High Rated Gabru Gonna Save You

Eight months into 2020, I’m happy to announce that I’ve already achieved my year-end goal which was ‘Eat Own Weight In Wasabi Peas’. In other achievements, I’m also learning, for the first time ever, what it’s like to live and feel truly and properly alone. And unlike my beard which now covers 300 square miles and has its own zip code, this isn’t something I can blame on the pandemic. Nope, the truth is that loneliness waltzed in through the doors a few years ago and just stuck around; a haemorrhoid of the soul.

You’re probably thinking, “Ashish, you? Lonely? How?! You’re the guy famous for yacht parties with supermodels bursting out of walls like that thing from Alien.” Actually that’s DiCaprio, but it’s a common mix-up. And yes, it is odd, because I always saw loneliness as a feeling reserved for other people, like senior citizens or Imtiaz Ali heroes looking for women to save them. But hey, like love and FIRs, loneliness happens when you least expect it.

It wasn’t always this way. Let’s flashback to a time way before Covid, when you could hug people minus the mental image of going to third base with a ventilator. I’d moved in to a new place, with a friend I’d known for years and a metabolism that was happy to finance half of Bombay’s liquor industry. But eventually my 30s heard the ruckus and called the cops on that party. Then came solo living, where I found myself walking into the jaws of an empty, silent flat every night, which was exactly what I wanted. Except when I didn’t. And both those feelings existed at the same time.

The last couple of years also became kinda work-from-home, or sometimes ‘work from cafe and pay 700 bucks for cardboard dandruff aka granola’. So I’d often go days without having spoken to anyone, except maybe my trainer. And a dude reciting numbers while you throw up a lung on the gym floor hardly counts as social interaction.

Given all this practice, at the start of the pandemic, I found myself handling the isolation aspect a little bit better than I expected. Don’t get me wrong – I still hated it. I’m not one of those internet-introverts whose entire personality is telling the world that they’re introverts. BUUUUTTT <guy tapping forehead meme.jpg> you can’t be sad about isolation if you’re busy being sad about other everyday concerns like overarching doom, the complete upheaval of life as you knew it, and that icky feeling of wet atta stuck to your fingers.

And now, after five months of not meeting people, I’m relatively okay and haven’t invented imaginary friends haha Ashish is lying this is Pramod his new close friend and also pillow.

It isn’t just me. Over the last few years, urban loneliness has been recognised as a global health issue. I know this because googling ‘urban loneliness’ is a thing you do when you’re lonely. Fun Fact: in 2018, Britain created a position called Minister of Loneliness. Yes, there’s an actual person and no, their job is not to share Artidote all day. (They share nihilistic TikToks.)

In India, like the west, loneliness has started leap-frogging age barriers and hitting young urban professionals. It’s a crippling affliction that sometimes causes them to take desperate measures, like suicide or arranged marriage.

Thankfully neither of those are on the cards for me, but even pre-Covid, I found myself entertained by completely unnecessary thoughts. For example, what if I choked to death or slipped and hit my head in the bathroom during a rained-in weekend? How long before someone found out? I’d like to think soon but that’d only happen if there were some client deliverables pending. That would be weird:

Client: Why is the content delayed? We put a date in the Excel HOW DARE YOU DISRESPECT THE DOT XLS.

Manager: Uh, Ashish died.

Client: Oh no… we’ll have to (gasp) update the promo posters.

Manager: Wtf.

Client: RIP EXCEL SHEET. GONE TOO SOON. <sobs into pivot table>

You’d think that the solution would be to surround yourself with people and yes, friends are lifesavers, but not the complete answer. For one, they do this weird thing where they exist as individuals with their own needs and desires and schedules, so they may have to pass up the glorious opportunity to babysit your lonely ass.

And secondly, even if you pack your calendar with socialising, it’s a temporary fix. You can’t use people as pacifiers forever. The trick is to be at peace by yourself, without compulsively clutching onto a deadline or a drink or a joint or a screen or six break-ups worth of ice-cream. As far as I know, the only person to have achieved this is the Buddha. It probably helped that there was no internet back then. You can’t achieve enlightenment when you’re refreshing Insta 20 times a minute just to see some asshole boomerang his drink. (It’s me, I’m that asshole.)

I’ve also realized that I’ll never get completely used to the silence that comes from living alone. It feels like your whole house is wearing noise-cancelling headphones. You need active measures to dispel it otherwise you run the risk of turning into an art-film character, communicating entirely through sighs and kurta-creases.

One pick-me-up technique is to go about your chores with loud music on, even if you don’t feel like it at the start. Trust me, by the end of it, your neighbours will hate you. I’m sure mine think that I’m a psychopath because who listens to Run The Jewels, Taylor Swift and High Rated Gabru in the same hour? But hey, they’re the ones with two ear-shattering kids they made on purpose, so who’s the real psychopath huh huh?

Although it’s no guarantee, I’m told that it gets better in the case of healthy, stable relationships. I wouldn’t know – there are thinkpieces longer than my longest relationships. Sometimes I’m reminded of this right when I wake up and see that the bedsheet on my side is wrinkled, while the other half is pristine and untouched. If you look at the bed from directly above, you can see exactly where hope ends and the Prateek Kuhad video begins.

If you’re in a similar boat and were expecting real solutions in this piece then yay, you’re already a foolish optimist and you’ll be fine. Because really, what other approach could there be except dogged optimism and all that other boring but important stuff like therapy, exercise, cutting down on social media, pushing yourself to forge real connections, cuddling with Pramod etc. I wish you luck, especially for the days where nothing works and you only want to Netflix and eat rubbish. Just avoid wasabi peas. They’re really easy to choke on.

Till Death Or Other Weird Reasons Do Us Part

The Great Indian Wedding Season is drawing to a close, which is sad because I look at weddings the same way I look at getting tasered – it’s great fun if it’s happening to someone else. The best one I attended was basically a beach-and-beer party where there just happened to be a ceremony. However, recent news events have made me realise that you can do all the cool stuff you want at your wedding, but if it’s going to go through without anyone getting ditched at the altar, then don’t even bother inviting me.

The gold standard for excitement was set by a bride in U.P this week, when she canceled her wedding at the last moment after realising that the groom had hidden his complete and utter lack of education from her. She did this by pretending to be a human Captcha. No, seriously. She asked the groom what 15 plus 6 was. His answer: 17. (On the bright side, at least he’s qualified to be an elected representative.)

Classy readers may have already noted that this incident is also the basic plot of the 90s classic Raja Babu, so don’t you ever accuse Govinda of not making realistic cinema ever again. What I love about the story is even after all this, the guy’s family still tried persuading the girl to marry their defective abacus. That must have been an awkward conversation.

Guy: I know I basically committed fraud but marry me. I have money…

Girl: … that you cannot count.

Guy: I swear I’m educated!

Girl: Right. And which school did –

Guy: *sings the IIN theme song*

That’s when she proceeded to get the hell out of there, leaving behind skid marks and a bride-shaped hole in the wall.

Last month, another bride from U.P had ditched her groom when he had an epileptic fit during the wedding. Then she said to herself, “Goddammit I got threaded and waxed and the caterer is here with like six different types of paneer, so why let it all go to waste?” So while the seizing groom was rushed to a hospital – again, this is true – she scanned the wedding guests, spotted a potential mate and announced that she would marry him if he were okay with it. The guy agreed to it because apparently self-esteem is optional. At some point, the original groom returned from the hospital, only to see his former bride and her new husband drive off into the sunset, making him realise that marriage is a sacred bond between a woman and a man who just happens to be in her field of vision.

Now you may call it cruel and discriminatory, and the fact is that there are better reasons to cancel weddings than epilepsy, like if someone wears sunglasses indoors. But the girl was angry that the guy’s family had kept this hidden from her, which, from her point of view, sounds fair. Because if it had been the other way around, I’m pretty sure the guy would have dropped her so quick, they’d call him Kamran Akmal. It’s just refreshing to come across stories like these in a country where guys reject girls because “Mummy, the angle of her nose is off by half a degree, so find me a better model.”

Maybe such incidents can be avoided if young people are given more time and freedom to choose life partners. Ah, what am I saying – that’s just crazytalk. At best, you could have matrimonial sites include filters like ‘I Suffer From A Misunderstood But Manageable Neurological Condition Which Would Not Be A Problem If We Were More Than A Biodata To Each Other’.

(On a related note, it’s nice to see shaadi dot com being endorsed by Chetan Bhagat. Because there’s no better advocate for arranged marriages than the guy who had a love marriage so famous, it spawned a book and a 100-crore film.)

There’s still hope if you want to catch an exciting wedding. You can still see a few going on, causing the odd traffic jam, most notably in Juhu and Worli. These are the poor souls who couldn’t get a date when the weather was nice and can now be seen smiling through sixteen layers of sherwani, developing sweat patches that will eventually devour them like a black hole. I don’t know how they do it. If I were them, I’d just marry the AC. Unless it left me for someone else.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 15th March 2015.)

Youth 101: Let’s Try And Decode These Crazy Kids

The four of you who still read newspapers may have seen reports about the Hindustan Times-MaRS Youth Survey 2014, which is something that brands do from time to time to figure out what young people are thinking. (“Life will give me what I want, because I am unique, like a unicorn with an Asian-symbol tattoo”, would be my guess.)

Brands do this because they know that if there’s one thing that young people like, it is reading about stuff that young people like. Also, older people have a very limited definition of youth (“Those phone screens with the humans attached to them”), so these surveys give them a chance to better understand the generation that will be choosing their retirement homes.

I’m pretty sure I don’t classify as ‘the youth’ anymore, seeing as how I’m completely okay with not knowing what a Harry Styles is, and all I really want is to go to bed at 10 p.m. Now that that’s established, let’s take a look at some of the more interesting findings of the HT Youth Survey. Here they are, in no particular order:

  • 61% of the people surveyed said that pre-marital sex was no longer an issue for them. But 63% also said that they wanted their future spouse to be a virgin. Mathematically speaking, people are idiots. If you insist on marrying a virgin, the only thing getting pleasured will be your ego. Seriously, why would you insist on a non-expert? It’s like walking into a fine-dining restaurant and telling the waiter, “Get me a plate of whatever they’re serving in Tihar.”
  • 32% of male respondents said that there was nothing wrong in watching pornography. The rest were clinically dead. From exhaustion. After watching pornography.
  • People with a stable, full-time job had a better chance of finding partners. The message is simple: you have to at least appear like a grown-up, because not too many women are impressed when they see that the only furniture you own is a bean-bag made from old boxers.
  • Mumbai was number one on the spending list, with 70.6% of the respondents having made an unaffordable purchase in the last year. Of course, in Mumbai this could mean anything from paying obscene rents to enjoy bronchitis in a slightly nicer pincode, to just buying a cocktail at a bar (“Enjoy this 800 rupee watered-down swill, with all the potency of baby formula”).
  • On average, 35% of the youth said they strongly believed in astrology. The number was 28% for the 18-21 age group and rose to 48% for people aged 22-25. This is probably because once you get out of college, you realise that the world will treat you like its own personal toilet if you let it, so you latch on to whatever fairy tale works best as a coping mechanism. I’d shake my head at these people, but then we Ariens are sceptical like that.
  • 72% of the people agreed that many Indian traditions must be preserved. Hopefully, they meant fun traditions like gambling on Diwali, or the one where you set a price on your son and call it dowry. It’s also nice to see young, educated people I know decorate their babies’ faces with a giant black dot for protection. The colour black is great at warding off evil, as seen in the case of Africa, which is just a giant bowl of sunshine and happiness.
  • Speaking of happiness, Jaipur scored the highest on that front with 88% of respondents saying that they were very happy at this point of time. I’d be happy too, if I lived two hours away from Pushkar and its government-approved bhang shops. Youngsters in Patna were the least happy of the lot, probably because they realised they were in Patna.

I’m waiting for a survey about people like me, who aren’t uncle material yet, but have too many chins and IQ points to be mistaken for a college kid. I’d be happy to answer any questions, as long as you don’t call when I’m sleepy or tired. So yeah, never.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 17th Aug 2014.)

The Way To A Man’s Heart Is Not Through This Column

Once in a while, as I’m going through the barrage of headlines online (which can all be summed up as “Cretinous Politician Insults Scumbag Politician”, “Powerful Person Corrupted By Power” and “Comedy Nights With Kapil: Because Cross-Dressers Are Hilarious”), I find myself being distracted by the softcore corner of news websites aka the Women and Relationships section. And in case you’re wondering, yes, they’re still talking about what it takes to please and keep a man. (They always seem to miss out on “Learn to straight-drive like Sachin.”)

A quick look through these articles will tell you women that it’s really very simple. All you need to do is lose your belly fat, thigh fat, arm fat, elbow fat, ankle fat and drop a lung or two because those things just make you look bloated when you breathe. Then you need to work on your skin, which may look fine to you, but since men are superior beings who see things in SuperMega HD, you need to treat it with a special purifying extract made from dolphin saliva, which you can buy after clicking the strategically placed banner ad that says HAHA, SUCKERS!

One such article I recently read was about “Compliments That Your Man Needs To Hear”. Ladies, I hope you’re paying attention because someday you may find yourself in an extreme life-or-death situation, like Sandra Bullock in Gravity, and may need to get back to Earth by telling the ISRO chief that his hair looks great.

First up – and this is a suggestion for an actual compliment – “Boy, you can work it!” This is a great thing to say to a guy when you’re his personal trainer and he just deadlifted the reason for his next hernia. But no, this is supposed to a sign of appreciation for his skills in the bedroom. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if you need to be prodded by the internet into complimenting your guy’s skills, then he probably cannot “work it” very well. He’s less Ron Jeremy, more Ron Weasley, is what I’m saying. Change this by firing off inspirational lines in bed, like “Glory Glory Man United!” and “Do or do not. There is no try.” (Or yell “Dhoom Macha Le!” Whatever works for you.)

Another suggested compliment is “You’re so freaking hot!” which is perfect if you’re like sixteen and like OMG totes whatevs amirite *duckface* There’s more helpful advice about how you can make a man feel wanted by batting your eyelids and – this is true – asking him to help you with bank work. This is also what Manmohan Singh did with Raghuram Rajan.

This is just one of a million helpful articles out there, along with others like “How To Stop Your Guy From Being Needy” followed immediately by “How To Make Him Pay Attention To You”, at which point a normal person’s brain cells will start signing suicide pacts.

I don’t know who reads this stuff, because anyone who has ever known a man should be aware that we’re not complex creatures. All a woman needs to do to get a man’s attention and turn him on is to show up. That’s pretty much it. Going through all these tips and tricks is like trying to compose a symphony for your dog. Sure, he might acknowledge it and even wag his tail, but really, he’s just glad to see you and even if you left, he’d be perfectly happy just licking his own – yeah ok, I didn’t think that analogy through.

On the other end of the spectrum are men’s magazines, which usually fall into two categories. There’s the upmarket variant which says things like, “Woo her with understated elegance, seen here in these cufflinks that cost two crores because the Maharaja of Punjab once swallowed them as a baby.” And there are the less formal ones, written by guys who attended Bro University and got a Master’s in Bro Studies, with a Diploma in Dude, bro. Their pages reek of gunpowder and offer practical relationship advice like “KILL YOUR FEELINGS WITH THIS SHOTGUN!” and “WHO NEEDS LUBE REAL MEN USE ENGINE OIL!” (They’re packed with so much testosterone that I once grew a beard and killed three cheetahs just by looking at the cover.)

So clearly – and I don’t mean to sound juvenile here – the boys are winning. There’s only one thing you women can do to even the contest – turn to the man nearest to you and ask for advice. Remember to compliment him first.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 24th Nov 2013.)

My Big Fat Indian Bachelorhood

I hereby take this opportunity to declare myself an expert on weddings, seeing as how I’ve attended three in the last month, which involved about forty minutes of standing in line to congratulate rictus-stricken statues of what used to be my friends, followed by nine hundred hours in line at the buffet like refugees, clamouring for a plate of Jain-pizza-schezwan-dosa-pasta-souffle, and finally, having to think of 83957 silly responses when asked, “Beta, why aren’t you married yet?” (Current response: Because Gotham needs me.)

Having said that, I don’t really mind weddings, as long as they’re not mine. But now, my parents are hoping to change that. I don’t know how it happened. They were fine a few days ago, until they summoned me into their room, sat me down and said simply, “We need to talk.” This was stated in a tone one might use to inform a child that his grandmother ate his dog. But I’m happy to say that I reacted in a mature manner, by running away screaming and jumping out the window into a tree made of brass knuckles.

In your late 20s, conversations like these are pretty much par for the course. It’s just another thing that you learn to ignore, much like receding hairlines, and anything that comes out of the mouth of a college kid. It’s just strange that in 2013, one of the biggest matrimony-related issues is still “love marriage”. (Or as the rest of the world calls it, marriage.)

We’re the country that brings history to the party. Nobody bats an eyelid when marriages are disallowed on the basis of identities that were created thousands of years ago, after people did the social equivalent of kids forming cricket teams in school. The guys with the bats decided that they’d be openers, their friends would go one-down, someone else would sell cricket gear and they’d make the 12th man play in a different stadium altogether.

This is not to say that the concept of arranged marriages is totally insane. No, because arranged marriages give people a chance to cherry-pick the qualities without which any union would crumble, like green cards and a lack of manglik cooties. Also, arranged marriages are special because you get successfully wingmanned by your parents. That would never work anywhere else. Imagine exchanging glances with a beautiful woman at a bar, only to have your mom rush up to her and go, “My son is MNC job, potty-trained at six months, having keen interest in hobbies. NOW WALK AROUND FIRE AND POP OUT LITTLE VERSIONS OF HIM!”

One of the oldest arguments thrown around by parents is, “In India, when a boy and a girl get married, their families also get married to each other.” Ignoring the thought that it would be really weird for my Badi Mausi to wed your Pomeranian, what this statement really means is that you’re worried that your child will, without question, bring home the spawn of Dawood. (Now let’s have a moment of silence for Javed Miandad.)

Another argument is that with arranged marriages, you meet people with the same long-term goals, i.e. growing fat together. No wait, I mean they both want to get married, as opposed to a lot of relationships in your 20s that end because people fall for people who have vastly differing long-term goals, as in, “I want a stable future” versus “I want to find myself by sailing around the world in a pencil box and adopting llamas in countries named entirely after consonants.”

Also, for a nation that loves matrimony, we still mix up the words ‘wedding’ and ‘marriage’ a lot. This exchange is more common than it should be:

Friend: “Hey man, you’ll be there for my marriage na?”

Me: “Why not? I’m free for the next 40-odd years.”

Here’s the difference: A wedding is the ceremony and the associated drunken, shoe-stealing Barjatya wet dream used to herald the onset of marriage, which is a long-term sacred institution nurtured and cherished by lovers, therapists and home loan companies.

I have about eleventy five more weddings to attend this year, so I’m pretty sure I’ll pick up more insights into the process. Not that it would help my parents’ cause much. They’ll have to wait. Gotham just switched on the Bat Signal.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 2nd June 2013. Cross-posted from here.)

The Indian Man’s Guide To The World’s Favourite Sport

As the world continues to spiral towards inevitable doom, and as headlines about riots, drought, recession and global warming continue to slap us in the face every morning, I think it is imperative that I raise some serious issues, like the fact that cheesy pick-up lines are making a comeback in the dating scene.

No, seriously. This information comes from a highly trusted source – an Indian news site that quotes a Daily Mail UK report about a survey carried out by some American dating site, because as an Indian reader, it’s really important that I get the go-ahead to use cheesy pick-up lines from random American respondents that I will never meet. (I bet I could have even scored with my current favourite line, “Hi, I’m N.D Tiwari.”)

This raises a few questions. First of all, why are we even bothering with this information? It’s not like we have a pick-up line culture in India. It’s not really the kind of country where you can go to a bar and just pick up random women (unless your name is Dhoble)

Also, why are so many Indian websites and newspapers hell-bent on bombarding us with syndicated tripe about romance that applies only to white people? For example, articles about “Top 10 Male Fantasies” that always seem to include nurses. Really? This only makes sense if your hospital is located inside a Naughty America video. When was the last time you went to a hospital and fell in lust while handing over a urine sample to Sister Selamma Thomas Kutty?

Then there are those articles that give you tips like “To spice things up, try new places. Make love on the beach.” Yes, this is a great idea if you’re looking at death by bacteria lodged in inappropriate crevices, or if you’ve ever fantasised about a threesome with rancid garbage.

(I don’t get the entire black leather fetish thing either. In Bombay weather, a leather fetish is as good as a ‘smells like dead cow dragged through a field of farts’ fetish.)

And it’s never the other way around. I don’t see CNN’s lifestyle section using stock pictures of Indians in articles like ‘How To Have Sex While 16 Family Members Sleep In The Same Room’, ‘Six Auspicious Positions To Make Male Child’ or ‘Five Sexy Outfits Guaranteed To Make Heads Turn At Your Sati’.

It can’t be that difficult to write about relationships. Let’s see now. They begin with courtship, thus named because it involves being judged and cross-examined by a higher authority. But first dates are great fun, provided you follow these bits of advice that I just thought of sometime between beer no. 4 and 12:

First up, don’t be nervous. Yes, the last time you touched a woman was when Blackberries were cool, and yes, you’re really eager to show her that you’re a good person who has no idea how all those weird Japanese videos got on his computer. But calm down. Breathe in, relax and if it helps, know that she’s slightly nervous too. Interestingly enough, this is the same thing experts say about snakes: they are as afraid of you as you are of them. Not that I’m equating women to snakes. That would be ridiculous. When snakes get mad, they usually have a reason.

(Note: Never bring up the snake analogy on the actual date, unless your preferred method of ingesting alcohol is having it thrown in your face.)

Next up, grooming. Women have all sorts of preferences: bald, short-haired, long-haired, bearded, moustachioed, clean-shaven, jungle-chested, Edward Cullen-chested and every other variation that you have no way of knowing about, so don’t bother. Show off your long, jagged fingernails as an effective weapon, thus assuring her of your status as warrior and protector. And do throw on some cologne. I recommend something manly, like ‘Eau de Subconscious Reminder of Her Father’.

Little things matter, so compliment her on her appearance. Feel free to use the words ‘raapchik item’ and ‘sexpakoda’. Conversation can be a problem if one of you is stupid, in which case shut up and let the alcohol do the talking.

So there you have it. A simple, practical guide to romance, by an Indian, for Indians. If you have any queries, please feel free to address them to your dad, N.D Tiwari.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 29th July 2012. Cross-posted from here.)