Tag Archives: Life

An Essay on How to Fill a Day with Nothing – Also, known as, The Pleasures of a Purpose-less Sabbatical…

Some three and a half years ago, I took a sabbatical from work, ostensibly to do bigger, better, more worthwhile things in life. (Unfortunately, I settled back into more mundane living fairly quickly, without utilizing my downtime in any meaningful way. Clearly, the current break will have to be much more purposeful!)

This note below captures the heady feeling of the early days of that break…dated October 2009, location New York, NY.

Watching grass grow can be a fun and rewarding experience.

Ah, the Art of Sleep. Or, rather, the Art of Waking-Up-Late. For some, waking up late means 8 am, which is such a pity – this artform is clearly wasted on them. For others, waking up at 11 am or later comes easy. Natural Born Artists. So you continue to hone this Talent each day.

Sometime mid-morning sleep eventually dissipates. Your eyes hook up with your iPhone/Watch/Media Center/Newspaper/Life. 10.55. You float out of bed around the same time as Worker-Bees all around town are hearing the first rumblings in their stomachs. After all, lunch hour is near. The Sun has already expended much of its morning energy, but you don’t notice that because the blinds are down (sensible move last night). Your first act of the day is to bring the Sound-and-Fury box back to life. You already made sure the remote stayed close at hand. Choices abound – there’s CNN, if you want to know how much your Life would Suck if you hadn’t been Goldman Sachs (but wait, you aren’t Goldman Sachs…). Then there’s Martha, who can  teach you how to make Champignon French-something-or-other with mushroom caps and cheese, and craft decorations with discarded mushroom stems and glitter. Super talented woman. But best to settle with the Ladies of The View. Five women talking animatedly about important-sounding topics, you know, Jon and Kate, Balloon Boy and such. They can’t seem to agree between themselves that the sky is blue. And what greater pass time than to guess which dentures Barbara Walters chose to wear today – clearly, she rotates between several pairs depending upon her need for audible coherence?

Breakfast at 12. If you have made lunch (aka breakfast) plans with friends, food is taken care of. But each time you are out having lunch, you wonder why things appear rushed. Could it be that your Worker-Bee-Friend needs to get back to work? You are in no hurry yourself, but those Au Bon Pain soup bowls carry only so much soup. Even the Large ones. Though lunch plans are quick and easy, and your friends have suggested them a few times, you are a lazy sloth (painful to take a quick shower, get ready, and leave home by 1). So you plan to meet another day. Maybe later in the week – Friday.

Today, you are home for breakfast – things are much simpler. The Fridge holds the key to your happiness. Milk. Direct from a cow some two thousand miles away. Wholesome, pure…missing some fat, but with added vitamins. What else…there is Pepperidge Farms Bread – unspoilt even after a week. Fortified with cement, presumably. There’s some Swiss cheese. Organic Grade-A-Large-Eggs with yummy Good-Cholesterol. Gala Apples and Dole Bananas before they go too ripe. But you look beyond all that and grab the big box of Cheerios you bought yesterday. After watching that ad in which a grandfather is having Cheerios with his year-old grandson. They were loving it so! Nothing like a good bowl of cereal. Except carrot cake. Or any cake.

All through your miserable years at work, you have wondered about those folks who sit at Starbucks in the middle of the afternoon, sipping coffee and reading a book. WHAT is their profession – and how do you get to be one of THEM? Well, now is your chance. So you grab your great new Novel, in all its 700 pages of hard bound enormity, and lug it to the cafe two blocks away. You don’t really like coffee, so you order yourself a dessert drink. There is no one ahead or behind you in line, so you get a clear picture of how your Frappucciono is manufactured. Basically, they start with Heavy Cream. Then they add some mix (sugar syrup?) from a bottle. Followed by some fruity looking syrup from a second bottle. Off to the blender. Followed by a huge dollop of more Heavy Cream to top it up. Your heart fails just toting up the calories and Bad-Cholesterol count. The kid behind the counter smiles as she hands the Venti to you, her lips saying ‘Enjoy’ though her eyes clearly mean ‘Good Luck surviving that’.

Drink in hand, you seat yourself at a table with a so-so view of the Street. The best seats are already taken by Ferocious-looking-Hipsters. (Go back to your East Village, you Skinny Jeans Morons). Anyhow, you are not to be undone…you fish out your giant book with both hands (your bag and your shoulder thank you for it). You read. 3.15.

Outside the window, you spot a chick wearing mittens (already?). An old but well preserved lady with a dog. Back to the book. Two new visitors to the cafe. Marble cake…mmm, maybe you should get that, too. Two sips of the Frappuccino. Book. The visitors settle down at a worse table – take that, Losers. NYU Kids. Ah to be young in New York. Outside, the Mailman runs his block. Frappuccino. Book. Repeat. 3.30.

Only 3.30? Concentrate on the book. It is a great book, but this public area coccooning is new to you. The sounds and visuals are distracting. IPOD! Yes, take that out. Headphone all set. Playlist set to 500-Days-of-Summer. Go. Book. Frappuccino. Book. Repeat. Man running. Two giggly girls. One of the Ferocious-looking-Hipster starts to leave. Should you change you seat? No, that’s uncool, surely. Book. More Book. Even more Book. Frappuccino. Skip Song. Skip next Song, too. Frappuccino. Book. More Book. Even more Book. Now mainly Book and little much Else.

4.30. This turned out to be reasonably ok. You need more practice, so maybe you will repeat this again tomorrow. Or maybe, later in the week – Friday. Did 20 pages of the Book. The Brick goes back into the bag (groan). Onward home.

The Mega Million Lotto is now 108 MILLION DOLLARS! Stop by the neighborhood deli. Pretend you are there to buy something else…Snapple Grapeade, say. And just by-the-way ask for 3 Mega Million tickets. You know, to top out the 5 dollars you placed on the counter.

Finally Home. Free until 7 when you meet your friend over dinner. Go for a run? But you showered already, so perhaps tomorrow. Maybe later in the week – Friday. Catch up on recorded Jay Leno and Conans. Conan is still not funny…poor guy. But you want to be nice to him, so you continue to watch politely. You doze off…as your Natural-born-talent manifests itself again only after a few short hours. But, as Conan says bye for the night, you wake up as well. Perhaps time to change your shirt for the evening. You look through the closet to realize – 1) you still haven’t done laundry, and 2) you don’t have good clothes, anyway. Laundry and Shopping coming up. Maybe later in the week – Friday.

Off for dinner. Thai, Indian, Mexican or Chinese, typically. Usually cheap, and always worth it – there is a reason why New York apartments come with kitchens and smoke-alarms 1 feet apart from each other. Why would anyone want to cook in New York?

Home later. After 9, even your cellphone provider sets you free, so go yap as much as you want. But talking is so 2007, now that there is Facebook…Think of something truly witty for your Facebook status. Think hard. Continue to think. Eventually, give up – it’s not as if you have anything to report – you haven’t done ANYTHING today. Witty or otherwise.

Mr Sandman won’t visit for a while, so you extricate the Brick from the bag. Read the Book. It’s actually quite delightful…you wonder why you couldn’t concentrate at Starbucks. You continue to read. 1 am. You want to catch up on your sleep – there’s much to be done tomorrow. Or, at least, much to done later in the week – Friday.

This is Life you could get used to. You wish your parents had worked harder when they were younger…and left you a Trust Fund.

Indian Railway : 22nd Century Up!

Indian Railway : 22nd Century Up!

(The Times Of India News Service)

Shri Ganesh to the 22nd Century!

Shri Ganesh to the 22nd Century!

New Delhi : February 26, 2013 : The Union Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal presented his first budget in Parliament today. Experts, parliamentarians and Aam Aadmi are universally hailing it as the most glorious rail budget ever made since the invention of the Steam Engine in 1781. This farsighted budget has, in a giant master stroke, erased the combined losses of Rs. 24,342 crores that Indian Railway has accumulated over the years, and transported it to the 22nd century much ahead of schedule.

The measures announced today are expected to effectively deal with expansion of passenger capacity, passenger comfort and rail safety. Revenues sourced from both passenger and freight services are expected to treble, with only a marginal increase in expenses. No fare increase was proposed.

In a bold and far reaching move, the Minister announced that every train, no matter how fast or slow, will henceforth be referred to as ‘Ultra Superfast Express’. Taking a leaf out of the French train naming convention, where such trains are simply called TGV (Train a Grande Vitesse, or Very High Speed Train), Indian Railway will title their trains as Tatkal-Tivrata or TAT-TI for short. Three trains have been shortlisted for immediate name change – Poorvanchal Tat-ti, August Krantikari Tat-ti and Shan-e-Punjab Tat-ti.

Interestingly, this change will not just be limited to name only. The locomotives pulling these trains will now bear new speedometers where a “0” will penciled in after each number on the dial. So a train running at 40 kms per hour earlier will now be deemed to be doing 400 kmph, easily beating the fastest trains from Japan, China and continental Europe. The fastest Indian train, the Bhopal Shatabdi Tatti, is now expected to gush at over 1000 kms per hour, comprehensively breaking the sound barrier.

“We are world beaters once again!” announced the Minister amid the din of thumping desks in the Lok Sabha.

An innovative approach to effectively deal with safety issues plaguing the railways has also been proposed in the budget. “Safety is paramount. I have a 3-word answer to deal with accidents due to signalling and human error (or Aam Aadmi Mishtake). Respected Madam Speaker, the answer is ‘Non-Stop Horn’”, declared the Minister. Non-stop tooting by the train engine is expected to keep the driver, passengers and everyone in the 25 km vicinity of every train wide awake and ever watchful. Experts agreed with this assessment. “Genius solution!” remarked Prof. A.K. Acharya. “Why couldn’t anyone think of this solution earlier? Was the government asleep?” he added questioningly. Prof. Acharya is Senior Vice President at Hasbro Toys where he manages the toy train sets division.

Unlike moribund policies of the past, the current budget proposes drastic changes to mop up additional revenue from freight. Goods trains will now bear open-air seating on their roofs, opening a brand new revenue stream for the ministry. Ticket price will be kept in line with 3-tier Non-AC. A ladder to climb up to the roof, and a raincoat, will be provided to passengers at nominal costs. However, to contain costs, no bedding or pantry services will be available.

Passenger capacity is also being augmented in other unique ways without incurring additional rolling stock expenditure. The Minister announced that all train toilets are being disbanded with immediate effect. These spaces will be refitted as sleepers and chair cars. In lieu of public conveniences, each paying train passenger will now be provided an earthen lota which they are free to use as they wish. Given that all trains make frequent unscheduled stops along our nation’s picturesque countryside, passengers will have ample opportunity of simply hopping on and off to answer a call of nature at their convenience. Most train passengers interviewed by this reporter heaved a sigh of relief at the new benefit, including those seated 100 feet around train toilets and had been holding their breath for several hours. Rama Devi, a passenger interviewed on the Patna-Indore Janshakti Tat-ti, seated a mere ten feet from the train toilet, managed to mumble “Fantastic news!” before succumbing to the odours in the bogey.

The Minister made it clear that, as always, in case of dire emergency, or whenever one felt like doing it, the ‘chain’ could be pulled to instantly stop the train and fifty others behind it.

The Minister lamented that passenger comfort had taken a back seat in the past few budgets and was eager to bring it back as a key focus area. To that end, he proposed a repainting of the interiors of all bogies to be carried out on a war footing in the current fiscal. A dual-tone colour scheme has been selected. From the ground to a height of 3 feet, all train surfaces will be painted a shade of reddish-orange. Surfaces above that height will now bear the inviting shade of dark brownish-greyish-black. The new paint scheme is being called ‘Bhartiya Rail Rangoli’ and is expected to uniquely complement the millions of passengers who enjoy oiled hair and paan, and like to touch and feel things around them constantly.

Politicians cutting across party lines gushed at the “best railway budget ever”. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerji tweeted, “Best rail bhaajet : beeg ween for TMC”. Later, however, she retracted the tweet, possibly after realizing that her party was not in the government any more, and called the Minister a Maoist.

Earlier in the day, before the budget was even presented, there was an air of exhilaration pervading through the Parliament. Many Members of Parliament were seen locked to their iPads cancelling impending flight trips. “I will use my rail quota myself instead of giving it away to my in-laws,” said Kumari Selja, when asked for her expectations from the budget. The minister, considered to be single until now, however refused to divulge any details on the ‘in-laws’ despite persistent questioning.

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.

 

Five (Indian) People You Meet (Near) Heaven : (Decidedly Not) By Mitch Albom

Right vs Wrong

The situation was getting from bad to worse. Quite like the colossal traffic jams at the Delhi-Gurgaon toll plaza, the Pearly Gates were clogged with huge masses of the Formerly-Living (a.k.a Newly-Dead) waiting in line to gain entry to the domicile of their After-Life. The common wisdom is – if you lived how God intended you to during your living years, you got a free passage to Heaven. If not, then off you went to Hell, shunted to that nasty town where the air was smoggy, people were petty, crimes were common, women were unsafe, prices were high, garbage stacked up in piles, roads were broken, and power went off frequently (Kindly refrain from making mental comparisons with places you may already know on earth)

The entry protocol for the Twin Cities was quite simple – When earthlings conked off and went ‘upstairs’, they were cheerfully greeted at the Reception counter at the Pearly Gates, welcomed to the After-World, and made to fill out the paper work. Quite like Immigration and Customs at an airport, only infinitesimally kinder. Lately, however, an IT systems upgrade at Pearly Gates Immigration had resulted in snags in processing paperwork, leading to long lines and delayed sorting of people between Heaven and Hell.

Plenty of folks were left waiting outside the Gates, many for months now, wondering when their case was going to get sorted. Here is a scene observed a couple of days ago as people waited in line.

Pandit Ravi Shankar, world renowned sitarist : (mumbling to himself) Must they make us wait outside for so long? I haven’t seen this kind of chaos since I left India for the US in the 60s. Totally unacceptable. How many more days will this take? Perhaps I should walk up ahead and see what the hold up is.

Starts walking slowly, dragging his 40 kilo sitar in tow.

Yash Chopra, famous film director : (spotting Panditji, as he himself waits in line) Oh, hello, hello! Panditji, HELLO! (Nudges his friend in saffron robes and dark sunglasses) Look, it’s Pandit Ravi Shankarji! They must all be falling like ninepins down there!

Bal Thackaray, politician (peering in the direction Yash Chopra is pointing) : Arrey, what a surprise! It’s Pandit Ravi Shankar!

Panditji notices two excited octogenarian slowly flailing their tired arms. He smiles in recognition and stumbles towards them with his 40 kilo sitar.

Panditji : Hello, Gentlemen!

Bala Saheb : Jai Maharashtra, Panditji! How are you here?

Panditji : Heart.

Bala Saheb : Me, too!

Yashji : (sheepishly) Dengue. Anyway, delighted to see you here, Panditji! In fact, seeing you here, I got reminded of a poem from my new film. Arz hai – Teri aankhon ki namkeen…

Panditji : (coughing loudly) Yes, very nice, I am sure. Can you hold this sitar please?

Yashji : (disappointed at having to stop) Err…yes, yes, of course.

Panditji :  Thank God for your colourful robe and sunglasses, Bala Saheb. I wouldn’t have recognized you otherwise! You remind me so much of George Harrison sometimes, you know, during his hippie phase. But how come you both are still stranded here? Have they not taken you in yet?

Bala Saheb : Dekh lo! This line seems to move slower than the Harbour Line in Mumbai under Congress rule. Height of inefficiency!

Yashji : They tell us it’s some computers issue. It has been a few months for me already! Like the lines from my movie song – Yeh kahan aa gaye hum, yun hi…

Bala Saheb : (clearing his throat loudly) Yes, yes, let’s give Panditji a place to sit first.

Yash Chopra stops his recital dejectedly and readies a folding chair for Ravi Shankar.

Bala Saheb : So, Panditji, what news from Down Under?

Panditji : Hein? Oh, I believe Ricky Ponting retired.

Yashji : Hein?

Panditji : I am sorry, that is the only news I know from Australia.

Bala Saheb : Australia? Who wants to know about Australia?

Panditji : But you were the one who asked me about Down Under!

Bala Saheb : (laughing) Oh, I meant Down Under…on Earth!

All three men laugh and immediately break into coughing spams just like old people do.

Panditji : (recovering) That was funny, Bala Saheb! Anyway, in terms of news, well, Obama won. Rest, I am not aware of what has been happening in India. As you know, I never followed Indian politics or Hindi films.

Yashji : (looking disappointed) I hope my last film did well. You would have liked it. I filmed it in London, keeping people like you in mind. You know, the NRI-type.

Bala Saheb : I wonder what Raj and Uddhav are up to. Did you get coverage on them in your California newspapers?

Panditji : (almost about to roll his eyes) No, sadly, no.

 

The three are soon disturbed by loud ma-behen gaalis sounds coming from near. They turn to look at the commotion.

Panditji : (wincing at the foul language) Holy Raag Maalkaus! Who is that nasty man?

Yashji : (shaking his head) He has been busy fighting with everyone since he got here. He even got into fisticuffs with his brother as soon as he arrived! Ever since, he hasn’t stopped throwing his weight around.

Panditji : Why must Indians behave like this when they are outside their country? All these foreigners waiting patiently in line must think we are uncivilized fools! Do you know him?

Yashji : (sheepishly) Unfortunately, yes. That’s Ponty Chadha. Billionaire businessman, political player and film financier. We tried to explain to him that we are not in India any more, and that he needs to be respectful of his surroundings, but no, he just wouldn’t listen! He even said – ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ – to Bala Saheb and me! Can you believe it?

Bala Saheb : Bloody North Indian crook! If this were Mumbai or if I had my Sena up here, I would have knocked some sense of civility into that fool!

Panditji : Looks like he is headed our way.

The bearded man strides towards the three old men.

Ponty Chadha, businessman : Myself Ponty. (looks questioningly at Ravi Shankar as he extends his hand for a hand shake)

Panditji : (folding hands politely) I am Ravi Shankar, a musician. (Adding) Heart.

Ponty : Gunshot hole in my heart. By my own brother. (Spits angrily)

The two octogenarians and the single nonagenarian cringe outwardly.

Bala Saheb : (wistfully) I miss my Mumbai…

Yashji : (dolefully) And I miss my Switzerland…

Ponty : (crudely) Oye, I miss my Butter Chicken-shiken.

Panditji : (thinking in his mind) I should have just stayed away from these philistines.

 

A young girl in her early 20s gently shakes the foursome out of their reverie.

Young Girl with no identify : (excitedly) Hello, Sirs! How lucky of me to have found such famous people here!

Yashji : Hello. Who are you? And aren’t you too young to be here?

Young Girl : (Sighs) Yeah, I thought so too, but, what to do. You know, I am not even sure what my name is any more! People have given me strange names recently. They have been calling me Nirbhaya, Or Damini. Some named me Amaanat. I think my real name is Darpana, you know, like ‘mirror’?

Bala Saheb : You sound important. Someone like us.

Young Girl : (strongly shakes her head) Quite the contrary, Sir! Until just a few days ago, I was a nobody, living a life of no consequence like a billion other Indians. On no one’s radar or agenda. I didn’t matter.

Panditji : What happened then?

Young Girl : Then I got raped, beaten, left to die on the side of the road. I fought hard to stay alive for weeks in hospitals. But sometimes your will can wage only a losing battle against fate…I just got here this morning.

Ponty : You got raped and killed? By how many? What did they do to you? (Points at her flimsy hospital gown) Is that what you were wearing when it happened? Tell us everything!

The two octogenarians and the single nonagenarian stare hard at Ponty.

Yashji : (shaking his head in agony) What has our country come to? This is heartbreaking! Not sure how things got so bad and people so evil. In all my films, I have never even shown people slapping each other!

Young Girl : I know, Yashji! After all, you have only ever talked about the purity and beauty of women. Women whose greatness is directly proportional to the sacrifices they make. Whose identities are inherently intertwined with their men. There is no ugliness in a woman’s world in your films. Everything is peaches and cream. If there are tears, they are usually happy ones because the woman gave up something to make her man happy. And that ‘something’ is usually something extremely important to her, like her identity, or her life. After all, that is what makes her a woman! That is the reality you have served to the nation. It is not your fault if your nation’s reality didn’t quite turn out that way, is it?

Bala Saheb : (agreeing vociferously) And that is why he was always called the greatest film maker in India! And I have always been such a proud supporter of his work.

Young Girl : Just like I have been of yours, Bala Saheb! You have never pulled back from fighting for what you felt was right. If someone didn’t do the right thing, you have thrashed him – you know, to teach the person a lesson for his own good! If someone took something from you, you snatched it back and kicked that person’s teeth in. You are the real hero – the rule-maker, the judge, the jury and the punisher all rolled in one! You make it look cool when the fist does all the talking. Men idolize you. From you they learn that violence is ok if you want to take back what you feel is your God given right. Machismo rules, and everyone else must quiver in its presence!

Panditji : (shaking his head in abhorrence) But how can the fist be the right answer to anything in a democracy? Really, you people just don’t know how to run your country! You never have, and you never will! Uncivilized barbarians! Why else do you think I stayed away from your messed up country?

Young Girl : Exactly the right description, Panditji! Messed up! People like you and me wonder why ‘they’ have messed things up so bad. We keep complaining that ‘they’ don’t know how to run the country. Or that ‘they’ break laws with impunity. ‘They’ are corrupt. ‘They’ are morally bankrupt. ‘They’ rape. ‘They’ can’t control crime. ‘We’, on the other hand, are so much better than ‘them’. But, what can ‘we’ do? Even if ‘we’ were to try to bring about change, ‘they’ have made things so filthy that there is no possible way ‘we’ can make any difference! And so, ‘we’ sit at home helplessly and watch angrily. From a safe distance. ‘We’ sit and watch ‘them’ destroy what is ‘ours’. In fact, watch ‘them’ destroy ‘us’.

The old men stare at the young girl. All but Ponty Chadha, who is not to be browbeaten.

Ponty : (points his finger at the girl and laughs) Waah…what great sermonizing! My dear, money and power are the name of the game in India! You are as good as shit if you have neither. The rich rule the poor. The men rule the women. The powerful rule the weak. That’s the way even God intended it to be, dearie. ‘You’ can complain about ‘them’ as much as you wish, but if given an opportunity, ‘you’ would want to be ‘them’! In fact, ‘you’ become ‘them’ when you have to. Like, when you set up a business. Or buy property. Heck, try getting a passport without being like ‘them’! Or a driver’s license. You become ‘them’ when you jump a red light. Or get caught by a cop while doing so!

Young Girl : That is not true. That can’t be true! ‘We’ don’t want to be like ‘them’. All ‘we’ want is for ‘them’ to be like ‘us’! Isn’t that fair? Isn’t that what is taught to us by our parents? By our society? By all religions? That Good wins over Evil? Right over Wrong? Truth over Injustice?

Bala Saheb : (wonders aloud, nonplussed) And yet…

Yashji : (talks slowly) …and yet, it only happens in films…

Panditji : (despondently) …not in real life.

Young Girl : (sighs loudly) Well, we are all going to meet the Maker soon. Let’s ask Him what the deal is.

Ponty : Yes, ask Him why the four of us are all here after living a full life – rich, successful, powerful. And you are here at 23. I think He has some answering to do.