Saturday, 25 March 2017

TVF's Arunabh Kumar, International Women's Day, Buzzfeed And The Growing Business of Feminism


You see, when it comes to India (or just the world in general), sexism isn't uncommon. It's the sad heartbreakingly disgusting state of the nation, but we find solace in feeble and seemingly apparent spurts of progression. The internet today, unfailing comrade of the millennials, is a shining reflection of the people who sustain it. It's largely a progressive medium if you look in the right places. Racism, discrimination, bigotry, sexism, antisemitism - the vicious wyverns of our prejudiced pasts dissected with blatant aplomb in this virtual realm. Them, the harbingers of unattainable justice, trying to change the world one viral post at a time.

It was gratifying to embrace progression on a medium conducive to it. Television soaps still had its women unctuously doting over the men of the house and Bollywood still had its demeaning female acting sensually frolicking roles. The internet, spurned by the emergence of progressive web series creators, was the haven for liberal samaritans.

Or so we thought.

It's a shock to watch The Viral Fever burn in flames of its ignominy because it stood for more than just great content. It was the voice of the progressive youth - with shows that openly challenged antiquated traditions and resonated within the hearts and minds of the hopeful. Resonation is important, for it truly bridges the gap between the audience and the creator. Through Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Madhuri Dixit, we vicariously lived out our dormant romanticism, machismo and versatility. They resonated it with us, and we designated them to positions of importance.

So we did with TVF. An entertainment company that was about to launch its women-centric show 'Bisht, Please' this month. It isn't however, as we based on fallacious premises, a belief in progression. A desire to cause change, revamp mindsets and awaken the traditionalists. It isn't even a facade.

It's just business.

A business of feminism. Headed by honchos who openly, lecherously gape at women but jot down the words 'progressive' and 'liberal' on their meeting room bulletin boards when planning themes for shows. These are not progressive men, these are just closet traditionalists who know that progression sells.

What if there was some credibility to Arunabh Kumar's innocence (even though there can't be so much coagulated smoke without some fire) - thereby raising the question why people would find the need to conjure up fake molestation stories and thereby getting it answered by the fact that it sells.

Buzzfeed will happily shame any person found guilty of sexism (and rightly so) but would share a "10 Surprising Porn Habits By Indian Viewers" in a heartbeat. Another similar pseudo-progressive site would defame the photographer who looks to make some sweet rupee by snapping unflattering pictures of Bollywood actresses (and rightly so), but would happily share "20 Times Ranveer Singh Made You Thirsty AF".

Business. Just good ol' business.

On Women's Day, you see less celebrating the existence of women in our lives, without whom we would truly be nowhere, and more comparisons between the genders. Rega Jha, editor of Buzzfeed India tweets out (to paraphrase) "Let's celebrate women's day by appreciating things men do better than us: genocide..."

While I'm sure (positive!) that it was all in jest, a barrage of retweets later the purpose seems to be murky. The trivialisation of issues in the quest for high-impact potentially viral content. It's the decision between wanting to shout "Thank you to all the women" over "All men are dogs!". The decision between what's good appreciation and what's good business.

A trifle of transient fame; a little transitory cyber notoriety. The essence of Women's Day lost to the business of feminism. Somehow, it seems that on days like these it's not the activists who sleep peacefully after spreading awareness but rather the jewellery stores that cashed them ousside howbow dah special promotions. A good day of business.

In midst of it all, us, flitting around from one false mascot of change to another - hoping and praying for progress but somehow, rather surprisingly, getting nowhere.

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If you liked what you read, then dial up help-a-homie-hotline and please assist me in making this writing thing something substantial. If you didn't, k

Saturday, 4 March 2017

The 'Not Bad' Tale Of My Driving Instructor


If I were to promise you a world hitherto unseen, unheard and unfelt by a mere shift in seating position, kind of like the blog version of a red and blue pill, would you believe? Surely, the sights and sounds of this mundane reality are unfazed by angles - my pet monkey (if I had one) would look equally happy devouring a banana (if he had one) if I viewed him from the balcony of my villa (if I had one) or the passenger seat of my car (as you must've guessed, also if I had one).

Yet we wage a constant battle between presumption and reality. I woke up to the vicissitudes of the road in November by changing my regular position in motor vehicles by just one seat. Strapped into the driver seat of a fuming, faltering and clearly-agonised-by-every-movement Nissan Sunny, I was abruptly shunned into a novel perspective. It was a world I was ignorant to, an unspoken dialect that was previously illegible - the gush of gratitude when that toothless truck driver gave me way and the rush of rage when that spineless bus driver flashed his headlights at me. 

A ravenous student was reborn. Taking his place in the passenger seat was an instructor who was perpetually unsatisfied. I was young again - a little child tottering and slipping on his odyssey towards learning to walk. He took my hand and led me on an asphalt path of discovery. The road is a great leveller of fate, I would posit ruefully, as I made a gleaming, whizzing Range Rover Evoque swerve out of the way of my wailing, whining and clearly-in-astronomical-distress Nissan Sunny. 

"So bad." 

My instructor would sigh. He would lean back, close his eyes and soundlessly mutter incantations, leaving me in the driver seat of a faltering, flailing Nissan Sunny under the inarguable impression that he solely relied on higher powers (over my nascent driving skills) to get us out of the cacophony of Oud Metha road. 

I knew - I just knew. My suspicions were confirmed when he added a beaded necklace to the mix, constantly running a finger down the beads, murmuring to himself while I changed lanes. 

"So bad."

These words were all that drowned the radio - the theme song of my tutelage. So bad. I foresaw a 'so bad' before I made the turn. I foresaw another weighted 'so bad' much before I entered the freeway. I would randomly hear those words in the middle of Eminem's greatest tracks. I would hear them before I crossed the road, on foot. I would nonchalantly dismiss the theatrical jitters of horror movies, yet if I were to hear the words 'so' and 'bad' randomly strung together in everyday conversation, I would start to sweat. Trepidation would bend me over, convulsing like a fish out of water (to the horror of the aunty I was just discussing my marriage eligibility with), drowning me in the engulfing terrors of driving ineptitude. 

With time it took the role of an unrelenting impetus. Emboldened by the hunger to seek approval, I would constantly learn, unlearn and practice - until there came a glorious, fateful day when I (in my objectively humble opinion) executed a perfect manoeuvre and glanced hopefully at his placid visage.

"Yallah, so bad."

Preposterous! How could anyone criticise the elegance of that action? I would sputter indignantly; I would bombard him with questions, daring him to 'so bad' my determined efforts once again.

But he did. I spent weeks perfecting my near perfect movements, but 101.6 So Bad FM was all that resonated within my pleading, beseeching Nissan Sunny. There were times when I made a blatant gaffe and abashedly avoided his probing gaze - him soundlessly taunting me to question once again and me trying to reduce the tally of 'so bad's that was a perpetually accumulating glistening heap.


We had our moments in the sun. There was a time when a Chevrolet Corvette tried to bully its way into my lane, and me being the descendent of the regal blood of Mankhool, heir of the nobility of Bur Dubai, would stubbornly assert my priority over my lane with my frantic, frenetic Nissan Sunny. My instructor stepped in, admonishing me to go out of my way to give the Corvette some leeway because in his opinion we were meant to respect a 'good car'.

"Tayeb, but what if it's a Nissan Tiida?"

He made a violent spitting motion and chuckled merrily.

Needless to say, at the next given opportunity, I made no qualms about not giving way to a Tiida, viciously spitting at the startled driver.

Also needless to say, my instructor wasn't pleased.

It took a few weeks (read: months) (truthfully read: years) but there came a day when (once again in my humble opinion) I moved seamlessly through the fumes spittin' bedlam of horns, sirens and thundering engines. My hands blended in with the steering wheel and my foot forged its sweet analogous relationship with the pedals. I twirled my moustache, puffed up my chest and looked at him with burgeoning pride, internally pleading for my first word of praise.

He avoided my gaze and casually ruffled through his papers, determined not to give me the satisfaction of having attained his stamp of approval.

"Not bad."

Not bad? Not bad?! In a frustrating tangle of 'so bad's and 'not bad's, I became a citizen of the road. For one of the last times in my life, I was in the hands of a teacher and I was out to serenade to the swan song of my student life. Yet, I never got my 'good'. 

He would never dote, praise or look mildly happy with my improvement. His temporary lapses in demeanour would occur only when I failed, for it seemed that he restrained a modicum of confidence in his student that would emerge when questioned by an external authority. He would take extra hours and work through a diseased liver to give me classes. Yet, I never got my 'good'. 

Once, to deliberately mess me up into countless sleepless nights (I know, I just know), he uttered 'not bad but not good'.

Alas! Unable to get the didactic nod from my teacher, I passed all tests immune to the vagaries of external examiners. Their certified and publicly valued stamp of approval was nothing compared to the informal and unacknowledged stamp I never got. After years of car lifts, public transport sagas and guilty car rides, I was liberated to be confined in the white lines of the road. Yet, I still never get my 'good'.

I went back to him, one last time, equipped with the plastic card that was the certified fruit of my labour and desire. I asked him one last question, completely unrelated to my tenure as his pupil, expecting another traditional 'not bad' that would set me on my way, away from the last dregs of my student life. Just one more 'not bad' to latch this box of memories, and I would merge silently into the tumultuous tangle of daily traffic.

"Do you like the Mitsubishi Lancer?"

I knew what was coming; I was prepared for it.

"I like you, habibi."

I looked into those eyes to see pure, genuine pride and I knew.

I just knew.

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All characters in this anecdote are purely fictional and any semblance to actual events or people, living or dead, is purely coincidental.