fast the following day, on television, but announced that it was only a pause in his agitation, and he would continue to fight for the institution of a powerful Lokpal till the Bill was passed and enacted into Law.



PROVISIONS OF THE JAN LOKPAL BILL

Lokpal will not report to the government, but will be supervised by the Election Commission and Cabinet Secretary.
Members will not be elected, but appointed by a panel, and the selection interviews will be made public.
Investigations into each complaint must be completed within a year, and trials within the next two years. Complaints against officers of the Lokpal must be dealt with in a month, and if substantiated, the officer must be dismissed within two months.
Non-cooperative agencies which cause delays to the work of the Lokpal will be penalised.
On a monthly basis, the Lokpal will publish a list of cases dealt with and the status of each, on its website.
Other anti-corruption watchdogs such as the Central Vigilance Commission and the anti-corruption branch of the Central Bureau of Investigation will be merged with the Lokpal.
Lokpal will be supported by Lokayukta at the state level.
Whistleblowers – people who alert the Lokpal about corruption cases – will be protected.

THE POINTS OF DISSENT

GOVERNMENT’S DRAFT BILL


CIVIL SOCIETY’S BILL
The Lokpal cannot investigate a case on suspicion. A complaint must be made.
The Lokpal can initiate action suo motu.
The Prime Minister can only be investigated by the Lokpal after he demits office
The Prime Minister falls under the purview of the Lokpal even when he is in office
Higher judiciary will be covered by the ‘Judicial Accountability Bill’ and cannot be investigated by the Lokpal
Members of the higher judiciary can be investigated by the Lokpal.
Conduct of MPs within Parliament cannot be investigated by the Lokpal
The Lokpal can take action against MPs for their conduct in Parliament
Only senior officers of the bureaucracy fall under the ambit of the Lokpal
The Lokpal can investigate even the lower bureaucracy.
NGOs can be investigated by the Lokpal.
The Lokpal will not investigate NGOs.
The Lokpal will only be an advisory body, forwarding reports.
The Lokpal will have police powers as well as powers of prosecuting those found guilty.
The Lokpal will not be merged with the CVC or CBI.
All existing anti-corruption bodies will be merged with the Lokpal.
Quantum of punishment for corruption can range from 6 months to 7 years.
Quantum of punishment for corruption can range from 10 years to life imprisonment.
In case of complaints against members of the Lokpal, an external independent committee will be set up to look into them.
The Lokpal will investigate complaints against its own officers.

TIMELINE
4 April, 2011
Anna Hazare announces fast at Jantar Mantar in Delhi
5 April, 2011
National Advisory Council headed by UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi rejects UPA government’s 2010 version of the Bill, as Hazare begins his fast.
7 April, 2011
Members of Anna Hazare’s team meet Cabinet Minister Kapil Sibal, fail to arrive at consensus. Anna Hazare calls for a Jail Bharo Andolan in protest.
8 April, 2011
Government agrees to involve civil society in drafting the Bill.
9 April, 2011
Anna ends his fast, and sets August 15 as the deadline for passing the Lokpal Bill. Celebrations across India greet his ‘victory’.
16 April, 2011

The Joint Drafting Committee meets to finalise the rules for the process of drafting the Lokpal Bill.
May-June, 2011
Several meetings between the civil society panel and the government panel end in stalemate regarding important provisions in the Bill.
4-5 June, 2011
Yoga guru Baba Ramdev begins an anti-corruption agitation at Ramlila Maidan, which ends with a harsh crackdown by the Delhi Police, wounding hundreds of his supporters.
6 June, 2011
PM justifies police action
22 June, 2011
Congress leader Digvijay Singh hints that Anna’s next attempt at an agitation could end in the same manner as Ramdev’s.
14 August, 2011
Congress leader Manish Tewari alleges irregularities in the running of Hazare’s trust, and calls the activist corrupt.
15 August, 2011
Hazare says he is deeply hurt by the allegations, dares the government to prove them, offers proof of their falsehood, and announces an indefinite fast defying police restrictions.
16 August, 2011
Anna Hazare taken into preventive custody by Delhi Police, causing a furore across the nation. He begins his fast in jail.
19 August, 2011
Anna Hazare moves to Ramlila Maidan after paying his respects to the M K Gandhi shrine at Rajghat. Huge crowds gather over the next 9 days; groups in other cities begin coordinated indefinite fasts too.
21 August, 2011
Supporters of Hazare court arrest by holding black flag demonstrations outside the residences of several politicians.
23 August, 2011
PM appeals to Hazare to call off his agitation.
25 August, 2011
Hazare lays down three conditions to break the fast.
27 August, 2011
Special session of Parliament passes a ‘Sense of the House’ in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, agreeing to Hazare’s three conditions for breaking his fast. Hazare says “half the battle is won”, and announces that he will break his fast next morning.
28 August, 2011
Hazare sips coconut water, fed to him by two girls – a Dalit and a Muslim. He is hospitalised, and discharged after being monitored for three days.

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