Chhatth Puja and the GulshanKumarisation of India

My Bihari cousin is getting married to a lovely Tamilian girl.

I am sure the dainty Miss Sridhar must be doing her homework already to know more about what she is getting into. We may not have life sized cut-outs of Ms. Cloaked Rotundity and Mr. Goggled Baldness, but we have enough loud fodder loud enough to make her feel at home. What we lack in flashy flamboyance, we make up with our brassy brashness. We are a raucous country, yes ma’am. When the alphabets were getting distributed, the Biharis decided to take everything with all the hard consonants. Marathis come a close second. Pethe, Kekade and Madke would agree.

But let’s stay on Bihar. Or in Bihar, if I were to take Raj T’s advice.

So we have Litti, Laktho, Thekua, Ghughni, Bhabhri, Makuni, Khaja, Pedakiya, Gaja, Dalpittha as a smattering of names randomly taken from the Bihari fridge. NONE of them sound appetizing. Not one. They taste phenomenal, but they don’t sound like something you may want to consume. And some of them look like what they sound like.

Blame it on the pastoral background of the Biharis, if we were to get all historical and sleuthy. While the neighbourhood Bengal was busy carving intricate creases on their Nolen Gurer Sandesh, singing their Baul and doing their Dhunuchi Naach, Biharis were too busy either tilling their lands or rearing Chanakyas, Buddhas and Mahaveers. So they did not really have the time to create artworks in the kitchen or outside of it. We developed as an ungainly and unsophisticated nation, without any apology and with a definite hint of pride. Take it, world!

And this gets reflected in everything we do. Or say. Or make. Or celebrate.

Which brings me to Chhatth, a festival that some theorists claim even predates the Vedas. At the concept level, it has perhaps the most modern outlook for a festival so ancient. There is no idol worship at all in Chhatth, unlike most Hindu festivals. It is not gender or caste specific. And there is no involvement of a presiding pandit. No random mumbo jumbo being babbled by some patronizing priest working on an hourly remuneration in front of a gaudy concoction of gods. It is a festival with rituals led by the devotee, dedicated to the deity. A hardcore one-on-one with the all-encompassing to acknowledge and achieve the common, combined greater good.

Spread over four days, the worship is dedicated to the Sun god and his wife Usha, greeting and thanking them for creating and controlling all the life forms on the planet earth. While Chhatth follows Diwali, it is no selfish agrarian festival stemming from the contribution of sun to the agricultural produce, coinciding with the cultivation. It is a very noble recognition of the influence of sun in our combined lives, way beyond its material beneficence, with pronounced philosophical undertones. Which explains why the worship of the rising sun is preceded by the veneration of the setting sun.

So far, so good.

Only, I don’t remember getting influenced or enamoured by any of this while celebrating Chhatth in the Patna of the late 1980s. Neither by the philosophy behind the festival, nor by its rather liberal stance. Outside of the exhilarating thrill of traveling at 4 in the AM for the morning arghya, moving past the colourfully lit-up roads to a crowded Pehelwaan Ghaat or Collectorate Ghaat, and then letting the feet play with the cold, moist sand, what actually has stayed with me is the harsh aesthetics of it all.

I am not referring to the festival, of course.

I remember the crowd. A sea of humanity amidst all the muck of the riverfronts. People rushing at the ghaats with their chaadars, fighting for and marking their territories to be as near the slushy expanse of the Holi Ganga. The rich and the powerful moving around with their gun-toting musclemen. The blaring loudspeakers, the long traffic jams, the arguments on the roads, the hawkers selling posters of Hindu gods, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the general wide-ranging cacophony of the people forming a buzzing backdrop. It all came together into something memorably lurid and raw.

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This rasping rhapsody was amplified by the sindoors on the noses of the parbaitins, or the fasting worshipping ladies. Indeed. A shining, flaming, thick and radiant saffron vermillion marking starting from the tip of the nose meandering into the parting of the hair. Imagine multitudes of ladies with their brightly painted noses half immersed in the muddy waters, offering their obeisance to the rising sun. The effect was mesmerizing. The effect was daunting.

To be fair, though, it was not just these nose antennas that were browbeating me into meek submission to all things colourful and coarse. The GulshanKumarization of India had just about started to happen. The combined might of jhankaar beats recorded in cheap Darya Ganj studios on Super Cassettes was beginning to juice the entire pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses. Johnny ka Dil Tujhpe Aaya Julie was being appropriated as Bhakton Ka Dil Tujhpe Aaya Devi, and then some. People not only seemed okay with these, they were, in fact, revelling in them. It was a crude, uncouth phase in the life of India, both culturally and otherwise. Patal Bhairavi and Bhavani Junction were legit Hindi cinema releases, Rajeev Kapoor was playing the Lover Boy, Rajesh Khanna was romancing Reena Roy, and people were really paying to see Raj Babbar on the large screen.

It was the attack of the lowbrow. And Chhatth was as impacted as any other festival.

So in the middle of the folk songs evoking the Sun god, the shrieking loudspeakers would play one of them Karolbagh ditties sung by Babla and Kanchan. Hum Na Jaibe Sasur Ghar Re Baba. Yeah. Soon enough, these tardy renditions were accepted as a part of the mainstream. The eighties never left the festival. The festival never left the eighties. Every subsequent Chhatth was more of the same. Exciting. Rousing. Breath-taking. And very bloody loud.

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I moved on. Bombay became home. Then I shifted to Mumbai.

Patna, Bihar and Chhatth continued to be a part of my subconscious persona, but not being there meant not being there. My new native city gave me newer references to ponder over. I had graduated from Gai Ghaat to Lal Bagh. I had moved on. Or so did I think. Untill I suddenly discovered the luminous vermillion-nose brigade in a traffic jam at Juhu one fine evening. The parbaitins were back in my life, and how! And I was amazed to see that twenty-five years later, the unhinged aesthetics and revelry were unaffected, give or take a few Sanjay Nirupams trying to make Chhatth the North India Pride Parade. It was beautiful. To be in that jam. To be back there. To relive the scale and the noise. And to revisit the fantastic reasons behind the celebration of this wonderful festival.

Here’s to many such discoveries, Sanjana! And welcome to the family. Some of your new relatives may look like aliens once every year, and their vocabulary may be predominated by words with ट, ठ, ड and ढ in them, but we are good, warm god-fearing people, I promise you. Despite that fluorescent patch on our noses. Or because of it. :)

It was quite the time to Disco!

The last quarter of 1982 was extremely exciting in the history of India primarily for two reasons. The Asian Games came back to New Delhi after a gap of three decades. We realised that we were capable of rising above mediocrity as a nation and make our mark as a progressive and progressing country. Confident landmarks like Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Indraprastha Indoor Stadium and Khel Gaon got added to the Mughal-Lutyen landscape of the capital city, and became a part of the collective national modernisation dream almost overnight. We understood the power and impact of live TV, with the athletic pixels beaming across the country through seedha prasaran on Doordarshan. Offering solidarity to the cause, the TV screens started transforming from black & white to coloured, showcasing the buoyant hues of the tricolor like never before. Ath Swagatam Shubh Swagatam, we sang on 19th November at the Opening Ceremony, welcoming and celebrating the world and India, and I also suspect, the first mega-public appearance of Amitabh Bachchan after the Coolie accident.

The other big event in the life of India was the release of Disco Dancer.

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B Subhash’s Disco Dancer is the rags to riches story of Jimmy (Mithun Chakraborty playing Mithun Chakraborty) who braves acute poverty to become India’s best disco dancer. Fighting the whims and fancies of his punishing fate and inner demons, Jimmy goes on to ace the coveted International Disco Competition, bringing joy, pride and honour to the nation and her people, one pelvic thrust at a time.

There is enough in Jimmy’s stimulating and sterling biography to shake, rattle and roll the viewers. As a kid, he is falsely accused of stealing by PN Oberoi, the evil rich businessman. His mother takes the blame and goes to jail. The mother-child combine is taunted and tormented with the cries of maa-chor-beta-chor (which, for the record, does not sound like what it is meant to sound like), and they leave Mumbai to settle in Goa. Jimmy grows up to sing and dance at local weddings, while Oberoi’s son Sam becomes the country’s most popular disco dancer, and a pompous ass with ill-fitting moustache and trousers. His manager David Brown leaves him because of his wayward ways, discovers Jimmy, and soon enough, Sam is dethroned. Side note: Om Puri playing a character called David Brown is why a lot people from the 1980s still have trust issues.

The now-famous Jimmy exposes Oberoi at a party, and also falls in love with his daughter. Outblinged and outsmarted, Oberoi gets his men to electrocute Jimmy through his guitar, but kills his mother instead. Jimmy gets Guitarphobia, developing cold feet at the Competition, unable to dance. That’s when Rajesh Khanna in a career defining special appearance as Raju Bhaiyya hams what looks like an entire episode of Kyonki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi to motivate Jimmy, asking him to “Gaaaaa!”. The film is still called Disco Dancer. “GAAAAA!”, he beseeches and screeches. Jimmy gets his mojo. Oberoi’s goons kill Raju Bhaiyya to make him ham some more. Our hero kills them back. Oberoi gets electrocuted.

And they all lived happily ever after.

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This may sound very simplistic and formulaic, thanks to my ha-ha-ha retrospective gaze, but for the 1980s cine-goers, nothing could be farther from the truth. Disco Dancer is not a film. It is a state of mind. This journey of the lowbrow to the high street is an electrifying – in more ways than one – celebration of the absurd and the awe-inspiring, the real and the surreal, the sounds and the silence. Disco Dancer is definitely not a film. It is the overwhelmingly viscous space between the trash and the transcendental.

The audiences, while rooting for the classic good-versus-bad tale, also played cheerleaders to what they thought was the emerging, new India. Where the macho hero could be a dancer, wear shiny clothes on stage and lungis at home, shake his limbs without any love-interest around for most part of the film, be surrounded by fangirls, and still have his mother feed him food with her own hand. This was a protagonist hitherto unseen. Not a brawny rebel, but an artiste, a performer. Who could fail and clam up and cry, but finally emerge victorious. Because maa ka aashirvaad. That a primarily western and alien concept like disco could be mainstreamized, with quintessentially Indian storytelling and a central character that never would exist in real life is what got the audiences to the theatres. Then you had the emotions, struggles, failure, success, vengeance, love and drama. Also, Jesus Christ and Krishna. Plus, a mandatory Rahim Chacha, thank you.

Disco dancing became us.

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While there was not much to talk about the country’s economy, militancy was rearing its head in Punjab, mills in Mumbai were coming to a standstill, and the honourable Prime Minister was publicly throwing out her widowed daughter in law from her home, we were still dancing. Maruti Suzuki was on the threshold of giving the middle-class-middle-brow India wheels that they had never imagined, Amitabh Bachchan was gearing himself to get back to the studios after a long stay at the hospitals, Chambal dacoits had started wilfully surrendering, Kaur Singh and Satpal were trouncing their opponents at the Asian Games in Boxing and Wrestling respectively, Jimmy was crushing the disco kings and queens from Afreeka and Paris. Things were beginning to look up. Toh jhoomo, toh naacho, aao mere saath naacho gaao. We had reasons to believe. Backed by Bappi Lahiri’s music. And moustachioed men wearing ballerina dresses complete with tutus.

The Buggles may claim that Radio Killed the Video Star, but Auva Auva belonged to Bappi Lahiri and Usha Uthup. Jesus by Tielman Brothers could become the ballad of Krishna, and Jesus did not really mind it seeing the perfect fit. The ultimate winner of the film, though, was the title song, I’m A Disco Dancer. The song starts with Mithun jumping on the stage, and then freezes on a screaming woman’s face for almost 5 seconds. That, in a nutshell, sums up the impact of the film on its audiences. Hypnotic and frenzied. It wasn’t as if Mithun Chakraborty’s histrionics or Bappi Lahiri’s music had any novelty value. Ravikant Nagaich had previously gifted Surakksha, Sahhas and Wardaat to the audiences. But Disco Dancer turned out special because of its very universal, very identifiable theme. The synthetic saga of tribulations and triumphs scored because of its straightforward simplism. And not just in India. It was the first Indian film to pocket 100 crores worldwide, with Goron Ki Na Kaalon Ki becoming an unlikely anthem across countries!

The impact of Disco Dancer was pretty much like the Asian Games. It made us feel all good and gooey till the next big jamboree. The beats were lost to the Madrasi eyesores featuring Jeetendra, and then to the Nadeem Shravan onslaught. Mithun went on to do Ooty films. The buzz around Kaur Sing and Satpal was forgotten already.

But what a thrilling high it was when it lasted! It was quite the time to disco.

(first published on Arré)

Amitabh Bachchan and I want you to read this!

So the Outlook magazine invited me to attend its first ever Outlook Social Media Awards. Abbreviated to perfection as OSM Awards, sweetly echoing the millennials’ propensity for all things abstracted, these awards are meant to honour the best in social media. I don’t really know what I was doing as a jury member among the likes of Shashi Tharoor, Prasoon Joshi, Shilpa Shetty, Ritu Beri, and many such prominent, newsprint-smelling names who routinely remind me of my lowly existence.

But then again, every Bigg Boss house needs a commoner. I was just the right man, come to think of it. Plus, to be fair, I suppose I do know my social media. I can outrage about everything without knowing anything. The astute observers of the magazine had recognised this ability, figured I had the right amount of frivolity and triviality, and invited me.

The night was quite a glitzy affair, as one would expect any such night and any such affair in the national capital to be. There were luminaries galore both on and off stage. The newsmakers and the news disseminators, political bigwigs, business leaders, bureaucrats, filmstars, TV actors, social media megastars, Page 3 people, and a smattering of expats… the aces and the faces all dressed to precision, reflecting the fragrant dazzle of the sophisticated night.

And then there was me. Over-bearded. Overweight. Overbearing.

The very kind, very compassionate (and very blind, I suspect) people of Outlook chose to ignore all that. It was like my shaadi.com profile had briefed them on my virtues. I was soon getting ushered in and being led towards my row and seat amid all the blinding lights and fanfare music.

They made me sit right behind Amitabh Bachchan. The. Amitabh. Bachchan.

Nobody ever makes me sit behind Amitabh Bachchan. Or if they do, there is a gap of a hundred rows or a hundred miles, whichever is more, between his coiffured hair follicles and me. I was sure something was amiss. I checked the name tag on my chair. It said SECURITY.

Now, I take my all-caps very seriously. If you are talking to me in capital letters, say hello to the meek, subservient me. Naturally, I looked around to see if I had usurped the rightful place of, say, an AK-47-bearing black cat commando. Didn’t find anybody looking at me intently with feelings of any kind in upper-case and the people behind me were getting edgy and annoyed. So I had no other option but to perch myself at a place that did not belong to me.

I sat. Behind Amitabh Bachchan. The. Amitabh. Bachchan.

The thing about sitting behind Amitabh Bachchan is that people are looking at you. Constantly. At the event, and later on television. Lots of people are looking at you. And not with love. Everybody who is looking at you thinks and believes you are a jerk. That you don’t really deserve to sit behind the man. You don’t deserve to be there, jerk. You got lucky, jerk. You are a jerk, JERK! This is true for anybody who sits behind Amitabh Bachchan. By default, that person becomes a jerk, even if he were a double Nobel prize winner. Only Amitabh Bachchan can afford to sit behind Amitabh Bachchan and not be called a jerk by the world.

The other thing about sitting behind Amitabh Bachchan is that, well, you are sitting behind Amitabh Bachchan. You are seeing the back of his head, and the side of the side of his face. He is not really turning around to say hi to you. He would never do that. He knows you are a jerk.

So you change angles. Casually. You bend forward. You move rightward. You move leftward. You bend backward. Delicately. You stretch and contort your body to get a better angle. And you fight this intense, uncontrollable urge to grow your neck and use it to hoist your face in front of the man. Because that’s exactly what you want to do. You are excited. You are breathing heavily to capture all the carbon dioxide emitted by him. But at the same time, you don’t want to show any of it. But a part of you really wants to make an event out of the situation. But you take it easy because you are kind of cool like that. AND you hate being in the situation that you are in. More so, because no matter howmuchever hard you are concentrating and trying all those spells you learnt from Harry Potter or the imageries you picked up from Tom & Jerry, you are unable to grow your neck.

I sat there with a stoic expression. Fighting envious eyes and my own inner impulses. Like a true warrior. It’s all cool, people. I do this for a living. Yeah. I uttered this to myself, realising I had suddenly developed an accent. Which was the point when Shashi Tharoor on stage posed a question for Amitabh Bachchan. I don’t remember what the question was. I don’t remember what he answered.

All that I now remember is that, suddenly, some thirty-odd photographers with flash-lights of various intensities emerged out of nowhere, pointing their cameras at Amitabh Bachchan and me.

Okay, then.

This was a really, really tricky one. If I stayed all detached and impassive, I would look arrogant or, worse, disoriented. If I looked at the cameras with all enthusiasm, matching my expressions with Amitabh Bachchan’s intonations, I would appear wannabe or worse, an ass-kisser. The last option was to look the other way, but thank god, I am not that big an idiot. Ergo, I did the best I could. I tried what I think is my enigmatic Buddha smile. The sort of smile that the photographers can never blur out of an image, even if they were to obliterate the background. I looked at the camera people with all earnestness. If the baritone needed a back-up, here was the thing to capture.

We were becoming a team, Amitabh Bachchan and I.

He was soon called on stage to give away some award, and I clapped the loudest. Knowing I was being watched. I was now playing his cheerleader, manager, confidante, and mentor all rolled into one already. And I sure was loving and living it. This was my moment.

I looked at him getting up, and bestowed him with the patronising hansi-khushi-kar-do-vida thumbs up. I also benevolently decided at that very instant that I would never tap his shoulder and ask him to put his head down if he sits in front of me at some theatre. I would also let him keep his seat-back reclined even if he and I were on 21A and 22A respectively on an IndiGo Airlines flight. This was becoming a permanent fixture in my life, me sitting behind Amitabh Bachchan. Quite a picture I was painting. The claps went into slow motion, the sounds became fainter, while my eyebrows continued giving a quiet and glowing tribute to Akshaye Khanna.

He came down. He walked past me. He left. Just when I was getting used to the idea.

I looked at the pictures from the event the next day. The photographers at the Outlook Social Media Awards had managed to cut some or the other part of my anatomy from all the pics. Clearly, they hated me. It was almost personal. Meanwhile, Amitabh Bachchan was looking like the superstar that he is. I was looking like the Before version of a Sat Isabgol model in those before-and-after ads for laxatives. It was depressing.

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My mother saw the photos, too. Her reaction: “Oh, woh tumhare saamne Amitabh Bachchan hain?” Kaboom!

Me: 1. Amitabh Bachchan: 0.

(First published on Arré)

When Vinod Khanna asked for doodh and killed a hero!

The first time that I remember seeing Vinod Khanna on the big screen was in Qurbani at Vaishali Cinema in Patna in 1981. The story of the film is a blur now, but outside of the sexed out Zeenat Aman’s Aap Jaisa Koi and Laila O Laila, what still stays with me is Amjad Khan’s sass, Feroze Khan’s style and Vinod Khanna’s swag. It was nonchalant machismo at its best, supplemented by this assured air of self-confidence. The coolth was extempore. The nerves were real. They were all heroes, in the strictest sense of the word.

And our heroes were out there! On that large rectangular piece of awesomeness that showcased moving images from the worlds we did not belong to, and hypnotized our entire being. We were mortals to them gods. It was a deity-devotee relationship, flourishing in those dark shrines not called multiplexes. The television revolution was yet to happen, VCRs were still glints in their makers’ eyes and nobody knew the spelling of cable TV. Films would actually run for twenty-five and fifty weeks. Going to the cinema halls was picnic without the picnic baskets. The cost of samosas was not equal to the GDP of Ethiopia, and the coffee machines hummed consumable froth in those brawny concoctions. There was romance in the aroma of éclairs, cream rolls and popcorns. Watching a film was living an experience. The theatre walls were grimy, the seats weren’t the most comfortable, the loos were stinky, but none of it mattered. That torch light leading you to your seat, and the anticipation of getting transformed into a whole new world to watch those men and women in action was the only thing that mattered.

Then there was Vinod Khanna. The chiselled looks, the rugged sexuality, the undisguised charm, he was all, and more, that a hero could be. Without trying too hard. It was fascinating to just watch him on screen, and get bewitched. Of course, if you had your carnal glasses on, the fog would tell the complete story.

But nobody wanted to become Vinod Khanna.

Because they knew nobody could ever become Vinod Khanna. He was so unabashedly good looking, and in such an exalted space, that one could not even aspire to be him. Amitabh Bachchan was achievable. The hairstyle and the gait and the walk and the dance moves were replicable. Vinod Khanna was beyond reach. Whatever roles he did, whether it was Shyam singing the melancholic Koi Hota Jissko Apna in Mere Apne or Jabbar Singh mercilessly going on a killing spree in Mera Gaon Mera Desh, the bespectacled Professor Pramod Sharma surrounded by students in Imtihaan or that young scheming sonofabitch Anil conning his mother in Aan Milo Sajna, the oomph always elicited empathy. The cameras and the audiences loved him equally.

Which explains precisely how he could move from playing villains to portraying the hero so effortlessly, and then undertake the journey from being a star to becoming a superstar. Hera Pheri made him a phenomenon. This was followed by a series of blockbusters, including Khoon Pasina, Amar Akbar Anthony, Parvarish, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar and, of course, Qurbani.

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Technically, he was not the hero in Qurbani. Hell, he doesn’t even get the girl in the end! But check out the man in the song Hum Tumhen Chaahte Hain Aise. Despite the Feroze Khan aesthetics hovering around a gyrating couple on a fishing boat, Vinod Khanna is all that you would notice. Or want to notice. The casually flowing hair being hit by the sea breeze, the underplayed and non-theatrical expressions, the half-acceptance of the unrequited love, and those lovely longing eyes telling so many tales! You cry for the man despite him not shedding a singular tear. I stand corrected. He was the hero of Qurbani. And perhaps one of the few heroes existing in Hindi Cinema at that time.

And then he left the industry in 1982. Randomly. For the truth. Or whatever.

He came back in 1987 with Satyamev Jayate and Insaaf. A lot had happened in the world in those five years. Vaishali Cinema had shut shop. Jeetendra had given five sleeper hits with the help of his PE teacher. The Bachchan phenomenon was on a decline. The newer generation of actors, including Anil Kapoor, Sunny Deol, Sanjay Dutt and Jackie Shroff, was yet to take off. Mohammed Aziz and Shabbir Kumar were churning out hits. TV antennas were becoming a part of the Indian landscape. Video cassette parlours were mushrooming. The motion pictures industry was going through a major crisis. Filmstars could be hired at a price and consumed in molested VHS tapes grasping for breath in night-long marathon sessions. The heroes were becoming more accessible, everyday commodity.

Not Vinod Khanna, though. He still had the charisma. He still was out there, even in his second coming. While Satymev Jayate did not work, Insaaf was a hit. I still remember how the hall erupted in taalis and seeties when the screen said “RE-INTRODUCING VINOD KHANNA”, celebrating his incredibly potent existence amongst us.

He was back.

But. Something was amiss. His charm seemed laboured, his presence awkward. Not that Hindi cinema or the viewers had evolved in those five years. We were still the same, if not deteriorated by the Jeetendra/ Rajesh Khanna onslaught of the Tohfas and Maqsads of the world. We wanted the Vinod Khanna phenomenon to blast off again for very selfish reasons. We were looking for a hero amongst the crowd of newbies and fallen veterans. In Dayavan, Batwara, Chandni, CID and Jurm, we saw traces of the man we used to worship. The screen presence was still as scorching, the smile could still kill millions. But it was not the same. He was getting old, obviously. It was not about that, though. Or just about that.

I figured what it was in Farishtay, the 1991 film from Anil Sharma of the Tara Singh handpump fame.

Farishtay wasn’t just Dharmendra in a yellow cap and Vinod Khanna in a deep red Stetson hat, dancing on the streets of Mumbai with a bunch of Film City extras half their age in the title song. Farishtay also was the tragic realisation that your gods had feet of clay. Farishtay was a beautiful man desperately clutching on to his stardom, and failing to do so.

Vinod Khanna plays Dheeru to Dharmendra’s Veeru in the film. Beyond the Sholay meta-reference, the film is all kind of odd villains dotting the world, and our saviour-angels taking them head on. Between fighting villains and dancing with heroines, Vinod Khanna’s character has a major fixation for milk. So far so good. Only, milk here refers to things beyond milk. Way beyond milk. “Doodh peene ka mazaa hi kuch aur hai”, declares Dheeru to this buxom bar-girl, “Khaas kar woh doodh kisi tandurust aur doodh-doodh-doodh-doodharu gaai ka ho, aap jaisi” while continuously looking at her breasts, and making a major show of it.

And that’s when my hero became just another guy, just another ageing actor. That crass and vulgar display of his baser emotions wasn’t acting. It was an old man refusing to let go. He may have done forty more films after Farishtay, but Vinod Khanna, my superstar, faded way back in 1991.

Vinod Khanna killed my hero. Vaishali Cinema is becoming a mall. The world, as I knew it, does not exist anymore.

I have made my peace. I hope he does, too.

(first published on Arré)

Clara Julliard Scott is getting married to me, and EVERYONE’S INVITED!

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So. I received a polite message from one Clara Julliard Scott on Twitter DM, earnestly checking on my family and me. She informed me that she had just randomly come across my profile, and got “so much interested” in knowing more about me.

I was thrilled.

Now don’t get me wrong here. I am not some country bumpkin not acquainted with the ways of the world. I know the internet is a bad, bad place. I do realise there are lots of scamsters around, ready to pounce on their unsuspecting victims. I am aware that they use honeytraps to target dumb men, and extract money out of them. But I believe in the inherent goodness of mankind. And there was something very sincere about Clara Julliard Scott. Her bust size.

Considering I am the benevolent guy who would even chat up with feminine sounding bots in the Yahoo! chat rooms, there was no reason for me to doubt her integrity and not reply to her. I did.

Soon enough, we were making plans to meet up in person. Never thought my humdrum life and my “sincere heart” would ever be found attractive by anybody, but I was obviously off the mark here. Guess I was saying all the right things, making attempts to regale her with the everyday stories about my life, and Clara was just lapping it all up. I also slipped in an invite to India for her without sounding too eager.
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Of course, there were the initial hiccups, as we tried to gauge each other and our respective intentions. There were clear gaps in our communication and some glaring language issues. But I took it upon myself to politely and playfully correct her, as I described my life to her, inviting her to be a part of it. I will admit, I exaggerated a little when I said that the royal elephant would receive her at the airport. That was wrong. The royal elephant does not know where the airport is.

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My noble intentions, and the heartfelt desires to see dear Clara in person must have congested her arteries with love, because she was talking her India visit already in the middle of the gigolo-google turbulence. She did ask me to fund the trip, but before you judge her, the charitable and indulgent Ms.Scott was just honouring my enthusiasm and impatience to take her on camel and ostrich rides in my country, okay?

It was me, not her.

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This was too good to be true. Both the rational me and the emotional me were totally afflicted by the large-heartedness of this gentle soul. No woman had ever agreed to ride ostriches into the sunset with me. Hell, no woman had ever agreed to ride anything into, or after, the sunset with me. This was overwhelming. And then I did the unthinkable. I proposed to her.

She said YES!

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We were ready to take our relationship to the next floor.

However, in my zeal to get married, I realised I had ended up bragging about my riches. Clara Julliard Scott, the lady with the spine, would take none of it. She was not in it for the monies, no way. She wanted to marry me because she had “feelings and respect” for me. Ever since she discovered my profile on Twitter a day before.

I fell hook, line and sinker in love with this kind, compassionate woman. She was the one. I started envisaging plans to give her the most comfortable stay at my village as she worked on the modalities of us getting married in America.

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Ah, that sweet feeling of settling in love! Nothing else mattered. With stars in my eyes, copulation in my mind and sexting on my phone, we were at it already.

Or at least I was.

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Clara was equally yearning for this union with me. But unlike the sappy, weepy petitioner of love that I was being, she was more practical with her approach. I continued to be indebted towards the entire Julliard Scott family for making Clara into the complete woman that she had so beautifully turned into.

The astonishing lady did the exact mathematics in no time to figure that $855 would be sufficient for her to do all the hotel bookings for our marriage in the US. I had meanwhile, sent her my flight options. We were all set.

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It was my turn to reciprocate the urgency displayed by Clara. I got in touch with the family accountant. The anxiety was killing me. I needed to see the smile on Clara’s face.

Plus, I needed intel for my pintel.

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Namaste was the game changer. Yes.

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I woke up a totally charged man. I was painting good-morning imageries in my head that could have been Whatsapp forwards. I was singing songs that didn’t exist. I was floating in exaggerated metaphors around love. And I was ready to rekindle our romance yet again.

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From $855, our love had now reached the $16000 mark. This was beautiful. And she was willing to accommodate Moti as well at the wedding.

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I want to put this on record that I am totally against dowry. I have never taken dowry from any of my wives.

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Time was of the essence, but Clara seemed a bit concerned. I had to chase away her misgivings. I was ready to give her whatever proof she needed.

Instinctively, however, I could figure that this wasn’t going in the right direction. Despite the depth of my love, I represented a rather shallow set of family traditions. And my ladylove could see through this.

PS: This is why dowry is a social evil, people.

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She wanted to see my mother. And she sure had a strong, acerbic point of view on the family that was selling its child for $100 “because a lady fall in love with him”. I would be dishonest if I say that didn’t hurt. But then again, she was not wrong. :|

This is why I have always had issues with my family. With my father and all his wives.

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I am not dam Scam. I insist.

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Our love story came to an abrupt end. Flustered and frustrated, she blocked me from Twitter and her life. It has left me a sad man, but I sure am not bitter or sour about it.

I have her memories to live by.

And I also have the instagram handle from where s/he borrowed all her pictures. :)

(My family pics courtesy FB albums of some of my friends. Taken without permission. Please don’t tell them. Also, if you are fantasizing about Clara Julliard Scott, Suman Jha and Probaldwip Bakshi would like to express their deepest gratitude.)

LOOK, LOOK, this is an article on Ranveer Singh! LOOK NOW. Like, NOW!

Ranveer Singh is everywhere he can be.

So there’s one Ranveer cheekily challenging Baba Ramdev for a dance off, and then being cute about licking his wounds. There’s another mouthing inane godawful rap for one inane godawful brand or the other, taking us back to the Baba-Sehgal-Bali-Brahmbhatt days of the yore, confusing cool with kool. Then there’s one unapologetically Doing The Rex, and making quite a strong statement of it. And there’s one more selling himself out as Ranveer Ching to hawk Chinese products with adrak-ajinomoto gravy. There’s also the guy talking about his araam ka maamla, using his posterior to catch a ball and his anterior to woo them white-skinned extras. All in a day’s work!

If that is not enough Ranveer, he is continuing to sell something or the other every other living moment of his living life, be it Colgate, Jack & Jones, Head & Shoulders, VIVO, Set Wet, Royal Stag, Make My Trip and a few more that I may have missed. Then, of course, there is the man going on all fours at the AIB roast or doing the Hrithik Roshan Bang Bang challenge in the middle of a busy Mumbai intersection or dubsmashing to Taher Khan’s Eye To Eye, complete with the white suit and wig, or dancing on Jabra fan for SRK.

Oh, and he is also doing movies, from Bajirao to Befikre.

He is everywhere. And. He is nowhere.

And THAT is the tragedy of Ranveer Singh. Despite the charm, charisma and the chutzpah, despite the talent and the dushman-ki-dekho-jo-waat-laavli-ness, despite the awards, adulations and ads, and despite the hits and the heroism, he is yet to become a hero. He is NOT a hero. Star, yes. Hero, no. He is still Bittoo from Band Baja Baraat. Chhichhora Yamuna kinaare waala. Bittoo is endearing, totally, but Bittoo gatecrashes even into weddings that he has been invited to for free food, and is an enthu-cutlet for the heck of it. Ranveer does not seem too far from it.

While our man would have us believe there is a method to his madness, the method isn’t really visible. He is loud, he is animated, he is brash, he is charming, he is hahaha funny. And, well, he is enthusiastic to the point of being irritating. The catch is what he thinks is his primary differentiator – his OTT enthusiasm, that is – is actually ending up typecasting him. He is the same guy everywhere, overplaying his overplay. Each of his manifestations across spaces is exactly the same. It is tough to differentiate one rap from another. Or one public antic from another. What damages things further is that he does not know when to stop. Imagine an overtly exuberant energizer bunny which continues to run even when you have taken its batteries off. That’s what Ranveer is. A cheerleader without a cause. Or a pause.

Ranveer Singh wants to be the new age Govinda. Reverse-snobbery can be a sweet thing. In fact, he has been fairly loud about his Govinda affiliations. The entire Rupa Frontline TVC is about him being Raja Baba à la Raja Babu. Tattad Tattad was a fantastic tribute to the G-man. But there is a key difference here. Govinda was Govinda because he was, well, Govinda. The purple suits and the gaudy glasses came naturally to him, and as did those dhinchak moves. Ranveer is too conscious about his play. And that shows. It is as if Ron Weasley has suddenly discovered he is Harry Potter and is trying too hard to be him. When you are cool, you don’t really tell the world about it. Or you do not wear a skirt to a party. He does. Uhm.

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So how many Ranveer Singhs do we have in a dozen? Plenty, I would say. All equally delightful. And naturally so. If only he could realise that he is ‘out there’ already, stop doing the oversell and practice some restraint, we would all live happily ever after. Especially Ranveer.

And he should.

Because he is bloody good. He was awesome in Bajirao Mastani, subdued in Lootera, passionate in Ram Leela and fun in Dil Dhadakne Do. The critics have panned Befikre, but loved Ranveer. He has made informed choices and works extremely hard on everything that he picks up. He knows he is an outsider and that, therefore, he has to put in a lot more efforts and be doubly careful that he does not slip up. Precisely why he deserves the accolades more than anybody else. He deserves to be a hero.

AND the day Ranveer Singh stops trying too hard to be a hero, he will become a hero!

(This article was commissioned by ScoopWhoop and was first published on scoopwhoop.com.)

I’m leaving on a jet plane to Canada, and money is not an issue

I am a big fan of Justin Trudoeu Tredaeu Treduae Trudeau. I like Canada. I like Canadians. I also like Punjabi, the language most of the Canadians speak. So, naturally, I was intrigued when I got a mail with the subject “Canada Immigration” from one Suman Jha from Prime Track, an ISO 9001:2008 certified firm specialising in sending people to far out countries. Fairly articulate and persuasive, our man informed me that there was a shortage of skilled manpower in Canada, and the time was right for me to start the process of migrating to Canada without any delay. He also told me that he had profoundly reviewed my profile and that he was very pleased to inform me that my CV had successfully passed through what I am assuming must be their rather stringent first phase of screening process.

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This was all fantastic. Only, there was one very minor technical issue. I had not sent him my CV.

So I did what any self respecting man secure with the belief that the best career opportunities were available in Canada with high earning job profiles for foreign skilled workers would do. I ignored his mail.

However, the eloquent Mr. Jha, with his dogged determination and stubborn seduction, would not have taken no for an answer. He sent a few more mails over the next four weeks, reminding me of the interest I had shown, asking me for the details of my documents, and promising me the completion of my documentation under the fast-track services. This was all too good to be true, this outpouring of concern and affection. Unfortunately, random unnecessary work took over my life, and I could not write back to him. Let’s just say the beloved was very much aware of the admirer’s strong overtures, but I had to consciously reject it.

Suman continued to have my best interests in his mind. The natural extension of his love was yet another mail from him.

 

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“It;s a golden opportunity”, he said.

That one sentence did the trick. Guess I was hit somewhere deep inside – the semicolon hitting the colon, as they say – and that was enough to shake me out of my complacence. I was charmed and charged by the radiance of the golden opportunity, ready to immediately take on his offer. I was raring to go. And Canada was waiting.

I wrote a polite response explaining my silence and my readiness, in order. The mail also outlined some very regular practical issues I was facing. But I was sure it was nothing Mr. Jha or Prime Track, an ISO 9001:2008 certified firm, would not have been able to sort.

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Surprisingly, my positivity was reciprocated by a very stoic silence. It was as if the fizz had gone from our relationship. It was my turn to follow up.

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The professional Mr. Jha had a single-lined response for me. Apt. I deserved it.

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He had not asked to me for write my biography. Obviously. I was blinded by the warmth that I had seen, and it had led to some weak moments. He was totally right in chiding me. This is exactly how businesses are conducted. I realised my mistake and apologised profusely to the man who stood between the Rocky Mountains and me.

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Sassy Suman was back in the game. He sent me a quick reply asking me for my CV and other documents.

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By now I had figured the curt Mr. Jha meant business. I sent my biodata to him almost immediately. I also had some basic queries for him to address. Felt stupid and sorry about sending those inane questions to him, thinking how smart guys like him have to go through such dumb Qs in their line of work. But then I thought Mr. Jha and Prime Track, an ISO 9001:2008 certified firm, must be used to such harmless naiveté of their clients.

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He rejected my CV.

Crestfallen, I wrote a rather poignant mail to him. I was hurting. And it didn’t feel good. But despite the grief and the hurt, I maintained my poise and my positivity. I felt like a Himesh Reshammiya heroine. With a smile on my face and a song on my lips, I asked him to reconsider my application.

His response was the complete anti-thesis of the turmoil going in the atriums of my heart. He started using his silence to numb me, and comfortably so. I waited. Twenty-four hours later, I decided to graciously confront him while respecting his point of view.

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I knew he would come around. I have lots of money. And come around he did.

THIS was the point where I figured a thing or two about the psychological make of Mr. Jha. He was a man of few words. That’s what he wanted in a man. He didn’t want long treatises. He wanted short jabs. I had to change my strategy to stay ahead in the game. I had to become as succinct as him.

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The whole world stood in silence as the mano-a-mano struggle ensued between the two protagonists. And then he spoke. I had nothing but gratitude towards the big man.

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Soon enough, I sent him all the documents that were needed. He had given me this extreme resolve to fight, live and survive. The underlying tension had led to this overarching tenacity. I was ready to take on the world!

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I knew what I was talking.

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(And here are the scans of my passport and the BA degree. All legit, of course.)

It worked. We were now willing to go to the next level. We were exchanging numbers. And I am not just talking account numbers here.

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This was not just a mail exchange I was having with the man. This was a life lesson I was learning. We were talking the talk. Kind of.

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Just after I hit “send”, I realised that I had ended up sharing some very critical information about myself. And I knew it instantly that it would come back to harm and haunt me.

I had inadvertently revealed that there was somebody else in my life.

Mr. Jha decided we were done. He knew he had to severe all ties with me at one go. Just like that. Or not.

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:|

He closed my file, but he opened my life. I am upset, yes, but at the same time, I am content that this experience made me find answers to that one question that has always bothered the mankind.

“Had i asked to you for write your biography?”

(If Close Encounters with Suman Jha is your kind of a thing, you may want to know more about my original heartbreaker, Probaldwip Bakshi.)

That putridly patriotic token secularism

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The furiously fucked mics with the feedbacks, the mandatory Maanyavar kurtas and their grotesque brocade linings highlighting our dashing deshprem, the important people wearing Gujarati-thali sized tricolour badges straight from the 1980s nritya ka akhil bhartiya karyakrams, the five foot nothings with their painted faces and Shiamak swagger, the clueless musicians on the stage silently preaching the tenets of the Rahul Roy duh-ism, the swarms of smartphone equipped parents capturing the glittery profusion of talent that they think their kids are, the random running around of the organisers searching for what must be the codes to the nuclear warheads, the serpentine wires of various diameters miraculously not evolving into another species, the MCs with their Comedy-Nights-with-Kapil sensitivities and Dabbu Shukla Orchestra sensibilities, the abundantly adiposed aunties setting the disco-lit stage on fire, the garlic-impregnated Udupi smell of the Chinese bhel being prepared to be distributed in food packages, the subtle messaging of kids dancing on Main Toh Superman Kar Doon Maa Bhen impressing their Gandhari-Dhritrashtra infused parents, AND the putridly patriotic token secularism everywhere. 

Because Republic/ Independence Day.

Ah, the magnificent middleclassness of the Housing Society events, the high point of my life twice every year!

It wasn’t liberalisation, it was liberation!

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The summer months are always kind of muggy in Patna. In the early 1990s, they appeared sultrier than normal. The days would be hot and the nights would be dry. There was only so much one could do. And that ‘so much’ was never much, with those prolonged hours of nothingness blankly staring at us. Don’t know if the irregular load-shedding and the dark absence of electricity were the reason behind the dreariness. Or if one could point towards the abrupt kal shaam chhe baje phir mulakaat hogi endings of Doordarshan as the cause. Or whether the limited stock of antaakshari songs (despite the unending stock of holidaying cousins to play them with) was the prime suspect. OR perhaps it was just the mid-teen angst.

But the insipid monotony was real. And there was only so much one could do.

Those were also the days when Aamir Khan was doing snake movies, Rishi Kapoor was wearing his last set of sweaters around trees, Jackie Shroff was giving solo box office hits, and Vinod Khanna was cracking dudhu jokes looking at women in Farishtay.

Yes. There really was only so much one could do.

Or actually, there was. Buzz words like liberalisation and globalisation were just beginning to hover around, and private TV channels were soon to be an everyday fix as a positive fallout of the policy changes. Cable TV was slowly becoming the fashionable thing to do in small town India, a perfect middle class counter point to the safari-suit-and-pomeranian superiority practiced by the elite. My professor parents, of course, thanks to their world view and wisdom nurtured by Brahmanical leanings, had a strong point of view on cable TV or any other form of unsupervised entertainment. EXACTLY the reason why I readily agreed when Ramkailas ji, my trusted aide, and the family Man Friday, recommended that we steal the cable connection since the wires went through our garden.

Till then, our experience in thieving was restricted to pocketing raw mangoes of the awesomely juicy Maldah variety from the neighbours’ yard.  So I was not too sure. Having said that, the lure of breaking the boredom and seeing content outside of the staid DD programming was too much of a temptation. The programming options were way too many, beyond the Krishi Darshans and Chitrahaars of the world. There was finesse and flair one wasn’t used to seeing on television. Plus, there was MTV. That thing that was meant to morally corrupt the youth of the nation.

I was ready to be corrupted.

All it took was a pair of garden cutters and some ingenuity, and we were a cable TV household between 10pm and 5am, every day. Opening gates to a world unseen. The firang accent, the cool graphics, the smart promos, the interesting shows… they were all from a distant land. There was Star Plus with its Crystal Maze, Donahue, Oprah and, oh, those kissing cousins in The Bold and The Beautiful. Or the cigarette smoking Tara in the eponymous series on Zee TV, and even the obnoxious Mohan Kapoor on the channel’s Saanp Seedhi, and also Rajat Sharma, giving birth to a different breed of journalism in Aap Ki Adalat. This was all different. New. And real.

And then there was, of course, MTV. All different. New. And surreal.

With its funky graphics, bizarre spots and fast pace. Smelling like teen spirit. With Michael Jackson and Madonna. With Guns N’ Roses, a paradoxical co-existence that could well define MTV. With Right Said Fred declaring his sexiness and Phil Collins his inability to dance. With Pearl Jam, Megadeth, Metallica and innumerous such bands that us small-towners had no knowledge or clue about. I saw images I never thought existed. I saw people I never could be. I saw love. I saw debauchery. I saw a display of colours, commotion and camaraderie. It was culturally alien, unfathomable at times. But it was all eerily eye opening. I could never be them, I knew. And yet, I wanted to know more about them. Every day.

I saw possibilities. And I am not just talking television. I am talking life.

For that Hindi medium boy from Bihar struggling with Itihaas, Bhugol and Nagrik Shastra in school, it was almost like him creating his own itihaas every night. By unshackling himself from all that was around him. By thinking beyond the books and the course material. By taking those fantastic flights to nowhere. I never did stop thinking in Hindi. I did not develop an accent. I never could appreciate Pearl Jam, Megadeth or Metallica. I did not try becoming a different person with brand new reference points. Only, my perspectives changed. I started seeing things differently. I did not know where did I want to go, but I knew what it would be like.

We were caught soon enough by Papa. He said all that we had to do was ask. He was, obviously, very upset. Major mud on our face. But I wasn’t complaining. It was worth the trip. It was not as if it suddenly changed my persona or that I could see doors opening for me. But this entire visual experience, day on day, made me realise that there were so many doors that existed.

It was not just economic liberalisation at work. Or just liberalisation. It was liberation!

It changed my outlook. It made me more confident. It made me more audacious. It allowed me to dream differently. That gawky teenager, son of academicians, started looking beyond Engineering and Medicine as a career. As did many of us from similar backgrounds. Everything in the world, hitherto unseen, was now around us. And everything was achievable. We did not have to travel to foreign lands to broaden our horizons. The world had come to us. Very soon, the world literally was around us in the supermarkets. In form of Camay soaps and Hershey’s chocolates. As brand new malls and multiplexes. In the queues at McDonald’s. Buzzing in pagers and mobile phones. Surprisingly, none of it made me feel poor and deprived at any point of time. It kept egging me to have a deeper resolve to become better off. Read rich.

In retrospect, that was the bawdiest, and yet the most important, contribution of liberalisation to the small town India, and not just me. We stopped feeling guilty about earning and spending monies, something that Papa would have so not approved. We were okay to let go of our middleclassery.  Of course, that came with its own set of struggles. Mumbai, the city I had chosen to move to, gave me its perfumed indifference, showing me my place in the 8:11 local. I gave it my unadulterated confidence. Very soon, we reached a compromise, and the city was home.

Fate brought me to MTV in 2000. And MTV gave me the confidence to change MTV. It had made me embrace its globalness, I made it embrace my Indianness, being a part of the team that made it desicool. I worked with them for ten long years. Fancy designation, et al. Little did MTV know about the role it had played in my life. Even when it was on mute. :)

Meanwhile, we got Ramkailas ji a job as a peon in Delhi. His family continued to be in a remote village in Bihar. We sponsored the education of his son who is now sixteen. The boy uses a smart phone and knows how to Whatsapp. I suspect he also knows how to order mangoes online. Only, he aspires to follow the career path of his father. Become a peon.

Twenty-five years later, I wait for another round of liberalisation.

– first published in Indian Express Sunday edition Eye as a part of their special issue on 25 years of economic reforms –How MTV changed my life

Ruby Rai and the state of Bihar :|

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When actor Neetu Chandra saw Alia Bhatt playing a Bihari in the Udta Punjab trailer, she wrote an open letter, as is the norm these days. She was upset about the exaggerated portrayal of Biharis in Hindi cinema. Phrases like “Bihar’s glorious past” made their justifiable entries in the note, as did the obligatory references to Nalanda University and the origins of Buddhism and Jainism. It was sweet, despite the mid-life angst playing peekaboo. Guess Neetu never did see the brown and burnt Ms. Bhatt speaking in what-she-thought-was-Bhojpuri in the film. Because then, just an open letter would not have sufficed! :)

But we are digressing already.

The point being made was fairly spot-on. The state’s portrayal in mainstream media and popular culture always has been rather insensitive, loud and callous. Bihar is unsophisticated, corrupt, rustic, lawless, criminalised and anarchistic, joyously indifferent to anything refined and cultured. Bihar is unruly political goons getting their eyes stuffed with acid in Gangajal. Bihar is years of rivalry between Faisal Khan and Ramadhir Singh, with bloodbaths and gaali galauj galore. Bihar is Pepsi Peeke Laagelu Sexy and other such raunchy Bhojpuri songs on YouTube. Bihar is the blatantly ridiculous buffoonery of Laloo Yadav, and his unscrupulous political machinations, over the last two decades. Bihar is a cunning opportunist singing paeans to Azaadi one day and sharing stage with shady politicians the other. Bihar is that viral photograph showcasing unashamed mass cheating in Hajipur.

AND Bihar is Ruby Rai.

Don’t think anybody would be able to write any distressed open letters complaining against the state’s unsympathetic portrayal in the last few cases. As a bona fide born-and-brought-up-in-Bihar Bihari, I would love to pen a few passionate notes defending the land I grew up in. I would want to dissociate myself from this deviousness and douchebaggery. But I would not. Because I know that the state IS all that and more. The lawlessness and the lawmakers waltz together. They are real. They exist. And they are here to stay.

But then again, the same state produces the best brains that make it to the Civil Services, year on year, clearing what must be the toughest examination process in the whole wide world. The best colleges in the country across streams, including the IITs and IIMs, are filled with Biharis. Super 30 is a produce of Bihar. As are the mega achievers in very many fields around us. They are real. They exist. And they are here to stay.

And yet, Bihar is Ruby Rai.

But rightly so. Very much warranting that depiction. I will not blame the wisely manicured societal commentators for making the likes of Ruby Rai, Laloo Yadav or the next buffoon that the state will produce as Bihar’s prime protagonists. They make great copy, yes, but they are NOT figments of somebody’s imagination. Their existence is authentic. Which is exactly why they deserve to be discussed, dissected and disseminated. That mumbling, bumbling, tumbling girl was exactly how Ruby Rai was. Dumb. And dumber. Densely looking into the camera with this dazed, dopey look, making a fool of herself. She may be a minor, and stupid, but she clearly knew what she had done, or not done. Her parents did, too. We can blame the system as much as we want, but she merited the public shaming. While I feel sorry for her, it was important for issues like these to become national news. For the sake of Bihar.

Because things in Bihar are more deep-rooted than one can ever imagine. The scam is not new. Let me do a quick flashback to the Patna of 1990. I was in class 10th. CBSE had introduced the Open School exams for candidates who had to take a break from studies. My school happened to be the centre for the same. It was good to see girls coming to our all-boys’ unit to attend those special classes. Thank you, CBSE. When the Open School exam results were put up on the notice board, we wanted to know how our girls had fared. (Yeah, they had become our girls by then, only they didn’t know that.) There was one particular candidate who had scored 20, 20, 20, 19 and 19 in the five papers, getting 98 out of 500. Her name sounded familiar. Her father was, and still is, a mega politician from Bihar. She had scored less than 20%. This spoke volumes about her aptitude, intellect and acumen. Very soon, the Bihar board results were out. The girl had passed with flying colours!

She is now in public space, taking forward all the good work done by her father.

And that’s my point. Bihar is a sad reflection of its rulers, and not just the political class. While a complete socio-political-cultural analysis of the state is outside the scope of this note, the fact of the matter is that the powers-that-be have mauled and molested it since independence without any fear of any consequences. And are continuing to do so, making Bihar into what it is. The flaw isn’t with the education system or any other systems of Bihar. It is with the people who are meant to be responsible for implementing those systems.

Some, like Ruby and her parents, give in and become a part of those people. For their ilk, cheating isn’t the easy way out. It is the only way out. How would Ruby know what Political Science is, if her teachers, and their teachers, are also the products of the same set up! Test them, and even they would fail the Board examination, confusing Political Science with Home Science. “Tulsidas Ji, Pranaam”, was the only line she famously wrote in the essay on the poet-saint Tulsidas in her re-exam. My belief is that her tutors may also not be able to go beyond this.

The rest don’t give in. They quietly struggle, work hard, become engineers, doctors and civil servants, some even write long treatises on what is wrong with the state of affairs in Bihar. And while Bihar never leaves them, they do leave Bihar. The brain-drain is a sad, continuous reality for the state. From my batch itself, barring the classmates who had family businesses in Patna or who got government jobs in nationalised banks and insurance companies, most of us are out of the state. I am talking about people who owe their identities, thought processes and individualities to Bihar, and proudly so. Only, we are not in Bihar. Neither would we want to be there.  Because the ones that go back – especially the ones who get churned out from the IAS factories – quietly become those people. Agreeing with, and sometimes even spearheading, the sorry state of affairs.

The exposé of Ruby Rai, therefore, is a good thing. More than probing the cheap tactics used to get her to top the Board exams, I would want to question this rather ballsy bravado that led them to get the girl face the cameras and journalists, and actually believe that they would get away scot free. THAT must die. I repeat, my heart bleeds for the scars she must be getting, but then, all that she had to do was study some. Read. Work hard. That’s what most kids her age do. Even in Bihar. She was the privileged one. Her parents had the monies. She could have asked them to get her the best tutors, the best teaching tools, the best education. Instead, “Maine to Papa se kaha tha pass karwa deejiye, unhonen toh top hi karva diya” is the route she took.

She needs to pay for it.

So that things are not taken for granted any more. So that the likes of Bachcha Rai, the Principal of the Vishun Rai College, and Lalkeshwar Singh, the former Chairman of Bihar State Education Board, get arrested. So that the outrage forces the administrative class to take preventive and corrective action.  Across spaces. I hope there are many more of her that get exposed. It will be a very very good thing for Bihar.

Yes, Ruby Rai is all that is wrong with Bihar. But Ruby Rai may just become all that will be right with Bihar.

Ruby Rai Ji, Pranaam!

This article was first published on arre.co.in. The girl was just granted bail after a five week stay at a juvenile home. The case continues. As does Bihar. –