Sep 10, 2014

Why Ganesha doesn’t want to be back

If you scan through the calendar, it looks like we Indians have created festivals to take occasional breaks and holidays. We have some or the other festival coming up every month round the year and each of them has grand celebrations attached to it. The most recent is Ganesh Chaturthi, where beautifully decorated artistic idols of Lord Ganesha are bought from artisans, carried all the way in a decorated vehicle which blasts the latest item numbers at high decibel levels with the devotees dancing hysterically in the procession and then installed either in homes or pandals in the locality for a varying period of 1.5, 5, 7 or 10 days after which the idols are again carried in the decorated vehicles with a lot of music & dance and finally immersed in the waterbodies.

Over the last few years, celebrations have become lavish and pompous. Idols have become larger, music and lights have become more advanced and the funding of pandals has risen, thanks to the politicization of festivals. When we already have so many Ganesha temples to worship, why is there a need to install his idol on each and every corner of the locality? Who gives us the right to decide that Ganesha loves item songs, remixes and Honey Singh numbers? Do we create bigger idols every year because we believe the bigger the idol, the more the blessings?

As a God who has the image of being a boss, this doesn’t just go well with Ganesha’s standards. It’s just not his style.  Isn’t it sad that a God who has such an excellent reputation of removing hurdles begins and ends his journey into the festival with huge traffic jams? Do we keep on blaring loud music at the pandals and blasting crackers in the processions just because he has got the biggest ears? Ironically people abstain from eating non-vegetarian food and consuming liquor during this festival but rarely care about the fishes that die due to pollution in the sea and the drunk dancing during Visarjan processions while the sound system plays Chaar Botal Vodka. We bid goodbye to the God whole-heartedly and wish for his come-back next year forgetting that the idols would still not degrade for the years to come.

Anyone who has visited Lalbaug cha Raja in Mumbai would be well aware about the mad rush of devotees over there during the Ganesh festival. Why would God reside at a place where people have a constant fear of stampedes, manhandling and pickpocketing? No blasphemy here, but how can you focus on praying to the God when your only priority is to get out of the rush as soon as possible?

Finally, if you visit the beaches after the day of Visarjan, you would see a lot of beheaded and mutilated Ganesha idols scattered across the shore. If that is a pleasant sight for you, go ahead and bring in the God next year.

P.S. Modaks are super delicious.

Sep 2, 2014

10 things to learn from your baby

There are two types of people in this world: those who love babies and those who don’t. Love them or hate them, the initial months of parenthood are quite challenging as well as rewarding. If you think babies are just milk guzzling, crying and potty making machines, you are partially correct. But there is a side to them which most of us fail to observe and analyze. Even though they come with no educational qualifications or degrees, babies can impart great life lessons by merely their actions and traits. Let’s get started.

  1. Laugh all the way, screw the world: Ever observed how these tiny munchkins laugh at almost each and every little thing? That’s how life should be. Look for the smallest reasons to laugh without caring if your sanity would be questioned. If you observe carefully, you would be astonished to discover that you get to see a lot of things in your routine worth laughing at. The next time you reply with a LOL, do it actually.
  2. Walk, fall down, get up and walk again: Learn from failures as experts say, but never recognize failures. Till date, I haven’t seen a baby who is too scared to get up and walk again because of a fall. Neither do babies get embarrassed because of a public failure. As we grow up, we start developing our comfort zones and fear zones. Curiosity is a beautiful way to learn. Experimenting boosts creativity. The fear of failure kills execution of ideas. A baby scared of a fall would crawl all her life!
  3. Learning never ends: Babies have a superb grasping power. This is because they have a constant desire to learn and experience. Their curiosity contributes to their amazing learning abilities. They keep on learning and practicing slowly to perfection. Learning is a continuous process and that’s why the best teachers always strive to be the best students.
  4. Sleep like a log: When was the last time you thought of chucking all the worries and turning off your brain instantly? Well, babies actually do it. The message is clear: Unwind and take a break. Rest and recharge your batteries whenever your body demands. Sleep worry-free.
  5. Eat when you need: Just like sleep, food is a bodily need. There are times when you skip meals because you want to catch that bus or to attend that meeting. Compare this with a baby demanding food aggressively whenever she wants. If a baby who burns calories giggling the whole day needs meals on time, why shouldn’t we adults be disciplined about eating?
  6. Mornings should be good: Our daughter wakes up in the morning with a smile, starts off happily and moves around the house giggling unless she needs a diaper change or food. How many mornings have you gotten out of bed and thought that it would be an amazing day? Your mornings make or break your day; so begin them with a huge grin and a clean slate.
  7. Hug, hug and hug (no pun intended):  I don’t want to sound like Munnabhai MBBS, but there is nothing in this world that a genuine hug can’t fix. As adults, we restrain ourselves so much that very few of us know the energy, comfort and assurance that a hug can bring.
  8. Forget grudges and move on: Babies have this wonderful ability to erase all painful memories instantly and move on to other happier things. That is the reason your baby would always smile at the same doctor who regularly vaccinates her via injection. Laugh at the same joke twice but don’t cry over the same pain over and over.
  9. Flexibility rules: If you have a baby at home who’s less than a year, make sure that you capture all the moments when your baby tries to suck her toe or assume postures which would put Baba Ramdev to shame. She would not do it as she grows up because that’s science. The message here isn’t to try sucking your toe but to be open to change. Be flexible and accommodating, not change resistant.
  10. Love unconditionally: This is a quality rarely found in adults. Babies don’t have presumptions or prejudices in mind. We adults are very calculative when it comes to giving away our love. We all have been gifted with an unlimited quota of love; let’s spread it.

Disclaimer: These learnings are completely based on my experiences. Your baby might teach you something else. Or may be not. Keep calm and change the diaper.

Aug 15, 2014

Indian Railways: It’s all about the journey

At the risk of sounding too middle-class, I admit that air travel doesn’t even come close to rail travel. In fact, travelling in a humble sleeper class coach of an Indian Railways train contributes to your life experiences in a way you cannot imagine unless you have been through it. Airports somehow seem to put a lot of pressure on you for updating check-ins on social media whereas railway stations don’t. HOW CAN YOU UPDATE YOUR CHECK-IN AT A RAILWAY STATION WHILE HAGGLING WITH THE COOLIES AND RUNNING ALONG THE TRAIN DRAGGING YOUR LUGGAGE TO FIND YOUR COACH AS THE TRAIN COMES TO A HALT?

Indian railways is the ninth largest employer in the world, if the statistics are to be believed. This is quite sad because after paying 1.307 million employees every month, there is hardly any money left with the government for betterment of the trains. We rant about the fare hikes and the shitty facilities provided in the trains and then move on to normal life after unpacking the luggage. Bollywood is smart enough to have utilized the trains for almost all kinds of scenes - dance, romance, robberies, suicides and even the legendary love making scene from Ishaqzaade. (yes, I have watched the movie.)

To begin with, the railway reservation system sucks as much as the Indian caste based reservation system. It isn’t much fun to wake up early in the morning and queue up for a tatkal ticket at the reservation counter for hours only to realize that the tickets were sold out in 0.22 microseconds after the tatkal reservations opened. The online version of this is slightly better. After some hours of demonstrating excellent perseverance which includes staring at the IRCTC website as it loads pixel by pixel on the screen, you finally get a confirmed reservation. The last time you were so much delighted was when your girlfriend tested negative on a home pregnancy test after her missed period.

Once you board the train and bid goodbye to your entire extended family whose platform tickets have contributed to 2.4% of the GDP, you settle down on your berth in the sleeper coach. Given the optimist that you are, you expect all the berths around you to be occupied by pretty females. (Pro-tip: Always go through the reservation chart to avoid heartbreaks.) Before you even realize, a large family of 6 invades the coach with 15 pieces of luggage and starts shoving the bags forcefully below the seats while their kid rushes to fit in the space between you and the window. If luck isn’t in your favor, you may also be approached by a middle aged uncle who insists on swapping your berth with him so that he can re-unite with his family. Being an Indian middle class guy, you happily oblige because you have been taught the virtue of adjustment by your parents even if that means having to sacrifice your dreams.

If you carefully observe, you get to see 4 types of passengers in the sleeper coach. The first type is a passenger who has superb negotiation skills. In spite of having an unconfirmed ticket, he negotiates with the TTE and fellow passengers, manages to get a good berth with the choicest blankets and pillows and then heads out to the door and stands near the footstep till the end of the journey. The second type is an over enthusiastic uncle who will be an expert ice-breaker. He will sit next to you, force you to opine about any random topic and then go on to show his knowledge on the subject. The discussion eventually ends at how our government sucks and politicians should rot in hell. The third type is the foodie. He, along with his family will ensure that they consume each and everything sold as food at every single station. Additionally, they also carry a supply of food enough to feed a village in Africa. (Pro-tip:  These are the biggest saviors. Stay around them so that you are spared from eating the pantry food.) The fourth type is an annoying guy who along with his entire travel troop is just waiting for the train to move so that they can clap and play Antakshari followed by cards.

If you want to learn the concepts of recycling, there is no better place than the pantry car of the train. The same gravy is recycled for all the meals until it runs out after a week. I am waiting for the day when Kejriwal exposes that the chapattis served along with the meals are manufactured by Bata.

Once you consume such a sumptuous meal, you are likely to race to the toilet, which is a nightmare in itself. You get the rarest privilege to perform your act while the cool breeze hits your ass and your eyes try to decipher the indigenous telephone directory scribbled on the toilet walls. It is still unclear as to what algorithm is used to calculate the length of the chain that holds the tumbler. If Murphy is indeed unkind to you, be ready with a bottle. Nature’s call was never this adventurous, isn’t it?

However pathetic the condition of our trains might be, there is something about the typical stink of the sleeper coach, the rhythmic melody of iron wheels hitting the rail tracks, the loud air whistle, the chants of hawkers, villages passing by the windows, the conversations with random co-passengers and that long wait to reach the destination that you cannot afford to miss. As the famous quote goes, focus on the journey, not the destination.