Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Return of Rumpelstiltskin

Rumpelstiltskin, remember him? The gnome who turned straw to gold? The vicious, slimy goofer who wreaked more havoc than made fortune? He's back. But in a different mould. You wouldn't be able to recognize him anymore; he is no longer a gnome. His antics are no longer puerile gnomery or sophisticated alchemy. He is now big and monstrous, an overpowering, scary, obscure vision that could drive you to the edge of insanity. So big a vision, he cannot be beheld in human sight, by human eyes.

He is a huge, gargantuan thing that flies from one end of the world to another: Air Force One. His place unfixed, his life uncompromised. He is the bellowing, chiding man who walks briskly at airports, keeping apace with his protective clique. President Sam!

He stops at slums and steps out of his cavalcade. He wishes the dwellers well. A charitable gesture. But usually, the slums are few and far between. Because most of them have been razed and 'cleaned', most men, women and children evicted and removed. The municipality makes no compromises. No bilge must fall in the Presidential Gaze. No dirty, ragged rabblement in the Presidential Trail. Yes, of course few can remain, as it would be too farcical to not have a single slum in India; his Presidential cynicism would be evoked.

Along the road, genuflecting ministers keel his path with gaudy garlands and ready lips, eager to smack the Presidential Anatomy from head to toe. Also, let us not forget their oily, glib paeans, terrible-sounding praises designed for visa benefits.

Rumplestiltskin walks on. He stands on a pulpit at the Old Fort (aka Purana Qila) and drones on for a while. He makes a smattering of speeches and rouses the illiterate masses. Lofty praises for Uncle Sam, lofty panegyrics for all of Uncle's Nephews and Nieces. He goes on speaking at length, rolling the 'r' in his typical North American drawl, mentioning 'I-Ran' and 'I-Raq' en passant.

Oh yeah, he ain't nothin' but back!

It takes Eleven Hours

The sky turns blue,

In heed,


The sun burns red,

Like rubies on a diadem,

The migratory aves,

Take refuge far down.

It is too hot to travel.

Yet I fly, In this bird of a plane,

The likes of a glider,

Small and midget-like,

Bigger still to the cirrus,

That flutter from end to end,

Like thistledown in the sky.

Only this far illusional,

For they appear and evanesce,

Like they were none.

To wither they flee, I hardly know.

For all I know,

I leave behind a home,

And people,

In search of Being, one may say,

Truth, may the other.

Have A Coffee Day!

Sometimes, constant living in a city can weary your nerves. Particularly if you happen to live in a city with a knack for getting to know EVERYONE in it. So even if you 'accidentally' overlook tipping the waiter, be sure that the entire town shall next hear about your gospel stinginess, courtesy, of course, your chance acquaintance at an adjoining table.

Thus it is particularly difficult to sit through an entire hour in a coffee-house. From the moment you enter, you know you have trespassed into the lair of eternal damnation where, unbeknownst to you, seven pair of ogling, decaffeinated eyes shall scrutinize your every move for the next sixty minutes. Nevertheless, you go and sit down, hoping in earnest to parry off unguarded judgment.

The situation becomes most problematic if you have girls sitting along at your table. First, the catty gobbledygook, very often over-technical and difficult to fathom, and then the extempore judgment calls. So while you sit there like a curmudgeon, your friends should have decided that the girl sitting at the next table is a total bitch and the guy dating her, a total bloody jackass for having to do so.

Thankfully, since you are only sparingly roped in for intermittent conversation, you have enough time to eat your chocolate fantasy properly. You can of course, unwittingly even, try to make fatuous and open-ended discussion about the most appropriate, and meticulous, shoes suitable for hip-hop, but this is bound to lead nowhere. Instead, perhaps you can ruminate on a comparison between water and Gatorade, one that is entirely internalized, so you need not have any apprehensions of being cut off mid-sentence.

Then, there is the most laughable agony of having to watch a passel of dimwits trying to catch the attention of your good looking friends whilst they chattily sip coffee and discuss how 'obvious' the dimwits are being. Poor morons. Sometimes you want to empathize. But I think it is more amusing, and important, to watch their libidinous activity go to waste. That way at least, you get to learn the subtleties of the act.

To put a riotous end to things, one of the blokes might eventually shake your hand and invite you to an imaginary party, but it is better to smile back genially and not take their conjecture at word, and then perhaps later even delete his number. But always remember, you must never turn back to look, for you might then find him frolicking around tables, like an angry raccoon, unleashed on a coital mission.

On Dissent

Pune, Maharashtra

"In India, the word 'public' is now a Hindi word. It means people. In Hindi, we have sarkar and public, the government and the people. Inbuilt in this use is the underlying assumption that the government is quite separate from the people. Even today, fifty-nine years on to the day, the truly vanquished still look upon the government as 'mai-baap', the parent and provider. The somewhat more radical, those who still have fire in their bellies, see it as 'chor', the thief, the snatcher away of all things."

I am a university student in Pune and I do English. There is very little for me here, in the din and hurly of dusty city life. Sometimes chance odd jobs come to me, in writing or reading and speaking, in moderation, and I let in. They are not much but they make me a quick buck. I used to think about the media here, and their glitzy tabloids. But the closer I got, the more trenchant the truth I found. They do not speak for us or write for us, or to us. They only pay loud, stentorian lip service to the elite, who lap it up like greedy men from their lackeys. It makes little use of me, armed with an English honours degree, to do much; it makes me the most useless member of society.

On most of these regular days, I love drinking tea and I love cycling. I'd bike to the cafeteria, and see what blends they have. My bedroom contains boxes and boxes of tea, and I am always happy to have new brews with which to concoct more original combos in my teapot. I am supposed to be preparing for my exams in the subject, but whatever happens I know I will skip them, go out on some pretext or other. I am too concerned with other things. Sometimes I take speed 'blues' - little blue tablets - to keep me awake, but they make me depressed, they make my skin shrivel up and I keep thinking I am going to have a concussion or something. So I usually sip spicy tea and listen to the player all night. I prefer the tuneless: Murdoc and the rest in Demon Days.

One night, chilly and in winter, the Enron factory went up in flames. It was apocalypse.

Mighty, white corporate America came crashing down on our little town; it was very strange in a way. They were so potent, so well off and we so poor. A wasted effort of retribution; but how wild and wanton it was. Nothing ever seemed the same again. The public struggle, though long and hard, was by no means magnificent.

The collared men retreated. But the local elite stepped easily and elegantly into the shoes of the corporate imperialists: a deeply impoverished, essentially feudal out-town, overnight became a modern, independent polis. The factory is now empty but now and again, they still come to collect taxes.

Nottingham, England - John Tween

'I love this bag more than I love The Clash', reads the pseudo-messy script on a young girl's satchel. She has no idea how deeply I was moved by this sentiment, by the contradiction inherent in the statement she was making. Those who truly feel that the movement was significant still hold 'Punk' and its ethos in high regard. The country's voice, as always, simply laughed it off, turning it into a pathetic fad as it burned out, its main protagonists eventually locked up or simply dejected, The Clash among them.

It is not even her fault that I am angered by this. In fact, a small part of me feels that I shouldn't be angry. If I was to confront her, she'd tell me that she liked the design, an honest enough conclusion. We're all bred in the same way round here, in the acceptance that to go against the grain is to immediately make oneself insignificant. To go against those that form the country's voice is futile.

The old town centre still stands the way it used to, but with recognizable plastic and glass brand names smashed into the bottom of the wonderful Victorian buildings. Those who once left for the suburbs have returned to the city centre, albeit five floors above any garbage that hits the ground. Those who venture into the centre that used to house a thriving marketplace, whether to shop or to socialize, are engulfed by logos and wonderful, bright, bold patterns.

Not so much the consumer, as the consumed.

And so we head to the brightest beacon in this gigantic high street and pack ourselves onto some form of transport for a break. Take a holiday, it costs just 6 months' wages, the slogans blatantly proclaim. But we always come back. We fear leaving these green and pleasant lands for too long, lest we be forgotten and pushed into insignificance. We all, like the girl who defiled punk, are bred to accept. Though in my mind I may see myself bringing down towers with no more than rage, even I will give in to the wasteful distractions of the world, accepting their frivolous nature and indulging myself in it.

Here, we could, but we don't.

The voice has always spoken to me. When I was young it escaped with ease in prank phone calls, small fires and soft drugs. The youth here escape when they feel insignificant. Then, gradually, social sensibilities overtake the senses. We are left as grey men, floating between our small, fifth-floor flats and our dull, still occupations in amongst the startlingly bold, beautiful colours of our city, where committees discuss ethos, ethics and alternative markets.

Not so much the sell-out, as the bought-out.

On Dissent

I don't know what it is that keeps all the oily machines in the world going, but you can't not notice. No matter who you are, where you are, there's always some dirty little rook who's trying to use you into the 'mechanics' of things. What mechanics? It's difficult to say. It could be simple, everyday things, like getting the newspaper while you're waiting at the airport, or making a phone call from the hostel without a phone chit. All of these things, quotidian as they are, involve the biggest amount of officialese.

And those who don't speak the language are in for some real dirt.

In a school, for example, what's so big and important about getting a simple form signed? It's the simplest thing there is. But bureaucracy has it's own way. If you want a form signed, you have to first decide who you want to sign it. If you know the person, you approach him. If you don't, you do that anyway. The person, ostensibly a teacher, isn't available for the time that he or she teaches lessons. So you have to find the right time and place to locate this one person. But then, the person might also want to read through it. Well, it's justified; after all, you expect the chum to sign it. The person tells you that it'd take some time. Of course, you agree. It must take some time. After all, a signature, given prevailing commonsense, is the most difficult of difficult things. By the time it gets back to you, after much unwarranted movement, you think it's some kind of a blessing in disguise and that every other person is the kindest Samaritan there is.

You also forget that bureaucracy "works in mysterious ways".

I remember my maths tutor, who always grumbled about the telephone department, hated the way his phone was, invariably, disconnected every month. He always paid his bills, or so at least he claimed, and spent lots of time contemplating the twisted minds of many twisted phone officers, who, for some reason, hated that he had a phone and persecuted him. I tried some consolation. You know, stuff like: it's quite normal, we're all in the same rut, we're all victims of some grand telephonic mega-conspiracy, et cetera. I tried telling him that this new Right to Information thing would be a good way out. But, I suppose, a man separated from his phone is as inconsolable as a fly caught in spiders' web.

He went and spoke to the regional manager. This one was rude, diffident and very obese. His conversation was smattering of 'Do you know who I am?' or alternately, 'Who the bloody hell are you?' My teacher, octogenarian man, old war-monger, took him on and sprung on him the biggest bureaucratic whiplash possible - he called up his immediate superior, whose son, fortuitously, was another one of his tutees. That was that, for evermore.

I guess I know what the government does with all its work, or lack thereof. Insofar as "work" is concerned, it's safe to say that kindergarten kids work with a better conscience. No matter how many drawings they disfigure, how much they disregard the spellings of words and the Oxford dictionary, these bureaucrats take the lid off them. What's actually funny is the way we, the people, have to take it all in, obligatory as it were. Would you ever have people sling things at you? Would you ever let them rob you of you livelihood's worth while you stand outside and help them load your stuff onto a truck full of stolen things? Would you even let someone take water from your backyard well, even if it were filled to the brim? People call it presumption. We never let other people get away with these things they presume they can do, but aren't entitled to.

It's tough to stand up to bureaucracy. It's very discomfiting. It's tough because these people are deafened, they have lost the faculty of hearing. They lost it long ago. They don't speak your language. They're insecure and messed up in the head beyond repair. They smell and their looks don't help very much. But it's better to start somewhere. Maybe that somewhere is here, in your head, where you can see them and mock them and prepare for the next time you meet them.

Strange Times

If you're in the process of transiting from one stage to another, then you probably know the feeling that one gets when there. There is a strangeness to it. The word 'strange' is itself very strange. It could mean so many things; for some people, strange is the easier way out of situations where one isn't too sure; one of the more common usages of the word is in lieu of 'weird'. You listen to people talk and more often than not, it's all about, 'This is weird,' or 'That is weird,' or 'He is weird,' and 'She is weird'. Everything is sometimes weird and so strange and weird become inseparable partners in the tortuous journey we call - You-know-what - and places of transit become an important part of that long, weird journey we call You-know-what. Have you ever finished off an exam and thought, 'Wait a minute, there's something left yet.' Then you go back to your room and keep thinking about it. You think and think, until you figure that the more you think about it, the more it's going to trouble you. And you don't want it to trouble you at all. In fact, you want to forget about it and let it go so swiftly that it'd even put Concordes to shame. But the point is, given the kind of pressure around an exam, you probably want to put the question at rest, but not without getting it over with it first. Sometimes you think about if you've written the question number right at the start of the question, on which, as most people are told in school, there is just as much onus as is on actually writing the answer correct. When it's worse, you think about if you left out a vital, or otherwise not-so-vital, point or two from your answer. It's mad. This shouldn't make you so much as a mite worried, and in the previous century it probably wouldn't have, but things have gotten so out of hand these days. What if you think your five looked more like a six in your answer sheet? But there are ways and means of getting over this slight mental agitation, the most effective of which is a so-called 'defense mechanism' called repression. Since a thought, or thoughts, come up and front in your head, in your 'conscious' mind, you push it into another part of your head called the 'unconscious', where it'll stay until it's ready to play peek-a-boo with you again, or until you forget it completely; but not quite, because it goes into the rest of your mind. Do you think a poor kid should have to deal with so much? Well, welcome to wherever you are. The best part of finishing off with exams is that once all of them are over and done with, in toto, you can safely rely on your 'unconscious' not to bring up any of that stuff again. It might do so unwittingly, once or even more, to get the better of you, but it doesn't mean any harm and it surely doesn't get too piqued about it. Once you're done with your exams, you can go into other 'drives', like a break-neck bout of reading books, or something else that you might have been prevented from hitherto. Once you're done with all your papers, you notice something even stranger, only this time it isn't psychic or internalized. It's the people around you. They get 'strange'. When you're in your exams, if you're the smart-type, people flock around you, putting aside earlier norms of keeping clear of your privacy, and try to get things sorted out about chapters or parts of chapters. They come and talk things out, ask questions (to verify if they or you know better and more) and fire a rapid round of things that are 'likely to come in the question paper'. Or else they just talk about how tense they're feeling or what they'd rather be doing then. Au contraire, if you're the slip-shod kind of guy, the one who wakes up to tomes of work yet unread round one-and-a-half hours before the exam, then the same people goad you into get your butt off the bed and start working. But once you're exams are over, they start acting-up. From over-drive they plummet into what I call 'limbo'. They start servicing other peoples' arses and leave yours alone. And that's good in a way. But this becomes a repetitive thing; I mean the servicing literally never stops. Some of them become taciturn and even mean sometimes, but you shouldn't get carried away with thinking that. It's best to let things be, lest you spoil the way things are meant to turn out and miss all the 'action'. But honestly, one ought to be more sparse with words in these times; the lesser spoken, the better conveyed, thus spake a famous Zen monk who never existed. But like in the books you read, about men and places, there are different ways of looking at each new thing. Bad vibes can both be good and bad; good because you're alerted to things you don't want to get into, and bad because they can very well piss you off if you're not careful! Thus also spake another monk who never existed. How does one get to the bottom of this bottomless pit, viz., the never-ending thought of going wonky with all Indian pressures around exams? I don't know. One way, certainly, is to know what's what and to stop pretending that it's any way else.