(The Grass is Creepier on) The Other Side

This book review by Trisha Ray is part of The Readers Cosmos Book Review Program. To get free books log on to thereaderscosmos.blogspot.com

Note: I want to start off with a warning. It’s not easy reviewing a collection of short stories. I have refrained from spoilers as much as possible, “as possible” being the operative phrase. In any case, I’ll type in the phrase SPOILERS AHEAD if I slip. Kudos)

Scary stories are my drug of choice. Nothing matches the thrill of a well-written tale of terror and then staying awake at night, trying to get your imagination under control. Your surroundings take on an air of strangeness. Every rustle becomes a whisper, every shadow a living (or not-so-living) being, every creak, every gurgle puts you on edge. Not many willingly put themselves through this. Few can make it through the night. 

The Other Side by Faraaz Kazi and Vivek Banerjee promises its readers a “tour de force of unadulterated terror”. To which I say- Well no. If you want to be scared out of your wits, I would encourage you to direct your attention elsewhere. Kazi and Banerjee need a little more practice in this department. What they give you is a mixed bag in its truest sense. Each one tries to play on a different fear: the fear of death, losing someone, going insane, embarrassment and, of course, the unknown. Some are eerie, some accidentally hilarious (Mark of the Beast left me rolling on the floor but also mildly grossed-out by what the end implied), some blasé (Booo. And not in the ghostly sense either). Many were too similar to stories I had heard many, many times before (story number 11 Possession was *SPOILER AHEAD* pretty much an Indian version of The Conjuring) which kind of ruined any intended element of surprise. 

Modi Unveils Gujarat’s biggest erection and makes India proud

Image courtesy - mangaloretoday.com

When Narendra Modi unveiled his plans for India’s biggest erection, a 600 feet statue of Sardar Patel, it was hailed as the next best thing to have happened to India after the Mars Mission. It is hoped that once the statue of iron and concrete with a bronze outer layer – a fitting tribute to the Iron Man of our country – is complete, India will be catapulted to the elusive superpower club. I mean, if we have our very own Statue of Unity towering at twice the height of the Statue of Liberty, the world will be left with very little choice.

It may be recalled that it was Sardar Patel’s iron fist and will that had herded 500 princely states and their royal families into one nation, under the rule of one Royal Family, the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. So, it comes as no surprise that he’s remembered as the Iron Man – the one who ironed out the creases of a post independent India with his toil and sweat. With no Yojanas (schemes) or universities and only one measly road and school in Delhi to commemorate the greatness of a man who laid the cast iron foundation of a shaky democracy, it was Modi who excavated Vallabhai’s Gujarati roots, dusted the cobwebs off his memory for future generations to remember his contribution to our country. And what better way than an attack of spondylitis to do that as they crane their necks at an ungainly angle to look up to his towering statue. As they nurse their gnawing pain, visitors can take an open lift to his head to get an inside view of his cranium and his way of thinking. To make Mr Patel a fun person to be with, the premises will also house a memorial, research institute, convention facilities, visitors' centre, hotel, and an amusement park. A special shady alcove will be made for honeymooning couples and amorous lovers, where they can carve ‘Jignesh loving deer Pushpa’ on trees in peace.

The Unsocial Side of Social media

Woke up to the terrible news of Sunanda Pushkar’s sudden death. A part of me couldn’t help getting rid of the nagging guilt of having been a part of the circus that followed after she took to Twitter to share her husband’s BBM texts to a former journalist in Pakistan. Two attractive women sparring over a public figure in full public view was a bait hard to resist. What ensued was pure mayhem – Twitterati trying to outdo each other in cracking the funniest jokes at someone else’s distress. The lady’s incoherent anger at a woman who she saw as someone out to destroy her marriage was fodder for the grist mill.

Frankly, a domestic dispute is none of our business. But with so much dirty linen being aired for public consumption, most of us could not hold back our holier than thou attitude and scorn.

Twitter is a cornucopia of opinions (often dipped in vitriol), breaking news, wisdom and wit that follows no hierarchy and worships the informed, wittiest and the most acerbic. This is where I get my priceless news-bytes from, getting to read the inside stories that rarely surface in the mainstream media. A place where I get to sharpen my claws, get inspiration for many of my posts and my 2 seconds of fame. It’s like having found my voice and an audience that’s willing to lend me their ears on every issue that may or not may not concern me. Not just me. Mr Sehgal, the over-worked executive who commutes 2 hours to get to his office and can air his angst at AAP that’s out to ruin his city… Savita, the homemaker from Indore who has taken Twitter by storm with her Coelho like philosophy…it’s as if fame, trolls, worshippers and stalkers were waiting all their lives to find you on Twitter.

There lies the catch – everyone gets to air their opinions on Twitter, regardless of their maturity, sense and sensibility, most of them in a hurry to give their two cents of wisdom before bothering to verify facts. It’s like – look I’m trying to rant her, stop bothering me with logic and facts. After all, it is the early bird that catches the maximum eyeballs, correctness be damned. But just like it is in real life, the shallow have the loudest voices, with everyone dying to play the judge, jury and executioner. The few sane voices are drowned in the cacophony of accusations, counter-accusations and LOLs. A platform that doesn’t think twice before targeting a public figure like Alok Nath, ridiculing his girth, his body of work, making him sound like a joke just because it’s so much fun! Ironically, at some point of time, we have all been a willing participant to the ridicule public figures are routinely subjected to without even realizing it.

That’s Twitter – it makes a joke out of serious issues and takes jokes seriously.

India’s Bai-lateral relationship with US – It’s complicated!

The arrest of Devyani Gobarkhate over claims that she had lied on a visa form for her domestic help, lead to the bai-lateral relationship between US and India hitting an all-time low. After she was publicly handcuffed, strip-searched, kept in a cell with drug addicts like this Al-Qa’da terrorist who had come to have a blast in the US, India, instead of its usual stance of condemning an act and forgetting all about it in a couple of days, retaliated fiercely.

In a rare show of maturity and unbridled bravado, security barriers outside the US embassy in New Delhi were removed and US diplomats and their families were denied special privileges. In short, they are now subjected to the common man treatment. “We will deal with them exactly the same way they we deal with the citizens of our country – pretend they don't exist” – said Rabies Shanker Prasad, leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

In a shocking development, when a US diplomat lost his way in Delhi fog and mistakenly overtook Robot Vadra’s cavalcade – the country’s most important son-in-law – he was promptly strip- searched and made to spend the night outside the police station in freezing cold. He is now recovering from pneumonia at Ram Manohar Lohia hospital, where attendants only communicate in Hindi.

Political leaders from both the ruling and opposition parties said bai-bai to an American congressional delegation visiting Delhi instead of meeting them. US-visa-reject and BJP’s candidate for Prime Minister, Narendra Moody, announced that the Patel Motel Association of USA will admit only those guests who can sing Falguni Pathak hits. Indian run 7-11 stores will henceforth be closing by 5 to protest Ms Gobarkhate’s shabby treatment.

India, that has too often been dismissed as a toothless crone that protests noisily but seldom bites, took the United States aback with this rare show of fangs.

India stepped up the pressure last week ahead of the Jan 13 court appearance where Ms Gobarkhate could be indicted: it ordered the US embassy in Delhi to serve only chicken tikka masala pizza, aloo burger and paneer makhni hotdogs to American expatriates. In yet another crafty move, calls from irate passengers dying to let off steam at airline staff for fog-cancelled flights were redirected to the American embassy.

It had the desired effect, Ms Gobarkhade was promptly indicted and sent back to India with diplomatic immunity.

Bharat Milaap

Isn’t it a strange feeling to be visiting your own city as a tourist? Looking at what used to be familiar and was home to you for decades through the eyes of an outsider? I was away for a year and a half, ensconced in a laid-back and somewhat quiet existence Down Under. And I was afraid I’ll crinkle my nose in disgust at the sight of callously strewn garbage, complain noisily about the congestion and pollution, breathing laboriously through my perfumed kerchief.

A lot of this apprehension stemmed from experiences of desi friends who came back disenchanted from their annual pilgrimage to their homeland, complaining bitterly about the infrastructure dying a slow death from administrative apathy and negligence. Indians who felt like foreigners in their own country, sighing in relief when they finally came back to their adopted home.

It didn’t help that I had described India as this chaotic fairyland with never a dull moment, to my firang acquaintances. My eyes would gleam with excitement when I’d describe my city and its people – memories of its uncouth aggressiveness forgotten and forgiven. I had started craving for things I had never craved for before – the happy buzz before festivals, sights and sounds of a city that never goes to sleep, things that got done by jugaad. Where neighbourhood coffeeshops don't close by 5.

I was afraid that my sepia tinted memories would feel let down by the starkness of reality. After all, nostalgia has the seductive ability to chip away the dirt from the gems of memory.

Oddly, I felt none of the disenchantment that I had been warned of. Back home with my family and friends, I felt invincible. If I complained about the strange sensation in my throat because of the smoky air, I was rebuked loudly by my Mom. Yes, Delhi looked dustier and smoggier than before. The traffic snarls were exasperating. But these were minor inconveniences to the unbridled joy I felt in my heart.

It felt great to be ‘home’, where all you need to do is walk into a ramshackle store in a dingy bylane to extricate the sim card that you miraculously managed to jam inside the slot in a hurry. Your Mom asks if you’re hungry every 20 minutes and insists that you finish the entire lot of gajjaks and rewris because she bought it for you, calories be damned. Stores where attendants seek you out and not the other way round. Roads where motorists communicate with each other through loud honking and choicest of abuses.

An emotionally charged nation, whose people never shy of expressing rage, helplessness, unsolicited opinion – and joy is broadcast through loudspeakers. I would wake up with a start to namaz at 4.30 in the morning, followed by loud hahahahas emanating from the neighbourhood park and finally the gurbani. I sampled chaat from every thelewala at every gol chakkar unmindful of diarrheal threats. I shopped for kurtas in block-print, dupattas in vibrant colours, saris from Kolkata because I was dying to show off our beautiful textiles and weaves to friends in Australia. When my friends hugged me tight and said they missed my laughter, I had trouble holding back my tears.


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