The Summer of 2014
Phew! It’s been a hot summer in more ways than one. Besides slurping mangoes and sweating buckets, we Indians actually came out in droves and voted.
We often feel that we are a divided country. We’re just too big, too populated, and too diverse to actually feel like one nation. But this time there was something common amongst all Indians, across the length and breadth of the land. We were all totally fed up with our last Government. Everyone unanimously felt that enough is enough. Now why we were so fed up is another story altogether (more than a story actually, it can form a series of books). But it was a new experience to see everyone throw their vote behind one man. Congress made desperate last-minute barbs by calling him ‘chaiwalla’, and referring to a 56 inch chest, but in the end they had to put their tail between their legs and run for cover, because the people of India gave them a good, solid, well-deserved kick. It feels great that they’ve been squashed (for the present at least), like that lazy, disgusting cockroach that lurks in the corner of your kitchen.
Because of all this polly-tickle tamasha, one watches a lot of news these days. You can’t see a minute of news without hearing the name ‘Modi’. It’s the most used word after the phrase ‘India needs an answer’. If someone actually did a statistical tally, the word ‘modi’ would be occurring at the frequency of one per minute at a bare minimum, and even going up to twenty-seven per minute on a good day. Because even when people are not talking about Modi, they are talking about Modi. You can’t discuss anything without his name popping up. Government, corruption, dhoklas, Gujarat, Hindus, Muslims, kurtas, puppies, and everything connects to Modi somehow. You’ve got to hand it to the guy for become Brand No. 1. During the last six months or so, family/friends get-togethers could not proceed as normal. The room would be firmly divided into pro-Modi and anti-Modi factions. Everyone would be shouting their opinion without hearing anothers’. Each camp is firmly entrenched in its belief, and it’s impossible to budge them either way. There are spouses, siblings, parents and kids who don’t see eye-to-eye on this.
But we forget an important thing. We have to thank the Congress party. Why? If they hadn’t put up a goofy like RaGa, who knows, they might have got a bigger majority, and would not be shaking in their shoes today. Imagine if they had a smart, shrewd, capable leader. It would be terrible, because they might continue in power for the next sixty years, reducing India to pulp. Their miserable governance actually united this country, which otherwise can’t agree on which MDH masala is best.
As citizens of this great nation, there are several cards that are essential to our existence. Yes, you heard right—cards. These harmless little laminated pieces of paper, generously stamped by the Government and decorated with illegible signatures are our lifeblood. You aren’t truly an Indian until you have a bunch of these cards, squirrelled away somewhere.
Take that grand old patriarch of cards, known as the ‘ration card’. This has been around for decades. Are you likely to buy rice or dal at subsidised rates? I thought not. This little booklet doubles up as a proof of residence and practically a proof of citizenship, for when you need to acquire other cards and add them to your ever-growing collection. It is nearly impossible to get your own ration card. I was told by a helpful tout that my name must exist on my parent’s card, and it could only be transferred from there to a new card. Like blue blood, ration cards move from one generation to the next. Unlike blue blood, the transfer would come at a cost, said aforementioned tout, eyeing me greedily.
Consider the humble driving license, another innocent looking thing. Traffic police threaten to confiscate it if you get caught. Friends double up laughing when they see your photograph on it. Thus, it provides power for some and entertainment for others. To attain a driver’s license you should know how to drive. That is the general assumption people make, and it is wrong. Is the ration card used for ration? No. In a similar manner, the license is not proof of your driving skills. Many people possessing driving licenses do not know how to park, and why should they, when the license has much more important functions? It acts as proof of your residence (again) and identity (inspite of the hilarious picture where you resemble a tomato) when you want to apply for Passport, PAN card, Election card, open a bank account, close a bank account, board a domestic flight, prove your identity to a train ticket collector, and so on.
So once I was the proud owner of a driving license I decided to put my license to better use. I would get my Voter ID card, or Election card, or whatever they call the blasted thing these days. This is a precious one. If you possess it, hang on to it. At this time of year everyone is turning his or her cupboard and wallet upside down hunting it down. First-time voters like myself are trudging miles in the heat trying to track down where their card is. This is the card that connects you and me, normal, unimportant people, to the Prime Minister himself (or herself). This card can change our future (or so we believe). This card will improve our lives (that’s what we tell ourselves). My spouse and I are running from pillar to post, but the card is a coy damsel, dodging us at every turn. Still, we have to thank it for getting us into shape with all that chasing, as well as developing our Buddha-like patience.
Let’s not hurt the sentiments of numerous other Indian cards by ignoring them. The PAN card is the easiest, friendliest one of the lot. The Gas Cylinder Card is again a very important creature in the card ecosystem. Housewives value it more than oxygen, and with good reason. For who even breathes real oxygen these days, with all the pollution around us? LPG gas is something we can’t live without, for our rozi roti depends on it. Have you seen a household without a gas cylinder? It’s usually falling apart in chaos. For a short while the Gas Card was hitched with that new kid on the block, the Aadhar Card. This made us all run around like headless chickens. But now that the two cards have got divorced, we’re all breathing easy again.
I hear you ask, why was I seeking a ration card to begin with? Well, let me explain. To provide proof of residence for my learner’s license, which would lead to the driver’s license, which could be used as proof to get an Election Card, which I could vote with to change the government which has created this system, and usher in a new government with their own new crazy system for us to adjust to all over again.
One of the greatest inventions of tropical countries is the afternoon nap, or siesta. The nap has always had a grand tradition in our own country, and with good reason. After a hot, humid morning in front of our computers, or at our desks, we desperately need some shut-eye, so we can spend the rest of the day once again staring at the computer screen. While the metropolises of Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru have forgotten this noble habit, the nap is still kept alive and kicking (or shall we say, snoring?) in the smaller cities and towns such as Pune, Mysore, Ahmedabad, Surat, and of course in the hill-stations as well. Here, the shop shutters come cranking down by 2 pm latest. The shop owner will gleefully inform you, “Madam, ab toh band hai. Panch baje khulega.” You may grimace, stamp your feet and curse but to little effect. The afternoon nap is as sacred as the morning puja.
Nowadays, there are extremely annoying nap-killers. The biggest one is the courier man. Once in a blue moon you get a free afternoon to yourself at home. It’s a lazy Saturday. A heavy lunch sits comfortably in your tummy. The bed beckons. You’ve just laid your head on the pillow, your eyelids drooping, your mind sliding into la-la land, your toes snug under the blanket, when TINGTONG! The bell will scream with mind-numbing shrillness, shattering your last shred of sanity. With utmost difficulty you crawl out of bed, drag yourself to the door on all fours, just about manage to stand, and open it. There stands a grinning beast, wide-awake at the unearthly hour of 3 pm, holding your envelope. He greets you with, “Sign please!” while you dream of greeting him with a heavy object over his head. You scrawl some illegible signature, write down any random phone number that enters your half-dead head, and crawl back into bed. But now, the moment has been soured. Sleep eludes you, and you realize you may as well make yourself a cup of tea.
There are other, smaller nap-killers as well. The street dogs, who come to life at precisely 3 pm and 3 am everyday. These creatures have an inbuilt alarm clock that lets out a volley of barks. Then there’s a neighbour’s wailing baby. And yet another neighbour’s ambition to drill walls, cut tiles and hammer nails only in the middle of the afternoon. There are the teenagers on the sixth floor who fancy themselves Aerosmith and practice the electric guitar with admirable dedication and alarming tone-deafness.
Another nap-killer is the modern Indian mall. These urban monsters spring up in every neighbourhood, and stay open morning to night, ruining age-old good habits like napping. People who would have been dreaming between the sheets are now marching around in circles staring at shops. What a waste of a perfectly good afternoon. Afternoon naps have been known to have real health benefits, increase productivity, and better the mood. These nap-killers have no sense of responsibility. Hopefully, the next political party that rules India will have afternoon-naps high on their agenda. It will be discussed in Parliament and the Nap Bill will be passed, that will ensure the protection and enforcement of the Humble Afternoon Nap.
The New Yorker