Monday, October 6, 2014

"No, I will not adjust maadi" - An open letter to the Director of Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC)

Dear Sir.

I write this letter to you as a loyal customer and passenger as well as in the interest of the high standards of service that KSRTC is known for.

Having lived in Bangalore for over 2 years now, KSRTC buses have been a blessing for an avid traveller like myself to journey to different parts of Karnataka, whether for work or leisure. As most others in Karnataka would agree with me, your buses have always been ahead of private companies as well as other state corporations in comfort, punctuality, hygiene, hospitality and overall, value for money. I can safely say that I’ve never regretted booking your buses as I was always assured of the aforementioned list of quality services until…what happened on the bus journey from Sirsi to Bangalore on the night of 4th October 2014.

Due to the unavailability of buses from Gokarna to Bangalore, my friend and I caught a KSRTC Airavat bus (KA 01.F.8072) from Sirsi, scheduled to start at 8.33 pm on the 4th of October 2014. We arrived from Gokarna a little earlier before the time of departure and when we asked locals about the said bus to Bangalore, we were informed that it would only arrive by 9.00 pm. Time soon passed and it was 8.33 pm but the bus bearing the KSRTC Airavat sign was no where at sight. We decided to visit the restroom when we suddenly got a call from the conductor asking us if we were catching the bus. We evaded the visit to the restroom and rushed to catch the bus, nearing which we saw it did not have Airavat written anywhere but just ‘Volvo’. The bus conductor and driver yelled at us for making them wait for about 10 minutes, a mistake we accepted even though we were a bit confused given the look of this bus was so different from all the other Airavats we’ve travelled in before.

One we stepped inside and took our seats, it didn’t take me long to realize that I wasn’t feeling the usual chill that I normally do in AC Volvo buses. I checked the AC vents and realized it was only blowing cool air from it. Neither the windows of the bus were forming any mist (normally happens in AC buses) nor was I getting enough air where I was seated. We tried to adjust the air vents to maximize the blower but to no avail. Moreover, the air was stale which was another indication of the fact that there was no circulation happening i.e. the air conditioner was definitely not switched on. In no time, we were in the middle of the Ghats and my friend (a Kannadiga who speaks the language) managed to go upto the conductor and the driver to request him to switch on the air conditioner. Each time that she went upto them to make this request, they simply dismissed her off claiming that the air conditioner was on and working.

The Airavat logo but just Volvo written on the bus. Is this really an Airavat or an ancient version of the bus?
In the meanwhile, I began feeling claustrophobic and experiencing breathlessness due to the non-conditioned and stale air blowing from the vents, as the bus zipped on the hairpin bends of the Western Ghats. I have extensively travelled on hilly roads in the North East and the Himalayan region in the North without experiencing any motion sickness so I certainly knew that it wasn’t that. For disclaimer’s sake, I felt just fine in the local bus that we had to take from Kumta to Sirsi to catch your bus and I certainly didn’t consume anything that would get me breathless or dizzy before I got on your bus.

Moving on, the conductor and driver continued to claim nothing was wrong with the bus even as my friend reported to them that I was experiencing breathlessness. I had to sit upright and keep my face close to the vent, as it was the only source of oxygen, otherwise it felt like I was breathing in the CO2 that I breathed out. We were considering getting off at Shimoga to catch another bus (a real Airavat!) to Bangalore given the attitude and reception from the driver and conductor. Thankfully, my friend had an anti allergy pill on her which was the only saving grace for me on this journey. I told her that if I felt better by the time we reached Shimoga, we’ll just pull through on this bus but if I didn’t, we would have to change buses (if we even managed to get one last moment!).

We then stopped at a place about an hour before Shimoga where a lot of passengers alighted the bus. Suddenly, we found the temperature going down and mist had formed on the windows. The air conditioning was finally working or had been switched on; we weren’t sure which one it was. I told my friend to ask the conductor (in Kannada) why he didn’t pay any heed to our repeated requests before, knowing that we were suffocating for about an hour (or more) before the stop. He just said that the AC automatically adjusts the temperature and that it was on all the time. In a calm and straightforward manner, we rebutted his claim to which he rudely dismissed us off by saying, go ahead and complain. At that moment, I remarked that “Oh so it’s a Government job so you’re not bothered, right?” Both of us were appalled at his cavalier attitude and spoke to ourselves about how sarkari (Government) employees don’t realize there’s a thing called ‘social media’ now and gone are the days when people’s voices remained unheard or the time when people didn’t care/want to express themselves enough.

As if this attitude wasn’t enough, the driver suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere after taking off from the station. He then came towards us and rudely asked my friend, what was our problem when everyone else was sitting in the bus without any issues. We explained what happened after we took off from Sirsi and how despite our repeated requests, the AC wasn’t turned on. The bus driver starts yelling and scolding us for creating a nuisance with the same lame explanation of the “automatic system of the AC which increases and decreases the temperature”. Anyone who has been on a KSRTC Airavat AC Volvo bus knows they have to wear something warm and cannot do without the provided blankets during the full course of the journey. To make matters worse, the conductor and another guy (not in uniform) joins him with a very aggressive body language, almost threateningly telling us it wasn’t their fault and that we need to adjust to this. My friend retorted, “We’re always being asked to adjust in India but this situation was not about adjusting. My friend couldn’t breathe because the AC wasn’t on and all she could breathe was stale air. What if she had fainted, then I would have had to take her to a hospital in Shimoga”. 

My protests, of course, fell to deaf ears since they were in English and in this moment at least, I didn’t feel apologetic about not speaking Kannada. The driver and conductor said that if we had any problems, we should complain about the bus but keep them out of it. Unsurprisingly, no one around us so much as uttered a word or even tried to calm the situation down despite the fact that 3 bus guys were yelling at two female passengers in the middle of nowhere in a threatening body language. By now quite a scene was created and the driver went back to his seat saying that he would stop at the nearest police station if we wanted to register a complaint against them. This was uncalled for considering neither of us ever mentioned the police and it was too obvious that they were trying to intimidate us. My friend warned them that she had relatives in Shimoga who would gather enough people in a moment’s notice if they tried to act funny with us. We were left completely irritated with the situation and the AC was still not consistently running, switching on and off at different time intervals.

Before reaching Shimoga, a solo female passenger sitting in front of me told us that the air vent above her seating was leaking. She asked the conductor to come and check, who took about 10 minutes to be convinced it was leaking before moving her to another seat next to a gentleman she obviously didn’t know! I just wondered where the common sense of this conductor was in adjusting her with a male passenger when he could have easily exchanged seats for her to sit next to a female passenger. She surprisingly did not protest.

At KSRTC Shimoga bus stand. The guy in white uniform is the bus driver (sweetly) explaining to our friend how the AC system in the bus works.
Once we were at Shimoga, a friend (male) happened to stop by at the bus station to meet my friend. The moment the bus driver saw this guy speaking to us, he started explaining the situation in a very sweet tone to this friend of my friend’s. He probably feared a local backlash, which is why he spoke so sweetly to this guy, a complete contrast from the attitude he took with us. Since I was anyway feeling a little better after taking the pill, we decided to suck it up and get to Bangalore as it was just another 5-6 hours of journey.

While many may not feel like this story is as horrific as what could have been, there’s a reason for that. It’s because we’ve all been conditioned and programmed to adjust maadi all our lives that we’ve learned to accept such sub standard services without a protest. The one hour ride before I took the pill felt like hell – imagine being cooped up in a tightly shut bus with no ventilation (the windows couldn’t be opened) and stale air to breathe, while the bus swirles along the Ghats! Moreover, the attitude of the KSRTC employees was not the usual rude and dismissive behavior of sarkaari servants that we’re so used to (mainly because of a lack of choice). Their body language was clearly threatening and unbecoming for any employee in the hospitality sector, even if it was a state run bus.

Considering that I survived the nightmare, I could have easily moved on and simply sworn off using KSRTC ever again. But I know that doesn’t really improve the service and in doing so, I effectively become part of the inefficient system. Hence, I would like to request your patronage and support on the following:

a) Please do not use sub standard Volvo buses to meet high season demands. If a customer has booked and paid for an Airavat AC Volvo, they should be getting nothing less than that. Especially, KA 01.F.8072 should be discontinued from customer service until it has been fully fixed. Interestingly, there is no mention of passenger safety measures in the bus, except for accident relief trust.

b) Temporary dismissal (without leave) of the bus conductor and driver to train them on basic etiquettes and appropriate ways of dealing with passengers (especially women) if such a situation were to arise. Just to remind you, it was them who raised their voice at us first and started yelling with no consideration for a moment about the passenger’s health or difficulty. What if it was an asthmatic person in my place or what if I was all alone or with someone who couldn’t speak Kannada? More than the stale air from the dysfunctional AC, it was the stale attitude of your employees that made the situation worse than it even needed to be. I will also be writing an email to to complain against the operating crew and on the faulty air conditioning system. 

If you booked a KSRTC Airavat AC Volvo bus and this shows up, don't get on it. Demand for the latest version of the bus!

I request your response to this letter at the earliest with an assurance of action that would be taken on the aforementioned points.

An avid Airavat passenger.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Losing my mind, not my weight

HUGE! HUMONGOUS! ALMOST OBESE! Hands gesture holding a medicine ball

People have been demonstrating the subtlety of a monster truck in telling me how much weight I’ve gained and need to lose almost as immediately as football WAGs do post pregnancy. The feedback wouldn’t be unwarranted if my lifestyle had only consisted of excessive drinking, absolutely no exercise, a regular routine of late night snacking and exclusively living on take outs. I won’t deny some weekly highlights of this behavior yet I’m one of those unfortunate ones whose metabolism is slower than snail mail and these occasional indulgences with a lack of consistency in working out or a healthy diet has taken a toll on my body. Beyond body esteem issues, there are alarming problems with my stamina and level of energy as well, which has been more troubling for a former school athlete like myself, who never wasted even a single physical education period in school outside of the court or playground.

But I don’t want to crib about body esteem issues that women are faced with or recall the sweet memories of my relative childhood in repeat shuffle. There are 2 important realizations I’ve had since entering adulthood in more milestone (27th birthday, FTW) ways:

  •       Just like pulling an all nighter of drinking and going to work next day becomes less and less feasible as you spiral downward towards 30, it becomes more and more easy for your body to pack on pounds as your metabolism rate lowers. Yep, that innocent glazed or cream frosted donut costs you more heavily than it ever did before 25.
  •      With work and responsibilities that comes with adulthood, finding time and energy for physical exercise (that came as naturally as ‘playtime’ in childhood) is a management skill. Regardless, we need to work towards it and take our time to master something so well managed by our parents for so long.

I’m consciously not including anything about food, even as I have and am making more changes to my diet, because of the vast subjectivity there is to it. I believe there’s no such thing as a ‘bad food’, just excesses. Every food contains some nutrients in it, including that evil donut with its high glucose content. Even if you were to consume any food rich in nutrients, excess of that would consequentially mean a deficit of another.

Relationship with food is just as unique as any person’s relationship with God or his or her vibrator. Some of us eat to survive whilst the much cooler people you’ll love being around, LIVE TO EAT. Given the choice between living on a GM diet for Kate Moss’ body and a balanced diet that allows the occasional cheats for an average Kaley Cuocu-ish body, you know what I would pick. The point is neither should be subject to judgment, given respective individual priorities.

But the point of all this ramble is to drive the single most significant thing missing in all this talk of weight loss around me – where the fuck are the positive reinforcements?

Almost all weight loss regimes work on negative reinforcements, whether the emphasis on the kgs still to lose, the miles one needs to run, the hours you need to punish your body or the food you have to deprive yourself of. The post ab crunch body is supposedly the bait and the light at the end of the tunnel but lets face it – only the most strong willed see the light of this day! And surely for that, they must receive some reward, something superficial like your dream wedding or have a gallantry award in this category alone.

But fuck strong willed or semi-super humans. I’m not one of those and I humbly take pride in my mediocrity.

Positive reinforcements? How does that work? I’m likely not the first nor will be the last average Joe to ask this. But here are a few thoughts that sound legit enough to blog and maybe, try out.

Health vs Taste – Remember when I said that there's no such thing as bad food, I lied. There is badly cooked or prepared food. Thanks to a few good humans that still walk this earth, what is healthy for you doesn’t have to suck in taste. I used to hate eating my greens until I discovered Italian food and cooking, which has also moved me towards raw food to quite an extent. My current thing is to replace all my flour and sugar loaded snacks with these little green munchies with the right seasoning. Make boring food in more interesting ways rather than dwell on the fact that you can’t eat the sinful stuff.

Exercise vs Playtime – I talked about how we all loved (almost all of us) our evening or vacation playtime when we were little. Well, one of the many things that suck about adulthood is how everything turns into a task and anything associated with play is almost always a sexual euphemism. While sex is a great way (although much acrobatic) to shed those extras, I’m gonna focus on those exercises that you publically claim your membership for. You don’t have to do Zumba if you hate anything close to what resembles dancing. I actually hate the word ‘exercise’ for the nobility that is attached to it. Fuck, I need and miss my playtime. Not saying that if you engaged in what you naturally like will ensure you’d stick to it but it will help your attitude a lot more. Say, would you like going dancing everyday or prefer exercising in the dance studio? See what I mean.

Age vs Next Big Thing – From all my talks with girlfriends and ill advisors, age is quoted like the most damning thing to happen. I’m embracing age with all the wisdom, experience and the opportunities to look forward to. But hearing “Oh, it gets harder as you get older” for the nth time (factually true it maybe like gravity) is a dampner. As a late bloomer, I evolved in a lot of interesting ways that I never imagined in my early years. I don’t know about you but I get the most inspired not by obnoxious child prodigies but older and regular folks who achieve (and yes, surprisingly) something much later, in their journey of self discovery. Move over Mark Zuckerberg 'coz I’m digging that 50 year old who finished the ironman or climbed base camp at Mount Everest! Similarly, the chance of rejuvenating yourself (mentally or physically) for a new feat as opposed to the idea of saving whatever’s left of your withering being is a lot more tantalizing, no?

Let me caution you or put a disclaimer that this is mostly something that I’ve been ruminating much about, not a tried and tested formula. Maybe negative reinforcements do work better and I really don't know better right now since I'm still wading in the far dark swallows of the tunnel. 

Knowing that it is normal to find ourselves in this dilemma, as the fatty or the ‘concerned’ friend, I considered it worth sharing with others to get their thoughts and experiences. If I haven’t made it obvious till now, I’m very open to feedback J

Friday, December 27, 2013

5 Reasons Why Don Jon is NOT a Chick or Dick Flick

Don Jon (the American spin off to the infamous Italian womanizing character, Don Juan) will give any viewer the false impression of a chick or a dick flick. For firsts, it has Joseph Gordon Lewitt (500 Days of Summer) and Scarlett Johansson (He's Just Not That Into You) on the lead that would make anyone gush about how cute as a button they make for a pair. On the record, 500 Days of Summer was a romantic comedy unlike any other, so folks can surely expect more substance from Lewitt. Secondly, it's a movie about a guy who has an apparent porn addiction that might give the impression of it being a 'guy movie'. While it is hard to say how much is too much for porn, save this character can't go a day without it inspite of an active sex life.

So how come it is neither? Here's why I think this movie makes the right mainstream cut while making an important cultural point.

1. Don Jon doesn't debase porn and leave it at that

I've seen a lot of movies either taking the higher moral ground about pornography or condoning it as, pretty much, a rite of passage that, well...continues on. This movie is critical about it but specifically for how it objectifies women (As the protagonist crosses a checklist of ass, boobs and blowjobs), how it lacks soul and creates unrealistic expectations in our mind. It also gets us a lot closer to the average male mind when Don says, porn is better than sex because of the lack of inhibition that women display apart from just how perfectly sculpted they are.

However, it also pokes fun at girlfriends like Johansson who believe that only sick people watch porn and breaks the myth that regular women don't watch porn. SPOILET ALERT but in one scene, the character of Julianna Moore comes up to Don Jon to share something more aesthetically crafted from her dirty collection, which he takes much offense to.

2. Don Jon is a satire on romantic comedies

Clearly, his character isn't the only who has an addiction or a problem of unrealistic expectation. His girlfriend dopes on movies that show bonny looking couples who fall in love in the most dire or unusual of circumstances, where the guy gives up everything to be with the girl he loves. "Don't you think it's a little one sided?", he asks her and she brushes it off with no inkling that porn and romcoms could be more similar in constructing the 'perfect' caricatures of a man or woman.

3. Don Jon is a serious movie on human connection, not what gets flouted as love.

Thanks to what sells that feeds off and into our fantasies and the apparent heteronormative convention of society, Don Jon challenges safe structures that society accepts on the surface, never once glancing into the real underlying and largely repressed emotions. It's easy to dismiss his inability towards any real connection because of his porn addiction but a closer examination of his family and religious values and practices hints a much stronger influence. A family happy enough for him to bring a tight assed white girl and a church that absolves him of all his sins with x number of 'Hail Mary' prayers with no real question or concern for his actions or feelings will maketh a very mechanical man out of anyone.

4. Don Jon is, most surprisingly, a very feminist movie

A very miniscule minority of men today can offer the male perspective and without a feminist witch hunt agenda, criticize women's behaviour patterns on theories based out of 'Women from Venus'. Feminism doesn't favour one gender over another but aims to equate critcism and reflection for all, including the queer community. Mills and Boons has pretty much been porn for women for ages now and this movie is a very polite wake up call. It tells men that you can be all beefed up and smooth with women and yet never make a real connection while it would take care of your progeny and social status. It tells women to adjust expectations that the ideal man isn't a dog you play fetch with.

5. Joseph Gordon Lewitt

Move over Ryan Gosling fandom and the much-too-conceited James Franco. JGL is no new kid in the block but this bloke is making us weak in the knees and our thinking minds sharper with every instalment of his. It might seem to many like the child artist has finally grown up but much like Leonardo Di Caprio, JGL has always been a mature actor, wise and crafty in the roles he has played. Who else could give this kind of depth to the role of an average jock who cares about 5 things only - his car, gym, family, women and church.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Too ‘Silky’ for your shirt?

This piece was written for a blog when The Dirty Picture (2011) had just released. For reasons unknown, it never got published where it was intended to be. My two cents on the sultry siren, Silk Smitha, even if 2 years too late.

I was 8 or 9 years old when I first saw ‘Sadma’ (1983), a Bollywood movie featuring Kamal Hassan, Sridevi and the recently riveted, Silk Smitha, in a role uncommon for those times. Released in the 80’s, I watched this movie in the 90’s on cable television, when it often aired as a matinee show and not necessarily as a ‘late night fiesta’.  Yes, those were the golden days of uncensored television viewing, following the significant privatization of industries and networks in India.  

Silk Smitha in Sadma (1983)

Originally christened Vijaylakshmi, Silk Smitha was once the most sought after actresses in the Tamil Film Industry in South India for portraying little clothes and character in raunchy scenes and vamp roles in the 80’s. By the 90’s, with a declining career and demand, she met with a tragic early demise. Even at a very young age, in the movie mentioned above, she didn’t quite appeal to me stereotypically as a ‘vamp’ on the sole basis of her explicit sexuality but just a woman who had excessively high ‘physical’ needs than most (men & women) displayed and was ‘trapped’ in a situation that did not meet her ideal expectations. She wasn’t out to hurt or offend anyone; she just wanted to complete herself.

The point of this nostalgic narration is that while most of us, including myself, waited in great anticipation for Vidya Balan to portray the personality and sexuality of a woman like Silk, my expectations were a little different, in the impression she had left as a kid. I could sense from the beginning and was right on target about the fact that most people were eager to see how Balan could portray a ‘character less’ (I love this term for its many connotations) woman without some of her own merit, as an A grad actor, taking a blow. I, on the other hand, was more eager to see how closely could Balan emulate the Southern Siren because frankly I haven’t really seen that kind of uninhibited & ‘shameless’ sexuality in too many women since her.

Balan makes many brave attempts in the movie at elucidating Silk’s sensuality whether it was making love to the whip as an extra in a song shooting or to the froth and bubbles in the bathtub. Yet, what was most interestingly shown was how (before stardom struck & she was just a ‘commoner’) she made orgasmic noises to tease the neighboring couple while they were busy at nature’s best business. To Balan’s ‘loud’ meddling, the dutiful wife lying underneath responded, “While I suffer, she enjoys!”

There were two things that struck me: one, the culminating ending in the movie and two, media treatment of Silk Smitha post her departure from the industry and the world more than a decade ago.

Milan Luthra denies the story being based purely and solely on Silk’s life and agrees that the character was a stereotypical portrayal. Through the movie, what we witness is someone who boldly crossed those boundaries of modesty set around women yet could not break them and eventually, got broken by them. Yes, they showed a humanistic side of her but as much exaggerated the dramatics showdowns with the superstar’s wife (whose husband she was sleeping with), a rival sex kitten and a gossip columnist. Her eventual downfall, as a woman who took a stand and stood by it, with the alcohol, nicotine and loneliness was portrayed as if reprimanding her of her actions. It was such a demonstrative lesson of that’s-what-you-get-for-using-your-sexuality-as-a-tool! 

The features and editorials leading up to the previews of the movie and post reviews have been like obituaries written too late. Most of them have sympathized with her as someone who was ‘ahead of her times’ and ended up in the rear end of the hypocritical society that loved to hate her. But I don’t really see us as any different or more progressive as we’d like to so easily believe sometimes.

If it was Marilyn Monroe in the fifties and Silk Smitha in the eighties, we do have our current brigade of Kim Kardashian, Poonam Pandey and Veena Malik of the post 2k generation. I agree the comparison maybe way off but their routes to ‘stardom’ in congruence with the demands and desires of the audience (i.e. us) are much too similar. We do love despising these women for just boldly doing what they do…whatever they do, that is.

Are we a society always dismissive of female sex symbols and sirens? Men flash all the time and make all kinds of ‘dirty pictures’ but they still don’t seem to be reeling in the same spotlight of the moralistic flack.

Will we always keep demonizing our desires, in particular when women mirror reflect them?

To many, Silk promoted skin. To me, she promoted pleasure.

Monday, June 10, 2013

TOI's idea of change is anarchist

The Times of India is (almost without doubt) one of the mightiest news publications in India has a huge marketing budget to promote the same idea to its readers. This, of course, has everything to do with the advertisment revenue that it earns from the four wheel full spread page and inappropriate placements of baby care products or food alongside captivating headlines that read like, "3 in 5 children in India are malnourished". But you know, that's all okay.
The Times of India is all about the latest in news and views of all current topics and burning issues that the youth especially like to be keyed in about. Never mind that the 18-25 age bracket know little about the depth of any issue, they must be given enough fodder everyday that energizes them enough to rant and be outraged about on Twitter and Facebook. Who wants to live in the adage of "old is gold" when it is small townish, slow, bureacratic and stuck in a time warp (as they targeted The Hindu in an ad war series last year that created much unnecessary furore) when you can wake up to The Times of India today.

The latest in their efforts to mobilize the country comes in their advertisement, 'I Lead India 2013 - I Will be the Change' where people suddenly pick up the chairs, couches and beds they were blissfully seated on and carry them while marching forward to build a collective bonfire. I, at first, thought this was an advertisement for Lori but even when they didn't throw ground nuts in the fire, it still didn't convey the message. Was the act of carrying your chair and burning it like having your cake and eating it? No. Or was it symbolism for getting off your behind and taking action rather than talking about it over tea and tweeting?
My problem is that TOI's wake up call comes at an imperfect time. The case studies of social media bringing people out in the streets of Tahrir Square, Jantar Mantar, Wall Street, India Gate are contemporary histories now. This isn't to say that they've been forgotten or that they haven't become user template guides to starting a revolution in your country. But whether it's respect to corruption in the system or rape of our women by the system and society, the revolutionary spark has come and gone.
For India, right now we're at that time of the revolution when follow up on the progress work of resolving the issue is critical. This, in fact, is the most challenging part since the onus to lead, self monitor and institutionalize the change in system against bureacratic resistance is mostly left to individual resilience. This is also the part of the revolution where groupies and social loafers are sieved out of the movement leaving the committed few to build the blocks.
Everyone can join a movement just like anyone can join a mob regardless of knowing what's really on the agenda (You could try speaking to a few of them in Gujarat). Taking to the streets and braving water bombs and tear gas shells is really the peak of the party but the actual hard work comes in the preparation to it and its cleaning up. The loud party, however, is the first critical step in taking everyone's notice to something that was paid little or serious attention to before.
But we've done that in the summer last to last year and just the winter that went by. Now is the time for the empowered individuals and bodies to continue to stand on their ground and sync their efforts towards this change.
The noise has been made TOI. So why are you still asking us to burn chairs?