Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Musings on the Anna brigade

Adjective: corrupt
1. Lacking in integrity
2. Not straight; dishonest or immoral or evasive
Verb: corrupt
1. Degrade morally or by intemperance
2. Make illegal payments to, in exchange of favors or influence
3, Place under suspicion or cast doubt upon

I find it imperative to clarify the meaning of 'corrupt' before I proceed with my diatribe. Now raise your hand if you have not been 'corrupt', in the real sense of the term, at some point in your life. If not you, someone else close to you has been, and you did not make an effort to stop it. Be truthful, you owe it to yourself, once a while. Think about the time a cop caught you and your friends evading traffic laws, and you had to grease his palms or resolve. Or think about a time when you cheated on the exam, by carrying chits, hiding books or simply paying the supervisor to ignore your actions. Or when you took a little help from your influential uncles/aunts or parents to gain admission into a prestigious college, either monetary or by faking a caste certificate. I can go on, but I believe I have made my point.

Anna Hazare is a simple man. He believes his good work precedes his name, he wants to be instrumental in fighting the age-old corruption rampant in our society by proposing the ombudsman bill; but most of all, he believes in YOU. He wishes to enlist the support of the younger generation of India for his cause, assuming their hearts are pure and swords are clean. Everyone loves to rebel, it's the cool thing to do, look at the Arab nations! No one has time to read through the Jan Lokpal bill in this age of FB updates and tweets, so someone came up with his/her version of '10 things you need to know about Anna'. That soothes the conscience of thousand others who were being accused of not knowing what Anna's demands are. As we grew up, our elders talked about how corrupt politicians and bureaucrats are and how the country is going to dogs (whatever that means). And we subconsciously made peace with the "fact".

But where did these men in power come from? Were the 2G scam perpetrators tossed onto earth from Hell when no one was looking? Did the politicos materialize out of thin air like Terminator? No, they were born and bred as we were. They went to schools (okay, maybe not all) just like us and grew up facing similar trials in their life. And the process is ongoing. We, the young guns of India, are going to take their place. What do we have to offer in their stead? Who can meet Anna in the eye and say he/she has not been corrupt throughout their life? And if you can, how can one test you? What proof can you offer that you will continue to be the same way in future (except an oath in the Parliament)?

Being corrupt is a trait ingrained in all of us Indians, which we need to weed out. It is a slow gradual process, but one must be diligent. Most of our actions are fueled by our social structure, which as a whole tilts towards being dishonest. There can be no better time to bring about this revolution in our mindsets, considering India has a majority population in the young category. Additionally, we have active social networks which can be effective tools monitoring and rewarding honest behavior. Let us tweet about how we overcame the need to be corrupt. Let us berate those who take pride in pulling off a dishonest feat. Let us remember that the government is no foreign monster, it is made up of people just like us who are either too chicken or too abrasive to handle the current moral decline. There can be no guarantee about the honesty of the authority which the Lokpal bill proposes. Going gung ho about Anna's incarceration, 'liking' pages and sharing news can quell your ego for that instant, but to achieve a real positive change, we must be alert all our lives, not allowing a single weakness to dent our moral fabric. We must question our elders about any dishonest act, we must teach our children the value of morality and we must, against all odds, give ourselves a chance... for redemption.

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When US beckoned me by Siddharth Wagh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Being Alive

My aching body begs for sleep, I decide otherwise. A quick swim in the Heart Lake to cleanse myself of mud and dirt.  We spot the shimmering lake from a distance and smile. Stripped down to the bare minimum, I put my foot in the crystal clear water to judge its sting. Cold, but not freezing. We decide to endure a minute of torture to enjoy an hour of pure pleasure. I walk in, shivering at every step. To shock my body into oblivion, I plunge in. Silence. A few bubbles escape tickling my ears. A state where time stands still, where pain oozes out of every body cell in one dynamic swing. I stand up, sending ripples all around my perimeter. I look up, the sun seems to be in a mood to play hide and seek. I lie supine, swimming with gentle foot strokes. White fluffy clouds gently stream across the blue sky. I cast a lazy glance on all four sides of the small lake. Lush green mountains cast blue shadows over each other, only darkened by an occasional cloud passing by or hovering on the tops. I close my eyes and let the wind talk to me about the child giggling as his father throws him in the air, about the two hounds who compete to fetch the floating ball or the pretty dame sitting by the lakeside reading a book. My limbs thank me for the water bed and the quilt of clouds as I dream on endlessly.

I pull my sleeping bag out of the cozy canvas cabin and spread it all over the dewy grass outside. Hot embers from the neighboring fireplace give enough light to spot the right place. I wish to lie on the grass but my fears of reptiles and insects keep me from abandoning the warmth of the comforter. As I stretch out on the earth, others join in to occupy every square inch of the bag. We look up at the open heavens. Not a single cloud to blot our happiness. Only endless realms of stars, bright and dim, dense and skim. I look out for the Great Bear or Cassiopeia, the wife of Cepheus and mother of Andromeda. Lightning flashes on the horizon, with no thunder. Endorphins rush through my body, make me light-headed. Yawn tears stream down my face, as I lose myself in the magical moment where no task seems impossible, where no dream seems unattainable. My fingers caress the wet grass just as the gentle wind caresses my hair. Ideas germinate in the dampest hour of the night, taking roots in my sub-conscious. Before I know, I pull over the canopy of stars getting ready for a dreamless nap.

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When US beckoned me by Siddharth Wagh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, May 20, 2011


5 am buzzz. An open eye, some finger play, snooze. Another buzz at 5-30. I heaved my Philly-cheese-steak-stuffed body out of my newly bought & broken bed. Frowning at the Inamdars & Takles sound asleep, I began the ritual of scrubbing myself clean of all drowsiness & dirt while cursing the graduate school for arranging the ceremony so early on a Sunday morning. Attempting to fix my good-boy-hairstyle, I put on my suit as others lined up for the bathroom. The grey skies outside mirrored the gloom inside my heart as I pulled the plastic smile out of my sleeve to face the ecstatic crowd.

7-15 am. I revved up my Camry as Poonam, Omkar, Jay and Ankit piled in with a half a dozen regalia sets. Pulling in towards our football stadium from River Road, we were gently guided by security personnel to our reserved parking spot. We rushed in for registrations and received our fake degrees from a cheerful attendant who sounded like a stuck record player. I was glad to see 'Siddharth Vijay Asha Wagh' on the call-out sheet, and even more glad to hear it correctly pronounced by the lady at the desk. Ignoring the breakfast items, I put on my (read: Neel's) gown and cap, as Omkar and Poonam helped me arrange the hood and tassel. All those attempts at reducing puppy fat by eating salads for lunch turned out futile, as I took my first picture. I found row 8, seat 8 and began pleasantries with friends while attending calls from Jog and Lavesh as they pinpointed my location to collect their robes.

8 am. The function began by speeches from various faceless dignitaries of our school. I barely paid attention to the gentlemen as I kept throwing side-glances to spot the latecomers. Soon, Marshals began directing students, or rather graduates, to proceed to the stage for a customary handshake. Jog flew in just in time, followed by Lavesh as they grabbed their regalia from me with the passion of a hawk swooping on a prey. I paced mechanically towards the stage filling in the photo card with a pencil. Memories swam in as I handed my call-out card at the podium and walked in.

First step.
“Digital design lab. Trying to outdo friends in a game of flash cards memorization.”
Second step.
“The ephemeral visa interview and exuberance at the approval.”
Third step.
“Dining table discussion about whether to continue for MS, or work at TCS for two years to gain experience.”
Fourth step.
“Mumbai airport, chaos, tears and goodbyes.”

The dean shook me out of my daze with a firm handshake as I shot him a wide grin hoping to get the moment captured in few of the countless clicks around me. Down the stairs, done with my 5 seconds of fame, I relaxed in my chair. The school banner held out, the band playing some god-forsaken tune, we were escorted in pairs outside the shamiana only to be smothered by bear hugs from friends and families. The last dregs of the Fall 2007 batch were finally filtering out. Everyone proceeded, at leisure, to the stadium where the University Commencement was scheduled. 

10 am. The rain couldn’t dampen the spirits of the revellers who had every reason to rejoice in the success of their loved ones. Blotches of red clashed with greens and yellow streaks on a canvas of black robes and caps. Every school gifted their kids with a distinct noisemaker: tick-tocks, whistles, foam hands and banana balloons. All the 8204 graduate names flashed on the stadium sides, while recorded student-message videos were screened on the big screen. Soon, all graduates made a beeline to the center of the stadium field where wet chairs welcomed us for a 2 hour ordeal. I waved nonchalantly at no one in particular. Once seated, we tried to focus our attention on the speeches doled out by some important people, all the while yearning to punch those huge beach balls bouncing over us. The band for the day were a bunch of graduate students playing in sync with their music instructor. We were humbled to listen to the achievements of Brooke Mackenzie Ellsion, a Harvard student paralyzed neck down at age 11 but whose spirit conquered all impediments. Later, we were mesmerized by Toni Morrison, the keynote speaker of the day and a Nobel Laureate in Literature. Her message to not only look good, but ‘do good’ and set goals beyond attaining happiness received overwhelming applause. The program ended with animated songs like ‘RU Rah Rah’ and ‘On the banks of the old Raritan’ from a hyperactive bunch of kids. Caps flew in the air and the stadium came alive with the shouts of ecstatic students and beaming parents as I withdrew within myself to remember those who invested their life’s savings on my education and a better future, and who couldn’t be here to witness me cross the extra mile, thanks to the whims of paranoid visa officers. The moment receded, as I shot down the field to find my special guests and lead them for lunch at Guru Palace.

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When US beckoned me by Siddharth Wagh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Rang de Basanti!

It started with mysterious ink stains on my school uniform. They were as unavoidable as the sleazy news on TOI website these days. Probably the heydays for those fountain pens which otherwise fared miserably throughout the year. Small squirt-injections were smuggled in classrooms as preludes to the funky squirt guns being prepared for the actual event. The five minute walk to my house from school turned out to be a game of Dodge-Balloon as the strategically aimed water-containers (a mark of respect to the new ultra-thin plastic bags) always found a spot that hurt the most. Thankfully, the tallest building enroute was only four storeys high, else Newton might have recoiled in horror to witness the bloodshed unleashed by free-falling projectiles.

As my mother and grandma tucked their pallu in, gearing up to make world's most delicious puran polis; I began stocking up my resources for the inevitable. A huge bag of gulaal, large packets of washable colors, tiny sachets of permanent colors, long-distance Spiderman squirt gun (though I fancied the one attached to 2 barrels of water hung on your shoulder) and a heart of steel. Dusk set in, and Papa picked up a peeled coconut as we set out to the big field near Ganpati temple. My heart raced as the familiar sounds of dholak reached my ears. It was time to light the bonfire, and my hands were itching to toss the coconut in the blaze and bask in its warmth. Neatly piled stacks of branches and hay, splashed with petrol embraced fire to devour the evil Holika as we kids, ran around it, yelled at by our respective folks to stay away from the leaping flames. It was a sheer delight to see the coconut shells turn into embers and scrape off the last bits of barbequed flesh from their insides. An hour or two, and we retraced our steps back home with tiny fires leaping in our tummies thinking about the next day.

Rang Panchami dawned with much fervor. The sun hadn't peeked into our side of the world yet, and we were already up and filling up balloons on a war footing. One down, two down, three splash, four down, five phussss... every house had all members monopolizing every single tap there was to be found. The water grenades floated merrily in color water buckets as we loaded our pockets with color sachets. War cries rang from the entire building as we raced downstairs to meet our illusory enemies. Balloons flew in and out, few missed, few were caught and thrown back in retaliation. But most met their true destiny. A dash of yellow on the forehead, few blobs of pink in the hair, splashes of green on the cheeks, a red nose and blue earlobes. In no time, color and water met in the most unlikeliest of crevices on our shivering bodies. And just when it seemed like the battle was over, blitzkrieg set in...

Older kids swooped in with the swiftness of a facebook 'like'.  We were hosted in air like little sacks of grain, and carried over to the backyard to be roughed up in accumulated mud puddles. A few lucky ones made their way into the tank the building construction workers had temporarily set up. To add insult to injury, all our weapons were confiscated and used against us. A pinch of permanent color in the hair, and a whole week was doomed, trying to rub it off your skin. But the spirit of holi outlasted all animosity and soon, we were filling buckets and guns with water from the colony tap (suspiciously, whose lock was nowhere to be found). Some elders gave in to their innate desires of joining in the fun, and sprayed water cannons from indoors. A bunch of kids with overprotective moms, had their share of sadistic pleasure by dropping water grenades from their barricaded balconies. Thoroughly exhausted from the ordeal, tiny feet made their way to their flats where their folks picked up the brats like foul rats, and dropped them in the bathroom.

But it was far from over. The punter-junta gathered in balconies facing the roadside aggregating their resource pool. The final battle was against all hapless pedestrians who happened to come in the way of our incessant shellfire. Most of the victims had one eye up on the low rises. But, all in all, it was a game of skill and accuracy. Soldiers who found their targets were applauded, ones who didn't were ridiculed. We laughed out loud not lol'ed, we blushed red and not as an emoticon. Those were the times when our fingers knew the feel of a rubber balloon and not plastic keys, our eyes knew the shades that different colors create when combined and our hearts jumped at the impact of a well-aimed balloon and not at a virtual balloon thrown at you with 372 mph velocity. Those were the times, when we truly lived...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pitter Patter

I lie on the bed spreadeagled, eager to enter the 'The chamber of secrets' in a cozy cottage overlooking the Lonavala dam. It's the end of May, and the long drive in the scorching sun has made me itchy all over. I look out the window lazily spotting the sunlit green hill in front of the lake. I read a few pages and glance out again. The hill is gone! Not a trace! I sprint to the balcony as I realize that its been covered by a giant pale white cloud. A drop on my cheek, a two on my arm. Nature is drawing in its breath to begin its most melodious symphony, as I rush outdoors in anticipation... As I look up, the heavens let go of their momentary hesitation and the rain pours over the parched land as I jump in glee with four other kids from neighboring blocks.


We walk down the rain soaked streets from college to the station. Our tongues are still savoring the sweet taste of the two-rupee cutting chai from VJTI canteen, when we see the corn-seller grilling juicy corn cobs on his cart. We waft at him riding on the fumes of amul butter, delighted to see him after a span of 8 months. Being picky, we ignore the newly arrived sweet yellow corn and go for the old-fashioned pale white corn imploring him to make it extra chatpata! We twiddle our fingers in sheer impatience as he grills the cobs on red hot coals and rubs a dash of butter on them before the customary slice of lemon dipped in salt, pepper and chili powder. A few notes of ten exchange our soiled hands and we bite into the molested delicacies.


26 July 2004. I am sitting in the computer lab after a tiring math lecture, jabbing away at the keyboard to finish a project report. Professor walks by behind me as he implores me to go home, warning of a railway shutdown due to the heavy downpour. I check the time to see its been two hours since I checked in. What could have possibly happened? I pack my bag and walk out in the corridor, only to watch agape at the sight below. The entire quads is flooded with knee deep water with few students wading through, and some playing basketball. I start walking towards the hostel to find my friend as my folks urge me over the cellphone to stay at aaji's place on matunga west. I am in half mind to stay at the hostel only to find his room locked, and others abandoned. Two other classmates stuck in the same predicament, join me as I start walking towards the station. We bump into a few hostelites enroute who seem to be having a gala time in the flooded streets. As the water gets deeper, I pick up a stick to poke at the road wary of an open manhole. As we enter the waist deep water near the station's Z-bridge, I empty my pant pockets into my backpack pulled high up over my shoulder. On the overhead bridge we look down the railway lines to see no remnants of the tracks, and stranded trains. An hour later, the picture turns out a tad different on the west side due to the higher ground level. Along with my cronies, I enter my grandma's chawl fidgeting to find the door keys in my bag. As I close the door behind us, I turn on the tiny TV to witness the mayhem unleashed by the flash clouds on Mumbai - the city that finally came to a standstill bowing to nature's fury.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Tinkle Tinkle, Little Star...

I am ashamed of the fact that I hadn't heard of Uncle Pai until my facebook feed conglomerated of messages announcing his demise. Little respite lies in the fact that as a child we aren't used to keep track of the authors behind the wonderful world of fiction we engage ourselves in. Oh, wait a minute... Enid Blyton? Agatha Cristie? Now that I think of it, aren't foreign authors' names displayed more prominently on the cover pages of their works (juxtaposed with the titles) than their Indian counterparts? Or is it the case with novels alone? Whatever the case, it is high time we pay our tribute to authors of those countless comic books we adore.

Wiki tells me about the life of Mr. Anant Pai - how he lost his parents at the age of 2, how he moved to a new city, graduated from a prestigious institute (UICT) in Mumbai and finally turned into a full-fledged comic book writer. I salute his spirit in overcoming all impediments and cynics to pursue something his heart truly desired.

I still remember the herculean Abhimanyu with the chariot wheel in his hands before Kauravas slayed him, on the front cover of his series in Amar Chitra Katha. Doordarshan fed us with Ramayana & Mahabharata every week, and ACK served as a handy reference for all events and occasions. But frankly, my ultimate delight was in those colorful glossy booklets of "Tinkle". I hunted through the library racks for the blink-and-you-miss copy of Tinkle Digest, hidden by some fool to pick up on his/her next visit. As I laid my hands on the prized possession, Chacha Chaudhary sighed disapprovingly from the top shelf while Billu & Pinki yelled for attention from the neighboring rack. 'Next time guys...', I would smile acknowledgingly.

The smell of a new edition was enough to enthrall my senses. Tinkle presented an array of charaters with myriad set of virtues and vices. Suppandi, the simpleton with his egg-head and sparse hair, always managed to make me feel superior by his foolish antics and innocuous remarks. Whereas, Kalia and Kapish managed to outwit their opponents and rescue their friends by their sheer presence of mind in times of danger. The bumbling Shikari Shambu always saved his lazy ass by pure luck. The evil shade of human side was portrayed by the scheming Tantri whose plans eventually backfired similar to the jackal's in the Road Runner show!

The stories eventually shaped the moral fabric of an entire generation. The omnipotent sentiment of "good reigns over evil" was judiciously woven in those words. Humor found refuge in the actions of the confused simpleton and absent-minded Shambu. Young minds learnt the subtle art of friendship and the importance of staying calm in a precarious situation, thanks to Kalia. No parent ever implored their kids to read the comics for educational purposes, but somehow, in its own subconscious manner, Tinkle and its contemporary magazines managed to accomplish the very goal that parents strive to achieve.

In this tech savvy age, I wonder if Suppandi would ever peek out from a Kindle or if Kalia would smirk from a notebook (pun intended). Or at worst, they may be relegated to a facebook page with 56,277 likes by the last remnants of the Tinkle age. And one of those would be me.