Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Damn you, online shopping

I’m unfashionably late to this party

(Published on October 28, 2017 in Business Standard)

My generation regularly left home to go to shops to buy things, even after the advent of the internet and smartphones—which, for a long time, we did not even have. We lived for decades in these horrific conditions, like primitive amoebae scrabbling about in the mud. But let us not dwell on sad things.

The good thing is that, as the generation that went from booking long-distance calls two days in advance, to booking space travel online, we are fairly adaptable. We move with the times. In that spirit, I would like to announce that I may never visit a shop again, because of a thing I’ve discovered called ‘online shopping’.

If you’re going to tell me what a lame fossil I am, save it. Some people learn embarrassingly late in life that sexism is pervasive; others are late bloomers when it comes to giving all our money to Amazon and feeling grateful for it.

There have been many hurdles to my shopping online. One, I—still—need to put my foot in a shoe before buying it, and was applying this principle, donkey-like, to all products. Two, I have a pre-#DigitalIndia, post-#Aadhaar suspicion of connecting merchants with my bank account unless I’m physically present. I’m sure the actual process is very sophisticated, but in my head, when I click on ‘Place your order’, I see a giant pixelated blue hand reaching into my account and taking all my cash, and then running away with it to Fiji where it dips its giant pixelated blue toes in the surf, instead of sending me my things. 

Three, I hadn’t realised that you could buy anything on the internet, from a rubber band to a broccoli, to a bed, to a flying car. Four, I felt guilty about ordering, say, a packet of paper clips, and making other people use huge amounts of wrapping, fuel, and personal energy to bring it to your doorstep, when I can just as well walk down to the corner store and buy a packet of paper clips in four minutes without a bag.

Well, I’m over all of that. First, I live up three flights of stairs, and it’s much easier if someone else goes up and down carrying stuff. Second, I can buy anything at all from the fingertip superstore! Given the staircase situation, I have my eye on the flying car. Third, I can return anything I don’t like.

This last perk sounded dodgy to me at first, but I now know its evil plan. I scoured the internet for a compact milk jug that pours well, and ended up buying some unsatisfactory ceramic item. It arrived. After wading through kilos of packaging, I unveiled what looked like a big drunk bird—a dull yellow thing with a beaky schnoz that dripped. I immediately put the returns process in motion; but it turned out to be incredibly slow. In the many days since, I have fallen hopelessly in love with this milk jug, and cannot bear to be parted from it. It’s my fat yellow drunk and dribbling bird, yes it is, and we are very happy. I have torn up the returns labels and placed a broom near the front door, in case a returns person rings the doorbell and I have to brain him.

So here I am, bleeding profusely from the bank account, and it’s the best. Actually, you know what’s the best? A garlic peeler. You won’t know you needed one until you catch yourself buying it—and that is the limitless fuel of online retail.

See, moving with the times. Moving like Elvis.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Guess who’s coming to dinner

Doctor, I’m having bad dreams.

(Published on October 14, 2017 in Business Standard)

Doctor, I’ve been having these bad dreams. 

I’m having a dinner party. My guests are Aung San Suu Kyi, celebrated leader from Myanmar; Harvey Weinstein, madly powerful Hollywood producer; Honeypreet, devoted daughter of convict Gurmeet Singh; Jay Shah, quiet Gujarati businessman; Nandan Nilekani, mastermind of Aadhaar; and government contract worker @FollowedByPM2019.

What? I like meeting new people.

8pm. Ding dong!

Me: Welcome, Suu Kyi. I visited Myanmar in the 1990s, and walked by where you lived under house arrest as a beacon of democratic dissent, political prisoner of the brutal junta. Look at your gold Nobel Peace Prize medal! Wait, is it looking like rusted tin because of the Rohi—

Suu Kyi: If you say the word ‘Rohingya’, I’m going to leave. I’m very cool and elegant and adored, and everything is very complicated, and you don’t understand anything.

Me: This is disappointing, but familiar. Our PM does that same trick if you ask him a question about 2002. 

8.06pm. Ding dong!

Me: Good evening, Mr Weinstein. Please take your hand off my butt. Take your hand off her butt too, wtf is wrong with you?

H. Weinstein: When I was growing up, that was just the culture. I hope you know that I can end your dinner parties in this town. I’m off to rehab, where they will help me focus on how madly powerful Hollywood sex offenders get to go to rehab instead of jail.

8.07pm. Ding dong!

Me: May I help you? Oh, is that you, @FollowedByPM2019? I was expecting a grey egg. 

@FollowedByPM2019: You %*#?@ presstitute, you’re just sore because your perks and &$%^&* gravy train have ended after 70 years of $%^& Italian paymasters, you $$&% omg is that Harvey Weinstein? Sir, you’re my hero, sir! Wanna mentally undress these two out loud?

8.08pm. Ding dong!

Me: Nice to meet you Mr Nilekani, please come in.

N. Nilekani: First link your Aadhaar to your bank account and mobile phone and hairdryer. Otherwise I’m blocking your doorway in accordance with a government directive.

9.45pm. Ding dong!

Me: You’re just in time, Mr Shah—dinner is served. Would you like some cheese?

J. Shah: Of course not! The Quint’s sources say I’m a health freak. And an obedient son. And a doting father. And I bring my parents khakra.

Me: I’m very impressed with these touching human details, much like The Quint.

J. Shah: The Quint’s sources say I’m a sanskari son who will think a 100 times before violating any rule. Okay I’ve thought about it, I’ll have 16,000 helpings. 


J. Shah: Do you need anyone I know to help you pass the cheese?

Me: Here’s all the cheese. 

Me: Honeypreet! I didn’t hear the doorbell, how did you—oh, don’t worry about the hole in the floor. Let me show you the washroom so you can clean off all the mud.

Suu Kyi: Does she always tunnel in to dinner parties like that?

Honeypreet: It started with a bit of PTSD in a courtroom, but now it’s just habit. Excuse me, I’m just going to look for a hiding place for my cash and weapons. Must hide. Must hide. Must—

Me: Sit down, Honeypreet, relax, have a drink. Mr Weinstein, take your hand off her butt. And his butt.

@FollowedByPM2019: I like b&%*@es who drink whisky even though I’m afraid of them. I have much to learn from Harvey sir.

N. Nilekani: Guys, let me stack the plates on your biometrics.

Me: *Throws them all down the tunnel. Muffled shouting, scuffling. Goes to bed exhausted, afraid to fall asleep and dream.*

Dinner party Napoleon

I’m sorry for all the shade I threw at the PM

(Published on September 30, 2017 in Business Standard)

My new home is in a tucked-away pocket of the city, so easy to get to that nobody can find it. I invariably send elaborate directions; my friends invariably ignore them; everyone invariably staggers in an hour late with mud-streaked clothes and twigs sticking out of their hair, swearing. In hosting these chaotic dissenters, I’ve had an insight that has blown up all my convictions, and imperils my identity. It’s like seeing the Matrix in all its horrible magnificence, and realising that you are Agent Smith.

My siblings used to call me Napoleon, because I was short and headstrong. I don’t know what they were trying to say cough*control freak*cough but it seems to me that Napoleon achieved greatness because he was not burdened by any democratic nonsense. The fastest way to the history books is to be captain of the ship, with a great vision and absolute power to implement it.

Today, at large in my own ship, my quirks have gone rogue. I’ve become Captain Whatshisface with the octopus tentacle beard, on the Flying Dutchman—a hopped-up monstrosity of hubris. Today, in my house, not only do I wash my own hands and wipe away crumbs compulsively and place towels just so, but I have also caught myself following my visitors around, discreetly snooping on them to make sure they’re also doing things my way or, to use the technical term, the right way. (Okay once or twice, they caught me.) When they’re not doing it right, I become much less discreet and have been known to snatch things away, ban certain behaviours, and supply a lot of one-way commentary. 

For example, I cannot abide sticky and/or oily fingers touching taps and drawer handles, or being wiped on a cloth that was meant to dry dishes. I cannot abide cutting juicy or smelly things on the kitchen slab minus chopping board. I am baffled to notice that people often don’t follow my rules—which, by the way, are in place because they are the best way to do things—even when I’ve stated them clearly. I’m trying love and compassion instead of throwing people off the balcony, but I am aware that the latter is more efficient.

Meanwhile, I’m considering issuing visitors some kind of biometric ID card so I can hunt down each oily, sticky fingerprint and help them re-orient their thinking for the greater cleanliness of the household. It’s for their own good. It’s okay if people misunderstand me in the short term; many important historical figures were reviled in their time by those too blind to see.

There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just say it: I would like to extend a heartfelt mea culpa to Mr Modi and his associates. I’m sorry for having been so critical—I didn’t know, I didn’t know… I finally understand that there is nothing as intoxicating as the cocktail of dogma and dominion. I finally understand why someone might behave like a micro-managing, know-it-all autocrat: In our heads it is obvious, and right, and good.

Sometimes I lie awake worrying that nothing short of a stake in the heart is going to save me from the path I am on. But most other times I lie awake thinking up snappy acronyms and Twitter trends like #JeSuisModi. Maybe I’ll make my friends give me their fingerprints before I give them directions. Mitron, I’ll tell them, the sky is the limit in my #NewPlace.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Some rooms of one’s own

The curious case of being like Benjamin Button

(Published on September 16, 2017 in Business Standard)

A sense of the weird—weird supernatural, not weird awkward—has lately dawned upon me. I’m afraid to tell anyone because they’ll think I’m losing my marbles, so this is just between you and me. Here it is: I’m living my life backwards, like Benjamin Button. It is upsetting to realise that my whole existence is patterned on an incredibly annoying Brad Pitt film, but the day we look away from truth is the day we could have been perfectly happy in a comforting lie but no, you had to be all goody two-shoes.

The fact is that while my chronological age is proceeding—apace, you might say—as per normal schedule, my temperament and actions have been steadily reversing the normal schedule. I began life as a detached, contemplative child who was happy to read and knit. I spent my twenties struggling with mortality; my thirties striving to stay fit, and my early forties being unruly in bars. Now, in middle age, I have moved into my own place for the very first time. You see the trend? When people say, ‘Where do you see yourself in the future?’ I will have to say, Going back to school, then throwing things at my siblings, and finally crawling around sticking my baby fingers in electrical sockets. I suppose my mother will have to stick around to de-raise me.

Speaking of my mother, she was naturally shattered that, after living with her for so long, I’d found and moved into this place so suddenly, while she was travelling. I went to visit her when she returned, guilt-ridden from anticipating her grief in the howling void of my absence.

‘Hello,’ she said, ‘Make sure you empty your cupboards, because I’m turning your room into a guest room and plan to have lots of visitors come and stay.’ It was a poignant moment. I thought to myself, How fast they grow. She also came to visit me in my new house, and began several sentences with “When I come to spend the night…” That woman is all about revenge.

So here I am, solo householder, writing down how much I spent on eggs and Harpic (et voilĂ , breakfast), engaging in intriguing cat-and-mouse games with electricians and plumbers, severely curtailing my drinks budget, and battling an army of ants so relentless and unreasonable that I think they might be on Twitter. I’m saving used tea leaves to put in potted plants. I walk into kitchen stores and quietly take leave of my senses because even though I’m a crappy cook I am helpless in the face of kitchen porn. My neighbour picks up my newspaper for me and sweetly sticks it in my door. People WhatsApp photos of crumbling plaster and seepage to each other instead of screaming up the stairwell. It’s just grand.

I’m told householding gets really old, really soon, but it’s only been a couple of weeks, so my castle and I are still very much in the honeymoon phase. I walk around admiring the light—buttery in the morning, honey gold in the afternoon; and the space—not too big, not too small; and the comfort of my bed—not too long, not too short; the sweet kitchen—not too complicated, not too simple; and the endless, endless cupboard space, of which I have pretended to occupy three cubby shelves by spreading stuff around thinly. The maid said, You’re going to bring more clothes, right? and I said, Hahahaha, have you met me?

My mother calls it my Goldilocks house, just right for me. That probably means I could very well wake up one day and find the place full of bears. But that’s life in reverse.