Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Kolkata Turf War- Bongs Vs Medos

The dynamics between the two communities has always fascinated me. The rivalry between the cultured Bong and the moneyed Medo can very well lend itself to a modern adaptation of Romeo and Juliet with the feuding families of the two love smitten characters anchoring their enmity around their parochial roots.

On a recent stop over at Kolkata, I had the opportunity to witness the dynamics between the two communities. Being early for a flight, I decided to have a cup of coffee at the Internet Cafe in the airport before checking in. The chairs around the cafe meant for public was taken up by a Medo family and it was a very large family comprising of mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law, some younger men who were presumably the sons and some middle aged to old men who were being addressed as ‘Mamajis’ by everyone else in the family. In the middle of this large and noisy brood sat a lone Bong lady poring over the latest issue of ‘India Today.’ She must have found her seat before the Medos laid their claim on the chairs around her.

There was a lot of jabbering among the Medo women and after consulting each other, they started to unpack bags. One of the young daughter in law started distributing paper plates to members of her family. Another daughter in law opened a box of sweets and started offering Kaju Barfis . A third daughter in law distributed Sev and the fourth and the fifth gave out Aloo Puri. Now right from the time I was a child and my family used to make these long train journeys to Kerala from Jamshedpur, I have been shamelessly interested in what my co-passengers are eating. Once I got a slap from my mother for this bad habit, but I am not the kind to reform easily. Nowadays as a writer, I feel it is my birthright to eavesdrop into conversations and stare at other people in restaurants much to the disgust of my wife and son. Since neither of them had accompanied me in this trip, I kept on staring unabashedly with no one around to chide or threaten me.

After a while , the bhadrolok Bong lady grew uncomfortable at the train like behaviour being exhibited by the Medo family around her. She got up and offered to exchange her seat with the person sitting in the corner most seat so that the daughters in law could serve better. Her act of consideration was appreciated by members of the Medo family and the daughters in law tried to force some food on a paper plate for her. I think the lady gathered she was being paid for services rendered because no one had offered any food to her earlier. She kept on declining politely saying she doesn’t eat between meals confusing the daughter in laws who kept on insisting ‘Didi, Khao Na...Please...Thoda Sa. It just got too much for her especially when one of the old Mamaji’s sitting in front of her burped loudly and said “Haan...haan Didi ko mithai khilao.” I don’t know whether it was the burping or a man old enough to be her father addressing her as Didi, but the lady had enough. She got up with a tight smile and walked away with her trolley. One of the daughters in law, tired of serving, promptly plonked herself on the lady’s chair.

Just as the lady got up our eyes met and we smiled ruefully at each other. I shook my head in disbelief and she rolled her eyes. She also muttered something under her breath and I may be wrong but I think she said ‘Stupid Medos’ before stalking off. I wish I was able to tell her the Medos are anything but stupid and if the psychodrama I saw unfolding before me was anything to go by, that was pretty much the way the Medos had displaced the Bongs from many of the pockets of the city of joy.

I had a Medo friend when I was working in Kolkata. He was smitten by that vapid actress Bhagyashree who had debuted with Salman Khan in ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’. He wanted to marry someone who looked exactly like her. When his family found a match for him who he thought resembled Bhagyashree, he got married to her. After he came back from his honeymoon he called me to give me all the details. When he got to the part ‘Jab hum love make kar rahe te’ I grew alarmed. I told him to stop as his wife may not like it. ‘Kyon’ he asked, ‘Woh jaanti hai, hum close friends hain.’ I told him while that may be true there are some things even close friends shouldn’t share. ‘Tum bahut jyaada sensitive ho’ he concluded.

Our friendship broke up because although I remembered to invite all my Bong friends for my wedding, I forgot to invite him and his wife. He was very cut up about that.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Jaya Akka, Mamata Di and Silly Simi

The ladies are back with a bang. They have trounced their rivals and sent them scurrying. Time for the two lovely lasses to preen and pose in front of the cameras. Although I have never met either of them, I feel I have known them all my life. And this is true you know. I have known them for most of my life.

Take Dr J Jayalalithaa. I first set my eyes on her as a little boy when she acted in a Hindi film called Izzat. The film had Dharmendra in a double role. The two avatars were brothers but the dark Dharmendra was the illegitimate and the fair Dharmendra the legitimate son of a rich man. Fair Dharmendra had Jayalalithaa wooing him while Tanuja was cast opposite the Kaala Dharmendra. I remember Jayalalithaa being very coquettish and singing a song that went ‘Ruk ja zara, kidhar ko chala.’ The men in the audience went crazy flinging coins at the screen with every naughty gyration of the plump beauty. I was at a pre adolescent stage and couldn’t figure out what the fuss was all about. All I understood was the woman making all those funny moves was a very important person to be greeted with all those coins.

The years passed and a lot of good and bad things happened to Jayalalithaa and I kept on reading about her in the newspapers. She had aged but her eyes could still dance like the old days. Then Simi Garewal had her on her show. Now for some reason I find Simi Garewal incredibly sophisticated and incredibly stupid. She works herself and the person she is interviewing into some kind of strange sentimental frenzy and the results are hilarious. Only two of her guests have seen through her. One is the wily Shahrukh Khan who made her do a quawali with him and the other is Jayalalitha who refused to do any rhona dhona on Simi’s show and instead sang a song, completely overshadowing the bland and anorexic Ms Garewal.

Simi is not likely to invite Mamata di for any of her shows. I don’t think they will be able to communicate with each other. Simi speaks in what she imagines to be the queen’s accent and Mamata di has her own style. After her victory, she declared to the media ‘I am a simple man.’ I am not sure whether the gender mix-up was accidental. Think about it. Bengali men wear all these intricate kurtas that are almost effete in their ornamental glory. And here is this woman who shows a marked preference for the dullest of saris. Going by gender stereotypes Mamata di is the only man left in the West Bengal political arena while the bhadrolok left leaders hang their heads in lojja.

Mamata di has always been macho. She made incredible sacrifices to emerge as the political force she is today. When I was working in Kolkata, almost two decades ago, the grapevine had it that she got her own party men to beat her up so that she could blame the left parties and turn into a martyr. I wonder how many men would be brave enough to get beaten black and blue for their political ambitions.

But whatever be the idiosyncrasies afflicting them, they are both women of grit and a thousand times better than the rivals they have beaten fair and square in the elections.

We need women like Jaya akka and Mamata di and not that silly Simi.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Himalayan trek, Osama, Obama, Kanimozhi, Feminist poets & I Am...

I go climbing mountains for 10 days and look at all the things that happen behind my back. As soon as we got back to the hotel from the Himalayan trek, I was informed about the death of the world’s terrorist number one. I was totally disoriented after climbing up and down and the lack of toilet facilities while trekking had added to my head feeling all addled. So when one of the youngsters in the team told me grimly that Osama had been hunted down in Pakistan, I confused the man with multiple wives to be the US president. My first reaction was ‘OMG, there’s going to be repercussions. I am sure the US will declare war on the rest of the world.’ Everyone present in that lobby looked at me strangely but I took it to be something they were doing out of habit. All through the trek they had looked at me in a similar fashion because I was always chanting aloud- ‘Dear God, I don’t know why I did this but if I come out of this alive, I will turn into a good person.’ I guess God believed me and took away Osama instead. But I am not sure whether I was all that wrong in assuming the US president to be a terrorist. Maybe not Obama but Rambo Bush definitely qualifies to be in the most wanted list.

I wish Obama had waited for one more week to carry out the covert operation. That way I wouldn’t have missed Arnab Goswami or Rajdeep Sardesai giving their silly interpretations after the event. They are such entertaining gentlemen. They do this voice inflection thing, raising and lowering it alternately in order to drive home a point. I am sure both of them thundered afterwards whether India will have the guts to take a leaf out of the American adventure and embark on a similar operation. Of course we shouldn’t listen to these silly chaps. It’s much better to be on the sidelines and watch the souring of the love story between the ex allies. Since we Indians are Bollywood trained, we can always sing a background ditty ‘Do Hanson ka joda bichad gaye re...’ Very apt, don’t you think?

Behind all these frivolities, my heart goes out to the citizens of Pakistan. They are caught between the devil and the deep sea. If they support the US, the Al Queda would get them and if they support Osama’s outfit, Uncle Sam will take their trip. They hardly have any space to manoeuvre a peaceful existence for themselves.
Another of those sad news is about the great feminist poet Kanimozhi’s imminent arrest. No one’s talking about her poetry any more. Not even Barkha Dutt. And we all know how much she supports poets, even bad ones like Kapil Sibal. I haven’t read any of Kanimozhi’s poems because they are in Tamil but I believe they are quite firebrand.

I came across one of those written by a young poet in English. It had lines like ‘the man in the bus stares at my breast.’ I don’t get it. A creep staring at the body parts of a woman is sexual harassment. He should be slapped and not have lines in a poem dedicated to him. I hope Kanimozhi doesn’t write such senseless lines. In any case she will be in an all women prison so no man is likely to stare at her. Hopefully she will organize a kavi sammelan inside the prison and have Sibal as the chief guest. Dutt can cover it live for NDTV, enraptured expression et al.

What I didn’t miss after coming back is ‘I am’ by Onir. I should have but since it covered serious issues like child sexual abuse, I thought it was my duty to watch this one. The film turned out to be a damp squib. There are four stories crisscrossing each other. The first one was quite nice with Nandita Das and Purab Kohli in it. Das wants to have a child through sperm donation and Kohli is the young donor. They meet even though they are not meant to and the encounter is both funny and touching. Das is self assured as always but it’s Kohli who walks away with the acting honours. He is very good as the confused young man getting slowly attracted to the character played by Das whose child he is meant to ‘father.’ The next one has Juhi Chawla and Manisha Koirala and is set in Srinagar. Chawla plays a Kashmiri Pandit who was hounded out of the valley with her family as a child and is forced to go back to sell her house. Koirala plays the friend she left behind. The situation has tremendous possibilities but not much of the potential is realized because both the actors find it difficult to cease being divas. So they spend much of the time in the segment walking the minefield streets of Srinagar as if they were walking the ramp for Rohit Bal. The child sexual abuse segment again fails to deliver. Anurag Kashyap is very good as the abuser but the rest of the cast sucks. Shernaz Patel playing the mother of the victim hams it like anything. Patel is a competent actor but here she is reduced to a caricature and grimaces and winces so many times while delivering the few scanty lines the script accords her that you end up wondering whether she had a stomach upset on the days she was shooting. But the worst is reserved for the last segment.

Try and get this if you can. Rahul Bose is a successful corporate professional in Bombay. He picks up a hustler one evening and buys him dinner. Then they go for a drive. Bose can’t take the hustler home because his parents are visiting. So now we know that he has kept his sexual orientation a secret from his family. Next he parks his car in a lonely street and takes off his shirt and proceeds to pile on to the hustler. So now we know he is also stupid. A burly cop intercepts them and slaps around the indiscreet lovers. He also threatens to put both of them behind bars. Bose agrees to bribe the cop and hands over his ATM card to the hustler to withdraw the cash, presumably with the password. So now we know he is really really stupid. Bose and the cop are left alone with each other after the hustler goes to the ATM and Bose instead of putting on his shirt again stands provocatively next to the cop with his arms around his chest like he was Mamta Kulkarni posing for the Stardust cover. The cop gets turned on and forces Bose to give him a blow job. Later Bose discovers something that he should have known all along when he set out on the misadventure. That the cop and the hustler are partners in crime. And he is devastated. Seriously. What is gay about the whole thing? Won’t a pair of heterosexual lovers have the same experience if they were making out in a car and the cops intercepted them? The Delhi court has allowed two consenting adults of the same sex to make love but in the privacy of their homes or at the very least in a hotel room but certainly not in public places. As for the actors, Bose is plain terrible especially when he is giving coy angles to the cop. But both Arjun Mathur as the hustler and Abhimanyu Singh as the cop do a commendable job, though that’s not enough to rescue the concluding portion from drowning the impact some of the earlier segment leave behind.

One more thing happened while I was away. Rediff brought out an interview of mine about ‘The Boss is not your Friend’. Going through the comments thread I realized some ‘bosses’ have been as rude to me as I have been towards them in the book.

Life always evens out things.