Saturday, April 30, 2011

A day well spent

Armed with my April paycheck I headed for my favorite bookstore, which sells more DVDs and chocolates than books. The feeling on arrival was a usual mix of excitement, confusion and disappointment. Excitement at the sheer variety of stuff that can be bought (potentially), confusion over what mix of stuff to spend your hard earned money on and disappointment that prices have not fallen by 80%. As I navigated through the store I noticed a new section named ‘Kamasutra’. Hungrily I made progress towards it when questions popped up in my mind. Do I want to be seen in this section? What if my boss sees me here? Why is no one to be found in this section? I scanned the bookstore for potential threats, trying hard not to appear like a shoplifter in the CCTV. Having ensured that the coast is clear, in a flash I took a U turn at the shelf on my left to enter this erotic section, only to be greeted by an over eager staff member wearing a ‘May I help you' cap.

‘May I help you Sir?’
‘Sure. I am looking for a book titled ‘7 ways to satisfy your woman’

No I didn’t actually say that. Imagine admitting to a stranger that you are lacking in that department. Never. I politely told him to search for a book titled ‘365 positions of love making – Spice up your daily sex life’. Confident that such a book did not exist, I dispatched him from my vicinity and proceeded to conduct a quick inspection of the deal available here. My attention was snared by a gigantic coffee table book bearing a done to death Khajuraho photograph on the cover.

‘Sex in ancient India’, the title screamed. I wondered what sort of place would keep this book. With two hands and some effort I opened the cover to find a note by the editor.

‘India is the land of sex. Blah blah blah. Ancient Romans learnt about orgies from Indians. Blah blah blah. The spice trade was spicy in many other ways. Blah blah blah. Lets usher in a sexual revolution. Blah blah blah. Indians are the sexiest people on earth. Period.

Despite the new found confidence in my sexual abilities as an Indian, I decided not to proceed with the remaining pages as I noticed an angry looking middle aged lady heading towards me.

‘Do you have the original Kamasutra?’ said the middle aged lady, still looking angry.
‘Er ma’am, actually you should check with the staff over there’, I gestured with a horizontal thumb towards the poor bloke who was still trying to complete the mission I had sent him on.
‘Oh Sorry’, she said with her expression of anger changing to that of embarrassment.

‘Hmm. The Original Kamasutra’, I said to myself. When you have an entire section called Kamasutra, patrons are bound to come up with such questions. I moved on. Most of the books were written or edited by people with names that were anything but Indian. Some had photographs of white men with Indian looking women in various stages of love making. The effects of the inspirational editorial in the gigantic coffee table book were beginning to wear off. The non Indian man had caught up fast. I felt defeated and moved on the neighboring section where I would feel more in control. Comics. En route to this less threatening section, I bumped into the over eager helper who was now looking triumphant.

‘Sir. I found this book’

(Hmm. Close enough. Maybe they accounted for Sundays and Public holidays)

‘Why don’t they just sell the DVD instead?’ I asked.
‘Excuse me Sir?’
‘Well, this is pretty close to what I was looking for. Why don’t you keep it on that shelf over there and I will grab it when I am done with other stuff’

The comics section was adjacent and devoid of children who were to be found mainly in the video games section. The usual stuff. Batman and other assorted American superheroes who didn’t interest me. Tintin and Asterix which I had read 10 times over. I was happy to see the book store had finally acknowledged that Calvin and Hobbes and Dilbert are not children’s comics. They now commanded a separate shelf. I made my first purchase of the day. Calvin and Hobbes Anniversary Book.

I turned right to enter the Yoga section. There were more photos of Shilpa Shetty and Bipasha Basu here than in Times of India. Baba Ramdev had been consigned to the bottom shelf. Power Yoga. Yoga in 10 minutes. Tantric Yoga. Self Realization through Yoga. Yoga – A Synthesis of Psychology and Metaphysics. Yoga for a better sex life. The Yoga section blended into the spirituality section which seemed to be getting bigger in every visit. I generally avoid this section as it emits a certain radiation that jams my thought process.

If there is one section that beats the shit out of Spirituality section in terms of CAGR (Confounding Abnormal Growth Rate), it is ‘Indian Fiction’. Depending on what sort of Indian you are, it can either inspire you to write a book (if that stuff can be published, so can mine) or choose another profession (is there space for one more?). Indians are writing with a vengeance. I randomly scan some back covers. Hmm, a story about a failed marriage. Another one about a small town guy bedding a rich city girl. Office romance. Engineering romance. Dental romance. Neighborhood romance. Romance in public transport. Frustrated MBAs. BPO stories. Another one about a failed marriage.

After completing my ritual walk around the store, I arrived at the section where I enjoy tremendous respect from the staff. The Playstation 3 games. For the humungous amount of written wisdom on sale in this gigantic store, what I really come for is to check out the latest PS3 releases. The staff here know very well that it is men in their thirties such as me who shell out the real cash on these expensive games and not those kiddos who have to promise one full year of doing homework to their parents to land one title. I pick up Resident Evil 5, Little Big Planet 2 and God of War 3. Feeling on top of the world, I finally head to the ‘World Movies’ section where the attractive intellectual type of women are to be found. I have never bought anything here, though I put on an appearance of being extremely interested. I have never observed anyone picking anything either, so maybe they are all trying to act interested and impress me.  On the way to the billing counter I pick up some chocolates and a magazine carrying a cover story on a sex racket. A day well spent!

Friday, April 15, 2011

The ‘Follow Up’ Culture (FUCK)

(The ‘K’ in the above abbreviation is redundant, just as in ‘Knowledge’. It has been used only as a cheap gimmick to attract attention.)

For long FUCK has been the national corporate culture in India, so much so that it is an institution by itself. Lack of ability to FUCK can be a serious impediment to one’s career progression and is only considered less bad than corporate fraud. Given its importance, I am more than a little disappointed that what deserves to be a post graduate specialization is not even a 3 credit course in B-schools.

Like a well trained management professional I would have liked to make a 42 slide power point presentation on the subject, complete with pie charts, chevrons and bubble diagrams, but the limitations of media restrict me. Hence I will do it the old fashioned way.

The Origins of FUCK

Unconfirmed reports suggest that Indian soil contains traces of bacteria called Relaxum Amnesium which though not fatal, is known to induce temporary memory loss. The bacteria find its way into the food chain through potatoes, widely consumed across India. The effects of the bacteria become visible after the age of 23, peak by 45 and decline by 58. This is remarkably concurrent with the working age of most Indians. Critics have rubbished this theory by calling it ‘national propaganda aimed at legitimizing inefficiency’. They claim that the origins of FUCK lie in bureaucratic lethargy and impatience of businessmen and cannot be blamed on extraneous factors. Being a patriotic Indian, I would like such critics to be spanked in full public view.

Types of FUCK

1.    Stage I (Friendly) – Characterized by an amicable tap on the shoulder followed by a “Yaar tune mera kaam nahin kiya” (“Buddy you didn’t do my work”). Buddy responds by saying “Oye yaar, bhool gaya. Abhi karta hoon” (“Oops dude, I forgot. Will do it right away). He doesn't. But no bad blood yet.
2.    Stage II (Controlled Aggression) – No friendly taps on the shoulder. A phone is picked up and the following interaction ensues:
Victim – Boss, I was waiting for the update from your end. (In India, the word ‘Boss’ when calling someone other than your Boss has a confrontational tone to it)
Boss – Boss, you will get it by end of day. (it means end of next day)
3.    Stage III (Sarcasm) – The communication medium is still phone, followed by a mail.
Victim : Maalik, iss saal update milega?? (My Lord, will I get an update within this year??)
Maalik – Look, I have 100 hundred things to attend to. I will send it by end of this week (it means call up again)
4.    Stage IV (Disguised threat) – This time updates are asked on email, with a copy to the real ‘Boss’
Victim – Dear Mr. Gupta, you are requested to provide the updates asap. Kindly treat this as urgent
Mr. Gupta – Dear Mr. Sharma, pls provide the updates
Mr. Sharma – Dear Amit, FYI & NA
Amit – Sunil, pls do the needful
Sunil – Amit, What updates do you want from me?
Amit – Sorry, forgot the attachment. Please find attached the template.
Sunil – Out of office message: Dear All, as I am getting married, I shall be on leave from 15th to 31st March (both days included)
Sunil (on 1st April) – Dear Amit, just saw your mail. As I have a lot of catching up to do after my leave, I will get back to you by end of this week.
Sunil (next day) – Dear Amit, pls find attached the updates.
Amit – Dear Mr. Sharma – FYI
Mr. Sharma – Dear Mr. Gupta, FYI
Mr. Gupta – Dear Victim, Please find attached.
Victim – Thanks. Appreciate the support (@#$%^!&)
5.    Stage V (Open threat) – Sent on email, with copy to Boss and Gupta’s Boss
Victim – Dear Mr. Gupta, despite repeated reminders, we are yet to receive the updates from your end. If you are facing any difficulty in sharing the same, please let us know. Your prompt action will be highly appreciated.
Boss to Gupta’s Boss – Please help in getting the updates
Gupta’s Boss – Gupta, pls provide asap.
Gupta – Dear Victim, Please find attached. In future to avoid delay, please give me a call. (implying Stage II)

Symptoms of FUCK in a company

1.    Work takes three times as long as it should to complete.
2.    There is a department in your company called ‘Central Facilitation Department”
3.    Forty percent of your staff have the designation ‘Nodal Officer’
4.    Your company has an official position that goes by the name “Vice President – Follow Ups”
5.    Before having sex your employees utter ‘Please do the needful at the earliest’ or ‘please confirm by email that you wish to have sex’.

There is no known cure for FUCK, though threats from bosses can temporarily arrest the proliferation of this condition. Vaccination in the form of training sessions, urging workers to be more responsive have proved to be ineffective. The condition is compounded by the fact that the victims of FUCK in many cases are also observed spreading it, thus leading to another complication – what came first, the FUCK or the FUCKed? 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A kid called Afridi

I am not much of an “Aman ki Asha” enthusiast. I am not opposed to it either, just indifferent. But the two media houses involved in this initiative must certainly be feeling that months of bonhomie generated by them is in danger of being extinguished in one fell swoop by Mr. Large Hearted Shahid Afridi. The crass political incorrectness and stupidity of Afridi’s remarks are a throwback to the Javed Miandad era when such sentiments on and off the cricket field were commonplace and defined national pride. Upwardly mobile Indians had started becoming less Pakistan centric in the 2000s until 26/11 brought all that back in a brutal way. That it happened in the heart of India’s biggest metropolis, covered live by media, once again galvanized public outrage against Pakistan. Afridi’s comments will only serve to cement that divide, much to the chagrin of liberals who will be smarting from the gigantic eggs thrown on their face. Criticism of Afridi through words such as ‘unnecessary’ and ‘untimely’ coming from Pakistan will not undo the damage, as more than anything these words are an acknowledgement that the sentiment was not incorrect.

Personally what shocks me most is not the content of Afridi’s doctoral thesis on India and Hindus, but the candidness with which he presented it. An ‘i-care-a-damn-about-consequences’ attitude. The interview would have appeared perfectly at home had it been part of a hidden cam / sting operation reportage. Stereotypes of Hindus amongst Muslims and vice versa are not uncommon in closed quarters, it’s just that in recent times they have never reached the same proportions of say, the anti-Semitic sentiments that were prevalent in Nazi Germany. For those expressing outrage at being called small hearted, I would say relax. As kids a lot of us grow up with similar feelings about other communities, and over time some or all of them get dissipated. Someone remarked funnily on another blog – ‘Relax. Afridi is only 17’. I agree, and would like to add that he is getting younger ala Benjamin Button. His rebuttal to Gambhir and anguish at losing the semi final are classic school boy diatribe which confirm his ever falling age.

Once you shake off the initial jolt of the undiplomatic outburst of Afridi, it is not difficult to see that regional and religious stereotypes abound across the world, not just in the subcontinent. Bollywood makes no bones about its love for ‘Punjabiyat’ which has become synonymous with ‘live life to the fullest’ philosophy. Large heartedness to which Afridi was alluding is believed to be a sub-set of this Punjabiyat. (To its credit Bollywood has seldom indulging in bashing other religions or cultures). South Indians tend to dislike the brashness and feudal arrogance of North Indians, who return the gesture by making snide remarks on their skin colour and lack of aggression courtesy eating too much rasam rice. Bengalis are much ridiculed for their couch warming brand of intellectualism and lack of entrepreneurship while Gujaratis are singled out for their money mindedness. The likes of Shiv Sena and MNS in Maharasthra have fed on the insecurities of marginalized Maharashtrians who get further agitated when terms like lazy and trade unionist are thrown at them. Admittedly all these are easier attacks to deal with and are sometimes laughed off by the recipients themselves. But once you add religion and nationhood to the equation, the sense of humor is lost. 

There are a few things which are tremendously irritating about the levels of stupidity to which Afridi has plummeted. The first is equating religion with a certain kind of behavior. I wonder what his great theory has to say about the size of hearts of Muslims in Bangladesh, China, Malaysia, Turkey and Nigeria, all countries with sizeable Muslim populations which are very culturally different from each other, and at the same time very similar to their neighbors who follow a different religion. The second is his absolute disregard (or ignorance) of media reports in India praising his captaincy in bringing his beleaguered team to the semi final stage. I am pretty much sure that Afridi has been getting an overdose of India TV and IBN7 while ignoring some more meaningful stuff (albeit still with a degree of sensationalism) on other channels or print media. In a way, it is a reminder that trashy journalism can be a poor cultural ambassador. The last and most unfortunate effect is that he has forced Muslim religious leaders in India to feel that they have an obligation to defend themselves and their community. Like with any other terrorist act, they now have to come out and clean someone else’s garbage.

Afridi would be well advised to look in his own backyard of Pashtun dominated tribal regions where intolerance towards religious minorities and persecution of women is standard fare. Maybe he has something to say about the massive support for Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of Salman Taseer. Or the way Veena Malik was grilled by a “100% better media” for getting cuddly with a Hindu Ashmit Patel on an Indian reality show. Large Heartedness all these ain't. But then, he is only 10 years old and not getting any wiser. There is only how much a kid can make you angry. So I have decided to chill and advise others to do the same.

The bizarre does not end here however. I heard that the Gujarat government has declared a princely cash prize of Rs 1 lakh for Munaf Patel and Yusuf Pathan, the only two players from the rich Indian state of Gujarat in the Indian cricket team, and coincidentally both Muslims. If there is one thing that trumps Afridi in stupidity, it is this. I am willing to believe, naively though that this was an error of Chinese whispers, of a written sort, where zeroes kept getting dropped and an amount of 1 Cr got reduced to 1 lakh. I refuse to believe that Modi and his government are so stupid as to invite yet another round of accusations of being communal, an image they have been trying hard to change. I might be proved wrong, which would make it an interesting situation.