November 4, 2018

Tumble Out of An Attic


Desmond Macedo

'If you’re still making friends on Social Media, at parties, at conferences, in office, at marriages, in bars, on trains and planes, you might like to read this piece and think. Laugh, you might, but think you will:


It was a Monday morning and one colleague asked another, ‘How did your weekend go?’

The colleague replied, ‘God, don’t ask. The weekend flew so fast I am left behind in Sunday. In the first place, Saturday flew so fast I was caught on Sunday morning at home, holding a beer. If I go backwards I left office very late, Friday night, so the whole weekend got pushed forward. And now I’m caught on Monday morning looking for a lazy breakfast of steaming hot idlis that I usually have, Sunday mornings.'

More than a steaming idli, the colleague needed a pause right now.

'Don’t tell me I’m going to be one day behind this whole coming week. I’ll be the only jackass in the office to deliver a job in time when pipsqueak management executive asks for it “yesterday,”' the colleague made quotes in the air with her fingers imitating how pipsqueaks explained timelines, and ended her whine and grumble.

The colleague who had asked her this question had midway in her answer stopped paying attention to her, and left her company to join another colleague to ask him the same question, who let loose a similar whine and grumble, after which, the colleague who had asked the question was making a similar reply to someone else who asked her the same question, and so on and so forth, and so forth and so on, plus or minus a whine or grumble, it’d be a similar answer after the same question.

On a Monday morning in most offices, this is an FAQ, and instead of getting down to work first thing, why do people ask FAQs?

Why does each employee needs to know how the other spent his/her weekend? Why do people ask questions the answers to which they are so familiar with they don’t need to listen to the answers? Why do people ask questions the answers they have no interest in? Why are people asked questions they are not expected to answer? Why bother answering?

Point is, a good deal happens in a workplace that has little to do with work. Like human interaction. People like to connect with each other – talk, meet, react, smile, relate, a kind of verbal hook-up. Especially today. When they ask you questions it don’t mean they are interested in you. It could simply mean acknowledging your presence. Or filling the vacant space between two people when they meet: what do you say to someone at the water cooler? Well, it is impolite if you’re standing at a coffee machine and you don’t smile at another colleague there, isn't it?

These harmless social decencies form relationships – acquaintances, office acquaintances, team mates, ex-colleagues, alumni networks, friendships - all of which will end up in the mind as memory.

Only, memory now is more like an attic.

Those places where old women store things they don’t need, but don’t want to get rid of because they fear they may need those things some day, up to a point when they don't know what is in the attics, don’t want to look into them, everything there being in a mess and jumble, but still won’t clean it out, will only add to the mess and jumble.

All the people you work with end up on your Facebook Friends’ List. When you join another company, you get another set of FB friends. Likewise, you have two or three sets of alumni friends – those from your school, those from your college, and those from your advanced, specialization course. In a place like Mumbai, all the people you travel with daily on the local train would be on your list. And in times like these, you also have another variety of relationships – those you never meet in hard copy; you only know them in soft copy – internet friends.

There’s a term for these relationships, expressly to make them sound scientific and socially necessary – networking – but this is often a disguise for accumulating a lot of useless acquaintances.

Like the old woman accumulating useless stuff in her attic.

Notice people haughtily say, ‘I have friends on Facebook I don’t even know.’ The more friends on FB you have that you don’t even know, the more friends you are going to have on FB that you won’t even know. Periodically, these people complain about their FB friends and the vapid praises they post - their fathers are their finest role models; their mothers are the finest cooks in the world; their brothers are the most responsible in the world; their sisters are their besties; a trip to Velankanni changed their lives; Modi is best PM India has ever had, etc, etc, etc, but they won’t clean out their lists in just the same way old women never clean out their attics, but periodically complain about the rubbish in them.

Currently, they are running posts to beat FB’s algorithm on ‘who reads whose timeline, and how often,’ with the purpose of getting more people to read and interact with their posts, and make more friends.

It had gotten cool a while ago to have lots of people on your FB friends’ list just like how old women love to see a lot of things in their attics.

Years later, when two people meet and one says to the other, ‘Hey, remember, we met at a conference, then we got together on Facebook? what that person asking remembrances wouldn’t know is that he just tumbled out and fell down from the other person’s attic with an uncomfortable thud, full of dust and cobwebs, gecko scrambling out of his shirt pocket,  too dirty to touch.

For all the networking, we aren’t any more than broken pieces of wood, metal and paper in the memories of many people.

October 9, 2018

Did #MeToo begin in India before Hollywood?

From a chapter in
"A Guy Growing Old in a Country Growing Young,"
written in 2013/14, published end '14:

Bottom-up country: a reprise 

The 23-year-old photo-journalist, who was gang-raped in August 2013 at Shakti Mills in the Parel area of central Mumbai, said from her hospital bed, “Rape is not the end of life. I want to return to work as soon as possible.” 

A law graduate recently blogged about how a retired Supreme Court judge, old enough to be her grandfather' Dan especially noted, sexually assaulted her while she worked for him as an intern. The Chief Justice of India instituted a 3-member committee to probe the allegation, which prompted more law interns to expose sexual harassment by senior lawyers.

In Kolkata, the ‘Park Street rape victim’ revealed her identity, fighting against the age-old culture of shame that punishes victims of sexual violence.

Since the gang-rape protests, the usual silence around sexual violence against women has been shattered. In Delhi, the number of rapes reported more than doubled, from 590 in 2012 to 1,330 in 2013, meaning, more women are speaking out against the violence they face and the police are turning fewer of them away.

And in a mind-bending irony, the junior staff at the news magazine seem to have had more of the principles on which the magazine was founded than the 51-year-old founding member [a Tarun Tejpal reference, mentioned later], against whom there is a sexual molestation case. 5 of them, all journalists, have resigned, as they are disappointed over management’s handling of the case: Consulting Editor, Assistant Editor, Literary Editor and two more. The journalist in question had resigned first. And within eleven months of the Delhi gang-rape case the scope of the law has been widened so that this journalist is able to say, ‘What he did to me is legally rape.’ An administration, notorious for its slow approach to change, is now being fired up by the younger generation.

Grown men losing control over themselves in the presence of women is common. Losing control over women in India, not common at all. But slowly losing control over young urban women, in that, girls exposing the sexual crimes of men against them, was a new one, and Dan was sure many men are shocked and angered by girls’ audacity to fight back.

Who started the stigma around rape?
Men.

Who perpetrated it?
Men.

Why did they perpetrate it?
So they can have sex with women and girls at will, without any inconveniences.

If it is getting its due, who is affected?
Men.

Dan felt this was another situation that could be understood with the earlier thought about governance: ‘It is in the interest of government to keep the electorate ignorant.’ Keep girls ignorant and uneducated and they will continue to keep quiet about rapes, because they have no means of being independent when shunned by society due to the stigma.

Simply put, a lot of men are quiet happy with the stigma in place, like a government quite happy with an illiterate electorate. The senior journalist at the news magazine didn’t think the junior would go public with the incident. Nor did the retired Supreme Court judge think so. The latter got so wretchedly trapped in shame and indecision, he couldn’t resign as that would be a personal admission of guilt even before the trial, nor could he continue because of his shame in his office and the clamour around him to resign, so he took the next cowardly route: stay away from work. Classic damned if you do, damned if you don’t, and unthinkable for a young girl to cause that kind of misery to a man high up in government for his deviant behaviour just a few short months ago.

Nevertheless, to help him make up his mind, the Law Minister said the government would have step in and initiate the process to remove from his post.

The growing independence of young women in urban India, which will spill over to rural areas, is something many men will not like, but will have to get used to. 

These are the first signs, and leading this change are young girls.

August 4, 2018



By Desmond Macedo

When this globalisation began around 2000, a globalised world as they began calling it, something else was going global - arse kissing - and it appeared to be going around the world faster than globalisation. Here is what I noticed:

Take a bank loan company - everyone there is kissing the boss’ arse who, in turn, is kissing his boss’ arse who, through a marketing process that is known as Customer Relationship Management, or, as it is more ambitiously called, Customer Life Cycle Management, is eventually kissing a customer's arse,

who, the customer that is, is working in some other company, where, in the little free time he gets at work, he is industriously kissing his boss’ arse because he must get a salary, every month, uninterruptedly, to repay the car loan he has taken from a bank, 

the salesman of which was earlier kissing his arse by commenting that his salary makes him eminently creditworthy for a car loan, while the boss of the bank salesman is felicitating the salesman’s arse, non-stop, so that he will flatter more customers into thinking that their salaries make them eminently creditworthy for car loans, 

the sales of which, the bank salesman’s boss will use to get into favour with his local boss who, the local boss that is, will use the same sales’ figures to get into favour with his regional head who, arse with regional head at the top of it that is, will go forth and patronise the country head’s arse who, the head of the country's arse-kissing operations that is, will patronise a white arse, it being an multi-national bank with a white man in charge of the bank’s Asia-Pacific region who, the white, pacific-region arse that is, will then use the fantastic growth figures in the new-economy markets to patronise his boss back in the UK, 


 

who is chairman of this UK-headquartered bank, and has been knighted by the queen, and is reverently addressed as  Sir – Sir Walter Rigby –  and who, the reverent arse that is, frequently bumps into, and fawns over, a higher-up from the UK Finance Ministry who, in turn, is about to peck Brown's arse who, 

the brown arse that is, on his first visit to India, shortly after becoming prime minister of the UK in 2007, is artlessly kissing India’s arse by proposing that Sachin Tendulkar be knighted by the queen because he, the brown arse, not the cricketer, wants England to now occupy the position of Jewel In The Crown, that is who’s crown? India’s crown, a result of her galloping GDP, and a position that was exactly the reverse until only a few decades ago, so that, now, we can appropriately describe this tendency also in reverse as ‘arse kissing the lips.’

I was relieved to arrive at a full stop.

I had to space out my thoughts in short paragraphs, all the while inserting commas, some needlessly quite naturally, and inserting pronouns, especially to match arse with owner, quite usefully, so that I was able to follow a pattern in this maze.

In this particular supply chain of arse kissing, stretching across continents, from man on the street to queen, from imperial colony to emerging markets to first-world countries, only one person seemed to be doing any work – the customer in India, trying every which way to pay back his loans.

The rest made a killing, and interest payments, from this ready source of middle-class customers – India – believed to be around 500 million and growing everyday, simply by kissing arse, or, as it is was now patronisingly called, especially by millennium management executives, Engaging The Customer.



About the Illustrator: Jayesh Raut is an Art Director in advertising. He has worked for Contract, O&M  and Wieden & Kennedy. Married to an Art Director also, he is freelancing now, and illustrates in his spare time. Here is his store:

Note: This story was written in 2008-09, a few months after this blog was started. Edited a bit though the gist is the same.




April 19, 2018

Flash Fiction

Sunil Ganu: Fiction in fifty-five words:

From where he was, he really couldn’t tell if he was on the right track. His frayed jacket was at a distance, his goodbyes tucked in its pocket.

He shut his eyes. It would be quick, perhaps.

With a screech, the heavy locomotive slowed, stopped still, briefly, then moved carefully away, in the opposite direction.

                                                                           xxx 


What would happen, the boy asked himself, if he did step on the pavement cracks? For years - and he was only seven - he had carefully avoided them. Well, it was time to change.

He walked, eyes riveted to the cracks.

The coconut whistled as it fell. The 'thunk' was muffled by black hair that turned red.

                                                                         xxx

The nylon ropes cut into his spindly legs, chafing, lacerating. He struggled bravely, flapping about. But his strength ebbed. He turned sluggish. His eyes started to flutter shut as his vital signs slowed.

He opened his eyes, looking around piteously.

His eyes finally closed, and the poacher had netted another fat pheasant for dinner.

                                                                         xxx

“I shan’t,” declared Emily, turning away from the wrinkled face resolutely.

“But darling, look what Grammy brought you,” reasoned her mother, pointing to the packages wrapped in coloured paper.

Emily considered. Sagely, I thought.

Relenting, she turned her face and accepted the sloppy kiss. One more innocence had been destroyed at the altar of consumerism.

                                                                          xxx 

He looked at the huge jet through the glass window, its nose close enough to touch. People milled around - normal, pre-departure flurry. He could hear several languages and children shouting. He thought of all that he had wanted. A smile creased his lips.

“Let’s go.”

And the deportee was led down to the waiting aircraft.

                                                                           xxxxxx 
            
About the Author:

Sunil Ganu is a French teacher. He lived in France for several years, then returned to Pune, where he continues his profession. He is from Loyola High School, Pashan, Pune, where "education beyond text books" was usually encouraged, and he volunteered to set Timetables for all periods of all secondary classes. 

April 18, 2018

RIP

Desmond Macedo

2011 was an especially good year to learn the meaning of the term pearly gates - so many famous people passed through them. 

Steve Jobs had just entered through them, and no sooner he landed in heaven than he summoned a meeting to design an iPod for God Who wanted to listen to tribal and aborigine music. Steve had arrived there on a Monday morning so everyone was ready for work, the tweets reported.

Two days earlier, Dev Anand, Indian matinee idol, had demised, though, I would’ve said “died,” but I had noticed in these months that famous people don’t die, they 'demise,' and Dev was now headed through those gates. Celeb writers-cum-tweeters said the moment he arrives he was going to assemble a film unit and commence shooting. 

Socrates was still fresh from demise, right on the field, so it would be a while before he passed through the gates, but fans had already tweeted the players he would put together to form an ex-Brazil team up there. 

Meanwhile, tweeters got news that God was not at all pleased with the iPod reproduction of tribal and aborigine music notes, so Steve had sent for help from Earth, preferably someone from in and around the Bangalore area of Earth, or even the Mumbai area of Earth, where there is talent for digital music production for films, which meant someone with knowledge of such music, and importantly, its electronic reproduction on an iPod, would soon pass through those gates, and tweeple ready with their posts, such as: Not a good time to know tribal and aborigine music, adapted for the iPod. A little later it surfaced that quite a few of the wanted specialists from both these areas shifted to Pune. Temporarily. 

Twitter had issued a strict directive to its users not to tweet until demise occurs. You see, people had gotten so accustomed to celeb departures, they were picking random names from lists, also appearing online to help them, and tweeting farewells. 

Around the middle of that year, MF Hussain, celebrated Indian painter, has demised in London, but there was some confusion whether he should start his heavenly journey from India, his place of birth, or from London where he demised, or from the Middle East country he adopted, or was forced to adopt – verily, it took quite some time to first determine whether he voluntarily adopted, or was forced to adopt the Middle East country. By the time the confusion was cleared people quite forgot that he had demised so no one tweeted anything about him. Besides, by then, people were busy tweeting about Shammi Kapoor - or were they tweeting about Pataudi?  - another matinee idol and celebrated Indian cricketer, respectively, or were they matinee cricketer and Indian nawab respectively, tweeple weren’t sure. 

While some industrious people put together the entire list of famous people who departed, others cautioned, ‘Hang on, there are some 25 days left this year.’ Six days after their caution, on Sunday, December 11, 2011, Mario Miranda, celebrated Indian cartoonist, featured in their tweets.

Of the number of famous people who demised that year, several had plans to continue their work upstairs. At least that is what the tweets said. People felt it was inappropriate that they, with their enormous energies, should rest at all, although, like earlier, if you died, or passed away, or demised, depending on your station in life, you were advised to Rest In Peace, RIP for short, which found more common usage in 2011, considering the number of times tweeters had to use it.

A few months into 2012, ‘St Peter keeps the pearly gates open,’ a Twitter post said, presenting more opportunity for people to learn the meaning of that term. One of my writer-friend did a status at Robin Gibbs' demise, which came a month or so after Whitney Houston's, which read: ‘The heavens are planning a super group like Traveling Wilburys.’

The trend didn’t stop and continued in the following years. At David Bowie’s demise, I, too, tweeted, ‘I always thought The Man Who Sold The World was a Kurt Cobain song. Now all three of us can rest in peace.’ And I posted it in the song's YouTube video’s comments’ box, where, some YouTube users thought it was a suicide note. 

Trouble was, only after celebs demised did you get to know their achievements. Reminded me, they were demising with such awkward frequency, obituaries began to read like dreary bio-datum, even by the NYT, and that’s where I read about The Man Who Sold The World.  

You may have known sweet buggerall about the celeb and his or her achievements, but social media had made it hip to tweet or update with RIP, sending out a message that you were ‘clued in.’ Internet society demanded that you be clued in, especially on the demise of a celeb. Hence the significant numbers from the subcontinent on Google searching ‘What is RIP?’

RIP was also a moment, or was it a medium? to send out a message about your musical preferences. When Dave Brubeck passed away, people, who otherwise listened to Boney M, tweeted respects furiously.   

Music has long been suspected to associate itself with listeners’ tastes, particularly the highbrow, in the way that books and authors manifest writers’ tastes. 

All bunk. I love the beat and bass of Daddy Cool. And Behram Contractor is among my favourite authors, of which, I have very few. Of course, it can be argued, I am hardly a writer, nor do I know my music. 

Kiss my arse.


When Glen Frey arrived at the gates St Peter was playing the infuriatingly famous riffs of Hotel California on an air guitar. Glen, it came to be believed, grabbed the air guitar from St Peter and played the notes for him as he began to sing the opening verse. 

‘The Super Group is formed,’ tweeple tweeted.

Next came Prince, which startled St Peter: ‘I didn’t call for you. People downstairs don’t even know how you have demised. Neither do I. Besides, very few know, you wrote Nothing Compares To You and the Esquire story is a long time away. So you're a bit unfulfilled for a stay in Heavan. Hope you accept that, and don't gripe.’ 

Last year, there was a series of suicides in the popular music business, but social media of extra enthusiasm did open up some new stuff for me – I still enjoy Linkin Park's Numb, In The End, and these lyrics: When my time comes / Forget the wrong that I've done / Help me leave behind some / Reasons to be missed.

And, as recent as a few months ago, Shashi Kapoor demised and Shashi Tharoor received the condolences.

‘Rather premature,’ Tharoor tweeted. 


February 20, 2018

The Wink

Prologue:

I always knew I was growing old in India at the wrong time. Today, people were getting famous with a wink. It was actually fame, faster than 'In the wink of an eye,' dissappointing those who could pull out a pun faster than a gunslinger. By the end of the shooting, the girl had gone from a minor role to a lead. Technology took the wink to so many eyeballs, she became a smartphone face. For me, a look at her was an arse-burning situation, 'envious' being too timid to describe what I go through. Then when she kissed the tips of her first two fingers, pulled the hatch with a 'shla-taack,' and fired across at the guy, I wished the dummy bullet hit me - such a cute face at a time I am no longer eligible even to get a sideways glance at her.


So here, a short read, is a sample chapter or book extract of my Book: A Guy Growing Old in a Country Growing Young':


In April 2013, when Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar was accused of links with arms dealers, he rubbished the allegations as ‘baseless, scurrilous, unfounded and ludicrous, with the sole intention of besmirching my personal integrity, reputation and competence’.
Dan Mullagathanny wondered if anyone could have got away with such affluent and well-heeled vocabulary just twenty-five-odd years ago. India was a socialist democracy. Any use of such vocabulary would’ve been allowed purely on a quota basis. ‘Ludicrous’ would’ve been banned anyway for extravagance since there was already an equivalent permitted: ‘ridiculous’. As for ‘besmirching’ and ‘scurrilous’, they would’ve attracted heavy import duty.
Likewise, multitasking would’ve been banned in socialist India. No one would ever have been allowed to do several jobs at once because then some people would have the unfair advantage of shirking several jobs at the same time whilst the rest of India was allowed to shirk only one job at a time, socialism dictating that everyone should be equally lazy. No one was allowed to be lazier than the other.
Then came the ’90s, and India became a free economy. Overnight private enterprise boomed. Indians started buying more and more packaged goods so more and more stores came up, followed by malls, since shopping was getting leisurely and stylish, overall producing more garbage than the staff detailed by municipal offices could clear every morning because they were still busy framing the Rules & Guidelines of Laziness to be observed in their wards that gave rise to a new breed of Indian entrepreneurs: ragpickers.
And one of them, Sanjay Parmar, joined the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, listed amongst the top design schools in the world, in May 2013.
Dan considered himself fortunate never to have had competition from ragpickers in school. He had competition from the children of army officers, doctors, teachers, scientists and lecturers. Then there were the laboratory technician’s children, the engineer, fitter and machinist’s children, and the occasional trader and industrialist’s children.
To be beaten in studies by India’s middle class was socially acceptable. But to be beaten by a ragpicker would’ve been a new standard of embarrassment.
~~~
If he was fortunate never to have had competition from ragpickers, he was just as grateful to have never had the same from newspaper boys. One of them, N. Shiva Kumar, walked into the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, a topper among management institutions, in May 2013.
In any other country, Dan would be considered in his prime, ripe for the big promotion, ready for the big responsibility. If he were already married, he could start an affair. If he were into an affair, he could end it, go back to his wife and reflect on his foolishness. At forty-nine, there was plenty to do in any other part of the world.
Who distributed newspapers in the years prior to the ’90s? It was a vegetable vendor or factory worker, moonlighting, early in the morning—people who didn’t bother with low-level jobs; they bothered about survival. National aspiration levels and competition at jobs were a great deal lower then, hence it was convenient to classify jobs.
Today, it was the youngsters who wanted extra money to fund their college education. And it wasn’t about surviving; it was about a future.
Dan went from childhood to adulthood without knowing there was a future. He learned about it only when it arrived, by which time another bit of it would be arriving, stacking up, one on top of the other, so that, if he ever had to look into it, he’d have difficulty sorting out that stack chronologically. Still, one day he got up right early, and before anything could start, took a quick look into his future, didn’t see anything spectacular there and went right back to bed.
On another occasion, while on a busy road in Dadar, Mumbai, in the afternoon, he decided to look again into the future to see who was there: there were thirty-year- olds taking their wives on holidays; there were executives doing part-time courses to gain specialized professional skills while they scanned job sites, shared vacancy tips and discussed salaries; there were couples driving their new cars or filling in forms to apply for car loans; and there were couples moving into new homes, moving out of one-bedroom flats into two-bedroom ones, filling forms to apply for home loans and buying insurance to protect home loan repayments.
It seemed they had their lives set up and ready in the future and were making their way there steadily to occupy on arrival without any distraction on the way. Beyond reading the future in horoscopes, and with greater accuracy, they knew what was waiting for them there.
Back to the hot, sweaty afternoon of Mumbai. Dan scanned the crowds around and noticed an old man sitting on the steps of a shop closed for lunch. Another stepped out sloppily from a country liquor bar. One patted a stray dog under a pavement tree. And there was himself. These four seemed to be the only people with nothing to do in Dadar, a place in Mumbai where there is never ever nothing to do. In a simultaneous moment, all four of them glared at each other, then turned their faces away.
‘When you’re turning old, your best reminder of it is another old person,’ Dan felt.
~~~
The elderly loved to dish out advice and wisdom, and Dan avoided them. He felt it was possibly a trait that stemmed from a government job. A nine-to-five sinecure would give a person plenty of opportunity for advice and wisdom. Or it was simply an elderly pastime.
And if in those days people went to work to be able to afford a child’s education, marriage, the grocer’s bills, etc., today people went to work for a variety of reasons:
Some had to escape nagging parents; some needed money for gas, guzzle and talktime; some needed something to do between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., the time their friends were at work; some had to pick up work experience for B-school admissions; some needed to be eligible for loans; some went to work because, like BPOs, advertising, journalism and media, the office was a good place to find girlfriends and boyfriends; some needed to finance their college education; and some needed money to squander.
Some went to work because, suddenly, it was hip to work.
Some went to work just to observe what went on in an office, and Dan was sure this wasn’t an exaggeration because he remembered a colleague, who, upon seeing someone in the office run around like a blue-arse fly trying to meet a client deadline, remarked, ‘What stupid things people do for a living,’ and who, a short while later, quit to start his own venture—selling cupcakes—that made Dan wonder whether it was a more intelligent occupation than running around like a blue-arse fly trying to meet a deadline.
Some went to work to while away time until they got married, and though these were taking up vacancies that rightfully should have gone to the more needy of society, advanced management thinking, widely available in India from plentiful MBAs coming out of plentiful B-schools set up from the ’90s onwards, was of the opinion that a person who didn’t need a job made a better employee than one who did. Dan also took note since he could be needing a job any time.
Some had to while away time until they got pregnant.
Still others had to while away time until their husbands were able to get them pregnant.
~~~
There was yet another sector in India that was moving fast. Perilously fast. It was Dan’s age.
He was forty-nine. Now forty-nine was never considered old. It still isn’t in most parts of the world. In any other country, Dan would’ve aged at the natural rate, that is twelve months per year. But in India, with the youth everywhere, he felt he was ageing faster, in the same way a person of average wealth feels poorer in a rich neighbourhood.
In April 2013, when Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar was accused of links with arms dealers, he rubbished the allegations as ‘baseless, scurrilous, unfounded and ludicrous, with the sole intention of besmirching my personal integrity, reputation and competence’.
Dan Mullagathanny wondered if anyone could have got away with such affluent and well-heeled vocabulary just twenty-five-odd years ago. India was a socialist democracy. Any use of such vocabulary would’ve been allowed purely on a quota basis. ‘Ludicrous’ would’ve been banned anyway for extravagance since there was already an equivalent permitted: ‘ridiculous’. As for ‘besmirching’ and ‘scurrilous’, they would’ve attracted heavy import duty.
Likewise, multitasking would’ve been banned in socialist India. No one would ever have been allowed to do several jobs at once because then some people would have the unfair advantage of shirking several jobs at the same time whilst the rest of India was allowed to shirk only one job at a time, socialism dictating that everyone should be equally lazy. No one was allowed to be lazier than the other.
Then came the ’90s, and India became a free economy. Overnight private enterprise boomed. Indians started buying more and more packaged goods so more and more stores came up, followed by malls, since shopping was getting leisurely and stylish, overall producing more garbage than the staff detailed by municipal offices could clear every morning because they were still busy framing the Rules & Guidelines of Laziness to be observed in their wards that gave rise to a new breed of Indian entrepreneurs: ragpickers.
And one of them, Sanjay Parmar, joined the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, listed amongst the top design schools in the world, in May 2013.
Dan considered himself fortunate never to have had competition from ragpickers in school. He had competition from the children of army officers, doctors, teachers, scientists and lecturers. Then there were the laboratory technician’s children, the engineer, fitter and machinist’s children, and the occasional trader and industrialist’s children.
To be beaten in studies by India’s middle class was socially acceptable. But to be beaten by a ragpicker would’ve been a new standard of embarrassment.
~~~
If he was fortunate never to have had competition from ragpickers, he was just as grateful to have never had the same from newspaper boys. One of them, N. Shiva Kumar, walked into the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, a topper among management institutions, in May 2013.
In any other country, Dan would be considered in his prime, ripe for the big promotion, ready for the big responsibility. If he were already married, he could start an affair. If he were into an affair, he could end it, go back to his wife and reflect on his foolishness. At forty-nine, there was plenty to do in any other part of the world.
Who distributed newspapers in the years prior to the ’90s? It was a vegetable vendor or factory worker, moonlighting, early in the morning—people who didn’t bother with low-level jobs; they bothered about survival. National aspiration levels and competition at jobs were a great deal lower then, hence it was convenient to classify jobs.
Today, it was the youngsters who wanted extra money to fund their college education. And it wasn’t about surviving; it was about a future.
Dan went from childhood to adulthood without knowing there was a future. He learned about it only when it arrived, by which time another bit of it would be arriving, stacking up, one on top of the other, so that, if he ever had to look into it, he’d have difficulty sorting out that stack chronologically. Still, one day he got up right early, and before anything could start, took a quick look into his future, didn’t see anything spectacular there and went right back to bed.
On another occasion, while on a busy road in Dadar, Mumbai, in the afternoon, he decided to look again into the future to see who was there: there were thirty-year- olds taking their wives on holidays; there were executives doing part-time courses to gain specialized professional skills while they scanned job sites, shared vacancy tips and discussed salaries; there were couples driving their new cars or filling in forms to apply for car loans; and there were couples moving into new homes, moving out of one-bedroom flats into two-bedroom ones, filling forms to apply for home loans and buying insurance to protect home loan repayments.
It seemed they had their lives set up and ready in the future and were making their way there steadily to occupy on arrival without any distraction on the way. Beyond reading the future in horoscopes, and with greater accuracy, they knew what was waiting for them there.
Back to the hot, sweaty afternoon of Mumbai. Dan scanned the crowds around and noticed an old man sitting on the steps of a shop closed for lunch. Another stepped out sloppily from a country liquor bar. One patted a stray dog under a pavement tree. And there was himself. These four seemed to be the only people with nothing to do in Dadar, a place in Mumbai where there is never ever nothing to do. In a simultaneous moment, all four of them glared at each other, then turned their faces away.
‘When you’re turning old, your best reminder of it is another old person,’ Dan felt.
~~~
The elderly loved to dish out advice and wisdom, and Dan avoided them. He felt it was possibly a trait that stemmed from a government job. A nine-to-five sinecure would give a person plenty of opportunity for advice and wisdom. Or it was simply an elderly pastime.
And if in those days people went to work to be able to afford a child’s education, marriage, the grocer’s bills, etc., today people went to work for a variety of reasons:
Some had to escape nagging parents; some needed money for gas, guzzle and talktime; some needed something to do between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., the time their friends were at work; some had to pick up work experience for B-school admissions; some needed to be eligible for loans; some went to work because, like BPOs, advertising, journalism and media, the office was a good place to find girlfriends and boyfriends; some needed to finance their college education; and some needed money to squander.
Some went to work because, suddenly, it was hip to work.
Some went to work just to observe what went on in an office, and Dan was sure this wasn’t an exaggeration because he remembered a colleague, who, upon seeing someone in the office run around like a blue-arse fly trying to meet a client deadline, remarked, ‘What stupid things people do for a living,’ and who, a short while later, quit to start his own venture—selling cupcakes—that made Dan wonder whether it was a more intelligent occupation than running around like a blue-arse fly trying to meet a deadline.
Some went to work to while away time until they got married, and though these were taking up vacancies that rightfully should have gone to the more needy of society, advanced management thinking, widely available in India from plentiful MBAs coming out of plentiful B-schools set up from the ’90s onwards, was of the opinion that a person who didn’t need a job made a better employee than one who did. Dan also took note since he could be needing a job any time.
Some had to while away time until they got pregnant.
Still others had to while away time until their husbands were able to get them pregnant.
~~~
There was yet another sector in India that was moving fast. Perilously fast. It was Dan’s age.
He was forty-nine. Now forty-nine was never considered old. It still isn’t in most parts of the world. In any other country, Dan would’ve aged at the natural rate, that is twelve months per year. But in India, with the youth everywhere, he felt he was ageing faster, in the same way a person of average wealth feels poorer in a rich neighbourhood.
In any other country, Dan would be considered in his prime, ripe for the big promotion, ready for the big responsibility. If he were already married, he could start an affair. If he were into an affair, he could end it, go back to his wife and reflect on his foolishness. At forty-nine, there was plenty to do in any other part of the world.
Dan couldn’t understand why the Americans made a noise about losing their jobs to cheaper skills in India. He was facing the same situation in his own country. He was getting shafted in preference to younger employees — another reason that made him feel older. At least the Americans had the backing of their government that tried to intervene, amend laws and policies and find ways to discourage their companies from outsourcing work. Dan had no such backing in India. How could his government support a minority workforce to the disadvantage of the majority? He had to face the problem all by himself.
Those in the US also had the benefit of double standards – accuse India of not allowing a level playing field in global trade by not fully opening its markets to foreign investment and participation while simultaneously trying to thwart their companies’ outsourcing efforts.
Dan could see that Indians weren’t making a noise about their situation. Instead, just making do with whatever they had. The call centre job, answering 400 calls per shift, sometimes a lot more, came to be regarded by the workforce as most disgusting and sickening. Yet they did it, did it well, and turned it into a multi-billion-dollar monopoly.
From the ragpicker onwards, nobody in India asked for a level playing field.
Blurb on book: In a country where 50 per cent of the population is younger than twenty-five, what does it mean to be old? Ask Dan Mullagathanny. Not that Dan is old. He is only forty-nine. But in India, with youngsters all around, he is ageing faster. A funny-sad story about being a misfit in a rapidly changing world.
Desmond MacedoDesmond Macedo is a copywriter with several years of experience in agencies like Ulka, Lintas, Ogilvy & Mather, MAA and Contract. He lives in Pune with his wife, whom he helps in a home business and writes in between. Their son  works in Dubai. This is Macedo’s first book.

September 6, 2017

Jock Strap & His Elastic Band

Desmond Macedo

Leslie Fowler grew up in Ghorpuri, once upon a time a railway colony in Poona where many Anglo Indians lived, who, once upon a time, were a visible community in India; at least, visible on the Indian Railways.

He had two dreams: one, drive an engine, the bullet engine kind, fired by steam. And two, play the guitar. These weren’t uncommon dreams among boys of his community. Moreover, it wasn’t uncommon for them to daydream.

He didn’t make the first, continued daydreaming about the second in between practice on the fret board.

He joined a technical institute, finished the course, and landed a government job in an army depot in Dehu Road, another cantonment in Poona.

A high-ranking officer once came around visiting the depot, stopped at Leslie and, pointing to a road roller parked ahead, asked him, ‘Why is the front wheel of that road roller divided into two equal parts?’ Leslie looked at the wheel, nervous, because he didn't know he had to think about this question before, answered, ‘Sir, if it is a single piece, it will not turn easily.’ The officer smiled, walked on, leaving Leslie chest puffed up, as the stares and gawks of his colleagues bounced off it.

He was technically inclined, but he didn’t want a regular life with a salary at regular intervals. He wanted to play the guitar in a band. Two years later he quit the depot, and then spent his technical training servicing his wife’s bike, his father’s typewriter and his mother’s sewing machine.

‘His brains are in his hands,’ his mother would say, using a ding expression frequently used to describe a common trait in the community, ‘ding’ being the nickname for them.

Leslie wanted a hobby that would be regular, and a job that would be something he did in-between. People try for regular work, and if they have a hobby, leave it to weekends. He wanted it the other way around – hobby through the week, job on weekends.

Since there wasn’t a job or hobby like that on offer, he spent the mornings shooting just two pigeons - one for himself, one for his wife, at supper, and, frolicking with his dog, pampering his cat, a touchup, a snooze, a twing and a twang on his guitar, then wait for his wife to come home in the evening, off to the bazaar for the night meal to make enough from the errand for another touchup.

Touchup was the ding equivalent of the French sipping wine during or throughout the day. Only it was hooch, a lot more potent. Touchup, like many of the community’s phrases, was their dialect – not heard outside the community; spoken, seldom written. So whether it was one word, two words, or hyphenated was never determined.

At one of those speakeasies he frequented for a touchup, he used to meet a drummer and a bass guitarist, both again Anglo-Indians. He could play lead so, now and then, the idea of a band would come up. And the question that usually followed was, ‘What’ll we call the band?’ Almost immediately, one of them would say, ‘Not Leslie & The Larks.’ They generally agreed that they’d do well if they got started but that question did serve another purpose - so one of them could say ‘Jock Strap & His Elastic Band,’ followed by a collective giggle, followed by a collective swig, followed by a ‘Bra, I need new jocks, so let’s think of a good name.’ Laughter and good cheer were inseparable from Anglo-Indians, or these three Anglo musicians, or anybody in a speakeasy, or anyone who has just heard ‘jock strap and his elastic band,’ while bra was how they short-formed  brother, like sas was sister.

On the bazaar errands, among the tomatoes, green chilly and corriander stalls, he'd usually bump into fellow Anglo-Indians and acquaintances who asked, ‘How’s it?’ and he’d say, ‘Not bad. Grub, grog and greens,’ his head inclining upwards to keep with his lip twirling upwards.

‘Grub, grog and greens,’ another Anglo-Indian phrase, meant ‘all found,’ ‘on the house.’ Some members said it was nearly extinct. Not all their phrases were known across all Anglos in India; like not all interpreted this one similarly - some thought the 'greens' meant women. Pockets of this community lived along the railway corridors, mainly at junctions, in different parts of India, and while they used different phrases there were some in common, as if the railways were migrating the community’s dialect from one junction to another, or one railway zone to another, which may well have been the case, because AI drivers, firemen, signalmen and guards used the railway Retiring Rooms at the end of their trips, where they caught up with other AI railway men from other junctions. Sometimes, they visited Anglo families at these places where their language would intermingle.

Leslie and his speakeasy companions did team up under the name Leslie & The Livewires, and during their third show at a local club, a guy, two or three shots down, remarked, ‘Listen you blokes, if you play like that no one’ll come on the floor.’ The blighter had said something similar at their earlier two shows, so Leslie stood his guitar against a speaker, walked down the steps of the stage, went up to this guy, ghummed him, turned around, and walked back on the stage.

‘Ghum’ meant to bang up with fists, and was heard along the Hubli-Ghorpuri/Poona railway corridor, i.e. the South-Western Railway. It was even in use in Madras, so it must’ve been common in south India, all along the Southern, South-Central and South-Western Railways that overlap at various stations in the peninsula. It was pronounced like the sound of 'hmmm,' though, no clue whether it was spelt ghum, or just gum with a double m in past tense, but its typical usage was with fists tightly closed.

Leslie & The Livewires, of course, never got a show again, but they did hear that the bloke – two or three shots down – had a hard time explaining his ‘bunged-up’ face, that being their way of saying ‘badly bruised.’

Once a fortnight, or thereabouts, Leslie visited his folks’ place where he’d enjoy ball curry and rice, and he’d get a chance to use his favourite comment as the bowl of curry went around the table: all balls and no gravy. It was usual for that greeny syrup to disappear sooner than planned - it was amongst the most delicious curries known to Anglo Indians and a few other sections of mankind that had tasted it. The recipe had a nickname - bad word curry- but this was unheard in Poona, though, common in the Kolar Gold Fields-Bangalore-Madras corridor.

It was quaint to see how a railway network was transporting a culture. And just like their expressions, some of those famous Anglo-Indian dishes must’ve travelled about in India using mail, express and even goods trains hauled by steam engines. There is an Anglo dish called Railway Mutton Curry which was popular with the AI railway staff. Made with vinegar or tamarind, it could last several days, the time Anglos would be ‘on line,’ their phrase for ‘travelling on duty.’

But the steam engines have disappeared, the Anglos on the Indian Railways are extinct and the number of Anglo-Indians in India is dwindling. With a standstill among the community, and no members on the railway, their happy-go-lucky culture and dialect are dying out.

Jock strap & his elastic band, a mad and embarassingly appropriate expression for a third-rate band, is hardly in use anymore, members say, one likely reason being, there are very few, or no, Anglo bands left; another being, present-generation Anglo Indians do not daydream any more; yet another being, they do not shoot pigeons any more.

And, well, 'Leslie Fowler is ''digging potatoes,''' an Anglo from Madras would say.

Never heard of any Anglo from Poona with that occupation.


Post Script:
I first came across Railway Mutton Curry and its background in Bridget White's collection of Anglo-Indian recipes.

May 12, 2017

Big Words Get Big Jobs

 Desmond Macedo.

I was once stuck in a lift when a girl inside remarked, ‘God, it’s so claustrophobic in here.’

I had heard this word inside lifts quite often and began to wonder if lifts were erected so that people could find occasion to use the word, or, whether people were using the word in wrong places so construction engineers came up with lifts where people could use it appropriately. 

But these days when I hear it inside a lift, stalled or moving, I notice how people’s ears swivel around to the direction where the word came from so it can slide into their ear passages easily, one syllable at a time, four syllables in all, one large and three small.

After the whole word has disappeared into their ears, getting itself to bounce on the tympanic membrane – claustrophobic won’t bounce on anything so banal as eardrum – I see them pull the string of syllables out, then let it in, spring-like, where it makes the sound of the pronunciation, like online dictionaries with the audio pronunciation button,  and ponder over it. One is trying to spell it in his mind. One is trying to count the number of alphabets in the word, having read that alphabets make up a word. Another is trying to memorise the line, ‘God, it’s so claustrophobic in here,’ saying to herself, ‘Use the line when inside in a lift.’ Another gets the syllables jumbled up inside his ear, so the word is assembled as ‘claus-pho-tro-bic’ and is now pulling the syllables out, one by one, four in all, in an attempt to rearrange them, and re-insert them into his ear passage, which, in all probability, would again be the incorrect arrangement, and he would be better of learning the word as ‘clausphotrobic,’ which, in time, would be the correct form among those who hear it inside a lift from him, or, at worst, there’d result in two kinds of people caught in a lift: those who learn claustrophobic, and those who  learn clausphotrobic.

I, too, made a note of possible claustrophobic places, like conference rooms, where I could use the word and show off my vocabulary – I had noticed, of late, this word was being amputated to vocab. I don’t approve of amputating large words, not at least the bulary from vocab, and never at all the bulary from a consta.

‘God, this place is so claustro.’ Why would people shorten large words when their purpose is to show off one's bulary ?’

Meanwhile, the girl who used the word inside the lift, tired of running behind artwork and business presentation slides, left Mumbai for London to do an MBA.

Just a couple-a-days later, while I am at my desk, a girl colleague walks into the office and holds forth as if she were making a business presentation, ‘Gosh, I had the morbid happenstance of getting stuck in a lift today. The claustrophobia is overwhelming.’

This time, several colleagues were vigorously making note of this circumstance lookalike, in a usage so earful, the word slid into their ear passages dragging the entire sentence along, but only partially, with part of it dangling outside their ears, as colleagues tried to read dangling words. Some snipped the section dangling outside their ears, twirled it around their forefingers, and spun it around like a key chain, with colleagues trying to read words spinning in the air.

I had another problem. Two people in an office looking for opportunities to use claustrophobic were threatening to render it a cliché very soon, after which, it would be boring to use it in a sentence, with or without happenstance, and pointless to use the lift.

But the girl who went to London to do an MBA completed it and got a job there in an advertising firm as a Strategy Planner.

‘Big words get big jobs,’ I say to myself out load, so I can hear it, swivel a earlobe in the direction of my mouth, pick up the sentence, and shove it through my acoustic meatus.

April 28, 2017

Long Sentences

Desmond Macedo.

I got into the lift to go up to my office on the fourteenth floor. A few colleagues also entered along with me.

As the door shut, a colleague began: 'This year, Mumbai's heat is in sharp contrast to the previous years. If my memory serves me right, Mumbai temperatures were always in the region of 35, 36 degrees. And I can remember Mumbai temperatures every summer with a fair degree of accuracy; this year it is the highest,' he said as all the rest nodded a yes.

This weather editorial made me think: Clichés make long sentences.

And if the ride in a lift is going to be fourteen floors long, stops included, you will need to construct long sentences to last through the ride.

So, as it happens, long sentences tend to be useful in polite conversations.

I could manage the heat. If I try, I could even remember the coming few years’ summer temperatures of Mumbai with a fair degree of accuracy, since my memory for incidents that have not yet happened serves me right as well. It was polite conversation that I had difficulty with. It seemed to be all about filling the space between people with prattle and babble so you look well informed. As vacuous as it is ironical.

And polite conversation is tiresome. Fourteen floors of prattle and babble are more tiring than waiting to catch a local train whose arrival is uncertain. Whenever I get drawn into one I wish I was successful, so I wouldn’t have to make polite conversation with anyone.

Like polite conversation, there is polite listening. But if long sentences are useful in polite conversations, try listening to one.

‘Wassup?’ was introduced early this millennium or thereabouts, which was the most useful conversational piece invented. Simple, cheerful, very expressive, Wassup? was never intended to start conversations. So nobody answers that question.

In an office there is plenty of polite conversation. If you’re getting familiar with people around, or meeting someone for the first time, a typical office chat would run like:

Where are you from? (Hometown)
What have you done? (Education/Specialisation)
Which college?
Is this your first job? if you are young, otherwise, Where were you before this?
Since the millennium arrived, another one was added: Is this your first career choice?
So you've done like Mass Communication and stuff? depending on your profession.

Most of the time it is quite innocent. Sometimes, it can be inquisitive, which is irritating.

Some years ago I ran into a young advertising copywriter, who, after finishing the hometown / first-job series, continued: 'Where were you before this?'

‘Lintas,’ I said.

‘Before that?’

'Ogilvy & Mather.'

'Oh wow. And how long were you there?

‘Two years.’

‘Ahh ha. And where were you before that?'

I answered patiently: 'Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborne.' I had hoped that another high-sounding, this time four-Anglo-Saxon-titled advertising agency, would shut the young writer up.

It didn’t.

'You would’ve done another two years there, I’m sure, with a couple of awards under your belt by now, a Group Head prefixed to your name, and, without a doubt, reporting to the Creative Director, and nibbling at his heels’ he said, paused to grin, then continued, his tone rising at every stage of my job trail, ‘Though, I am curious to know where you got your grounding; where were you trained in the nitty gritties of the creative process, the tempering of the mettle and igniting of the spark, so to speak; where did you start?'

'Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young,” I replied, rather stylishly.

Silence at last.

The young, aspiring copywriter had never heard of this advertising agency. Nor could he look like he had never heard of it. So no further conversation took place.

March 13, 2017

How Rock Music Was Passed Down in India

Desmond Macedo

The living room had three old bamboo chairs and a frame on the wall with George Harrison within.

Range Hills, a government colony of defense employees in Poona in the 60s and 70s, was an unlikely place to find rock music but often, there was a box guitar, too, in that living room, named ‘40 Miles Of Bad Road,’ and yes, though beat-up, when it had six strings on it, as it often did not have, it sounded thrilling enough for me to cycle down from Loyola School campus, in nearby Pashan, via a slope from Modern High School and a short cut from Poona University Circle around a hillock that the army used for range firing, which would get me down quickly to pick it up if nobody else was playing it.

If Big Freak, a sibling of that household, was playing it then I would have the joy of listening to Wah Wah or Art of Dying. Anyone who could play George Harrison was a big freak back then, usually with long hair, kurta, smelly jeans and beedies. Even the other way around was almost true: if anyone wore long hair, kurta, smelly jeans and beedies, he could play George Harrison.

Some days earlier, I had heard Big Freak do If I Needed Someone. It was the opening guitar notes that got him. I liked them, too. One day a bunch of kurtas, smelly jeans and beedies came down from Hill Road, Bandra, and did It Don’t Come Easy, and I thought the opening guitar notes sounded a bit like those on If I Needed Someone, but I loved them as well.

Once, Big Freak spent a whole week on Hill Road, Bandra and came back with Happiness Is A Warm Gun.  For me this was an adult song, to be enjoyed like being allowed into a theatre where an adult movie was showing. And this was the adult scene:

The man in the crowd with multi-colored mirrors on his hobnail boots
Lying with his eyes while his hands are busy working overtime

These songs never played on Radio Ceylon, my usual source of music. Mostly, it played Englebert Humperdinck, Tom Jones, Cliff, Jim Reeves, Sinatra, Elvis, Everly Bothers, country music singers and other such pop artists. My Ol’ Man once remarked as Hey Jude’s chorus faded out on the radio: ‘Sounds like Crawford Market on Sundays.’ Quite clear what he thought of rock. And most of the time I had to keep tuning the damn radio to get a clear reception. In the home of a friend in nearby NCL Colony, there was a record player and Sgt Pepper’s album – his elder brother owned it, with instructions not to play it. He himself seldom played it, so I couldn’t tell how it came to be there. This was another government colony of middle and lower middle class employees in the 60s and 70s, and an unlikely place to hear Sgt Pepper’s. There was still one other place where another friend and I saw this album – Poona’s Chor Bazaar or Juna Bazaar – where it wasn’t out of place since anything out of place found itself here, but, as my friend told me as he nudged me away, ‘The record inside is some other album.’

In Range Hills, however, I looked keenly at Big Freak as he played George’s songs and when he was tired, I’d pick up the box and try the chords with the tunes and words.

Big Freak had a younger brother who played Hey Joe. He had heard it from someone on Hill Road, Bandra. This became another adult experience for me:

Hey Joe, where you walkin’ down / With that gun in your hand? 
I’m gonna shoot my woman / She’s messin’ around town with another man 

Another song the younger brother played that I liked instantly was Dark Side of the Moon. And the two lines that I learned were: And if the band starts playing a different kind of tune / I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon 

These two boys would make frequent trips to Bandra, Bombay, and return with a new song.

When I met the younger brother at Range Hills again, some time later, he was doing the bass of Hey Joe. This was the first time I had heard bass all by itself; may be the first time I noticed bass. ‘Seems harder to sing a song and play its bass notes than to sing with its chords’ he had said. ‘Chords are the harmony of a song, so it’s easy to sing with them,’ he tried to explain while I did not try to understand, because I did not know what harmony in music meant.

Another time he returned with Angie, a song I would sing, just months later, to a girl I would meet in Ambala.

Then came the Malavli Youth Festival, a 3-day fest of rock music by Indian rock bands planned on the lines of Woodstock, and organized by a Jesuit priest at this village Malavli, a few kilometers from Lonavla. I arrived for the last night. There was plenty of hash around. All you did was join a circle and you’d get free pulls. For days later, there were articles and editorials in the local dailies on the festival and how it was mainly an orgy of hash and sex. I thought it was an orgy of Jumping Jack Flash - every band that came on did that number, and it delighted me.

Time came for me to move out of Poona and go work, which took me to several parts of North India and Punjab. When I came home to Poona on leave, I would cycle back to that house in Range Hills. On one such visit, I heard Big Freak play My Sweet Lord. I returned quite a few days in a row and asked him to do it till I learnt it. I had to learn the tune, lyrics, chords and how to sing and play a song together - the tricky part - so it would take quite a few days before I could do one on my own.

Back in Ambala Cantt, I practiced My Sweet Lord. On a Sunday visit to the local church, I said hello to the parish priest there as I had noticed a guitar in his room through the mesh in his door. A couple of more Sundays and I was playing and singing My Sweet Lord for him. He loved the song, which by now he referred to a hymn, so I had to, also. Next, he invited me to prayer meetings that were attended by nuns from a nearby girls’ school. We were singing My Sweet Lord at these meetings. It seemed to take the folk in white cassocks nearest to their creator. After singing it, they would each retreat into a kind of "Union and Oneness with Him,” mumbling Jesus’ praises, praying that one day they would join Him in heaven singing these beautiful hymns. Another Sunday later, an unfamiliar face in a cassock said hello to me. ‘Beautiful hymn you sing,’ she said. I smiled back. I was thinking of some “F Sharp Diminished” chord that Big Freak showed me in the song but couldn’t remember its formation. And then I forgot when the B7th came in.

Between the 80s and 2000, I used to meet acquaintances who would periodically return to India from the west, visiting families. We would meet for drinks, music and general conversation. On these occasions there’d be some information passed on about The Beatles – they were an experimental band, etc, etc. ‘Avant-garde,’ said one. And of course, the usual “why they broke up,” which got boring.

I had begun my own naïve reasoning: They broke up because they couldn’t innovate any more. Big Freak once said, ‘You compose two songs, they will sound alike. They did over 150 songs, and most of them sound different from each other.’ Tapes had replaced vinyl, and I had most of their songs, already fed-up of listening to them over and over again, so, instead, I used to come up with these theories about them and their music, another being, people will listen to The Beatles the way they listen to Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Schubert, even two centuries later. I didn’t believe myself but nobody was listening to me and my theories so it was alright.

There were many songs I first heard guys play in that living room. Like See Me, Feel Me by The Who, Woodstock by Joni Mitchell, and No Sugar Tonight by I didn’t know who. I was also told that Joe Cocker’s With A Little Help From My Friend was better than the original. And there was this nice line I heard there: Too many hungry people losing weight.

Somewhere in the nineties, and in Bangalore, I walked into a music store and asked about the song Dark Side of the Moon. It wasn’t a song, it was an album. When the internet arrived in the 2000s, I learned it was among the best albums so I bought it.

By the time the millennium changed, Big Freak was already a respected guitar teacher in Pune.

By 2006, YouTube had arrived, and Too many hungry people losing weight, which my friends rocked up back then, was timid Paul McCartney, ex-Beatle pop.

Hey Joe went to the top of my favourite songs, with Noel Redding’s bass riff joining my fondest bass riffs, though, not before I learnt from the internet what a riff was, and after I learnt from the internet what a drum roll was, Mitch Mitchell’s drum rolls in the same song sounded like “mustard spluttering in hot oil” – the finest I’ve heard.

Likewise, Harrison’s lead riff for It Don’t Come Easy came to occupy another fondest space in me.

The songs I had first heard friends playing on acoustic guitar in that living room with three old bamboo chairs on the floor and George Harrison on the wall, I now heard recorded, many years later, for the first time.

40 Miles of Bad Road was a title better than the song.

The original Sgt Pepper’s vinyl album cardboard sleeve became a rarity.

Howard Goodall CBE, classical musician and award-winning British composer, in a documentary he titled, ‘The Beatles – A Musical Appreciation & Analysis,’ released on YouTube said their music was likely to live on for several generations. And somewhere in that script he mentioned, ‘They’ve innovated so much, there isn’t much left for any band to innovate.’

No Sugar Tonight by I didn’t know who, was by The Guess Who.

Someone commented on the Jumping Jack Flash  YouTube video: 'The best opening line in rock: I was born in a crossfire hurricane.' I picked it up in Malavali.

Western music was harmony, while Indian music was melody. Lennon’s Jealous Guy was built on melody, but don't ask me to explain.

 And then, a few years ago in Mumbai, I ran into the padre I knew in Ambala Cantt.

‘Holy Shit,’ I shrieked when I met him and he shrieked back, ‘Holy Water.’

After the shrieks had settled and the 'how have you beens?' done, he linked to the past and said, ‘I love the way My Sweet Lord changes key midway. So gradually, you don’t even notice it.’

‘So you’ve been watching YouTube, what?’ I said.

He smiled.

Then he turned to me, hands now locked firmly on his hips in mother-superior fashion, and interrogated: ‘You never told me, it’s a hymn in praise of Lord Krishna, did you?’

‘Yes, it ends on those chants, but father, what to do?’ I tried to explain, ‘variations from the original would’ve occurred because, for some people in India, rock music was passed on orally.’

We had a good laugh.


My Sweet Lord - Lyrics

My sweet Lord
Hmmm, my Lord
Hmmm, my Lord

I really want to see you
Really want to be with you
Really want to see you Lord
But it takes so long, my Lord

My sweet Lord
Hmmm, my Lord
Hmmm, my Lord

I really want to know you
Really want to go with you
Really want to show you Lord

That it won't take long, my Lord