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.)

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.)

I Went To Iraq And All I Got Was Arrested

You’d think that there’s nothing funny about ISIS and you’d be right. ISIS is a cancer feeding off a militant belief in a fairytale and is as joke-friendly as cancer can be. But even so, there’s something to be said about a group that the Al-Qaeda formally dissociated with almost a year ago on the grounds that they were too batshit insane. And let’s be honest – cancer is kinda funny when it happens to a**holes.

Take, for example, the 24-year-old Mehdi Masroor Biswas, the Bangalore-based engineer who was arrested this week for running @ShamiWitness, described as one of the most influential ISIS propaganda accounts in the world. His tweets, seen over two million times, exhorted jihadists from all over to give up their lives and move to Iraq to fight for ISIS. All this while he sat around in a comfy MNC, sipping on Starbucks and fantasising about that one useless but hot chick in HR who exists in every office.

I cannot think of something more Indian than that level of laziness. It must take a spectacular sense of entitlement to have the following Twitter conversation:

@ShamiWitness: 

Go to Iraq and fight, young soldier! Screw logic! Logic is Satan’s roofie!

@IdiotJihadist:

YEAHHH! DEATH TO KUFFARS! \m/

@ShamiWitness:

Go get ‘em!

@IdiotJihadist:

I’LL SEE YOU ON THE BATTLEFIELD BROTHER!!!

@ShamiWitness:

Uhh, actually I’m just going to hang here.

@IdiotJihadist:

Wut.

@ShamiWitness:

Sorry yaa, I signed up for Bangalore marathon. And new Modern Family episode after that. And then office dinner at TGI Friday, so can’t ditch for obvious reasons.

@IdiotJihadist:

????

@ShamiWitness:

But you have a fun death! 😀 😀 #kthxbai

Mehdi apparently said that he would’ve gone to Iraq, if not for his family who were financially dependent on him. It’s sweet that he protected them by staying put and serving as a Naukri.com-meets-Shiv Khera for terrorists. I’m sure there was a point at which he even packed his bags for Iraq, but gave up after he realised that Banglore airport was six light years away from Bangalore city.

If ISIS wants a good online presence, it shouldn’t be looking at India. Most Indian brand managers look at social media the same way toddlers looks at laptops – it’s new and shiny and they really want to use it, but you know they’re probably just going to poop all over it. I can picture this guy saying things like, “If this tweet gets 10000 RTs, God will ban alcohol and schools.” And don’t even get me started on #Qurfies.

On the bright side, as a journalist friend pointed out, techies getting arrested for terror is a boon for parents’ views on liberal arts. It makes sense. If you want to study arts but your parents insist on engineering, tell them that you’d be recruit-proof as a philosophy major. (Also, salary-proof, but that’s a different story. ) Seriously, why would ISIS need you? What can you do – bludgeon the enemy with your 1500-page thesis on The Nihilism In Nietzsche’s Nipples?

Another bit of hilarity came from Areeb Majeed, the 23-year-old from Kalyan – one of four friends – who’d sneaked off to Iraq to cut people’s heads off, thus proving that Indians will go anywhere for foreign placement. Just how rubbish is Kalyan that Iraq seems like a better option?

Majeed returned this month, complaining about the fact that he was made to clean toilets there. I, for one, am shocked to know that a bunch of Arabs would make an Indian carry out menial tasks for no pay. But I get his indignance. I totally do. Beheadings, bombings and general psychotic behaviour is okay, but you can’t just ask an Indian guy to do some chores. He’s not used to it. No matter how poor they are, Indian men are used to always having a servant around. She’s called Mom.

Another one of Majeed’s friends is on his way back, maybe because he didn’t get to sleep with the goat that he fancied. Just like Majeed, he’ll be arrested as soon as he lands. So without meaning to, these guys actually did end up cleaning some shit off our streets.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 14th Dec 2014.)

I Predict That You Will Read This Title

I hereby announce that I am incredibly proud to be an Indian. Like a Bombay gutter in the monsoon, my pores are overflowing with desi ghee as I type this with my long, straight fingers that coincidentally look like an ‘I’, which stands for ‘India: The Birthplace of the Universe And All Good Things In It, Except Biryani Which Is Invader Food’. I’m just seconds away from spraying on my signature scent – Eau De Chicken Tikka Masala – and being chased down the street by nubile Indian belles who want to tie me a rakhi because culture is best bro.

I wasn’t always like this, but I’ve seen the light thanks to right-wing visionaries whom I didn’t even vote for. I guess that’s the beauty of democracy. Even if I voted against them, I can reap the benefits of being ruled by people like former Uttarakhand CM and BJP MP, Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, who claimed in the Lok Sabha this week that an Indian sage had conducted nuclear tests in the 2nd century BC. He also said that astrology was the topmost science, and that regular science – y’know, with all its stupid experiments and proofs and logic – was a pygmy compared to astrology.

See, that’s the kind of glory that causes my chakras to swell up with joy. Gone are the days when India was only known for giving white people hernias with the Kama Sutra. The world will now worship us as the people who made the first nukes – even before the atom had been discovered – and they will bow before our might. Or they would, if we could locate those old nuke designs. I don’t know what happened to them. Maybe they were stolen by ancient terrorists who, as we all know, were invented by Pakistan.

Nishank was also of the opinion that there must be a proper discussion on astrology in the Lok Sabha, which makes sense because most of our politicians were alive when the planets were formed. Now a lot of you might dismiss astrology as a frivolous, non-science, but it is much more than that. It’s also hugely profitable. It provides employment to hundreds of thousands of wastrels across the country, way more than any silly IIT.

Astrology saves people from the rigours of having to go out and earn an honest living. People may refer to astrologers as hacks, often comparing them to other charlatans like aura-readers or investment bankers. But astrology takes serious skill. You have to train really hard to keep a straight face and not say “LOL dumbass” while accepting a client’s money.

In case you’re still sceptical, let me show you how my predictions this week changed my life. My zodiac sign is Aries, as is Robert Downey Jr.’s, so yeah, I’m basically Iron Man. Here are actual predictions India’s top astrologers made about me today:

“You will desire absolute freedom in whatever you do today.

Holy pigballs! How did they know?! Yes, this is true. I desire absolute freedom in what I do today, but only today. On every other day, I want to be bound, gagged and slapped around like Rajpal Yadav in a Priyadarshan movie. Also, the genius of this prediction is that it applied to most Indians before 1947, and also to every teenager ever. And speaking of teenagers…

“A lot of entertainment is on the cards for teenagers, like window shopping or going for a movie.”

If by “window shopping or going for a movie” you meant “taking pictures of their junk”, then yes, this prediction works too.

“You shall be eager to complete all your assignments well in time.”

(NOTE FROM ASHISH’S EDITOR: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Seriously, screw this guy. He’s like the Air India of freelance writers.)

“Those in strained relationships shall be able to find a solution, but for that to work you shall have to keep a cool head.”

Now I’m glad I got this information. It’s something I would never have figured out otherwise. But I wish I’d read it sooner, because now there’s a rapidly-spreading blood stain on my carpet and I don’t know what to do. Dammit. This wouldn’t have been a problem if I were a godman.

Once again, I’d like to thank all those who, with their informed decisions, made this current state of affairs possible. And if you’re still sitting on the fence then get down because that sounds painful, and join me in drinking the Kool-Aid. Or as it was called in India, som ras.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 7th Dec 2014.)

Welcome To Science, As Presented By Michael Bay

Mankind often inflicts atrocities on itself, like war or the time it invented selfies. But every now and then, it does something that makes you drown in a puddle of goosebumps. I’m referring, of course, to the fact that we managed to accurately land a probe on a comet a few hundred million miles away. I’m going to say ‘we’ like I had something to do with it, even though I cannot accurately land a shawarma into my mouth without getting some on my shirt.

In case you’re dead inside and do not appreciate the enormity of what we’ve achieved, please read on.

The planning for this journey began twenty five years ago. Picture a group of scientists sitting around in 1989, trying to find answers to the origin of the universe, when one them suddenly says, “I know! Let’s land a probe on a comet hurtling through space at 40,000 miles per hour!” It takes a certain kind of crazy to think of something like that at a time when the average computer had the processing power of vada pao.

Once that was decided, they needed to find a comet to land on. This was easy because they weren’t distracted by Twitter every six seconds. The comet is four kilometres across, and at half the size of Kim Kardashian’s bottom, that sounds big enough. But it’s still a tiny dot. The Rosetta craft, which carried the Philae lander, was launched ten years ago when this dot was in some remote corner of the solar system. (Maybe Chhatisgarh. I don’t know.)

Imagine firing a bullet into the sky and hoping it will hit a moving target ten years later, except that to get to the target, the bullet will have to travel 6.4 billion kilometres. The journey involved gravity assists from Earth and Mars, in what I imagine as a giant game of cosmic football. This was then followed by more precison manouevres that allowed Rosetta to follow the comet like the world’s most hi-tech stalker. If you sit and think about the complexities long enough, you might feel a sudden surge of happiness, which means that Science is flicking her warm tongue all over your brain, and you should let her.

This achievement also made Indian people look at the ESA team and think, “Wow, these guys will get solid dahej now, no?” It’s the kind of feat that makes you appreciate just how dumb you are. I don’t get how these rocket scientists manage to not walk around, waggling their superiority in the world’s face. If I were in their place, I’d be the most condescending prick ever. My reply to “Honey, can you pick up some milk from the store?” would be, “I can pick up some milk from a goddamn comet, so shut yo mouth, foo’!” I’d die alone, but it’d be worth it.

This is why the post-landing press conference looked surprisingly civilised to me. The ESA people talked about how happy they were and how this was a first and that was it. That makes no sense. You pulled off a real-world approximation of Armageddon, so really, it’s okay for you to show off for a bit. It would have been understandable if the press con had gone like this:

Journalist: Your team just made history. How do you feel?

ESA Guy: Mine is bigger than yours. And yours and yours and yours. (looks at a picture of god) And yours.

Journalist: Right. Can you tell us about the pre-landing moments?

ESA Guy: Like, if I pulled it out right now, I could smack the comet with it.

Journalist: Ohkay. We heard that there was a problem with the thruster –

ESA Guy: Ain’t no problem with this thruster baybeh.

Journalist: I give up.

ESA Guy: (jumping up and down on the table) COMET KA KING KAUN? BHIKU MHATRE!

This landing is also another reminder of the pointlessness of religion. When science needs to unlock the mysteries of the universe, it sends a robot to dig into a piece of space rock 317 million miles away. Meanwhile, religion tells you that comets are god’s way of showing his anger at the fact that you had a beer or used a condom or touched someone you weren’t supposed to.

My parents’ generation got to see the moon landing, and I got to see this. But then they also got to see bell-bottoms, so I win. I’m pretty sure I’ll be telling my kids about this, probably two minutes after they’re born. And then I’ll pack them off to Rocket Science school.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 16th Nov 2014.)

‘Love Ees Sweat Poisson’ and Other Indian Truths

I don’t mean to brag, but I’m somewhat of an expert on romance and relationships, especially the part where I stay single for years at a stretch. It’s like how camels can go without water for ages, because the water just wants to be friends with the camel but the truth is that it is secretly being lapped up by another camel. If I had to quantify it, then on a scale of one to ten, my dry spells are Vidarbha.

With credentials like these, it’s no surprise that I was invited by a popular Mumbai-based literature festival to be part of a panel discussion on — I kid you not — The Changing Face of Romance in India and The Diaspora. My co-panelists included a British-Indian author and journalist who’s written a book about his travails with arranged marriage. I haven’t read it, but I’m assuming it’s just photos of brown parents looking disappointed.

The other panelist was a writer and self-confessed romantic, who’s written India’s second Mills and Boon novel, and nope, I had no idea that those books were still around. I remember coming across them as a kid, and all the covers looked the same. There was always a flushed-looking woman in some stage of undress, lying in a meadow, looking up at a bare-chested man whose piercing gaze seemed to say, “Baby, let’s go indoors, so I won’t have ants crawling up my butt.”

So yes, at the start, I felt a little out of place, like a bartender at an ISIS party. The topic also seemed redundant, because you’d think that despite everything, love and romance don’t really change. Deep down, most people want a constant, someone they can come home to every night, someone whose presence brings them joy and satisfaction. My constant is the Mini Punjab delivery guy. It’s a relationship based on late-night kebabs, aka the 3 a.m. boti call.

But things have changed in the world of hearts and genitals. We’re dating, hooking up and breaking up way more than our parents’ generation used to, because they were nicer, kinder and more emotionally stable we have the options that they didn’t. Thanks to technology, it’s so much easier to catch an STD now.

For example, take Tinder. It is literally a menu of potential partners, founded on the classy Indian proverb, ‘Degi Toh Lega?’. For older uncle-types reading this, Tinder is an app that lets your kids hook up with random strangers based on their face and geographical proximity. If that sounds shallow, remember, you come from a time when it was okay for parents to push their kids into bed with someone just because they had the same surname and also other great qualities, like not being manglik.

It’s not just Tinder; with so many forms of social media, we’re just a few DMs, likes and favourites away from entering someone’s inbox, so as to speak. It’s a great time to be young and single, because everyone has the attention span of a fat kid in a candy store. That’s why you see so many people try out Friends With Benefits aka One Of You Is Gonna Get Screwed Over So Bad LOL.

The flipside is that tech will also jerk you around because it can. WhatsApp is great at this, first with the ‘Last Seen At’ and now the Blue Tick of Death. It’s the kind of thing that makes people go, “If you really want to ruin my relationship, why don’t you just get your app to sleep with my girlfriend?”

Tech also negates the point of break-ups, which is that exes should go away, preferably to another planet. But now they’re always around, their faces flashing across your newsfeed as if to say, “Look how well I’m doing without you! Here’s a photo of me with an attractive person of the opposite sex! I’m not doing this so you feel bad about losing me – I’m totally over you! No, seriously- SHIT SHIT SHIT I accidentally liked a photo of us from 2009 STUPID TOUCHSCREEN SHIT SHIT I DON’T CARE I’M FINE *dies of vodka poisoning*”

Everything said and done, you can whine about how complex everything is, or suck it up and keep looking for That Great Modern Love, which is basically two people checking their phones in comfortable silence. And if that proves elusive, let me know. I’ll put you in touch with this great guy from Mini Punjab.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 9th Nov 2014.)

In Loving Memory Of Common Sense

This is a very difficult column to write because I keep having to extricate my palm from my face as I type. It’s not like this is a rare occurrence — our wonderful countrymen are known for their unyielding devotion to the Kingdom of Daft – but this week has been particularly fruitful on that front. If common sense were a person, this is the week in which he would’ve been spat upon, fired and dumped for a dude who has ebola.

It started in Kerala, aka God’s own nurse factory. Last week, a bunch of gentlemen from the BJP youth wing reportedly vandalised a cafe in Kozhikhode (pronounced ‘Pilavullakandi Thekkeparambil Usha’). They did this despite the fact that it wasn’t a CCD outlet.

They claimed that the place was home to “immoral activities”, which is code for ‘Achche Din Aane Waale Hain’. I’m not sure what these activities were, but it probably involved some extremely obscene behaviour by boys and girls, like existing in the same physical space.

(Interestingly, the “immoral activties” were “exposed” by a Congress-owned channel a few days before the attack. It’s nice to see the two parties put their differences aside for real issues like these.)

In protest, a bunch of people in Kochi came up with a Kiss Of Love campaign, because for maximum efficiency, a campaign must be named after a Bobby Deol song from Jhoom Barabar Jhoom. They declared 2nd November as Kiss Day, inviting everyone who is not a cretin to gather at one place and kiss and celebrate love and possibly get lathi-charged. I quite like the idea of the protest. I stand by the people behind it, mostly because I don’t have to go out there and do it. What can I say? I’m just not a big fan of getting water-cannoned, because that would ruin my phone.

At the time of going to print, the police had denied permission to the organisers, probably because this wasn’t a political rally or a festival procession full of drunken oversexed gorillas holding up traffic.

Things reached a point where two people petitioned the Kerala High Court to stop the Kiss Mafia. The court shot down the petitions on grounds of free speech, because it is not proper for judges to say “Aage badho, chhutta nahin hai.”

On a brighter note, the BJP state vice-president said that his party would not interfere with Kiss Day, and that moral policing and violent protests were “not BJP’s cup of tea”. Overcome with emotion at such honesty, Kim Jong-Un broke down and said that insanity and crap haircuts were also not his cup of tea. Then he shot the guy standing closest to him.

It’s weird to see that India still hasn’t come to terms with PDA, still choosing to refer to it by its technical name, Chumma Chaati.  I, for one, am in awe of these brave, hormonally charged souls because it takes great talent to be perched on a bike on a busy seaface next to a hundred other bikes, watching out for cops and goons while your fingers wrestle with a bra clasp, racing to vanquish it before you collapse from monoxide poisoning.

But I get why innocent civilians get thrashed for kissing. Think about this way: you’re a ticket to a political hoodlum’s promotion. For them, assaulting civilians is a great way to get noticed and show their superiors that they possess the excrement gene needed to be a neta. I wish things were as easy for the rest of us, but it doesn’t work that way in the our world. I wish we could use excuses like that in office:

Boss: You’re lazy, irresponsible and you’ve missed your sales target by 273%. You’re fired.

You: Wait, I just punched a girl for wearing shorts.

Boss: Ohkay…

You: She was ten.

Boss: What colour do you want your private jet to be?

I can’t wait for the moral police to take this anti-kissing drive to the next level and bring in a communal angle to it. Before you know it, they’ll have you believe that Tongue Jihad is a real thing, and that our culture is being threatened by Lashkar-e-Lips. Thankfully, there are people standing up to this nonsense. I hope the Kochi protest goes off peacefully and that much love and saliva is exchanged, because otherwise I would’ve endured that Bobby Deol earworm for nothing.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 2nd Nov 2014.)