Men In Tights, Brought To You By Testosterone

This week saw the passing of a man who had made a living by carrying around a mystical urn that granted powers to his friend, an undead beast with eyes so empty and soulless, you’d think they were donated by Arjun Rampal. If this makes no sense, then you’ve missed out on one of the most important aspects of childhood – watching grown men fake-fight each other for a shiny golden belt that signified the triumph of blood, sweat and steroids.

I’m talking about William Moody aka Paul Bearer, manager to The Undertaker, and one of the most iconic characters in WWE WWF history. He was a fat, chalk-faced man – imagine a Neil Nitin Gadkari – whose superpower was distracting the Undertaker’s opponents with animated shrieks, thus allowing him to kill them with his finishing move, ‘The Tombstone Piledriver’, because calling it ‘98% Chance Of Quadriplegia’ would be too boring.

When I, and guys my age, heard the news, we were immediately taken back to when we were kids who believed in undead wrestlers and magical urns, and when puberty hit, we believed in Silicone Sable as well. Several times a day. On cold, lonely nights too.

I clearly remember the first time I watched wrestling. It was 1993, and I turned on the TV to see a man in a wrestling ring, wearing what was essentially an America-coloured thong, preening in front of a three-mirror setup, and flexing biceps the size of speed-breakers. This was “The Narcissist Lex Luger”, who’d have an aneurysm if he ever tried to spell ‘Narcissist’. But that’s okay, because he only had to be good at two things: a) Working out – I’m pretty sure he had triceps on his fingers as well, and b) Bodyslamming Yokozuna (Japanese word that means ‘Ram Kapoor’)

After that, I was hooked, just like every other kid I knew. Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, The British Bulldog, Tatanka, the Ultimate Warrior, Macho Man Randy Savage, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Typhoon, Razor Ramon, Papa Shango, Repo Man, Doink the Clown, Bart Gunn, Billy Gunn, Bam Bam Bigelow, Shawn Michaels and Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart are just a few of the names that one can use to hit the requisite word count for this column.

OK no, these were the stars we idolised and more importantly, these are the men that made me realise that having kids, especially boys, is a bad idea. Because no matter what you do, they will find the stupidest way to hurt themselves, and practise until they get it right.

Case in point: The Unofficial Unsupervised Wrestling Championships, Class V. These were held every lunch break, and featured my friends and I trying out every move we’d seen on TV, but on a concrete surface. I’m talking bodyslams, chokeslams, dropkicks, submission holds and a bastardised version of the Razor’s Edge, which is where you stand back to back with your opponent, hoist him up by the arms, slam him down neck first and hope his parents don’t find out. (DISCLAIMER: If there are any kids reading this, please do not try any of these moves ever. They will cause severe brain trauma, which makes you do daft things like become a writer.)

The appeal didn’t just lie in the fact that Bret Hart never had to do stoopid homework, or that teachers would never scold the Ultimate Warrior for not getting a haircut. No, these guys were star athletes, and watching a perfectly executed Sweet Chin Music, Stunner or Tombstone was as much fun as watching a Sachin straight drive. Probably more, because a Sachin straight drive never hurt anyone, except maybe Kambli.

(My parents did try to convince me that wrestling was fake and scripted. But you don’t say that to an eight-year-old boy. It’s like telling the Pope that the whole ‘Ctrl+R Jesus’ miracle didn’t really happen.)

The last contest that I followed keenly was the Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart Iron Man championship match at Wrestlemania XII, an epic hour long bout that Michaels won. His victory was made even more incredible by the fact that he wore crotch-hugging pants festooned with sequinned hearts, and still managed to look tough. Then again, The Hitman wore purple-pink sunglasses.

I have no clue about the WWE now, but I’m sure there are enough guys jumping about for the benefit of kids and the mentally-deficient. I’d like to keep it that way and not mess with the nostalgia in my head. Besides, there’s no way I’d be able to pull off a Razor’s Edge now. Too much body fat and common sense.

P.S. RIP, Paul Bearer.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 10th March, 2013. Cross-posted from here.)

Warning: Objects In Rear-View Mirror May Be Rubbish

Welcome to 2013. Or as a common reaction to the new year goes, “ZOMG IT’S 2013 ALREADY?? WHERE DID THE TIME GO? What am I doing with my life? Why haven’t I accomplished last year’s goal of sleeping on a bed of money, or of strapping on a jetpack and flying to my job as Freelance Jetpack Flyer?”

We react like this every year, as if time did something totally unexpected – like it was supposed to give us a foot massage instead. The panic is understandable. After all, my generation has seen Sachin retire, that kid from Home Alone is now thirty-two, and apparently a heroin addict, and our birth dates are closer to the ’62 Sino-Indian war, the Cuban missile crisis and the moon landing, than they are to the iPhone 5.

At this point, it’s easy to fall into the nostalgia trap, and reminisce about how much easier and nicer the world was in the 80s and 90s. And it really was, if you were Michael Jackson or Saddam Hussein.

But otherwise, nostalgia is overrated, especially if you grew up in India. Our GDP was about sixteen rupees, tucked away safely under Pranab Mukherjee’s monkey cap. Yes, things were cheaper – petrol was 2 bucks for a 100 litres – but what was the point? You could still only use it in a Premier Padmini, which was basically a chunk of metal held together with rust and hope, that could hit a top speed of forty-seven kilometres per hour if thrown off a cliff.

We also complain about how smartphones have made us detached and distracted, and that we can’t go two seconds without – oh look, a potato that looks like Arnab LOLZ SHARE PIC! Um, so like I was saying, no lament on the modern era is complete without a yearning for the good ol’ days, when placing an STD call meant taking three months off from work, plus an additional two weeks for therapy. And that was just to get a connection.

Then you dialled the number and approximately four years later, were connected to a system powered by an asthmatic rat on a hamster wheel. It was quicker to just take a train and visit whoever you wanted to call. The internet came in much later, and despite its basic, tedious form, was still pretty amazing. Those early days are the reason why so many men still get turned on at the sight of a pixelated hourglass and the word ‘buffering’.

I also don’t get people who romanticise train journeys. Yes, a lot of us took trains back in the day, because our flight options were limited to ‘expensive’, ‘more expensive’ and ‘Air India: We’ll fly you back in time’. But now, why would you willingly spend 20-odd hours in a confined space with chatty old people, kids who’ve just discovered their vocal cords, and newlyweds trying to suck face amidst this chaos? Also, why should I use train toilets when I can experience the same fun by asking homeless men to rub themselves all over me?

Then there was the phase that Bollywood went through in the 80s and 90s, described by film historians as “OH GOD WTF MY EYES MY EYES!” Every film had pretty much the same story: Boy meets girl, girl meets boy, she’s filthy rich, while his dinner is a pinch of salt extracted from his mother’s tears, the two fall in love, Goga Kapoor makes crazy eyes, and then, because this is a wholesome family film, Shakti Kapoor walks in and rapes whoever is available, after which Alok Nath dies.

We watched this tripe only because we had no other option. You could’ve put Amitabh Bachchan in a ballerina outfit and made him sing out Das Kapital in the original German, and we would still have lapped it up. (It would also have been less embarrassing than Lal Baadshah)

Even society seems slightly better now. All around me, I see people ignoring norms, bucking the trend and forging their own paths – like Indian traffic, minus the rage. Careers that didn’t exist ten years ago are now considered mainstream. (Although ‘Social Media Evangelist’ is not a real job. It’s like saying ‘Pixie Sandal Washer’, or ‘Entertainment Journalist’) I see more openly gay people around, and if there’s enough alcohol, I see some bisexual women too. All in all, it isn’t a bad time to be alive. Now can we please get started on those jetpacks?

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