We celebrate like no other. Bunch of nice people down the road have been setting off crackers well past midnight, five nights in a row now. I should remember to send them some sweets for keeping me and most of the neighbourhood awake all week. Unfortunately, other nice people haven't thought of taking out long processions that create really cute traffic snarls. Diwali is a no-procession festival. Damn. We celebrate like no other ... really ... because the prime objective of our celebration must be to harrass others. Celebration has to be a loud, vulgar public display of boorishness. Happy Diwali, can't wait for the next one.
This one is for the rain worshippers. I hate rain. I have always associated rain with a lack of freedom. When I was a kid, rain meant staying indoors. The playground would be soggy, my friends would be locked up in their homes. It was like being in prison, watching the rain through the window. I don't know what's so nice about rain in the city. It just washes all the squalor from the underbelly and displays it on the street. The traffic crawls, the city stinks, the clothes don't dry, the drains get clogged, epidemics break out. What's so cute about that? Most people who claim to love the rain don't have a good enough reason to love it. Yeah, the rain is great when you have a little cottage by a gurgling brook like they describe in the 50s novels, not much fun in Dadar or Parel. Yeah?
A twelve-year-old with a 1000-watt mouth, chattering into a 25k mobile phone. I can hear the whirr in my head as my mind furiously rewinds to me at twelve. Not much joy there, no mobile phones, no PSP3, no bit role on reality TV either. In fact, I owned nothing at fourteen other than some free trouble. I also owned shiny marbles won at hard fought contests on the road, tadpoles tucked away in jam bottles, a slingshot traded for comic books I had gotten bored with and an assortment of empty cigarette packs. Would I have traded my wealth for a mobile phone? Not a chance in hell because a fight-unto-death marbles contest is cooler than any mobile phone ever made.
Take off the safety jacket, jump into the deep end. Live. How sanitised our lives have become with the fixed deposits and insurance policies. We live at the epicentre of paranoia, so obsessed with saving for a rainy day that we don't notice the rain. So what if the stock markets crashed, no body died. So what if money is difficult to come by, we managed with none some years ago. What's the big deal with this job anyway, any monkey with half a brain can do mine. So why am I special? Why have I always been encouraged to chase an Indian dream of a roof over my head and gold in my locker. It's made me an educated vegetable. I need to take that plunge, that free fall into empty space.
Raj Thackeray wants to be a benevolent despot on the lines of his infamous uncle,the son of the soil who marks his territory by pissing on intruders. When his uncle launched a campaign of hatred and violence against ethnic minorities in Maharashtra, he received the tacit support of a local populace that was clinging to any straw that promised to paddle them to a better life. That was the India of the 60s, opportunities were rare and you needed a licence from the Government to flush your toilet. This is 2008. Raj, like our Bollywood film-makers, is rehashing a 60s plot and serving it to a multiplex audience. It's even more retrogade than Himesh Bhai's Karzzz. One of Raj's key gripes is he is not being taken more seriously. Fact is, he is not bereft of ideas. Unfortunately, most of his sensible plans for Maharashtra are being hidden under layers of xenophobia. It will work best for everyone, other than the stupid TV channels of course, if he takes a more inclusive approach to his politics. Anger, like water, can be channelised to construct or destruct and Raj's anger can still be useful. Because despotic he may be, but there is something about Raj Thackeray.
I made a new friend at a bar in Munich last week. It was a big night for Sasha, was his wife's birthday, and he was high on happiness and a barrel of vodka. Sasha insisted we have a drink to celebrate with him. He was prepared to buy us the bar though he had met us only about 30 seconds ago when he was picking himself off the ground having toppled over. We didn't want to rain on his parade, so we agreed to let him buy a round. Turned out to be a mistake since his idea of a round was a bottle of vodka each to be diluted with nothing but love. I managed to pour most of my vodka back into his glass during one of his many trips to the floor. Sasha came from kazhakstan and sold mountain bikes in Germany. He couldn't quite place where India was but he seemed happy enough to be friends with me. We were one big happy family at the bar till my colleague called him Borat. Sasha didn't speak much English but he didn't like the Borat thing. No sir, he didn't. After a few menacing words in Russian, he sulked in the corner. His wife finally managed to drag him out of the bar but Sasha was upset, I could tell. The friendliness had been replaced by a cold menace. Before he stumbled out, he dropped his business card on the table. Jorge Sternberg, it said. Dodgy. Never say no when a Russian offers you vodka, they say, and never ever ever mess with Russians or vodka. Walking back to my hotel, hunched in the cold Munich rain, I figured Borat wasn't a good idea. It was a chilly night.
Every time I travel to any part of the world, I run into Indians. That's hardly meant to shock considering our impressive numbers. But there is a pattern to these expatriates. Indians blend into most landscapes rather comfortably, so much so that they often become more local than the weather. I find it amusing to watch them react to other traveling Indians. They can always tell you are a visitor and they are not sure how to react to you. Often, they are almost scared to display any kind of camraderie lest their loyalty to their adopted country be questioned. So while a Spaniard or a German always has a smile and a nod when they meet you at a bar or in the lift, the Indian either puts on a superior smirk or avoids any kind of eye contact. It almost always amuses me enough to start up a conversation which almost always ends abruptly. But I won't stop trying, it's too much fun.
There is a part deep inside you that is untouched, uncorrupted and pristine. It can't be tempted with diamonds or fat bonuses, can't be scared with cancer or cleansed with designer creams. It's there, just there, that you feel the unbearable pain of loss. The white coats haven't found a balm for it yet.
Did Saurav dance with the devil or is he the devil himself? The television channels have been whipping up conspiracy theories with Jason Bournish fervour. Did he or didn't he? Does it matter really? Is it too much for the battle-scarred warrior to ask for a semi-dignified exit? The breast-thumpers say Indian cricket should not carry any passengers anymore and it's foolishy sentimental to let him play four tests against the World Champions. Amen. But is there someone so bright knocking on Indian cricket's door to deny Saurav twenty days under the sun? I doubt it. Let the man play. He's done enough to book his last passage into the sunset.
It's the kind of day that needs to be eaten in little warm helpings with generous dollops of butter. It's a day to dust the sepia catalog and bask in all the lovely things that have happened to you. It's a U2esque beautiful beautiful day.
If you go by the number of fairness cream commercials on television, you get a fair idea of how proud we are of who we are. There is a whole industry out there that promises to make us white and superior at the price of a tube of cream. Check any matrimonial ad and it's a fair Gujarati or a fair Brahmin girl. Even our movies and music refer to beauty as "gori". To be dark skinned is a class thing as much as a caste thing. In India's dark ages, dark skin was associated with the lower castes but now, in more evolved times, it's almost a handicap. I routinely come across people dismissing other Indians as "black" like it's some disease. We simply are the most racist people in the world because we persecute our own on degrees of darkness. No proud African will ever use fairness cream to become white. Neither should we, really.