Saturday, 20 July 2019

Requiem for a paper

And for another Saturday of my life, a few stray thoughts and a few general observations and a few points of view (all my own work).

Like it’s sad that The Afternoon Despatch and Courier will bring out its last edition today, 34 years and change since it first hit the stands.

Like so many of us blithely defected from Mid-Day just to follow the writing of Behram Contractor, its founding editor and most popular columnist under the nom de plume Busybee.

Like it was a talisman for people my age, the first paper we bought ourselves, sharing its pages and collaborating over the crossword in the canteen of an evening, later reading it on the train home when we were earning salaries and could afford personal copies and could properly, to steal the verb today’s young people use, ‘adult.’

Like we who lost the afternoon paper habit to getting our news on the Internet even as our parents continued to get printing ink on their hands every morning were complicit on The Afternoon’s demise and so we can hardly complain, but we will, like this writer, nevertheless mourn our victim.

Like the paper hosted a galaxy of reporters and writers over time, many of them role models to your correspondent, some of them now people one has met personally and liked, their bylines remembered long after one first read them.

Like no one wrote about Bombay and its people and their foibles and graces, their mannerisms and addictions, with as much affection and gentle humour as he did, some have come close since, but only that. And yes, not many knew its food, from the humblest snack to the poshest spread, as he did.

Like while one can reproduce Busybee’s signature starting lines for his Saturday column and begin every paragraph with ‘like’ as homage, as many have, and many will do now to mark the passing of his paper, it’s really not possible to write like him without having lived his life; there’s a reason why a word often found before his name is ‘inimitable.’

Like this was supposed to be about the newspaper, but it has turned out being about Mr Contractor.

Like, perhaps this was why the paper was not the same after Mr C passed away.

Like it was somehow inevitable that a picture of an internal notice announcing the paper’s closing has been doing the rounds on social media way before any formal news of it appeared anywhere.

Like it was nevertheless sad that that notice was signed by the publisher’s commercial manager not the editor.

Like one hopes that the staff whose services ‘stands terminated w.e.f. 19th July 2019’ had read the writing on the wall before the notice on the softboard and have found new jobs.

And this final point of view. Today’s young people are not reading print newspapers much; but they are reading, and reading a lot; it’s just that their eyes are rivetted to small screens and we who make a living in text media have not yet learnt out how to get them to pay to read us. And more loved papers will die while we try to figure that out.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Dystopian Rhapsody

Is this the real life?
Is this Republic TV?
Won in a landslide;
No court will call us guilty.

Open the door
Of your refrigerator:
Oo meat!
I’m just a गौ boy,
You get no sympathy,
Because this is not the north-east,
There they can eat more cow
Because there we’re winning now.
Kerala तो is all commie, commie.

मामा, we lynched a man.
Broke his door down, then his head,
Threw some bricks and now he’s dead.
मामा, who needs a gun?
See, now they’re all scared and running away.

मामा, ooh,
Did you hear the sickulars cry?
If it’s grief for Muslims, is it sorrow?
Carry on, carry on.
As if minorities matter.

Oh hell, real war might come,
When I yelled that battle-cry
I meant you should die, not I
Goodbye everybody, I’ve got to go,
Gotta leave you at the front I need to wee.

मामा, ooh
(The winds of war blow)
I don’t wanna fight,
Just sometimes want television rating points.

I see a camouflage-cap-wearing wanker:
News anchor, news anchor, will you do the flak jacket?
Studio graphics,
Very, very scary pix
Eeee!
(Goswami-o) Goswami-o.
(Goswami-o) Goswami-o,
Shivshankar Navika
O TRP-ee-ee-ee-ee.

I’m just a गौ boy, nobody’s देवर.
He’s just a गौ boy from a poor परिवार.
Spare him his life from the actual army.

You know I died in ’64?
Jawahar! Ho, you do not understand. (Understand!)
Jawahar! You’re our only plan. (Only plan!)
Jawahar! Take the blame old man. (Blame the man!)
You and all your clan. (Rename their plans!)
Just because we can. (Because, because, because, because we can!)
Oh oh oh oh
No, no, no, no, no, no, no
Oh, Nehru-mian, Nehru-mian (We’ll use you till ’24.)
Maybe by then we’ll also go after Gandhi! Gandhi! Gandhi!

So you think you can stop us from re-election?
We’ll win and we’ll change the constitution.
Oh, baby, remove ‘secular,’ baby,
Then ‘democratic,’ just gotta get five more years.

(Ooooh, ooh yeah, ooh yeah)

India is in tatters,
Anyone can see.
The rich are getting fatter,
That’s what really matters
To me.

Can you feel war winds blow?

Sunday, 10 March 2019

We are WhatsAppians

I’ve got my phone
I’ve got the time
Can’t write a sentence
That’s not a crime
Can copy-paste
So sucks to you
I’ve hit ‘Share’ and sent to all my groups
And it’s gone through

(And I can go on and on and on and on)

We are WhatsAppians, my friends
And we’ll keep forwarding till the end
WhatsApp historians
Our tones are stentorian,
No time for research
’Cause we’re not really sapiens; hello world!

I’ve taken my vows
I’ll make India tall
I’ll mix up science and stories and reproduce as fact what’s myth
And then ‘Send all’
No I have no neuroses
No self-worth issues
I’m attractive to all around after I’ve had some booze
And I’ll always amuse

(And I just need go on and on and on and on)

We are WhatsAppians, my friends
And we’ll keep forwarding till the end
India we glory in
Our phones Chinese or Korean
No time for fact check
’Cause we’re not really sapiens; hello world!

We are WhatsAppians, my friends
And we’ll keep forwarding till the end
We are WhatsAppians
We are WhatsAppians
No use for AltNews
’Cause we’re Whatsappians

We are the weird

There comes a time
When we heed the WhatsApp call
When the weird must come together as one
Infocell is saying
Oh, it’s time to type a tweet
’Bout him, the greatest mard of all

Stop watching porn
Pretending we’re at work
And someone, somewhere thinks we’re all cool
We’re all a part of our great big parivar
And the truth, I mean cow, is all we need

We are the weird
We are the paid trolls
We are the ones who make the fake news trend,
So let’s start tweeting
There’s a voice we’re faking
We’re cutting and pasting
It’s true we’ll earn one day’s pay
Just for this tweet

Oh, type them out fast
So the rest of us can share
And mantris will jump in and retweet
Demigod has shown us
That throwing stones at heads
Is just another bailable offence

We are the weird
We are the paid trolls
We are the ones who make the fake news trend,
So let’s start tweeting
There’s a voice we’re faking
We’re cutting and pasting
It’s true we’ll earn one day’s pay,
Just for this tweet

When there’s no template, and no Infocell call
Make up some shit, curse the Congis, have a ball
Well, well, well, well, let us tell some lies
Oh, the bhakts will surely come
And we’ll game algorithms as one, yeah, yeah, yeah

We are the weird
We are the paid trolls
We are the ones who make the fake news trend,
So let’s start tweeting
There’s a voice we’re faking
We’re cutting and pasting
It’s true we’ll earn one day’s pay,
Just for this tweet

We are the weird
We are the paid trolls
We are the ones who make the fake news trend,
So let’s start tweeting
There’s a voice we’re faking
We’re cutting and pasting
It’s true we’ll earn one day’s pay, just for this tweet

We are the weird (are the weird)
We are the paid trolls (are the paid trolls)
We are the ones who make the fake news trend,
So let’s start tweeting (so let’s start tweeting)
There’s a voice we’re faking
We’re cutting and pasting
It’s true we’ll earn one day’s pay, just for this tweet

Oh, let me hear you!

We are the weird (are the weird)
We are the paid trolls (are the paid trolls)
We are the ones who make the fake news trend,
So let’s start tweeting (so let’s start tweeting)
There’s a voice we’re faking
We’re cutting and pasting
It’s true we’ll earn one day’s pay, just for this tweet

[repeat chorus until it trends]

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Bumpy and Western song

Almost ’leven, Lower Parel
Traffucked as ever, full of party people
Air is soiled there, they ain’t got no trees
Building jostle buildings, cutting out the breeze

Potholed roads, take me home
To the flat I do not own
Get me an Uber, even Ola
Take me home, bumpy roads

Battery’s low now, b-pack’s empty
Should’ve plugged in while we were still drinking
I might have to take a kaali-peeli
Worse, the local, with the hoi polloi

Come on app cab, take me home
To the flat I do not own
Lokhandwala, 1 BHK
Take me home, bumpy roads

Nakabandhi, breathalysers oh FMG
Oh why did I, remind me, move to this bloody Bombay
Lurching down the road I remember
That I am very late on my EMIs, EMIs

Potholed roads, take me home
To the flat I do not own
In Wadala, please don’t judge me
Take me home, bumpy roads

Bumpy roads, take me home
To the flat I do not own
In Vikhroli, at least it’s not Vashi
Take me home, potholed roads

Take me home, down potholed roads
Take me home, down bumpy roads

Apologies to John Denver.
Sing along: Karaoke version

Friday, 21 September 2018

Drag

At a Blank Noise silent walk a few years ago, we strolled down the Carter Road promenade holding placards making statements about street sexual harassment. (I forget what my placard said.)

As we walked, I noticed something… different about the way the evening walkers looked at me. About halfway through, I got it. When we walk in public places, we unconsciously meet eyes, signalling the way we pass each other; that wasn’t happening. Every eye I passed was looking at my chest.

That’s the closest I’ve got to experiencing what itfeels like to walk our streets as a woman.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Unfit

“Where’s today’s 100?”
“But I wrote a piece today! Stayed up all night to do it!”
“So, that’s like you did a formal event today, so no workout?”
“Yeah, I mean this was strenuous. The recording file got corrupted, and I had to struggle through my notes. And you know how bad my handwriting is.”
“Okay, so how many words did you write?”
“800ish.”
“Poor baby. Was it tough?”
“Struggled right through. Maybe I was sleepy. But I had committed to have it ready.”
“So you can’t write smooth and fast? You’re out of shape? More riyaaz, perhaps?”
“FUCK. Fine.”

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Ad habits

Spending years as an advertising copywriter teaches you good things. To understand your reader, the better to persuade her. To accept you are the interruption, not the reason she is reading; you had better work hard to hold her attention. And brevity (see previous sentence). To rejoice in the huge difference art direction can make; to collaborate, not just hand over lines when you’re done. Bad things? You — or at least I — become a slave to the brief, immobilised without one. Where is the background information? Life experience? Shudder. What am I selling? My thoughts? Why would anyone want that?

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Heal thyself

I gave you unsolicited advice yesterday. Write, I said. Write even when you don’t think anyone could possibly be interested in what you have to say. Put it on Facebook, and persevere even if it seems like no one’s reading. It’s exercise, I said; do it like you do your workout, not to show off how fit you are, not because you have a trek or half-marathon coming up, not with any other reason but to stay in shape for its own sake. Write fifty words, a hundred perhaps, before you do the rest of your day. No cheat days.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Sometimes

I've posted this poem before, but I feel like posting it again because it now has an even more special meaning for me.

I first read it in a new year card from Vikram Doctor (who isn't on any social media).

Doccy and I were colleagues at the start of our advertising careers. He had PG digs near office, and I crashed there often when we both had worked super-late. He introduced me to much classical music I'd never heard before, particularly opera (knowing I loved musical theatre, he cannily started by lending me his tape of Phantom of the Opera) and poetry I hadn't read.

Doccy was also the first gay man who came out to me, some years later, when we were no longer colleagues. I was a bit surprised — he didn't fit my mental stereotype of how gay men behaved; I even remember letting him know that a woman friend of mine had a thing for him — but our having being good friends for some time then, my respect for his brains and sensitivity, all these made me question my own biases, and really, it didn't take much longer than that particular conversation for me to see how wrong I was. (The only delicate part was that I had to tell that woman friend that this was something that wasn't gonna happen, and why.)

We've stayed friends for more than two decades. Not close, talk-every-day friends (I increasingly suspect I'm too emotionally stunted and/or self-centred to properly nurture such friendships), but when we talk or meet, it's as if the long gaps don't matter. He described it better in a warm, sensitive email he wrote me when John died; he told me the story of someone else he knew who had lost a loved one who had lived with a similar disabilities, which he segued into with this: "It was, I guess, one of those semi-work friendships, when you can get close but don't really keep in touch after your workplaces diverge, and yet that basic connection isn't lost and you can always catch up every couple of years or so (not unlike you and me!)"

Doccy isn't just the writer with a cult following — particularly when he writes about food! — who many of you read. He is also someone who has made time from his day job to work tirelessly for LGBTQIA causes, though you won't often see his name in bold print.

When the news came out the other day about the Supreme Court judgement on reading down Section 377, I remembered him first, even before I remembered the favourite aunt who I'm reasonably sure was gay, but never out. And I remembered this poem.

Sometimes

Sometimes things don't go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss, sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you.
(Why the poet's name isn't mentioned.)