Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Guns of Gurgaon

I read about the Columbine massacre sometime during the summer of 1999, a while after it went off the front page. A feature article in The Hindu Magazine described the whole thing in chilling detail. The actions of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, as they procured arms, planned logistics and then shot 35 people at their school, killing 12 fellow students and a teacher before shooting themselves.

The thing didn't make much news in India. Possessed of the Pardes/Aa Ab Laut Chalein mentality, Indians could convince themselves that this was yet another symptom of Sanskriti-deficiency, hot on the heels of divorce, pre-marital sex, teenage pregnancy, drug usage and homosexuality. "That will never happen here!!!" was the consensus. Not with "Bharatiya" culture and values.

The 2000's began to prove us wrong. For starters, India Today began to publish salacious accounts of schoolchild-sex in Delhi and Bombay (with Literotica-level titles like "Alma Amorous" and "Young Innocence Lost") which sent shivers down parents' spines (and resentment up mine. Why wasn't I enrolled at these Institutions of Iniquity?). High schools were increasingly known for the good life their students led, as opposed to how many made it to IIT or St. Stephens. And in the fullness of time, came the first nail in the coffin of the Sanskritic youth - the DPS sex scandal (or Dhamaka, as some pervert alliterators called it)

There was amazing response - "Moral messages", lengthened skirts, banned cell phones, concerned MPs (why were they not in on this?) and so on. None of which had any effect on two children from class VIII at Euro International (that name itself is a portent), who drove the second nail in with their gunning of a classmate because he was a bully.

The usual people have made the usual noises about "moral vaccums" and "violent media" and what not. About a hundred fingers are currently pointing westwards, decrying the "corrupting influences" of StarTV, FTV, Sony Playstation, Grand Theft Auto and MAD magazine. The victim's family has made some wierd noises, talking about getting justice at whatver cost. The killer's father has been arrested for being negligent with his gun and the two killers have been sent to Juvenile detention. Meanwhile, cameraman have been rushing to find the victims, their families, friends, friends of friends and people who might have 2 cents to put in.

Amidst this brouhaha, a few points seem to have escaped everyone.

Let's start with motive. The motive given out is that the victim was a bully. The result has been a debate of "Was victim such a bad bully?" vs "He had it coming", with the usual assortment of "Concerned Parents", "Child Experts", "School counsellors" and "Rajdeep Sardesai", each making appropriate noises.

All miss a crucial point - motive requires a clear-thinking mind that has a grip on reality as it is. The kids were teenage males. People for whom violent thoughts and words were a staple thanks to feeling testosterone for the first time. Who were feeling angst and insecurity, and who were developing a grip on reality outside their heads. These guys were in a fight with the victim, whoever started it and to whatever extent.

It is characteristic of people at this point to go into "Bastard I'll kill you" modes. During my class VI-X years, I went through several "Bastard I'll kill you" rages with respect to several people - including my brother. What kept me from changing my last name to Manson was:
  1. Sufficient knowledge of reprisals and real life consequence to minimize acting on those rages - when you know what's coming later, beating somebody's brains out isn't as good as it looks when Sanjay Dutt, Steven Seagal or yourself-as-Carl-Johnson do it
  2. Somebody with whom I could discuss feelings and emotions so as to get em off my chest, removing the buildup that needs you to act out those savage fantasies of throat slashing, shooting or bashing
  3. Activities that helped me zone out, forgetting those moments of rage
  4. I was also a wee bit overweight, which made running an easy option (a) for anyone who could see those rages forming
With the exception of 4., all the above require at least 1 decent parent. Even a mediocre one would at least take sufficient care of 1. Someone/s decent would take care of 2, and a good one of all 3. This kid's parents definitely lacked in 1. itself, which (in all probability) precludes their handling of 2. and 3. The precise motive that NDTV, Aaj Tak and IBN are hounding shrinks and schoolmates for is absolutely nonexistent. Kids do stupid things for no reason. That's why they need parents - to minimize the damage and reduce the stupidity over time. Which brings me to point two.

Egregious parenting. No denying it here. Let us see what Mummy and Puppaa here didn't do:
  1. They didn't impart a sense of real life and its consequences to their little laadla
  2. They didn't communicate enough with their teenage son to know there was a kid he wasn't getting along with, let alone a bully he wanted to kill
  3. They didn't, at least Puppa didn't, keep a gun in a place where an eighth grader couldn't get hold of it
  4. They didn't (This is incredible but true) go to see their son when news of the shooting came out. Not at school. Not at the station. Not even at the courthouse where the kids were remanded to juvenile detention before the preliminary hearing. They didn't see their flesh and blood when he needed them the most (till today)
And not content with passive inaction, Mommy and Puppa did something quite fantastic. They absconded altogether, running off to their "natiew pliss". Not until last Friday did Puppa, who was wanted for owning the damn gun, turn up. And upon turning himself in, his first act was to deny ownership of the gun, followed with a call for his son's punishment. No regret, no suprise, no expression of any connection to the boy whatsoever. Truly a coup de gras in the annals of parenting.

Finally, the media. I have not mentioned the names of the shooters or the victim here intentionally - they're kids, and kids at least deserve some privacy. But you need not fear. Those seeking names will find them with a simple Google news search. The school has been open with names, faces, families - they even put I-cards on camera. And every newspaper and news channel has been merrily splashing the names in big, bold letters on their front pages and slides (with Euro International now becoming "a prominent Gurgaon school"). Meaning that the shooters - who unlike American shooters were content to take out one individual and not a class - will never have the anonymity needed to rebuild their lives when they have paid their debts to society and perhaps had a shrink set their heads right. And while murder is unforgivable, these two were kids. Not late teenagers, and not druggies or gang members. There's a reason minors are held not responsible legally for their actions. The media is morally and legally (according to this article) responsible for the destruction of two futures.

Childhood and puberty are possibly the most complicated periods parents and their offspring go through. These kids' pasts can't have been good - not if they led to this point. Their present is a nightmare no one would want to go through as child or adult. And their future, thanks to a headline-hungry media and people keen for 15 minutes of fame, is clouded at best.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Birthday Bumps

Friend lexicomaniac, whom I am fond of pestering for movie reviews, upped the ante today with a birthday post request. It took a lot of thinking over, but here're some thoughts for the day:

Birthdays Past and Present:
Birthdays were always something to look forward to from the ages of 6 - 16. During the pre-10 years, they were the days you could come to school in "civil dress" (which in some cases, extended to fancy dress), the days you stepped up to the podium and got people to sing to you and - this was way back, when I was in class I at La Martiniere's Calcutta and had a really hot teacher - got a kiss from the teacher of your class (fortunately it ceased with that point, as hotness-wise, teachers have only gone downhill since). During the post 10 years, as you matured (realized how goofy civil dress was, and how idiotic it felt to be on stage for no reason) you still enjoyed the feeling of growth, the increasing respect people gave you and standing shoulder to shoulder with former giants (dads, uncles, PT masters etc.) Sixteen, however, is kind of a peak. It's the point where your cup runneth over, your springtime is at its bloom and well, you grow about as tall as you're going to. As the teens gave way to the 20s, I wished fervently for time to first turn back, then stop and with increasingly feeble hope, slow down. Needless to say, time chose (d) - none of the above.

Coming to the present age of 24, I'm apprehensive about birthdays. They're not a sign of growing any longer, but a sign of aging. I hope, as of now, people will pull off miracles with stem cell research and telomere engineering to reverse aging. Like Bryan Adams, I want to stay 18 till I die.

People in my life:
Another area of apprehension. Wierdly, I was a bit clamped with the opposite sex in high school. Not ''tee hee hee'' shy, which girls sometimes find endearing, but clammy, stone-faced and somewhat creepy. I haven't gained much skill in socializing since. I mean, UG at Guwahati with it's ~20 girls (or rather 20 ~girls) amidst 1000 frustrated males didn't help much.

In this day and age of orkut, when I see people ''committed" left and right, I feel scared about finding my own significant other and fast. Having never dated is forgivable (I guess) through high school, but in this day and age, datelessness beyond the age of 30 indicates "arranged" marriages or closet-exiting on the horizon, both of which call for a bullet through the brain.

Dreams, life and where it's headed:
I'm pretty sure as of now that I'm not going to be a billionaire businessman, a Hollywood actor, a song-writer or a television comedian (Yes, all of those were dreams at one point). I'm left with
dreams of being a writer of some sort, with which I'm making progress and a scientist, for which the PhD is helping. Where will they in turn take me - who knows?

I'm not too apprehensive about time with these two dreams. Writing and scientisting (let's call it that) both take travel and experience, which only come with time. So long as I keep at it, life's cool.

At the end, the birthday is a dry run version of the New Year. It's a time to take stock of what's behind and resolve to make the best of what's ahead. It doesn't hurt, in my case, that it comes 20 days before 31 Dec.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Semester of Swing - II

Ok, to the specifics. What did I learn from a semester of Swing classes:
  1. Don't be overtly self conscious when dancing. If you really screw up, you can always join another dance club (I picked this up from a Tango class btw!!)
  2. Be conscious of your partner. Couples dancing requires two people to pull off. It's a bad idea to dance with your eyes to the floor, the ceiling or some oblique point at u = infinity.
  3. Any idiot can go to lessons. The real learning process comes from asking people to dance with you.
  4. When your partner is relaxed, be focussed. When your partner is focussed, you've screwed up somewhere.
  5. When your partner tells you where you're going wrong at a dance:
    1. Understand the mistake and correct
    2. Don't dance with her/him till you have
  6. Scoring a turn between two eight count swing-outs is improv. Carrying out a turn to a six-count is just plain wrong.
  7. There's always going to be someone hotter than your partner on the floor. It does not do well to stare at him/her when dancing with your partner
  8. You may be dancing with a girl for the first time, but don't stare at her accordingly. It's creepy.
    1. Corollary: Be conscious of your partner and not any of your partner's specific appendages. Time enough to (ahem!) worry about them when you're alone
  9. If you'd like to dance with that cute girl you saw at the last class, but are worried you'll screw up:
      1. The fact that she's in the class means she isn't exactly of Elvis/Prabhudeva lineage
      2. Nevertheless, there'll be any number of guys wanting to dance with her, so stop worrying and get in quick!!
  10. If you walk up to one girl in a group only for someone else to swoop in at the last minute, it's not bad luck, it's bad timing. If you stare at the rest of the group awkwardly, it's just.... bad.
  11. Don't worry about the ramifications of asking a total stranger to dance with you. You are NOT going to get any.
  12. And lastly - fast, passionate dancing cuts immediately to R+-rated scenes only for Pierce Brosnan, Antonio Banderas or suchlike. Don't try it at your level, or you're likely to pull a major stinker.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Semester of Swing

Back during the golden age of classes VIII-X, dancing was either something a Tam-Bram girl did under the tutelage of Smt. So and So to the tune of ''Thaa thaiii thatha thaiii", or some sort of ghastly aerobic excercise to be carried out as part of ''[School] Day", "Annual Day", "Sports Day" and any such number of days, carefully choreographed by Vanita and Padmaja Mams. Proper free style dancing was something a lot of us bookish types had no idea about. We were told we'd eventually have to do it during the Class X farewell party. And with a girl. Our combined hormones and awkwardness led to a range of responses, the standard being "Teeheeheee" with a foot shuffle. [Mine was a constipated "Haehh!!'']

My immediate seniors (the class of 1998) were possibly the coolest people ever. They pulled off a co-ed dance to the tune of Cecilia, on Teacher's Day no less, with the girls dressed like hotties out of a Salma Hayek movie and the guys... ah, who notices guys at such times? There were raised eyebrows amongst the faculty, and other raised things amongst juniors when it was over. But we wretches, admire them as we might, were unable to emulate when we were in X. And when the farewell party did come, we didn't run up to that girl of our dreams and pull off something befitting "All I Have to Give", "As Long as You Love Me" or similar tracks of the time. No sir. What did we do? First we shuffled awkwardly. Then we looked around to see who'd be foolhardy enough to get on the dance floor first. Then when the girls shrugged, collectively giving us [all of us] up as a lost cause, huddled together on the floor. Boys here, girls there. Proper interaction of the sexes. Padmaja, Vanita and Srilata Mams could not be happier.

The dancing scenario remained pretty dismal for years to come. Most of us huddled during the class XII farewell again, save a very very few. And coming to IITG, for starters there were like 7-10 girls to go round for 400+ guys, so huddling wasn't really a matter of choice. And for another this was Guwahati with the 95% humidity - we got to know our collective BO in like 5 minues flat.

Coming to US therefore, I was extremely out of place anywhere near a dance floor. My standard routine at this point was to act as idiotic or stoned as possible, so as to evoke a "Gosh, you're silly (giggle)" or a "Ok, you need to sit down for a bit". Either saved me the embarassment of showing people precisely how I moved to the beat.

It wasn't till this fall that I decided to correct this situation. I joined the Swing dance club at Purdue - think slow music from the 40's and 50's and you get the idea. Swinging has taught me a lot. Broadly, how to move to a beat. How to develop a rhythm. And how to improvise on a routine without looking idiotic - Ok, that's an ongoing process. It also helped bring about an amazing sensation - moving with a girl (who isn't a relation of any sort) in your arms.

Ok, that is a rotten ending. But that's only to make way for a follow-up post. What precisely did I learn during Swing dancing?