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Dirtscapes

Read. Suffer. Try to Enjoy.

Electronic News Bites

Sunday, July 16, 2006
Been a couple of weird-ass weeks in Mumbai city, first came the rains, then came the blasts. Each of these incidents were covered brilliantly by our ever capable and hard working electronic media guys. How brilliantly you might want to ask...

This is how...

First, let's take up the rains.
It rained like it always does at this time of the year, and the city shut shop for a couple of days like it always has been doing for all these years. Only, till last year, we didn't have these guys risking everything to tell us what we actually should be knowing. Even if we don't really care. All that we got to see a couple of years back were photos in the TOI the next day, and read reports about how the city took a day or two off.

But now?

Intrepid reporter, suitably soaked, does his stuff, and gives us his views on everything right from the BMC’s inefficiency, to the volume of rain measured in the last half a minute. Stands in a waterlogged area for enhanced visual appeal. The junta in the background gawk at the camera as if they are seeing an alien life-form in a bikini, elbowing each other and the reporter to be ‘seen’, and dazzle us with their million dollar smiles. Cut back to dude in the studio, wearing his best Sunday suit.

“Aur aap dekh rahe hain…. Mumbai behaal. Jagah jagah paani ke bhar jaane se train tatha bus ki aawa-jaahi pe bhaari prabhaav. Log sehme hue hain, dare hue hain… par himmat nahi hare hain…Isiko Mumbai ki ‘ispirit’ kehte hain… jo duniya ki koi sheher mein nahi dekhne ko milegi. Kahaa jaata hai yahaan ke log kabhi himmat nahi haarte hain, hamesha museebaton ka dat ke saamna karte hain, aur is baar bhi Mumbai ne apna kamaal dikha hi diya.”

I could have sworn I had heard the same thing last year. Not a word out of place. You wouldn’t have known if they were showing this footage from last year, considering how cleverly they were juxtaposing last year’s waterlogging videos with this year’s, whenever they were a little short of drama.

Cut to footage of street urchins having a whale of a time on the flooded streets.
“Dekhiye Mumbaikar kitna anand utha rahe hain barsaat ki, pareshaaniyon ka saamna karte hue…”

That those wretches would have access to a recreational water body only at this time of the year is purely co-incidental. It simply means that the entire city is having fun in the rains.

Then came the blasts.
Time for even more tact and delicacy.

Cut to suited dude again, in front of an electronic map of Mumbai behind him, with all the explosion sites marked out. “7/11" written in bold on top of the screen. The last time I checked, we still wrote dates as dd/mm/yy. But then 7/11 is slightly easier on the tongue, and has a nice catchy ring to it.

Then suited guy repeated “(time) ko bum dhamaka” 8 times ad nauseam every time we returned from an ad break. Was enough to make you wish he would get a case of fissures in his dorsal cavity. A very apt series of bum dhamakas those would have been there.

Suited dude then tries to patch in another fearless reporter from the frontlines. A technical snag later, he’s left staring at us, blankly. We stare back expectantly, feeling something in our bones. Something good was about to come, or about to give. Then suddenly in a divine burst of inspiration, he lets this rip. Wonder what he was smoking during the ad breaks. Whatever it was, it was freaking good.

“Aur aap dekh rahein hai yeh aankdon (numbers) ka gazab khel”.

(Us: WTF?!)

“Aaj saat july hai, 7/11, aur aaj 11 minute ke andar, 7 bum dhamake huey…”

(Us: WTF?! WTF?! WTF?!)

Another edgy stare into the camera, and then he realizes he’s screwed up royally. He’s been screaming himself hoarser than a vegetable vendor outside Dadar station, stating that there were 8 bum dhamakas in all. Colossal.

To his credit, he pulls himself together very quickly, and then without batting an eyelid, says

“Maaf keejiyega, kul milaake 8 dhamake huey, 7 train mein, aur ek Borivli platform pe. Fir bhi, agar aankdon ko milaaya jaay, to 7 bum dhamake train mein, 11 minute mein. Waakai, acharaj ki baat hai.”

Was left marveling. Waakai boss, acharaj ki baat hai.

posted by Tapan at 6:18 PM

Short Story - The Holy Cow

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The agnostic woke up with a sense of unbearable irritation. Travelling seemingly halfway across the world to get to the place where he didn’t want to go, to fix up something that he didn't want to do, wasn't his idea of a perfect Saturday. It would be much better spent lying on his bed, staring emptily into space. Still, what had to be done, had to be done, a price to pay for being part of human society.

The humid afternoon air pleased him no end as he travelled to the outskirts of the city, till the temple trust office. It was spanking new, with that curious lack of awe and spirituality, which modern temples somehow failed to
evoke. It almost tried too hard to be taken seriously as a holy place, and failed. A black stray dog fixed an irritated eye on him, panted a couple of times and promptly went back to sleep.

He entered the office, where he found the head priest, a balding, corpulent old man in his fifties, sweating profusely in front of a table fan. The heat was making the priest want to curse aloud, but he bit his tongue since
he was sitting just a couple of feet away from the sanctum sanctorum. He was god-fearing to a fault, of course.
Another junior priest hovered self-importantly in the background, plainly with nothing to do.

The priest regarded his visitor, the first customer of the day, with a careful eye. Jeans, tee shirt, and sneakers. A new generation kid. He knew their type. No culture, no respect for God. All they cared about was money. And were willing to do anything for it.

The agnostic went up and said,
"I've got to do a death anniversary ceremony, for my father."

The priest asked for the perfunctory religious data, which he got in the form of a scrap of paper bearing all the info required.

"But of course. All written down on a sheet of paper." the priest thought.
"He wouldn't even know what's written in this…modern educated folk, so out of touch with our traditions and customs. And he's supposed to be a Brahmin."
The priest shuddered slightly.

The agnostic came straight to the point

"What's it going to cost me?"

"Let's see... the ceremony charges will be around a 1000, along with a donation of 500 to the trust, along with two silver cows, two silver plates, two silver cups, and two silver spoons. And of course, the dakshina at the end of it. And you will have to do a generic ceremony which appeases all gods which will cost you another 1000."

The agnostic wrote it down, and fixed up a probable date.

The day of the ceremony dawned a blistering hot Monday. The whole family would be there to shed tears of fond remorse over somebody who really had never been part of their inner circle. They were there because of their social compulsions too. The way everybody came forward with some kind of fond remembrance or incident, which proved how close he or she was to the deceased, was really touching. The fact that they hardly ever bothered to keep in touch when he was alive really did not matter. Death conquers all, and infuses a sudden sense of belonging and love, which just never existed before.

The agnostic watched the relatives come in reluctantly, much against their will. He nodded at the few who had come in because of genuine reasons, and the rest, he just saw through. Not everybody likes to take a day off. No.

The head priest looked at the turnout and was pretty happy with the numbers. He motioned to the agnostic to come meet him. The agnostic went up, and sat in front of him.

"Have you brought everything I had asked for?"

"More or less…"

The priest's brow furrowed. He didn't like the shape of things to come.

"What do you mean?"

The agnostic smiled, and started taking things out of his backpack.

One set of silver paraphernalia, and one set made of copper. That included the cows too.

The priest stared at them, his disappointment growing more crushing by the minute.

"I had asked you for two silver sets! This is not acceptable!"

”But it is not mandated anywhere in any scripture or holy book. That was what you demanded. And this is what I am willing and able to give you. Iccha daana.” the agnostic quietly said.

“Also, I will not be doing the generic ceremony, since that is not advised by our family’s seniors. We’ve never heard of it being done for a death anniversary, and we are not about to start a new precedent.”

The junior priest in the meanwhile was bustling about in the background, dejectedly looking on at the proceedings.

There went his silver set. And his generic ceremony fee. The agnostic looked at him out of the corner of his eye and suppressed the huge laugh that just wanted to come out. It took a lot of effort.

The head priest took a couple of minutes to recover. He hadn’t expected the agnostic to be so aware. There wasn’t much he could do. This was a least expected turn of events, and with so many people already around, he was plainly outnumbered. He steeled himself and got on with the proceedings. The agnostic refused to maintain any kind of eye contact with the priest, as he just went about doing the rituals, as told.

Once the ceremony was over, the agnostic kept the required cash as dakshina in the holy platter, and walked away as fast as he could from the place.

“Even death has a price, a role in the entire value chain. They have to make money off these sentiments too…” the agnostic thought.

He felt suffocated, and his eyes were stinging. It had partly to do with all that holy smoke.

“People don’t realize that we have to run a profit centre here. The monthly bills aren’t exactly cheap…”

reflected the priest, as he watched the agnostic walk away. A bit too hastily, he thought.

posted by Tapan at 11:42 PM