The fault in our stars

Elections are underway across the country, and it is this time when larger-than-life celebrities descend from their celluloid screens onto political arenas.

As a nation, we breathe movies, we talk movies, we dance movies, we sing movies. Unemployment climbs to staggering heights, yet movie halls brim with die-hard fans.  Movies are to us what oxygen is to our bloodstream. Movies and politics are two sides of the same theatre in India. At curtain call, both put up an extravaganza of selling dreams.

Therefore, even our political canvas has a huge influence from the movies. The south of India has a reputation for making its celluloid heroes step right out of the screen and into the legislative assembly. We have this furtive hope in our hearts that a man who can say “poda rascala” and shoot down enemies by flicking a cigarette at them will deliver us from poverty, unemployment and debt. Years ago, M G Ramachandran ruled Tamil-speaking hearts through his histrionics on screen and continued to do so off-screen as the matinee-idol-turned Chief Minister. He took under his tutelage his romantic angle from the movies, Jayalalitha, who until recently reigned as the queen of Tamil Nadu politics.

Govinda, the boy from Virar, a distant suburb of Mumbai, danced his way into the hearts of his fans, and soon nursed political ambitions, alongside his disco dancer peer, Mithun Chakraborty. While Mithun became a Rajya Sabha member, Govinda contested on a Congress ticket and won by a decent margin. But, when his regular absence from Parliament kicked up a storm, he quit. His grouse: as if winning was not enough, they now want me to attend Parliament! His taunt, tujhe mirchi lagi toh mein kya karoon, boomeranged badly.

Much before him, Sunil Dutt, a veteran actor, debuted in politics and proved himself to be a good son of Mother India. From holding the position of Sheriff of Bombay in 1981, to joining the Congress party in 1984, he went on to become in 2004, India’s Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports, a post he held until his death. He worked hard for the cause of the slum dwellers.

Not one to be left behind, the angry young man of Bollywood, Amitabh Bachchan, aspired to spread his magic in the world of politics, and contested from Allahabad, and went on to a big win against stalwart Bahuguna. Soon enough, he called it quits when the Bofors issue threatened to put up a Deewar between him and his stellar movie reputation.

When it comes to elections, we Indians are known to carry our hearts on our sleeves. History is witness to the scripting of blockbusters off-screen as well.

Hema Malini, draped in her exquisite handlooms, prancing in the fields of Mathura, has a strong chance of reaping in the votes. Farmers, parched for a spark of excitement in life, find it too-good-to-be true to have the nation’s dream girl ride into their backyards atop a tractor. Going by the whopping win she had the last time, she Kent go wrong this time.

The newest entrant this year is the Rangeela girl – Urmila Matondkar.  “I am no longer Masoom,” screams her new persona as she smiles down from the front pages of tabloids that announce her acquisition of a Congress ticket. She is the party’s new hope in the North Mumbai constituency, where its image has been fading steadily.

In the past few years, the BJP has been consistently wooing celebrities into its ranks. At its Sampark se samarthan campaign recently, it extended invites to Madhuri Dixit and Lata Mangeshkar. While the former, although still striving to make an impressionable comeback to stardom, nay nay-ed the offer, the latter cooed a polite no.

Shotgun Sinha’s dalliance with politics has been quite steady now. Accustomed to moving from one production house to the other in the movie industry, he broke his allegiance with the BJP, and now espouses the cause of the Congress party, but not before he unKhamoshed and let out a spiel of fury aimed at his earlier home – the BJP.

While it’s obvious that film stars have a big fan following which results into big votes, do they make good politicians when elected?  Firstly, do they attend parliamentary activities? Do they ask appropriate questions or even take part in debates? Try as much as I want to, I find it impossible to imagine Hema Malini engage in discussions revolving around…aagh…the imagination refuses to budge any more. Does Urmila realise that smiling cutely does not resolve empowerment issues?

Jaya Prada, now a seasoned two-termer, is dipping her dainty toes in the BJP waters. Earlier she was a Samajwadi Party member, and now she shares star power in BJP along with Paresh Rawal and Hema Malini.  Latest news has it that Paresh Rawal has drawn the curtains on his political career. Perhaps, he realises the hera pheri here is a different monkey business. Even then, this time around, the BJP is flapping the most multi-starred banner.

The strategy is crystal clear. Party bigwigs know that celebrities are nothing more than big crowd pullers. If they can perform at weddings, why can’t they at the country’s biggest circus??

In the end, for the voters, elections offer three things: entertainment, entertainment and entertainment. What we forget is that unlike a three-hour escapade, this one’s an enduring sufferance.

Advertisements

Under the spell of mommy power

One day, mommy power stopped working. Just like that. In an instant.

The CT scan report in my hand quivered. But that was not why I could not re-read it for the third time. Tear-brimmed eyes don’t read well.

My 24 year-old son’s report screamed CANCER.

In the minutes that ticked by, I realised that it was possible to be dead, and still exist. And it was exactly at this moment that I could feel the slow but sure waning of mommy power.

This very mommy power that was unashamedly deserting me when I needed it the most, had been an elixir during my son’s growing up years.

There was never a time when I could not dive into the abundant repertoire of mommy power and emerge with an antidote to all my darling son’s tribulations.

Mom, my head is aching.

Mom, my tooth’s gone!

Mom, they won’t let me play.

Mom, I can’t sleep.

Mom, hold my hand, the pain will go.

Mom…Mom…Mom.

A simple sneeze, or an unusual sounding sniff would have been enough for my antenna to go up and alert the mommy power.

A certain kind of look or even the slightest quiver in his voice over the phone, would send me on an exploratory journey for the cause.  And soon enough I would have a remedy.

But now, all of a sudden, I was stripped.  Powerless.  Helpless.

What could mommy power do in the face of an aggressive spread that challenged the very notion of time?

I held onto the last few strands of the power that were slipping through my fingers, and I turned to my son.

“We will deal with this,” I said.

Days turned into months as he lay on the hospital bed, and a flaming orange solution spread through him. Tufts of hair lay on the pillow long after he had got out of bed. His beautiful fingernails turned blackish, not very different from the colour of the fear that followed me every minute.

Yet, strangely, I was spending the best possible time with him. We were playing chess, words-building. We binged watched movies and shows. We read together. We laughed a lot. We looked up recipes and had the time of our lives in the kitchen.

At other times, we sat together, held hands and talked about our fears. As he spoke, and I listened, or as I spoke and he listened, I felt the slow homecoming of the mommy power.

The power that came back was very different from the earlier version. It turned me towards another power. A power beyond every other. I found solace and courage in prayer. The new mommy power taught me the humility of acceptance.  It smoothed off the sharp edges of my fear, and I became calm and collected.

A renewed energy of faith and trust coursed through my veins. My son sensed it, and appreciated it. To my supreme happiness, I saw the same feelings mirrored in him.

Mommy power was back, and how!

At the hospital, a couple of rooms away, a young lady was undergoing chemotherapy for a similar type of cancer. Our situations brought the families together, and we bonded well during the five months. Mother to a four-year old son, she would often be overwhelmed by anxiety and fear.

But on her good days, she would speak with a sense of affirmation. “I am going to be alright for the sake of my son.”

“I want my son to know in his grown-up years that his mom is a fighter.”

“I have promised my son to take him all over the world, and I will.”

Her latest scan is encouraging.

If this is not mommy power, then I don’t know what is.

Back to our lives, my mommy power in its new avatar is doing me good.  It is definitely doing well for my son.

“Keep the faith,” the power says to my grateful heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bond with Ruskin

Ruskin BondThe right birthday present in a set of inimitable books

“Please, no sarees,” Amma says emphatically as she adroitly pours the coffee back and forth in the tumbler until a nice froth evolves.

It is Sunday morning, a week ahead of her 77th birthday. My Sunday mornings typically start with a trip to Amma’s house, across the landing, for filter coffee. Incidentally, coffee at Amma’s is an institution, as it is in most thoroughbred Tamilian families. The aroma of fresh decoction wafts through pairs of thick doors to tickle my sleepy nostrils.

“No sarees please,” she repeats, fully aware that the first time she said so, my focus was on the coffee.

I don’t respond yet. Not because I am still focussed on the coffee, but because, seriously, I have run out of gift ideas. This mother-daughter duo has been gorging on Bengal tants and tangails for several years now. And the acquisition of these sarees is no longer a once-in-the-year phenomenon. All that glitters, including gold, is not our poison either.

Two things that we find excruciatingly painful to decline are books and the mountains. And, if we can have both of these at the same time, we are in our little piece of heaven. While Appa spends his days tinkering with Silicon Valley’s gifts to the world, Amma sits by the window in her favourite upright chair with her feet placed on a pouffe made specifically for the purpose. Every now and then she raises her head from the page she’s reading and stares out of the window – a habit that resonates with most readers. Oftentimes, the poignancy of a word or two is so powerful that you have to look away to recover.

Somewhere between sipping coffee and turning a page, age stealthily crept up on her. Well, that’s not true, but how I wish it were. In Amma’s case, age descended upon her in a ruthless onslaught. Using an armoury of arthritis, sciatica, vertigo, hearing loss, hypertension and dental problems, age took over in a fell swoop. Pain became an unwanted companion, rendering her fit to travel to the mountains only through Nat Geo and Discovery channels.

Books have remained loyal, even though it takes exceedingly long before she turns a page.

Amma’s ‘no-saree’ injunction is a no-brainer. She is pointedly asking for books as her 77th birthday gift. No it’s not as easy as you think it is. What book do you get one who reads Tamil and English almost at the same pace, has more books than clothes on her shelves and yet-to-be-unpacked cardboard boxes?

Appa’s enthusiastic suggestion, ‘Kindle!’, is maliciously turned down with a whittling stare from Amma.

In a flash, my mind replays the image of a cheerful man of ruddy complexion, bespectacled, and bent over a book in a bookshop nestled in the middle of a typical hill station market road. Mussoorie and Ruskin Bond are synonyms. Just as mountains and books are for some of us.

Swiftly, everything begins to fall in place. I know Amma is a big fan of Bond. I can’t think of anyone I know who isn’t it, child and adult alike. I also know that Amma has read and probably owns several of his books. Still, I am confident I will find something the gentleman of the hills has penned that she doesn’t have. Thus begins the exploration on Amazon.

The books arrive a couple of days before her birthday. It is agonising to withhold the surprise from her. Two mornings later, at the crack of dawn, Amma sits joyously holding the books in her trembling hands.

The first book is bound in textured finish of an alluring pistachio colour with a rose etched on it. A Little Book of Happiness is really little in contrast with the imposing Himalayas – Adventures, Meditations, Life.

Ruskin Bond owns the mountains, as much as he owns the hearts of their simple folk. His pithy observations of the routine things in life are his masterstrokes. A Little Book of Happiness is a lovely anthology that brings together pearls of wisdom – his and those of thinkers he admires. “Why be happy and how, and why not to worry if you think you are not. Why it is easy to be happy, and how you can miss happiness even if it stands before you. How a bird can fill you with joy and how a stranger’s smile can soothe you. Why happiness may not even be the word for what we really need.”

The second book is a comprehensive volume with over 50 essays on the mighty and tranquil Himalayas, bringing together a dazzling range of voices – among others, Fa-Hsien, Pundit Nain Singh, Heinrich Harrer, Fanny Parkes, Dharamvir Bharati, Arundhathi Subramaniam, Rahul Sankrityayan, Amitav Ghosh, Jawaharlal Nehru, Frank Smythe, Paul Brunton, Edmund Hillary, Mark Twain, Sarat Chandra Das, Dom Moraes, Manjushree Thapa – and the two editors themselves (Ruskin Bond and Namita Gokhale) – in an unparalleled panorama.

Amma’s emotions swing like the ascents and descents captured in the book. She holds the books to her heart and looks up at me through tear-rimmed eyes.

These two Ruskin Bond books are ‘adult’ books that trigger pure child-like emotions of glee and joy. That’s our Bond for you. The octogenarian can touch the heart of a 77-year-old and make her rejoice like a child, age crumbling at her feet.

On my visit in the evening, I am greeted by the two books lying on the centre table, now lovingly encased in transparent jackets. Cover credits: Appa.

“Open, open,” Amma urges. I open one of the books to the first page. Written on the top of the page in shaky black ink are the date and my name.

Is this my gift to Amma or hers to me? I am still choking.

Meanwhile, far away up in the mountains, as the moon hangs out of his window, a little man smiles in his sleep for the two happy hearts that flutter in eternal gratitude.  http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-bond-with-ruskin/article19699275.ece

Unbinding the bindi, and giving it a new spot …The Hindu, April 9, 2017

The dot that encompasses within it a whole range of messages and meanings, seems set to write a fresh story each day

Had Elizabeth Gilbert visited Tamil Nadu’s capital during the Chennai city phase of her ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ quest, her word for the city would have been ‘bindi’, or ‘pottu’ in local lingo. Indeed, generations of venerable values and touchy traditions jostle for space in the bright red circle that fetters womanhood in this part of the world.

It sits in austere fortitude on a woman’s forehead. A warning to ward off every conceivable evil. A good omen for the entire household this dot was. Equally ominous was its absence. Conspicuous, with a foreboding of dark shadows. The red dot played myriad roles – chaperone, caste flag, religious icon… If the red dot was absent from its established position in the middle of the forehead at the time of the evening lighting of the sacred lamp, almost the entire household would launch itself into a harangue.

An alarm would go off. Frantic cries would echo.

“Why is your forehead blank?” would be followed by an admonition on how bad a portent it was for the entire family. “Only widows have a blank forehead,” the rant would continue. To worsen things, there came the wringer, “Is the household in mourning or what?”

Usually, it would be the women in a sprawling household, other than the unmarked one, who raise such a hue and cry. Because the men were lords of few words. At times like these, even wordless. They glared at the colourless forehead, grunted in disapproval, stared accusingly at the other women lurking in the shadows for having allowed such a mishap to occur, and walked off in the assurance that the message had been duly conveyed.

In all this commotion, no one noticed the full bow-shaped lips that quivered in fright or the doe eyes that glistened with guilt. Even the shapely eyebrow that arched every once in a while in mockery of the things people said went unnoticed. The bindi stole the show always. Even in its absence.

The red dot screamed ‘Stop’. Thoughts, ideas, naughty and otherwise, genuflected before the ruling red dot. Arrest! it seemed to say.

The cross-over

All that was before the attraversiamo, as Ms. Gilbert would have said. Today, young Chennai has crossed over. A blank slate is what the new forehead looks like. To write a fresh new story every single day. To define life on personal terms. Free thinking flows across the uninterrupted broadened mind as it does through the city’s temple-bordered lanes.

Ample bare foreheads are seen everywhere — at bulging bus stops, inside the cool interiors of towering glass facades that hold bright engineering minds, in homes adorned by intricate rice flour designs at the doorstep.

In place of the timid, shackled countenances stand bright bursts of confidence, eyes sparkling with life and lips pursed in steely determination. The TamBram forehead attracts no more attention than any other.

So, has the red dot been dispatched disgracefully? Quite the contrary. It holds a more enhanced place of pride today. Because now the red dot is there by choice. And neither is it always red nor always round.

It is a choice. Where there is choice, can freedom be far behind? The choice ranges from special occasions, special attire, to expression of special moods. The choice has helped the bindi evolve from the mundane vermilion powder to a coloured liquid in a slim bottle to shapely velvet cut-offs on a sticker that can be stuck to the forehead in a blink and can be peeled off just as quickly, unlike its former self that always left behind tell-tale scars from the past.

Chennai today boasts of bespoke bindis that reflect the creative streak in the artsy wearer and etches a special image of class in a city that is often touted as a cultural citadel of the country. Colour-coordinating the bindi with the rest of the attire is not uncommon, shaking the bedrock of the ethos of the erstwhile red pottu.

Style statement. That’s what the bindi lends the forehead. As styles change so do the bindi’s shape, colour and size. In the world of fashion, no style is also a style. So too with the bindi.

The bindi is no longer short for ‘binding’. But a colour and a shape that can be moved around as freely as the salty breeze blowing over the Marina Beach.

Agreed that Incredible India without the red dot would be bland. But that would not make India any less incredible, would it?

An empty nester’s saga

Motherhood throws surprises at every turn. A friend ripened in experience, once told me jokingly, “motherhood is a journey of never ending discoveries.”

Nowadays are times when I couldn’t agree more.

It’s a week since the night my only child turned and waved to me before the airport doors slid shut.  He shot one last glance at me, forcing his pursed lips to smile. I saw he was battling with an inexplicable emotion.  I craned my neck to watch through misty eyes as he got sucked into the whirlpool of travellers.  All alone, he got done with each step of the airport processes, and with each step he moved farther from me.

I had six months to get ready for this moment. I thought I would do well. But nothing readies you for the sorrow of parting. The grit and determination I had built block upon block crumbled like a pile of ash as held me in a tight embrace and whispered in my ear, “take care Mom”.

From the time the letter announcing his admission into his dream institute arrived to the frenzied days of making packing lists and shopping trips, my emotions turned turbulent. There were enough sessions of laughter, irritation, and of course the unannounced downpour of tears. During these months I tried being a stay-at-home-mom for a while, but to everyone’s chagrin I failed miserably to keep ‘smother’ at bay from ‘mother’.

When hubby and I returned home from the airport in the wee hours, a gush of vacuum gripped my core. I could feel hubby too falter in his step. We exchanged glances and reassuring smiles and pretended to get busy about preparing to sleep.

We lay in bed staring up at the ceiling. He broke the silence first. “It’s going to be alright,” he said almost to himself.

“It’s going to be alright, but it will never be the same again,” I replied softly.

And that’s the essence of it all.

We will be alright. Eventually we will get occupied in the business of living. But, nothing will be the same again.  And, it is this that the heart laments.

The age-old resistance to change was rearing its ugly head again. Suddenly my boy is on his own to make a life for himself. It’s the starting of a new phase. The old ways will give way to new. No more of those evenings of chatter and banter. No more bickering over late nights…no more this…no more that.

His room is too tidy for comfort.  I long to see the mess on his table and clothes piling up on his study chair. My eyes long to see him sprawled on his bed, his eyes devouring a book.  I long for those weekend afternoons when we would remain at the table long after the lunch plates had dried, as he regaled us with his office stories.

73d884a460ff4dee89078094a628750a

Memories are God’s gift. And like the powers that be, they are omnipresent.

In the last week I made a pact with myself.  While I would allow myself to fondly recall the growing up years of my boy, I shall not lament. The sadder I will be, the worse he would feel, I chide myself. Instead I envelope myself in the pride of being a mother to a young man who has set afoot on a journey of self-discovery.

In a note to me before he left, my son wished for me to be happy and to lead the life I want. He wished for me to excel in my career and spend time pursuing my passion. He wished that his father and I would spend time together doing the things we love doing. “Without guilt”, he had added. This is my mission. Children are constantly beseeched to make their parents proud. As a parent, I want to return the favour. I want to continue to lead a life of productivity and positivity. I want to be able to tick off the items on my bucket list. I want to continue doing the things that make me happy. I want to lead by example so that when technology brings the chatter and banter back every evening, I want my son to feel the excitement in my life, just as I feel the excitement in his.

images (16)

I want my son to know that it’s ok to be homesick at times. I want him to know that he can let his guard down every once in a while and tell me that he misses me, and I will not melt into a pool of tears and book a seat on the next flight.  If I want to make it easy for him, I have to be happy.

I am going to show him how he and I can be truly happy, so what if we are under a different sky.

f37cdeddeb1aa1f827e8f039f9c8e5ef

Submission

To whom ought I submit?

To a heart that yearns for the call of the mountains. To a heart that beat wildly at the first mention of the life beyond the mundane. To a heart that was poised to take the greatest leap of faith.

Or to filial affliction. To voices of deep concern. To faces worn by distress. Doubtful ifs and buts are already snuffing out the dying embers of joy.

My heart weakens and crumbles in submission to the latter. I relentlessly dig the grave – to put my feeble heart to rest.  After several enduring hours the pit is still not deep enough. I squeeze my heart, heartlessly folding in its flapping wings. I stuff it into the pit and hurriedly start shovelling the mud over my wailing heart.

Alas, it won’t stay.

What’s cooking?

What’s cooking?

The first night without my cook seems daunting. She’s going to be gone for a week. I walk around to the stakeholders at home. What shall I make for dinner? is my intermittent injection to return-home-from-work conversations.

“Anything” is never an apt answer to this question and never will be. In fact it is the best provocation for a war of words when accompanied by a shrug of the shoulder. For reasons yet unknown the response is doubly exasperating when mouthed by the male of the species.

In a classic of turn of events no war ensues this evening. Instead, a spirit of culinary bonhomie whisks our appetite for one another. Let’s make something together we chorus.

The library shelf is flung open and recipe books are dug out from behind the self-development repertoire. The chefs comprise two of us on the wrong side of 40 and one on the wronged side of 20. We strive to keep our discussions as succulent as those on Master Chef. From deep inside the Matt in us springs alive. When enthusiasm boils over adequately we march to the place of action each clear about their area of operation.

The kitchen is abuzz. Cabinet doors swing open and shut. The fridge heaves a sigh of relief as several residents are evicted giving her breathing space. Jars pop open, pots and pans clank in anticipation.

For that one hour in the kitchen our lives blend into a healthy fulfilling smoothie.  We waltz to a gastronomic background score. The whistling cooker, the spluttering sesame, the sizzling jacketed baby potatoes, the beeping microwave, the bout of sneezing and coughing when the chilli flakes burn to death in hot oil. The sharp aroma of chilli vinegar adds the right amount of zing to the evening. The gentle brush of the elbows, a quick hug and peck when the simmering gravy acquires the colour and texture as described in the recipe. A spoonful of this and a spoonful of that lovingly make their way to my mouth for an expert opinion. The flavours burst on my tongue. My eyes close. I am locking the moment for life.

The otherwise reticent young man chats away as he lovingly pours the dressing over the crunchy greens. We are suddenly treated to a sneak preview of our son’s elusive life.

The flame rekindles as I glance at my man working clumsily on a juicy onion through teary eyes. On instinct I almost reach across to grab the knife and get it over and done with the onion. But I stop myself in time from ruining a beautiful love story.

Four nights pass in quick succession. The story repeats each night – the rousing foreplay leafing through recipes, followed by the indulgent lovemaking, and the fitting climax at the dining table.

I can now authoritatively say because it’s tried and tasted. Sometimes having a cook can spoil the broth. A family that cooks together laughs together.

Leaving on a jet plane

Leaving on a jet plane.

Leaving on a jet plane

Leaving on a jet plane…

 

I love these days. The countdown to the big day has come down to five. I am a sucker for reverse counting. Don’t know if this happens to you, but I can get more done on my to-do-list a few days before I leave on a vacation. The energy keeps flowing like P.C. Sarcar’s Water of India. While we in the audience would never know from where this incessant supply of water comes, like most other things in a magic show, I know from where my endless energy springs.

 

Vacations. Aha…it starts with a desperate plea flung around the house by its inmates of varying dimensions “Need a break.” The wishful expressions over meal times of heavenly destinations and paradisiacal (did I just create this word?) locales rise to a crescendo of heated arguments that get flattened by practical considerations of dwindling bank balances.

 

The next port of call is the settlement of dates. Clash of the titans. This permanently-reclining-on-the-settee piece of teenage lard suddenly has bursting-at-the-seams calendar appointments for every date proposed. Hubby takes care to work around all our business commitments. His beacon is the blinking cheapest airfare on his laptop monitor. He stares at it as a doctor would at the ECG monitor of a sinking patient. I am the least fussy. My requirement starts and ends in one single statement. My vacation has to coincide with my maid’s annual vacation. She goes, I go. She returns, I return.

 

This barricade crossed, the frantic bookings begin. This is a veritable battle. I don’t know why we end up doing this, but always, always, we plan our vacation on the exact dates when the whole world plans theirs. Frustration leads to temper tantrums. The teen is unfazed, either way. He moves enough to shove his shoulders a wee bit. It’s a shrug I guess.

 

But, it’s not fair that I crib. We’ve always been lucky with our bookings. This time is no exception. Of course, with a slight tweaking of the plan here and there, the ground work is done. Hubby and I are as excited as puppies. The teen’s shrug is accompanied by a hint of a smile.

 

In the long two-month wait to the big day, the vacation is not even a blur. Mind space is taken up by the drudgery of everyday existence. But it all begins to come back a fortnight to the event.  And then the countdown comes down to five. This is when productivity peaks. To-do-lists get longer, but energy flows abundantly. Images of the vacation zoom celluloid size in the mind. While the regular work does get done anyway, packing lists get onto post-its. Suddenly we have no suitable clothes. Our overflowing closets seem to have all the unwanted stuff. So several quick trips to the mall are made. Pack light is the injunction thrown at us by dear hubby. Airlines have restricted baggage allowances, he warns in a defeated refrain.

 

Arguments ensue on the choice of bags. But they are not as drawn out as the ones with the teen to get him to at least review his packing list. Time is ticking away, but not for him. Last but the most important item on my to-do list is the visit to the salon for getting it right on the vacation snaps. I splurge on that annual hair spa, the lavish facial…everything is fair in vacation times.

 

The eve of departure is the maddest time. A last minute review of the packing list reveals rude shocks. Son has packed his two cell phones, chargers, ipod, speakers, rechargeable batteries, earphones, and a pile of unlaundered clothes. He has forgotten undergarments and night wear. Not good to lose temper on the threshold of a vacation. I steel myself and sit in his room supervising the repacking.

 

The night before the early morning departure seems endless. Finally, we are ready. Bags are packed and stand in a neat file in the living room. Suddenly, all tension eases. We are cracking jokes and laughing nuts, even the reticent teen. We make a riot. We are teetering on hysteria.

 

Funny how vacations can get you out of bed without the alarm ringing the death knoll in your ears. Showered and ready, we are at the door, dressed up in vibrant vacation spirit.

 

We are leaving on a jet plane…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arnabism…cannot miss reading this!

An Editor explains ‘Arnab Goswami’ to an NRI

19 November 2013

13-copy2

***

picture-20For most TV news consumers, Arnab Goswamiis both a name and a phenomenon. But there are still large parts of the world to be conquered by Times Now‘s bulldog of an inquisitor.

B.V. Rao, editor of Governance Now, explains the name and the phenomenon to a childhood friend who lives in Canada.

***

Dear Sharada

Sometime ago during a Googlegroup discussion you innocently asked: “But who is Arnab?”.

In India not knowing Arnab is against national interest. You are lucky you live in Canada. But if you don’t want to be deported on arrival on your next visit, you better pay attention to this complimentary crash course on the subject.

Arnab, as in Arnab Goswami, is India’s most-watched prime time news anchor and editor-in-chief of Times Now*. But designations don’t even begin to describe him or what he is famous for.

You must have heard about hurricanes Katrina andSandy. Arnab is also a storm, a news-storm that hits India every night via his show, the “Newshour”. Nobody is quite sure how, but somehow Arnab gets to know the questions that the “whole nation” wants answers for, or the sinners the nation wants hanged before midnight that night.

In effect then, Arnab speaks for a “billion-plus people” each time he takes centre-stage.

I can’t say for sure if he took this burden upon himself voluntarily or if his employers made it a contractual obligation. Whatever it is, the fact is that Arnab has come to relish asking the most “simple and direct” questions to the most dubious people demanding instant answers to complex problems because the “nation wants to know” and it wants to know “tonight” as in right now.

That’s how impatient India has become while you’ve been away, Sharada.

***

The Newshour airs on weekdays from 9 pm and continues till Arnab’s pleasure lasts. Often the show stretches up to 10.50 pm. That’s actually “News hour-and-three-quarters-and-then-some” but I guess Arnab has not asked himself a “simple, direct” question: how many minutes make an hour?

That, or his primary school maths teacher is not his viewer. In which case it is safe to say Arnab speaks for a billion-plus minus one Indians.

You will see that at the altar of national interest it is not just the hour that is stretched.

About two decades ago, Dileep Padgaonkar was the editor of the Times of India owned by the Jains of Bennett & Coleman who also own Times Now. Padgaonkar had pompously proclaimed that he held the second most important job in the country after the prime minister’s.

Arnab hasn’t said it, but I think he disagrees with Padgaonkar on the pecking order:  it’s now the prime minister who holds the second most important job in the country.

Hence Arnab runs the show like he would run the country or like the prime minister should but doesn’t.

You see, Sharada, there’s an awful lot of stuff the nation wants to know by nightfall but our prime minister isn’t much of a talker. Arnab fills the need gap. He opens his show with a passionate agenda-setting preamble that spells out all the problems of the day and how he wishes to solve them. We gratefully receive this wisdom and call it Arnab’s Address to the Nation, a prime ministerial duty that has fallen on his broad shoulders because the real guy has abdicated it.

***

Let me tell you this, however. Arnab is a very reluctant power-grabber. It is not his intent to upstage the prime minister or make him look silly.

He gives the prime minister an entire day to prove his worth and gets to work only at 9 pm when it is clear that the latter can’t handle stuff.

He then solves all outstanding national issues of the day in just one 110 minute-hour of feverish debates where he grills the skin off the back of everybody who dares to stand in the way of India’s national interest.

He is unrelenting in his pursuit of the truth and doesn’t give up unless everybody has agreed with him.

“I am worried”, “I am concerned”, “I won’t let you politicise”, “I don’t agree”, “you can’t get away….” are some of the phrases he uses to suggest he is in complete control and that endears him to a nation starved of decision-makers.

Arnab hates home work. He wants to settle everything here and now, tonight. As a result, in Arnab country, there is no trace of the policy paralysis that has grounded the prime minister in the real country. Here you get resolutions, decisions, orders, diktats, judgements, justice and denouements all in one place, one show, by one man.

***

The only people paralysed are the subjects of his grilling and the bevy of experts he gathers around himself, not because he needs them, he doesn’t, but because it must feel awfully good to invite experts and out-talk them on national prime time.

Like confused baboons trapped in little boxes, the experts, who are neatly arranged around Arnab’s own imposing self in the centre of the screen, keep staring into nothingness most of the time.

Yes, you get the drift, Sharada, Arnab is the main dish here. The rest are just intellectual dips.

For most of their airtime the experts keep putting up their hands or calling out “Arnab….Arnab….” to indicate they want to make a point. Arnab is too engrossed in disagreeing with what he has not allowed them to say to care too much.

Some clever guests try to appeal to his Assamese roots by hailing “Ornob…Ornob”. He ignores them as well.

Nationalism, after all, is above parochialism. The cleverer among them have cracked the code: they just agree with Arnab in exchange for a little extra air time. These are usually the people who have paid close attention to Arnab’s Address to the Nation and picked up the right cues on what to say that will get them his benefaction.

It is tough to figure out why Arnab needs any experts at all because he knows the answers to all his questions. Times Now insiders say that more often than not he finds questions to the answers he already has. On his show, politicians can’t politicise, bureaucrats can’t beat around the bush, sportspersons can’t play games and lawyers can’t use legalese.

In fact anybody who is good at something can’t do what they are known to do, to the extent that even civil society can’t be civil, especially if it wants to get a word in sideways. Everybody has to be direct, honest, blunt and keep things simple because that is what the (one-man) nation wants.

***

Corruption, political expediency, opportunism, forked tongues, doublespeak, dishonesty and hypocrisy, are red rags to Arnab. He takes them head-on with the help of his reporters who keep throwing up “documentary” evidence ever so often to expose scamsters.

Usually this is a thick sheaf of indistinguishable papers that Arnab holds up threateningly. It could be a bunch of used airline e-tickets for all we know, but since we don’t, he waves the sheaf confidently in the face of the enemies of the nation and it is generally assumed he’s got some incendiary stuff in there.

Arnab’s problem-solving repertoire is not restricted to national boundaries. In fact, he is at his best when dealing with nations that have evil designs on India. The patriot in Arnab is best aroused when he is dealing with that evil, failed, rogue nation called Pakistan.

He deals with Pakistan like no prime minister has ever been able to or decimates it like no Army has ever managed to. Each time a blade of grass bends to the breeze on the LoC, Arnab breathes fire at Pakistan for trying to sneak in terrorists into the country. He lines up a battery of serving and retired generals of Pakistan and conducts the verbal equivalent of a summary execution.

Yet, the same generals keep resurfacing on Arnab’s show each time he feels the urge to have a Pakistani or two for dinner. This causes much wonderment among Newshour hounds on the masochist streak that makes the Pakistani generals offer themselves up as bait repeatedly.

So, it is assumed the money must be good. But since Arnab insists that Pakistan is the way it is only because the generals have sold their country cheap, it is unlikely he is blowing his budget for this routine cross-border target practice. Of course, left to Arnab Pakistan would have existed only as the largest crater on earth since the meteors wiped out all life on the planet. Yes, he would have nuked it many times over by now.

The Times of India, the country’s oldest English newspaper and the mother brand from the Times Now stable runs Aman Ki Aasha (Hope for Peace), the widely-acclaimed campaign for ending India-Pakistan hostilities.

Just as Arnab doesn’t seem to know of this campaign, the Times of India seems quite oblivious of the fact that the last time there was absolute peace on the LoC was when Arnab took a two-week holiday in early September. It could be the marketing genius of the Times group to milk the issue from both ends or it could also be that their internal boundaries are not as porous as our LoC.

Apart from conducting war exercises against Pakistan, Arnab land is eyeball-to-eyeball with China, exposes the double standards of America in almost anything it does and highlights the hypocrisy of racist Australia which loves the education dollars from India but not the brown students who come along with.

His blood boils so much when an old Sikh is roughed up by a bunch of racist women in the UK that he almost gets the whole of Punjab to rise in revolt against the Indian government’s inaction–even though there is nothing it can do as the gentleman is a citizen of the said country–or builds a tide of emotional revulsion against “inhuman” Norway for snatching an infant from his Indian mother’s custody for alleged physical abuse.

I can go on and on, Sharada, but everything good must come to an end and so must my Arnab eulogy.

***

So, in short and in conclusion, here’s what I have to say: Arnab is not just the editor-in-chief of Times Now. He’s India’s protector-in-chief. He is the guy who is keeping India safe while you are away on selfish pursuits. You are lucky you can get away by not knowing him.

For a billion-plus Indians,minus of course his maths teacher, that is not even a distant option. Because, truth told, Arnab is the best we have got!

B.V. Rao

%d bloggers like this: