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Dirtscapes

Read. Suffer. Try to Enjoy.

The Chronicles Of Eternia

Sunday, May 21, 2006
Came across these Skeletor spoofs, which brought back fond memories about the one serial that had enraptured the entire kiddie population I knew when I was a kid. Back in the good old DD days, He-Man ruled the roost for half an hour every week. I was introduced to this when I was in the first standard. What attracted me then were the ‘laser sound’ (which went something like ‘tchkonnngg’) effects, so unlike the ‘toffee-shawwww, toffee-shawwww-hoo’ gunshot sounds which were part of my rich Bollywood diet. I would wake up religiously in time for this show on Sundays. Couldn’t quite understand what they were saying at that age, but was real fun to watch all the same. (I remember getting up late once, and asked my parents to write a letter immediately to DD so that they show it again. Just for me… and howling hard when they laughed…)

The second wave came when I was in the third standard. DD re-ran the series, and I was actually beginning to make out what they were saying. It was hypnotic to say the least. A very classy cartoon series, the first one I ever watched in fact. The highlight was a smarmy moral at the end of each episode, where Prince Adam would show us how a certain character fouled up and what we ought to learn from it…

My favourite characters were Orko – with his very Bollywood ,Rajendranath type interludes, Stratos – reminded me of Garuda, Cringor/Battle Cat – the timid tiger/wise-cracking badass who also ‘transformed’ like Prince Adam/He-Man when he did the “By the power of Grayskull…I have the Poooowwerrr!!” routine (which we would try and imitate complete with the tiger roars and lightning and thunder claps at every chance we got), Skeletor – by far the coolest, and of course – the lovely Teela.

With the TV series, came the great doll collecting monomania, with Leo-Mattel introducing action figures of the main characters. Gujju kids would be the first to buy every single one available, and flaunt them shamelessly in our not-so-freely-spending—‘service’-waale-parents-ka-kids’ faces. We would have to wait till we either ‘came first’ in the school exams, or bawl loudly in front of relatives/parents' friends so that your parents would buy one for you just so that you shut the **** up, or strategically inform people that your birthday is fast approaching and you’re SUCH a BIG He-Man fan…
My parents were downright aghast when they learnt that each doll cost 50 bucks, and did nothing more than a cheesy ‘power punch’ when rotated around the waist (there would be a huge blurb on the package announcing this as if it involved advanced nano-circuitry). No batteries, no bling. Which is a valid reaction, considering what 50 bucks could get you back then (circa 1988). The action figures were OK in terms of the finish and the weapons/armour that came with them, but the most disappointing one was the Castle Grayskull set. It was just a thin sheet of tacky plastic, just a front façade. Definitely not what one should be paying 500-600(!) bucks for… check this out too see what I mean.

This series was probably the earliest instance I can recall of truly crazy branded merchandizing…for a government-rationed television time nation with mainstream media that actually printed real news and (gasp) no Internet, we surprisingly had everything from He-Man erasers (both the ordinary pieces with his photo on it, and the really tacky small plastic figures, which you had to separate at the waist to get to the eraser) to note-books, to playing cards, flash cards, stickers, 'notebook labels', tee shirts, caps, plastic Power Swords and Shields and baba suits. The last such wave here in India was probably Pokemon, but it is too trivial and vague to ever match up to this, which was like a proper Chicken Pox rash.

Then there were these little comic-booklets which cost 1.50 bucks apiece, with classily done artwork, newer characters and slightly darker story lines than the TV series. Some 11 sets of four booklets each in all, all collected by us with single-minded devotion. Anyone who had the complete collection automatically became sort of like an alpha-kid at school.

Then came the (classic B-) movie – The Masters Of The Universe. This had Courteney Cox in it, much much before she hit the big time, and Dolph Lundgren as He-Man. Was really frustrated at seeing Orko look like something like a geriatric Gremlin. And Skeletor had eyes that blinked, instead of pure black evil sockets, and spoke in a hoarse whisper instead of that irritatingly whiny, nagging high-pitched voice. No good. Would prefer the TV series/comics any day…I remember loving Skeletor’s hench-men in the movie though – they had these really cool black metal armours, and they used flying shields to get about.

Just wonder how popular He-Man would have been in today's times, given the ephemeral brand shelf lives and attention spans
, and digital games. Would be nice to imagine if the creators of this series even know how big this was once upon a time, in far-off, then not-so-well-connected India.

posted by Tapan at 1:09 AM

Us Kanna Diggaz…

Sunday, May 07, 2006
I am a non-resident Kannadiga, and I didn’t know I was one till I was in the eight standard. No existentialist stuff here, I knew I hailed from Karnataka, but I didn’t know I was called a Kannadiga. I first read that word in the Times Of India, which had a section on communities and stuff, and immediately found it a mouthful. Somehow seems a bit clunky to say. Also, with that name and surname combination of mine, I ALWAYS get asked where I’m from. One senior back in those ragging days helpfully asked me whether I was from Switzerland to which I blushingly replied to in the negative.

The safest answers are
“Ghar pe Kannada baat karta hai”
Or
“I hail from Karnataka…”

Only southies (bless you brothers…) understand the word ‘Kannadiga’. Most others just goggle back at you like you’ve called them something real nasty. “Kya bola?!”

Once, to the “I hail…” answer… I got this back
“Oh… so that means you are (struggle struggle…think think…finally shrug) Kanadian…?”
I said yes, and that was the end of that. I really did not want to take it any further.

That one line really summarizes how little people know about us. Each community has its own ‘brand recall’.
Some examples (caution - these are merely indicative, to be taken with a regular salt pan)

Tams – Mathematics. Rice. Deadly Combo.
Mallus – ‘Gulf’. Coconut. Banana Chips.
Gultis – Dowry. Food so spicy, it chars your alimentary canal (don’t ask me which end…).
Gujjus – Obscene amounts of money. Baap ka business. The Stock Market.
Sindhis – Papads (somebody please explain this to me…).
Bongs – Intellect. The 'firebrand' tag. Passion.
Punjus – Some connection somewhere with a transport company. Makke di roti and sarson da saag (gritting my teeth as I write this – MOTHER of all clichés).
Madus – Ah well…let’s just say… thrift. And leave it at that…

Now try and think about something for a Kannadiga. I for one am hard pressed. What exactly can you throw up? (No pun intended)

IT? Too nouveau to compete with the rich traditionalism and sense of history which goes with the other examples above.

Sandalwood? The association throws up another image altogether of certain erstwhile mustachioed jungle denizens.

Raagi mudde and soppina saaru? Somehow they haven’t really caught on to the national consciousness like the makke ki roti deal.

One word answer? Not much (that’s two words…so there).

There’s probably no single defining signature that defines us as a people, or a community. Kannadigas as a rule are brilliant at cultural camouflage, or so I’d like to believe. Take the ‘North Karnataka’ people for example. Before Karnataka came about, it was part of the Bombay Province which included present-day Maharashtra. For all facts and purposes, their culture, customs and dressing sense is the same as that of Maharashtrians. Add surnames to that too. It is famously said that if you hurl a stone in Dharwad, it will knock down a Patil, a Deshpande and at least 2 Kulkarnis. The type of Kannada spoken here is much more robust, earthy and has a healthy dose of Marathi word usage than the version spoken in Bangalore. So when people from these regions come down to Mumbai, it’s not too difficult to pass off as a Maharashtrian…some go on to lose touch with Kannada altogether, depending on how Marathi-influenced their neighbourhood is.

Kannadigas also have certain favourite professions, beyond which they will not venture out. When was the last time you heard of a Kannadiga diamond merchant or a steel king or an oil tycoon? But you would have had at least a couple of Kannadiga teachers/profs back at school/college. Teaching, banking, and government services are where the majority of the earlier generation were, now just add ‘Computeru’ for the current one. That said, it’s a matter of pride to see a Narayan Murthy and a Nandan Nilekani go on and break this non risk-taking mould. Probably the only really ‘business’ community that we can boast of is the Shetty community. These guys know how to run food joints, and boy do they run a tight ship. The chances of you finding a non-Shetty run mid-price-level restaurant or a bar are (a very confident) nil (at least in Mumbai).

It is this lack of a sweeping cliché which works out very nicely in our case, especially since we can take fantastic pot-shots at our 'other-community-belonging' friends, and laugh even harder as they stutter, gasp and fumble to come up with a retaliatory pejorative, usually “Abbe aye madrasi”, or “Abbe aye anna”, which slides smoothly off our curd-rice nourished skins. Because A, they are not a 100% true fit (Madrasi? Anna? Heh Heh), and B, they don’t have the venomous bite of a “Chup saala Gujju/Kutcchi/Marwadi…” or a “Chal bhag…Papad saala”.

Blessed be.

posted by Tapan at 12:06 AM