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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?

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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.

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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.

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Where Is My India?

I am still comprehending what happened last night. How can some people just barge in and start shooting? How can my country keep getting attacked time and again? How?

 

So what do I do now? Do I just blog and let it be at that to express my disbelief? Do I debate with friends till death about who is to blame? Do I raise a tirade against those involved? What?

 

In the past year we have faced atleast 6-7 terror attacks and what do we do? Blog, write articles, rant, and wait for the next one. In the mean time this is slowly turning into a country that cannot save its own.

 

We are becoming adept at playing the blame game. But how do we stop this. Clearly our intelligence needs an audit. Our politicians should not be elected, given their proclivity for speeches that slam the occurrence and disregard towards any action to be taken on that front.

 

Vote everyone says. But who do I cast my vote for? Some individual who distributes sweetmeats equivalent to his weight or someone who distributes liquor to induce votes? These are our leaders who will choose the right path for us.

 

When the system is flawed from the very base, then should we really blame those who find the loopholes? They have a cause and they are fighting for it by whatever means. But we are the ones who are getting killed with no one to cover our asses. So should we question them or the ones we look up to, to protect us?

 

Every time I hear news like this, I call my circle with trepidation. So far I have found relief. I am scared that the next time I wont. Because I am certain there will be a next time. As certain as I am that this was not the India I grew up in and call my motherland.

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Two months and no posts. Not a good sign so far. But my excuse is that I have been on an extended holiday, if you buy it.

 

Well here goes a post I have been planning on penning for some time now. I was watching my current favourite show – Six Feet Under (Yes I know I am late, I should have watched it ages ago, blah, blah, blah) – when this thought hit me.

 

Well in this particular episode, there is a cult, which believes in non-violence to the extent of letting the lice on their head live. While I found it amusing, not to mention bizarre, I also found it endearing.

 

Here were people who actually went the whole hog with their beliefs, not like the pretentious lot I come across pretty frequently these days.

 

Everyone has faith, in their own manner. We believe in different things, but the bottomline is that we believe. But when we start mutilating those beliefs to justify our desires/wants – that is when it troubles me.

 

Let me just cite some instances.

 

  • As I have mentioned earlier, one of the salient tenets of Islam is tolerance. Now when my brethren go right ahead and kill others without provocation – it troubles me.

 

  • The basic tenet of vegetarianism is not to kill/harm a living being for personal gratification. So when a vegetarian adorns animal hide or brandishes it as an accessory it troubles me.

 

  • Same logic with Hinduism and beef and leather – you can’t kill to eat but you can kill to wear?

 

  • When an individual who is against organized religion becomes fanatic enough to create an organised forum of people ranting against organized religion – well that makes me wonder too!

 

It is not the act but the fact that one essentially is against it and yet in their way promulgates it thereby going against the very grain of personal belief.

 

Makes me wonder. Really does.

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The Virtue of Being Thin

First Impressions are the Most Lasting – is an adage we are all spoon fed on. And we follow it diligently to make that lasting impression. Especially if one is in the dating market.

 

This one age-old saying has spawned off a million cottage industries and introduced a completely new way of life. Power dressing, fad diets, size zero, stilettos, the list goes on. We even have publications sole heartedly dedicated to looking good.

 

I unashamedly admit that it does help to score at a higher end on the good-looks scale. Hell it even acts as a major morale booster on most days. But equating that with being thin is a mindset becoming more and more common. Slowly, steadily and surely we have attached a premium to the physical shape.

 

Forget community genes. Forget nation-wide. It is now a global obsession to make ‘Thin’ the new religion. So what is it with gaining social acceptance through your waistline?

 

Let’s face it. No one, and I am no exception, would like to date a person who weighs on the wrong side of 90 kg.  The matrimonial adverts harp on the potential bride being ‘slim’. In addition, recent studies showing that beyond a certain quantum weight can lead to uncountable diseases have added to the paranoia.

 

Mental compatibility is passé now. Size compatibility is the current trend. It will get you the approving nod from the neighbourhood hunk, future in-laws and the household pet. And wonder of wonders, it doesn’t limit the miracle to your love life. Being the right structure is a sure fire way to get all your odd jobs done. Pronto. Welcome to most exclusive club in Shallow-Land baby!

 

We have discarded all the other parameters to make looks the screening criteria for our partners. If only one makes past that hurdle do we even initiate a conversation. Values are important, but being thin – that’s the brand new virtue in town.

 

Fat people are persona non grata. Have you noticed that 70% of the times the fattest person in any social circle is the pariah? Sure we are polite and nice to all people. Sad but true. So to escape belonging to fellowship of the flab, we stop taking carbs, huff and puff on the treadmill and wear corsets (yes, they have made the comeback), think liposuction is the second greatest discovery (first being botox), and fib about our clothing size.

 

There used to be time when baggy was in. I always hated it. But these days I have realised that clothing brands have stopped acknowledging the existence of individuals beyond size 12.  Even retail therapy is only for the slim. Why should larger people have to go to separate shops and buy from brands exclusively for the plus size? Is there anything more insulting than that? I don’t see any couture line having exclusive brands for size minus. Why brand the former category at all? What is next – clothing only for the dark skinned?

 

The demand for this new age species is also booming in the marriage market. Parental approval only comes for certain sizes. Had it not been for you, there was always a hot-bod waiting to get married to your partner. Evidently, a wedding is not for waist size 40 and above unless there is another similar, if not worse, waist size involved. Or money. When was the last time you heard someone marrying Podgy for love?

 

When fairytales never had a fat prince or princess, why should real life? Some dreams do come true.

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Zipless Fuck

A “zipless fuck” is defined as a sexual encounter for its own sake, without emotional involvement or commitment or any ulterior motive, between two previously unacquainted persons.

The zipless fuck is absolutely pure. It is free of ulterior motives. There is no power game . The man is not “taking” and the woman is not “giving”. No one is attempting to cuckold a husband or humiliate a wife. No one is trying to prove anything or get anything out of anyone. The zipless fuck is the purest thing there is. And it is rarer than the unicorn. And I have never had one.

Erica Mann Jong, Fear of Flying (1973)

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