Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Rough Guide to Terror Tourism

(Wrote this a year ago, about a week after the Mumbai terror attacks)

“Ram Gopal Varma ki yahi kamayee
Do sarkar banaye, ek girayee.” On SMS

Bungee jumping. Paragliding. Skateboarding.
I mean – yawn.
Because on December 1st, as I watched our dear Chief Minister tour the ravaged interiors of the hotel Taj and Trident, I knew it was time to make way for the hottest, hippest way to take a break, let your hair down, tune out, switch off.
Terror tourism.
Now I don’t know about you fellas but my motto is - “be prepared”. So, I write this in preparedness for the outside chance that someone amongst us might just get as lucky as aapro Vilasji did to tour the latest terror hotspot. I also write this in preparedness for the even more outside chance that a certain male relative of a certain gent who was once known as Maharashtra’s Remote Control might be reading this.  For tips and tippanis for his very own impending terror tour. Which should be happening anytime now?
So, without further shilly-shallying or beating around the bush, let me begin.
First and foremost, this is an extreme sport, not for the lily-livered, the yellow-bellied, the milksops, the pusillanimous chickens. For example, right now, there is a huge misconception doing the rounds that the brave hearts of the Mumbai terror attacks were the NSG commandos, the hotel staff of the Taj and the Trident, the cops etc. etc. What a crock.
Because the bravest of them all was our beloved CM-saheb, strolling so courageously through that ghastly burnt-out shell of the Taj. With nary a thought for the extreme danger that he was putting himself in. After all, any minute, his beautiful white neta-in-mourning kurta could’ve been picked off and blackened by one of those deadly soot-covered walls. Or lurking around the corner could be a deathly bullet hole waiting to ruin his manicure. And we shudder to think what terrible fate awaited his freshly dyed-for-the-telly, carefully coifed hair in the hands of that terrifying rubble-dust.)
In other words, be a terror tourist only if you have the guts for it. And only a few very, very brave people do.
Second of all, if you are one of those me-alone-communing-with-nature kind of people, then it’s best to give this a skip because terror tourism is a group activity, best enjoyed in the company of friends and relatives. And that could include your third grandson’s personal potty-trainer, your fourth second cousin’s ex-wife’s current mother-in-law, your pooch’s psychiatrist, your dhokla-khandvi chef and your dhobi’s donkey.
Not to mention your friendly neighbourhood film director.
I know what you are thinking. You can see how a rousing round of bullet-hole-spotting and musical bloodstains in company of kith and kin help to unwind, unclench those teeth, relax that sphincter and generally aid world peace.
But the film director?
How else could he get people to forget that he made a film called “Ram Gopal Varma’s Aag”?
Third of all, it’s very important to have a tour guide at all times After all, you need as much to be able to tell the blue-bottled fly from the blue-bottomed baboon as you do to differentiate rubble from rabri (no relation to Laloo) and charred ballroom from charred toast. (Ideally, the guide should be the cop who held the terrorists at bay for eight hours before the commandos turned up. Adds globs of “realism” to the enchilada.) The important thing though, while listening to the guide, is to constantly make hissing noises and scrunch up your face in expressions of horrified commiseration. (Don’t worry if it looks more as if you’ve just smelt some very nasty navel jam - you can take tips from your actor son before your next trip.)
Fourth of all, the walk. (I’m sorry, fellas. We do plan to get cable cars and limos very soon, but right now, you’ll have to do it all on foot.) It’s very, very important how you walk through the…shall we call it “terror sanctuary”? What you need is a measured slow amble, all the while sticking out your well-toned, six-paunch, spelling out a pleasant post-beer-‘n-biryani perambulation with wifey on Marine Drive. This will serve two purposes. It will make your bowels move. And it will terrify the terrorists. How, we can’t say exactly as yet, but it will.
(We are thinking of asking future terror tourists to whistle as they walk to make the terrorists even more terrified, but that will be only allowed in a more advanced version.)
I could go on, but for the moment this much will suffice for you to go off and practice your terror tourist moves.
Which leaves two things
First the tricky question that’s trembling on everybody’s lips.
Will one get to see live dead bodies? Or at least a few body parts? After all, after a point, how terrifying can a few mounds of blackened rubble and a few tons of broken glass be?
Lemme put it this way. Terror tourism is taking its first baby steps. (Though with the kind of patronage it already getting, that baby is gonna grow up very fast into a full-blown adult.) So, for the moment, I’m afraid you’ll have to make to with bloodstains. Not much, I’ll admit, but it’s a start.
Finally, terror tourism is the sport of the future and for two reasons. We’ve already covered one - the strike-terror-in-the-hearts-of-those-naughty-terrorists bit. The other reason is that it’s a great stress buster, especially for high-powered folk like chief ministers. This was obvious when our beloved Deshmukhji faced the press the day after that epoch-making terror tour. Fresh as a daisy, not a furrow on brow or a bag under eye, unfazed by all those pesky journos bombarding him with silly questions like, “Do you take moral responsibility for these attacks?”
I mean, for crying out aloud.
Moral responsibility? (Or any other kind for that matter.)
Duh. Wot dat?
(After watching the footage of Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh’s terror tour, I thought that in terms of sheer shamelessness, callousness and crass insensitivity, nothing could beat it. But I was wrong. I underestimated our politicians. This morning’s newspaper said that according the said Chief Minister, the television footage of his visit was provided to the news channels by the government. Meaning him. Of course it was.
Did we not tell you how terrifying that walk was?)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

All the World’s a Parking Lot

(Appeared today in the BANGALORE MIRROR)

We’re drowning in traffic, they tell us. Slowly choking to an agonising death on roads that are more pothole than road. And so, the End of the World – according to some, just a short 1095 days away – will be because we will all fall into a Giant-Pothole-in-the-Sky.
Naturally, with such doomsday prophecies in the air, I have become a keen observer of traffic. And have come to the conclusion that the problem is not only that there are too many vehicles and too few roads. (Forecasters predict that very soon, roads, along with the tiger and the fruit bat, will be extinct and future generations will gaze at pictures of them with the same wonderment as they do of dinosaurs and gasp, “Look, Ma! A road!”) The problem is also that traffic rules are outdated because we have forgotten to take into account a marvel of automotive engineering designed purely to facilitate safer driving.
I speak of course of the cell phone.
So, in order to set things right, I propose a rule that, in one fell swoop, will un-jam the jams(if the Oxford dictionary can have “unfriend” then why not “unjam”?), unsnarl the snarls and make traffic flow faster that a reality show contestant’s tears.
And the rule (heretofore known as The Rule) is this – Never-ever drive without making sure that you’re talking on your cell phone. It is a well-researched fact that talking incessantly on the cell phone improves the bowel movement, shrivels up hangnails and increases the population of fruit flies in Jalpaiguri. How exactly it helps to unjam those traffic jams and make our roads safer we don’t know as yet, but suffice to say that it does.
Now as you do this, you may notice (or not) that you’re hitting things with fairly regular frequency, many of them people. Or vehicles with people in them. Don’t let this bother you because most of the people you hit will also be talk-or-texting on their cell phones and chances are they won’t notice.
Of course, this rule applies to only learner drivers. Once the L-plate comes off, a sub-clause of The Rule immediately comes into force. Which makes it mandatory for you to not only talk on your cell phone while driving but to also read and send text messages, using at least two phones.
Now let me explain why this rule is so effective.
There are many things that have been put on the roads by evil minds to distract you while you are driving.
For example, you may have noticed (or not) strange, mysterious, multicoloured markings and signs that are all over the place. Lines, some dotted, others dashed; some straight, others squiggly. Arrows pointing this way and that; sometimes even squiggly arrows. Some of them are painted onto the road; others are on signboards. Now some poor fools amongst us think that these are traffic signs, meant to regulate traffic. (Whatever that means.) The truth is that nobody knows what they are or what they mean but experts are now of the opinion they could be coded messages left by an alien race of super cockroaches from a yet-to-be-discovered planet who plan to colonise Earth into a giant garbage-dump-cum-public-loo.
(Yup, somebody else beat us to the idea!)

Then there are all those dratted lights. Some are called traffic lights, but are actually leftover decorations from the last three BJP chintan-baitaks, obvious from the way they change colour every few minutes. Others are called indicators and you’ll spot them winking lasciviously at you from the sides and rear ends of vehicles. Nobody knows what they indicate, though it could be the timing and venue of the next Reddy-garus tantrum.
And finally, there are those men in funny uniforms standing inside even funnier kiosks plonked right in the middle of the road. (As if we don’t already have enough congestion problems.) They periodically make strange (though not obscene and thank God for that!) gestures with their hands. Again, the aforementioned poor fools think these chapss are traffic cops (whatever that is) but if you look at them closely, you’ll notice that all of them look vaguely familiar. That’s because they’re actually contestants from Bigg Boss out on their weekly task or politicians practising waving-to-the crowds in readiness for the next state elections. (Which I’m told may happen before we disappear down that Giant Pothole.)
Naturally, the only thing to do about all these pesky distractions is to ignore them completely, which you will automatically do if you follow The Rule because you won’t see any of them since you will be too busy talking-‘n-texting. And we will do our bit to help you by providing regular and lavish supplies of smog, exhaust fumes and other emissions to keep your eyes constantly watering and visibility only enough for you to be able read what’s on your zara-zara-touch-me-touch-me cell phone screen.
(I know, I know – the brilliance of The Rule is taking your breath away! It did mine too.)
I end with a related matter that needs urgent attention - parking space. (According to one estimate, before we disappear down that Giant Pothole, the planet will be one giant parking lot and we humans will be centipedes, slithering our way around billions of stationery vehicles, parked in the same spot for thousands of years ago. Only four roads will be left, all reserved for VIP traffic.) The inspiration for the solution comes from observing the er, nonchalance with which so many Indian men publicly relieve themselves anywhere and everywhere. So I’m thinking, if all the world’s an urinal (forgive me, Shakespeareji), why can’t it also be a parking lot?