Everybody Needs a Good Orissa

Stand-up comedians love talking about how much they get to travel during the job. And it is true! The glamour, the travel, the recycled air, the amount of alone time spent in hotels must be the brick and mortar of childhood dreams. But being a budding stand-up comedian means grabbing a chance to perform at any venue you get hold of. Even if it means Orissa! Even if it means the original purpose of visit was a wedding. Even if it means performing at a Children’s Library!

Orissa, for me, had been a soft target to generate easy laughs from the crowd. Why not Bihar? It’s so 90s! *roll eyes with the confidence of a girl whose eyebrows are shaped like inverse Nike symbols* My expectations were low because the happiest thing I had heard about Orissa since childhood was Nandita Das. So I think it’s understandable when the standard of my Orissa jokes were “Orissa is so poor that all tourist expenditure goes directly to the CM Relief fund”.

Chugging past the Chilika Lake, in a sleeper class coach that justified its name, I couldn’t help but marvel at the sheer size of the “lake”. I tried to imagine the disappointment people would have felt when the Chilika Lake was found to be a lake and not a sea. At some point in time, thousands of adults must have been overcome with profound sorrow when their childhood memories and myths about the Chilika Sea were wiped away in one instant, because a bespectacled researcher writing for a journal with lesser number of readers than Golf Digest, wanted to be technically correct. And I realized, had I skipped three more Geography classes in 10th standard, I would have thought science was a lunatic’s paradise to think that the Chilika was a lake. I was enjoying this train of thought when a tea seller, who had a voice that would give Rani Mukherjee a superiority complex, tried to sell me what was essentially a tea bag in hot bile. I resisted the urge to say something rude because who knows what can become of a chaiwala.

But it wasn’t until I reached Bhubaneshwar that I realized that my thoughts weren’t the results of non-coriander green leaves. The city is basically the best kept secret in the world! What can one say; the air is breathable during peak hours of traffic, the roads don’t have too many potholes that look like God stubbed cigarettes, the city has enough greenery for children to know that trees aren’t wooden stumps in parks and it is cleaner than most boys hostels in the country.

Maybe Orissa needs a good marketing agent, I thought. But then again, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe all the citizens of Bhubaneshwar are underselling the city. Because who wants pesky tourists and an increase in the number of Lays and Kurkure packets in the garbage? I can sympathize if the people of Bhubaneshwar feel that way because I got possessive about the city in two days and didn’t want to tell anyone about it. So those of you reading this, yes the two of you, you are special to me.

I am certain Orissa has its poverty and related problems and that my experience is another drop in Chilika Lake. But if anything, I learnt that being wrong can be a poetic experience. It is one thing to realize that you are insignificant compared to the size of the Chilika Lake universe, but it’s another thing to realize how fragile all the opinions I currently hold are. It was a profoundly humbling moment wherein I realized everything I currently believe in including LGBT rights, secularism, __________ (the blank shouldn’t be too hard to fill) could be outrageous thoughts. And thus ended my subsidized version of Eat Pray Love!

So this meant that I don’t have the heart to crack too many Orissa jokes during my stand up acts. Well, what else is Haryana for anyway? I’ve been there, and it was more Gangs of Wasseypur than Eat Pray Love. And where am I going to go next? I have some opinions on Africa that need to be dealt with.


Heroism Comes in Small Relief Packages

There are many times in life when heroism possesses us. Saving the world around us from a crisis while the saved citizens of a country sing ballads about me is a recurrent theme in my day dreams. After I break out of them, I catch myself unconsciously giving a passionate smoulder into the distance while wallowing in self-pity because if there was ever such a situation I would be inconsequential citizen number 42 crying for help than the super hero.

But a fully grown up cousin of mine, had other ideas.

When I asked him to come with me to Chennai to distribute some relief material, he agreed instantly. I was suspicious because there is nothing in my life that I would say ‘yes’, that quickly to.

Non-Me: Your name is Mukesh?

Me: (A few quantum Vedic equations later) Mostly that, but some annoying pet names too, whose origin stories would prove the butterfly effect.

I realized my cousin was under the impression that he was going to dive into the flood waters and save drowning children, while he challenges the government on its corrupt moral fibre. Then the citizens of Chennai would tattoo his name onto their foreheads and erect giant statues, after which Jayalalitha, realizing the folly of her ways, would hand over the reins of the state of Tamil Nadu to my cousin. That’s when I realized my cousin’s day dreams were more Baahubali than Batman!

To offset the delusional optimism of my cousin was the comical pessimism of our driver who was visiting Chennai for the first time. It was made worse by the fact that the driver had the audacity to say “It’s good that Chennai had such floods because at least the weather is pleasant”, as we passed through new squatter settlements along the footpaths, that would have transformed Prince Siddhartha into Buddha during the time it took, to cross the street. In a car!

I wanted revenge.

He tried to quip further that Bangalore and Hyderabad had more shopping malls than Chennai. With sincere nonchalance I replied “The Chennai ones were submerged and swept away in the floods.” If the camera was invented for a reason, it was to capture the definition of the word “panic” in his facial expression at that exact moment. I devoured the moment with all the glee of a caricatured fat child who was just offered a laddoo.

When the final moment did come to distribute the resources, my cousin truly understood the tedious nature of disaster management. Real people have to get their hands and bodies dirty, to give resources to victims and take part in the physical cleaning up of a city, have the heart to bear the brunt of abused global environment and mismanaged local urban terrain. It is at this time, I swear I saw in a bright flash, his coke snorting Raju Hirani directed dream of being a “hero”, leave through the kundalini point in his head. During the next couple of hours my cousin also realized life’s biggest disappointment: there is never going to be background music, no matter what the act of bravado is. It is knowledge all of us possess, but it is wisdom when the physical reality of there never ever being background music in life hits us with the subtlety of a paan stain.

In the outskirts of the city, over some tea that had been clearly made by making an angry Malayalee man spit into it, my cousin and I had a philosophical discussion on the nature of heroism being something that is not defined by statues or noble thoughts, but by something that possess us and how we act in those moments. He felt that it was more everyone solving smaller pieces of the puzzle than a one-man-saves-all fantasy that pop-culture and myths drill into our brains. I told him he need not worry because in this weird way he was a hero too. To come to a new city with no ties other than the whims of an overly sentimental cousin (in case it isn’t clear, it is I, the Prince of Overly Sentimental, Imperator of the Awkward, Baron of the Borderline Bi-polar) just so he could help strangers, despite the manner in which he thought it was going to happen, made him a bit of a hero. At least for a couple of hours that day!

Even in that poignant moment, the best background music life offered was the slurping of tea by our driver.