How Not to Do Things in India

#4 – Build environment-appropriate housing
(aka The Outsider’s Guide to Dillistan: New-new Housing)

1.  Take a vague agglomeration of sleepy, patriarchy-driven villages and connect them by long stretches of roads. Plonk it in the middle of the hot dust-plains of northern India, and call it a city.  When people start laughing, use those lathis you’ve been stockpiling. Let it remain in this state (ha!) for a few decades.  Then,

2. Watch as it partakes in the heady euphoria of a nationwide economic boom. Allow it to host a couple of international sporting events.  Watch as it begins to morph into a thriving, connected metropolis.  Sigh as it remains just as dusty, while becoming even hotter and more patriarchy-driven.  Then,

3. Relax the rules which prevented home owners from building too vertically.  Cite the pressures of a growing-growing-why-aren’t-you-slowing population.  Ignore all aspersions of all the money set to be made by greasing palms at all the various levels of permits and licenses.

4. Let loose a bunch of builders and architects whose sole aim is to make a quick profit, and whose sole inspiration is a photograph of a modern flat in a northern European nation.

5. Watch as the decades-old, sturdily-built, individualistic one-storey houses get demolished and converted into couldn’t-pick-them-apart-in-a-lineup four storey apartment buildings within 10 months.

6. Note the single layer of bricks, the thin coating of cement, the low (false) ceilings, the highly compact and totally anodyne rooms, the giant sheet of glass that’s used to split up the main room into a ‘dining area’, the lack of any substantially-large windows that can be opened, the absence of a utility room, the non-existent storage area, the replacement of front- and back-facing walls by a giant sheet of glass, the split ACs in every room, the massive underground tanks and automatic pumps that function day and night, the non-double-glazed non-soundproofed nature of the giant sheets of glass, the teeny-tiny balconies that don’t offer enough space for plants to be grown, and the giant sheets of glass glass and more glass everyghelchodiawhere.

7.  Consider that this city has an average daytime temperature of 40C for four months of the year, an average night-time temperature of 7C for another three months, has a modest rainy season which precludes grey skies for most of another two months, bears the periodic brunt of winds rasping across the western and northern plains which bring in mounds of dust, is constantly alive to the sounds of endless traffic snarls (and the attendant honking) because of the addition of 1,500 new cars each day onto the roads, is in the throes of a full-fledged construction boom that has resulted in a perpetual background symphony of hammering and trundling and screeching (not to mention causing even more dust to float around), where electricity shortages are only worsening every month due to the unthinking way it is being guzzled, and which is so landlocked it does not benefit from the relief of sea-breezes.

8. Wait for the inhabitants to realise that these daft structures will be suffocating in the summer due to the lack of cross currents, freezing in winter because of the thinness of the glass, will be perpetually curtained off due to sharp sun streaming in through the giant sheets of glass, and will almost always require ACs if they want to keep breathing.

9. Slowly realise that they are instead touting these new constructions as better than the old ones, and pricing them higher, because they’re ‘modern’.  And that all their neighbours are also following this exact same design for the buildings they’re coming up with, to cash in on the boom.

10.  Weep.

How not to do things in India

#77  Using violence as a means of social activism

This video’s being doing the rounds of social media in India. It’s been getting a lot of likes, a lot of ‘LOLs’, and a lot of eager shares.

I really, really hope this is a spoof video. But even if it’s not, this needs to be said, because people are actually approving of this vigilante shit.

Yes, public defecation is a major problem in urban India, and yes, it’s not pleasant, and yes, it’s frustrating trying to stop people (mainly men) from doing so.  But this? All I got from this is –

“Oho, look bro, I am Activist Middle Class Person.  See, I have enough money to hire a tanker and to paint it and to risk all the fines I will have to pay when arrested.  Plus, I have a bunch of friends to help me thrash you if you dare to attack me.  And I’m too much of a hypocritical wuss to put my face where my actions are.  But beshht part? I got cool video-skills, bro!

 

Abey kya lecture de raha hain.  So what if the almost zero-number of public toilets in India are not located within 10 kilometres of each other, are flooded in excrement, and stink enough to make you gag within 50 metres of them?  So what if using a water cannon is not legal, or safe?  So what if this method adds to the perception that the only way to achieve anything in India is by physical violence and abuse?

 

Urban planning?  Working with authorities to build more toilets?  Fund-raising for water-less porta-loos?  Trying innovative methods like photographing them or surrounding them and singing loudly or blaring loud music just as they start peeing, so they’re shamed/persuaded not to do so?  Using the tank to wash out the existing public loos so that more people are encouraged to use them?

 

Bro bro bro – don’t be a bore, man.  Waaay cooler to dress up like so cool and show off our fake-Batman pose! Chal na, we’ll pretend to be riot cops in Ukraine!  Video-viral on teh interwebz, bebbehh!!”

… you know what, go take your dumb-ass tanker for a ride. Go on, I dare you. Because since I disagree with you, by your philosophy, it’s ok if I slash your tyres and smash your lights and dismantle your engine and take over that hose and wash you off your tanker onto the ground, and then dump you in a public urinal while wearing a Tshirt that says “IF YOU START, I LAGAO VAAT”, right? Right?

….What utter, utter ghelchodias. The Clean Indian? More like The Idiot-Who-Thinks-They’re-Cool Indian.

So not funny.  So not cool.  And so not helpful.

Elections and you

(The second of a two-parter on the Indian General Elections 2014)

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Tick-tock, tick-tock, voting time is just round the block.  Now, we’ve pretty much established that I will not be voting in this one.  But you probably are. You’ve read the editorials, you’ve heard the speeches, you’ve thought about the differences, and you’ve made up your mind.

Well boo you.  And let’s just see if I can’t convince you not to vote for –

  • The Congress: Because the ‘sovereign’ bit of the Preamble to the Constitution does not refer to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.  Because choosing them after the shame that was UPA-II will mean condoning all the scams and telling them lo ji, zara aur maaro hamaari.  Because of the 1984 riots.  Because of the ’92-’93 Bombay riots. Because of the 2008 Bombay attack.  Because of the ’12 Assam riots.  Because of AFSPA.  Because of its cluelessness in terms of foreign policy.  Because of its shortsightedness in terms of business policy.  Because after all the furore about them being out of touch with the common people, they think deriding an opponent for once having sold tea will win them votes.
  • The BJP: Because the subsumation of an entire party by one man is just asking for autocracy.  Because a ‘strong leader’ means one like Mubarak, and Erdogan, and Assad, and Putin, and the Kims. Because of Babri Masjid.  Because of the 2002 Gujarat riots.  Because of the 2008 Odisha riots. Because unless you’re the Ram-rajya sort of mainstream Hindu, you’re going to suffer.  Because you think it’s ok for people to be gay.  Because you think it’s ok to eat meat.  Because you really, really don’t want a war with our neighbouring countries just to prove some arcane point of machismo. And because the thought of how much more rabid and intolerant the Modi-bhakts will be if he does get the top prize should make any sane person shiver awake all night long.

  • The Aam Aadmi Party:  Because the subsumation of an entire party by one man and his cabal is just asking for autocracy.  Because a one-point agenda means a one-point focus, to the detriment of all else.  Because if they want to be anarchists, trying to get into government makes them hypocritical and illogical.  Because the fact that somebody went to IIT doesn’t mean they get to dismiss you with smug, holier-than-thou-ness.  Because decisions by a ‘majority of the community’ means sacrificing any alternate views and lifestyle choices at the altar of repressive middle-class conservativeness.  Because you should watch Kejriwal’s eyes when he says ‘Ab mazaa chakhaayenge‘.  And because you really, really should know better by now that to believe somebody just because they cry ‘Change’.
  • The Communist parties: Because of all the interminable decades they ruled in West Bengal.  And because take a bloody look at Russia, China, and North Korea.  And because they don’t bloody well own the bloody franchise on bloody kolchor.

  • The various regional parties: Because of the way they have extracted their pounds and dollars and rupees of flesh from their coalition partners. Because if you believe in the concept of the union of states that is India, you cannot be encouraging those who discriminate against those not like them.  Because if you truly want ‘jobs for our own’ and want ‘the outsiders’ to return to their homeland, you shouldn’t ever accept a job outside your state or travel in such an unfettered manner or buy products brought from elsewhere – and you might as well agitate to turn your state into a separate country.

Which leaves you with two options –

  • Independents:  An acceptable choice – IF they’re not former members of any of the above parties, and are standing on their own simply because they’re miffed they were not offered a ticket.  And if you get a chance to actually meet them or talk to them and confirm if their policies (if they have any) make sense.  And if you truly believe they will not later simply hitch up to the winning side in order to win some goodies.
  • None Of The Above (NOTA):  Quite pointless in its current avatar as it will not affect the results, which means even if 95% of all those voting select it, as long as a candidate gets even one vote, they can be elected.  But sufficiently high numbers opting for this may help to build a case for it being counted in the future.

And there you have it.  Nearly all bad choices, one hopeful one, and one ineffectual one.

In summary – Lota le ke vote do.  Because whatever you choose, we’re all going to be facing the shits.

Democracy

(A couple of really long ones today and tomorrow.  Grab some snacks)

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For months, the Indian public has been pre-occupied with one major issue – the General Elections (due to start in three days).

Every conversation in every place inevitably turns round to this one topic.  Impassioned speeches are made to family, friends, and colleagues informing them who they just vote for and just why they should do so.  Angry denunciations have destroyed relationships, banners have been waved, clothes have been torn, insults have been tossed, threats have been implied, and Serious Oaths are being sworn.  Media channels have been provoking intemperate remarks that they can then report on in shocked (shocked!) tones.
In short, it’s as if everybody has swallowed a gallon of opium mixed with an energy drink.

There is no consensus, of course.  There never is, in any true democracy.  But in a country this big and this varied, there’s less consensus than elsewhere.  There is considerable excitement, determination, and a fair bit of trepidation, but everyone is determined to be part of it.   Everybody’s determined to vote (an estimated 120 million for the very first time), because they’re determined to push their preferred candidate and party into power.

So people will troop out to the booths and sign on the register and press the button and get the mark and say hey ho, I have reaffirmed my value as a citizen and am perpetuating this wonderful system called democracy.  I have a voice and a choice and I can exercise it freely.  Today is a most scrumptious day and the world is … hey you!

Moi?

Yes, you! Why are you lounging around? Why haven’t you voted yet?

I’m not going to.

What do you mean you’re not going to?  You have to vote!  It’s your duty.  It’s part of your compact with society.  It’s … oh nice, walk away why don’t you.  You are scum, you.  Fine, don’t vote.  But then you also abrogate the right to criticise anything that goes wrong.  Because no vote, no opinion.

Uh-huh.  Two things about that.

First, it’s not my duty to vote – it’s my right to.  I can vote, but that does not mean I have to.

Because a choice between a thug and a thief is no choice at all.

Because a choice between someone with a personal agenda and someone who only has “good intent” and no ideas is even worse.

And because the lesser of two evils is always – always – still an evil.


Secondly.  
This is what has been happening in every country that has managed to overthrow royalty over the centuries.  Power has been taken away from one bunch of people and handed to another, simply because they’re personable or they look nice in tight pants or because they promised to be good, truly-wuly, and to make things oh-so-much better.  People have voted, and then gone back home and two days realised they’ve chosen an utter shit and they can’t do anything.  Till the next time they can vote.  And vote they do, because this time surely it will be better, right? Right?

…truly, we humans learn nothing from history.

In hundreds of countries over hundreds of years, people have given some random stranger (oh face up, just because you see their face on TV doesn’t mean you really know them) control over their destinies.  And how well has that worked out, eh?  How many politicians have not swindled away banks-full of goodies?  How many politicians have not utterly disappointed the people who put them in charge?  How many regimes have gone from being populist to autocratic?  How many ‘dynasties’ have been formed that simply pass on ruling rights from decade to decade?  How many?

Ok time’s up.  Put down your pencils and review your answers.  And weep.

I reject this system.

I refuse to believe that there is no other way.
I refuse to believe that there is no scope for considering alternative systems.
I refuse to believe that my choice is limited between royalty and military and politicians.
I refused to pretend that the sensible working concept of village councils can be expanded into a system where one person is responsible for millions.
I refuse to accept the premise that qualifications and references and proofs of experience are required for every other job in the world**, but control of my, my country’s and my world’s future should be handed over to somebody who can merely orate well.
I refuse to put a cross on a piece of paper and con my conscience into believing that I’ve done all I could, when all I will have done is have added to the problem.

I refuse to be complicit in a system that is designed to fail.

I refuse to vote unless there is a real option.

Because this is a democracy.

* Don’t tell me this not a word.  It’s right there on your screen. Ergo, it’s a word.  You may not accept it as a word, but that doesn’t mean it’s not one.  It just means you’re a segregationist.  Shame and fie on you.
** Apart from being a parent.

The Outsider’s Guide to Dillistan: Eating out

Tip #4 – What to do in any local eatery (that’s not a dhaba)

As soon as you saunter* over to a table, summon** a member of staff over, sternly look them in the eye, and in a dismissive tone, grunt one single word:  Volume.

If you voice this correctly, the staff will instantly transform from being sullen, I’m-doing-you-a-favour-by-not-spitting-in-your-food-in-front-of-you minions of sloth into fawning, speed-of-light attendees.

And this is because they will now believe that you are a true Dillistani, and not some foolish out-of-towner.

And that is because you will have passed The Sound Test.

As any Dillistani knows, every cafe, tea-room, bistro, pub, lounge-bar, or restaurant will blare really bad music at sonicbooM! volume, regardless of the time of day and regardless of how many customers there are.  Because, as Serious Research has discovered, when people are exposed to really bad music played at really high decibels for more than 15 minutes***, it interferes with and eventually cancels out the brain-waves that people use to make sensible decisions.

A non-Dillistani, already petrified by tales of how people in the city shoot and stab others when requested to do something logical or sane or humane, will never dream of mentioning to the staff that their eardrums are now bleeding****.  Which immediately identifies them as outsiders who can now be conned into ordering the highest-margin, least-ordered, microwaved-from-frozen dishes on the menu.  And order thus the poor saps will, as by now their brain patterns will have slowly melted and drained away (a process that has the added side-effect of entertaining the staff, as the customers accurately impersonate the ninth Earl of Emsworth*****).

However!

To fully – and successfully – carry out the charade, five minutes after having issued your demand, you will then summon the staff over and order them to turn the volume back up.  This is extremely crucial.  Because a true Dillistani would never stand for namby-pamby background music, and would demand jor, shor, and all of it more.

Pro-tip:
If the staff are not convincedof your credentials even after Stage 2, insist they play ‘Exotic’.  They will need no further proof.

* A true Dillistani walks everywhere like they own the place.  And the business. And the souls of everybody who works there.  Or has worked there.  Or has visited there.  Or even looked at it.
** When you own all their souls, you don’t beckon, you summon.

*** The minimum amount of time required to look through a menu, discuss your options, attract the attention of the staff, place an order, change three items from the order, reinstall the original items, cancel the original order and ask for something totally different.
**** Leave aside suggesting that perhaps the reason people enter a coffee shop is to have a leisurely conversation in a relaxing environment.
***** Based on the entire conversation comprising of frequent repetitions of “Eh? What what? What?”

Bloody Sunday

I like Sundays.  Of course I do, I’m a Bombay bawa.

Growing up, Sundays was about omelettes or akoori for breakfast, accompanied by lots of chai and the weekend paper supplements, and helpings and helpings and helpings (and helpings) of dhansak for lunch.  Sundays was about being morally blackmailed into going to the agiary, and ticking off lists for the study-week ahead.  Sundays was about trying to convince your grandmother into treating you to those interesting looking snacks that the door-to-door salesperson would bring.  Sundays was about lining up all the Duke’s bottles that had just been delivered and delighting in all their colours and scheming about how you could get access to them early this week.  Sundays was about an evening walk along one of the sea-front promenades, or a browsing trip to the original Crossword.  Sundays was about writing letters (and then emails) to distant relatives, and visiting nearby ones.  Sundays was about contemplating the world and the life you were making in it.

But more than anything else, Sunday was about Sunday afternoons.
And most specifically, about Sunday afternoon naps.

Because you couldn’t nap on Saturday afternoons.  Well, you could, but only technically.  Because Saturday was full of shopping and tidying up the loose ends of the working week and meeting friends and going for a movie.  There were always things to do while the shops were open and the city was alive.  But Sunday?  Sunday was for making plans, and having made them, knowing you had the luxury of ignoring them completely, secure in the knowledge that everything was set and sorted and you could just … relax.

And once lunch was done, you could just streeeetch and sigh loudly, contentedly, and then reach out for a last greedy slice of watermelon, and read another few pages, and then unworriedly, uncaringly, contentedly surrender to the warmth of the day outside and the warmth in your tummy, knowing that there was no pressure, no urgency, and no demands. And you could fall asleep comfortable that the only urgent thing that you would have to deal with on waking up was whether you wanted mint or ginger in your chai.

And it was the same everywhere.  Even in a driven city like Bombay, the pace and sounds of life just eased off gradually on Sunday afternoons.  The streets were empty of enthusiastic children.  Doorbells were spared by people soliciting donations or trying to tout spurious schemes.  Restaurants were shut, shops were closed, and everywhere felt like Goa in the off-season, or France any day of the week.

And the world was a softer, calmer, nicer place.

Which is why, nowadays, I have to try very hard not to chuck bricks and let loose with a flamethrower from my window every Sunday afternoon.

WHAT THE HECK has gone wrong with people?  Why are people surprised that I’m too groggy to talk on the phone at that time, even though this is not the first time it’s happened?  Who told my neighbours I would be eagerly awake to talk to them, even though I haven’t been the previous five times they’ve come to talk to me at such a time?  Why in the world would marketing survey types start rattling off their spiel in the face of my bleary eyes and believe I’m likely to give them my time and not a ninja-kick?  Why are these morons shredding the silence by revving and racing their bikes through the colony?  When did it become okay for religious nuts to play loud bhajans just as the world has obviously launched into slumber?  Why in heck’s name is the bloody kabadiwalla making four rounds right now, instead of the morning when people are more likely to give him business?  Why does a monkey-trainer think he’s going to get an audience then, instead of in the evening when people are up abd about?  And why why why why why WHY have people stopped caring so much that they will talk really loudly and shout to each other despite people requesting them to sod off you miserable gits?

People tell me this is progress.

That this is the result of the disintegration of joint families leading to people caring less for others.  That this is what happens when schools insist on telling everybody that they’re special and stop parents from smacking them a deserved one.  That this is the price we pay for becoming a vibrant, thriving economy that’s no longer stultifying under mofussil traditions.   That this is the sort of abrasive uncourteousness caused by a too-rapid influx of wealth for too few people, and the frustration of those not partaking of it.  That’s there’s so much more to do in the New India and how can I just waste time by sleeping.  That this is how it is and if I can’t deal with it, I should head to the hills.

To which I say, purple bollocks.

It’s time to Reclaim Your Sunday Snooze.

Go ahead, switch off your phones and your tablets and your laptops and your TVs.  Put away the book and all the other paperwork.  Turn off your doorbell and put a big ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on your door.  Persuade and mock and shout at people who make excess noise.  And when you wake up from your slumber, the world will seem a tad more manageable, a tad more amenable, a tad more likeable. Well, for a while, at least.

As for me, the next idiot to wake me up between 1.30pm and 4pm on a Sunday is going to get a bucket of fermented cat’s piss thrown all over them.

Don’t Panic

How good intentions in India often remain just that

Take Delhi.  A city with one of the most notorious reputations for women’s safety.  And where auto-rickshaws have for years harried and hassled passengers by overcharging, taking the long and wrong way round, or simply abducting them.

So on to 2012.  When the authorities decide enough is enough, and instruct all auto-rickshaws to install meters that incorporate a GPS facility and a panic button.  This will help track the vehicle, they said.  It will offer customers printouts that will help them confirm that the route taken had been the correct one, they said.  And most importantly, it will offer an emergency signalling system, they said.

Criticisms that the tender process was flawed and that the meters were subsequently over-priced?
No worries.
Criticisms that nobody was actually printing out these maps?
No worries.
Investigations which had found that nobody was actually monitoring the vehicles?
No worries.

Of course, in their wisdom, the authorities insisted that the meters be facing the customer.  Y’know, so they could monitor the fare and also have instant access to the panic button. Which meant instant paranoia on the part of the drives, kyun ki aisa hain saab, koi log itne haraami hain ki fare ka button reset kar dete hain, aur bacche-kucche jo hain na, woh button ke saath khelne lagte hain.

Which is why today if you sit in an auto-rickshaw in Delhi, you will see meters like this.  All secure and locked up behind a metal cage.  Which includes the panic button, which is meant to be instantly accessible.

… this is what they call ghelchodia-level fuckwittery.

don't panic