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.)