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I seem to be surrounded by people whose sole purpose in life in to throw their weight around. It doesnt actually serve any purpose, but feed to my private amusement.

But I do admit that these idiots pollute the environment with unnecessary stress, sometimes making the lives of others difficult. And all this just to prove that they know the best and are always right.

Makes one think if there is a needless premium attached to being right. After all, right in most cases, right and wrong is just a matter of perception.

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The Husband and I bought a car, a month back. The buy primarily stemmed from the need of convenience, and the luxury of, well, just having our own car.

For years I had dreamed of having my very own set of wheels. I haven’t yet fathomed why, but there is this certain mystique attached with driving one’s own car. It oozes a sense of power and control from every gleam of its metal body.

Then there are these car chase movies one grows up on. So it IS pretty avant-garde, wanting to drive it Fast and the Furious or Transporter style – like a cowboy on wheels! It is very, for lack of a better word, cool. Corny but true.

Anyway, here I was, grown-up – minus a ride.

I had had a couple of completely avoidable experiences previously, where I thought that I nearly had my machine, but then I got scammed by the Father and the Husband respectively. Had I been more susceptible of my family’s nature, I could have avoided the disappointment!

The first one was at the rash young age of 18, when I enrolled into a proper driving school, learnt how to drive and got myself as license. It was then that my beloved disciplinarian of a father categorically refused to let me so much as to touch the family car. And that put a sorry end to my tender dreams of whizzing down the highway with loud music blaring. What was the point of making me go to driving school when the plan from the beginning was not to let me touch the car?

The second one was when the Husband and I shifted to Calcutta. The Husband said, learn how to drive and then we will get a car. Thus, like an obedient wife, I signed up for training classes, I got up early each morning, and drove a battered Alto for half an hour, with a driving instructor who would talk about everything, except what he was paid to teach.

We would drive down the lanes the instructor was comfortable with, and I never really learnt anything, except steering the wheel. Everytime I made a mistake, the instructor would slam down his breaks and start screeching at a high decibel, scolding me. It was like being stuck in second grade, with Simon Cowell, and no clue as to how I got there.

After 10 days of classes, I realized that I would not learn driving if it wasn’t in my own car, where I was in control of where I had to go and what I had to do. Without further ado, I stopped taking further classes and told the Husband to start hunting for the car.

It was then that the Husband mysteriously started having a heavy workload. He started travelling and just didn’t have the time to go car hunting. When I thought of buying an Alto from a friend, whose condition was pretty good, the Husband made noises that he was too tall to fit into an Alto – this after I had learnt driving in an Alto because I would eventually go on to buy one! If this isn’t diabolical, pray tell me what is?

Then he threw the trump card – we might be shifting cities, he said, so there was no point in investing in a car for a few months. The new car would come after we made the move. I was stumped – there was no logical comeback to this one. So we were not buying a car in the near future. And that was it.

Seasons went by, we grew older, and I reconciled to my fate of an eternity of travelling at the mercy of others.

Then one day the Husband again brought forth this painful topic of buying a car. I thought, What the heck! and decided to humour him. No way was I going to fall for this and get disappointed again. Twice bitten thrice shy.

The Hubby, put forth arguments on buying a used car. We would learn how to drive on it, he said. So I decided to play along, pretend that we were buying a car. I knew that in a few days, he would change his stance and we would return to our days of public transport and taxis.

I made some perfunctory enquiries on how a car should be – longer and more indepth research had gone into buying my laptop. I hawed and hummed for a few days before I gave the nod and said Yes it would be OK to buy it.

Little did I know that this time it was for real, the Husband was not in jest. Before I could say Hot Wheels, the deal had been stamped and signed.

So one bright (read sweltering hot) Saturday afternoon in March, our sky blue ride was wheeled into our parking lot. We became the proud owners of a brand new third hand Santro.

It came with a music player, cushioned seats, no stepny and an auto locking system, which when used, set off the alarm.

What more could I say? The cup runneth over. My first car. Our first car.

Except that in the moment I sat in the drivers seat, I had my epiphany – I realized that I would never like driving.

To be continued in Part 2.

The Sound of Silence

Last week my cell phone crashed. As I stared at the blank screen, I was seized with an unreasonable panic. I was in the middle of nowhere, and there my phone screen just died. I couldn’t dial for help even if I wanted to. A cold helplessness seized me. A helplessness that couldn’t take me anywhere and wouldn’t let me do anything.

As I stood paralysed with inability, it dawned on me how we panic even for situations that don’t matter, and how it is sometimes a relief to break away from it all.

The immediate reaction in such a situation is ‘Oh no I have lost all my numbers, How do I contact my friends?’ At that point it didn’t matter to me that I had gone months without speaking to most of them. I imagine what was reassuring for me was that just having their contact numbers residing in my directory meant the same to me as keeping in touch with them.

Randomly generated numbers were symbolic of my friends and of the imaginary well-meaning conversations I meant to have with each of them.

I did not call a lot of those numbers. Ever. Sometimes, even if I felt like it, I postponed the calling bit. If I felt extremely bad for being out of contact for so long, I would send an SMS. A ploy I resorted to, pretty often. My way of alleviating the guilt. Sometimes I wouldn’t even do that.

As I stood alone, in the dark alley, with a dead phone in my hand, I wondered if I really cared about the 400 odd names in my phone directory. How did it affect me? Would it really bother me if I never got to speak to them for the rest of my life? The honest answer was ’No’. Sure a handful of the numbers were important, but beyond that I truly did not care.

If I came across those lost people, I would still enjoy a beer with them, but their absence would not leave a scratch, let alone a void in my life. So why was I panicking about losing the numbers? Actually somewhere deep down, I was thankful that I had lost them.

I know that I will meet these lost contacts at some party or the other, and there they and some more lost acquaintances would out of politeness infiltrate their way back to my contact list and make it a robust 500. But frankly, now I am liking the way my contact list looks.

I have sent a half-hearted attempt on both Facebook and GTalk to retrieve the numbers, but thankfully not too many people have responded. Reflects, that how in our attempts to be clued in, we are actually pretty clued out. Or maybe they don’t like me enough. Whatever the reason, it is peaceful being left alone and not being reminded that there are a zillion people out there to say ‘Hi’ to.

The necessity of being left alone is compelling and at the same time repelling. At the moment it is simply peaceful.

As I sit to write this blog-post, I am clueless of what is the point that I am trying to make, that already hasn’t been made. Come to think of it – nothing. However I am still going to tell this story.

It started 150 years ago, when The Economists’ founder James Wilson was dispatched by Her Majesty’s service to instill order into the chaos that was the Indian Financial system. The germ that Mr. Wilson planted one and half centuries has now grown into a tree of such mammoth and labyrinthine proportions, that it’s difficult to keep track of all it branches, much less the worms that can crawl out of each!

But that is not what this story is about.

This tree, over the decades, was nurtured by esteemed leaders of the Indian economy. Thus was born the Indian tax system that compelled honest Indian citizens to pay their money which was seemingly intended to be utilized to provide them with better civic amenities, but instead, doled out to politicians who eked out a lavish living with it for their extended families, including starting inept family enterprises, not to mention, foreign trips and swanky cars.

But that is not what this story is about also.

Neither is it about that faction of society that strives hard to save their money from being taxed, thus giving rise to a whole new businesses and economies running as tax havens.

No, we won’t be going in to the gore and the serious stuff. That is for a debate, the more profoundly educated sections of the society can carry on with. We will stick with the fun part.

Rather this story is about jubilation.

Now 150 years later, after the Tax system came into being, some luminary in the Ministry had a bright idea – a celebration to commemorate the elephant known as Income Tax from July 24th 2010 among much fanfare.

There was a two-day art workshop organised in Kolkata from July 12 to reflect on the positive aspects of resource mobilization. Eminent artists were commissioned to showcase their work along with home-grown artists from the income tax department. This is currently being exhibited this week at the AIFACS hall.

To add the icing to the cake, there was party thrown on 24th July where prizes and return-gifts were to be given away to the select invitees. After all, what fun is a party without prizes and gifts?

And this where I start being the party-pooper.

There were 2 things that really got me.

First of all that I have not yet understood the germane reason to celebrate Income tax. Uh what exactly are we celebrating here – the fact that the taxes that we pay are grossly misused or are we celebrating for the factions of society who don’t pay taxes at all or did the Ministry just need a flimsy reason to throw a party?

I am still not clear on what was achieved or who benefitted – I as a tax payer certainly did not. But I am thinking that this is very much similar to a Archies Gallery propaganda. Income Tax day. Really? Art exhibition – now you’ve got be kidding me!

Why somebody needed to celebrate this occasion is anybody’s guess. Whose money was spent on the festivities is a secret that everyone knows despite it never being told. And who all took home return gifts – certainly not you and me!

I am 100 percent certain that Mr. Minister did not use his personal account to fund the party or the art exhibition, not to mention the hefty commissions given to the artists. And the media made it utterly clear why neither was I invited to the party and nor did I get a return gift. You see I am not famous or rich enough.

Here I come to my second point. I quote “Awards were given to celebrity tax payers. “The selection (for invitees) was made on the basis of top corporate tax payments and top individual tax payments last year,” said Neeraj Singh, additional commissioner, I-T headquarters, to Goutam Chaudhuri, chief commissioner, Calcutta” unquote.  This from the Telegraph publication.

It doesn’t matter, that I pay my taxes honestly each year and am still not entitled to the some of the basic civic amenities [I am entitled if I bribe the local authorities, however that story is for another post).

It doesn’t matter, that I am in my own way contributing to the GDP of the nation.

No sir it truly doesn’t matter at all, that my fellow Indians, pay their taxes either – if they don’t have a famous surname and they are not paying a few crores in tax, they are not invited to the party.

This is the power of the celeb. The guest list solely comprised of industry leaders, artists, sports personas and movie stars, apart from the Ministry of course. Infact even the documentary made to commemorate the occasion is Bollywood-ised (nowadays even the government is taking that route). If you are a celebrity, you are in baby.

 What was the basis for felicitation (apart from the clearly indicated fat bank accounts)? Was there any justification for awards to be given? Do we all not pay taxes? If yes, then why is there an exclusive club just for the rich and the pretty?

Equal rights anyone?

The point here is how we, as a democracy, are ‘sucking up’ to the celeb and the rich. We are ruled by their choices, we are enamored by the glitz, we as a nation want to put them on a pedestal and make them the face of everything that India has ever stood for.

We are so in love with the idea of the famous that we have created a whole new race (promoted by honest media’s page 3 and useless lifestyle magazines run by seemingly talented little offsprings of rich daddies) and furthermore a social divide. In other words, not being a celebrity is the equivalent of a social pariah these days.

What is really strange is that the Government has started endorsing it too. I really don’t know if we should change the ‘socialist republic’ to ‘popularist capitalist’. Some of the Governments actions certainly make me be believe in the latter.

Which brings me back to my original grouch – ‘Income Tax Day’, ‘Celebrity tax payers’? What were they thinking? Apparently not much. Why else would we have such a absurd celebration tainted by clearly racist overtones?

If I can bring myself to even justify July 24th 2010 (which I can’t as it was an imbecile decision in itself), the return-gift receivers list is even more preposterous. I don’t know whether to laugh and ridicule away or seethe with anger at this gross impropriety.

As an Indian I am outraged.

As an Indian, I know that I am not empowered to question this nonsensical act by Government.

And as an Indian I also know that I am a part of a supposed democracy.

Or am I?

Losing the thread

This will probably be the sixth or the seventh time that I have started writing a new post. In the older ones were simply discarded midway. It’s not a writer’s block – I have a million things to write about. It’s mostly about the moment. This is a regular feature with me. If I feel passionately about something or if there is a particularly invigorating flavor of the day I want to write about, I have to do it at the time the ideas are swirling in my head. Else that story will never be told and will go up as a wisp of smoke. It’s lost its moment. I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad one, yet. It’s more likely bad as I can attribute this reason to the fact that I haven’t written a single post since February. Most of my ideas, get lost in transition.

The Madness called Maharashtra

As I read the news reports of the last few days, I observe that the Thackerays-for-Mumbai campaign taking up maximum column centimeters in most publications.

From the looks of it the fracas has started again.

While I might just understand from where the concern initially stemmed, this issue is now heading somewhere else – completely. And I don’t think, that by either their actions or statements, the Shiv Sena is garnering any credibility. I really don’t think that any Indian believes in them, apart from their’ yes-men’ of course.

Well for starters, point one – they launched an attack on SRK. Umm…how did they miss out on the ‘Aman ki Asha’ campaign? I mean are they doing selective targeting here? This publication got Pakistani artists to perform in India, and Shiv Sena didn’t as much as murmur.

So why SRK now? What’s the basis? If SRK feels that Pak players need to be included in his team – that’s his opinion and he is entitled to it. He does not need to apologise. We as Indians might take affront to it and not agree to his stand (some out of loyalty). But we may not deliberate on a campaign to ostracize him for that. If freedom of expression is a crime, then the Thackerays should be the first to go.

Point two, when finally, finally some from the Centre took a stand to this one-sided hooliganism, for lack of a better point, the nationality of his mum and his bachelorhood was raised. How very mature and such pertinent points to make. Looks like Mr. Bal Thackeray surely hasn’t grown wise with his years. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi maybe born an Italian, but today she is as much of an Indian as you and I. We might not agree with her political decisions, but there is no denying her or her sons’ capability.

I really think that we are losing focus of the big picture here. Where are these statements stemming from? What is the moot cause of this Maharashtra-Marathi-Manoos campaign? And more importantly what makes the Thackerays’ tick?

Come to think of it, if India collectively joined forces to shut them up, who says we couldn’t make progress? What is stopping us? Maybe our leaders are too busy forging alliances and hatching plots to pause and take a look at this cancer. What they don’t realize, that if continued unabated, this could very well lead to our death as a free society.

Already we are plagued by various societal evils. But we need to take a stand somewhere.

Sure we are a clannish society by nature. Bongs stick with Bongs, Gults with Gults and so on. It’s the way we are wired. But our USP is our diversity. Language or state-of-origin is not what we should be bickering on, rather leveraging.

You cannot stand in assembly and slap an MP and make him aplogise for not speaking in Marathi. You cannot ban people from saying Bombay. Logically speaking you can, but may not. How do we as a nation enforce a ‘may not’ situation?

There is an excellent movie, ‘The Lives of Others’, chronicling the loss of free expression in the cultural society of East Berlin by the country’s secret police. It is a terrifying scenario, where even within the walls of our own house we are not free to voice our opinions, not free to trust the ones we love for the fear of betrayal, not free to be ourselves.

If this mayhem continues unabated, we Indians may well be headed in that direction.

If, in my own land, I am not free to say what I feel and what I think, I cannot help but wonder, that at some level, maybe, even our Freedom Struggle was futile.

The Film Fanatic

While recounting to my friend Kanishka about how I had spent the last weekend, I realized that I had seen 13 movies over the last week. Even I was impressed by the number.

Since I had just seen Julie & Julia, I was pretty wowed by the doggedness of Julie Powell to blog about cooking through Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I wanted to do something similar, but I didn’t want to do it about cooking – as I am a very random cook. Totally depends on my mood.

During the conversation, it dawned on me to blog about the movies that I had watched during the week. So this post is the beginning of that thought.

The objective is first to catalogue the number of movies that I have seen, and second to opine on them.

I am no movie critic, with ideas on script, cinematography and innovative direction techniques. But I am a viewer. I am a part of the dear audience for whom movies are made. I watch them. I may like or dislike them. And I am certainly qualified to express my opinions on them – even if they are contrary to popular ones.

So some of the movies that I have seen in the past 10 days are:

  1. Coco Avant Chanel Audrey Tautou is unbelievable in this very real portrait of Gabrielle Chanel. From her beginnings to how she became Chanel, this movie did try to decipher the Coco in Chanel. Trying to survive in a culture where women serve a single purpose, unrelenting in her pursuit of achieving fame, Coco did come across as real person with all her flaws including her elaborately concoted background story. So I surely liked this movie, though I did sense the drama in some scenes.
  2. Sherlock Holmes – I watched this the second time round. Well of course I had my drivers – Firstly it’s based on my all time favourite detective – the indefatigable Sherlock Holmes. Then there is Robert Downey Jr. Giving him company (if not competition) is Jude Law. And finally it’s a Guy Ritchie movie. Need I say more? Yes I do. Apparently one critic has commented Mr. Ritchie excels in making cool movies and there is nothing apart in this movie apart from its cool factor. Well Mr. Critic, your point was?
  3. It’s Complicated – If I really wholeheartedly relished a movie after The Family Stone, I think that it would be It’s Complicated. It’s funny without being painful, doesn’t delve in histrionics and is an unabashed statement of how sometimes we need to act, just to be ourselves. John Krasinski’s role is predictable and some of the characters are the caricatures of the ideal All American family – but I still liked the movie. For me, it did have a bottomline.
  4. The Book of Eli – I would not like to waste my time on even writing about this movie.
  5. The 39 Steps – Classic Hitchcock. I watched this with Mo over a glass of Cognac and we marveled together on this milestone movie. Made 80 years ago, this film was way ahead of its time. Snippets from the 39 Steps can still be glimpsed in most movies today. The 39 Steps is about the right man stuck in the wrong story and what he does to get out of it. This movie is the real McCoy with all the intrigue elements that go into making the classic thriller. As Mo said, ‘Bust the villain and get the girl’!
  6. The Transporter – Well I like Jason Statham and I like mindless action movies with cool stunts. This is my Achilles Heel. Period.
  7. The Princess and the Frog – An old school Disney movie after a long long time, without any of the new-age animation styles. Plain Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King type of movie – like Mum’s pancakes! It is the first Disney movie, where we have an African American heroine. Typical Disney script, replete with a larger than life villain, do-gooder bumbling ally, a smart mouth type and a moral in the end – stuff of what dreams are made of. Sigh!
  8. Daybreakers – I think the vampires have made a comeback, since True Blood – and how! I like this new genre of alternate reality vampire movies – not the stupid garlic-and-stake ones. Well this one focuses at a time where humans are harnessed by vampires for blood to a point that the blood supply started running dry. Interesting topic. Treatment though could have been better.
  9. The Blind Side – I loved this movie. There was a great chance of making this a tearjerker of a sob story. The portrayal of the Tuohy family could have been unrealistic. The storytelling could have been flawed – immensely. There were a million things that could have gone wrong. I am glad nothing did.
  10. Fist of Legend – Standard Jet Li. To be watched with butter popcorn and coke.
  11. Up in The Air – A surprisingly real movie, that did touch me in a way I didn’t expect it to. As a rule, I do not like Vera Farmiga. However, I did like her character in this movie. At her penultimate scene, I went wow. The sideline story, highlighting the agony one goes through after being unceremoniously fired, that too by an unknown corporate downsizer contracted to do the job, because your boss did not have the guts to do it face-to-face, is heartbreakingly accurate. You could feel the pain, the despair and the futility across the screen. Even more heartrending was the scene in which the protagonists tested their remote-layoff program – the unknown corporate downsizer firing you via web-cam. New definition of shitty.
  12. Fantastic Mr. Fox – Brilliant adaptation of Roald Dahl’s eponymous book. Gripping and thoroughly pleasurable. Williem Dafoe as Rat, one of the antagonists and Kristofferson, Mr. Fox’s all-rounder nephew who performs yoga as a stress-buster, are the characters to watch out for in the movie. Definitely one for keeps.
  13. Harry Brown – My respect for Michael Caine, as a performer, increases with every movie that I watch. Harry Brown is a hard hitting movie that tries to give us a peek in to way of life of the youth gangs and the mayhem and harassment they cause to innocent locals. Michael Caine is Harry Brown – the quiet old veteran Marine pensioner who goes about minding his own business and is in turn forced to turn into a vigilante after the merciless murder of his best-friend at the hands of the local youths. Old script, sure. But Caine is Caine. Unbeatable.
  14. Julie & Julia – This movie is only about Meryl Streep. Make no mistake. And excel she does as Julia Child. Julie Powell, on the other hand, could have been cut from the script. I did not enjoy her. After watching this movie, and being inspired by Julia Child (she did make cooking look easy), I ambitiously downloaded Mastering the Art of French Cooking and right away decided I wasn’t even going to attempt beyond the section on Omlettes. Stellar casting. Definitely a film for gourmets, or as in my case, individuals who like to think of themselves as gourmets.  One thing I couldn’t help but wonder, Amy Adams, kind of excels in choosing, blend-in-the-wallpaper-type-loser-who–prevails-in-the-end kind of roles. Is it a strategy?
  15. The Young Victoria – Period Drama. Costume Drama. Enjoy the drama.

As I end my list for now (Oh My God!), I can just think that this is only the beginning.