Monday, August 15, 2011

Isn't The National Anthem For All Indians?

I have a huge problem with Times Of India's new marketing initiative centred around the National Anthem. It's nothing but an ego trip. Called "Jaya Hey," it rubbishes what school children sing everyday as being only a fifth of what Rabindranath Tagore originally intended, and proudly unfurls the remaining four stanzas that have now been set to music.

While this is a noble task by itself, what really gets my goat is the way TOI has gone about it. It's a ten-minute video that attempts to sell unabashed patriotism (through visual indicators like pained puppy dog eyes and upturned palms, as if invoking the Almighty), but in a manner that makes TV infomercials look like works of art. This video is an exercise for TOI's clout, nothing more. By pulling in 39 singers and musicians (who, I'm sure, have all worked for free because, really, how can you put money over patriotism?), TOI is essentially telling us, "Look at the connections I have. I am all powerful. Bow before me."

What's troubling, however, is what this video implies.

1. The National Anthem is not an individualistic song; what makes it truly powerful is the collective aspect of it, the fact that whoever you are, wherever you might be, when you hear "Jana Gana Mana," you stand at attention and sing along. Do you sing the National Anthem alone? No, you're usually singing along when it's playing in the theatre or at a flag hoisting or with your classmates in school. And yet, this video shows 39 well-heeled singers and musicians, dressed in their finest silk ethnic wear, performing individually for the most part. Essentially, when each one had some free time, they came into the studio, recorded and filmed, and left.

2. You all know the numbers - 1.2 billion people, 30 states, so many languages and religions and dialects, etc. Do you see any of that represented here? If you do, let me know, because I sure don't. It doesn't appear like TOI bothered to step out of their air-conditioned offices/cars/studios to go out on the streets across the country and let the people of India sing their National Anthem with pride. No, because how on earth are you going to haul all that recording equipment everywhere and still get quality sound while keeping costs low? What's that? Bring the people into the studios? You mean, poor and middle-class people who mean nothing to me or my ratings? Plus, we'll have to pay extra to sanitize the studio after the construction labourers come in with their dirty snotty kids and infect everything with their grubby paws. Instead, let me just call the famous people who can sing or play an instrument and have high hygienic standards.

3. Is this a TOI paean to India or to Rabindranath Tagore? I counted at least five portraits of the man. Oh wait, I forgot, it's a TOI tribute to the 39 well-heeled singers and musicians. India, meanwhile, can be represented through stock photography (which I'm hoping they paid for). More prioritizing of the individual over the collective. "National Anthem," indeed.

4. Rabindranath Tagore did not write "Jana Gana Mana" for it to be the Indian National Anthem. The man passed in 1941, while the National Anthem was adopted by the Government of India in 1950. So, TOI cannot say this is what Tagore originally intended when he wrote the song in 1911. The Government chose a stanza to make the National Anthem in 1950; TOI chooses to make a music video on Tagore's entire song in 2011. This marketing gimmick is NOT the new National Anthem.

A far better example of capturing the Indian essence, of unification of the whole over singling of the individual, is the "Mile Sur Mera Tumhara," a 1988 film about national integration and unity. (The redux, "Phir Mile Sur Mera Tumhara," released in 2010, was D.O.A.). Sure, it was conceived and delivered by an advertising agency for a government body, but what matters is the final film. It is representative of India, the lay of its land, its people, traditions, customs, languages. It emphasises the collective over the individual and stays true to its refrain of "One tune."

Saturday, May 21, 2011

In Search of Peace

The following is a 500-word story I wrote about my travels as part of a Travel Writing Scholarship competition on World Nomads.

In Search of Peace

‘Where can I find Ashoka’s rock inscriptions?’

The photographer glared at me. I was interrupting his business. A couple waited impatiently. Behind them, the white pagoda of the Shanti Stupa loomed.

I was at Dhauli, eight kilometres south of the capital city of Bhubaneswar in Orissa, India. Around 261 BC, Ashoka The Great – the legendary Mauryan Emperor whose vast empire covered present-day India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan in their entirety – waged the bloody Kalinga War at this site. Over a quarter of a million people were either killed or deported. Appalled by the bloodshed he had caused – the nearby Daya River is said to have turned red with blood – Ashoka devoted the rest of his life to Buddhism. He propagated his dharma by inscribing his edicts on a rock face.

In 1972, the Japan Buddhist Sangha built a Shanti Stupa (Peace Pagoda) atop the hill overlooking the sprawling farmland countryside, and Dhauli became a tourist destination. People flocked to the Stupa in droves, prostrating before and clicking photographs of the four idols of the Buddha. Stalls sprung up selling film rolls, deep-fried snacks and water bottles. Behind the Stupa stood the reconstructed Shiva temple and Ganesha shrine, where priests yelled at devotees and tourists alike to go here, do this and pay so much. It was a racket and I wanted out, fast.

Asking for ‘the big rock with things written on it’ drew blank shrugs, until a taxi-driver believed it to be at the base of the hill. I walked the few hundred metres, rounding a bend and leaving the ruckus behind. Three cattle egrets fluttered ahead of me, catching the sun on the yellow-orange brushes on their plumage. I came upon a garden where a uniformed caretaker was sweeping dried leaves.

‘Where can I find Ashoka’s rock inscriptions?’ I asked.

He turned and pointed to a grill-protected, glass-fronted building, about ten feet high and fifteen feet wide. An elephant was carved above, into the side of the rock. ‘This is it,’ he said.

I pressed my nose against the glass. Ashoka’s eleven edicts were scrawled into the sloping rock in the ancient Brahmi script of the Pali language. A nearby signboard translated them into English, starting with prohibiting the killing of animals in the royal kitchen, and including gems like ‘officials should be free from anger and hurry’. The sculpted elephant, considered to be the earliest rock-cut sculpture in India, symbolised the birth of the Buddha.

Buses raced past. This featured on no tour operator’s itinerary.

I wandered into the sprawling garden attached to the rock edicts, maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. The air was hot and still with monsoon humidity. A solitary Myna chirped. The gardeners’ stiff brooms, made from the spines of coconut leaves, scratched at the grass. Their shears clipped rhythmically. Under the shade of a flowering patoli tree, I sat cross-legged and meditated. I searched for peace in the same place Emperor Ashoka had, 2,270 years ago.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Loss Of Friendship

Since December, I haven't been doing well at friendship. I have burnt many bridges, broken many connections, all of them which I thought were strong and unshakable. It turns out they aren't as infallible as I thought they were. Maybe the seeds for their downfall were sown much earlier. Maybe I'm just a bigger dick than those people deserve.

It started when I ended my relationship in early December. That was the best relationship I had ever been in, yet I felt the need to end it. What made it worse was the manner in which I broke up with her. Given the strength of our bond, we stayed in touch for four more months, swinging back and forth between not talking to getting back together. Finally, in mid-April, she said the same thing to me that nearly ever woman I have dated before has said: "Don't call or write."

In January, I was honest, maybe brutally so, with a woman who I thought was good friends with me. I told her what I thought people might interpret her behaviour as, and I told her I had feelings for her. After months of hanging out with each other and years of knowing each other, she stopped talking to me following that evening. No calling, no writing.

In early April, I got into a bitter fight with a woman friend by defending another friend. I would hang out with this woman friend regularly, but since that incident, there's been no contact. No calling, no writing.

This weekend has been particularly bad. Last night, I lost my temper and put one of my oldest friendships - one that defines the very person I have grown up to be - under the scanner. I fear that we have grown apart so far that we have lost touch of the very fabric that forms the foundation of our erstwhile rock-solid friendship. I fear this guy, who I was once best friends with, has replaced me and I have been rendered inconsequential or, worse, a liability.

Today, I was put in my place for pushing boundaries and crossing limits. I immediately removed myself from not only that fledgling friendship, but all the ones associated with it as well.

This is a scary time for me. I'm petrified at this seeming inability of mine to maintain friendships. I've known for some time that I suck at relationships, that I'm very good in the beginning but I have to work hard beyond the initial period. But to face the possibility that I might not even be able to maintain long-lasting friendships. How useless am I if I have to keep creating new friendships, all doomed like their predecessors, to replace the ones I keep destroying?

As is wont with me, I instantly tried to find an external source to blame. We bought a new car at the end of Nov. That must be it. With two fender-benders already while driving that car, it must be unlucky. Or it must be because I stopped doing my kriya in early Dec. Life was better when I was practising the Sudarshan Kriya.

I'm not sure what to do. Every bone in my body is screaming out for solitude, to limit the extent of potential damage I can create to myself and those I come in contact with. But a person important to me has told me more than once that if I screw something up, I must go out and fix it. Something is very wrong with me, in my head, and I need to fix that before I can fix anything emanating from me.

What is wrong with me? Why am I so terrible with people, especially the very close ones? Why am I so intent on burning the forest I live in?

Why Mahindra Logan Should Be Renamed 'Wolf'

Mahindra and Renault brought in the Logan to India, but their marriage couldn't last. And now, Mahindra - with complete control over the Logan, except its name - have renamed the car 'Verito'. It's almost vertigo-inducing, apart from being one of the most uninspiring, unmemorable names possible for a car.
Logan - Wolverine

The Mahindra Logan should have been renamed the 'Mahindra Wolf''. Here's why.

Logan is a character in X-Men - he becomes Wolverine. There's a pretty good chance that a good chunk of your target audience - under the age of 30 - has watched the films, read the comics graphic novels and knows the Logan-Wolverine connection. It's a connection that allows for a ton of film tie-ins and promotions, as well as other insinuations in marketing messages.

I can see a print ad already - a black background, silver moonlight streaming down from a large full moon, catching a silver/black Mahindra Wolf that's carrying three steel claws on its doors. "The Mahindra Logan has transformed to the Mahindra Wolf. Howl!"

The Wolf allows for the most important aspect of marketing today - the social aspect. Wolves hunt in packs and Mahindra has the bandwidth to create packs of Wolves. Mahindra can connect Wolf owners and create a pack (not a 'club' or a 'group') that can rival Royal Enfield's. No car company in India has been able to do that. Then, they can create some really awesome properties like a 'Wolf Night Drive' and a 'Full Moon Wolf Party'. It also gives a name to their car owners - 'Wolves'. "Are you a Wolf?"

Finally, a name like 'Wolf' allows for a wonderful side-vertical to spring up - accessories. Both the driver and the steed can be dressed up. Jackets, decals, fake fur, a wolf howl horn.

The time has come for the Logan to grow up. Verito does nothing for the car or the brand - it makes it another forgettable transport option. Wolf creates a brand and all its associated perks, and that is what Mahindra needs now. The Mahindra Wolf.

Friday, April 29, 2011

William Wants To Be Known As 'The Duke Formerly Known As Prince'

There aint no Duking between these two former Princes
It was at the first press conference Prince William and his new bride Catherine Middleton held after tying the nuptials that the second in line to the throne made his declaration. The press was clamouring for the couple's attention and kept calling out to the groom by his old moniker 'Prince William', as well as his new one 'The Duke of Cambridge'.

After about five minutes of name-calling, the Prince...err, Duke, slammed his fist on the table with a resounding thud that shut the room up. In a calm, level voice, he proceeded to issue this statement:

"Today is the happiest day of my life. Ever since I first laid eyes on Kate a decade ago, I have waited for this day. For 28 years, I have been known as Prince. Today, we have become the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. However, today, I also want to honour a man who has had a profound impact on my life. I grew up with his voice in my head, with his music in my ears and with his name in my title - Prince. And so, henceforth, I shall be referred to as 'The Duke Formerly Known As Prince'."

One bright reporter, allegedly from The Mail, stood up and asked, "Will you get yourself a Love Symbol too, like Prince did?"

Prince William... I mean, The Duke of Cambridge... I mean, The Duke Formerly Known As Prince (or 'TDFKAP' for short) sat up straight. "By Jove," he exclaimed, "that's a smashing idea. Maybe I could run a national, no, global contest where I pick the winning design for my own Love Symbol. And it could air as part of our family reality show 'Monarchy: The Royal Family At Work'."

He called over a black-suited advisor and began to talk to him in hushed whispers, holding a hand over his mouth. Meanwhile, another reporter, maybe from The Standard, asked Kate, who had been sitting rather stiffly through this exchange, "Would you like to be called 'The Duchess Formerly Known as Kate'?"

The Duchess of Cambridge leaned forward to the mic and said in her sweet voice, "I have been known as Kate for 29 years. I think I'd like to be called 'The Duchess of Cambridge' for a while now, thank you very much."

"How about 'The Duchess'?"

"The Duchess of Cambridge."

When Prince Charles was contacted for comment, he shrugged his shoulders and said, "Today's generation, I tell you, totally unpredictable. I wanted to get Rowan Atkinson to conduct the wedding, like he had in that delightful film Four Weddings And A Funeral. I thought it would liven things up a bit. Westminster Abbey can get so stuffy. I should know; I was nearly married there twice. But Billy wanted a very traditional service. And now this!"

The Artist Formerly Known As Prince could not be reached for comment, although rumours suggest that he might change his name now to 'The Duke' to reciprocate Prince William's gesture.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Perfect Situation Song

I started work last week at a new place. And I had an unbelievable first day. Almost as soon as I entered the lobby, I sliced my finger deep on the edge of my Ray-Ban sunglasses (did you know they have really sharp edges?) that were sitting in my shirt pocket. As I stemmed the flow of blood and was asking the security guard there to give me cotton, Dettol and a Band-Aid, somebody walked through the door from inside the office. It was somebody I hadn't seen in five years, and frankly, the last place I expected to see this person.

It has been a surreal couple of weeks. Working in the same space as this person, though not yet together, is an unusual sensation that I'm still struggling to come to terms with. This morning, as my bus approached my bus stop, a song started up on my iPod. It was a song I had never heard before, because I had downloaded the artist's 'Best Of' album for his biggest hit, and had just transferred the entire album onto my iPod as a way to discover his music.

The lyrics arrested me. They rang so true to my thoughts and emotions, it was stunning. I literally have experienced everything he sings in this song. It's called 'Hello Like Before' and it's by Bill Withers (of 'Ain't No Sunshine' fame). Give it a listen. The lyrics are below.

Hello like before
I'd never come here
If I'd known that you were here
I must admit though
That's it's nice to see you, dear
You look like you've been doing well

Hello like before
I hope we've grown
'Cause we were only children then
For laughs I guess we both can say
'I knew when'
But then again, that's kiss and tell

Hello like before
I guess it's different
'Cause we know each other now
I guess I've always known
We'd meet again somehow
So then it might as well be now

(Last two verses x2)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Andy Murray v/s Boston Red Sox

Two of the sporting world's greatest droughts belong to places that begin and end with the same letters: Boston and Britain. Boston's ended in 2004; Britain's will end this year.

We put the Red in Union Jack
The Boston Red Sox is one of the top baseball teams in the U.S. However, their turning point came in 1918 when, after winning the World Series, they sold legendary player Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. For the next 86 years, they didn't win another World Series.

Britain hosts one of the greatest tournaments in the world of tennis: Wimbledon. However, the last men's Grand Slam champion they produced was Fred Perry in 1936. The turning point? He turned professional after winning the U.S. Open that year and no male Briton has ever won any of the top four tournaments in the world since.

The Scot Andy Murray plays Serbian Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open men's final on Sunday. Will he end Britain's drought? No, but he will end it later this year. Here are the reasons why.

I'm shipping up to Boston
The Red Sox got to the final hurdle - the World Series - four times after 1918. They were beaten in 1946 by Enos Slaughter's "mad dash", nearly achieved the "Impossible Dream" in 1967, lost in 1975 despite Carlton Fisk's "waving fair" homer and let the championship slip through Bill Buckner's legs in 1986. They finally won on their fifth attempt in 2004.

I'd like to draw attention to a couple of facts.

  • Boston lost four finals and won the fifth.
  • They lost their third final in 1975, their fourth final in 1986 and ended the drought after 86 years.

Andy Murray is now playing in his third Grand Slam final, after the 2008 U.S. Open and last year's Australian Open. Britain has not had a men's Grand Slam winner in 75 years. Hence, my predictions are as follows.

  • Andy Murray will lose his third final in this, the 75th year of the drought.
  • He will, however, end the drought after 75 years; hence, he will win later this year.

Essentially, Britain are currently operating one level behind Boston and are perfectly poised for history to repeat itself, albeit one rung earlier.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Jaipur Lit. Fest Is Free

When we use the word 'Free' with any product or service, it almost always refers to the monetary price one would have to pay for its consumption. Having just returned from the Jaipur Literature Festival, I can attest that this maxim is woefully inadequate.

The JLF does proclaim 'Free Entry'. Anybody and everybody can walk in to the Diggi Palace Hotel Compound and attend any of the hour-long sessions that take place over eight hours everyday for five days, including the three-hour music sessions every evening.

But, JLF's freedom extends well beyond mere free walking rights.

There are no beeping machines at the entrance that I had to walk through, ready to swoop in on you like children in a game of 'apples and oranges'. No men in khaki performed a body-sweep with a diviner, as if seeking treasure. My bags weren't required to be kept in a locker at the entrance. My bags weren't opened and scanned through. I could literally walk anywhere in the festival and nobody bothered me, no restrictions hindered me. And it was the same with the other 50,000 people who attended the festival.

My friend took a couple of minutes to realise that he was standing next to Kapil Sibal at the music concert one evening. Kabir Bedi sat swaying to the music at a table and conducted a genial conversation with an elderly gentleman who sat next to him. Jon Lee Anderson and Junot Diaz stood with beers in hand. These are people who rock their respective worlds - political, social, literary - and there they are, mingling with everyone else, as normal as anybody else, there for the arts.

The barriers had been broken. The walls had been demolished. Everybody who was in the Jaipur Literature Festival was on an equal footing, were on the same level. All that was requested of people was common sense and courtesy, and they responded, all 50,000 of them. They were trusted and given self-responsibility and they repaid that faith many times over.

Literature flourished, and suddenly, the world really was flat.

A Tennis Point Is Like A Woman

Written in the style of Ernest Hemingway.
"A tennis point is like a woman," said Anand. "If I was a tennis coach, that's what I'd tell my players."

Bala continued watching the TV. He didn't bother asking for an explanation. He was not weary of Anand, but he didn't ask him to explain. When the commercials came on, Anand resumed.

"When the point begins, you have moments to figure out how you're going to play her. Forget the aces; you're out of their league. And double faults are low-life scums. But the rallies; the rallies are where you play the game and score."

Live coverage resumed, but Anand kept going.

"Is she an easy one? Can I go for a winner early? Or does she play hard-to-get, throwing all your moves back in your face?"

Bala increased the volume. Anand fell silent.

"You always support the champions, don't you?" asked Anand.
"What do you mean?"
"The winners. You always support the guys who are definitely going to win."
"No I don't."
"Sure you do. Who do you support in this match?"

"When have you ever supported a challenger?" asked Anand.
"Why do you support challengers? Don't you want to back a winner?"
"It's about the underdog, man. I support the underdog."

Monday, January 17, 2011


"She was built with curves like the hull of a racing yacht."
- Ernest Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises.

The international personal care brand, Dove, exhorts us to "talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does".

What about our sons?

Aren't they exposed to the same relentless barrage of visuals, where buxom women cavort in skimpy clothes, flaunting bodies that are heavily toned and tanned, aiming to be 'hot' and 'sexy'?

If our daughters are going to base their lives on looking like the plastic, made-up women they see on screen and in glossy pictures, it's because they believe that our sons are going to only want women who look like that. And our sons are going to only want women like that because they see the beefed-up men on screen get women like that, based solely on looks and nothing else. The existing notion, that is getting perpetuated to dangerous levels, is that the pinnacle of womanhood is a lissome twenty-something with great hair who wears a lot of make-up, has large round breasts, an ass that curves like the headlamps on a sixties' racing car and a waist that is small enough to wrap your hands twice around. And her mid-riff needs to be as flat as a washboard.

It's a very Barbie-doll kind of image that is not only impossible to maintain, it's pointless. It's little wonder then that the man who married today's twenty-something hottie is shopping for another twenty-something hottie twenty years later, once the first one's looks change. It's because he's lusting after the physical evidence of the woman, the notion of the 'perfect woman' that is advertised in visual media. The sad part is that the man's actions are not frowned upon by society, but rather, they are celebrated as 'a second coming', 'a fresh lease of life', 'a rediscovery of youth'. And there is the added bonus of becoming a better-looking couple, no matter if the two can't maintain a conversation beyond the weather and beauty products.

I don't prefer women like that. Women do not exist in straight lines - they are not stick figures. They are discovered in their curves; they are 3-dimensional, they have depth. I don't want women who aspire to look like any of today's actresses or models - women with flat, shiny tummies and skin stretched tight across it. What am I going to hold on to? I don't want to make love to a rock with my hands slipping and sliding off its surface.

I prefer a woman who is comfortable with who she is in her skin, yet makes an effort to take care of her body, mind and soul. A woman who is real and who lives in the real world, not some plastic piece-of-work who lives for ten-second flashes.

The propaganda we receive everyday is incessant and false. Our sons need to be spoken to as much as our daughters, because when they get into relationships and get married, it is with each other. Both of them are involved equally.