Coffee & cigarettes

(To the tune of Cross Road Blues)

Oh, I walked into a Costa the other day
wanting me a cappucino,
Oh yes I walked into a Costa the other day
wanting me a mean strong cappucino
(maybe even a gooey brownie)

I marched right upto the counter,
order decisively on my lips,
ready to fight for my right
for no extra cream or chocolate bits.

But I stopped short to gape like an imbecile
at a big shiny counter
offering bunches and bunches of
fancy-looking cancer-sticks.

Oh Costa, are you really doing that poorly?
Oh Oh Costa, are your margins really hurting so much?
Or did you just look around and figure
heck, everybody’s selling them
so we’ll look odd if we don’t too?

You know it don’t make no sense
because nobody can smoke them in your shops;
Oh you know it don’t make no sense
because it’s not like they’ll lounge around for some brew.

Or did some marketing ‘genius’ fool you
that the two have a subliminal link
(subliiiiiiiiminal baby),
and tell you that java and arabica
drive the need for nicotiana?

I used to like you Costa
no, not because you’re cheap;
Oh I used to like you Costa
nor because your brew is at all sleek;
But only because you employ those who’d
struggle elsewhere because they can’t hear or speak.

But now I wonder about you Costa,
I reallly, really do;
And I don’t care about your motives
I just won’t be getting my mojo again from you.
From youuuuuuu.

Ever, baby, ever.


Seriously, W.T.F. Costa?! Why would you be selling cigarettes at your outlets? For the life of me, I can’t remember whether you always sold them and I just noticed it.  But even if you didn’t, and this is just some trial at select outlets, or a short-term promotional deal, or some gimmick where you’re trying to boost your margins and differentiate yourself from your rivals by luring people who want premium cigarettes and getting them to stay for a drink – it sucks.

Not because you shouldn’t have the choice to sell what you want, or people should have the choice to buy (and consume) what they want.  But because you go on and on so much about your ethical standards and the work you do with the Rainforest Alliance and all the farmers you’re helping and all the sustainability work you’re doing.  And you then go and promote a product that harms the immediate user, their bystanders, the air around them, and the soil it’s grown in.

Why would you do this? Why why why why why why?!

Su total ghelchodiagiri chhe.
Enjoy your ban from the Ranting Bawa basket of consumer goods.  Bye bye.


Rage, rage against the dying light

So the Supreme Court of India has suddenly decided to go all technical and has lobbed the ball on Section 377 to the Parliament, saying that only the legislature can rule on the constitutionality of the law in question.

You are not going to be alone in being angry and bewildered and disappointed with this decision.  But instead of hand-wringing and having endless arguments on social media, do something.  Because this judgement is now history, and we can only work to alter it.  This is not the time to give up, but to fight on.

So here’s six things you can do:

1) Contact your local MLA and MP. 
Ask them whether they will support the repeal of Section 377, and promise the legislator the loss of your vote if they don’t.  Convince as many people as you can to write in as well (or to sign your letter).  Write a letter every week till they answer you.  And keep reminding them about your lost votes.  There’s nothing a politician hates more than the potential loss of votes.  This country wants vote-bank politics, right? They can have it.

2) Grill prospective legislators.
Ask every candidate for any upcoming election (which you are eligible to vote for) whether they will support the repeal of Section 377.  And promise them the loss of your vote if they don’t.  Demand an answer and try and convince them if they say no.  Remember, you are a vote-bank.

3) Volunteer. 
Offer your support, your vote, your money, and any other sort of help to the Naz Foundation, the Alternative Law Forum, the Humsafar Trust, and other members of Voices Against 377.  Even if you do nothing but write to them and tell them you’re supporting them, it’ll matter.

4) Know the enemy.
The 2009 High Court ruling was opposed by a coalition of religious and community groups – Baba Ramdev.  Suresh Kumar Koushal.  The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board.  Trust Gods Ministry.   Apostolic Churches Alliance and Utkal Christian Foundation.  Krantikari Manuvadi Morcha.  The Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (wtf?!).

Write to them repeatedly telling them how disgusted you are with their narrow-minded attitudes.  Tell them you will fight them and will support any review.  Tell everyone you know that these were the groups responsible, and warn them away.  Convince anyone you know who utilises their services or donates to them or watches their TV shows or buys their books to boycott them.  Hit them in their pocket, because that’s what they care about most.  If you know where their offices are, get a bunch of friend together and go protest outside them.  If you feature in any sort of publicity, denounce them again and again.  If you spot any of them on the road, shame them, provoke them into an argument, or just shout at them so that they listen to you and know people disagree with them.  Do NOT let them rest smugly and think they’ve won.

5) Create awareness.
If you know somebody who is happy with this ruling, and believes it’s all about gays, remind them that Section 377 applies to every single person living in India.  Highlight the fact that this law allows the government (and the police) to dictate what consenting adults in this country can or cannot do in private spaces.  Highlight that this could be used by future regimes to impose any law that they think is ‘morally right’.  And if they’re completely stubborn – and if they’re of an age where such things matter to them – be blunt enough to point out that they themselves now cannot legally indulge in oral or anal sex.  Since this law applies to every single person in this country (even if heterosexual).

6) Most importantly, support your gay friends.
Be aware that this ruling effectively is a call for open season on all gays in this country.  Corrupt cops, right-wing loonies, religious nutters, and conservative ‘sections of society’ will all be out to harass them and trouble them and terrorise them.  After all, it was one thing living with the threat of some arcane medieval law being invoked, but now that law has been ratified by the highest court in independent India.  It’s doubly official, and the anti-gay brigade know it, and will be out in force and more rabid than ever.

It’s going to be a scary, traumatic time for anybody who’s gay, thinks they’re gay but are not sure, or are just getting to the stage where they think about things like hetero or gay.  Offer your shoulder, your ear, your home, and any other support you can, because by heck, they’re going to need it.

If you have to fight your family over it, do it.  If you have to face down some right-wing goondas, do it.  If you have to argue with or pay off some trouble-making cop, do it.  If you’re asked to go to a protest to raise awareness and boost numbers, do it.  If they want to add your name and photo to a public list of people who support their rights, do it.  If you are asked if a secret gay party can be hosted in your house, say yes.

Whatever you have to do, be there for any gay person you know.

*   *   *   *  *   *   *   * *   *   *   * *   *   *   *

This is going to be long, hard, and often disheartening battle now.  But it’s more than just about LGBT rights.  It’s about what sort of country we want for the future.  And for the future of our future generations.  It’s about standing up against the unreasoning, uncompromising orthodoxy.  It’s about indirectly helping all the millions of people in other countries who look upto the ‘world’s largest democracy’ for guidance in matters of humans rights.  It’s about you and me and all of us.  Surely that’s worth fighting for?

How not to be a twit

(Part 2 of 2. The first here)

#10 If you don’t eat meat and have friends who do
Avoid saying the following things:

1.  Is that chick-en?  Cheee!
Holy unsufferable fake-piety smugness!  *thwack*  *nose-pinch*  *wet-ear*

2.  See, vegetarianism is very good for the environment.  Unlike you meat-eaters. 

Sure.  That’s why you don’t segregate your rubbish, have two cars amongst the three of you, operate a smartphone and a tablet and a laptop, and fly everytime you need to travel to a neighbouring city.

3.  Eating meat makes your body stink of it.

Tried eating asparagus lately?

4. I’m vegetarian because I believe in not eating anything that had a life.

Please can I pay for your basic botany lessons again?  Pretty please?  Pretty please while making puppy eyes?

5.  If you can’t kill and clean an animal or a fish, you shouldn’t eat it.

Right.  Because you totally go and sow rice seeds and then water them … no wait … because you totally create good soil over a period of two months and then till it and then sow rice seeds and then water them and then transplant them and then water them again and the transplant them again and then reap the husks and then thresh them and then polish them.  All while maintaining the right ph-levels and weeding them and keeping them free from grub.   Right?

And then you totally plant some vegetable seeds and then water them and then ….

6.  I would just die if I ate any meat. Ever.

Such a drama queen.   Chances are you’ve probably mistakenly eaten some meat somewhere already.  And even if you’re certain you haven’t, you really think those restaurants you’ve eaten are as concerned as you are about segregating their veg and non-veg sections (and knives and ladles and pots and sauces)?

The worst that would happen is you would throw it up because your body is not used to it.  But you wouldn’t  die.  Because you haven’t.

7.  Ok, if you were stranded on an island populated and controlled by a life-is-sacred cult that practised strict Fruitarianism, would you not be able to live like that?

Enough with the hypotheticals!  It’s not about what people can do, it’s about what they want to do.  Or in this case, eat.

But since you’re insisting on playing games, what sound does a diamond papaya make when bungee-jumping across a buckyball?

8.  But you rescue stray animals!  And you support animal conservation parks! 

Yes, but eating one organic, free-range chicken a month doesn’t mean I want to kill gorillas.  Perspective, people, perspective!

9.  Plants don’t feel pain, you know! JC Bose’s studies were refuted later on.

Actually they weren’t totally.  There’s still considerable debate about what exactly they ‘feel’.

And if they have no emotions, why do you talk to your plants to make them grow faster?

10.  People who insist on cooking with meat are lazy and unimaginative.  A serious gourmet would love the challenge of conjuring up a feast using only vegetables.
Seriously?  Seriously?!


11.  Becoming a vegetarian makes you less aggressive.  I’m telling to you, man.

Venkatesh Prasad.  Bangalore, 9 March 1996.

See?  Reverse-swing baby.

How not to be a twit

(Part 1 of 2. The second here)

#9 If you eat meat and have friends who don’t

Avoid saying the following things:

1. But HOW can you live without kheema-pav? And salli-boti? And bacon butties?  And turkey roasts?
Oddly enough, you seem to doing fine without butternut squash.  And greengages. And kalamata olives.  And soft cheeses from the south of France.  How? How can you possibly live without those things? How have you not dissolved into a mass of gooey longing and unquenchable desire? How how how how how?

Oh, because you’ve never had them?

But how will you know you don’t like it if you won’t even try it?
It’s not about not liking it, ghelsappa.  It’s about not wanting to eat it.  You know, free will?

Also, why are you making such a fuss about eating fried insects?  And horses?  And dog?  Come on, have some Lassie with your lassi.  Chalo chalo, try karo.

3. It’s ok, really, chicken are very stupid birds.
So why the heck do you want me to eat them?  Seriously, what is wrong with you?  Are you really that threatened by my obvious super-duper-hyper-intelligence that … What did you call me? …. Tu stupid! Taaro kako stupid! Taaro kutro stupid! Taari gaadi stupid! Taaru Facebook profile photo bhi stupid!

4. You do know that you have no idea where the vegetables you’re eating from are sourced, right?  And that they’re most likely full of pesticides and chemicals?
So why would I want to eat meat that’s higher up in the food-concentration-chain and been fed on the same grains?  Do you want me to suffer from more side-effects?

5. Listen, I’ve been eating red meat for at least one meal a day for the last 30 years, and nothing’s wrong with me.

Good for you.  But I’m not you and you’re not me and the sky isn’t fluorescent purple despite me wishing it to be.

Also, when was the last time you got a prostrate exam done?

6.  I don’t know about you, but I would just die if I had to live without eating some meat everyday.

Such a liar.  The only thing you cannot live without is air.  Everything else is just stuff you want.  You probably haven’t even tried not eating meat for four days straight, have you? Have you?  I knew it!

You is just blood-thirsty and lazy.  Say it loud and say it proud.

7. Ok, if you were going to die if you didn’t get some food within two days, and the only food around for 15 miles and six days was a beefburger, would you still not eat it?

Seriously? Hypotheticals?  Ok, let’s play.  If you were captured by a hidden Amazonian tribe and the only way they would let you go if you amused them by painting your head pink and dancing on an anthill while singing the entire soundtrack of Sound of Music for 10 days, would you not do it?

8.  But you wear leather!

Did I say I was a card-carrying member of PETA and the SPCA? Ever heard of health concerns?

Also, you say you don’t like to eat greens, but you’ve got plants in your house.  Moron.

9.  But plants also feel pain!  JC Bose proved it.
Actually, it’s not conclusive that they do feel ‘pain’.  But even if they do, it’s less than what higher-consciousness life-forms such as animals do, so the least we can do is minimise the pain we inflict on other creatures.  ,And the way of ‘killing’ plants is quicker and more humane than that of killing animals.

Also, is that wooden furniture I see in your house?

9. Oh man, I forgot you were veggie.  That’s such a pain.  Now I’ll have to think of a whole new menu for the dinner I’m throwing.  
Why don’t I do you a favour and just stay away?  Obviously my presence is such a burden that it’ll cause you to lose all of the three Michelin stars you own.  Besides, I’m quite full from all that wonderful, wonderful lettuce and tomatoes you served up last time as your only vegetarian option.  No, really I am.  See my fat tummy?

10. But it’s so boring to cook for vegetarians.  Think of the challenge and all the variations of conjuring up
a feast using various types and cuts of meat.
Seriously?  Seriously?!


11.  There aren’t any decent veg options on the menu at this place, but it’s just ah-may-zing.  Let’s go.

Actually, let’s not.  Because I really don’t fancy spending 500 rupees for a unimaginative spaghetti dish that is inferior to the version I make at home, just so that I can sit and watch you drool over interesting adaptations of meat dishes.  If the management and the chef can’t be arsed to come up with dishes that utilise the dozens of vegetables and grains and fruits on the market currently, I can’t be arsed showing them the pretty colours of my money.

Tell you what.  Why don’t you come home instead, and I’ll make me some proper vegetarian food while you can eat boiled chicken?

12.  All the good Indian pace bowlers were meat eaters. You need to eat meat to have aggression.  I’m telling to you, man.

Venkatesh Prasad.  Bangalore, 9 March 1996.

Yeah, I thought so.

13.  All said, if you haven’t eaten <insert random meat dish>, you’ve missed out on life.  So sad.  Much pity.

Taari pity ni toh bolu te
Boxer!  Come here Boxer!  Choo Boxer choo!
…. goooood doggy.

How to turn a bawa vegetarian: A three-stage processs

Stage 1

Give him a liver-related disease (typhoid will do at a pinch).

1. This will ensure he has to live on a diet of completely unspiced mush (of the curd-rice, steamed vegetables, coconut water variety) for a month or so, thus blunting his taste buds while simultaneously making him crave flavours.  This will make him go crazy crazier, thus creating an ideal environment for you to subvert him.

It will also offer you considerable opportunities to indulge in minor sadism, by eating his favourite foods in front of him. You will do this because you think such actions (and you) are funny.  You’re mistaken on both counts.

2.  Keep exposing him to strong aromas of his favourite meaty foods, such as fried fish, dried spiced minced meat, and prawn curries.  His Pavlovian response to the same will make his liver anticipate the influx of such foods, and since he still can’t process them, will in turn make his innards roil with nausea.

If he’s strong enough to withstand this treatment – do not despair!  Keep finding smellier dishes that will make him gag – starting with dried Bombay Duck.  You will succeed, because you are that mean.

3.  Once he’s recovered enough to wibble-wobble around, take him to a fresh fish/meat market in India.  On a hot, summer afternoon.

Make sure to highlight all the aspects of the place.  The permanent sheen of every surface, blessed as they are by the fish-scales sent flying by scraping blades.  The little channels in the grimy floor that are clogged with a mixture of blood and other bodily effluents.  The cats that lounge everywhere, feasting on the entrails flung aside.  The small black spots on every body that on closer inspection are discovered to be flies.  The squawks of terrified creatures who are not afforded a cover for their cramped, filth-ridden cages.  The complete lack of any information about the provenance of the ‘goods’.  The realisation that terms like free-range, organic, sustainable sourcing, and non-force-fed are as alien to the surroundings as a peach sorbet is to a desert dune.  The pervasive smell of fear, and death, and callousness, and inhumane indignity that will require 16 showers and a lifetime to forget.

But you will not let him forget.  After all, you are a true friend.

Stage 2

Take him to his second (adopted) ancestral land.  You know, the land half his community wishes they had been able to get to once their foreign friends left Indian shores six decades ago?  The land whose nominal ruler (and her family) is still cheered and adored by many of his elders and peers, and whose potraits and tacky commemorative pieces are still proudly displayed in their houses?  Yup, Eng-er-land.

When there:

1.  Wait for him to realise that the majority of the red meat available in the country is either those of relatives of Betsy or Babe or from a sheep that has been allowed to live for less than one of its possible 12 years.  Oh, and that the horses he sees roaming wild in forested parts of the country are actually being bred so that the French can slice steaks out of them to douse with vinegar.

This will ensure that he no longer feels the need to eat red meat.

2. Take him around the supermarkets and show him the rows and rows of clean, almost-clinical meat products.  All the prime cuts, with none of the gristle, in humongous chilled and frozen stacks.  Point out the sheer amount of resource wastage caused in terms of fuel and electricity and plastic and water caused because every animal that is killed has to be cleaned and processed and its parts separated and the good bits washed and wrapped nicely to be sent to a cold storage unit that will then drive them to a warehouse that will deliver them to stores.  Highlight the concept of ‘Use by’ dates and the sheer amount of food thrown away by such stores due to health & safety reasons.  Highlight the fact that people in these countries end up throwing away nearly a fifth of the food they buy, probably because they bought it while it was on offer rather than because they needed it.

3. Find him a job related to the food industry.  A job that gives him access to detailed reports that highlight exactly the kind of stuff that goes into the feed given to poultry, the hygiene levels of the places that mass-process them, the number of product recalls due to cases of salmonella and e.coli contamination, and the quality and nutrition levels of the final product. All caused by the pressure that the buyer-business puts on the producer-seller. All caused by the continued consumer desire for cheap goods.

You will now begin to notice a distinct aversion in him towards poultry as well.

4.  Expose him to the impressively dedicated green movement that churns out studies that
* explain the impact of over-fishing on marine ecology,
* highlight the vast amounts of forested land that has been razed and converted into ecologically useless grazing land for animals,
* measure the levels of greenhouse gases released by flatulent bovines whose sole purpose of existence is to land up on a plate,
* showcase how the demands of the meat-farming industry are convincing more farmers to produce only corn to the detriment of other crops,
* underline the economic impact of such demands on global food prices and on the bio-fuels industry.

5.  Introduce him to meat-substitutes such as mycoprotein, some of whose experiments are now remarkably similar in taste and texture to meat.  Join in as he fools dedicated two-meat-meals-a-day friends by using these products, at the same personal cost and a tenth of the environmental one.  Watch as he enjoys his fake-kheema and fake-chicken biryani without (almost) being able to tell the difference, and passing off the difference as a regional taste.  Encourage him to spread the word so that the levels of scale begin to tilt the cost even further in his favour.

You will by now have got him hooked onto alternative foods that satisfy any cravings he may have left for meat products.

Stage 3

Drag him back to India after a few years.

1.  Notice how he realises the stark difference between the monitoring, reporting, and disclaiming cultures in both countries.  The near-invisibility of a food regulator, the almost-total lack of interest by the consumer in the contents and background of their shopping, the un-education of producers in methods that can be better and nicer.

2. Let him observe the pressure that increased demands by a more affluent populace places on an already creaking system.  Let him wonder about the problems faced by cold storage facilities in a country with intermittent electricity, and the pollution being caused by facilities that have the werewithal to afford massive generators, and the impact on the economy of these subsidised fuels being used for private use.  Let him consider the innovative shortcuts that Indian producers, by nature ingenious and business-savvy, must be taking in order to further inflate their profit margins.  Let him realise the soaring growth of the organised foodservice industry that has led to tiny restaurants popping up in places with water shortages, and let him wonder how hygienic these places are.

This will cause him no end of hesitation if he ever succumbs to the lure and is tempted to buy or order meat in an Indian city.

3.  Read to him reports on the growing toxicity of water bodies in the country, several of whom are officially just a flow of sewage with no marine life.  Read to him reports on the unchecked use of pesticides in the country by farmers who don’t know better, pressurised and encouraged by big groups that will happily lie about side-effects in order to please shareholders.  Read to him reports on the rapid mutability of animal-borne viruses and the growing statistical certainty of a pandemic caused by the massive population increase of the country.

4.  Introduce him to people from different parts of the country, who describe and cook with regional and seasonal vegetables and grains.  Encourage him to experiment with different flavours and ingredients and cooking styles, till he can concoct a delicious, wholesome, easy-to-create dish that has up to 15 ingredients and yet does not include a single piece of meat, fish, or poultry.

Congratulations, you have accomplished your mission!