Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sitting in a Mall and Wondering What Went Wrong

Now that we are retired from corporate life - ostensibly for writing (ah well, the novel is chugging along) - we spend a lot of time in malls, just browsing, seeing the branding, reading books in the bookstores, and generally bumming around. We see a lot of branding material, which used to be what we were doing when we threw it all away to devote time to writing. We see displays, standees, shopsigns, shopfronts (vinyl, acrylic, plastic you name it), we see flexes featuring bloopers ("ends of season sale", "Upto 50% discount" and in a luxury brand store "100 % genuine leather"), we see them and think of our days in marketing. There were exhibitions, events, kiosks, promotional brochures (leaflets) to be written and designed, websites to be populated with content, ads to be written and released, all great fun till you burn out with the urgency of it all. Everything is wanted with great speed and accuracy, everything is decided at the last minute. And there were ad agencies and suppliers to be paid and kept happy, which they were not, a swollen-headed tribe that they are.

We were at this mall today and we see another veteran like us - a statesque grey-haired sardarji - also studying the landscape sitting on the bench where we sat. We wanted to reach out and ask what he did during his lifetime and how he is doing. But seeing the ominous silence he was enveloped in we demurr. May be, a tragedy has ocurred, may be, something he doesn't want to discuss. We let him alone and we sit in silence. People pass in different states of being occupied - mobiles, music, talking into their devices, playing games on tablets, texting, whatsapping, whatever that means. And there is silence, broken only by a toy train that whisks children around the mall, playing a tinny tune, resembling a real train's sounds. Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Good" had an entire verse on trains:

He used to carry his guitar in a gunny sack
Sit under the tree near the railway track
Engineers would see him sitting in the shade
Strumming to the rhythm the drivers made.

Well the song is our favourite and ranks among the top ten songs of all time, and Chuck Berry is a great singer. He is still alive. We like to imitate him singing the song but can't capture his vitality, his mojo, his stage presence. The singer in us has died.

Where were we? Okay, at the mall, we sit in silence, now that we are retired, studying life and what went wrong and how it could have been corrected. We - the Sardarji and us - aren't mobile addicts. We regret certain mistakes of our life, which might have, hypothetically, contributed to global warming, religious extremism, the recrudescence of superstition and blind beliefs in people's lives. In Nairobi, Kenya, a mall was attacked and people died. A mall as the one we were sitting. In India a man who fought superstition was killed. A cousin's son died at the age of 38 in a desert kingdom. What wrongs have we done to be thus?

What went wrong with the marketing and branding of our country that we have to think of selling our family jewels to save our currency? Are we no longer the outsourcing back office of the world? What went wrong? What?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Nation of Inconvenience Regretted People?

A funny thing happened to us just now. It's a known fact that financial institutions have the worst websites in the business. So, we are normally reluctant to visit them, knowing what we will get there as a prescience, sort of. Our reaction to such sites is AAAAAARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGG! 

Hence, we were prepared for disappointment when we visited this loan website and promptly got the message "The website is under maintenance till September 21, 1 p.m." Well, it's September 21, and it's 1.05 p.m. so we refresh again and still the same message persists, as it would, we assume, for a few days more. What's this? They should have probably added, "If the site isn't working inconvenience regretted." Which is the standard excuse trotted out. Are we a nation of inconvenience regretted people?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Ganesh Chaturthi and Onam Came and Went

A few thoughts for this week because of things of an emergency nature, well sort of. Our computers (desktop and laptop) decided to die on us and all hopes of getting it repaired were squashed by the computer fellow, a dour man of spare words, as the fraternity tends to be. We have no alternative but to use the neighbourhood cyber cafe where computer keyboards are often stuck because of children using them for gaming. Well, gaming is becoming huge and some days back they had this information of BBC that games sell more than feature films at their openings. Gawd! Here is technocommercialism at its worst, and the most affected are young minds. I have seen the types: know-alls, their hair like uncut grass, unwashed, noses and faces oily like a fish, clothed in atrociously faded jeans which show tears instead of hiding them.

Well, be that as it may. I may be wrong, they might be the rebellious generation that will make good in the end. But the way they are going they are most likely to end up in hospitals by the time they are in their forties. Don't say you read it here. Because some young people I am close to belong to that category.

Ah, hum! Ganesh Chaturthi came and went with the usual burst of noises. The neighbour had a Ganesh and we had to visit it and see the decorations. It was done nicely, and they were awake for five days playing cards and making a lot of noise in the process.

Then came Onam, the favourite festival of Malayalis. Onam, which is a celebration of sorts of Mahabali, the asura king of Kerala, comes during the harvest season and because of this it is a double whammy. Mahabali, being an asura, is not worshipped, however, the one who sends him to the underworld - Vishnu in the avatar of Vaman - is an object of adulation during this time. It is said that Mahabali was a benevolent dictator in whose reign the subjects saw prosperity and goodness all around, and because of this the Gods became jealous.

Onam, rather elaborate in rituals, actually starts 10 days before the actual day, and goes on for another 4 days making it a total of 14 days of celebrations. Today being the third day after Onam is called Poorittathi and tomorrow is Utharittathi which the last day on which snake boats race in the rivers of God's Own Country. The festival is also a celebration of vegetarian food and no non-vegetarian food is not supposed to be eaten. We don't know whether the old ardour still exists in the celebrations. Today, in the whisky-and-arrack-sodden countryside of Kerala it's more of drinks and non-vegetarian food that is being consumed.

An Onasadya consisting of more than 25 dishes is a treat to the palate and, on Sunday the local Kairali is celebrating Onam with a grand Sadya - feast - containing these delicacies of Kerala. We are eagerly looking forward to it.
The Pookalam, or, Rangoli made from flower petals, is an integral part of Onam celebrations.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Technocommercialism and Its Pernicious Effects - Johnathan Franzen

ohnathan Franzen writes in this article what we have been writing here all along, though with less clarity, we guess.

We have railed and ranted against technocommercialism and how the media in collusion with technocrats were destroying our lives. He has based the above-mentioned article on a satirist of Austria named Karl Kraus, whose criticism of the society around him got him the moniker of "The Hater." We like this. He absolutely hated everything. He didn't live to see the Third Reich and what followed, or, he would have dipped his pen in vitriol and probably obviated the need for World War II.

Today we think of nothing else but the latest mobile phones and gadgets and how to get them. We sit and watch sports for hours but won't lift a finger to avoid a crime. We would go on a holiday to a sea resort but wouldn't visit our aged relatives. All this, we say, is the result of technocommercialism.

And the perpetrators are there for all to see. They address the company's annual sales meetings with great fanfare and drama. They reward their salesmen with drink parties that last well into the night.

In the end what is achieved? We have become insular, we have become withdrawn, and we complain when something drastic happens in the neighbourhood.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

In the Aftermath of the Nirbhaya Verdict

We don't like this attitude of the electronic media. (We are saying this because we watch a lot of television news these days, one of the high points of our miserable lives.) The media goes into overdrive when there are protests, and announces that a verdict will be out soon. There are clips of stones thrown, tear gas shells lobbed, frenzied debats and after the storm abates when the real verdict is announced, there is a brusque-kind-of announcement and then silence. There is no analysis, no details, the issue is dead and buried. We guess that's where electronic media fails. Whereas, look at the print media. There are analyses and comments of all types, choose what you want. There is a plethora of opinion, go ahead, choose what you want. We like this aspect of the print media.

The electronic media goes where the noise is crazy, the din is unbearable, and heated discussions are generated. It is almost silent when the protesters have gone home. So this media is some kind of skimming service for news, a sort of fisher of news. So anything that doesn't make appropriate noises is ignored. Periliously close to "fisher of compliments" but we will let it be.

Look at the Nirbhaya gang-rape verdict. While a lot was made about the case, when electronic media sat in judgement over the details, after the verdict, there is silence. Of course, the bloody thing is golden, but we need some views and analyses. Why does rape happen. For example, in some obscure part of the newspaper we read that there were around 1200 rapes in Delhi alone in the past year. Shocking? Yes, it indeed is. Has any media tried to analyse the circumstances of these cases, found any similariites among them, drawn any conclusions? No, it seems.

Why are juveniles so attracted to rape. Is it because of our entertainment media? Or, are they addicted to easily-available porn on the net. Then the whole premise on which Bollywood is based is wrong. Also television reality shows and other shows where minors are brought to sing their hearts out, or cook their stomachs out, are very, very, wrong. In Britain recently there was a debate about whether schooling should start at age seven. Here children are competing on television at that age. 

We would suggest that media pundits should think about this.

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Death

We have made the morning walk an integral part of our regimen. On today's perambulation around our home we learnt that a local former corporator's wife had died. A crowd had gathered among which was the corporator who is an acquaintance. So we sat with the mourners to show solidarity and sympathy for the family.

The local drunk was present, who was asking for money from the corporator, and he was shooed away by the big man's henchmen. A few men who have illusions about their greatness also joined, you know, the sort who dominate housing society meeting, and make representations to the corporation. They wore white safari suits or white shirts, the colour of mourning. It was interesting to see the party power-play at work. The corporator who hails from a village close to our native place in Kerala had made the transition to New Bombay rather nicely and was known for his good work to the locals. They all belong to the party helmed by a "bhau (brother)", who is quite a powerful man in the area.

Another corporator from a nearby constituence came and in a big sports utility vehicle, causing a flutter, but our corporator didn't give her any respect. He didn't budge from his seat. This lady had a regal bearing fit for Maharanis and had the imperiousness of somebody in power. This was evident in the number of people who immediately rushed to receive her. There were jokes and camaraderie in the place where the mourners sat, quite inappropriate, we think, to the occasion.

Anyway, we sneaked out as more and more people arrived and the place became akin to a political meeting, or, rally, whatever.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Are We Going into Stagflation?

Another week and a few thoughts to share here, our beloved platform, well, sort of. Now that the threat of the world ending with a bang is over - temporarily - we can relax. If the big O from the big A had bombed Syria then Russia might have retaliated and there would have been a nuclear war. The two earlier world wars have ocurred over trivial matters and the next one could, as well.

Be that as it may, we think it's stagflation that is facing us. Stagflation is when good aren't available in the market due to high transportation and other costs - tax for example - and, consequently, products disappear from shelves. Prices of merchandise rise, stagflation results. That's what wifey is facing now. She went to the market to buy vegetable and had to pay Rs 30 for a half kilo of cabbage. God help us if stagflation is on us. Since the costs are high people will stop buying, resulting in high inflation and stagnation of the market. This is our humble understand of the dreaded word.

Brazil, Russia, and Zimbabwe are countries that faced stagflation. Here prices of essential groceries shot up, and, sort of, adding insult to injury, these needful essentials weren't available in the market, even if one had the money. People in these countries would go around with big bags on their shoulders and soon as they saw something they would latch upon it and buy. Hope we don't come to that stage, yet.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Happy Teacher's Day Saramma-saar!

Teachers Day. Well, it brings a lot of memories back on lazy ethereal wings. But one stands starkly in our mind as a defining moment, something we can't forget. We were born in Kerala and spent eight years of our life there. Those days kintergarten in Kerala meant squatting on the floor and writing on the sand spread before us, to the satisfaction of the cruel and sadistic old teacher. Homework was carved on palm leaves with a sharp instrument called "narayam." Woe to those who didn't do their homework, as punishment included beating with a stick and pinching with sand stuck to the teacher's fingers.

We were admitted to this class rather early, and naturally, we were one of the biggest malingerers around. Our mater, being a teacher of craft herself, thought starting early would be good. But we thought otherwise. We wanted to enjoy our life at home, lazing in the fields and looking at the bees. We felt school was a waste of our time. (From then till now we have not figured out what our school was meant for, except to pick up language skills. All our other classes and time were wasted on us, we still can vouch. Our education was mainly done by us, ourselves.) Our malingering would have got on our mamma's nerves as one day she decided enough was enough and took the matter into her hands. She escorted us with a stick, freshly cut from a bush, de-leafed and all, and then when she would turn back, thinking we were walking to school, we would turn back and walk towards her. Ruthless punishment would follow and the stick would be applied all over our body, rather mercilessly. The pain, we do feel, even now. This process of our walking ahead a little and turning back and being beaten would repeat several times, and, as many times we would get thrashed relentlessly. We cried, bitter tears, for mercy, but no mercy was shown by mother, with whom we kept a grudge all our lives for that incident.

Then as this process seemed a never-ending progression, along came Saramma-saar. She asked what was going on. When mother told her, she scolded her, hugged us, took us by the hand and with kind words of encouragement led us to school. From then on we had no fear of going to school, though we were not a very good student. It was just that act of kindness from our teacher that changed our attitude altogether to school and education. This incident underscores the need for teachers to be kind.

This teacher's day we remember Saramma-saar with fondness. Happy teacher's day Saramma-saar, wherever you are.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

On Gareth Bale's Signing for 100 Million Euros

After the outrage we felt about the support a rapist received from a conservative people - my fellow men - we feel outraged over one other thing. The obscene amounts paid to football stars.

These days we watch a lot of football. It's a good game full of tension and excitement, unlike cricket, which is only interesting at times, i.e., when India plays Pakistan and Zimbabwe plays Bangla Desh. The reason is a 32 inch television that almost obliterates one wall of our modest house. Our son, of course, paid for it, as we are destitute, after resigning from our job. Our three credit card companies are baying for our blood like unfed Himalayan wolves. Well, the things we splurged on are rotting in different cupboards, now that we don't go to work anymore - Arrow shirts, Allen Solly trousers, Celio jackets, the works.

So it is upsetting to read that Gareth Bale has been paid 100 million Euros by Real Madrid. We like Real Madrid, it's one of our favourite teams, but 100 million? 100 million to backpass those cute footballs and strike it into the net? 100 million when people in several countries are starving. This is roughly a thirty-secondth part of the budget of Bombay. Isn't this figure obscene when writers like us are starving - well, not starving exactly, but struggling.

Would (rather, could) Gareth pass on the bucks for something, which is believed, he doesn't rightfully deserve, to this struggling writer?

Monday, September 02, 2013

Is Rape by a Person in Power Condone-able?

We are one of the few people who don't understand our fellow countrymen. Really. We have got out moral priorities upside down. 

The hoo-hah over the many rapes that came to light in the past few months had barely died down - just because the media drew attention to them - than we see demonstrations of people supporting an alleged rapist, who, incidentally happens to be a man claiming to be god. We see girls and women - the victims of sexual harassment all their lives - on the road blocking traffic, and lending support to an alleged rapist. 

So is rape by a godman okay with us? The question baulks our mind. After evading arrest for a long time the alleged rapist is now in jail. God - I mean the almighty - alone knows if he will be convicted.

There have been allegations of rape by politicians, godmen, and corporate czars, which have all been swept under the carpet. How many have been convicted? Of course there is no statistics, if at all. Our mistaken awe of people in power continues. "Malik, maine aap ka namak (or, whatever) kyaya hai," seems to the operative assumption here.