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.)

On Your Marks, Get Set, Pizza!

If you’re reading this in the morning, then congratulations on being one of the four people not running the Mumbai Marathon today. Seriously, the last time I saw thousands of Mumbaikars run in one direction, it was for a local train seat.

But what I like about the marathon is that every year, it gives so many people a chance to wake up and seize the day by vowing to run next year pakka I swear boss this year was full hectic with job and baby and winning Nobel prize and licking schezwan off my chin and all.

The Mumbai Marathon has grown spectacularly since its inception in 2004, mostly because new generations of women kept discovering Milind Soman and his short shorts. The fandom is completely understandable. For starters, Soman is a friggin’ Greek god whose idea of light cardio is jogging from Mumbai to Pune. And the heartless monster that he is, he probably doesn’t even stop at the Panvel McDonalds. Also, when it comes to sexy studful studly stud-type men, Milind Soman is pretty much the only Maharashtrian option on the table. The only other hot Maharashtrian is Chicken Kolhapuri.

The reason the marathon is so popular is because it’s accessible to everyone who’s not lazy. It features categories like the Senior Citizens’ Run aka You Can’t Say Anything Mean About This Because You’ll Look Like A Sociopath, the Champions With Disability Run aka This Will Make You Feel Small and of course, the Dream Run, which supports the most important charity of them all i.e. the I Just Wanted A New FB Display Picture Foundation.

I don’t know how this happens, but at some point in your late 20s, a bunch of your friends – people whose idea of exercise was picking up the phone to call the wine shop – will start running seriously. This is a good thing because when done right, running develops the most important muscle of all – your credit card. Because you can’t just go out and run anymore. What are you – a caveman? First, you need the right shoes, something with basic features like “AdiBok Nano-engineered Oxyrich air granules embedded in a lightweight sole made entirely from the burps of god.”

The clothes that you wear need to have been designed at NASA, because if they aren’t high-tech enough, your body will put on fat in protest. And of course, you’re a real runner only if you strap on some sort of activity tracker bracelet that connects to sixteen social networks to let everyone know about your vital signs, the distance you covered, your deepest and darkest fears, which Sex and the City character you are and so on. I wish these devices and apps would broadcast more honest updates, like these:

“Champak just checked into Potholed Running Surface Buzzing With Kamikaze Autowallahs.”

“Champak just slipped on dog poo. Impossible is nothing ki mother-sister, he says.”

“Champak just spotted a cute girl up ahead. He quickens his pace because girls like nothing more than a guy racing at them from behind.”

“ABORT ABORT ABORT! Girl is wearing trackpants that has the word JUICY emblazoned in bling across her butt.”

“Champak’s lungs are screaming for mercy. It has only been one kilometre. Screw this, he says.”

“Champak just updated his FB: Ran 5 kilometres today! Feeling alive! <Protein Shake Selfie.jpg> #Motivated #BornToRun #JeSuisPistorius”

The marathon is also a giant fancy dress party – it’s like Halloween for people who’re off candy. But when it comes to fantastical costumes, nobody can beat Anil Ambani, who turns up dressed like he’s one of us. I imagine him running across the city thinking, “Yeah, I own that… and that… and this bridge over here and all the slum-dwellers over there… and that white building at Nariman with the flag on top” until he spots Antilla, at which point he wishes it were the monsoon, because nobody can see his tears in the rain.

But my favourite marathon moment has to be the one where I wake up after it’s all over and everyone has gone home. It’s not like you need to watch it to know how it ends. Two things will happen: an African guy will win, and Rahul Bose will become relevant again.

Jokes aside, the marathon fosters a sense of community and bonding that this angry, overworked city so desperately needs. That is reason enough to run. I’ll do it next year pakka.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 18th Jan 2015.)

This Humour Column Was Written 7000 Years Ago

Like most middle-class Indian kids, I first completed my engineering and then got around to figuring what I really wanted to do in life. So I’m the first to admit that I know next to nothing about science. The only time I use my education is when my parents ask me to fix some busted gadget, and I, applying what I learnt as a telecom engineer, swiftly pick up a cellphone to call the repair guy.

But as it turns out, I would’ve been clueless even if I’d actually paid attention in class, because here’s a news flash: What we know about science is wrong. It is all a western imperial construct designed to overshadow our original achievements. Simply put, the Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Americans have all shamelessly Pritam’d our inventions.

I’m thankful to the various patriots who, of late, have been working really hard to enlighten us about this piracy. The most recent exposé took place at the 102nd Indian Science Congress, where leading scientists had all the logic smacked out of them by the glory of ancient India.

For example, you might think that the first airplane was invented by the Wright Brothers, after they got sick of booking tickets on IRCTC. But no. Captain Bodas, a retired flying instructor and a speaker at the Congress, pointed out that the first airplanes had been invented in Indian about 7000 years ago. Some of them were the size of jumbo jets and apparently they could move forward, backward and sideways, hover in mid-air, do barrel rolls and also bharatnatyam in mid-air.

These planes were also loaded with twenty missile systems. Now I don’t mean to brag, but I too designed similar fighter jets in school, via the technical process of doodling in my textbooks. (I was inspired by scientific materials such as Swat Kats and Centurions, but clearly I should’ve paid more attention to Amar Chitra Katha.)

But that’s not all. We reportedly also had pilots in ancient India, who were prescribed a diet that alternated between buffalo, cow and sheep milk and wore special shockproof, waterproof, electricity-resistant suits made from the fibres of underwater plants. Their names have been lost to history, so let’s just call them Captain Shri Maverick and Goose.

If the pilots got bored of flying domestic, they could take their crafts for an interplanetary spin. No, really. It was claimed that the planes could go from planet to planet. To buttress this point, another speaker, Kiran Naik, said that proof of this lay in the fact that during ancient times – and I wish I were making this up – two kings were fighting on Mars when one of their helmets fell off. This is why you should always take off your helmet before fighting on Mars.

He said that “If you google ‘helmet on Mars’, that helmet clearly shows up”, because ancient India also invented Photoshop. Sadly, all these advances in aviation were squandered because as it turns out, the industry was run by Vijay Mallya’s ancestors.

Mr. Naik then educated the audience about a bacteria that lives inside cows and converts whatever the cow consumes into 24 karat gold. Wow, that has to be the worst Tanishq ad ever. Picture a young, hopeful man going down on his knees as his girlfriend blushes with anticipation:

Guy: I cannot imagine a life without you. Will you marry me?

Girl: Yes, yes, a million times yes! (pause) Where’s the ring?

*they hear a PLOP! in the distance*

Guy: Go get it yourself.

Seriously, I cannot get over the fact that India is home to bovine creatures that crap gold. But enough about Mukeshbhai.

Not all talks at the Science Congress were as eye-opening. The others were woefully bereft of fantasy and stuck to boring ol’ scientific temperament. I wonder what it was like for the scientists – including Nobel laureates and a Fields Medal winner – to sit back and listen to stories that essentially took a flamethrower to their life’s work. It’s like Sachin Tendulkar being told by a baseball player that his stance had been wrong all these years and also once an ancient Indian batsman hit the moon for a six.

I bet they feel smarter now and cannot wait for next year’s Science Congress. If I were them, I’d make travel arrangements right now. Where can I book a one-way ticket to 5000 B.C?

(Note: This is my HT column dated 11th Jan 2015.)

Waiter, There’s A Question In My Soup!

I watched PK recently, and it has to be the finest performance yet by Aamir Khan’s ears. A satire on organised religion, PK raises the all-important question i.e. how long before theatres are attacked? As it turns out, not very long. In India, you could die waiting for water or electricity, but dammit, we have the best Dial-A-Mob service money can buy.

The only thing offensive about PK was that the popcorn cost me 300 bucks. But try explaining that to the gentlemen who vandalised theatres left, right and centre, apart from filing cases claiming that the film promotes enmity and hate speech.

It’s weird that people can take offense to Raju Hirani, who’s probably the sweetest, most inoffensive director around. He could take the darkest story and turn it into the cinematic equivalent of hot chocolate.

If Hirani had made Black Friday, it’d end in Munnabhai telling the terrorist – who’d be Parikshit Sahni’s wayward son – “Aye mamu yeh gun chhod na – ghoda chalaane ka hai toh race course pe jaa.” Then Munna would give the terrorist a warm jaadu ki jhappi. (Okay, so some part of that story may have actually happened.)

This is not to say that I don’t have faith. I’m deeply religious. I fast regularly, mostly between bedtime and breakfast. I try and humbly follow whatever is prescribed in the greatest Indian manuscript of all time, the Kama Sutra. I have travelled far and wide to attain enlightenment, and I have found god. He lives at the bottom of a chillum.

What I’ve really enjoyed about my religion is that for the longest time, my reaction to the morning news was not, “Oh FFS, stop doing that in my name. Now people will think I’m also crazy.” Nope, that was a problem for people from the religion known as Naam Leke Marna Hai Kya, But You Know Which One I’m Talking About.

But of late, that luxury seems to be slipping away. It’s also tedious to hear and refute the same ol’ arguments that nuts throw at you, but it must be done, so here we go:

That film/book/song/falooda hurt my religious sentiments

So? You might as well take to the streets to announce “Anarkali ka phone thha, ice-cream khaana bahut zaroori hai” because that’s how much sense it makes. If you don’t like something, don’t watch it. It’s like me hating karela, yet going to a buffet where everything is karela and then attacking vegetable vendors because I did not like the karela.

Who are you to say that god doesnt exist?

Personally, I have no clue if god exists or not. But I admire your confidence. You’d be hard-pressed to explain how a fridge or an engine works, but you know exactly how the universe works. You should go tell that Hawking fellow to chill and stop thinking so much – your book has all the answers.

Why dont you make fun of That Religion Which You Refuse To Name In This Column?

We do, but your bias prevents you from noticing it. But I agree that we tip-toe around it more than we tip-toe around other religions. Because we’re too afraid, too broke to afford bodyguards, and too irrelevant to be granted asylum in countries that do not kill you for having an opinion. But is that what you want to become? If you say you’re better, then prove it by not turning me into sheesh kabab every time I make a joke.

How dare you question something so personal?

This was a question raised in PK too. If so-called silly rituals and and faith offer someone hope, then who are we to question it? Fair enough, as long as it stays personal. If it spills out on the streets and holds us up, we get to question it. If it breeds ignorance and superstition, we get to question it. If it leads to violence, we get to stand atop a flaming pile of your storybooks and proclaim that your beliefs need to change. Even Whatsapp gets an upgrade every few months. Surely religion could do with one. But we won’t do it, because burning books is your thing and we wouldn’t want to steal your thunder.

See, there’s a reason PK had to be an alien. Because we’re not allowed to question the planet we live on. If that thought offends you, well, pray that people like me see the light. That always works.

You Win, Delhi. You Win.

This Christmas, I made my way to Delhi, a place known for its traditional Christmas festivities, such as fat bearded uncles riding around in flashy vehicles while elves called Chotu do all the work at home. But I came here for a festival much bigger and better than Good Governance Day, i.e. the Delhi winter. Or as Bombay people like to call it, “Will six layers be enough or should I install a blast furnace in my chaddis?”

I bet all the North Indians are rolling their eyes at my excitement. But you have to understand that as a Bombayite, I’m still awed by the fact that I can spend an entire day outdoors and not lose half my body weight in sweat. It’s similar to the wonder you see in a Delhiite’s eyes when they come to Bombay and encounter mystical objects, like a functioning rickshaw meter.

The weather reports don’t really tell you how cold Delhi is. They may say “six degrees celsius”, but in reality, it’s so cold that when you wash your face, your nads shrivel up. It is so foggy that motorists can’t even see who they’re shooting at and have to rely on woofers for echolocation, like some sort of weird Haryanvi bats. Simply put, Delhi is colder than Amit Shah’s soul.

But none of that matters during the day when its raining sunshine and you can let it wash over you in one of the 26983 parks and gardens they have here. I visited Lodi Gardens, named after the famous Mughal emperor, Mr. Gardens. Again, all this greenery and open space might be commonplace for Delhiites, but I was walking around the place, all wide-eyed and drooly, like a dog who just entered a mansion made out of chewy slippers. I can’t help it. The closest thing I have to a garden in Bombay is a clump of dhania in my kitchen.

Lodi Gardens is a verdant expanse dotted with ruins that, even almost five hundred years later, have a regal air about them. They rise up before you, broken but proud, as if to say, “We were a marvel of our times. We were the PVRs and Nirula’s of the Lodi Dynasty.” The stamp of the kingdom is most evident in the intricate wall-to-wall Islamic calligraphy that says ‘Rajan Luvs Dimpy’ and ‘For Hot Time Call Reema She Is Cheapo Woh Pakka Degi’.

Lodi Gardens is also home to a variety of wildlife, especially the hormonally charged Homo sapiens that seems to reside behind bushes and walls, where it proceeds to deploy its tongue into the mouth of its mate and use it the way one would use a shovel to dig up buried treasure. Feel free to abandon all caution as you walk past these creatures, because they will not register your presence. A serial killer could pop up next to them and it wouldn’t matter. You’d just see the chalk outlines around their bodies the next day, the outline of his hands still fumbling with the outlines of her bra hook.

These species usually tend to be young, but yesterday I came across a uncle and an aunty well into their 50s, sucking face behind a tree. Think of the lovable old couple from Up, and now imagine the lusty Punjabi version of that. Most people would be put off by that sight, but as I watched Rajinder Singh make out with Rajinder Kaur under a blanket of glorious winter sunshine, their love soaring far and away from the shackles of social norms, I couldn’t help but think, “Ew, gross.”

This was followed by more thoughts that were mean and unnecessary, but also a natural reaction to old people making out. Things like, “Uncle, how is your neck bending that much when you have spondylitis? Aunty, don’t you have to rush home to shut off the pressure cooker? STOP FOOLING AROUND – DAAL JAL JAAYEGI!” (It’s stuff like this that’ll make sure I have no one special to fool around with when I’m in my 50s. Ah well, that’s what Thailand was invented for.)

And on that romantic, winter-y note, I wish you all a super new year. May you all find your Rajinder if you haven’t already, and if you have, then may you have fun traversing the vast terrain that is her polyester suit. On a serious note, you readers have been incredibly kind to me and I wish you nothing but happiness. Stay safe and have a good one. Or as they say in Delhi, “Meter se chal b******!”

(Note: This is my HT column dated 28th Dec 2014.)