Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Lament for my motherland

Everyday, I see in the Indian newspapers stories of India’s incredible surge. Not a single day passes without my reading about how we are fighting for a permanent seat in the UNSC. I hear my friends back home talk of salaries with enough zeroes in them to be beyond the comprehension of an impecunious graduate student like self. I hear of Tata acquiring Corus, and of the rising Indian middle class.

In the midst of all this hype, we hardly have any time for the Pandians of the world anymore. Pandian is the antithesis of what we want to think of India and Indians at the present moment – he is hardly educated, he speaks broken English, and is part of the urban poor. No thanks, we’d rather read of Ratan Tata flying an F-16 or of Lakshmi Nivas Mittal being richer than the Queen. Or rather, no poverty, please, we’re the educated, anglicised Indian middle class.

Pandian was a vegetable vendor, the owner of a corner shop in our middle-class locality. Wheelchair-bound, he did a pretty good job of it – he even handled the haggling maamis* with finesse. He was not a rich man, but earned enough to send not just his own children, but even his nephew, to school.

It was in 2001 that disaster struck, as far as Pandian was concerned at least.

Because it was in 2001 that a supermarket opened up about half a mile from where Pandian had set up shop. The supermarket had fresher vegetables that were shrink-wrapped, courteous sales staff, air conditioning, and managed to sell it cheaper than Pandian could ever hope to.

Pandian had probably never heard of words like ‘Brand Loyalty’, but I have no doubts whatsoever that he probably hoped that his customers would continue to support him, after his service to the community for years. But then, we’ve all watched You’ve Got Mail, and know exactly what happened next.

No, Pandian did not have shut shop like Meg Ryan. A few people continued to buy their vegetables from him, even if it meant having to bear the ignominy of carrying vegetables that weren’t shrink-wrapped in a bag that didn’t carry the supermarket’s oh-so-upmarket label. He survived; and still managed to send the kids to school. However, they also had to deliver vegetables to customer’s homes after school.

So, I still remember collecting vegetables from Azhagarsaami, a strapping young lad in his early teens almost every other night. I also remember that Azhagarsaami tried his best to practice his English. I never got particularly friendly with him, partly because I studied at this snobbish college full of rich kids who looked down on the proletariat and people who couldn’t speak English well.

But this story is not a tear-jerker about how my views on the dignity of the labour were changed by speaking to some poor kid**. This story is about Pandian.

The years rolled by, and I left the shores of my motherland. I actually perceived poverty for the first time in my life; it’s hard to miss when everything else around looks so prosperous. And then, a short while back, I was speaking to my mother.

‘Do you remember Pandian?’, she asked me.

I grunted in assent, for I could not understand why his name had cropped up in the middle of an infernally expensive international call.

‘Well, he’s lost his shop!’

I was shocked. ‘What? Why??’, I asked.

The corporation was running a city beautification drive, and as many residents of the snooty colony I call home would probably agree in private, Pandian’s corner store was an eyesore.

Your IT consultant wouldn’t like to have Pandian outside his condo. Neither would the manager.

For the Pandians are a wretched reminder of the other India. Memories that have to be cleansed. Roads that have to be beautified.

Pandian had been served a legal notice, of course. We are a democracy – and a socialist democracy at that – and his shop was on the property of the Government of India.

We wouldn’t do something as wretched as dispossessing a poor man of his only means of livelihood. We would do something as wretched as that only after serving a legal notice. Vox Populi, vox dei, and all that kind of thing.

My mother found him during her evening walk – forlorn and weeping, perched on his wheelchair next to the ruins of what used to be his shop. My mother did not say a word – there was nothing to say…

I know not of what has happened of Pandian today. But he is not alone. There are many Gafurs, Kamals and Thomases who have fallen by the wayside in India’s mad rush to becoming a superpower in the 21st century.

They are the unseen poor whom we, the English speaking middle class, detest. We tell our kids, ‘These people never studied well enough when in school. That’s why they and their children are begging for money on the street’. We look at them and sneer at their lack of culture.

But I wonder how many of us can look at a poor, crippled man crying on the footpath, and blame him for it…

This post is dedicated to Vanaja’s husband – whose small scale business was wiped out in 1996; to Kamal – who, at 22, has spent the last 14 years of his life collecting clothes to press; to Ramakrishnan –who dropped out of my school at the age of 10 to help his father whitewash walls; to Pappamma – who lost her all to the government in the name of the progress; and to all the rest for whom liberalisation, S&P credit ratings, and permanent seats in the UN Security Council mean nothing.

*maami: literal translation: aunt, actually (in this case): just an old harridan with outdated views on the caste system and the dignity of labour, who would rather die than pay a penny more for that tomato)

** I am, after all, a typically insensitive chap from the Indian middle classes – I don’t see India’s poor even when they wave their begrimed hands right in front of my face.

Friday, February 09, 2007

And a Casanova I ain't

Those who have long memories may remember a promise I had made in my previous post – to talk of the harrowing experience that had taught me that I was not to be a Don Juan. I am not usually the kind of chap who keeps promises of this kind (or of any kind, if we must nitpick). But, since I am currently waiting for a huge download to complete, and can find nothing better to do with my time than to write about a thousand words of tripe, here goes…

The story goes back several years. So many years that, I must, in fact, force my way through the mists of time to get there. The year was 2001, and I was an impressionable young lad of 17.

Those familiar with my first crush will also be quite aware of the finesse with which I hit on women I had a soft spot for. I very strongly doubt if Casanova would have attempted to woo the chickadee of his dreams by talking of his Unit Test marks. The Capulet family wouldn’t have had to bother with the vexing conundrum of where to dispose Romeo’s body if his courtship had followed the lines of mine.

Siddhu circa 2001 was not much different. All I knew of romance I had gleaned from trashy Tamil and Bollywood movies, and the occasional Mills and Boon. Any further romantic interests I may have had in the intervening years never happened because I was held up by that bane of every Indian teenager’s life – the Board exams (the equivalents of the O- and A- levels, to the uninitiated). Having partaken of no form of physical exercise for more than three years, I resembled a bowling pin more than anything else. If an egg were to point me out to a bean, the bean would probably have said, “Goddamn! That’s a bleedin’ geek!’

But it was in 2001 that I finally finished school and entered the hallowed portals of college. The college I entered, or the coridoors therein, weren’t particularly hallow, but there you are. I felt liberated – after twelve years spent mucking about wearing an ugly school uniform, I could now wear what I wanted, and do what I wanted.

Liberated in this fashion, I noticed her. She was a moderately pretty girl, but I would not have considered her particularly special. If it weren’t for a certain other blogger (you know who you are, you bastard – assuming you’re reading this, of course! ;) ) deciding to kid my pants off about her, I would have given her nary a second glance.

But that was not to be. “The Warrior” was supposed to have a crush on Maya (name changed), and that was that as far as the aforementioned blogger was concerned. I had, of course, watched too many Bollywood movies for my own good. That, and the fact that my hormones had been suppressed in favour of Physics, Chemistry and Maths between the ages of 14 and 17, resulted in me having a huge crush on her.

I began to behave in ways that were completely alien to me (and most right-thinking men). I started wearing XXL tee shirts so that my paunch wouldn’t show (as much), actually started combing my hair so that traces of my simian ancestry were less pronounced, and began to *ugh* listen to Backstreet Boys.

Using the devious wiles that are the hallmark of the Warrier clan, I managed to worm her phone number out of her, and placed a call.

‘Hello.’, said she.

‘Hi…’, said I, rather effusively.

A silence that one would call pregnant ensued.

‘Who is this?’, she asked, finally, and rather suspiciously.

‘It’s me, Siddhu. That guy in your class, y’know.’

‘Oh, you – that guy who’s always in the first row! Hi…’

Today, I would probably known – unless I were hitting on a geek with thick glasses – that this did not bode well. But at that point in time, I believed strongly in the magnetic aura around the first-row geek.

‘Yeah, that’s me, alright! You’ve got that one right!!’

She grunted in assent, and followed it up with one of those pregnant silences that are the bane of the clumsy lover.

After about ten seconds, I managed to stutter,

‘Uh well, have you done the Engineering Math assignment? I had a doubt in question 2.’

About two months later, I strongly believed that being a first bencher had its advantages. After all, did she not call me almost every day? I studiously ignored the fact that:

  1. Most of the calls were to ask me something about some course or the other, or were merely because I had called her earlier.

  2. If we were not talking about some math problem or the other, I was doing all the talking – I had told her about how I had prepared for my board examinations, how I had delivered a hard hitting speech as a member of the opposition in the National youth parliament, and how I had found calculus fascinating when in school. (The last one was a particularly huge blunder; because it was also a lie!!)

  3. She was friendlier to at least a dozen other chaps than she was to me, and often shrunk away from carrying a conversation out with me when those blighters were around.

I also considered it significant that she:

  1. Thought I was a nice guy. Her exact words were more along the lines of ‘I like you. You’re a nice kid.’, but nevermind.

  2. Thought my bright yellow tee shirt (my all-time favourite) made me look like a fireman. Her exact words were, ‘The glare from that shirt’s so terrible you look like an emergency worker. You should burn it!’, but nevermind.

  3. Found my plans to buy a motorbike when I turned 18 highly amusing. Her exact words were, ‘You’ll look so hilarious on a motorbike. You’re so not a motorbike person!’ – but ah well, I had read on one of those self-help websites that getting a girl to laugh was important.

  4. She actually said ‘Hi’ whenever she saw me. This was particularly comforting for one who had been studiously ignored by the opposite sex for all of seventeen years.

It was as I sat in my room with the Backstreet Boys crooning away on my computer that the idea began to grow on me. It was a mere nebulous thought when ‘Larger than Life’ was playing. It began to take shape when the Backstreet Boys had told me that they wanted it that way. By the time Nick Carter asked me to show him the meaning of being lonely, I had made the decision.

I would ask her out.

But now, the question arose as to how I would go about doing it. I had just dismissed the idea of getting down on my knees with a rose on my teeth as a tad theatrical and was contemplating as to which Bollywood movie would give me the best ideas when the phone rang.

‘Hello,’, I said, some inane Backstreet Boys song still playing away in the background.


It was her. To say that my heart leapt would sound a shade like Erich Segal, but that was how it was (call me a douche if you will).

‘Hi, Maya. What’s up?’

‘Well… I got this problem with understanding how Flemish joints work…’

We spent the next fifteen minutes discussing Flemish joints and other similarly weird creatures that crop up if one is ever unfortunate enough to study Civil Engineering.

After that, she seemed to be in a hurry to leave and was about to hang up, when I spoke,

‘Hey, Maya, got to tell you something…’

‘What? I really got to go and meet this guy in about twenty minutes.’

‘Uh…well… I really don’t know how I’m supposed to say this…I really like you.’

This was supposed to be the moment when a bouquet of flowers enveloped the screen, and we cut to a song in the Swiss alps, with Maya running down a slope towards me. But it was not to be…


‘I mean, I really like you. I’d like to, you know, like, er…you know, ask you out…’,. This was not going as planned, and the last few words were spoken in a hushed whisper.

‘YOU?? You want to ask me out? So what do we do if I do say yes…?’

Now that was a toughie. I racked my brains. Having never really been the kind of chap who steps out of home if he can help it, I had no idea as to what couples did, once they became couples. After deciding that saying ‘We’d make out’ would be a trifle premature, I said,

‘Er… we could go to the cinema, y’know…?’

For the next two minutes, all I could hear was a hyenaesque laughter from the other end.

After she had presumably finished wiping tears of mirth off her face, she spoke.

‘Siddhu, you’re a really sweet chap’ – heart leap time – ‘ but I really…uh well…let me think about it; I’ll tell you tomorrow.’

It should have been clearly apparent to me that these were famous last words, but I persisted.

‘Er…okay, I’ll wait for your call.’

The days passed me by. My phone remained silent.
And then it rang.

‘Hello …?’, said I, eagerly.

‘Hello yourself’, said the voice at the other end.

It was not Maya. It was another friend of mine. And before I could say anything, she spoke.

‘Okay, now who the fuck is this Maya?’


‘I hear you’ve been making a complete pest of yourself with her.’

‘What do you mean??’

‘Well, I heard from Aakaanksha that you’ve been this total ‘hyper case’ with Maya, and been coming on terribly strong. Don’t you have any common sense? Is that how you ask a girl out?’

‘B..but how do you know? And who on earth is Aakaanksha’

‘Oh Aakaanksha is Tripti’s friend. And Tripti knows Sandhya. Sandhya, Divya and Shyamala had met up with Maya, who told them about how you keep pestering her with phone calls, and behaved completely hyper with me and begged her to go out with you.’


‘Shut up! I don’t care if you’ve made a fool of yourself. You’ve made a fool of me too! They asked me if I knew you, and I was stupid enough to admit you were my friend. And then they laughed and asked me if you were a rotund little fuck who insisted on making a fool of himself by pestering a girl to the point of irritation.’

A pregnant silence followed, this time of my own making.

Now that I look back upon this sordid episode, it was not entirely a loss. It inspired me to work on getting rid of that paunch, at the very least. And it has also cured me permanently from asking women out.

The author realizes that this story of his ineptitude in matters of the heart (or to be more honest and explicit, something a little further down) may ensure that he shall never get laid again. At least not until he decides to ask his mother to find him the suitable girl from somewhere in the middle of Kerala. Therefore, he takes this opportunity to beg pretty women to prevent the aforementioned horror from ever happening. As always, age no bar/caste no bar/race no bar/religion no bar/height no bar (as long as you don’t mind midgets)

Saturday, February 03, 2007

When the Hunter became the Hunted

Over the years, I’d become used to the idea of being the one engaged in a perpetually bootless pursuit of tail. That I was not to be one of the Don Juans of the world was driven into me when I was about seventeen, and the first girl I’d ever tried to ask out gave me the raspberry (a story that merits a post of its own, surely). She spoke in no uncertain terms of what she thought of me, and went on to elaborate on the defects in my demeanour, outer crust and general appearance to all and sundry.

Therefore, if an egg (or for that matter, a bean or a crumpet) had walked up to me a couple of years ago and asked me if anybody had ever bothered to try and pick me up from a pub, I would have laughed at him. I would have asked if he were trying to mock me, and warned him with the cautionary tale of what happened to the little children who mocked the Prophet Eliza (they were eaten by bears, in case the reader was wondering).

But then, nobody ever told me there are girls, and there are girls. It’s the latter that I shall talk of today – the women who turned the hunter into the hunted.

Cut to: Northern Ireland, March 2006.

Almost a year ago, a few friends and I decided to pop in and pay Gerry Adams and his drinking mates in the IRA a short visit. After three exhausting days spent photographing IRA graffiti in Derry, Ballycastle, Giant’s causeway and Belfast, we decide to partake of the blushed hippocrene at one of the numerous taverns that dot every British (and Irish) city.

The Irish, I must hasten to add, are among the friendliest people that a chap can hope to meet. It is nigh impossible to go anywhere in Ireland without being drawn into a conversation with the locals – whether one likes it or not. So, we were not surprised when the three middle-aged people at the other end of our table began to ask us what we were doing in Belfast.

It was as one of the chaps decided that the best way to regale my German friend would be to show him pictures he’d taken of the holocaust memorial in Berlin that the lady with them began to talk with me.

She was probably in her forties, and as unlike Stifler’s mom as was humanly possible. After disposing of the preliminaries, she began to tell me about how she worked for the Revenue Service, and how her life was often very lonely and boring. I assented mutely, thinking nothing of it whatsoever. When she began to talk of how rarely she managed to get out and meet nice people, I began to grow slightly uncomfortable. A few minutes from then, I felt a hand grab my arm ever so slightly.

If life were a Shakespearean play, I would probably written, ‘Exit Hurriedly, followed by bear’ and that would have been that. But it was not, and I began to signal to my friends that now may be a good time to check some other pub out. They apparently found my discomfort highly amusing. But, thankfully, my German friend’s patience was running thin in the face of the other chappie’s almost inexhaustible pictures from Berlin, and the exit I had been fervently wishing for was executed with great finesse.

Cut to: England, September 2006.

Ryanair, as I have had cause to mention earlier in these dispatches, has this distressing habit of flying out of airports in the middle of nowhere. It was while staying the night waiting for one of these flights in a nondescript little place called Bishop’s Strotford (Ryanair called it London) that I decided to grab an ounce or two of a restorer at this quiet, little pub.

I walked into the pub, a Harry Potter held close to my chest. After asking the bartender to dispense a pint of the needful, I settled down in a cosy nook and began to read of what would indeed happen to the horcruxes. It was as I was getting to the particularly exciting bit about Ron snogging Lavender (yes, I’m an adolescent, and found parts of Harry Potter 6 to be the very best erotica I’d ever read) that I heard a voice pipe down towards me from the next table.

I turned around to espy a plump Englishwoman in her early thirties.

‘Is that a nice book?’, said she.

‘Oh, I say, yeah, rather!’, said I, trying to hide the cover of the book. I was not able to find the adult cover to HP 6, y’see.

She smiled, and relapsed into silence.

And I went back to the book. I had just begun to contemplate how generally awesome it would have been if I’d studied at a school like Hogwarts where one could snog Emma Watson in the common room for all it was worth when the voice piped up again.

‘It’s considered anti-social in this country to read books at a pub’

‘Er… I’m sorry…it’s like, I was here alone, and so I thought I’d kinda catch up with my reading. There, I’ve closed it.’, I said, rather flustered at having apparently committed a faux pas in the land of the stiff upper lip.

She continued unabated, ‘So where are you from? My name's *^^(‘

After we’d exchanged names, and I’d told her I was from India, she told me that she’d always wanted to visit India, and that it was so very mystical.

I grinned non-committaly.

‘You know, the Kama Sutra and stuff, it’s really cool’, said she.

I hummed and hawed, for the Kama Sutra and I had never been formally introduced. My Kama Sutra education was limited to a few clips of Indira Verma watched surreptitiously on a mate's mobile phone.

It was then that she spoke again.

‘So do you want to see the sea? I could take you’

‘Er…I’ve lived in coastal cities all my life, so I’ve seen more of the sea than the average beach bum. Besides, British beaches are rather chilly at this time of night, I believe’, I said. The terrible memories of Belfast had begun to rear its ugly head again.

‘Ah ok…’, she said, ‘so, where are you staying at?’

‘Er… me? I’m at this B&B called the Phoenix Lodge, right down the street.’

‘Oh… you don’t have to stay there tonight, you know.’

I couldn’t help but notice the maniacal glint in her eyes, and I must admit it scared me some.

I gulped down my drink, looked at my watch and said, ‘Oh my god! Look at the time, its almost midnight. I’ve got a really early flight on the morrow. I better rush to bed now.’

Cut to: Germany, last week

I was at one of Germany’s prettiest cities last week, enjoying the hospitality of a friend who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the best night-spots in town. It was at one of these places – which, the connoisseur may wish to note, offers the cheapest alcohol outside of Goa – that we were having a tipple. We had just ended an extremely interesting conversation with an Irish chap who seemed to have taken it upon himself to tell us his life story. It was then that we noticed this middle-aged woman who bore more than a passing resemblance to Chyna walking towards us. I observed that she was sporting a bindi.

She walked up towards me, and folded her hands in a Namaste.

Being a well-bred, young Indian boy, I folded my hands and wished her a cheery namaste. Now that I think of it, Messrs. Guinness and Jaegermeister may have been responsible for the namaste being a tad more effusive than planned.

She immediately sat down next to me, and began stroking my cheek. To say I was terrified would be an understatement. Though I was aware that a man always holds the trump card in encounters of this nature, I was also aware of the muscles that rippled within her t-shirt. I could not bring myself to contemplate what would ensue if I pushed the woman away, and therefore contented myself with little shoves accompanied by ‘Please… what’s happening?’.

She then began to sidle closer to me, and was pretty much all over me – which felt rather like having a sackful of coals thrown right at your face.

At this point, my friend decided to intervene.

‘Listen, why don’t you just go away?’, said my friend.

‘You don’t know anything about his culture. Don’t shove your oar in here; fuck off!’, said the well-muscled one.

I made a mental note to murder whichever Indian gave her the idea that it was in our culture to appreciate the act of ugly, unknown women thrusting themselves upon us.

It took about two minutes, a lot of pleading, and something I did not follow, before the woman walked away looking particularly malevolent.

Note: Pretty women are urged to note that ugly is the operative word here. I do not mind, nay, I would welcome pretty women – unknown or otherwise – who decide to feel me up, or otherwise hit on me. For some reason unbeknownst to me, the only women who seem to be even remotely interested in a piece of the Warrier are either middle-aged, ugly, or both. Hint hint!!

The author has been single since he can remember. Pretty women (age no bar, caste no bar, race no bar, height no bar as long as you don’t mind midgets) are encouraged to consider the exciting possibilities that this unfortunate concatenation of circumstances present them with.