The north-south divide

Part one of a multiple part post – there are so many aspects to it that I want to  do justice to it.

Disclaimer (as usual): Everything here is my opinion alone. I am open to discussion and debate and remember, we can always agree to disagree.

As I watch viral videos on social media networks of a famous RJ from Chennai, sarcastically object to a high-court order and make completely invalid arguments, I get agitated, and then sad. Off-late, I have begun to notice the north-Indian hating brigade in the southern parts of the country go from strength to strength. I have watched a distastefully done stand-up comedy that is getting wildly popular in Chennai and the Tamil settlements around the world, base all its laughs on criticizing people living north of the Vindhyas, their film industry and rallying their audience to continue hating them even more.  Having had the privilege of living in both very different parts of the country, I get defensive of the north, even though personally, I have no preference. India is one and wonderfully different, I have thought to myself all these years. But off-late the simmering hate is slowly rising to the surface due to the freedom of polarizing hate speech being afforded to us by the anonymity of social media.

In my opinion, language is central to this difference. The establishment of Hindi as a national language angers the native Tamil speakers and I see lots of commentary extolling the virtues of this ancient language and emphasizing its importance over Hindi. To me, this in itself is a sign of insecurity. No one can take away the beauty and history of an ancient language and both the southern region and language thrive in the area in the form of books, periodicals, dramas, movies, dialects, scholars and all the instruments indicative of a very active language. Why then, openly hate and criticize a newer language spoken much more widely just because it is different? Tamil sounds very different from a farsi-Persian originated Hindi because its roots are so distinct. I am no language expert but commenting on why one language is more important than the other and basing all your hate on it is a sign of weakness. One must introspect at what exactly Hindi language is threatening ? Doesn’t learning another language open portals to a whole new world? The hate of “Hindi” is something I find extremely absurd and irritating. I am a fluent Hindi speaker and I am a self-taught Tamil speaker and I relish the joys of being able to explore two wholly distinct cultures and their literature. Although I must add, the formal register (news) of the Tamil language is alien to me, but sounds so rich! I hope that someday, I can understand what they say without resorting to pictures and/or English translations!

Cuisine is central to this vast difference in opinion. Here, the situation is a bit more complex. ‘Chapatis’ or ‘Rotis’ are now very popular as healthy alternatives to low-starch diets in Chennai. Cooks in Chennai with limited culinary skills, who are more a necessity in homes with older family members or busy couples, are also now adept at making them. My mom recalls periods of time where people ate them as delicacies in Chennai. But that is no longer the case. While people are embracing the idea to add a wheat-based item in their culinary palette, they are so sensitive to being told about the inclusion of coconut in everything. The comedy troupe I mentioned earlier in the post, they were wild about the ‘Lungi-dance’ song that pointed out how south Indians add coconut to their lassi. And pray, why get riled by that? Coconut grows in abundance in Tamil Nadu and Kerala and is delicious and nutritious and by default is added to most dishes. Why suddenly point out how North Indians eat “Chapati” all the time? That is because wheat typically grows there. I have begun to notice south-Indians avoid food/snacks labeled as ‘Punjabi’ or ‘Marathi’ despite their deliciousness since they are from the “North”. This, despite them being highly educated, with multicultural education and travelling the world on a daily basis. The subtle signs of dislike and hate, slowly creep into the generations to follow despite the connectivity, communication and accessibility to one another. It really is a shame, that we are trying so desperately to shut ourselves off from each other, when science and the social media are actually meant to connect all of us together and bridge our differences.

PS: I am not being specific to the people that immediately surround me when I mention my observations. Superficially, you might dismiss these arguments and observations as stemming from an unfortunate mix of society I live in, but underneath that shiny exterior, these old feelings of dislike and the tendency to isolate and cocoon ourselves from anyone different, continue to thrive. If you comment that my comments are from the point of view of south-Indians alone, I tend to write other viewpoints in the future installments.




Coddled much?

Disclaimer: All opinions here are purely mine and I am open to discussing them with you over a cup of coffee. Any offense taken is not intended and is the perspective of the reader alone 😀

How thick skinned are you to criticism? How much of direct taunting, chiding or blunt opinions can you handle? I recently had an experience where a 16 year old took offense because I asked him/her to “read my previous email completely and answer my questions before replying”. This statement merely seemed to be a task to work on and something to improve on next time to me. But then I was told that this was very harsh. I recalled my mental state when I was 16 and chuckled. This statement seems so mild compared to what we are told in Indian schools/ homes to push us to succeed. I was called an idiot on a daily basis. The funniest part is, I didn’t seem to get hurt, but merely accepted my fault or argued back and moved on. My brain cells then went a little bit deeper and thought, why are we so cautious about dealing with school kids? Has the internet scared us all? Is the slightest rap on the shoulder now considered bullying? If so, how do you tell any youngster (in school/ early college) anything?

Indian upbringing was a different story in an admittedly different era. We had no phones, no internet and our time was spent in the company of classmates, friends and family. We got teased, had arguments and learnt to resolve issues between ourselves. Our playtime forced us to form teams, live up to expectations of the team mates or suffer the consequences of skipping turns of being the unfortunate soul to retrieve the ball from a strict neighbor. Almost everyone never complained to elders and any such person who brought their mom/dad to intervene in our affairs was cold shouldered. Today, it is perfectly okay to go off complaining, accusing and utilizing the system to meet our goals. The abuse of the protection provided to us today is leading to certain consequences that weren’t considered in the first place.

Internet bullying is awful and a heinous crime. I am in complete agreement. Today we live in fear of divulging the slightest information for fear of mishandling or wrongful misdoings. Especially in tweens or young adults who are new and headily experiencing the good and bad of the cyber era, our fear is justified. But is telling anyone they should do better also hurt as much? Does that immediately count as being a bully? How much coddling do you need to give youngsters to prevent them from being completely spoilt? I believe in calling spade a spade and enforcing this as early as possible. Accepting the fact that not everything you do is perfect and any criticism is actually opening an avenue for improvement is key for success later in life. I have seen kids these days who are applauded for the most mundane things, things that are basic human behaviour/skills. There is a fine line between encouraging one to do better and just coddling someone so much that they can no longer take a no. It worries me that we are moving to the latter. Graduation parties are another pet peeve. Do you deserve a 50 person, huge bash at a gaming arcade with catered food for completing sixth grade? Why celebrate an achievement of a normal human being to be recognized as of average caliber?  It also adds to the feeling of over achievement when in reality it isn’t.

I believe this toughness is slowly going out of people. The acceptance of failure or the acknowledgement that improvement is possible is suddenly not inculcated in a person when they grow up. They have to be tuned to these opinions. After all, we as people are work in progress. We are slowly learning, tumbling, fumbling through life. Growing up, when internet penetration in our daily lives was not as much, those boundaries seemed sufficient. Now,we need to also define what is acceptable and not just what isn’t. Slowly, the younger generation will turn out to be even more spoilt and unapologetic – just because you never told them a no.

Think about it. Meanwhile, let me go apologize to a 16 year old for telling them to read my instructions completely.

Faux friends

The other day, I was asked if so-and-so was my friend. I casually replied,”Nah, Facebook friend only.” The nature of that friendship was immediately clear. It got me thinking, has Facebook introduced that mezzanine level of friendship where the person is neither forgotten nor in touch? Have we introduced that intermediate where we never let anyone fade from our lives, but are too uncomfortable really talking to them?

It is a strange dilemma for me. I’m routinely aware of very intimate details of people’s lives splashed across my news feed. Weddings, honeymoons, babies, new jobs, relocations – events in life that were previously restricted to family and close friends are now visible to me, an acquaintance from over 10 years ago, someone who they now know very little about. I “like” these posts too, congratulating them and wishing them the best, secretly hoping they don’t have 3057 likes and 465 comments to follow ruining my news feed for days. I am comfortable letting my likes and comments drown in the ocean of well wishers prompting a “Thanks everyone” from the poster than individual replies enquiring about every one. But I am uncomfortable having a personal conversation with most of them. My enquiry about personal details that they had shared for everyone to see, will most certainly earn me the tag of a “Facebook creep” . Time slowly fades memories too, making it harder for me to recognize people in photographs. I am left wondering as to who in that picture is my friend and why it is appearing on my wall. It is not that I pay close attention to my feed either. Many times, I just glaze over information with my very tiny attention span unaware of what I have just read. If that shrinking of attention span is because of Facebook or not, is another blog post.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against Facebook. If anything, I enjoy my time on it. It has been tough to keep in touch with friends from college and it is getting progressively harder given the responsibilities and challenges that life keeps throwing our way (or I’m getting lazier). I was able to reconnect with some people who I hadn’t spoken to since my 8th birthday but that thrill of connection lasted perhaps for a week. Our worlds are now so different that it almost feels intrusive to look at their wedding and honeymoon pictures. We are technically “friends”, but are we really? Friendships in the past, evolved with time. The closest of them stayed while the weaker links faded away, leading to newer relationships that morphed with changes in personality and circumstance. Facebook makes sure no one ever goes away. Is that necessarily advantageous? Are we really “connected”?

This stalking experience that Facebook provides me everyday has its benefits too. I have seen pictures from every part of the globe, learnt so many things from people’s travels (unknown to them of course), seen beautiful pictures of weddings, peeked inside parties of big corporations, updated my travel list, gotten inspired to paint, cook (thanks to people’s diligent posting of meal pictures), study further, figure out the best restaurants in town, read some amazing articles, watch hilarious videos and read funny messages and tweets without a single conversation with anyone. It is a colorful, vibrant version of google reader for me, a one-stop shop for all information juicy, controversial, informative and educational. But of my 900 friends on Facebook (and counting), I doubt the number of people who will remember where I am now or what I do (without checking my profile page of course) would cross 20. The rest are people who could walk past me without realizing we were “friends” on Facebook. (On purpose or otherwise, I ‘m not too sure).

But then again if it wasn’t for my Facebook friends, my blog view stats wouldn’t be so nice, would they? 😀

When TRP’s take over

Its no surprise to anyone today how the media is finding ways to do more than just report incidents. I think with cable TV, its become more than news we hear everyday. Repeating headlines, round the clock updates, talk shows, interviews, twitter do not just inform us, they influence our thoughts. I remember how news used to be just Star news with Prannoy Roy, Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai, Vikram Chandra, Sonia Verma and others being the cast with glossy bright blue backgrounds. The whole session lasted for half an hour on weekdays and an hour on sundays with an added entertainment section which was exciting because it was rare that one got to see the film stars on screen apart from movies. Just thinking about those times makes me feel so ancient. Now Aishwarya Rai’s pregnancy makes national headlines, twitter is the medium people use to find updates and the talk shows sparking action in various places. It is very good at times since I feel many people just work to avoid being a national embarrassment. So when they report about lakhs of rupees of bribes to get a kid into pre-school or child marriage (though till now I think khap panchayat simply rules) or some gross miscarriage of justice, it serves the purpose. Events, incidents, people in national spotlight are rarely let go easily. But since when did we turn to the news for entertainment or a shot of adrenaline?
I cannot remember the number of rapes, murders, bodies in a suitcase, molestations that appear on the headline everday. Hell, even a murder is not taken seriously anymore.(esp in the NCR region, it is dismissed lightly). Now this murder verdict. I can draw a parallel between the unfortunate Neeraj Grover case and another murder trial that had gripped US for the past 35 days – the Casey Anthony trial. Now, US media has one sole purpose – to make money. So they market what sells. It all started with this HLN ( a CNN spin off that no one takes seriously – I hadnt heard of this until I went to the CNN HQ) show with a famous lawyer who apparently never lost a case in her life – Nancy Grace who caught on to this trail in Florida about Casey Anthony being prosecuted for murdering her kid. (She is acquitted now so I cant really say much). But the story caught on. Since Florida courts allow cameras inside the courtroom, one could watch the proceedings live. Imagine the excitement of people. It was like a movie without having a scripted end. So the TRP’s soared and people were hooked. Before you know, the trial is the biggest phenomenon in recent times and the jury verdict of acquitting her has garnered immense anger and protest all over. The timing of the two cases – Grover and Anthony couldnt have been better to make a comparison. What I see happening is Americanization of the Indian media.
I dont necessarily call it a good thing. Indian media has much more responsibility on its shoulders from what I believe. With everything happening behind closed doors, it is imperative to report the exactness of the case rather than take sides. Both cases had women being the prime accused, both for murder but one had her face in the camera everyday with every move of hers recorded, deliberated and discussed. People did not rely on talk shows to formulate opinions. They could make their own since they saw the court proceedings themselves.The channels could safely cash upon the public sentiments, flash photos and videos of that little girl and merely pump up the consensus that was already developing.
Maria Susairaj, on the other hand is a different story altogether. Everyone has an opinion that she got off easy. But no one is certain. The educated class pass it off by saying ” We will never know the truth of what happened in the court.” “Cannot believe every word the media writes”, (“Dunno man, whatever” being the most common one). It is one thing to fight for injustice and help out the hapless bereaved Grover family but it is another to sensationalize the entire issue. After all, such grossly incorrect jugdements are not uncommon (remember Jessica Lal?). We knew there was a real killer who went scot free in that case but this scenario conjured by the media appears to be out of a movie scene. Indian media are trying to replicate the Anthony trial by repeated bombarding of sensational news, movie like plots to attract the people and build a strong public opinion. They are playing with fire. I do hope this actually results in something more than having all of India tune into 9pm for a daily dose of juicy gossip-like murder stories and nothing more.
Another ridiculous thing – Ram Gopal Verma for his silly comments bags headlines. I wonder why people are offended by an eccentric man who hasnt made a decent movie since 2002.Its like me making a morally wrong statement – who cares? See the point. He has no film-making skills anymore, the films he makes are hardly watchable and he overall seems pretty idiotic -comments or no comments. Why then give so much weight to his ideas?. I bet his movie is as crappy as Ram Gopal Vera ki Aaag. Let him release it all over. Why bother? The nitty-gritties of the murder case are never discussed, let alone the proof, the prosecution’s case etc. But I do know everyone is upset that a Ram Gopal Verma made a movie out of this and passed inhuman comments. I think we need to disconnect the media from the entertainment business and go back to the sunday 10 minute glossies. It would do a load of good for everybody.
All Im saying is Indian media and news channels should not ape the west in trying to build TRP’s using news, murders and entertainment. They actually are capable of airing life-transforming stories and reports that could alter the society. They can really make a difference, make agonies heard, help out people in despair since media is the one thing that everyone is still afraid of. It is the most powerful tool to reach to people. I hope they dont misuse it further.
On a lighter note: Im all set for Delly Belly’s farts and cusses. I know the movie is slotted as ‘cheap heat’ and thrill but I’d take that than go for another Bachchan offering. Im currently sick of them all and the thought of them multiplying..eeks!

Why the fuss, Valentine?

So another V-day looms. I can see pink splashed across websites, roses on sale and cards and soft-toys lining the shelves of stores where plant fertilizers were once found. (I actually went in search for the latter to keep my new Bonsai trees healthy. Did i tell you about my new obsession? Ah well, that’ll make another post maybe). So coming back, yeah V-day looms and this time my excitement is rock-bottom. Seriously, I miss the Shiv-sena a lot. Atleast they used to add some spice to this very mundane and boring festival.

One thing I never understood was why a day to celebrate love? Maybe it is for too busy people to pause a moment and realize what they dont have. Isn’t love a feeling you have all the time? What makes the probability of a girl accepting a proposal higher this day? Because you have happily made everyone realize how sad their lives are because they dont have a special someone? Seriously, I don’t get it. I believe that love is a continuous celebration. If you are truly in love, it should be everyday that you realize how blessed you are. In short, everyday should be a valentine’s day. I know for a fact, people in love or a serious relationship do not wait for V-day to declare their love. Its more of a teenage phenomenon where schools buzz with activity and exceptionally high hormonal levels and everyone is waiting for their first kiss, blah blah. But for me, I think it ended there. As I realized more and more about what a true relationship is all about, (something that comes with age I guess), I realized that I don’t need a special time and hour to declare love or feelings. Marketing gimmick it surely is. Something like how Thanksgiving morphed into Black Fridays and now everyone is celebrating it (for some reason or another).

But this absolute despise of this V-day does not mean I am not romantic. I have a mushy side too (many of you already have read about it 😉 ). I love sweet honest, self-made declarations of love (not hallmark cards), innovative gifts (like a 9 year old boxwood bonsai meant to last a 1000 years) and not teddy bears, beautiful verses from Pablo Neruda’s Twenty Poems and a Song of Despair, coming home to find ‘Inside of a Dog’ by Alexandra Horowitz lying on my bed one evening or a hot meal of sambhar-rice fed when i am unwell. For all this, do I need a special day? Media is capable of converting perfectly sane and in-love folks ask ‘So whats special for V-day?’. My answer will always be ‘nothing’. Because it is not special to me. A birthday is, an anniversary surely is. But a 14th Feb is neither (and sadly not a holiday also, so definitely no celebrating :P)

I miss all the gossip and excitement that used to surround 14th feb in school as we used to watch girls get proposed by boys they didnt expect it from, or boys shy away when a girl did that (rare, but amazingly entertaining). Or watch the foolish Shiv-sena drive away couples from Marine drive on 14th feb and never bother them for the other 364 days or break glasses of shops and tear V-day cards on 14th February.(Trick: buy them earlier). From all that, it is reduced to a dreary Monday with lots of work piled up and classes to attend.

So its a no-fuss day for me tomorrow. But for ya’all, who will celebrate tomorrow, Happy Valentine’s Day!

Toilet Paper Treatment

Call it the TP syndrome or the Chewing Gum analogy, but both essentially refer to the same phrase – Use and Throw.

I recently was at the receiving end of this sort of treatment, being disillusioned into friendship – going all out and helping said person, before being thrown out of the window without the slightest hesitation. I felt hurt and bad, thought of all things I shouldn’t have ever done had I paid heed to those who suffered the same previously at the hands of that person. But there is this nasty feeling called hope, where u mysteriously hope and falsely reassure yourself that said person wont do this to you and feel like absolute trash when it happens. I never understand people. I realize that perhaps a little self-centering is essential and being selfish is what allowed evolution to occur, but I tend to believe that there are always those really really close people, whom you are truthful to. Its okay to be formal and ask for mild help from people you don’t know, but faking friendship only to get your work done easily is heights of selfishness!

I have met so many people who have used me. Come to me and begged for help and not so much batted an eyelid afterwards, come in the middle of the night to ask help with exams and after its done pretend that I’m invisible or feign deafness when being called out to. I thought I had gotten used to it and gone beyond expecting things from people in return but when a supposed friend delivers that blow, it still shakes your faith in anyone at all. This is more rampant now that people are applying to universities and need help from those experienced. It is okay to inquire about the general state of affairs here, the system etc, but its NOT ok to randomly ask people to rewrite your SOP’s, bug them incessantly on chat for days till your admit comes and then leave them in the lurch completely. When you are friends with someone, it is okay to ask, but I realize some tactful people make friends for solely this purpose. So I’ve come up with the best way to keep my sanity intact. I’m NOT helping people anymore. I thought I would make an exception for people I call friends, but now I’m doubting that capability too.
Its not only me who has been through this. There are countless people who’ve suffered at the hands of such people and learnt their lesson. As I spoke to a friend for consolation, she assured me that this is normal and she had suffered from this multiple times. Also, that what such people lack is conscience, but then there is hardly anything we can do except excercise caution.
I’m not your fair-weather friend, though in my case,I should rather say I’m the bad-weather friend. People come to me when they are in doubt, in tension, worried and gladly omit me from their lives when they are happy, only to return when calamity strikes. I might not be the brightest person in predicting people’s behaviour but I’m definitely smart enough to adhere to “Once bitten, twice shy”.

So long people, call me names if you will but now its your turn to see my MEAN side. If you’ve already seen it, then so be it.

Things they never say…

People’s descriptions are incomplete. There are so many things that people often skip telling, not because they want to hide them on purpose ( many actually do) but because they want to think that they never actually went through all that. What we see and hear about people’s adventures are sometimes, if not always incomplete. Take for example the whole Grad-studies-in-US thing (I choose US here since that is what I chose in life too). Columns after columns tell you that it is a life-changing experience filled with global diversity, excellent infrastructure, a chance to live like never before and excellent photos in some of the most talked and seen-in-movies places ( like Las Vegas, LA , Grand Canyon) of people and seniors who went there creates a make-believe world where the admit is the last hurdle one has to cross. Once admitted by a top notch university, life is just a luxurious ride to the most magnificent destinations and a highly paid job with all the possible luxuries is just a few years away. Cut to reality. It is far from all that.

Once you are through the US-visa-interview experience with/without a pink slip, and have finally booked your tickets, that’s when you actually say good-bye to your comfortable ultra-urban, dream-like, dad-mum supported life and enter reality. From finding non-bed-bug/ cockroach infested apartments with decent insulation to finding livable room-mates, everything is just wholly your luck. Don’t count old childhood friends turning out to be best people to live with, infact Ive experienced some best friendships turn sour just because you decide to live with them. I know people who choose not to live with their friends because they wouldn’t want to end up in a sticky situation and stop being friends with them. Classes are hectic and tough (atleast where I study and for me…I’m not possessed with extra high number of Grey cells like a few lucky ones) and as mid-sems and finals approach it gets progressively worse. It is really difficult to make those awesome road trips, again I speak for myself since I’m doing a doctorate and a deadline of the next group meeting always hangs on my head killing my chances of getting away for sometime. I do go out and have a good time, but it is few and far in between. Fellow Indians are not always the most helpful ( I think the good ones here are as rare as finding Belgian pink diamonds) and sometimes they stress you out more than anything else. Professors are tough and tricky and job hunts intense and scary. So really, its not the joy-ride that everyone projects. Now now, Im not saying that its a bad idea to come here or that I’m having a horrible time, all I’m saying is, it is a two-sided coin. People who come with dreamy expectations are often crestfallen and so shocked that they are unable to cope with reality. It is definitely one of the most exhilarating experiences that one might have in their lives, but one has to be mentally prepared to deal with all the roadblocks which everyone does eventually face.

Of course some people dont have to experience all this. If you are lucky, and I pray you should, you wont have to. Even if you do and survive, it will only make you stronger and mature. But all I’m doing in gently reminding, there is the great, there is the good and there is the bad and ugly. I guess its a combination of all this which makes it so awesome an experience. I survived my ordeal of bed-bugs, horrible roommates, most taxing coursework ever, slew of exams, bad food, horrible winter, friends turning traitors- all of this at the same time and turned out stronger and happier on the other side. I didnt have the joyride of making so many trips, living with family-like room-mates or getting straight A’s ever so easily. But I experienced something totally different and unexpected – Life. And its only made me happier with what I have today. 😀

PS: Im waiting for the movie ‘Social Networking’. Sounds real fun. But I know I’ll be dragged to Endhiran and made to sit through it (though I’m bargaining for you-watch-Endhiran-and-I-watch-Anjaana-Anjaani). Please Aishwarya Rai, for once in your life I hope you did something watchable. Though in all probability you havent. Anways, Rajnikanth never lets you down! So yoyo!