Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Myself Kartik. Nice to meet you. Do you blog?

1974. My parents are taking a stroll beside the Ganges in Calcutta, hand in hand, cooing to each other, probably planning me.

"Do you enjoy poetry?" my father must have asked my mother. (They are both enthusiastic readers of poetry and prose still)

2008. Hola! Myself Kartik. Nice to meet you. Do you blog?

Have I really been as busy as that to not notice when the dating scene has undergone subtle changes?

Where are the pink rose printed writing papers with neat rows of painstakingly written praises of the goddess? At 28 I suddenly feel eons away from comprehension as friends looking for dates casually ask each other "do you blog?"

Till 2005 my friends in the US asked me with unbridled wonder "Really? you do not blog? how do you take care of all that anger?" "The good old fashioned way," I used to say. "by smashing some one's skull."

Everyone blogs these days. And as a girl friend says "If you are thinking of marrying a man, first read his blogs."

Wait. Isn't that twisting some other saying?

She states firmly - a man who does not blog must have been brought up by wolves. Because his blog gives an insight into his world, his upbringing, his passions and his yin and yang.

Apparently it's as uncool to ask someone "what are your hobbies" as it is not to blog.

Even when people like me, brought up by suspected villagers, let slip that question, the answer is a friendly "you can get all that from my profile info, you dummy. I'll ping you the link."

Privately I always believed that most of this sudden hype about blogging is the sheep-falling-into-gutter theory.

Which is why online peddlers of second rate pornography dare to call their blogs "inspired works of Indian eroticism".

Who will call a spade a spade when it is also apparently "uncool" to leave unflattering comments on what everyone else is hailing as prophetic.

Which is why the vicious who-sleeps-with-whom gossip blog about colleagues was suddenly a rage among journalists some time back.

I get the line "please check out my blog" all the time.

And when I do, sometimes I am pleasantly surprised with original poetry, startling photography and truly humorous prose.

And sometime, as is common these days, I trudge through a marketing page for products as boring as electric heaters.

Despite my cynicism, I have helped some of my unenlightened friends start blogs, sometimes simply because it is a fun thing to do.

I have had to remind them once in a while of course to update what they have created in a moment of unprotected passion.

Sometime I thank god for getting over with the dating scene in the very late 90s.

When swapping Back Street Boys music cassettes was all that was required of me, apart from looking all pretty and flustered of course.

A perfumed note written on fancy paper, caught in the wrong hands, back then would mean a session of tongue-lashing from mom with the suspended threat of "wait till your father gets home."

With my limited knowledge about the Internet and techno jargon, I think I would not have made it very far with a volley of questions about "Do I blog? Am I on AIM? Can I link to your profile? Are you on Facebook chat? Do you Flickr?". Yes, times have changed.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Happy Diwali

Have a happy Diwali!


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bangal goes to hills (Part II)

Buried deep in every Bengali's mind is a desire to do something out of the ordinary, have a daring adventure even if it means arguing with a Jath ticket collector on Kalka-Shatabdi Express.

This is why they scrounge for the entire year and travel to far-flung places on company LTA.

A Bengali outside home is cautiously inquisitive, sniffing every dish and looking out for the multitude of cheats who dupe unwary travellers such as him of hard earned cash.

He wants his money's worth in everything since he knows he might never have the resources to come back to the same spot twice in his lifetime.

While men from other communities are busy investing in property, building and saving bit by bit for daughters' marriages or the latest luxury car, a Bangal laughs away worries about his EMIs for 10 days and hits the road with 31 pieces of luggage - including his paaner bata (betel leaf case), snuff box, lota and "wrapper" (a scratchy woolen shawl).

In no other community have I seen this compulsive urge to experience the unknown, savour nature, break into impromptu off-key Rabindra Sangeet if the situation calls for it, and yell at their wives and children at the top of their lungs in public.

(Ei Picklu! kokhon theke bolchhi amar haath dhorey thak, kotha shonar naam nei! Marbo ek thappor bodmaish kothakar.)

As I mounted my sturdy horse on way to Kuffri I couldn't help but wonder how the animal will scale the almost vertical road under my significant weight.

The mountainous road paved in slippery round boulders and loose dirt twisted and turned as it took wary tourists for a breathtaking view of the Masu peak.

I had company in my worrying.

A huge woman in her late 40s with the standard unease of one who is wearing a salwar kameez for the first time in her life, loomed ahead in the horizon, blocking the sun filtering through the serene conifers.

"Orey baba ami ghoray chortey parbo na, jodi kamre dey?" (I cant ride this horse, what if it bites me?)

The husband, half her size and only an inch taller, reasoned in a voice trembling with barely-controlled impatience that horses have never been heard of biting anyone.

"Jodi amay fele dey?" (What if he throws me off his back?)

I could almost see his eyes lighting up with a hopeful light as he mulled this possibility.

The pahari horse keeper, his cheeks red and wrinkled in the sun and cold, stood grinning at the exchange. Finally Chowdhury ginni mounted her horse shakha-pola-fitey (ribbon) and all.

It must be the healthy mountain grass that makes these beasts the sturdy animals they are, for if that woman rode my back, I would look for the first ravine on the way to toss her off.

Rolls of fat rippling on her belly through the tight-fit synthetic kameez, the woman almost layed down horizontal on the animal's back, hugging its neck. "Amar jeebon tomar haathey baba, ektu dekhe," she tells the horse keeper.

The sour looking husband (obviously disliking the intimacy his wife has suddenly struck up with the stable hand) trots close behind, torn between a desire to appear bravely nonchalant and throwing up his lunch in the precipices.

As I passed by, the woman stuttered out a greeting, her speech jostled by the horses canter. "ko-ho-th-theke?" (where from?) Delhi, I said.
"Manush-e chorey ei jinish? Ga hath pa batha kore dilo go" (Do human beings ride these 'things'? they (horses) make my body ache).

They might be stuck in a blizzard or forced to ride a mountain horse in a rocky twisting road. But a Bangal never forgets his business sense.

"Ghora gulo koto niley?" (how much did the horses cost?) My riding buddy asked me as we tried our best to hold on to the animal's back.
I mutter "Rs 200 for an hour."

"Oma sheki!" The parrots fly off the trees as her cry pierced the late afternoon calm on the hills. "Amader toh 250 nilo. Ki shoitan!!!" (Oh my god! Ours cost 250! The devil!)

I later caught up with her at the Shimla mall as she bargained for a set of wooden bowls. "Same bati set at Gariahat I get for 25 Rs. Not so costly like here. Hago tai na? (to husband who shrinks into the depths of a display of pashmina coats)


Monday, October 20, 2008

Bangal goes to hills (Part I)

"Aiyee chhele, ei je, edike aar ek piece machh."

To say I was amazed would be the understatement of the year.

The commanding voice that ordered the Bhutia boy to serve him another piece of fish at a roadside eatery on way to Chail belonged to a Bengali gentleman. A Bangal at that. At an altitude of over 2200 metres above sea level.

Normally I am not a racist person. And I am especially sympathetic to my fellow Bengalis.
But as I turned around to take a look at the owner of the voice, I did a slow double take.

My gaze slowly lifted up his thin legs clad in shiny black pumps with snuff socks, red and black chequered flannel tights and a heavy, fluffy cream cardigan buttoned up to his ears.

The hand-knit wool muffler draped stylishly across his shoulders did nothing to blunt the edge of my shock as I took in the rakish tilt of the brown imitation cowboy hat on his head tied primly under the double chin with a string.

Obviously misinterpreting my gaze on his precious hat, the man gave me a winning smile and informed "50 rupees, bought at bus stand market."
"This is land of dacoits, no?" he politely asked in the same amiable tone.

I did not want to commit myself, especially while being served food by Himachalis in their own land, surrounded by pink cheeked sturdy men on horses.

Shrewdly guessing my origin, he said "diner bela tupi saves the brahmatalu. iye... ki bole, night very cold. Kothay uthechhen? Khabar kemon? Amar abar pet ta kodin theke kharap."
(The cap saves the head during the day time. Where are you putting up? How is the food there? My stomach is upset for the last few days)

Only a Bengali (and then only a Bangal) will tell a complete stranger about his stomach troubles, wearing a fake cowboy hat at a hill station, at 2250 metres.

This is the very reason I escaped to Himachal on a 10-day break with parents.
But as I looked around in horror, I saw only sarees, cardigans, jingling shankha-pola combinations, young honey-mooners in tight jeans and Codak clix cameras and ..... monkey caps.

A sea of monkey cap clad humanity.... all cursing Himachal tourism for their exorbitant rates for everything ("Shob beta dakat"). ("All these buggers are dacoits")

Rohtang...that's where I need to go.
I thought the mountain pass at over 4000 feet hidden under snow for nine months of the year will give me the peace and quiet I need.

Blinded by a blizzard on the Manali-Lahaul route, the driver's risky maneuvers on the edge of a gaping precipice did nothing great for my nerves but at least I can almost hear the silence.

Still I was thankful when he dropped us on the snow covered peak. The figures of tourists on the narrow track ahead of us blurred into specks as the snow gradually collected on our coats and caps. The blizzard got worse and our driver said he would skid off the road into the ravine in this weather. I could not have been happier. I wanted the wild an inhabitable. I got all that and then some.

Till I heard the shrill cry... "Eki Gutli! tupi keno khulechho? Thanda lege jaabey toh! Ekhuni poro." (Gutli! why have you taken off your cap? you will catch your death of cold. wear it immediately.)

(To be continued...)


Friday, October 3, 2008

Answer is blowing in the wind

The ministry of health has shaken off its last vestige of lethargy and suddenly woken up to the plight of the millions killed slowly by passive smoking.

It has banned smoking in all public places with effect from Oct 2, 2008.

When you consider that worldwide more than five million people die of tobacco related illnesses, it's a prodigious move and I would be brimming with joy if Mr Ramadoss had not attempted to shove it down my throat.

The non-smokers are happy that they do not have to endure the tendrils of smoke wafting towards them at lunch breaks in the cafeteria. They are happier still that they will now not have to slink away sulking when colleagues snub them for protesting against blowing smoke in their faces.

I agree that smokers are an aggressive lot, especially when in pack. They are quick to seek out kindred souls at the workplace - skulkers who are forever looking for chances to sneak away for a quick puff. The best introductions are made over a smoke and nothing breaks the ice like a shared drag.

Even the office asshole holds you in grudging respect if you share your last fag with him, even more if the two of you are guffawing over the follies of some hapless colleague, oblivious to the world.

But I digress.

While I admire the government's extreme concern for our health and its heartfelt desire that we live longer, I must politely clear my throat and humbly ask it to let me choose my own habits, good or bad, make my own mistakes and die my own death today, tomorrow or 80 years hence.

In other words - stop being so supercilious and patronising. You do not know what's right for me and don't start now.

Despite a strict enforcement, the ministry of health is still struggling to contain female foeticide, provide nutritional well being to rural pregnant women, has an alarmingly low record of pre-natal examination and has not made stellar progress in preventing infant mortality.

The government looks like an idiot every time two-bit wanna be terrorists chuck crude bombs and kill, injure and maim scores of people almost every other month. It has so far even failed to crack the case of the murder of a 14-year-old girl even after handing it over to our premium intelligence agency.

So stop telling me what habits I should inculcate and what I should not. I agree that pregnant women, children and in general all non-smokers should not be forced to endure the harmful effects of nicotine just because a arrogant smoker blows toxic fumes into their faces.

But Mr Health Minister you cannot bully us into changing our habits just to pamper your inflated ego. If there is reprieve for non-smokers, there should be some for those who smoke. There should be smoking zones in the city and smoking rooms or open air spaces in buildings where the nicotine-deprived can go to let off steam.

At least get your facts right. You can smoke inside your car, pavements, parks and your homes but not at bus stops? Are you fucking kidding me? You cannot smoke at hotels which have less that 30 rooms and restaurants with seating capacity below 30?

I hear Ramadoss is moving with zeal now to even ban smoking at homes. I have to give him credit for enthusiasm if not for anything else. What does he plan to do? Surprise people at their homes by shouting "put that out!" from their windows?

I regret that the state is attempting to do my thinking for myself. That in a civilized society you have fixed the drinking age at 25, laughable actually when you consider the girls and boys of 12 who exchange sex clips on their phones.

I believe I have the right to choose how I live as long as I am not discomfiting anyone or encroaching their personal space. Give us credit for not being absolute vegetables that have to be hand guided through life's good or bad, on how you interpret them.

But the good news is the deviousness that characterizes India and its people is already at play. I hear colleagues, friends and relatives devising elaborate, cunning schemes to get their 5 min high at workplaces. It's only a matter of time before we buy the police and blatantly ignore diktats to go about our horribly unclean, unhealthy routine lives.


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