Apr 26, 2009

The middle path

The most common election day talking point was how we pointed to our index finger just before pressing someone's button and they asked for our digitus impudicus instead. In addition to this digital revolution, the marking of our franchise status was a long vertical line as opposed to the heavy dot of the past. Why this change, I do not know, but it did make for interesting post-poll conversations.

"Did you vote?", they would ask. You could conveniently show them the middle finger in response. It was even better if they hadn't voted, for the gesture could serve as double entendre.

Given that polling percentage in Pune was reported to be 40%, perhaps it is time for a "say छी! or "Don't mess with Texas" kind of in-your-face campaign. In मराठी, we could say: "vote करा, बोट दाखवा".2

Notes 1: I am not a Simpson or Ekalavya; I do possess a fifth finger which also happens to be a thumb.
2: meaning "vote and show (the) finger"

Apr 20, 2009


I join in. I listen. The line's weak. They join in one by one. Crackle. Splutter. Beeps.
Then he talks.
I wait. It's coming.
'This is the agenda. This is why we are here.'
I cringe. I cower. I wince. But it is inevitable.
'The main reason', he says, 'is so that'
as I run for the bomb shelter
'we are all on the same page.'

I would not want to be on even the same book shelf.

Apr 19, 2009

Move over Susan Sarandon

Shouldn't the upcoming TV show Rakhi ka Swayamvar actually be titled "The Rakhi Horror Picture Show"?

The Social Cripple

The social cripple arrives with all the grace of a chair missing its fourth leg. His awkwardness is ugly but not remarkable enough. No one would bother putting him beside the Elephant Man's tent to earn a quick buck off his display. So the first act of the cripple is to vanish into the wallpaper, but in doing so, trips over one of his left feet.

At this point, he makes his first mistake: he attempts insouciant laughter. It comes out as the gurgle of a disgruntled cistern. Somewhere in the room, a distinguished looking lady briefly turns her head in his direction, but gets back to her companion's twinkling chatter. But that distant action is sufficient to tug the carpet from under our cripple's cowering toes. To his eyes (which are too scared to look up at reality), the entire room is staring at him, agape in horror. "Who is this leper?", they demand in silent scream. "Did *you* invite him?", they seem to accuse each other.

The pretty girl who invited him has breezed over in her delightful mien. "Glad you could come". All the cripple's blood vessels begin to smash against his cheeks. Aware that he would begin snorting blood if the social pressure wasn't instantly released, our man makes the next mistake. He produces his underplayed smile. Underplaying is cool. Controlled. Suave. In reality, the cripple's smile comes out like a glare from the Count Dracula school of etiquette.

He watches as his hostess immediately puts the distance of several guests between them, and sighs. Why must he suffer so? They have parking spaces for the physically handicapped; guide dogs that cheerfully escort their masters to bungee jumps; gesture-controlled systems for Dr. Strangelove. But what about the socially challenged? Who will give us a sympathetic pat on the head, he thinks. And yes, unlike the others, he does want your sympathy.

Lost in such thought, the cripple fails to recognise the obnoxious one arrive beside him. He often runs into the obnoxious one because social gatherings had a way of spacing light years between themselves and these two. The cripple has his dignity and would not simply fall into the clutches of the creep just because he was the last man in society. But the social invalid's hints of boredom are as much of a washout as a fresh shower in the Atacama. The parasite clings on until dinner is served. The cripple wonders: what did that interaction cost him? Does everyone at the other end of the room think we are best buddies?

In the buffet line, he finds himself just behind an old classmate. They used to be close but then the chap got married and the ties withered away. Largely because he has no idea how to talk to someone's wife. Do you talk about exhibition sales? about home loans? implications of quantum string theories on Dirac's equations? He feels resentful against the education system that leaves him so severely incapacitated. Shouldn't the universities of the land teach useful things instead of chartered accountancy or COBOL or triple integrals? Meanwhile, the friend greets him with exuberance, and demands his phone number. Another social neuron in the cripple's circuitry blows past the blood-brain barrier. In unconscious reaction, he pulls out his own phone for support and presses a few buttons. "You keep your number in there as well?" chortles the friend. The wife, a keen curator of the husband's social network, plops a chicken leg on her plate in response.

Sitting by himself in a soothingly unlit corner, the least comfortable man in a two-mile radius ponders on the many detonations on the social minefield. In future, his strategic defence would consist of lying without remorse, to build a protective moat of excuses to ward off any invitation to any gathering of more than one. The first step towards that glorious future would be to dispose of plate and tissue without running into any friendly fire, and melt away like the Invisible Man on a New Moon Day during a game of Blindman's Buff.

As he walks down out of the side gate, he congratulates himself on the only success of the evening: all due to his supreme skills in making himself scarce. That too before the dancing & party games began. Then a car honks and he finds himself staring into the headlights of a stylish automobile. The car sidles up. The rear window goes down and he sees her, nay Her, looking out with a pleasant smile. "Going home? C'mon, I'll give you a lift".

She steamrolls his protestations and assures him that his company was worth more than he imagined. His two left feet were trying to stamp each other out, but somehow, he hop-skip-and-jumps his way into the seat beside her.

As soon as he sinks into the plush upholstery, he is a man transformed. It may have been the sharing of her secret - "these dos are such a nuisance, aren't they? I always long to get away. Don't you?" or just the cool air unsullied by the presence of unwanted Homo Sapiens in natty outfits. Ah, he speaks as confidently as a ice-skater who had just landed on his feet despite three Axel Paulsen jumps in zero gravity. Whether it was Sartre or the Kabaddi World Series, the evolution of slang in 90s rap or the Raaga Shivaranjani, the now-socially valid soars and dives, like a seagull having discovered Richard Bach in a corner of the local library.

As they draw outside his house, she holds her hand out and thanks him for his 'cerebral company'; how she ought to keep going to parties if only to meet rare birds like him. The car speeds off doing an insignificant 100 kmph as he becomes aware of the need to sit down.

Well, that hadn't been so bad, had it? Perhaps, if he had the tutelage of those like his most recent (and undoubtedly admiring) companion, he might one day surf the societal waves with a nonchalant glass of wine in one hand and a nary a worry in the other.

At that point, I'd like to have reported that our man slept the sleep of content, with fair angels strumming golden harps in accompaniment to his honeyed dreams. It might have been so, had he not performed that routine task of undressing in preparing for bed. For, it comes to his notice that his trouser zip was already undone.

And then began that bottomless vortex of excoriating social autopsy - how long...? did they..., what did he...?, when did I...? and so on.

There, for now, pauses the boring adventure of the social cripple.

Apr 7, 2009

What's your excuse for writing badly?

Seth Godin (I began reading the world's most famous marketer thanks to a tribal named Harish) wrote a very interesting post titled Why aren't you (really) good at graphic design?. He argued that even non-designers could become reasonably good at designs because both the tools and the know-how are available at no charge and one could, with a modicum of effort, be good enough to put together things like better powerpoints and webpages (or quizzes, says this blogger).

I'd like to ask a far more basic question to people that I encounter: Why are you so awful at writing? This isn't a call for people to write like Wodehouse or Rushdie, but a plea for decent, everyday writing that helps communicate your thoughts without distraction. That's all. And this isn't very hard to achieve.

And this isn't the rant of a language-Nazi who wants to impose pedantic norms. Over-flowery text will be as annoying as 'disemvoweled' utterances. Language evolves and good for it. But when you write 'dat is gud- u r abslutly rite. i appreciate ur thot' in a public forum such as an email to many or a blog post, it tells me that you're too sloppy to make sure your message will be received with the optimal attention. That kind of text has its place and time. Casualness is not a substitute for informality.

If you're reading this, then you'd be a writer: of emails, of status reports, of tweets, of scraps. Do you not know that we judge you by the word-trail you leave behind? How can you not want to be better at something you do each hour?

Largely, I attribute this to an ignorance or even willful blindness to the possibilities of elegance. (This from a person who is genetically awkward.) What prevents people from attempting to be concise yet meaningful, sharp yet elegant, rapid yet thoughtful? What's your excuse then?

Godin points to a Squidoo page of resources for design. Writing is so well-studied that I wouldn't know where to begin - so the easiest reference for anyone to have a look at would be Strunk and White's little book. That's pretty much all that's needed, one thinks.

Apr 4, 2009

Suresh Kalmadi and the cylinders

A flier with Suresh Kalmadi's election promises for Pune landed up with the newspaper. Largely on expected lines (Kalmadi has always taken the sports-global city track) Two items caught my eye. The first states his intention to "get the Olympics to Pune in 2020" which made me wonder if it was not possible to develop Pune sensibly without linking it to ambitious sporting events. The second promised to "make Pune a 'cylinder-free' city".

Unless I'm really out of touch with local realities, I wonder where this issue came from. First, I couldn't understand what kind of cylinder menace was implied here. Was this to bring piped gas to Pune as has been implemented in Thane? Is this really a major issue in Pune, as opposed to the usual roads/pollution/traffic/housing tracks that are far from being solved problems?