Ban OK Please

Indian trucks are the answer to the question, ‘What would Sunny Deol look like if he were a Transformer?’ The good thing about Indian trucks is that they transport vital goods across the country day in and day out, halting for nothing except maybe the occasional STD pitstop. The bad thing about Indian trucks is that sometimes you get stuck behind one. At that point, all you can think of are cuss words that would make a truck driver blush. They needn’t even be doing anything – we’re just conditioned to see trucks as missiles on wheels, which is a bit unfair because missiles are less lethal.

On the bright side, if you ever got stuck behind one, at least you could amuse yourself with those kitschy slogans on the back – because incorrect English is hilarious to people like us – while slowly euthanising your lungs. But now thanks to the Maharashtra government, the most iconic statement of them all – Horn OK Please – is on its way out. The state transport commissioner recently issued a circular banning the phrase on the rear side of commercial vehicles, because, I dunno, there’s a ban target that needs to be met every week or something.

The slogan was banned in a bid to curb noise pollution, because, as the government circular stated, “It encourages people to honk every time you pass a truck or tempo. It sends a wrong message to citizens.” Well done. This is going to curb noise pollution in the same way that banning the words ‘Colombia’ is going to curb drug trafficking.

Saying that the phrase encourages people to honk before overtaking is a bit much. You’re basically accusing Indians of following safety instructions, and that is such an anti-national thing to say. Moreover, we Indians don’t honk because a sign tells us to – we honk because we have hands.

India is a deeply spiritual country, but our devotion is strongest when it comes to the Horn God. We believe that He can make traffic jams disappear with his Voice and it is but our solemn duty to beat down on His Magical Chest like really noisy CPR.

It’s cute when people say that Indians should honk less, like we don’t know it. I once had my horn conk off while on the road, and the drive home would have been less terrifying if I’d been duct-taped to the hood of Paul Walker’s car. You think you can get by with dippers, but people see that as Morse code for ‘It is okay to die under this car’. Without a horn, you have no way to communicate to the biker speeding in from the left that maybe a 60 degree tilt-turn into six inches of space is not a good idea and that the garage charges extra to wash off idiot entrails.

Also, when you’re driving with your parents in the car, a horn is the only way you can indicate to the guy who has stopped on the sea-link to take selfies that you think he’s a dumb (body part) and that you hope he gets slapped in the face by an elephant (body part).

But hey, what do I know? Maybe this is a step in the right direction. Maybe we can extend the ban to other forms of pollution on the roads. Maybe we can tackle cultural pollution by taking on white SUVs. Because no one in Indian automotive has ever looked at a white SUV and thought, “Oh, I bet that belongs to a thorough gentleman. Maybe we can have tea sometime.” Nope, it’s always “I do not want to end up in the boot of that guy’s car.” Now that’s something I would get behind. Honk twice if you agree.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 3rd May 2015.)

Tobacco May Kill Common Sense

WARNING: The following column contains references to smoking, which is injurious to health and also makes you smell like an ashtray. Developing embryos are advised to stop reading right now.

Cigarettes have always been the most stylish way of getting lung cancer. You know this, I know this and the dumbest dungbeetle on the planet knows this. But recently, a few BJP MPs stunned the scientific establishment by saying that we maybe kinda need more studies to establish a clear link between tobacco and cancer, in the same way that we need more evidence to find a link between gravity and falling off a building.

The gentlemen in question were Dilip Gandhi and Shyama Charan Gupta, members of a parliamentary panel whose job, among other things, was to decide whether or not to increase the size of pictorial warnings on tobacco products from 40% to 85%. Another logical argument that came up during this process was, “I can show you so many chain smokers who do not have cancer”, which is like saying “I saw that one dude on TV who eats tubelights and he seems fine, so maybe swallowing crushed glass is okay for you.”

Fun Fact: Mr. Gupta owns Shyam Bidi Works, one of the largest bidi manufacturers in the country, but I’m sure that’s a total coincidence. Sanjay Jha, aka the Congress’s version of Suhel Seth, weighed in on this coincidence, saying that one did not have to be Sherlock Holmes to see the vested interests at play. At this point, a lesser man would have retired to the mountains, filled with loathing about the fact that he made Sanjay Jha appear sensible.

Thankfully, the government rebutted all of Gupta and Gandhi’s arguments with an official statement saying “Bhai, tu rehn de”, and said that they would go ahead with the plan to increase the size of pictorial warnings. This is great news for all those who believe that smokers actually care about such things. You could sell the damn things with a warning that says ‘THIS IS POISON. IT WILL ROT YOU FROM THE INSIDE AND TURN YOU INTO A HUMAN TUMOUR WITH A VOICE THAT SOUNDS LIKE RANI MUKHERJEE AND FARHAN AKHTAR GARGLING TOGETHER’ and it wouldn’t matter.

By all means, double the size of the images of the mouth sores and lesions and tumours, because that’s just more real-estate for smokers to ignore. Heck, you could sell cigarettes encased inside an actual diseased lung – have them fish out a pack from inside a blackened, slimy slab of cancerous tissue – and their only reaction would be, “Bro you have a light or what?”

This is the part where I get to be smug and say that I don’t smoke, because I have amazing willpower and I should get a medal for it. But the truth is that I can’t handle it, which is the only good thing about having a rubbish respiratory system. My lungs are so sensitive, they perform slam poetry on weekends.

I know this because like every stupid college kid out there, I tried. For a couple of weeks, I checked out a bunch of options to see what the fuss was about. The reviews ranged from coughing and puking (gold flakey nonsense) to nausea and puking (milds) to expensive nausea and puking (“David Hoff”, as a friend put it) to a double shot of impotence (“girly menthol crap”) and of course, the garams, that were lit ten years ago and are probably still burning.

I didn’t try beedis because you’re only allowed to smoke those if you’re squatting outside a building gate with a muffler wrapped around your head. All in all, it was a daft thing to do, especially because I live in Mumbai and I can get free cancer home-delivered to my body just by breathing.

Whenever this issue comes up, there are always people who wonder why you can’t just ban tobacco outright. It’s a complex issue involving agriculture, finance, trade and science but I’m going to try and break it down for you:

Money good. People like money. People no like if you mess with their money. Mmmmm. Money. *frolics naked in a pool of dollar bills*

What works though, are all the restrictions on advertising, public smoking and of course, not selling to minors, which is really the big one. So if you’re a young person reading this, do not even bother trying to smoke. Those things are super addictive, like heroin or popping bubble wrap, and quitting is going to be a pain. Seriously, you’re better off eating tubelights.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 26th Apr 2015.)

BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM I WANT YOU IN MY CITY!

As anyone who has ever attended a gig in Bombay will tell you, we are the number one destination for international musical artistes who have been classified by other countries as “clinically dead”. For example, at one point, you didn’t know if Bryan Adams was coming to India to perform or to reincarnate.

The latest on the coffin tour is the ‘90s electro-pop sensation Vengaboys, who will be performing in Mumbai, Goa and Chennai in May. The shows are expected to go off smoothly, mainly because their name is Vengaboys and not Jerry Seinfeld. But on the flipside, the Mumbai venue is – and I kid you not – a mall in Kurla. Yup, a band that was one of the most popular acts on the planet at one point is going to be playing venues that even DJ Suketu would spit at.

It’s so sad that we live in a place with 25 percent entertainment tax, 14 percent service tax, a licensing regime that is basically The Hunger Games but less compassionate, and yet, Kurla is the worst thing that could happen to you. Ah well, I suppose it could be worse. The government could ask the organisers to squeeze in a Lezim-and-Musical-Chairs act in the middle of the show.

The Vengaboys have performed in India before, back in 2001, when their fans hadn’t yet been afflicted with conditions like Male Pattern Baldness, or Babies. They had a spot of bad luck back then too, when their Guwahati show had to be cancelled so as to keep “in tune with local sentiments”, which is just another way of saying that some angry people thought their music would inspire copious amounts of sexytime. That’s ridiculous because in the 90s, there were way more people who hooked up after whacking dandiyas to ‘Pari Hoon Main’ (thereby completely ignoring all the lyrics).

But it’s not difficult to see why the moral brigade would have a problem with some of their songs. I mean one of their biggest hits is named after Thailand’s number one export. It’s weird to think about now, but I remember kids, including me, listening to Boom Boom Boom, completely oblivious of the sexuality blasting out of those old truck-sized “hi-fi” speakers. This is what those deep, metaphorical lyrics went like:

Boom boom boom boom

I want you in my room

Let’s spend the night together

From now until forever

Boom boom boom boom

I wanna double boom

The good thing about those days was that nobody overthought this kind of stuff. Or if they did, we didn’t have to hear about it. We danced, enjoyed and got over all of this without having to read grave op-eds about how Boom Boom Boom is either:

a) A misogynistic song that promotes objectification and patriarchy, and is the worst thing to happen to women since stilettos

OR

b) A feminist anthem where a woman fearlessly expresses her desires, while deliberately keeping the identity of the lover non-specific, so as to encompass all races, sexualities and body types.

But now, I imagine the Vengaboys would end up having to justify themselves to everyone with a smidgen of authority and/or access to the internet. I’m not sure what they’ll say, but the following culturally-approved explanation might help:

Boom boom boom boom

(Sound of dholak beats for cultural reasons)

I want you in my room

(Because good boys and girls don’t go outside at night…)

Let’s spend the night together

(… and also because you missed the last local, so sleep over, but on separate mattresses)

From now until forever

(Signifying commitment, because flings are for white people)

Boom boom boom boom

(More dholak to drive away impure thoughts)

I wanna double boom

(I want two kids.)

Dear Vengaboys, if you’re reading this, first up, thanks for teaching me that you can make an entire song with just one word i.e. BRA-ZEEEEEEL. And secondly, feel free to use the culturally-approved subtext above. I ask for nothing in return. I mean I would’ve asked for a free pass to the gig, but um, it’s in Kurla.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 12th Nov 2015.)

The Top Ten Million Things To Hear When You’re 30

I turned 30 last week and the second the clock struck midnight, I transformed into a mature, sensible gentleman who has his life all figured out and has stopped thinking of salads as “culinary depression”. It’s not like I stumbled home at 6 a.m. and spent the day in boxers, surrounded by my closest friends, cake, beer and biryani. Nope, not at all.

Things are supposed to change now because we’ve bought into the idea that 30 is a significant age, and that it is vastly different from 29. And it probably is, if you’re comparing insurance premiums. Even science suggests that decade-changes are when people tend to reflect and take stock and then panic, which is ridiculous because age is just a number and has no bearing on your real life, if you exclude factors like money, health, stability, security and responsibility.

It doesn’t help that there are about a gazillion lifestyle pieces about turning 30. There are more pieces about 30-year-olds than there are actual 30-year-olds, and they all seem to say the same thing i.e. “I was on a tight deadline so here’s some faff about my life experiences disguised as content now go away I’m hungover from last week.”

So if you’re a young guy wondering what arbitrary standards you’re supposed to live by, then worry not, because here’s a list of my favourite pointers, culled from actual ‘THINGS EVERY MAN MUST DO/HAVE BEFORE HE’S 30’ pieces:

Build Something With Your Hands:

This is fun to write, because you know you’re not going to be the one doing it. It’s usually accompanied by some rubbish about how real men used to do things with their hands and we must get back to it because apparently it’s sexy, which explains why so many women are lusting after Ramu Carpenter.

Attempt To Grow A Sweet Moustache:

This is great advice if you’re looking to turn into your father’s passport photo from 1976. When was the last time you saw a young guy with just a moustache – no beard – and thought to yourself, “Hmm, that person seems like fun. I bet he has a cool name like Anoop or Mandar”?

(Beards are kinda overrated as well, and no, I’m not saying this as a bitter man who can’t grow a full beard because of a tiny hairless patch on his neck that continues to stay hostile and deserted, like the No Man’s Land between India and Pakistan.)

Have A Signature Dish:

This is less advice, more necessity, especially if you’ve spent the better part of your 20s ordering takeaway designed to nuke your colon. I’ve always found it strange when guys are actually proud about the fact that they can’t cook and say things like, “Oh once I made Maggi and the house burnt down and now we live in a slum LOL.” Those guys are pretty much on their way to being Norman Bates, minus the charm.

Get Your Heart Broken:

I don’t even see how this is advice. It’s like climate change or AAP leaders calling each other ‘poopyhead’ – it’s bound to happen. It’s pretty much the only skill I’ve carried forward from engineering college. The weird thing is that when your friend breaks up, you’re genuinely concerned but there’s also a part of you that’s thinking, “Oh awesome, now we get to drink like idiots. For our bro.” If that is not a metaphor for hope, then I don’t know what is.

Get A House Or Save For One:

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Brb, wiping my tears with property brochures for 18 square feet deluxe apartments in a toilet in Mira Road for 37 crores, plus 15% service charge to enjoy The Spirit Of Mumbai (Supplied By The Tanker Mafia).

Have an answer to the “Do you want kids?” question:

This is important because apparently at this age, women start evaluating you on the basis of your ability to nurture monsters who will bleed your bank account dry, suck all the sleep out of your life and in turn, reward you with a sense of love and responsibility so crippling, you will bow before their needs your entire life because it is considered bad parenting to fake your death and flee to the mountains.

This is just a fraction of the advice out there written for you by people who are not you. Feel free to ignore all of it and go do whatever the hell you want. Remember, nothing can stop you. NOTHING. Except rent. And maybe that EMI. And that client meeting. Remember, age is just a number.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 5th April 2015.)

Till Death Or Other Weird Reasons Do Us Part

The Great Indian Wedding Season is drawing to a close, which is sad because I look at weddings the same way I look at getting tasered – it’s great fun if it’s happening to someone else. The best one I attended was basically a beach-and-beer party where there just happened to be a ceremony. However, recent news events have made me realise that you can do all the cool stuff you want at your wedding, but if it’s going to go through without anyone getting ditched at the altar, then don’t even bother inviting me.

The gold standard for excitement was set by a bride in U.P this week, when she canceled her wedding at the last moment after realising that the groom had hidden his complete and utter lack of education from her. She did this by pretending to be a human Captcha. No, seriously. She asked the groom what 15 plus 6 was. His answer: 17. (On the bright side, at least he’s qualified to be an elected representative.)

Classy readers may have already noted that this incident is also the basic plot of the 90s classic Raja Babu, so don’t you ever accuse Govinda of not making realistic cinema ever again. What I love about the story is even after all this, the guy’s family still tried persuading the girl to marry their defective abacus. That must have been an awkward conversation.

Guy: I know I basically committed fraud but marry me. I have money…

Girl: … that you cannot count.

Guy: I swear I’m educated!

Girl: Right. And which school did –

Guy: *sings the IIN theme song*

That’s when she proceeded to get the hell out of there, leaving behind skid marks and a bride-shaped hole in the wall.

Last month, another bride from U.P had ditched her groom when he had an epileptic fit during the wedding. Then she said to herself, “Goddammit I got threaded and waxed and the caterer is here with like six different types of paneer, so why let it all go to waste?” So while the seizing groom was rushed to a hospital – again, this is true – she scanned the wedding guests, spotted a potential mate and announced that she would marry him if he were okay with it. The guy agreed to it because apparently self-esteem is optional. At some point, the original groom returned from the hospital, only to see his former bride and her new husband drive off into the sunset, making him realise that marriage is a sacred bond between a woman and a man who just happens to be in her field of vision.

Now you may call it cruel and discriminatory, and the fact is that there are better reasons to cancel weddings than epilepsy, like if someone wears sunglasses indoors. But the girl was angry that the guy’s family had kept this hidden from her, which, from her point of view, sounds fair. Because if it had been the other way around, I’m pretty sure the guy would have dropped her so quick, they’d call him Kamran Akmal. It’s just refreshing to come across stories like these in a country where guys reject girls because “Mummy, the angle of her nose is off by half a degree, so find me a better model.”

Maybe such incidents can be avoided if young people are given more time and freedom to choose life partners. Ah, what am I saying – that’s just crazytalk. At best, you could have matrimonial sites include filters like ‘I Suffer From A Misunderstood But Manageable Neurological Condition Which Would Not Be A Problem If We Were More Than A Biodata To Each Other’.

(On a related note, it’s nice to see shaadi dot com being endorsed by Chetan Bhagat. Because there’s no better advocate for arranged marriages than the guy who had a love marriage so famous, it spawned a book and a 100-crore film.)

There’s still hope if you want to catch an exciting wedding. You can still see a few going on, causing the odd traffic jam, most notably in Juhu and Worli. These are the poor souls who couldn’t get a date when the weather was nice and can now be seen smiling through sixteen layers of sherwani, developing sweat patches that will eventually devour them like a black hole. I don’t know how they do it. If I were them, I’d just marry the AC. Unless it left me for someone else.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 15th March 2015.)

Does This Marksheet Make My Brain Look Big?

My favourite thing about the CBSE board exams is that they took place fifteen years ago. But as it turns out, they’re still a thing, with millions of students taking the plunge this week, one and only one question on their minds: How much do I need to score to make aunties and relatives shut up about my future? (Ans: Move to Siberia.)

So first up, best of luck to all you students and/or the impersonators you’ve paid to take the exam for you. Chances are that by now, you’ve heard tons of friendly advice from older people, because giving gyan makes us feel good about ourselves. The advice usually ranges from “Don’t worry, I also scored 23% and I’m rich enough to go to Phuket for honeymoon now” to “If you mess up that six mark math question, you’ll end up wiping windshields for heroin money.”

I have no clue how you’ll do in life but statistically speaking, if you’re a girl, you stand to do better than the boys in your class. I know this because every year, every newspaper in the country will announce the results with the headline ‘GIRLS OUTSHINE BOYS NYAHNYAHNYAHNYAH BOYS SUCK’.

It has been this way for as long as I can remember. In school, the tongue-in-cheek explanation was that girls got extra marks for neat handwriting. Now this sounds like a typical sexist reaction by boys who can’t stand a girl scoring higher than them, but honestly, as hard as I try, I cannot recall a girl having bad handwriting.

When you say ‘girls’ handwriting’, it conjures up an image of perfectly spaced words perched on the line like elegant tightrope walkers, whereas a guy’s handwriting looks like those tightrope walkers fell eighteen stories and splattered across the page. And then there are those girls who take notes with six differently-coloured pens, highlighting and underlining keywords as they go, while the boys are using their chewed-up 045 to draw breasts and horns on historical figures.

Another headline you’ll always see on result day will be along the lines of ‘POOR KID OVERCOMES ALL ODDS TO TOP THE EXAM; MAKES REGULAR KIDS LOOK BAD’. People of privilege – myself included – cannot even begin to imagine the tenacity it takes to be that person, and we have nothing but respect for such people, but it’s also the kind of thing that makes you feel like Deepak Tijori at the end of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. I mean does your 90 percent even count if you didn’t spend months studying under the streetlamp outside your employer’s sweatshop? My parents always tried to inspire me with examples like these and said things like “If you don’t work hard, that poor kid will grow up to be your boss.” Because if your ingrained class bias isn’t motivation enough to study, I don’t know what is.

I imagine it’s tougher for students to study now, what with a million distractions fighting for their attention. If I’d had a cellphone and broadband in school then, well, I would never have gotten out of school. I’d still be living off my parents, scrolling through six different social media feeds while they tried to get me to mark “Top three coal mines” on the Indian map. (Hint: When in doubt, mark things in the general vicinity of Bihar.)

In fact, teachers today should use the internet to teach boring subjects in a manner that students will understand. They should get rid of those dreary post-lunch history lectures and just send students links that say ‘A British Trading Company Came To India. You’ll Never Guess What Happened Next’. The flipside is that you’d get to see exam answers like, “so like Simon was this guy who came here and wuz all up in mah bizness and peeps were like Y U NO GO BACK and he was like no u lol.”

But on a serious note, good luck once again to everyone taking on the biggest challenge of their lives that will totally determine their self-worth for years to come. Here’s hoping you do well so you can move on to the next challenge, and the next one, and the one after that until you wonder why you were even worried about your boards in the first place. In any case, you always have the Windshield Wiping industry to fall back on.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 8th March 2015.)

I’m Too Sexist For This Tweet

Old people can be hugely entertaining, as anyone who has ever heard their grandfather casually emit a jackhammer-style burp in public will agree. If they’re extra old, they may even throw in some ‘Thunder from Down Under’ in the middle of a serious conversation and carry on like nothing happened. But those bodily noises are nothing compared to the sounds that sometimes come out of their mouths, causing outrage and embarrassment among people who are still young enough to care about things.

One such incident took place this week when former Press Council chairman and retired Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju tweeted, and I quote, I regard Shazia Ilmi much more beautiful than Kiran Bedi. If Shazia had been made their C.M. candidate BJP wud have definitely won the Delhi elections. People vote for beautiful faces, as in Croatia. Even a person like me who does not vote wud have voted for Shazia.”

There were two kinds of reactions to his statement. One: “I don’t see the problem. He’s right and now I also want a pretty CM so I’m going to vote for Deepika Padukone.” And two, which was “It is sexist and demeaning to reduce women politicians to their looks, especially when their job is dependent not on beauty but on other skills, like taking U-turns. After all, nobody ever says that about male politicians even though most of their faces look like the underside of my shoe after a trek through Dharavi.”

Mr. Katju later clarified that he’d made the statement “in lighter vein” which is completely believable. I’m not even being sarcastic here. His thoughts echo a sentiment that flows naturally off the whiskey-soaked tongues of Indian uncles. You know the kind of people I’m talking about. They’re the ones who will forward you “hilarious” pati-patni jokes on Whatsapp, where the punchline is about how all a wife does is nag and then suck the life out of her husband’s credit card. Or the thigh-slapper about how all mothers-in-law have Nazgul DNA. Old people would be a great audience for comedy shows that take place in 1950 aka Every Show On Indian TV Right Now.

Despite how good we are at it, sexism isn’t just an Indian thing. It is universally understood that no matter how accomplished or brilliant a woman, she will always be judged on her looks. This is a problem because despite years of conditioning, women stubbornly refuse to morph into item girls with the brain of Stephen Hawking. Instead , they have the audacity to demand equal treatment. I’m sorry, but equality is for men only.

One good thing about this demand is that it sometimes leads to awkward hilarity. Take, for example, the case of Colleen McCullough, a best-selling Australian author who passed away this week at the age of 77. She started off as a neurophysiologist and then, deciding that the human brain was too simple a challenge, went on to write books that sold upwards of 30 million copies.

So naturally, any obituary of hers should include the words “Thanks for making me feel dumb and useless”, except that an Australian paper chose to open with, “Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth.” This is basically a polite way of saying, “Meh, she wasn’t like, hot or anything, but she was okay.”

This caused a fair amount of outrage as well, and understandably so. It’s a bit like writing an obituary for Marie Curie that goes, “An ordinary face, on a boring body that won two Nobel thingies for science, despite being a girl and sucking at math.” Or penning a teary farewell to Sachin Tendulkar that says, “Short of height, with frizzy hair and a mousy voice, he nonetheless managed to hit a ball successfully for many years until he retired and cried in public, that little wuss.”

I’m sure if you tried to explain the nuances of sexism to an Indian uncle, he’d just dismiss it as a ‘first-world problem’ and compare it to his childhood where women weren’t allowed to breathe unless they had a panchnama signed by a male gazetted officer or something. It leads me to wonder about the rubbish I will spout when I’m grey and cranky. Will it be harmless stuff like, “Kids, your music is giving me a nosebleed” or will it be something more insiduous? I have no clue, but whatever it is, I’ll be sure to follow it up with a nice, long belch-a-thon. Because that is real beauty.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 1st Feb 2014.)