Thursday, May 05, 2016

Vacating a home

Spark magazine's topic this month was 'Home' and it couldn't have been more timely. My latest publication is a straight from the heart essay about the difficulty of leaving a home - a space we inherit not only with our bodies, but also with our hearts. Read on.

Vacating a Home

Serendipity was tucked away in a corner of a box full of papers. It was a neatly folded letter from the early days of the new millennium, confirming my acceptance into a university in the United States. Long years have passed since. I went to that university, got a job, got married, became father to two lovely children and yes, became a home owner too. The clich├ęd pursuit of the “well-settled life” was done with great gusto and our house in the U.S. became a projection, a storehouse and a generator of our dreams.
Over the years that I have stayed in the country, I have walked through the Indian immigrant dilemma of whether to stay or to go back. After much deliberation, my family and I are relocating back to India. It is a momentous decision that was debated over and over, caused much heartburn and required overcoming that feeling of nervousness in the pit of my stomach.
Change, when foisted upon you, is easier to overcome. You are aware that the circumstances give you no measure of control. You have no choice but to react. However, change, when voluntarily done, requires quite often a leap of faith and overcoming of fears. Such a change is now upon me and I am embracing it with cautious optimism. I am not only leaving a house I have lived in for eleven years; I am also vacating a country I have been in for fifteen. It is now time to settle into a new house in an old-new country. However, before I get there, my house needs to be vacated. Emptied, like the corner of the heart it occupies.
If only I had the ruthless pragmatism to think of it as a place built of wood and plaster, shuttered by windows and doors. If only I could look at it and say, “what else is there to this place other than the roof that shelters and comforts?” It is not merely that. It never could be. It could never be just that because it would always be the place I brought my sons home to. And while I have lived in many houses all through my life, this is the only place my sons have known to be theirs. It is in this house that their laughter cackled in the bright sunshine that blessed it through the large French windows. It is in this house that their cries pierced through the walls of their room as they wrestled through the fear of monsters in their nightmares. It is in this house that we watched them lie on their backs and kick their arms and legs as parents and grandparent doted on them. It is in this house where their hesitant steps turned into a canter as their limbs found the strength that their hearts always had. No, it would never merely be a house for it is here that we have lived by ourselves and also as hosts, enjoying the company of countless people close to us, letting their memories leave a mark. Many a song was sung here, many a joke shared, many a toast raised and many a moment anointed to be special.
It is not a trivial task to vacate this house we made our home and leave, even if the newer surroundings are an adventure in the making. You have to steel yourself mentally, because every nook and cranny, every pillow you upturn, every cupboard you open treasures a memory that hits you like seeing a crush from the past after several years. A T-shirt from an event you had long forgotten, a gift given to you with love but one you never used, a toy in the garage that your kids have long since outgrown, a computer running an operating system that became irrelevant a long time ago and much more.
Every object is a problem that needs to be solved – are we going to carry this forward or do we let it go? What starts as an emotional question soon becomes a practical challenge. Moving from a well-established house in the U.S. to India means that downsizing becomes a pressing need. Not all the furniture can be taken along. Not all the toys need to be carried with you. Documents surely need a lot of triaging and the sheer difference in voltages renders many appliances difficult to use without additional work. It took us over a week to go through this sorting exercise.
I came to this country with two suitcases, flirting nervously with the maximum weight I was allowed to carry. As I saw the movers pack our stuff, I realised that those two bags wouldn’t hold a hundredth of the things I am taking back, enough to fill up a container that will travel on the high seas. Somewhere along the way, we all cross the sweet spot for our needs, waving our large houses and larger appetite for consumption in their face. The movers were at work for three days, taking the first two to pack and using the third to load up the container. The container would then go an arduous journey of its own, snaking its way through some shipping route in the Pacific Ocean and making its way to a port in India where the fine people of the Indian customs department would let it through once they have established the proper duties and taxes.
I am writing these words from an empty room in an empty house. We are bereft of furniture, the utensils have been kept to a bare minimum and the ominous presence of large TV screens has been dismissed. This is like a Benjamin Button story, going from 100 to 0. The style of living is minimalist, with sleeping bags and pillows and the bare essentials (roti and kapda to keep us company in the makaan). The epiphany about having too much is compounded with the epiphany that having little does nothing to deter us from enjoying our lives. Those same kids, who play with a hundred-dollar Lego set are perfectly at home bouncing a ball against the wall and playing catch or chasing each other in a house that now permits them the space to do so.
The day will come soon when we will vacate this house and another family will fill it with their furniture, memories and dreams. Until then, I’ll savour the place, sitting in my favourite corners of the house, sipping my coffee, mulling over the past and looking forward to the serendipitous discoveries that await me where I go next.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

A Close Shave

We all have our mirages to chase. Read on as I talk about mine. My love-hate relationship with shaving and that elusive goal of a perfect shave, published in this month's Spark magazine.

A Close Shave

We all have our mirages to chase. The loftiest of dreams are achievable, but it is the simplest of goals that sometimes stay out of sight. Einstein might have solved the toughest of scientific issues, but never seems to have figured out a way to a barber shop. Tendulkar might have scored more runs than any other international cricketer, but couldn’t ever get himself a tattoo with the number 100. No, even the greatest of men and women may have challenges that they can never overcome, targets that they never meet. I may not be great but that does not make me immune to the problem. I too have a simple little mirage. The perfect shave. Your hand might be on your chin in disbelief or have dropped off it in shock, but let me tell you that because something is simple doesn’t make it accessible to all.
Vanity inspires many dreams. Some want the perfectly sculpted body, some need the tresses that gently murmur in the breeze, some want the teeth that shine like diamonds, legs that tower and inspire poetry. Men and women, we are all alike. Let not the differences in gender confuse you. If you put aside Bhishma pitamahand Gurudev Tagore and Rajesh Vivek, most of the great men in the Indian pantheon have had cheeks free from the tyranny of facial hair. The moustache served as a compromise, a bridge between the clean shaven and the hairy brigade. The cleanest of shaves has always been the staple of Indian men (if you leave asides the Sikhs, for obvious religious reasons).
I remember the first time I shaved. It was in the year 1994. A family drama named “Hum Aapke Hain Koun” had released and my extended family decided to convert that into an outing. Me, my mother, my aunt, my cousins, all headed up to the Galaxy theater in Bandra to watch two weddings, fourteen songs and a funeral play out over three and a half hours. I don’t know why the occasion felt momentous but I decided to exercise the ‘Old Spice’ shaving cream that my father had with his embattled shaving brush to work up a lather and let a brand new Gillette blade loose on my unsuspecting face. It wasn’t the blade of a samurai making precise incisions into an opponent’s body. The razor worked more like a hacksaw in my untrained hands. The skin cut and burnt like a batsman hit by a sizzling Michael Holding bouncer. I had to get relief. Quick, go for the cologne, my brain asked me to do, just like my father would each day.
I used to wonder until that point the whole thought process behind the ‘Old Spice’ ad for cologne that used to come on TV. There was a dashing gentleman sailing a boat in extremely turbulent seas with ‘O Fortuna’ giving him rambunctious company in the background. For some reason, far from having the fear of drowning, he seemed to relish all that salty water splash on his face. The splashing of the cologne seemed to overcome all obstacles. They had it all wrong. I splashed the cologne onto my cheeks. If the pain was a slight murmur before, it had now turned into a raging scream. I was in a rarely felt agony. But a movie had to be seen and off we went. In the second half of the movie, the women in my family were shedding copious tears as intended by the director. I joined them as well, the stinging slap of the cologne still nascent on my skin.
Why is the story so important? Because it set the tone for my love-hate relationship with the act of shaving. It continues till date. As time went on, my apathy towards shaving also meant that the results were not good. I never enjoyed the process – I only wanted the results to be to my heart’s content and we are told time and again that the approach never works. On the odd day where I would decide that a close shave, the kind that they show on an ad in a movie theater and you still couldn’t see a single grain of hair, was in order, the results would never be good. Nothing mattered. I shaved with the grain, against the grain, with gel, with foam, with a single razor, a double razor, an electric razor, before a bath, after a bath, with piping hot water, with lukewarm water, in bright sunlight, with lamps, with Rafi playing in the background, with Kumar Sanu soothing the airwaves. Nothing, nothing, could give the satisfactorily smooth, seemingly definite, complete shave that I hoped for. A gentle layer of dark granules on my white skin would stick out. I would think I had the perfect shave going and just like that, like South Africans in a cricket world cup, I’d choke at the end. The flawless shave would evade me.
The apathy led to me deciding that shaving was obstructing my attempts to be cool. I went through my college years spouting a moustache and a five-day-long stubble. When I started working, it went down to three days, but did nothing to push me to a daily shaving routine that men like my father seemed to be employing without trouble. I even resorted to a French beard as a compromise that required me to shave everyday, but not in entirety. The stubble is an unwelcome taboo I have dealt with. My parents, my wife, my kids, each have at some time pointed out in subtle and not so subtle ways that I should shave more often. Unprofessional, itchy, pokey, shabby – the stubble was called many a thing and shamed with the regularity of a Brathwaite six off a Stokes ball. I am forever caught in the crossfire between wanting the occasional perfection of a close shave and being in peace with my bearded self for the rest of the time.
I don’t know how the ones who do it, do it. I don’t know how the effortless strokes of a blade on a bearded face can vanquish the stubble to an extent that you wouldn’t even know it existed. It is a demon I have lived with and continue to do so. There are a few days when I am satisfied, like one would with a cup of coffee that is freshly brewed even though the beans may not be the freshest, but the moment is short lived. So, I stubble along. Sorry. Stumble along the path in search of the perfect shave, when I can run my fingers smoothly along the face and feel it move without the slightest of obstructions, like caressing a slab of granite in the dark.
Time is running out. I have two sons who will suffer the same dilemma in a decade. No, not the one about watching ‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun’ with the family. The dilemma on how to get the perfect shave. I need to find the answers soon or risk breaking the myth of the super hero Dad that my little cherubs cling to. The drama is heightening. In the end, it promises to be a close shave.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

The Twilight Hour

The digital magazine Spark publishes its 75th issue and I publish what might be close to my 50th contribution for them. 
This month's theme was “Holding up a Mirror: Women in Today’s World” and my short story brings together three disparate working women together in a suspended moment of realization. 

The Twilight Hour

Seema was one of the teeming hordes that migrate to Mumbai. She and her husband Vinay had just moved into their rental apartment in the noisy bylanes of Malad. Mumbai was now home to them and their two kids Aarav and Myra, who at their tender age of nine and six respectively, were quite a handful for Seema. She had always thought of Mumbai as an “akshay-patram”, an inexhaustible vessel that could always provide whatever one’s heart desired. How difficult would it be to find a reliable domestic help? Back in their house in Ranchi, there was Jamuna tai, who had lived with them for the past 30 years and was practically family to them. Now this opportunity to live in Mumbai had come their way and they had embraced it with a radiant positivity that allayed their own fears as well as that of their parents. Her optimism had not budgeted for the commute she would have to do each day. Living in Malad and having her office in the Bandra Kurla Complex meant that she spent a lot of time getting to and fro from work.
Between hailing rickshaws and hanging on to dear life in local trains to trudging down a 1,000 odd steps inside her office building complex, she was turning into a hardened Mumbaikar, swatting away exhaustion, heat and the stress that such a life would bring. Seema would have settled for it if that was the only worry. She however also had the unenvious challenge of ensuring that her kids had safe harbor before she got home.
Unlike Ranchi, the grandparents were not always around to take care of the kids. And so, in pursuit of an independent life, Seema had no choice but to become dependent upon others. She let in two new people into her life without whom her life would fall apart. Rashmi and Lata were now integral to her plans.
Rashmi swatted the fly that was buzzing around her. She waited while Aarav puzzled over the total of 23 and 45. She had no particular love for her neighbor Seema. In fact, she had no particular love for anything anymore. She worked a dead end job at a bank all day and was bored to death each evening after she came back home. She did not have any particular inclination to baby sit children, but had in a moment of rare weakness and compassion, offered to Seema that she could help out with that. Looking back, she could not point out why she did. Maybe it was the sight of Seema’s handsome husband, maybe it was the prospect of having some adult conversation what with her husband out to sea for months on account of being in the merchant navy. Or maybe it was some latent rage against the machine that expected her to fold up and sit tight and not do more than what is required to survive. “58”, Aarav exclaimed. Rashmi raised her eyebrows, smiled and asked him to check his answer again.
“Lata, make some tea no?” Rashmi said, welcoming Seema into her own house.
Lata wiped the sweat of her face with her saree pallu. Her poker face did not let on the exhaustion she was feeling. It had only been 30 minutes since she had made tea for Rashmi and now this! Her days started at 5 in the morning and ended at 11. She had realised long ago that if she let the irritation of small things get to her, she would not survive the day. Whether she was called a “servant” or a “domestic help” did little to alleviate her struggle with her circumstances.
“Yes, bibi-ji”, she said and sped on efficiently to the kitchen.
Seema had been fair to her. Lata did not ask for more.
They had formed a triumvirate of convenience. Seema, Lata and Rashmi were settled in together, like a stubborn spell of monsoon in Mumbai.
Aarav seized the moment when his teacher and his mother were distracted and ran away from there. He switched on the TV hoping it would play Chota Bheem but left it on in a huff when his mother yelled at him for having turned it on. Just as well because all he would have been treated to was a dry discussion on the state of women in the modern world.
“In countries around the world, the ways in which men and women spend their time are unbalanced. Men spend more time working for money. Women do the bulk of the unpaid work — cooking, cleaning and child care.”, the “expert” on the TV panel droned on
Lata brought out the tea and laid it on the table in front of Rashmi and Seema.
“Lata, did you have some?” Seema inquired.
Lata shook her head and sped back into the kitchen. Now that Seema was home, she wanted to rush home. She had her own kids to cook for – her husband was unlikely to move a muscle. She had long since suppressed pangs of guilt that she got on having only two hours in the entire day for them. Mumbai was an expensive city to live in.
“This unpaid work is essential for households and societies to function. But it is also valued less than paid work, and when it is women’s responsibility, it prevents them from doing other things,” said the TV in the background.
Lata came out from the kitchen and announced, “Everything is done, bibi-ji.”
Seema let out a sigh.
“Tired, bibi-ji?”, asked Lata, with a smile.
“Aren’t we all?” asked Seema.
The three women looked at each other and smiled. They weren’t listening to the television. They quietly sippedchai from their half-filled cups. There were many universes in motion at the same time. Theirs had progressed a little more than the one talked about in the show. Their today was not shy of a struggle and tomorrow would not turn into a blessing overnight. And yet, they each marched on, two steps forward in independence and one step backward in their overarching need to balance their lives. The chai was emptied and the night lost to the dreams they allowed themselves underneath the shining stars.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Data-driven Romance

Five straight men. A WhatsApp group. A discussion about romance in the wee hours of the night. Inspired by true events (but no names will be named).
Intrigued? Read, read, read my latest short story in Spark on the theme of 'Romance'.

Data-driven Romance

Deepika Padukone looked at him with a dreamy daze, cutting straight through his heart like a laser beam. “Uff, Queen D”, he whispered to himself, admiring the glowing beauty of his favourite actress from a generation decidedly younger than him. He adjusted his spectacles, bade goodbye to Deepika and shut down the cover of his laptop. It was 11 pm in the night. His family had gone to sleep, either sufficiently satisfied or sufficiently exhausted with the day’s proceedings.
In the quiet dullness of the white noise of Bengaluru nights, Sudeep reclined on the sofa and clicked on his phone. Facebook was boring and Twitter was argumentative as usual. WhatsApp would provide succour. He tapped on the button for the app.
He turned to “Mischief Managers”, a group consisting of his college buddies. They had plodded the familiar route of thick friendships – inseparable in college and then disbursed without a clue for years later. Getting together through WhatsApp changed that. Twenty years after graduating, they had connected again with renewed fervour and daily chats, brought together by virtue of a zealous people connector in the group.
“Hello, hello,” Sudeep typed, noticing that he was late to an already ongoing conversation.
Mandar: “Sudeep, welcome, you have been missing out on the fun”
Sudeep: “Summarise for me?”
Mandar: “Shailesh is conducting a poll. He wants to know how often each one of us says ‘I love you’ to our wives”
Sudeep: “What rubbish?”
Mandar: “No, really. He is quite serious about it. Shailesh, yaar, chime in”
Shailesh: “Sudeep, don’t say it is rubbish. I have an ulterior motive behind it”
Sudeep: “What have the others said?”
Shailesh: “Oh, just scroll up the messages, will you :) “
Mandar: “Ok, ok. I know you won’t, so let’s get you the answers. Paresh?”
Paresh: “Depends upon how badly I have messed up :) Since Shailesh is such a numbers person, I gave him one – once every 8.3 days!”
Mandar: “Abbas?”
Abbas: “Me, I do it all the time. It is a reflux action (joke – I hope you guys got it).”
Mandar: “Yes, Abbas. Where’s the emoji for ‘I want to beat you up’?”
Abbas: “LOL. Yes, I guess I asked for it. No, seriously, we say it all the time. When we pick up the phone, hang up the phone. Wake up in the morning. When we go to bed. Reflex action”
Mandar: “That IS impressive”
Abbas: “What about you, Mandar?”
Mandar: “Me? No, let it be”
Shailesh: “Says the man who has a love marriage. Come on, bro”
Mandar: “No, really. I can’t remember if we have said that to each other after our first year of marriage”
An eerie silence seemed to grip the group. No messages were forthcoming.
Mandar: “I don’t think we have done everyone, have we? What about Sudeep?”
Sudeep: “I don’t attach much value to saying it. If love is there, she’ll know it.”
Paresh: “Sudeep, do you think the rest of us are engaging in it uselessly? :)”
Sudeep: “No, no, Paresh. I don’t know. I was just expressing my opinion”
Paresh: “Relax, Sudeep. I was just pulling your leg.”
Sudeep: “Fine mess Shailesh has gotten us into. Can you imagine a stranger discussion on this group? Grown men of over forty asking each other how many times they confess their love to their wives”
Paresh: “Shailesh, why did you limit the question to only the wives? Did it occur to ask if we say that to other women? J”
Shailesh: “Paresh, I know all of you. None of you are going to get that lucky”
Sudeep: “Shailesh, are you going to get to the point of this whole exercise? Now you have all the information you need, you data freak”
Shailesh: “Ha, ha. You are right, you are right, I do owe you an explanation”
Everyone’s screen twinkled with the message “Shailesh is typing…”. The group waited in anticipation.
Shailesh: “You see gents, I was taking a poll to see if I was alone”
Abbas: “Alone in what?”
Shailesh: “You see, I have never uttered the words ‘I love you’ to my wife”
Abbas: “What? You are joking, right? Never?!”
Shailesh: “Never. Not once”
Paresh: “I have to say that sounds rather strange, Shailesh”
Shailesh: “I know, I know. I am anachronistic. You don’t expect a modern day metropolitan man to be like this”
Sudeep: “I am sure you have your reasons, Shailesh. Let’s hear them”
Shailesh: “Mine was a marriage arranged with great rapidity once I said Yes to my parents. Matrimonial ads in the newspaper, short engagement and a quick wedding. And then, life just took over.”
Mandar: “Shailesh, it doesn’t take more than two seconds to say those words, however busy your life might be”
Shailesh: “Yes, but I always associated it with being romantic, and I am simply not that”
Paresh: “Dude, but really, hasn’t your wife beaten you up on it?”
Shailesh: “No, that’s the beauty of it. She has never said that either”
Sudeep: “Match made in heaven”
Mandar: “That still doesn’t explain why you are taking this poll”
Shailesh: “Well, something happened last week. My wife told me she loves me… It had me worried”
Abbas: “Look at this genius. He is worried because his wife told him she loves him. I’d have thought it is worrisome the other way round!”
Shailesh: “I know, I know. I am paranoid. When I am stuck with the unknown, I turn to the one thing that gives me succour”
Paresh: “Porn? ;)”
Shailesh: “Data!”
Shailesh: “I figured a straw poll couldn’t hurt, but the evidence is inconclusive. Maybe the right response now is for me to say it back”
Sudeep: “Shailesh, I had a thought. When is your anniversary?”
Shailesh: “Two weeks away. Sudeep, are you thinking what I am thinking?”
Sudeep: “Maybe you just need to improve the quality of your gifts! Perhaps your wife is sending you a gentle signal :)”
Shailesh: “Expressing love to get more gifts? Sounds odd, but then who knows. This too is tough – I am not that good at conjuring good gifts. Any tips?”
Abbas: “Don’t go by my example. I gave varying gifts each year. I don’t think they went down that well. One year my wife confessed – Please don’t try. I’ll buy a gift myself. Just tell me your budget”
Shailesh: “LOL. Clearly, I shouldn’t ask you. I wouldn’t mind outsourcing the idea to others the rest of you though”
Mandar: “Maybe write and sing her a song?”
Shailesh: “Clearly, the scars of having heard me sing in college have healed for you, Mandar!”
Sudeep’s phone ran out of charge. He walked sneakily to his bedroom to grab his charger where his wife was letting out mild snores in her sleep. He waited impatiently for the phone to start up to get back into the conversation. His own anniversary was a month away and yet, tonight, a gift was farthest from his mind. He was settling in on the sofa for the night – a result of an altercation with his wife. Smiling, he typed up his own contribution.
Sudeep: “Shailesh, buy two things – something good that your wife will like, and the other, a comfortable pillow. The least you can do is make yourself comfortable on the couch if the first does not work”
A round of smileys bounced back on the message thread. The night drifted into irrelevance and the topic of love for their wives ended on a whimper, replaced with love for another.
Mandar: “So, I was reading the Tendulkar biography …”

Friday, January 22, 2016

A Love Unexpressed

And there she was, that pristine beauty
Hair tied back, parted in the middle,
Tamed to be in perfect shape
Wearing a black dress, on fair white skin
Revealing two inches, below the knee

She sat, bag in the lap, hands on the bag
Gazing out from her window seat
Waiting patiently for the ride to begin

He raced in, heart beating wildly aflutter
Adrenalin pumping, throat dry
Nervous to claim his prize for the day
Few moments alone with the girl he dreamt of
So what if she never did see him in her dreams

"Hi!", he would say, rushing to her
Settling into the adjacent seat
"Traffic, homework, exams", wondering
With what banality should he begin
To fill words in the empty space between

The words would flow and the bus would lurch
As they would pass the market, the theater, the church
His eyes were transfixed on her perfect face
Those lips he wished he got to kiss
That cheek he wished to stroke gently
That waist he wished he slid his hands through

And yet the wishes of his heart
Found no voice and got no transport
So, they sat, shoulder brushing against shoulder
Legs gently touching each other
Smiling, talking, enthralling each other

And he, knowing that the time had come
For the day’s joy to come to an end
Held her hand gently and in a falsetto voice
Commented with genuine admiration
“Nice bangles”
And shyly, she disembarked,
Stirred, but not convinced

And the bus went on
Carrying in its metal hide
A story of love

Friday, January 15, 2016

An Ode To Andheri

Oh, Andheri, you little beauty
You are like a coat which has been transformed
Gilded buttons and glossy fabric
A sharp cut and crowded glamor
Have replaced your rugged origins
But I have known you from when you were
An unadorned garment, plain as the sky
That wasn’t covered with smog
I still know your in-seams and the little crevices
Where I have tucked memories
Like a safe deposit box
To be retrieved, each time I come by

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Everyday Heroes

The theme for this month's Spark magazine was 'Human Spirit'. While the majority would go for inspirational and uplifting stories on that topic, I decided to offer a sarcastic and humorous take on the human spirit. Read on.

Everyday Heroes

Every crisis needs a hero. If there is one thing better than our very human trait of digging a hole for ourselves now and again, it is our ability to conjure a rope and pull ourselves out once we fall into it. The ones doing the pulling are the heroes of our times and they need to be acknowledged. Judge not the hero by the nature of the crisis he or she has helped avert, but by the sheer implausibility of them standing up in the first place, for aren’t daily heroes rarer than Bollywood movies that make you stand up and say, “That made sense”?  These are our daily heroes, our simple saviours. They may not make the nightly news nor get Facebook posts that urge you to ‘share’ their deeds instead of clicking on that Yo Yo Honey Singh video laced with gyrations by Sunny Leone; but if they are not praised, we have failed in our duty. I intend to correct that by presenting to you some shining examples of heroes in our daily lives.
The Selfie Taker
There is so much ugliness in this world. Poverty, hunger, litter on the roads, hoardings that sell you dreams you can’t afford. Our eyes take in all of that and our heart suffers the consequences. To the rescue comes the selfie taker. They put their beautiful selves out there for us. By making sure that 70% of the picture is merely their own pouting self, they obscure the dreadfulness of the world from us. Thank you, my friend. I know you down to your last freckle now.
The Channel Changer
“57 channels and nothing on”, claimed Bruce Springsteen. Of course, that song was released in 1992, where the number 57 might have been the pinnacle of how many different streams of vapid entertainment humans could conjure up. Circa 2015, sky is the limit. With hundreds of channels running and a few thousand shows running in parallel, how can you come to the conclusion that nothing is on until you actually try them out? To the rescue come the channel changers, the rare breed that has supreme eyesight and rapid cognition and can flip through the channels gauging, guessing and deciding what is worth watching and what is not. If it hurts your eyes, look away. If it irritates you, remember, it is for your own good.
The TV Anchors
Your home is either invaded by white noise or is host to the silence that lives inside it. Your family perhaps is not the most talkative kind. Even short talk is a premium. Into this void enters the bombastic voice of the TV anchor. There is drama, there is emotion, there is aggression and there is compassion. They wrench the last drop out of their existence to fulfil yours. Any human emotion that was missing from your oh so tepid lives is played for you by the TV anchor. Except one. Don’t expect any subtlety there.
The Friendly Neighborhood Aunt
This may be a fast-fading species, but the friendly neighbourhood aunt has always formed an important part of the social fabric in India. This is not someone who is actually your aunt, but embodies every bit the liberties and the inquiries that an overbearing and highly interested sister of your father or mother would be expected to have. She is simply, “Aunty”. Or “Aunty-jee”, if the extra degree of respect is desired. She is here to make sure that she keeps an eye on you. Sting’s “Every breath you take” could very well have been written from her point of view. Her interest in your life is her endeavour to keep you grounded. If she wants to know who the girl was that came in the afternoon when your parents were away, it is only because she worries that you might get robbed. If she is wondering when you are going to have kids, it is only her compassionate side coming through, taking on some of your unwanted guilt and troubles onto herself. She may even make sure that many other such aunts would come to partake of your troubles, such is her selflessness. Aunty-jee, we bow to you.
The Joke Forwarder
Your life is a dull dry desert. You need an oasis of humour to nourish and replenish you. Without it, you would walk around sulking like the grey skies on a Seattle evening. There is but only one person who can save you there. The Joke Forwarder. That gallant soul who makes sure that whether it is by SMS or WhatsApp or Facebook or even Twitter, they share a joke or two or twenty with you. Everyone can come up with an original joke. However, forwarding a joke that is likely to bring a smile to someone’s face is no mean task. They are the gate-keepers to good humour. They are like editors of a major newspaper. What’s more, they will pepper each joke with a million emojis so you are caught up on this new wave of expression sweeping the world. Say a silent thank you to them and throw in a chuckle for good measure.
The last hero in the list is You. No, no, don’t be confused. Don’t look behind you to see if someone else is being addressed. I am talking about you. You deserve to be called a hero. Even Time magazine named you ‘Person of the Year’ in 2006. And why not? It is a miracle you continue to exist. The world is falling apart. You are choking to death slowly. You survive catastrophes. You survive your spouse and your children and your co-workers and all the other human beings. You survive bad food and unintellectual television. You survive fashion trends and changes to taxation. What more is to be said other than reminding you that you are a hero. That you are is in itself a testament to how bravely you have struggled to maintain your existence. I bow to you, and in turn, accept your respect.