Saturday, November 17, 2007

Himesh on a highway

This Diwali it was an impulsive trip to Agra (my home town in UP), world famous for Taj Mahal, which a Tantra t-shirt describes as man’s greatest erection for a woman (Now that’s some smart copy!).

It wasn’t the occasion, but the fear of spending a lonely weekend locked up at home that prompted me to escape from Bangalore. All my friends (including my fiancĂ©) were super excited about celebrating Diwali with their families and suddenly all this resulted in me -a longing for my folks (in Agra) like never before.

I don't catch up with my friends everyday or party every night, but at least I am comforted by the fact that in case if I need them they are around. Its funny but the thought of loneliness is more discomforting that the actual state of being alone. My condition could be best described as a simple case of self pity. So all this provided me an excuse good enough to swipe my card for the return trip to what I call home.

After landing in Delhi (Agra doesn’t have an airport) I continued my tradition of royalty by taking a private cab all to myself than choosing a more public mode of transport like a train or a bus. This tradition of royalty is a grave consequence of the artificial purchasing power generated by the credit cards. It is a different matter altogether that the same card companies screw us royally by their interest rates and hundred other hidden charges.

Somehow I like this cab part of the journey the most.

It’s strange but in such cases of re-bonding with family, I cherish the journey more than the destination. For me the journey is symbolic of the climax of my craving to meet my loved ones and like all good bollywood climaxes this one too leads to a happy ending. The thought that I am about to meet them at just about the end of this journey and the anticipation (of what all I want to do when I meet them and till I am with them) which so much forms a part of the journey is what I savour the most. In fact from the moment I meet them my mental clock begins a countdown of limited time left for my exit. Hence, the longing for fast approaching good times (represented by journey) is better than waiting for them to come to an end (ticking mental clock).

So where was I? Yes, in the cab. The four hour drive on the national highway is quite an interesting one.

The entire stretch is dotted by Punjabi Dhabas, all claiming to be using only ‘shudh desi ghee’ (pure homemade ghee) in all their preparations. If a particular dhaba (Vaishno dhaba is my favourite) earns a reputation for tasty food (you can’t call it good food, that’s a different criteria altogether) there would be ‘n’ number of other dhabas that would spring up in the vicinity and all the clones would boast for their originality (all would christen themselves as the ‘original vaishno dhaba’). If so much purity and originality was not enough, few also have an impressive array of marketing gimmicks. The savvier ones of the lot would have a visual hook that attracts the attention of the passing traffic and urges them to stop by. Like great marketing minds, these dhabas try to target the attention of the most vulnerable target- the kid in each one of us. So you would be greeted by clowns, magicians, acrobats and even tamed bears performing cute little acts (unfortunately, what is entertainment for us is suffering for the wild. It is actually a punishable offence to keep these bears in captivity; also they are trained and kept under the most cruel conditions). The dhaba that I stopped at for a tea break had a brigade of waiters who were dwarfs. I was amused at their effort to differentiate. All said and done, with me dhaba food is an addiction and like all bad habits it’s sinful (hangover in this case is a bad stomach) but the experience is thoroughly enjoyable while it lasts.

If there has been one constant companion in my last few trips to home- it has to be Himesh Reshamiyya. The minute you touch the highway the cab driver would cheerfully play the latest Himesh tracks. It’s only an assumption that they are latest as all his songs sound the same. It’s difficult to actually classify this guy’s music (if I may call it that) except his trademark nasal twangs. Then how does one slot noise into any genre? And while Himesh was singing ‘tera tera tera surooor’ for me, the cabbie like a true devotee introduced me to the mysterious world of Himesh. As he unfolded the mystery behind the rock star’s permanent persona fixtures (cap, beard and leather jackets) and his failed love life which instigated the artist in him, I realised that you just can’t escape this new kid on the block.

While on that, this time around I noticed a host of private engineering, dental and management colleges that have mushroomed along the highway. Mostly owned and run by private business houses, these are the strong indicators of the increasing commercialisation of education in our country. Riding high on the wave of the new and improved buoyancy of our economy, these institutions have made successful business out of distributing qualifications. Never before was it so easy to become an engineer or a doctor. This commercialisation of education has actually legitimised money as a substitute for merit.

On the drive to Agra you cross through cities like Faridabad, Palwal, Kosi and Mathura. It was while criss crossing these cities that I became conscious of one more interesting trend. It is about ‘what’ is driving the new India and ‘who’ is driving that ‘what’.

Alto is the new Maruti 800. The way Maruti 800 used to be an aspiring middle class Indian’s first sign of acquired sophistication in the 90’s, Alto has become the new symbol of status display for an average Indian today. What is more interesting is that there is an increasing participation of women in driving this change (read Alto in this case). To put it simply, you would witness more women screwing up the traffic etiquettes than ever before. Women by virtue are the most horrible drivers and unfortunately have decided to try their hand more often at it. And unlike men abusing men (fellow men riders’) who fuck up while driving, you generally can’t take the liberty to bad mouth a woman so publicly.

The excitement doesn’t end with this bit; it actually intensifies with my arrival in Agra. Interpreting the distinctive characteristics of small towns is a great source of entertainment. The behavioural patterns of the population of these places display acute symptoms of what I call- as ‘trickling effect’. It’s interesting to observe how the metro culture trickles down into these tier two and three cities but not without few of their own individualistic and collective eccentricities.

But I will save that and all for my next blog…and yes I had a delightful time at home and have attempted to keep a piece of it with me by writing this blog...Love you ma.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Double meter 'saar'

AUTTOoooo! Bhayya Old Madras Road chaloge?

This is the thousandth time I am asking this question in the last half an hour- and the reactions from all the auto guys are akin (Almost)… An annoyed fleeting look- The kind that you would offer to someone who is trying to sneak a look at your private parts when you are peeing in a public loo or if you are the orthodox types, imagine the look that you would bid to someone who sneezes when you are just about to step out for some real important work.

I feel blameworthy for committing the offence and at the same time grateful that the merciful auto guy has forgiven me in spite of my inexcusable sin.

Finding an auto is not difficult in Bangalore, that they are many; the problem lies in convincing them to go to a particular place… or any place for that matter.

These guys are a sort of wandering souls, perennially on a long drive in solitude. I seriously think that this roaming around (all by themselves) has a purpose…that too a very important one…may be a kind of religious and a philosophical quest…similar to a ‘tapasya’ in Himalayas…trying to figure out answers to more meaningful questions pertaining to life, death & everything in between.

So it is obvious that these otherwise saintly guys get terribly upset if lesser mortals like us divert them from pursuits of critical nature. This is understandable and over the period I have reconciled with the fact that bothering these guys with silly things is nothing less than ‘Bad Karma’.

This is how a usual conversation takes place between us-

I (Aloud): Bhayya khalee hai?

Auto guy (Just by his looks): idiot, don’t you know that we are never ‘khalee’. God has sent us on earth with a special purpose…anyways it’s too much for you to understand all that kid. (With a smirk) I am letting you go this time but never ever do this again.

As I told you that I have learned to co-exist with this breed of lone travellers, but it is the other kind that bugs me the most and believe me its awfully hard to differentiate both.

On the outset, these guys (the second type) also look like holy explorers but have a slightly materialistic viewpoint on the worldly matters…and more importantly they are kind.

When you scream for help (Bhayyaaaa...)- they stop (How does matter even if they stop few yards away and you have to jog up to them? Remember God never comes to your doorstep when you are in trouble…he will wait for you at the neighbour’s place…and trick is…you have to reach him before the neighbour…hfff…hfff).

They even give you a patient hearing (either you explain the deal in two seconds or get lost…God only hears to the loud, quick and articulate) then… yes, it is then… that you see the most cunningly compassionate face in the world (Mogambo…Khush Hua).

While I wonder… if this is happening to me…that finally God is about to answer my prayers, I realise that God has meticulous terms and conditions for doing anything.

Especially if he is going out of the way to do something for you…he expects you to even please him in an out of the way manner.

Don’t worry…unlike what you thought…he is not abstract… Everything is quantifiable in his rule. “Double meter saar”. See how calculative he is (and so humble…he called me ‘saar’).

Dare ask him the explaination for the premium and you are enlightened about the imaginary traffic jam on the way (Through out the journey you would fear a nasty jam and you won’t even realise that you are home. On seeing your amazement god will just smile upon you. God never boasts).

But I didn’t know that we should never haggle with God. “Double nahi, 10 Rupees extra le lo sir”.

He gives you a 'go to hell' sort of look- and the God decides to go. I come back to senses and apologise for my ignorance. “ok theek hai”-I surrender to the greed...sorry...God.

God is merciful and I reach home today.

What is interesting is that I see these Gods everyday and everywhere. But every time I need them, I wish I could stop depending on them.

Whoever said religion is a form of corruption.