The Echo Chambers: Demonetization

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demon

When Modi said that he was going to announce something important to the nation at eight, I thought, it could be only one of two things. That he wanted to do a review of Sultan of Delhi. Or that he was going to enter the Big Boss House. Instead he demonetized 500 and 1000 rupee notes, and it seemed that his election promise of depositing 15 lacs of black money in every bank account was coming true, except that it was not someone else’s black money in your account, which is what people thought, but your own black money in your own account, and this is what happens when you don’t go over the fine print.

Over the next few days, I have sought to write my two five hundred rupee notes about demonetization, but I have been told I should not, because I am a NRI, and what would I know. I was told this by the very same people who in India have strong opinions on Donald Trump and white privilege, and who refuse to accept Donald Trump as their president, perhaps because their president is Pranab Mukherjee. So I have decided to shut up, and also because I am not really an economist, and this, seems something that only specialists can be seriously expected to evaluate.

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Udta Punjab–The Review

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udta

Thanks to Pahlaj Nihalni’s ceaseless attempts to win Modiji’s Number One chamcha award and Arvind Kejriwal’s equally persistent attempt to make pretty much everything about him, and the pre-release brouhaha fitting perfectly in with the narrative of “intolerant as North Korea”, which in the absence of a functioning opposition has emerged as Modi’s biggest enemy, an idea rather than a party, Udta Punjab was political even before it hit the screens.

And once you have seen it, you realize, that regardless of what came before it, Udta Punjab was always going to be political, intensely political.

Everyone knew Bihar had no law. Thank you Prakash Jha. Everyone knew that Bhais rule Mumbai. Every Sanjay Dutt film tells us that.

But Punjab? Wasn’t it, for the rest of India, the land of plenty, of rustic simplicity, of sarson da khet through which lovers ran into each other’s arms, of “Singh is King”s, jolly bhangra-dancing and loud-laughing, of hearts bigger than the outdoors, of bravery, friendship and love?

Not any more. Broken buildings and broken men in their shadows, catatonic from drugs, politicians handing out bottles of drugs in lieu of blankets, the police under the control of politicians and the drug-mafia (beat the driver, as a wisened cop says, but don’t damage the trucks of the drug-transporters, because, as we know, in Punjab, a truck is personal), toxic intoxicants available in neighborhood pharmacies,  violence and sexual slavery in place of dance and love, and foul language that would make Gulzar go “ma di behen di”.

How did that Punjab become this Punjab, how did the sylvan fantasy become this post-apocalyptic dystopian nightmare?

Questions will be asked, by those whose idea of India is from what they watch in films, and the answers, they will find if they care to follow up, will be political.

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On the future of Indian publishing in English

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sharmila

[Originally written for Factordaily]

The word ‘disruption’ is a prime example of language that I like to call “business Powerpointese”, but if there is any context in which the use of the phrase “in need for disruption” may be excused, I would say it is in the world of commercial publishing in English in India.

Because this is an industry that really needs disruption.

Because no one is really happy.

Or I should say, in keeping with the spirit of using buzzwords, that none of the business’s stakeholders are happy.

First, let’s take the consumers.

Many find the over-abundance of titles like ‘7 Day$ of Luv@Twitter’ or ‘I Fell in Love with You and Then I Fell in Lust With Her’ on bookstore shelves off-putting, while others feel Chetan Bhagat is not writing books fast enough (somewhat like George RR Martin). And everyone, regardless of whether they swear by Ravinder Singh or Ravindranath Tagore, complains about the lack of choice when he or she walks into the bookstore.

Then, bookstore owners. They complain about the poor return-on-investment on books (“they sit on the shelves for too long”) and, if that’s not bad enough, online retailers who do not need to invest in display and have VC capital to underwrite losses, provide price-points with which they cannot compete. Which means closing shops down or books ceding shelf-space to the stuff that sells — Playstation games, soft toys, and compilation CDs of Arijit Singh.

Ask publishers and they reflect the concerns of retail. There are too many books, too few shelves, too much inventory lying in warehouses, and too few orders. And so their focus inevitably shifts away from quality or originality to the marketability of the author and the sexiness of the genre.

Which brings us to the last piece of the puzzle. Authors.

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Fan–The Review

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fansrk

There are two Fans.

One, if you look a bit closely, is about the relationship between the devotee and the God (and no I am not talking about the Sachin biopic), of the blurred lines between devotion and fanaticism.

Gaurav Chandna, a small-time superstar impersonator and obsessive mega-fan of Aryan Khanna, the in-film surrogate of Shahrukh Khan, takes a pilgrimage to Mumbai, hoping to get “five minutes” from the object of his devotion. But once there, he realizes that his God is not interested in giving “even five seconds of his life” to him, and that his over-the-top gestures of devotion are not only not appreciated but leads to his idol pulling strings and getting him beaten up in jail. The rejection leads him to turn on Aryan Khanna, as he embarks on a journey to destroy his God and at the same time, seek his acceptance.

This Fan goes to places most conventional mainstream fare from the Hindi film industry does not. First of all, it takes love, obsessive love, away from the man-woman sexual dynamic, and transposes to another context, as addictive, and potentially as destructive.

Faith.

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Thank you Virat Kohli

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kohli

An India-Pakistan cricket match is not like every other game. Cricketers say that all the time “It’s just another game”, and I understand why they do. But we know it’s not true.

It’s like saying your first kiss is the same as the ones that came after it. No one is buying it.

Because like a first kiss, an India-Pakistan cricket match is an anchor-point in your life. Not all games, but definitely some.

As time passes and one day merges into the other, like an endless march of India-Sri Lanka matches, it becomes difficult to find yourself in your own past. It’s then that you need these little anchor points, to which you can fly back at a moment’s notice when you feel the need to be nostalgic, and this need, as any forty-year old will tell you, increases as you grow older.

At least for me, so many of these anchor-points are cricket matches and out of them so many India-Pakistan encounters.  What exams was I preparing for (or not) when Sohail taunted Prasad? Who did I watch that game with, you know the one with Rajesh Chauhan? How did I dance when Dada defeated the Pakistanis in Toronto?  How did I jump up, in that mixed crowd of Indian and Pakistani fans at Stony Brook,  that first Shoaib Akthar over in 2003? What went through my head when time froze and Misbah turned his bat around for that scoop shot?

That’s what makes India-Pakistan cricket so special. It’s not the humiliation of a country or a settling of long-standing political scores, and I just hate when the media frames it in those terms, but those little moments that make sense, not in just in your life, but in the lives of others. It’s as if the lines of millions of Indians meet at those anchor-points, and then hurry along their respective trajectories. It’s what makes them so powerful, so emotionally intense, this resonance, for only at these anchor-points that we the millions become one, running the exact same gamut of emotions, asking the same questions (“Why isn’t Dhoni playing Bhajji on a spinning Eden pitch”) and making the same jokes about AB Junior.

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Of Indian Media And Words That End With “Tutes”

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Internet-Hindu

Walking Hindu (For Representational Purpose Only)

Scroll.in, which for some mysterious reason my phone keeps auto-correcting to Troll.in, recently had an article written by Mr. Rahul Pandita in which he exhorts Modi-supporters to stop calling “us” , and by “us” he means the august members of the media community, presstitutes.

I apologize for any nuance lost in my synopsis, but what he says is roughly this. A number of his friends of the author were once “reasonable” people. However they have recently been transformed into the “Walking Hindu” (a mythical tribe of the undead who bleed saffron and bite into anyone who they believe has not been Modified yet) who have, as a result, taken to calling Mr. Pandita and his band of truth-juice-dispensers as “presstitutes”, and he wants to tell them it is his job, and of warriors like him, to hold up an impartial, PR-free mirror to society, and if what they see is not to their liking, then why spit on the mirror?

There is also a quotation from Camus.

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Mahishashur

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[In keeping with the tradition of Durga Pujo fiction, here is my attempt at a Durga Pujo short story]

dpujo

I have always had a crush on Katrina Kaif. She is gorgeous and confident and modern and yet somehow traditional, and I don’t care if she can act or not.

So what are the chances that my girl-friend, yes my girl-friend, would be a dead ringer for Katrina Kaif?

I don’t know if I was looking for someone who looked like her (maybe I was), or whether Ma Durga had planted the seed of this connection years before, but then there it was. Madhushree could pass for Katrina’s twin sister, and to be honest she did accentuate the similarities with her makeup and hairstyle (not that I would ever tell her that to her face, I may be stupid, but not that stupid), so much so that even people at work called her “Kat” and though she would of course would ask them not to, I knew that she quite liked it.

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