Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ab Bus!

How do you spell a sound?

That was the first question I asked myself this evening as I boarded an air conditioned bus- Vayu Vajra -loosely (and badly) translated as 'Throne of the Wind'- at the Bangalore Airport. Clutching Cool Blue- a drink I'd long coveted but never got down to having, I settled myself in a window seat and wondered. Words like tch, humph, duh, tut- tut, eh- all sounds we make to express ourselves- are perfectly captured in the spellings of those words. I remember marvelling at tch in particular- whoever came up with that spelling did a wonderful job in adding the t. There must be a method to coming up with these spellings one would think.

No one has yet managed to spell the sound one makes while sucking the last drops of liquid from a glass of crushed ice. A sound that never fails to annoy and frequently infuriate, for people of my ilk who love that sound, we do not have a properly spelt word for it. And that was the task I set myself aboard BIAS 11.

One never really gets used to buses I think. Being cooped up in an enclosed space with utter strangers and sharing a common destiny until you or they disembark, or the bus blows up, or has an accident where either all live or all die or some live and some don't, never quite weighs easily on anyone- no matter how nonchalant they are. And especially if it is air conditioned and comfortable, one's thoughts invariably turn to different things.

Shhh! could be a possible sound for it I propose to myself. Eh. It does not accurately depict the gurgling noise water makes when it is pulled by vacuum through a straw into one's mouth. Besides it is an exhaled word which could not possibly capture inhalation.

I watch as an interesting mix of people tumble into the bus. First up is a girl with someone who is presumably her boyfriend. They have the hesitancy of a new romance- not without charm in its naivete. As there are no other seats, the guy sits down next to me and the girl in front of him.

Now to most guys- barring the ones who have attained sexual sainthood at 24- the sight of a couple stirs up a curious mixture of thought. There is a moment of wistfulness- memories of past glories, flashes of what could have been, what should have been - all pass by in a blur of images- a moment of weakness we hastily chastise ourselves for. This then gives way to scorn and superiority- pretending we have more important things going on in our life and that women are naught but a waste of time right now. All this while we know that deep down we want what they have with a girl we'll never get. That last sentence is a betrayal of my race- by acknowledging that guys too are privy to flashes of envy when it has nothing to do with our careers. Because NEVER do we acknowledge this feeling- not even to ourselves.

Swiiissshhh? Tch! That does not seem to work either. At all. Too disconnected from the spirit of the thing. Besides it is a word that already exists, so it will not be recognised (by whom is a question that we won't ask right now).

There is a cacophony of sounds in the bus. A middle aged gentleman has just discovered the joy there is in rhythmically slapping one's hand against one's thigh while listening to music. Either that or he is practising some masochistic ritual listening to adult erotica. I really hope it is the former. From behind comes a loud snore- like an elephant with its trunk blocked with mucus. There is the beep-beep of someone getting a message. It goes in an astonishing rhythm- Snore-clap-msg-snore-clap-msg-snore-clap-msg. On and on till the regularity is broken by the sudden cutting of of a snore- like when you realise in your sleep that you're snoring and try to stop suddenly.

An air hostess sits with perfect posture in one of the seats- her eyes full of nothingness.

The bus conductor comes to collect ticket fare. The guy next to me knows only Hindi and in a hesitant low tone asks for a ticket to Sadashivnagar. The conductor's eyebrows disappear into his hair and with a faint curl of the lip he answers. What I wonder must go through his mind when he has to use Hindi or English. Does he inwardly laugh at the pitiful tourists lost in the maze of another tongue twisting South Indian language? Does he shake his (figurative) head at how Kannadigas are being depleted from this great state of his? And does he plot that one day he will reclaim his state from the invaders?

By which time he has moved on to a nice old man in a beige shirt talking on the phone. I'm cringing listenting because he is valiantly ploughing thorough 'the Hindi', in the process conforming to the worst South Indian stereotype there is- the Southie who speaks bad Hindi. Through endless maine bukaar ta and maine jaldi aaya, he finally ends with a triumphant humma gar ko jara hoo and puts me out of my misery and my clandestine South Indian hating self breathes a sigh of relief.

Sheeesshh? Tut-Tut. Pitiful. There has to be a 'c' somewhere I think. The spelling does not work without a 'c'.

Particle physics is being discussed at length by two guys right in the front. They seem to be good friends.

In the reflection in the window to my left I see my neighbour leaning forward and whispering something in his girlfriend's ears. She throws her head back and laughs. A twinge of envy notwithstanding, I force myself to read my book- Orhan Pamuk's The White Castle.

Finally my stop arrives. The particle physics blokes and I get off the bus. As I get off and the bus passes me, I see the girl's face in profile- in my vacated seat. She's laughing again with her head thrown back- with the guy's hand around her shoulder. And next to me, the particle physics blokes have reached some sort of agreement to the problem they were discussing. Raising a mock toast, 'To Hari and Ehsaan, best friends forever!' they shout in corny fashion.

And I realise- to my self loathing embarassment- that even in an unremarkable, soon-to-be-forgotten bus trip, some things strangely never change. That even in today's cynical, modernist times, the same old love and friendship are merry flags on the arctic wilderness of our calendars.

Schwirrsch. I think that's it.

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Monday, March 22, 2010


Let me state for the record- I absolutely loathe American Idol. Except for Kelly Clarkson. And I absolutely detest Britain's Got Talent except for the one moment where Susan Boyle was discovered.
The very word 'Idol' is a little insulting. To christen someone 'Indian Idol' or 'American Idol' smacks a little of a smug belief that we have no other choice but to accept these people as our 'idols'. Because if the TV honchos had their way, we wouldn't want idols who weren't from the mess of Reality TV.
Yes- that does sound like commie propoganda. And I was just being nasty- I don't even mean it. So I'll stop that.

Clarkson's Addicted from her in my opinion soon-to-be-iconic Breakaway album reconfirmed what I'd long believed- that real music is good old ROCK. Dark, addictive and thrilling. And although the-well 'chick' song Breakaway is obscenely popular, it is Addicted where you here the full vocal range of Ms. Clarkson. And it is stunning.

To any fan of Retro rock - and we seem to be a dying breed- shows like American Idol are like being force fed Norbit or Ram Gopal Varma ki Aag. Nauseatingly sweet with cherubic people converting all genres into bland imitations of Whitney Houston or Celine Dion- this monstrously popular show goes above our heads. 'Where's character?' we snobbishly ask, revelling in the halo of the (insufferable) know-it-alls that we think we are. 'Why isnt there more emphasis on vocals rather than making it into a fashion show where everyone has to look good?'

Reality TV is- in the words of Simon Cowell- complete and utter rubbish. Any self respecting person methinks would find something else to see, or smoke.

Note- the word 'methinks'. If only 90% of the TV viewing public thought so too. Ah the joy....

Anyway- all these problems I have with what is REALLY wrong with the world notwithstanding, I caught the repeat telecast of the top 12 of American Idol Season 9 today. And if you're wondering how I know such details despite claiming to hate Idol and never follow it- well I did read up a little for this post so I'm going to pretend I'm the only authority on music I know and say what I think. Not about everyone, but some which I'll remember.

Why you may ask. Why did I see it? The answer is quite simple really- The Rolling Stones.

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards may be overhyped to the point of hysteria, but there is no denying that they were probably one of the greatest (although such sweeping statements make little sense) if not the greatest rock bands ever. And I read somewhere online about it being 'ROLLING STONES NIGHT' instead of just 'Rolling Stones Night' and I thought- How bad could it really get?

Turned out- it could and it did. They murdered The Rolling Stones. Except for two of them.

Michael Lynch- the 'Big Mike' of reality (cf The Blind Side) Sang Miss You. But not before we had a mandatory faux emotional clip- easily one of the most detestable things about Idol. I mean come on. There is no need to concoct a 'story' about every participant- in a pompous cynical attempt to sell the American dream. I mean isn't it remotely possible that every singer does not have some tale of woe and unbearable struggle behind him? And from what I hear from people who are devoted Idol followers, he was auditioning when his wife was in labour. Now how that is admirable escapes me, it really does. I just don't get it.

Anyway- He actually began Miss You pretty decently with the almost falsetto tone- and then it ended up being some amateurish copy of Jagger. He made it into an R&B song. WHY? And not in a nice way. And the dancing- oh the dancing. It was so bad that you actually wanted to put him out of his misery. Or in a Medical College Hostel to rag.

It went on and on- an endless parade of mediocrity with the cold murders of classics like Play With Fire, It's All Over Now, Ruby Tuesday, and Gimme Shelter. I know it is a reality show- but these guys are so shudderingly mediocre I don't think I would buy an album of theirs even if they paid me to do it. And one among these is supposed to be the next big thing in music? Well- figures. If Taylor Swift can sweep the Grammys, anything's possible.

But then came this girl Siobhan Magnus with Paint it Black. One of those songs I can fall down and worship you know. And that girl did something with it that was truly stunning. An incredible performance- with the drama, the acting and an incredible voice with the kind of vocal acrobatics only great singers can do. I think I can actually see her doing any type of song with the range she has. Including the scream. While not perfect, it was still pretty darned impressive. Hers is an album I might actually buy.

Wild Horses was blah, Under my Thumb- grotesque as a reggae number (again- WHY?).

Angie was interestingly good. Almost achingly so. Aaron Kelly was spot on with this song.

You Can't Always Get What You Want was actually pretty solid. That's all. No more, no less.

Oh and the judges. Randy Jackson seems to have precisely three words in his oh-so-proud-of-it-it's-ghetto!! vocabulary- Dawg, Hot, Pitchy. And he seems to use them with grating regularity.

I mean this in the nicest possible way- Kara Dioguardi should be given to Sauron or Lord Voldemort as a chew toy. The woman's crazy. No two ways about it. Talking about 'feeling' the song and 'You are too young to know what the Vietnam war's about'. It's a song for crying out loud. She cannot judge it on its merits- she's always looking for subtext. Which even if the singer has, she is too dense to detect. All you get is a condescending nod. Somebody fix her antennas and put her out to pasture.

To be fair, Ellen Degeneres was hilarious. Her 'People like me- Blondes- don't like good looking guys' bit was really funny if only in an obvious kind of way.

Simon and Siobhan Magnus were the only good things about the show. You get a sneaky feeling that Simon is really a 70's rock person too. And he didn't like this death march of that genre.

I do not mention Ryan Seacrest because we talk only of people who count. Not those lucky people who earn millions being silly and forgettable.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Fear and Lust

A look of disgust invariably crosses my face when I stand in front of the entrance. What with a glass door, subtly lit veneer walls, the depressingly dull blue stripes on the seat covers and frosted glass in the distance-all signs that scream SUCCESS- the first thought that crosses my mind is Dude this guy must be rich! And not you-and-me rich. More of the fancy car driving, spoiling-the-child kind of rich achiever that makes me sick with the way people have commercialised their talents. No- that isn't right, there's a simpler, altogether more descriptive word for it- sick with ENVY.

Well, I snobbishly think to myself- Atleast I'm an intellectual. I have Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk's celebrated novel My Name is Red in my hand- holding it casually with my finger inside making sure everyone can see the title printed in big red letters. To hell with the air conditioning, the pretty-(actually radiant)- secretary biting her pencil trying to figure out the supremely difficult task of who goes in next, all the time blissfully unaware of the fact that her blouse is too tight and things are playing peek-a-boo. It's then- in the midst of this hide and seek that I wonder why she's playing these devious sexual games with me here of all the places. And it's then that I hear a disapproving cough coming from the toady mouth of an overdressed, overweight high society type who gives me the head to toe look. Cool, I think- maybe she's a cougar checking me out- and then her upper lip curls in disdain when she sees that I'm wearing fading, ancient jeans, a dirty grey T shirt and Woodland footwear so discoloured that it's original colour is unrecognizable.

I sit down between my would be cougar lover and the secretary who's obviously so into me that she knows her top button's open and the- well- twins seem to be much bigger than when I last saw them. She's had a boob job done just for me! If that isn't true love, if that isn't the sweet, innocent love that lit doyen Keats- or was it Playboy- wrote about, then I don't know what is.

Well I think- maybe this visit isn't going to be so bad. I've found someone who's ready to enhance herself for me- that can never be a bad thing.

Absolute power is terrible. There are places where you are so completely under someone's control- and this I don't mean in a wink-wink way- that you just can't do a fucking thing. All you can do is to lie down and take it. Even the Queen of England has to submit body and soul to this man once a year. He enjoys men, women, children, virgins- there's no end to his escapades. And what's worse, even in these days of laws and civilization, this ancient profession exists. And thrives.

And then the moment of truth arrives. It's time for me to get mine. The frosted door opens and there he stands- a balding, short paunchy man- the same man who just had a session with my sister the previous day- and he points to me and beckons. The secretary gets up. My eyes travel down to discover to my horror that she's pregnant. And that I'd been ogling a pregnant much married woman.

Fear. That's what it is. Fear of the unthinkable. Fear- that makes you think all kinds of stuff.

And I go in. And the door closes.

And it is then that the dentist hands me a glass of water and says Rinse.
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