Archive | July 2014

2014: Dystopia

My previous post and the comment there just got me thinking. What sort of dystopia will scare the bejeesus out of me?

Full Disclosure: I may or may not be one of these.

2014

The year is 2014. The social media wave that had swept over the lovely little Subcontinent has now turned into a social media tsunami. The first generation of innocent Orkutiyas have now evolved into Facebookers and Twitteratti, a more dangerously stupid breed.

Armed with a bunch of photos They sit behind computer monitors, unleashing the virus. The contagion spreads quickly and Gullibility and Stupidity  slowly starts eating into the brains of Facebookers and Twitteratti. It is now ingrained in their DNA. Inbreeding of Orkutiyas, Facebookers and Twitteratti has created a new species: Social Media Morons. They have the characteristics of all three. Concentrated. They can see, they can read. But they can’t think. They can’t analyse. They have lost the ability to Unbelieve. When they see a photo that has been unleashed upon them by Them, they lose the ability to right click on it and select Search Google for this Image. They have forgotten how to use the easiest tool known to mankind: Google. The moment these Social Media Morons see such pictures, they can only click  on three buttons : Share. Retweet. Forward. In rare cases, they are able to exercise self control and click on safer options like Like or Favourite.

But thankfully, a few citizens of the Subcontinent have been immune to the virus. They have been able to resist Gullibility and Stupidity and their brains have developed a protective shield. These people are the Super Cynics. They know how to Google. They haven’t lost the ability to use their brains. They know how to Unbelieve.

Just last night, a Super Cynic saw this. This Super Cynic isn’t too techsavvy, so forgive photo quality.

Exhibit A:

2014-07-30 20.24.21

A normal brain, an average pre Social Media brain, would have looked at atleast the second picture and wondered if this is actually somewhere on the way to Vaishnodevi or even just a railway track. Even a pre Social Media brain sitting in the deep south of the subcontinent where there are no mountains, only sea, would wonder. And then the brain would realise that the first picture is somewhere near Goa, the Konkan Railway line. The second and third picture is from some foreign locale that may soon be seen in a Bollywood movie. And the fourth picture may be of that of the actual Vaishnodevi Railway station, the one where a certain Person recently flagged off the train. Or something. And another Person nitpicked.

But sadly, now the Social Media Morons can do just one thing: Believe. Blindly, Truly, Madly, Deeply Believe.

Exhibit B:

Guj

The key words here that would have triggered off the alarm bells in a pre Social Media brain are ‘Gujarat’  and the M word. A simple right click on the picture and selecting Search Google for this Image would have thrown up atleast 10 results that indicate that the picture was from 2005 and the Mumbai floods. Not from Gujarat or last week’s rains. But no. The keywords, the G word and the M word, have formed a numbing layer on the brain here and the person is unable to look beyond them.

And worse. The Social Media Morons who responded to this image exhibit different forms of moronism. ‘This is not a photo from Gujrat, but from Uttrakhand. Don’t make a fool of public!’.  Don’t make a fool… metametameta.

And the Super Cynics just continue to shake their heads in sad defeat and only hope that someone will find a cure and control this epidemic of Social Media Moronism.

Recommended reading: Plenty. But what’s the point?

Edit: Couldn’t help but share this. For the wellbeing of future generations.

 

The Handmaid’s Tale- Margaret Atwood :43/52

Crazy.

This book was on a list of books so depressing that people abandoned it halfway. Being a sucker for dark, deep and depressing, I immediately picked it up. It wasn’t so gripping or unputdownable, so I was comfortable reading just a few chapters every day an wasn’t in a hurry to finish it. But somehow, the book didn’t hit me at all. Or so I thought. Because much to my surprise, almost every night during the ten days it took me to finish the book I had disturbing dreams: dreams of being trapped in abandoned buildings or of being suffocated or trying to cross over barbed wire fences. Books don’t usually do that to me. They affect my thoughts when I’m awake, not in my dreams. I’m awake right now, and this book is not doing anything to me.

Yes, there is a society, not too far away, where women are all dressed in blue and wear something more stifling than white wings on their faces. There is a society, currently emerging at alarming speed, where women are allegedly being turned into beings of mere procreation without pleasure. But by no stretch of imagination can I picture such a society ever being possible in the US. Not now, not in the past, not in the next million years. I couldn’t relate, couldn’t relate to the horror that this was supposed to be. Most of it seemed more amusing or satirical rather than horrifying. And the futuristic set up, as imagined 30 years ago,that has technology prefixed with the word Compu is just plain hilarious.

Gilead is a Christian theocracy. What denomination, it doesn’t say. Baptists are supposed to be enemies, Catholic priests are hanged at the Wall and people quote rules from the Bible. The Old Testament does have a lot of convenient rules. So this society too has rules, actually laws, which allot babymaking women to husbands of infertile wives  because pollution, immorality and birth control have rendered most of the women sterile. And when the husband himself is the problem, the task is quietly reoutsourced. (Very Pandu-like. Or actually more like this ). Women are colour coded and slotted into roles. The Handmaids wear red and their only job is to make babies. The older women take on the role of Aunts or Marthas, chaperons or servants; they wear grey and green. The Wives wear blue and their role in society is pretty much to do nothing but wait for a Handmaid to give them a baby. And there are Econowives who are everything, multcoloured. Unwomen who fall under ‘none of the above’ are sent to the Colonies where they clean up toxic waste and waste away.  The fertile Handmaids are given three chances to fill the barren houses they occupy with babies; healthy babies, babies that are conceived in Ceremonies and born in Ceremonies. Babies, not Unbabies. Unbabies  go to the Shredder (The only thing in this book that continues to disturb me when I’m awake). Handmaids take on the names of the men they are passed on to: Offred, Ofwarren, Ofglen. Of <man’s name>. (How different is this from suffixing the man’s name to hers? Anyway) And the men of course, are just Men. The Commanders. Men who lust after Jezebels who wear salvaged lingerie from the past or just sad little men who just want to have have normal lives and play Scrabble. The sole purpose of human existence is to repopulate the country and impose Biblical rule, complete with loopholes that allow Jezebels. And life goes on. Goes on until.

As I said, Crazy.

Afternote: There seem to be extreme reactions to this book. People are comparing the Hobby Lobby ruling with this and seeing it as a sign of things to come. I can only say LOL.

 

The Deliberate Sinner- Bhaavna Arora: 42/52

A Woman’s Era short story in 150 pages.

You know those stories that appear in Woman’s Era? The forced language that seems to be thought-in-Hindi-written-in-English, the attitude of the characters, their names , the weak and disconnected plot, the confused protagonist, the attempted ‘modernity’. Everything in this book reminded me of Woman’s Era. But instead of having the kind of predictable ending those short stories usually have, this book follows the current trend of women breaking free from unhappy marriages. Yeah, that trend. Or maybe it reminded me of one of those never ending soaps that drag on pointlessly for years.

Rihanna is rich, happy, carefree. She has doting parents, a dog and her personal bodyguard-cum-driver-cum-Man Friday. She takes a solo trip to Thailand and Veer, the richhandsomehunk who happens to be sitting next to her also happens to be her friend Raj’s friend. Nothing more Veerwise happens during the trip. Then one day she meets Veer again at the swimming pool and he swims a hundred laps just to take her out for coffee. But instead of coffee, he proposes to her. That very evening she tells her parents about him and they get engaged. Huh? Is this to be categorized as a love marriage or the cliched love-cum-arranged marriage? Then she realises that Veer is not suitable for her, but instead of breaking the engagement and bringing shame to her family she finds solace in Raj, her friend who becomes her friend with benefits. But he is too dark complexioned for her to marry.He vanished from the plot after that and gets mentioned only once later. Blah blah and blah later Rihanna and Veer get married. When he plays a prank on her and stages a terrifying dacoity and almost rape (!) on the Gurgaon highway, she thinks nothing of it. But then as the days go by she realises that he is an insecure drunkard and a selfish jerk who refuses to give her pleasure in bed. Since the day they were married he has given her just three orgasms, something which she innocently reports to her aunt (!). Then he goes on and has an affair with a girl who called him a Tiger because he did it eleven times with her. Numbers. Blah blah and blah some more she leaves him and goes to Mumbai to stay with her uncle who is a Bollywood producer and becomes a fashion designer or something. Then a change of heart happens and she comes back to give him another chance. Then they fight, make up fight again. Then another character is suddenly introduced, a police officer Avinash.  And the predictable you-know-what happens and she is finally set free.

Let me be honest, I skimmed through this book. Everything was so repetitive and predictable that I know skipping sentences did not make me miss out on much. Blogadda sent the copy of the book signed by the author. ‘ Hate the sin, not the sinner’ she had written. I have no clue what the sin was or who the sinner was. So I’m playing it safe and not hating anything here. Not even hating the book. Because you can like or hate something only if you’re involved enough.

Verdict: Nah.

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

 

 

The Sceptical Patriot-Sidin Vadukut :41/52

Ok. Dinanath Batra, your move.

I somehow don’t like Sidin. Maybe because I found his Dork book  painfully unfunny or maybe because he didn’t reply to me on Twitter once. But I find him overrated (As an author. I still like his tweets). So I was not planning on liking this book and was gleefully looking forward to tear apart all those glowing five star ratings. Too bad. I liked it. I won’t give it Five Stars, but maybe I’ll give it a Perk.

You’re not a True Patriotic Indian if you haven’t received one of those emails with India Facts that you have to forward to all True Patriotic Indians if you are a True Patriotic Indian. You get bite sized pieces of those facts on Whatsapp these days.  I delete such emails without opening them and have even sent some of my Patriotic friends permanently to the spam folder. So just when I was about to tick the box that said False Patriot against my ‘Level of Patriotism’ , Sidin thankfully gives me another option . One that I can comfortably tick, guilt free: Sceptical Patriot.

Yes, the book does meander and digress a lot. There’s quite a bit of unrelated personal stories that gives the book a blogposty feel.  But forgiven. He doesn’t claim to be writing as a fuddy duddy serious historian and some chuckles are needed to break the academic feel of the topics. There is so much that has been covered and it seems really researched, not just Google researched. Was Sushruta the person behind Michael Jackson or Sridevi’s nose? Did Marconi steal the thunder from Jagdish Chandra Bose? Should we blame ancient Indians for placing Zero in the dangerous hands of Kapil Sibal? Was the whole world at Takshashila long long long before they were at Shardha University? (And oh. Takshashila is not in Bihar). Was ancient India richer than Mukesh Ambani or Sonia Gandhi? Would I have been less intimidated by computerese if my developers used Sanskrit instead of Java? All these questions have answers. Interesting answers. Medicine, economics, physics, history, geography, the range of topics covered seems a bit ambitious. But everything is served in Baby Bear portions, just right. The scorecards at the end of each chapter had me nodding in agreement.

But he has been too politically correct. Come on Sidin, waiting for spicier topics in your next book. Like Tejomahalaya or this or this. And while you’re at it, please tell me what will happen if I drink Coca Cola with Mentos inside the ATM and then enter my PIN backwards.

And then maybe this

A Fine Balance- Rohinton Mistry :40/52

Nothing fine or balanced here. Nothing.

.Rohinton-Mistry-A-Fine-Balance-191x300

This book should have been called Such a Long Journey.  A long uphill journey where every step those four people take upwards, they are dragged two steps down.

As crazy as it sounds, The Emergency fascinates me.  Mainly because I am not able to understand how, just how it could have happened, how the country could have let it happen. So much horror. Last month, on the anniversary of that dark period that India went through, pictures of Modi and Subramaniam Swamy disguised as Sikhs were doing the rounds. Ironic, given that 9 years later, Sikhs would shave off their beards and discard their turbans to escape death. People frustrated with government offices these days still invoke the time when everyone, right from the peon to the officers, were at their desks at 9 am sharp. But these memories are from those who lived sheltered lives back then. Like Nusswan and Mrs. Gupta. Not those who experienced the other side of The Emergency coin. Like Ishvar and Om. That unfine imbalance. No hope. Only despair.

A middle aged Parsi widow, trying to keep her head above water to remain independent from her uncaring brother. A man whose father defied his Village by The River and dared to do the unthinkable : turn cobblers into tailors. A young boy, the second generation of the Mochi- turned- Darji family. Another young boy uprooted from his peaceful mountains and thrown into the City by the Sea by his well-intentioned but stubborn parents. This unlikely foursome is brought together by destiny and torn apart by fate, the inevitable fate.

Every single character made a deep impact on me. The grateful Ashraf Chacha and that neighbourhood, the revolutionary college boy fighting The System, be it the college canteen caterer or the Prime Minister, the good-bad Beggarmaster, the happy legless beggar Shankar, the repentant rent collector, the Monkey man, his monkeys and that prophecy, the hair seller who keeps rising from his ashes, the policeman Kesar who does what good he can do with his system-tied hands. Everyone is a piece in a jigsaw puzzle that falls together to create a picture of Reality. Turn the jigsaw puzzle over and it forms another picture of  Reality with insensitive Nusswan, the shallow Sodawallas, the cold Mrs. Gupta , a sympathetic but judgy Zenobia,  the clueless Kohlahs,  the faceless Landlord, Thakur Dharamsi and the unnamed Prime Minister and Her Son.

I didn’t realise that this book was 600+ pages long , it just kept me going and going on the Kindle. It wasn’t enough. I read the last few pages again and again, trying to find some hidden ray of hope. There was no hope, but there was no despair too. The small but sweet victory in the end was significant enough. Acceptance, the midpoint between hope and despair. Or the sweet release of Death.

I felt an impotent anger throughout the book . An anger towards the unfairness of it all. Many things in this book kept drawing me to Today and it shames me to realise that nothing has actually changed since 1975. The slums remain, they have grown in size and not a whisper when they are razed to the ground; outrage is reserved only for illegal Campa Cola flats. Caste still makes girls swing lifeless from mango trees, gets children’s body parts cut off. Caste still draws crowds to the polling booths where a lone Narayan continues to defy once in a while and is nipped in the bud. Legless beggars continue to roll on wooden platforms, women with babies unrelated to them still tap on tinted glass windows at traffic signals, cars still run over pavement dwellers. Women burn midnight oil, sewing buttons and glitter on dresses that will sell in far off countries with a price tag more than their yearly wages. Politicians continue to recruit audience by the busload,claiming to be their servant, promising them that old promises will be kept.  Spending Rs. 47 a day puts people in the Not-Poor list. And the imbalance continues.

Digital Fortress- Dan Brown :39/52

Geek fiction

If I had to read this book back in 1998 when it was published I would have chucked it after the first few pages. Back then cryptology meant Aravind Swamy in Roja, NSA was something I hadn’t heard about and ‘computers’ to me meant MS Word and MS Paint.  But now I’m in that comfortable place where I am aware of NSA and their snooping, knowledgeable enough to understand bigbig computer  terms and ignorant enough look beyond any technical inaccuracies in this book.  Book snobs might look down upon Dan Brown and his readers but that’s them. I like Dan Brown.

The plot : Someone has created the holy grail of encryption software or something and the NSA wants it. Because this means that everyone’s secrets will be safe inside the Digital Fortress and  the American government can’t peek into people’s bathrooms emails all over the world. This miracle code thingy has put NSA’s supersnooper computer TRANSLTR on a digital wild goose chase and it is unable to break it. Like in all Dan Brown thrillers here also you have  the standard threesome: a  boss, a beautiful woman with brains and a clueless professor dragged into something that doesn’t concern him in any way. You also have the mandatory mysterious assassin with the odd name, a clock ticking away on a countdown and a puzzle that needs to be solved. Then there is the standard parallel good intentioned person(s) trying to figure out/ stop what the main three are up to.  And of course a nailbiting chase that happens in a European country with some gruesome murders thrown in for extra flavour.  Then the item, here it is a  ring, that has an inscription or something that has to be solved to stop the digital apocalypse or something. And spoiler: The  boss. Wait. Did I just join the book snob club?

The puzzles: North Dakota. Hello, we know that Dan Brown likes anagrams. I figured that out longlong before they did. The ‘mystery’ code in the ring was such an anticlimax. Hiroshima-Nagasaki. Uranium 235-238. Hello, that was so so obvious. I could have solved that  five pages before they did.

But anyway. Typical or not, I enjoyed the book. A much needed quickie thriller. I’ve crossed out all the Dan Brown books off the list now. And I’m eagerly waiting for his next one.

 

The Illicit Happiness of Other People- Manu Joseph :38/52

Dark. Deep. Depressing. Funny. Haunting. Sad. Scary.

A 60 watts yellow bulb, losing the fight to low voltage and weakly trying to light up a musty, mold smelling room on a wet November evening. That was where this book took me. To a dark place where something just sinks inside my insides, does a somersault and sinks a little more.

The same wickedness of Manu Joseph’s Serious Men is still going strong in this book, but the wickedness comes with a sense of melancholy here.  The tired economy is on the brink of throwing its doors open to foreign investors. It is three years since The Leader died and his mistress (ZOMG!), the humiliated Amma is on the rise. People are going on hunger strikes for someone else’s war.  And in a nondescript middle class colony in Madras where ‘all men are managers, all women are housewives and all bras are white’ lives the dysfunctional Chacko family. A mother who wags her finger and talks to the walls, a father who gets his obituary written every night and a twelve year old at the crossroads between child and man, fighting pettiness, losing his innocence. There’s Mythili Balasubramaniam, the girl next door, as good as a good girl should be. And Unni Chacko. Unni Chacko, our hero, who did what he did.

Ousep rediscovers his son through the eyes of his classmates, his friends, eccentric cartoonists, a nun who took the vow of silence, a psychiatrist, a physics teacher and finally his mother. Mariamma wants to understand why the father has suddenly embarked on this journey to rediscover his son. Thoma tries hard to usurp his elder brother’s place. And Mythili Balasubramaniam quietly locks him up in her fond and not-so-fond memories. Everyone is trying to understand why Unni Chacko did what he did.

I can’t review this book. It is a book that needs to be read and relished through your own eyes, own perspective. And once you’re done, draw your own conclusions. Or continue to wonder why Unni Chacko did what he did.

What I think ? Spoiler: I think Unni Chacko did what he did because he suddenly realised that he had become Philipose. And Philipose needed to be punished. By Unni. Again.

I sat through the night reading the book until my eyes protested. I woke up and read a few more pages with toothbrush in one hand and I drove to work at extra speed to open my laptop and continue reading. This book just had to be finished in one sitting. The pages turn themselves and make you crave for more. More Unni.

I’m a very simple person, questioning Life overwhelms me. So there was a lot that went *whoosh* over my head towards the end. Big word syndromes that I totally couldn’t relate to, but syndromes that do exist. Maybe exist closer to me than I want to believe.

If you want to walk into a big black cloud and float around in it for some time, read the book. You’ll stay dark, heavy and sad for some time. But you’ll get out of it. Because as Unni Chacko said, you just can’t escape happiness.