Friday, February 27, 2009

There was a time when...

If I ever lose track, this will remind me...
  • When I was 14, I shoplifted food products on a daily basis with trusted accomplices.
  • I was 6 when I first beat Prince of Persia and within a couple of months I was able to complete it within 20 minutes...reproducibly.
  • I enjoyed embroidery when I was 8. My mother approved because she was a broad-minded person.
  • I excelled at making rudely-worded parodies of popular Hindi numbers with a partner in crime when I was 13. We are still very proud of it.
  • I was goalkeeper for the school football team when I was 9. We lost our first and last game 5-0 and I scored one goal.
  • I read my first non-pictorial classic – Moby Dick - when I was 6. I read my last – The Coral Island when I was 11.
  • I have wanted to be a teacher/scientist ever since...well actually thats all I've ever wanted to be.
  • When I was 13, my 11-year old sister was an inch taller than me and my best friend took special notice of that. I grew in late spurts.
  • I learnt what the fear of death was when I turned 8. The Latur earthquake woke me up in the wee hours of the morning and I felt it for a whole 3 minutes.
  • When I was 10, neck springs and hand springs took me the effort of dropping a pen. When I had to prove it to my friends at the age of 14...
  • When I was 9, I made a superhero character for myself and called it Sharkanian (Shar-cane-yan) because I had pointier canines back then. I had a proper costume with a blue cape and leggings and a mask (modified from Cathay Pacific's original makes). I wore the costume everyday and took particular delight in making a superhero appearance in front of mom's guests. I even wrote and directed a skit to be played at a get-together complete with the background score taken from Danny Elfman's creation for Batman that my dad recorded for me. It was shot down for lack of superpowers and structure in the script.
  • My tally of head injuries demanding stitches is 9. I still have the scars and bald spots.
  • When I was 7, I regularly beat people up for fun during lunch break. The victims took it quite well. It was our fight club.
  • I was quite convinced that I was a good sprinter when I was 15. I raced everyday and clocked 12 seconds. I told the faster runners that I was more of the long distance types.
  • I climbed my first tree when I was 6. My parents were very pleased. My previous attempt at climbing was head injury demanding stitches number 2.
  • When I was 13, I got inspired by the Parker Brothers and made my own WWE-themed board game that was loosely similar to Dungeons and Dragons. My dad critically acclaimed the effort and said that I should attempt to focus on educational value on my next project.
  • I learnt Sindarin when I was 16 just because I wanted to escape to a new world.
  • I held a green belt in Taek-won-do when I was 9. I was not the best student.
  • I have been wary and fearful of girls ever since the age of 12. I still think that it makes me cool.
  • I have never had a tooth cavity that required filling. Until two months ago.
  • My most recurring nightmare is being back in SYJC and failing the board exam. Until the age of 17 it was being dragged butt-naked through the dead marshes to Mordor.
  • I did not know competition (healthy and unhealthy) until the age of 20.
  • I ranked 27th in the state in a scholarship exam when I was 12. And lost the mark-sheet.
  • My dad bought our first car when I was 7. It was by far our coolest car because it was Aquamarine. Every car after that has been white or something duller.
  • I fractured my right pinky in school after slipping and falling over water that I spilt myself when I was 11. It was my first and only fracture. I wanted to tell mom that a bus ran over it but muttered the truth and ran to my room in agony. For the next 2 months I learnt to write with two fingers and wrote an exam that way.
  • I lost my last three milk teeth when I was 14 on three consecutive days during school hours. The girls laughed at me and my patient orthodontist was relieved that he could get started on fitting my braces.
  • When I was 12, I once dreamt of a water-filled glass commentary box and a hole cracked on its bottom side. I woke up and thought over it and mentally derived Toricelli's Theorem. I described it to dad the next morning. His response was that I was already well established and that I should think about finishing my milk.
  • I took my first photograph when I was 7 on a National analog 56. It was perfect for the first 5 minutes after which my curious sister succeeded in opening the rear compartment of the camera.
  • I first saw the Adam West take on Batman and Robin when I was 8. Even back then I thought it was sad, stupid and funny.
  • I learnt to spell my name completely when I was 5. It took me a whole of 15 minutes as I walked home from school with mom.
  • I have smashed my nails on every one of my fingers (and 4 toes) and have had them regrow.
  • When I was 13, I read the first Harry Potter book because my dad bought it for me from a trip to Hong Kong and liked it. I had no idea it would get this famous right then.
  • Back when I was 14, my friends said that they would give me an over to bowl only if I bowled faster. I defended myself by saying that I was a leg spinner, hoping that they wouldn't have noticed my medium pace action and hold on the ball. I didn't get my over. I practiced leg spin for two months after that and returned to bowl a guy out on a wide delivery on my very first ball.
  • I made a drawing for a Camlin competition when I was 7. The title was 'What I want to be when I grow up' and the best works were to be put on display in an exhibition. Back then, the only sophisticated job title I knew was training manager since my dad was one. I included the title in my artwork and handed it over and came home and told my parents. They laughed at me in the same fashion that people who know me generally laugh at me. Well know what happened. I got a cert for my artwork and it was put up in the first row of the gallery.
  • I learnt to read Tamil when I was 18. It was an entirely solo effort and my study material comprised only of bus labels and movie posters.
  • I have read a total of 2 Enid Blyton books so far. After I figured out the sick logic in describing picnic food to young kids, I couldn't enjoy it anymore.
  • I made my first seminar with transparencies at the age of 12 for a history class. I had to describe the works of Raja Ram Mohun Roy and dad refused to print photographs on a transparency for me so I exercised my drawing skills.
  • When I was 13, I once chose to jump off the first floor to convince my friends that I was badass. An audience of 6 peers came to watch and waited for half hour as I was making all my mental preparations from the ledge that I was to jump off of. Finally one of the audience members, came up to the ledge and slid off its end and made a perfect landing after which I clambered slowly off the ledge and let go of it and landed. I assure you that still is as badass as it gets.

- Aamchi Jeeva, Aamcha Vela

Friday, February 06, 2009

The audacity of tolerance

Do you get pricked or offended when you are called a Madrasi? Do you think that Tamil is the most beautiful language in the world? Do you feel that you are not treated as respectfully as you would expect by the rest of the Indian populace just because you are a Tamil? Do you think that racial discrimination hurts the international Indian Diaspora? If yes, then this post is for your reading pleasure.
There definitely is an openly acknowledged political agenda to promote the pride and the venerable heritage of the Tamil language amongst everyone. But beyond the political influence of it, there is a blind and fanatic drive to oust and ridicule every other language and person in the name of it. The refusal to accept the national language and the outrage over the use of it within Tamil Nadu are direct examples of that. I have seen my undergraduate classmates do it by randomly walking up to people speaking in other languages and muttering movie names in the language loudly until the person takes notice and stops his use. The Indian states were originally made on the basis of linguistic differences for purposes of ease and a driven non-subscription to religious lines to separate people as it already was being a major negatively divisive agent. The national language was chosen to be Hindi for the same reasons that English is the universal language, by a government that contained prominent Tamil leaders. Why then is there unrest? Do you believe that the decision was one-sidedly made to favor the “north Indians”?
I come from a cosmopolitan background and have had the pleasure of association with members of nearly every state of India. I was the Madrasi and my friends included a bania, a bhaiya, a rana, a jassi, a gujju and a nalla. I have never known a single person so far who has Hindi for a native tongue. Every state has its own native tongue and in addition to that, Hindi is sufficiently learnt to effect communication with the rest of the nation. The Tamil political agenda of the sixties and the seventies pushed the fanatic Tamil drive to oust Hindi and succeeded quite well. But the fact that the people of a state of nearly total literacy have continued the idea in their primary psyche is highly distressing. Indeed, Tamil may be a beautiful language – ancient with wonderful poems and writing. But let not the pride in the matter become a blind arrogance. Let it not veil you of the fact that other languages including Hindi hold a capacity for beauty that can be admired. Choose to learn more than just movie names and reserve the insecurity that you have to learn it rather than mock the ones that speak it. For promoting Tamil, help the ones that carry extreme degrees in the language spread it in a positive and harmonious way.
The term Madrasi was created before independence to refer to inhabitants of the Madras province that contained the current southern state of Tamil Nadu and parts of Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Karnataka, thus making the term equivalent to Bihari or Bengali. Why then is the term offensive? Why does it prick you? A person or Keralite or Andhra nativity would be as much a Madrasi as you would. Do you still consider it to be a lowly and demeaning way of referring to you? Do you wish to be called something more respectful? Then why do you use the terms Seth and mallu and the truly offensive golti? Maybe Seth is a way of getting back at the offending “north Indian”. But then why drop the g-bomb on your fellow Madrasi? The answer again is the fanatic arrogance that nurtures a highly sensitive ego that will not tolerate hurt but will engender an arsenal of offensive expletives to describe others. This is what makes you blindly stereotype everyone else. This is what makes you hail a racist, chauvinist and uncontrollably hate-inspiring commercial movie industry. I remember a fellow classmate of mine who moved to Chicago mention that he hates north Indians because they did not accommodate him in their plans during a party. Would it be their fault for not including him or would it be his fault for being inept in attempting to move around with them and speaking to them confidently in a common tongue so that they actually would remember him? Another,friend, I remember, held his cool and told him that he was wrong to generalize that way.
Probably this is the reason for Tamil Nadu’s self-obsessed, aloof yet arrogant attitude as a member-part of India. Probably this is why there is not commonly used Tamil word for India and Indian. Probably this is why a patriotic song in Tamil only speaks out to a certain Tamilzha and not Indian…
We are accelerating towards a scenario of a world sentiment where national and international borders will hold a frail meaning in comparison to the growth of people’s global sense of union and equality. Therefore evils like racism are frowned upon and criminally treated. Indeed, Indians are getting used to this ideology and demanding equal treatment from the rest of the world’s races. Why then do we have a blind, openly racist, xenophobic society? Why do we say chinki and use various regional language terms for black and white? Is it that it should be tolerated within our circuits but an outsider dare not use a racially charged expletive against us?
It was a pathetic scene when the Indian cricket team and the BCCI - as the most powerful cricketing body in the world - stood behind an expletive hurling Harbhajan who pled guilty for what he said though he insisted that it was not in racist connotation. Some felt that since it came against the Aussies who are noted as easy hecklers, it was very much within the limit of humane. To me and a third person, the result is that Cricketing India has shown itself to be no different from the unholy Aussies. My own classmates who have moved to various parts of the United States for higher studies refer to African Americans with their own twist to the word black. If one were to ask these people, they would say that it was never meant to be offensive at all. But how can someone who is so sensitive to inflicted hurt be so insensitive to his own words? Indeed this is by far the most shameful thing about the new progressive Indian generation. The ‘Chalta hai’ attitude – the insensitive and careless and arrogantly lazy use of charged words and actions without a sense of social and societal responsibility; It is alright when we do it amongst ourselves. Is this the use that we make of our exposure? It is surprising that Indians actually get respected despite such a spectacularly poor display in the world scene.
Let us give up on such disregard. Let us develop a sense of responsibility for our actions. Let us not fall for narrow ideas and intolerant subscriptions. Let us give up social lines for purposes of humanism. Let us leave a more open and cheerful world for our successors. Let us be more receptive to the good things in all social and racial lines. Indeed we may be great. But that is not what will make us improve.
At this point, you may probably think that this guy needs to cool down. I rest my case.