Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Khichdi: a name for our news websites

Today after a long time, I visited the Times of India website. I was looking for some good book reviews. Instead I found in front of me a colorful magical screen with alphabets and numbers scrolled all over and advertisements teeming like Diwali bulbs punctuated in between. In the book review section there were hardly any good reviews of fiction books. Instead the slight movement of the mouse over the colorful screen brought out a fresh set of options as if one had come to a market and was browsing for fresh vegetables and each vendor had a fresh set of options.

After that I went to the Indian Express website. It was colorful too but less populated as compared to TOI. Again I kept searching for book reviews but nothing was impressive. What could one say about the design of these news websites? One could say they are like one big Gujarati Thali one gets to eat in Ahmedabad where all varieties of vegetables are presented to you for consumption. But those thalis are tasty and there one has good choices. There is a better word of it in my mind: Khichdi.

When I was in the first standard, we had a teacher in the Christian school called Prasad Sir. Prasad sir, in addition to striking us with a stick had two other favorite topics of discussion. One was lizards. He was fond of talking about lizards to school kids who had no interest in them. He used to live alone and probably his only companion in his room were lizards, hence the love for them.

Other was Khichdi. Whenever a student tried to stitch together an answer in English, a language we were still trying to learn to speak in, he would make the same old statement: ‘ This boy (or girl) has made a khichdi of the answer. Do you students know what a khichdi is? A khichdi is a type of food where you can mix anything. Put rice, dal, water, juice and any type of vegetable, you can still eat it. You can put tomatoes, brinjal, anything you like. It makes a khichdi. Your answer was a khichdi. Do you think you can make a khichdi with your answer? Oh I forgot, you probably can also mix a lizard in it. Are you trying to make a khichdi here?’

The student had no idea what he was saying. But we had to listen, specially the student who was not sure if he/she would be caned next for making a khichdi for the answer. His/her only savior was some fool who would giggle from the back and Prasad sir would catch him/her and put his favorite stick to action.

Anyways, coming to the point, the news websites like TOI look like a khichdi to me. They can put any news (if you call it that) into the colorful screen and it would still be the TOI website. No harm done. From the love life of Hollywood stars to yoga lessons to lessons in investing to some stupid shit here and there, one can find all the bullshit on these websites. Except proper book reviews!

You would love them if you love Khichdi.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Goodbye, you smiling yellow devil.

Yahoo messenger will no longer stay. It has grown old and got lonely, people getting on to younger versions of social media like facebook, gtalk and twitter. But like any old person, yahoo messenger has had its own life stories. Stories of its youthful and joyful days. I was one such person witness to its youth, which faded away rather rapidly.

When yahoo messenger arrived, it was the only thing for us. And it was a big thing. You could instantly connect to someone on the other side, have a chat while you were sitting on the clingy old chair in a cyber café or a steel chair at your undergraduate institute. There was no facebook or twitter to connect instantly and one must remember that the next best thing we had was the yahoomail.

The usernames were funny. Some user names were traditional, names with numbers. Others were innovative. Some usernames instantly gave you the gender, some the location, some the date of birth. The nomenclature is still followed with gmail and skype usernames. But there was something in usernames which caught your fancy and you started thinking about the person on the other end. Who could the person be and what would be their characteristics? My first username was pseudosid. I was preparing for IITJEE exams and had recently read about pseudo forces, forces which are not present in reality but have to be mentioned in the force diagram (something like this, can’t recollect exactly). The idea behind my name was that I was not really present in front of the other person but present only in the virtual form, sid being the short form of my name.

ASL plz. Which meant you had to give your age, sex and location. Conversations started with this. Or some witty line which one could conjure up hoping the person on the other side would appreciate its literary ability. For many Indians, as my brother indirectly pointed out yesterday, yahoo messenger provided the first taste of talking to foreigners. Indians could talk to Englishmen and women, or Americans. What a delight for somebody staying a small town with hardly any experience of metro cities let alone foreigners. Some Indians also vented their anger against the Pakistanis while talking to them.

A phenomenal feature of Yahoo messenger was Yahoo chat groups. Here in pre defined groups, users could chat with each other. All kinds of groups were present and people had their own motivations of joining a group. But as young students burdened with scientific knowledge and marked the cream of the nation, without being given ample opportunities to interact with the opposite sex, my group of friends sole aim was to find beautiful girls and impress them. Basically in a land called Bokaro or Kharagpur, both places where getting a girlfriend was like watching a comet to pass by, waiting and waiting for it to happen, yahoo chat groups gave an opportunity to break the shackles, show some finesse and get a girl.

An interesting incident crops up in my mind related to this, something which is not uncommon. It happened at the boys hostel at IIT Kharagpur. Yahoo messenger was commonly used and trying to get a girl friend was in vogue. One of my friends was shit deep in trying to do this. Everyday he would give us a narration of his daily activities in the night talk sessions. Ideally the stories should have been of classes, instead they were of his activities on messenger. He would speak about entering so and so chat group and impressing so and so girls, getting their phone numbers. Our initial reaction was of belief and appreciation. Later things started getting frustrating.

So one day, some of his friends got beautiful female usernames and entered the chat rooms he used to frequent. He was as usual online and ready to chat. Now this guy was no cassanova. He was a normal ex sincere student, who could easily pass in as a wannabe. It showed in his chat history as well. Nonetheless they started chatting with him pretending to be females giving him imaginary stories. In between these chats (he lived at the first floor and they on the ground), they would also call him for a sutta session (from the outside) and he would shout out loud ‘I am busy chatting with a friend’. They would giggle at this and keep chatting.

Yahoo messenger provided this kind of an opportunity for fun. It could forge deep friendships like between the imaginary female friends and the boy. It could make you fall in love like this friend of theirs fell into.

‘She is beautiful. I am sure of it, the way she chats.’ He told them one day.

‘But you got to see her picture.’ They said.

‘Girls don’t share their picture so easily, you dumb.’ Saying this he went into a deep state of meditation thinking by himself as his friends looked for his next words.

Finally it had to happen. He was desperate to see a picture and meet. They were bored of chatting with him in this virtual world. So they made up a story of her marriage and her unavailability on the messenger from that day. They stopped using the usernames anymore and he got depressed. Afraid at his depression,  they broke the story to him while he was philosophizing about love and life. He was angry and ashamed. They were laughing with joy. The story spread like wildfire around the hostel and outside. The next thing to come out was he said ‘I knew it since the start. Do you think I would never know!’

Many little memories are attached to yahoo messenger. Sad that it has to go! Maybe that is how things are, moving. One can only bid them a warm farewell.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Don't fast..Tiger Zinda hai

Today I was travelling to Delhi from Sonipat in a Maruti Suzuki Ritz. The road which connects to the Highway is always crowded by freight trucks which ply to and fro from Sonipat and Rohtak to Delhi and beyond. All trucks and other small carriers have something written on them. It will be interesting to know the writer who comes out with the lines. One of the first trucks I saw had written on it ‘Don’t fast…Tiger Zinda hai’. I hope the writer meant to convey to the vehicles trailing them not to drive fast. Still can’t get the significance of Tiger Zinda hai but my guess is the writer or the owner of the truck would be a fan of Salman Khan.

After getting on the National Highway, it’s a long road to Delhi. Recently I read a novella titled ‘Delhi is not far’. There is also a saying in Hindi ‘Dilli abhi door hai’. This kept coming into my head even though we were around half an hour from Delhi in the traffic.

There were a plethora of colors on the road. White and grey cars, green tempos, orange buses, red maruti’s, brick colored trucks, black motorbikes and so on. India is a colorful country and our roads do not disappoint us.

The truck owners or the writers seem to be deeply religious. I could make out prayers to different Hindu gods inscribed on them. A lot of them had ‘Use dippers in the night’ written on them. Some of the trucks were not only carrying white sacks, they also had bored looking men sitting on them. The driver, it seems was making money transporting both the living and the non living.

The Google maps of my Uber driver stopped working in between. He asked me to show him the directions on my mobile. He did not realize how technologically disinterested I am until I told him clearly my mobile does not have the google maps app. Rationally speaking as well, I do not need it.

My car was making a continuous ‘oooo…’ sound, the intensity of which increased with speed and decreased when brakes were applied. Looking out of the window, one could see the road, the vehicles and the development happening around. So many buildings and societies are coming up or are already allotted on the National Highway. It is clear that houses here are in demand. There are also many dhabas on the road. Smiling pictures of dhaba owner welcome you have a meal at their place. There is no guarantee though that the consumer will come out smiling when we have had our food.

While returning back in the same car, I noticed the driver of a green tempo lighting a cigarette. He was a young man about 20 year’s age. For once, he took both his hands of the steering wheel to light the match. The cigarette was lighted and he smoked it like a king sitting on a throne. In one of the other big cars, there was only one person who was driving the car. I tried to reason out if he owned the car or was an employed driver. He was wearing a white shirt and had a turban and a full moustache. There was no watch on the hand. Initially I assumed he was just the driver, but had to change my mind later after careful look at him.

Aur kuchh mile na mile, roasted corn (called Chhali) is available in abundance on the National Highway here. After every minute of ride, one can come across the boards of Chhali. Sometimes Salman Khan and Aishwarya smile out of the paintings. I am sure many travelers on the highway would love them. I have not had any of these Chhalis, even though they entice me.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Are busy people lonely?

It is said that people are lonely inside, that man is alone. This doesn’t sound true. With the number of whatsapp groups, facebook posts, friends and family around, loneliness seems the last thing a human, who is middle class and above would encounter. Yet, one cannot deny the hypothesis altogether.

Are so many associations we make because we feel lonely? Deep down that could be the case. Not everybody would fall in this category. Some would more than the others. Who are the ones who are lonelier? I have no index to measure. But as a clown could be the saddest, the busiest could be the loneliest.

Ruskin Bond felt lonely after his father died. He was with his mother’s family with his half brothers, yet the feeling did not leave him. When he was with his father, who would go out for work in the day, he did not write of a feeling of loneliness even though he spent a good deal of time alone.

Some people feel lonely when their partners leave. Lucky them! Others feel lonely when they are with their partners. What can be said of such a tricky situation except that the relationship better end! One could ask how you could feel lonely in the presence of a partner or a group or a family. Just listen to the conversation of drunkards at night and you will get a good deal of clarity.

Some people work out of habit. Like the women in joint family who rise up early, do their ablutions and get engaged in housework. They are dedicated to their work, no matter what happens. In the similar vein are people who are lucky to get the work of their liking. Like a rocket scientist whose childhood dream was to become one. Or a writer who can write full time. It is said that for them, there is no work. Their work is their life and they love it. I guess this class of people does not feel very lonely.

Others work to get away from their loneliness. They just can’t be with themselves or people around them. For them work is a way of getting away from their loneliness. They keep themselves busy. But my guess is these classes of people turn sad from the insides. One can notice they are not content. And such discontent shows in their work or their behavior. And unless they are very lucky they do not get rid of their loneliness. Sometimes they keep pets!

Do you have a choice what class to become? Most people (the first class can also keep pets by the way) would wish to be the first class. I would call them the lucky ones, who can do what they set out for. Others not so lucky try all kinds of things to get out of their loneliness. We have so many quotes telling us that we should do what we love. I guess the people who say this from experience know something we don’t. That doing what you love never gets you lonely.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Songs and the times

I am currently reading Ruskin Bond’s delightful autobiography ‘Lone Fox dancing’. In it, Bond’s relationship with nature is clearly visible. He has taken inspiration from nature for many of his stories, which he clearly mentions in the memoirs. His heart is with nature. Even though there were enough chances for him to be lost in the hum drum of daily life, thus losing his tryst with nature, he took risky decisions and stayed back where his heart lay. In the process he has produced some memorable stories.

In a way he was lucky to have spent his childhood life in the scenic town of Dehradun and its adjoining areas like Mussoorie and kasauli.  In comparison I spent my life in Maths, Physics and Chemistry, along with a family. This post is neither about Ruskin Bond or my childhood but rather how some things cling to us like a magnet to magnet and become attached to certain memories. The relationship or rather the correlation is permanent. These things remind us always of something from our past. Ruskin Bond’s relationship with nature is something of this sort.

This post is about songs. My father had bought cable TV into our homes pretty early. And what would small children do of cable television: watch serials, movies and songs. Some songs capture our fancy. I remember the first song I got attached to. It goes ‘Hawa hawa ae hawa khushbu loota de’ (It recently got remixed in a movie).  The music was catchy and it was a dance tune in those days. I and my brother danced on it in our colony. Members of the colony were enthralled with it, both with the song and our dance.

To be clear, what I am suggesting is that certain songs, when you hear them make you nostalgic. Not because there is something in the song but because it reminds of one the special times when you would have heard it. It has a relationship with you, and it’s a special relationship. I don’t know if it happens to others but definitely to me.

Whenever I listen to ‘Ek Pal ka Jeena’ from ‘Kaho na pyar hai’, it reminds me of the terrible trouble we took to buy the tickets of the movie after our board exams. In Bokaro, which was in Bihar then, goons had their own ingenious ways of getting tickets.  We were few friends, fresh from appearing from the last exam, excited to watch the latest heartthrob Hrithik Roshan’s dance. I was in the queue for the tickets. The ticket counter was a little enclosure with a tiny hole for our hands to pay the money and get the tickets. All the shows were running houseful so I was worried if the show we were targeting would be houseful before our turn comes. Suddenly, I felt a force on my head. A man was crawling on our heads to reach the counter. Next turn was mine. He had almost reached it. When I put my hands into the little hole and shouted ‘5 balcony ki tickets dena’, he inserted his hand as well and said ‘Ae, 2 ticket de’. There was a man’s neck on my head and anger in my heart. Yet we are timid people in Bihar, the so called good ones. And so we do not protest due to the fear of getting thrashed. My hand was squeezed and it was paining. Yet he persisted and got his tickets first, then crawled back smiling to his friend. I too got the tickets but finally watched the movie sitting on a stool with four more people inside the cinema hall. The song always reminds me of this pain.  

I used to listen to a lot of Hindi songs in my undergraduate days in college, just like everybody else. One particular song reminds me of the times I felt patriotic and wished to do something for my country. It is ‘Yeh jo desh hai tera’ from the movie Swades. Recently I watched Swades again and got reminded of the feeling. A tinge of shame erupted in my body of my inability to do anything of the feelings I had felt.

Then there are the songs of AC/DC which reminds one of the party times. There are songs of romance. There are songs of fear, songs which remind one of the writing times and there are songs of ecstasy. Sometimes one feels lucky to have heard a particular song in a particular time. I am not going to bore you anymore though and let you listen to a song that reminds you of something.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Rendezvous de Bokaro III

Currently I am reading stories about childhood. It's impossible not to go back to your childhood when you read well written stories about people's childhood. My childhood was spent in a sleepy little town which you may remember from your geography lessons. It's one of the few steel cities in India, the one with the strangest name: Bokaro Steel City.

This the third part of a blog on Bokaro. I have already introduced the subject in two of my earlier blogs (the links for those interested are at the end). This time I won’t be general, I would be specific in time and space. The time is Saraswati Pooja and the space is the area around my residential area: UCO Bank Colony.

Bokaro is a well planned town, planned by the Russians who helped establish the steel plant. They divided the town into sectors. They had the financial wellbeing of residents in mind and hence allotted residential space for the different banks of the country to come and root their employees. UCO Bank colony is the place for the people who worked in UCO Bank. It’s in sector 5 surrounded by colonies like State Bank of India colony, Bank of India Colony, Punjab National Bank colony etc.

Every colony had its Saraswati Pooja Pandal when I was a kid. As Bokaro was also an educational town (popular around for sending children to IITs), parents put their best efforts to woo goddess Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge. My parents were no less. In addition to worshipping the goddess in the pandal in our colony, we also celebrated Saraswati pooja at our homes. This story comes out of this necessity.

Anyone who has seen a Hindu Pooja knows it requires flowers. And the king of flowers is hibiscus, the blood red beast opening up like red lips laced with betel. There were only two hibiscus trees in our colony belonging to the garden owned by the manager. In Hindi there is an phrase that reads ‘Ek Aanar Sau Bimar’. The situation was very similar here. Too many flowers wanted and too little available. The winners were those who could wake up the earliest. I suppose every flower bloomed in the morning and before the sun was out during Pooja day, was ready to be put on the altar of Goddess Saraswati in one of the houses. The competition for getting the best blessings was tough.

Another solution had developed due to the scarcity of the flowers, something like a black market, only that it involved stealing. I and my younger brother, who could not beat the competition for waking up the earliest, were among those who took up the second option. We resorted to stealing the flowers from a nearby posh locality of residents who had big gardens, short gates and slept well till early morning. Just like any tradition, stealing flowers on Saraswati and Durga Pooja was widely followed.

Both of us woke up in the morning. We took a light green colored plastic bag each, opened the door with the slightest of noise lest it woke up our parents or our little sister. Then we slowly went down the stairs in the darkness taking our steps cautiously. The watchman uncle had the gates of the building open early in anticipation of the thieves strolling out. The gates of the colony were closed though and we climbed them. Nobody was in sight. The roads were empty with the street lights welcoming our move. We were going to have a good catch and a greater part of the goddesses blessing.

None of us felt like talking. We already talked whole day to each other. We walked parallel to a nullah and could see the cross roads on the other side of which lay the posh area. When we reached the crossroad, somebody got angry. We looked at each other. A shadow rose on the other side. And then another shadow was rising. Then the ‘guerrr’ sound reached our ears. Two dogs had decided to spoil the day for us. And we had awakened them, in their minds; there could not have been any doubts. We were potential thieves, they couldn’t have been more correct.

There was a brief moment of silence. I being the elder of the two was determined to get the flowers. In a moment of sheer courage or stupidity, I picked up the stone lying right at my feet. ‘Don’t do it’, whispered my brother. He was the more practical one, but the die had been cast. As soon as I had picked up the stone, they were sure. And they started running towards us.

My brother was the first to turn. And then me. They were loud and menacing, their barks reverberating through the stillness. I ran straight back, and he being the clever one, diverted and ran across the nullah. My heart was pounding like a hammer had been hitting it. My breath was that of an athlete who had just completed his race. Both the dogs were after me, I figured out. Nothing could be done, I had to keep running.

They stopped chasing us after making sure we were far away from the posh society. My brother joined me sometime later, smiling.

Baap re, Phat lis’, he said in a colloquial tone.

‘What to do of the flowers?’

‘Let’s go and study, that’s better.’

For Rendezvous de Bokaro II click here 
For Rendezvous de Bokaro I  click here

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Whistling winds in NCR

Right now when I am writing this blog, winds are whistling in my residential society. It's as if they wish to woo someone close by. But I know it’s not that. The winds, sometimes in the year just want attention.

Some of the glass windows of my apartment have unwillingly opened up with the force of the wind. God knows what the purpose of such a force is. The winds in the NCR are the strongest I have experienced on an average in my whole lifespan. They are strong, noisy and I hear destructive. I can watch the waters of the society swimming pool turning and wobbling only to be squashed out onto the floor outside.

Sometimes these winds are accompanied by rain. But surprisingly, most of the times spraying waters is not one of their complements. Scientifically one would say it is the difference in pressure that leads to such a phenomenon. But when one is burnt with the heat in the afternoons, the cool winds in the evening wants one to be poetic rather than scientific.

Once I was a small child visiting Allahabad, the city of Sangam with my cousin. I had faced the most destructive wind then. They were knocking on the doors and windows as if they were police inspectors come in to take us to the station for a committed murder. One of the windows would not close and the rain and wind found a relished entry to the drawing room to the chagrin of my cousin. A rope had to be fetched in from the kitchen to silence the uncalled entry. We did not sleep for half of the night in fear and due to the thrusting wind sounds. In the morning, we heard that the angry winds had taken some lives as well, of poor slum people who could not find a place to hide.

The winds in NCR do not thrust like the police. They know to find spaces to flow into and out from. It’s a delight to walk around the society letting them flow through your clothes and hit your face, especially in the heat of the upcoming summer. There is a quote I read once ‘The winds in the field will take your sadness away’. This is true for me even though I never meet it in the fields. Always thought this was from the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. Now I can’t find the reference anywhere.

The winds are capable of producing all kind of sounds. Whistling is one of them. Other is the sound of a whirlpool. The curtains wave as if they are the mast of a sailing ship producing sounds from the sea. Sometimes they sound like the waves of the sea reminding one of the time spent on the beach. The musically tinkering sound of the decorations on a balcony of a flat just next to me reverberates through the society. Sometimes the sounds of the wind are menacing, a warning signal of the coming thunder and destruction. The intermittent sound of the doors and windows dancing and clashing with the frame makes their presence felt once in a while.

I love the wind as long as I am not stuck in a whirlpool.