Monday, August 21, 2006

A damp squib

Well, what else do you call an afternoon, where three old friends sit in a room and cannot find a topic for discussion apart from that one? Those strange long silences, those blank stares, those tired jokes and the forced laughter meant only one thing. The thing we all knew about but somehow were afraid to say out loud. We have nothing more to say to each other.

Maybe we know each other so well that we think any conversation is only superfluous. Or maybe our individual worlds have moved on. And moved somewhat away from each other. Find that last one hard to believe, because it was only three months back when we had that wonderful conversation on "The North-South divide in Bombay colleges" or "How Andheri / Malad boys survived three traumatic years in South Bombay colleges?". He he he, all that crap at 3 in the night with shitloads of beer sloshing around in our bodies. And at Wong's of all places. Yes, the place where you rub shoulders with assorted hookers, their pimps, customers, underworld thugs and maybe some alcoholic TV stars who are past their expiry date.

That's why its even more surprising .... the fact that we sat for close to five hours and searched each others faces for that spark in the discussion to arrive .... and it came in the form of an sms (All hail the new economy). An sms which simply says this, ........ "For meeting broadminded male / females in your area, Call Tanya now @ 982.....".

We have traveled on that conversation route before. Actually, one of us talks only about this all the time. How his entire life is ruined and how his mind resembles the script of "A Clockwork Orange" and how he cannot sleep at night without getting smashed. And all that because of two (mostly) harmless words, variety and frequency. Those gentle souls who were with me till this moment (don't you bums have any other work?) and have suddenly lost me over that last sentence .... for their benefit ... what it means is that, he is not getting enough of it and he is not getting it from enough people. That he is getting any at all is a constant source of wonder for some of his friends, but what can one say in front of that kind of conviction? The quantity and quality related trauma has obviously left him in a very bad state, where his every living thought is full of wanton women and soft beds.

The other person involved in the discussion is a weirder case, if that's possible. In his case pleasure is always laced with guilt and guilt laced with excitement. He has been drinking this strange cocktail for some time now. And its really not his fault that he attracts women who are looking for the complete opposite from the relationship. A dependable shoulder to cry upon, to begin with. So no wonder he gets himself caught into these intricate webs of false impressions, unsaid promises and unknown commitments.

With that crowd its only obvious that the said sms from the said Tanya monopolised conversation immediately. And with a sense of palpable relief too. Quite a change from staring at silent faces and hoping for conversation. And then the dam broke .....

It started with how the Tanyas of the world know who their target audience is. How did this sms reached unerringly to the person who is most likely to get swayed by the charm of meeting broadminded people in his locality? A likely hypothesis presented itself ... these are actually the people dragged under the poverty line by the insensitive edict from a sanctimonious Maharashtra Government ... the out of work bar dancers !!!! How do they get the mobile numbers? Well, they (used to) get a lot of numbers every night .... numbers written hurriedly on pieces of tissue papers .... numbers passed on through those ever helpful waiters ... numbers written on 100 buck notes (don't ask !). And quite a few remember the return calls also, "Hi, Main Raani, Itna Jaldi Bhul Gaye Mujhko, Kaal To Bahut Naach Rahe The" etc etc. So its quite possible that, the strong database is being used methodically to pick-up (pun not intended) area specific targets.

To put our hypothesis to test, the said Tanya was called back. She seemed to be thrilled to meet a juicy prospect like "Raju" and promised to come back with detailed itenary and plan of action by the next day. An entrepreneurial spirit which begs to be lauded, we thought.

It was quickly surmised, that the distribution channels span classified ads in Mid-Day and Mumbai Mirror. "Massage in your house" and "English speaking escort services" are also in the same game, maybe with the same cast of characters. Special mention was made of Gujarati "broadminded" communities with such Ekta Kapoor friendly names as Animesh and Neha. It was debated whether this was a Navratri related phenomena and decided that now the party goes on whole year (so no seasonal sales of condoms, for all those who are tracking that industry).

The quality-quantity junkie took the opportunity to crib about the online channels of the great game. Too much effort and too little to show for it, he claimed. And proved his point by recounting endless stories of perfectly witty and decent messages receiving nothing but stony silences. One wondered whether his persona had anything do with it. But one cannot help but sympathise with friends, can they?

The final nail in the coffin was that call from the HDFC Bank telecaller, "Sir, we are giving you a credit card absolutely free and a demand draft also, may I please have your address?". With the mechanically consumed rum and whiskey finally taking effect, we managed to reach an "Eureka" moment. The best thing to nip this telecalling nuisance in the bud is to ..... hit upon the chicks !!! You can try such lines for effect, "Kya Aap Credit Card Ke Saath Apna Dil Bhi Deti Hai?" or "Main To Aapka Demand Draft Le Lega, Badle Me Aapko Bhi Kuchh Lena Chahiye" etc. etc. But only fuck-up with this wonderful scheme is when you might find out that those nice telecallers are actually .... you guessed it .... the out of work bar dancers !!!!!

With that came the realisation that we have somehow reached the collective lows in our lives in terms of intellectual capacity. Good that the booze was still not over, it would have been really hard to take it otherwise.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Wassup, Mr. Moitra?

Going by the first two numbers of "Lage Raho Munna Bhai" one cannot but feel sad as well as confused for Indian film music.

One of the numbers ("Pal Pal") is inspired quite clearly by Cliff Richard's (yeah, the same geriatric undying romantic who used to your mom's favourite) "Theme for a Dream".

And the other ("Lage Raho Munna Bhai") quite incredibly by the ICICI Bank ad jingle !!!! Is this just an unintentionally "inspired" goof-up or is it in-film advertising taken to its depths?

And all this is even more poignant, because its coming from someone who was expected to be the great white hope of the industry .... one Mr. Shantanu Moitra.

You might argue that the signs were visible as recently as Parineeta, whose music is heavily inspired from all the obvious sources including Tagore, pahadi folk tunes and blues.

But I personally was going more by the evidence of the ethereal "Naam Ada Likhna" from Yahaan. A composer coming up with such a beauty resorting to Cliff Richard in his next venture? The mind boggles.

Waiting for the rest of the album. One cannot give up hope.

Update : Figured out some trivia, which might just absolve the composer of the ICICI Bank jingle horror !! One Mr. Vidhu Vinod Chopra happened to direct the first ICICI Bank ad-campaign with that jingle. So is it the invisible hand? This one's worth a watch.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Trafalgar Chowk ....

..... is a name of a joint in Bandra Reclamation. I guess, it wants to be known as a Resto-Bar.

Why am I bothered? Wanted desperately to write, but did not have a topic (Sigh ! That can sum up so many days for me).

Was there on Sat night. Not the first time, and going by experience definitely not the last.

And to think we were debating about the choice for so long. Going through the long list of usual suspects :

1. Toto's Garage or "The One CD wonder" (In case I hear "Hotel California" one more time, I swear I'll puke on that owner with dark glasses)

2. Club IX or "Stags are not allowed even in case we have only cleaning staff inside"

3. Boat Club or "The decrepit exterior is nothing when compared to the interior"

4. Purple Haze or "So few people come here that we have decided to make all our money from one customer ... namely YOU"

5. Out of the Blue or "We just went there yesterday"

6. Seijou and the Sole Dish or "Pay through your nose for lousy food"

7. Zenzi or "You call that decor, sonny?"


8. Olive or "Do you really want to get mistaken for a gay couple?"

So TC (a poor apology of its Delhi namesake) was it. The valet parking leading upto two broad halls ... musty smelling reddish-brown upholstery ... seriously tacky plastic coasters and exactly one other occupied table populated by three bored couples ........ their kids running around and shouting like maniacs.

The fun and games started soon after .... with the arrival of an elderly couple and what we assumed then as their daughter wearing a strange peacock blue dress.

The couple seemed to be planning for a lot of guests. An anniversary dinner, we assumed again. Our interest was piqued by the "daughter" running out every five seconds for a phone call. "Ahhhh, a very persistent boyfriend", we sighed. Then people actually started arriving. Two long haired ad-agency types, one girl in a black top, one more in an earth-green one, a guy with the "Kelly Dorji after 20 sleepless nights" look, one flashily dressed stock broker, a rat-faced guy who looks like he has passed out of Osmania University and another ad-agency type. Quite an odd family, we surmised. Imagine our confusion, when they started to introduce themselves to each other ! After wracking our collective brains for about 30 minutes, the penny finally dropped in its place .... its a Business Networking Mixer !!!!! Us and our over-active imagination.

Being quite intrigued by the sheer prospect of perfect strangers meeting each other and "network" their way up the corporate ladder, we decided to watch them closely. These are our findings:

1. There is at least one guy who gets a little high and tries to hit on the middle-aged executive sitting next to him. (The stock broker is the prime suspect).

2. While this happens, the others look embarrassed and pretend hard not to notice.

3. The lady switches her place soon after this, with our esteemed stock broker realising his mistake a little late and trying to make up desperately with loud non-sensical talk.

4. Another guy who wants nothing except for "friendship" has got his new "Kiran Rao" glasses made, but sadly no one's noticed.

5. At least one long-haired ad-agency type tries to impress a young nubile thing with "deep, meaningful" conversation while the lady dutifully looks on in "wide-eyed" innocence.

6. Another "young thing" who is feeling a bit ignored makes a quick trip to the loo to adjust the V-cut top just that wee bit. The strategy works like a charm on the person, for whom it is not intended.

7. The tongue-tied "Osmania University" smokes like a maniac and casts furtive glances at all the tops on display. Gets caught in the act once every ten minutes.

Overall, an enlightening experience. Not counting those heavily decked up and bored housewives continuously counting money in what I thought was a Kitty Party and which my friend insists was a husband-pimping game. The husbands in question gathering towards the far end of the table, speaking in whispers and leching at the other tables. The lovelorn boy who decided to sing "Annie's Song" for his girlfriend and forgot the second line. The curly-haired owner who joins the guitarist for the Eagles numbers and the smashing girl in that black number.

As I said, its definitely not the last time.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Why am I hooked to Speculative Fiction?

The post makes the assumption that you know what speculative fiction means. If not, then don't go to running to wikipedia. Let me make the attempt ...

As I see it, quite simply, speculative fiction deals with "speculative things" which cannot be explained by our everyday science (or at least the current version of it). Yes, I have heard of Arthur C. Clarke and his "Any sufficiently advanced technology is almost indistinguishable from magic" refrain. But that still does not make speculative fiction any less "speculative". This is indeed a broad definition, spanning science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, horror and maybe even the magic realism of Rushdie and Marquez.

By their very nature, all speculative fiction asks the question, what if? This is not to say that, all stories of this nature deals only with this fundamental question. Rather this question provides the actual backdrop for the story elements to interact with each other. "Lord of the Rings" may actually be a mere moral fable on the hazards of absolute power and the strength in humility, but can you actually imagine the story without its backdrop of magic and magical creatures?

So in essence, the “what if” element of speculation creates an atmosphere for the real story to be enacted without any bondage of the rules of reality or science. This effectively frees the author to give her imagination a free rein in creating her own version of reality. On the other hand, it also makes her responsible for creating a believable world which would allow the readers to willingly suspend their disbelief for some time.

The above rather pointless discourse does not get to the point of the post. Which is, why am I so hooked to it?

Its a phenomenon which began in my school days, when I used to devour anything with vague science fiction content. Yes, I managed to read all those horribly translated Russian SF also, the ones which always surprised me with their latent sexual tension. To the utter horror of my schoolmates, my favorite Indrajal Comics character used to be the red leotard clad Flash Jordan, as compared to the more “with it” Phantom or the “ethnic” Bahadur.

Horror came from the rather comic stories of Leela Majumder and Premendra Mitra and of course some chilling short stories of Satyajit Ray. Somehow, I never took too much to it. I mean, staying awake through the night after reading a rather scary one still happened, but those instances were few and far between.

Fantasy is something I discovered only in college life. You may argue that the Ramayan / Mahabharat / Thakumar Jhuli which I read in the ages between 5 and 10 are actually fantasy, but they never sounded right, maybe because they stretched the imagination too far. The real “Sword and Sorcery” stuff were consumed during various Vector Algebra classes. It looked rather childish at that time. It still does. But that hasn’t stopped me from becoming a junkie.

Rather than pontificating on my literary travails let me now try to summarise why I think I am hooked.

1. Escapism - The sense of the extraordinary rather than the mundane with less side-effects than grass or hash.

2. Wonder - The sheer genius of imagination. Hyperion, anyone?

3. (Ahem!) The Story - The characters helping the reader to make sense of an alien landscape, which is otherwise incomprehensible.

4. Fatalism - The whole shit of prophecies and all. Does anybody do anything without an deep underlying purpose in these stories?

5. Naivete - Only a kid can believe some of the situations presented to the reader. Then again kids are always smarter than their parents.

Hmmm .... in trying to analyse my addiction it seems I have done a character analysis of myself. Now, if only it was true and not "speculative" !!!