Monday, April 18, 2016

Gurgaon Gets a Behenjee Avatar – Gurugram

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For long Gurgaon was chhoree Gurgawan, a behenjee who loved spending time with buffaloes and her Jaat bhais. Once a year during winter, her glamorous cousins Dilli Billis would visit her and frolic away in her many picnic spots. She didn’t mind her uneventful life before fairy godfather DLF and her many cronies set their sight on her and decided she was their future bright. Thus began her grooming, intense sessions at the gym and shopping for a hip wardrobe. Before she could say ‘kay chal rahya se’, she had transformed into a glam diva with a BPO accent. She was now Ms Gurgaon who mwah mwahed with global Fortune 500 companies and sipped Chianti as she swayed to Yo Yo Honey Singh. Dilli Billis could not believe that their behen in two oily plaits was now being wooed by the rich and the famous. The same men who had sworn their undying love for Dilli a few moons back. And why not? Compared to the billis, she looked shiny, new and so full of life. She had willingly shed her rural past and turned up her snooty nose at her cousins Kaphasera, Dundhahera, Bhondsi and Jharsa. Her new friends had fancy names like Jacaranda, Veranda, Harmonica and Magnolia and looked like Victoria Secret’s willowy models from a distance.

Her mercurial rise took many by surprise. She was rich and powerful in no time.

Besotted by her good looks and flirtatious charms, many moved into her welcoming arms dreaming of a rosy happily ever after. Alas, the happily ever after lasted as long as a made in China product. It didn’t take long for them to realise, her glamour and sophistication was just skin deep. Beneath the layers of makeup and designer threads lay a pockmarked, misshapen, unruly, uncouth chhoree. Initially they dismissed her frequent blackouts, wild ways and almost non-existent hospitality as teething problems. They tried their best to ignore the heebie-jeebies she gave them when they were out alone late at night.

Like any loyal lover, they were not willing to give up so easily on her. She was after all their lugai who could not be ditched. They protested, fought relentlessly and demanded she be set right. They had after all lavished their love and riches on her and all they got was disappointment and stress.

It was difficult to come to terms with harsh reality. Was she was just a cauliflower pretending to be a flower?

Monday, April 4, 2016

I shop till my mouse says, please stop!

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Spending money is addictive, especially when you don’t have it. And who knows it better than Vijay Mallya! In this age of buy now, pay later or get beaten up by bank agents for defaulting, it’s tough not to succumb to the joys of shopping; the shortcut to instant happiness. It doesn’t help that the only thing stopping my impulsive buying urges is my will-power which is as weak as the Indian cricket team’s bowling order. I take solace from the fact that I am not engaging in wanton behaviour. On the contrary I’m fulfilling my social responsibility towards the downtrodden community of retailers and propping up the country’s GDP. The only way I can uplift them is by buying everything I don’t want. It’s easier to get Hrithik and Kangana to patch up than convince a woman that she has everything she needs for the next half a century. In fact the world of commerce thrives on our insatiable hunger. While the unevolved male of the species is content with a blue shirt in stripes, checks and plain, we cannot rest in peace till we have it in midnight blue, azure blue, navy blue, powdered blue, peacock blue and indigo. To make it worse, there’s the maddening variety of frills, snug fit, blouson, scoop-back, halter, polo, front-detailing to choose from. And the male has the audacity to wonder why we take so long to shop!

There was a time in my life when I thought I had achieved the unachievable. The very thought of going to a mall would made me sick. It wasn’t always like this. When shopping malls first started mushrooming in Gurgaon, they were the coolest place to hang out, literally! Rows of stores in swanky air-conditioned buildings with clean restrooms were a welcome change from Karol Bagh where you had to search for a deserted bye-lane every time your child wanted to pee. One could spend hours ambling through floors and floors of decadence and follow it with up a movie and dinner.

It didn’t take too long to discover, malls are like cathedrals. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. All of them have the same set of stores, the same aroma of stale popcorn and a sad corner selling donuts. Irrespective of the shopping mall’s location, its uppity quotient and parking challenges, there’s no way you can avoid the holy triumvirate of ‘Adidas/Nike/Reebok, Pantaloons and McDonalds.’

Monday, March 28, 2016

Are You a Hyper Tourist ?

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Travelling has the knack of bringing out the abnormal in us. It can either turn us into lazy bums or into the hyper tourist. Of late HT has acquired something of a badass reputation from the breed that prefers to distinguish itself from the hoi-polloi and calls itself a traveller. The traveller will try to immerse himself in the local culture. S/he shuns the comforts of hotels, bathes sparingly, takes a snooze in a cave and licks ant-chutney off the same plate with tribals s/he has just befriended. The HT on the other hand would rather stay in their comfort zone, on the beaten track and in areas where the amenities are similar to what they have at home if not better.

Unlike the traveller who takes off on a whim with just a backpack, the hyper-tourist plans their itinerary like a war strategy. The destination is selected after much deliberation, intense research on the World Wide Web and discussions with other specimens with ample experience of straying. This is followed by further research on familiarising oneself with the new habitation, usually by the female. Pretty soon the female has acquired a formidable collection of anything that starts with ‘top ten’. It can range from ‘must visits, must not visit, hotels – cheap and expensive, local food that give you stomach cramps, bargain haunts, hidden gems that’s public knowledge.’ The more adventurous the female is, the thicker the folder becomes.

Spotting this peculiar type is easy. They stand out like a sore thumb dressed in sneakers and anything that doesn’t go with it. The female carries a handbag large enough to fit a dead body. The male of the species lugs around a camera the size of a Mumbai apartment. They can be seen striking funny poses and clicking anything that looks remotely interesting. It’s only later they discover that the heritage looking building they captured was in fact a urinal.

The femme has the propensity to suddenly go missing and leave her mate in a state of panic. She can be invariably found inside a swish looking store, surveying dresses, shoes and handbags, surreptitiously checking their price-tags and rolling her eyes in horror. Soon she’s seen moonwalking out of the store.

Their favourite activity is walking with a map in hand, looking lost or standing in front of Louvre and asking passers-by where Louvre is. Despite the extensive research that included weather patterns for the next 5 years before packing, they are either sweating or shivering in weather inappropriate clothing. Whatever made you think, weather is like humans that reads its horoscope and behaves accordingly. Of course, it has a mind of its own!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Reluctant Teacher

Also published on Huffington Post India

I come from a family of educationists. My Mom was a high school teacher, my Dad principal of a reputed public school. Yet, I had no desire to be part of this field. Like many others I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do in life. My parents would try their best to sow the seeds of ambition in my head and failed spectacularly. I found studies dull, Maths terrifying. Decades later while going through my daughter’s textbooks I found out why. Textbooks prescribed by schools are written by academicians with an expertise in making even the most interesting topics mind-numbingly boring. If I had to quote an example of how not to write, I’d use school textbooks as examples.

It also makes you realise the importance of good teachers who rise above textbooks and ignite a passion for learning through inquisitiveness and exploration. Blessed are those to have teachers with the ability to think like a kid to get into their minds and make learning as exciting as it’s meant to be. Our children definitely do not need harsh men and women who never shy of castigating them for not being good enough. It’s not as if I did not have good teachers. In fact some of them have influenced me deeply. But I’ve also lost count of number of times when as a student I was shamed for asking a question that the teacher deemed silly, punished for arguing because it made her look bad in front of the class. I can still recall vividly the fear I felt in the pit of my stomach when my Math teacher approached me menacingly and slapped me on my face because I did not know the correct answer. I was in class V. I am sure she has forgotten me but I never forgave her.

Life has a way of making you eat your own words. Even though I was adamant I’d never get into this profession, I joined a school as faculty after my daughter was born. I’m not ashamed to admit that it was less for the love of teaching and more for the love of the work hours – because that allowed me to spend more time with her.

It’s not as if I hadn’t taught before but it was more as a hobby then. Just after I’d given my final year exams in college, I started teaching spoken English in a privately run management institute. As a fresh out of college girl, it was as much a learning experience for me as it was for my students. These were men and women eager to attain fluency in a language that’s an entry ticket into the swish circle of the corporate world. Walking up and down the classroom, I felt their exhilaration as I coaxed out their thoughts and views in freshly mastered words and phrases.

Years later when I walked into a roomful of 14 year olds, their eyes sparkling in anticipation of the many pranks they’ll get to play at my expense, I realised how much easier it was to teach students who were much older to me. Unlike last time, I could not take their attention for granted and had to work harder to get them as excited as I was about flowcharts and computer coding. Class after class as I shouted myself hoarse to be heard among students determined not to let the petite newcomputer teacher speak, I would recall my own schooldays when I did the same. This time I felt the new Economics teacher’s hurt as she ran out of class XII D that thought it was cool to rag her mercilessly and then brag about it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Frankly Speaking – the sure shot way of losing your social media friends

Also published on Huffington Post India

Sharing political and religious beliefs on social media is like airing your dirty laundry. It forces your ‘friends’ to show the true colours of their laundry as well. Once you wash your dirty laundry in the same lot as theirs, your pristine whites may get damaged for life. 

If you are tired of being a like enthusiast on Facebook and ‘hahaha good one’ samaritan on Twitter that everybody loves, I suggest you start sharing your beliefs on religion and politics. This is a foolproof method to awaken the dormant Arnab Goswami (ArG) in your dearest online friends. Beliefs, for the uninitiated, is like the softest, worn-out tee-shirt that you’ve held on to for years. All of us have one and we stubbornly refuse to let go of it even as it waits to be reborn as a duster or a mop. Slipping into its soft fabric is the closest we feel to our mother’s womb – where we felt safe from the heartless world of loudmouths. So, when an opinionated cretin’s grating voice such as yours infiltrates their warm, soft cocoon, their ArG comes out in full force.

Interestingly, this process will greatly facilitate in bringing out your own argumentative ArG as well. Pretty soon, we’ll be reduced to a hollering mass as we point fingers accusingly at each other, our eyes blazing with righteousness. Everybody will engage in the fine art of debating each other’s views by screaming more loudly.

The only way to counter your enemy is to behave exactly like them.

Before you begin this exercise, I suggest you develop paper thin skin by scrubbing yourself daily with dailies. The print media ensures we begin our day on a cheerful note by publishing reports on rapes, murders, ungrateful sloganeering students charged with sedition, Jats going on a rampage to show the government who the boss is. Once your skin has reached the correct level of bristliness, power your words with your supressed anger, imagine the audience as your spouse and start typing. Make sure each sentence ends with a string of exclamation marks longer than the Great Wall of China!!!! Be liberal with the usage of terms like pseudo-intellectuals, bhakts, right-wingers, anti-national, presstitute, or feminazi, depending on your favourite bias. Convincing yourself that everyone but you is a fool, helps greatly. Also, make sure you close your mind with a secure lock.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Decoding Amit Sharma, the man behind False Ceilings.

When you are part of the blogosphere, you discover a person through their blog. You end up associating them with emotions their words conjure. When I finally met Amit after years of following his blog, I had a stupid grin pasted on my face. Don’t blame me, blame him for writing a hilarious account of how a Gurgaonite enjoys monsoon amidst puddles and waterfalls while river-rafting in his car.

For those who do not know Amit, behind the easy humour lies a sensitive man with a dogged determination to bring his passion to fruition. In his case his first novel ‘False Ceilings’ that he wrote during his years in Manchester. If you are familiar with the functioning of the publishing world, you will be aware that the agony, heartburn, sleepless nights begins after you have submitted your manuscript. That’s when all the hard-work begins and only the fittest can survive the ‘agnipariksha’. I have yet to ask Amit if at any time he felt like Sita wanting the earth to open up and swallow him alive.

Good thing is, I have asked a few our friends to ask Amit a few cringe-worthy questions. I believe this exercise will help him trim down his list of Facebook friends.

Purba Ray: Once your book was out, you would have obviously asked blogger friends to review it. What were the weirdest reactions you got when you asked them?

Amit Sharma: To be honest, most of my Facebook and blogging friends were genuinely happy but there was an eccentric, unpredictable category. There was one guy who asked for a blurb so that he could decide whether he was interested or not. No congratulations, no hey-how-are-you? Just a cold reply. I sent him the blurb anyway. As expected, he refused as he didn’t fancy the genre. Then there were some who behaved as if I have asked them to kill the Queen of England. I was so amused by the airs and the noses pointed to the sky that I wanted to capture the moment somehow.

Besides my FB friends, I also approached a few bloggers unknown to me and book review websites. A majority of them never replied back, even after three follow-up mails. Piece of advice – If you are sending out your book to a reviewer you don’t know personally, read his previous reviews. A person who is physically incapable of moving his mouse pointer beyond a three star rating for any book on Goodreads (including the classics) will land your book in you-know-where. And some reviewers write such tacky reviews (and even have the audacity to ask for money) that you would be better off without them.

Kanchana Banerjee: Amit, you’ve dedicated your book to your demons. That’s quite a strange dedication, especially for the first book. Can you explain this? What are those demons and did writing the book exorcise them?

Amit Sharma: There is one character in the book that is based on my life experiences (clichéd, I know). But there is a point in the book where our paths fork out. He goes towards becoming someone that I always dreaded that I might turn into. And I go towards the real me who walked out of the abyss and refused the misery. It wasn’t easy to write him or any of the six main characters as the story is 60% true. Their relationship, their poison is true. I fought those demons to complete every page. And when I wrote the last page, it was like nailing a coffin shut. I always thought that I would never find enough courage to pull everything out of me. So, when I exorcised those demons, I laughed heartily and dedicated the book to them.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Why I Don’t Get ‘let us inside the Shani temple’ Kind of Activism

Also published on Huffington Post India
Pic Courtesy -

The last few years I have come across an evolving brand of feminism - women who are so proud to be a feminist that they’ll flaunt it like their newly acquired Birkin. Mostly hashtag feminists, they’ll mount the high horse of morality and slay anyone who disagrees with them. And then there is this other set that treats it like leprosy and cannot stop telling anyone who’s willing to listen - I am not a feminist, yaa. Please, please, don’t stop loving me! Here, let me post yet another cleavage shot to prove my point.

Little wonder I feel like a borderline feminist. I don’t relate to either of them. I felt acutely embarrassed when I didn’t get women outraging about women who keep a Karvachauth fast to be able to remain a Mrs for the rest of their life. Had it been to protest against its blatant commercialisation, I would have happily joined in. I mean this is the time when salons, jewellery and sari stores do roaring business and women get to strut their stuff in embellishments bright enough to light up Times Square, right? But calling it a patriarchal conspiracy to keep women hungry and at the mercy of their husbands is a little too much to digest. If she can starve for an upcoming wedding, or to fit into her new skinnies, why not for a man and also get to make him feel guilty as hell!

If we expect men to respect the life choices we make, why can’t we respect another woman’s choice to starve for her husband’s long life! Remember, all good men are either married or gay and one of them happens to be your spouse.


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