Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Jai Ho!!!

Owing to the lack of spam guards at Guwahati till third year, a number of junk mails would make it to everybody's inboxes, from the Director down.The most annoying of these mails was this proclamation which went something like this:

India has world's greatest brainpower

India invented the zero

Indian scientists are leaders at MIT and Silicon Valley

Bill Gates loves India

Third richest man in the world is an Indian (!!!!)
(etc. etc.)
Therefore, be proud to be an Indian!!! Jai Hind!!

I recieved this mail something like 10 times, each time sent by some idiot who clearly felt our patriotism could use a boost.

What kind of moron must keep preaching "be proud to be an Indian?". I'm not ashamed to be an Indian and I dare you to denigrate my country before me yes, but whatever achievements the country has made are split amidst a billion-plus people. Pride is something that should arise from individual achievement. What these mails preach is a blatant jingoism that smacks of some pretty deep insecurity on part of sender and creator alike. This same insecurity is seen when we jump for joy at Sunita Williams' achievement. An INDIAN in space, we say. Uh, and what of the fact that she was raised in America, is half-American and married an American? No no, she ate dhoklas in orbit!! There's deshbhakti for you. Similarly, we like to claim Rushdie, Desai, Lahiri and hajaar other such foreign citizens as our own, despite their not having been near the subcontinent in God knows how long. People who garn Western attention must be held close to the Indian bosom, no matter how tenuous the connection.

The reason for this rather lengthy intro is the news of Slumdog Millionaire winning 8 Oscars, including Best Picture. Or rather, the news of what happened after it. Readers here know my opinion of this film (go here for a quick refresher). A large section of the Indian populace found it similarly cliched and denigrating (see here), and the movie did not really sell in India.

But Sunday night changed everything. Monday (the corresponding day in India) became "India's day, a time to beam with pride as the world's largest democracy gathered up Oscar gold" to quote the LA Times.

"“What a day it has been for India!” gushed a television news anchor midmorning." to quote the New York Times.

And not to be left behind, our Param Pujya Pradhaan Mantri issued a statement saying that the people who worked on the film have done India proud, the Arthavyavastha Mantri said "the country of a billion people adopted Briton Danny Boyle's film as its own though it may not be an Indian film" and that said film marked the rise of Indian soft power and the Sansad "hailed the success saying the ‘historic achievement’ of three Indians winning Academy Awards is a global acknowledgment of the excellence of Indian artiste"

And India celebrated, apparently by going for a collective haircut if one is to believe the L A Times again.

Jai Ho!! Jai Ho!! Yet another reason to be proud to be an Indian. I can see the next mail coming.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Valentine Monologues

Aa gaya Aa gaya, Valentine's day aa gaya,
Aa gaya Aa gaya, something something aa gaya

(arbit song from the 80's, the rest of which I can't remember)

My weekly call home took place earlier than usual, during which, when discussing Mangalore, my Dad brought up an interesting point. A point that can be summarized as:

"Indha Valentine day-allaan yedhukku? Namba tyethla idhallan yilliyae"

His tone added to the question, conveying the bemusement that older generations feel with this muhurtam for cho-chweet lovey-dovey shit. This in turn leads me to muse a good deal and post my thoughts on V-day.

At least in the Indian context, Valentine's day is not older than a decade, twelve at best. It began to make its presence felt about 6-7 years following the opening of the free market, which, when you think about it, is the time Hallmark took to build up a presence in India and Archie's to penetrate the market beyond Delhi and Bombay. About '97 is when we began to hear of this, of couples going to dances for V-day, of cafes and whatnot holding couple specials and of course of all the stuff you could buy for your significant other at "gift stores". Because as we all know, nothing says pure romantic love like a 70 Rupees card and a 200 Rupees pack of chocolate. Woh tab tha jab Chocolate hi gift ke liye de sakte the. Ab dete hain iPod, cell phone, deluxe Bouquet, dinner at Fleury's, Night-out at Fever etc. etc. and of course Archies or Hallmark gifts. V-day is essentially a fallout of the Great Opening Up of the Indian economy, with every goddamn retailer and restaurateur hoping to con someone into spending cash, and every dude in the media brainwashing people into considering this acceptable and even essential to love, chweet, icky lowwwwwwwve.


Now, I had a middle-class upbringing. I had wayyy less cash or time to spend on these days than a lot of my schoolmates, who bought into this a good deal more. We nevertheless were a sort of starter generation, in the we-can-take-it-or-leave-it stage. It is worrisome, to me and I guess to the older generations of today, that so many youngsters are hooked into what is essentially a spending addiction, for no reason than that CCD and Fever have special couples' discounts and VJs Mini, Malaika, Shenaaz, Piya, Nikki and so forth (notice any Sharanyas, Priyas or even Poojas there) strut their stuff on TV and tell you to go do spend. Is this romantic? Not by a long shot? Is it worth the attention it gets? Not by an even longer shot. Does it polarize society even further, separating salwar-kameez-thayir saadam with ooruga tiffin wallahs from jeans-miniskirt-CCD-types? Absolutely. So I do sympathize with the Pink Condom campaign, who abhor violence and hope for Ram Sene-types to be locked up, but dislike V-day as a whole. Because when you get down to it, this is peer pressure akin to "take a drag yaar". There is no one muhurtam to lowwwve someone and then forget about said person for the other 364 days.

With that being said, I have to say celebration of V-day makes some sense for neophytes at dil-vil-pyaar-vyaar. When you're a boy (not a man) and you like a girl (not a woman, not a wife) and the two of you hit it off to the point of awkward, sitcom-style dating, it ought to mark an achievement of sorts for you to make it to one of these, like surviving a tournament to a quarter final. So for those who can derive some sort of enjoyment out of this, I say go knock yourself out before the realization sets in that you've been manipulated by the Man and his Machine. And as before, freedom, even to engage in activities as silly as this, is essential. Let Ram/Shiv Senas take this away today and you don't know what they'll find offensive tomorrow.

But for myself though, single, frustrated and quite devoid of the syrupy chweet lowwvey sentiment this day's supposed to drown you in, I just say "Valentine's day? Bah! Humbug!!"