May 15, 2012

The Day I Looked Away from the Mirror

We are a strange race. If no one does anything, we comment that since no one does anything, “is desh ka kuch nahin hoga.” If someone does something, we try to find the hidden truth behind the intention. We are a strange race.

Typically, I am extremely sceptical about reality shows, chat shows and basically anything that seems to be not a soap opera. I find them disturbing to the point of voyeurism; a classic example of a decadence that leads to social collective voyeurism and a desire for five minutes of fame; not even fame; rather spotlight.

But I watch them because as a society we watch them. We revel in the antics of the “not so famous”; we watch as life plays out before us, we all become the audience of The Truman Show. And that has been my excuse. “I am waiting for a show that is worth it” was my popular refrain while I kept myself up to date with Splitsvilla.

A few weeks back, Aamir Khan launched a massive media campaign which had just two focused selling point – Aamir Khan and the mystery about the content. No one knew what he would be talking about, what he will be doing. But the tragedy was that almost everyone who spoke about it; said it was to do with “some social cause.”

I do not claim to be a great marketer. But I can sense a few worrying signs if I am near one. The nature of all public discussion was detached. And it seemed all the more worrisome when you looked at the other reality show on television – Roadies. Satyameva Jayate from the very beginning was classified as the show which will speak about social issues – something that the consuming class of India was content leaving to Anna Hazare and the self proclaimed Civil Society. And there were no one vociferously discussing what could Aamir be talking about. The only shares on FB were the link to the Title Track.

This news article gave me a big cause for concern. I’ll spare you the details. Let’s just say that while a lot of people switched on their TV sets to watch SMJ, a lot of people switched off after watching it for 10 minutes or so. India was not ready to be shaken awake from a well deserved Sunday morning.

This disturbed me a lot and I tried to get the ratings from a friend but they will come only on Wednesday, the day of the week when the fate of Indian TV shows becomes known to one and all and to marketers specifically.

But what was more disturbing to me was my own behaviour. Being based out of India, my only legal means of watching any show is if there is a legal site streaming it. So luckily for me Satyameva Jayate does stream its episodes. It’s a good marketing ploy. It allows your content to be shared and spoken about in the social media, generating a lot of buzz. And I like such pragmatic marketing.

What I did not like was what I did. I remember after the first episode, when we both were a little shaken up and I started telling her about Matrubhumi, one of the best movies ever made on the subject, I inadvertently switched the tab to go to MTV and watch the latest episode of Roadies.

In the second episode, as soon as it started, we knew in unison we will be streaming Roadies after the show as from television we had ceased to expect such glaring nakedness of our own society. Like addicts we needed our dose of regular entertainment and a show which was speaking of Child Sex Abuse was too much to handle for us.

That night I could not look into the mirror. I had become what I had feared to be. Indifferent, unaffected, disenchanted, unthinking, incapable of rage at the ills around me and impotent to do anything about what I felt, except running to this blog for refuge.

I still remember the first time I heard about this was when I was in Pilani and a very close friend told me she felt very strongly about it. A few of them got together once they graduated, tried to do something about it, but like most dreams that bloom in the safety of college walls it died soon after.

But it had got me thinking. If they felt so strongly about it, it meant it was happening around me and I grew more aware of it. The statistics revealed in the show was something I had picked up earlier and it had made me shudder.

And that’s when from liking Satyameva Jayate in the first episode, I started praying for its success from the second.

Yes, it has its flaws. The show is too long to hold audience attention on a Sunday morning when everyone in the family is looking forward to a late leisurely lunch. Aamir Khan sways between being a super star, a concerned citizen and a bad talk show host who interrupts and leads the interviewees, thereby curtailing spontaneity.

But then if not Aamir Khan then who? In Princess Diaries, my favourite part was where Mia tells the audience, there is so much more that she can do if she is a princess and not doing it would be the wrong thing to do even if it meant giving up on her own freedom as a commoner.

If because of Aamir Khan, our society watches and discusses the issues as female foeticide and child sex abuse, I am all for it. I want its TVRs to go higher, maintain its ad rates which apparently are higher than IPL (as of now but slated to crash if the show does not deliver) because only then will people discuss it.

I do not wish this to start a movement. I have given up on movements since the day most of the people I knew working around Nariman Point decided to go for a candle light march along Marine Drive rather than to a blood donation camp nearby.

But I do wish that this makes a little start somewhere in the hearts of the few who dare to watch it for the full length, because while it takes an Aamir Khan to be able to go and talk to the Rajasthan Chief Minister (unless a PR firm had already planned it – as a sceptic would say) it takes a lot of courage to come and talk about it on National Television as the participants did.

And while I will continue to watch Roadies after every Episode of SMJ, if I can change at least the world around me, one day I will be able to look into the mirror.

May 07, 2012

If Love Was A Language

It would probably be French. Translate a movie name like “Wrath of the Titans” and see for yourself how romantic the name sounds. You probably would experience it yourself if you try to say Moulin Rouge in Indian English and then like a French.

And if there was a city for walking around hand in hand with the lady of your life, it would probably be Paris. Though such privileges come with a price; e.g. the lady might not appreciate the fact that a Baguette is actually a sandwich and would ask a hapless French waitress for chilli flakes, pepper, ketchup and hold your breath, toasted white milk bread. As a result you would then go baguette-less for the whole stay in a city that travels around with a bag in one hand and the baguette in another.

But once you iron out these small issues, along with the fact that rooms in Paris hotels can compete with Singapore in terms of the tiny size of the rooms, you will probably start falling in love. But wait, you need to learn basic French. Else you do run the risk of thinking escaliers mean escalator. And trust me; it is a costly mistake to make at the Eiffel Tower; especially when second floor in the Eiffel means at least 30 floors in a Mumbai high rise.

This is how it happened. The Eiffel has two lifts and one of them was under repair. I looked around and saw that at the Eiffel one could also go up to the second floor on the escaliers. So in one of those moments when you want to act ‘macho’ in front of the lady I suggested let’s take the escalator up to the second floor. And damn me for not knowing the language, we walked up more than 700 steps. But at the end it was worth every creaking bone in my aching body. You could see the entire city spread out beneath you and if you cared to look far, the golden dome of Les Invalides shone brightly.

In one of the very rare gestures, the then monarch of France had dedicated a palace for the soldiers who became wounded in the battles, which even today houses the tombs of the fallen soldiers of France, including Napoleon. It houses some of the most interesting museums on warfare ranging from the middle ages to the present. You can actually look at the transition in the attire of the knights over the centuries.

Once on top of the Tower, you can see the Seine flow below you and you can see the multiple bridges across the river along which quaint bookstores stand and on the rails you can find the locks; testimony to love for generations of Parisians. The most famous amongst them had always been Pont des Arts, near the Notre Dame.

Our high point in Paris; beyond the walking around aimlessly on its streets, listening to the occasional musician and getting into a nice French cafe to eat; was undoubtedly the Notre Dame. Ever since I had read the classic by Victor Hugo, I had imagined it to be scary, heartless building, devoid of the grace of God. But once inside Notre Dame, I felt a sense of peace and heavenly grace I did not even feel inside the St. Peters. The grandeur, the silence, the flickering candles and the hymns, all contributed to an atmosphere beyond words.

While it would be foolish to try and speak about the Louvre, one must leave behind a note for fellow travellers. Once inside, have a full day to wonder (not just wander) around at your own leisurely pace with an audio guide and just before leaving make the customary trip to view the Mona Lisa. Else you might just as well view the Mona Lisa and be off; you never wanted to know about Spanish Medieval Art anyway.

Viewing the Mona Lisa is a funny experience. There’s a sea of people who have come into the Museum just to look at her. And there she is on one wall of a room, protected by what I presume to be bullet and glare proof glass. Few people care to turn around and look at the other marvels in the room as everyone is busy taking their own pictures with the lady in the background bumping against each other, fighting to get closer.

It’s actually funny when you realize that most of the people in the room are not in Louvre for the art, but to tick mark a destination point as a tourist.

If you are tired of wandering about the halls of the Louvre, there is nothing better than to walk to the Champs Elysees. The Arc de Triomphe, the Grand Palace, The Petit Palace, all lie within walking distance from one another but our favourite was Place de la Concorde with its two famous fountains and the Obelisk from the Luxor Temple in Egypt. Surrounding it are the Tulleris Gardens, beautiful and serene and the museums nearby.

While you must do the Latin Quarters that house the Pantheon and of course the Versailles, the last stop in Paris must be Place de la Bastille. Nothing remains today of the infamous Bastille, only the July Column stands as a memory to remember the storming of the Bastille and an idea that forms the basis of much of human individual freedom as we know today. If you live anywhere in this world, where you cherish your freedom, pause for a moment under the July Column and remember the Revolution that made us all free.

For others, the French represent art, beauty, love, for me they represent liberty, equality and fraternity. 

May 02, 2012


May is going to be an interesting month this year. Quite a few milestones are coming my way. I will complete 5 years working with SNDU. If you have forgotten I work with this chota sa nanha sa company called Sabun Nakhun and Datun Unlimited. We sell soaps, nail polish and tooth brushes. When I started out, this was a milestone we never even thought would come along. And the fact remains that still on Monday mornings, I look forward to going to work and sell some more soaps or soups, whatever the case might be.

There are distinct changes in behaviour that have crept in over the last few years. Brand preferences and dislikes are stronger than ever. The World of Brands seems more and more like an “Us and Them” situation. Imagine what wouldn’t you give to know if you truly are a Nikon loyalist or is it you truly are a canon buff but have been coaxed into the Nikon fold. “us and them” Always :)

Today in the super market I went all around to find a bottle of ketchup that I love. It had to be that one and nothing else would make the omelette taste as good and I made her wait. And you don’t dare do that when we are already getting late.The more I see around me, the more I realize how Brands become a part of our daily inertia and if are not in the consideration set, or in the subconscious, then you are not in the shopping basket. Sigh.

Coming back to the second milestone, I complete 9 months in a new city outside India. 9 months is an important time frame. It’s the time required for a new birth. And it seems the same for me. Singapore is no longer a new city. Singapore has helped me blend in a lot easier than I thought possible. But I miss the simple joys of life. Most importantly my second source of income has dried down significantly. Let me explain.

In Mumbai, we used to get 3 newspapers, TOI, Mumbai Mirror and Eco Times. Now whether we read them or not, at the end of the month there were always newspapers which needed to be sold. Add to that the ketchup bottles and other paraphernalia that typically gets collected in a house. Now we always had our “kabadiwala” come at a specified date with the gossip about our more famous neighbours and we would know the rates a famous bollywood actress’ gatekeeper charged for the newspapers. So by selling them the stuff, not only would I earn about Rs. 100 every month but also get the latest news even before it appeared on Page 3. And the joy of buying veggies that day with the 100 bucks? Priceless.

But in The First World Nation of Singapore, there is no Kabadiwala and there is no additional income and there’s no gossip.

And there’s 100 days! Last known it was this awesome thriller where Jackie Shroff was the villain who was actually not a true blue villain (In pre Darr days, before SRK changed the game, we never had anti heroes) and Madhuri had supernatural powers and there was Moon Moon Sen in what could have been the equivalent of Hitchcock’s psycho’s famous death scene. However, my 100 days are happy ones. Of having someone to come back to, of looking forward to peeling potatoes and pumpkins, of buying soupy noodles through people coming in from India, of buying more apples than wafers while shopping for groceries and actually learning to be more responsible.

Phew! May is a tough one :)