December 26, 2016

I hate the b'day brouhaha; back to me-first

Something inside me has snapped yesterday. Growing up, I was a mean, inconsiderate and nasty kid. Unpleasant to be around. But then I stumbled upon a great book in my home, called How To Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. Amazing, amazing book. It proposed the right way to deal with people. Full of sensible advice. I must have re-read it a dozen times or more. It's entirely due to that book that I started becoming less of a prick and made efforts to cultivate qualities like empathy, understanding and the sort. Since reading the book, I've tried to live by that code. Of late, I'm tired of being Mr Nice Guy.

Anyway, this post is not about my conduct. Yesterday happened to be the kind of unfortunate birthday that I dread. The kind where people wish me happy birthday and I stand there feeling awkward and stupid and have to utter a meaningless "thank you" while trying to hide the annoyed look on my face. Well, if you're a friend who has ever tried calling me on this day, you'd know my phone is likely to be switched off. A couple of years ago, I started keeping my phone off for the entire birthday week. While I still held a job, I'd always hope and pray that nobody there knew it's my birthday. I don't want people getting in my face to wish me f... I just don't. Leave me alone. 

Strategic time-out. Deep breaths. Breathe in... Let it out. Repeat X 5.

If you're a friend and reading this, here's the best thing you can do to me for my birthday: spare me the birthday wishes, please. Please. Let me have a usual day. That's all I ask. Not difficult, right? Just requires you to be considerate and give me my space. 

Why so, you may ask. Just because. Because I don't like it. Don't wish me a happy birthday. Period. I find it as stupid as a "Happy Diwali", "Happy Holi" or a "Happy New Year". Diwali? The day you release toxic chemicals in the environment with loud noises? What's there in it to wish me? Leave me alone. Holi? The day people manhandle friends to smear colour on them, the day hooligans assume freedom for drunken revelry? What's there in it to wish me? Leave me alone. Happy New Year? Date changes every single day. What's so great about it? I find all this superfluous. And downright stupid. But if I have the misfortune of not being in my lair during any of this festive times and am with people, I try to act normal and not to be a killjoy. Do I ever tell any of you not to celebrate whatever it is you are celebrating! No. Likewise, you shouldn't impose your ways of celebrating these days on me. 

This post is going to be a rant and might not make much sense, but so be it. The blog is called Straight From The Heart, after all. And currently, I'm bitter about this birthday. Like I said, the ideal birthday for me would be just a normal day where nobody brings the birthday up. My birthday, right? Then just let me be! Why is it so difficult! I don't want to cut any cake, I don't want to blow any candles. Blowing candles is extremely stupid anyway. You celebrate, Diwali, right? The festival of lights where we light up lamps? Light is always said to be a representation of God and all things good. Hindus have earthen lamps, Christians light candles. They light. They don't put off the flame. Isn't it stupid to blow off candles and welcome darkness? I find it stupid. Pointless.

What gives?
Why should I blow a candle and cut a cake? What gives? Does it make me healthier? Does it make me taller, stronger, sharper? Wealthier? Wiser? What's the point?

I don't like to do something just for the heck of it, just because everyone does it. That's why I never felt like smoking or drinking. People start off with these things mainly to get high or to look cool. How I always looked at it, right from the time I was a stupid teenager, was that smoking harms your lungs and affects your health and drinking makes your behave like an idiot, and affects your health. They don't make me better in any manner. Why do it then! Exactly, don't do it. So I never did it. Friends and colleagues insisted many times, their insistence always met with a firm no. If I don't see a point in it, I don't do it.

Likewise, Diwali is a festival of lights. I don't like crackers and all. Had stopped bursting crackers at the age of 13 itself because I found reason in my dad's contention that it involves child labour, is a sheer wastage of money for momentary thrill and pollutes. Meditators understand the spiritual importance of Diwali, Holi and other festivals and try to harness the energies that are at a peak during these days. That makes sense. Revelry, show-off etc that passes off in the name of festivals... I don't buy it. It's not for me. 

Makes me cringe
Make no mistake, I acknowledge that I am leading a fortunate existence. I'm grateful for it and excited at all the achievements that can be mine if only I keep trying. It's good to be alive and great to be me. I'm striving to make my entire life a celebration. But I don't get the point of celebrating birthday. It's like, on this day you are forcing me to burst crackers while colours are smeared and I'm not even allowed to protest. It makes me cringe. When you wish me a happy birthday, I don't feel happy. I merely grin and bear it. I feel stupid, uncomfortable and awkward. No, leave me alone. Please leave me alone. Let it just pass by like an ordinary day. No mention of the word birthday in my context, please.

Next year onwards, I'll be holed up in my home and not be anywhere else, with anyone else. Having to honour other people's idea of how my birthday should go comes at the cost of my inner happiness. Leaves me annoyed.

Awful 29th b'day
Yesterday was particularly awful in this regard. I was under the impression that my Facebook profile was lying deactivated. I had indeed deactivated it a week ago, but a smartphone app on which we have to login using Facebook profile... This proved to be the culprit. When I used this app after deactivating the profile, it automatically activated my Facebook without informing or alerting me. It's only in the evening that I learnt my Facebook profile was active. This annoyed the hell out of me. (I usually refrain using words such as "hell", but am so annoyed with this stupid birthday that I can let go of some sensibilities for this blogpost at least.) Seven people had posted birthday wishes on my wall, seeing which three other friends with whom I was chatting on Instagram and Hike (only because they didn't know it was my b'day) too became aware of it and conveyed their wishes. Way too annoying. Oh God!

It might not make sense to you and it doesn't have to. One simple funda: My life, my rules.

Pointless brouhaha
Then, I don't understand the brouhaha over birthday. What's so special? There are more than seven billion people in the world. So what's the distinction in being born? If anything, a person's birthday is their mother's achievement. She nursed the baby in her womb for 36 long weeks, many of which must have been sickening, nauseating and painful. What did you do? Just glided out of the womb naked and bald, something so uneventful that you don't even remember. I don't even remember being born. Do you? Then what are you celebrating? (No, don't tell me, actually.)

I'm not one to turn down compliments when they are due and merited. Whenever a reporter would tell me that I edit well, I'd say proudly say "Yeah", nodding my head as a smirk would grace my face. Amused at my reaction when she paid the compliment, one reporter in my last office told me I should say "Thank you" instead of "Yeah". Hahaha... The point is, I lap up compliments and wishes when they make sense to me. When people congratulated me for a witty headline or a story well-edited, a news package well-presented, I'd say thanks and bask in the glory. If my favourite song Pari wins recognition tomorrow, I'll be lapping up compliments like a proud creator. 

But a "Happy birthday"? Please no. 

I have decided that next year on, I'll remain holed up in my house from at least 23rd to 28th. 

On your b'day
Yeah, I'd merrily play ball when it's someone else's birthday and people are celebrating. I don't want to be a killjoy or a sourpuss. I'd play along, we'll do it your way. I just hope that people I'm gonna be surrounded by in my life get this concept and do it my way when my b'day arrives and I have the misfortune of being around people. Let's hope such a situation doesn't arrive again.

After failing to guard myself from these unsolicited "Happy birthdays", I was getting pissed off as it is yesterday. Upon learning at night that my Facebook page too was active and people had been posting birthday wishes there, I got even more annoyed. Deactivated it and tried to go off to sleep, but was so annoyed that didn't even have a proper sleep. Been writing this instead of honing my guitaring because I need to vent out. 

Goodbye, Nice Guy
And I'm done playing the good guy. My young, mean, nasty version might have been a nuisance to others, but I remember being happy and content. Now, in my effort to play nice, to accommodate others' feelings and wishes, I have to compromise on my wishes. Done. Enough. We don't get any brownie points for being nice any way. And who am I trying to kid! I was not born a nice guy. It was an acquired persona, a cultivated set of qualities. And being nice doesn't pay. Your kindness is taken for your weakness. People don't even find you worthy of a decent excuse and merely say they were "busy" to explain unreplied messages. To hell with them. I'm done being kind and considerate. I'm done being a "we" person, it's back to being the "me" person. You have a problem with that, go cry in a corner. I don't give a damn. Not anymore.

What! 29?
Yesterday I turned 29 and started my 30th year. Damn! That is such a big number! But again, it's just a number. Mentally/emotionally, I'm still stuck at the high-school level. Still get recurring nightmares about an impending class XII board exams. Having finally decided to shed the burden of being nice (which has been a thankless, fruitless endeavour anyway), I feel relieved. 

Different, not weird
There's a friend who'd lash out on me for being incommunicado on my birthday, would call me weird and all. Weird? I'd rather say I'm different. Sure, I don't want to be like anyone else. I was born to be me, to live my life the way I want to, not to suit anyone else's ideas. I have no qualms in saying I'm not regular. No, sir. I'm special! I'm not ordinary. I'm extraordinary. I wasn't born to be the average Joe. I'm me and it's pretty awesome. Nobody can love like I do or care like I do or give like I do. I have my eccentricities, but it's a part of the package. I'm me, that's what makes me tick. But I'm sure as heavens worth putting up with.

"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment." —Ralph Waldo Emerson

August 07, 2016

Recounting a mashup dream

I don't understand how my dreams are so absurdly random. If I could dream your dream, I would, because I want to know if yours too are this ludicrous.

Once, when I was a pre-teen or in my early teens, I had a dream that my sister and I are playing just outside our house in our township. I'm sliding down the flight of stairs that leads to the ground floor. Then suddenly a tiger pounces towards us. I'm scared to the bones and run for my life. So does my sister. But can anyone outrun a tiger? One leap—or two, I don't remember—and it stood in front of us, blocking our path. This pisses my sister off. She stops running and confronts the tiger. Not to fight with it, but to give it an earful in Hindi, complaining that it can't leap/jump/hop in this game if it wants to play with us. The tiger was not happy as the stipulation stripped him of this advantage. And in the dream, I was (a) relieved because the wild beast was not going to kill us, and (b) flummoxed because the tiger knew and spoke Hindi and wanted to play with us.

It just occurred to me that this, perhaps, is the oldest dream I remember. Hmmm... But yes, this is far from the most irrational. I have those dreams every once in a while where people from my college life or office life, including those I have never spoken with, would show up in the place I grew up and get involved in situations with me that are totally bizarre. Mind-boggling mish-mash. I once had Robert Vadra in my dream, talking to me about something in our Dehradun house. When I was in Bangalore, I had a dream that I'm being given a makeover for a fashion shoot. I categorise it as bizarre because I was being decked up as a woman. Long hair, light green colour satin salwar suit, make-up, heels. Vividly remember it. I get stupid dreams all the time.

The reason I am writing about last night's dream is that it was... Whom am I kidding! Because I saw my estranged daughter in my dream once again. Haha... Yes, I have a daughter. Almost 32 months older than I am. Haha... She's a dear friend whom I love too much and am so protective of. When she used to get annoyed with my overbearing concern, I used to explain (mind you, explain, not justify) it by keeping my hand on my heart and telling her it's a mother's heart. I did this antic a few times and she eventually warmed up to it. I was now her mom! Hahaha... Not every guy gets to experience the joys of motherhood! It was great, getting the privilege to love her and be her family. To be able to extend love and care was a priceless gift.

But as is wont, we fell apart. (I use the word "wont" because there's a pattern in my life. Every girl I become good friends with, we fall apart. No exception yet.) And we fell apart for good. A couple of months ago, she and her husband became parents of a beautiful, little girl that is her replica. Such a delightful occasion! I became a grandmom, after all! Hahaha...

It sucks that I was not a part of all this. It sucks that I'll never again be a part of her life and will not be able to hold the li'l baby in my arms. It sucks that she won't do susu-potty on me. I am eager to know how my friend, my daughter came to terms with the daily phenomenon of susu-potty-fart-burp-puking, something that's a part of every new parent's life. She's prickly about hygiene. It's only because of her throwing a fit every time I sat to eat without washing my hands that I... Ok, no. I still don't wash my hands if it's only rice that I'm having, as I use a spoon. But yeah, I did buy a bottle of sanitiser because of her, and it's quite handy. So how's this hygiene-conscious girl managing being peed on, having to clean potty multiple times a day? Ah, I'm missing so much!

Digression alert! This post was to be about the dream, not about somebody I used to know.

The mindless, mashup dream
Yeah, so from what I remember, this dream featured my sister and I again, in the township where we grew up. Outside the Experts' Club there. She was in some high-tech, futuristic super car at some distance from me. From the opposite direction, some Terminator-like assassin was fast approaching in a similar car. I was scared for my life. (Why is this dream similar to the tiger dream from childhood?) I told my sister I feared that guy and planned to run away. She advised against it, saying something like father has asked not to go. As it was a grave situation, I told her I'd give his instruction a pass this time. I ran and sat into my own futuristic car, which was parked only a few metres away. I took off, accelerating to the top speed within a few seconds of switching the ignition on. The Terminator guy was right on my heels.

It was a brown car. Dark brown. Mine, not his. In this chase, I could see my car like you'd see it in a car-racing game, like Need For Speed. So I'm driving at a tearing speed. Suddenly that video game-like view is replaced by the kind of view you'd see if you're actually driving. I'm concerned. Why did the view change? I fiddle with I don't know what, and it turns out that now I'm not in a car but merely running on the road in my township. The road is unusually crowded for a residential colony that my township is. The Terminator nabbed me. Only, turned out that he too was not in that futuristic, Transformer-type car I had first seen him in. He was on a motorcycle. Hero Honda Splendor or Passion something. And it was not that cold-blooded, poker-faced assassin I had first assumed it was. It was my school friend's neighbour whose default words are, "Chalo na, baithte hain." (Meaning, "Let's sit for a drink.") I too am friendly with this guy, in real life, but in the dream he held me by my collar and commanded me to come with him. I tried to talk myself out of it, but it didn't seem to work out. 

Same dream, different track
I say "seem to" instead of being sure because what happened next in the dream was a detour. Or track change. The whole Terminator chase thing is gone. Now my father is driving a car and I'm on the backseat. In our Balco township. On the same road where my sister had advised me not to flee. On this road, which leads to home from the Expert's Club, I'm looking out of the window. I spot a car in front of me. There are three women on the backseat and both are attending to the one in the middle, who looks like she's in pain. I notice that the middle one's clothes are the same as what my daughter is wearing in the lovely WhatsApp DP of her husband. My gaze is fixed at that woman. As she turns her face sideways, turns out that she is indeed my daughter! Their car stops in the lane where we live, bang in front of the block where my house is. My father happens to stop our car right behind where she is standing. Now there's no way I can get down without us seeing each other.

As I'm getting down, I'm thinking to myself if I should acknowledge her or just turn and walk away, given the bad blood between us. With the uncertainty prevailing, I get down and our gaze meets, we exchange formal pleasantries and she tells me that she had another baby 12 days after she had a daughter. In fact, they had brought the new baby home just now. I was like, "Hey, do you remember that when you had given me the news that you're gonna become a mom, I had asked if you're going to have twins?" (I had actually asked her that in real life.) She remembered me asking it and said she herself didn't know there'd be another baby. This one is unsually small, btw. We were wondering that her kids must be the only set of twins with a gap of 12 days between their birth.

And then I woke up. Phew! What irrational dreams I get! This has to be the second time I dreamt of my estranged friend in a fortnight. Really, sucks to have fallen apart. But snapping ties was the right thing to do. Well, the show must go on. We must move on.

This has been a rather long post. But it's OK. It's good to indulge myself every once in a while. Will skip my penchant to end articles with a one-liner because I have pressing tasks at hand. Like becoming the rockstar I'm meant to be.

March 02, 2016

Explaining my 'D' grades in reporting

In previous blogposts, I've pulled no punches in dissing reporters who habitually turn in shoddy work. As a sub-editor and a perfectionist, seeing those pathetic non-stories would make me cringe, much like chalkboard scraping. I'd give myself full marks (and an extra for the passion) as a sub-editor, but how good a reporter would I have made?

When I was learning the tricks of the trade in my J-school, we were required to go out to report once a week. I always dreaded that day. When the day would arrive, my usual chirpy self would transform into a nervous, quiet guy. To get a story, one is required to speak with a lot of people. That's what always proved to be my undoing. 

Having to approach strangers almost always left me jumpy. I once went to the office of the forest department, but couldn't bring myself to enter it as the board on its entrance read visitors were allowed only after 3 pm. For one story I needed to speak with random people on the street. I couldn't do that. In my first job, my editor asked me to do a small story. I went to the municipal office, but got cold feet and returned without speaking with anybody. 

In my J-school, this weakness got the better of me. In both the semesters, I got 'D' grades in the core elective of 'Reporting & Writing'. I'm surprised I didn't get an 'E'. Towards the end of our course, I was put on probation and a letter was sent to my parents, stating I needed to pull up my socks if I didn't want to fail. I've no idea how I passed, but I hope this is a good enough indication of how bad the situation can get.

I don't know how or why I turn this timid sometimes. Diametrically opposite of foot-in-the-door journalist. I become heart-in-the-mouth journalist. It leaves me feeling small, under-confident and annoyed. 

The chickenheart/dragonheart dichotomy
It's not that I'm always this feeble person. When I was interning with The Hindu, I did so well as a reporter that I was asked to extend my internship by a month, at the end of which they offered me a job. When I'm at it, I'm really good.

Currently, I'm in that too-meek-to-report phase. I've got this wonderful freelancing opportunity to keep my journalism career alive as I cut my teeth as a musician. I've got five story ideas, two of them super relevant and too interesting. Every day I vow that tomorrow I shall call up or visit the people I need to interview, but I'm finding it so daunting that it's getting stalled forever. 

It's not that I lack confidence in general or am wary of confrontation. I had famously put my foot down when our infamous, no-nonsense college director tried to browbeat us into shelling out 10k for a stupid Kerala trip. I had stood up for my gal pals when a busful of hostile locals in Bangalore were ganging up against them. I had given a 'reveller' a chase after he had tried groping my friend after a New Year party. I'm not a wuss. Only, at times I become one. And this is clearly one of those times.
I don't want to be a loser. Right now, I'm being one. I find it strange that I'm prone to hitting such lows. Glad that I know it's all in my hands. I might not understand why it is the way it is, but I've got my eyes on the prize. Gonna get there anyhow.

My current assessment
Coming back to the heart of this post. How good am I as a reporter? A reporter is as good as his last story. My last story would have been way better if I were not being such a wimp. It's still good, but not great. Underwhelming. Me as a reporter? I suck. A brilliant writer, but a featherweight reporter. 

I want to change that. For someone who wants to earn the moniker of "a reporter who rocks", I gotta party hard and work harder. Oh, I need to work on my partying too, but that's another blogpost.

February 27, 2016

Don't believe Indian media's lies on JNU row

It's unsettling how baseless media reports have whipped up mass hysteria over the JNU/anti-national saga.1. Umar...
Posted by Hemant Gairola on Friday, 26 February 2016

February 11, 2016

Dear bad fish of Bengaluru, what's your grouse? Really, what's it?

Good that cops have been suspended and people arrested over the racist assault on the Tanzanian student in Bangalore, but how do we arrest the main villain? The evil figure with deep roots that enjoys unquestioned loyalty of the masses? How do we arrest the hate mentality?

If not for the noxious 'them versus us' theory, why was it that the distressed woman received no help in a bus full of people? And why do such attacks keep happening? (Those in denial, try Google.) While the entire country, and more so the sensible side of Bangalore, is hurt and ashamed, racist remarks from many Bangaloreans continue surfacing on the internet unabated. Venomous, unapologetic and in your face.

These people might not have been a part of that mob, but they surely are a part of that mob mentality. Just as guilty. It's like multiple Donald Trumps on loose in Bengaluru.

Their go-to argument for justifying aggression is that migrants disrespect the local culture. I want to understand how so. Please specify so that they can learn the dos and don'ts.

People from the South go for Chaar Dhaam pilgrimage up North and people from all over the country make a beeline for Kukke Subramanya Temple. What you celebrate as Ugadi, other states celebrate under different names. Migrants call RCB their home team, relish the local cuisine and gush about the city's fantabulous weather. We're all made up of the same cultural thread, the same social fabric. What disrespect, then, are you talking about?

People come to Bangalore for education or to make a living, what incentive can they possibly have to rile the people who call this place their home! I request you to introspect and see if there's a valid reason for your predisposition towards us. If there is not, please drop your hostility. Please live and let live.

Ummm... Aren't you mad at us because we can't speak Kannada? Is this what you perceive as disrespect? See, we know and respect that Kannada is a classical language with a rich heritage. That we have only a basic knowledge of the language shouldn't be mistaken for a snub. We enjoy picking up the language in bits & pieces from our friends and colleagues. It's when you seek to push it down our throats that you make us loathe it.

You may argue why we stay in Bengaluru if it's so bad here. We choose to come and stay there despite you, not because of you. You are thorns on the beautiful rose stem that Bangalore is.

If you truly care for your cultural pride, then please quit being in denial and realise your ideology is only shaming your 'culture'. Please introspect. The solution to rash driving isn't beating up whoever you can lay your hands on. Report it to police. For the sake of your city's reputation, don't assume the role of judge and executioner. Because when you judge, the world judges you. 

“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” —Samuel Johnson

February 08, 2016

Assault on Tanzanian student not surprising: An immigrant's view on xenophobia in Bangalore

As a 'northie' who has lived in Bangalore for six years, I wasn't one bit shocked at what the mob did to the young Tanzanian woman. I fully expect this from the city. And so do my 'outsider' friends who live or have lived there. Doesn't matter whether you're from Africa, the North-East or North, the locals treat all non-Kannadigas equally: with hostility and jingoism.

You may move to India's IT capital with dreams and aspirations, but sooner or later xenophobia is gonna get in your face and make you feel like an unwelcome refugee in your own country. Oh, prepare to be heckled on a regular basis for not knowing Kannada. Traffic cops, smart alec shopkeepers, compulsorily rude auto drivers, bus conductors, co-passengers etc are gonna take turns to remind you of your place in 'their' land. You are an 'outsider'. I put it in single quotes because here, the term is not an innocuous, identifying detail but a label akin to outcast, riddled with prejudice and dislike.

I'm not implying the whole of Bangalore is fanatical and chauvinistic. No way. I've made cool friends there. The guy who taught me Kannada (starting with how to say "I love you"), my jolly good colleagues I'm so fond of and the eatery owner who loved treating me to bisibele bath. I can speak only broken Kannada and my landlady could speak only broken English, yet we'd talk for half an hour when she'd bring over delicacies on festivals. Oh, Bangalore is a beautiful place with lovely people. A friend who shifted there 18 months ago says neither he nor his friends have had any unpleasant encounter. But that's just one part of the story, an incomplete truth.

A tale of two cities
Bangalore's is a tale of two cities, of two kind of people: awesome, intelligent, hospitable; and the immigrant-hating jingoistic kind. Home minister G Parameshwara might dismiss claims of racism and say the city does not have "that kind of an attitude". I'm saying it indeed has the attitude of bullying 'outsiders'. The majority embraces immigrants, others downright loathe them. How many instances shall I cite?

An Odiya friend who lived in Bangalore for nine years knows that hostile crowds and uncooperative police are a way of life here for 'outsiders'. That's why she too wasn't surprised to learn that a mob assaulted an African, who got thrown out of a bus and was denied help by the police. Barring assault, she herself has been harassed like that on more than one occasion. From her experiences, she knows what happened to the African student is so typical of the unwelcoming side of the city.

Enjoying an immigrant's humiliation
Once this friend was travelling in a city bus and the conductor started getting into her face for not having change. (Agreed, passengers should carry change, but does not carrying it entitle the bus crew to misbehave with them?) She was apologetic for the inconvenience, but the aggressive conductor accosted her and kept trashing her in Kannada. Co-passengers chuckled at his remarks, passing taunts of their own. They relished seeing the hapless, demure woman singled out and in agony.

Humiliated, she got down at the last stop and went to the police station there, the conductor accompanying her nonchalantly. Only when she disclosed she was a journalist did the police heed her and switched to a respectful tone. Respectfully, they told her: "Madam, leave him. He will not do it again," not lodging a plaint despite her insistence. The culprit stood there wearing a belligerent smirk all along. As if it's understood one cannot possibly get into trouble for accosting, even manhandling an 'outsider'. 

Got jeered at? Happens
When I was in college, I myself saw my female batchmates heckled by a conductor and aggressive co-passengers when they requested him to get men off women's seat in the crowded bus. I tried to placate them, but passengers ganged up on us, getting louder and threatening us with violence, hooting when we got off the bus. We're non-Kannadigas, after all.

'You northies...'
On another occasion, when these girls were travelling in a bus and got up to offer their seat to an elderly woman, instead of a thanks they received a jibe: "You North Indians come to Bangalore and spoil our culture!"

Thankfully, not with everyone and not often, but such incidents do happen, reminding 'outsiders' of their place. 

"You don't belong here," is a diatribe one may come across in subtle or not-so-subtle ways. Last year, two motorcycle-borne men in JP Nagar said these very words to my face when I protested their rash driving, which almost injured me.

The gift of anonymity in public places lets these people unveil their mean, aggressive streak.

'Got harassed? Too bad. Your fault'
When a friend would tell her elderly colleagues about how she'd get harassed for being a non-Kannadiga, they would squarely blame it on her for not knowing Kannada. This is a common refrain: Get conversant in Kannada or don't whine about being harassed. 

A couple of years ago, the newspaper I worked for had invited a few women entrepreneurs for a discussion on politics and general issues. One of them narrated an instance where a friend of hers, a foreigner, called 100 upon sensing trouble from ruffians on the road. A woman answered the distress call, cutting the other woman off for not speaking in Kannada. Why, even the city traffic police's website says one should not expect traffic cops to speak English or Hindi as a matter of right. 

I thought this was a cosmopolitan city.

Attacks on North-Eastern community
Remember, three Manipuri students were beaten up in October 2014 for "not speaking Kannada despite eating Karnataka's food"? Students from the North-East have borne the brunt of xenophobic locals' aggression over the past few years on multiple occasions, triggering protests and candle light vigils. Remember the mass exodus of the North-Eastern brethren in 2012 when they fled the city crammed up in trains like cattle, fearing for their lives? The rumour that triggered that infamous episode could take roots only because they knew a racist attack on them was a distinct possibility.

Blatant racism on internet
Even as the country is ashamed over the latest racist attack, there are some Bangaloreans who still are in denial mode. See these comments posted online:

A Kannadiga friend posted on Facebook how she felt disgusted and ashamed at the incident, to which a 26-year-old man replied with this:
  • Yea! But a drunk foreigner killing one lady n injuring 2 n then changing a car n hitting 8 more is also horrifying. If an Indian does this in foreign, am sure he/she would be treated even worse
After some back-and-forth with a user who wondered how he could justify the violence on this ground, he dropped this gem:
  • Even I do feel sorry for what few people did as no one had touched her until she went to her boyfriend who committed crime... After he killed 1 women to death and inured 2 when drunk, if he had just gone absconding this wouldn't have happened. But he went n took another car, and then started driving rashly going into a one way n banging almost 8-10 people. Luckily no one was killed to death. After this if people bury the car and hit them I dont feel surprised.
My friend reasoned with this young man that even if the Tanzanian student was indeed guilty of running a pedestrian over, no one had the right to lay a finger on her. To this, the gentleman (pun intended) said this:
  • Yes, if the girl was really humiliated, that part is definitely wrong. And ur point of 'even if he/she had committed crime, no one has right to touch them', is the prime reason y outsiders r being so rude. The police now inspite of their mistake has to give a royal treatment. Not sure if this is right
It's not just one person with a twisted mentality or in denial mode. See the conspiracy theory proposed and the undertones of 'a storm in a tea cup' in this Facebook comment:
  • There have been such incidents in the last year as well, but this incident has made it to the front page headlines. Is it a coincidence that media decides to blow it to such proportions only when an invest Karnataka global meet is happening?... I will stand for the rights of that Tanzanian girl however we might have to keep a watch on the damage control
This Facebook comment condemns the attack while squarely blaming African students for the mob's fury:
  • The Africans have made life a living hell and the anger manifested itself... though I don't condone the attack at all, the students need to tone down their lifestyle and be more considerate if the others too.
A news website carried a story related to the incident. Its comments section looks like this:
  • The Nigerians should be thrown out if they mis behave in future from the country.
  •  Since they are like animals, leave them for eternity inside Bannerghatta forest. They may enjoy their brotherhood with Lions and Leopards.
  •  It is ridiculous that their nationality and identity could not be ascertained, in this period when the country is on grip of fear of terrorist acts.!!!???
Will you still tell me there's no racism? Never mind stereotyping in the other comments, calling Africans rash, arrogant and high headed, not one of the writers condemning the assault on the Tanzanian student.
  •  Then there's this question on Quora: "How do I make non-Kannadigas speak Kannada in Bangalore?" One person suggests using "force if you're in command", and whenever possible, refusing to converse in any language but Kannada.
  •  In a similar thread on Quora, I found this screenshot:

The sensible majority
Please be clear I'm merely pointing out some of the (arguably ubiquitous) bad apples and the undeniable, hateful undercurrent that the state government says doesn't exist at all. No way I'm judging the entire city by these rotten ones' behaviour. 
Every extremist thought on web has more than a dozen Kannadigas summarily disapproving of the jingoism, requesting fanatics not to ruin the state's image by impose their culture on anybody. The hateful minority embarrasses the sensible majority. And I'm among those embarrassed and ashamed at what happened in my city a day after the death anniversary of Gandhi ji.

Oh, and I'm angry. My pals who have been harassed are also angry, because we relate to that humiliation. The one whom the bus conductor had affronted told me she was so disturbed over this news she needed to resort to her diary to vent. The other said she wanted to write an article about her own bad experiences. I'm writing this because I'm pissed off at those almost justifying the assault, including the home minister. Racist attacks haven't taken place in Bangalore for the first time. Can your police make an example of this murderous mob and ensure they rot in jail so that no would-be-fanatic dares such a misadventure ever again? Can you instill fear of law in them? Can you?

Those above law in B'lore
Law says all vehicles' number plates must be in English, but thousands of vehicles there ply with Kannada number plates. Even policemen's. The challan-happy traffic police hardly ever impose fine for it, fearing wrath of pro-Kannada outfits. But immigrants make up for more than 70% of Bangalore's population, how do they report a crime/mishap involving such a vehicle? Why, then, this exemption? It's such things that embolden hooligans, who learn they can evade law by brandishing the red-gold flag. (For the uninitiated, Karnataka has an informal state flag.) According to a Hindustan Times report, four of the nine men arrested for the assault are reportedly with a pro-Kannada organisation. Anybody surprised? 

Mr home minister, the "strict action will be taken" rhetoric impresses nobody. Can you rein in these radical outfits and bring them to book the next time they break law? Can we expect the law of the land will be implemented in letter and spirit and justice shall be meted out without fear or favour? Or will there be minor, routine arrests as usual, bail soon after and the masters of puppets go scot-free as usual?

No offence, Bangalore
If any Bangalorean reading this is offended, please understand I'm not pointing a finger at you, nor at namma Bengaluru. You've expressed grief and sorrow at the episode, you have minced no words in condemning the assault. You have always supported peace and brotherhood. Last year you set an example in selflessness and charity when Chennai was submerged. Nobody can ask for more. I understand it annoys the hell out of you when people label our beautiful city as racist.

I hope our anger and emotion evolves into a resolve to hold our government accountable. Because justice delayed is justice denied. And while redemption is not possible, atonement is very much. If political will is found lacking, let us ensure unrelenting public pressure makes up for it. Clipping wings of those who think they are above the law would be a reasonable start.

A prayer for my city
Ending this rather long note with a hope and a prayer that animosity vanishes from the hearts of those who have an inherent dislike for 'outsiders'. Hoping that cocky immigrants who proclaim "I need not learn Kannada because Hindi is India's national language" get a miraculous dose of wisdom as they sleep tonight and stop pissing off these locals with their brazen ignorance and arrogance. (It takes two to tango, after all.) Hoping that the African students get over this trauma, praying that the wounds on their psyche heal soon. And a prayer for the family of the woman who was killed at the hands of the rash driver.

P.S. Watch this video, starring Congress leader BL Shankar, to learn how to add insult to injury:

January 01, 2016

A slacker's guide to 'following' New Year's Resolutions

(If you're lagging behind your resolutions, technically you're following them. Congrats already! Where there is a will, there is an excuse. Presenting five of my most effective ones.)

New Year has kicked in and you must be armed with a list of resolutions that you're determined to see through this year. You're pumped up, commitment is at an all-time high and you know like you know that unlike previous years, you're gonna stick to your plan.

Whom are we kidding? Even while vowing to do (or not do) something, we know clearly in the back of our mind that the resolve to stick to the resolution is gonna disappear just like the friends who promised to stay back to help you do the dishes after the party. Benefit from my expert tips on how to go about this whole resolution business.

1. Leave margin for error
Don't be too hard on yourself. Most people are adamant they'll begin following the new regime right from Day 1. That's where they err, by overwhelming themselves. There may be slips, and let them be. Suppose you promised yourself you'd stay away from liquor this year. After a week of sticking to the plan, you may find yourself raising a toast to celebrate sobriety. Happens. Force of habit. And old habits die hard. Don't let that embarrass you. Restart. Cheers to that!

2. Procrastinate, if need be
Never mind if your plan got derailed after a week or 10 days. If your friends troll you over it, tell them it was the trial run that failed. That you believe Makar Sankranti (January 14) to be the actual new year according to the Hindu calendar. Or if you feel like you need more time to get started, take your time. Chinese New Year is on February 8. Or, you can start following your resolution from Malayalam New Year, Vishu. It falls sometime in April. So you can be mentally prepared to embrace the lifestyle change you want to bring about. I'd put Ugadi/Gudi Padwa too in the list, but it falls around Vishu. Get innovative if you need more time. Holi, Diwali, Christmas, you can assign any festival as your starting point. If anybody cries foul, call them intolerant.

3. Rephrase your resolutions
If you choose to follow the above two points, your mind might congratulate you on finding a loophole but this guilty conscience doesn't forgive. It sits pretty on moral high ground and pokes you from there. There's a solution for this also: rephrase your resolution. Instead of saying "I'll go to gym every day," or "I will not even touch junk food," let your resolutions be "I'll think of going to gym every day," and "I will try not to have much of pizza and burgers when they offer heavy discount, such as buy 1-get 1." This way, if you succeed in hitting the treadmill, you should congratulate yourself for exceeding your expectations. In case you can't go to gym for a few days, you'd at least have thought of it. So resolution fulfilled, guilty conscience etc taken care of. 

4. Get a partner-in-crime
Birds of a wing flock together. And they should. Find yourself a partner whose commitment level is similar to yours. If you're a go-getter, disciplined person and have a slacker for a friend, he/she might pull you down by the sheer magnetism of the all-powerful laziness they revel in. Or, if you're one of those who take it easy but have a friend who's committed to their goal like Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are committed to each other, you may find their determination overwhelming you and demoralising you. Stay friends with such people, but don't discuss your resolutions with them. Find someone who's in your league.

5. Don't tell social media
Why'd you want to put yourself under pressure by declaring on Facebook that you plan to quit smoking! Or that you'll get fit or get up early morning instead of staying up till early mornings. The next time you're standing with your colleagues who're fagging and you naturally begin to crave a puff, you'll be left just feeling sorry for yourself. Helpless. Facebook friends are trolls-in-waiting. They are like sharks that smell blood the moment you announce your resolutions. Beware! You might not want to give them a chance to put you down when the inevitable happens.

On a serious note...
The bottomline is, stay realistic. It's definitely good to aim to get fit, to quit smoking, eat healthy etc, it's important that you don't overwhelm yourself. Psychologists say most people fail to stick to their resolutions because they were not committed to it in the first place. Don't confuse your wish with your resolution. Don't expect to get ripped in three-four months, but do hope to get in a better shape. Choose practical goals, only a few, and focus your energy on them. Like I said above, old habits die hard. Got to kill them harder. That needs perseverance. And that is available only to those who are genuinely committed to their goals. Bringing in lifestyle changes needs deep commitment, and it will come only over a period of time. Maybe after a couple of failed attempts. Keep going, hardwork always pays off.