Monday, January 31, 2011

Going bong

Growing up in a metropolis like Bangalore can be a rich experience. It can be a devastating experience too, like when you are told that Bangalore is not a Metro as per the Income Tax Department and hence you will get only Rs. 500/- as HRA for a 40K 1BHK hovel. Or when my dad discovered that he can claim only Rs 100/- as school fees per child which made him mad because even the local government school charges Rs 150/-. He tried to get an appointment with Mr. Chidambaram and but was turned down by his secretary when he explained the purpose of the meeting as “To get a list of schools in India that charge Rs 100/ pm as school fees.” Ok, that last line was off topic. Please ignore after you have shaken your head in agreement.

As I was saying, growing up in a metropolis can be an interesting experience. Especially when the people you grow up with (i.e. your friends, not family silly), are like you but their parents are from a different state than yours. Though they are as sterilized as you are from any regional cultural contamination, we all are fed massive doses of parental regional culture in a desperate attempt to keep us within the community fold. A losing battle if I may say so. But his kind of selective culturalization has its humorous moments. You don’t laugh when it happens, but after a point of time when you have cooled down from the ignonimity of it all, you manage to smile or at least pretend to find it humorous.

Like my friend whose parents were from Bengal. Bengali gal, lets called her Pinku (bongs are as bad as mallus in naming conventions), was convinced by her parents that she was a Bengali. Poor girl had no choice. Her parents spoke Bengali, they ate what she thought was Bengali food and couldn’t understand why she had to travel every year to some god forsaken village in West Bengal, when there were perfectly good vacations spots here in south India.

But her mom had bought her up well…to our dismay. Though she was as Bengali as I am a Punjabi, whatever she had learned she implemented patriotically, over us!!!! And that hurt….real bad.

During the time she spent in our school (one year to be precise) she drove us 'bongs' (as we liked to refer it today between shudders of pure terror).

Pinku had a thing about wasting salt. Apparently her mom had convinced her that ‘salt’ was a mineral with supernatural powers and hence to be respected. So every time anyone spilt salt, Pinku would insist we say “Dasarath”. This was exasperating… very exasperating, especially at lunch time:

Girl 1: I bought fish biryani today. Damn! “Dasarath”.
Girl 2: And I bought…f$%# err I mean “Dasarath”.

The rest of the school thought we were crazy. We continued Dasarath’ing” away merrily for half an academic year, till somebody had the brilliant brain wave of not bringing salt to school. Pinku who was mortally afraid that some god or goddess would hurt us a real bad heaved a sigh of relief.

Bangaloreans will remember the glorious era of road side temples and chapels when you would be periodically startled out of your skin and onto the main road at rush hour by the sudden clanging of a temple bell as you walked down a footpath. And by the time you collected your wits, you would find your forehead smeared with copious amounts of sandalwood paste/kumkum/other and married to a blushing groom/your head tonsured/or on your way to Palani with a strange head gear on your head. Some people have ended up in Kasi and Kailash too I heard, though this piece of information is not verified.

Now Pinku was a very pious soul. And to make things worse, she was fed a lot of Do’s and Don’ts about places of worship whether it was a church or a temple, by her folks. One day on the way to the movies, she went into one of those roadside temples to pay homage to the deity presiding over the temple from atop a Blenders Pride carton. We waited outside chatting and keeping a vary eye for those massive Bangalore cows that look so cute but before you can say “cho chweeeet” will chew up your, kurta/dupatta/hand bag/ notebook etc thoughtfully like a food connoisseur critically tasting gourmet fare. Bangalore is called the air-conditioned city not only for its weather, but for the huge holes your clothes develop without your knowledge if you stand on the footpath/road/market etc. for more than five minutes.

Suddenly Pinku rushes out and drags us away from the temple. She looked angry and scared. “You will get the corses (curses) of the gods” she hissed as though the gods would hear her. “You mustn’t stand with your back to the temple!” she hissed again. It was getting irritating, this hissing. It was so loud that we felt tempted to tell her to pipe down. But wiser counsel prevailed. After the movie, she took us home and burnt some dried red chillies and made us spit in all directions. This would ward off the ill effects of our “transgression” she said. We were too busy coughing, choking and gagging at the burnt chilly smoke to bother. The gods, I am sure were rolling on the heavenly floor laughing their heavenly a**es off at our plight.

After this we were very careful. We had no intention of inhaling chilly smoke again. But you cannot avoid the various temples, both official and the non-official footpath ones. If you faced one temple you were turning your back to another. Our footpath walks became very interesting….we walked like rolling dervishes to our destination. When we could not take the spinning anymore, we decided to bring this madness to a halt. We decided to do “katti” (breaking friendship) with Pinku. And we did. Monday morning when she came to school, we walked up to her and showed our little pinkies to convey that we were no more friends.

By lunchtime, Pinku had managed to revoke the ‘katti’ decision and we were back to being friends again. But not for very long. We sat down for lunch and Pinku fought hard to ignore the salt being liberally spilt onto the ground. After we had finished lunch, we saw Pinku looking perplexed. She had some curry left in the tiffin and as the curry was a ‘prasad’ (offering to god) she could not throw it away. Nor could she take it back or her mother would scold her for wasting food.

After we had choked down the vegetable curry, tears streaming down our faces because it was so pungent, we decided to tell her politely but firmly that she could peddle her superstitions elsewhere.

But Pinku was too busy scrubbing her tiffin with soap, because we had eaten from it and it had therefore become ‘jhoota’ (dirty) and as per her belief’s a “jhoota’ tiffin couldn’t be taken home without washing it thoroughly.

Mercifully the term came to an end soon after this incident and Pinku left the shores of Bangalore leaving behind a bunch of extremely nervous and jumpy girls who took a long time to recover from their ordeal.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Making news

News presenters and reporters never cease to amaze me. Their skill and innovativeness are absolutely amazing.

A few days back there was a near miss incident between two aircrafts at an Indian airport.

As soon as the news channels got a whiff of the news they were at the airport faster than a VIP motorcade in a hurry. When I switched on the TV, the reporter was already in front of the airport, breathless and choking. You would have thought she ran all the way from the news studio to the airport at the way she was hyperventilating.

As soon as the reporter saw the camera focusing on her, she straightened up, took a deep breath and screamed a brief summary of the incident into the microphone, ending the summary on a chilling note. Cameraman wiped the spittle off the lenses with a soft cloth.

I waited expectantly to see the offending aircrafts and perhaps the shamefaced pilots and who knows some scared looking cabin crew too. But all I saw was banners of various airlines with smiling happy crew members promising to look after you better than the airline in the banner above, below and to the left/right of their banner.

The camera then started zooming in and out the logos of the two airlines on the reservation windows at the airport. After a long time of zooming in and out of the logos from various angles, the reporter started screaming again, catching me off guard. I picked myself up from the floor and listened as she screamed the obvious again... about how the passengers had a close shave, over crowded airports blah blah etc.

After this the camera panned to the faces of bewildered passengers who were wheeling their baggage trolleys out.

Reporter: Were you scared when you realized that you had just missed being mangled and minced and charred to death in the aircraft?
Pax: No!
Reporter: Why?
Pax: We had no clue till we walked out of the airport and bumped into you.
Reporter (turning to the camera red-faced): you can see the passengers are in a terrible state of shock.

Reporter then looked gravely into the camera and said that the passengers were thanking their lucky cricket and Bollywood stars that they got out alive and unharmed.

Camera zoomed out to show a shot of the airport. (Still no aircraft in view)

Camera was back on the reporter's face after lingering on the airport for a few seconds and she recounted the near miss incidents that had happened this year. Animated sequences of near misses in the past start playing on the television screen. The aircraft's in the animation reminded me of very old video games.

Reporter faced the camera again and I flinched and cowered in fear of another tongue lashing. But a retired looking gentleman comes into the frame instead and the reporter introduced him as a retired civil aviation official/pilot/air force pilot/some other retired person remotely connected to aviation.

Reporter: Mr. XYZ You are an expert in *some aviation expertise*. Can you shed more light on this incident?
Retired guy: The sudden rise in air traffic has put tremendous pressure on the aviation infrastructure leading to incidents like this.
Reporter: Is the government doing anything about this?
Retired guy: In 1856 when I was the *some aviation designation* of *some aviation organization* I worked in we had submitted a report on the dangers of overcrowding our runways.
Reporter: And what happened….
Retired guy: They modernized the airports and runways.
Reporter: Err...
Retired guy: I guess it’s time to submit another report!
Reporter: Err thanks! (shoves him out of camera view muttering “Kahan kahan se chale aate hai”)

Reporter looked at the camera again. I dived under the sofa in sheer terror. From under the sofa I watched in fear as she summed up the situation by stating more obviousess and signed off by giving her and the cameraman's name. I heaved a sigh of relief, my nerves in shreds.

And that is how modern reporting is done peoples. 20 minutes of audience engagement on pure hot air!

Don’t worry about that irresistible itch to scratch your head after watching such news. It’s not dandruff, but just plain bewilderment at the 20 minutes of missing time in your life that you just cannot explain.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Auto-phylactic shock

I heard the soft beep of what sounded like a medical gadget through the haze that I was floating in. I was drifting between consciousness and haze. The anxious faces of my family members swam before my eyes. I tried to focus but I kept drifting back into the haze. After what seemed an eternity I drifted into consciousness again.

“Look who is back!” I heard my brother M say. I heard my mom sob. A white coated figure appeared out of nowhere, took my pulse and declared me out of danger. And that is when I realized that I was in a hospital.

“What happened” I asked groggily. “You fainted.” sniffled my mom. “Thank god it happened near your office gates or god knows what would have happened.” she sobbed.

“Could you tell us what happened?” asked the doctor.

I tried to recollect the day’s events. I remember getting into the auto to go to office. But before that I remember hailing the auto. The driver, a neatly dressed gentleman in his 50’s stopped next to me and inquired politely in chaste English, where I wanted to go. When I gave him my office address he thought for a bit and asked again, in really good English, which gate I wanted to be dropped at. After I had given him the details he asked me politely to get in. He waited till I was seated before driving off. I looked at him and felt a little troubled. As a Bangalorean, I am not used to unnatural sights like pot hole free roads, traffic rules abiding drivers, polite auto drivers etc. I was surely dreaming or had too much to drink at the New Year party.

We reached a traffic signal and the driver stopped the auto, took out English newspapers and calmly began to read the contents. Now I was sure that I had too much to drink at the New Year party and the drink was spiked by some hallucinogenic substance! Instead of cursing the red light and honking incessantly, this man was using the time to catch up on the news!

When the traffic light turned green, he folded the newspaper neatly and kept it away. This continued at all the red lights. As we sped down the fairly clear road leading to our campus, he remarked at the brief winter and the sudden change in weather to warm. I distinctly hear him say that the weather was “balmy”. I pinched myself to make sure I was not dreaming.

In between maneuvering the auto through the narrow road, he talked about the onion prices, inflation and its effects on the price index. I was very sure I was in the Twilight Zone now.

We reached the office gates and I got down. He held out his hands to warn an approaching car that I was disembarking. I got out shakily. There was no way this guy was for real. Such auto drivers do not exist even in my most improbable dreams!! I curbed an insane desire to touch and see if he was real.

The meter read 62 rupees and not 78 and 80 like in other autos. His meter was perfect to the last meter. I had 60 rupees in change and the rest of the notes in the purse were hundreds. I asked him apologetically if he change for a 100 as I had only 60 rupees in change. He politely told me that he was fine with the 60, pocketed the money… and drove away.

And that is when I fainted.