More Than Angstploitation

Something which has worried me since 2004 is Euphoria’s Maaeri. Is it actually an all-time great song, or do I just think so because it was lucky with its timing and came out just when me (and my batch) were in the grip of teenage angst and susceptible to any decent song about pain, lost love, and fickle/ missing/ unattainable women. When you’re in an engineering college where the education sucks, the extra-curricular scene is a wasteland, and there isn’t a single woman worth talking to (and not that many men either); hearing other people sing about being crushingly alone or having lost the love of their life provides the schadenfreude necessary to keep you going through those four years. And after four years of exploiting your angst, the song sticks with you and gives ou goosebumps even when you’re in a college full of strong junta, or have a job you enjoy, or have a darling girlfriend.

So as I was saying the question of whether Maaeri was actually a great song or just a lucky song that exploited our generation’s collective teenage angst when we actually had teenage angst plagued me. Finding an objective answer to this question was of vital importance, otherwise any Best Songs of All Times list we prepared could never be accurate. At one time, I seriously considered having a son just so I could shield him from Maaeri through his formative years and make him listen to it only once he had gotten over his teenage angst. In this way I would have a controlled environment in which to test the emotional appeal of the song. Eventually I realised that this would be child abuse, and besides, I could do it to anybody else’s son instead. If he too would respond to it by becoming senti, getting down on his knees and singing along loudly, we would have proof that Maaeri was actually a great song for all times and not just for our generation.

But this week, over a long conversation with my parents, aunt and cousin-in-law (the one who my cousin eloped with, thus bringing honour to the family), I think I’ve settled the question once and for all and so raising my own children or kidnapping other peoples’ won’t be necessary. Maaeri is in fact an all-time great song.

I realised this when I compared Maaeri to another song from the same time that also played heavily on teenage angst – Chaandni Raatein (youtube link, embedding is disabled). That had angstmax lines like दुखिया आँखें ढूँढ रही हैं कहीं प्यार की बातें (these miserable eyes are trying to find something about love anywhere). But the song didn’t even need that – the chorus was enough.

चांदनी रातें, चांदनी रातें / सब जग सोये हम जागें / तारों से करें बातें

(On moonlit nights, while the whole world sleeps, I stay awake and talk to the stars).

It just lays on the angst and pathos. It’s the senti engineer’s kryptonite. And if said senti engineers weren’t cynical enough to lay on the booze and weed, but not despo enough to pile on to women from Bhatinda (pronounced Bathinda), they pretty much had to spend their nights sitting around in the lawns loudly and tunelessly yowling Chaandni Raatein.

So back in the innocent days of the early 2000s – before global financial crises, before extraordinary rendition, before DJ Aqeel even – Chaandni Raatein had teenage angst well in its grip and was applying the olive press treatement too. But where is it today? Nobody remembers it. When I did remember it, I realised that it no longer affected me the way it used to.

But Maaeri is still going strong. The song (with or without the video) still gives me goosebumps. If only the fresh batch at IIMB weren’t such maggus who never came to L-Squares, we could do further tests and see if they dropped to their knees and started singing whenever it was played. I bet they would, despite all the magguness.

And now, the video:

You know, the video leads to another insight. It is very cliched, but the genius of Pradeep Sarkar is that he deploys familar tropes so effectively that an entire story can be told in a six minute video. You can see that in the Piya Basanti video too, and the Aana Meri Gully video (which even without the storytelling is awesome just by virtue of having young cute Sandhya Mridul in it):

Also, a couple of related links: Deepak Shenoy’s comment on my old Maaeri post, and the NITK Numbskulls on the all time best Indipop.

All India Radio

Samar Halarnkar is pissed off that Indian FM radio stations only play Bollywood songs and puerile PJs (a sentiment I share to some extent) and proposes a solution in the Hindustan Times – putting AIR on steroids.

AIR has found fans like me — though let me confess that before I ‘discovered’ AIR, I was quite addicted to a radio spot in Mumbai called ‘Kamla ka hamla’, the random outpourings of a fast-talking transvestite — not because of a grand plan to counter the explosion of private radio but because it is a public broadcaster that is not beholden to the demands of the mass market.

Ideally, public-service radio must give voice to and reflect the needs of democracy’s silent majorities and minorities. It cannot be left entirely to the whimsical flick of a few hundred million wrists. “Broadcasting,” as Tony Benn, a British socialist politician once observed, “is really too important to be left to the broadcasters.”

An AIR with vision and verve could lead India’s radio revival. Imagine if it became a National Public Radio, the wonderful public-radio network in the US. There are many like us, waiting for lively, intelligent radio.

So because Samar Halarnkar is too cheap to buy an iPod and download podcasts (or a Worldspace receiver for that matter), the taxpayers of India must shell out their money to revamp AIR and the brightest people in government must go build a vision and verve for public radio instead of, oh I dunno, fixing the university system or conducting police reform or something.

For this he gets paid to be a columnist?

Dispelling the biggest myth about China – FOOD

Every other day I happen to speak to a colleague, acquaintance, long lost friend and when I tell them that I work in China the reaction invariably is “China; are you vegetarian? – it must be terrible for you there” or worse still “Are you eating cockroaches and lizards every day?” And this comment is invariably from people who have never visited China. For one to think that everyone in China eats lizards and cockroaches is akin to someone who would watch Slumdog Millionaire and think every Indian lives in a slum and has to beg for a living! I am writing this merely to highlight the reality in China today in terms of food. For most of the world and more so for India (in spite of being a neighbour), China remains an unravelled mystery.

When I visited China for the first time on a short trip, I came here with an open mind, not expecting anything but not carrying the notions that some of my friends/ acquaintances in India have about China. Born to a Brahmin mother and Jain father, I am vegetarian by birth and now by choice – and not because of religious reasons. I don’t mind sharing my table with people eating meat or having my food made in same utensils used for cooking meat and I don’t eat meat simply because I don’t like the taste. And it’s not that I have to eat only Indian vegetarian – I like all cuisines, as long as its non meat dishes.

When I came to live in Shanghai, It took me all of 2 weeks, speaking to some Indian acquaintances and some googling to figure out the following about Shanghai:

• There are more than 30 Indian restaurants in Shanghai and growing by the day (the Indian consulate website also provides details of Indian restaurants in China)
• There are hazaar American, Italian, Mexican restaurants with some good vegetarian options on their menu
• Most Chinese restaurants make vegetable fried rice, stir fried broccoli, Chinese cabbage, stir fried vegetable with mushroom, braised eggplant, spinach etc (In fact the Chinese also make spring onion chapatti and call it “congyoubing”)
• In Shanghai, there are more than 3 (that I know of) independent Indian chefs – who provide a dabbawala kind of service depending on which area one lives/ works in (Jain food also available)
• There are Indian grocery stores wherein one gets everything from basmati rice to all kinds of pulses, spices to desi daru
• There are Buddhist vegetarian restaurants where people who don’t eat meat but like the taste get mushroom/ soybean dishes cooked to taste like meat

Other cities like Beijing, Hangzhou, Suzhou have Indian restaurants; in fact Yiwu (frequented by lot of Indian businessmen) has a pure vegetarian Indian restaurant.

So one may think what about all those emails floating around showing pictures of lizards, cockroaches, and various insects sold as street food in China. Well, yes, those do exist but very rarely have I seen any of my Chinese friends or colleagues eating that and it surely is not available everywhere – I can’t find a single such place anywhere near my office or house in Shanghai. I know of the food stalls near Wanfujing walking street in Beijing and that is the only place in China where I have seen the insects being sold. Also, I am told that in interiors of China, rural China, especially in the south, people eat more “exotic” stuff including monkey, cat and dog. But in Shanghai; KFC, McDonald’s are surely more frequented than the roadside food stalls.

Let us understand why some people in China eat this “exotic” or “weird” or “unusual” stuff in the first place. It is said that because of food shortage in the past, the people ate anything and everything to fill their stomach – it was a question of survival! Also when it comes to normal food like chicken, it’s the Chinese style of preparation which is very different. For example, Chicken feet are eaten and the chicken is normally not skinned – which may not be acceptable to most Indian meat eaters. However, this still does not warrant the 5 kg basmati rice and other food stuff most Indians carry along with them when they arrive in China – almost as if there is no food available here!

So if you are an Indian vegetarian or meat eater looking to visit China, please do so just as you would visit any other country in the world – without having notions about the food – as global cuisine is available in most of the big cities here.

Drivers I Despise

Because the whole point of the Internet is to complain loudly and gracelessly about everything that is wrong with the world, I shall now complain about the most exasperating drivers in India. They are the drivers who have greyed my hair. They are the drivers who add twenty minutes to my commute every day. They are the drivers who… fuck it, let’s just get on with the list. The five worst sorts of drivers in India, in ascending order of how much I hate them, are:

  • Truck drivers on the Chennai-Bangalore expressway, who drive only in the fast lane between 40 and 50 Kmph. In contrast, Jat and Serd truckers on the Delhi-Amritsar highway are angels of driving ettiquette who stick to the middle lane and don’t swerve or zigzag. On the other hand, because the Chennai-Bangalore truckers are consistent about sticking to the fast lane, you can always overtake from the slow lane without any fear. So they stay at #5.
  • Armed Forces Wives in the Willingdon Camp area, who go around an empty roundabout at 10 Kmph. Invariably they drive a white Maruti 800 with a regiment or squadron sticker on the rear windshield, where it probably blocks the rear view mirror’s field of view.
  • All Forms of Traffic in Calcutta. Calcutta is a nightmare maelstrom of twenty five year old Ambassadors that smell fifty years old, kerosene powered autos, and pedestrians putting dharna or hartal. Fixing it is best accomplished by taking off and nuking it from orbit. It’s the only way.
  • Indicabs in Bangalore: you know how I mentioned that the saving grace of the trucks on the Bangalore highway was that they were consistently in the fast lane and you could overtake from the left? Well, when it comes to cabs in Bangalore even that luxury isn’t there. The odds are good that the cab will be an underpowered dinky little Indicab going at 30 Kmph. The odds are also good that there won’t be just the single Indicab in the fast lane, but a phalanx of them forming a diagonal across all the lanes, so that even overtaking from the slow lane isn’t possible.

That brings us to the single most loathsome form of traffic, which is:

  • Cargo Three Wheelers between ITO and the Haryana border.
    Where do I begin to describe the awfulness of a cargo autorickshaw?
    With the combination of the centred driver cab and the ginormous cargo space preventing the driver from seeing anything behind him?
    With the engine creating so much noise that the driver can’t even hear you honking?
    With the fact that the bloody things pick up where the Indicabs left of when it comes to driving in all lanes?
    Or that they’re unreliable pieces of junk which break down in the middle of the road, forcing traffic to flow around them?
    Whatever. I hate them. Hate them hate them hate them.

I await the day my commute drops from 80 Kilometres to 20 with breathless anticipation.

Haapy Onam

Happy Onam to all my Mellu readers and fans! You guys rock. May your days be filled with immigration to Gelf and lots of todee.

I first thulped Onam sadhya five years ago at the IIMB mess, where the Mellus in the batch prepared and served it for lunch. Whatta meal. Burp.

Today, alas, I am stuck far far North of Hebbal Flyover. And Delhi doesn’t have a single dedicated Mellu joint (at least, that I know about). Woe.