Tag Archives: India

What I Miss About Old Bollywood

Bollywood has changed. These days, it’s all about big budgets, bigger weekends and the biggest stars. Gone are the times when films were either a Dacoit-Drama (also known as gaon wali film) or a Breezy Romance set in Kashmir (aka city-type film). The angriest word ever spoken on screen was “Kuttey!” and only Dharmendra was allowed to utter it. Girls went to college on bicycles, wearing sarees, with one notebook and two plaits. Flowers would tremulously kiss each other each time the Hero and the Heroine visited Vrindavan or Shalimar Gardens to sing a song. Elderly Mothers always wore white. Everyone had a Mandir at home, no matter how poor they were. When the title credits rolled, “Records” were always on HMV and the “Playback” singers list was headed by Lata Mangeshkar 100% of the time, even for the obscurest of films.

Simple times they were. I mean, even Rajinder Kumar was a hero, giving monster silver jubilee hits, so…what else to say? Anyway, my point being, those were the homey, familiar days of Bollywood that are now long gone. Sadly.

I watched an old Hindi film the other day and started to reminisce the wonderful things about Old Bollywood that are now lost forever. Here is a list of things I miss.

The Blue-print of Side-Heroine

The Blue-print of “Side-Heroine”

 

The Side-Heroine cum Cab-Ray Dancer – For decades, this was almost always Helen, but sometimes a stray Padma Khanna or Jayshree T, even the occasional A-lister like Parveen Babi, would get to play this character, too. This Lady had a soft spot for only two things in life. First, the Hero, even though he was clearly not so keen back because he only had eyes for women with very large hips (e.g. Asha Parekh, Vyjanthimala etc). Second, Blond Wigs. After all, Blond Hair was practically made for dancing along R.D.Burman’s western tunes. Wait, actually, the Lady had a fondness for a third thing, too. Alcohol. That immediately made her an immoral woman who could never be taken by the Hero to his mother for pairee penna. Which was just as well because our Side-Heroine would invariably be shot by a Pran or a Prem four reels from the end anyway. Remarkably, the bullet would always hit her in the heart. Each time. No shoulder injury, leg, kamar, arm, ghutna, nothing. Heart, it had to be. Oh, and she would die in the Hero’s arms and he would shed tears because she would say “Ho sake toh mujhe maaf kar do!” (for what?) before conking off.

The Singing Sardar – Quite often played by Parikshit Sahni, with Mahendra Kapoor (whose voice always appeared to emerge from the hollows of the gut) doing the singing honours. This character was that over-ebullient Sardarji truck driver who would automatically start crooning the moment he touched a steering wheel of any kind (could even be a taxi’s). For every up-note, he would steer left, and for every down-, right. No wonder then that our Singing Sardar would constantly, and violently, keep flinging the wheel one way or the other keeping up with the melody, even though the road ahead was always very, very straight. (Strange, then, that in real life, truck accidents are blamed on alcohol, not music).

The Blind Beggar – You remember this one? This was another singing character. Usually seen with a harmonium, but always without pupils. Of the eyes, that is. I presume that the screen test of any actor trying for this role involved him rolling his eyeballs up and under his head, and holding that posture for hours. (I just tried to do it myself and it gave me a headache in 4 seconds flat. And kindly do not attempt this in front of little children, they will pee with fright). Anyway, sometimes, the harmonium would be replaced by an 8 year old girl in a torn frock and an unwashed face. Together, the Blind Beggar and his Young Associate would walk up and down a Roadways bus, hands thrust forward asking for alms, all the while singing the exact tragic story that compelled the heroine (Mala Sinha, Reena Roy, Jayaprada etc etc) to run away from home. “Has this fellow been stalking me?” was a thought that never crossed these women’s mind, maybe because they would be quite busy sobbing softly into their pallu.

Satyen Kappu – Yes, seriously, where is he? I mean, unless he is dead or something, what is his excuse for going missing? He could play any character in any film, and he did – smuggler, drunk, mill worker, cop, brother-in-law, TB patient, driver etc etc. I am quite certain he once even played a camel in a film.

Dil ka Daura – Way before Alok Nath had even learned how to spell sanskari, there existed a Babuji called Nasir Husain. He was naturally blessed with sad eyes perennially swollen with tears. With a crisp pagdi atop his Ooncha Sar, and a Budhape ki Laathi that kept him sprightly, he was every Hindi Film Heroine’s dream daddy. Sadly, however, he was to Calamity what bees are to honey, magnet is to iron, and Poonam Pandey’s bra is to sports. A family tragedy usually meant that the lathi would topple to the floor, the pagdi at the feet of the Baraat departing in a huff from his daughter’s unrequited wedding, and a Dil ka Daura, with Babuji immediately clutching a central location in his chest, and mouthing 4 full pages of dialogues, slowly and tearfully, before breathing his last. With his incessant heart attack related fatalities, Nasir Husain had single-handedly kept the Glass Bangles Industry of India flourishing for decades.

The Tawaif – This one hurts. My favourite Rekha could have had as protracted a career as Amitji had the Tawaif roles of Bollywood not dried up. I understand, it might be odd to imagine Deepika Padukone, Sonam Kapoor or Katrina Kaif as Kothewalis, but how would we know it won’t work unless they tried? Actresses today are no risk-takers. I wish they took a leaf or two out of Abhishek Bachchan’s script. I mean, just because his Inspecter Jai of Dhoom is about as similar to his father’s umpteen Inspector Vijays as a non-AC 3-tier on Patliputra Express is to the Tokyo-Osaka Shinkansen, has it stopped the remarkable young man from trying? Over and over (and over) again?

The Climaxing Cop – After the Hero has landed the last punch on the Villain’s viciously battered face, and the ropes trussing the Heroine and Maa-ji have been untied, an open Willy’s jeep would fly into the “Smuggler’s Godown”. Off would jump one rotund man in khaki and four rotund others in blue half-pants. Maybe a bullet would be fired in the air for good measure. And then, Jagdish Raj would yell – “Hawaldaar, arrest him!” – pointing at the most grievously hurt man at the site, not once needing any tafteesh of any kind. Possibly because Jagdish-ji, may his soul rest in peace, could simply smell evil? After all, he played a cop in over 87,000 films.

The Cock-eyed Drunk – The last time one of my friends acted like Keshto Mukherjee, Bhagwan, Johnny Walker etc after swigging a few at a party was…well, never. In fact, other than hooting loudly on the dance floor to a Honey Singh song, and then puking wildly on that lovely lady’s dress, you could barely tell that the fellow was drunk! No cock-eyes, no donkey-like guffaws and no slurring on jokes – none of the typical symptoms of Bollywood drunkenness were displayed. No wonder then that this character fell by the wayside with time. Sigh. I used to really like Keshto Mukherjee, though. <sad emoticon>

Munimji – No, I don’t mean Tina Ambani. I mean the character who would keep all the hisaab-khaata for the Zamindar. Always in a dhoti and topi, carrying an umbrella, and walking two paces behind the Boss, with folded hands. His all-time favourite word was Byaaj. Also, by law, he could never be taller than 4 feet 5 inches.

Moti the Dog, Badal the Horse, etc etc – Also, Safed and regular Haathis, Monkeys, Crocodiles, Babbar-Shers, Tota-Maina, Do Hanso ka Joda, Kabootars et al, all gone! I think, despite PETA’s strong presence in India, the destruction of the Animal Kingdom of Bollywood had started the day Sridevi outstared a snake with her blue contact-lensed eyes to grab the main lead in Nagin. After that, even a valiant Tuffy didn’t stand a chance, did he?

Oh, how one wishes some of this golden stuff could find its way back to films! (Now, all I need to pray for is for Sajid Khan to read this post and remake one of my old favourites)

Aam Aadmi Ki Maa

Karan Arjun ki Aunty

Vijay aur Jai ki Maa. Karan Arjun ki Maasi.

Arnab’s Vigilante Justice System, popularly known as The Newshour at 9, has spared no one when it comes to doling out reprimands – Politicians dimpled and bearded, Bureaucrats, Jurists, Journalists, Czars of the Sporting World, Social Scientists, Activists, and some Overweight Unknowns with Curly Mops and Loud Voices who duet in complete symphony with Arnab’s own tunes. Lately, however, Arnab was realizing that this constant aiming at the Stars in order to shoot them down, had started to distance him from the very Aam Aadmi (and Aam Naari) he was aiming to protect. After all, no one remembered the last time they had seen a Mango Fellow on his program. So, off went Arnab’s producers, looking hither and tither for the Perfect Common (Wo)Man to be paraded on Newhour, to obtain some answers straight from the featured equus’ snout. Sadly, all they found were Men in Mufflers and inverted paper boats being passed off as Aam Aadmi Caps.

“No more Muffler Men on my program!” yelled Arnab. “Go find me someone who actually looks like a real Aam Aadmi!”

Then, one of his producers suggested they look at Bollywood. After all, Art mimics Life in India, Dhoom and Joker notwithstanding. In fact, who could be more Aam than The Quintessential Hindi Film Mother?

And who better than SuperMa Nirupa Roy herself for the interview?

 

Arnab Goswami : We debated amongst ourselves who to talk to when it came to getting Aam Aadmi’s opinions.

Nirupa Roy : Thank you for having me on the show, Arnab. I am uniquely qualified to answer your questions on behalf of the Aam Aadmi. After all, the Aam Aadmi is the Mother of All P… (pauses)

AG : What were you going to say, Maaji? Problems?

NR : (cautiouslyErrm…no, Possibilities. I was going to say Possibilities. The Aam Aadmi is the Mother of All Possibilities. And I am…well, Aam Aadmi’s Maaji.

AG : How many children do you have, Maaji?

NR : (pontificating immediately) My children have grown up to become Model, Upright Citizens of Society. In fact, most have grown up to become successful Police Inspectors…

AG : Maaji, I have just started by asking you a very simple question, and you are avoiding it already.

NR : (presses on unheedingly) …and not just any silly, old, Police Inspectors, mind you…

AG : (persisting) Maaji

NR : (and on) …I am saying, very successful Police Inspectors…

AG : Maaji

NR : …the kind who are allotted no less than Type-VIII quarters by the government…

AG : (slowly losing patience) Maaji

NR : …with a spiral staircase to the upstairs bedrooms, and a giant piano in the drawing room…

AG : Maaji, you are avoiding my…

NR : …and a Puja Room made just for me…

AG : (shaking his head, patience ready to snap any minute) MaajiMaajiMaaji…!

NR : Oh, and they get their own official vehicles too. They all have Willy’s open-roof Jeeps.

AG : (angrily) Maaji, my simple question to you, which you have avoided for the past ten minutes, is this – how many children do you have?

NR : (as if suddenly snapping back to attention) I have several, Arnab. The exact count no one knows because I have lost a few over the years.

AG : (immediately chastised) Oh, lost? That is awful, I am so sorry, Maaji! Were they very young when they passed away?

NR : (mortified) Good Heavens, no, they are not dead, Arnab!

AG : Then?

NR : Arnab, you see, I have never failed to visit the Kumbh Melas and other Vishal Bhagwati Jagarans that millions of people in the Hindi belt attend on a regular basis. You know, the kind where stampedes are as common as trains running late in India.

AG : So?

NR : (surprised) What, so? Isn’t it a given that a mother would lose a few of her children at such large gatherings? After all, what else are Kumbh Melas famous for other than misplaced kids? And Naga Sadhus?

AG : Let me tell you, Maaji, that what you are saying is not normal. People don’t just ‘lose a few of their children’ while they are laundering their sins in the Ganges!

NR : (unapologetic) Frankly, I blame the arrangements made by the State Governments of Uttar Pradesh for my losses. No matter who has been in charge of managing the Kumbh Mela, for example, I have lost kids there. Under the Congress, the BJP, BSP, SP, you name it.

AG : (angrily) You are looking for a scapegoat for your own follies, Maaji. Why can people never accept their own fault!

NR : (taking offence) That’s not true, Arnab. Sometimes I have lost children because of other reasons, too.

AG : Like what? Maaji, please don’t give cryptic answers now. Remember, the nation wants straight answers.

NR : Arnab, there were times when I was physically incapacitated to mind my brood. Like, that one time when I fell and hit my head on a stone and had amnesia.

AG : (concerned) Oh dear!

NR : Yes, it took me many years to regain my memory. I didn’t even have any partial memory left. At least Aamir Khan recalled some of his every few minutes in Ghajini. No such luck in my case. I recovered mine only when I hit the same stone at the same spot again years later. I mean, had I known…

AG : I see.

NR : And, that other time, I fell and hit my head on a stone and became blind.

AG : (exasperated) What’s with all this frequent ‘hit my head on a stone’ business, Madam? This points to some other kind of malaise within you. Why can’t you walk straight? Why should you lose your balance so often? And to such catastrophic results! Have you gone for a full medical check-up?

NR : (helplessly) How can I? I am just a poor widow. Look at my simple white cotton saree! You think I can afford health care in this country? These hospitals are so expensive! In fact, the last time I had to go to one, I needed a blood transfusion but had no money to pay for it.

AG : Then?

NR : It was the kindness of the doctor there who caught hold of three young men named Akbar, Amar and Anthony and made them donate their blood for free, thus saving my life. The kind doctor just hooked all four of us to the same intravenous line and sucked out all the blood from them that I needed. I wish all our medical facilities worked this way!

AG : Holy Maaji of God! You do realize that was unsafe medical practice, don’t you? In fact, the doctor should probably be in jail for such gross medical incompetence!

NR : (surprised) Unsafe? Why? The boys looked healthy and seemed to be from decent families – one was a cop even. The Muslim fellow looked like a tailor, and the third was a Padre, I think.

AG : (a 1:3 mix of concerned and angry) But, Maaji, it is illegal to donate blood without testing! HIV, Hepatitis A, B-12, C, D, E, K, do you really have no worries? What if you had fallen sick? Or worse, died? Who would have taken care of your children?

NR : Oh, my children, yes, though sometimes, I feel that I am losing control over them anyway.

AG : Why do you say that, Maaji?

NR : What else should one make if it? You know, one of my sons just ran away from home after I scolded him?

AG : Young boys do have a rebellious streak…

NR : This one, I think his name was Vijay or Jai, went and got a tattoo without seeking my permission. I was so livid!

AG : (offering helpfully) Maybe the tattoo parlor had a discount scheme? There is just too much competition these days.

NR : No, he got into a tiff with his dad who wouldn’t take him to the T-20 game between Delhi Daredevils and Mumbai Indians.

AG : So?

NR : So, he went to the tattoo parlor and asked the fellow to engrave “Mera Baap Bore Hai” on his arm.

AG : That sounds like a harmless little thing, Maaji.

NR : Arnab, but that was not even the half of it! The foolish tattoo fellow made a spelling mistake and tattooed “Mera Baap Chor Hai” instead.

AG : (nods his head) Ok, I do see why that might be a problem, yes.

NR : Doesn’t it? That’s why I yelled at the boy. And he ran away. Not only that, my husband left me and disappeared, too.

AG : (with a furrowed forehead) I am confused. Is your husband missing? Or dead? What about this white, cotton saree you are wearing? You can’t don the National Costume of Widowhood on just a whim, you know!

NR : (points to the saree, there is even a hole in it at the pallooOh, this? This is just to claim benefits from the government under the Rajiv Gandhi Muft ke Kapde Yojna. Frankly, I am positive that my husband is alive. See? I have full faith in my Mangalsutra (points to suhaag in a necklace). Meri woh zaroor aayenge (tears instantly)

AG : Maaji

NR : (wipes tears away) And I keep Karwa Chauth fasts also, but without telling anyone (triumphantly).

AG : (glaring angrily) Maaji, I am appalled, APPALLED at such devious trickery. YOU are the Mother of Aam Aadmi. At a time when India’s growth rate has hit catastrophic lows, Foreign Institutional Investments have dried up, job growth is an 2.2% and The Times of India print edition is surviving only because it replaced news with ads, it is people like you who are bleeding our nation dry. I say, despite such successful Police Inspector sons, you are pretending to live in penury? Why, Mrs. Roy? The nation wants to know!

NR : But I am like this only, Arnab! My sons seem think I have very high morals. In fact, just the other day, my rich son in “Import-Export” business (goes winky-wink at Arnab), got into an argument with one of my Police Inspector sons whom I live with, you know, the one who got me my own Puja Room?  The boy kept throwing his blazing success at my poorer son’s face – “I have DLF bungalows, Audi cars, servants, Husain’s artwork, Apple products, bank balance with HSBC! What do you have?” – he screamed!

AG : Well said! We all know there is more money to be made in the private sector!

NR : I know! But do you know what my Police boy said?

AG : What?

NR : He replied – “But I have Mother by my side”.

AG : (unimpressed) What shit does that mean?

NR : (excited) That’s exactly what I thought, too! I mean, what shit? So I took my Krishna and Radha idols from my Puja Room and moved into my rich son’s bungalow.

AG : Hey, wait, wasn’t your “Import-Export” son the one who died after a car accident at the Jai Santoshi Maa Mandir? The Police had arrested you for yelling at the temple idols and throwing your slippers at them like a demented person. India-TV did some exclusive breaking news coverage of that.

NR : (shakes her head) Much of what the media says is exaggerated. They will concoct anything for TRPs! It was just a simple protest, nothing more! But, yes, I was on psychotic meds, so…Thankfully, my son did leave me his estate in his well before he died.

AG : Ok, Maaji, now that we have established how strangely the Common Man of India lives these days, I wanted to know – What are your thoughts on the party that represents you?

NR : (happily) I am very glad that the Aam Aadmi Party is doing so well. I say, more power to the Common Man! They will finally bring down the Zamindaari system with the Jan Lokpal Bill! I have seen enough troubles with these Thakurs.

AG : (in a quiet, but seething voice) Maaji, this is national television so I will refrain from using harsher language than this, but you are a fool. Why the bloody hell are you talking about Thakurs? In 2014?

NR : But Arnab…

AG : In the era of computers and CNG low-floor buses, you are talking about something from the 1950s?

NR : But Arnab…

AG : It is because of people like you that progress in this country is difficult…

NR : Arnab…

AG : (relentlessly)…because you keep bringing up demons of the past! Have you not heard of all these government schemes that can save you from the Thakurs?

NR : Arnab…I…

AG : (mouth : frothing) MNREGA? Or Jawahar Jai-Jawan-Jai-Kisan Yogna? Or Indira Daridra, Dukhiya, Lachaar and still Jeevit Yojna, popularly known as DDLJ?

NR : Listen, Arnab…

AG : What do you have to say to explain yourself, Maaji?

NR : If you would only let me…

AG : (angrily) Speak? The nation wants straight answers, Maaji! For much too long, the people of the country have been taken for a ride by the likes of you.

NR : (offended) The likes of me? But I AM Aam Aadmi…or at least Aam Dharampatni and Maa.

AG : Then behave like one, Maaji!

NR : I wish I had access to all these schemes after my husband supposedly died! But the Thakur stole my farm plot in Gurgaon. And then my buffaloes also ran away. The police wouldn’t help me because I am not a VIP like some UP Minister. I had no place to go! I was on the street!

AG : But your own sons are Police Inspectors!

NR : But they are busy fighting Smugglers after Chidambaram changed gold import policies! They have no time for me now.

AG : Smugglers? You mean they work for Indian Customs Service?

NR : What’s that?

AG : (shaking his head) I am very concerned about your sanity, Maaji. I think the Aam Aadmi of the country has a serious mental condition. Ok, let’s change track. I’d like to know more about your family.

NR : (enthusiastically) Most of my sons are married and settled now.

AG : Oh, that’s good. So, there is at least something that is not completely demented in your life then.

NR : My Bahus are indeed very nice. They are reed slim, astonishingly fair and movie-star beautiful. They touch my feet every day and cook me kheer despite my diabetes.

AG : That’s nice, Mrs. Roy. In this day and age, it is hard to expect well-educated youngsters to still be so rooted to our old conservative customs.

NR : Err

AG : Did you choose working wives for your sons? Since most of them are Police Inspectors?

NR : (sheepishly) I didn’t choose the girls. The boys chose their own.

AG : (impressed) Very progressive! Have they continued working their old jobs after marriage?

NR : (horrifiedOh, heaven forbid, no! That would be disastrous!

AG : Why?

NR : Well, all my Police Inspector sons married Tawaifs and Cabaret Dancers, you see.

AG : (suddenly much contrite) Maaji. Can I say something?

NR : Yes, Arnab, it is your show.

AG : I think this will be my last Aam Aadmi interview.

NR : (surprised) Oh, why so, Arnab? Abhi toh picture baki hai, mere dost!

AG : (shakes his head) I am afraid to stay on until the end of this film.

 

 

Valentine’s Day, Or As Some Call It – Thursday

valentines_day_comment_graphic_13With feral disregard to Valentine’s Day propriety that prohibited them from being seen in public, five comprehensively single people, including moi, decided to meet up for dinner. And not just dinner at any place, we boldly decided to hit Ego’s, the Italian restaurant in South Delhi that is immensely popular among those of a romantic persuasion out to enjoy good food and great music with their match chosen by The One Himself. It was perhaps a symbolic choice for us considering that we had enough of it of our own (I mean Ego or Pride or Shamelessness, call it what you may) to not want to hide under our beds on a day when Non-Singles so heartlessly paraded their Facebook status.

One look at the abject appearance of our fivesome and the nimble-footed usher hurriedly chose for us a table situated in the remotest boondocks of the restaurant. Clearly, where we thought fashionably torn jeans, hawaii chappals, black t-shirt with haldi stains, customized unkempt hair, a two-day stubble etc. etc. were all motifs of cool hipsterishness, our man saw them no more than signs of date-less reality. Yes, we were confined to the ‘table on the far side’ – the one by the popcorn machine, and so close to the kitchen that one could smell the artificial pink color being used to make the cake frosting inside. When my friend Sanjiv twirled his finger at the host of untaken tables strewn all over more desirable real estate, his quizzical gesture was shot down with a firm ‘They are all reserved, Sir’. No doubt reserved for happier faces that would oh so seamlessly blend in amidst red ribbons and roses pockmarking every nook and cranny of the place today.

Chris de Burg’s “Lady In Red” spat out of the Bose sound system. Typical, I thought.

“It’s not so bad,” I said half-heartedly, as we were all seated at our outpost.

“Well, at least it’s a good view of the whole place,” Asha consoled herself.

“And no one can see us. I need some JD,” muttered Ravi.

Drinks were ordered at warp speed and were served just as promptly. Vodka, mojito, whisky and such like.

A young couple entered the restaurant and was quickly accorded prime seating. They seemed to have barely cracked puberty.

“How can Chintu and Munni even afford a place like this with their pocket money?” asked Goldie as she pointed at the newcomers with her eyes and used her hands instead to pick up the vodka glass.

“Maybe he saved all year to give his girlfriend a special VD present,” I offered intelligently.

“Must you call it VD?” said Goldie, making a face.

All of us sniggered at the VD joke, hardly justifying our chronological ages.

“But seriously, how? I bet you, Munni put her Barbie to bed before coming here,” Goldie pestered with her pertinent financial cross-examination.

“Parents are only too happy to see their kids go out and have a good time. Maybe this treat was a reward for them passing their Social Studies exam,” said Sanjiv trying to read the menu card by holding it three feet from his face. “Hey, why have they reduced the font size on this bloody thing? And why are the lights so dim?”

Arrey, give it to Ravi, let him order. You just make sure that you check-in all of us on Facebook!” I said, thus ending Sanjiv’s unsuccessful tryst to hold the menu right side up sans reading glasses. (Ravi, incidentally, is 28 dog-years younger than all of us)

“Should I order ribs?” Ravi suggested. The three vegetarians at the table looked at him glumly.

“Don’t tell me they are going to serve them drinks! They are what, twelve? Fourteen, tops!” wailed Goldie observing from her vantage point.

“Let them be happy. Chocolates, roses and tea are the new combination on Valentine’s Day,” Asha said authoritatively. “And by tea, I mean the one from Long Island that comes in a tall glass!”

“Amen, Sister!” said Goldie, and the ladies sipped copiously from their glasses.

Food was ultimately sorted. It was decided to “just order lots of appetizers”, which is infinitesimally easy to manage, though it also ensures that only microscopic portions of the “awesome” stuff eventually end up getting passed around.

A young couple walked in with their small kid. The kid was five, perhaps ten – we were unlettered in matters of kid’s ages. Or kids, generally speaking.

“Who brings kids to their romantic dinner? Fools!” said I categorically.

“My friend just moved to Bangalore. He is having trouble getting his kid admitted to school,” Ravi said.

“Terrible,” said Sanjiv munching his jacket potato with oodles of butter, cheese and chives.

“Why? I think it is great!” said Asha as she looked at Sanjiv suspiciously. Ravi looked up from his buffalo wings quizzically.

“Oh, I meant the whole school thing – terrible. The potatoes – YUM!”

“My colleague at work has invited me to his daughter’s happy budday this Saturday”, I said. “What should I take as a gift?”

That set off a cackle of laughter at the table. Despite choked food pipes, loud coughing and misty eyes, the other four still managed to mock at my predicament.

“Do get us all return gifts. UNCLE!” managed Sanjiv through more hysterical laughter.

“Bastards!” I said.

The food and drink ravage-fest continued. Presently, the unfriendly usher came by our table again. He enquired pointlessly if we were enjoying our evening, to which we nodded politely.

“I have a request,” he added, this time a trifle sheepishly.

“What is it?” asked Ravi.

“We start our Valentine’s Day Special in an hour. This will become a couples-only restaurant after that. Couples Only. No single people. Not even in groups.”

“Yes, yes, we know,” said Sanjiv gruffly.

“I just thought I should remind you all. Thanks for understanding,” the usher added as he flashed a creepy smile and begged our leave.

“Asshole,” I said once we were safely out of his hearing range. Everyone concurred.

“I am not coming out on Valentine’s Day. Ever again,” said Goldie, as she gulped the last of her vodka.

Asha looked at her and smiled.

“Let it be, dear. One last round? Happy Hour doesn’t end until 6.30. We can still be out of here by 7 before the crowds come in.”

 

To be clear, I shall remain tightlipped on which parts of this story are true and which not! But, do know that all the characters in this story are absolutely real – these are my close friends, who also happen to be happily single. Also typical are their reactions!

And please don’t get angry at the management of Ego’s! It’s an awesome restaurant in New Friends Colony in Delhi…fun, lively, good food – you should definitely visit!

 

Aam Aadmi Ki Maaji

 

Maaji, The Nation Wants To Know!

Maaji, The Nation Wants To Know!

Arnab Goswami. He is the TV ‘Cocktail’ that the nation guzzles every night at 9 pm to alleviate its existential headaches. Ok, so perhaps this spirited-bong was never meant to really address the underlying reasons for our despondency, but at least a temporary buzz of mellow it does bring. When we see Arnab lash at shiny people, much like how a headmaster smacks a truant student’s ass with a wooden ruler, it gives us hope that we might not be that close to the end of days just yet. That someone still exists who can beat some sense into nonsense. That the nation can still hope to recover from its triple heartbreaks of antipathy, mediocrity and decadence. That simply through the brute cyclonic power emanating from Arnab’s tonsils, we might somehow get torn off the messes of today and tossed into a better tomorrow.

If it is our national pastime to create real problems for ourselves, it is Arnab’s mission to chase after imaginary fixes for them. And, like Superman itching to tight-suit his way into every issue, Arnab wants  to fix everything and everyone, too. And he has a bunch of New-Killer Weapons he has perfected that help him do that, having target-practiced with them night-after-night over multiple chat windows, sometimes as many as ten of them open, barely fitting on a measly 32-inch screen. His arsenal, deployed along with his Booming B-52 Bomber Voice includes – The Hand Wave, The Flared Nostrils, The ‘Are-You-Serious?’ Glare Through Coke-bottle Lenses, The Reynold’s Pen Poke, The Repeat-Guest-Name Ad-Nauseam, The Look-away Dismissively Look, among others. The most recent addition to the kitty has been The Purring Prized-Cat Voice – the one in which he talks softly to his prey yet still making it pee its pants. Arnab perfected it while watching the Discovery Channel show about a tigress who licked her cubs and then gobbled them up. And then he deployed it on a poor chap whose last name does not rhyme with Pappu.

Arnab’s Vigilante Justice System, popularly known as The Newshour at 9, has spared no one when it comes to doling out reprimands – Politicians Young, Old and Very Old, Bureaucrats, Jurists, Journalists, Czars of the Sporting World, Social Scientists, Activists, and some Overweight Unknowns with Curly Mops and Loud Voices who duet in complete harmony with Arnab’s own tunes.

Lately, though, this constant aiming at the Stars in order to shoot them down, had started to exact a high price from Arnab, for it slowly began to distance him from the very Aam Aadmi (and Aam Naari) he aimed to protect. After all, when was the last time anyone saw a Mango Fellow on his program? So, off went Arnab’s team, looking hither and tither for the Perfect Common (Wo)Man to be paraded on Newhour, to obtain some answers straight from the featured equus’ snout. Sadly, what sounded like a simple search, seemed to always lead to people in mufflers, the common I-Card of The Common Man.

“No more Muffler Men on my program!” yelled Arnab. “Go find me a Real Aam Aadmi!”

Then, one of his producers suggested they look at Bollywood. After all, the Film Industry is replete with people tall and short, dimpled and bearded, dynastic legacies, old mores, slander and innuendos, questionable morality, an old order that Khan’t seem to give way to the younger lot, etc etc etc. In many ways, Art mimicking Life in India. Once the fertile farm called Bollywood had been zeroed into, it was easy-peasy to find The Representative Face of the Common (Wo)Man in the Film Industry, and haul her ass to his studio. Yes, who could be more Aam than The Quintessential Hindi Film Mother?

And who better than SuperMa Nirupa Roy herself for the interview?

 

Arnab Goswami : We debated amongst ourselves who to talk to when it came to getting Aam Aadmi’s opinions.

Nirupa Roy : Thank you for having me on the show, Arnab. I am uniquely qualified to answer your questions on behalf of the Aam Aadmi. After all, the Aam Aadmi is the Mother of All P… (pauses)

AG : What were you going to say, Mrs. Roy? Problems?

NR : (cautiously) Errm…no, Possibilities. I was going to say Possibilities. The Aam Aadmi is the Mother of All Possibilities. And I am…well, Aam Aadmi’s Maaji.

AG : How many children do you have, Maaji, I mean, Madam?

NR : (pontificating) My children have grown up to become Model, Upright Citizens of Society. In fact, most have grown up to become successful Police Inspectors…

AG : Madam, I have just started by asking you a very simple question, and you are avoiding it already.

NR : (presses on unheedingly) …and not just any silly, old, Police Inspectors, mind you…

AG : (persisting) Madam…

NR : (and on) …I am saying, very successful Police Inspectors…

AG : Mrs. Roy…

NR : …the kind who are allotted no less than Type-VIII quarters by the government…

AG : (slowly losing patience) Mrs. Roy…

NR : …with a spiral staircase to the upstairs bedrooms, and a giant piano in the drawing room…

AG : Mrs. Roy, you are avoiding my…

NR : …and a Puja Room made just for me…

AG : (shaking his head, patience ready to snap any minute) Mrs. Roy…Mrs. Roy…Mrs. Roy…

NR : Oh, and they get their own official vehicles too. They all have Willy’s open-roof Jeeps.

AG : (angrily) Mrs. Roy, my simple question to you, which you have avoided for the past ten minutes, is this – how many children do you have?

NR : (as if suddenly snapping back to attention) I have several, Arnab. The exact count no one knows because I have lost a few over the years.

AG : (immediately chastised) Oh, lost? That is awful, I am so sorry, Mrs. Roy! Were they very young when they passed away?

NR : (mortified) Good Heavens, no, they are not dead, Arnab!

AG : Then?

NR : Arnab, you see, I have never failed to visit the Kumbh Melas and other Vishal Bhagwati Jagarans that millions of people in the Hindi belt attend on a regular basis. You know, the kind where stampedes are as common as trains running late in India.

AG : So?

NR : (surprised) What, so? Isn’t it a given that a mother would lose a few of her children at such large gatherings? After all, what are Kumbh Melas famous for? Other than the Naga Sadhus, that is?

AG : Let me tell you, Mrs. Roy, that what you are saying is not normal. People don’t just ‘lose a few of their children’ while they are laundering their sins in the Ganges!

NR : (unapologetic) Frankly, I blame the arrangements made by the State Governments of Uttar Pradesh for my losses. No matter who has been in charge of managing the Kumbh Mela, for example, I have lost kids there. Under the Congress, the BJP, BSP, SP, you name it.

AG : (angrily) You are looking for a scapegoat for your own follies, Mrs. Roy. Why can people never accept their own fault!

NR : (taking offence) That’s not true, Arnab. Sometimes I have lost children because of other reasons, too.

AG : Like what? Maaji, I mean, Madam, please don’t give cryptic answers now. Remember, the nation wants straight answers.

NR : Arnab, there were times when I was physically incapacitated to mind my brood. Like, that one time when I fell on a stone and had amnesia.

AG : (concerned) Oh dear!

NR : Yes, it took me many years to regain my memory. I didn’t even have any partial memory left. At least Aamir Khan recalled some of his every few minutes in Ghajini. No such luck in my case. I recovered mine only when I hit the same stone at the same spot again years later. I mean, had I known…

AG : I see.

NR : And, that other time, I fell on a stone and became blind.

AG : (exasperated) What’s with all this frequent ‘fell on a stone’ business, Madam? This points to some other kind of malaise within you. Why can’t you walk straight? Why should you lose your balance so often? And to such catastrophic results! Have you gone for a full medical check-up?

NR : (helplessly) How can I? I am just a poor widow. Look at my simple white cotton saree! You think I can afford health care in this country? These hospitals are so expensive! In fact, the last time I had to go to one, I needed a blood transfusion but had no money to pay for it.

AG : Then?

NR : It was the kindness of the doctor there who caught hold of three young men named Akbar, Amar and Anthony and made them donate their blood for free, thus saving my life. The kind doctor just hooked all four of us to the same intravenous line and sucked out all the blood from them that I needed. I wish all our medical facilities worked this way!

AG : Holy Maaji! You do realize that was unsafe medical practice, don’t you? In fact, the doctor should probably be in jail for such gross medical incompetence!

NR : (surprised) Unsafe? Why? The boys looked healthy and seemed to be from decent families – one was a cop even. The Muslim fellow looked like a tailor, and the third was a Padre, I think.

AG : (a 1:3 mix of concerned and angry) But, Madam, it is illegal to donate blood without testing! HIV, Hepatitis A, B-12, C, D, E, K, do you really have no worries? What if you had fallen sick? Or worse, died? Who would have taken care of your children?

NR : Oh, my children, yes, though sometimes, I feel that I am losing control over them anyway.

AG : Why do you say that, Mrs. Roy?

NR : What else should one make if it? You know, one of my sons just ran away from home after I scolded him?

AG : Young boys do have a rebellious streak…

NR : This one, I think his name was Vijay or Jai, went and got a tattoo without seeking my permission. I was so livid!

AG : (offering helpfully) Maybe the tattoo parlor had a discount scheme?

NR : No, he got into a tiff with his dad who wouldn’t take him to the T-20 game between Delhi Daredevils and Mumbai Indians.

AG : So?

NR : So, he went to the tattoo parlor and asked the fellow to engrave “Mera Baap Bore Hai” on his arm.

AG : That sounds like a harmless little thing, Mrs. Roy.

NR : Arnab, but that was not even the half of it! The foolish tattoo fellow made a spelling mistake and tattooed “Mera Baap Chor Hai” instead.

AG : (nods his head) Ok, I do see why that might be a problem, yes.

NR : Doesn’t it? That’s why I yelled at the boy. And he ran away. Not only that, my husband left me and disappeared, too.

AG : (with a furrowed forehead) I am confused. Is your husband missing? Or dead? What about this white, cotton saree you are wearing? You can’t don the National Costume of Widowhood on just a suspicion, you know!

NR : (points to the saree, there is even a hole in it at the palloo) Oh, this? This is just to claim benefits from the government under the Rajiv Gandhi Muft ke Kapde Yojna. Frankly, I am positive that my husband is alive. See? I have full faith in my Mangalsutra. Meri woh zaroor aayenge (tears instantly)

AG : Mrs. Roy…

NR : (wipes tears away) And I keep Karwa Chauth fasts also, but without telling anyone (triumphantly).

AG : (glaring angrily) Mrs. Roy, I am appalled, APPALLED at such devious trickery. YOU are the Mother of Aam Aadmi. At a time when India’s growth rate has hit catastrophic lows, Foreign Institutional Investments have dried up, job growth is an 2.2% and The Times of India print edition is surviving only because it replaced news with ads, it is people like you who are bleeding our nation dry. I say, despite such successful Police Inspector sons, you are pretending to live in penury? Why, Mrs. Roy? The nation wants to know!

NR : But I am like this only, Arnab! My sons seem think I have very high morals. In fact, just the other day, my rich son in “Import-Export” business (goes winky-wink at Arnab), got into an argument with one of my Police Inspector sons whom I live with, you know, the one who got me my own Puja Room?  The boy kept throwing his blazing success at my poorer son’s face – “I have DLF bungalows, Audi cars, servants, Husain’s artwork, Apple products, bank balance with HSBC! What do you have?” – he screamed!

AG : Well said! We all know there is more money to be made in the private sector!

NR : I know! But do you know what my Police boy said?

AG : What?

NR : He replied – “But I have Mother by my side”.

AG : (unimpressed) What shit does that mean?

NR : (excited) That’s exactly what I thought, too! I mean, what shit? So I took my Krishna and Radha idols from my Puja Room and moved into my rich son’s bungalow.

AG : Hey, wait, wasn’t your “Import-Export” son the one who died after a car accident at the Mata ka Mandir? The Police had arrested you for yelling at the temple idols and throwing your slippers at them like a demented person. India-TV did some exclusive breaking news coverage of that.

NR : (shakes her head) Much of what the media says is exaggerated. They will concoct anything for TRPs! It was just a simple protest, nothing more! But, yes, I was on psychotic meds, so…Thankfully, my son did leave me his estate in his well before he died.

AG : Ok, Mrs. Roy, now that we have established how strangely the Common Man of India lives these days, I wanted to know – What are your thoughts on the party that represents you?

NR : (happily) I am very glad that the Aam Aadmi Party is doing so well. I say, more power to the Common Man! They will finally bring down the Zamindaari system with the Jan Lokpal Bill! I have seen enough troubles with these Thakurs.

AG : (in a quiet, but seething voice) Madam, this is national television so I will refrain from using harsher language than this, but you are a fool. Why the bloody hell are you talking about Thakurs? In 2014?

NR : But Arnab…

AG : In the era of computers and CNG low-floor buses, you are talking about something from the 1950s?

NR : But Arnab…

AG : It is because of people like you that progress in this country is difficult…

NR : Arnab…

AG : (relentlessly)…because you keep bringing up demons of the past! Have you not heard of all these government schemes that can save you from the Thakurs?

NR : Arnab…I…

AG : (mouth : frothing) MNREGA? Or Jawahar Jai-Jawan-Jai-Kisan Yogna? Or Indira Daridra, Dukhiya, Lachaar yet Jeevit Yojna, popularly known as DDLJ?

NR : Listen, Arnab…

AG : What do you have to say to explain yourself, Mrs. Roy?

NR : If you would only let me…

AG : (angrily) Speak? The nation wants straight answers, Mrs. Roy! For much too long, the people of the country have been taken for a ride by the likes of you.

NR : (offended) The likes of me? But I AM Aam Aadmi…or at least Aam Dharampatni and Maa.

AG : Then behave like one, Mrs. Roy!

NR : I wish I had access to all these schemes after my husband supposedly died! But the Thakur stole my farm plot in Gurgaon. And then my buffaloes also ran away. The police wouldn’t help me because I am not a VIP. I had no place to go! I was on the street!

AG : But your own sons are Police Inspectors!

NR : But they are busy fighting Smugglers after Chidambaram changed gold import policies! They have no time for me now.

AG : Smugglers? You mean they work for Indian Customs Service?

NR : What’s that?

AG : (shaking his head) I am very concerned about your sanity, Madam. I think the Aam Aadmi of the country has a serious mental condition. Ok, let’s change track. I’d like to know more about your family.

NR : (enthusiastically) Most of my sons are married and settled now.

AG : Oh, that’s good. So, there is at least something that is not completely demented in your life then.

NR : My Bahus are indeed very nice. They are reed slim, astonishingly fair and movie-star beautiful. They touch my feet every day and call me Maaji.

AG : That’s nice, Mrs. Roy. In this day and age, it is hard to expect well-educated youngsters to still be so rooted to our old conservative customs.

NR : Err

AG : Did you choose working wives for your sons? Since most of them are Police Inspectors?

NR : (sheepishly) I didn’t choose the girls. The boys chose their own.

AG : (impressed) Very progressive! Have they continued working their old jobs after marriage?

NR : (horrified) Oh, heaven forbid, no! That would be disastrous!

AG : Why?

NR : Well, all my Police Inspector sons married Tawaifs and Cabaret Dancers, you see.

AG : (suddenly much contrite) Mrs. Roy. Can I say something?

NR : Yes, Arnab, it is your show.

AG : I think this will be my last Aam Aadmi interview.

NR : (surprised) Oh, why so, Arnab? Abhi toh picture baki hai, mere dost!

AG : (shakes his head) I am afraid to stay on until the end of this film.

 

 

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
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