Independence? From what exactly?

As I sit here typing this blogpost on the eve of my country’s seventieth Independence Day, my brain is being raped by the deafening traffic outside. It has been many years since I have had a full night’s sleep. The traffic is relentless. The pack of stray dogs in my street barks all night long. The students next door have drunken parties every night. Night after night, the noise of construction gets worse and worse. The administration, as always, doesn’t give a shit.

In my country, stray dogs roam free, to bite, maim and kill tax-paying citizens like myself. If I protest, I get intimidated and beaten up by animal activists. That’s because rabid dogs are protected by law. Their human victims are not.

In my country, a husband commits suicide every nine minutes. I’m one of those rare husbands who didn’t. If I protest, I get thrashed and then thrown into jail by Feminazis. That’s because women have laws to protect them. Men have none. None whatsoever.

In my country, I cannot decide what to eat. Someone else does that. In my country,  I cannot decide which God to worship, or which God I do not want to worship. Someone else does that. I cannot decide what I want to see on my TV. Someone else does that.

In my country, I cannot speak my own mother tongue. Because someone else wants to shove his language down my throat.

I cannot provide the education I think fit for my children. Because that education is reserved for someone else. I cannot get the jobs I want for my children. Those jobs are reserved for someone else.

In my country, less than 2 in 100 taxable citizens pay income tax.  I pay income tax for ninety eight other Indians who perhaps make more money than I do.

I cannot walk on the pavements. Because thugs on two-wheelers drive on them, in full view of the police. I cannot visit the few parks that still survive in my city, because there are too many garbage dumps in the way. And because crossing the street outside my home might get me killed.

In my country, more people are killed by vehicles than by terrorists and natural disasters put together.

We have the fastest growing economy in the world, boast our politicians. We also have the fastest growing population in the world. We also have the highest number of stray dogs per capita. And consequently, we have the highest number of deaths due to dog-bites. We also have the highest number of pedestrian deaths in the world. If I question those who drive on pavements and those who fling their garbage on the streets, I get beaten up and told that this is an independent country.

This, to most of my fellow Indians, is what Independence means. The right to abuse. The right to ogle. The right to throw refuse on the streets. The right to urinate in public.

Godmen in saffron robes sing praises about our ancient country’s hoary past, our glorious culture, our “sprirituality”. Their ashrams are dens of debauchery, their coffers are filled with black money, their beds are warmed by highly paid whores.

Seventy years after foreign rulers left our soil, we still go back to them for money to fund our development. Seven decades after independence, emigrating to the West is still considered the greatest achievement. Seventy years since we became a free country, owning the passport of another land is still the ultimate symbol of success.

Seventy years of self-rule, and I am still called a “Madrasi”.  Still abused as a “bomman”.

I am a loser you see. I chose to own an Indian passport. My former daughter dumped me for a rich old fart, because I refused to leave my parents and my motherland. What a fucking loser you are, her mother said to me in the divorce court – before joining her elderly lover in Canada.

We do have the biggest and the best Constitution in the world. I know, I read it. But yet …

As a husband I have no laws to protect me from my vicious wife. As a father, I have no rights to see my child. As a man, I have no legal defense against any woman who chooses to destroy my life. As a pedestrian, I have no legal means to protect myself from rabid dogs and drunken drivers alike. And as a Brahmin, I have no rights of any kind.

The foreign rulers have left, but we are still enslaved. By intolerance. By casteism. By religion. By over-population. By language. By the sheer weight of garbage on our streets. And worst of all, by corruption.

Ecologists across the nation have repeatedly warned that the country is racing towards ecological disaster. But the politicians continue to chop down trees, pollute our lakes and burn down our forests.

Where else in the world can one see a lake filled with stinking foam? Where else can one see a foaming lake literally on fire?

India is still one of the poorest nations on earth. One of the most corrupt nations in the world. One of the most unsafe countries for women.

In my country, a 1000 sq ft apartment costs more than a 2000 sq ft bungalow in the USA. Yet, a maid in that country earns more than I do.

Are you not proud to be an Indian, thundered my friend – who left India twenty years ago. I wonder how to respond.

The right question is not whether I love my country. Of course I do. Otherwise I would have left many years ago, when I had the opportunity.

The right question is – does my country love me?

I guess not.

City of Palaces … and rip-offs.

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Mysore Palace

Want to get royally ripped-off?

Go to Mysore.

Half my family hails from Mysore. My forefathers served under the Wodeyar rulers. One of my great grand-uncles painted some the murals that are displayed inside the Palace. Hardly a month goes by when I do not visit this city, either for work or for photography.

And I’ve come to hate the place. Mysore typifies the horrific state of tourism in our country. Rickshaws and taxis that loot commuters without fear, hotels that give you the worst possible service, grossly overcrowded tourist spots, abusive waiters, corrupt cops, the list is endless. Everyone wants his cut, everyone has his hand out, everyone has a nasty invective for you.

And garbage everywhere. Mind you, this city claims to be the “cleanest” city in India. Well, it is marginally cleaner than Bangalore. But then, Bangalore is without question, one of the filthiest cities in the world, not just in India.

Some of the “hotspots” of this formerly regal city:

Chamundi temple: Well over a thousand years old. Home of Mysore’s presiding deity. Try getting into the temple on any day of the week. Minimum waiting time is an hour, and you have to literally fight your way in. Literally. Count the number of encroaching hawkers and illegal shops around the temple. Inhale the tantalising stench from the huge pile of garbage on the hillside below. And then ask yourself, if this is how this city treats its presiding deity, how will it treat you?

Mysore Palace: For heaven’s sake leave your camera and cellphone with someone you trust. Cameras are not allowed inside the Palace. If you carry one, the cops inside will ruthlessly extort you – even if you do not take the camera out of its case. Same applies to cellphones. Photography outside the palace is permitted, without any entrance fee. Even here, you can get ripped off by touts. Be on your guard, will you?

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Chamarajendra Wodeyar, King of Mysore 1868-1894

Mysore Zoo: If you’ve seen a zoo before, then don’t bother. There’s just nothing special about this one – except for the pickpockets and petty thieves inside. Keep all your jewelry out of sight, remove your bangles and ear-rings. And keep your purse or handbag hidden, or booby-trapped. Distribute your cash and cards in various pockets. If you’re from Bombay, you know how to protect yourself from pickpockets. The same principles apply here.

Karanji lake: Next to the Zoo. If you want to observe human couples in foreplay, this is the place to visit. Once a nice waterbody for birds and birders, Karanji has become polluted with sewage, and infested with lovey-dovey couples. The lake smells foul on most days. You still can see waterbird species like the painted stork, spot-billed pelican and oriental darter, but these special residents of Karanji are constantly disturbed by boating and illegal fishing. Bird populations have been declining and will eventually disappear.

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Kukkarahalli lake.

Kukkarahalli lake: Same as above. Once attractive. Now avoidable. Not as bad as Karanji, since Kukkarahalli is not as commercialised. But it is getting there.

Brindavan Gardens: The best place to get groped. This place is definitely unsafe for women, even if they are in a large group. The much-touted musical fountain is not worth the trauma you will have to undergo to get there. Parking is a nightmare. Traffic is ghastly. Crowds are unruly, drunk and abusive. And they grope, grope, grope.

Ranganathittu bird sanctuary: For a bird-lover like me, Ranganathittu used to be the place for observation and photography. Used to be. Now, the place makes my blood boil. Far too crowded. Leaky boats. No safety measures of any kind. And the usual rip-offs. The “friendly” boatman will take you on a prolonged boatride for your photographic pleasure, if you cross his palm with a good amount of silver.

Srirangapatnam: This “historical” town on the outskirts of Mysore was once the capital of Tipu Sultan, a person for whom I have very little regard. Srirangapatnam is as bad as Mysore for tourists.

The so-called “expressway” from Bangalore to Mysore, once a great road to drive on, is choked with traffic and extremely unsafe. Without fail, I see at least two accidents on this road, each time I drive down. I wonder when it will be my turn.

My country has so much to offer to a discerning tourist. Ancient culture, spectacular temples, remarkable architecture, awe-inspiring natural beauty. And yet, India has less than 0.7% of the world’s tourism business. Tourists are ripped off everywhere they go, abused, intimidated, and frequently molested. India is generally known as one of the world’s most unsafe destinations.

Anyone who knows Mysore the way I do, will understand why.

Srini.

Athithi Devo … Five social events that you MUST walk out of.

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Athithi devo bhava … A guest in an Indian home is equated with God. And yet, Indian hosts are among the worst in the civilised world. Seriously. 

I’ve learnt the hard way.  After too many visits to the doctor, too many lost work-days, too many times when I had to rush my aged parents to the hospital, and far too many times my blood pressure went sky-rocketing because of inconsiderate remarks by arrogant half-wits, I finally learnt to say NO.

There are social situations that you should not get into – and hosts you should walk out on. And there are guests you should not allow into your home. Host or guest, there are lines that are not crossed, our traditional Indian hospitality notwithstanding.

The five hosts you should avoid:

The host who imposes his dietary choices on you: Forcing sweets and sugary treats on a guest who has diabetes is not ‘hospitality’. It is a deliberate act of homicide.

For many years, in one social event after another, especially weddings, I would repeatedly request the hosts not to force sweetmeats, payasam and other sugary stuff on my diabetic mother. And each time, I was scolded for being ‘offensive’ and a ‘naastik’ for not obeying some esoteric ‘sacred tradition’.

What the F ! Is it also ‘sacred tradition’ to rush an old woman to hospital after eating that sacredly traditional sugar-laden crap?

I have two stents in my heart. As a result, I have dietary restrictions (that are actually quite easy to follow).  Plus, I cannot tolerate spicy food. This is due to a very nasty gastric infection that I survived a few years ago.

That doesn’t stop me from having my share of fun, but I do need to watch what I eat.

These are my dietary choices, based on sound medical advice. I expect my host to respect my dietary choices, not mock them. If I have any reason to believe that the food on my plate can endanger my health, it is my prerogative to refuse that food.

Only in the recent past, have I learnt to boldly walk out on hosts who make fun of their guests’ dietary choices. And so should you.

One man’s payasam is another man’s hyperglycemic coma.

The host who imposes his religious choices on you: India is a democracy.  Your religion is your choice, not your host’s. The host, or any one else, has no business questioning your religious beliefs – or lack thereof.

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It’s a party, not an Inquisition. As a guest, you should not be held accountable for whatever form of religion you practise (or do not practise). And as a guest at a purely social gathering, you should never be forced to participate in any religious activity that you are not comfortable with.  As a host, one is expected to respect that.

If your religious choices are not respected – you walk out.

The host who forces you to ‘perform’:  What are you, MTV or Comedy Central? Have you been invited to amuse the general public?

Unless you are a professional performer who’s being paid, or unless you really enjoy making a middle-aged spectacle of yourself, or unless you are Hema Malini in Sholay trying to save Dharam’s life, you should not be forced to sing like Rafi, dance like Shammi, or re-enact some dumb-ass comedy scene from Amar Akbar Anthony, or whatever.

Unless everyone else joins in. That’s different. If everyone is willing to make drunken asses out of themselves, then actively encourage them – and sit back and enjoy. And quietly disappear when the cops arrive.

Recently, I was obliged to attend a family function. Apart from the unhygienic food and apart from holier-than-thou uncles and aunts who kept berating me for not knowing anything about our glorious ‘sampradaya’, there was one ancient great-grand aunt who, for some reason, wanted me to sing. She kept insisting, and I kept politely refusing, for a very good reason – I cannot sing.  The old lady got really cranky and stubborn, and all those uncles and aunts joined her in support.  At which point, I walked off.

I was later told that the old lady in question felt ‘hurt’.  I could not care less. The blame rested solely on the host for making a public buffoon out of his guest, in this case, myself.

The host who pokes into your personal matters or allows his guests to: This is self-evident. It is the ultimate expression of bad culture. It is sheer bad manners. And yet it happens all the time, whether it’s a wedding or a birthday party or even a condolence meeting.

You are there in the party to relax and socialise … not to have your innards ripped open by gossip-mongers and self-appointed moral guardians.  If this happens, then no matter what the event is,  you do not hesitate, do not think twice, do not even take a seat. You walk.

The host who forces guests to drink:  Do you really need to be with people who would force hard liquor down a teetotaller’s throat? Even he happens to be your boss, you are well within your rights to walk off. There are corporate laws against this sort of harassment you know.

I did this to one of my former employers. The MD of that company was (and still is) a particularly boorish character. He was notorious for forcing his subordinates to drink and make a fool of themselves for his entertainment. At the annual sales conference, he forced me to drink. I didn’t. He locked me in the hotel toilet as punishment. I called up the hotel security from the intercom, had myself released, walked up to that Anus who was my boss, and told him on his face – I quit.

Ten years later, I was sitting on the purchase committee of a pharma client, negotiating with vendors for a biotech lab contract, worth half a million dollars (Rs. Two and a half crores, to be precise). The Anus was one of the vendors. He lost the contract, obviously. Poetic justice, eh?

If you’re being forced to drink at an event hosted by a dear friend, then it’s worse. However, a host who doesn’t understand the word NO, doesn’t deserve you as a guest. If he’s a personal friend, then you don’t need such a friend. Walk out.

Your health, physical or mental, is your responsibility.  The personal choices you make in your life are strictly yours.  There is no compelling need for you to allow anyone else to make your choices, and thereby endanger your health, your loved ones, or your career, just to fit into a social circle that you think you should fit into.

In truly developed countries, there are laws that protect you as a guest. In India, alas, all that you can do as a hapless guest is to walk.

As Dylan Thomas once said while leaving a bad party, “And now gentlemen, like your manners, I must leave you.”

Cheers … Srini.