Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Nightmares, Parasites, and One of the Seven Deadly Sins

Is anyone else having nightmares? I am. And worst of all, I remember the damn things down to the last detail. That is the scary part. Usually, there is only the lingering terror and fear, with the particulars, hazy at best, which dissipates when confronted with the demands of unforgiving routine and the accelerated pace of the rat race we all willingly participate in. But this time around, I remember. And it gives me the creeps, what with all the distasteful unpleasantness oozing well into wakefulness and soaking into the rest of the day. But I am just going to put it down to a combination of the Corona scare (duh!) and the fact that I have been watching nothing but horror movies when time permits (double duh!). There, now that I have got it out of my system hopefully, I’ll dream about winning the coveted... Scratch that, hopefully it will just be dreamless slumber.

Speaking of horror, I watched the superb Parasite on Saturday night (I keep forgetting that Sundays are never as relaxing as they are supposed to be, especially during a global pandemic). I am truly glad to have resisted the temptation to read the glowing tributes to Bong Joon – ho’s Palme d’Or and Academy award winning masterpiece, because the film works best when you have no idea what to expect. One of those rare movies which fills you with equal parts exuberance and depression, it is a helluva ride. More importantly, it stays with you long after the credits have rolled, making you think and explore the strong feelings it has elicited.

Kim and his family of four are poverty – stricken and unemployed. They make their home in a squalid basement, which boasts a view of random drunken dudes who prefer to take a piss in public. This sorry lot steal Wi-Fi from a nearby shop, fold pizza boxes for a few bucks, and share a commode, placed in a discreet corner of their cramped quarters. Their fortunes change abruptly when Kim’s friend offers to recommend him as an English tutor, for a young girl, belonging to the privileged Park family. Soon Kim manages to trick the surprisingly naïve Parks into hiring his entire family. Things seem to be looking up for the unabashed cons who are very close to each other which is sweet given how cold – blooded they are, but naturally, in award – winning films you can count on it all to go to hell.

Kim’s student is attracted to him and he does nothing to discourage her. His sister ‘Jessica’ is not above playing on a mother’s anxiety over the fragile mental state of her son to make beaucoup bucks. Strangely enough, brother and sister seemed surprisingly groomed and well dressed for folks who live in a dump that is subject to being flooded with sewer water and exploding toilets every time it rains heavily. But that is a minor grouse. Their parents on the other hand are fittingly slovenly, suitably dissolute, and always have a plan usually ranging from the morally dubious, usually illegal to the ultimately unforgiveable. And yet, even when I disapproved of their actions, I kept hoping they would rise above their pitiable state.

It is surprising how entertaining this film about amoral characters who have no compunctions about grinding down those who are even less fortunate than they are, is. The final scenes unfurl in a flurry of mounting tension and violence as pent up frustration and bitter envy boil over in a cataclysmic climax. The damn thing has been haunting me for the past few days.

Messagey films with stirring social commentary seldom have this level of entertainment value. Society as we know it is built on the sweat, tears, blood and bones of the poor. And yet, no matter how bad your circumstances are, there is always the possibility of things taking a turn for the worse if you are not careful and fail to appreciate the things you do have by jeopardizing it all when you choose to make a risky play to better your lot in life, by sacrificing all moral scruples and more.
Parasite reeks of the simmering resentment of its protagonists towards their employers who are actually rather nice albeit cursed with a particularly low tolerance for rank bodily odours. The film does not blame the rich for their good fortune nor does it judge the poor who do whatever it takes to land a well-paying job only to risk losing it all for a chance to get drunk and play out a fantasy that can never be…

I have been brooding on envy ever since. It is not only the wretched who are afflicted with this particular emotion named among the seven deadly sins. Everybody wants what somebody else has. And though we are always taught the importance of being content and constantly warned about the ruinous nature of greed, we nevertheless tend to find satisfaction elusive as we take off in relentless pursuit of the non – existent pot of ‘everything we ever desired’ at the end of the rainbow, leaving everything else of value behind. I could go on in this vein, but I’ll desist and merely suggest that you watch Parasite at the first available opportunity.

In other news, my daughter was very pleased to hear all the favourable feedback for her poems. Thank you all for the kind words. For those who have been asking for more sublime verses penned by my firstborn, all I can say is that she has decided to take a break from literary pursuits and chosen to amuse herself by pranking us all during the lockdown, arguing with me about everything and nothing on principle and testing my patience to the limits. On the plus side, she helps me cook, clean and disposes off lizard carcasses with reluctant efficiency, so I’ll let the rest of it slide.

As for the nightmares, I think I’ll watch Bong Joon  - ho’s Host next. Or perhaps, I’ll binge – watch The Big – Bang Theory till the annoying laugh track is imprinted on my brain and tricks it into thinking that we are all in on the biggest joke in history and that persistent anxiety pertaining to illness and death is entirely unwarranted.   

Monday, March 30, 2020

The things you miss and don’t during the Quarantine

The husband declares war on dirt!

Another day filled to the brim with household chores. The husband has been in the midst of a cleaning frenzy – dusting and mopping with a dedication that boggles the mind. He has declared war on every spot, stain, cobweb as well as every lizard that has long defied my determined attempts to evict them from our home. The better half was ruthless rather like a Monica Gellar on steroids, but he became a tad dejected when confronted with the unshakeable persistence of the dust demons that cling to everything lasciviously and the unavoidable sightings of assorted smudges, spatters, and smears that will always besmirch the place, despite your relentless efforts.

With all the wisdom of the veteran albeit reluctant, somewhat resigned domestic diva, I told him that he could spend every minute of every day, being Monica Gellar (on steroids!) and cleaning with a vengeance but in the end, the dirt always wins. The prudent thing to do is to do what I do which is to make your peace with all things messy as long as it has the good sense to remain out of sight. Plus, you can assure yourself that seven star levels of cleanliness don’t translate to cosy and homey. Besides it is cruel to whack every spider you meet with your broom. It is not humanitarian and their rough spun, yet delicate webs are works of art that add something to the décor. However, I will not object if lizards or cockroaches are ruthlessly exterminated. Why aren’t the damned things not even close to extinction anyway?

Being the novice he is, the husband ignored my sage advice, muttered something about people who rationalize away their shoddiness and informed me that he will achieve the impossible seven star standard of hygiene tomorrow. I nodded indulgently, just glad that I didn’t have to dust or mop, and turned my attention to the ants that were trying to sneak into my jar of overpriced Patanjali honey. It was time to roll up my sleeves and switch to killer mode!

True dat!
Having cleaned up all evidence of the carnage, I found my thoughts turning to the Before Corona era. It is the simple things I miss the most like hanging out aimlessly at the mall, watching movies at the theatre while the rowdy fans whistle and raise hell, grabbing coffee with pals and simply shooting the breeze, making not so environment friendly plans with family and friends since they usually involved travelling or eating out, rushing around taking care of irksome errands, getting jostled by the unruly crowd at theme parks, markets and wherever you happened to be at any given moment. Hell, I even think longingly of the daily grind when 24 hours was not sufficient to honour all your personal or professional commitments not to mention the interminable deadlines which would send my stress levels soaring through the roof. Most of all, I miss haranguing the maid for neglecting to sweep under the sofa or breaking my mother – in – law’s pickle jar. Sigh, those were the good old days!

Good riddance!
However, I certainly don’t miss the endless traffic, serpentine queues and appalling levels of pollution. Or the people who didn’t think there was anything wrong with coughing in your face, elbowing you out of the way or peeing on your compound wall. Or the road. Or any public or private property that wasn’t an honest to goodness restroom. And I don’t miss shaking hands (I have always preferred Namaskaram or a simple wave, after all there is no way to ascertain whether the person shaking your hand has washed their hands after using the loo or digging their nose.) So I guess, there is that.

What do I do now? Perhaps I will take a nap and dream of a Corona free future which is a lot closer than we dare hope.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

A Helping of Horror to Help with Corona Induced Terrors!

Sometimes, you just need to give in to the urge to scream! :) 

Before Corona, it was common enough to grouse about how there simply wasn’t enough time to do the things we really want to do. Like slow down and spend a few hours practising yoga and meditation in our eternal quest for personal wellness. Take a cooking class so we can whip up healthy, tasty and masterchef worthy dishes for family and friends. Enrol for a useful professional course to add some heft to the old resume. Read those damn classics which everyone insists we do before dying. Buy a plot of land in some rustic, rural setting where we can spend the weekends in a charming cottage growing wholesome veggies and raising livestock with the view of spending our retirement as a farmer living off the fat of a bounteous land. Connect with old friends and have long, conversations the way we used to before life got in the way. Spend quality time with the kids. Perhaps do that charitable thing we have always been meaning to for the less fortunate…

But who the hell has time for all that even during a lockdown when the days ahead unwind with way too many empty hours that we fill up with chores and Netflix. Or Amazon Prime. These OTT platforms have become humanity’s dearest companions and the time not spent plonked on a couch armed with popcorn and watching movies or shows is spent browsing through the gazillion choices provided on said platforms or whatsapping friends for recommendations.  

A lot of folks told me to watch Contagion which was supposed to have been most prescient about the current situation and others insist that ‘feel good’ films or comedy shows are the way to go. I strongly disagree and not only because I am an avowed contrarian. In addition to being seriously depressing, the former has Gwyneth Paltrow in the lead and I have been feeling extremely ill disposed towards the actor ever since she used her celeb status to hawk increasingly bizarre, so – called wellness products that make the trash peddled by our home-grown Godmen seem credible by comparison. Check out some of her brand Goop’s bestselling products – candles that smell like her vagina, Jade eggs to be inserted into the holiest of holies, pubic hair oils, psychic vampire repellent sprays to name a few! (The next time I rant about how it is imperative to judge art not the artist, be sure not to rub my aversion to Paltrow, this epitome of capitalist greed and chicanery in my face).

As for ‘feel good’ films which leave you feeling warm and gooey, the crash – landing on returning to reality can be jarring and extremely hard to take. After all no one on Modern Family, Brooklyn Nine - Nine and rom – coms starring Dulquer Salman or Katherine Heigl are cowering in their homes, frightened out of their skins by a viral outbreak. Loving these ridiculously awesome characters and laughing with them can fill us with the most intense distaste for our own lives which will seem even more bleak and dismal than it actually is, in comparison.

Which is why I recommend the horror genre. These films are designed with the honest and noble motivation of making you scream, squirm or throw up. If successful they will definitely leave you sick to the stomach, utterly grossed out and embarrassingly petrified. Horror is surprisingly potent and it feeds a vulgar human need to watch good looking youngsters be tortured and killed in unspeakable ways. My theory is that we as a race, miss the slaughter fests served up in the Coliseum not to mention the live decapitations and witch burnings famous in the middle ages.

Be that as it may, once you have seen enough characters impaled, decapitated, disemboweled, have their eyeballs skewered, or be fed on and turned into flesh – eating zombies, you will gain a proper perspective about your lot in life, far from satisfactory though it may be. You just need to tough it out right past the primal urge to run and hide under the bed, hands clamped over your mouth to stop the shrieks of terror. Then you wait for your pulse to return to normal and immediately, you are guaranteed to feel better about whatever crap is going on in your life, even if it is a lousy lockdown.

Some of my recommendations:
Cabin in the Woods: It is a surprisingly fun film given that there is blood and gore aplenty with a cynical message about the unworthiness of human beings and the pointlessness of trying to save the race. Besides it has a young and dishy Chris Hemsworth in it.

It Follows: A lot of horror films require you to check your brain at the door, and submit to the not so subtle manipulation of light and sound to make your innards curl, prompting you to jump up in your seat or cry out loud. But this David Robert Mitchell flick is seriously smart and insanely terrifying. It is either a stunningly subversive yet non - judgemental take on the terrors of sexually transmitted diseases among the young or a forceful endorsement of practising the strictest celibacy outside the confines of marriage.

Get Out: Jordan Peele’s Get Out is a gem of a film that is wickedly weird and a scathing indictment of ever present racism. It also boasts of some fantastic performances by the likes of Daniel Kaluuya, Catherine Keener, and Lil Rey Howery. Thanks to this clever masterpiece, every time, I spot a cup of tea with a silver teaspoon, I want to run for the hills! 

The Shining: Without doubt, one of the worst films ever made and a disgrace to good cinema! Jack Nicholson hammy, OTT performance remains supremely cringe – inducing. Damn you Stanley Kubrick! Do the sensible thing and read the brilliant book by Stephen King instead people!

Movies like The Quiet Place and The Conjuring have quite the fan following but I find them over – rated. The trick is to keep an open mind though. Whatever works for you! I recently watched Howl, a British indie creature feature that was passably entertaining. Anyways, trust me, turn to horror in these troubled times and thank me later.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Some Wishes on Day 4 of the Lockdown

It is most fortunate that I am dealing with the lockdown with my husband and kids for company. The fridge is reasonably well stocked. There is space enough to go for walks around the house itself and dogs to play with. I am very grateful for my collection of books, the internet and assorted tech. which allow us to reach out to family members and friends, keep ourselves occupied and entertained. Some of us even get to work from home, thanks to trusty laptops and that is such a blessing.  

Not everyone is this lucky though. That nationwide lockdown announced at 8:00 pm to go into effect at 12:00 am clearly took many by surprise and workers belonging to the poorer sections were left stranded far away from their families without any means to commute. Some have been reduced to trekking for hundreds of kilometres with young children on their shoulders without even basic necessities like food and water to keep them going. I can’t even imagine what it must be like for daily wage workers deprived of their livelihoods and left with very little means to fend for themselves. The economic repercussions of this unprecedented global crisis and our collective anxiety over whether we will be able to limp back to a semblance of normalcy is enough to cause most of us to break out into hives, which is why the idea is to keep calm and as busy as possible under the circumstances.

It is what I am doing at any rate with varying degrees of success. On some days, I am so calm and collected, I freak myself out as I do my Yoga, potter about the house cleaning up hitherto neglected corners, participate in fun group activities on Whatsapp groups that mercifully does not include the dissemination of fake news, scary conspiracy theories or bizarre theories for beating Corona, write like a fiend to work my way through the woe, narrate the Mahabharatha to the kids in instalments and get into only mild arguments with the husband over whose turn it is to do the dishes or bring in the clothes.

There are moments when I am a wreck though. There is so much simmering panic over stalled projects on the work front that it is all I can do to keep from bouncing off the walls, while wailing like a demented banshee. The realization that we are barely a few days into the lockdown and it already feels like forever and there are those who are insisting that it could be extended indefinitely freak me out completely. At times, like this my poison is sugar and I love and hate myself for not stocking up on Ferrero rochers, cupcakes, Snickers and bounty bars, cheesecake, and tubs of ice cream having anticipated my tendency to stuff my face in times of stress which have previously resulted in my size ballooning out of all proportion to my optimal weight (not that I am in fine shape at present).

And have I mentioned the ocean of chores! At this point, I miss my maid so much more than I can say. How the dishes pile up! The husband helps out and even the kids wash their plates after they have used it because they are all too aware that a sink full of dirty dishes is one of the things I loathe most in the universe. But even so, I feel like I am knee – deep in the stuff. Even making a cup of coffee or tea fills me with dread because there are going to be mugs, saucepans, and spoons to wash. Don’t even get me started on the terror brought on by cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner! And let us not forget the laundry folks! I am ever so grateful for washing machines but let me confess that it is still a pain in the patootie! No wonder the cavemen limited themselves to bark and animal skins, which could be used and discarded in addition to being totally eco - friendly J

Hermione Granger would disapprove!
Wish there were friendly elves or other magical beings who would invisibly and quietly dust, sweep, swab, do the dishes as well as the laundry, cook me delicious, healthy meals, and give me awesome massages to fix the knotty spots beneath my shoulder blade and the gnarly areas in my lower back. They would be so much cuter than robots who if the Terminator and Matrix movies are to be believed could mean the end of us, (as if we need more end of the world scenarios!). And while I am wishing for the impossible, I wish there were Corona virus fighting sprites who would do battle with this annoying virus and obliterate it from the face of the Earth! 

Since I have whined more than is usual by even my admittedly abysmal standards, I shall sign off with a few lines from a poem penned by my daughter, Veda:

Shine like glitter
Or be calm like water,
Even melt like butter
But don’t rot like the gutter.
Be happy and shine
Don’t be gloomy and whine.

Friday, March 27, 2020


Sometimes the response to a crisis is a lot worse than the crisis itself!
A devastating crisis is the truest test of character. And we all know that the C in Crisis stands for Corona (the virus, not the beer in case anybody is still confused). Isolating oneself during an enforced lockdown can make you painfully aware of uncomfortable truths about said self. The sneaking sense of relief when CDC news bulletins reveal that it is the elderly, infants, health care providers, first responders, the mentally ill, substance abusers, those with compromised immune systems/chronic illnesses who are the ones at a higher risk of getting infected and succumbing to the virus. The realization that you are unhealthily dependent on your maid and are composing epic odes professing your fondness for her even though you discovered dust balls aplenty and countless carcasses of lizards beneath the corner sofa not to mention the chip on the delicate porcelain figurine you proudly display in the hall. The secret fear that cabin fever will get you before Corona will. The realization that you care less about those who are infected or at risk and more about the personal inconvenience caused by a global pandemic…

At times, like this as my Guru Shri Sadhyanandha who my imaginary shrink (the real ones are too pricey or too reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter) tells me is merely one among the voices in my head, says, it is best to turn your gaze outward to better unearth the secrets of the Universe and coerce the cosmic forces to work in your favour. Thus comfortably ensconced in your armchair, you can turn a judgemental gaze on everybody else and feel better about the deficiencies in your own character as well as find a refuge from your deepest, darkest fear of dying alone from unspeakably gross symptoms in a hospital bed, a victim of a viral apocalypse.

It is interesting to note the diverse responses elicited by the Corona threat. Some have become obsessive neat freaks and compulsive hand washers who would bathe in sanitizer if only the idiotic panic buyers had not brought out the entire stock. Now that is not a bad thing in a country like India where most play hard and fast with hygiene, personal or otherwise. But the flip side is that people who are buying masks like it is going out of style also toss them out miles away from the nearest overflowing bin which has not been emptied let alone cleaned out in decades, along with used tissues, and other objects redolent with assorted disease carrying germs. But even the litterbugs are not as bad as the recklessly slovenly who lick toilets, and other objects in public spaces as part of a Corona challenge on Tik Tok. It makes one wonder why so many fear Corona when it is the supreme human capacity for being moronic that will be the death of us all.

Social media is a storehouse of information into the human psyche and it is most revealing if you have the time to waste. Some use hashtags like #perfectlyimperfect to show off their greys and burgeoning love handles as they stress eat their way through a global catastrophe while cussing out a government that does not include beauticians and stylists under essential services. Does the Supreme Leader not realize that our good looks aren’t the bounty of Mother Nature but may be solely attributed to oodles of cash and countless hours sunk into beauty salons? As for those who think a trip to the bathroom merits a fresh shade of lipstick and a blow out, they are bingeing too but on steamed broccoli and extra portions of quinoa but only after they have crushed a six hour plyometric burn session. Some clearly choose to let themselves go when death may potentially be around the corner while others are just as determined to look their best.

Newsfeeds, timelines and whatsapp forwards are unbeatable when it comes to highlighting the contradictory nature of humans. Many are determinedly positive as they post life – affirming messages, inspiring quotes, videos of cats cuddling up against patients when not nursing them back to health and countless pics of people helping each other out with a smile rendering yeoman service to society. These are convinced that all one needs in life threatening situations is the right attitude and even the most virulent of contagions can be wished away by the power of a positive outlook.

The negative Nellies will have no truck with them though. Dwellers in darkness, the morbidly cynical grapple endlessly with the hopelessness of the situation. They look for and find all things oppressive, losing no time to acquaint their followers with graphic images of police brutality, mobs on rampage in grocery stores with magnificent disdain for social distancing, fat cat politicians getting stinking drunk at noisy parties organized smack dab in the middle of a lockdown and old folks dying alone on pavements having been turned out of hospitals already filled to bursting with the sick, dying and chronic hypochondriacs.

Some are scared silly and spend their days praying to forgotten deities to keep them safe from unknown terrors, lurking monsters and killer diseases. Others are reckless, eating, drinking, dancing and dreaming with abandon committed to ‘sucking the marrow out of life’ even if it kills them. 

Some are so obsessed with Corona, they can't seem to function without being overwhelmed by endless anxiety and tormented by graphic visions of being trapped in a sea of infected phlegm as the virus gets its grasping paws on them. Not everyone can be bothered with Corona though. Not when there are countless unwatched movies on Netflix, toenails to be painted, books to immerse oneself in, kids to cuddle and scold, instant noodles to be consumed, chores to be palmed off on reluctant spouses, and the latest Tik Tok challenge to be taken on. As for me, it is time for me to make my way to the bottom of a gallon of ice cream (malted chocolate fudge) before the husband and kids discover my secret stash and demand their share.

Thursday, March 26, 2020


Dos and Don'ts during the great Corona Scare

Corona or not, it sucks to be cooped up like chickens with our loved ones without the comfortable distance required to make the heart grow fonder. In a bid to do my part to save the world from this crippling pandemic without actually moving my backside for fear of stepping over the Lakshman Rekha, I decided to draw up a survival guide of Dos and Don’ts to weather the Tsunami of trouble stirred up by this nasty critter. Trust me, preliminary studies conducted by the reputed folks at Whatsapp University have confirmed their efficacy beyond a shadow of doubt.

The first step is to make soap and water your most intimate acquaintances. They have proven themselves good friends to humanity long before diamonds and dogs usurped their rightful spot and will continue to prove their worth long after Corona has shrunk back into the bowels of hell from which it has erupted like a particularly foul effluent. It would also help if one were to make personal hygiene a priority and public hygiene an even bigger one if only as a preventive measure against the spread of communicable diseases and related hazards that could prove to have epic stakes in the survival game. Roughly translated, that means not ever dumping your trash outside the sparkling interiors of your home onto the streets, using the great outdoors as a spittoon or latrine, defacing public property by scratching your lover’s name, throwing up pornographic sketches on every available surface or blowing your nose and allowing the discharge to fly every which way.

Steer clear of social media if you value your sanity or at least use it in moderation especially if you lack the balancing power of a monkey on stilts to take the better while leaving out the bitter, barf – inducing garbage out there. Ever since some wiseacre got word out that democracy works best when your voice is heard out loud, people have been screaming themselves hoarse to make sure that their endless torrent of nonsense is amplified to the furthest reaches of the internet, bolstered by twitchy fingers compulsively hitting like and share in the desperate hope that they will be rewarded in kind.

Therefore we have internet idiots and savants with interchangeable attributes raving and ranting fit to burst. The insufferably self – righteous and superior types tend to drip scorn for everyone and everything from the admitted showmanship of the supreme leader and inadequacy of the ruling party to the extreme foolishness of the folks who tentatively stepped out of their homes to find a bite to eat or medicine for an ailing grandmother only to be sneakily photographed or recorded so that they may be viciously trolled, endlessly abused and publicly shamed for putting millions at risk. Then there are the fanatical religious nuts who swear that India need not be subjected to a lockdown because Indians practise the downward facing dog regularly on their balconies with their rear ends strategically raised towards the benign sun which unleashes the Kundalini Shakti with all its serpentine strength which is more than sufficient to slay Corona, Sharona and whatever else have you or something equally ludicrous about the virus killing power of pots and pans banged in unison.

Relatively innocuous Instagram must also be avoided at all costs too. According to the illustrious professors of Whatsapp University, those pretty pictures have great envy – inducing powers which can corrupt the best and brightest till they are reduced to gibbering, glass – eyed, cyber stalkers who can spend years staring at pics and videos of Jhanvi Kapoor sexily pretending to eat a slice of pizza, giving her puppy a bath or showing you the correct technique for applying lipstick to the exclusion of all things useful or worthy.

Avoid fake news like the plague. Fear and panic cause a lot more damage than pandemics. Be sure to verify the credentials and reliability of all purveyors of information and check the facts. Even if you can’t be bothered, be sure to think thrice before you join hands with the mob to tear apart the hapless medical personnel getting off a gruelling nightshift because they are suspected of being carriers of COVID 16 (or is it COVID17?). And believing self-proclaimed experts who have declared that the only country in the world that is currently Corona free is Kailasa, if you are considering applying for permanent citizenship under the benevolent rule of HDH Nithyananda even if you run a far higher risk of contracting HIV, do yourself a favour and check yourself into the nearest hospital for a lobotomy. 

While many endorse vegetating in front of Netflix, it is advisable to take time out to work out, read a book, cook a meal, take the dog for a walk, play with the kids or teach them something useful that does not involve staring at a screen, converse with the spouse about something other than whose turn it is to do the dishes or swab the floors and do whatever it takes to tough things out as long as it is legal and non - fattening. Do all the things you always wished you had the time to do, even if it is something impracticable like working on a script that will be picked up by Leornardo diCaprio at an exorbitant price or perfecting the pincha mayurasana in the hopes that a video of you executing the same or at least the blooper version will go viral on the internet.

If you are inclined to feel that this survival guide is lacking in scientific detail, didn’t once mention social distancing, testing, gaumutra, masks, sanitizer and is somewhat on the rambling side not unlike the Supreme leaders impassioned addresses to the nation, allow me to stress that if the buzz on Whatsapp is to be believed I am a shoo – in for the Noble Prize thanks to this priceless contribution towards the greater good, entirely free of cost. If that doesn’t convince you to take every word put down here as the gospel truth which deserves to be liked and shared till it has spread to the furthest corners of civilized society like a contagion, I don’t know what will. 

This article was originally carried in The News Minute.


I finally managed to squeeze in the time to watch Joaquin Phoenix’s Academy award winning turn in the ‘Joker’. For those who are wondering why I am bringing up ancient history, all I can say is that I will not apologize for the snail’s pace at which I roll. It was a bravura performance with Phoenix losing his shirt literally (and figuratively) at various points in the movie, not to show off rippling muscles but to artfully display a painfully emaciated frame with protruding ribs and bony joints. No wonder the jury was impressed!
While I enjoyed the wildly entertaining performance, the film itself was a colossal disappointment. It was one of those movies, where a character from a comic book is given a backstory that unnecessarily strives to be epic, insists on taking itself far too seriously and is stuffed to the gills with ‘serious social commentary’. Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck who occupies the cramped space beneath the bottom most rung on the social ladder. If that were not bad enough he is afflicted with a deliberately vague mental condition, is a failed comedian who is the butt of everybody else’s jokes, gets regularly beaten up by ruffians, lives with his sickly mum in something similar to the cupboard Harry Potter spent his childhood in, has no friends and sombrely declares that he has not been happy for one miserable minute in his entire effing life. And apparently anybody who has it better which is probably everybody is to blame for all this excessive misery and Fleck becomes the clown Prince of crime with a singular talent for violence.
I am not sure if the intention was to garner sympathy for this character as well as the poor and disenfranchised who are left to fend for themselves by a callous society but this sort of thing  fills me with just enough irritation to prompt me into writing a column about it. When did we morph into such pathetically needy folks who feel entitled to all the good things life has to offer without actually working hard for any of it? Why is there so much resentment and hatred for those who are beautiful, rich, powerful, famous, fortunate, and capable of garnering millions of likes on social media? When did so many decide that it is nice to be pitied and it is okay to justify the ugliness within? Whatever happened to things like a stiff upper lip and picking your butt up by the bootstraps when life kicks you in the nuts?
There is so much written about privilege, especially if you are white, rich, or male. But I doubt life is easy for anybody. I envy Deepika Padukone for many reasons with only one being the husband’s deep appreciation for her hotness, but clearly her bed of roses has its share of thorns what with her candid confessions of having wrestled with depression, dealing with fanboys, fanatics who threaten to chop off her nose, and being married to a dude who insists on wearing clothes that clash with hers. The simple truth is that everybody has issues and it is never okay to become a mass murdering maniac or wallow endlessly in misery. It is far cooler to stop the pity party, get a grip on the rage, roll up your sleeves and get cracking on improving the quality of your life. Trust me, you might not get box office returns but you will feel marginally less crappy and for all the times you want to punch the object of your envy in the teeth, I recommend Yoga. Or chocolate. 

This article originally appeared in The New Indian Express.

An Inglorious Battle Steeped in Ignominy

Sudeep Chakravarti’s book, Plassey: The Battle that Changed the Course of Indian History is a meticulous work of exemplary research that painstakingly assembles together the many pieces of the convoluted series of events that marked a turning point which placed the East Company at an advantageous position in a power surge that would eventually lead to the ascent of the British Raj. And to think that it all began when the Mughal ruler, Farrukhsiyar was successfully treated for a swelling in the groin by an East India Company doctor, William Hamilton! As a direct result, the delegation he was a part of was rewarded with a ‘phirmaun’ allowing the white men a firm toehold in the power corridors of ‘Indostan’ which lay trapped in the rotting remains of the formerly great Mughal Empire.
It would be many more decades, before the British fed up with haggling with nawabs who were rebelling against imperial authority and not above disregarding royal edicts especially when it clashed with their own interests, opted for more aggressive policies and direct warfare to ensure that the  Company’s financial interests were protected. And it all went down at the battle of Plassey fought in 1757 between Robert Clive and the reviled nawab Siraj – ud – Daula.
Chakravarti takes his time to introduce the intriguing cast of characters which reads like a who’s who of human folly. There is a begum who was partial to the livers of young men and enforcers who placed erring officials in pits filled with human wastes or forced them to wear leather long drawers filled with live cats. The powerful bankers – Jagat Seths who were so fabulously wealthy and influential, that the nawabs and representatives of the EIC alike kowtowed to them. Yet another begum was so filled with hatred for her nephew who had the lover she shared with her husband killed, she conspired with his enemies to bring about his downfall and was eventually drowned for her trouble. Then there is the general Mir Jafar who betrayed the successor of his benefactor who himself had come to power after deposing his patron’s heir. It is a riveting merry – go – round of misdeeds!
The colourful characters aside, this book offers an in – depth analysis of all the events leading up to and after Plassey with its far ranging consequences. Chakravarti has done a masterly job of sifting through the deluge of extant, diverse records and presenting it in copious detail for the discernment of the reader. This is a plus since it presents a balanced outlook as well as a minus given that the frequent detours into the nature of the sources as well as the credibility of the assorted historians makes for laborious reading. This coupled with the slow pace as well as dense prose devoted to academic arcana detracts from pacing as well as the juiciness of the material itself and can be hard on the extremely limited attention span of  modern readers who are not above tossing such voluminous tomes aside in favour of Netflix. This is a pity because Plassey is a treasure trove for lovers of history with truly tasty titbits for those with the patience to sit tight and sift through the admittedly tedious scholarly chaff for the good stuff.
Plassey happened when greed, corruption, treachery and violence was allowed to rule the day. And as always, it is amazing how the pettiness and spite in human nature gave the impetus to momentous events that changed the course of history. Chakravarti makes it clear that the winner and loser in this saga – Robert Clive and Siraj – ud – Daula were both flawed individuals who were tools of destiny. The latter’s mangled remains were displayed on the back of an elephant while the former amassed a fortune and was feted as a hero but died anyway by his own hand. It makes one wonder… at the very least.

This book review originally appeared in The New Indian Express.