Impressions in the dust

This Indian trip was memorable for more ways than one. Yes, I'm back in the ever eternal mild weathered and indolent San Diego with more than a month's worth of dust in my hair, incense in my nose, and lukewarm misty memories in my heart. And I cannot wait to put some of my impressions into words because that's what I have been thinking about through most of the flight and in fact most of the trip.

A friend of mine who wants of visit India as soon as possible keeps saying that she wants to do it because it's been such a life changing experience for so many people and I could never take her statement without a hint of incredulity. The exoticism that India represents to the materially worn eyes of a westerner hardly registers to our sensibilities which are often numbed by her superficial harshness. It, then, is not out of place for me to wonder as to how exactly does she expect the Indian experience to change her life. Does she mean it in the spiritual sense, or does she expect the country to put the social issues of our times in a different, maybe even a more important context. India after all is the screaming, wailing, tormented megalopolis of social iniquities, moral encumbrances, and communal apathy. And yet her stuttering swagger into the unknown, however dilapidated, is a source of much joy and hope. Does she expect some of that light to rub on her? And how exactly does that great bowl of seamless integration of suffering and joy, tears and laughter, hope and pessimism, affect one of its own sons? How does that brilliant conglomeration of stupefying paradoxes register on the self proclaimed anesthetized rationality of someone like me?

Oh! how little do we know! How simplistic our arguments and how immature our reasoning? Slightly paraphrasing Heller, in a company of men who seem to lack all discretion, I manage to stand out as the one who lacks more discretion. I won't go as far as saying that this Indian trip has made me revert my positions on several issues but I would certainly say that for a country as complex as India simple abstractions from simple minds like mine are bound to fall upon their faces. After all, India is a country that exists against all odds. And it exists well enough. During the course of its history it has taken the severest of blows and came out stronger. Whatever doesn't kill her only makes her stronger and what is bane for most other nations is the one shining panacea of her ailing existence. India's complexity, it seems to me, is the paramount factor that has prevented her during crucial times. As Shashi Tharoor puts it very well, everyone is a minority in India. This complexity, this benumbing intricacy, this stifling convolution seems to have instilled a sense of patience and tolerance among its sufferers and stung by her own plurality the country hops over one obstacle over another in all its contradictory elegance. She marches on to conquer the moon in a spacecraft that probably began its journey with a ceremonial coconut. Her silicon sons mint money in millions in a country which resonates from the throes of its hugely impoverished lower class. Bollywood churns out significantly more movies than Hollywood selling silver dreams and sanguine hopes to the millions who live in shanties at less than a dollar a day. And of course they buy them happily enough. She is Hindu and Muslim and Christian and Sikh and in fact every religion known to humanity. She is multilingual, multi-ethnic and multicultural and smells of the spices of a cuisine of such divine variety that it sends the brain whizzing. She is garish and subdued, subtle and overt, loud and serene, spiritual and morally decrepit, rich and famished, ambitious and satisfied, rational and superstitious, orthodox and liberal all at the same time. That's the paradoxical existence of India. As someone said, if you can say one thing about India, the opposite would also be true. These contradictions are living and breathing, alive and kicking in the country. How, then, can you simplify such glorious uncertainties into insipid rationality?

There is so much to like about this India. So much to be happy and inspired about. We talk with clinched fists about religionism and regionalism. People have made political careers out of these and other differences. Here is a thought. India is what she is because of all its constituting differences. We have seen unicultural societies wither away against time. India is a success because she has accommodated them all while she kept paying the price of changing according to the latest onslaught. While the stiff got broken, her malleable existence merely changed form. Her opportunistic survival has endowed all that is beautiful and all that is sad with her. And that's the only country we have inherited. She might be complex and her diversity might be acting as friction in her search for rapid development but that is precisely the trait that makes her what so many of us have come to love and appreciate. Her contradictions and her uncertainties are the most unchanging, unaltering, and reassuring facet of this great civilization.


Bronze screen

The television scene in India is actually quite awesome. I know, I know, I can hear the elitists sharpening their claws right at this moment, I can smell their anger induced perspirations as these words come out of my mouth but I won't buckle down under their university-educated snobbery and they cannot stop me from saying what might not really be true but nevertheless is widely accepted here. Television in India kicks ass. My observation is that only the roles are jumbled up. Otherwise everything is quite hunky dory.

India TV which is supposed to be a news channel is Discovery channel incarnate for the average Joe-2-patialas and the Hokey-moms of India. Only recently it was showing the breaking news about a breathtaking discovery of a cave that leads straight to 5-deities hidden in nether-lands. As their camera crew braved the placid waters and unthreatening facade to gallantly go where no man had gone before in search of the darkest secrets, they came across vicious demons like vampire bats, poisonous spiders, and a total of 1 snake. While the blinking, garish, red arrows and red circles told my unenlightened eyes where to look for spiders, bats, and snakes on a screen filled with spiders, bats, and snakes, I munched off half my fingernails in nerve-racking anticipation. Adventure journalism at it's finest hour. Aaj Tak is not far behind with dramatic reenactments which are more dramatic than reenactments, running commentaries on the various serials on other channels, and a breaking news at the rate of 1 every 20 picoseconds. It's more soapy than the regular soaps and more thorough on it's subjects than it's subjects. And other news channels are trying their best to play catch-up.

I think soaps are basically marriage videos. I am just waiting for a dedicated channel which would consolidate it all and run all these serials one after another after editing out the irrelevant portions and dialogs so that we can all watch one marriage after another non-stop. Tulsi getting married to Mihir, Parvati to Mr. X, catwoman to Shri Krishna, Ekta Kapoor to an ass etc. I think that would be the logical next step. Then they can have another channel and compile a 24-hour broadcasts of all those facial close-ups with accompanying doomsday music. People getting shocked, euphoric, foxy, inconsolable, surprised, apathetic, maudlin, jumpy and maybe even orgasmic. The last one would push the TRPs even further.

And the talent competitions are the soaps. There is talent no doubt but there is just too much other stuff going on. You know the kind of thing that is so common a phenomenon to reality television. False emotions, pointless suspense, sensationalistic editing, provocative reactions, dishonest appraisals and much more. It seems to me that the best talent on display on these shows is acting, hence they should cut the crap and start calling them soaps now.

But the crowning achievement of all these super-mediocre efforts are the comic talent competitions. I cannot categorize them into any genre. I cannot view them from any positive angle. They are the common variety of arse-gravy we, as Indians, are all familiar with. They have a humor quotient worse than the worst jokes that used to come in the 'dekho hans na dena' section of Champak. 'Dekho hans na dena' never made anyone laugh and thus fulfilled its own prophecy but these shows go further. Their cheapness rivals the content of those greasy joke books that you used to see on railway station book stalls which either had a big buxomed lady or Kushwant Singh or both on their cover. They are loud, mindless, phony, and gut-wrentchingly humorless. I have felt happier and more invigorated watching snails move and watching glaciers melt. There is more humor in those eternally pessimistic Russian writers who could never stop talking about the Russian farmer whose wife had an affair. Manoj Kumar who spent the better part of his life brooding over country, wife, children, and 'mitti' which produced 'sona', eyeing the world with half his face was funnier. The great Greek tragedy is more comic and Ekta Kapoor is smarter than those scores of comedians who infest these shows with the revulsion of fungi on a piece of moldy bread...

I see that my tone has reversed. Oh well! time to stop

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.