Thursday, December 30, 2010

2000 to 2010 : An awesome decade indeed!

A whole decade has come to pass, and this has by and far been a super eventful time indeed. (I follow the natural number system and not whole numbers and so I start my newdecade from 2011). Anyone can google up the events of the past decade, and wikipedia those events that interest them. But for me, the above line alone is indicative of the times between 2000 and 2010 that has just come to pass. And some things, that have lingered in my memory make an appearance here, unaided by Google!

2000 - was the year that defined the tech boom, as Y2K was a monster that needed immediate redressal. Around technology and all that jazz, came the dotcoms, faceless millionaires and everything techy, arcane and convoluted. while the world was kicked about moving from the 'nineteen hundreds' to the 'two-thousands', the economy grappled with a nascent crisis post the tech bust. Ironically, we're ending the decade fighting another crisis, only this one bigger, all-encompassing and certainly a lot more painful!

Then came 2001, and hardly anyone remembers it as the first year of the new millennium. It is remembered in notoriety owing to its association with the dreadful events of September 11. For someone living in India, or maybe in the Middle East, having seen the effects of terrorism first hand for years on end, the events perhaps felt like yet another day. But these attacks were perhaps a culmination of years of festering anti-American sentiment in the Middle East. The repercussions thereafter continue to haunt the world, with Iraq and Afghanistan becoming household topics! 'Democracy' came knocking on Afghanistan's door, and an apology of a government remained in power. But some things never really changed - Israel and Palestine continued their hate-hate relationship, with a rather intense fight breaking out in 2008.

As far as India went, in terms of politics and diplomacy, the unending suspicious ties with Pakistan continued, and after years and years of lobbying, we finally celebrated the de-hyphenation from India-Pak. Such ado over this event, why is all I ask, when a larger, more powerful neighbor hell-bent on taking away Arunachal Pradesh is a better entity to compare with in an attempt to improve oneself! Mumbai suffered more terror attacks, one at Gateway, one on Western Railway and the worst at CST, the Taj, Trident and Chabad house. And to add to it, Indian media went ballistic relaying all events on primetime TV!

Terror aside, the Indian economy shone. There was a fair bit of political stability, with one coalition keeping power for eight years. A person of non-Indian origin almost became the PM. While in the US Barack Obama came to power signaling a wave of the 'can do' spirit. Indian stock markets crossed 20,000, fell and toyed with the figure again despite the global recession.

China rose and is still rising. The Yuan, though is still pegged. 2008 saw a spectacular show by China with the summer Olympics announcing to the world that China had indeed arrived. India, in comparison hosted the Commonwealth Games amidst corruption of the highest, ugliest order. While on sport, I'll just say Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal - two pillars of tennis history and two pillars, who I hope will face off in the next decade too. Again while on sport, I'll just mention Michael Schumacher, who built his record-breaking, record-making career in this decade, thrilling a million fans like myself. No more on MSC, because I could put in volumes on his scarlet days. So, just an entity that defined my taste in sport over the past 10 years.

This decade also saw Google becoming synonymous with search, so much that I just 'google' up some data! And Apple, the company forgotten ever since the alleged GUI theft event reincarnated as the suave gadget guru of the decade! i-pod, i-phone and now i-pad, Jobs is just one inventive genius indeed! From landlines to smartphones, the hand-held device just became an inseparable part of the common man's life!

Climate change is a reality. Mumbai saw insane flooding in 2005. Australia is seeing it now. China sees such rains and floods every year, killing thousands at the minimum! Drought in the early part of a year, followed by floods, insanely hot summers, unseasonal rains, extremely cold and unforgiving winters - this decade has seen em all! 2 climate change conferences at exotic locations later, we are nowhere near a tangible solution. Yes, we have exquisite concepts like carbon trading, carbon credits and so on. But none of those are making winters less severe.

This decade also lost quite a bit. Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns were lost in their true spirit, taken over, given a makeover changing the face of the Global financial system in toto. Michael Jackson, perhaps, was one of the biggest losses for music fans of Gen Y. People may say several things, but the fact remains that when the sound of 'Heal the World', or 'Give in to me ring out', the young heart still gets thrilled.

A lot more happened. But a post longer than so much would be mighty boring to write. So more, and perhaps the right amount to do justice to this awesome decade, maybe a tad later....

Monday, December 20, 2010

Driving me crazy - II

Couldn’t quite help it. I resisted the urge. Turned my thoughts away as my fingers tingled. But try as I might, I just could not resist putting up my thoughts on the perils of driving in Mumbai. And I know I might sound like the eternal cribber, given that, and I guess I must be lucky to not know this first hand, Mumbai traffic on any day is much better organized than maybe the rest of India! But, cribbing and complaining are second nature to women and so, here goes – driving me crazy – Part II. Part I is right here.

Try driving in a marketplace on a Sunday afternoon. Well, I did. Out of an innate laziness towards walking into the market, although I still claim I drove because the shopping list I had was humongous. Regardless of that, one hot, hungry Sunday afternoon, I set off into a marketplace, windows rolled up, sunglasses on my eyes, music in my ear, et al. I believed that people generally run errands on Saturday and take Sunday easy. So I assumed I’d be able to park, well at least park, if not park easily. As it turned out, the whole road was a parking lot. The road was filled with damsels in distress! Indeed parking lights were supplanted by the distress signal! People would just swoop into the roads and, well, STOP. At one such sample, I let out a louuuuuuuuuud honk, only to be met by nothing in response. Irritated, I wanted to move into an alleyway which I guessed would be less congested, only to find the entrance to the alley shut off by, yes, another parked car!

Distressed, annoyed, frustrated and with an aching ankle, (imagine driving for 15 minutes in first gear!), I cursed the traffic police under my breath. I complained to myself, lamenting why they were always absent on Sundays. Or any day when you wanted them most. I almost converted to Keynesianism, having sufficiently understood that the upwardly mobile Indian (read Mumbai) population, most definitely needed strict policing, to be held in check. If only there was one cop somewhere, maybe, just maybe things would be calmer. I could perhaps drive on the road, listening to my music, rather than wishing my horn would play a tune I liked! Maybe, I’d have to honk more at oblivious people, rather than at cars parked on the road, in a manner that looked as if the whole place had been hit by a hurricane. Maybe, I might have been able to finish my work and go on home, and stop my poor tummy from growling in anger!

The frustration gave way to a new determination. I decided that when in Rome, I will do as Romans do. Much as I hated it, I decided to park in the middle of everywhere myself and proceed to the shops to get my work done. To hell with road etiquette. To hell with my motto of ‘drive like you would want others in front of you to drive’. And I parked in front of the shop where I had to pick up the most number of things. I felt a weird sense of guilt, but I marched on regardless. I picked up the olives, the pasta, the sauces, the everything, thinking happily about the prospect of some food soon. I bought myself a bar of chocolate to keep my tummy at bay till that time and went on picking things off the aisles. Presently, I finished shopping.

A very large bag in tow, I finally stepped out, to find a large chalk mark at the place where I’d parked, with a message there asking me to come to the nearest police station and pick up my car!

Monday, December 06, 2010

A land of the Wannabes!!

The other day, I finally watched the episode of Koffee with Karan that had the so-called awesome ladies - Deepika Padukone and Sonam Kapoor in konversation with Karan Johar. Yes, I was jobless on a Sunday afternoon and I really wanted to see what the yap was all about. As it turned out, it was really much ado about nothing! The women were dressed in identical looking evening gowns. One in brown and another in red. The one in red was so clearly uncomfortable in the outfit, that you really wonder who forced them to dress up that way! Plus, I could decipher precious little through the whole konversation, primarily because Karan and the two women were too busy giggling like little girls throughout the show! It beats me how anyone could have understood anything from the entire show to create a fuss about anything at all!

All this is still beside the point. The point was the way one of the women spoke - complete with an accent. She acts in Hindi movies,is an Indian (unlike Ms Kaif, who makes no bones about the fact that she's firang), but still says frraaands, instead of friends. No, I don't wish to pronounce the word in the Pnjabbi way. But you get the drift.

Unfortunately, this is an epidemic sweeping across all of the upwardly mobile Indian population. It's a hilarious bug that's hitching on to almost anyone who has driven past the international airport! Fake accents are the thing of the day. So it's byilding, and not bilding. It's yaaas and not yes. It's fridee and not Friday. At times it's even Karadee, and not Karate, although ages ago, when we were still a developing country, we said karate as in karatay. The actual pronunciation is kara-tay from the Japanese kara- hatay. But since the west says 'the next karadee kid', we switch to karadee too!

If the obsession stopped with the accent, things would have just stayed funny. But the fixation goes beyond just speech to dressing and eating habits! So, formal clothes worn by Jennifer Aniston look good only on her! Indian women (and I don't mean the size zero wannabes) trying to fit into clothes of those dimensions are a pitiful cry for help. Self-proclaimed fashionista Sonam Kapoor herself declared that no one in the Indian film industry has a half decent fashion sense, (except her of course). So, if the glam industry has no sense, the common woman, clearly has no fashion sense. So, what is typically a pregnancy top in the west, becomes a cool, hip top in urban India. Someone wore it somewhere in a SoBo do, and it becomes the next biggest fashion statement! Firang evening gowns look good on well, firangs. But such is our fixation with all things firang, that we'd force fit ourselves into such a gown, and look like a complete, well, fish out of water.

Even dressing sense, is perhaps a thing that maybe just deserves some sympathy. What is most worrisome is the eating trend. Central obesity is a stark reality. Just look around you at the number of rotund people on roads or trains or in cars. The number of cars in Mumbai has blown out of control. People shy away from walking 10 feet. The other day, as part of an altercation over the phone, with a certain shopkeeper, I flatly refused to go and visit his shop for the 7th time for my merchandise and insisted he deliver it at my place. His reaction was, "Madam, aap mat aao. Driver ko bhej do!" So, the general understanding is that everyone, everywhere is spoilt for comfort. Nobody ever walks and the result is that India is turning into a plus sized country! Scary? Yes indeed. The stress levels, the filthy eating habits, the obsession with junk food, all point towards a ticking time bomb!

If only we'd not be so ashamed of being who we are! Indian English is understandable and it stands out, just like a German accent or a Japanese accent. Indian clothes are an object of awe the world over. The sari is by and far one of the most elegant, yet sensuous outfits of all time. And our food and food habits, well, most of it at least, is heralded as true healthy food. If only we'd really be proud to be Indian...

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Etiquette or Eti-Quetty???!!

Mumbai has been seeing some really unseasonal rains, these past few weeks. November rain used to be synonymous only with Guns n Roses. But these unseasonal rains brought along not just a Londonesque climate but also all those multicolored umbrellas back outside. Although right now, Londonesque would be a weather of snow, snow and more snow. Nevertheless, the rains brought out poetic weather, umbrellas, chilly winds and everything nice. In fact, these rains weren't that bad, since the muck and drenching rains were missing.

But what wasn't missing, was the lack of umbrella etiquette!

So, you're this person of above average height walking on a sidewalk, and there is someone else walking towards you, with an umbrella held aloft her head. Above average height implies umbrellas held aloft others' heads are at eye level for you! So when people do not believe in umbrella etiquette, they walk on, oblivious to your cowering - an earnest attempt to protect your eyes. Then again, there are other ways of not displaying umbrella etiquette. Like putting up a wet umbrella on a train or bus seat, carrying around stinky umbrellas, stealing someone else's good umbrella after leaving behind your own crappy umbrella!

If only lack of etiquette remained restricted to umbrellas. Cell phone penetration in India is one of the highest in the world. Unfortunately, cell phone etiquette is an unknown term! And believe me, it is perhaps one of the most essential pieces of learning people in India need to get! I am not being overly conceited when I say this, but honestly, if you want to listen to 'Munni Badnam Hui', go ahead by all means. WITH EARPHONES!!! Try hopping on to a bus sometime, and I can guarantee you'll come across someone blaring music on their phones while giving everyone around a gloating smile that says, "Oh yeah! I have a phone that plays music!" And then you have the story of the ring tone. Ring tones seem to transcend generations. So you have a real creepy song set on loud as your ring tone. And it rings in a temple, or a doctor's office or just your own office! And unfortunately the tech-unsavvy person who perhaps still struggles with reading the displayed number, let alone answering a call, subjects you to such wonderful music for a good 50 seconds. Believe me, no matter what you went to the temple to pray for, you end up praying that God stop that cell phone from ringing. And He listens!

And the last form of lack of etiquette involves women on phones in the middle of the road! No offense intended to the fairer sex, given that I belong to the said gender myself. But honestly, get behind the wheel and try negotiating a turn while trying to avoid hitting a brightly dressed female who does not respond to a loud, incessant honk. Earlier phones used to be glued to just one ear. The other ear could hear a honk. Now, people have earphones to listen to music and listen to a caller's voice while on the road. And these wonderful devices, shut off both ears! Much to the talker's delight and the driver's chagrin. Why am I specifically mentioning women? Because once you honk loudly and then turn after going through a quasi nervous breakdown, these wonderful women, notice that it's a woman behind the wheel who honked and disturbed their phone conversation and give you such a dirty glare, that you honestly wonder whether you did something wrong! At least the men are more considerate when they notice a woman behind the wheel and move aside without so much as a second look.

Oh well, I must stay away from the perils of driving on Mumbai roads, especially those instances that involve women on roads or women drivers, since those stories make up epics I'll talk about later. As of now, it's a resignation with a sense of exasperation that accompanies cloudy skies and umbrellas or just everyday life in a cell phone infested city!