Category Archives: India

Walking In Bhiringi

When you land in Durgapur, fresh from the sanitised ostentation of Bangalore and the politically charged flag-waving cheer of Kolkata, the sudden quietness of this peaceful small town comes as rather a shock- especially when you realise that this place is going to be home for the next six months. You can no longer complain about there being too many malls in the city, exorbitant auto fares and boring weekends. The numerous trees, clean and well laid out roads and abundant numbers of birds should rightly be more enjoyable than all the trappings of urban living; I admit, then, that three years of living in three different cities have effectively ruined me for a quiet life out on the prairies or the moors (like I’d once hoped to have).

I’d like to conveniently rest part of the blame on living with people my age- you can’t even watch Splitsvilla with your parents, let alone curse the copious amounts of inanity on it- but on the flipside, you don’t have to worry about which take-away your next meal is coming from, so all’s well. Now that I have plenty of time on my hands, I can introduce you to Durgapur. And we begin our virtual tour at Bhiringi More, which opens into a street lined with shops and populated by that portion of Durgapur which isn’t flocking to the newly opened Junction Mall.

The shelves in the display case of ‘Khawa-Dawa’ are lined with metal trays; a man carries in a tray of syrupy brown gulab-jamuns and spills them into a waiting plate. Fingers splayed, he rolls his hand on the sweets, spreading them out, all notions of hygiene thrown to the wind. A customer scratches his ankle with his key before attacking his ras-malai, while his son points to a heap of fly-encrusted squares of mysore-pak. My sanitiser-toting self cringes; but it is a generally accepted truth that food cooked and eaten in unhygienic conditions is delicious, provided you’re prepared to ignore the after-effects.

The lights flicker and go off. Emergency lamps, giving out thin slivers of neon light, are turned on to brighten the dingy interiors of not-so-welcoming hardware shops and restaurants. ‘Kwality Lodge’ next door promises ‘veg., non-veg. & delicious food’ at the restaurant downstairs- quite a choice there- as floral curtains billow on the balcony in the breeze rising gently now, revealing doors behind which perhaps a budding writer is hard at work. (Yes, I am thinking of Rusty!)

In this part of Durgapur, Bhiringi, the roads are chock-full of pedestrians, rickshaws and two-wheelers. Occasionally, the outrageously coloured cuboidal tin boxes on wheels that pass for ‘mini-buses’ lumber by; they are packed with people sitting or holding on for dear life as they press against one another in the narrow aisle. The single door is always half-open, kept suspended in mid-air by the agile body of the conductor who calls out for people to join the merry fraternity within the bus. It lurches to a stop without warning, disgorging and swallowing, unleashing frenzied cries from pedestrians and passengers alike. If you’re on a two-wheeler, you’re sure to be reminded of the “accelerator-clutch-brake” advertisement on TV. Or the “streets are full of idiots” ad.

The shops are colourless, much like one another and uninspiring. Dust lies thick on the plastic sheets clothing stuffed toys and the glass counters displaying knick-knacks. A brand new furniture shop, freshly whitewashed and splendidly lit (and evidently provided with a noisy generator), stands out like a resplendent beacon of hope- of what exactly, I cannot tell at this point. A spooky, vine-covered building hulking in the dark turns out, on closer inspection, to be a school; it could well have emerged unscathed from the 1857 Mutiny. The general vapidity and uniform boredom of the area would make an early twentieth-century Main Street in Oklahoma sound like paradise. Some day, though, this place will awake with a start and spring a surprise. I know I should be revelling in the quiet and that not too long ago I raved over the advantages of small-town life. So I’ll also warn you now about the difficult transition it can be, when you move down from a city that has JustBooks, HRC and a house full of boisterous girls.

As I write, an unseen vehicle mounted with a loudspeaker is passing by, extolling the virtues of Monday in Bengali (or so I think). We’re waking up already!

Five funny ways to die!

Chris Morris brings his decades-long experience of being a radical satirist and a creative force across UK’s TV and radio to Four Lions, as a director. The movie, which Morris claims to have spent three years of research on, is admittedly a farce. It was exclusively screened to former  Guantánamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg (much to his liking) to check if it would hurt UK-Muslim sentiments.

A movie that could easily have been  just another feature film about terrorism becomes a scary view into the dynamics and lives of a ridiculous terrorist cell. The cell consists of four young Muslim men who turn fundamentalist and decide to become suicide bombers. Omar (Riz Ahmed) and Waj (Kayvan Novak), who attend a terrorist training camp in Pakistan, actually fall a little short of terrorizing their trainers, much like the American army. Add to this the fact that disillusioned Omar’s revenge for the ill-treatment of Muslims around the world is the most exciting idea that Waj has ever heard or thought of. In fact, it seems Waj has left all the thinking to Omar all his life. Barry (Nigel Lindsay) is a white convert to Islam who advises the others to eat their sim cards to stop federal forces from tracking them down. Waj wants to know if he can cook his before eating it. And Faisal (Adeel Akhtar), who in all his daft-hood trains crows to blow up “slut-houses”, sits down and begins contently chewing on the sim card. You wouldn’t find a more content cud-chewing bovine animal anywhere, not even on the streets of India!  While Omar and Waj are away at the training camp, Barry picks up jihadi-rap singing prankster Arsher Ali (Hassan) at an Islamic conference.  Together they are The Four Lions (yeah, not five, something happens in between). And they won’t stop at anything to blow themselves up, intentionally or accidentally (more likely), to send a message to the capitalist regime that gave them their better lives.

Four Lions turns into a comical tragedy at the pace of a misfired missile while all the good work done by the flying jokes peters out into the bleak reality of terrorism threatening us. Perhaps, a richer soundtrack would have helped the cause.

Rated: So funny, terrorists might die laughing. With their un-pinned grenades in hand.

The trailer can be found here.

monsantoed

So my morning began with this – an irritable method of finding out what Greenpeace thinks about most well known edibles-manufacturing companies, one product at a time. If you try that link, you will know why I find it irritable.

And this is what a verdict looks like –

Kurkure is produced by Pepsico. Pepsico is ranked as Red in the safe food list. This company is irresponsible as it has not taken any concrete steps to provide Indian consumers with GM free food for now or in future.”

Ironically, only one Pepsico product is listed by Greenpeace, so are the rest of the lot good for a toast? But wait, didn’t you just question the entire product line of the company?

Only Dabur and KRBL were ranked safe.

I felt that Greenpeace was taking its credibility as a whistle-blowing organization to the edge of the cliff at ninety miles an hour – the reason being its incomplete yet report-card-like ruling. They could have as well said, “Pepsi, you slut! You’ve got very low grades this time and if you continue staring at that boy’s butt like a horny school girl I’ll tell Daddy!” I concur with them when the theme of walk-the-talk is like preventing a port in Orissa from going industrial which would involve push many species into extinction, but this is different.

The facts behind their allegation though are very grave and should be taken very seriously. Genetically modified foods have entered the mindset of the Indian politician under the aegis of a company, Monsanto, which has since 1901 been a manufacturer of chemicals. It was barred from manufacturing DDT (an international ban on its use because of its hazardous nature, though India still uses it in plenty) and recently has slid into agriculture through mergers and acquisitions. Monsanto was also the producer of a defoliant – Agent Orange, which the American army extensively used during the Vietnam war, only to find out later that it was carcinogenic and ban its use. Roundup was another brand launched by Monsanto, which was a “bio-degradable” weed killer. The bio-degradable tag was soon found to be a marketing ploy and later removed. Roundup was a biotechnological genius in itself. It strengthened only the DNA of the soya-bean plant against itself and not that of the weed, hence exterminating the weed wherever sprayed. The company also introduced 1000 percent more expensive cotton seeds than the normal ones into India, the world’s second most populated country. These seeds were also called “terminator-seeds”, meaning that the trees that these seeds produced were sterile, leaving the poor Indian farmer to purchase expensive seeds every crop season (that were priced at 10 Euros for 100 grams), and at the hands of  merciless money lenders and truant monsoons.

I’ll leave you with some interesting links on the subject :

An interview of an ex-MD of Monsanto by Tehelka, Monsanto and the Indian farmers and a documentary of their dirty work.

It’s a small world

“We are bound to bump into somebody we know!” My friend said as we entered the Select City Mall.

He was right. After all, the place is like an air-conditioned cocoon for the upper middle class of Delhi. And there are fewer of us, than the rush at these places makes it seem.

But this blog isn’t about a mall. This is about how I used to be fascinated by the phrase “It’s a small world” and how it gradually came to be ruptured.

I had invited a few of my school friends and my college friends over, so that they could wish me on my birthday, the good old way, rather than write it on a wall. Soon, we discovered that my college friend Amrita’s friend was classmates with my school friend Rohit all the way in a University in the US. This phenomenon of discovering mutual friends is now an everyday event thanks to Facebook, Orkut etc

So what is it? Is there some primal pheromone release that attracts likeminded souls to each other? Is every recent addition to your friend list already connected to you, thanks to some Coehelian conspiracy? Is the Universe really plotting?

That’s what I thought…until yet another one of my friends pointed out that these are no accidental meetings. Those who can afford courses in foreign universities, Internet, clothes which let you pass through the glass doors of malls… make up such a small part of society that it is no surprise we brush shoulders a lot of the time. When we say it’s a small world, what we are referring to is not the world, but the bubble that we live in because we have the resources to do so. (I googled ‘it’s a small world’ and one of the top five hits was for a club with the tagline: “A private online community designed for those who already have strong connections with one another. By invitation only.

If you are reading this blog, you are probably one of the invited ones. The world we live in is such a club. You keep running into friends at events, institutions. Someone you know knows someone else you know. This goes on endlessly. But you’ll probably never have mutual friends with your driver, gardener or maid, never run into them at a ball. Even Cinderella needed to get all decked up before she was allowed into the ball. Too bad fairy godmothers are so few and far between.

mysore

This I thought, would be the most boring of all trips. Honestly. But I successfully convinced a guy blinded by a hangover to ride his Enfield Bullet to a place which was almost 130 kms away from Bangalore city- and that was an ego boost to my people-motivation skills.

Okay, ignoring the hour wasted in finding his house, then finally meeting up at a restaurant which was overflowing with more people fighting for good coffee than for better food,  and that too at eight fucking thirty on a Sunday morning, everything seemd perfect (keeping in mind that it was cloudy even at 9 that morning). To make matters worse,  Ashish called in with fever . Now, it was justthe Enfield guy and me, and we decided to do the trip for record’s sake.

A short 15 minute criss-cross through the morning traffic brought us onto the Nice road. And  does it live up to its name! A toll booth later, we were flying down the highway with me surprised by how the surroundings change – we were in a traffic jam a few minutes back and now, we were riding at heights more than that lush coconut tree groves with lakes of water in between.

Now, this is where I start lauding my Yamaha‘s performance. To begin with, it’s got a “feather light handlebar” which gives you the smoothness of a banking aircraft  on those long bends interrupted only by mangy mutts in the middle of such roads mulling on whether to cross or not.  Occasionally, you would come across carcasses of victimised dogs and crows playing relay races in a similar fashion. Another realization that hits you soon enough is that while the Karnataka government was planting speed breakers, it forgot to put warning signs in advance and sometimes, skipped them altogether. Poor mileage, though an issue, was pushed aside by breathtaking scenery,  and three hours later, I was at a  200 year old church.

A few minutes of stretching and soothing the side-B, I started the ride to the place where it all began – the Mysore campus. We revisited the old training rooms, food courts and libraries. The walk back to the hostel room from the training centre used to be a long one, taking 1-2 hrs, which included warm chocolate milk shakes, diaphragm exercises accompanying the accomplished guitarist, leg pulling, weekend planning … the problems of a simple mind which are now nowhere to be heard of.

I spent time recounting memories with all whom I could find from my training days and after I slept off the tiredness, witnessed a musical fountain dance to some (repetitive,) pop music with the glow of the enormous, second training centre for stagelight. Now, that building, is  money well spent. Our stomachs growled and a thought of the good ole masala buttermilk ran through our heads. Two years earlier, there used to be just one crowded punjaabi dhaaba with  finger-licking food. Now, there are many with bland food. We ordered butter nan, paneer bhurji and dal tadka , and got sweet dal, burnt nan, some bland paneer bhurji and this conversation: –                                                                               

 To the waiter,” Boss, isme(dal tadka) namak nahi hai!”
The spineless jellyfish(waiter) pointing at the salt-pepper dispenser,” Dal lo!”
Friend retorted:”Dal,pyaaz aur masala bhi de dete, khud hi banake kha lete!”

I don’t know what I should hold against him – the ‘best’ dhaaba around or the free movie that we missed by sleeping away at the dorm. I forgave him(had to, I was spending the night over at his place and he knows Kung-fu) and spent the night looking at a curtain thread swayed by the cool breeze. We turned around for Bangalore the next day at around five thirty in the morning and reached home in three-and-a-half hours – and that’s another place struck off and nostalgia shrugged off the shoulders.

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