The Legend of Mem Bou

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There are many privileges of being born Bengali.

I can live in a glorious past. I can appreciate Ray without subtitles. I can marvel at the Ma Maati Manush alliterative chchondo of Didi’s poems, by the grace of Ma Sharda. I can tremble my voice during elocution. I can consider telebhaja to be an industry.

And most of all, I can derive pride from the awesomeness of the new viral meme.

Mem Bou.

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Gunda Becomes Jawaan

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Gunda turned eighteen this weekend. Or to put it in Gundese “Haye haye mera Gunda jawaan ho gya, toota hua teer kamaan ho gya”.

What began as a closely guarded secret in male dorms across the country, like a shared password for that orgy in “Eyes Wide Shut” except there are no women, all men, and all of unappealing body-types, and while imagining this, also imagine the stench of sweat, the musky odor of wet underwear drying in the breeze,  and only then do you begin to get a faint flavor of the origin of this global phenomenon.

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Azhar—the Review

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There is a scene in Azhar where Azhar has gone to watch a film with Naureen, his first wife. As Nargis Fakhri playing Sangeeta comes onto screen, her lips swollen like she walked into an Ambrose bouncer, it is Naureen who almost gets aroused, commenting to Azhar “kya khoobsoorat aankhein hai uski” and for those who have grown up in Bollywood,  we know that”aankhein”is often an euphemism for some other components of a woman’s body. While wife getting turned on by another woman is a long-standing fantasy among Indian men, and by this time you should be thinking of Khulbhushan Kharbanda’s spontaneous eruption in front of bottles of “Crush”  after stumbling upon his wife Shabana Azmi writing sensuously with Nandita Das in Fire, Azhar is immensely distraught by the licentiousness of the dance, and looks uncomfortably from side to side, like he did when the ball was bouncing near his head on fast tracks.

Yes that’s how innocent and honorable Azhar is, in his approved eponymous hagiography. Why did he take money from bookies? So that he bankrupts them, and prevents them from offering the same money to other players. Yes. You read that right. That’s the final reveal. Why was his career finished? Because some player suspiciously called “Manoj”, himself suspect in his loyalties, resented Azhar being the boss, and carried a grudge of having been seen nude in the dressing room. Why the extramarital affair? Because the first wife was unavailable, and how do we know that? Azhar sits down to a dinner with Naureen, asks her about the biriyani, she says “it’s good”, and Azhar asks “What about it is good? The rice? The spices? The flavor?” and Naureen says “It’s all good”, and Azhar loses his cool because no husband likes a wife who can’t deconstruct biriyani and the next thing you know he is in the arms of his mistress. Not convinced that he is an amazing person? Here is more. Azhar wants to tell his wife the marriage is over, but there are people at the house, so what can the poor man do except announce it on TV, leaving his wife not just heartbroken but also embarrassed?

Because you see Azhar did nothing wrong. Absolutely nothing. Everyone around him was bad, a resentful “Manoj”, a philandering “Ravi”, a difficult “Navjot”. And if throwing mud at everyone else in order to make him look good isn’t bad enough, there are bare-faced lies. Matches Azhar was accused of having fixed, are mixed with other matches, like the one in Bangalore where he got a bad decision, so that unless you lived through the Azhar era or read Cricinfo while others go to Pornhub, you would not realize that the game that started was not the one that finished.

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Stop Hating on Bobby Deol

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Between Ashutosh’s assault on the English language, the activities of Gau Rakshaks, the melting of the ice caps,  and the shamelessness of Indian sports officials, I thought I had become impervious to the evils of the world.

Till I saw this.

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According to a source, Bobby played the tracks from his old film Gupt throughout the night! Yes, that happened! And by the end of the night, the people at the club were left fuming, and were seen asking for a refund from the hotel officials! [Link]

Who the eff are these wannabes? I played songs from Gupt, in a loop, for five years, and I got my PhD. And they can’t take it for one night, and that too from the man whose film it was?

They deserve Pulkit Samrat. And Somnath Bharti. And Raaz the Reboot. And KRK dancing to Beat Pe Booty. And Honey Singh desecrating “Dheere dheere se”.

They do.

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A Legend Is Born

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Like most Indians, I had no idea of what a Produnova was till a week ago, would never have been able to tell it from a Supernova or a Kournikova.

Now I know.

Thank you Dipa Karmakar. You are now a legend and an inspiration. That does not mean, we as a nation will remember you, of course we won’t, unless we have Farhan Akthar or Priyanka Chopra playing you in your biopic, with the script written by Shobha De or Chetan Bhagat, each of whom will then go on to make more money off your name than you will manage in a lifetime.

But thank you, because for those few seconds when you floated in the air, you inspired us, a nation with little culture of sports or physical exercise, at least compared to the world, to soar, before we came down to the bitching and backbiting and snarky people that we usually are.

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Zakir Naik and Free Speech

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In 1999, the Ku Klux Klan wanted to have a rally in New York City. The City refused to grant them permission. The Klan ultimately did have their rally, no small reason due to the support they got from the unlikeliest of quarters, black Civil Rights groups.

This Voltarian “I may not agree with what you say but I shall fight till death your right to say them” is a principle every free speech fundamentalist parrots, but very few stand by them consistently. It’s easy to stand for free speech as long as you agree with it. But the rubber truly hits the road when you come face to face with opinions that you consider despicable. Do you then stand by the right of the individual to express what he wants to say, as Black Civil Rights groups did, or do you run to Mummy government asking for duct tape and a room with no windows?

Zakir Naik is such a test. Since sometime during the 2010s, I have been following the preachings of Zakir Naik, marveling at his unapologetic Islamic supremacist world-view, with a sense of revulsion that I reserve for flying cockroaches and half-boiled eggs and centipedes mating. Every other religion is wrong and his is perfect, and women may be beaten at the husband’s behest, and the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas was a lesson for Buddhists, and a variation of “If loving Osama, the enemy of those who make Islam their enemy, is wrong, I don’t want to be right”, and all this is just him clearing his throat, getting started.

So when “the nation” or rather that one person who claims to represent it on prime-time asks for banning him and taking his Peace TV off air, I have to, with infinite reluctance, as a free-speech fundamentalist, support Zakir Naik’s right to say what he does without being gagged for it. This is a grey area, but as far as I have seen or heard, Zakir Naik never directly gives a call for violence or for war, in the way that a Hafeez Sayed does, which would then put him squarely in the area marked as hate-speech and subject, in my opinion, to legal sanction. Not that Naik does not skate close to the red line, for instance look at his dancing around death for apostasy in Islam, but he never gives an overt call for action.

He is smart that way.

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The two ISISs

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I read this often, in social media updates and in tweets from blue-tick media mavens, that an overwhelming majority of ISIS violence is on Muslims (in this case 90%) , and so, by an extension, what are you non-Muslims getting your chaddis in a bunch for? The dissonance, in the above statement, stems from the overloading of the word ISIS in popular discourse, used as it is to refer to both a group in the Syria-Iraq region and also to radical Islamic fundamentalism in general, where the kill count of the former, or more precisely per-centage of Muslim on Muslim violence, is used to make a point about the latter.

But before we get into all that, let’s first talk about ISIS, the organization. It is intellectually lazy to call ISIS a radical Muslim group, especially when someone is purporting to have a serious discussion. Of course it is that only, but that’s not what defines them. The ISIS, more precisely, is a radical Sunni Muslim organization that espouses Salafism, a philosophy of intense Islamic fundamentalism. Salafists emphasize a return to the roots of Islam, to the rule of the rightly-guided Caliphs (the first four leaders of the Islam faith, after the death of Prophet Mohammed), in a very literal way. Which is why they seek to establish their vision of medieval utopia in the lands they control. They are kind of like auditors, in that they are extremely literal in their interpretation of standard operating procedure and standards. For instance, they take Islam’s strictures against idol worship to extreme levels. They are violently against music, even music that is Islamic and religious, and sometimes against even their own places of worship, as is evidenced in the recent attack at Medina.

This however should not be spun, as it is done, that they are against Islam. Of course they aren’t. They are against practices in Islam they believe are un-Islamic, practices that the rest of the world, including a majority of Muslims, think are perfectly Islamic. This naturally puts them against many Muslims. Shias and Sufis are particularly hated, and so are homosexuals and liberal Muslims of all sorts. Even many Sunnis, who might consider themselves to be orthodox enough, but do not meet the standards set by Salafists, lie squarely in their crosshairs. And as the ISIS has shown, time and time again, the distance between “against” and “I will kill you using methods that would be considered extreme in a Saw film” is a very short straight line for them.

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