The Train and I

My relationship with the train had an unusual start, probably not so unusual for several thousands of students who went to schools like mine. It started right from my kindergarten days: I, along with others in my rickshaw had to cross a railway track to get to school. We would have to get down and push the vehicle over those ‘massive’ tracks. If there weren’t many of us, the rickshaw guy would just leave us before the track and we’ll have to walk the remaining distance (about 200 meters). I don’t know if it’s the annoying walk in the sun or the general feeling that trains can crush almost anything: we would place stones on the track for feet together, when we return, every evening. Just to see them get pulverized (with some hopes to derail the train, perhaps. Who knows?). We would curse the ‘oldies’ who come chasing us to remove the stones, moments before the train passes by. They were sometimes exciting sometimes nervous moments. When we found a crushed dead body beside the tracks one morning, ‘scary’ got added to the list.

I’ve lost so many 10 paise coins in the tracks, trying to ‘magnetize’ them. I wasn’t the worst, though. I know some 8th and 9th grade kids who would regularly flatten 1 rupee coins. I wonder what they learnt in their physics classes.

A train had all these strange meanings, and just that, for several years till I finally got on a train in my 5th grade. It was a long journey - Dindigul to Kakinada. Madras was exotic, Egmore sounded alien. Pallavan buses were, well, red.

A lot of things were new: short, non-stop ads in Sears-Elcot televisions in Central screaming "pon vandu pon vandu, potu paarunga"; shining blue Bisleri bottles that made me ask “thannikku kaasu tharanuma?”; my ‘never seen before’ gluttonous side; vomiting on a fellow passenger’s lap not being able to bear with his cigar smoke; testing my ‘learned from TV’ Hindi to attend nature’s call – “bhai saab mujhe urgent se aaraha hein;” bribing Godavari with a 25 paise coin to get the train across and a lot more.

My first train journey overwhelmed me with all kinds of emotions – joy, anxiety, unease, jealousy, confusion and even ruefulness. It took quite sometime for me to absorb these things and consciously experience what the stereotypical Indian train journey is known for – “meeting with interesting people from all walks of the society.”

By the time I moved to Bangalore I must have traveled in trains for over a hundred times. Marriages, college tours and what have you. There were very few 'stunts' that I hadn't pulled; there were few postures that I hadn't assumed - intentionally and unintentionally. But Madras – Bangalore was always special. It was the first time I started doing everything. I earned, I stood in the queue, I paid, I got to the station – all by myself. The experiences that I've had then, during the journeys, are some of the best, ever. I think I'd rather save them for a podcast.

Train journeys in 'Second Class Sleeper' reflect a very reasonable image about Indian life. Nothing is too bad, but you do to get to see the worst of it occasionally. People, facilities, everything would have a fair mix of what India has to offer. That's what makes 'The Great Indian Railways' such an excellent documentary.

I first saw it in 1998. It had been just a year after India's 50th independence anniversary. Some of the short films from the Bharat Bala's series the previous year, were still aired in DD. The pseudo-patriotism injected in our veins over a period of several months was still alive. So the documentary wasn't all that enchanting. I even felt outraged at times. I thought they were deliberately hiding the 'good stuff' to dampen our spirits (damn whites, I thought). I continued to hold the same impression for a long time.

Even though I would run into the documentary once in a month or so, later, I chose to sit through the whole thing again only in 2004 – six years after the first time I had seen it. This time I was in Bangalore. I was older, and as I had mentioned earlier, I had gained more experiences to compare and contrast (and of course, the jingoism had faded away quite considerably). The documentary, now, seemed extremely sincere, emotionally profound and unimaginably comprehensive. I thought then, and still do, that it was probably the best documentary to portray India as it is.

I was so excited to find it in 'desitorrents'. The short segment below is my favourite. The crowd rushing into the train is so typical of what I've been part of several times. It's the quintessential “kerchief culture” at work. Of course, the babu English, the “cribbing” women, the cold sense of humour, the retired "bank manager" arguing with taxi drivers – it's all very fascinating and real.

Of everything an Indian can miss, the train is what I miss the most.

For an age old clichéd question, this is a bloody smart answer, don't you think? (Again, it's from Orkut.)

He: Suresh answer my question..... who are you?

I: I am who you are asking it to.

hahaha. periya vevaramana vengayam; kekranunga paaru kelvi, velakkena!

enda dei?-2

I, like many of you, get a very bad headache when I can't run through lines - when I have to stop, pause and do some permutations to get the best possible meaning. I usually pretend like the message isn't posted in the thread at all. But when people address you directly you are forced to read it and that's when you complain. And how do they respond?
i dont care to take ur views... ur english seems pathetic and u in no position to kinda comment upon mine...and by da way if iam a teen i wud write dat kind of scraps only(this is with ref to ur other scrap) i aint an oldie like u

dont xpect me to write English as ur High school teachers thought u...spell check is a tool in MS word to chk da spellings as per dictionary here i aint writin no novel for my skool so i dont give a damn bout spellings..mayb u cant understand thats as i said ur prob...
ennada solreenga? enda indha maari ellam irukkeenga? ungalukkellam kai'la kusthama? illa oru varthaya mulusa adikradhu avalo kashtama? saniyan ungala pudichudha illa neenga saniyana pudicheengala? ungalukkellam porandha odane thaduppoosi potaangala illaya?

A 'critical' conversation - 2

'second part' of this podcast.

The white in black

bell hooks is one of the most influential black feminists of our lifetime. Her poetic yet critical narratives - eloquent and articulate - have always amazed me. The video below is one of the best critiques of rap/hip-hop music you'll ever find. Note what she says at around 6 minutes in the video - her observation exemplifies feminist deconstruction.

Edit: I could not resist adding another video from the series (this one's on Spike Lee)

* - I recommend you click on the video and watch the entire series in youtube (split into parts)

Indians are the most racist

Just when I felt these morons should stop doing such programs, especially with "polling the public", they surprise you - quite unintentionally. The question is framed as if they measure racism every year and "this year's studies indicate" that "racism is on the high." But thankfully the 'panel guests' were exceptionally rational; something the guys at IBN aren't quite used to. It was so refreshing to hear someone get on TV and say "Indians are the most racist". hahaha

Update: The story is getting really weird. I turn to BBC for some good old '78 are feared dead in a landslide in Philippines' kind of news. What do I see? Tony Blair talking about 'Big Brother' in the British parliament. Gordon voicing his opinion in Delhi. BBC's own 'panelists' expressing their opinions. Each and every news report on it makes you go 'WTF?'

People have already started burning effigies. Their 'self righteous' opinions are reflected by Anand Sharma. The irony is overwhelming. Let me quote a line from this page, a line that is quite funny and just as irritating.
"India has throughout firmly rejected all forms of discrimination and racism'' says Sharma - Which part of India is he from? Listen to his brief radio interview. This man hasn't seen many clips himself, just the ones shown in "Indian television". But he's confident enough to get into the "dai enakku ellam theriyum, engappa padhinettu'pattikku padi alandhavar" tone with the interviewer. What an ass?

And what's with Shilpa and her mother talking about "Indian culture"? The former touting that she's going to "display Indian culture" on the show and the latter declaring "she was brought up according to Indian values" - seriously, which part of India are you all from?

* - I tried to embed the video, but looks like it doesn't load on anything. Idiots.

enda dei?

Once in a while I run into the "awaken, arise.." post somewhere. It's usually in an Orkut 'community' (forum). I usually don't react to the posts thinking "well, that's what you do too. Sure, it's little less pretentious, but you do it." But today, I just put my 'self-critical' side to rest and replied. Part of the post reads,
There is a Gross misconception & myth in our country.Rooting for indian cricket team is a way to show to prove your love for nation.This has led to a pathetic situation in our country.You make them Demi Gods one day & the other day you abuse them.Will Sehwag's back to form give the indian population 3 meal a day? How many of you can name atleast 20 hockey players who have played for india? But if i ask you what was the highest score of Sachin in test,iam sure i would get atleast a million answers.
I said,
Cut the idealistic nonsense man. You're talking as if everything else is done for "3 meals a day". This world works in a way that it encompasses all bullshit. In fact there's not much difference between bullshit and "useful" stuff. They are all a part of the bloody economic ecology. They function within their levels of sustainability. Why are you judging others' trivial priorities?

People go on hunger strikes to ban a stupid cartoon. Where does your "3 meals per day" argument fit in that picture?

And stop romanticizing hockey. Sure, it's our "national game". But where did it come from? It sure didn't come from India! Hockey and cricket, they both came from the same damn colonianist white pigs.

How does it make a difference anyway? I know several kids who can name all Indian states and their capitals. Does that make them more patriotic or political?

Your points are non-sequitur man. It's the idealist "oh mother India.." sensationalist BS that we are tired of hearing. It's the modern version of "elu Tamila, vengaya Tamila" BS of the Dravidian movement. It only gets us all jingoistic and arrogant, nothing else. It's not your fault, though, we should twist Kalam's arms for encouraging this trend.

killer comments: 1

When this guy says something like this, the comment below is what serves him right.

Wow Deepak! I was seduced into reading your blog by the title. I happen to be working on an evolutionary theory of wisdom (sapience), which is largely based on neuroscience and evolutionary psychology. So naturally I was intrigued by the title - survival of the wisest. Sorry I didn't see parts I or II, but seeing part III makes me realize why so many people hold you in disdain. My friend you should stick to feel-good topics. Your ignorance of biology and evolution are stunning.

"Darwinians bluster that the answers to these mysteries already exist. This is far from true. I have debated Nobel laureates and other scientific notables on these issues."

I heard about such a debate. Now I know why you lost so horendously. Don't quit your day job my friend. You have no future in the sciences.

I'm not prone to mere ad hominem attacks as a rule. But occassionally I see some statement to which there can be no reasonable retort simply because the whole premise is unreasonable. The fact that someone like you, who distort reality or plain doesn't understand it can have such a following is a sad comment on the state of our society.

Sexed up discourse

The transition of the prudish Indian youth to the post-prudish pseudo-sexual western wannabe has become flagrant. It’s obvious, but I’ll state it anyway: people no longer seem to feel “proud” about being virgins. I don’t know about women, but men don’t seem to. What appeared to be ironic when we watched English movies – virgins being despised and ridiculed – is gratuitously embraced as the norm among many urban English-speaking youth. It’s gratuitous because it’s a little too soon even for such a vile practice1. Losing your virginity before marriage isn’t all that feasible for most Indians, not yet. There could be several reasons for it: failed attempts, lack of opportunities, confused morality, anxiety, disinterest and/or plain physical inability are some.

What’s shocking, though, is the way all of this is oversimplified and quantified as symptoms of depression, anger, frustration and even idiocy. It’s done by the “urbanized” youth without much introspection and sexist middle aged men seem to have caught up with this reductionist fad too2. It’s something that permeates intellectual and political leanings. It’s evident from the ‘blogosphere’. From the condescending “dude you need to get laid” to the patronizing “all this is irrelevant.”

This happened on New Year’s night. I was at a friend’s place and the “God” topic got into our conversation. I was putting down all claims about the necessity of an external purpose to live and so forth. I was practically vomiting what I’ve been saying here and elsewhere lately. In that ‘group’ was an Indian from Delhi – rich, second year electrical engineering. He was by then slightly drunk (at least that’s what I learnt from what he said).
He said “do you have a girl friend?” – “No” – “what are you doing man? you’re so smart, you should be having, like, five girlfriends, banging them every week night.” I felt so outraged that I didn’t know what to start with3.
It was extremely judgmental and riddled with sexist notions – commodification of women; permissibility for men to have multiple partners; subversion of “smartness” as a sexual panacea and devaluation of one’s life on sexual basis to list a few.

I’ve been hearing this for so long from so many people that I’m not able to “let it slide” anymore. My retorts are even antithetical at times because I’m driven to be offensive4. Maybe that’s what they are asking for. Most recent being this comment I got for my previous post. I’ll quote the most relevant parts and my reply.
He said,
You are like that Sri Priya in Aval Appidithaan…Sri Priya will spend the rest of her life doing podcasts about the evil male species, while Saritha will happily sleep with Kamal & have great sex. You tell me what matters more - Sex or Podcast ?
I replied5,
“Sex or podcast”? He is asexual; he was born without sexual organs or sexual feelings. He doesn’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. For him sex does not mean anything: for a blind man does not care if his walls are painted red or blue. So there, he just gave a big “fuck you” to you.
Being an ass as you are, you are now welcome to make fun of the blind man for not having eyes - I mean, Suresh, for not having testicles.

1I think it’s inappropriate to associate moral or social value to consensual sex (pre-marital or whatever). Besides, there’s a lot of hypocrisy involved in this ‘norm’. Most of who try to ridicule virgins probably are virgins themselves.

2Once again, I’m not sure about how women perceive and reflect on these things. But I would assume it’s more or less the same, at least in the industrialized world.

3His being an Indian is not particularly relevant to the point - it's just to reason why he felt comfortable enough to say something like that. I admit, there have been times when I would be flattered by such a comment. But in retrospect, I’m ashamed at my silence filled smirk in those times.

4This is no excuse for my rude and offensive reply. I therefore apologize to Babu for being, in a strange way, what I was attacking. Having said that, I also want to say “fuck you” to those who’re going to say “dude you need to get laid” in ‘comments’.

5 The question was addressed to my imaginary self hence the reply from him.

A 'critical' conversation

Just a few days after I had posted this I had a long conversation with one of my friends. It was just another phone call but this one was a lot less personal than others, so I thought I'll publish parts of it. Our conversation is quite pertinent to the post I had made earlier, about socially constructed notions of beauty.

Original location

A lot of what is said in the podcast may overlap with the posts that I have made here. I'll cite some of them for a quick reference: ref 1; ref 2

Veyil - Vaandhi Mayakkam

I saw this movie over a week ago. I didn't want to say anything about it then. It was as if I did something extremely embarrassing and didn't want to reveal it to others. But after realizing (from a few blogs) that many have come out of the closet, I got it out of system as well. Here it goes - brrr uvaaaak.

A lifted loop

I listened to a song from Vallavan (y'ammadi aathadi) yesterday for the first time and felt some familiarity with one of the loops. Listen to it yourself (it's ~4 minutes).

'Grotesque' obsession

BBC has made some of the best documentaries on art - music, dance, painting etc. 'How art made the world' is probably the most prominent among them. It's a multi-disciplinary composition that was broadcast as a five part series. The amount of research that has gone into making the kind of correlations that they make is stunning. It's available for download in torrent, and I strongly recommend that you do.

However, there is one segment - consisting a concrete analogical fact - that I have found extremely useful in discussing matters concerning racism, 'unreal body images' etc (to differentiate between socially constructed "instincts" and natural instincts) for quite sometime. I should have uploaded it much earlier.
That 'fact' might also explain the Tamil audience's obsession with 'plump' heroines like Kushbu and Jyothika. I think we, well, many of us, are still in close contact with our primaeval instincts, after all.

Best comedy movie ever: wtf?

I know Indians have lately been rating and leaving comments in popular websites. But I never imagined, notwithstanding this list, it would take them this far!

Update: As I was skimming through some comments in the IMDB page, I found this
[T]he whole idea of the teachings of Mohindra Karamchod Ghandi being incorporated was a twist unlike any other
Well, at least he didn't call him 'Behn-chod'.

I'm walking away

That's what I wish to say to last year

Yes, I put the video together.
Song: Craid David - Walking away
Stills: several flickr users
s/w used: Sony Vegas

©2009 english-tamil