Manual of Life - Things You Didn't Realise Till You Did #99

I have yet to see a mainstream Hindi film where a character who's supposed to be talking in a non-Indian non-English language, is actually speaking in that language.

In no Bollywood flick has any character who's supposed to be African, or European, or Middle Eastern, or any other Asian talking in anything but nonsense lingo. Not even in those NRI flicks - where the film may feature a scene where some local in Switzerland will be talking in French, but the desi character will still be talking nonsense words. This would be just about acceptable if the character was simply pretending to be (as part of the script) a person of such a nationality, but even when the character is supposed to be a resident of said country, they still speak nonsense lingo.

Not. a. single. Bollywood. film.

And then we have the gall to get upset when Hollywood films show Indians talking in exaggerated Peter-Sellers-in-The-Party accents. At least they have us talking in Hindi, or Punjabi, or Tamil, or whatever.

This only occurred to me while having to endure some ridiculous OTT flick that these long-distance buses insist on playing even if it's night-time and people want to sleep, where Sanjay Dutt plays some guy who's supposed to have been living in Africa for 20 years, and whose idea of the language of whatever country he was supposed to be from went something like 'Karaka baraka! Maraka baraka'.

No, I'm not kidding.

Also, this is possibly the last of the India posts for a bit.


Space's lovely piece on Konark dove-tailed in rather nicely with this post that I'd been drafting, and finally pushed me into finishing it.

Possibly the one thing I'll take back most strongly from my years in this country is the depth of appreciation for the - and I'm struggling to make this a proper term - history of social architechture (as it were).

Oh yes, they do go on about their cathedrals and palaces and monuments (which are fairly spectacular), but most countries will do that about major architechtural wonders. But what really gets me is this peculiarly British devotion to, and delight with, everyday architechture that dates back centuries. I guess it partly comes from the whole pride in the Empire part, and partly from being such a storied nation, but that itself doesn't quite explain the mentality of a people who maintain and quite regularly use a local church which was first thrown open to the masses in 1079 AD. Or a row of houses that are still lived in, overlooking a busy road, with the youngest of them being 280 years old.

Maybe it's the size of the island, which really is quite astonishingly small for someone who's used to 20-hour train journeys being normal (there's apparently only one train route in the whole of the UK which has sleeper coaches). But there's this distinct interest not just in things big and marvellous, but in things small and lovely.

You cannot but spend time travelling with a resident of this country without being pointed out fascinating little asides - oh Siegfried Sassoon lived here, and that place actually used to be a proper mill, and this Roman road goes on all the way to Bristol. And if you happen to know someone who's even mildly interested in history and architecture, then you can look forward to being generally hurtled about and made aware of all the endless crenellations and window types and roof variations that abound.

Which means that when I do get time in India, I see things with quite a different view. It's always been fascinating walking around the old parts of Bombay - again, perhaps because so much of the architechture was from the time of the British. Most of the structures may now be dilapidated and grimy, but if you look carefully, you suddenly see the quaintest, unique design structures. And I'm not talking of the standard places - just wander round Old Bombay, and really look at the buildings. The V-shaped structurs, the little balconies, the portholes, the beheaded gargoyles, stairs so steep you feel you're getting on a ladder...simply fascinating stuff.

Oh sure, they might not be the ideal house to actually live in. But they are - or rather, were - a damn sight more interesting than these monolithic slabs that have been erected all over their demolished foundations.


On this last trip, I just kept wishing for a whole month where I could simply wander the streets of Old Bombay, taking lots and lots of snaps of the buildings. Much like what Szerelem was doing in Delhi. Maybe I should just get her to do Bombay too (which reminds me, where are you, Szer?)

Some day, maybe.


Commenting on the last post, KM asked some pertinent questions - particularly whether there ever was something that could be defined as Indian-ness, and whether my not finding it anymore is because maybe I've changed.


There are two equally horrible traps an emigrant can stumble into - an unjustified nostalgia for the country they have left, which keeps growing with every minute not spent in the place, out of all proportion to the reality left behind; or, an undepth-able hatred for the place, which keeps growing with every minute not spent in the place, out of all proportion to the reality left behind.

It's a bit like school/college - you either remember only the good times and two decades later convince yourself that you had an awesome time while you were there, or you can only remember all the frustrations and humiliations and keep obsessing about them till you cannot help but spew vitriol all the time.

Both possibilities are open to those who choose to leave. But there is a middle ground - for people who move not purely because of choice, but because of a series of circumstances.

I am one of these people.

For the larger part of my life, I made no attempt to leave India. The option was considered, weighed, and rejected in favour of staying put. But then I had to move (various reasons for both, but we won't go there).

And so, I find myself on that middle ground. Where I can appreciate the quality of life in a country such as this, compare it unfavourably to that back home, and yet appreciate the many myriad ways life is better in India. I criticise both places, and appreciate them both, and I can do so without getting either sentimental or vitriolic.

Out here, I love recycling facilities, and cycle lanes, and orderly queues (oh baby, queues), and parks all around, and the abundant quantities of couscous and dark chocolate. I love that even in crowd, people tend to respect your space. I love that drivers actually make way for emergency vehicles, and honk only if the other person is truly an idiot.

I crib about all this whenever I go back home...no, that's not right. That's stuff I used to crib about even when I was back home. Stuff lakhs of other people crib about too. And when I get home (it's still home), and plunge into a noisy crowd and walk down dirty roads and eat junk off street vendors, it all just...fits.

Yet. With every passing year, I find myself getting more and more irritated with the attitudes and practices of Indians.

Actually, make that Indians in cities.

I just cannot bothered with the sheer aggravation anymore. Whether it's multiplexes that think it's fine to charge me thrice the amount a single-screen cinema charges (can't anybody teach about economies of scale?), or news channels that have six (six!) lines of text on the screen, or neighbours who still think it's ok to have their marble floors cut and polished at 10pm, or idiots who will stand off the kerb on a blind corner when traffic is rushing at them, or....

I keep telling everybody that I doubt I could live in an Indian city again. Ok, I could, but in the same way I could poke knitting needles into my little toe every morning. I just wouldn't want to.

Because the simple truth is that, over the decades, cities in India have simply gone downhill. I'm not even blaming the corrupt bureaucrats or the uncaring politicos. It's just the sheer numbers that drown every effort. Our cities simply do not have the long-term planning or the time to implement them, or the infrastructure to cope with the millions who pour in all the time. Even if there was somebody honest enough to try and do something, at best it's like trying to stop a leaking dam with some towels.

I walked around Bombay this time. And yes, there are all the new roads and highways and sea bridges and new trains and smart buses. Improvements. But all it will do is convince more people not currently living in the city, that it is now worth living there, and draw in more moths to the burning flame of commerce.

Like Delhi. In the past decade, the city has improved amazingly, and even people from other metros might consider living there, despite all its pretensions. And where does that leave us? With more chaos. I tried thinking of what I'd do if I somehow managed to get enough idiots citizens to vote me into power. Scared me to heck.

Where would you even start? You need lots of cops for one. Who'd want to be one though? You can't even give them decent housing, and their salary is so shite, they are pretty much forced into accepting bribes. You need to get all the cabs and rickshaws sorted - it's illegal to drive in a private car without seatbelts, but try getting the cabbies and rickshaws to do so, and the unions would shut down the place. You need to start recycling garbage, but who's got the trucks and manpower for it? And then where would you dump it? Other countries send their stuff to us to recycle.

It just....

So yes, there was something that could be termed Indian-ness. Now it's just...me-ness. And no, I'm not jealous of the rise of the new middle-class. I just wish they'd appreciate what they have, and learn to preserve and enhance it for others around them, and all those yet to come. Which is why when I get back, I'll probably live in some gaon. Nahin toh 'Khooni darinde ne bichhaaya maut ka jaal' headlines will be soon flashing on a screen near you.

Sorry Brinda, we'll try chirpy next week.


Sometimes I think the worst thing in recent decades to happen to India is the suddenness of the economic boom in the past decade or so (the assorted wars, riots, scams, natural disasters are nothing new, unfortunately).

The suddenness, mind you. Not the boom itself.

I can't help but feel that if we had instead grown along at a solid but unspectacular 4-5% GDP, things would have been far smoother than they are today. It's as if you've taken children who were used to owning a frisbee and a couple of Lego pieces and suddenly given them an anything-you-want voucher from Hamleys.

And then you realise that the little indiscretions you used to gloss over, the not blaming the children for being grabby and thrusty because 'after all, they have so little', cannot now be excused away.


Indians are warm, friendly, helpful, smiling, inventive, entrepreneurial, hard-working. Canon, yes?

But we are also petty, and bitchy, and inquisitorial, and discriminatory, and selfish in a way that only living in such crowded conditions can make a person.

Till a decade ago, people could just about excuse the latter, because such qualities were thrust into the spotlight only occasionally, and everybody could go back to singing the former platitudes. And it worked (or at least it seemed to) in a 'noble poor' kind of way - yes, we have our faults, but given our conditions, isn't it amazing we're not worse? - that managed to make everyone feel just a little bit better. What else could you do anyway? Everybody was in the same shit, and somebody must've learnt a lesson from crabs, so it made more sense to try and get along.

And then, the money poured in.

And suddenly, people remembered that they didn't care if the music their car was blaring was perhaps a little too loud for 2am; they didn't care about beggars because there must be something really stupid about you if you can't earn money in this economy and besides, everybody knows it's a racket and they're secret millionaires; they didn't care about being delayed from their important work because of arcane rules such as stopping a vehicle when the signal turned red; they didn't care about the impact their lives had on the world around them, because it's just a little litter anyway; they didn't care about pointless concepts such as sustainability, and air quality, and deforestation, because that wasn't happening here, was it; and they particularly didn't care about being told that maybe, just maybe, they did not have the right to violently thump their opinion into somebody who still laboured under the misunderstanding that there was anything to discuss.

And now you've got this weird mixture of old-school feudality and new-age liberalisation, where you can pick up avocados in supermarkets, but only if you let the insistent service attendant pack it for you in a plastic bag that you don't want, so that it can be inspected by a guard near the exit gates which anyway beep if the product has not been scanned.

You've got this mentality where families will bitch about how the inflationary pressures of world quota systems have helped sugar prices jump three-fold in the past two years, but will still see fit to raise the salary of their domestic help by 5% a year, because that's how it was always done.

You've got this belief that you're entitled to home theatre surround sound systems and hi-def earphones, without any attempt at making the one-brick-deep walls any more soundproof, or taking a bloody look around you and realising it's 5.30am in the morning and your fellow train passengers are asleep, because what's a little noise more in all this racket?

You've got convenience food with very little idea of how to implement it, and a lack of understanding which somehow makes people believe it's just fine to spend 80 bucks on a frikkin' burger, just because it's in some fancy mall, and nevermind that the filling is two-thirds flour and one-third six-day old murder-fried veggies.

You've got retail chains trying to create a standardized environment, so that you could walk into any of their shops in any part of the country and be able to pick up the same item there. Which is why you get fleece-lined snow-proof long coats being flogged in a city where the day time temperature is 36C. In January.

Because you now have money. And everybody is equal. And we're entitled to it, and if you don't like the sound of it, you can say hello to my fifteen bulky friends.

India, by definition, was a confusion of pluralities.

If you lived there out of choice, you loved it for all the eccentricities, all the chaos, all the misunderstandings and subtle elbowing between region and religion and language and community and gender. It was the kind of picture that made sense only if you looked at it from deep inside, and was completely lost to perspective from a long-angled view. The kind of symphony, though just this side of grating, that still had an underlying thread that linked it together.

Now, though, the confusion has crystallised into a blur. Disparate dots that do not connect. White noise in electronic disco beats.

We're rushing so eagerly towards the future that other countries exist in, we've forgotten to ask ourselves just what those people had to go through and how they adjusted, in order to get where they are now. We're running so fast to get to the top of the hill, we don't even realise our shoes have scraped away and the crudely-done road is beginning to cut into our feet.

We're trying so hard to forget what things were like, that we run the risk of erasing who we ever were.


Friday Fun: Fact/Fiction

(This could be true, but is it?)

For a couple of years, when I was in my early-teens, I ended up being cajoled into a Ganesh visarjan procession. A combined group of the smaller, five-day household ones.

Somehow, despite my intense aversion to the 'dhak-a-chikka-dhak-a-chikka-DHAK' music being blared by those horrible 'orchestra' bands, and the idiotic amounts of firecrackers being burst even as everybody was walking over them, I ended up dancing the entire way till the water's edge.

Four hours (two of them barefoot) of mindless and most-likelily cringe-worthy gyrations on a busy night-time Indian road. Four hours of waving at all the cars and buses crawling past as we edged along our way, not even wondering (or caring) if anybody I knew would spot me. Four hours of holi-colour-drenched, 'boom-boom-bu-boom, bu-bu-boom!' chaos.

Some quiet evenings I still end up smiling at the utter freedom I felt.

Some nights I still wake up shuddering at the insanity of it all.


Manual of Life - Things You Didn't Consider Till You Did #32

When you pee during really cold weather (near-freezing or below), why does it steam on impact?

Sure, there's a difference of 35C difference or more between the fluid from within your body and the surface it falls on, but water (which makes up 96% of urine) evaporates at 100c. So why can you still see vapours?

Bonus question:
Is water the only thing being evaporated?

I had a couple more India posts, and I'd hoped to wrap them up in January, so we could return to regular programming this month. But I obviously don't draft them when I should, and then tinker too much with them when I should post, so here we are.