Comment, Satire

Collaborative collapse

Every time I step out on to the street in Mumbai my inner sociologist marvels.

A city teeming with people in every nook and corner, Mumbai has much to offer to the observant eye. I am, however, going to focus once again on the traffic in the city. Only this time I want to share what it tells me about the prevalent individual and collective mindset.

The first thing one sees in the city is the lets-get-this-done attitude which many before me have witnessed. This is evident in the scores of people pouring onto the streets to get to work even when it is, literally, pouring outside.

As someone who has grown up in Mumbai I find the level of rage on every other face on the roads, however, alarming. This is because such a collective attitude can result in a total breakdown of law and order.

And it does. It is evident in the screeching cacophony of car horns on a road where traffic has not moved for hours. It is seen in the critical mass of people needed for an individual to safely cross the road. It is visible in the crass consumerism abundant in the city as the country rediscovers its wealth after the shattering  economic impact of colonization and decolonization.

But most frightening, and criminologically engaging, is the blatant disregard for any rules that inconveniences an individual, rich or poor. Almost everyone turns a blind eye to the traffic signals, crossing the road can occasionally turn into mudslinging matches between drivers and pedestrians and the mob appears to cherish a chance to display its might.

Its almost as if every individual has signed a social contract with the state to disregard the law in return for its protection.

Excuse the deliberate, alternate application of Thomas Hobbes’ ideas,will you?

unsplash-logoIgor Ovsyannykov

Comment, Satire

(Road) Rash rickshaw

The streets of Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, teach you a lot of things. One of them is the importance of being humble.

Take my case for example.

I was returning from office on a wet, windy day. My supervisor told me I was doing well in my new role as a content writer and I, to paraphrase Shah Rukh Khan, felt like the queen of the world.

The feeling vanished after I sat in the rickshaw I had hailed, determined to save myself a walk and metro ride to the train station. I clung to my seat as we zoomed off, holding onto the one, tiny handle located on one side of this world-famous vehicle. The driver, however, behaved as though he was invincible. And there lies the problem.

Most people on the streets of Mumbai behave as though they are either zombies or raging bulls. When spotted alone the specimen known as the pedestrian behaves like the former, completely unaware of his (or her) surroundings. The pedestrian’s behaviour pattern changes when he or she meets his/her fellow travelers. Together these men and women swarm across the zebra crossing as though they were the swarm of Pigeotos that attacked Ash and Pikachu in the first two episodes of Pokemon: Indigo League.

The second category comprise of vehicle operators, the worst of which are those astride their motorcycles. Then come the rickshaw wallahs who swerve through traffic so fast that they are likely to cause nausea in an unsuspecting passenger’s stomach. When travelling by rickshaw a passenger is likely to experience a range of emotions; I felt frightened, amazed, amused and resigned all at once. The driver, however, remained as cool as a cucumber reminding me of my frailty.

A subcategory to watch out for is the fancy car driver. Now, the regular Honda City driver is a mere, frustrated mortal who channels his (or her) anger onto the roads. The fancy car driver, on the other hand, uses his vehicle to showcase his (or her) supremacy on the road. He will drive his swanky car in a foolishly rash manner and blame another driver or pedestrian for any damage he incurs. The widest range of abusive vocabulary can be heard when viewing, or engaging in, an interaction with  one of the Louis Vuitton and Lamborghini crowd.

Amidst all this chaos is the policeman, or hawaldar, who alternates between refreshingly helpful and obviously intimidating and judgmental. Nevertheless, my sympathies remain with him as he endures either the punishing humidity or the pouring rain that graces Mumbai through the year.

I’d like to spare a line or two for all the Mumbai Police advertisements that adorn the hoardings in the city. They are designed to discourage reckless drivers but may as well be beautifully laid out, ignored furniture in a very big, cluttered living room.

As a child I played a racing computer game called Road Rash which involved the player controlling a street biker who kicked and punched the other riders while making his way to the finish line. May be it is time we, in Mumbai, began playing Road Rash Rickshaw?

unsplash-logoAdam Sherez

Comment, Satire

The return of the Pen

Forgive the subtle Lord of the Rings reference, but as an serious Tolkien fan I can’t help myself. I haven’t updated this blog in a long time and that is because the I have been on-board the speeding train that is called The College Express.

About to begin my final year of university I have decided to write a series detailing my experiences at university so far over the course of the coming academic year. I hope that any student, regardless of whether they attend the University of Toronto, can benefit from this series.

I will of course continue to write for The Varsity, which is the University of Toronto’s largest student newspaper, and try to contribute to other publications in Canada and other parts of the world. As always, I will share those articles on this platform and am eager to read helpful comments.

In the the Era of the Troll I sincerely request any reader of this blog from using abusive unproductive language in the comments section.

Watch this space for more!

Comment, Satire, Student Life

College Diaries #1: Essay writing

Mission: To write an essay on (insert elaborate topic of desperation/ choice here) by (deadline inflicted on innocent students by sadistic professor(s)).

What the ideal student does:

1)Spends some time analyzing the essay prompt after which (s)he creates a draft outlining the initial ideas buzzing around the organ where the little gray cells reside.

2) Makes a plan of action which illustrates how much work needs to be done each day, in order to finish the essay two days before the deadline. Proof reading is important after all.

3) Visits professors’ office hours and inundates the TA’s  inbox with inquisitive emails.

4)Does research- lots of it- and is friends with The Library and its formidable guardian, The Librarian.

5) Avoids using Google Scholar because (s)he knows how to utilize the help of The Library’s cousin, The Online Library.

6) Uses correct grammar and concise language.

7)Monopolizes office hours and TA mailboxes some more.

8) Temporarily feels guilty for this.

9)Delights the folks at the Writing Center with his/her company. Everyone deserves happiness and joy.

10) Proof reads. Multiple times. Three days before The Deadline.

What the rest of us do:

1)Glance at the essay prompt. Then spend twenty minutes of Facebook.

2)Check out the latest from the Trolls on Twitter and a (presumably sensible) few others.

3) Complain about how much university sucks and how the professor is out to “get us”.

4) Worry about what everyone else is doing. Panic calmly.

5) Scare ourselves silly based on what other people say they are doing on social media.

6) Try an ask a somewhat intelligent question in course groups on aforementioned social media.

7) Get coffee at (insert name of cheap caffeine supplier). When feeling Rich (or Foolish), visit Starbucks.

8)  Panic frantically (two days before the deadline) when we realize we have no content to write an little time to think.

9) Start writing. Share tips on Facebook for “struggling students” while having absolutely no idea about how to proceed ourselves. Who said groping in the dark was worthless?

10) Start considering the merits of the Late Penalty. Pull one (of many) All Night-er.

Student Life

That time of year

I haven’t written anything new in the last month and a half, partly because I was writing for the two organizations that I am a part of: college and The Varsity. Essays and mid-terms have taken up much of my time; when those don’t occupy my attention the rest of my life does. The story that I have been working on for The Varsity is intended for this year’s winter magazine and explore censorship in Canada. I do hope that those who follow this blog (thank you!) and others who stumble across it will glance at it when I post the link.

I had some time to reflect on what (and how) I write and I realized a few things:

  1. This blog has a grand total of….. 8 followers. One of them is my father and he is biologically obligated to read the stuff I write – starting with my discovery of the magical alphabet.
  2. Writing needs to be personal; we should do it for ourselves and derive inspiration from things around us. It does not need to be, and should not be, about the emotional value of one’s wedding sari or the time the goldfish died. Nobody cares.
  3. Being funny is hard and exhausting. Writing funny is even worse
  4. Self-promotion can occasionally seem desperate. After discovering 8 followers, I know it is. I’m fairly certain that the bundled-up, tired looking person sitting across me on the TTC did not care about the twenty posts I wrote, but they’re Canadian so they feigned interest anyway.
  5. But we (read: I) still do it because good (read: fairly remunerated) journalism is nearly extinct. Responsible journalism seems to be dying too, but that unfortunate story needs to be told elsewhere.
  6. Everybody cannot write; I work as an editor at a newspaper so I know.
  7. Caring about what others think, kills a writer; in the Age of the Troll this is no joke. But we still do, because nobody likes to be told that their work is shit.
  8. The more politically aware you become, the harder it is to be (and write) humour because what if that joke was inappropriate/ racist/ sexist/ not-applicable-to-the-entire-targeted-group.
  9. Fact checking is essential, unless you enjoy looking like a fool. Reading a book about grammar is wise, but most people aren’t. Editing is important and a good editor is priceless.
  10. Knowledge of social media is a must for every serious 21st century writer.
  11. Every time you share a blog post on social media, your heart beats a little faster and your brain screams out in defiance at the inevitable commentary.                            Every. Single. Time
Comment, Popular Culture

Same play by ColdPlay?

I think that it can be safely stated that popular band Coldplay, fronted by singer Chris Martin, did not intend to offend India by their new music video ‘Hymn for the weekend’. Rather – and this may be evident in the title of their new, controversial album ‘A head full of dreams’– they seemed inspired by the pace, complexity and the ambition of a young nation burdened by a colonial past. What is deeply flawed is the execution of the music video, which portrayed an exaggerated, uni-dimensional fantasy of the subcontinent. As I recall, Mr. Martin, the festival of Holi is usually enjoyed once a year and involves more water, less dry colour, noise, community and a slice of hooliganism instead of the slow motion, running-through-the-streets version you may have witnessed.

The errors I saw were amusing and unbelievable, but not offensive. After watching Academy Award winner Slumdog Millionaire (the last major Hollywood creation that offended delicate Indian sensibilities) and a host of documentaries on the region and its colourful diversity it is hard to be offended by the only way that the West seems to be able to picture and connect with the subcontinent. Furthermore, as Rashmee Kumar from The Guardian newspaper points out, Coldplay is not only a band to capitalize on the recent fads of bindis, yoga and (god help me) butter chicken. Movies like Eat, Pray, Love propagate the myth of an India where spirituality (not religion) reigns supreme and other music videos, such as Major Lazer’s Lean On, reinforce well-established stereotypes – the colourful clothes, the camels, the elephants and the “exotic” looking people.

Note 1: Most people in India lead busy/ interesting/ difficult/ comfortable/ insert-any-other-state-of-being-lives and do not have the time, funds and (most importantly) inclination to dress up like walking circus tents every day. Also, the same “exotic” skin often gets people carded, hassled at airports and viewed with suspicion.

The expected and the unexpected

Apart from the children from the slums playing Holi, the peacock in the ruins, the multi-coloured temple, the aforementioned sadhus, an “ethnic” Sonam Kapoor and Beyoncé playing the role of a Bollywood actress called ‘Rani’ – all of which were predictably exhausting – I found the use of the Hindi script intriguing. The fact that Beyonce, a black woman, played a mainstream Bollywood actress in an industry where fair skin is (always) in was absolutely hysterical. The word ‘Coldplay’ is written in the devnagri script which is a smart, subtle way of alerting non-English speakers to the band’s existence. The lyrics and melody of the song itself are fairly catchy, but both lose to the elaborate, trying-very-hard-to-be- ” Indian” cinematography. The fact that Chris & Co. flew down to India and made the effort to shoot their video there, not use props, CGI or the infamous brown face, is commendable.

The portrayal in the video clarify how the overwhelmed white tourist must feel on a visit to India, but the presence of a minor, but recognized, celebrity like Sonam Kapoor makes me wonder if this is how Indian people view themselves. Or do we just enjoy presenting ourselves as chai drinking, colourful people incapable of anything vaguely normal. There have been some memorable instances, in my short life so far, where I have heard or seen Indian people (ethnically or otherwise) try and explain Indian-ness to foreigners and most of the time it sounded like they were reinforcing pre-existing ideas to gain favour with the former colonizers. Did Kapoor also think it fit to happily play a stereotypical version of the “traditional Indian woman” in this video, while she tries to defy the same idea through other “modern Indian woman” portrayals like those in Aisha and Khoobsurat? Like India, perhaps the fashionista has her own bewildering, contradictions? The point is that, much like the successful colonization of the subcontinent, there was Indian complicity in the creation of this video and my question to the same team is simple- what were you thinking?

Note 2: Sonam Kapoor’s involvement proves that you don’t have to be white, or any other kind of foreigner, to engage in stereotypical, biased thinking about India.

The Indian actions, sorry, reactions:

I feel compelled to include this section, because the reactions I’ve seen across the internet from Indian people range from outraged to unfettered joy at a new East-West collaboration. The cynical part of my mind wonders if we would have the happy same reaction to an Indo-African collaboration on culture, but words on that need to be expressed elsewhere. The point is that we’re 1.2 billion people on the subcontinent alone, 198 million of who have access to the internet and this controversial piece of art. According to an article in Forbes magazine, only 30% of Indians speak English, presumably fluently enough to acknowledge the existence of western media and, by extension, Coldplay. There are myriad reactions, each defined by their own unique circumstances (social, economic, educational, racial), therefore it may be wise to refrain from using the term “All Indians are (insert adjective or expletive here)”. Some of us may be offended, while others are ecstatic.

This is the end:

India is a socially conservative country and in many parts you will see women wearing (much) less gaudy versions of the attire donned by Kapoor and Beyoncé and the poverty, the caste based discrimination and terrible traffic all exist. It’s not a bed of Bollywood-scented roses. There are also a growing number of corporate boardrooms and start-up offices where they are abandoning the same. I would argue that Indians have never been more fascinated by the West, and all that it represents, and have never made a more concerted attempt to incorporate, at least in part, western culture into their lives- why it can’t be better road etiquette remains a mystery. It is ironic, therefore, that the bands like Coldplay choose to represent the India they have always known at a time like this. Do the universe a favour, regardless of ethnicity or nationality, and stop trying to compartmentalize civilization.

Image (Coldplay poster) courtsey: