Voice of dissent

This is another article that is going to be lost in the large void that is the Internet. But, when a debate is on and there’s an attempt to suppress one side of it, at least a symbolic protest is in order. But first, a few things that need clarification:

  1. It is not possible for a democratically elected government of India to implement any restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression of any Indian. Sure, they can shut off mobile networks and the Internet for a small period of time but nothing of the magnitude that happens in other, more iron handed regimes around the world. The fact that my opinion and the opinion that I’m countering today and a multitude of others opinions are floating around is ample proof of this. The suppression of opinions is of another kind as I will explain in this piece. 
  2.  I’ve never been a fan of the Indian electronic media. They’re constantly in search of TRP-boosting stories that can raise tempers and keep people glued to a medium of news that is playing catch up with the Internet. But there are sensible people in the media who have a right to disagree with the “popular view” and often, that is a point that is missed.
  3. The way the incidents at Dadri and other parts of the country are being peddled as examples of religious intolerance in India are purely political games that every sane person can see through. India is a pluralistic, secular nation irrespective of the party in power. Look around you. There’s bound to be at least 2-3 people of faiths other than yours minding their own business and going about their works exactly like you are doing. It has been the unfortunate behaviour of political parties across the spectrum to incite communities during election time to polarise votes.
Having said all of that, one other thing needs to be addressed. And that, is the debate itself that surrounds all these issues. It has pitted journalists, writers, academicians and many others against a large number of people who feel that these journos and writers have sold out to the opposition parties and are trying to blame the Modi Government for everything. (Yes. Gen. V.K Singh did not call Dalits, dogs. That is the media’s absolutely ridiculous interpretation).

But here’s the problem with the debate. The killings in Dadri, throwing ink on people’s faces, threatening people who are visiting from Pakistan, threatening people who eat beef are indefensible acts. They killed a man because he ate beef. The guys who did ARE intolerant. They got a Pakistani artist’s show cancelled because he was from Pakistan. They ARE intolerant. They asked people who eat beef to go to Pakistan. They ARE intolerant (and self-defeating because you’re then painting Pakistan as the rosy heaven where people of all faiths and food habits are welcome). Notice how I keep saying “they” without adding political affiliations to them because it doesn’t matter! They are intolerant. Our Prime minister has not condemned these incidents and that is rather odd for a person who is extremely loquacious.

Unfortunately, the moment I ask MY Prime Minister to say something about any of this, I’m a congress agent. I have close relations with Kapil Sibal and Sonia Gandhi and I’m a “sickular” by association.  I have been paid off by them in 2003, I was given a Padma Shri for my troubles in 2006, I have been assured a plush bungalow on Marine Drive and I constantly hang out with Pakistanis (As if that’s a sin. So much for Aman Ki Asha). I’m all that because “where were you when the 1984 riots happened or when Kashmiri Pandits were chased out of their homes”.  
GUYS! RELAX. When journalists like Rajdeep Sardesai or artists like Naseeruddin Shah and Gulzar lament the vitriolic atmosphere in with intolerance growing by the day, you’re proving their point by attacking them for expressing an opinion. When Sahitya Akaedmi awardees are not only trolled for returning their awards but also labelled as congress agents and their motives are questioned by cabinet ministers, you’re proving their point about the growing intolerance for dissent. I don’t entirely agree with them returning their awards because the award is apolitical and must stay that way. BUT I will defend to the death their right to return it.
A large number of people are of the opinion that this kind of attention is only being given to a story because the victim is muslim and that issues that Hindus face are not addressed. The Kashmiri Pandits and the 1984 riots being the cases in point. They deserve to be condemned too and those who are responsible must be dealt with. The process, unfortunately, has taken ages and nothing has come of it. But should we repeat the mistakes of the past? The reason these “new incidents” are getting so much attention is because news and opinions are expressed on more platforms than earlier. Social media is capable of holding governments and institutions accountable for their actions. It is true that political parties have pandered to the needs of the minorities for electoral gains and in the process cultivated reactionary, extremist elements who get away with more than most people get away with. But notice how the extremist elements from among the majority have also mushroomed in recent times, bellowed by the belief that the government is on their side. A belief, that needs to nipped in the bud by the head of the government. The overwhelming majority of Hindus are peace-loving people. As are the overwhelming majorities of people of all other faiths in India. The extremist elements, irrespective of religious affiliations, are a curse upon the society and can’t be allowed to roam free. Which is why people like Sakshi Maharaj and his ilk who are now under the assumption that they are in power and can do as they feel NEED TO be restrained by the central authority in charge of them i.e The Prime Minister. It does create a vitriolic environment for everyone when statements like “those who eat beef can go to Pakistan” or “Muslims can stay in India but must give up eating beef” are made.
Condemn the bigots. The Dadri Killers deserve to be brought to justice. Everyone agrees. Should the Prime Minister make a statement on it? Some people feel he should. His supporters will say that he has indeed made a statement. But seeing as how that has had no effect on repeat offenders from his party, clearly he needs to do more. Some of us have posed that question. But that shouldn’t automatically trigger an attack on the motives of the person posing that question. It has become the go-to tactic of BJP spokespeople to question the credentials and motives of the person asking questions. Stop assuming that everything is a conspiracy! If there’s an issue, address it. And if there isn’t, then and only then, expose the conspirator. But don’t try to shoot the messenger when there really is a problem that needs to be addressed. In this case, the solution to the problem is the responsibility of the UP government. But shouldn’t the Prime Minister send out a stern message, in public, to those carrying out the dastardly attacks?
The last thing we need is to create a situation where people are afraid to voice dissent simply because they’re not sure where the next attack will come from. A situation where one must prove their patriotism by agreeing with all actions of the Prime Minister and in some cases, the lack of it. The fact that we’re slowly heading there is what bothers some of us. 

Mrs Mo.

This story is written as part of the “Once…At School” contest on Tell-A-Tale – Bringing together stories and storytellers to create a positive change.

“Rahul added some extra things to that green Beyblade. Otherwise he would not have beaten me. I asked him to let me see it but he didn’t agree” Anthony said.
“Let it go” Gurpreet said. “Cheaters never prosper”
There weren’t many things more insulting for a 7thgrader than being beaten by a junior at a Beyblade challenge. He swore to take revenge and bit into the chapatti jam roll his mother had packed for him, ripping it into two unequal pieces. He looked like a predator tearing its prey’s head apart from the rest of its body
“I will show that stupid fellow. Just wait and see.” he said, making sure he’d be audible across the room and the corridor.
When the bell rang, everyone scurried around the class, back to their respective seats except Anthony. Anthony sat on top of the desk meddling with his Beyblade, mumbling to himself about the form of revenge he was going to extract. Lost in thought, he didn’t notice the teacher walk in. All the others stood up, hands folded and in a robotic, unostentatious voice said “Namaste ma’am”. Mrs Mo insisted that her students greet all the teachers similarly. Respect, she said, was a trait fast vanishing from this generation.
“Anthony” she called out but he didn’t hear her.
“ANTHONY” she said, a bit louder this time but to no effect. She walked towards him and grabbed him by the pocket of his shirt. He jumped out of his trance even as she held him by the shirt trying to shake him out of the daze. But the sudden movement left the teacher with only his shirt’s pocket in her hand. He dug his hand in his face and burst into tears. He hoped that he’d earn some sympathy points from the teacher but her heavy hand landed on his back with a loud sound that stunned the class into a pin drop silence.
“Stop crying like a baby” she said and the crying stopped instantly. As Mrs Mo turned to go back to black board, she noticed the Beyblade.
“What is that? Give it to me” she said.
“Nothing ma’am. It is nothing.” He said, trying to hide it under a book. He had to hide it all cost. He was planning to challenge Rahul that evening to a re-match.
Mrs Mo reached over the desk and pulled the Beyblade from under the book. She examined it carefully.
“What is this?” she asked. She didn’t actually care but she asked nevertheless. There was no right answer to that question because she wasn’t planning on returning it. The school’s policy about toys was very strict. Anthony began thinking and re-thinking non-cliché excuses to reason with the teacher but he had none. Even as his brain overclocked thinking of an excuse, Mrs Mo tossed the toy out of the window. Anthony stood, his eyes popping out of their sockets.
“Madam!” he yelled and took a couple of paces toward the window. He was promptly sent back to his place by Mrs Mo. Anthony put his head down and cried again. This time, a more genuine outburst of emotion. There was only one thing more insulting for a 7th grader than being beaten by a junior at a Beyblade challenge- To be beaten by a junior at a Beyblade challenge and not going back to take revenge.
“I hope I never see her face again. I HATE her.” Anthony went on a rant. “How dare she throw my Beyblade? I hope her kids never get to play with Beyblades. Or Pokémon cards. Imagine how boring that would be. That’d serve her right” Anthony’s resentment for Mrs Mo was clear. He’d carry it with him till he graduated high school 5 years later.

15 years later…

Anthony stepped into the staff room of his old school and exchanged pleasantries with his teachers. At the far end was Mrs. Mo, now old and fragile but still teaching part-time. Nobody’s lessons had had as much effect on his life as her admonitions. He walked sceptically toward her wondering how he’d have to introduce himself for her to recognise him.  He walked up to her and stood near a rack. She was deep in meditation but she waved at him to come toward her. He obeyed, almost out of fear.
“Good evening ma’am. I’m An…” he started.
“Anthony Rodriguez.” She completed. “Eat some ground nuts. You’ll put on some weight. You’re as skinny as you were in school.” She motioned to him to grab a chair. He sat down and updated her with his life. National Law School, Harvard Law School and now employed with one of the best law firms in the world. He had an enviable resume but, she said, she was only as proud of him as she was of all her other students. He nodded with a smile. You can’t ever please Mrs Mo. She expects better than the best. Suddenly, a young boy ran into the staff room. He wasn’t much older 6 and he ran straight to Anthony.
“Francis! I asked you to stay in the car, didn’t I?”
“I want to go home papa!”
“Francis, have you forgotten something?”
The 6 year old stared into the ground, shy, kicking his feet around for a few seconds. He looked up at Mrs Mo and folded his hands.
“Namaste ma’am” he said and then dug his face into his papa’s arms.
Mrs Mo laughed out loud. “Namaste little one. You’re a smart little fella, aren’t you?”. She got up and walked to her cupboard and came back with a little box which she handed to little Francis.
“What is that?” Anthony asked.
“Nothing. It’s nothing” she replied. Anthony remembered instantly what it is. “You kept it all these years? I..” but she wasn’t listening to him.
“If you don’t know how to use it, ask papa ok?” she told Francis who looked carefully at the slightly damaged Beyblade without the slightest clue about what it was.
Anthony lifted his impatient bundle of joy, bid Mrs Mo farewell and turned to leave.
 A hand landed on his back. His mind raced back 15 years. He was stronger than he was in 7th grade and she, older. But it sent shivers down his spine just like old times.
“It’s nice to know that you haven’t forgotten what I used to say about respect.” she said, “And you’ve raised a wonderful son” she continued. Anthony was delighted that he’d finally done something that Mrs Mo was pleased with.
“Your son did, but you forgot to say Namaste when you entered. So you, Anthony Rodriguez, have failed me again” she said, with a sly grin on her face.
Anthony smiled. “Good bye Mrs Mo.” he said. One always falls short of Mrs Mo’s expectations he thought to himself. But secretly, she was proud and he knew it as he walked out.



 Disclaimer: There is no chronological order to read these entries. They are independent of each other and not necessarily in any logical order. Some are short. Others are long. Some are nascent understandings of a city that are heavily biased by stereotype. These maybe inconsistent and could, overtime, even be contradictory. They are meant to be read as singular moments in time without any context or background. You may have had similar experiences as some of these entries or entirely different ones but these are mine alone. 

#1 Times Square

We went back to Manhattan and on to 42nd street, possibly the most famous address on earth – Times Square. Times Square was crazy. It was MG road on steroids. The buildings were taller, the billboards were bigger and brighter and there were 20 times as many people and much more diverse than the crowd back home. To come from a place like India and find a place more crowded was quite something. It was an ocean of tourists, clicking pictures of themselves that would eventually be cover photos on Facebook. There were all the regular characters, Spider man, Iron man and a walking statue of Liberty posing for photos. There was also a recent addition, topless body-painted women who also posed happily for photos with tourists.

Times Square – The crossroads of the world

 We walked and walked to find a spot to sit and finally landed at the spot of the famous 31stDecember ball drop. Sitting on those stairs one had a good view of the crowded streets and the shiny billboards. There was activity all around, people moving, clicking photos, open bus tours, street musicians and a whole lot of other maddening things. But for some reason, the mind was peaceful. It was the kind of sanity that comes out from seeing the insanity around you. There was so much diversity, so many different kinds of people going about their business without intruding anyone’s space. You could be yourself in New York, be unique, be free. Sitting there, one thing became very clear very quickly to me about this city. You didn’t stand out in New York if you’re odd. You stand out in New York if you’re not. You don’t need to put on an accent and wear a certain type of clothing. You do what is important to you, what needs to be done for your good and everything around you is irrelevant and yet enabling at the same time. You can stand in the middle of Times Square with your headphones on and sing out loud. You can dance if your feet feel like it, you can walk by quietly if you don’t. If you have any inhibitions, you need to let go of them. If you can’t do it, you can keep to yourself too. Either way, you’ll fit in. You’ll find people who are happy to have conversations with other random folks and you’ll see people who are lost in their own world. As long as you’re doing what makes you comfortable, no one bothers you. Trying to mimic someone else is probably the biggest mistake one can make. It is next to impossible to put on an act here for too long. You can try, but this massive city will overwhelm you soon enough. By the time we decided to leave, it was 8:30PM. We went back to the 33rdstreet and took the path to Journal square from where we started the hour long drive back home.


#2 Lady Landlady.

“Is there a pest problem?” I asked the old landlady.
“No” she replied, nodding her head sideways, clearly offended by my questioning the integrity of her house. “The only pests in my house are my tenants” she grinned as we laughed along sycophantically to her quip. “And I could kill them too” she continued after a pause, laughing heartily, to our shock.


#3 Celebrity Status

I craned my neck to look over the sea of people that had gathered in front of the fancy looking hotel on the way to 59th street. There were a few important looking black SUVs at the front and a lot of security personnel dressed in black as well. People were standing behind a barricade across the road too, holding their phones aloft to take pictures. It became obvious that someone important was either about to leave or enter the hotel but the identity of the mystery figure was entirely unclear. From the chatter in the crowd it could’ve been Obama, Jennifer Aniston or even AC/DC. I looked around questioningly only to find more bemused faces looking to me for an answer. Suddenly, a flurry of activity ensued that resulted in more important looking black SUVs moving into the street. This required some rearrangement of the existing SUVs and the general crowd who had, by now, spilled over from the footpath to the street. One of the security personnel walked towards us to make sure we weren’t standing on the road when the young lady next to me took the chance on behalf of the entire crowd around us and asked him “Excuse me, who is here?”
The gentleman in black replied with a sly grin on his face, “You are!” paused for a second to let the answer sink in and walked past to clear the messy crowd from the end of the road. 

#4 Home away from home.

I opened my eyes groggily to my 13th dawn in the United States and rolled over to the side of the bed where the sunlight through the windows were less excited to greet me. As if by the devil’s design, my phone buzzed repeatedly under my pillow leaving me with the option of rolling back to the sun baked side of my world or just waking up and dealing with the world as I’ve been doing for nearly 22 years now. I swore that those overly eager rays of sun were never going to see my face at such ungodly hours as 8AM on a Saturday morning so I sat up on the edge of the bed and contemplated life, love and liberty. After witnessing a rather depressing 2-1 home defeat of Chelsea by Crystal Palace, I had lunch and scheduled multiple events for the month ahead.
 I’d been warned by more persons than one that I’d start feel homesick rather quickly. That seemed like a perfectly good reason for a lot of people to carry a lot of Indian things while travelling from home to the US. These included things like Eastern Sambhar powder, Priya’s mango pickle and a few packs of MTR ready to eat food stuff among multiple other “Non-Firang” things. My experiences in this country so far had proved that the warning was accurate. On day 2 of the trip, we’d been to an “Indian restaurant” called Taj Mahal. It was a small, actually narrow place. There was only enough room for two rows of tiny tables and about 8 tables in total. There were grand chandeliers hanging above and paintings of the beautiful Taj and the king who ordered its construction, Shah Jahan and his beloved wife Mumtaz for whom he had it built. BUT, the food was as far removed from truly Indian as an American restaurant called Taj Mahal run by Bangladeshis could be.
Which was why when I was told that you could get anything you need at the Indian store in New Jersey, I was a bit sceptical. I wore my Bata Hawaii chappal and set foot on American soil with those for the first time on my trip. One small step for this man. One giant step for the Hawaii chappal clad version of this man. Few things make one feel as ‘at home’ as familiar footwear. (The other famous one, of course, is using the bathroom at one’s own house. Seriously. What is it about that?). The Indian store was located next to a small restaurant and a shop selling kurtis and other Indian apparel. My trusty Hawaii chappal got stuck under the mat at the entrance and I tripped a bit. So as I entered the store, my eyes were pointed downwards cursing at, in true Indian style, an inanimate object. When I looked up, it was as if I had been teleported to some supermarket in Bangalore. There were Indian faces everywhere, Bollywood music bleeding out of the speakers and even some small wrappers and tags lying around on the floor- an unmistakable signature of the stores back home. I was even sure that there was some fishy tampering of the AC to make the air inside familiarly Indian- although that was probably only in my head.
 Every step I took through every aisle was slowly dispelling every notion I had about life in America. There were stacks of Priya’s mango pickle stacked right next to rows and rows of Amma’s lime pickle. There was chutney pudi and dosa batter. There were endless racks of pulses, rices and masalas. There were bars of medimix soap, bottles of Dettol and cans of moov. There were even packets of Tiger biscuits and Parle-G. (I must add, with some disappointment, that there was a rack full of “Indian carrots”, the kind of which I have never seen in India. Clearly some scam to convince Indians living abroad that their families are prospering, munching on carrots the size of half litre bottles of coke. Someone call Arnab Goswami. #CarrotGate). It is near impossible to miss Indian food here. In fact, the supermarkets in Bangalore stock less Indian stuff and more American stuff. So in many senses, this Indian store in New Jersey is more Indian than a whole lot of stores in India. So to everyone back home, if there is some Indian stuff you miss at home in India, a certain 2 minute instant noodles brand for instance, give me a call. I’ll bring it from “home” on my next trip home.
“Indian Carrots”


#5 Moving.

When I first realized that I’d be staying at an apartment by myself (and a couple of flat mates) in New York City, I was rather excited by the whole idea. Of all the things that excited me though, the idea of ‘moving in’ to a new house fascinated me the most. Many sunrises before I set foot in this country, I’d dreamed many a Utopian dream about walking up a flight of stairs, bag and baggage behind me, stepping into the house, heaving a sigh of relief, tossing my favorite black hat on the coat hanger at the entrance and admiring the spectacular view of an empty house that would soon be teeming with activity.
As it turned out, the actual act of ‘moving in’ was rather underwhelming. We’d been hunting for an apartment for roughly two and half weeks before finding this particular place. In that time, I’d climbed more flights of stairs than I’d bargained for, stepped into more houses than I’d imagined and heaved more sighs of relief than I thought humanly possible. In fact we went to one particular apartment at one point in our search. A beautiful apartment on the 6thfloor, wait no, the 7th floor of a pre-war building (People here count the ground floor as the first floor. They also flip the switches in the opposite direction, turn the key the other way, drive on the other side of the road and, this is my favorite, their toilets flush in the anti-clockwise direction. I won’t vouch for the accuracy of that last one). It wasn’t the biggest house we’d seen but the view from the bedroom was that of the gorgeous Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the distance. There was a subway station immediately to left side of the entrance to the building- a feature that appealed so much to us that we’d have booked the apartment for that reason alone. But as fate would have it, the Realtor was incompetent, to put it very mildly. After promising that we’d get the flat, he called back 4 days later to say that someone else had got the place. We could’ve comfortably lived under the mountain of our collective disappointment at that point.
It was in that near-depressed state that we came to see this new place. A 3rd floor apartment in a quiet neighborhood. We loved it. The day after signing the lease, I packed a small bag with a week’s worth of clothes from my cousin’s place (I planned to bring the other suitcases later from there) and caught the NJ Transit train from Jersey Avenue to Newark, switched to the PATH train to world trade center and then got on the subway train to my humble abode. I climbed two flights of stairs, stepped into the house and walked straight to my room and left the little bag there. No sigh of relief, no tossing the black hat, no admiring the spectacular view of the empty house. Nothing. But ‘moving in’ was over. I stood in the balcony that overlooked the street, my hands rested on the railings, and eyes stared down at the road. It felt as though a massive burden had been lifted off my shoulders. So what if my dream didn’t come true? I don’t even own a black hat in the first place! I’ve come to understand a basic fact of life. Utopia shouldn’t be one’s expectation but it can always be the aim. “I have a place to live in New York City now” I thought to myself, “It’s time to make it a home”.
Cozy Corner.

#6 F.R.I.E.N.D.S

After an hour and a half on three subway trains I finally reached 110th street. I got out of the nearest exit and landed right next to the entrance to Central Park- that park from that chick flick you saw recently. Now, I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before but crossing the roads in this city is one of the most empowering experiences. The moment the lights turn red, the vehicles stop. THEY STOP. (I’ve learnt not to compare anything here with its equivalent back home including, but not limited to, currency, internet speed and, of course, adherence to traffic rules. And so, I will not dwell on the subject). I crossed the road and found Larry’s Free-wheeling just down the street. Larry’s was the meeting point for the Central Park bike tour I’d signed up for a few weeks ago. Cassidy, our wonderful host for the day, was there already with two others. I introduced myself albeit with a shortened version of my name to make the greeting more friendly and less A-Dummy’s-Guide-to-Indian-Name-Pronunciation. After all what’s in a name? We waited for a few more minutes for the rest of the group to join us and in the meanwhile selected our bikes for the evening. (Mom, don’t freak out. Bikes here mean cycles. Not motorbikes). Cassidy told us the route we’d be taking and then we set off on our biking trip through Central Park.
“This is the first time I’m riding a bike since I got to New York” Susan turned to me and said.
 “This is the first time I’m riding a bike since I was 10 years old or something” I replied, breathing laboriously. (At this point, we’d cycled for almost exactly 3 minutes. If anybody has found my stamina, please return it. Sigh).
After a brief stop at the reservoir named after JFK’s wife, Jacqueline, where we got some gorgeous pictures, we moved on to the location I most looked forward to when Cassidy announced the route. Remember that fountain from the F.R.I.E.N.D.S intro song? That iconic round base fountain in Central Park! We got off the cycles as we reached the clearing in the woods where the fountain was and I began picturing the intro song in my head. The couch in the front, the lamp by the side, Ross getting drenched under the fountain and the rest of the cast playing around. Except, I couldn’t actually picture it. I googled “the friends fountain” and found a picture of it. The one I was standing at was a nice fountain- it just wasn’t THAT fountain. I walked up to Cassidy, held out the phone and said “Are you sure this is that fountain? It looks a little..different”. She took the phone from my hand looked at the fountain and back at the screen a couple of times and said, “They lied to me. They LIED to me.” I could see on her face the betrayal she felt at that moment but as it turns out, she’s not the only one who’d fallen for that urban myth. If you ever go to Central Park, just remember- that round fountain on Cherry Hill is not that fountain. 
The Faux F.R.I.E.N.D.S Fountain
Just up ahead was Bow Bridge. Even if you haven’t heard of it, you’ve probably seen it. If you haven’t seen it, you probably haven’t seen Spider man 3 or Made of honour. It isn’t the fanciest bridge in the world. It’s small and unassuming but it just automatically makes the whole place look rather romantic. 
“Do you see those two tall buildings?” Cassidy said “That’s not where John Lennon lived.” We stared blankly at her face.
“He lived in the building next to that” she continued. I looked at her skeptically but she was confident about that information especially because there is a memorial site called Imagine close to that building at the place where he was shot.
We laboured along the cycling trail when Cassidy stopped at one point and pointed to a giant circle on the side of the road.

“That’s the centre of Manhattan” she said. Then, after a brief pause, “But then again, the same people who told me that was the friends fountain told me about this. So who knows.” her voice descended in tone, distraught. Geez. F.R.I.E.N.D.S fountain. What a scam.

The Bow Bridge.

  #7 Freeze

Until about two hours ago, this was not the article I had planned to post. It isn’t for the lack of interesting episodes that I haven’t written anything recently. For instance, I missed out on potential opportunities to meet Frank Lampard (Chelsea Football Club legend and my sporting idol) and Tim Cook (Top Boss of that evil corporation trying to take over the world, Apple Inc). Probably the biggest thing to write about though, was the Global Citizen Festival featuring Cold Play, Ed Sheeran, Beyonce, Sunidhi Chauhan, Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai, Bill Gates, Leonardo DiCaprio, Hugh Jackman and multiple other big names which I was surprisingly lucky to attend. But those are stories for another day. In fact, there isn’t much to write about that. The festival was awesome. You’re just going to have to take my word for it.

Somewhere in South Bangalore circa 2012.
It’s a typical Bangalore morning. I throw aside the double layered blanket I had created using a fat blanket and thin, soft blanket so that I’m warm and comfortable in my cosy bed, surrounded by pillows, a hand kerchief and my phone. I get up and roam around aimlessly and settle on the couch in the fetal position, trying to steal a few last minute winks before the mad rush to get ready for college starts. Eventually, I get up again, remove my ear mufflers, then my hoodie and then my socks. I am now warmed up for the rest of the day.

The temperature is 26 degree Celsius and I’m cold.

Present day New York City.
I was trying, and repeatedly failing, at logging into a remote server to run some programs for the VLSI assignment that is due in three days. It was around 6PM and a little hint of hunger was beginning to sway my focus. Suddenly, it occurred to me that it was Friday a.k.a laundry day. I decide to shoo two birds with one stone by going to do the laundry and then eating a gyro from a street cart on 4th avenue while the washing machine did its job. By sheer coincidence, the phone rang. It was my housemate and he made me an offer that I could not refuse. Many weeks ago, we’d planned to go eat Shawarmas from a Lebanese restaurant on 86th. It so happened that the R train he’d taken today from college ran express from Atlantic Avenue to 86th, skipping about 7 stops including the one he was supposed to get down at. Surely the universe had conspired to drag him to 86thstreet to finally eat the shawarma. I stopped what I was doing and postponed my laundry plan for a little later in the day. It had been raining all day thanks to the wide-spanned effects of Hurricane Joaqin. So I grabbed my jacket and an umbrella and stepped out.
As I stepped out of the door, I was still zipping up the jacket. I walked a couple of steps on the footpath when the wind decided to introduce my face to the rain. My face, understandably, was not pleased. I shook off the water and opened the umbrella and walked further. The wind returned, this time just sneaking in through the sleeves of my jacket and causing me some discomfort. I smiled to myself because despite the best efforts of this heartless wind, I wasn’t shivering yet. Suddenly, my phone rang again. As I took my phone out of my pocket, I found my fingers were responding to my brain with the kind of delay you’d normally find when you’re using whatsapp call over a really bad 2G network. Suddenly in the background, I noticed a broken umbrella lying on the ground. And then another. And then many more. I valiantly walked through the ruins of these once-robust repellers of water, proud that my Made in Kerala umbrella was still standing tall in the sky. Drunk in arrogance, I forgot to pay attention to the ground and stepped into a puddle of cold water. Freezing, cold water. It made its way through the clothed lining of my sports shoe, drenched my socks and, I’m pretty sure, froze instantly on my foot. I remember skipping, jumping and hopping my way into the warm safety of the subway station. The station was, after all, just a hop, skip and jump away from home.
I got off at 86th and stepped out of the station, trying to regain the feeling in my feet. The omnipresent wind blew straight into my face again. I hurled a few abuses in the general direction of its origin and looked around for my house mate. We walked into the restaurant, placed the order and sat ourselves in a corner where it was warm (all adjectives especially those with respect to temperature, are relative). In hindsight, sitting right by the entrance was not such a smart idea because every time someone opened the door they brought behind them a large trailer of cold air. After eating some rather terrible food, we walked back to the subway. I was careful not step into any more puddles and safely made my way into the station.
When we stepped out of the station at our destination, I opened the umbrella once more and walked on. Out of nowhere, the rain, the wind and the leaves ganged up in one insane move that made me hold the umbrella in front of me to offer some resistance to wind. In that awkward pose, I left many gaps in my jacket uncovered and the cold air found every single one of them. I readjusted my body and pulled myself back together and marched on. The wind was now colder than earlier and a lot less well mannered. It was blowing along the streets and avenues and causing particularly nasty problems at the intersection of the two. We somehow battled against the forces of nature and made it home. Home, where we were finally safe from the very real dangers of hypothermia. 
The temperature is 11 degree Celsius and I’m cold.
“Just imagine” one of my friends in San Diego had said just this afternoon, “By December..”
“Let’s not talk about December please” I replied, “I don’t want to talk about negative numbers”.
The temperature is 11 degree Celsius and soon, minus 5 won’t be just another insignificant value on the number line in a 4thgrader’s math book.

#8 Home again.

After paying our tributes to John Lennon at his memorial near Strawberry Fields, tossing a few pennies into that pseudo “friends fountain” (which was now, apparently, a wishing well), hanging around a festive gathering of South Americans near the bow bridge for some time and then dancing with an ethnically diverse group of strangers to some catchy music being doled out by a make shift DJ in the middle of Central Park, we walked towards 79thStreet because someone uttered the words “There is a Saravana Bhavan in Manhattan”.

There are a few things one tends to take for granted after living in South India for two decades. At the top of that list are dosas, sambar and filter coffee. That isn’t to say that I’ve been craving dosas or anything. I just haven’t given it much thought because I’ve been busy trying to imbibe as much of this new atmosphere as possible. New cuisines have always excited me and I’ve enjoyed the Gyros and pretzels from the street carts as much as I have the pizza slices, shawarmas, salads or sushi. Two months isn’t enough time for that excitement to wear off and so I’ve been living in my little bubble of satisfaction rather comfortably. But this night out was about to test that resolve.

A few weeks ago I’d written about my experience at the “Taj Mahal hotel” (If you haven’t read it, just scroll up to “#4 Home away from home). For me, that and another similar experience at an “Indian restaurant” established one cold, hard truth. There is no genuine Indian cuisine in New York so I’ll just have to live with that knowledge for two years. With that thought repeatedly ringing in my head, I walked with the rest of the guys through the chilly streets of Manhattan in search of a saving grace for Indian cuisine in the western world. When we got to 79th and Amsterdam Avenue, my shoulders drooped. It looked a very familiar story. A fancy looking restaurant that was crammed into what little space was afforded to them in the extremely expensive avenues of New York. There were a few tables outside, about 5 tables inside, chandeliers hanging above and stereo-typically Indian designs drawn on the tables. That there were large shelves of fine wine stacked near the counter did not help establish the authenticity of a traditional south Indian hotel based out of Chennai. We seated ourselves and were greeted by a friendly waiter who handed us menu cards. It had all the regular stuff- Idlis, dosas, uthappams, bisi belle bath, thalis, rotis, curries and everything else you’d expect from a south Indian hotel. Skeptically, I ordered a paper masala dosa and a filter coffee and decided to share a sambar vada with a friend.

But from the instant we placed the order, I knew this place was going to be different. We ordered 4 coffees and one tea in total. The waiter turned to another elderly waiter and shouted “Anna, Naal coffee, oru tea” (brother, 4 coffees and one tea). It had the tone, the pitch, the accent and the style of an Indian fast food restaurant and it immediately made the environment a lot more homely. The sound of that order was the first of many feel good moments that evening. First to arrive was the sambar vada. I took a spoonful of sambar in the hope that it wouldn’t disappoint. As soon as it went into my stomach, a warm feeling engulfed me. Whether that was because of the hot sambar or the warmth of nostalgic familiarity, I don’t know. But it was beautiful. The dosa came next and it was spectacular as well. But what had me sold was the coffee. Of course, the taste was great but how it was served was even better- In the regular steel cup and saucer with the coffee overflowing just a tad bit and staining the rims as it flowed out of the cup sloppily into the saucer. It lacked the finesse of an American hotel and I loved it. It was rustic, authentic and done perfectly. Nothing in the hotel- not the food, neither the ambience nor the communication among the waiters had been bastardized to suit the standards of the west.

A sophisticated NRI family walked in after a while. The father was in a polo t-shirt and shorts, the mother in casual western wear too, the grandparents in grandparent clothing (which included 3 layers of jackets) and a young son playing on an iPad. They conversed in English and spoke with a faux-American accent to the waiter, asking for bottled water and extra napkins. And then, they began placing their order. But this is where the authenticity of the ambience kicked in. No matter how much you try to hide it, you can’t help but say “2 masala dosai, 2 plate idli vada and one saada dosa” even though there was no such thing as a saada dosa on the menu. The entry in the menu read “plain dosa” but every south Indian in his element knows that it really is a saada dosa. That, for me, was a tribute to the atmosphere that place had.

Was the food out of the world? Arguable. But did the experience remind me of home? Absolutely. And that is as much a part of gastronomy as the taste, probably more. Do I now crave dosas every week? Meh. That craving suppresses itself when you make the rookie mistake of converting the bill from dollars to rupees.

 Rs. 1800 for a dosa, vada and filter coffee. Sacrilegious.

#9 Burn Notice

We were all rather fatigued by the stress that the mid-term exams brought and sitting in class at a time like that isn’t the most ideal thing. Which is why we were all grateful to Microsoft Windows for starting an update on the professor’s computer 15 minutes into class. With the slideshow shut off, she shifted to the printouts she had of some revision for the midterms. The class was suddenly paying rapt attention, hoping to decode some clues she might throw regarding the questions on the exam. Everyone had their eyes on their laptop screens, vigorously highlighting key points and making detailed notes of important concepts (some even typing, verbatim, what the teacher was saying). The difficulty of the topics being discussed went on increasing and the ferocity of the note-taking reached a crescendo when suddenly, bright white lights began flashing all around the room. They glinted at a steady rate accompanied by a loud, arrhythmic, vexatious sound that had by now filled the room. It took a couple of seconds for everyone to realise that the lights were actually from the otherwise insignificant little box that read “Fire alert” and the sound was the unartistic tone of the fire alarm. A sudden panic set in and everyone looked around, perplexed. 99 students and one teacher broke into a nervous laughter while slowly putting laptops back into their bags, ready to run with our lives. 
“I’ll go find out what’s happening” the teacher said and walked out of the class leaving most of the class with a confused expression. I have watched enough Bollywood movies to know how to over react dramatically to a situation so I had my bag in one hand and my legs out of the desk in the kind of starting position for a 100m dash that would make Usain bolt proud. We all turned our collective stare to the door from where the teacher had so calmly left to investigate the situation. The alarm was still ringing and the lights, still flashing. She returned soon enough with a smile on her face that relaxed most of the tension in the class. Surely it was a false alarm. Some sort of mock drill (that we completely failed at because we made no effort to escape). She walked insouciantly to the front of the class and announced nonchalantly,
“The lectures in the other classes haven’t stopped”. We heaved a sigh of relief and I dropped my bag and dragged my feet back into the desk, relaxed.
“So at least we won’t burn alone” she added with a grin and then continued with her lecture as if the fire alarm ringing in the background was irrelevant to our current situation. 99 jaws dropped simultaneously in disbelief, the flashing white lights adding the requisite amount of visual dramatics. The only thing missing was a better background score and the fire sprinklers. But I suppose New Yorkers aren’t very experienced with the use of visual theatrics involving fire and stuff. Oh wait…
P.S: As it turned out, there was no fire or emergency of any kind. But if the real story behind this false alarm turns out to be interesting, I’ll make a post about it!

#10 Saving Sunshine

I was, as usual, scrolling through the multitudes of diverse and often largely garbage information on twitter when I came across it. I’d only heard of it when I was in India and I had never bothered contemplating its effects then because it was never going to affect me in any way. I am, of course, talking about that extraordinarily curious concept called Daylight Saving Time. Apparently at 2AM on the 1st of November daylight saving ended, which was really a pity because I was rather enjoying saving daylight without even knowing it. Maybe in some parallel universe, we were all heroes saving that damsel in distress who gives us light, heat and is the very basis of organic life on our planet. But for some reason, we’ve had enough of her innocuous trouble making and we’ve ended the project of saving her..for now. Soon it will be spring again and we’ll rekindle our affection for her and save her once more but for now, we will take a much needed winter vacation from all that saving we’ve been doing and concentrate on more muggle tasks such as going to work or college and doing our laundry and other menial goings on.
In this universe though, the concept is a lot less interesting but equally innocuous. It meant that I woke up at the exact time of the morning as I did the previous morning except that I had woken up one hour earlier when in reality I had not. Confused? Basically, they changed the time. They made it one hour behind. No. Not some uber-cool time travel technology. They just changed the time on the watch. Thus, marketed brilliantly as “Fall back and spring forward” where you changed the time on your watch to be one hour ahead in the spring and an hour behind in the fall. (You get an extra hour of sleep in the fall and one hour less in the spring). What purpose this serves is not evident to me yet. I will probably find out soon but until then, I’m going to fall back and enjoy that extra hour of good sleep. As for Ms Sunshine, she’s just going to have to stay out of trouble till the spring when everyone is out to save her once more.  

#11 Sleepless in New York

 I’d mentioned right at the start that some times these updates will be few and far between and incoherent at times. This one is the “far between” and incoherent post because it comes after a gap of two months and is about nothing in particular. Just a few post-mid night musing on a day when I was sleepless in New York.

 As it turns out, the annoyance, frustration, anger and helplessness that comes with exams transcends boundaries both geographic and academic. It doesn’t matter if you’re a 5thgrader in India or a masters’ student in New York- you go through the same set of emotions anyway. But apart from that, the semester was largely interesting and a lot of fun. Speaking of which- HOLY SMOKES THE SEMESTER IS OVER. “That year went by quickly” is a scientifically inaccurate cliché that is uttered every year. But it’s hard to disagree with that statement primarily because it is that time of the year when you sit back and reflect about the year gone by and wonder what exactly you did all year.
It’s 3AM as I write this. In the last two months, I’ve spent 3AMs’ in the library studying, out by the pier chilling with friends, at home singing out loud and occasionally in the subway station waiting for the ‘R’ train. The ‘R’ train, by the way, is a mythical creature that runs between Brooklyn and Manhattan under the constraints of no particular schedule. I joke (although that’s exactly what it feels like). The ‘R’ takes me to college and brings me home everyday no matter what time it is. As frustrating as the wait for the old, slow fellow can be sometimes, that is just the dynamic of our little love-hate relationship. Over time, I’ve come to enjoy the time I get to spend on the train with no cellphone network or internet- the necessary evils of our time- because of the numerous people of varied cultures that you get to come across from business executives to homeless people and from young students to old street musicians. More about the train in another post.
But why am I not doing those things during more godly hours of the day? Well because alternative perspectives are amazing. This is a city, like any big city, that is more than bustling with activity during the day. People rushing to work, others waiting for their dates, still others waiting in vain and a multitude of others with a plethora of other things to do roam here. These streets have seen more stories than we think possible, these skies have heard more cries of joy laughter than we can imagine, these buildings have witnessed more history than we can document and everyday dawn brings more. But late at night, when nothing is happening and nobody is watching, to sit in silence in this theater of madness is an experience like no other. Like leaving the camera rolling after the scene and watching the set come alive albeit only in your mind. 
Now that the vacations are upon me, I won’t have to wait till those ungodly hours to find a moment or two to breathe. But being sleepless in New York isn’t a sickness, it’s an addiction. Even while nothing is happening, there is so much to see and hear. All you need to do, is to pay attention.
Happy new year everyone!

“Drama, my darling, is when you watch something happen while nothing happens at all. Like when the sun sets on the horizon and the clouds hang from the sky, and I watch these glorious moments just as they pass me by”

#12 Snow

Outside, water has decided to take another one of its many forms. Dancing in the air, twisting and twirling in circles to the tunes that the night seems to be humming without a care in the world. Gradually the world turns into one big picture with a white filter permanently fixed in front. Every half an hour, I peek out to see what has changed. A solitary car revs past, clearing the snow on the road where its tyres rolled. Those dancing above aren’t perturbed because they’ll dance through the night and into the morning and soon, the car’s tracks will be covered again. The grass in front of my house is no longer visible- in its place lies a cottony carpet sent from the heavens above. When it clears in the morning the grass will look up again but without the emerald joy it oozed the day before. But alas, my friend announces, that the worst is yet to come. The dancing party must twist and twirl to their heart’s content now for in the morning the breeze will leave for some distant shore across the ocean. When dawn breaks, a strong wind will drag the little flakes against their wish past the lamp shades they love so much to settle on some insignificant car on Bliss avenue. I squint my eyes as I look through the patterned curtains in my room and there’s been a flurry of sudden activity. The dance has already mellowed and like soldiers in a blinding white, they now march along in organised waves on their way to colonizing whatever land they will be dropped on. There’s no sound outside but I suspect that will change in the morning. The sun might even be out and look on with guilt as the blizzard roars, the winds howl and the snow-flakes fall silently in line. After all, if he’d been a little closer this whole mess could’ve been avoided. But even without his micromanagement, this whole affair has been handled well. While the rogue few continue to dance in the silent tones of the middle of the night, the others march on robotically. When the storm hits in the morning, we are all prepared for the worst but the ones who really don’t want it to happen are those- those little fellows in white who want to dance and sing all night and just be happy. Soon, I’ll be fast asleep and they’ll be gone too without a word of good bye. Because soon, Jonas will say hello.


From the Editor’s desk

It has been a very long time since a post has appeared on this blog and apologies for that are in order. This has been a massive year so far for a lot of reasons and this post is an announcement of something new.

The Statue of Liberty – One of the most enduring symbols of the United States of America

From the Editor’s desk:
“For all the years that this blog has been active, the posts have been opinions, stories or random articles.I moved to New York a week ago and was clear in my mind that my move wouldn’t affect the content on Dudurudh. But this city has thrown up some interesting stories in the short time that I’ve been here and that gave me an idea. #NYCDiaries. Some of the stories this city has to tell, the lessons it teaches, the incidents that one encounters, I felt, would find a home at Dudurudh. I’m not certain how long this will go on and how often it’ll be updated but this is a start. Some of these posts will be short, others will be long, some will be a correct understanding of the city and others will be wrong. But the diary entries are only from what I see. A narrow description of a multi-layered city. I ask of my readers only this much – If you don’t agree with something I say in these entries, please do tell. This blog has grown only from your opinions and it’ll be the same with #NYCDiaries.”

Stay Safe. Stay Informed!
Anirudh Dinesh,
Editor-At-Large, Dudurudh.

No country for rapists.

This picture has been doing the rounds on social media for a few days now. Some people have attempted to challenge the BBC’s “representation” of India with these figures. But are the numbers any comfort at all?

“Rapes are a shame but propaganda on it: WORSE”
Clearly, a section of our population, our media and our legislators believe that a “propaganda fueled documentary” IS worse than the fact that the rapes actually happened.
If the propaganda fueled documentary portrayed factual inaccuracies, go ahead, berate it. But if you think that reporting the darker half of our country should be banned, there really is no difference between us and North Korea, is there? 
We are by no means a country of rapists. Certainly not the kind that was responsible for the Delhi gangrape case. But think about. Isn’t it true that lots of people DO NOT disagree with the opinions of the defense lawyers? Isn’t it true that at least 94% of marital rape in India goes unreported? Isn’t it true that despite looking at the facts in that picture and much before that documentary was aired, almost every single girl you know is,was and probably will be for quite some time, afraid to travel alone at night on a bus or even walk on the street alone at night? Isn’t it true that some will question the very need for girls to walk alone at night? This isn’t a brush-under-the-carpet minority. It’s a lot of people both rich and poor, educated and illiterate, men and women, hindu and muslim and from other religions who have mindsets that are stuck in the 17th century. I’m not ashamed of India. I’m ashamed of those Indians.

The picture asks an important question: How many documentaries does the BBC do about the social system of the USA? From that question alone, 2 things are clear.
1) The person who made this picture has not watched the documentary. The documentary is a series of interviews of the people related to the Nirbhaya case.
2) The person who made this picture admits that the statements made by various Indians in the documentary is a telling reflection of our social system.

Why doesn’t the BBC do documentaries on the USA? Are there no problems there? Surely there are. And the BBC must be asked to do something about it. The BBC might have chosen this case purely for commercial interests and because they felt it would be easy to gain access to an Indian convict on death row as opposed to an American prisoner. But neither of those is a reason to ban it. Why are we afraid of debate? Of action? Why do we love big statements and promises? Why do we care so much for words and adjectives?

We’re all proud of India. But we will not blindly defend its people’s short comings. We will strive to fix it. And then if the BBC does a piece like this on India, 1.2 Billion of us will stand up to them and send them back with their heads hanging in shame.

Stay Safe. Stay Informed.

Anirudh Dinesh,
Editor-At-Large, Dudurudh.

The argumentative Indian’s right to speech.

A few weeks ago AIB (All India Bakchod), a YouTube channel created by 5 Indian comedians, put out video clips from one of their latest shows- The AIB Knockout- A Roast of Arjun Kapoor and Ranvir Singh. The video got around 8 million views in the 5 days that it was online. It was, as the name suggests, a Roast- A type of Insult comedy that is popular in the west which involves a group of “roasters” making honest, often rude, and sometimes outright offensive observations, albeit in good humor, about the celebrity being “roasted”. In this case the roast happened in front of a crowd of over 4000 people including Bollywood celebrities Sonakshi Sinha, Deepkia Padukone and Alia Bhat among others. The video was taken down soon after it launched after some people took offense to the language used in the video. The move stirred a debate that has long been dormant in India regarding the freedom of speech in this country- or the lack of it.

But if one were to look at this controversy in its entirety, there is only conclusion to be drawn from it. The freedom of Speech and expression hasn’t died in India. It is very much alive and kicking. People just need to understand one fundamental truth about India. We are, in Amartya Sen’s words, a bunch of Argumentative Indians. We’re 1.2 billion strong and everyone has an opinion.

  • All India Bakchod organised the roast in front of a large crowd who thoroughly enjoyed the show. AIB made some money from the show (which was donated to charity). The intent of the show was to introduce India to a form of comedy that isn’t already popular here and to make some money for charity in the process. Part of that objective was achieved. But, AIB successfully introduced the new format to India. Whether it was well-received by Indians or not can not be gauged by the reaction of a few ( or by the over-reaction of some others) but AIB have done their bit. They were free to conduct the show, make money from it and upload it on YouTube. It was, by their own admission, taken down voluntarily. So AIB was free to do what they pleased. 
  • Some people who were offended by the roast took to facebook and twitter and made themselves heard. They were free to do it even though some of them were extremely abusive and sometimes even threatening and should’ve been stopped. But, they did what they pleased as well.
  • Many celebrities came out in support of AIB, saying that artists should be free to express their opinion without fear and the atmosphere being created in the country didn’t allow for it. They were free to make those observations and do as they pleased as well.
  • Aamir Khan took a slightly contrary view and said that he didn’t enjoy the roast because it was “too aggressive and violent”. He also said that he had formed those opinions on the basis of small clips of the roast and admitted that he hadn’t watched the whole video. No one stopped Aamir from saying what he wanted to say. He did as he pleased.
  • It didn’t stop there. Russell Peters, one of the world’s most famous stand-up comics came out strongly against Aamir Khan, saying that he should “shut up and mind his business”. Despite the fact that what Aamir did was “If you don’t like it, don’t watch it”, Russell was free to say what he said. 
  • Apart from these, some people went ahead and filed FIRs against Arjun Kapoor, Ranvir Singh, Karan Johar, Alia Bhat, Sonakshi Sinha and Deepika Padukone because, well, they wanted to do. They were free to do what they pleased. 

Apart from these “celeb” examples, millions made their opinions clear on facebook and twitter. It isn’t for any of us to decide who is right and who isn’t. Primarily because there are valid arguments on either side. Arguments, that the opposite side thinks holds no water. But that’s true of any public debate EVER. The truth is, the debate is happening. Everyone is free to do what they please.
There are reasonable restrictions on the right to speech. But one of the guarantees that comes with it is that one will not suffer from unreasonable consequences as a result of their opinion. The FIRs filed is certainly a shame. No one should go through a humiliation of that kind. Not least people like Alia, Deepika and Sonakshi who were simply in the audience. But one can trust the judiciary to be more sensible than the overly-sensitive haters and that the legal system will put that FIR where it belongs- shredded into a dustbin.
But one thing is clear. Everyone in India has an opinion. They are always free to express passionate opinions. But when you make a passionate argument in India, just remember that there is someone, somewhere with an equally passionate counter-argument. Take it on the chin and move on. This is India and “we are like this only”.

Stay Safe.Stay Informed.

Anirudh Dinesh.
Editor-At-Large, Dudurudh.

Exam chronicles

It’s 5:30PM and I’m supposed to be studying for an exam that I’ll be writing in 16 hours time. It’s the last exam of the semester and I can’t find the motivation to bring myself to study for it. It’s that time of the day when I like to sit in front of my open books, deep in contemplation about how expertly I’d managed to waste the past 3 days doing basically nothing other than reading tweets from random celebrities and posting some tweets myself. Of course, no one probably read any of those tweets but that’s the weird thing about twitter. If you’re someone with thousands of followers, it’s a great medium to share your views. But when you have fewer than a 100 followers, it’s basically like shouting at a wall in a very noisy room because eventually, not only is no one listening to you but also, you can’t hear yourself amidst all the confusion the other people are creating BUT, you still do it anyway.
I slap myself a couple of times regain my focus. Although, in hindsight that was counter-productive because I spend the next 20 minutes consoling myself by treating myself to some delicious biscuits that my mother had hidden away in a corner cabinet of the kitchen I hadn’t hitherto visited. As I push away the crumbs of biscuit that now rest peacefully on the pages of my text book, I realise the quantum of work that I have left. I flip the pages desperately in the hope that somehow they’d reduce in number but obviously, no luck. I get up from my seat and walk over to the cabinet and explore again. Sadly, no luck there either. I get back to my seat and try to read another page. This was clearly not working very well. Suddenly, I get a notification on my phone. It’s the calendar. “Chelsea Match Day at 7:15PM” it read. “One hour to go” I told myself, in the hope that it would motivate me to study for that extra hour. Image processing is a very interesting subject. It’s what people now use to make their disgusting photos “look better”. If you’ve ever seen that fair and lovely advertisement that makes the girl “fairer in one week”, I can tell you with some authority that it wasn’t the cream that did that. It was some basic image enhancement. If you want to look fair-er, you should have chosen fair-er parents. A bit late now for that, isn’t it?
Anyway, as you can see, I have a tendency of getting a bit carried away. It’s 6:30PM and I’ve still got loads to do. I walk into the kitchen again to find anything that’s remotely edible. There was a packet that used to have cream biscuits but now hosts a handful of salted peanuts that escaped their own packet and rolled into this alien territory where they’ve mixed with the strawberry cream from the previous inhabitants. But when you’re panic eating, your taste buds just take a nap.
I manage to read a couple of more paragraphs and close the books to get ready to watch the match. I’ve got an elaborate pre-match sequence that I follow which takes about 15 minutes.
I’ve settled comfortably into my couch where I usually sit at the beginning of a match. (By the end, I’m usually sitting/squatting/lying down/crying/jumping on the floor depending on how the match goes). Chelsea play Southampton today and we’ve got to avoid defeat to stay top of the table at the beginning of the new year. (Yes, that’s a useless detail but then again, isn’t this whole post pretty much useless?).
Two hours pass by rather quickly and I’ve to get back to studying now. I decide to check twitter one last time before turning off the internet but there’s some disturbing news there. A low intensity explosive had gone off on Church street and injured 2 people. Church street is parallel to MG road, one of the most popular, crowded places in Bangalore. Church street itself is a lazy looking lane. There are restaurants and book stores and houses and offices on either side of the street (and funnily, no church that I’ve seen. But of course, that’s probably my ignorance). It’s a nice place to roam around at almost any time of the day which makes this piece of news even more saddening. The city is on high alert and everyone has been advised to stay vigilant and report anything suspicious. All this is making it even harder to study but I’m trying to finish as much as I can before lady sleep descends on my eyelids.
It’s 10:30PM and I decide to give in to the pressures of a sleep-inducing boredom that has presently thrown a veil over me. I set an alarm for 5AM so that I can finish off the rest of the syllabus and revise in the morning.
Pharrell Williams’ super hit single “Happy” rang out loudly, awakening me from my blissful sleep. It’s still dark outside. I opened the windows to let some fresh morning air replace the suffocating, stale air that had filled the room. A cold winter breeze found its way in and grazed the tiles. Walking on this floor feels like walking barefoot on ice but it has certainly woken me up. I leave a bowl of milk to boil on the stove and walk back to my table. I notice the calendar showing yesterday’s date but I’m too lazy to go change it now.
Exam day tension compels me to put my head down and study what I have remaining. By now, the milk has boiled and spilled over. I leave it to cool and get back to study. A couple of hours pass by really fast and I realise that I’ve to hurry to get ready now. I close my books and go to take a quick shower and change into college clothes: a full sleeved shirt and blue jeans. I pour some milk into a cereal bowl filled with cornflakes, a practice I began over 12 years ago.
It’s 8:15 AM and I have 15 minutes to leave for college. I drink the remaining milk in the bowl and leave it in the sink. As I stand in front of this little mirror, a strange calmness descends on me. I pick up my bag and get ready to leave. I flip the date on the calendar and walk out, locking the door behind me. It’s time to go write an exam!
P.S: In case you were wondering, which you probably were not, Chelsea and Southampton played out a 1-1 draw.
In case you were wondering, which you probably were not, the exam went like all exams have ever gone. “It was okay”.
And finally, In case you were wondering, which you probably were not, there are better posts than this one that will be published soon.
And FINALLY, in case you were wondering, which you probably were, yes, this post is finally over. Bye.

Diwali: Be a Hero

In India, we celebrate a lot of festivals. We celebrate so many festivals that at times it is difficult to keep count of what we’re really celebrating. Different people look at this differently. For school kids, it means plenty of holidays. For their teachers, it means less time to complete the syllabus. For employees, it means a day away from work. For their employers, it means a drop in productivity.
But there is one festival that really stands out in a calendar year. For years, I’ve been told it’s the “festival of lights” but that isn’t an accurate description of what it is any more. I’m,of course, talking about Diwali.
The story is familiar to everyone. (For those who aren’t familiar with it, there’s a VERY concise version here : The Diwali Story).
Diwali is, like almost all other festivals, a time to celebrate. And at least for as long as I can remember, it is also the time when environmentalists everywhere feel like they have the most hopeless job in the world.
In school, one of my favourite things was to write essays in English class. Every year, the day before Diwali, we’d be asked to write an essay on diwali. And almost everyone’s essay would go something like “Deepavali is the festival of lights. We wear new clothes, light lamps, exchange sweets and burst firecrackers.”
My essay, on paper, used to be more or less the same too. But in my head, my essay went something like “Diwali is the festival of lights and we burst crackers and then we burst crackers and then some more crackers and then we take the black powder out of all the crackers and make it into a heap and add paper bits to it and set fire to it and make it into a bonfire. And then we wake up the next morning and burst all the remaining crackers”.
It used to be the most fun thing to look forward to every  year.
But that was when I was young and stupid. Fully grown adults around me would tell me on 361 days a year that we must save the environment and that we must not litter the streets and so on. But almost every single one of them would have a major personality change for the 2 or 3 days on which diwali is celebrated. You could see them in the thick of action, teaching young kids how to light crackers. The following morning, walking through the streets lined with the small paper pieces that wrapped the crackers, they’d complain about how horrible lighting firecrackers is. For a 10 year old, actions speak much louder than words. At that stage of their lives, they’re no more than impressionable monkeys. They’ll imitate everything an older person around them does. And when they see that there’s some sadistic joy that can be derived from blowing up stuff, they’ll do it more.
But that’s basically where the criticism of the kids ends. If I stepped out on the streets today and convinced the kids celebrating diwali not to do it, they’ll stop. And then the moment my shadow leaves their territory, they’ll start again. Kids don’t look for reason. They look for examples. And as long as adults don’t set that example, you can’t blame the kids.
So for the grown-ups, this is an issue they must not take lightly. Pro-environment groups have tried all sorts of campaigns to dissuade the use of fireworks. They’ve all fallen on deaf ears. What people fail to understand is that if you carry on mindlessly bursting crackers, “falling on deaf ears” won’t be a metaphor any more.You’ll actually go deaf. And if not you, someone will. And if that doesn’t bother you, evolution must’ve messed up somewhere.
Every year, the day after diwali, newspapers print air pollution statistics about how much more pollution this festival caused. Turn to the next page and there’ll be a story about how young kids working at a fireworks factory in Sivakasi died from poisoning.
But these are all things everyone knows. And yet it seems, no one can resist the lure of diwali.
If you go back to the start of this article and read it once more, there are a few points that are crucial to show how much the concept of diwali has changed and where the problem lies.
  1. Diwali isn’t the festival of lights. It is a mad day when people gather to burn crackers that produce more smoke and sound than light. The retort I get most often to that fact is “If you don’t like it, don’t celebrate it. Don’t ask us to stop”. Unfortunately, you’re not celebrating this on TV. I can’t just change the channel. Every ounce of smoke that you create, adamantly insists on floating around in this thing called the atmosphere and my lungs, apparently, can not survive without inhaling air from this atmosphere. Of course, I could just leave town for 3 days and come back after diwali but I’d be guilty of not making you feel guilty if I did that. So NO. I won’t do that.
  2. On this day, environmentalists feel like they have the most hopeless job in the world. That’s because they do. They work religiously all year to make the world a better place for us to live in and for 3 days, the entire country gangs up against them simultaneously in one big Thank you-for-letting-us-do-this-by-cleaning-up-our-dirty-act-from-last-year.and-the-year-before-last-and-the-one-before-that gesture.
  3. Kids don’t really understand the meaning of diwali. They don’t care. Society has trained their minds to enjoy this craziness.
  4. Remember those adults I spoke of earlier? The ones you could see in the thick of action, teaching kids to light crackers? You can’t see them any more. That’s not because they’ve stopped. It’s because there is too much smoke to see anyone or anything.
  5. I feel bad for criticizing the kids. It sounds like I’m one of those guys that has had my fun by celebrating it for 3-4 years but now that I’m done, I’m sucking the joy out of their lives. But the truth is, I’m better off without the crackers. So are they.
  6. There are actually things called “Pro-environment groups” . That must mean that there are “anti-environment groups”. And trust me, we are all members of that society. If you’re annoyed by the extreme views of the pro-environment group, quit the anti-environment brigade.
    Oscar Wilde said “We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell”. We do. We really do.
I’m probably already too late with this post but here’s a humble request. I’m not asking you to stop celebrating diwali.
 I’m asking you to teach one adult and one kid how to celebrate diwali without the crackers. Eat some sweets. Go out for dinner. Trust me, you’ll feel awesome eating good food with the money you would’ve otherwise burnt, Literally.
Light a lamp. Light 10 lamps! Take a picture of it, add those annoying filters and put it on instagram or twitter or facebook or where ever you want with the hashtag #JustSavedTheWorld.

Oscar Wilde wasn’t wrong very often. But I’m sure he’d appreciate it if we proved him wrong in this case. 
Don’t be a devil. Be a hero. Always be a hero.

Stay Safe! Stay informed!
Anirudh Dinesh,
Editor-At-Large, Dudurudh.

Anonym: Part 1

 Disclaimer: The following story is purely fictional. Any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, is coincidental and unintentional.
“Ravi, either chop down the coconut tree or have those coconuts plucked before they fall. If another coconut falls on Javed’s house, I will book you under section 307 of the Indian Penal Code. Do you know what that is?” I asked, sternly.
“No sir. It won’t happen again. I’ll make sure of it.” Ravi replied, scared by my quoting the Indian Penal Code. Having served on the police force for 34 years, I’d learnt that the easiest way to resolve trivial matters was to quote some random section of a penal code that I’d never read. As usual, the simpleton was fooled by quasi-intellect and pseudo-power. In reality, the police really had no jurisdiction over such matters as non-existent boundary disputes. But in a town where nothing of great significance ever happened, coconuts falling from one man’s compound into another’s gives the police something to do other than swatting flies and eating ground nuts all day. I had devoted a full 45 minutes to this particular hearing. Without getting into the details, a coconut tree on Ravi’s land had decided to lean over his fence and overlook Javed’s house. When the coconuts fell, they fell on Javed’s roof, causing him the extreme agony of having to collect, sell and make money from coconuts that weren’t his.
After letting them argue purely for my own entertainment for about half an hour, I pretended to scour some large hard bound book on law for an answer to the present predicament. After announcing my verdict, I sent both parties away. They offered to pay me Rs.101 as an expression of their gratitude. I declined their generous offer because I wasn’t one to accept money to solve such silly cases. “The department pays me every month. I don’t need any extra money from you” I said.
“But the department refuses to give my son that brand new mobile phone they’re selling in Chandru’s shop so..” I left the rest to their own comprehension. The folks of Aracherry were very understanding when it came to these “traditions”.
As the senior-most of the 4 constables in the Aracherry police station, I had a lot of responsibilities. It has been about 6 years since the police station last saw an Inspector and so my responsibilities have only gone on increasing. But, even with that added responsibility, I normally don’t need to do a lot of work for 2 reasons- One, since there’s no inspector, I don’t have to report to anyone. Two, Nothing ever happens in Aracherry.
For those two reasons, all of us had jobs on the side to keep us occupied. For instance, Krishnan ran an astrology class in a run down mill just outside the station. It was far enough from the station so that no person/s ( read : a rapid inspection squad from the headquarters) could see him from the station and close enough so that he could hear a loud noise from the station to alert him of the arrival of any such person/s. His class normally had 12 students. That’s the maximum number of people that could be stuffed into that old mill without it being labelled a human suffocation room. On any two given days, no 12 faces would ever be the same. It was always a floating population of students who paid the modest sum of Rs50 per class for his services. He was never rated badly as an astrologer because his predictions could never be proved wrong. The reason for that was that his predictions were always long term. “You must sell 30Kgs of rice at half cost to any grocery shop of your choice or else your grandson’s son will not live past the age of 45.” he once said to a rice trader who faithfully did what he was told . There was only one grocery shop in the vicinity. It belonged to Sabu, another constable. Sabu, for his part, would refer forlorn traders and other customers of his to Krishnan the astrologer to solve their problems. In this way, they kept each other’s businesses running. The blind belief in Krishnan stemmed from one prediction he made a few years ago when he said that it would rain in Aracherry within 4 days of his prediction- information he had received from the weather report of a punjabi news channel (For people in this small town, any language other than malayalam was an alien tongue). For the farming community that constituted the majority of Aracherry’s community, it was the only thing they cared for especially since rain was scarce in these parts. Luckily for Krishnan, the weather report, unusually, was right and he became a legend.
The third constable, Shetty, whose first name almost nobody knows, was the local property consultant. A property consultant’s job involves a lot of running around and so he was almost never to be seen in the station and he wasn’t missed either. Shetty believed in a (flawed) theory that says that taking bath once in 3 days rejuvenated one’s skin. You didn’t need a blood hound’s nose to sense that Shetty was nearby.
And then there’s me. And this, is the story of the sleepy town of Aracherry.

Pareidolia: Finale

“What?” Issac said, snatching the file from Sarah’s hands in disbelief. “Flat No 2204! That’s the house on the top floor! I knew it! Lisa, dressed up as Martha, killed Purva and then put us off track with the
statement about Tony.”
“Why did these two want to kill Purva in the first place? And how did she even know Tony?” Sarah asked.”The adoption papers don’t name the person who adopted that child. But, there is a clause in it that Alex and Lisa could ask for custody if they get married within 2 years of the adoption”,Issac said.
“So you think it was Purva who adopted the child and she refused to give him back?” Sarah said.
“Possible. But the neighbours said that they haven’t ever seen Purva with a baby.” Issac said. “We’ve to find Lisa. That’s the only way we can find out what happened. We’ve got to search that flat. Let’s go”

At Redwood Trail apartments, armed with a search warrant the duo enter Flat No 2204.
“There isn’t much stuff here SJ. Looks like they’ve cleared out.” Issac said.
“Ice. Look.” Sarah called out, going through a bunch of photographs. Issac came in and joined her.
“That must be Aaron”  Issac said, pointing to the picture of an adorable little baby.
“Yeah..I wonder wher..” Sarah froze at one picture. She wiped the dust off it to have a better look. There must’ve been 20 people- All in Black, standing around a coffin- a small coffin. Kneeling by its side was Purva.
“Do you think that’s…” Issac said, afraid to name baby Aaron.
Sarah just nodded, her sinking voice and drowning heart making it difficult to say anything.
“Lets go.” She managed to mumble”We’ve got what we need”.

As they walked down from Lisa’s 20th floor apartment, Sarah was in a daze. Issac followed her mechanically, the photo firmly held in his fist. On the 17th floor, Sarah lifted her head to have one look at Purva’s apartment. She walked to the door and grabbed the tape that read “Police Line. Do not cross” as if to tear it. But she let go and turned to Issac, dug her face in his shoulder and burst into tears.
In that picture, was a face that Issac hadn’t noticed. Standing a couple of feet behind a kneeling Purva was Tony-His head bent in reverence and hands tied behind his back. He stood alone, away from the rest of the crowd but close enough to Purva to suggest that he knew her well. Issac still hadn’t realised this. He sat Purva by the stairs and waited for her to stop crying. In a while, her tears dried and she got up and walked over to the large glass window by the stairs. She stood there and looked out over the rising skyline of the city with the vast ocean on the horizon, still thinking of Tony. Issac walked over to her, “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” he said.
“Yeah. Tony loved this city. If he saw this now, he’d take off on his bike chasing the horizon, searching for some invisible joy” she said, a couple of tears slowly making their way out of her eyes. She took the picture from Issac’s hand and pointed at Tony, handed the picture back and rested her head on the glass, deep in thought. Issac didn’t immediately recognise the face. He took a closer look and realised who it was. He wasn’t sure what to say. He put an arm around Sarah’s shoulder, trying to console her.
“Sarah”, he said softly after a while. “Let’s leave”.
Sarah walked like a zombie and got into the car. For the next half an hour, they said nothing to each other. The radio in the car played some old malayalam song periodically interrupted by the police wireless address system.

Back at the headquarters, Inspector Murugan had the adoption details of baby Aaron from the agency. It confirmed what the duo had suspected. Purva was the one who had adopted the baby when he was barely 12 days old. When Sarah and Issac got back, Inspector Murugan had more news for them. “I just received some sad information about the baby. He died of pneumonia at the age of 3. Purva moved to Redwood Trails after that. She didn’t have many friends here but we got in touch with the head of the adoption agency…” he stopped seeing that Sarah looked distracted. “Are you alright Sarah?”
She nodded to suggest that she was. Issac handed the photo to the inspector and explained what had happened.
“Oh so you guys already know about the baby. But it seems you still don’t know about Tony’s involvement in this”. Suddenly, Sarah became more interested in the conversation. “What involvement?” she asked.
“Like I was saying, we got in touch with the head of the adoption agency. A nice woman by the name of Theresa. It is routine to conduct a background check of the person adopting a child. Usually, it is done by the police but often, we allow reputed agencies to conduct their own background checks. In Purva’s case, it was Tony who did it. They got quite close too apparently.” he said.
Sarah didn’t flinch. She was learning more about her brother after he died than before. She struggled to keep up with the conversation.
“So Alex and Lisa blamed Purva for the death of their baby? But there’s no way they could’ve known who adopted the baby. The agency doesn’t reveal those details normally” Issac said.
“Right you are.  It was Theresa who informed the couple that their baby had died. She felt it was only right that the biological parents were present at the funeral. That’s where Alex comes in. Remember he was charged with criminal intimidation and a B&E?” Murugan said.
“He tried pressuring Theresa into revealing the details and when she didn’t agree, he broke into the agency and took all of Purva’s details.” Sarah inferred and completed the inspector’s statement.
“They must’ve seen Tony at the funeral. Since he was away from the crowd, they must’ve remembered his face. So it was pure coincidence that Lisa described him to the sketch artist. She had no idea that he was your brother.” Issac speculated.
“Did they have anything to do with Tony’s death too?” Sarah asked, trying to mask her fear with confidence.
“I had the checked too. But there’s nothing unnatural about his death. So it’s unlikely that these two were involved in that.” the inspector replied.
“But it took them 3 years to find Purva? That’s an unusually long time. Especially if they broke into the agency and found the details long back.” Issac said.
“True. But the details in the records only told them where Purva lived earlier. It took them time to track down her new location” Inspector Murugan clarified.
“I’ve already dispatched three teams to find Lisa. Good work you both. You’ve solved a crazy case. Now it’s time for the paperwork. Go on. Get on with it”  he told them, before answering the phone that had been ringing for a while now.

Sarah and Issac walked out of the debriefing room and walked onto the roof of the headquarters where two guards were now permanently posted. They sat near the ledge, looking at the skyline again. In the distance was redwood trails and beyond it, the ocean on the horizon.
“Sarah, I get that you’re upset thinking of Tony. But you’ve got to get over it.”. Issac said bluntly.
Sarah was sitting with her hands propping up her head. She tilted her head towards Issac and smiled. Then, turned her face away from him and stared into the sunset.
“I can’t stop thinking of Purva. When I stood in front of her door after we found that picture, I could see her on the door. I could see her outside in the skies. I could see her in the skyline. Every little noise sounded like Aaron’s cries. Even now, when I look out at the horizon, I can see them. But then I remember Tony. I can picture him even now on his bike, chasing the horizon. Only now, it seems like he’s racing to join Purva and Aaron. It wasn’t an invisible joy he was going after. It was  just one I couldn’t see it. But he did. He never told me about Purva but I remember him quoting G.K. Chesterton to me once, I’m sure now that he was talking about her: “Walking up a road at night, I have seen a lamp and a lighted window and a cloud make together a most complete and unmistakable face. If anyone in heaven has that face I shall know him again”. He will see her face again in heaven. And I just wish he finds the joy he was chasing.”