Friday, March 10, 2017

Nationalist baby steps

Intern here and you could be a big nationalist one day

(Published on March 4, 2017 in Business Standard)

Are you a passionate young person? Do you often feel inadequate, and are you beset by inchoate feelings of anger and fear and disempowerment? Do different people and different ideas create feelings of panic? Is your skin thinner than the thinnest argument you can muster? Are you happier running in a pack, following clear directions, than exploring things yourself? Are you willing to trust and venerate your leadership? Are you looking for like-minded people, and, more importantly, are you willing to never rest until there are only like-minded people to be found?

If this describes you, please take our multiple choice entrance exam.

Congratulations! A very warm welcome to you from all of us here at the Anti-Antinational Brainless Vigilantes Plague, or AABVP. We think you’ll be very happy here, because, as we like to say, ignorance is bliss.

First off, may we offer a pat on the back to prop up your fragile sense of self? You scored a brilliant 100% on your multiple choice entrance paper, choosing from the four interchangeable versions of the single possible answer we provided alongside each question. You’re a genius. There is little else to know, and if anyone tells you different, here’s a handy manual entitled ‘Making Weapons Out Of Whatever’s Available’. It’s not hard, mostly pictures, mug it up. It’s often going to be your first resort.

We teach you what to think, not how to think for yourself, so please don’t do anything dangerous like try to use your own brain, or indulge any stray feelings of self-doubt, guilt, compassion, or mutual respect for people unlike yourself. These uncomfortable feelings may arise, and we know how scary they can be, but be assured that they will pass. Stay strong.

Some people will tell you that there are other answers to the questions on our entrance exam. They will criticise ideas, and authority, and will not be afraid to do so. They will act as if it’s normal. These are the people who are destroying India. What do you mean, how? Have we taught you nothing? Questions that do not conform to the answers we have provided, are invalid. This gig runs on a need-to-know basis, and what you need to know is: These are the people we hunt. 

If you find one of these people, which you will, because they’re everywhere, this is your time to shine. Our standard operating procedure is pretty simple.

1. Get into their faces and yell the four interchangeable versions of the single valid answer you know.

2.If they argue, push them and threaten to rape them.

3. If, for the sake of form, you wish to come across as reasonable, agree with them fully, then say ‘But!’ and repeat the four interchangeable versions of the single answer.

4. If they keep talking, pick your favourite picture from the manual and do that.

5. If things aren’t going your way, appeal to the nearest policeman. The police will help you.

Remember that you won’t last a minute in a verbal debate, so if someone starts one, skip directly to intimidation. If that doesn’t work, go back to the manual. You’re so cute when you’re angry! We’re very proud.

By the way, please don’t confuse us with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad, or ABVP—that’s the nationalist student organisation affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), who tirelessly protect our universities and communities from intellectual and cultural mayhem, showing the kind of extra-judicial entrepreneurship and dedication without which this country would shatter into a thousand tiny pieces. The ABVP is for the big boys.

Maybe if you do well here, in ultra-nationalism nursery, you could think of joining them one day.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Health is wealth

And health is wealth. Repetition is key.

(Published on February 18, 2017 in Business Standard)

My eldest niece, who just last week was sixteen inches long and did nothing but poop and sleep, this week turned 12 years old, and has kind of a cool haircut. If that’s not weird enough, a couple of days ago I heard an aunt tell my mother, “It was a nice day, and we didn’t have anything to do, so we said, chalo, let’s go get a bone density test.”

In other words, gentle reader, time passeth. I have not been paying attention, so now it leapeth up and biteth me in the butt. I haven’t yet begun to think of bone density tests as a leisure activity, but I am now open to saying never say never.

I last had a top-to-toe health check about fifteen years ago, back when excess was only an occasional thing. Since I thought of myself as ageing at the time, my clean bill of health made me pretty smug. Today it is obvious to me that I had nothing whatsoever to do with the test results—I was just young and hale. Fifteen years on, occasional delinquency has slipped into hardened habit, and physical discipline has pulled its blankie over its eyes and gone back to sleep. What used to be an invigorating run in the park is now a sedate walk that feels like hard work. In other words I have grown bibulous, portly, lazy, and mutinous about it all.

In my twenties, I would observe all the weird old people walking around the world with their paunches and double chins and their cottony lack of muscle tone, and I would say to myself, Not me. That will never be me. Since I know it can get there, I simply won’t let it. Forewarned is forearmed. Why are they smirking? I will always exercise. I will never overeat. I will never drink too m—okay, I didn’t say that last thing, but you get the picture.

Dear weird old people, please accept my sincerest apologies. I kneel before you, eating crow and also humble pie, since I always have one portion too many of everything. Smirk all you want. I deserve it.

To the judgy young people I used to be: I could just smirk quietly to myself, but I am instead going to do you a solid, and pass on some valuable wisdom that nobody told me. Here it comes:

It’s going to happen to you too, suckers. Mwahahaha.

What will happen to you is that you haven’t the faintest idea of the power of one simple thing: repetition. You know those mind-numbing canyons of sculpted stone, created by wind and water? They aren’t made by typhoons and tsunamis. They’re made by perfectly ordinary breezes and little lapping waves that simply keep gently breezing and waving, over a period of time. Repetition can erode, and it can build. Mine, needless to say, have built—around all the areas I was going to keep forewarned and forearmed.

Since my emotions cannot keep up with what I’ve done to myself, I have decided that actually this is all happening because of a dreadful medical condition which will be revealed by a full medical check. Except that I’m too frightened to go by myself, so I’ve made a date with a friend who is also too frightened to go by himself. (I can just hear my niece: “And then my aunt and her friend said, it’s a nice day, let’s go see the doctor.”)

So, judgy young people, you are now forewarned and forearmed. You either need to understand the power of repetition, or start practicing your best smirk. You’re welcome.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Boots on the ground

Resist now! Or, you know, in a bit.

(Published on February 4, 2017 in Business Standard)

You know how, when you’re feeling a little bit superior, and it’s a strange new feeling that you’re enjoying and haven’t had your fill of yet, and then suddenly something happens to make you feel inadequate all over again? It’s so annoying.

When the US elected Donald Trump in a shock election that left the world shaking its head to try to get rid of the roaring sound in its ears, a large number of Indians said to themselves, ‘Hah! We thought we had it bad in India. At least our Prime Minister comes from a known political position, from a structured, if disagreeable, cultural supremacist organisation. At least he’s predictable. At least he’s making the right noises, even if his creatures are nasty violent chauvinists whom he doesn’t chastise publicly, and whom he follows online, meets, and felicitates. At least our Prime Minister isn’t some loose orange cannon.’ Trump is so much worse.

Boy, did that feel good. 

And then ordinary Americans went and screwed up our smugness by being all inspirational. 

Look at them, vowing hyper-vigilant media scrutiny. Look at them, marching in droves, calling their senators relentlessly, and using social media to organise rather than whine. Look at them, setting up rogue twitter accounts from inside the White House and governmental organisations, to make sure that their fellow citizens keep getting information that isn’t Trumped up. Look at them, losing their jobs for refusing to defend his executive order barring entry to Muslims from seven countries. Watch them savaging Trump on comedy shows.

Look at the CEOs issuing calls to hire more immigrants, and the consumers boycotting businesses that support Trump. Look at the lawyers, suing the government on behalf of people stranded by the Muslim ban—on the weekend! for free! lawyers, dude! Check them out, standing at airports across the country with banners saying ‘No ban’ and ‘Let them in’. Look at them standing by rows of Muslims praying in public at an airport, and cheering them on. As The Daily Show host, Trevor Noah, pointed out: Muslims praying in public at an American airport, and hundreds of people cheering them on—just think about that for a minute.

In other words, Americans who identify a threat to their core values have painted or printed up signs, put on their boots and coats, closed the social media tab on their laptops (because what are mobile phones for?), emerged from their houses, and taken their bodies out onto the streets in solidarity, yelling at the top of their lungs. They are resisting the hell out of the daily horror show put on by their new government—making us, who specialise in keeling over like ninepins before authority, look really lazy and weak. Turns out Americans are so much better at citizenship.

Boy, does that feel bad. 

Speaking for myself, while I’ve walked the streets now and again, I have also skipped marches because I was really busy having lunch. I’ve protested by tapping a button on social media. I’ve possibly slept through some urgent things. Look, the weather in Delhi sucks—it’s always either boiling or freezing. Sometimes you just have to know what’s happening next on a TV show. Marching is hard on the back and feet. Life gets in the way, and so does your expanding waistline.

Blah blah, excuses, excuses. Watching American protesters get their act together so quickly and so forcefully only reminds me of all the resisting that Indians should have been doing for the last three years. Thanks for nothing, ordinary Americans!

Now if I’m to hold on to my dignity, all I can do is hope that, somehow, writing counts. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A bridge too far

Or at least very late

(Published on January 21, 2017 in Business Standard)

Everyone will tell you: It’s important to make a good impression. The world treats you better if you dress well, speak well, don’t smell, are punctual and reliable, and don’t make a spectacle of yourself. Boy, has that ship sailed. I once made a half-hearted attempt to catch up with it by buying new jeans, but some doors never reopen. The only good impression I make is on the putty that dentists use to make dental moulds.
In a December 2006 instalment of this column, I promised not to write any more columns about my teeth. But that was ten years ago, and maybe I lied; plus, there’s been a development. 

To recap, so to speak: Ten years ago, both my front teeth were yanked out as the grand finale of a long comet tail of dental events—caps, pins, bridges and really gross gum surgery—rooted, if you will, in a childhood accident that was totally not my cousin’s fault, though I’m always open to receiving nice presents from her. Long story short, I ended up with a temporary denture. My dentist told me to come back a few weeks later for a permanent bridge, but I’m lazy, and was traumatised, and, really, ten years fly by.

I don’t mind the denture; I enjoy dropping my teeth at kiddy parties, and select adult parties, and listening to the screaming. It’s probably genetic—it seems that my grandfather also dropped his dentures at passing children, and when the parents turned to see what made their kid cry, there was only a sweet old gentleman, reading his newspaper and minding his own business. It’s practically family tradition. 

But all good things must come to an end. It turns out that when there is space in the jaw, teeth begin to roam, like the ruthless white colonisers of North America. Mine (teeth, not ruthless white colonisers of North America) are striking out. So this week I decided that it was time to arrest the joyful pirouetting of my lateral incisors, and get some permanent teeth.

Here’s how they make a bridge for your front teeth. The dentist sticks a needle into a seriously tender part of your face while you twitch like a pinioned insect. When you’re numb from your eyebrows to about the middle of your chest, he drills your lateral incisors for half an hour, whittling them down to thin little sticks. These are so hilarious that you want to post them on Facebook. But your only job is to cry, moo piteously, and flail because your throat is filled with water, and your nostrils are numb, and you can’t breathe. This last move draws censure from the dental team, who tell dark tales of drills nicking lips and hands caught in wires. Then they fashion temporary caps and cement them onto the hilarious little sticks, put the denture back in, and tell you to come back in a week to fit a permanent bridge.

So now I’m walking around the world with two fake caps gleaming out of my face like rakshas tusks or, as I like to think of them, beacons of hope that it won’t be another ten years before I go back. Until then, I have to eat softish foods, because if these puppies fall off, we’re back to hilarious little sticks. 

But I’m not really worried about looking ridiculous, because ridiculous just raised the bar a lot higher by swearing in Donald Trump as POTUS this Friday. Who can beat that? We should all brace ourselves, as they say. Because there’s a man, if ever there was one, who’s got a bridge to sell you.