Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cocktail - Foreign Made Indian Liquor

Long before the days of Imraan Hashmi and Mallika Sherawat, the only source of titillation for the urban adolescent was the late night show on MTV called Grind. A bunch of scantily clad crowd swayed to some music which, I am sure, no one has ever heard because everyone watched it mute to avoid waking up their parents. But, as Paulo Coelho proclaimed, the entire universe conspired and I finally got to hear that elusive music when I watched Cocktail. The first hour of the movie appeared like a marathon MTV Grind. Seeing DP jumping from one table to another dancing in dimly lit night clubs and prodding men to palm her derriere, I thought she was a bar dancer. Just when I expecting that she would graduate from the table to a pole, she appeared with a camera announcing that she was a photographer. So she belonged to the tribe that goes pub hopping on ladies night when drinks are on the house for the fairer sex.

To give her company we have our very own old retard who wants us to think that he could forever floor females with his facial contortions. They were once funny, but repeated overuse has set in motion law of diminishing returns. The only thing new about his face is the wrinkles. If that wasn’t boring enough, you had a third lady - the new DP. She would consistently keep her gaze to the floor, speak in whispers and trot the streets of London in attires tailored in alleys of Chandini Chowk. While older DP tortured you with her endless prattle, the newer one stimulated the experience with her silence. With a permanent apology plastered all over face, she was just as lost as the remaining two. And so were we, with absolutely no clue where the movie was heading.

While people on screen was desperately trying to entertain, those in the theater showed the same interest reserved for an air hostess demonstrating safety instructions aboard a delayed late night flight. The quick repartees were lost into eerie silence. The funny antics were greeted with sneers and snorts. Even when DP callously striped down to her itsy-bitsy bikini, we just look at our watches wondering how far the interval is.  May be DP forgot that only after we had enough of her as a bikini pinup she got clothed for her bollywood debut which, ironically, had peace in its title but left the audience restless in the theaters.

After what seemed like an eternity, the interval arrived. As I tried to make my way to the aisle, a guy in the adjacent seat lunged towards the knees of his date and pulled them closer to prevent any accidental brush with my calves. In his reflexive concern for the knees, he has, quite literally, scaled new heights of foot fetish. Argh, I had to contend with morons not just on the screen but even before it. I pitied the lady for dating a guy whose knowledge of erogenous zones is entirely erroneous.

The popcorn at the kiosk could have been the best part of the movie. However, I wisely avoided because it was always better to watch a nauseating movie on an empty stomach. I dragged myself back to my seat and got ready for the remaining serving of the drivel. It proved to be worse than the first half. The best props in the movie were alcohol and sex with no strings attached. That gave way to more melodramatic elements like love, relationship, marriage etc. Sudden absence of alcohol started showing withdrawal symptoms in the older DP.  She made a quick crossover from a new age multiplex heroine to a single screen heroine whose dreams were woven around fidelity, family and vermillioned forehead. A lady who invited unknown females to her home and unknown males to her bedroom was suddenly mouthing constitutional rights like right to dignity, right to marry, right to family life etc. The rest of cast was talking about mutual consent, exploitation, social service etc. I never knew that such complicated politics existed in one night stands. The conversations became progressively unbearable. The characters, who wallowed in confusion when the movie began, were now steadily slipping into severe existential identity crisis. Finally, when both the decibels and rationales became unbearable, the younger DP walked out of the house. I too thought of leaving the theater but my masochism came in my way. I was determined to test my limits of endurance.

On screen, our eternally young real life nawab was also was getting his endurance levels tested. The older DP got hit by a speeding car when she staggered on the road and proved that drunken walking could be more dangerous than drunken driving. With one lady untraceably lost and other on crutches, the philanderer who, supposedly, left no skirt, saree and sarong unwrapped, had his libido left in lurch. Even when the lady finally got back on her legs, she declared that she wasn’t going to spread them for him. The mutual consent was withdrawn with immediate effect and until further orders. However, taking pity on his receding hairline and increasing facial lines, she decided to patch him up with the other DP.

Of course, that did not happen before some schmaltzy acts and agonizing songs. But we were spared of the other clichéd ordeals like stopping planes and popping pills. When I came out of the theater, I realized that this Cocktail was actually foreign made Indian Liquor a.k.a Daaru Desi. It left me stirred, shaken and brutally shattered.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Flights of Fantasy

Ever since they stopped in-flight service of meals, air travel has really become boring. Not that the food was great, but you had a great time guessing which was the starter, entrée and the dessert. After the meal, if the lady who served you was pretty, you could always have an engaging debate with her on whether the hot liquid in your cup was tea or coffee. However, the low-cost airlines changed the rules of the game. These days you have neither meals nor pretty ladies serving them. On an outbound flight last week, I found that the entire cabin crew was male. I was wondering if they were trying to celebrate International Men’s Day or something. All of them appeared supremely irritable. I imagined that it was because they were asked to report for an early morning flight after late night romp over beer and Euro 2012 matches. I did not dare to even ask them water. 

The return flight was equally uneventful. Same aircraft. Same crew. Same irritability. And again I decided to not even ask them water. The extreme depressive state ushered in my mind a list of acts that could make my travel livelier. However, I did not indulge in any of them since my mother was accompanying me. Not that she believes in my genteelness, but she is tired of being embarrassed by my antics. If anyone of you has managed to free himself from the shackles of societal propriety, here are a few tips to make your travel eternally etched in memories of your fellow travelers and cabin crew.

  • If you are seated near the emergency exit, after listening to the additional safety instructions, hold the lever of the door and ask if you can have a dry run.
  • Ask for drinking water and pour it into the air sicknesses bag to check if it would leak. Promptly hand over the bag and empty bottle to purser who brought you the water.
  • Ask the flight attendant to repeat safety instructions in the local language. Wave her a copy of the official gazette notification of three language formula if she refuses.
  • After takeoff, pull out the life vest under the seat. Walk up to the cabin crew and ask where the trial room is.
  • If you are passing through turbulent weather, offer to read tarot cards free for all the passengers to know who will land alive.
  • Collect boarding cards of all passengers and then invite them for a game of rummy.
  • Go to the cockpit and pester the pilot to help you identify cloud number nine.
  • When the cabin crew asks if you would like to buy anything onboard, ask how much the trolley would cost. Don't try on Kingfisher. They might actually sell you.
  • If you buy any stuff onboard, pay in one rupee coins.
  • When they come to collect trash, throw in the in-flight magazine. Tell them this is your way of writing letters to the editor.
  • And finally, before landing, request the captain to talk to the ATC and find out what offers are available on car rentals.

Friday, May 11, 2012

In Pursuit of Better Times

Most people attribute drinking to their problems. I am no different from others. I have got so many problems to ponder upon that I find seven nights a week absolutely insufficient to give each problem its due contemplation. Some problems are so complex that I have a problem in understanding the problem. Nevertheless, I try to strike a healthy balance between the sensibilities of my heart and the capabilities of my liver.
One such problem that has been troubling me for quite sometime is the fate of a dying airline. I have never understood why the King of Good Times got into aviation. The only thing that is common between liquor and aviation is that both promise you to get a high. But the similarity ends there. Liquor is an easy business. Just like Cigarette, Pan Masala, Beedi, Ghutka etc. They are all built on weakness of men. You don’t need to try too hard to convince them buy your product. Just make someone feel that he is jobless, worthless or useless, he would pick one or all of the above. And we have one billion people in this country in the guise of parents, teachers, bosses, leaders, friends, neighbours, journalists, TV anchors etc to make every other person feel guilty about his biological existence. No wonder you find half the population at a pan shop, wine shop or at a bar and the other half searching for one. Therefore, every person from the manufacturer to the retailer invariably makes profit on intoxicants.
But aviation is a serious business, where history tells us that loss making is the norm and profit is an exception. It is a serious business where the likes of self-anointed kings and me shouldn’t be getting into. He was better off making beer and I was better off buying it. He did not stop there. He changed what we saw and redefined what one could show. He made calendars where one looked for everything other than the date. He launched satellite channel that made FTV look like channel for the grannies and taught that Bikini was the new blouse. He made dropping cloths not just fashionable but a way of life.  In fact, at times, some of the brand ambassadors started to even forget wearing them. He empowered thousands of women by giving them a career which provided them with mindboggling salaries with negligible expenses since they lived on minimal food and cloth and often slept on beaches. They were singularly responsible for increasing the savings rate and the healthy CASA ratios boasted by our banks.
After the success of such a revolutionary business model which generated wealth by selling wine and women, the obvious way to grow would be on the same lines. An astute move in this direction would be to go for a forward integration by starting a chain of premium dance bars. With both liquor and ladies already in place, all that would have been needed was the real estate, which is definitely much cheaper than those Airbuses that are as helplessly grounded as the passengers they ought to been carrying. Unfortunately, instead of a gradual progression into a related sector, there was a tectonic shift whose tremors are yet to subside. I feel really sad at the thought that the beer which gave me, and an entire generation, its first sip of forbidden pleasure would no longer be available. Life wouldn’t be same if we allow the group to collapse. We will be forced to go back to the grey hues of FTV and stay contended with the sepulchral marches of anorexic women with deadpan expressions. Calendars would be back as sheets of paper that record your missed deadlines and miserable appointments. Bikini will be a chapter in South Pacific Handbook and Bagpiper will be a member of the ceremonial music bands. A socio-economic revolutionary who redefined Roti, Kapda aur Makan as Beer, Bikini and Beach would be a martyr on the altar of stupidity.
With recession and inflation already looming large, tragedy of such epic propositions would be too cruel for a generation which is as clueless as the Deccan Chargers team. However, I still think that all is not lost. The forward integration can still be pursued. All those planes which stranded in the hangars could be converted into Flamenco Lounges. Well, “dance bars” sound so Udipi restaurant-ish, which our King of Good Times wouldn’t like even in his not-so-good times. The svelte flight attendants, who are wasting time reading morose letters explaining why their salary cannot be credited, could be gainfully reemployed as bartenders. For these poor ladies, whose sizes have gone from zero to sub-zero ever since the in-flight meals got reduced to water and fermented sandwich, this would be the best poverty alleviation scheme they could dream of. Further, for an efficient and competitive service, just announce that the whole thing is actually a part of the reality show, Model Hunt. Considering the scarcity of real estate in metros, having ready 200-seater place is a bonanza. The no-frills Red planes could be parked at non-metros and even district headquarters. Occasionally, if their turbines are still not rusted and the pilots not poached by other airlines, they could take off and you have new product – Sky Bar. Trust me, the airports would be raking in more moolah from parking and valet charges of customers than the UDF.
Please don’t dismiss this as a compulsive rambling of a mind woefully entangled in the affinities of ale. If the same thing was put across by a MNC consulting firm, whose consultants charge millions to state the obvious, it would be treated as a recipe for redemption. The stock values would soar and venture capitalists would appear like the ants after rains. Sadly, it is the natural order that anything that comes unsolicited and without a price tag is never valued. However, it is difficult to rein in your prattles when you find your earliest enchantress slipping away into the mists of oblivion. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Gold Rush

If raids are the most dramatic part of the Income Tax department, then seizing gold is the most melodramatic part of the raid. You may take away crores of cash from a man with an ease of taking shirt off Salman Khan’s back. He would plead for sometime but would soon accept the fait accompli and starts plotting the next plan of action. But making a woman, and may be Bappi Lahiri, part with one milligram of gold is like asking selectors to rest Tendulkar. It would be a malady of misery and misfortune and a demonstration of dishonor and disgrace. A sorrow that finds place next only to grabbing the dress of your dreams in a melee of end-of-season sale but finding it one size larger. I never understood the fatal attraction of women towards jewellery. But then, I never understood women in the first place. In any case, it is not unusual for me to deal with things that I don’t understand. I have been doing it ever since I went to school and have been doing it more confidently ever since I joined the Government of India.
We are quite reasonable and we do allow a reasonable amount of jewellery to be retained. So when you ask them to choose some jewellery from those proposed for seizure for retaining, they face their biggest dilemmas of their existence. It is like asking them to choose between Clooney, Cruise and Cooper. Or like asking them choose between husbands who can cook, clean or take care of babies. Unconsciously, you have triggered off the most complex decision-making ever in history of mankind, or rather womankind. A decision-making process that must consider a billion variables, each of which are a polynomial function consisting of intangibles as variables and invisibles as coefficients. One which would take the best super computer few years to arrive at the solution. The estimation of the utility value of each piece of jewellery has to be calculated with respect to the clothes, shoes, bags, watches and 524 other accessories, some of which could be passed off as a piece of UFO cutlery. So that calls for a massive inventorying of not just what the lady owns but also what she plans to buy and what she dreams to buy in the next five years. The same exercise has to be repeated with her sisters, cousins and friends with whom she has a bilateral jewellery exchange agreement. No spreadsheet and not even pen and a paper. An exercise whose magnitude and complexity is comparable only with that of Wal-mart’s stock taking is accomplished just by looking at the jewellery and staring into thin air.
After three hours, the first piece of jewellery is yet to be decided. If it was cash, I would have seized, deposited in the bank and be on my way to some watering hole. I just hate the notion of working on a weekend. But since we spend most of our weekdays figuring out what to work upon, we end up working on weekends. And here was a lady who has completely disassociated herself from time. I realize that the proposed beer at the sports bar in the afternoon has to be rescheduled to evening. With a heavy heart and heavier hand, I SMS the same to my friends. 
You know the utility evaluation is over when the lady finally begins to touch the jewellery. But what you do not know is that the touch has triggered the second evaluation, the one that is exponentially  more complex, emotional evaluation. The moment she touches the jewellery, you can see her going into flashback. Sepia-tinted images float before her and violins play at the background. Every piece of jewellery, has a story behind it and some even have epics. And all of these relate to those jewellery gifted by her parents. That which are bought by her husband, however, would have to contend with just anecdotes. Anecdotes of his tightfistedness and how she had to settle for less when she could have got something better. Something not very different from the perception about her choice of husband.  So the output of previous decision-making is fed into a new flow chart evaluating the sentimental value of the jewellery.
Even as the process goes on, the lady still thinks that some miracle would happen and she would be spared of this ordeal of separation. At regular intervals, she would come up with new pleas. She would begin to narrate how poor they are. It doesn't matter that there is fleet of luxury cars in their porch and the house is situated in one of the most expensive localities of the town. If they are poor, I wonder what her servants are. Further, what about those who earn less than 30 rupees a day. Anyways, she soon realizes that we-are-poor-strategy is not convincing even to her, let alone us. So now begins the next argument – “Why us? There are so many people richer than us, so why us?” This time her husband, who till now was a silent spectator to the proceedings, too joins and you soon start hearing scores of names. They even start saying that the department goes after poor, hapless people like them and we lack the guts to go behind the high and mighty. I remind them that raids are conducted on suspected tax evaders, not on the basis of Forbes ranking. I offer them an opportunity to file a tax evasion petition before me and assure them of suitable action. And that seals their mouths. So much cooperation from our public minded elite who cry hoarse over corruption, black money and swiss accounts. 
The discussions on politics, power and wealth have metamorphosed into a futile inconclusive philosophical polemic. As the sun goes down, so does my patience. I declare that if they fail to complete their selection within the next 10 minutes, I am going to decide by means of a lucky, or rather, unlucky draw.  The threat works. All decision-making algorithms are suspended with immediate effect and choices are made based on the momentary instincts. Its late evening and I have my doubts about the dinner. However she doesn't have any more doubts on the impending fate of her jewellery. As the jewellery makes its way into the container which would be sealed and stashed away, the lady looks at it with the sigh of a mediaeval explorer having the final glimpse of his homeland at the horizon from the ship. The expression on her face is a concoction of hope, anxiety, fear and misery. Her husband, however, has just one expression - petrifaction at the imminent pestering for new jewellery the moment we leave the premise. It is now that his dilemma begins - whether to first pay taxes or buy jewellery.