Keep Calm And Do Yoga For Non-Political Reasons

(Note: This is my HT column dated 21st June 2015.)

Today is International Yoga Day, so I assume you’re reading this while standing on your head and inhaling deeply through your toes. As you know, yoga is an ancient discipline that we’ve loved and respected ever since we learnt that Madonna was doing it. It seems to work great for her too – she doesn’t look a day over dead.

But yoga just got bigger thanks to Narendra Modi, whose 2014 address at the UN general assembly led to June 21 being declared as International Soft Power Day. The main event involves 37500 people performing yoga at Rajpath, which, on Republic Day, is used to showcase our deadliest weapons like nukes and BMWs piloted by Delhi boys. In addition to this, Indian missions are conducting yoga sessions in 192 countries, in a bid to create a world record on Most Number Of People Cramping Because Of Too Much Pizza In Life Day.

At this point, I’d like to add that I’m a yoga expert, having gone through an intensive training period of four sessions. No, seriously. I just took up yoga, and while I’d love to credit Mr. Modi for this, the truth is that much like Pepsi or Chandrachur Singh, it was never a first choice. A little injury I suffered last year prohibits me from taking up the fitness regime that I really like, which is to run and lift and look in the mirror every six seconds to see if my biceps have grown.

I needed something that didn’t look like it would kill me, and yoga was it. The fact that the instructor comes home, thus requiring minimal effort on my part, has nothing to do with my choice. (And now, if the government’s reading this, here’s a timely reminder that I’m really enjoying Ayush Spam Day.)

I have to admit that before I started yoga, I was wary of the pseudo-spiritual hook that’s sometimes used to peddle it. If someone tells me to breathe and stretch a certain way in order to build strength, it makes sense. But if someone tells me that they can see a glowing aura around my head, then I’ve probably been in a radioactive accident and will be turning into a superhero real soon. (This would be a good time to mention that I’m really enjoying the amazing rhetoric around Religious People Missing The Point Day.)

I was also hesitant because from the outside, yoga looks – and how do I say this politely – deathly boring. I mean where is the glamour in sitting in one place and pretending to be a human rubber band? I’m used to moving and grunting to the beat of ‘Aunty Pullss Bula Legi’ in a room that smells of socks and farts. That was real exercise, or so I thought, until I found myself on my back, trying to hold a leg raise and realised that I have the core strength of a grape. And this is just the easy bit – I can’t wait to turn into a hardcore yoga evangelist, at which point people will stop inviting me to parties.

The problem is that yoga doesn’t really have cool brand ambassadors that young people can look up to. There’s Baba Ramdev, who is cool if you are my grandmother, and Shilpa Shetty, who’s cool if you are Shamita Shetty. But other fitness regimes are always drawing new recruits. For example, you can’t walk ten steps without running into some CrossFit guy. You know he does CrossFit because this is how the conversation goes:

Me: Hello.

Guy: I’m great. Life is great when you CrossFit!

Me: Okay…

Guy: You wanna see a burpee? *does 200 burpees in two seconds*

Me: Dude, we’re at your grandfather’s funeral.

Guy: YAARGGHHH I CAN BENCH PRESS DADAJI!!

I’ve already started seeing the benefits of yoga. For example, I now have rock-hard abs and have been cured of my tendency to exaggerate. The asana I most enjoy is the shavasana, which is where you lie down, shut your eyes and zone out, pretty much like the BMC. And on that note, I’d like to say that I’m absolutely thrilled to have witnessed yet another The Government Tells You What To Do Day.

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This Column Has Been Sent For Extensive Testing

(Note: This is my HT column dated 7th May 2015.)

Here’s a newsflash: it turns out that everything you like is bad for you. From your favourite cigarette to your favourite heroin dealer, it turns out that everything and everyone is actively trying to kill you, while also charging you money for it.

Of course, we’ve known this fact all along, but it gets ignored harder than a PETA activist handing out flyers. It only really sunk in when it was learnt that several batches of Maggi tested positive for massive amounts of nostalgia, which makes you completely ignore the fact that those noodles may as well be branded ‘Maa Ke Haath Ki Lead Poisoning’.

So much has happened since the first set of allegations cropped up last week. Here are some of the highlights, in no particular order. I guarantee that you’ll be able to read through all of them in two minutes. And your time starts now:

  1. In March 2014, thanks to the efforts of an official from the UP Food Safety and Drug Administration, a Feb 2014 batch of Maggi was tested and found to be pumped with enough lead to classify as an extra in a Michael Bay film. This came as a shock to everyone, especially the part where a U.P government official was found to be doing his job.
  1. In July 2014, Nestle challenged the test results, presumably on the grounds of “Aye it doesn’t count – first ball is always trial ball.” The second test results came in April 2015, and basically said that yep, it was Maggi that drove the Romans insane.
  1. So naturally, the next logical step was to file FIRs against Madhuri Dixit and Amitabh Bachchan for endorsing Maggi. Because everyone knows that brand ambassadors are in charge of manufacturing and quality testing. In fact, their contracts stipulated that Bachchan would stir a large vat of noodles while Madhuri Dixit personally ground up lead pipes and dropped them into the mix, along with the souls of little children.
  1. Another devastating fallout of the testing was that Priety Zinta became relevant again, after she was also named in the FIR for having endorsed Maggi – wait for it – twelve years ago. If you’d forgotten about this, then it’s okay, it’s probably just the lead in your brain. Meanwhile, Madhuri Dixit was probably sitting there thinking, “See, this is why I left India.” This is reportedly the most ridiculous thing to happen to Madhuri’s career, and that’s saying a lot, given that she was once wingmanned by a sanskari pomeranian. Meanwhile, Amitabh Bachchan said that he’d cooperate with the authorities, because he’s too polite to say, “BRO ARE YOU F******* KIDDING ME?”
  1. Then things got worse, with everyone scrambling to make terrible puns involving the word ‘lead’. This is obviously a symptom of lead poisoning so if you see your loved ones doing this, please call a doctor and have them put down.
  1. Faced with a bunch of state bans, Nestle finally pulled Maggi from shelves across India. This is when everyone’s nostalgia kicked in, because Maggi is pretty much a part of our bloodstream, along with things like TB and corruption. Everyone has a favourite recipe for Maggi – even those who are otherwise capable of burning down the kitchen while boiling water. Some people like it soupy. Other people like it dry, and to those people I say, what the hell is wrong with you, you monsters?

It’s not just Maggi. If you told me that half the stuff I consumed as a kid was toxic, I would have no reason to doubt you. For example, there’s no way Goldspot could legally taste that good. But nobody cared because that orange Goldspot tongue was our version of the post-coital cigarette. Simply put, our lack of standards is a reminder of simpler times, before stoopid facts came in and ruined our toxic eating habits.

And with that, we come to the end of two minutes. If it took you longer to read it, then it’s probably all the lead slowing you down. Go take it up with Madhuri.

Welcome To The Greatest City On Earth. Conditions Apply.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 31st May 2015.)

Earlier this week, a Muslim woman named Misbah Quadri alleged that she was forced to vacate her rented apartment in Wadala, Mumbai, because of her faith. This story came as a shock to exactly zero people, because if you’ve spent more than ten minutes in India, you know that bigotry and hypocrisy are our finest talents, second only to telling people that they’ve put on weight yaar.

But then came the twist: it was reported that the building she was evicted from houses other Muslim residents who’ve never faced such problems, and that she was evicted after a spat with her broker that had nothing to do with religion. If that’s true, then congratulations to Misbah for arming people with one more reason to turn down minority tenants.

This contradiction gave a bunch of people the chance to crow ‘SEE SHE’S LYING SHE’S A PAID COMMUNAL AGENT THERE IS NO BIAS BOOYEAH!’. That’s like saying that ‘I know a woman who filed a false dowry claim so
‘Honda City ke saath ek biwi free’ doesn’t happen.’

It’s not just religious grounds – the housing market is a basically a buffet of bias. You can pick the ideal tenant qualities like you’re designing an avatar in a video game. When you unlock the highest level, you get an upper-caste married MNC-employed couple with kids who cracked the JEE while still in the womb.

Of course, bias isn’t the exclusive domain of the majority. Like young women four drinks down at a party, it goes both ways. And you can see why. It’s because equality is terrifying.

I mean what if some heathen starts cooking meat in the privacy of his home, with complete disregard for the noses of people who live two floors up? What if someone starts drinking alcohol in his own house, not caring about some medieval definition of sin as imposed by the followers of Magic Sky People? What if kids see young men and women freely visiting each other and conclude that this is normal and does not mean that a brothel is being run on the premises? Does it not shake you to the core when you realise that people outside the radius of your tiny brain give zero shits about your prejudice?

What is amazing is that these are the same people who, when they’re abroad, will whine about how white people call them Apu-loving towel-heads. This is how Indians sound like when they’re abroad:

Guy 1: That guy just called me a darkie. White people are so racist!

Guy 2: Bhai, Indians are best. We treat visitors like god only!

And this is what they sound like when they see a black guy in India:

Guy 1: Aye Negro, how much for cocaine.

Black Guy: Dude, I’m Chris Gayle.

Guy 2: I loved you as Nick Fury!

If I ever own property – which will happen once I figure out how to monetize oversleeping – I too will have a set of rules and questions for prospective tenants. It’ll look something like this:

Do you watch Game of Thrones? Do you read Game of Thrones? Can you STFU about spoilers? Okay, we’re cool.

Are you gay? Are you straight? Are you turned on by Shrek soft toys? When is Ranbir marrying Katrina? None of this is my business, so carry right on.

Do you drink? Do you get drunk and quote cheesy Bollywood lines? Can you sing Hai Huku Hai Huku Hai Hai, and wake up the next day with not an ounce of shame? If so, welcome to the party.

Are you a pain at the dinner table? Will you put on a hazmat suit if the guy next to you orders meat? Or conversely, will you make stupid ghaas-phoos jokes if there’s a vegetarian at the table? Either way, I hope you catch a disease that requires you to only eat karela for the rest of your life.

Tina Fey or Amy Poehler? (There is no wrong answer here. Unless you say Comedy Circus, in which case you can go live in Archana Puran Singh’s mouth. It’s bigger than most Mumbai apartments anyway.)

There you have it. That was pretty simple. Now if only somebody could just gift me some property, that would be great. It’s an open offer to anyone reading this. Bigots needn’t apply.

Drop That Gum And Nobody Gets Hurt!

I spent the last ten days in Singapore, because apparently I am on a quest to find places sweatier than Mumbai. It’s always fun to perform in Singapore, especially the part where you compare it to Mumbai and then weep when you see a planned, organised city working like a well-oiled machine. It’s all clean straight lines and right angles and manicured hedges, as if the god who designed it had OCD. Mumbai, on the other hand, seems like a god stuffed buildings and slums and people up his nose and then sneezed really hard in the direction of west India.

As you may know, Singapore is the number one destination for NRIs who weren’t good enough to make it to America, UK or Australia. It’s like they looked at a map and thought, “I want to live in the first world, but I also like worrying about body odour 24/7.” Besides, everyone knows that the NRI hierarchy is US, Canada, Europe, Australia, Singapore and if you hate fun, the Middle East. (There’s also Sri Lanka, but they drink tea and look like us, so it doesn’t count.)

But for all its brisk efficiency, Singapore’s lacking a bit on the PR front. People outside the place have very little to offer in terms of opinion. For example, if a foreigner tells his friends he’s coming to Mumbai, he’ll get a bunch of reactions, all along the lines of “You’ll be fine as long as you don’t eat the food, drink the water or breathe the air. Have fun!” If he says he’s going to Delhi, he might hear things like, “What’s wrong with you – just go to Bombay.”

But when you tell people you’re going to Singapore, all you hear is “Dude, it’s damn stupid –  you can’t eat chewing gum there.” Over years, the legend of the Forbidden Chewing Gum has grown to the point where you hear passengers on inbound flights make small about it, saying things like “I heard if you chew gum na, they arrest you, fine you, wheel-clamp your jaw, chokeslam your baby and then make you give the CAT.”

(Just for perspective, you know who allows you to chew gum without consequence? ISIS. Not that I’m implying anything.)

Another fun fact about Singapore – which I discovered while researching material about the place – is that they sell the largest bottles of Yakult probiotic drinks in South East Asia. I’m not even kidding. Are you not totally amazed and freaking out about this totally awesome fact right now? This is how you know a city is straitlaced – when its trivia involves gas. It’s amazing – even the bacteria here know not to step out of line.

Singapore is a picture of what India could possibly be if Indians actually obeyed the law. This will happen when the law is implemented effectively, without bias, so I’m guessing the year LOL A.D.

It’s so weird to see Indian people abroad not turn every street into death by ammonia. Or to see them queue up without a fuss, especially because back home, they look at queues the same way suicide bombers look at insurance – pretty damn pointless. Then again, they follow the rules not because they think it’s the right thing to do, but because if they don’t, the law will smite them harder than Samuel L. Jackson smiting serpents on an aircraft.

I imagine that all this law-abiding nonsense must get frustrating for NRIs. I’m sure that when they come back to India, the first thing they do is not clear customs or hug their loved ones, but just get out of the plane and spend fifteen minutes hocking up a giant glob of phlegm, which they launch down the runway like a bowling ball, tears of joy running down their face, as ‘Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera’ starts playing out of nowhere. And then they smell the ammonia and pass out.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 24th May 2015.)

I Got The Summertime, Summertime Madness

I love the romantic image of summer that’s been perpetuated through the ages by white people who will never know what it’s like to be a human popsicle in India. You see it all the time in the form of stock photos of bikini babes and dudes on sailboats, sipping rainbow-coloured drinks and grinning because they’re obviously in the south of France, where visas are denied to sweaty people.

I’d love to see the more realistic image, where the sailboat dude is trying to get an auto on Linking Road while a torrent of back-sweat pretends to be Magellan and goes exploring in places that are otherwise explored on incognito mode. I’d like to see him shake hands with people all day, this harmless social greeting now transformed into a Woodstock for germs, which you counter with routine hygiene measures like cutting off your hand.

Don’t mind me. I’m just cranky because I stepped out for ten minutes and now I feel like something the cat dragged in out of a coal mine. Thankfully, I have science to back up and quantify my whining. Humidity levels reached 81% in South Mumbai this week, a phenomenon scientists refer to as ‘Just Stay Home And French-Kiss Your AC’.

This is how I know I’ll never be a great person. On the one hand, you had people like Nelson Mandela, who stayed unbroken after 27 years in prison. And then there’s me. I wouldn’t even need to be tortured or anything. If you want to get state secrets out of me, just put me in a room with a fan that the bai forgets to turn on after jhaadu. In three seconds, I’d confess to everything from killing Kennedy to being that guy who let the dogs out.

Another thing better people do is realise that they’re so much more privileged than most people out there. It seems a bit stupid to tweet updates like ‘UGHH SO SWEATY I COULD IRRIGATE HALF OF INDIA WITH MY ARMPITS’ and then look out of your AC cab to see a handcart puller lugging a load the size of a house without cribbing because he doesn’t have a Twitter account the luxury of doing so.

The only bright side of summer is the arrival of mangoes, a fruit known worldwide for its ability to drive Indians nuts. But I have to mess it up by being possibly the only Indian person who couldn’t care less about Katrina’s make-out partner. It makes things awkward in social situations. There’s always that moment where someone lovingly serves you a mango dish for dessert, and you tell them that you would rather eat your toes. As a result, I’m less welcome at dinners than the one friend who gets drunk and starts saying things like, “I’m not a bigot, but the problem with *those* people na…”

I guess the only good thing about summer is that you see way more women in summer dresses, which is really the hottest, most bad-poetry-inducing thing women can do. There’s just something about that look that makes you ignore the glossy finish that all Mumbaikars come in. As men, we have nothing even remotely classy going on. Our greatest fashion achievement is successfully resisting the urge to take off our pants in public.

There’s about six weeks of this nonsense left, so it would be best to remember the wise words of Plato who said, “Screw this, I’m going to the hills.” Unfortunately for Bombay people that means Lonavala, the hill station brought to you by Maganlal Chikki, starring Maganlal Chikki and introducing Baby Maganlal Chikki. What I’m saying is, just take a break and go to a nicer place, like a coal mine.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 10th May 2015.)

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.)