Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Vitamin T and other needs

     OK, so I am officially part of the world of twitwits (my term), or the twitterers or the tweeples or the twitterati; call them what you will.
     Am I ashamed of it? Yes.
     Am I doing it anyway? Yes.
     From the last time I looked, I am 18 days, 55 tweets, 26 followers, 83 followings and 18 direct messages old on Twitter and the handle that is used to carry all this senselessness is Urmi_Chanda_Vaz. Not bad, I'd say. At the going rate of more than one new follower per day, my vanity is being fed by the mouthfuls and my ego looks nice and curvy (oh dear, I can already hear the borderline obesity warning go beep-beep-beep!). Celebs must think similarly when their follower numbers hitch up by a few thousands per day.
     Twitter has taken the vain world by storm and anyone who is someone (and even no ones like yours truly) has something significant to say to the world...or at least they think so.
     And why not, I ask? When you have hundreds lapping up highly important facts like Salman Khan craving for a pizza or Gordon Ramsay cooking bull balls or OMG, Amitabh Bachchan taking a bucket bath, why shouldn't they tweet? Sample this: "Oh, you're my hero, my God, Amit ji sir ji...use balderdash soap for your divine skin and RT please." Now is there anything even remotely insane about this tweet? No. Because if Mr. Bachchan can tell you he's gracing the bathroom, Mr. Fan can tell him to retweet this gorgeous piece of literature.
     The inanity of the Tweetosphere is scary, sometimes funny and sometimes plain maddening.  That is why I had kept off Twitter for so long. That's what allowed me to indulge in some glorious derision. Oh, what fun it is to look down upon something that's so large.
     But then Social Wavelength happened. I opened a Twitter account as part of my job description, stooped low to see what happens down there and got sucked into that inimitable vanity trap that is Twitter.
     It is easy to fall prey to flattery. Yeah, it's no rocket science. It's man in all his 'social animal' glory that seeks acknowledgement, approval, acceptance and adulation from his fellow animals. My greatest victories are won when I speak and you nod. I say, you listen. I lead, you follow. Imagine the rush one feels, then, when others find you worthy enough to 'follow' you. When even the likes of Sachin Tendulkar have succumbed to the need for affirmation, what chance do us mere mortals have? We hate to follow the herd, but do it all the same, 'coz that's where the grass is.
     The need to be better than Tom, Dick and even Harry never abates. It just keeps getting bigger and stronger every time there's a DM, or an RT or a reply to your tweet. We try harder, we tweet smarter and we wait longer for just one more nod. Our selves have become dependent on Vitamin T and we need larger doses everyday to keep our fragile egos from collapsing. In the end, we all end up virtual wayfarers dropping in cheesy 140 characters hoping someone...anyone will notice us and follow us; our insecurities hashtagged forever.  

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

An overweight Bong


     Inspiration comes from the strangest places. Sometimes a small phrase leads to a big insight and out comes a blog...


     Trudging through my first lonely weeks at the new company Social Wavelength, I happened to get into one of those inane conversations with one of my new colleagues (a Bengali, incidentally). After a work-related query was resolved on G-talk, he asked me if I had had lunch. It was just past lunchtime. How nice of him. Hoping I'd be offered some company, I answered, "Yes, thank you. Anyway, it's a one-chapati, eat alone affair...gets done in 5 minutes..." But a Bong that he was, the picked the food cue! "One chapati!? But you are a Bong..."
     "I am an overweight Bong!" I interjected.
     "LOL...but you must have Rui maacher jhol with bhaat and begoon bhaja..." he trailed off. He was clearly interested in food. But I was interested in my little joke. But wait, it isn't really a joke...


     Or maybe it is. Sadly the joke is on us a race. The adjective 'overweight' pretty much sits 'unprettily' on most of us. Only those plagued by the showbiz or genetics are exceptions. Sure enough the likes of Bipasha Basu and Koena Mitra and Raima Sen make up the league of Bong bombshells. But the rest of us are more like bomb-swells. 
     The love of food is definitely part of a Bong's DNA. There can be no other explanation for this insane obsession we have for food. With five meals on a regular day and even more on jonmodins, beyays, annoprashons, pujos, and even shraddhos, an average Bengali lives to eat.
     Perhaps the probashis will beg to differ, but a typical meshomoshai will begin a typical day by going to a typical baajaar, wearing a typical shaart-paanjaabi, carrying a typical tholay in his hand. The shopping list, then the bag, then the kitchen and finally the meal will consist of two bhaajaas, one dal, one shukto, two torkaris, one maacher jhol (and definitely mangsho on a Sunday or an occasion), one chaatni, and then some doi or mishti. Phew! The subsequent between-meal meals may consist of shingara, kochuri, chop, porota, roll, muri-maakha or the many other delights roadside kiosks and sweet shops have to offer. And the day ends with a dinner that must compete with the lunch on all counts. Honest!
     The probashi that I am, I had forgotten that this is the norm and hence the expectation of a typical Bong when he is invited for a meal. So when I offered a 3-course lunch I had laboured over all day to a relative from Kolkata, I was met with some palpable disapproval about the lack of variety. I think I would have died of shame had I accepted my MIL's very well meaning advice of serving a one-dish meal!
     But I'm alive here and the relatives are back in the heartland of the feisty foodies who spend most of their time, money and energy on food. No wonder there's only one Subroto Roy (bet he doesn't fancy food very much). How can Bongs succeed in business if all they do is eat, eat (No, Bongs don't waste money on liquids) and make merry? But with precious little left after 'foodorgies', merry-making for most moddhobittos is restricted to an annual trip to Puri or Digha...

It's a pity their famous brains fall behind their famous-er appetites.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

2 States by Chetan Bhagat: Impressions

     I've been a self-confessed Chetan Bhagat loather all this while. Nothing against him or what he writes or how he writes it - I choose to not like him just because so many people like him. What to do? I am like that only. Ever since his 5 Point Someone days, his popularity pisses me off. I have a thing against everybody like everything and live happily ever after. So buying his books and reading them has been out of the question. But when my bhai-bhabhi thought my shelf needed a Chetan Bhagat (for a lack of my judgement or theirs) and gifted me his latest novel, I decided to give 2 States: A story of my marriage a chance. And anyways, since my marriage is stalemating, courtesy Jishnu and Mumbai, I thought I might as well read about other peoples' marriages and amuse myself.
      I'm not sure what his previous books are like, but 2 States is a fairly readable book. More than the story, what is to be savoured is his style of writing. It is refreshingly casual and may well have been snatches from our everyday conversations. His similes are rib-tickling, his insights fair and his characters real. His observations of prejudices are very good, perhaps because he has been subject to them. 
    Five days with Bhagat and I have to admit that I liked it while it lasted. You have to hand it to the guy for writing about life nice and easy with a good measure of humour thrown in. He really is someone who'd make for a good conversation starter with a random stranger or people you can't otherwise have meaningful conversations with. Bhagat's work is appealing in a way weather conversations are. They're safe and they're for everybody despite him being quite honest about the way the young operate. Anyway, uncles in their 40s and 50s are likely to not have read him.
     He may not make it to the annals of great literature, but Bhagat makes for a good companion of chai, coffee or cola.

First fright

     There's nothing more terrifying for a parent than to watch his child suffer. The pain is sheer and the helplessness penultimate. Before you can summon a doctor or even summon the idea of summoning one, panic grabs you by the throat and squeezes out every last ounce of reason from your head. The frantic heart takes over and reels with so many emotions, you don't know what to do with them. Your child cries, you cry. You child suffers, you die. You fear. You pray. Pray that there be one way that will let you take your child's pain away.
     ...All seemed hunky-dory on a regular day of our regular lives - stamped with that regularity which is taken for granted till one of the cogs of the wheel fall out. Jishnu was the model of a happy, healthy baby all eight months of his little life before that horrible retching began. There were no signs of discomfort and like any other day, Viren took Jishnu inside to put him to sleep at about 8.30 in the night. I was in the kitchen readying dinner when Vir started shouting and asked me to come in right away.
     I ran into the bedroom and to my horror saw Jishnu vomiting desperately and Viren looking desperate. I stood there transfixed at the door watching helplessly as my poor baby's body spasmed violently with the effort of throwing up. I stood there paralysed with fear facing something I'd never faced before. I stood there with all sorts of terrible thoughts crowding my mind even as Jishnu wailed in pain and discomfort. My reverie was broken only when Viren yelled, "What are you doing there? Help!"
     The next few minutes were pure hysteria and a frenzy of activity. Jishnu threw up, cried. We cleaned him up and the sheets and the floor and the bathroom and waited. Jishnu threw up again, we cleaned up all again; and Jishnu threw up for a third time. Somewhere in between I found my sense, my cell phone and my voice and called up Jishnu's pediatrician in Nagpur. A few assurances and a prescription later did I feel a wee bit 'regular' again. I cradled my baby in my arms, hushed him, soothed him and cried with him. In the next minute, I turned into a merciless model of practicality as I had Viren pinch his little nose while I forced the medicine down his throat. A few more tears and a phew!
     The medicine and exhaustion soon put Jishnu and our fears to sleep. We spent a partially sleepless night monitoring him, kissing him, caressing him even as he slept between us, blissfully unaware. Morning came and all was well again.
      So, what was the big deal one may ask. It was only a vomiting child for crying out loud (yep, right!). Yes, nothing was earth shattering in retrospect and storytelling. Yet, only a first-time parent may able to identify with this first experience of illness in the most precious part of you. Your world really can fall apart at even the thought of something 'bad' happening to your child. And like all things first, facing this fear as regards your baby is forever etched in your heart.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh: Impressions

     Ghosh ne mere hosh uda diye! Gosh!
     Good. My tribute couldn't possibly get cornier than this. Why? Because the book is so deliciously mind effing that trying to say anything intelligent might end up being corny.
     When I picked up the book from a roadside vendor, all I saw was the Elish maach and the word Calcutta on the cover. I thought it would lead me through the narrow golis of Kolkata in yellow taxis on a ride that would connect me to my roots. Thank God, my expectations weren't met. Thank God, The Calcutta Chromosome is another thing entirely!
     Why, Mr Ghosh, you are so cool, so crazy and so out of this world in TCC!! What a read! I'm so excited I cannot help but key in exclamation marks after every sentence! Bravo!
     Finally a book with no answers; a book with a plot so fantastic, so surreal it refuses to let its loose ends be tied; a book that sucks the reader into the dangerous alleys that could be its end. Few authors dare leave the labours of their love into the hands of readers that may not be half as appreciative as yours truly. Thank you, Mr G for letting it be.
     Thank you too for the indomitable L Murugan, the inquisitive Antar, the Rosses and the Farleys and the Urmilas and the Sonalis on missions - all trying to fit into a world where sciences and seances blend. Thank you for blurring the line between the real and the unreal, the mathematical and the magical, the truths and the lies. Thank you for reminding readers that no matter how far we get with our test tubes and gadgets, the only thing we are really looking for is immortality and that the only way about it is leaving behind a book like this.