Thursday, June 9, 2011

Angry Bearded Men

The other day, one cloudy morning, I opened a newspaper, having been kicked out of bed and a beautiful dream by parents who were anxious that their son was whiling away his vacations with the pursuit of nothings. Right on the front page of The Hindu, greeting my still sleepy face, were two angry bearded men. One was Ilyas Kashmiri, who was declared dead in Afghanistan. The other was Baba Ramdev who declared a fast until death unless India’s rather large share of black money was brought back to the country so that more people may learn and practice yoga.

In a more frivolous time, when you did not have to sweat a gallon about being politically correct and did not have to fear angry mob who might scythe off your palm, a resourceful editor with a sense of humour might have swapped photos of Ilyas Kashmiri and Baba Ramdev. You know, just for kicks. However, that was not to be and we are forced to go through our mundane days without being able to fall back on the morning memory of Baba Ramdev being captioned Ilyas Kashmiri.

I am a simple man with simple world views and in my opinion, the fewer angry bearded men the world has, the better. The death of Ilyas Kashmiri, whose only endearing quality may have been that he had a pretty wicked name, brought joy to my heart as the world population of raving bearded men took a minor hit. Baba Ramdev seemed, as far as I could make out from The Hindu, to be alive, kicking and very angry. In my limited view, the black money unscrupulous and enterprising Indians have stashed away in the mountains of Switzerland and the white sand beaches of Cayman Islands can stay there for a wee bit longer if it rid this world of Baba Ramdev, his anger and his antics.

In fact, I suppose a win-win situation can be achieved if the government, or whoever is in charge of such things, would just let Baba Ramdev die. The death of Baba Ramdev would inevitably unleash the fury and wrath of that small percentage of the Indian population who still give a tiny rat’s ass about politics, corruption and Gandhi-like fasts. This fury and wrath, aided by further blackmailing from the part of Anna Hazare would surely spur the government or whoever is in charge of such things to actually bring back that rather huge stash of black money and lose it in corrupt deals within India. Go desi! The final balance sheet- Baba Ramdev, no. Lots of money coming back to India, yes. Two birds with one stone, eh?

However, as I lack the political pull pre-requisite for putting through such pulverising plans, I am left to merely postulate. Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been’. As midnight raids and salwar-kameez escapades abound, one can only hope that it all tapers off to a good end. Though what end that might be I fear to contemplate. Baba Ramdev, for all his anger, rainforest beard and inane posturing does appear to be a singularly determined man. Like all singularly determined men, he has dug his toes in and is only prepared to dig them out if his demands are met. It is at moments like these that one looks upto Flying Spaghetti Monster and asks ‘Why?’ Why at all was Baba Ramdev created human? All the first-class qualities of a mule gone to waste.

The Hindu, in a rare occasion of front page humour says “The demands of the jet setting Baba, whose acolytes recently bought him a little Scottish island to open an ashram….. range from the serious to bizarre”. Of course, you know them all by now. Hang the corrupt from lamp posts, ban the institution of currency and go back to the barter system, renounce a tried and tested form of governance the British came up with and opt for a Swadeshi model, make him king of the country and the like.

Of course, as with all such reforming revolutionaries willing to fast it out in New Delhi, our angry Baba Ramdev wants to promote Hindi at the expense of English. For some reason, perhaps ranking his demands in ascending order of stupidity, The Hindu put this point last when they made a list of Baba’s main demands. I was going through this list the aforementioned cloudy morning shaking and nodding my head, letting out intermittent chuckle,s a ‘Ha!’ here and there until I reached the last point. At this point my blood started bubbling and boiling and in the interest of surviving, I jumped into a cold shower.

Baba Ramdev himself, is suspected of having several dirty fingers in several dirty pies. No one knows from where he gets all his money, though he is generally recognised to be a multi-millionaire sadhu. The government, in a perfect example of the term tit for tat, has decided to investigate the Baba and find that piece of incriminating evidence by which it can direct a well-aimed kick at Baba’s saffron clad derriere and send him squelching back to his Scottish island.

As much as I pity the fine Scots, after all they gave us Scotch whiskey, I rejoice at the distinct possibility of Baba Ramdev fading away into his remote island, where he might spend the day and night practising yoga, making much more money and, if he is enterprising enough, banging the brains out of his ardent worshippers.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

On The Last Bencher

Different people have different times at which they can be guaranteed to be at your service. Some prefer the early morning air and chirping of the birds, while some others are not themselves unless they washed their insides with some fine old port. Some people I know are up to anything once they have wolfed down a couple of calzones, while some can run till noon on a glass of skimmed milk. If you want me for anything, be it scaling Mount Everest stark naked or to deliver a heavily loaded emotional bomb to your better half, call me up in the holidays. The months of December, as well as the summer months of May, June and July find me at my willing best. Throw me a challenge and I jump at it like a restless pug.

Obviously familiar with this fact of life, the Alumni Association of IIT Madras, whose esteemed campus I (dis) grace, sent an e-mail sometime in December, calling forth those interested in signing up for a literary endeavour that was to be the first of its kind. This novel venture aimed to capture the life and times of the batch of students passing out in 2011 in a book. Touted as a book of memories, it sought to preserve in print the exploits of those bidding goodbye to the leafy shades of IIT Madras. It was the holidays, Christmas was around the corner and I was bored. Thus, one fine morning, the Alumni Association of IIT Madras woke up to find in its inbox an e-mail that enthusiastically offered the services of Basil James.

Weeks passed and I completely forgot about the Alumni Association and its book. Things were in the doldrums when an unexpected e-mail sometime in February reminded me of those bored days in December and what I had signed up for. Apparently, the Alumni Association wanted to interview me. Invited to the unfamiliar haunts of the Central Library, I appeared for the interview and forgot all about it in two days. Again, weeks passed and things were in the doldrums. Again, quite unexpectedly an e-mail appeared congratulating me on being a part of the book the AA wanted to put out.

Headed by the cute and inimitable Surbhi Maheshwari, we were a motley crew of almost a dozen. Work was distributed efficiently, and I realised I was a correspondent, in charge of visiting final year students and asking them to think of funny stuff that happened to them while in college. In fact, everyone in the team who was not a final year was a correspondent and the rest were editors of some sort or the other. A few weeks and interactions with students later, I suddenly came to realise that I was made an editor of the book. Of course, within days I soon realised that though being the only non-final year editor on board was pretty uplifting, it had its rough side. A final year editor, when asked by a fellow final year editor to do some work, can always ask the latter to bury his/her head in the toilet as the former wanted to watch movies. However, a second year editor can never do this and hope to hang on to dear life. The pretty straight forward rules of senior-junior interaction meant that I did my work with the belligerence of an Assyrian coming down the hill.

I still got to go out and meet a few seniors and listen to their stories. It was great fun, listening to the pranks some fellows have been upto, especially chaps you would not suspect such behaviour from in the first glance. The people I mostly interviewed were people the final years on board knew, which meant that the people I interviewed were also people pretty well-known across campus. Some of the people had reputations that preceded them and they backed the rumours up with solid stories. Others were resolved to, as Lady Macbeth said, look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under’t.

Being an editor, I was exposed to a lot of original writing by Insti junta, articles that were written by final year students themselves and not by correspondents. I was, quite frankly, appalled by the standard of English and writing that exists in my college after reading them. Many of those articles would make a first grader look like Lord Tennyson and made me dumber for having read them. Such toxic waste led to much more work, where I virtually re wrote entire articles to give it a semblance of respectability.

After much effort and equally effective amounts of slacking, the book finally came out in the middle of April. It was well designed, the double pronged design team showing us and the world the way it is done. It was quite a good return for a few months’ work and I found myself feeling slightly proud for what I had helped to accomplish. Of course, going through the book, I found a few errors here and there, some in articles I had personally edited. Being a firm follower in the Wodehousian philosophy that one should never apologise in life as the good people do not want one and the bad people are prone to take a mean advantage of them, I shall desist. But I wish I had done a better job and given a bit more attention and spared a few more moments before rushing off to watch the Arsenal defence leak like sponge.

It was pretty great to be a part of The Last Bencher (as the book got christened) and it really taught me much about bringing out a book. Much credit, though grudgingly given (due to my miserly nature more than anything else), is to be accorded to the team of almost a dozen that worked hard to make the book a success. At the risk of this sounding like a cliché vote of thanks speech, let me extend my hand and shake theirs.