Sunday, August 31, 2008

Love,Loathing and Libertarianism in Bangalore

The thrill of being 'Bangalored' gets mitigated by the minute.Despite the potential blow that Barack Obama intends to wield with his outsourcing policy (if he gets the keys to the White House); the decay is from blows suffered from within.Serial bomb blasts, the ineffective infrastructure, the night life ban and all the moral policing threaten to curtail the bliss that Bangaloreans took for granted.Let's toast to Bangalore before they make it illegal.

Love.Starry eyed couples are now a shadow of their brazen predecessors.Any displays of affection are subject to a fine.Thankfully I can still afford to pet the average decrepit stray cur without fear of being ostracized by the cynophobic (those who fear dogs).Perhaps the city administration wishes to make its contribution to the 'teach India' campaign, by being pedantic with puppy love smitten couples in Bangalore, by trying to hint that there is more to love than a public display of affection.Nevertheless, an effective teacher is one who doesn't underestimate the indomitable spirit of his/her pupils.

Loathing.We loathe the roads,the traffic, the open man holes, the clogged drains, the hazy smog, the endless construction in the name of 'beautification', policies made with the intent of beatification and the fact that we pay taxes to remedy the maladies of a city with a waning spine.We also love the fact that we loathe with such passion.

Libertarianism.I've always maintained that libertarianism is the luxury peculiar to Utopia and a privilege peculiar to the delusional (I am libertarian therefore I delude!).Gated communities in Bangalore do exactly that.They are something like 'Atlantis' in 'Atlas Shrugged', with the exception that they don't necessarily house the likes of John Galt.Only true libertarians would shut themselves up in fortresses to savor every bit of personal liberty.

So at the end of all this, how do I love Bangalore? Let me count the ways. I love it to the depth the human spirit can sink when shirking duty and fleeing guilt.(I think I heard Elizabeth Barret Browning curse!)Here's to love,loathing and libertarianism in Bangalore.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Diva's Commandments of good Writing

A book can be great if and only if it isn't lost in the ravages of time and translation.

There is a difference between writing that is eccentric and that which is cluttered.Eccentric writing bears some semblance of coherence.Writing that is cluttered is likely to confound the one who wrote it in the first place.

Good writing will hold the attention of the reader as well as that of the writer in equal measure.The reader will be inspired to read while the writer will remain prolific and unblocked.

Critics are often more predictable and trite than the books they review. The only thing worse than a bad review is a badly written review.By no means are reviewers entitled to such impunity.

The prolixity of a writer isn't measured by the thickness of the manuscript or by the weight of his/her adjectives.

Poetic licenses are meant to be used and not abused.Poets who wish to be exploitative may invent their own dialects.

Writers must bear the consequences of punctuation abuse,both intentional and otherwise.

There is no excuse for the violation of any of the above. Here's to the elimination of platitude! There's a limit to which readers can withstand insults to their intelligence.

Friday, August 15, 2008

In all Fairness

Since today marks the 61st anniversary of India's independence ,I find it fitting to write on a phenomenon that has wielded a blow to the self esteem of several Indian women.It is called the fairness cream.While a lot of self-proclaimed intellectuals attribute the success of the fairness cream to a colonial hangover; I like to attribute it to a cunning marketing campaign that exploits an obsession,as old as tradition, to make women feel lousy about themselves.

It is no secret that the average Indian would like to feast his/her eyes on a 'fair' individual.I cannot really define 'fair','wheatish','dark' and the other near-racist terms used in matrimonial advertisements.From the eyes of an artist who regards color as a technicality; 'fair','wheatish' and 'dark' are really different shades of the same color.I've often heard bemused foreigners suggest that all Indians really appear brown irrespective of what matrimonial color scale they belong to.It is something like the phenomenon in Korea where women get cosmetic surgery to have sharper features and folded eyelids. I'd like to quote Oprah Winfrey's opinion on 'sharp featured' Koreans; 'They all look Asian to me!', she said with a sense of the obvious.

All of the above is little consolation to an Indian girl ,on the threshold of womanhood, who is told that she isn't a very eligible bachelorette as her skin isn't of the right shade.Her eyes are glued to the television screen as she watches the fairness cream advertisements that show 'fair' women snagging the all right jobs and the most eligible men.She then buys the pink and white tube(surprisingly all fairness creams irrespective of the brand come in pink and white tubes)with hope in her eyes and a prayer in her heart.Most fairness creams are glorified sunscreens containing a bizarre mix of substances.The girl stares at herself in the mirror every hour waiting for some visible change.The change is barely significant,even after the fourteen day guarantee period. She buys the second tube and the third and the next to gain a sense of fake comfort.The slightly wealthy bachelorette will risk infection, discoloration and unsightly allergies to get her skin whitened using a procedure that uses a deadly mix of lasers and antibiotics.

I resent the fact that the entry sounds as trite as newspaper editorials on India's independence day.I suppose it's because nothing really changes over the years.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hitotoki - At the Bus Terminus

A follow up to the previous hitotoki.

Location: The Majestic bus terminus in Bangalore
Time: 18:00 Hrs.

The terminus is aptly christened 'Majestic'. It is majestic in an unlikely sense.Commuters sway like a multitude of flies lost in the common din.The buses ;some empty and others straining to balance the weight of passengers dangling precariously from foot boards,hog as much space as they can. There is an attempt, by harried employees of the B.M.T.C. , to maintain some semblance of order.They swirl their batons, directing the movement buses and commuters alike. How they bark at commuters who invite death by sprinting across platforms instead of taking the safe over-bridge.

The platforms are a world by themselves.There is hardly enough room to stand.There are families sprawled along each platform, with all their belongings huddled together in one place.There are small time entrepreneurs,striving to make a living be selling maps,newspapers and booklets with bus timings.There are travelers from outside Karnataka as well as illiterate locals,confounded by the scrawl of the Kannada script (most buses have boards written entirely in Kannada), they occasionally request locals familiar with the script to help them decipher what is written.Such locals themselves wait eagerly for that familiar bus that will take them to the desired destination. They crane their necks so that they can read the route information mentioned on bus boards.

The buses come one by one. Bus drivers and conductors encourage commuters to fill each bus to the brim.They often procrastinate at the terminus till driven out by B.M.T.C. traffic controllers.One cannot help inhaling the smog,the dust and the heavy air.One cannot avoid being jostled around like raw material in a centrifuge.It is impossible to remain placid and riveted to a single spot. One has to accept the discomfort of feeling lost and displaced.There are no individuals, there is no governance, there is only anarchy.If there wasn't anarchy the terminus would be stripped of its hostile majesty.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

An Unlikely Reconnection

When I decided to read 'The City of Joy', I approached it with the wary skepticism with which Indians tend to regard foreigners' accounts of India.I expected it to be filled with stereotypes portrayed, with so much conviction, by the European and American media.I probably underestimated the extent of Dominique Lapierre's research.I was struck by the introduction,where Lapierre urges readers not to form a generalized opinion of India based on what's in the book.

Lapirre's description of life in 'The City of Joy' ranges from stark to tender.Memories of alighting at the Howrah railway station came flooding back.So did wrenching images of the most dehumanizing poverty,the agonizing contrasts that make no sense,the immobilizing humidity and above all things an inexplicable sense of comfort.The book tugs at one's senses and invokes the kind of familiarity and fondness one wouldn't expect to feel for a hapless,overpopulated city.

As many of my readers know, I am a Bengali raised in Bangalore. I have often mourned the fact that I feel alienated and disconnected when I think of my roots, of Kolkata(Calcutta's new name) and a culture that has me confounded and bemused.Lapierre's moving account of the city and its spirit sparked off a reconnection.It rekindled the bond I shared with the city as a child.It is now time to make amends.