December 13, 2014

Watch out for pickpockets

"Do you plan to visit Barcelona?", they asked me, perhaps noticing the blue and maroon stripes that protruded from below my jacket.
I nodded, excitedly.
"Watch out for pickpockets."
I found it a bit strange that this was the first piece of advice they had to offer. Coming from a group of Spaniards in Germany, that I had just met, over a game of football, I had expected them to give me a list of iconic football destinations worth visiting in Spain. Or at least, inside information about the local cuisine, or local drinks worth sampling. Anyway, I made a mental note.
"And, do you plan to watch a match at the Camp Nou?"
I smiled, my eyes pointing to said stripes, to reinforce the point.
One of them, presumably from Madrid, shook his head disapprovingly.


A few weeks later, a friend and I were on a Ryanair flight from Stuttgart. The whole thing seemed almost surreal; we were on our way to watch a La Liga match in Barcelona! 2 hours later, we touched down at Girona airport, but the excitement soon died down, as we realised that our destination was actually a further one hour bus journey away. We boarded the bus from Girona, and, one short nap later, found ourselves entering the heart of Barcelona, surrounded by Catalan flags, strategically constructed balconies and congested buildings. We got off the bus, and decided to take the metro to our hostel. As we entered the nearest metro station, I reluctantly put my wallet in my front pocket and then cringed inwardly.

Before we knew it, we were at Hostel One, Paralelo, where we were given a warm welcome by the amazing people there. The sweet lady at the reception told us that beer at the hostel cost one Euro, which was pretty much all we needed to know. To be honest, she did also tell us about the beaches of Barceloneta, the architecture at La Sagrada Familia and how to get to the Nou Camp, but all of that was purely incidental. After checking in, we ventured out into the city, for an evening of Sangria(a heady local cocktail), and Tapas(snacks intended to go along with alcohol and conversation, or, as in Malayali parlance, "touchings").

Still buzzing from the Sangria, it was soon time to head out for the match. Having purchased our tickets online, we had plenty of time to soak in the atmosphere around the stadium. In every direction, as far as the eye could see, there was some football merchandise on sale. Souvenir footballs, F.C. Barcelona memorabilia, football jerseys--it was a footballer's paradise. As we made the long walk up to our seats, it felt, for me, like the culmination of a football pilgrimage that had started late one night in India, watching with family, as Zidane scored those two perfect headers at the finals of France '98.

We finally entered the arena, to the majestic sight of the club motto, Mes que un club(more than a club), plastered proudly across the seats. It took a moment for that feeling to sink in---we were at the Nou Camp. The iconic stadium, that we had seen a million times before on TV, looked even more impressive in the flesh. The perfect pitch, that had witnessed the wizardry of "Fat Ronaldo", the elasticos of Ronaldinho, the bicycle kicks of Rivaldo and the trickery of other legends that went before them, looked even better that night than it did in the million Youtube videos we had watched while growing up. Naturally, the pitch was being watered as we entered, to suit the style of play that Barcelona had defined under Johan Cruyff, perfected under Guardiola and Rijkaard and stood by for so many decades. Long story short, the perfect settings provided the perfect social media photo op for thousands of spectators, including ourselves.

Thereafter, the match itself was fast-paced and the atmosphere in the stadium was pure magic, every time the Barcelona chant went up. With the South American trio of Neymar, Suarez and Messi leading the lines, Barcelona created many chances, but failed to convert. Celta Vigo then managed to score a scrappy goal to put the Blaugrana on the wrong side of a 1-0 scoreline and it eventually finished that way. I had played the match a million times in my head, and a hundred times on FIFA 2011, but it was never supposed to finish like that. Anyway, the unfortunate result did nothing to dampen our spirits; it had been the experience of a lifetime.                

The following day, it was obviously difficult to come down from the natural high of watching a live game, so we took the time off to relax along the beaches of Barceloneta, although constantly on the lookout for some fine mamacitas anyone playing football on the beach. On our way, we were greeted by the catchy, saxophone driven sounds of Latin Panas, a local band that had a swagger all their own. The strong jazz, rock, reggae and Latin influences combined with a funky street performance had the crowd grooving. For me, that would soon become the sound of Barcelona. With the tunes still ringing in my head, we were treated to the remarkable blue of the Mediterranean Sea at midday and the white sand of its beaches, from under the shade of its green palm trees, enhanced ever so slightly by the maroon of the Sangria.

Having heard so much about La Sagrada Familia by then, we had to see for ourselves what the fuss was all about. We set out the next morning, expecting to avoid the crowds, as it was a weekday. No such luck. A massive queue of irritable tourists had already built up around the entrance, like diabetic Malayalis around a TASMAC bar. However, one peek at the elaborate architecture of the gothic-looking church, and its eerie motifs was enough for us to realise that this was not for us. Fair enough, considering that we had been to our temple and watched our idols a couple of nights before.

Having stayed at Hostel One for close to a week by then, it was starting to feel like home. For starters, it was incredibly refreshing to stay at a place where not everything had a price tag or a receipt. It felt good to sit down for a nice homemade dinner every night with fellow travellers and share our stories. It felt even better, knowing that dinner was made by the residents and staff together, and that contributions were totally voluntary. Our last night at the hostel was made especially memorable by some chap who was checking out, and, not wanting to let a fine bottle of bourbon go to waste, had generously donated it to the hostel. Free alcohol notwithstanding, our Colombian chef diligently prepared the Tortilla de patatas(Spanish omelette) for the following day's breakfast, sharing the secrets of his recipe, recounting tales of his life in Colombia and the things that he loved about Barcelona, pausing only occasionally for a shot of the good stuff.   

We checked out the following day, and headed to the scenic beaches of Costa Brava. The day was spent aimlessly, sampling paella and mojitos from seaside resorts. The sun was beginning to set on our trip. I looked out one final time at the tireless, moonlit sea, thinking about the incredible pilgrimage that had just been completed. I had been warned of thieves in Barcelona, yet, the city had stolen my heart.

November 14, 2014

July 27, 2014

July 11, 2014

June 17, 2014

May 21, 2014

April 14, 2014

Won't get phooled again

That's it. I am now officially tired of this shit. To be honest, I thought I had got most of the rage out of my system with a previous post, but apparently, there was one more kind of advertising that I was grossly overlooking.

A few days back, on my way to office, I noticed several new banners on 100 Feet Road, lovingly stapled to every tree on that stretch, that read: "Thanks to our Hon'ble MLA for asphalting(tarring) work from Old Airport road to Old Madras Road". Quite a few things wrong with that, I thought to myself.

1. That's my fuckin' money
2. That's exactly what you were supposed to use it for
3. Why do you have shady photos of 2 dozen party workers on your posters?
4. Why do you have photos of retired leaders on your posters?

Anger managed for the time being, I continue further, along Inner Ring Road, where, all the banners seem to be projecting India's oldest surviving dynasty as India's only hope. RaGa smiles proudly from all the party banners, and the "hand" pokes me from every direction. Women's empowerment, some billboards scream. Main nahin, hum(not me, but we), others proclaim. Stability and Integrity, they suggest. We gave you RTI, others say.

Listen, don't try to sell me Fanta in a Dom Perignon bottle.

You are a disgrace to your founders and everything that they stood for. You are a disgrace to everyone who fought to drive the white man back, because you have only managed to replace the white man with a white woman. This accomplished puppet master may think that you will make a great leader someday, but the rest of the country is no longer interested in your political Mom&Me store. Sure, you might meet sixteen year old girls who might be impressed by your family name, and sixteen year old boys who might think your sister is cute, but trust me, the rest of the country has moved on. We no longer care who your dad was, who your mom is or who your grandmother was; we do care about how your brother-in-law seems to be getting so many favours. Your concerns about large-scale corruption in the past 10 years have been about as strong as Sunny Leone's concerns about her chastity. You have governed us for way longer than any other party, and yet, we haven't seen the slightest signs of improvement. Therefore, asking for 5 more years in power, to fix basic issues seems to me like Steven Seagal asking for the lead in Legally Blonde 3, to prove he can act.

Meanwhile, not too far away, I can sense a massive wave rising. India Shining, he says. Volunteer for India272+, Google ads say. Abki baar, NaMo Sarkaar, his workers say. All of his karyakartas swear by him, and he promises an unprecedented kind of rule, with more governance and less government. He has overseen a relatively stable government in Gujarat for more than a decade. Under him, Gujarat has become the leading solar power producer in India. During his tenure, the Tata Nano production plant was started in Gujarat. All of this is fine, but there are some major issues I must raise.

In an effort to win the elections, look at the boys he has been tying up with--a who's who of India's most powerful criminals, shady capitalists, backward thinking moral police, petty communal forces and utterly corrupt. Most of his communication is one way. "Mitron...", he starts, and most of his fanboys wet themselves. Even before the elections, he feels that he is answerable to no one. What are we to expect, post elections? The man still has a lot to answer for, but his silence on these issues is only revealing the orange Tantex banyan and khaki shorts he's hiding. The agenda of constructing a temple in Ayodhya sounds like something most rational Indians don't care about anymore. So what are the real issues and do we really need such a self-proclaimed Hindu nationalist to address these issues?

The core issue is that after 67 years of independence, we are still a mismanaged country. Infrastructure isn't where it should be. Population is beyond where it should be. Government Systems do not work as they were intended to, and undue complexity is added at every step of public service, to ensure that most of us remain clueless and foster corruption. We have thousands of such "leaky taps" all over the country.

Every 5 years, we have been calling in the experts to help fix this leak. This time, its no different. One candidate has a look at the leak, concludes that the tap is broken and needs to be replaced. He brings out a sparkling new tap called WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT & RTI TAP. Another candidate arrives on the scene, has a look at the leak and concludes that the tap has to be replaced with a glossy new one called GUJARAT MODEL TAP. He assures us that this one tap can fix every kind of leak across the country, regardless of local plumbing issues. A third guy arrives on the scene---educated, middle-class, rational, who says, "Boss, I am not a plumber. But scientific temper dictates that each of these leaks is different, and require a unique local solution. However, logical reasoning also tells me that the root of the problem is a damaged spindle. Now, I have no experience in fixing this kind of thing, and  I can't fix it myself. But let us buy a new spindle, and we can work together to fix it. How hard can it be?"

But his biggest problem, is us. "Do it yourself!" we say, "we have office from 10 to 4, and weekends are for family."

Isn't this maybe the root of our problems? Aren't we just waiting to make new political gods all the time? Do we really think that all the problems of our country can be fixed by one saviour with a catchy two-syllable nickname? Do we not see the need for a revolution(political or otherwise)? Do we not feel that we need to be a part of this revolution? Are we just a bunch of armchair intellectuals who are only bothered about raking in the dollars? Or are we just a bunch of status quoists who have identified a problem, but instead of fixing it, are trying to work our way around it?

In the meantime, some of you are saying: "Look at this so-called rational guy. He started fixing one tap but before it was complete, he quit the job to pursue a larger national contract. How can we trust him with bigger issues?" Of course, this was disappointing. Many people were surprised by his decision. It is definitely overambitious. Maybe as an engineer, he got accustomed to changing jobs every few months. But is it not a refreshing change from coalitions that remain in power even though they have no ideology in common? Is it not a refreshing change from corrupt mofos who refuse to step down in spite of having serious charges against them? Isn't issue-based support in politics a step in the right direction?

Yet others say, "What about the Ugandan women, boss?" That was a violation of minority rights and women's rights. Agreed. It was not India's proudest moment. It should never happen again. But what we do have to realise, is that no revolution has ever been perfect. We cannot go from where we are to a perfect utopia, in one perfect motion. There will be steps and mistakes. The French revolution had the guillotines. The American search for democracy had to address slavery. Europe still struggles with racism.

A third group says, "What is this guy's problem? Why can't he just govern quietly? Why does he have to sit on dharnas for every issue? Why can't he just play by the rules? Does he not respect the Constitution?"

Listen, boss. The Constitution was not written by a higher power. It does not contain any references to gravity, laws of motion, relativity, particle physics or other principles that bind our existence. It was written with the best intentions, but it has become an over-elaborate document that is symbolic of the unnecessary complexities in our system. And when our leaders and their decisions start to hide behind this document, it becomes a problem. Any effort to fix these problems may inconvenience us sometimes. After all, if you want a leaky tap fixed, you should be ready to go without water for a while. If you want to get a tetanus shot, you should be ready to let a chechi touch your bum.

So, on April 17th, when the chechi is ready, I will vote on issues and not dynasties or personalities. I will vote for inconvenient change over convenient stability. I will vote against 500 Crore Rupee makeovers. I will vote against fat capitalists and their political pawns. I will vote for the educated and against the corrupt. I will vote for grassroots development. I will think for myself and not be misled by propaganda. I will vote for substance over style. I will vote for an alternative, not a replacement. I will vote for Svaraj(self-rule). I will vote for the underdog. I will be optimistic, but not naive. Hand symbol? Sick my duck. Lotus symbol? Sorry, we won't get phooled again.

P.S.: Since it's gonna be a dry day, it would be nice if someone could arrange for a little Dom Perignon in a Fanta bottle.

March 30, 2014

More-ons 2.0

"More is a home that is ready to live in. More is not having to pay rent. More is a stop to landlord problems. More is the stability that comes with your own property. More is not waiting for years. More is knowing that anything you need is minutes away. More is a dip in a 9000 sqft. swimming pool. More is luxurious lakefront living. More is the ability to own a home at the age of 25. More is a terraced residence on Bangalore's only hill. You deserve more."

So convincing, I almost wired the money immediately to said housing agency. Because, lets face it, if you are on the wrong side of 25 and not living on a hill, within walking distance of your office, with a solid view of some receding lake, a swimming pool designed by Olympic hall-of-famers, an air-conditioned fitness centre with internet access on the treadmills, Azhagiri International school on your right and Dayanidhi Vineyards on your left, you have not made it; you are just another also-ran, outperformed by your peers.

So I continue along my daily commute, trying to figure out what has caused the sudden increase in this kind of targeted advertising in Bangalore, especially over the past few years. Also intriguing is the fact that this period coincides rather eerily with a time when Bangalore has become a cultural wasteland--a city that seems to have lost its soul. We have had virtually no music scene ever since Palace Grounds became an elaborate fuckin' wedding hall instead of a cultural venue. Our sports grounds are making way for some Confident Group project. Sunday Jams and Freedom Jams are a thing of the past. Trees are being cleared to widen roads, so we can get to our glass offices faster.  Energy-inefficient, resource-draining buildings mask formerly beautiful parts of the city, like a Band-Aid covering Cindy Crawford's mole. The only public spaces that remain are fickle malls and multiplexes that were constructed by displacing the poor, so that middle-class folk would have some place to take selfies. Our Volvo buses are wider than our streets can afford. Our cars are getting better, but our roads are getting worse. We find shade below flyovers and take shelter from the rain in underpasses. We are a city constantly under construction. A city in a hurry, with no idea where it is going.

And I know what some of you are saying:

"Chill out bro, at least we've got our weather. Bangalore's weather is amazing".
 "Sorry, I believe we've fucked that up too. Look outside, it's 35+, hotter than Chennai."
"But macha, I have a/c at home, office and in my car. For me, its always 21 degrees Celsius in Bangalore"
<Slow clap> "Boss, do you know anything about thermodynamics? Fuck that, have you studied 3rd standard science? How do you think air-conditioning works? When you switch on the a/c, do you think leprechauns soak in the hot air around you. Or is it just possible that this heat is being transferred somewhere else, so that you can feel cool? And is it just possible that in doing so, we are contributing to the rising temperatures in Bangalore?
"Ya, probably, but once it rains it will be cool, bro"
 "Yes, the rains will be nice for the first 20 minutes, after which we will be up to our ankles in fluids whose origins I do not know"
"Macha that's ok, those days I'll be taking the car anyway"

Perhaps the state of our city is symbolic of the mindset of a new, growing set of people who are slowly becoming a majority in Bangalore---the newly rich. Young, urban professionals who have discovered easy money overnight, and are not sure what to do with all of it. Some buy property, some have elaborate weddings, some buy air-conditioners, some buy expensive cars, some buy expensive bikes, those that don't have cycle balance buy expensive gadgets and those that don't have any hobbies buy expensive cameras. And it is this group of people that are the target market for bullshit ads that are trying to sell something that can't be bought. Want good health? Buy Sugarfree Natura. Need some peace of mind? Buy Forever 18. Looking for happiness? Buy bridal jewelry from Kalyan jewellers. Together, we have all bought into consumerism in a big way. You need only go into a supermarket or mall on a weekend for proof of this.

We no longer buy only 1/2 litre of milk or a dozen eggs. We now buy 500ml of Paco Rabanne for men--because we can, and 12x2litres of Thums Up because of "buy 10, get 2 free offer". We no longer buy 10 kg of rice for the month; we go for the 750-buck Barbeque Nation buffet and eat only curd rice, because someone else is paying. We no longer want the latest Sportstar or Overdrive; we need to have that tablet which was launched yesterday. We no longer need only 5 pairs of Jockeys for the work week; we now need 5 Fastrack watches that will go with them. We are no longer happy with just one comfortable pair of sneakers; we now need one pair of Oakleys for every day of the weekend. We no longer know what we really want; we only know that we need more of whatever it is.

Look at us. Well-educated people who've been sold a dream. We have been told through TV, advertising and other media that someday, all of us could have everything we ever wanted. So it is only natural that after twenty-odd years of education and work, that we feel a sense of entitlement and aspiration. But how sustainable is this idea that everyone deserves more? How long would it be before we drained all our resources and ended up fucking up our cities and ourselves?

These are questions that I have thought about, over the past few weeks, and to be honest, I have no real answers. So, I said to myself, "Fuck it. Everyone else is getting what they want, why shouldn't I?" And so, I have decided to go with the flow and buy into this "gimme culture" to see if it can give me some satisfaction, or at least until I can get some real answers to these questions.

So until then, gimme apple cake from Iyengar bakery. Gimme doughnuts from Thom's Cafe. Gimme plum cake from Koshy's. Gimme jam bun from B.P. bakery. Gimme mutton samosa from Albert bakery. Gimme idli-vada from Veena Stores. Gimme draught beer at Pecos. Gimme lime juice at Savoury. Gimme video games from National Market. Gimme balcony seats at Rex. Gimme a Nokia 1100. Gimme more trees. Gimme work-from-home. Gimme sustainable housing. Gimme a concert at Palace grounds. Gimme football on the streets. Gimme less, because more is an illusion. Gimme less, because I don't deserve more; I deserve better.


Edit: 3 years since the original post, and nothing much has changed. The latest proposal from the Government of Karnataka is to build a 6.7km steel flyover from Basaveshwara Circle to Hebbal, at a cost of 1791 crore rupees and roughly 800 trees along some of the most scenic routes in Bangalore. I think it's fairly obvious to any multi-cellular organism that this move will hurt Bangalore in the long run, and that efficient public transport(with existing road, metro and rail infrastructure) is the best way forward.

If you are convinced, please sign the below petition to oppose construction of this steel flyover. If you aren't, please sign it anyway, and I will buy you fresh apple cake from Iyengar bakery. Promise.

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