Monday, December 26, 2005

How Do You Read a Blog?

Most bloggers and blog-readers that I know of, view blogs like newspapers. Just as you gather together all your newspapers in the morning and go through the various columns by your favorite columnists, so too most blog-readers open their feed readers (or aggregators) once a day, and read the latest posts by their favorite bloggers.

I adopt a radically different approach. I like to call it the "novel" method - both for its novelty and more importantly, because it resembles the way you read a book! I shall elaborate.

Here's how I might read a book. I go to the bookstore, and search for an interesting book by reading the rear cover, or maybe reading a few pages, and glancing through the book. If I find the book interesting, I purchase it. Alternatively, I may have borrowed the book from a friend or issued it from a library. Regardless of the manner in which I acquired the book, I then proceed to read the book, chapter-by-chapter, starting at the beginning and working my way to the end. The book, depending on its size and content (which affects the speed I read it with) make take me a couple of days to a fortnight to complete, after which I scrounge around for a new one.

I tackle blogs in a similar fashion. I find a blog I like. This mostly involves reading a few of the recent posts. I then go to the beginning of the blog - the very first (earliest) post. And then I start reading backward (which, if you're following me, is actually forward), working my way up through the archives up to the present time. After I'm through with the blog, I'll search for a new one. If I really liked the blog, I might return to it every few weeks to catch up.

Why can't one look at a good blog, compiled over a year or two, in the same way as one looks at a good book? Okay, you may not find too many blogs that contain murder mysteries, but if you're looking for some nice non-fiction, spiced up with a dash of fiction in between, I'd recommend the 'blogosphere' over a trip to your local bookstore any day! Just treat the monthly archives as chapters!

Some blogs - like the one I'm currently reading (Amit Varma's India Uncut) - deal mainly with news and current affairs. One might think that such a blog would hardly be worth reading 12 months after it was written. But this is completely untrue, because even when he does quote a particular news story, it is always accompanied by some interesting opinions of his own.

Other blogs - like Vikrum Sequeira's Vislumbres - deal with topics that aren't related only to the present. His blog narrates his experiences and adventures traveling around India, something that can easily be picturized as being a novel instead. Such blogs can be read even 10 years from now, and their relevance won't have diminished at all.

So when people ask me what I'm currently reading, I'm just grin and say India Uncut!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Go Get 'em, Kobe!

When the buzzer sounded on the 3rd quarter in last Tuesday's game between the Lakers and the Mavericks in Los Angeles, the Mavs had 61 points. Kobe Bryant had 62!

There were rumors of Wilt Chamberlain's legendary 100-point game being under threat, a record that most believed may never be broken. But Kobe never stepped out to start the 4th, and chose not to the play in the rest of the game. Chamberlain's record was safe, as was Baylor's franchise record of 71 points.

Ever since his rookie seaon in 1996-97, when he won the Slam Dunk Contest at the All-Star Weekend, he has evoked comparisons with the legendary Michael Jordan. But will ever get to the same level of greatness? Games like this certainly can't hurt his chances.

But apparently, the fans aren't all pleased with it. Here's an interesting article on the effort, and the reactions to it.

"Even with three championship rings, he'll never live up to the Michael Jordan comparisons. His legion of critics will never forget how he ran O'Neal out of town or that passage in Jackson's tell-all book that describes Bryant as "uncoachable" or the rape charges in Colorado that were dropped."

The report seems to insinuate an almost Ganguly-like treatment of Kobe, where the critics discount on-court performances in favor of mentally ingrained prejudices. And just as in Ganguly's case, Kobe's true fans can't get enough of him. Like me!

Mind Your Manners!

Indians, as I see it, are either completely ignorant of or display no regard for public etiquette.

The most glaring example of this is the number of people you will find yelling into their cell phones in public places. On buses and trains, on the sidewalk, in parks, in restaurants etc. Okay fine, the cell phone was invented in order to give you a mobile connection and so refraining from using it in the above places would probably defeat that purpose; but do you have to yell? Is everyone in India deaf?

Audiences in movie halls rarely switch off their cell phones, and often don't even switch them to the 'silent' mode. Hence movies are frequently punctuated with the ringing of a cell phone, most often the tone being a tune from the latest Bollywood blockbuster. And this is followed by a conversation that will be loud enough for the entire row [if not the entire hall] to hear. If you must receive calls during a movie, how hard is it for you to step outside and do so?

Indian men stare a lot. At anyone belonging to the opposite sex, regardless of age, dress or physical features. No woman can walk on the street in an Indian city without attracting at least some stares. And most would be fortunate if staring was all that they had to contend with. Unwanted hands in inappropriate places and muttered profanities are not uncommon on buses or in crowded streets.

As far as the traffic situation is concerned, drivers will not display the least bit of concern for either other drivers or even pedestrians. Drivers will cut into traffic right in front of you, stop and park in the middle of the street, and switch lanes with gay abandon. The most irritating habit, though, would have to be the Indian driver's use [or rather abuse] of the horn. Most drivers use the horn in a manner not unlike how a race car driver might use the gas pedal - keep it pressed, often and hard! One might be forgiven for believing that the horn was responsible for producing acceleration and transporting the vehicle from place A to place B. Some drivers even try to compose a tune with it, as they swerve in and out of traffic. And God forbid traffic should not start moving as soon as the light turns green at an intersection! All the drivers will then immediately launch in a cacophonous orchestra of horns, rising in crescendo almost as if guided by an unseen conductor.

Pedestrians, for their part, offer the same insolence to vehicular traffic as they receive from them, often walking down the middle of the street instead of on the sidewalk. However, in a country where the only traffic rule is "might is right", they are ultimately forced to conform to the whims of the drivers.

Of course, not all Indians behave in this manner. But there are too many of them who do.

Merry Christmas!

In keeping with the grand tradition of having a guest writer do the annual Christmas Day post on this blog, here's this year's article by Lara D'Souza.

The Secularity of *Christ*mas

Aside from Easter, Christmas is the most sacred, miraculous and joyous day in the Catholic religion. What do people, as celebrators of Christmas mean when they say “Merry Christmas”? Some could say that these words have been used so much, that they’ve completely lost their meaning. The question is not quite, what Christmas means to individuals personally, but what Christmas truly means. From before anyone can remember, Christmas has been an annual tradition. It has become a worldwide holiday and said to be the most wonderful time of the year. But what exactly is it that makes Christmas so unique and special from the rest of the year? When exchanging presents, are people exchanging Christmas’ true meaning?

Moreover, the world is utterly and disgustingly obsessed with the media. Everyone has let it come to a point where the media has overpowered our way of thinking. So much so, that it has created its own tradition out of Christmas. Obviously traditions may differ within cultures, but there is always some truth to be uncovered. One tradition for instance, would be competition and self-centeredness. There is tremendous pride that comes with claiming to have the best tree or lawn on the block. The excitement of pondering on what gifts people want their friends and loved-ones to buy for them. ‘Wish Lists’ aren’t even about what people need as opposed to what they want. Another tradition - the crude universal money making scheme. Our country’s economy relies heavily on this holiday’s gift-giving fanatics. ‘The National Retail Federation is forecasting that consumers will spend $17.24 billion on gifts cards this holiday season.’ If people spend that much money on cards alone, it’s almost hard to imagine how much money goes into decorations, parties and presents. ‘Coke’ had to make their trademarked colours red and white so that they could use ‘Santa Claus’ as an ad campaign. It’s pretty pathetic how a stout man in a suit can make people buy almost anything.

Furthermore people have such one-dimensional perspectives, for when they see or hear Santa, they right away think of presents. No one bothers to portray what he really represents and tie that in with Christmas. St. Nicholas never told people that he went around giving presents to 6 billion people in one night. That wasn’t one of his miracles and that wasn’t the reason he was a saint.

“I’m not just a whimsical figure who wears a charming suit and affects a jolly demeanor. I’m a symbol of the human ability to be able to suppress the selfish and hateful tendencies, that rule the major part of our lives.”
[Kris Kringle, in the movie Miracle On 34th Street].
Maybe the uncovered tradition in Kris Kringle would have something to do with the fact that he put someone other than himself, first. If we really used St. Nicholas as an excuse and the root of our tradition, we’d learn to give without wanting absolutely anything in return. In addition, of course there is magic when a child awakes to gifts from a mysterious, jolly man. Although, there has to be a limit to everything, including how secular people make their Christmases.

Consequently, they have made their minds completely one-tracked. People are either so ignorant that they cannot read between the lines, (the self-righteous traditions they follow), or, are so selfish that they just don’t bother to. It’s just so much easier for people to be happy over materialistic presents, than to search deep into their souls to find any real meaning derived from the day that is Christmas. The fact is that Christmas should be first and foremost completely what it is meant to be. That is a holy celebration of Jesus’ birth into this world. The Catholic Church has decided to crown December 25th as the annual salutation of Christ into the world, and everyone has the responsibility to respect that. Out of 365 days of the year, people have decided to crown December 25th as the annual holiday to exchange material objects.

On the other hand, people might challenge that exchanging presents doesn’t necessarily mean that they are exchanging Christmas’ true meaning. The question remains outstretched and the answer is simple. They most certainly are. Christmas is no longer as important as it should be, in means of religion. People might as well wish each other a “Happy Santamas”. What does it say about people, when the only reason Christmas is the merriest season, is because of the material things a person receives? There is no plausible reason that we cannot come up with any other day of the year and name it national gift-giving day. Each year, people try to make their decorations and presents more outstanding than the year before. Each year, we become more and more overwhelmed with the excitement, anticipation of Christmas morn. Each year we develop greater levels of greed for glorious, glittering gifts. In conclusion, sooner or later, people are going to drain every last bit of importance associated with Jesus’ birth.

Lara D’Souza

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Blog about Nothing!

If you thought the tag line under the name of this blog (it currently reads - "The Blog about Nothing!") was derived from Seinfeld , you'd be right. And that show really is about nothing! NOTHING!

It promises 'nothing', and it delivers just that - 'nothing'! And in huge amounts! It has to rank as arguably the funniest show of all time. And what's so funny about it? Nothing!

People normally laugh less when they're alone. It's human nature; there's something about a group that causes you to laugh more. When you watch a show, you're 7 times more likely to laugh if you're watching that show with at least one other person than if you were watching it alone. And the reason I know Seinfeld is numero uno, is because it is the only show that causes me to laugh even if I'm watching it alone. No other show has done that, no other show can do that!

Seinfeld the show, stars Jerry Seinfeld the comedian, who plays himself. It follows the day-to-day lives of Jerry and his three friends - George Costanza [Jason Alexander], Elaine Benes [Julia Louis-Dreyfus] and Cosmo Kramer [Michael Richards]. His best friend, his ex-girlfriend and his next-door neighbor, respectively.

To pick any one of the four main characters as being the funniest would be doing a great injustice to the other three. Namely, Jerry, George and Elaine. For, political correctness aside Cosmo Kramer would easily win the contest for funniest character on the show. Each of the other three are great in their own special way, but fall just a little short of ol' Cosmo.

I see a little part of myself in each of the characters - my hair is like Kramer's, my comedy is very Jerry-like, my love life bears a uncanny resemblance to George's and Elaine's grandad's neighbor loves the same brand of Scotch as me. Okay, so maybe I'm not very much like Elaine. But the rest of it is true.

Now to the reason why this blog deserves to share the same tag line as the famed show. Any of my long-standing readers would quickly acquiesce that this blog really is about nothing! [Yup, they're nodding. Both the two of them!] I don't post intelligent critiques on films, novels or even posts made by other bloggers. I don't discuss politics or economics. I rarely speak about music or sports. And God forbid I should offer opinions on technology because my knowledge of the subject is so little it is bordering on the negative. So basically, what I do write about is nothing!

Reading my blog won't make you any smarter and will increase neither your IQ nor general knowledge by even the slightest amount. It won't enable you to partake in healthy debates on matters of any significance. It might, at the most, give you a funny line or two that you could try out on your mates at the water-cooler the following day. But that's about all. However, if you want to spend a few pleasurable minutes daily, reading a little fun nonsense about nothing, then this here's the place to be at.

And finally, I do try hard to ensure that the blog remains about nothing. But on a few rare occasions, some stuff might appear that actually makes sense and sets you thinking. I apologize for such stray occurrences and shall continue to strive to achieve new levels of nothingness!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Adam Good. Eve Better.

We are all, at some point or the other, given to having strange fantasies. One of my fantasies involves imagining life as a woman.

People fascinate me; and women, in particular, even more. I mean this in a completely asexual manner. Or at least, in a manner that is for a large part asexual.

The human male, as with most other species, is the simpler of the two sexes. Perhaps, I am saying this only because, being a man I understand my own kind better. However, I do not think this is so.

For all the complexities and intricacies of the average male's brain, the female's has so much more. Men understand machines; women understand people. It's quite obvious which task is the more difficult of the two.

One of my secret desires is to have been born a woman. To try and see what that would have been like. Had this actually happened, I would, in all probability, have ended up fantasizing what life would have been like as a man. The lure of getting to "the other side" is always present.

And then just as the yearning reaches its peak, I come across [or am pointed to by Kunal, as in this case] something like this, and my womanly aspirations are temporarily shelved. And for some days thereafter, I'm glad to be just a man.

I Think I'm Going to Pass

I am no quizzer, and I have no pretensions about being one either. I couldn't quiz my way out of a paper-bag, so to speak.

I have been to a few quizzes over the past some months, due in large part to the cajoling of Messrs. Kunal, Salil and Siddarth, and I am yet to fully grasp the concept. Sure, I lucked out at one quiz and made some money, which ensured that my net quizzing experience was not in the red; but other than the slight monetary profit, there was nothing that appealed to me in a positive manner.

In fact if anything, the concept was a tad boring. Being sat in one place while some bloke asks you questions which you can't answer? That's what my 12 years of schooling were like! Why would anyone want to go through that again? I suppose I might look at things in a slightly different light if I knew the answers to at least some of the questions. But to wish that, is to wish in vain.

I don't count Indian movies, Indian mythology, Indian music, popular fiction, the Asterix comic series, or business [all favorites of quiz-setters] among my most loved topics, and to attempt to sit for a quiz in such a situation would be akin to running the Boston Marathon on a wooden leg - if you're hardy enough, you may get through to the end, but don't expect to win anything!

I think one of the strongest arguments in favor of the absurdity of quizzing, is the sheer dearth of females involved in the "sport". A female participating in a quiz is as rare as an honest lawyer, a female actually organizing a quiz - well, that's still in the realm of fantasy. Trust the more intelligent sex to stay away from something that makes no sense at all. If only these hard-headed men would get that into their brains.

So just why do guys quiz? The better ones, I suppose, make some money out of it. The rest? Well, that remains one of this world's tougher mysteries.

My Hair and Other Stories

I haven't cut my hair since June. That's because I have an "outta-sight, outta-mind" policy towards most things, and my hair being always out of sight, doesn't feature on my mind very often. For most people around me though, the abominable shock of hair on my head is anything but out of sight, and thus usually a cause for great consternation.

However, that concerns me little.

Every so often - generally about twice a year - this charmed life of mine is rudely interrupted by a chance encounter with a mirror. That's when I make my little half-yearly trip down to the hairdresser. And never being one to believe in half measures, I get the hairdresser to cut it as short as possible. That's my philosophy - if I'm going to be getting my hair cut only twice a year, I might as well get as much of it off as possible.

Interestingly, though, women have the exact opposite philosophy. When a woman gets her hair cut, she wants to get rid of as little of it as possible. Par is 1/8th of an inch. Maybe half an inch if she's feeling particularly bold on that day.

No guy can ever notice when a female friend has had her hair trimmed. Only females can. I don't know how they do it. I mean there's absolutely no change in the length! What did you waste all that money on the hairdresser for?

I digress. As I was saying, my six months of pleasure are up, and it's time once again for that dreaded chair. This time the devil has manifested itself not in the form of a mirror, but instead a passport renewal form. I need some photographs to submit along with the form, and my counsel has advised me that the "afro" died out with Jimi Hendrix.

Oh, and while I'm at it, I might as well get my monthly shave over with too.

Update: The Next Morning...

I have to confess that the above post was written very late last night, at a time when my mind was severely caffeinated and sleep-deprived. Now that I can think straight again, all I can say is - "Just whom was I trying to kid?"

The hair shall remain!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Why Younger Siblings Are More Popular

Every one of us has, at some point during our adolescent lives, had a huge crush on a friend's elder sibling. It doesn't matter whether you're a boy or a girl, living in Peru or Sweden, or even what your sexual orientation is - this one's universal.

It's almost as if we think, "Okay, so you're my friend, and you need to pay me back for letting you be my friend. Let's see - you don't have cash, I don't take checks. But hey! You've got a sister! Let's see if we can work out a deal here."

And it's always an elder sibling. Someone who's about 4-5 years older than we. Somehow when you're 15, anyone who's 20 seems like the coolest person on Earth. After all, they've battled through all the tribulations that teenage life has to offer, and they've survived! Surely they can't be ordinary mortals.

Have you ever noticed how the younger kids in the family will always be the most popular ones? Why do you think that is? I'll tell you why - they've got the cool elder brothers and sisters to fall head over heels in love with. I was the elder of two kids, and my closest friend in those troublesome teenage years was an imaginary albino named Klop! That is, until he too got bored and left.

My younger sister, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. Most popular girl in school. I'm not trying to say that I deserve all the credit for that, but the evidence is indeed compelling. And it's not because I'm rich, good-looking or charming - I am none of those things. It's probably only because I can legally purchase alcohol for them.

Rethinking My Illness

Some weeks ago, I wrote this - "I Feel Sick!"

Emotions then, were running high, as emotions are wont to do at such times. It would not, therefore, be completely truthful to state that my article was entirely free from all emotional bias.

In the past few weeks, though, I have had plenty of time to ponder upon the matter in a more detached and less personal manner. My feelings on some of the issues involved remain unchanged, and I guess they never will change. But on a few matters, I now feel quite differently from what I felt then.

Let me start by saying that I don't think it was fair for me to blame IIPM the way I did initially. Gaurav wrote some things against them, and they threatened to take legal action against it. Fair enough. Anyone who chooses to endorse the cause of free speech cannot in the same breath deny the right to sue, for it is just as fundamental a right. To do so would be sheer hypocrisy.

They also threatened to bring his employer, IBM, into the picture. Many bloggers felt, both at the time as well as now, that this was wrong on their part. Well, the word 'wrong' has two connotations - legally wrong and ethically wrong.

Was their bringing IBM into the picture legally wrong? No. If they wish to implicate IBM in the matter, then that is their right. If IBM has nothing to do with the case, then the court will decide that. Anyone in a free society has a right to accuse anyone else. It is upto the legal system of that society to decide how much weight there is to the accusation. Hence, IIPM wasn't 'legally' wrong in doing this.

Was it ethically wrong? Ethics, unlike legality, are a matter of relativity. Ethics are, again unlike legality, not constant. What is ethical for you may not be ethical for me and vice versa. Hence when one speaks of ethics, one is only speaking in the frame of reference of the ethics of a particular person or group of people. Everyone's ethics need not, and will not, be the same. So, at the very most we could say that IIPM was ethically wrong according to us and our set of ethics. But an ethical wrongdoing is no crime.

IIPM expressed their desire to burn their Lenovo laptops in front of IBM's Delhi office. Again, the right to peaceful protest - a fundamental right. And while burning laptops might not be as peaceful as Mahatma Gandhi's fasts, it certainly cannot come under the category of violent protests either. Referee's call - no foul.

Regarding the veracity of the claims made by IIPM in their newspaper advertisements, I have no knowledge. I am not sure of the legal bearing on the publishing of false information in an advertisement, and whether legal action can be taken against it or not.

Rashmi Bansal was, apparently, manhandled by certain individuals for the statements she had made about IIPM's mendacious attitude toward advertising. This, if true, is certainly one of the things that I would hold against IIPM. For it is no longer in the realm of ethics, but instead legality.

I am not trying to either defend or blame any party involved in this unpleasant brouhaha. I am just stating my thoughts on the matter, now that they've had ample time to settle down and wipe themselves clear of any emotional stains they might have had. I didn't think much of IIPM earlier and I don't think much of them now either. I have always liked Gaurav's blog and I still continue to follow it regularly. None of that has changed. All I want to say, is that legality and ethics are very different, and that the latter has purely personal significance.

Train Journey

About two months ago, I had visited Bombay for a few days to meet my aunt who had flown down from Illinois. What was particularly interesting about that trip was the journey back to Poona.

I was returning by the Pragati Express on a Sunday evening. I boarded the train at the Dadar station. While I had been waiting on the platform for the arrival of the train, which originated from Victoria Terminus, I noticed a group of about 8-9 Westerners who were also waiting on the platform for the train. They were in their early 20's and, save one, all were girls.

The train arrived in due time, and I entered and searched for my seat. The group were in the same car as I was, but further down the aisle.

Soon after the train moved out of Bombay, I headed toward the door. One of the great joys of travelling via train in India, is standing at the doorway. The scenery on offer ranges from breathtaking at best to interesting at worst. On this particular occasion, I was treated to a beautiful sunset as I sat myself down at the door, with my feet on the step outside.

After about 10 minutes, one of the girls from the group approached the door. She too, I realized was admiring the view rolling by outside. A few minutes later, she was replaced by another girl from the group. At this point, I got up to go to the washroom, and when I returned I found yet another of the girls sitting on the floor just beside the door and writing in her notebook!

I must admit that my initial reaction was one of complete surprise. The floor wasn't particularly clean, and I certainly didn't expect to find a Westerner seated contentedly the way she was. Since it would not be possible for me to regain my seat at the door with her where she was, I stood and stared out at the setting sun for a while.

When she was done writing, the girl got up and returned to her seat. As if on cue, another girl got up and came to the door. She had with her a copy of Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha. I struck up a conversation with her. They were Americans, she said. From Chicago, Illinois. They were taking a course in Ancient Indian History at Deccan College, Poona. They had just been to Tamil Nadu, since they had a fortnight's holidays for Diwali, and were now returning via Bombay.

The fact that they were students not just tourists went some way to explain why they were so comfortable sitting in the passage of an Indian train. But what interested me more, at that point, was the subject matter of what they were studying. Here in a country obsessed with mainstream career choices, how many of us Indians would seriously consider a course in Indian History? We still live in a country where professionals like engineers and doctors are considered a notch above the rest, and all those who can afford it end up in one of the above two streams almost without even giving it a thought. Hardly anyone pursues fields they are actually interested in.

I looked back over my shoulder. The American guy and one of the girls were engrossed in a game of cards. Three of the other girls were listening intently to something that an Indian gentleman was narrating, and the remaining two girls were engaged in conversation with a South Indian family. Well, I thought as I sat myself down again with a sigh and stared out into the rapidly approaching darkness, these guys sure know to take life as it comes.

Why I Don't Like Technology

I don't like technology very much. In fact, I'm a little scared of it.

The irony? [There always has to be some.] I'm writing this article on my computer, I'll probably be posting it on my blog, I am majoring in Computer Science and shall receive my degree in about 6 months and the microwave beeping in the background announces that my coffee's warm. The good news - I no longer use a cell phone.

So, if I don't like technology, how is there so much of it in my life? In today's world [a phrase that I've always hated, but often used], one finds it hard to totally eradicate the effects of technological progress from one's life, even if one wants to. It is of course quite possible. I could choose to live a life of asceticism if I wanted to. I could shun civilization and go dwell in seclusion. I could join a Buddhist monastery, and never set eyes upon anything invented after 1950 for the rest of my life. But as long as I continue to live in contact with the rest of civilization, in a city or town, I don't see how I could keep myself completely free from the effects of technology.

And what is it about technology that scares me? I guess it's the fact that it advances so rapidly, for one thing. Before you get adjusted to what has just arrived, something new is already making its appearance. Like someone once said - "Here today, gone later today!" Technology joins the other two T's, time and tide, in their "wait-for-no-man" policy.

I am slightly claustrophobic. When I say 'claustrophobic' here, I am referring to its most general sense. More than just a fear of closed, confining spaces, but instead a fear of losing control. A fear of letting go of the steering wheel for a while and sitting in the back seat. I hate being in situations I have no control over. Why does an elevator frighten a person with claustrophobia? Because he has no control over what may happen once he's in it. If it breaks down, he has no way of getting out by himself.

I fear technology because I don't have much control over it. It is like a runaway horse that one is sitting on. Wherever the horse runs one is forced to go along. Unless one can somehow grab hold of the reins and steer the horse along the path that one desires. Right now, I feel as if those reins aren't in my hands. And I don't see any way of being able to reach them. Hence I'm scared.

Yes, I'm a self confessed 'techno-phobe'!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Look Ma, No Phone!

As of the evening of December 13th, the music has officially stopped playing at 94220-ARNIE. Or to be more precise, the music shall continue - it's just that I won't be the one playing it any more. Yes sirree, I have renounced my cell phone.

Why might someone relinquish possession of their cell phone, one might ask. Since the mobile phone has made its advent into this country about a decade ago, it has slowly but surely gone from being a luxury to a convenience to almost a necessity. Don't believe me? Try switching off your phone for a month and you'll see. Nay, forget a month - that's too long. Try living without your cell phone for a week.

Of course, there are a lot of people who do just that - live without a cell phone. So why then should it be so hard for someone who does possess a cell phone, to let go of it. It's not very difficult to figure out the answer. The cell phone, like alcohol, nicotine, tobacco and the likes, has become for many, an addiction. Like any of the aforementioned items, it is easy for someone not addicted to live without it, but exceedingly tough for someone who is addicted. People who don't drink, don't feel any urge to do so - people who do drink, do.

Am I suggesting all cell phone users are addicted? Am I myself addicted? The answer to both questions is 'No'. Most, but certainly not all, cell phone users are addicted to their phones. They cannot even fathom a life without their phones by their sides. But, like I said, not all.

I know this for a fact because I can safely say that I wasn't one of the addicted ones. I hardly ever made any calls from the phone and only used it to receive calls and the send the occasional text message. My monthly bill would comprise mainly of the rental charges, which amounted to roughly 60%. So, I think it would not be unwise to conclude that I didn't use the phone very much.

Why then would I choose to give it up? I guess the reasons are manifold, not the least of which would be precisely because I wasn't using the cell phone much. But there are other more important causes for my decision. For one, this is just another step in the detachment process that I am experimenting with. Most of us tend to get too 'attached' to our possessions and have a lot of trouble parting with them. It doesn't hurt one to try and let go of some of them voluntarily once in a while.

The irony of the matter is that in the past 2 days, the thing that I have missed the most about the phone is the fact that I would use it as an alarm! Got nothing to wake me up in the morning now. And that's either a blessing or a curse depending on which side you choose to look at it from!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Quite a Night!

Today, I attended the wedding ceremony of an acquaintance. I had gone with my friend Nadeem, in his car, along with his brother. However while returning, since the reception venue was not very far from home, we decided to walk. So my friend handed over his car keys to his brother and the two of us proceeded to walk home slowly, indulging in idle palaver.

As we were approaching Hotel Aurora Towers, we passed a section of the street that was rather dimly lit. Suddenly, and at almost the same time, Nadeem and I noticed a woman walking on the other side of the road, going in the opposite direction. Under normal circumstances we would have hardly even noticed her; but on this particular occasion, the circumstances weren't normal.

The lady was well-dressed. She was wearing a noodle strap top, which revealed more than just a hint of her cleavage. She seemed to be in her mid-20's. The reason why we noticed her was because the street was almost empty and it is uncommon for a woman, attired as she was, to be out at this time [10.45 p.m.] unescorted; and certainly not walking along on the street.

Call us prejudiced if you will, but it didn't take long for us to form an opinion in our minds about her purpose. She was a CSW [Commercial Sex Worker]. That's polite talk for a streetwalker. In many ways, it shouldn't have surprised me much, because I had heard plenty of rumors about streetwalkers plying their trade in that particular area. [Though I hadn't actually come across any there before tonight.]

We continued walking on, and within a couple of minutes we came across a few more girls. All standing on the opposite of the road, at fairly regular intervals. While most of the girls were alone, one particular girl was conversing with two young men. All three were in their early 20's. As we were passing by, the two guys proceeded to shake hands with the girl. I don't know what happened next, because we had already past by. At another point, a sedan pulled up on our side of the road, and then proceeded to turn around. As it did, it stopped in front of one the girls and remained there with its headlights focussed on the girl. After what seemed to be 30 seconds of silence [I tried to make out if there was any exchange of words between the people in the car and the girl, but I couldn't detect any], the car suddenly drove away. I don't care to speculate what that was about, but I am fairly certain that one of the two people in the car was a woman.

Even though the sight of the CSW's on that street didn't shock me, a few other things did come as a little surprise.

1. All the girls were well-dressed, and wearing Western attire.

The reason why this is surprising is because it is common knowledge that almost all CSW's in Budhwar Peth [Poona's official red light area] wear saris, and that too mostly old ones, since they aren't very well-off financially. The girls that I witnessed tonight appeared to be in a relatively far superior financial position to the women that hover around Budhwar Peth. It is obvious that they cater to the needs of a higher class of society than their Budhwar Peth counterparts.

2. All the girls were in their 20's.

Once again, this is quite different from the situation in Budhwar Peth, where the average age is much higher. Even in Budhwar Peth, there are some young girls, mainly brought in from states like Orissa and West Bengal as a result of the flesh trade rampant in those parts, but a large percentage of the women are in their 30's or even early 40's. All the streetwalkers I saw tonight looked like they were fresh out of college, and certainly none of them was even close to 30.

The Indian government is currently debating over the passing of a Bill to legalize prostitution. Personally, I am in favor of it. I'm not sure what the chances of it getting passed are, though. Especially when you consider that the Maharashtra government recently passed a law in Bombay banning dance bars. I'd be surprised if the Indian government did end up legalizing prostitution.

It needs to be legalized at least to protect CSW's if for no better reason. Currently, CSW's are subjected to a great deal of atrocities at the hands of the police and other similar authorities, and they cannot speak up against it because they are plying an illegal trade. However, along with legalization, a few other actions have also to be taken. The most important one being ensuring that these CSW's indulge in safe sex. The rise of AIDS and other STD's in India is alarming, and this step is a must. The government has to enforce this.

The government must also ensure that all CSW's are above a certain age, and that the prostitution of minors does not occur. Currently, little action is being taken in this direction. Girls in places like the smaller towns of Bihar, West Bengal etc are lured to cities like Poona with the false of promise of a decent job. Once in the city, they are sold to a brothel owner, who wastes no time in putting them to work. Often these younger girls are valued at a higher price than the regular, older women. The poor girl, with no one in the city to turn to for help, is condemned to a long time of misery.

I have a German friend, Julia, who was in India for almost a year in 2004. She had visited quite a few red light areas during her stay in the country, to try to gauge the conditions there and also see what she could do to help. She told me that it troubled her a lot to see the plight of Indian CSW's. She tried to compare them with those in Amsterdam and other European cities where prostitution is legal.

"The situation in India is just so much worse. I guess the biggest difference is that while most European prostitutes have a choice of whether to take up prostitution or not, most of the Indian ones do not. They do it because they are forced to."

And she's right. With a drunken husband wasting the family's income on alcohol, and hungry children to feed, most CSW's in India do not have much of a choice. At least this way they are earning enough to survive and so they stick on with it. And judging by the conditions in Poona's red light areas, it's obvious that no one would take up prostitution as anything but a last resort.

The streetwalkers I saw tonight were a little bit different. None of them were what I would call poor. Their appearance and the kind of clientele that they serviced are enough to convince me that they earn themselves a pretty decent living. I also feel, though I may well be wrong here, that they seemed to be English speaking and of at least a high school education. It didn't appear to me, as if they would struggle to get a job in an alternative profession if they so desired. Perhaps it wouldn't pay as much, but I'm sure they could choose to do something else. So the question is - were these streetwalkers doing what they were doing because they chose to do it? Because it pays more than what a normal job would? Because they like the extra cash? Because they enjoy the life/lifestyle?

To put things into perspective, I remember an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show where she spoke to a young girl, barely into her teens, who was streetwalking. The girl describes candidly to Oprah how she would 'pull tricks', making upto $1000 a night. The reason why she did it? Simple really. She liked the extra cash. And she liked the adventurous time that she was having. She admits that she wasn't forced into it. She just enjoyed it.

In India too, I've heard of rumors about college girls who leave their houses wearing traditional attire like a shalwar kameez, and then once they are outside, change into something that's uh... better for 'business', and streetwalk. They don't do this because they have to support themselves - their parents are doing that. They do this because they feel it's a good way to earn quick cash. I cannot vouch for the certainty of these rumors, but after what I observed today, I would be less surprised if they were true.

What do you guys have to say?


Interesting as that was, it wasn't the end of the night for us. I think I should buy myself a camera. I come across too many fascinating sights to let them pass by uncaptured.

As we continued on, walking down Main Street, we came to place where someone had stolen a manhole cover right off the sidewalk! There, in the middle of the sidewalk, was a big gaping hole, huge enough for a man to fall into easily, let alone a stray child. However, what amused me even more was the fact that someone had placed an old bicycle on its side on top of the manhole, in such a manner that the front wheel of the bicycle covered the hole!

A little further down the road we came across a family consisting of a father, a mother and their young son, of about 3 years. Now it soon became apparent that the boy desperately needed to take a leak, and there was no washroom in sight. So instead of trying to go into one of the few stores that were still open and search for a washroom, the father instructs his son to stand on the edge of the sidewalk and pee onto the street! Well, not the road actually, but a smaller lane that was leading off it! There was little that we could do except shake our heads in disgust and carry on.

And then finally, the last sight for the night. We passed a small roadside shrine with a statue of some Indian God in it. Standing just outside that shrine was a man, deep in prayer. What was so funny? He was wearing a crash helmet! Okay, I know you've done something terribly wrong, buddy, but it's alright. God's supposed to forgive you, not crack you on the skull!

I swear, I need a camera!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Humor on the Street

I was strolling down Main Street this evening, when I passed a beggar sitting on the sidewalk and shaking his begging bowl in front him. As I neared him, a couple was approaching him from the other direction. The beggar shook his bowl in front of them to ask for alms.

The man looked surprised and said, "But I just gave you some money a little while ago while we were going in the other direction!"

The beggar replied cheerily, "Oh, I'm sorry. I seem to have forgotten. Indeed, you are right."

I passed on. After a few steps, I turned to look back at the beggar again. He was blind.

New Look

Don't rub your eyes in wonderment. You haven't come to the wrong site. It's just that I tend to get bored of things easily, and hence the change of template. And yes, it's farewell to the Shoutbox that was attracting three times as many spam messages as valid ones. Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say!

Also, having expended this much effort in switching templates you can be assured of a more regular posting schedule in the days ahead!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Arranged Marriage -- Part Two

[The previous post has received more attention via the comment box than most of my other recent posts, so here's a follow up of sorts.]

Okay! Enough of the third degree, alright? It begs repeating, so I'll say it again - I'm not going to not marry someone just because my parents introduced me to him/her! [Yes folks, I said "him/her" - go ahead and laugh if you want. I'll continue when you're done laughing.]

In the comments, Renuka says,

"It[']s just that it does become diff[icult] in a country like India for a girl (or guy for that matter) to get married after one age...hence the rush and the "scouring" as u put it!"

I think this is an important point and warrants a bit of a discussion -

Why is it so difficult for someone to get married at an older age?

The average age at which people get married has certainly increased when compared to two or three generations ago. Very few of us can boast of grandparents who were still single at 30. Today, things are quite different. Without even getting into the topic of "live-in" relationships, which I shall leave for another post some other time, I'd just like to say that many people today don't view getting married before certain age as the top priority in their lives. Or even if they do, then that age is considerably more than what it used to be. Sure, most [if not all] people would like to get married - it's just that it isn't a priority any more. And while I am mainly referring to the situation in the Western countries over here, what I have said is true of an increasingly large percentage of the Indian population as well.

Having said all this, the attitude of society [and by that I also mean family] toward unmarried people is still rather shameful. The external world looks upon a single 35-year-old woman with scorn in its eyes, and hence one's family is so desperate to get one married. You know what I'm talking about here - "Oh look, she's 38 and still single? Surely there's something wrong with her!"

My point? If society didn't pressurize you to get married before a certain age in the first place, your parents wouldn't pressurize you either. But society does pressurize, and I'd like the family to stand up to it instead of caving in. If your daughter isn't looking to get married just yet, don't push her into it! Or your son!

It might seem absurd for parents to actually force children into getting married, but let me assure you, it does happen. Often this pressurization may not take the form of direct coercion but a more subtler persuasion. Constant hints and innuendos suggesting one thing - it's time to tie the knot, kiddo! I know of people who have ended up getting married not because they wanted to, but because their parents wanted them to. And isn't the most important responsibility of an 'Indian' child supposed to be to obey one's parents' every wish as long as they are alive?

I'm not saying getting married early is a bad thing either. My cousin, in Illinois, got married about a year ago. He wasn't even 23. The important thing was - the decision to get married was taken by the couple themselves. Their parents had little say in the matter.

In India, marriages tend to unite families more than individuals. It's not the newly-wed couple who are getting married, it's their families. This is another reason why parents like to wield a fair deal of control when it comes to whom their child should marry. The other general trend is for the bride to become, through the act of marriage, a part of the groom's family. In many cases she would then go to live with him and often the two would live along with his parents and other family members. It is almost unheard of for the groom to go and live with his bride at her house after the wedding.

Personally, I would prefer to live separately with my wife after I get married. Which isn't going to be for a while. And don't give me that look, Mom!