Friday, January 16, 2009

Look, look, a dalit

It's time to celebrate. Bharat lives under thatches in its villages, India in its highrises of metropolises. Time is a great leveler. Every slumdog had his day long before the latest one became a millionaire. Slum tourism has been a hit with foreigners for quite some time. Dalit hut tourism has made its debut, let us pray to make it stay. From Dharavi to Amethi, we got visitors who want a piece of real India because our New Economy powerhouses have suffered a blackout. Bangalore has lost the bang and Hyperabad is haye barbaad. What happened to those model villages we flaunted when world leaders like Clinton came calling? What does age do to ramp models? You got the answer.

So why not show them the real models of underdevelopment in a developing country with pretensions of being an economic superpower. We hit seventh heaven before we landed our probe on the moon. Premature joculation is no longer funny. So Rahul Bhaiya took David Miliband to a dalit hut, had chapaati and daal, spent a night on a dusted charpoy after caressing a cow in the barn. So much yarn. Darn.

There are no reports of Rahul and David taking a purifying bath with deep-cleansing bars and incense sticks. This however is no guarantee Mayawati won't accuse them of washing up after washing down the dalit's woman's broth with beer. In any case, Rahul G and David M should become brand ambassadors for Dirty-Poor Village Tour Company. Why should only sprawling urban slums get all the attention, tourism-wise? Very foolish.

Mumbai's Dharavi and its Delhi cousins have always had visitors capturing their Oh-My-God moment in their little Leicas. Guides drawn from the same slums gave them an experience as good as Rio de Janeiro’s famous favellas, only less dangerous. These slum dunk dude guides wore jeans, spoke in pidgin foreign, dyed their locks and wore fake Raybans. They would enlighten the white man about the dark realities of the destitute of India, exaggerating stories of rape and diarrhoea. Nobody ever minds showing the underbelly. We Indians never hid our poverty from people in a strange sort of reverse snobbery. Defecating by the roadside and along the railway lines is as old as the roads and railways. Forget about washing our dirty linen in public, we have not been ashamed of washing our dirty backside in full public view. Money was dirty, poverty meant you were honest yet poor. The rich never worked but got richer by cheating the poor is what the films of our angry Seventies told us. The poor protagonist (we loved to call him hero) came from among the masses living in cheek-by-jowl chawls or murky mustard fields. The rich and despicable lived on Malabar Hill or in Rajputana havelis and got their bellend kicked in the end.

Slumdog Millionaire has not done anything new. So why is Amitabh Bachchan blogging a dead horse? Well, because Anil Kapoor stood there in LA for the Slumdog photocall with Danny Boyle and all. Kapoor who played Amitabh in the reel got to touch the golden trophy, while the real Amitabh, often called the star of the millennium, has failed to shine in the Hollywood Horizon. A case of sour grapes, huh? Well, give him the respect and the benefit of doubt. It may just be a natural disgust at the Western obsession with snake-charmers and slums of India.

But Mr AB, you see, what else can we show to them when the silicon chips are down? Raju is in Chanchalguda jail. Laloo and the Indian Railways have become repetitive. Everybody knows God runs the railways and Laloo takes the credit. Mumbai is still smoking. Delhi is choking. Inflation is down, yet prices are up. We are losing jobs in between. The Royal Bengal tiger is nearing extinction; White Tiger is getting Booker-ed by the Brits. The India dream is a nightmare, so Bharat comes to the rescue of Rahul Bhaiya whi the Brit Miliband. Long live Bharat. Will the real Manoj Kumar please stand up? And please keep your hand away from your face. They are coming to see you again, now that you are back to resembling what they always imagined you will be like.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hey Ben. We got political condoms too! Here's our Top 10

These are hard times for everyone. As clouds of gloom hang over the global economy, entrepreneurs are looking for that one silver lining to make some hay. New York-based entrepreneur Benjamin Sherman knows that politics turns on people when everything else fails. Sherman’s Practice Safe Policy Company started selling political condoms when election fever began in America and continues to make money by having fun with politics. As America hopes the Big O would deliver them from the bruises inflicted by W, the contraceptive company is selling condoms named after politicians as O goes in and W pulls out. The latest Obama condom is taglined the Ultimate Stimulus Package For Hard Times. The Palin Condom claims it is Hockey Mom Approved especially ‘When Abortion is not an Option’.

A street vender sells McCain, Obama and Palin condoms in New York's Times Square, October 31, 2008. Courtesy:Reuters.

Since the global slowdown has hit the market sentiments here too, let us hope the funny contraceptives hit the shores soon. But while Obama condom may be a hot property anywhere in the world (unless he screws up like Bush), Palin may not leave anyone excited. Well, she did manage to bring some heat into the campaign for Old Man McCain from the Grand Old Party but then they couldn’t hold it for long. While one can argue that a dysfunctional Bush had made the pitch too slippery for them, one can’t deny the fact that Palin wasn’t great shakes in the end. McCain didn’t know better either.

McDonalds was smarter. The burger badshahs knew you gotta be Indian if you want an Indian to buy. As McD brought in Aloo-Tikki burgers, why should Benjamin have sharm in bringing in Laloo-Ticky political condoms? The government of India promotes not just the use of condoms but also the use of the word CONDOM. A hit commercial on TV encourages Indians to say it out and say it loud: Condom…condom…condom…condom. The parties infuriated by this piece should take it in the right spirit. In the least, this will encourage the use of the much-condemned word. So while we sing the jingle, may I suggest nine brands that can bring our deadmeat politics to life with one byte on news TV. Ben Sharman, invest in India. We got brands for you:

UP Yeah!: When you want it to last full term. Morally and legally, totally elastic to keep the alliance going. More colourful than the Endiyeah brand. In mixed flavours.

Satyumm: Got software? We keep it up even when there is nothing to show. Just lie and enjoy: The secret of the rise and rise and rise of Ramalinga. PriceWaterhouse-approved. Sweet-and-Sour flavoured.

La’ Loobricated: Turn it around. It got the rickety Railways up and running when it was down in the dumps. Very rubbery and very popular. Not dotted but well-tainted. Railway Tea Flavoured.

Shekhawati: Desire Never Dies. Have Will, Just Want Power. All is well that ends in a well, even if you have bathed in the Ganga. Saffron-flavoured. No expiry date.

Amar Vichitra Condom: (Lispy Man) Have election at the light time, avoid mid-telm fall… (Wispy man) Woh mulaayam ehsaas. Rigged, in rich flavours. Dealership enquiries solicited. Cash transactions only.

Aye Rajaa: When you want to delay the pleasure, Trai the southern comfort of the DoT-ted darling. It tickles the 3G-Spot without letting go of the spectrum. Works best with lubrication*Apply Conditions. *Greasing of the palm!

Modiline: The choice of business leaders. Say no to soft state, adopt the hardline. Say tata to gloom, enter the powerhouse of boom. Recession? We welcome even the Nano. Come to Gujarat.

Buddhaland: Red from outside, pink from inside, smokey in between! Best Bong for your buck before the extra-constitutional pleasure first drives you mad, and then away to some other state. Truly contraceptive!

Gowdaah: Keep switching position. Different sizes available. Buy one, get one free. (The Last and the least because numerology mandates number 9 is good)

T-2: Say na say na how you did it to me! Baby do na... do na.... The second-generation technology. Not suitable for non-Manoos. Flavour: Strong saffron.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Chandigarh united against polluting filmstars

Lovers of Chandigarh have united to announce tough measures to tackle the growing threat of those Bollywood actors in the City Beautiful. After nipping in the bud the plans to build a film city in Chandigarh, they are working overtime to ensure film stars and film units do not pose a threat to the beauty of the city, especially its air exclusively reserved for diesel fumes. There is a nationwide ban on cigarette smoking since October 2, 2008 but Chandigarh has been the leader by being the first smoke-free city. Though like it is nationwide, there is no ban or even the talk of a ban on selling and buying cigarettes. You are allowed to buy poison, but you can’t poison yourself in public. Not in Chandigarh, please. If you happen to be a filmstar, expect the law to come down upon you like it was Armageddon.

“People like Salman Khan and Ajay Devgan are not welcome here. They smoke at public places. We do not like it. It’s a smoke-free city which means no body is free to smoke,” Mr Sameer Agnihotri, the president of Churning Brain, an NGO dedicated to douse every flaming cancer stick told reporters at a crowded and smoke-free press conference yesterday.

The administration has fined Salman and Ajay for every cigarette they smoked since landing in Chandigarh. Salman and Ajay are understood to have paid after initial resistance, because the Rs 200 challan is loose change for their secretaries.

“They were not smoking in public places. When they smoked at the Kurali Railway Station, the public place wasn’t really public because we had rented it for shooting,” said a friend of Salman Khan, the actor who is so dirty he smokes at public places.

At the airport, Ajay was caught with an unlit cigarette between his lips. He was outside the terminal building. “You cannot smoke inside the building. You cannot smoke outside the building. So do you take a flight back to Mumbai just for a puff? In here, we fine you for just holding a stick,” asked a friend of Ajay, the other scoundrel out to pollute the City Beautiful, where only two-stroke autorickshaws are allowed to exhale toxic fumes.

Speaking about the nixing of the plan to have a Film City, a member of the NGO Hum Sab Log Beautiful said, “If only two actors could wreak such havoc, imagine an industry of such people. That will be more polluting than the chemical industries on the outskirts.”

“Snort cocaine. If that poor Fardeen Khan can afford it, why can’t the bigger, better-paid Khan,” asked another activist, “Film stars must stop smoking,” she said. Normal people can continue to smoke but anybody photographed smoking will be challanned. The problem with film stars is not that they smoke but that they get photographed doing so. But when you can drink yourself to death legally, why violate our rules to kill yourself so slowly.

“Smoking kills others too passively. In stead one should drink and actively kill others. Chandigarh has taverns in every sector. Drink and die. Chandigarh also has the highest density of cars in the country. That’s why we crash against the roundabouts and ride on the pavements. Of course you can't fault a drunk person for missing pedestrians. But pretty often they don’t miss someone walking by the side. Like that police officer recently. He killed three people in one go. He survived. But there’s always a next time,” said Ms Pammi Nikomson taking a swig of rum in warm water still warm in her imported steel flask as she turned on the ignition. Her SUV has a large SMOKING KILLS sticker in the back but one could hardly read because the engine roared and left a trail of white hydrocarbon smoke.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

You talkin’ to me?

क़यामत हो के होवे मुद्दई का हमसफ़र ग़ालिब
वो काफ़िर जो खुदा को भी ना सौंपा जाए है मुझसे

Take action, says India. Nothing doing, says Pakistan. Then Uncle Sam tells New Delhi to take a step back and Islamabad to take a step forward. One step back and one forward means you walk, but don’t really move. This is the sum of all that has happened since what happened in Mumbai on November 26. Don’t you have a feeling that this game of overt posturing and covert pleading will end in a big nothing, that the not-so-merry merry-go-round is doomed to get lost in a maze of mockery? Amazing, how predictable the twins of August 1947 have become in dealings with each other! Primarily because the two have never really dealt with each other. India has dealt with either puppets with no real authority to make a deal or dictators with no moral authority to make a deal. Pakistan itself has been a puppet to Washington all its life and most of India's life was spent in snubbing Washington. Only that our recent tango with Capitol makes us expect more from the US. And some from Pakistan.

Who’s the boss?
When India asks Pakistan to act, who exactly does it intend to address? On the face of it, the question is directed at the head of the Pakistani state. Unfortunately, for both India and Pakistan, the democratically elected heads of state in Pakistan have had little authority. The writ of President Asaf Ali Zardari doesn’t run beyond his office. There is nothing unofficial about that now. His hand-picked National Security Adviser Mahmud Ali Durrani has just been sacked by his hand-picked Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. Zardari’s left hand is wondering what his right is up to. Ask Sherry Rahman about what Gilani’s left hand has been up to or just check Youtube (do not if you are easily offended). His right hand has now slipped into the Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s left, as the Punjabi elite of the Army tries to show the Sindhi elite in Zardari its place in Pakistani power structure. Tribal Pashtuns, Waziris and Baluchis fight it out with Kalashnikovs, intrigue is the favourite weapon in the Punjab-Sindh war in Islamabad. This war within may cost Gilani his job, but Zardari is going to get weaker as days pass, making it more difficult for India to do business with Islamabad.

Kayani’s hand-picked ISI chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha told German magazine Der Spiegel that he was ready to visit India post-Mumbai attacks, as sought by Manmohan Singh and approved by Asif Ali Zardari. The next day, Pasha was found to be too senior to be sent to India. Everybody knows how that turnaround came. The Army tightened the screw on the zealous Zardari. No wonder, Gilani wants to be closer to the real power centre, instead of the fake one. He has the option. India has to deal with Zardari, who is increasingly helpless and profoundly clueless in Islamabad. Benazir’s death propelled Zardari to the top but just being the Mohtarma’s widower can’t ensure he stays there. The day is not far away when he hurtles down Margalla Hills kicking and screaming with nobody interested in his cries. Ask Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.

What are the options?
India has had the option to deal with the real power centre in Islamabad. After initial hesitation, it has done so most recently during Parvez Musharraf’s presidency. The villain of Kargil was welcomed, greeted and feted in India. The two countries made a lot of progress, the peace train moved and ties improved significantly. Then ennui set in this side of the border, while the other side became increasingly volatile as Pakistanis fought Pakistanis in America’s war. The country went into a spin; the dictator had overstayed his welcome in Islamabad; he handpicked Kayani and handed over the uniform, Nawaz Sharif came home and was promptly deported, Benazir came home and was promptly slaughtered. The drama ended with changed lead actors.

A democratic India sang paeans to the comeback of democracy and hailed Zardari who reciprocated by saying India lives in a corner of every Pakistani heart! Both forgot that democracy in Pakistan is an aberration; it visits the land of the pure in fits and starts. The latest fit has started to return to normality. This means blow-hot-blow-cold diplomatic ties with a neighbour you not only cannot choose but also cannot change, in either sense of the term change.

That’s no option
So is Islamabad’s return to dictatorship India’s best option? Well, you cannot dictate that. The second-best option is to let the Americans dictate all that. Make it clear to the world that we may not go to war but peace won’t get a chance until Pakistan turns off the terror tap. No free hugs and pointless talks. No cricket in Pakistan. Some Indian thinkers want the high commissioner recalled, a valid option, however harsh that may sound. All this has to essentially be the voice of New Delhi, not routed through a third party. India seeks a third party, in this case the US, to crack down on Pakistan while keeping its bilateral ties intact. Washington may be a newfound friend of India, but it’s the longest-time ally of Pakistan. Things aren’t any hunky dory to Islamabad’s west, so the West still has to keep Pakistan happy with dollars and other dangles. Do not expect London or Washington to do your dirty job. India must stop pleading to the US and posturing to Pakistan. It has to start doing. Action doesn’t always need to be military. We are at war in any case. Mumbai was an act of war but without the direct involvement of the Pakistani military. Hence, India needs to keep military out of its reaction. The country needs to be punished economically and isolated diplomatically. Stop doing business and be miser on sharing river water. About the guarantee of safety to Indian cities, remember the good old Indian Railways signage: Yaatri apne saaman ki suraksha swayam karein.