Sunday, October 16, 2011

The business called Telangana


If you have been to Gogo's – the blog before, read section (a)

First timers, jump to (b)

Those of you who have landed here by mistake, please continue at your own risk.

a) If you are a regular reader at Gogo's (glad to know you exist) or one who drops by once in a while (intentionally or accidentally), I’m pleased that you are here and I’m sorry about the inactivity; that is if you have noticed it in the first place. If you look closely, unlike the usual Chennai inspired titles about Tamil Brahmins, autos and Rajnikanth, I’m moving to Hyderabad’s burning issues. 

Yes, I have moved base to Hyderabad and so you will be hearing a lot more about Biryani, Reddys and of course, Telangana.

b) WELCOME! And don't think that I don't know that you read part (a) too.

Prologue ends! (You’re welcome)

The T issue is a rather sensitive one, one that evokes extreme responses, both for and against it. If you are looking for my opinion here, then I'm sorry to disappoint you. I'm not that brave.

When bandhs are made to become a part of one’s daily existence, then people have to come up with innovative and out of the box solutions to un-bandh their lives. Kolkata folks, you know what I am talking about ;)


Life isn't fair and has to go on and not everybody has the luxury or determination to be out on the streets fighting for a cause or sit at home supporting it. So in such a situation, how do people survive? Here are some of my observations,

The local bus service (the Bakras)

Now this is one group I really feel for. For years they have been the punching bag for all reasons.

We want water from Karnataka --- burn the buses;
We won't give water to Karnataka --- burn the buses;
Chuck water, give us Mallaya and his beer from Karnataka --- Burn the buses;

Relief bus?

For every goddamn reason, the buses are the first to bear the brunt of the agitators. How long can anybody tolerate this? So for once, they have decided to just wait out the agitations and boy are they doing it in style. Over 4 weeks now and no sight of buses. Too bad though that the government has decided against giving them their salaries.

For some people, the bad times just don't end. Nevertheless, somebody's loss is someone else's gain.

Educational institutions (Home delivery services):

Perhaps the worst hit group after the bus service. However, except for the teachers/lecturers and parents, nobody else seems to be complaining. It's not like the students are dying to get back to their institutes. Unfortunately, the exams seem to be following them home, quite literally. A news paper article says that some of the private schools have decided to conduct examinations at the comfort of the student's very home and guess who invigilates? The parents!

How does this work? The parents collect the question papers in the morning of the exam from the school and conduct them at home. How cool is that? Imagine giving exams in your pyjamas with a Frooti by your side and your favourite cartoon running on TV. You don't even have to beg for those extra 5 minutes at the end (otherwise you know whom to blame for the low marks). Nobody fails and everybody is happy.

The auto wallas (The fox)
Talk about opportunists and ways to exploit during a bandh, then these guys take the icing on the cake and the cherry with it. Then they come back and take the rest of the cake too. Some insatiable appetite they have.

This picture is for representational purposes only.
He is not an auto driver, even though you might like to believe so.

The auto union pledged their support for a separate state of Telangana by going on a two day strike. Well, they did live up to their word by showing their support by draping their autos in pink (the color of TRS party) and wearing a T – scarf and were out in full force looking for an opportunity to loot hapless travellers. 

A friend of mine who had the misfortune of travelling in an auto that fateful day had to shell out 5 times the normal fare. On trying to argue, the auto driver just had two words for him,

Jai Telangana”!!

It is often said that cocaine consumption can be addictive; ask them if they have tried fuel. A rumour is enough for people to leave everything else in life and stand for hours in queues outside petrol bunks. 

As expected, panic followed an official announcement and there were traffic jams reported from various parts of the city, thanks to Kilometre long queues waiting for the elixir of life. Henry Ford and the others, see what you have done.

Please repeat my drink

Almost every small PBC* shop had an additional item on their display; a bottle of diluted petrol and diesel in shrivelled, old plastic bottles sold at the rates of rocket fuel.


Bartender pappu

Personally, I wouldn't want any of that diluted petrol in my vehicle because you never know what the diluting agent was, considering that there is a free availability of similar coloured liquids. And I'm not referring to mountain dew or whiskey.

The restaurants (The social service)

At such troubled times, the local Biryani and pizza place have been a real support to the people, almost a shoulder to cry on. With most of the city crippled and in pain, they were the real heroes. They kept their backdoors open and served people selflessly just to see that smile of satisfaction on their face and to hear that pleasant sound of their cash registers ringing. 

To their credit, unlike the autos, they kept their rates the same because they know that keeping a Hyderabadi away from his Biryani is akin to asking Sachin not to adjust his guard in a match. It's unthinkable! Probably uncomfortable too.

The IT crowd (The Immortals aka the dogs):

This group moves around the city with impunity thanks to their protective shields which is hung around their neck. Once you agree to wear these tags, then nothing else matters. Life and death are secondary concerns, the project and client requirements come first. 

These are just a few groups and their unique ways of un-bandh-ing their lives. There are many many more who are facing a genuine threat to their subsistence because of the complete paralysis of the city and the state. This is probably the last thing a government, which is being attacked from all quarters for various reasons, needed. In its quest for retaining power and taking the right decision (hopefully) life is going out of control. This post is written amidst 7 hours of power cuts in a city which once boasted of being one of the fastest developing in the country.

As a Hyderabadi, all I can do is hope that this doesn't cost us too dearly.

Jai Hind!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bring BQC Back – Well, it’s coming back!

BQC is coming back!
The phrase “Power to people” has been taken to a whole new level thanks to online social networking. The worthiest example being the recent series of revolutions in Egypt and other countries which were made possible thanks to social networking tools like Facebook, Twitter & blogs. They were used to mobilize people from all over the country and within a matter of days, years of tyranny had ended.

These e-revolutions or iRevolutions, as popularly called, have given people a new sense of belief, a belief to make a difference, even when it comes to less serious issues. So often we get exasperated by the helplessness of not being able to do what we want to. Not anymore! So when a youngster’s favourite television programme went off air, he didn’t just sit there disappointed, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

On April 24th 2011, there was a post on Gogo’s – “Bring BQC back”, which talked about the online campaign started on Facebook by Rahul Sethi to bring back one of India’s longest running and most loved television quiz show. Within no time, this Facebook page became a hub for likeminded quizzers who had fun posting and answering questions while working towards a common goal – to get Bournvita Quiz Contest Back on air.
It's true!

Eight months and 2 Lakh members later, they could no longer be ignored. Yes, it’s true; the initiative has finally reached fruition. Derek O'Brien has successfully managed to convince Cadbury to join in the movement to Bring BQC Back. The movement has even managed to rope in Colours TV as the broadcast partner. If all goes well, the Bournvita Quiz Contest should once again be India's favourite Sunday morning pastime.

Before you jump and take off your shirts to celebrate (Ganguly style) let me add that there is more. Now YOU can get to ask questions alongside the grandmaster of quizmasters, Derek O’Brien himself.  All you have to do is upload a video of you asking the question in a creative manner and share it here (ignore the last date, just send in the videos). The wackiest entries will be picked by Derek personally and the winners will get to be a Quizmaster on the show!

So what are you waiting for – get crazy and get on air.

Now start ripping those shirts in celebration. Yayyyy!!!
Don't miss it. Starts August 14th.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The TAM-BRAHM wedding

Selected as BlogAdda's Tangy Tuesday pick, August 2nd 2011(click here to know more)

I hate attending marriages. I find them the most painfully boring way to spend your time and the only reason, I assume, for most people to grace these “occasions” is because they were coerced (or threatened). My parents have given up asking me to attend marriage functions and somewhere, I believe, they feel my pain.

So when Dharani, my friend from UK, informed that she would be coming down to Chennai to attend the marriage of her cousin, I could sense danger. My mind is designed to be on the auto pilot mode at such times and involuntarily it started digging into its gargantuan repository of excuses. However, it turned out that Mayank, another friend from school, whom I haven’t met for ages was coming along too and so, for the sake of friendship, I had to do the inevitable. Drama!

In Tamil Nadu, like in most of India, caste plays a major role in society. At the top of the hierarchy is the Tamil Brahman/Brahmin and they are the most revered of the lot. They are thought to be conservative, educated, good looking, egoistic and serve the best “pure” vegetarian food at their weddings. The conservative = boring equation was the major deterrent but it was defeated by the “best food” (so what it was vegetarian) and the friends factor.

So when I was invited to the “Sri Kuchalambal Kalyana Mahal” (the venue), I gulped and hoped that food was served early.
The caricature at the wedding

I was met with a pleasant surprise at the entrance, where I saw a caricature(see pic) of the married couple in their traditional attire zooming away on a bike which I thought was “Oh so cool”. I later found out that it was made by the bride.

I met my friends and almost immediately we were engrossed deep in conversation. I totally forgot about the marriage I was dreading. On the occasional glance towards the stage, I saw a  familiar sight, one which I have witnessed through the ages. A heavily “decorated” bride stood beside the “suited up” groom (so what if it’s a Chennai summer), starving and sweating it out, forcing a constant smile while a spotlight enough to light up a basketball court was aimed directly at their face. Like this was not enough, the entire ordeal was recorded by still and motion cameras in an almost sadistic manner.    

This agony would continue till the hundreds (and in some cases thousands) of guests slowly walk up the stage, wish them well, give the gift (which they probably received at some other function), adjust the Saree a thousand times before finally clicking a picture and heading off the stage.

Our constant jabbering was interrupted by a sudden murmur in the hall. Was dinner served? No. It turned out that the “torture session” had ended and the groom had the microphone in his hand. This usually never happens because, unlike shown in the movies, the Indian groom is almost as shy as the bride, if not more. The groom got a guitar and started singing for the audience. It was followed up by a well rehearsed and choreographed dance performed by the cousins of the couple to popular foot tapping Hindi and Tamil Numbers and ended with a romantic duet by the couple themselves to the song, “pehla nasha”, which got the audience clapping and hooting; with a few jaws dropping too.

Wait a second? Wasn’t this supposed to be the most conservative of conservative marriages, almost like the apogee of conservativeness? Whatever happened to the whole “couples should not meet before the marriage or the heavens will fall” ritual? Here, they were actually performing an Indianised, Bollywood version of a fairly romantic ball dance which I’m quite sure they didn’t rehearse over Skype. After the initial shock, I was beginning to enjoy myself and this was nothing like I expected. I turned to my friends and told them, “Guys! This is actually fun”. That’s when I got to know that a lot of "traditional" marriages these days were getting innovative and enjoyable (how long was I in hibernation?).

After the dose of entertainment, it was time for what I was looking forward to the most – the food. This was as traditional as it could get: long rows of tables with chairs only on one side, set in such a way so as to discourage any social interaction and in turn ensuring one gives their entire undivided attention to the considerable number of delicacies strewn on a coconut leaf being served by men, each of whom is referred to by the name of the item they are serving. 

Standard conversation at the scene (translated):

Man serving Sambar asking the man serving rice: "Dai, whare is Rasam Da?"
Rice man replying: "He was with Vadai sometime back. Ask payasam. Maybe he would know".

At the end of it, you don’t even get time to sit and relish your meal as there would already be someone pulling your chair from behind, giving you a not so subtle hint that you need to get your ass off the chair ASAP.

With the traditional tambrahm elaisaapadu (Banana leaf food)

 Satisfied and full, we went back to the main hall for our next shock. We were informed that there was a DJ waiting and that the floor at “Sri Kuchalambal Kalyana Mahal” would soon be open for a dance party. DJs at Punjabi weddings are almost a norm but at a Tamil Brahmin wedding was unthinkable. There just seemed to be no end to the surprises. The super traditional marriage hall whose walls were scattered with pictures of Gods, Goddesses and Gurus at every conceivable free space was going to turn into a nightclub?

Initially, the DJ got a lukewarm response with only a few deciding to take to the floor, mostly the cousins of the couple who performed initially. Honestly, it wasn't a real surprise as the audience didn't really comprise of people you associate with dancing and DJs, perhaps a Carnatic music concert. Boy, was I wrong. Things started changing in a matter of a few tracks as the DJ switched from “Jumma chumma de de” to “Bachna ae haseeno”. Dharani decided to leave us and join the rest at the dance floor while Mayank and I just stood shocked.

A bit of cajoling and pursuing did the trick and soon the dance floor was brimming with people of all age groups. All hell broke loose when the Sheilas started getting jawaan and the Munnis badnaam. Yes, all this and more at the Sri Kuchalambal Kalyana Mahal. It soon went international when Akon’s hit number, Sexy bitch’s cleaner version, sexy chic (thankfully, otherwise it would have been too much too take) started playing and it went on and on as my friend and I gaped and gawked like fools. Never in my life before have I seen so many jasmine embellished heads dancing to David Guetta and the likes.

As the DJ announced the last song, the crowd booed and pleaded for an encore like at any popular nightclub. Young, old, conservative – doesn’t matter; the universal fact is that everybody enjoys having a good time. I’m not sure if this particular TAM BRAHM marriage reflects a trend but I had a ball of a time. Right from the caricature at the beginning to the DJ at the end, my expectations couldn’t have been more off the mark. This is one of the very few marriages, I don’t repent attending.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The curse of the stereotype - The North Indian Vs South Indian Debate

Selected as Blogadda's "Spicy Saturday Pick" on July 9, 2011

The last few months have been tough on me, thanks to my god forsaken working hours. I’ve been asked to work in the morning shift which requires me to leave home at 6:30 AM EVERY SINGLE DAY. If you think it’s no big deal, then you must be a nerd or an insomniac. Interestingly, this post is on stereotypes.

The morning shift does have its share of advantages, like for instance, it has ensured that I don’t skip my breakfast anymore and it’s my favourite meal of the day. This post is the result of a conversation that transpired during one such breakfast while I was busy dipping my 106th Dosa* in the 173rd bowl of Sambar**.

*Dosa includes all varities of Dosas/Uthappams/Pesarattu which may or may not include Masala/Onion/Podi/Ghee.
**statistics for the period of April 1st – June 25th 2011

Pic1 ) Dosa - My staple diet today
My company for breakfast is usually project mates, most of them my seniors by 2-3 years and all natives of Tamil Nadu. While I was busy chomping into my Onion Podi Uthappam (my personal favourite) someone spoke in English. I stopped chewing midway, shocked at the atrocity of the event, and looked up dumbfounded to find the brave one who had the courage to break the unspoken protocol by talking in an alien language. He was talking to me; it had to be me considering that I was the only non-Tamil speaking person (amongst the all English speaking people) on that table; how stupid of me.

And the conversation went something like this,

My senior asks, “Hey, what do you do on weekends?”

Pic 2) Caught unaware
“Ummhh??!!” is all I could manage thanks to my mouth being full and also taken aback by surprise at being spoken to in English.

“On weekends; what do you do?” he says again, altering the question a bit, helping me understand the seemingly innocuous statement.

Still a little taken aback, I replied, “Hmmm well the usual weekend chilling out. Hang out with friends, movies, good food, etc; nothing specific or out of the ordinary”.

He didn’t seem too convinced; he gave me a wry smile, nodded his head and got back to his Dosa. I was getting curious here. After a pause for about 10 seconds, I finally decide to ask the golden question.


And the answer came almost immediately,

“Well I have often seen North Indian guys out with girls on their bikes on weekends. So was just curious”.

I did not see this coming. To keep things on the lighter side, I asked him,

“Why? What do South Indian guys do on weekends?”

He promptly replied, “We just look at them (the North Indian couples)”.

We had a nice laugh over his witty reply and got back to our dosas but I couldn’t get that statement out of my head. It wasn’t intended to be hurtful or malicious; it was plain curiosity, at least in this case it was. The senior who asked the question is genuinely a very nice person who is extremely helpful and nice to everybody around. Blame it on the stereotypes which are sometimes so strong that people mistake it for universal truth.

In my 5 years at Chennai, I’ve witnessed one of the strongest stereotypes with practical implications; the North Indian – South Indian divide. I am a Punjabi, born and brought up in Hyderabad, my mom’s family is from Bangalore and I have spent a considerable time there and of course, my stint with Chennai. So that makes me believe that I am as much a North Indian as I am South Indian and that qualifies me to talk about this highly controversial and sensitive issue with an unbiased point of view because I believe I understand both sides better than most.

This divide is by no way a new trend; it goes way back in time. The language barrier, unique customs and limited interstate migration resulted in a lack of understanding about each other which in turn was the genesis of these stereotypes. South Indians were perceived to be conservative, ugly and detached by their “countrymen” up North while the Southern “brothers” thought the “Northies” were flamboyant, immoral and were not as blessed in the grey area department.

However, at this juncture I’d like to point out that amongst the three Dravidian cities (Bangalore, Chennai & Hyderabad) I have stayed in, I’ve felt this divide the most in Chennai. Interestingly, many North Indians refer to South Indians as “Madrasi” (from Madras). So is this more of a North Indian – Tamilian issue?

Hyderabad and Bangalore have had a comparatively more cosmopolitan environment with majority of the population having no qualms speaking English or Hindi in addition to their local language. So that way, if someone from these cities went up North, they wouldn’t have a problem and the North Indians coming to these cities would also feel at home. However, Chennai was never too hospitable in welcoming a foreign language, especially Hindi, and it always treated it suspiciously(read more). 

Was the government right in imposing Hindi as a national language in spite of knowing that Hindi wasn’t spoken in many of the Indian states? Had someone in the government given a thought to the repercussion of their actions, we could have probably avoided this scenario. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.

Let’s make things a little black and white and go back in time to the good old retro days, to the point in time where I “believe” these "North-South" sentiments would have first emanated.

Note: The forthcoming flashback is completely a work of fiction conjured by the hyperactive imagination of the author.

Murugan Swamy decided to spread his coconut empire up North and chose to make a trip to Delhi while Sukhwinder Singh thought it would be a good idea to give Chennai a taste of tandoori chicken. These were otherwise novel business ideas that went haywire and it was utter chaos all around; each experienced a culture shock and witnessed a life style so disparate from their own. In addition, no native individual would have been able to explain to the visitors about their culture and beliefs, thanks to the limitations of the tongue. This might have caused these gentlemen to do what each one of us loves doing, forming an opinion with hardly any substance. This handicap limited the understanding of their “strange” neighbours and their way of life and would have resulted in a highly erroneous judgement of the other.

Now Murugan anna would go to akka and Sukhwinder paaji would go back to babhi and tell them about the “strange” people they met. Since these were times well before twitter, women were the fastest mode of broadcasting information. News passed family to family and each time there was a little “tadka” (spices in hot oil) added and soon a stereotype so strong was born that even years of education, migration and breaking of the language barrier would still not be able to neutralize the impact.

H.G. Wells could not have put it better (and of my all time favourite quotes)
“Crude classifications and false generalizations are the curse of the organized life”.

It is understandable when people who aren’t educated and who haven’t travelled enough develop such perceptions over the years.  The disturbing fact is that a lot of educated folks also have similar beliefs, in spite of being a nation that together celebrated the World Cup victory.

A lot of it has also to do with the kind of upbringing one has; parents play a very important role in shaping the child’s thinking process. If a child is raised in a household which has strong communal and regional tendencies, more often than not, the child grows up to have similar beliefs. So it is important that one makes their judgements based on facts and not prejudice. 

Maybe the next time you make a generalization about a person, gender or community, I urge you to think twice and help bringing us closer to being a more open, tolerant and loving nation.

Jai Hind.

3) Together we make life colorful.

 Disclaimer: The opinions here are based on my experiences and there is absolutely no need for you to have to agree with me and I’d love to hear your point of view, however disparate it might be. Those of you, who do agree with me, help me out if someone who doesn’t, comes to break my head. Peace.

Photo credits: