An Open Letter From The Pakistan Foreign Office To India

(Note: This is my Hindustan Times column dated 9th Aug 2015.)

From

Qazi Khalilullah

Spokesman

Pakistan Foreign Office

To

The citizens of India

Subject: It Wasn’t Me

Dear Indians

On behalf of the Pakistani government, I’d like to condemn the recent attack on an Indian BSF convoy in the Udhampur district of North-Eastern Pakistan Jammu and Kashmir. It is exactly the kind of attack that aims to undo all the trust and goodwill generated by Bajrangi Bhaijaan. So please put all your logic and common sense aside and for once, trust me when I say that Pakistan isn’t responsible for this attack, just as it wasn’t responsible for the 3463874979 attacks preceding it. Contrary to what the facts would have you believe, Pakistan is not the designated fluffer for the LeT.

Sure, I can see what it looks like. You apprehended one of the “terrorists” who claims he’s Pakistani, and it doesn’t help that he looks like Kasab on day six of a juice cleanse. (By the way, Kasab wasn’t Pakistani either, but like the case against Hafiz Saeed, I’m going to let that one slide.)

There’s a very simple explanation for this. The suspect, Mohammad Naveed, is trying to defame Pakistan and you’re falling for it. Have you even considered other options, such as the fact that his entire video confession was morphed? Surely a country that produced Shaktimaan and Captain Vyom has the VFX muscle to do this.

Or maybe Naveed is a cybernetic organism – living tissue over a metal endoskeleton – created by a brand for the purposes of internet virality? The kids are really into all that Youtube stuff these days. (Psst… Superwoman, if you’re reading this, I ❤ you. Please make a video on #ShitDesiGovernmentsSay?)

Hey, maybe the guy is Chinese? They’re trying to sneak into your country too, you know. Plus if a Chinese kid trains really hard, he can grow up to look Pakistani. Who knows what these mystical Orientals are capable of?

Anyway, the point is that much like Dawood ‘Goggal Mein Kya Mast Lag Rela Hai Bhai’ Ibrahim, Pakistan has nothing to do with this guy. I understand that this very newspaper got hold of a number disclosed by Naveed and called up one Mohammad Yakub in Faisalabad, Pakistan who – picture me making air quotes as I say the next word – confirmed that he was Naveed’s father.

It’s a classic trick. I mean if an Indian chap gave you my number and I answered and said, “Hello, Michael Jackson speaking” will you show up outside my house for a concert? Nahin na? Phir why you’re doing like this?

This just brings back memories of 2008 when Indian security forces went back in time, crossed over to Pakistan, ensured the hookup and subsequent consummation of the marriage of a random couple in Faridkot, just so that after 26/11, that couple could be paraded around as the parents of Ajmal Kasab.

Your jihadi Marty McFly act was so good, even Geo News fell for it, thus giving the world an “irrefutable” Pakistani link to 26/11. There are claims that the ISI has since tried to kill Geo’s senior staff, including executive editor Hamid Mir, but that’s just how we celebrate a free press.

I urge you to not let this little hiccup derail the talks between the national security advisers of both countries scheduled for later this month. In fact, if you happen to bring up terrorism, our man will be forced to raise his hand and say “Same to you no returns.” We’d appreciate it if you stuck to the most pressing issue at hand, i.e. supporting our claim to the Pakistani half of Nargis Fakhri.

At the time of writing this, there were reports of yet another attack in Udhampur. I’d like to make it abundantly clear once again that Pakistan has nothing to do with this and the whole thing is a holographic sequence projected onto Kashmir by aliens. Please consider this reason binding for any attacks that may occur in the future.

Yours sincerely

<Insert signature that looks like a middle finger>

(Chief Bovine Excreta Deliverer)

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.)

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.)

‘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.)

Warning: Sex Education May Be Injurious To Ignorance

Indians have been waging a war on sex for ages, mostly by having lots of it. The latest gladiator to step into the arena is Union Health Minister, Dr. Alok Nath Harsh Vardhan, who wants sex education to be banned in schools, and yoga to be made compulsory. These two points appear together on his agenda, as if the latter would negate the former, which is ridiculous because yoga makes you flexible and toned and that just helps you score better. (Notable exception: Baba Ramdev.)

To be fair, this appears on Harsh Vardhan’s personal website so it’s not like the BJP has specifically advocated it as a party. I, for one, cannot imagine them ever promoting a populist agenda based on some antiquated notion of culture. But it’s also reasonable to think that Dr. Harsh Vardhan should know better, given the professional title attached to his name. He’s an ENT specialist, so now I’m wondering how he treats colds. Does he ban breathing? Or maybe he tells people that they can never, ever, ever, EVER know about the existence of ice cream because it could be bad for their throats.

Here’s the problem with that approach: people, especially youngsters, really like ice cream. They don’t care about the flavor – at that age, they just want to get down and dirty with a tub of the good stuff, and they’d take eight helpings a day if you let them. With chocolate sauce on top. And that’s not a metaphor.

For some reason, conservatives seem to believe that teaching kids about sex is the same as telling them go frolic as if they were extras on Game of Thrones. We’re talking about a species that is 30% acne and 70% crappy EDM, so clearly, they should stay far away from badonkadonkadonk. But they do need to know about the workings of the human body and mind, because should they choose to mess up their childhood with sexual dynamics that adults are barely able to deal with, they’ll at least know enough to not accidentally produce more Pitbull fans.

The first form of sex ed I ever got was from Shabana Azmi on a DD ad, telling us that “AIDS chhoone se nahin phailta”. That was when my generation learnt that you got AIDS when a woman dug her long red fingernails into your back. I also got a lot of sex ed from Ramsay movies, so even at age seven, I knew that if you took your clothes off and got a bump-and-grind massage under a bed sheet, you would get attacked by a vampire. It was a pretty apt metaphor for STDs, so let it never be said that the Ramsays weren’t subtle.

But I want this generation to have a more informed outlook than I did, while also remaining true to their Indian roots. That’s why I put together this little culturally-approved sexplainer, which defines various aspects related to sex, such as:

Safe Sex: Ctrl+Shift+N.

Unsafe Sex: A union that’s frowned upon by Haryanvi elders.

Appropriate sexual position: Anything that results in a male child.

Foreplay: Company offsite to Bangkok.

Sex with strangers: Bad. Wrong. Terrible. Anti-National. Unless the coitus is preceded by a ceremony where the stranger is coated in haldi, as if he were a bhindi, and someone has been paid to tell you that the stars and planets bless your caste-approved rishta because that’s just how significant you are to the universe, and of course, an obscenely bloated party that only reminds you that most of your “relatives” are just freeloading douchenuggets.

BDSM: Acts involving domination and gratification through humiliation. See arranged marriage above.

That should be enough to get youngsters started on the path to knowledge. For everything else, there’s always the Internet which, incidentally, also gets a fair share of ban threats. Maybe things would be better if people just loosened up and got themselves some ice cream.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 29th June 2014.)

It Was Mother’s Day. What Happened Next Will Amaze You.

According to a recent scientific study about the human race, mothers are kinda sorta important in life. They spend their lives caring for the next generation, spurring them on to go forth and conquer and also get a haircut and what is that shirt you’re wearing and what you’re going to a party you must be doing drugs are you doing drugs tell me the truth I’m your mother I always know when you’re lying to me (Hah. No, you don’t) and oh god who will clear these plates DO I LOOK LIKE YOUR SERVANT OR WHAT OKAY DON’T ANSWER THAT YOU CHEEKY BAS… well, you get the idea.

On that joyous Mother’s Day note, I’d first like to say to all the mothers reading this – and I mean this in the nicest possible way – you’re insane. Why else would you sign up for what is essentially a lifelong unpaid internship at Stress and Sacrifice Pvt. Ltd.? I appreciate the work that you do, not because parenthood is some noble, holy endeavour, but because the whole thing looks extremely difficult. (This is also my approach towards jazz performances. I have no clue what’s happening, but it looks tough, so it must be good.)

This would also be a good time to talk about a subject that I’m clearly an expert on: pregnancy.  I’ve reached that age where half the people I know have started having kids (the others have started getting cats). So my Facebook is plastered with typical baby albums with those typical baby album names like ‘My angel!!’, ‘My little bundle of joy <3’ or ‘The Systematic Destruction of My Hopes and Dreams. Awwww.’

But I find it odd that we see pregnancy as routine and commonplace. When your friends say, “Hey, we’re having a baby!” you just smile and reply with the usual “Congratulations. I guess we’ll never see you again.” And sure, pregnancy seems simple enough. You have sex and nine months later, you have a kid. Or if you’re Haryanvi, you have a son. Simple, right?

But in my head, pregnancy is amazing. It’s almost like a magic trick, so when I meet an expectant mother, I’m normal on the outside but there’s a voice in my head going, “HOLY CRAP, LADY! THAT’S CRAZY! HOW ARE MORE PEOPLE NOT AMAZED BY THIS? First there were two microscopic cells the size of nothing, and they turned into a living, breathing, thinking human being that is growing inside you, complete with arms and legs and a brain and a liver and pancreas and an iPhone and its own Instagram page and a sense of entitlement and whatever it is that kids are born with these days.”

That’s not my favourite bit though. You know what I really, really appreciate about pregnancy? That I’m a guy.

(That disturbance in the force you just felt was all my female readers flipping me off in unison.)

I don’t think I’ve ever wished my mom a happy mother’s day, because why restrict yourself to one day when you have 364 days to annoy the hell out of her? Gifting is also a problem, because like a typical Indian mother, she’s pretty difficult to impress. This is how it usually goes:

Me: Look Ma, here’s a fancy dinner at the best restaurant in town.

Mom: I can make better food at home. Don’t waste money.

Me: Look Ma, here’s a necklace that was once owned by the Maharani of Jaipur.

Mom: I know a shop that can make this for one-tenth the cost. Don’t waste money.

Me: Look Ma, I bought Antilla. Just for you.

Mom: Ugh. Who designed that was he on drugs he must have been on drugs is he your friend does his mother know…

The one gift she would like is for me to be more responsible and start investing in something that is not a Jager Bomb. This pales in comparison to her other concern, which is, “Khaana khaaya?” I’m almost thirty, but everytime I see her, she will put forth this question with the urgency of Obama demanding updates on a nuclear attack, because there’s a real danger of me starving in my own home. Once again, I appreciate the concern, but I still don’t get why anyone would willingly put themselves through this. So the least I can do is dedicate this column to my mother. Because this isn’t something she can make at home for cheap.

I think.

(P.S. Thank you for everything.)

(Note: This is my HT column dated 11th May 2014.)

Welcome To The Life And Times Of Jhakaas Bauer

Indian TV has never shied away from breaking the mould and exploring different genres, such as mythology, mythology for kids and mythology featuring steroid shipments masquerading as actors. But the one thing that it has been missing – apart from creativity, bearable performances and production design that doesn’t cause epilepsy – is a solid action-espionage thriller. That may just have changed with the launch of Anil Kapoor’s 24, described by the Hollywood press as, “Why aren’t they dancing to Jai Ho yet?”

I watched the pilot this weekend because I’m lonely and I have no friends and was appalled at the treatment. For example, Jai Singh Rathore (Kapoor) did not once use the words ‘parampara’ or ‘dahej’ and his wife (Tisca Chopra) had the audacity to look directly at his face, without using a sieve in the moonlight. Ridiculous. The script for a truly Indian show looks like this:

EXT. STREET – DAY

11:45 a.m.

Jai Singh Rathore grimaces, jumps into his car and speeds off.

11.46 a.m.

Jai gets stuck at Juhu Circle. “Aye Sonu Hendsum”, says a eunuch. Jai grimaces.

2.03 p.m.

Jai walks into office, carrying his spine which popped out thanks to a pothole in Jogeshwari. He snaps it back into place and grimaces.

Jai: There’s a threat to our young PM candidate’s life.

CUT TO:

Shots of everyone in office reacting to the news – Jai’s partner, his assistant, his boss, the peon, the coffee machine, the toilet, Chotu from the tapri downstairs – everyone.

We come back to Jai’s face.

Jai: Never mind. They shot him during our 47-minute reaction sequence.

24 also showcases a young, single, handsome Prime Ministerial candidate with a political veteran for a mother and a brother-in-law who is a family embarrassment. (The similarity ends there though, because this character does not look like he’s losing ground to Captain Genocide.)

A lot of thought goes into naming characters in this genre. The protagonist has to exude manliness to the point where he belches propane, hence the name Jai Singh, which literally means Victory Lion, followed by Rathore, which translates to ‘Leonidas was a pussy’. The young PM’s family is rich and powerful, so they’re called Singhania, because it reeks of influence, as opposed to say, Nair, which reeks of chartered accountant. This is a slight departure from the classic Bollywood portrayal of Singhania, defined as “A cigar-puffing tycoon in a silken robe, whose daughter calls him ‘Deddy’.” I was just glad that Jai’s daughter wasn’t called Sonya. That’s his way of ensuring that she doesn’t grow up to be a socialite.

We haven’t contributed much to espionage literature either. The west regularly churns out bestsellers with names like The Iron Curtain Conspiracy Apocalypse: Operation LuftwaffeValkyrieErdingerSchweinsteigerDasAuto, centred around a combat-hardened veteran with a troubled past, i.e. Major Jake ‘Alliterations Are Awesome’ Johnson, who is brought in for one last mission because if he doesn’t do it, the Nazis/Russians/Arabs/Ajit Agarkar fans will turn the planet into a giant ashtray. In the middle of killing tanks with daggers fashioned from drinking straws, he comes across Rita Rack, a blonde code-breaker ninja with Hawking’s IQ and Scarlett Johannson’s bottom, who provides valuable assistance by sleeping with him and then wondering what trauma hides behind his default steel-grey eyes. At some point, they need to hack into something, so a maladjusted computer genius writes a complex worm that makes the NSA look like a Rediffmail user, and then goes back to exchanging fluids with his Japanese body pillow girlfriend. In a thoroughly gripping climax, the super soldier saves the world from total annihilation by killing Osama Bin Hitler Communistovsky at the last second. Then he grimaces. For those of you who think this is predictable, I hope you enjoy your book by a Bengali about Bengalis who’re wondering what it means to be Bengali.

The problem has been that Indians don’t have the coolth to pull off espionage. We say things like, “The name’s Bond. Ab pyaar ki pungi bajaa de.” We’re also odd when it comes to gear:

Q: Here’s an invisible Aston Martin with a new force-field that can deflect RPGs.

Indian Agent: Pliss to install nimbu-mirchi also.

Our beaches don’t support the classic Bond-girl-emerging-from-the-sea sequence either. What you do get is Shailesh, Sachin and Pakya, fingers intertwined, showing off Dollar under-viyar and basically being an uglier One Direction. But everything said and done, hopefully 24 will create a new genre on Indian TV known as ‘Not Horseshit’. Or as Jack Bauer likes to say, “Jai Ho.”

(Note: This is my HT column dated 6th Oct 2013.)

Yet Another Completely Useless Budget Recap

The Union Budget 2013-14 was presented this week, as Indians tuned in early to see P. Chidambaram begin his presentation with a jaunty song called ‘We Saw Your Boobs’. Oh wait, those were the Oscars. P. Chiddy began in the same boring style; by showing off his leather briefcase that the BJP quickly condemned as being ‘anti-cow, anti-khadi, pro-Pakistan’, after which they tried to walk out and tripped all over their arthritis.

But for those of you who missed the budget on account of not wanting to suffer deathly boredom, I now present the highlights. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Smokers were upset because the excise duty on cigarettes went up by 18%. But hey, look on the bright side. Prices may increase, but the size of your tumours will remain the same. Chidambaram said that the price hike would also hit cigars, which is what Cubans call their local ‘502 Pataka Pyjamachhaap Platinum’ beedis.

Sources say that cigars were invented so that they could be jammed into the mouths of people who refuse to shut up about single malts. In more smoking news, the price of cheroots will also go up. If you’re wondering what a cheroot is, Webster’s defines it as,  “A word that resembles a cuss word, as in, ‘People who go on about cigars look like utter cheroots.'”

2. Homes got cheaper, but only if the house you’re planning to buy costs less than 40 lakhs. This is great news for people who’re planning to live on four square feet of space. In Nallasopara. On a tree. Next to a factory that manufactures tuberculosis.

3. Here’s a short list of things that got more expensive: houses, marble flooring, set-top boxes, eating out, smartphones, SUVs and everything else that you may need to strike an impression. You know what became cheaper? Sabudana. Not kidding. It doesn’t quite have the oomph of an SUV or a fancy phone. I mean the only woman you can impress with cheap sabudana is Tarla Dalal. Or as she prefers to be called, ‘Gujju Nigella Lawson’.

4. One of the more interesting facts which came up was that according to government records, India is home to only 42,800 crorepatis. And all of them are Sharad Pawar.

5. The Finance Minister also the setting up of India’s first All Women Bank. And no, this isn’t the same concept as a ladies compartment on a local train – these banks will probably not have fisherwomen attached to the floor. But it’d be interesting to see an All Women’s Bank operated only by women. Transactions might be a bit awkward:

Man: Hi. I’d like to open an account. What documents do you need?

Cashier: Hmph. If I need to spell out every little thing for you, then this isn’t worth it.

Man: Huh?

Cashier: I SAW THE WAY YOU WERE LOOKING AT THAT OTHER BANK! THAT HUSSY LOWERS HER SERVICE CHARGES FOR ANYBODY WHO WALKS IN!

6. The government also announced a 5000-crore plan to revive Air India. The money will be used to hire the underworld to kidnap your loved ones, who will be returned to you only after you’ve bought a few Air India tickets. To make matters worse, you will not be allowed to make jokes about their cabin crew. This makes sense. Every time a guy flies AI, you’ll hear the same complaint: “The flight was ok, but the airhostesses were damn ugly. They looked like Baa had sex with Sadashiv Amrapurkar and then walked into a wall made of fists.”

Now while this may technically be true, it just reminds me of how entitled we think we are. It’s a plane, not a dance bar, so it doesn’t matter if they aren’t hotties as long as they don’t do anything unprofessional, such as ask you to change their catheter. We should also respect the fact that no matter what anyone says, airhostesses on our national carrier have that special something that other airhostesses can only dream of – grandkids.

As for the rest of the budget, it can be summed up by the simple economic principle of ‘Suck it up. At least we’re not Greece.’ I look forward to next year, when I can do this again. In the meantime, keep calm and eat sabudana.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 3rd March 2013.)

May The Stare Be With You

So, as it turns out, women are important. I was reminded of this last Sunday when Aamir Khan descended from the heavens and broadcast his message against female foeticide through ‘Satyamev Jayate’, a show that was watched by about seventeen billion people, including tribes that have not been discovered yet. And the verdict is out: Aamir Khan is the messiah that all messiahs go to when they’re down and out, and need someone to intensely stare at them.

I’m sure you’ve all noticed the Aamir Stare™. It’s impossible not to, what with Aamir having created vantage points out of every hoarding on every road in every city, from which he launches his soul-piercing gaze, conveying a mix of sincerity, intensity and smelled-a-fart-and-liked-it-maybe-I-need-to-revaluate-my-life.

Don’t worry – this isn’t going to be a diatribe against Satyamev Jayate. I quite like the show, and respect the efforts and ambitions of the brains behind it. Based on the current state of Indian TV, I can only imagine the confusion that went through the conference room when an idea like this was first pitched to TV execs, whose idea of ‘revolutionary programming’ otherwise involves some old bat tormenting her bahu to death, after which the bahu extracts revenge by being reborn as a haemorrhoid in the saas.

Just take a second to picture Aamir selling the idea to a roomful of marketing guys…

Aamir: I want to do a serious, no-frills show that raises awareness about India’s biggest problems. I’m thinking of beginning with female foeticide.

Marketer 1: Ooh, I like it! Then we can also line up a bunch of foetuses and ask the audience to tell us via SMS which ones they want to save, and which ones they want to eliminate. Solid branding we’ll get.

Marketer 2: But can these foetuses sing or dance?

Marketer 3: Also, can we have those two bald dudes from Roadies? They can look at the foetus and yell, “TU BABY BANEGA? BABY BANEGA **@#%$*!?? TU NE AAJ TAK KIYA HI KYA HAI??”

Aamir: *facepalm*

I’m more interested in the reactions generated after the show. As expected, there are the hardcore optimists who are elated at Aamir taking a stand, because it means that they don’t have to do any real work. And on the other hand are the cynics and the naysayers, who accord Aamir the same respect you’d accord a Nigerian dude trying to sell you aphrodisiacs. While you’re in bed.

What was really interesting was that both these camps ended up comparing Aamir to Anna Hazare. Of course, they’re both wrong. Aamir and Anna are two very different people. One is a popular celeb who is also known to be a publicity-seeking missile, and the other is Aamir Khan.

A common reaction that completely baffles me, though, is, “If Aamir is sincere, then how dare he charge 3 crores an episode?” Really, people? You’re upset that a professional is charging market rates in exchange for his services? It’s a stupid reaction, given that Salman gets about 80-100 crores for promoting Bigg Boss – a show whose only contribution to society is that it keeps the likes of Ashmit Patel locked far away from regular humans for a few days a year.

Aamir’s going to be around for a while, given the multitude of social ills like untouchability, caste politics, religious discrimination, Parliament etc., that makes India the sociological equivalent of an AIDS patient. Call me a cynic if you will, but I think talking can only do so much. It’s time for change, so SMS ‘Y’ to 58883 to get those creepy Aamir hoardings removed now.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 13th May 2012. Cross-posted from here.)