Alice Goes Down the Rabbit Hole

Courtesy - Random House

Our Lady of Alice Bhatti is Mohammed Hanif's second inning, a tale I think is best described as a 'doomed love story'. Of course there are many layers in the narrative that elevate it above and beyond the typical romance- Hanif also brings in the plight of the "choohras": the sweeper caste; and the Christians living in a predominantly Muslim country. He weaves in elements of religious fanaticism and theological uncertainty.

Alice Bhatti is a renegade: a nurse who takes no nonsense from anyone, who takes nothing for granted, who has been a victim many times but has never stopped fighting. The story begins with Alice's return to Sacred Heart Hospital after a stint in the Borstal jail. She is guided by Sister Hina Alvi as she tackles the day-to-day work at the Sacred Heart.

Teddy Butt is a body-builder who works as the 'man-who-handles-the-dirty-
jobs' for Inspector Malangi's 'Gentleman's Squad', or G-squad for short. A man of few thoughts, and fewer words, he is willing to throw aside everything to impress his boss.

Their romance begins with a chance meeting that leaves Teddy in the grips of infatuation bordering on obssession. It is an unlikely pairing (to say the least), and Hanif never lets the reader forget that. Throughout the story, the reader is given constant, subtle hints about some impending misfortune. The other characters stand as helpless witnesses to their romantic intelude, but each one has a niggling, ominous feeling about it. Noor: the young man born in Borstal, who rose to a position of much importance at the Sacred Heart and takes care of his ailing mother wants to protect Alice, the woman he loves; and Sister Hina Alvi: the pragmatic, matronly head nurse at the Borstal, who warns her of heartbreak and the futility of love.

I say with much relief that Hanif has toned down (somewhat) on the 'Ew Factor'. Apart from a vivid description of nipples in the beginning, the story is comparitively tame. However, if you pick up 'Our Lady of Alice Bhatti' expecting to find gooey romance, I suggest you direct your attention elsewhere. Hanif never hesistates to give the reader a taste (or dollops, more like) of harsh reality: a place where mindless violence, jealousy and grief go hand-in-hand with love and loyalty. At times, though, the grounded 'real-ness' of the story can get a little hazy under a veil of surreality: something that gives it a dreamlike quality...a quality brought out in the unexpected ending.
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A Blackened Reputation

To [email protected]

Subject – To Report Abuse

Wassup God,

Long time no see, no hear, no speak – I hope you are not trying to be Manmohan Singh!

On a serious note, I am writing to you to express outrage against centuries of abuse I have suffered in the hands of your greatest creation, mankind. Generation after generation has engaged in vilifying my “good name” for absolutely no fault of mine. I am but just a shade minding my own business but now spend most of my time howling in agony like a hungry hyena at the unfairness of it all. Could you please ask your assistant to hunt for the devil who initiated this ugly campaign against me?

My name is being exploited to describe all things evil and undesirable. I mean, there are so many others they could have picked. Why just me! I have become a slur to my own name. I wish I could drown and melt into nothingness.

Guess what, it has become even worse. A hirsute Baba, with a wink deadlier than Diggy’s conspiracy theories is spearheading a kranti that has taken away my shanti. He’s associating my name with ill-gotten wealth stashed away in Islands with difficult to spell names. A collaboration that has earned me nothing but disrepute. I concede that he is simply using me to endear himself to a nation with an attention span of a 3 year old, but did it really have to be me?

I think I will sue that man and live sadly ever after, drinking lauki juice on his island in Scotland.

As if it wasn’t bad enough to be associated with cats that bring bad luck...sheep with a villainous character... a day that’s tragic... a heart that’s devious....a skin that will relegate a girl to a lifetime of misery.... a colour that’s racist! As if there were no colours to choose from! Tell me, what’s wrong with the “red sheep of the family”, a “blue cat crossing your path”, “a mauve heart”. Yet it had to be blackmail, black-money, black guard, black-eye...a face blackened to shame...Uff!

I suspect mankind is colour blind.

My sob story doesn’t end here. After watching White hog all the limelight for centuries, I now have to put up with the agony of Grey being celebrated as the next-superstar! The very name “fifty shades of grey” is turning women into a red faced, panting, and giggly mass of gloop. What does grey have that I don’t?

But I must thank these women for turning me into a style statement, using me to flaunt their curves and hide flab. The superstar, who prefers me to be picture perfect on the red carpet. The girl who lines her eyes to appear mysterious. The coffee that keeps his adrenalin pumping.

But I refuse to be placated with these small consolations. I want you wave your iWand and make this politics of colour disappear into thin air. I’ve had enough of me, sitting on the Opposition benches, feeling like L.K Advani. My life feels like a grid failure with no hopes of recovery.

God, give me hope, show me light and make life fair for me.

Waiting for Glory

Sincerely yours


P.S – can you please send cartons of Fair & Lovely to Baba Crusader? After all, all he needs to do is slather those notes with the lotion, to make them legal and white.

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Surviving a Delhite

Courtesy - Google Images

I share a love-hate relationship with Delhi. A Bengali who has seen the capital since her nappy days, I have been witness to the slow but bumpy transformation of this outpost for displaced Punjabis to a teeming megapolis of millions. Home to some of the biggest markets in Asia, a city where multinational opulence rubs shoulders with decaying Mughal splendour, the stately Shantipath that fills you with awe, wide avenues lined with trees older than your granddad’s memory, the beautiful bungalows – it’s tough not to fall in love with Delhi. What I simply abhor is the attitude its populace never tires of flaunting.

The Delhite is a species devoid of manners, full of self-importance and lacking empathy.

Blame the extreme weather, its fast paced tempo and its law resistant neighbours: there’s that indefinable thing about Delhi that changes you. If you are genteel, soft-spoken, law-abiding – may God help you. The astounding variety of punishments good manners can fetch you in this city is astounding. Your toes will get trampled. If you are in a queue it will magically keep getting longer in the front. If you take the Metro, someone will invariably shove her well fed ass in the sliver of space next to yours and literally push you off the seat. If you are brave enough to drive, you will be honked at incessantly even at traffic lights. If you are stupid enough to walk, someone will either try to run you over or kidnap you for fun.

It’s as if your mere existence is an irritation to many.

In Delhi it’s very important to know who your Dad is. If you are driving within speed limits and it is unacceptable to the fella driving behind, he will come up to you and ask – tere baap ki sadak hai kya(is this your Dad’s road)? If he’s in a better mood, he might ask you the profoundest question of all – Pataa hai main kaun hoon? (Do you know who I am?)

It helps if your Dad is an important government official. It spares you the agony of standing in queues at 15 different counters and when you finally see light at the end of the tunnel (read the clerk), you will be turned back because your bank statements for the last 25 years were not submitted in triplicate. Either sarkari naukri makes you ugly or the sarkar is benevolent towards the looks-challenged, but the fact is, you will find some of the ugliest specimens working for the government. Coupled with an attitude to match, a visit to a government office is like a trip to hell.

Standing in a serpentine queue, with the probability of the smelliest man standing right next to you, the fan on the ceiling moving at a speed which will give a snail a complex, only to come face to face with a gormint clerk, whose main mission in life is to make you realize that life is not a bed of roses.

It certainly helps if your Dad or even an uncle related to you by satellite is a Deputy Secretary in the Department of Animal Husbandry. Chairs appear magically, files move at lightning speed and if you are lucky enough you get tea in china cups that’s only three years old.

Delhi also brings out the Olympian in you. One has to be the faster, higher and stronger to survive. Years of scarcity, rationing and reservations have conditioned us to believe that if we don’t push to get there first, things will run out. Seats, admissions, tickets, space, opportunities or even food laid out at the buffet table makes us starts jostling as if our life depends on it.

Any other vermin encroaching upon our space deserves to be pushed off from the face of Earth.

In movie halls, people refuse to switch off their phones and insist on conducting business negotiations just when the heroine’s mother is about to die. Our gestures reek of impatience and we have long deemed simple sorry and thank-you’s as unnecessary. All we need is a small trigger to burst into a string of profanities.

I’d hate to think that there’s nothing right with a Delhite. In fact a Dilliwala is all about dil - harsh but large hearted, ready to beat all odds with his never-die spirit, enterprising despite government apathy and a stifling bureaucracy – we have learnt to survive on jugaad. We shop in swanky malls in our Calvin Kleins, check out the latest accessories at the DKNY store, yet uninterrupted supply of electricity and water remain a dream for us. We buy mammoth generators to counter load shedding, install heavy duty water pumps to tide over Jal Boards’ ineptitude and bribe our way through sarakari ennui. We Delhites always manage to find a way out of misery.

Everything about us is larger than life – our over the top celebrations, our Swarovski studded handbags, Chunnu ki Mummy’s diamond necklace and his Daddy’s sedan. If Chunni ki Mummy can drive you up the wall with her “kitne ka liya” queries, she will also make sure your kid is taken care of if you are late from office. Mr Sharma may quarrel with you over parking space but will knock at your door on Diwali night with a mammoth mithai dabba in his hand.

Loathe him, love him but you simply can’t dismiss him. After all it’s the spirit of a Delhi-wala that keeps the city alive.

This post is now on... IBNLive

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When Pune had a blast.

Terrorists unlike ordinary mortals work silently and when they do perform – they make it to the front pages of national dailies with a bang. In India, they have a weakness for Wednesdays – a seemingly innocuous day of the week, which is neither much-hated as Mondays nor worshipped like Fridays.

It was again a Wednesday when Pune’s busy Junglee Maharaja Road was rocked by a series of bomb blasts. News channels spent precious hours speculating on facts that didn’t exist, the camera flashing the same images in a loop convinced that the viewers were loving it. Everyone from the waiter at MacDonalds to the bhaaji vendor was approached for opinions informed.

Since the blasts were low intensity, the police claimed it was an act of mischief and not a terror attack. I suspect naughty North Indians. Two days of sweating without electricity and look where they landed, planting bombs on unsuspecting cycles and smelly garbage cans.

As panic and fear gripped the city, Pune’s Chief Commissioner tried to calm frayed nerves by declaring – “No need to panic, the blasts were low intensity”. Unfortunately, people were too busy screaming to pay any heed to him.

Conclusion – ask before you scream. Bhaiya – was it terror or mischief?

Twitterati did its bit and asked Puneites to stay safe. Those who were un-frightened enough to check for twitter updates, made sure they did not rush headlong into the nearest garbage bins.

No one died but two individuals were stupid enough to get injured. A certain Mr Dayanand Patil picked up a plastic bag at the venue of an ongoing protest by Team Anna, when a bomb inside it went off in his hand. Since he was unfortunate enough to survive the attack, the police took him in custody for interrogation. Mr Patil now more famous as “the injured” man, will enjoy a few more days of police hospitality after it was discovered he had travelled to Jordan in 2003-04, despite his poor finances.

As expected, the CCTV’s that had been installed to monitor terror activities, were not working. Pune Municipal Corporation was waiting for a few more attacks before finalizing payments to the contractor responsible for its maintenance. Quoting the great RR Patil, the erstwhile Home Minister of Maharashtra - Bade bade shahron maine aisi chhotee chhotee batein hotee rehti hai.

It is now learnt that faulty design and poor quality of ammonium nitrate reduced the intensity of the blasts. Cash strapped terrorists with no regard for quality can now be safely blamed for creating mischief and forcing the police to make statements that make no sense.

Sushil Kumar Shinde, India’s self-confessed excellent Minister for Power, who was rewarded Home for plunging half the country in darkness, has yet to make up his mind whether the bomb blasts were part of the celebration to welcome him or just boring terror attacks. I don’t know what type of attack it is...It does not seem that it’s a terror attack, so how can I say it’s one? I don’t have any update on the probe and have no immediate plans to go to Pune. People who can’t kill or maim, have no right to be called terrorists! The only thing Shinde has conceded to is, that the attacks were spontaneous and expressed his disappointment at the lack of spontaneity.

Our elected representatives were quick to condemn the attacks and admitted to lack of specific intelligence. It is unreasonable to expect our intelligence agencies to act until they get specific inputs. Something like - Dear clueless government, the bombs will be wrapped in brown paper and will go off at 7 PM at Bhendi Bazar. Now that’s what I call specific!

The aam-admi wondered what if it’s him the next time! He let out an involuntary shudder as he imagined his body being torn apart by shrapnels from a crude bomb assembled by a disgruntled citizen, brainwashed into believing that killing is the only way to azaadi.

The killer and the killed both victims of a system that is deaf, blind and dumb to the cries of its citizens.

But life has to go on. Who has the time to mope, when there’s a new bombshell in town dying to bare her Jism on 70 mm screen?
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