I cannot believe that I had not read this ass-kickery of a book till now. I always had it with me but could never proceed beyond a few pages. A mistake, I would say, since this is one of the most original, shrewd, cunning, shamelessly direct, directly morbid, and morbidly hilarious pieces of text ever put together. Yes, its the pinnacle of dark humor. Its a novel like no other. Its rationale is so insanely sane, you would have re-evaluate the rose tint on your glasses thats smearing away the cruel and unjust world around you.

The book is set in an American bombing squadron stationed in Italy during the end of the second world war. It mainly follows the life and actions of its main protagonist named Yossarian who is paranoid because it seems to him that everyone is out to kill him. The Germans are trying to bomb his plane and those who are not trying to kill him directly are trying to do so indirectly by sending him on more bombing missions so that the Germans could bomb his plane. The problem with him is that as soon as he finishes the required number of bombing missions before he could be sent home, his commanding officer increases the required number. In this grim scenario, the only way by which Yossarian could avoid getting killed is by feigning physical or mental illness and spending his time in the army hospital and wait for the war to get over. In this pursuit he approaches the army doctor to see if he could be grounded if he could prove that he was crazy. Its here that the full import of Catch-22 is presented before the reader:

" There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he [Yossarian] observed.
"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.


The book is a masterpiece of circular logic and hilariously dumb scenarios. It moves effortlessly between numbing absurdity and grotesque reality. Through its characteristic frankness which often borders on revolting intimacy, it makes you see the futility of a world gone wrong. Heller has woven the throbbing and pulsating images of dying children, utter devastation, crass commercialism, and mindless patriotism with perseverance, honesty, morality and purity. And he has done all this over the backdrop of a language that is brutally funny and frighteningly incisive.

Yossarian, as it seems to me, is the second most insane person in his squadron. But he needs all his insanity to grasp the magnitude of the insanity of war itself. Just like the way you need to be stupid to appreciate Ekta Kapoor, you need to be crazy to realize the futility and absurdity of nations fighting against each other over arbitrary non-geographical boundaries. When you come to think of it, man hardly seems to be the most intelligent animal when he has screwed up the situations so completely.


Swami and Friends

I have lost count as to how many times I have completed 'Swami and Friends' by R.K.Narayan, but having some free time to dispose, a nice sunshine to bathe in and a comfortable swing to lie upon made me remember one of the true pleasures of life: reading a good book on a lazy afternoon. So I picked it up and started all over again.

For starters, its a very simple book which moves episodically through the life of a 10 year old. The book is the reflection of the adult world in the eyes of a child. It recounts the 'case of the Mondays', elaborates upon the draconian system that is primary school, dwells upon the incongruity of adult actions in the eyes of a child, nostalgically reminds us of the innocence that permeated the friendship of our youth, and tells us a story of small pleasures and big disappointments. As far as I can remember, its the only book that never fails to bring a tear to my eye in the end and I have had my share of maudlin texts. What others fail to evoke in their elaborately ornate languages, this book accomplishes in the honesty of its portrayal of friendship and the heartbreak that accompanies its termination. The last chapter deals with Swami saying goodbye to his friend Rajam who is boarding a train for good. Due to some misunderstanding, Rajam has not been talking to Swami but Swami always remembers the good old days they had together. Swami brings him a book which Rajam takes. He tries to say something but his last words are drowned in the whistle of the starting train. Swami and his friend, Mani stand watching the train go. One of the last paras goes like:

Swaminathan and Mani stood as if glued, where they were, and watched the train. The small red lamp of the last van could be seen for a long time, it diminished in size every minute, and disappeared around the bend. All the jarring, rattling, clanking, spurting, and hissing of the moving train softened in the distance into something that was half a sob and half a sigh. Swaminathan said: 'Mani, I am glad he has taken the book. Mani, he waved to me. He was about to say something when the train started. Mani, he did wave to me and to me alone. Don't deny it.'
'Yes, yes,' Mani agreed.
Swaminathan broke down and sobbed.

There is nothing illustrious in the writing, but somehow it manages to strike at the very core of my heart. Maybe, its just appealing to the basic human need of friendship and his weakness and despair at finding himself at loss of it. I don't know. What I do know is that while we have been desensitized to the whole notion of fragile emotions by the reckless onslaught of commercial media, while we watch another news item depicting the suffering of a human being with the cold stare of a manager firing his employee, while our feelings get stretched and trodden and abused and manipulated by greed and consumerism, it doesn't take a lot to wake up to simple beauty.

Sometimes, I wonder, why are we being treated with the sensationalism and the violence and the gore and the immorality that's seeped into every fiber of today's entertainment ? Why do we need to feel violated in order to feel entertained ? What's the need of prying into others' private lives to justify our own miserable existence ? I guess its too late to make a fuss. Mediocrity, it seems, is here to stay. In the quest of satiating the palate of the lowest common denominator, its a shame that we as a society has had to give up simplicity and intelligence.

Letters from India: The Traffic

Well, its been raining like crazy here in Haldwani. The mighty gods of downpour haven't gotten tired after a relentless onslaught that has lasted more than 15 days straight. Added to this, the fact that I have had a mild fever has prevented me from leaving my house and going on strolls down the roads of the town a lot.

Most of my visits have been to the local market with the barber shop being my most regular flirtation. A head massage at a mere Rs. 10 is a real steal and another 10 for shave with a thorough champi doesn't hurt either.

I have a TVS scooty here. Weighing at a mere 20 kgs (I guess), I sometimes wonder if its going to hold up to all those gusts which are the hallmark of these mountain areas, but it has performed just great till now. You have to leave the country for a long time and drive in more controlled regions to appreciate the skill that is required to drive on one of these market roads. Its almost magical how order springs out of utter chaos, how maddening mess gives way to self regulated patterns. At first its all scary. The honks, the trucks at sniffing distances, the odd cars springing on the road from nowhere, the dogs, the cows all jostling for their 2 yards, the seemingly infinite traffic jams. But its funny how everything resolves itself. And you don't really see anyone caring too much. They just sit there on their lunas and cycles and rickshaws and cars, all stuck in that small area, but hardly anyone gets flustered enough to start throwing tantrums. Yes, the honks are blaring with the continuity of a bass guitar in a rock concert but thats more a way of saying, 'I am still waiting but please, do take your time'. Nobody expects anyone to go anywhere. Nobody CAN go anywhere unless someone just evaporates. But the horns keep blaring, as if to break the monotonicity of the static harmony that has resulted from the extreme pandemonium. And you wait and wait and wait until you see a glimmer of hope as the vehicle in front of you moves just so slightly. Really, the exhilaration of seeing that one movement beats the joy of most of the achievements of an average human being. It takes time but somehow it all starts to make sense. The crowd helps each other to start two lanes each going in the opposite direction. The sun starts to seem more benign as even the wind starts to sway the adjoining trees. Slowly but surely the huge mass of humanity divides itself into two portions, each grazing past each other with the proximity of two finely cut blocks of magnets and the speed of a turtle on a crack. It takes another 10 minutes but I am off, my scooty blaring its throat out at a healthy speed of 30 kmph.

In many ways, driving in India is much safer than driving in America. The obvious reason is the speed. When your highest speed is just 40, you can hardly expect grisly mutilation as your fate, if caught in an accident. But more than that, its the lack of a surprise element in the Indian context, which makes driving here so safe. Once you have driven here for 2 or 3 days and had your share of perpendicularly darting dogs, suddenly springing motorcyclists thinking they have a jet pack, reckless car-drivers thinking... well hardly, you kind of stop taking things for granted. You view every corner with the suspicion that would have done Sherlock Holmes proud. You see every street animal as a potential trap, specifically placed at that location to start moving at the worst possible time. You hardly have to ever look into the rear view mirrors as you can always take the presence of another driver right by your throat for granted. No need to look sideways too, since that space too would most probably be taken. Might as well put a cello tape on the horn and be done with the responsibility of pressing that darn button every 2 microseconds. Where are the surprises ? I say, you have to be a real 'good' driver to screw up here in India.

Letters from India: Additude

I cannot believe how much attitude these advertisement guys are trying to pour into each one of their creations on the Indian television. I am pretty sure that they have the innocuous aim of just wooing the yuppies (yo!), but have they no regard for me who just shudders out of goosebumbs whenever another such stupid creation presents itself on the TV ?

Wherever I see on the TV, there are dudes doing things which cool people ought to do, you know speak incoherent Hinglish, sport spiked hair, wear skin tight Baniyans so that their bulging muscles dance indecently in front of your eyes. And then their are the girls, again indulging in cool stuff highly associated with gangs of 21st century teens like rolling their eyes, breaking into a dance at the least possible prod and generally behaving as if each one of them is the last girl in a world that has just suffered an atomic war that has selectively wiped out all the other girls. Some cases in point:

There is this ad about the new CBZ motorcycle. Those at the drawing boards wrecked their brains and figured this thing: If the old CBZ model had a 150 cc engine and the new CBZ has a 160 cc engine, which is the one word which would appropriately describe this humungous, almost brilliant leap in technology. Nevermind that Royal Enfield has been consistently churning out 350 and 500 ccs in India for like a millenium, a 10 cc increase over 150 can only be done justice with one word: Xtreme. So like the morons they really are, they have gone ahead and called it CBZ Xtreme. Notice how they have omitted the E in Xtreme because proper pronunciation would not let their product get registered on the limited comprehension radars of 20 somethings and who knows: a CBZ Extreme might after all, not turn out to be as Extreme as Xtreme. With this much of Xtremity, I expect nothing less than a machine that breaks window panes with its sound, regularily breaks the sound barrier, and produces fumes of aqua regia in place of the regular exhaust of CO2 and CO. No it does nothing of the sort, and I am pretty certain doesn't hit anything more than 120 kmph (Pulsar 180 doesn't). Xtreme. Let me just say: My Foot. Thats not all, the model driving the bike proudle says: Thinking is such a waste of time. I would say it would be. For the demographics you are targetting, it would be a surprise if the overhead produced by thinking doesn't fuse their brains into one clogged lump. Thats what these people selling products would have us believe, that thinking is a waste of time. What next, take out our wallets and courier them to you if only you rope in king khan telling us that it would be a cool thing to do ? There is another bike ad in this regard although its a bit less obnoxious. I think its Apache from Honda. Everything is fine with the ad and I like the look of the bike but I just wish they would have refrained from projecting an extreme image of the rider replete with the bad boy image, leathers all over, and chicks going ga ga all over him with the guy himself employing most of his time wheeleing and stoppeing the bike.

Then there is all this talk about forming gangs. Not groups of people who share common interests but gangs who do all the cool stuff. I think Airtel has an ad regarding this. There is a gang of dudes who like racing toy cars in abandoned garages. Their carefully manufactured images include, tight fits, spiked hair, and guess what, tattoos reading 'Tom', 'Dick', '&', 'Harry'. Real ingenious I would say because the whole notion of tattooing is so naturally cool and new as the number of people who have resorted to painted hair or pierced navels or tattoed bodies in search of a unique identity still dwindles at a mere 200 million worldwide.

The bottom line is that its not the product I have problems with but rather the things they are being projected into. As always, I have problems with the irrationality of cultivating a personal image based on corporate whims and secondary expectations, a trait that the media is propagating extremely carefully.


Letters from India: Media finds a new low

I would never have thought that it was even possible. After the immense wave of mediocrity that swept the Indian media in the wake of the mentally retarded shenanigans which were the hallmarks of idiots like Ekta Kapoor, I would hardly ever have thought that things could go any worse from there. Believe it or not but they have. Just when you thought that in an era of mindless and cheap entertainment, mindless and cheap entertainment could not get any more mindless and cheap, they surely have. Ofcourse there are some saving graces, islands of creativity teetering on the brink of exhaustion in a sea marred with popular acceptance of sub-par creativity but all in all, its a sad story.

News channels have yet again fallen down in the quality of their contents. While the front page of Times of India routinely features atleast 50% space as advertisements and 30% of the space with news like 'Man in Jabalpur pays 10 lakhs for a special Phone number' or 'Owners of these fancy numbers once sold Chole Bhature' in bold, other papers, traditionally held in a bit of respect, have started following suite. News channels like India TV keep themselves in business by sensationalizing every bit of trivia happening in the country. Of late, the news that has hogged all the headlines has been the conviction of Sanjay Dutt in the Bombay Blasts. It seems news channels have opened up temporary offices outside the jail in which he is housed. We are being fed with every little detail of his life. What he eats, where he sleeps, the gory details of his toilets, his minimalistic attire, how he is being treated like a normal person. The last bit of useless information that made into the category of 'breaking news' was about Sanjay Dutt feeling a bit of pain in his chest. News Channels, seeing the potential of taking the viewers for a ride, immediately organized for expert panels of medical practitioners, each of them trying to predict his illness and its repercussions. Similarly, there was this case of a child of 17 being beaten to death by his class teacher. You wouldn't believe but news channels prepared elaborate animations depicting how the teacher might have beaten him. They reached his home and started pestering his moaning mother with retarded questions like 'How do you feel'. Everyone in the village from his friends to their relatives to the school janitor to the dogs and cats had their 15 minutes. Its news journalism at its most heartless.

The saas bahu genre is holding its post strong in this battle of sanity versus insanity. From what I could make of off the discussions in my family, Tulsi seems to have died (or changed). I would say, about time now. People in our world generally die off when they reach an age of 125. But Baa seems in her frolicking best. Rolling around merrily at a ripe old age of atleast 200. There are atleast 2000 characters per serial and I am guessing, atleast 5000 such serials on Star Plus alone. And each of those 5000 serials tries to dish out another concoction made out of the same old stories of revenge and betrayal and love and hate and vamps and bahus doing pooja every single day. Grandaughters have started looking older than grandmothers, women viler than your average Hannibal Lecter, audience more numb than hippies on LSD.

Every channel now has a host of reality shows. Most of these shows are concerned with young and budding singers and I must say they are a helluva talented bunch. But then these shows go ahead and try to use their brains and add emotions and reality bites and behind the scene footages to dilute an otherwise perfectly good idea. Anyways, its still better than anything else on the conventional channels. The one good thing that has happened is a dedicated channel for cricket. Now I can sit in front of the TV all day like the mindless couch potato I am.


Letters from India: Air India - Hostesses et. al.

Before leaving for India, some of my good friends tried to do what every good friend should do when he comes to know that I am flying from Air India: make me nervous by recounting their horrendous experiences while flying with the carrier. Their rants usually were thinly veiled in statements like : "the food is great and they give lots of it too, afterall it never reaches on time" or "you will never miss a meal since the air-hostesses will wrench your ear if it comes to that if you do not wake up to eat it" etc. So I said to myself, well, how bad could it be, huh ? I mean, I am not someone who is especially famed for the size of his appetite and the expanse of his tummy. Neither am I a particular stickler for punctuality. And all that drivel about monstrous air-hostesses should really be an over-exaggeration of minor inconsistencies. Needless to say, and contrary to my expectations, my flight with Air India was more than interesting. Let me just mention the good things with Air India and be done with them in the begining:

1. The food is good.

Now that I have painfully listed all that was commendable with the service, lets get on with the more interesting part:

For beginners, there is not such thing as a young, beautiful Air India hostess. You might as well find unicorns roaming around in your backyards before you get to see one of those female mythical creatures who are supposed to serve you murg mussalam, look below 45 and occupy an Air India flight all at the same time. Thats the stuff legends are made of. I might as well, someday, tell fabled stories about young stewardesses serving in Air India to my grandchildren. Anyways, they were over the hill, hopelessly face-painted, frustrated aunties who do not find it inappropriate to snub passengers at the slightest possible pretext. There was this one guy who was sitting beside me and the lady came over to ask him if he wanted some water. He said no so she moved on. I do not know what happened then but the guy stopped her when she had moved ahead and asked her for water again. She turned back, took a glass, gave it to him alright but not without an expression which said "Don't you dare do this again and if you do, might as well provide your eye balls in a platter since I will anyways gouge them out of your freaking sockets". I am not exaggerating when I say that I almost choked out of fear. He would have done all this one more time had I not caught his arm and force his head down to damp the last syllables of his fateful sentence "Can I have the Orange juice". I swear, she turned, and her eyes were blood shot and I almost caught the glimpse of the hidden hatchet. I would have given him up. Seriously, I want to live. I would have given him up but maybe she did not hear the full sentence. She just saw my fear stricken eyes and the dude beside me struggling in the grasp of my arms, gave me a menacing look, and silently creeped ahead. If ever there was a guy who had a near death experience, it was me. And I am not exaggerating.

Then there were all these ill made informational videos coming on the 'SHARED' television sets in the plane. The most notable among those videos was the one where they tell you how to wear the life jacket and inflate it. My bullshit detector went berserk when it showed a young air-hostess. And she was smiling too. I instantly realized that this particular video was not meant for this particular flight and began to watch them with a more objective eye. They were all smiling and laughing while strapping on the jacket. Now I am not an expert on human emotions and expressions when subjected to conditions of extreme stress and tension but I find it hard to believe that someone would be rollicking merrily when told to strap on a life jacket because the plane will have to make an emergency landing on the Atlantic Ocean. I never get it. How come all these emergency informational videos and posters show self-assured, happy people? By definition, an in-flight emergency instructional item refers to a time when you would do well to rein in that useless smile of yours and try to do something more important like, um... I don't know, maybe SAVE YOUR LIFE. But no, even the kid is laughing in the video. Which brings me to the kid who was behind me all the time blasting my ears off. How much do they weigh ? Maybe 40 pounds ? I don't know, shouldn't they be counted as extra baggage ? How come I dragged my 50 pounds baggage from the domestic terminal to the international in LA (atleast 15 miles) just to find that I had to check it in and the people behind me got to bring this 40 pound shrieking machine right into the plane ? Please for god's sake, atleast put them in the compartment above... Hee Hee Hee... Just kidding...

Seriously speaking, it wasn't all that bad really and I do have this obsessive compulsive disorder of adding a bit of spice to everything. Life would be too darn drab, if it were to be coloured just with the monotonicity of reality.

About Me

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Like a particularly notorious child's tantrums, a mountaneous river's intemperance, a volcano's reckless carelessness and the dreamy eyes of a caged bird, imagination tries to fly unfettered. Hesitant as she takes those first steps, she sculpts those ambitious yet half baked earthen pots.