The Mirror-Image Fallacy

I was watching Zoya Akhthar’s Dil Dhadakne Do yesterday. I guess the whole point of the movie was a belaboured one about how super-smart, intelligent women like the one played by Priyanka Chopra are suppressed by the patriarchal Angry North Indian Male (a distant cousin of the Angry White Male). One of the scenes that sets off the third act shows a frustrated Priyanka yelling her head off at a bunch of rich, North Indian aunties for gossiping about hookups among their litter of Ralph Lauren clad offspring. “Get a job!”, she yells. All transformed from Doormat Girl to Angry Indian Female. Stop gossiping. Focus on self-improvement. Study hard, begin startups and ‘Make In India’ for the greater glory of humankind. But she and her other social media lecturing counterparts forget one thing. Some aunties don’t want to become self-made women. Most, actually. Some are content with buying Fendi bags and gossiping about youngsters. Priyanka’s character’s solipsism believes that the whole world is like her.

This reminded me of a prescient article on the Mirror-Image Fallacy by Charles Krauthammer from Time 1983. I read it a while back and the sheer brilliance of Krauthammer’s thoughts stayed with me. I tried to find a link on the internet but couldn’t find one. So I typed it out for you. Word for word from the hard copy of his book ‘Things That Matter’. It deserves some space on the internet.

The Mirror-Image Fallacy
Charles Krauthammer in Time, August 15, 1983.

“As is evident just from the look on his face,” observes The New Yorker in a recent reflection on the Lincoln Memorial, “[Lincoln] would have liked to live out a long life surrounded by old friends and good food.” Good food? New Yorker readers have an interest in succesful soufflés, but it is hard to recall the most melancholy and spiritual of presidents giving them much thought. New Yorker editors no doubt dream of living out their days in gourmet pastures. But did Lincoln really long to retire to a table at Lutèce?

Solipsism is the belief that the whole world is me, and as mathematician Martin Gardner points out, its authentic version is not found outside mental institutions. What is to be found outside the asylum is its philosophical cousin, the belief that the whole world is like me. This species of solipsism – plural solipsism, if you like – is far more common because it is far less lonely. Indeed, it yields a very congenial world populated exclusively by creatures of one’s own likeness, a world in which Lincoln pines for his dinner with André or, more consequentially, where KGB chiefs and Iranian ayotollahs are, well, folks just like us.

The mirror-image fallacy is not as crazy as it seems. Fundamentally, it is a radical denial of the otherness of others. Or to put it another way, a blinding belief in “common humanity,” in the triumph of human commonality over human differences. It is a creed rarely fully embraced (it has a disquieting affinity with martyrdom), but in a culture tired of ancient distinctions as that between children and adults (in contemporary movies the kids are, if anything, wiser than their parents) or men and women (“I was a better man as a woman with a woman than I’ve been as a man with a woman” says Tootsie), it can acquire considerable force.

Its central axiom is that if one burrows deep enough beneath the Mao jacket, the shapka or the chador, one discovers that people everywhere are essentially the same. Eleven-year old American anthropologist Samantha Smith was invited to Moscow by Yuri Andropov for firsthand confirmation of just that proposition – a rare Soviet concession to the principle of on-site inspection. After a well-photographed sojourn during which she took in a children’s festival at a Young Pioneer camp (but was spared the paramilitary training), she got the message: “They’re just … almost … just like us,” she announced at her last Moscow press conference. Her mother, who is no longer eleven but makes up for it in open-mindedness, supplied the corollary: “They’re just like us … they prefer to work at their jobs than to work at war.”

That completes the syllogism. We all have “eyes, hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions.” We are all “fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer.” It follows, does it not, that we must all want the same things? According to Harvard Cardiologist Bernard Lown, president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, that’s not just Shakespeare, it’s a scientific fact: “Our aim is to promote the simple medical insight,” he writes, “that Russian and American hearts are indistinguishable, that both ache for peace and survival.”

Such breathtaking non sequiturs (cardiological or otherwise) are characteristic of plural solipsism. For it is more than just another happy vision. It is meant to have practical consequences. If people everywhere, from Savannah to Sevastopol, share the same hopes and dreams and fears and love of children (and good food), they should get along. And if they don’t, then there must be some misunderstanding, some misperception, some problem of communication. As one news report of the recent conference of Soviet and American peace activists in Minneapolis put it, “The issue of human rights sparked a heated discussion . . . and provided participants with a firsthand view of the obstacles to communication which so often characterize U.S.-Soviet relations.” (The sadistic sheriff in Cool Hand Luke was more succinct: pointing to the rebellious prisoner he had just brutalized, he explained, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”) It is the broken-telephone theory of international conflict, and it suggests a solution: repair service by the expert “facilitator,” the Harvard negotiations professor. Hence the vogue for peace academies, the mania for mediators, the belief that the world’s conundrums would yield to the right intermediary, the right presidential envoy, the right socialist international delegation. Yet Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, to take just two candidates for the Roger Fisher School of Conflict Resolution, have perfectly adequate phone service. They need only an operator to make the connection. Their problem is that they have very little to say to each other.

There are other consequences. If the whole world is like me, then certain conflicts become incomprehensible; the very notion of intractability becomes paradoxical. When the U.S. embassy in Tehran is taken over, Americans are bewildered. What does the Ayatullah want? The U.S. Government sends envoys to find out what token or signal or symbolic gesture might satisfy Iran. It is impossible to believe that the Ayatullah wants exactly what he says he wants: the head of the Shah. Things are not done that way any more in the West (even the Soviet bloc has now taken to pensioning off deposed leaders). It took a long time for Americans to get the message.

Other messages from exotic cultures are never received at all. The more virulent pronouncements of Third World countries are dismissed as mere rhetoric. The more alien the sentiment, the less seriously it is taken. Diplomatic fiascoes follow, like Secretary Shultz’s recent humiliation in Damascus. He persisted in going there despite the fact that President Assad had made it utterly plain that he rejected efforts by the U.S. (the “permanent enemy”) to obtain withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon. Or consider the chronic American frustration with Saudi Arabia. The Saudis consistently declare their refusal to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the Middle East, a position so at variance with the Western view that it is simply discounted. Thus successive American Governments continue to count on Saudi support for U.S. peace plans, only to be rudely let down. When the Saudis finally make it unmistakably clear that they will support neither Camp David nor the Reagan plan nor the Lebanon accord, the U.S. reacts with consternation. It might have spared itself the surprise if it had not in the first place imagined that underneath those kaffiyehs are folks just like us, sharing our aims and views.

“The wise man shows his wisdom in separation, in gradation, and his scale of creatures and of merits is as wide as nature,” writes Emerson. “The foolish have no range in their scale, but suppose every man is as every other man.” Ultimately to say that people all share the same hopes and fears, are all born and love and suffer and die alike, is to say very little. For it is after commonalities are accounted for that politics becomes necessary. It is only when values, ideologies, cultures and interests clash that politics even begins. At only the most trivial level can it be said that people want the same things. Take peace. The North Vietnamese want it, but apparently they wanted to conquer all of Indochina first. The Salvadoran right and left both want it, but only after making a desert of the other. The Reagan Administration wants it, but not if it has to pay for it with pieces of Central America.

And even if one admits universal ends, one still has said nothing about means, about what people will risk, will permit, will commit in order to banish their (common) fears and pursue their (common) hopes. One would think that after the experience of this century the belief that a harmony must prevail between peoples who share a love of children and small dogs would be considered evidence of a most grotesque historical amnesia.

From where does the idea of a world of likes come? In part from a belief in universal brotherhood (a belief that is parodied, however, when one pretends that the ideal already exists). In part from a trendy ecological pantheism with its misty notions of the oneness of those sharing this lonely planet. In part from the Enlightenment belief in a universal human nature, a slippery modern creation that for all its universality manages in every age to take on a decidedly middle-class look. For the mirror-image fantasy derives above all from the coziness of middle-class life. The more settled and ordered one’s life—and in particular one’s communal life—the easier it becomes for one’s imagination to fail. In Scarsdale, destitution and desperation, cruelty and zeal are the stuff of headlines, not life. Thus a single murder can create a sensation; in Beirut it is a statistic. When the comfortable encounter the unimaginable, the result is not only emotional but cognitive rejection. Brutality and fanaticism beyond one’s ken must be made to remain there; thus, for example, when evidence mounts of biological warfare in faraway places, the most fanciful theories may be produced to banish the possibility.

To gloss over contradictory interests, incompatible ideologies and opposing cultures as sources of conflict is more than antipolitical. It is dangerous. Those who have long held a mirror to the world and seen only themselves are apt to be shocked and panicked when the mirror is removed, as inevitably it must be. On the other hand, to accept the reality of otherness is not to be condemned to a war of all against all. We are not then compelled to see in others the focus of evil in the world. We are still enjoined to love our neighbor as ourselves; only it no longer becomes an exercise in narcissism. But empathy that is more than self-love does not come easily. Particularly not to a culture so fixed on its own image that it can look at Lincoln, gaunt and grave, and see a man ready to join the queue at the pâté counter at Zabar’s.

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Roses really smell like poo-poo

IMG_1307.CR2 exoticIt’s a little late but I finally watched John Madden’s 2011 sleeper hit ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ the other day on tv. It turned out to be a predictable story. It was a big hit with left-of-centre, Guardian reading, Birkenstock wearing crowd in London. As an Indian, I couldn’t help but get irritated with the unending stream of stereotypes.

Ah well. It’s just a stupid movie.

Then, today I came across this article written by an Indian writer in the Guardian sneering at an ultramodern airport terminal built in Mumbai.
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His slant was to focus on the squalor of the rest of Mumbai “The size of the average Mumbai family is 4.5 people, and the average home size is 10 square metres, so some of their most private moments transpire in the midst of a crowd.”

Now I’m no fan of Mumbai. It’s a shithole. But this sanctimonious liberal Western media really need to get their heads out of their arses.

The Airports Council International rated Mumbai’s terminal one of the best in the world, along with the new Indira Gandhi terminal, while no London terminals made the list.

In the words of one angry commenter:
“Since the British can no longer tell Indians and others how to think about India, they’ll pay an Indian writer who is more than happy to pass off British racist perceptions as his own, or dress it up in high caste “brown-face”, like Pankaj Mishra, Rohinton Mistry, and Arundhati Roy (all of whom speak for lower castes but are high caste).”

It is as if the value of India resides only in its ancient contributions to human knowledge whereas its pathetic attempts to modernise or develop are to be winked at and patronised.

We all starve; we eat monkey brains; we worship rats; we worship cows. We are noble savages.

And look at that, they’re even building an airport now. How sweet.

Did you watch The Wolf Of Wall Street? I don’t know what the critics are saying, but I enjoyed it. I found it inspiring enough to google Jordan Belfort.

True, he’s a criminal, but you’ve got to admit to become a millionaire many times over like he did, at his age, needs brains and balls. And in all his interviews, the one thing he keeps repeating is “You are not your past.”

You are not your past.

Most of our limiting beliefs come from our past experiences.

Belfort takes a triumphant view on traumatic past life experiences. You are not your past, you are the resources and capabilities you glean from it. That is the basis for all change. If you survived the worst of the worse and are still breathing, you can learn from that. The more crap from your life that you survived, the more likely that you will become great. You must change the way you look at your past. Reverse the angle. View the past as a prelude to your vision for the future.

True, we are the land of Ayurveda and Gandhi. But we are also now, in a lot of ways, not too dissimilar from urban America or Britain.

Miles and miles of urban sprawl. Check.
Malls, ATMs and Starbucks on every corner. Check.
Millions of cars and traffic gridlock. Check.
Skinny hipsters ordering egg white omlettes. Check.

Oh but you also have so many poor people. It’s the Great Divide.

You want to talk about the Great Divide? 
London ranks as one of the most unequal cities in the developed world. Wider than it has been since the days of slavery. the top 10 per cent of people living in London have on average wealth worth £933,563, while the poorest 10 per cent are on average worth £3,420 – some 273 times less.
And if you think disparity isn’t a problem in America, that is just self-delusion. The highest child-mortality rate in the developed world, less social mobility even than the UK. And which country did the phrase ‘white trash’ come from? Or ‘loser cruiser’ for a public bus? No, the difference is Americans live in a state of complete denial about their rigid paralysing class structure.

While our slumdog culture, religion and the caste system are emphasised in Western discourse and movies, no mention is made of post-independence secular India’s efforts toward national integration of its minorities. No mention is made of laws and efforts against discrimination, or the country’s 60-year effort towards active inclusion of scheduled caste and scheduled tribe population in educational and employment opportunities. People also forget to introspect the fact that social discrimination and prejudice has been a widespread worldwide issue, for example the treatment of African Americans in southern United States. For every Gujarat riot, there’s the Hurricane Katrina efforts, which, succinctly put, are a strategically planned failure by the US government. The 2011 London riots were caused by welfare dependence, social exclusion, lack of fathers, hooliganism, spending cuts, consumerism and racism.

You want to talk about rape? The U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Justice Statistics counted 188,380 victims of rape and sexual assault in a year recently. These are charged crimes. 1.3 million incidents were reported. And they say rape is one of the most grossly underreported crimes in the United States. In the UK, only 1,070 rapists are convicted every year despite up to 95,000 people suffering the trauma of rape. That means nearly 98 out of 100 rapists in the UK get away with it.

My point is, there is a lot of shit over here. But there’s a lot of shit everywhere. In the words of rapper Andre 3000, I know you’d like to thank your shit don’t stank. But lean a little bit closer, see that roses really smell like poo-poo-oo. Yeah, roses really smell like poo-poo-oo.

For those of us who aren’t newlywed soldiers

Barring newborn babies and yet undiscovered tribes of cannibals in Fiji and the Andamans, it is a safe assumption that pretty soon every human being on this planet will be carrying a mobile phone.

That is because a) human beings love to talk to each other, and as countless mobile service provider ads tells us, b) this is a good thing. This is also borne out by psychiatrists, Moms, well-intentioned HR people, United Nations officials and hostage negotiators. “Just talk it out”. Note to self: ‘Google this line. See if it’s taken. It has all the makings of a telecom pitch winning slogan’. After all, somebody at some point of time, thought all these lines were brilliant. And must have sealed the deal and won the pitch.

‘Reach out and touch someone’ AT&T
‘Connecting people’ Nokia
‘It’s good to talk’ British Telecom
‘Stick together’ T-mobile
‘Dil jo chaahe paas laye’ Airtel
‘Dil ki baat’ Airtel
‘Let’s talk’ LG

Cut to visuals of lonely soldiers in Siachen talking to their wives and sad grand-dads who go into a paroxysm of joy when their impossibly cute grand child calls them.

It’s all the same fucking thing actually. ‘Reach out and touch someone’  is the same as ‘Connecting people’ is the same as ‘It’s good to talk’. Like ‘Impossible is nothing’ and ‘Just do it’ are actually the same thing.

Somebody digs out the highest order benefit of the category and try and figure different ways to put their flag on it. Brand laddering is the more wanky term for it.

So if all these marketing geniuses and psychiatrists and moms across the world have nailed this as the great human truth behind talking, why do I hate it so much?

I hate incoming calls. They are a vexation. Don’t mind incoming texts so much. But I hate having to chat with people, even friends and family when it’s not at my convenience. And convenience is an outgoing call. Because I get to choose my moment of leisure to have a chat. Incoming calls invariably interrupt. And most people with non-ADHD levels of concentration do not like to be interrupted while they’re in the middle of doing something.

It could also be that I am a hateful misanthrope who should be locked up in solitary confinement. But it turns out I’m not alone. As I found out, there are loads of other, sane, people-loving sorts who hate incoming calls. Not loads really. But a few, at least.

This obviously does not include the lonely soldier in Siachen or sad granddads or lovelorn teenagers.

Does anybody have any concern for us Self-centred Non-Needy types?

There are some of us who aren’t newlywed soldiers you know.

That’s why I suggest we write of Rules of Etiquette for Self-centred Non-Needy People. Not too many rules in there. Just one actually.

‘Unless there’s a specific reason, don’t call. Ever.’

And a corollary:
‘If you really, really have to call, text first. Or e-mail.’

The mobile phone is a tremendously useful tool. It is vital for any sort of business communication and also good for locating lost people and killing time while you’re at the dentist’s. In the early hours of the morning, its light is also useful to find your slippers at the foot of the bed.

But it is also an obnoxious instrument that is a ruiner of concentration and moments of solitude.

So, if it’s alright with you, I would prefer very much if you would, whenever you feel the uncontrollable urge, reach out and touch someone else.

At what point do you start believing in your own bullshit?

It’s like with advertising people and their company philosophies and their unique methods of unearthing the brand essence. Believe me, I’ve heard it all. Right from the old USP days to Higher Order Laddering to Hofstede, Kapferer Brand Prisms. In the last agency I worked for, the buzzwords were “postmodern” and “pop culture” which was a deconstruction of the parent company’s greatest hits.

I use all of it, whenever it suits my purpose. I see them all a means to an end. If there’s some Marketing guy who believes fervently in Hofstede, we’ll give you a Hofstede. It really doesn’t matter so long as your persuasive logic is strong and you understand the market and competition. My relationship with these methods are purely opportunistic.

But it never ceases to amaze me how, after a few hundred presentations convincing clients using the same patented logic, some planners actually start believing in their bullshit.

It’s a curious phenomenon.

It begins as opportunistic behavior. A simple means to an end. Let’s get the concept sold. But, after a while they start fervently believing in this stuff. The abyss, it seems, begins to stare back. And then, nothing else will do. Trends may come and go, consumers may change, medium might change but the old dog refuses to learn new tricks.

I still know some marketing guys who will swear by Ries & Trout.

Now I was pondering this fact in the morning while reading something about Modi being compared to Hitler. What if it was the same psychological process at work there? The late Hitler historian Alan Bullock, analysing Hitler described him as purely an opportunistic actor who didn’t even believe in his anti-Semitism at first but later became “the actor that came to believe his own act.”

Or, as John Updike put it so memorably “the mask eats the face” (speaking of the degradation of celebrity).

People like Modi and Bal Thackeray are demagogues. People roar in their thousands when they express certain feelings. After a while, like the hacks going to the meetings with their Hofstede models, they bring more conviction into their speeches by pretending to ‘feel’ what they say. And after repetitive action, the feeling becomes a real feeling. It is a most curious phenomenon. I’m sure psychology has some term, something syndrome or the other to label this behaviour.

Maybe there is a cure. Then again, there probably isn’t. Belief is a powerful thing.

Arsenal fans will know what I’m talking about.

I Am Bored Of People Trying To Shock Me

I don’t get musicians who try to “shock” people with their rock n’roll bullshit.

For more than a year, Lady Gaga has tried to outdo herself every day.

Her schtick – wearing next-to-nothing, strutting in super-high platforms
and childishly outlandish gear. Yawn.

She showed up at a baseball game and flashed her middle finger. Double yawn.

The overwhelming response to the news that she may have dressed up as a man for Vogue Hommes Japan? Shrug.

This is 2012.

We’ve seen Hendrix burn guitars, Sid Vicious shoot his girlfriend and OD to death. It was dazzling then. It’s just sad and boring now. Rock n roll died a long time ago with Kurt Cobain. And it’s not coming back.

I don’t claim to be an expert on music but I’m pretty ok-ok on my lowbrow pop culture and I can tell you this. Rule-breaking is so seventies, man. Once you’ve done it, it’s done.

It’s boring if you try to keep replicating that. It’s like the Hindi film industry’s laughable experiment with turning Shahid Kapoor into a clone of the young SRK. They’ve got him imitating his mannerisms, his wardrobe, even his corny arms outstretched signature move. Presumably this is Shahid Kapoor’s lizard brain telling him to do it, or his marketing people.

But enough about Bollywood. Let’s go back to talking about rock.

Rock should have died in the late eighties but marketing kept it alive a decade longer when Eddie Vedder’s ‘Ten’ and Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ delivered the defribillator shock the industry needed. Suddenly it looked immortal. It seemed like the ultimate marketing formula to youth.

Youth = angst = rebellion
Rebellion = rule breaking

Cue long-haired hippie variations, glam rock, punk rock – the ingredients are the same. A long-haired, unhygienic, often skinny young man or woman asking you to fuck the system. Let’s do something to piss off your Dad.

It’s just Marketing. It’s the Magic Formula.

Bill Bernbach said this in the Fifties.

“However much we like advertising to be a science – because life would be simpler that way – the fact is that it is not. It is a subtle, ever-changing art, defying formulization, flowering on freshness, and withering on imitation; where what was effective one day, for that very reason will not be effective the next, because it has lost the maximum impact of originality.”

1. Now remove the word ‘advertising’ from the quote.
2. Replace it with ‘popular culture’.
3. Read it again.

This is why rock is dead.

This is also why most ‘avant-garde’ art bores me.

Fountain, a urinal placed on exhibit by Marcel Duchamp, a pioneer of the form, in 1917. In 2004, Fountain was selected in a survey of 500 artists and critics as the most influential work of modern art.

Orgies of Mystery Theatre, by Hermann Nitsch, a display of music and dance in the midst of “dismembered animal corpses”, at 1966’s Destruction in Art Symposium

Piss Christ, 1987, by Andres Serrano a photograph of a crucifix submerged in the artist’s own urine.

Artist Rick Gibson made a pair of earrings with freeze-dried human fetuses (Human Earrings – 1987), publicly ate a slice of human tonsil (A Cannibal in Walthamstow – 1988) and human testicle (A Cannibal in Vancouver – 1989 and proposed to make a diptych with a squashed rat (Sniffy the Rat – 1990)

In 1996 Gottfried Helnwein painted the Adoration of the Magi with Adolf Hitler as Baby Jesus, which was displayed at the State Russian Museum St. Petersburg, the Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Denver Art Museum, Museum Ludwig and others.

And then, just when you thought it was dead, along comes Damien Hirst with sliced cow immersed in formaldehyde that became the iconic work of British art in the 1990s, and the symbol of Britart worldwide.

And he’s been dining on this gravy train ever since. Making skulls out of diamonds and whatever.

How long will this go on, I wonder?

This attempt to formulize rebellion is corny, dumb and most importantly, it’s uncool. People will get wise to it, sooner or later. Until then, if you see a long-haired anarchist musician or come across an artist making stuff with his faeces or Hitler’s pubes or something, do me a favour. Although it’s tempting, don’t kick him in the testicles. He wants you to. He’ll probably write a song or make a conceptual art piece about the experience.

Just keep walking. Nothing to see here.

Slumbai

Until recently I had Mumbai labeled as One Of The Shittiest Places To Live In. And if it weren’t for the existence of Patna and Kolkata, the ‘One Of’ would also be questionable.

Let’s start with that popular euphemism

The buzz of Bombay

“Everyone is always walking so fast!”

Now think about it.

If you have to spend 4 hours every day going back and forth to work, the one thing you wouldn’t want is to extend those 4 hours by another half hour.

So you walk faster.

And it’s not like you want to stop and smell the armpits of the lepers and eunuchs who are inescapable in this city.

So you walk faster.

And don’t you just love the smell of benzopyrene in the morning?

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) latest Environment Status Report (ESR) released on September 3, 2011 shows shows that the presence of benzopyrene, a highly cancer causing chemical released in the air, in the city has risen eight times from its minimum level of 0.13 µg/1000m3 in 2008-2009 to 1.09. The maximum level has increased five times, from 0.54 µg/1000m3 in 2008- 2009 to 2.56. Long-term human exposure to benzopyrene can lead to genetic damage. I bet you can’t wait to raise children in Mumbai.

The Axe Effect

I’m not making this up. Mumbai authorities have purchased 42,000 litres of perfume to spray on the city’s enormous waste dumps at Deonar and Mulund landfill sites after people living near the landfill sites complained of the stench. The Deonar landfill site, one of India’s largest, was first used by the British in 1927. Now this festering pile covers more than 120 hectares and is eight storeys high. Around 500,000 people live near the two dumps.

In March 2011, Mumbai was ranked seventh in a list of the world’s 25 dirtiest cities published by Forbes magazine, a worse rating than even Baghdad. Mumbai’s council now has plans to close part of the dumps and use the methane the rest generates to help solve the city’s power crisis.

Hafeez Contractor’s vision of hell

Mumbai is a city built without city planning or zoning restrictions. A haphazard clusterfuck of a city designed by architects from the post-aesthetic school of design.

The trouble is typified by a nascent proposal for the development of a defunct textile mill at Prabha Devi. This 8-acre plot is being allowed to use a Floor Space Index of 10: three million sq ft of built up area. In Lower Parel, a 62-floor supertall skyscraper called the Namaste Tower is proposed. At the narrow Hughes Road intersection, is planned a 60-65 floor condominium; and at the even narrower Marine Lines Road near Charni Road station we are soon to have another splendid addition to Mumbai’s deluxe hotels.

All these oversized developments are permitted because FSI and building rights are treated in isolation from all other factors, divorced from the needs and requirements of the locality and, consequently, the city itself. These constructions bear no relation to the roads on which they stand, the capacity of those roads, or, for that matter, the supporting infrastructure, let alone the physical or visual feel of the vicinity.

The people, the vibe.

Naresh Fernandes, reporting for the New Yorker in the aftermath of the recent Mumbai blasts (What Mumbai Spirit?) said it best. “It suddenly became clear this morning that the sentiment many had identified as the Mumbai spirit was probably epic apathy all along. And, really, who could blame the residents of this city of just over twelve million for being too exhausted to think about anything other than their gruelling daily routines? Behind the sparkling Bollywood façade it projects to the world, Mumbai is a city riven with gargantuan problems. It’s more slum dog than millionaire. More than sixty per cent of the residents of India’s financial capital live in shanties, with twenty thousand people packed into each square kilometre. The pollution is often throat-searing; the water supply and road systems are overstretched. The trains, which carry about 6.9 million commuters every work day, are designed to transport seventeen hundred passengers each, but in peak hour bone-crunchingly pack in forty-five hundred travellers.”

Bambaiyya Hindi

Then there’s the pidgin Hindi lingo that has evolved out of this abyss. A coarse doggerel that is best suited to low-life and those without the IQ to understand a language properly. It is a commercial shorthand that evolved to deal with a large number of uneducated people. Like, imagine you have an illiterate Marathi maid and you speak only Tamil. In a matter of time you will concoct a form of speech with few words and few complications that get the point across ignoring finer nuances. Baby talk, essentially. Bumbaiyya Hindi is a version of baby talk between Marathi and Hindi speakers.

Subhuman, abominable shithole

If you watched Danny Boyle’s much lauded Poverty Opus, Slumdog Millionaire, the term ‘Beggar mafia’ would be familiar to you. I can’t think of any criminal act more debased than those committed here. I can understand someone stealing because they’re so dirt poor that they have no option. But what sort of person, what sort of sick fuck can be so violent and amoral that they are prepared to hack the limbs off children, as well as steal new-born babies from hospitals? And abuse and starve these children as begging ‘props’ to maximise their earnings from sympathetic passers-by?

Although this problem is pan-India, you guessed it, Slumbai is the heart of this industry. The beggar mafia makes more than Rs 160 Cr a year in Mumbai alone. According to official figures, as many as 44,000 children fall into the clutches of the beggar mafia in India each year and of these, hundreds are deliberately mutilated.

Mumbai is number one when it comes to missing children. Mumbai has been partly responsible for India being placed in Tier 2 of the human trafficking watchlist by the US Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

When I say Mumbai is a shithole I don’t mean that other Indian cities are shining examples of community living. Shit happens everywhere but why does the sickest shit happen in Mumbai?

And every day I read about someone raving about how awesome Mumbai is and there’s no place in the world like it. Fuck, yeah. There is no place in the world like it. If you love it so much, live there. You deserve it.

Enjoy the benzopyrene.

The proper way to do megalomania

Angelina Jolie is adopting African kids.
 Angelina Jolie is writing articles in the Washington Post about Iraq. Brad Pitt is having lunch with Kofi Annan. Tom Cruise and Madonna are spokespersons for a new religion. Jude Law is mediating with the Taliban on behalf of the world. Seriously.

These people are actors. Just good looking people who’s sole talent, apart from having fleshy bums and high cheekbones, is that they are good at pretending to be someone else. They enact stories to entertain us. They are, at best, an amusing pastime. A prurient indulgence. In terms of artistic significance, they would be placed in the ‘Performance Art’ folder, somewhere between Dancers and Jugglers.

Time was when actors made it into the news for sleeping with loads of people, or throwing tv sets out of hotel room windows. Or just a good old fashioned heroin overdose. 

There’s this Elvis story I love. I don’t know if it’s true but they say Jimmy Carter once invited Elvis to visit him at the White House. Elvis’ people wrote back saying it would cost them $50,000. Appearance fee. Flabbergasted, the White House replied saying it was a great honour and whatever to get invited to the White House by the American president. Reply from Elvis. $50,000 if you want me to visit.

You may be the President, but I am the King, asshole.

That’s the proper way to do megalomania.

I’m sure Elvis did his bit for the American community donating money and his seed, selflessly, across the country. He didn’t pontificate. He didn’t go on about third-world conflicts, strange religions and post-natal depression.

I like George Clooney. I even believe his efforts at Darfur are well-intentioned and I don’t think he’s doing it for the attention. But given the post-Bono world we live in, one can’t help but wonder if it is marketing disguised as philanthropy. It is counter productive.

It’s insane how obsessed the world is with actors. India hasn’t been far behind. Every superstar actor has some political agenda or the other. It began in the old days with NTR, MGR and Rajkumar to the present day Rajnikanth and Chiranjeevi quagmire.

Do people ever stop to think before they vote?

How does a chiselled jaw or shapely figure (not that it applies to any of those mentioned in the last few lines) make for a great political leader? How do their infantile brains make that connection, I wonder?

There was a time when Arun Govil, the actor portraying the role of Lord Ram in the popular tv series Ramayan was hailed in some parts of the country as Lord Ram himself. How does a sane person arrive at such a decision? Do they not know that he’s just an actor, a mere entertainer? Do they really think God acts in tv serials under the pseudonym Arun Govil?

There is only one conclusion to draw from these observations. Stupidity is more prevalent than you and I think. Stupidity, like AIDS, is dangerous to humanity. Off the cuff, I would recommend mass culling based on IQ tests. But that wouldn’t sit well with my conscience. So the next best thing, deny dumb people their right to adult franchise. That’s the only way.

Think about that while Jude Law is busy negotiating for the world with the Taliban.

I hope those Afghans ass-rape him

Worst Jobs in India

Entry-level beggar
As the great white man Danny Boyle has shown us while winning Oscars and showcasing India to the West as the West would like to see it, there are hierarchies within beggars. A lousy existence though it is overall, you can’t help but feel sorry for those at the bottom of the pile here. I mean, how much worse can it get?

Home Minister of India
Not only do you have to deal with water-borne terrorists, Naxalites and air-borne shoes, you have to answer questions in the media about providing or not providing Z category security to various losers ranging from Varun Gandhi to Vivek Oberoi.

Proctologist
No need to go into this.

Female staff at any call center in the NCR region
Congratulations, you work in the rape capital of India. And the people responsible for the region being given that title are your colleagues. To make matters worse, you have to travel with them in a crammed Sumo at 3 in the morning. Ain’t life grand?

Cheerleader for Punjab Kings XI
All the cheerleaders unanimously voted Chandigarh as the worst venue to jiggle the booty. And we’ve seen the crowds at Kolkata and Bangalore.

Dental Hygienist
This has got to be the shittiest job in the whole world. I would rather clean toilets than get within breathing range of some garlic-eating, pan-chewing asshole’s mouth. To me, it’s the same as being a proctologist. Any job involving inspection of orifices is deserving of sympathy and loads of money.

Telemarketeer for banking products
How about a job where you are paid to annoy and lie to people and in turn be abused from 9 to 5?

The guy who has to answer the phone at the electricity office
when there’s a power cut.

See Telemarketeer.

The press officer at the Pakistan Consulate
See Telemarketeer

Those mall guards who have to feel up everyone who enters.
Then again, mall guards, especially those from the cowbelt regions
may not really be complaining.

Maid at Shiny Ahuja’s home

Delhi University Chemistry Lab Assistant.
Do you know they found nuclear waste in a scrap yard in Delhi recently? They traced it back to the Delhi University chemistry lab where assistants are entrusted the task of disposing alpha-emitting elements with a half-life of 5 days as though they were a case of eggs gone bad. Clearly, not a fun job.

Game Show Host on Colors or Zee.
Don’t know if this should be on the Worst Jobs list. More like the Most Despicable Jobs list. I only put it there because if I were a game show host, especially on those shows on Zee or Colors where they get repellant little kids to perform vulgar dance moves , I would seriously consider killing myself.

Editor of a Hrithik Roshan movie
While most of us are happy with ten digits, Hrithik Roshan thinks he is blessed to have an eleventh. Luckily few among us have seen it because editors and post-production people have spent thousands of hours toiling in fetid studios to spare us the freakshow. Here’s 60 hours of footage featuring a bad actor with a shit-eating grin. Now make it look good. Not an easy job.

Peco’s

The other day I received an email from a friend who’s planning a visit to Bangalore. She was asking about Peco’s and whether it was worth a visit.

My reply –

**************
Cons
A dilapidated place where a lot of sad, unwashed men hang out. Watery beer. Smell of hash and piss hangs in the air. Men to women ratio 17:1.

Pros
Dirty, smelly, smoky. Like trashed student digs. They play loud seventies music on tape decks. It’s cool like a pair of beat-up Converse keds. Its trashiness gives it a certain grungy edge against its shinier, reccine and glass competition down the road.

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

Later in the day, I found myself amused by the Socratic Method of my argument and discovered that Peco’s presents an interesting paradox.

I’m not alone. Although I wouldn’t count myself among the regulars, funnily enough, almost every regular at Peco’s hates the place and frequently carps about the watery beer, the filthy surroundings and the scratchy cassette player.

If everyone who goes there hates it, then why go there?

Is there a certain perverse pleasure that brings out the hidden hippie within us all? Going beyond the peace and love and flower power and underwear burning, hippies stand for The Art Of Unhygienic Living. Eat that, Sri Sri Ravishankar.

As disgusting as it sounds, there are some among us who like to wallow in the mud. Who are turned on by the smell of armpit.

Julia Roberts and Drew Barrymore count among these, as avid readers of People magazine will recall. More famously, Napoleon, in one of his more amorous letters to Josephine, begged her not to bathe, for he wanted to enjoy her body odour to the fullest.

But then again, Napolean was French.

The friend who sent me that email is neat, immaculately stylish, pretty, twentysomething Italian girl.

Imagine if I had given the place a clean bill of health.

The habitués at Peco’s would have a stroke. For starters, she’s a girl. Holy Jefferson Airplane! What is she doing here? And pretty too. The last time somebody who fit that description walked into Peco’s, was maybe in 1969. And that was to ask for directions. Why is she smiling? And why does she brush her teeth? Please take her away. I can’t stand the smell of soap.

Understandably, a lot of the advertising crowd hang out at Peco’s. Listening to CCR, CSNY, Jimi Hendrix and who can forget that rush hour crowd pleaser, Grateful Dead. Discussing who’s just been made ECD at Lintas and how long the Brittannia business will stay with Grey. It used to be a regular haunt for IIM-B, NLS and several other fraternities. Most people I know from Bangalore have owned a “pitcher card” at some point of time and a lot of them know Elango on a first-name basis.

Peco’s is also a Training Centre. Once you finish three years or 50 pitcher cards, whichever comes first, your Jedi training is complete. You are ready to move to the next level.

Koshy’s.

It’s where the older, balder Peco’s veterans find a cosy nook where they will become fixtures till Judgement Day.

I’d love to tell you more about Koshy’s. But we’ll save that for another day.

Know your Tiger

Tiger Shroff
Son of Jaikishen Kakubhai Shroff. Who the eff might that be? Perhaps Jackie Shroff rings a bell? Of suspiciously auburn hair mustache and macho manner. About to enter Bollywood in a remake of “Hero” which originally starred JK Shroff. Young Tiger is by his illustrious parent’s admission “a basketball champion” and  “nineteen years old”. Has a sibling called Krishna.

Tiger Prabhakar
Stunt man and one time villain from Sandalwood. Which for the unsuspecting, is the nth rip-off of Hollywood. After Bollywood, Kollywood, Tollywood and the rest. Deadwood series of unimaginative film industries we have in our underachieving country. Much given to wearing mega shirts (no sleeves) riding Bullets and generally being villainous. Now deceased. Lending credence to the adage (not to be confused with the ADAG, which is a different kettle of fish) ‘There are old stunt men, there are brave stunt men, but ain’t no old, brave stunt men.’

Prabhakaran the Tiger
Former leader of the LTTE. The Fidel Castro of our southern neighbours. Now not the leader of anything because you can’t lead if you’re dead. Courtesy of the indignant Sri Lankan army for the petty crime of ravaging the country, wasting thousands of civilians and one Indian Prime Minister besides setting Sri Lankan time back by several decades.

Tiger Pataudi
Mansur Ali Khan, last Nabob of Pataudi. Former Indian cricket captain, Gwalior suitings model, married Sharmila Tagore and sired Saif  and Soha Ali Khan. Has one of the eyes he was born with and rumour has it one that some goat was born with. Nicknamed ‘Tiger’ for obscure reasons. (Because ‘Cyclops’ was taken?) Recently caught indulging in a spot of shikar while forgetting that the Raj, despite the hangover, is finally over.

Tiger Woods
Poster boy for the consumer brigade following the most stultifying sport of all time. Proved that money, a billion fans and a hot Swedish wife can’t hide the fact that you can’t take the wood out of Tiger Woods.

Stripey the Tiger Cub
The only actual Tiger amongst all these animals. Likely to be also dead. Making Dhoni the Phony’s exhortation to save the Fortin Hundred and Eleven tigers so much more unnecessary hot air. Now what do we do with that Facebook page?

First published in KIRIK 03, May 2010