Tag Archives: Essay

When Hell Freezes Over

Is it just me or does anyone else also feel that January hardly ever turns out to be that stellar beginning that we all want our new year to have?

Let’s face it, January is never a good month for anyone. It marks the end of vacations (that’s a big problem right there, see?) and the resumption of work, emails, conference calls and the year-end appraisal process. The traffic is awful because everyone is back to their wrong-ways on the roads, despite the Dense Fog. The Dense Fog itself is an invention of airline companies so that they can happily make paper planes with their schedules and then poke our eyes with them. And, have you observed how suddenly this Dense Fog wafts into your life at the most inopportune moment – like, when you are about to leave home for a long-awaited dinner party 25 miles away? Or, when you must pick up an elderly relative from the station when his train arrives – the one that is running with a delay of…umm…anywhere between 2 to 36 hours?

January means acting on New Year resolutions about things you have to resolve yourself into doing because, frankly, there is no way you would do them with a sane mind. Like, ‘I will go to the gym five days a week’, or the death-wish to slip into those jeans from 2010. Or give up Vodka! I mean, really, who are we kidding? Give up Vodka? In this weather? If December is already cold, January is like God teaching Al Gore some kind of a twisted lesson. And have you noticed that frequent urge to pee that seems to get triggered by the mere sighting of water? The eternal conflict between a bursting bladder and the warm razaai, and you cringing in the middle of it, trying your damndest to stay away from your Siberian-cold toilet for as long as possible. It’s the month when morning showers are quickly dispensed with, and strong deodorants are celebrated as your armpits’ best friends. The jaanghiye and baniyaans take at least four days to go from wet to still-damp when you put them on. And then, there are all those pages of your cheque-book that you have to scratch and destroy because you can’t seem to get the bloody year right in the date field. As if signature-matching wasn’t problem enough.

Makes you doubt if that fancy New Year Eve party at the 5-star hotel was really worth breaking your Fixed Deposit for. All that naach-gaana, drunken buffoonery and Facebook check-ins. Such a premature ejaculation of happiness. And for what? January? Like they say, premature of nothing is ever good.

Strange wonder, then, how we still never learn. How we never wait until February to make New Beginnings. Or, better still, March. That one word even has entire phrases like ‘We shall overcome!’, ‘Press ahead!’ and ‘Go seek your destiny!’ built right into its definition!

No, January it always is.

Despite all the miseries I have spoken of above, January is when everyone chooses to soar their highest, only to then land on their backsides with a resounding phus. It is the month that Sallu Tiger picks for the release of his latest magnum opus. The man is sure ballsy but such a pity that his movies only ever smell of the kind made of naphthalene. “Maa Kasam!” you exclaim using the endearing ‘70s vernacular equivalent of the modern-day ‘Holy fuck!’, as you shake your head and exit the theatre after watching ‘Jai Ho’, “that was way too soon after Uday Chopra!”

Then there is that other charmer, Rahul Gandhi, who has shamed until eternity all parents who once adoringly named their sons Pappu or Prince. (Side note : The ones who named their children Prince Pappu or vice versa deserve to be shamed). Indolent Gandhiji lands a January-date with insolent Go-Swamiji, the dimpled man feeling strangely plenty empowered to boldly go where no man has gone before and has ever returned unscathed. The assumption, possibly, being that the cold of the winter hardens ear wax, making all the 1.2 billion people watching Times TV go temporarily deaf – simply unable to hear what is being said.

The less said about the Indian Cricket Team the better. Its gravest nemesis is the Republic of India Passport that allows it to spend its January in the sunny summer of a distant land, where flightless birds and Hobbits can shit on its face repeatedly and with alarming accuracy.

So, no matter whether your name is Kejriwal, Khobragade or something much easier on the lips, January is not likely the most auspicious month for New Beginnings. It’s more like, ‘Let’s Seize the Day some other day’. Frankly, why even look for a reason to delay rolling in the good times? There are 365 days in a year, after all.

So why Day 1? I say, Day 32 (or Day 60) sounds just as good as any to ring in the New Year!

Happy February (Happiness of the visual is courtesy Google - what would Bloggers do without it?)

Happy February
(This Visual Happiness is brought to you by Google – a Bloggers best friend)

This Post Is Not About That

The Aakash Tablet. You are looking at the only piece in existence.

The Aakash Tablet. You are looking at the only piece in existence.

Recently, I paid a thousand bucks to see a play at Siri Fort, New Delhi. That’s a fair bit steeper than what Delhiites typically dole out to see their local actors give amateurish performances on the spartan sets of IHC, Kamani or Epicentre auditoria. Before you start thinking that I have won that big Sikkim State Lottery jackpot and start reaching out to me as a potential door ka rishtedaar, let me quickly scrub your hopes. No such thing has happened – I am still poor and the purse strings remain tighter than ever thanks to Mr Chidambaram. These hard earned thousand rupees were coughed up for a one-evening-only theatrical ‘event’ – a monodrama by Anupam Kher called ‘Kuch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai’. Rest assured that despite its silly title, this was not a play based on some limp horror (comedy?) film from Ram Gopal Verma’s potty. This play featured a bona fide Bollywood celebrity, one of our leading, national award winning actors doing a one-man act. How often do we get to see that in Delhi? Surely, a thousand was a small price to pay for the sake of art? What’s skipping a few square meals in order to afford that, I thought.

Anyway, this post is not really about Anupam Kher or his play. It is not even about the good folks who had organized the event. And good folks they indeed are – a leading NGO that is providing free education to children in over 150,000 schools in remote, mainly tribal areas across the country. Noble cause by any yardstick because not only are these kids being offered an education, but even their basic needs of primary healthcare, clothing and nourishment are being taken care of by these schools that are managed directly by this organization. Presumably, the charity of the well-heeled in Delhi, and the blood and sweat of the feet-on-the-ground, are allowing that little Adivasi child in Bastar to dream of a brighter future that opens up for her when she has access to language and maths. She now has books and multimedia that open her eyes to the world outside her village. She has clothing that gives her dignity and protection, medicines that keep her healthy. At some point in the future, she aspires to be the nurse who looks after you in a hospital, or your neighbourhood bank teller who greets you as she dispenses cash to you, or the driver who pilots the Metro train that takes you to your destination. And, a mother who insists on a better life for her own children and family.

No, this post is not about the hundreds of kind folks who have the wherewithal to offer assistance and do so, generating opportunities for thousands of kids who deserve and get them. This post is not about them.

This post is about the millions of others who get left behind.

This post is about a nation that dreams big and yet squanders opportunity after opportunity. It’s about the Right to Education Act that gets passed by the federal Parliament in 2009. An act that establishes India as one of the few progressive nations in the world where education to children between the ages of 6-14 is a fundamental right. A law that provides 25% reservation of seats to EWS even in private schools. One that mandates all schools to ensure the existence of a proper building, a boundary wall with gate, a toilet, and drinking water to its students, or face the risk of losing accreditation and funding. It instructs the states to provide educated educators and able administrators to make all of this happen. And yet, 3 years after the Bill was notified, only 10% of the nation’s schools conform to its mandates. This post is also about other associated policies on Human Resource Development, like the vocational schools that don’t exist. Or the grand promise of the new Akash, not the polluted blue one above our heads. Or the free laptops dispensed to children whose homes have no electricity. Not to mention usable sports equipment and training facilities, instead of the locked and rusting behemoths erected for a two-week long sporting event.

Yes, this post is about the points I have enumerated above. But, mainly, this post is about lost opportunities because we constantly attempt to beat a corroded system into place, not by robust, get-your-hands-dirty action, but by new ornamental and shallow promises.

You could say that this post is about getting what we deserve.

Oh, I know, before I close, you still want to know how the play was, don’t you? Well, here is a quick review, in that case. It featured Anupam Kher laboriously playacting the story of his own life in excruciating detail (yes, you guessed it right – the play was quite awful, pompous even). But still, a nice change from what we usually get to see in NCR. You see, what the avid theatregoer gets here is either British or American plays, and it is normal to see desi actors addressing each other as ‘Charlie’ or ‘Polly’ on stage. Never mind that in real life, the only Charlies and Pollys that we actually know are the neighbour’s raucous dog and our aunt’s graceless parrot.

Anyway, like I said, this post is not about that.

 

This piece has been carried in the April 8th, 2012 issue of The Education Post : www.theeducationpost.in. My thanks to Arvind Passey for making this happen. Do check out his blog at : http://passey.info/

 

Article_The Education Post_Rickie Khosla

 

Choco- Raspberry Delite Anyone?

Part-time Market Researcher but full-time Observer and Thinker Achala Srivatsa is back with this absolutely hysterical essay that will have you rolling on the floor like a, well, a rolling pin. If you are a foodie (and by that I mean you don’t entirely mind popping something solid in your mouth occasionally) you have got to read this! 

 

(Stolen from The Healthy Voyager website given my own lack of artistic talent))

(Stolen from The Healthy Voyager website given my own lack of artistic talent))

Practically everyone I know claims to be a foodie these days (a broad term that could mean anything from “I eat like a pig and Darshini is my  second home” to “You must try my sous vide salmon with chanterelle duxelle and a hint of wild fennel pollen” or “my rajma recipe is a closely guarded family secret”). Our home-grown NRI friends who visit for 2 weeks also call themselves foodies, which essentially means they spend 2 weeks running around to every local restaurant and immersing their being in assorted deep-fried products dipped into condiments that are off the charts on heat and ferocity. Much of those two weeks are also, not surprisingly, spent reading War and Peace in a toilet. But I digress.

India is now neck deep in cook books of an astonishing range and variety, not to mention cookery shows of every description. Do you want to make a refreshing drink to be enjoyed by the pool? Chances are someone on some channel is muddling together mint and sugar as we speak.

I discovered this the other day as I browsed at my local book store. It was truly educational and here for your benefit is a summation of the fruits of my labour.

  1. At one extreme is the new bride’s go-to guide for all things South Indian. Written by a  “Maami Rajammal” with the picture of a formidable looking woman (usually with a slight moustache) to lend authenticity. This book will tell you how to make “curds” from scratch, the recipes for 20 types of chutneys using the peel of a ridge gourd and 15 different rasams. Recipes will sternly instruct you to “ take a good amount of tamarind…” Precisely what that means is, literally, anyone’s guess.
  2. The next category I uncovered was a slew of slim paperbacks on snacks, for every occasion (Tea Time Snacks/ Pre bedtime snacks and so on). These appear to be aimed at young mothers with recipes focusing on fried thingies of various descriptions. A half-hearted attempt at amping up the health factor can be seen – “Add a cup of sprouts”. Clearly written quite hurriedly, I was charmed by one recipe that started off calling for a cup of chopped onions, later forgetting about the onions completely.
  3. Then you have a series of books that claim to offer specialized cuisines – Rajasthan, Punjab etc. Some of these seem authentic, others not so much. Call me a cynic but I look askance at “authentic” recipes that call for a cup of tomato ketchup.
  4. Cookbooks on the Woman’s Era lines – easily recognizable by the way they fiercely hang on in a limpet-like fashion to  recipes from the ‘70s – “Blancmange”, “Raspberry Delite”, “Chocolate-Pista Surprise” and so on. Bellbottoms and beehive hairdos! By the way, if you know what a blancmange is – consider yourself officially old.
  5. The ethnographic school of cookery – Where Jamie does Tuscany and works up a froth over fresh zucchini flowers, baby artichokes, dusty purple grapes exploding with sweetness blah. Do NOT read these books. Let me tell you what happens – First you identify a recipe you get all excited about – let’s say enchiladas with a chipotle sauce . Then you walk into your local supermarket and hmm, chipotle seems to be a problem. But hey, you are a creative cook, so a little improv is in order. So you shift gear – from chipotle to badgis from Central Karnataka, from fingerling potatoes to whatever’s available, from Vidalia onions to your local pyaaz and for some reason the end product tastes strangely like a dosa. Mexican food’s over-rated anyway.

 

Frustrated at every turn, stuffed to the gills with stuffed karelas drowning in sweet ketchup, I turned to our local Food Channel for inspiration. Here’s what I found.

  • Sanjeev Kapoor’s wooden, sickly smile every hour on the hour –  either fusing cuisines  feverishly – here cooking biryani with truffle shavings, there grating paneer on to pasta or cooking “healthy” sweets with ghee and sugar substitutes.  Is it just me or have others realized that  ever since he’s shaven that moustache off, he has this – “I could give you this recipe but then I’d have to kill you – or myself” look on his face. A bit tough for a TV chef that.
  • Wanna be Sanjeev Kapoors – with the same puppet like movements and and stilted manner of speaking always ending with “ab aapki mint coriander hing mojito lassi tayar hai
  • Indian women with strangely accented English teaching (presumably) a befuddled western audience how to make “potatoes spiced with a hint of cumin” and such like.
  • Two men checking out every dive, dhaba and Udipi hotel in search of…mediocre food? Almost every time I watch this, the two have a conversation somewhat like this…“This idli is…round and white” or “the fried dal tastes pretty much like dal that’s been fried”. My point is – so why is a 30 minute program based on a restaurant that seems to be a non-event?

 

So anyway, I have decided to have another crack at those enchiladas. I hear my local supermarket’s just started stocking chipotles.

 

Things That Happened When I Wasn’t Looking

Part time Historian and Thinker Achala Srivasta’s new blog post where she is ruminating (well, ruing, mainly) on the good old days. Feel free to breastbeat about the changing times in the Comments section below.  

 

good-old-daysEver since I moved back to Bangalore, I’ve been noticing that things are not quite the way they were.

So I decided to do a list of things that apparently have vanished or changed when I was looking the other way.

  1. First things first. What happened to my old Five Star bar??    You know, that fatly unctuous, gooey, caramelly, nougat thing that took at least 30 minutes to eat? You had strings of caramel sticking to your hair by the time you finished eating it – and then you had to skip lunch – for 2 days.  It was my treat, my reward for getting an A, my consolation for getting a C. It was  the one thing that made up for random people pinching my cheek when I was 10 years old  and asking  “Do you know who I am? ” I bought a Five Star for old times sake the other day and was horrified. I felt like the Godfather pointing to Sonny and saying “See what they have done to my chocolate bar” Flat, rock hard and gritty and with as much chocolate flavour as a potato. Great ads, lousy chocolate -not a great combo.
  2. And speaking of missing chocolate – where is my Parry’s Caramel with the green and gold crinkly wrapper? Alpen Liebe is a poor substitute for that rock hard toffee of brown, buttery sweetness.  And the decisions one had to make – let it melt quietly at the back of your mouth, crunch into it and risk losing your fillings??? What to do, what to do?
  3. Also missing in action is the phrase –“I look forward to… seeing you, dining with you, working with you, bitching about x with you etc.”The new phrase seems to be a chirpy and to my mind somewhat puzzling “Look forward” – a tantalizingly incomplete phrase that, to my mind, raises two points:
  • Who exactly is looking forward to doing what with whom if you get my convoluted point? Am I being asked to look forward? Are they looking forward to… what? Cortez -like – gazing on the horizon?
  • And not to be a party pooper – but of course you’d look forward -why on earth would you be chirpy about looking backward?

And finally, just when did the foot path/pavement/sidewalk disappear? I occasionally walk down to my local mini-market and have to do a tightrope act on this narrow strip by the side of the road, clutching the occasional tree or electric pole that suddenly looms in my path, screaming when a gigantic bus screeches by with about an inch to spare. On the rare occasions that there is a clear strip and I walk admiring the cerulean blue sky and the way the jacaranda looks framed against aforementioned sky – BAM I’ve tripped on the most uneven footpath ever and fallen face first into a cow pat.    I do hear cow dung has very good antiseptic properties though. Which I am sure will serve me well as I leap nimbly over sleeping dogs (nice one there eh?) and tightly wound coils of rusty metallic wire and risk dog bites and tetanus to buy a couple of carrots.

So clearly, I’ve been living under a rock but all I say is – bring back my old Five Star.

 

White Knuckles In The Air

Friend and fellow victim of a career in Market Research Achala Srivatsa is back with a delighful piece on the joys (woes?) of air travel. Musings, coping mechanisms, call it what you may, but I promise that by the time you are done reading this piece, you will have relived your last (few) plane ride(s).   

Look out! Frantic Air Traveler Inside!

I am a nervous, you could say anxious flyer. I would not call it a phobia exactly but I find myself sweating quietly at takeoff, scrutinizing the cabin crew’s expressions and body language and clutching the hand of whoever is next to me during turbulence.

I envy that guy in front of me who pulls up his blanket and begins to snore gently the moment he straps himself in, that lady whose concentration on her book does not waver even a little as we battle through dense, angry clouds, the businessman who continues to frown at his balance sheet even as the plane rocks.

Since mine is a job that requires travel, I’ve had to bite the bullet and develop some coping mechanisms to ensure I don’t turn into a gibbering wreck by the time I land. Fortunately, the human race is a colorful one and I find that between our very own Bhai-Behen and the dour farmer from South Dakota, I am provided with enough entertainment, aggravation and amusement to take my mind off… oh my god, is that lightning? No, it’s some twit taking pictures in the aircraft.

Let me start with myself. I am no mean hand at dishing out irritation and amusement to those around me in a plane. The moment I am strapped in, I kick off my shoes and then crawl around on my knees the entire duration of the flight trying to find them.  When my tray of neatly wrapped AVML arrives, I consume everything on it, including the cling film, noticing with mild interest that the watermelon is a bit chewy. I spend 20 minutes getting the little sponge wraps around my earphones, tear them and sheepishly ask for more. Meanwhile, the 14 something old next to me rolls her eyes and deftly slips on hers. I manage to lose my blanket and pillow, demand blankets slightly petulantly and then discover I’d been sitting on them all the time.

At the slightest hint of turbulence, I clutch the hand of the person next to me (a bonus if it turns out to be a cute guy, not so much if it’s a large hirsute man with heavy gold chains around his neck). I babble about my life, my work, the events that led to my traveling that day. The moment the rockiness stops, I drop his/her hand and spend the rest of the flight squirming with embarrassment trying hard to remember exactly what I said to the man and whether I should expect a call from him soon.

So people pretty much cheer when I walk into the aircraft because it makes them feel supremely tremendously calm and competent. It’s a public service really.

But enough about myself. The one thing I’ve learned by flying is that all men LOVE that little hot towel that’s handed out. The man next to me will extravagantly and thoroughly scrub his face, neck, his ears, wring out the towel and proceed to wipe his arms up to his elbow. The women around me, meanwhile politely pat their hands with the towel.  As hard as I try not to get distracted by this, I find myself wondering every single time if: a) Men have discovered the link between hot water and hygiene just yesterday b) have taken a sacred vow to not clean their necks until they are seated in seat 45B next to me.

One of my most memorable moments and one that made me forget my fears completely was on a flight from New York to Minneapolis. I was seated next to two very pleasant gentlemen. As is my wont, I began to babble the moment we hit some turbulence, explained to the man next to me that I had a need to converse to get me out of panic mode. He asked me where I was from, to get the conversation going. He turned out to be a farmer from South Dakota on an annual pilgrimage to NYC to watch a Mets game. The whole conversation we had was about Hinduism (what is it about?), Christianity (only those who believe in the Lord our Saviour will go to Heaven) about my family and me – we’re not bad people really (Nope, it’s Hell for you heathens) and finally the Big Question (why don’t you convert?).

I was mildly amused by his assumption that a 2 hour flight could have me questioning my beliefs but a friend of mine had the last word when he wrote to me saying  – “ Well, think of it this way, Hell will be full of your friends while Heaven will most likely be full of farmers from South Dakota, so I think you’re better off”.

In that Baptist farmer’s defense, he really was not being offensive, he genuinely could not believe anyone would actually choose to follow a different faith. Ah well…

Swinging back to our own motherland, on my way back from Bangkok recently, I boarded the plane, settled in and then… the sweet, unmistakable sounds of two self-righteous Indians squabbling over nothing. It started slowly – a few splutters of “what, what is this, I say?” then slowly swelled to a crescendo of “How dare you I say? What you are doing? See Sir (to a startled fellow passenger minding his own business) he has just thrown my bag out of the overhead baggage hold… how he can do that?, “you mind your language” and then of course the sweetest, classical Indian high note “Do you know who I am”?

This question always reminds me of an Asterix comic  strip when a Roman soldier asks Asterix what the password is, to which he retorts “Why? Aren’t you in the know?” (The response from the Roman soldier is classic. Drawing himself up, he replies  “I should think I am. It’s Cogito Ergo Sum”)

But I digress. By this time, the Thai crew is standing around smirking and barely hiding their loathing for us as a race (“such a silly matter”) and I have never been more interested in my biography of Clarence Darrow.

Anyway, I think it’s safe to say that as long as people keep me amused while flying, I think I can keep my fears in check. Plus, I have a theory. I believe I am not alone in my fears.

While I may act out my fears, (okay, so banging on the cockpit door demanding that the captain sit next to me holding my hand was not the wisest thing in retrospect. To be fair, the police were very understanding) that businessman staring at his spreadsheet is most likely mentally reciting the 10 names of Arjuna feverishly as we fly through a storm and I did notice our bookworm toss back her third glass of red wine. So maybe there is a collective sigh of relief when we land and that typical scramble for the door is a way of us kissing the ground and saying  “let me out of this tin can”.