Sunday, August 16, 2009

What is Time?

I am going away for a few days. Dutifully I tell my fellow scrabble addicted friends on facebook.

Where you going? One asks.
Oh! Socegad! She says.
Don’t be so stereotyping I say. Besides, I’m going for work.

I am in Goa for a workshop. But I also have a big deadline I need email to help me reach. The hotel is supposed to provide internet to the workshop office. A few times a day I go I go up and ask hopefully: is there internet?
I get resigned looks. Wait they say, it’s coming the hotel people said.
I also sit down, and get that hanging about haplessly body language.

A hotel employee comes up. Internet is not working aan?

He walks around looking intent, but gingerly, not touching a switch or cable. He hovers above the router looking at it with the blank concern of a nephew who is visiting an aunt he has never heard of before under duress and is actually thinking of the cricket match while he waits for the visit to end.

Ok, he says and leaves, never to return.

Desperate, after a day I leave the premises in search of a cyber café.
The reception tells me, ya, it’s here only.

But sterotypes or not, I’ve heard that one before, so I advance warily looking for someone on the street to ask. But there is only the sun-baked road and a dusty Tata Safari, black.

I spy one of the firangi volunteers returning from somewhere, also with hapless body language.

Know where the cybercafe is? I ask.

It’s here. But they’re all closed for the off-season she says woefully.

How can that be? I say, with a superior laugh.
I also said that, but they said nothing’s open.

I control panic rising in my throat.

I am a documentary filmmaker. I know to turn loaves and fish into po’boys. I can wring blood from a stone. I can find a cybercafe.

I do.

Sitting in the 60 rupees an hour (what would it be in season?), deliciously cool, iWay with its apostrophe shaped cubicles I do my email and tell my colleague I’ll check for his responses at night.

I ask the girl: till when are you open at night
Girl: Till 10.30 we are open
Me: Oh, ok, great!
G: But today we’ll close 5.30
PV: Oh! So you won’t be open tonight then
G: No, night, we’ll be open till 10.30
PV: OK, so what time will you open in the evening?
G: We’ll close 5.30
PV (now feeling frazzled but acting calm): Ya but you’ll open again na? You’re saying you will be open till 10.30
G: Ya, we are open 10.30 till
PV: Right, but not today.
G (with completely ambiguous intonation): Ya
PV: Ya, open till 10.30 or ya, not today?
G: At 5.30 we’ll close.
PV: Right, so you won’t be open till 10.30
G: We close at 10.30

What should PV do now? She should shut up. But does she? No, our heroine, her redoubtable Punjabi genes fully awakened, thinks.

PV (craftily): Today you’ll close at 5.30, right?
G: Ya
PV(to herself – aha!):So when you close at 5.30, after that what time will you come back and open it in the evening (phew, covered all angles) before closing it at night
G: Don't know


PV(defeated): What time do you open in the morning
G(airily): 9.30
PV (meekly): Ok, thank you

Well, at least I wasn’t asking her for directions. Stereotypes or not!

But not all conversations in Goa were so dead-ended. Some opened up like a box and starlings shot out.

Friday, August 7, 2009

here's looking at you kid

If ever a writer had a drawl it is Mohammad Hanif. Whether it was the utterly fantastic, bitterly funny A Case of Exploding Mangoes or this piece on moving back to Pakistan, I always see the narrator leaning against the door frame, a cigarette in his mouth, drawling out the lines, the indolence masking the irreverence.

Although we've received it more commonly through American pop culture, this dry drawling style does of course exist as a tradition in the sardonic rhythms of parts of South Asia, in the erudite, ironic observations of litterateurs...

It is a glamour-evoking fabulousness indeed as styles go.

Walking along the Karachi seafront after returning from London, I worked myself into a self-righteous rage at these young women in black burkas hanging out at the beach when they should have been at school or in some mosque praying for our collective salvation. But then I looked closely and found out that many of them were on a date. Some were actually making out, in broad daylight, with men with beards. Covered from head to toe in a black robe, this is quite a spectacle – and provides just the right combination of challenge and opportunity. Walking on the beach with my wife the other day, we stared at a couple who were exploring the full possibilities of the burka, using their motorcycle to lean against. With the Arabian sea lapping at their feet.

At the other end of the fashion spectrum, nattily dressed fashionistas on TV have started mixing piety with plunging necklines. (We have two 24/7 fashion channels. Also three food channels and, at the last count, five religious channels.) They talk about their last shopping trip to Dubai by pouting "masha'Allah" (God willed it) and conclude their plans for next season's collection with "insha'Allah" (if God wills). Depending on what else is happening in the name of religion on that particular day on the news channels (23 and still counting), I find it either very cute or another precursor to the destruction of our civilisation as foretold by the leading magazines.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Other Bhabhi imparts a moral lesson for all girls

While Savita bhabhi may not be able to bestow her largesse on the world for the time being, the other bhabhi who is such a shining light in my firmament has returned after a long absence in the papers although I did scour everything for news of her on Sanju bhaiya's 50th birthday.

It's not a very specatcular resurfacing, but it is a reliable one.

Ah Manyata! If only she had been my bhabhi during the boards I would have topped - even in Maths!

If only she had taught me some lessons in youth, I would have avoided many a bitter romantic season instead of haring off here and there to pursue my goals, desires and other icky feminist things- Stand By Your Man!

Manyata pushes Sanju to work, work, work

Shahanaz my dingbat aunt has taken it upon herself to make me a star wife. It has suddenly become her life’s aim to marry me off to some filmi type so that the both of us can become red carpet regulars, schmoozing with the stars while her kitty gang begs her to get introduced to Shahrukh, Hrithik, Salman... She’s finally gone loco I tell you, as she is convinced the most stable marriages take place in Bollywood. To be fair to the old bat, she isn’t tripping on prescription medication, but has discovered a brand new trend in movie-land, thanks to the travel agent we share. Emraan pampering Parveen is not a rare occurrence in B’wood, even Sanjay Dutt is interested on spending quality time with wifey. He is planning a long holiday with Manyata to the US. But Manyata isn’t happy! Some women I tell you. She’s been egging him on to concentrate on his work and not divert his attention again.

Can’t blame her, says my mum. Because after his brief political stint ended, Sanju is seeing some of the best days of his film career, despite the failure of Luck. He has Ajay Devgan’s All the Best, Blue and Rahul Dholakia’s Lamha to look forward to. And of course, there’s Munnabhai Chale America too. So Manyata and his close friends, we hear, are keen that Sanju capitalises on the movies he has right now and signs on a few more. In fact Manyata has approved a few films for Dutt, while he just wants to holiday with her and is busy trying to convince her to chill.

She though ain’t interested. She takes her role, as the driving force behind him, very seriously and is pushing him to work much harder. She has agreed to holiday with him once Munnabhai goes on the floor next year and the shoot commences in, where else but, America.

Smart move, no? If heroines have pushy mothers, then our heroes have their wives.

I confess - whenever I read a piece I start writing Manyata bhabhi's dialogue in my head - dekhiye aap meri mat sochiye Sanjubaba-ji. Main chahti hoon ki aap kamyabi ki unchayee ko choomen - mujhe tho aap kabhi bhi choom sakte hain. Jab hamara ek nanha munna baba hoga usse kitna fakr hoga ki uske baba kitne layak actor hain. Mujhe aur kuchh nahin chahiye. Main aapke aangan ki tulsi banke rehna chahti hoon.

Melting and masculine Sanju baba heads off to another hard day of shooting.

As Manyata bhabhi has said in the past - she has more identity as Sanju baba's wife than any feminist can hope for.

Here is the smell of blood still... Who said that?!! How dare you???!!!

Manyata bhabhi aage badho hum tumhare saath hain.