Meri overreaction waali maggi

There’s no easy way to say this, I love Maggi, and I love this country. We are all heart and no head, because every time there’s an issue, we lose it. So when someone says Maggi contains lead and MSG, a storm brews up, and lasts way longer than two minutes. The last time we outraged against MSG, it was a movie which featured a Superhero-God trying to kill evil with his armpit hair. It irks me that in the middle of it all, we’ve even forgotten the real issue: Maggi hardly ever takes just two minutes to cook.

What happened was this: we saw/heard something, and just believed it. Think of every such ‘crisis’ we face, and you’ll find it follows a few predictable steps.

Step1: Media reports a story.

Step 2: “HOW CAN THIS BE? KILL EVERYONE.”

Step 3: More cameras shift away from Kejriwal

Step 4: Baba Ramdev lies upside down and gives a quote

Step 5: A big, new advertising campaign countering set ‘perceptions’

You’ll see. I won’t be surprised if underpaid and overworked people at Maggi’s advertising agency are already busy conjuring up “ideas” that “press the emotional buttons of mothers in the SEC-A demographic”. And once again, we’ll believe it. All we need in this country is a current strong enough to flow, and we’ll be swept with it, without ever dropping anchor to stop and think for ourselves. That’s pretty much how we decide what movies to watch, what restaurant to eat at, and which leader to elect to power.

And it’ll fit too, because advertising started it all, by making Maggi this cult figure in every kitchen. Moms had no idea they had to prove their love by cooking Maggi, until Maggi told them so. Just like Madhuri Dixit had no idea the chemicals in Maggi were her fault. She’s probably more shocked than she was when she starred in a movie opposite Sanjay Kapoor. And if she or Amitabh Bachchan end up being sued, it’ll set a bad precedent, but a very interesting one. Because then, the next time you have a hole in your Lux Cozi, you can send Sunny Deol to jail.

Meanwhile, let’s not be under any illusions about being a very health conscious society, although that doesn’t absolve Maggi of any chemical wrongdoing, if any. It’s not like Maggi was a nutrient rich food for the gods that has suddenly become this heathen thing that’s set to destroy the world. Indeed, there are no marathon runners out there who are gutted because they now have to go off their Maggi diet and get back to their unhealthy diet of nariyal-pani, salads and god-help-them, frozen yogurt. If anything, we take pride in going the extra mile and making it even unhealthier, if “Cheese Maggi” and “Fried Maggi” in roadside dhabas are any indication.

Let’s, instead, look at Maggi for what it really is: a boon to people with limited cooking skills and sleeping disorders, college students who spend their allowance on more unhealthy things, and maybe working moms who are hard-pressed for time. It helps that it tastes great and is borderline addictive. The only way Maggi could be more addictive is if I rip open that masala sachet, arrange the powder in lines, and snort it.

Yes, I love Maggi as much as the next guy, unless the next guy is an FDA analyst. And I’m unlikely to stop eating it: just the way smokers don’t stop smoking despite pre-movie advertisements shouting into their lungs, and just the way we lick our kaala-khatta knowing fully well that the ice probably belonged to a dead person once.

So while Maggi will brandish slogans like “Taste bhi, health bhi”, it’s not about either of those things. It is, in fact, just something that has stayed with you through every life stage. Whether it was the time five of you dug into a friend’s Maggi-carrying tiffin-box at school, or that one time you were trekking in Ladakh and it was the only available option, or the time you were ranting on an online forum about how Wai-Wai noodles are better. It has now moved into the domain of nostalgia, a part of the stories you love telling. So irrespective of what Maggi says or the courts say, we’ll continue to eat Maggi.

And it’s going to be all right. If we’ve survived for so long, it’s unlikely that we’ll die of Maggi any time soon.

 

Meri overreaction waali maggi

#FlyOnTheWall

I overhear a lot of conversations. If there’s one art I’ve mastered over the years, it’s hearing words not meant for me, said by people not known to me, without coming across as a creep. In buses, flights, metros, coffee shops, you name it. These are situations that don’t require me to be productive, so this is the next best thing I can do with my time.

Lodhi Garden is in the heart of South Delhi-flanked by colonies like Golf Links, Jor Bagh, Defence Colony-which include multitudes of rich people who don’t quite know how they got rich. They were born in the land their forefathers bought, the prices of which escalated as they aged. It also marks the beginning of the diplomatic zone in Delhi. It used to be Arun Jaitley’s morning haunt before he got busy becoming Chidambram 2.0. Jairam Ramesh can still be seen walking regularly, a little more at leisure than Jaitley, obviously.

(Image: sourced from the web)
(Image: sourced from the web)

So, every morning, it is frequented by the repositories of India’s black money: politicians and businessmen.The sums of money they throw around without even batting an eyelid makes me aware of the huge chasm between us and them. I go there to run, like a lot of others who feel like they owe it to their bodies. I usually run with music on, today I didn’t feel like it. So I just walked without music. That turned out to be a great decision because I could modulate my pace with how interesting the conversations around me got. And you get to hear it all: I’ve tried to reproduce them verbatim, to the best of my memory, since I don’t follow people around with a notepad.

Between them, they encompass the business acumen, biases, networking, humour, contradictions that are classic Delhi, and make it interesting. As always,you can’t decide whether to love or hate this city.

A woman, probably in her early 40s, talking on the phone, presumably about some property dispute:

“Woh keh rahe hain out-of-court settlement kar lo. Unke taaye ka ladka lawyer hai na.Kehte hain tum ownership chhodo, dono bhai paanch-paanch karod le lo. Maine kaha, hadd hai, aise-kaise chhodein?”

Two sprightly gentlemen talking , presumably about some election. It could be to one of those elite clubs of Delhi, or just state politics.

 “I told her SHE needs to be more convinced of her candidacy than anyone else. Kaam toh sabhi kar lenge yaar, so it boils down to managing your perception, hai ki nahi? Tum jo image project karoge, sooner or later, people will have to accept.”

 A girl in her late 20s, talking on the phone. If her general gait and tone was any indication, she’s bored with everything around her.

 “Yaar terr paas Pikku padi hai Pikku? De de yaar. Aaj aur kuch hai nahi karne ko…Office jaate hue de jaayega?” #Kandha

One couple walking with a friend of theirs(I’ll call them husband, wife and random guy), all in their late forties-early fifties, talking about the mid-life crises that spring up around this time: kids not getting married(if they think that’s a ‘problem’, it’s their own fault, frankly), issues of where to settle down for good etc.They’re a safe distance behind me, just enough for me to hear them. I join them at a time they’re discussing another friend who’s just shifted to America.

Husband: Yaar ab iss umar mein woh America gaya hai, kuch toh soch ke gaya hoga na.

Random Guy: Nahi matlab, kya thaa, woh paanch saal pehle ghoomne gaya tha. Fir settle ho gaya. Ab waapas aane ka soch raha hai.

Woman(interrupting): Where in America?

 RG: Atlanta. So I was saying…

W: Why Atlanta?

 RG: Wahaan dost hai usska. Punjabi hi hai. Toh ye ghoomne gaya tha udhar, with family.Wahaan jaa ke issko atmosphere pasand aa gaya. Chance ki baat thi-10-12 karod faaltu pade thay isske paas.Immediately ghar le liya.

W:But what about the kids?

RG: Bacchon ki problem thi. Pehle yahaan se wahaan nahi jaa rahe thay- ki bhai hamaara school hai, friend circle hai. Ab wahaan se yahaan aane ko raazi nahi hai.

W: Ab wahaan friend circle bann gaya hoga na, haha.

RG: Nahi in fact his daughter has studied in MIT. Ussne koi bada tagda app banaaya hai, computer waala. Wahaan saare local paperon mein news channelon mein uskiprofile aati hai.

H: Fir toh kya aayegi waapas. India mein toh ladka bhi nahi milna usay.

RG: Haan ladka toh badi mushkil se milega. Wo toh waise bhi kehti hai abhi shaadi nahi karni

W: Tell me about it. We’re also struggling here.

H:Idhar hamaari Shefali(name changed) hai. Kehti hai Bumbayy jaana hai.Maine kaha yahaan tumhaare paas driver hai, ghar hai, cook hai, Bumbayy jaake achaar daalna hai tumne?

RG:Par kya kar sakte ho.

H(getting the conversation back on track): Nahi, toh kaam koi naya shuru kiya usne?

RG: Soch raha hai. Uss din mujhe call aaya usska. Kehta hai ye ek project ke liye tender bhara hai.Tees-Paintees karod daal lete hain dono. Nahi chala toh nahi chala. We’ll cut our losses.

H: Fir?

RG:  Fir pata nahi kuch visa ka panga aa gaya usska. Accha yaar I’m parked right here, I’ll leave.Ok bhabhiji, I’ll see you tomorrow.

He leaves. The woman has the last word.

“I don’t know, he always comes across as someone who’s driven by money.”

#FlyOnTheWall

ON YOUR MARKS, GET SET, MBA!

(This is my Times of India column dated 31st May, 2015. The published version can be read here.)

The CBSE results came out last week, and yet again, the envelope has been pushed. The only way it can be pushed further is if an American University funds research on raising the limit from 100% to 105%. Headed, of course, by a mathematician of Indian origin who we’ll feature on our news channels while he rolls his R’s and goes “Rrreally, now?”.

But are these kids insane?

99.2%! With numbers that good, the government will soon be claiming credit for their development. Their parents must be so proud though, especially since they now move a step closer to the ultimate goal every Indian parent sets for his kids: an MBA degree. In all their excitement, these poor kids aren’t even aware of the pattern their lives will now take, with ‘advice’ like:

“10th is ok, but 12th is the real thing.”

“12th is also ok, but if you don’t do well in college…”

“College is fine, but if you don’t do an MBA, how will you write a bestselling novel with wrong grammar?”

If you’re doing Indian society right, all roads lead to an MBA. In fact, if Robert Frost was Indian, he would’ve missed the road less-travelled and taken a wrong turn, earned an MBA degree, become a ‘Consultant’ in a glass building with ‘Business Park’ in its name and saying things like ‘ASAP’ all day. And our MBA conditioning pretty much begins since childhood:

Father: “Beta, it’s time for your bedtime story.”

Kid: “Yay!”

Father: “Ram bought 8 oranges at a Cost Price of Rs. 10 and Rahim bought 15 apples at a cost price…”

Kid: “Can I watch Chhota Bheem?”

You get the drift. We just can’t wait for them to join a B-school and get a job where their boss goes, “Welcome. Here’s your box. Now think within it.”

Enough is enough. There are things they need to learn before they get there, and I’m taking it upon myself to educate these naïve over-achievers. Like, I want them to know it’s good to fall in love, but even better to find friends who’ll laugh at you when no one loves you back. They need to be primed for life, because things will not be as perfect as their ‘Best of five’. I feel for the 99% guy who will fall for the college hottie, only to hear, “Hey! I’m gonna zip off on this lean, long-haired guy’s bike. But I’ll call you when I need tips on integration.” Yes, I hate being a party-pooper here but someone’s got to do it.

Look at the other, not-so-smart kids who failed, for example. Just because it’s the internet age and they have access to information, they’ll convince themselves saying, “Hey! Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg were also dropouts!”. Someone needs to tell them that’s not what happens to all dropouts. Most of them are like that bhaiya in their neighbourhood who plays cricket with them by evening, and lives in a shady chatroom by night.

Thing is, I’m worried about these kids. Although I realise I should be more worried about sounding like a 50-year old man when I say that. But, just look at today’s kids. They have hairstyles that come straight out of the porcupine family, tattoos that spout ancient Greek wisdom that sounds Greek to them, and type incoherent sentences like ‘Dnt cm 2day coz mum at hm tk cr ’. They need friends, philosophers, guides to get their act together and be of value for the country’s economy. It’s not too hard, at least as long as MTV continues making Splitsvilla and Roadies.

All said and done, I’m a little envious of all these kids. They’re smart, tech-savvy and just immature enough to enjoy dating apps like Tinder. Here’s hoping a few years down the line, they’re using all their smarts to earn fat paychecks and rule the workplace as well.

Hopefully, without using irritating jargon like “Keep me in the loop.”

ON YOUR MARKS, GET SET, MBA!

DES, PARDES AND JIGNES

(This column appeared in The Times of India, dated May 24, 2015. The published version can be read here.)

When the British left, they left in us an undying love for the white man’s territory, and of course, fish and chips. So much, that ‘imported’ became our favourite word, which explains the phenomenon of Katrina Kaif. And there’s absolutely nothing that excites Indians more than leaving India. It doesn’t even have to be ‘the states’ or Europe. Anything works. We’ve all had this conversation with our neighbours:

You: Where’re you going for summer vacations?

Them: Abroad

You: Nice. Where?

Them: Abroad only

You: Yeah, but which country?

Them: ABROAD! AND HOW DARE YOU PARK YOUR CAR IN MY SPOT?

Now that Sunny Leone is too mainstream, going abroad remains the biggest fantasy of the common Indian. We’ll call him Jignes, because since May 16, 2014, the common man has turned Gujarati, and “isn’t ashamed to be Indian”. He stays on in an IT job he hates only in the hope of being sent on-site to another country where he can sing ‘Rangeelo maaro beach shirt! ’. As I write this, he’s taking a selfie with a cow in Cambodia and has captioned it ‘#crazieeee’.

Yet, travel the spectrum from the most common man to the most important one, and you’ll see how things don’t change. Narendra Modi just went to Mongolia. Mongolia! Somewhere, even Genghis Khan is chuckling in his grave. I don’t want to imagine how Modi would’ve announced his trip to Mongolia.

Aboard the Prime Minister’s plane:

Modi: How far is Mongolia from China?

Pilot: We’re crossing it, sir. Look down!

Modi: Oh let’s land.

Pilot: What? They don’t even have an airport, sir.

Modi: Nonsense. I’m carrying $1billion. We’ll build them one.

BojD1piCcAEL8NA

People quit their jobs to travel, but remarkably, here’s a man with the most important one, and forever on a travelling spree! He might just be one step away from putting up pictures of his feet against the backdrop of a mountain range and captioning it “Happy feet”. It’s commendable how he’s travelled China-Mongolia-South Korea in one fell swoop, doing more for the ‘Silk Route’ than Mohit Chauhan’s early singing career.

Mongolia, in fact, is like that lonely neighbour you haven’t spoken to for years. One night, coming back from a party, you decide to knock at his door and go: “I’m your friend!” He’s lonely, so he invites you in and brings a cow for you to take a selfie with.

The greatest thing about Mongolia, I just found out on a google search, is its capital. It’s just fun to say Ulan Bator. But I dare you to say it without your dad going “Mind your language”.

It seems whatever we can do in India, we can do better outside it. Take Bollywood for example, which goes “Why do we need a script when we have Switzerland?” Anurag Kashyap just released a film which is called Bombay Velvet, but was shot in Sri Lanka. Some people liked it simply because it gave them a chance to watch Anushka Sharma on screen when Virat Kohli isn’t batting. But most people liked it only because it was shot in Sri Lanka, or “discount Caribbean”, as salaried folk call it.

Point is we’re a country that cuts through the chaos and makes thing happen. Have a weak currency? Fine, don’t go to the USA, go to Bhutan. Have a weak batting line-up? Fine, don’t go to Australia, go to Bangladesh.

Maybe we are so obsessed with other countries because they let us escape our everyday realities. But as every Jignes who goes to Europe will tell you, he gets back to his theplas and achaar within two days.

So once the whole East Asia visit dies down, we might spare a thought for India too. Take North-east India, for example. They have great music, great food, dense mountains and Mary Kom.

And most importantly, it’s home.

The writer is a stand-up comedian

DES, PARDES AND JIGNES

BHARATIYA ANNIVERSARY PARTY

The biggest party of the year is here. Drums are blaring, chests are thumping, fists are pumping, and media is jumping.

Yes, few things beat the IPL in the pure adrenaline rush it brings. Especially for aging superstars whose bodies have stopped producing it. So if they inject some in their system, mostly at the after-parties, who are we to question?

And here’s the best part: it’s not even the loudest party around. There’s another party where there’re no bugles, only trumpets. And people blow their own. If you’re not invited, serves you right. Because your idea of partying is probably eating beef, laughing at dirty jokes and wearing skimpy clothes that tempt men to ‘make a mistake’. My only tip to you is: escape to Thailand, even if it means leaving your own house-party, recharge, and get back into the scene.

I, for one, have no qualms in admitting that the last year has been a great one. It started with the BJP winning a clear majority and ending an election campaign that had infested our TVs, radios, newspapers and mobile phones. Fortunately, we’re back to watching regressive TV serials and reading pointless news features like “Chunky Pandey’s success mantras: revealed”, like nothing’s changed.

Now, unless you want to do naughty things to Raghuram Rajan’s IQ, it makes no sense for us to talk about things like “enhanced investment climate”, to which people in Delhi mostly say “It’s good yaar. There’re five new butter chicken places in my area.” Let’s face it: me and you are hardly affected by things like “fiscal deficit”. We have more immediate problems like “What is the significance of Ramiz Raja?”, and “Why hasn’t the maid come? AGAIN?”. The answer to that second question, by the way, is “because the Prime Minister has not visited Bangladesh yet.”

But I’m most kicked by my enhanced knowledge of the law. Everyone from Salman Khan to Jayalalithaa has come out with their faith in the judiciary intact, being granted some relief on account of no evidence. It strikes me that criminal procedures in our country follow a predictable path:

People think the accused is guilty.

Media decides the accused is guilty.

The law says, “Uh-oh. Can’t see the evidence.”

The people outrage, “THAT’S BECAUSE YOU’RE BLIND, LAW! HAHA!”

And in the middle of all that outrage, there’s only one obvious takeaway: evidence is everything.

So if you commit a crime, just don’t leave evidence. The possibilities are endless, if you have enough faith in the system.

You can lock your boss up in a room and tickle him till he dies, IF ONLY nobody watches you do so, especially the pesky office gossip who’s been there for 20 years.

teja

You can go to a party and flummox a self-important guy you just met.

Him: Hi, I’m Teja.

You: You’re not. Mark kidhar hai?

Him: Main Teja hoon kyunki mera naam bhi Teja hai.

You: Sorry. No mark, no Teja.

The law, unlike the truth, shall set you free.

And while it’s heartening that the law has eased up, the “in-law” hasn’t. I can feel the married ones among you palpitating. And those palpitations are nothing compared to what I saw on mother’s day, that day we earnestly wish our moms on facebook, even if they’re not on facebook. The logic being: “It doesn’t matter. They’re moms, they’ll know. They perform miracles. Have you learnt nothing from Karan Johar?”

Absurd as it was, it was an even bigger delight to see people put up posts like “I have two moms. Both are bestestest!”, putting up pictures of their moms and moms-in-law, thus proving the Ekta Kapoor-isation of the Indian family.

Our faith in the law might have faltered, the “in-law” shall reign supreme.

Enjoy your party while it lasts.

BHARATIYA ANNIVERSARY PARTY

Swachh Bowel Mission

(This is the unedited version of the column that appeared in The Sunday Times, dated May 10, 2015. The published version can be read here.)

Cut to a few thousand years later.

The apocalypse is upon us. Plants, animals and human beings are withering away by the hundreds.

Just then, a frail man morphs into a huge, green hulk-like figure.

A flash of lightning pierces the sky and by all powers combined, he unzips and relieves himself upon the dying planet, nurturing it back to life.

 

That, my friends, is the ‘Age of Gadkari’. Nitin Gadkari, is a hero.

I always knew there was something special about him while all of you were mocking his girth. Like a camel’s hump, Gadkari’s body has storehouses of urea and nitrogen which when released, work as humus (not that thing you eat with Lebanese food) for the Indian soil.

Naturally, I didn’t understand the outrage when Nitin Gadkari claimed to have watered his plants with his own urine. For once, we have a politician who’s not talking shit, but raising his game by a notch. We can finally say we have a minister who makes the best use of his resources, but no, we have to get our intestines in a bunch.

His ideas are a breath of (questionably) fresh air for a country only too familiar with outdoor defecation. It’s a testament to his genius that with one statement, he’s furthered the vision of his government and poured cold water on that of the opposition.

Think about it.

If people urinate in toilets, it’s ‘development’, which keeps the corporates happy.

If people urinate in the open, it’s ‘development of natural resources’, which keeps the farmers happy.

HELLO, LAND ACQUISITION BILL.

The question to ask is, is Gadkari merely answering the call of nature? Or is he actually answering the call of duty? The answer lies somewhere in Mr.Modi’s head. What a proud man he must be. It takes a lot of openness for a leader from a dry state to put his faith in moisture. People call him dictatorial, but which other leader allows their people to not just shoot their mouths off, but also their bladders?

That said, I concede that this is not the most outrageous thing a BJP leader will say on the issue. I’m waiting for a Swami Agnipariksha or a Foxy Maharaj to call upon all Hindus to ban toilets, because it’s against ancient Indian culture. We might just be on the throes of a revolution, where behind the door of every toilet in a mall, there’ll be graffiti saying “Bring back Indian style” and “Jet hataao!”. I foresee a  massive “Pad yatra” to an open field in Ayodhya, led by the able Mr. LK Advani, exhorting all Indians to squat as one, and call themselves the ‘Sangh Parivar’ in the truest sense.

It’ll work, because we Indians take our bowels (not those things that aren’t consonants) too seriously. There’s one wall in every village in rural India that boldly calls out: “Bawaseer rogi milein”. Here’s an ailment keeping even doctors from IIN employed and contributing to the economy. What bad is it, if one man’s bottom, is another man’s bread?

What I don’t understand though, is old people, and how they elevate any toilet discussion to an art form. In fact, I think people retire early only so they can devote the rest of their lives to bowels and God, not necessarily in that order. I’m sure between the ‘Vanaprastha’ and the ‘Sannyasa’ ashram, there lies a ‘Shauchalaya’ ashram that we don’t know about. Just like Bollywood never told us there was more to sex than two flowers touching.

If you think this is too weird a conversation to go with your morning newspaper, well, you haven’t seen what Bollywood is up to this week. It ventured into murky waters with ‘Piku’, starring Amitabh Bachchan, who’s evidently suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome since the day Abhishek Bachchan decided to join films. Although I’m glad an industry that’s otherwise full of gas now goes the whole hog. All that’s left of Bollywood’s contribution now is Aamir Khan dedicating a ‘Satyameva Jayate’ episode to it.

There was, however, something else that Bollywood fans found harder to digest: a fair, independent judiciary convicting their hero of a crime. If fans’ reactions are to believed, making a cool dance step out of your belt warrants you to flush law down the drain.

Which is why, in the middle of it all, let’s take a moment to applaud Mr. Gadkari for being of some relief- comic and otherwise.

Just remember to say no every time he offers you clear soup.

Vikramjit Singh is a Delhi-based Stand Up Comedian.

Swachh Bowel Mission

Mountain Marathons for everyone!

Let me apologise right away for respecting your intelligence and not calling this post “10 reasons it’s awesome to run in the hills”. I figured you’d want better reasons than “Because you can post a shirtless selfie with Danny Denzongpa playing the flute”.

Although I’m writing this about 24 hours after completing the Mukteshwar Half Marathon(with, no kidding, a random mountain guy playing the flute), most of it originated in the highly endorphinised state achieved during and post the run, one that saw me go on a 1 kg orange binge that lasted barely 5 minutes. Which is great, because if there’s anything potentially embarrassing for me and fun for you, it hasn’t been edited out.

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Thing is, I’m writing about long runs in long form. And in both, the pleasure has to be earned.

There’re people in this world who, instead of sleeping/shopping/partying over a long weekend, will take a 10 hour journey to run 21km and return with aching bodies as souvenirs. There were about 100-150 of them this Sunday, at the Mukteshwar Half Marathon.

As one of them, I can try and tell you why.

I call myself a ‘runner’ in my Twitter bio. Notice that I don’t say ‘ace runner’. I feel the need to explain because I’ve often had the following conversation with friends:

Me: Chal bye.
Everyone: But it’s only 10:30!
Me: Running early morning tomorrow.
Everyone: YOU RUN?

*All eyes on the obvious, umm, non-muscle parts of my body*

Simply put, my enthusiasm for running doesn’t always show on my body.I’m not a runner with the body of a runner. Yet. So people think I’ve chosen this new hipster thing to define myself, because well, ‘amateur photographer’ was already taken.

Fact is, the results of long distance running take time coming. Because in the beginning, you’re still trying to adapt your lifestyle of late-nights, working overtime, junk food to adapt to this new-found obsession. People tend to enjoy running if they have a mindset willing to wait for results, and enjoy the moment.

Unlike Simla or McLeodganj, Mukteshwar’s world is confined to 50 odd houses and a few tea-maggi stalls. Naturally, hosting 100 plus city folk for a run is quite an occasion for a city that otherwise goes, “Leopard? Bah, so everyday”. I didn’t know it yet, but villagers lining up to cheer us was to become a major highlight.

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The run started slow for me. Partly because of inadequate training, and partly because of a wheezing cough. And a half-marathon in the hills is a whole new ballgame. You know how Indian cricketers talk of ‘getting used to the conditions’ when they go to Australia? That. ‘Ups and downs’ is more a reality than a metaphor. And it’s cold, so your muscles are a lot like you when woken upon a winter morning: “Five minutes more”. Ten minutes into the run, it was clear I couldn’t keep pace with the friend I was running with, whose muscles evidently love cold, early mornings. Bastard.

I signaled him to move on so he could run his race and I could run mine. I remember thinking “Maybe that attitude is why I’m single.”

Stupid thoughts are an underrated pleasure of long distance running.

My first 6 km were a struggle. But runners and creative people both know it takes just a single moment of inspiration to unleash a torrent of energy. That moment arrived with Avicii easing into my playlist with ‘Wake me up’, an easy downhill slope, and a horde of villagers applauding us.

I’ve never understood that kinda unconditional support. We aren’t running for anything tangible, they don’t get anything by supporting us, not even pride, which you get while supporting your team or country. It’s support at its most basic: one man egging another man on. Why, we’ve heard of women flashing their breasts at the end of the Boston Marathon in a bid to give runners that last surge of testosterone.

If they do so in India, ToI will feature their breasts on its website, so they don’t. #MyChoice

Back to my run. An instant head rush later, the cough vanished, the muscles woke up and my race began. Mind, meet body.

That’s one reason I run with music on, putting my player on ‘Shuffle’ mode. That way a great song can come in and surprise me, giving me a new rhythm without me consciously trying for it.

How the race works is: you run up to the halfway mark at 10.5 km, and then take the same course back. So it’s at the back of your mind that what is downhill will be uphill on the way back. But I wasn’t going to let that logic mess with some new-found relief.

Although, something else did. Barely 7 km in, the faster, professional runners were already on their way back and sprinting past us.

I was 7km from the start, they were 7km from the finish.

Worse, there were these two local runners crossing me and, yes, flirting.

Guy runner(smiling): “Aap kahaan se ho?”
Girl runner: *blush*…Haldwani se…*blush*

This guy was winning a race AND chatting up a girl. Most of us have trouble doing one. My hand instinctively raised itself in a silent bro-code salute as the guy ran past me, his love life and his calves looking equally promising.

In general, faster runners crossing slower runners is a good thing. Because they smile and shout a ‘Keep going!’, pump their fists and even clap vigorously. What a vibe, especially for us Indians who aren’t used to strangers being nice. Hell, most of us in this run were from Delhi.

I can’t wait to meet them in their natural habitat: a red light in peak traffic hours where they’ll be like “Horn kam baja nahi toh teri gaand mein baith ke horn bajaaunga, BHAAUSADEE KE!”

The catch is to not take either the good or the bad moments too seriously. To not get carried away with the abundance of adrenaline, or the lack of it. Rahul Dravid and M.S. Dhoni would’ve made great long distance runners.

But I’m not them. I reach the halfway mark and only somehow resist the temptation to bathe myself in water and do a victorious jig and rub my chest in people’s faces

Yes, it’s a tough race, and the tougher half of it still left. But you don’t understand: this is by far the most alpha thing I’ve done. Ever.And I wasn’t going to NOT enjoy it.

I stayed there for a minute, wolfing down salt-rubbed oranges and water, taking in the view of the gorgeous gorge below. My friend later told me there was a very obvious view of snow-capped peaks if only I’d bothered to look up. Asshole.

'Peak' fitness.
‘Peak’ fitness.

I turn back, my self-belief matching steps with my legs. If you told me you saw my muscles and veins tear my clothes apart like the Hulk, I’d have believed you. I’ve never done cocaine, but people who have tell me it makes music far more enjoyable, especially moments before they die of an overdose.

It was kinda the same thing here. And the music that was playing at the moment? Indian Ocean.

I know. What you call an anticlimax, I blame on the chemicals being produced in my body. That’s for all those of you going “I love Indian Ocean but it’s not running music!”. I know. But it’s that combination of not knowing what song will play next, the view, the ‘high’, the ‘achievement’ of having completed half the race. In fact, forget this one moment. Even otherwise, what music your body responds to differs for every runner. The aforementioned friend doesn’t even listen to music, he listens to podcasts while running. I can’t wrap my head around that, and he can’t wrap his around what works for me.

I usually don’t go for the high-energy David Guetta-esque music. Sure, it’s high energy, but what I prefer is songs where the tempo changes, where there’re inflection points and the beat suddenly takes a different turn. Like a Coke Studio song: all mellow for the first five minutes, then one guitar riff changes everything. And in a long run where the end result won’t really affect your career, you have enough time to enjoy those sinusoidal highs and lows.

Just for the record, the song in question here was ‘Kandisa’. And what drove me mad enough to achieve my fastest speed of the run was that instrumental section (8:06-10:55) towards the end. Surprising, because it’s not my usual music of choice if I have to pick up speed. I take refuge in cheesy, ghaati Bollywood item numbers if I have to pick up speed. ‘Chikni chameli’, ‘London Thumakda’ and even ‘Main toh rasste se jaa raha tha’.

I’m hopeful that the friends I’ll lose after divulging that information will be compensated by the new ones I’ll make from it.

Imagine, I’m in THAT exalted state of mind. I could’ve challenged Buddha in a battle for salvation. It helps that I’m now on my way back and find runners who’re way slower than me: a species I didn’t think existed. So I do the same: encourage them, give them two thumbs up, smile.

And I realise I don’t really enjoy the ‘encouraging’ them part. Like, of course I AM encouraging them, but what I enjoy more is the superiority it affords me. Oh, so maybe even the runners who encouraged me were basically enjoying their victory over me?

What? No? I’m the only egoistic bastard around? Ok.

But I’ll tell you something: a man can feel like an arrogant prick when the going is good. His muscles, don’t.

I’m at the 14km mark, in ecstasy, and thinking ‘I’ve done 14 and I feel good. How hard can the last 7 be?’ It’s simple math.

But math wasn’t the issue. Geography was. Those 7 km were almost entirely uphill. In times like these, what goes down must come up. Simple truths of life. Positive and negative, good and bad, yin and yang, uphill and downhill.

Sorry, Buddha.

It takes just one aching part of your body to realign your goals and realities, and I suddenly had a few. So my fortress of pride came crashing down within a kilometer.

At 14km: I’m a thunderbolt shooting out of Usain Bolt’s ass that’ll stop only at the finish line.
At 14.5 km: What’s the need to run fast? Slow and steady, like that tortoise.
At 15 km: OH MY GOD PLEEASE LET’S JUST WALK.

I didn’t walk though. Not until my mind was winning over my muscles. And I’ll tell you how it was winning. You tend to take desperate measures in times like these, and mine were to feed my mind some images of strength and victory and the unbelievable lightness of being. Here’re some of them:

Shoaib Akhtar taking that long run-up, shattering the batsman’s stumps and running crazy.
Rafael Nadal hitting his powerful forehand and pumping his fists.
Govinda-esque ghaati dancing. Think Sarkae Liyo Khatiya. (Sorry, haan!)

I don’t know if it worked, but it did delay the inevitable. And if it could be delayed for the next 5km, I’d do that victorious jig again. I decided not to look ahead. When you do that, you expect to see the finish line, and when you don’t, you’re like ‘Kya bakwaas hai, yaar’. I looked down instead: a horrible strategy if you’re running on a narrow mountain trail with diminishing control over your legs.

But we’ve already established this isn’t about common sense, haven’t we?

I begin walking one step at a time, with the promise of water-oranges-salt at the next aid station. But there’s more: muscles that I didn’t even know I had began to cramp up. I was reduced to using my hands pick one leg at a time and make a ‘step’ out of it.

If you’re thinking “Oh this is such a horrible sport! Why would someone do that to themselves?”, chill. It doesn’t happen to everyone. It happens to those who do it without enough training, with a ‘Chalta hai’ attitude. Totally forgetting that strong legs ke bina nahi…chalta hai. (Running joke, hehe)

Plus, something cool was about to happen. This guy I had overtaken earlier and was silently competing against, drew close and offered me his hand. What did I do? OF COURSE I took it. You don’t have the time to be either homophobic or sorry when your quadriceps give up on you.

So we ran, him pretty much pulling me up the hill. A bit like cyclists sticking their leg up a running auto-rickshaw’s behind. Unlike the cycle though, my motors began firing a wee bit. Not sure if it would’ve happened if that guy hadn’t come around. It’s amazing what can happen when you aren’t alone.

It’s also amazing what can happen when you know you’re being photographed and watched.

500 metres away from the finish line, who wants to finish on a sad, dreary note? Not when my friend who finished half an hour before me is watching. Not when the event photographers will be putting up all those pictures on facebook.

And you know how it is: the only truth that exists is what’s there on facebook. If it’s on fb, what actually happened doesn’t matter. If it’s not on fb, it didn’t happen.

My muscles began to crave their own attention, all of them coming together for the finish. I didn’t even need to imagine myself running past the red ribbon in slow motion: it already was in slow motion. Picking up the remaining shards of energy, I flung myself at the finish line.

And just like that, it was over. No flourishing music, no onlookers shouting ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” (that happens to me a LOT by the way), no celebratory sprint. Just relief.

Cooling heels etc.

Then pain. With all the aching muscles whose noise you’d drowned out with all that music, screaming for that pat on the back. Dig deeper and you find, buried beneath that relief, pain and fatigue, lies pleasure.

Pleasure, that’s well-earned.

Mountain Marathons for everyone!

EVERYTHING WAS INVENTED IN ANCIENT INDIA

With a curious mix of shock and awe, I have woken up to my glorious past- one in which I was a genius, a maverick, a pilot, a maestro and the inventor of dumb charades. You may say I was a dreamer, but I wasn’t the only one. Imagine all the people, sharing all the world. It must have sucked.

But that’s how good we all were.

As we speak, Barack Obama’s office is in disarray as someone from the Indian PMO called and informed him that ‘Yes, we can’ is actually a recycled version of the ancient Sanskrit shloka ‘Haram Hare Harami’. At which point, Obama texted a ‘:( ‘ to Modi. To which Modi replied “That emoticon follows from the ‘:’ used at the end of every Sanskrit noun. May the farce be with you”.

What even Modi didn’t know, however, was that ‘Haram Hare Haraami’ was a campaign slogan used by the Kauravas in the first ever general elections unknown to mankind. Agrarian society that they were, all citizens had to go and give their oats, after which their index fingers were duly inked. Yay, we were the crucible that forged democracy! We knew it the day Vasco Da Gama landed on our shores and asked ‘Skews me,whose party is this?’, at which Nikhil Chinapa shouted- ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’.

And that wasn’t even the first party in the world. For we have stumbled upon a tablet from the remains of the Indus Valley Civilization, on which it is clearly stated ‘XOXOXO’, decoded by some experts as ‘Party yun hi chaalegi’. Such party animals were they, that the place was rechristened ‘Harappa’, after the first versions of techno Bhangra were played here.

But okay, maybe parties are frivolous and don’t mean much. What would you say about the writing on a cave wall saying ‘PFFFFFFT’, later deciphered as “The Pharaohs are building pyramids, and we’re just happy with our drainage system?”. That guy is believed to be the ‘first Modi ever’. What you see now is the version after 44,863 Punarjanams, the outcome of an algorithm that Aryabhatta created, the only one of its kind in the galaxy.

Yes, I know.
The heart beats. The spine tingles. The toes curl.

It is to our ancestors’ credit that all their inscriptions and writings were in beautiful, legitimate handwriting. Yes, you never gave it much importance, but we Indians were the first to use cursive writing, along with medical science. How can medicine and good handwriting go together, you say? It was a question that was asked even then, and was resolved by the articulate C.P.I.M. Jaitley, the first lawyer who ever lived. And how he lived! Always up for a great story, a lively drink, and a lavish buffet. A left-brained idea here, a right-brained idea there, although it soon got pretty clear that he was, in fact, right aligned.

The secret of his extraordinary ability was his virility, enhanced by a herb that was first grown by Vatsyayana, inventor of the booty call. At another time, when the said booty was called for, Lord Hanuman lifted an entire mountain on which it grew. Vatsyayana, sadly, didn’t live very long. He died a tragic death when a young Kshatriya accidentally hit him with his baseball bat, a good thousand years before the game reached North America.

I’m delirious with joy at discovering what a modern society ancient India was. I urge you to be equally happy, but let’s exercise some caution in our moments of happiness. Because we can’t trust the BJP with ancient India. Maybe they do respect ancient India, but come on, not everything.

Just look at what they did to L.K. Advani.

Note:
No damn shall be given if you hate this article.
If you tell me it sucks, it’s only an allegation.
Not criticism. I miss criticism. *sigh*

EVERYTHING WAS INVENTED IN ANCIENT INDIA

“NO, I DON’T HAVE A NEW YEAR PLAN”

Come the 25th of December, and I start greeting people with that line. Preferably before they ask me what my plans are. It’s a tactical maneuver, a strategic masterpiece-that allows me to walk away with my head held high while they wonder what happened.

Yes, if you can’t join them, confuse them.

Look, it’s not like I’m too lonely or too poor to have plans. It’s just that I think I’m really smart, and New Year plans are dumb.

What is it about New Year’s Eve that makes all Indians go ‘Let’s spend our hard-earned black money on unknown Bollywood performers and oily food’. How did it happen? Where did it start, and how did we get here? The world was just happy rolling over from year ‘x’ to year ‘x+1’ until, I have a feeling, a jobless Neanderthal plucked some wild vegetation, smoked it and exhaled, ‘Let’s celebrate’. And idiots that we are, we said ‘Oh we must do it too’.

The point is, these are the most frustrating few days to talk to people. Because when they ask you your plans, they don’t really want to know your plans. They want you to know theirs.This is how my conversation with a friend went last night.

X: Hey, so what plans?
Me: Most probably…
X: Oh I’m going to the Hyatt…
Me: Umm, good, I might just…
X: Entry is 20,000 per couple and that’s mostly why I’m going.
Me: Nice. I think I’ll…
X: …SO EXCITED!
Immediately after which, she took a selfie with me and ran off to her next victim.

But I’m not a cynic. I’m happy for those of you who do have plans. Just that everyone has their own way to bring the New Year in. Some go out, some stay home, while a few chosen ones might even make a movie called ‘Happy New Year’ and scar the human race. While we’re at it, the only fitting response to a Farah Khan movie ought to be a Christopher Nolan movie: one in which aliens descend on earth and take Farah Khan away to a planet where every hour is as long as the length of ‘Happy New Year’, the film.

However, at this time of the year I misshaving a regular job, where after busting your ass all year you walk in to the boss’s cabin around the 20th of December- holding the annual quota of ‘mandatory leaves’ in one hand and your middle finger in the other. Before scooting off to a year-end vacation, only to spend it on facebook.

Then there’s that thing about resolutions, which always fail. I’m sure the Bible carries an unofficial 11th Commandment in an appendix at the end, clearly stating: ‘Thou shalt not quit smoking this year as well, lol’.

It does compel me to think though, that our parliament needs people with a sense of humour. I’d pay to see Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif sign a pact called ‘New Year Resolution’. By which they pledge to meet in Kashmir and go jogging together.Yes, I’m looking at you, Amit Shah.

Indeed, I just don’t think you can resolve to not do something while doing that very thing. Like the fat uncle pledging to go to the gym with a leg of chicken in his mouth and a glass of whiskey on his head. But maybe that’s just what this whole New Year thing is supposed to be: a chance to start off all over again, and make some new, stupider, shittier mistakes. The hope that come what may, that jar of Nutella will remain our midnight snack. Even if it gives us just one day to wake up more excited that the rest, who’s complaining? Other than Bigg Boss inmates who, in all probability, will never attend another ‘House party’ in their lives.

All things said and done, here’s wishing you a very Happy New Year, maybe for the last time. For, who knows, next year we might be calling it ‘Happiest Best Ever Governance Day Worldwide’. Or something.

“NO, I DON’T HAVE A NEW YEAR PLAN”

Pran jaaye, par memories na jaaye.

I would never have begun to write if I hadn’t begun to read.
I wouldn’t have begun to read if my chowkidaar hadn’t begun to read.
My chowkidaar wouldn’t have begun to read if Pran hadn’t begun to write.

Notice the lucid, logical flow in that paragraph? That’s my tribute to Chetan Bhagat.
What to do, we all have our inspirations.But this is not about him.

It happened in Jaipur, when I must’ve been 8. I was good friends with my landlord’s chowkidaar– he was one of those genial kinds who indulge kids. I sneaked into his room one afternoon. At the risk of sounding elitist, it had that smell typical of chowkidaars’ rooms. Tiny metal door, unpainted brick walls holding up green pants hung on a nail, besides a Mamta Kulkarni poster torn from the local newspaper. Buried in a crumpled quilt, there it was, a comic book that announcing itself as ‘Chacha Chaudhry aur Triple Line’. I sat there for about an hour or two, in the room I wasn’t really allowed, and came out transformed.

I’d just read my first book.
That is if you discount sifting through my mom’s Femina and dad’s Archies. Although even without reading a word, Jughead was already my favourite character.

The tiny world of Chacha Chaudhry sucked you in. Because you were too young to care about the humour being ‘juvenile’.There were no pop-psychologists calling Daaku Gobar Singh a ‘satirical take on Gabbar Singh’, which it probably was. How could a kid not be taken in by the characters? Saabu, Raaka, Chachiji, Dhamaka Singh, Rocket(pronounced ‘Raaket’) and oh, Tingu master!

Soon, I made my first request for a Chacha Chaudhry book to my mom. Which obviously opened a can of worms.
‘How do you know about it?’
‘I read it.’
‘When? Where?’
‘In Laadu bhaiya’s room’
‘WHAT WERE YOU DOING IN HIS ROOM?’

You know how parents are. But I had friends too, and I was busy converting them into Chacha Chaudhry fans if they weren’t already. The play-acting that came to define ‘free periods’ in school were full of Chacha references, my favourite being action sequences where the person getting slapped would utter a miserable ‘OH, THAPPAD PADA’, and an ‘OH, MAI GIRA’ on falling. These comics knocked the pretension and faff right out of me, the downside of which is that I still go to watch movies like ‘Kick’, hoping to find something I like.

By now one of my life skills was to identify the ‘Diamond Comics’ logo, and I became a pro at the life and times of Chacha Chaudhry, Billu and Pinki. One of my most memorable discoveries was Chacha Chaudhry digest books. The titles went like ‘Chacha Chaudhry-1’, ‘Chacha Chaudhry-2’, which became friends on hot summer afternoons.And shut up, I wasn’t a lonely kid.

About a year or two later, of course, my parents began to worry about what I would turn into when I grew up. They still do. What triggered it was me outdoing myself by buying a Naagraj, and they decided enough was enough. Their unsaid worry now was that I was reading too much Hindi. How would I ever talk to obnoxious big city kids who would spout ‘Lolita’ references years later? So they did the obvious thing.

They got me Chacha Chaudhry in English.I LOURRVE MY PARENTS!
That,in turn set the tone for what was to follow: Tinkle, Hardy Boys and *random book you issued from the school library*

That was what pre-internet, pre-Harry Potter, pre-social media kids had. When you went to a birthday party(the kinds with samosas, chutney sandwiches and pineapple pastries), you met new kids. And your ‘small talk’ came from Chacha Chaudhry, Billu and Pinki. They became the most common reference, the lowest common denominator, along with Andaz Apna Apna. Later, when I discovered Pran’s son went to college in Manipal as I did, there was this ridiculous, misplaced surge of pride. The same way we Indians feel when we come to know a Booker prize winner is of Indian origin, who in turn doesn’t give a damn.

Now,it’s hard not to think of him every time an angry someone in Haryana goes ‘Rra tu CHOADHREE laag reya sai?’.
RIP, Pran. Thank you for the memories, the laughs, the friends. And for the only brand of comics that was, and will remain, remarkably Indian.

Pran jaaye, par memories na jaaye.