This Is NOT History – Dear Friend-Emperor Ashoka,

This is an excerpt from the book I hope to one day write, ”This is NOT History’, a collection of historical events with historical figures that totally did not happen. But it would have been nice had it happened like this. Also, I don’t want to find out what really happened, waste my youth pirating academic documents, only to get told that it offends a group of people whose idea of Mahatma Gandhi is derived from his stunning biography – the 2000 rupee note (the 10 rupee notes are the cheap paper cousins). And maybe get a death threat or two because I questioned the “non” in nonviolence!

This letter is written by Samprati Devvarman, a childhood friend of Ashoka and his general at the battle of Kalinga. He might have been the Robin to Ashoka’s Batman if not Hardy to his Laurel. This letter finds Samprati in a state of angst over his friend’s “nonsensical *&^%$#@ conversion to Buddhism”. (The quotes are added despite the lack of proof that Samprati actually said it, because, historians have concluded there is a very strong chance he might have.) Sadly the letter did not reach Ashoka, as a devious Buddhist monk decided to take this letter to his grave. But, in one of nature’s greatest miracles, the letter survived. Nature did not extend the favour to the monk or his grave.

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Dear Friend, Emperor, Friend-Emperor Ashoka,

It is I, Samprati Devvarman writing to you from the banks of the river Narmada. I do not need to inform you that I am a general of the highest calibre having personally killed so many savages from the south, north, east, and west. Basically, anyone not from our kingdom!

You and I have been friends since childhood. Ever since the day I challenged you to drink thirty pots of toddy and you took it far too seriously. I do not need to remind you that though you vomited the toddy into my cupped hands, I carried you all the way back to the palace avoiding all the palace guards.

When you had your little affairs with the lowly chambermaids (I cannot fathom how you were so desperate) I told your angry father Bindusara that it was my fault.

I bring this up because I have to ask you: what in the name of the Holy Buddha are you doing? Literally!

First you give up war. What??? How can you even think about that?

Was all that blood lost in Kalinga for nothing? We planned to go to Greece and knock on the door of Alexander’s successors and say “I think only one person deserves the middle name “THE” and that is Ashoka.” Have you lost that fire?

Now you’re making me PLANT TREES! ME? Having killed savages with my bare fists, I must now take care of saplings.

All the soldiers are tired of planting seeds. Besides why are we planting trees? What use are they except to hide monkeys and bandits. And I have realized, here they are one and the same thing. Just yesterday a monkey stole the clothes of a soldier from the banks of the river. These darned monks didn’t give clothes to cover his precious little modesty until he chanted some Buddhist nonsense.

Let me narrate my experiences with these so-called monks and maybe you will convert back to…whatever God we believed in before these fellows came and took over your life.

Don’t trust these Buddhists and their ideas about non-violence. Last night I saw one fellow among them killing a mosquito here. When I asked him how he could have done something like that he looked at me and said “Buddha said everything is subject to change. So I am not killing this mosquito just changing it.” When I asked one of them to help me plant a sapling that bugger had the gall to say “Buddha said work out your own salvation. Do not depend on others.”

I think they make up everything as they go. Yesterday when a soldier proclaimed he wants happiness, the monks said remove the ‘I’, remove the ‘want’ and all that remains is ‘happiness’. When I tried to explain to the soldier that it was nonsense and a play on syntax and semantics he looked at me like I was a langoor trying to draw a self-portrait with my tail!

And these monks were giggling away like gossiping little girls at how seriously the soldier took them. I promise on my plump mother’s life that one of them said next they’ll try convincing a soldier that the middle path between good and evil is, and I cannot believe that this is passing off as philosophy nowadays, DOING NOTHING! Really? That’s the path of wisdom you want to follow?

The old chubby Buddha was seen laughing because he is actually laughing at all those who take him seriously and offer him food. The only way Buddha has overcome suffering is by laughing at us over his potbelly.

And may I also ask you why you have sent this bizarre instruction to carve anything onto stone? Do you think your soldiers are poets? Soldiers are barely following instructions and are writing whatever pleases them. Some are writing the names of their lovers others are writing messages varying between “I was here” and “Sugatra loves Nandaneshwari” to “If you are reading this then you are wasting your time.”

And one monk told an illiterate soldier to carve “Buddha was laughing because he saw your mother’s bottom”. The illiterate fellow was sure he was typing one of Buddha’s messages of peace onto the walls. These are just the ones I have seen. Who knows what else they have written elsewhere. I am absolutely worried about what future generations will think about your legacy when they read these messages which are now set in stone.

Anyway I must conclude this letter for I am running out of parchment paper, ink, and patience. I can see a monk peering into my letter. But please reconsider your conversion to Buddhism, the planting of trees and carving writings on the stone.

Your troubled friend,

Sampu

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Samprati Devvarman had this painting made as a way expressing his anger

Schrodinger’s Jokes: A Lesson Well Learned

A debate in my mind that I’ve been trying to solve over the last couple of months is, does any performance or art form cater to the audience or to the performer? Look, I know the answer is both. But, where does the balance lie?  The thought started pestering my mind after a really bad experience during a show. Not sure exactly when! A couple of months back! (8:30 pm, May 26th, 2016, ‘Twas a Thursday. I was wearing a green shirt! #neverforget)

So, the setup was very simple. I was to do a five minute spot before more experienced comedians took over. The theme was the 90’s (the show was called That 90s Show named after the immensely popular and similar sounding sit-com……. Friends). It was to be a trip down the nostalgia lane. You know, 90’s, the decade which began with the economy crumbling and ended with match fixing scandals, and somewhere in between a prime minister exploded, Naxalism was the new rural hipster ideology, Hindi pop-music icons were touted as India’s rockstars in the making. Screw you, Buzzfeed and Scoopwhoop! We know what really happened in the 90’s. The show was intended for urban 20 and 30-somethings to have a good time and go back feeling happy that they didn’t have Facebook and Snapchat to record their stupidity.

So, I had a very simple task ahead of me – warm the crowd up for a few minutes. It can’t go too badly. Can it? It’s only five minutes. How bad can it get?

Very bad, apparently!

You see most moments in life seem to be written by God going through a midlife crisis because his children don’t feel like visiting him during the weekends. The audience that turned up weren’t people that experienced their pre-teens during the 90’s. The parents of that demographic turned up! And the front row in particular had people whose average age was death.

God - what if life gave god lemons never thought about that did you? Selfish prick

Just the shock of the wrong demographic turning up gave me butterflies in my stomach – except these butterflies were made of zombie material. When I went on stage and did my first bit, I got a moderate response – which is normal. Before i went onto my next bit, I had an inner voice tell me that I should probably shock my audience. Yes, the same inner voice that tells us to follow our dreams. So to an audience where the front row was populated by people who probably saw Bajirao Mastani, in person, I said the following lines:

Funny me trying hard: “So, I want to talk about the 90’s. 1790’s. Because that’s when most of the front row seems to have been born. So, what was happening in the 1790’s? Sati! Sati was a horrible thing no doubt, but, you think people would have tried making it better for themselves. If they had an ice water bath before, then maybe for five seconds Sati would have been warm and cozy. “ *followed by the smuggest smile that made me look like a descendant of a slave owner*

At that moment two helpful gentleman in the front row started shaking their head ominously to indicate that my joke sounded so insensitive and was so bad, that if I set myself on fire the very next moment, they would whip out acoustic guitars and everyone in the room would start singing “Jeena Yahan, Marna Yahan” as they collectively enjoy the bonfire . An old aunty thrust her arthritic arm behind her back to display her displeasure at my displeasing joke and let out a yawn so wide that I swear I saw Matthew McConnaughey trapped inside a singularity #UnderstoodInterstellarLittlebit.

Anyway I, to date, do not know how I got through the next four minutes. And I still think the bit was funny but, poorly phrased.

Lesson learned: Don’t make fun of Sati in front of old people. They don’t like remembering their friends in that order. Okay joking! I’m just joking! It was a bad joke! I learned my lesson.

Now don’t worry, it sounds like I am bitter that old people didn’t laugh at my jokes. But, I got over it pretty soon. It was just a phase when I was running around the road pointing at old people saying “Nein, Nein Nein, Gotta catch ‘em all! Gestapo, Kill ‘em all!”

It led to a bigger debate that I later had with my friends over to whom was comedy was performed for? Where are the lines drawn?

And over the little time I’ve been doing this (recently finished a year, thank you) I’ve realised that comedy is very much a social act; every joke is made within a particular social frame and context. So, what that means to me as a comedian is that if there are people who express their displeasure at statements that I call jokes, the joke is not just a litmus test for the humor type around me but, also an indication that my comedy is totally unfunny to the people around me. My joke is not just funny but, it’s also not funny. A joke is funny and not funny.  And that is an interesting position to be in: it’s like all jokes are Schrodinger’s jokes. *put cigar in my mouth, look passionately into the distance*

Interstellar Cooper -  the face you make when you understand enough to make one refernce

I guess what I’m trying to say that is, I have a Humanities degree and don’t know how to use it, ultimately (as much as I hate to admit) the answer to does any performance or art form cater to the audience or to the performer, is both – I can’t spew out anything I want, but at the same time I can’t try to find the LCM (or is it HCF?) of all the audience members in the room. And, as I struggle to find the balance, I shall continue to anger old people…I mean hate them…I mean… continue living in this Schrodinger’s state of existence. And kill old people…Ugh…You know what I mean!

The Guilt of Privilege and the Privilege in Guilt

*The following was not written after listening to Coldplay*

If there is one thing doing a degree in the humanities taught me, it’s that I am a fleshy, over privileged waste of resources and time-space, who is so good-for-nothing that an absurd tragic hero of a plump goat, raised with the singular goal of being mutton biriyani, that contacts malaria during Bakrid is probably more useful to the planet than me.

Goat Meme2

If there’s one thing that a degree in humanities gives all students, it’s crippling self-doubt while at the same time possessing a superiority complex it’s guilt. It’s the same guilt that I guess a certain Prince Siddhartha felt that turned him into the Buddha. But unlike Buddha who got a religion, most humanities students either get nothing or, at best, a debt (which is a good way of making sure they don’t have time to start their own religion). Now I am not saying, we, humanities students, are worthy of starting our own religion. Trust me, if some of us started our own religion, it’ll just be a lot of people with crushing social anxiety resorting to debate on social media but in real life having the argumentative skills of an overthinking puppy, that knows too much and too little about Karl Marx.

I don’t want to talk more for other humanities students as my degree has taught me that I can’t speak for others. Or myself. I shouldn’t speak? But I also shouldn’t remain silent. Gibberish?

Noil leber fo tca na siHsire bbig?

(That’s gibberish for “Eh?”)

Buddha

Anyway what I really wanted to talk about is about how sometimes I can’t come to terms with the privileges I possess. And I am terrified of defining what exactly ‘privilege’ means because definitions provide a false sense of accuracy that constantly changes across with time, space and individuals.

.(looks around to check if people have bought that excuse)

.Erm…

.Uh.

Okay, fine. You got me! I’m lying. I don’t want to be held accountable, for defining such a loaded word, by definition dictators (they are like grammar nazis, but the term is invented by me. Re-post it until it becomes a cultural norm). So I’m going to give a vague definition of what I mean by privilege. Every time I read a Buzzfeed articles that goes “ X things that every 90s kid from India will relate to” for a few seconds I am convinced that every 90s kid will relate to this, before I realise most 90s kids actually don’t relate to those things. Those few seconds in between are my moments of privilege. Every time I think the monsoons are a great time to have coffee and read a book, before I realise it’s literally the worst time of the life for a lot of people, those few seconds are me forgetting my privileges.

I also know, privilege is a lot more and serious, but this is a humor blog, so don’t get your tightie whities up your flowery nighties (another one of my coinages, please free to use them).

Once I took all my privilege into account, everything I have done, doesn’t really amount to much. My inner voice, which is basically a drunk South Indian attempting an impeccable Irish accent, trying to scream over a cranky pressure cooker that just refuses to go off, always takes an opportunity to remind me of it.

A casual conversation in my head:

Me: Hey, I’ve traveled quite a bit. That’s kinda nice. Feels like I’ve achieved something.

Inner-Me: You are a guy. You can do anything and get away with it in India.

Me: I guess you’re right. But I’ve also got a decent education and some social respect.

Inner-Me: Oh my god! Can you believe this guy?! Let’s not even get started on your caste. The big bad B word. That starts with a B ends with N and has the name of a popular Hindu deity squeezed in. Just in case it wasn’t obvious!

Me: But, but…Uh, I am trying to do stand up comedy. And that’s kinda tough. Don’t I get any points for that?

Inner-Me: What do you mean? You think you deserve points because you can burn through money and be okay with it? Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Abdul Kalam, those guys deserve points. You have everything going for you.

Me: Hey, but I was a fat kid. So that’s something. That made life kinda difficult.

Inner-Me: I’m sorry, your problem was you ate too much in a country where people die of hunger!  Besides once you ate so much that your friend tried convincing you that you had the biggest belly in the world.

Me: Hey. I got made fun of for that. There must be some larger socio-cultural explanation for being fat. Besides weren’t we supposed to suppress that memory?

Inner-Me: Nope that’s all on you. That’s your achievement. Some people use their privilege to go the moon, some people use it to believe that they have the world’s biggest belly.

I guess what bothers me is that the more privilege a person has the fewer number of people that person competes with. That, to me, is the best example of how unfair the world is. It’s basically the reason why Nawazuddin Siqddiqui will always be “alternate”, and Bollywood star kids, part of the “mainstream”. And at some level, all of us English-speaking, blog reading, individuals in many ways are no different than star kids. We are all part of the same game: we are holding on to our ten of hearts and complaining that they got dealt the ace of spades while the not-yet-Nawazuddin Siddiqui next to us has Uno cards and realized he’s completely fucked in this game.

Which brings me to the next part of the title: the privilege in guilt. It’s also weird that as I type this I am staring at a laptop which was probably made in factories in China where committing suicide is tea-time conversation. And here I am worrying about what to do with guilt. My big problem. And that again is privilege.

YOU THOUGHT YOU WERE PLAYING UNO BUT REALISE LIFE IS PLAYING POKER WITH YOU | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

The Performance Of Being Honest

There was a major momentous moment in my life about a month ago. I told my parents the truth about my dabbling in standup comedy. Of course, in an age where pop-culture has convinced us that coming out of the closet to your parents wins the “Moment That Deserves The Most Dramatic Music” award, my moment compared to that isn’t as dramatic. But compared to coming out of the closet, my moment of honesty, was at least a  Liam Hemsworth:Chris Hemsworth and less a Rohan Gavaskar: Sunil Gavaskar (His name is Rahul. Ok no. It’s Rohan. Or, is it? But you get the point!)

You may be wondering, what shady shenanigans my parents thought I was up to all the while (nearly eight months since graduation). Well, suit up ladies and gentlemen and non-conformists to the gender binary, IT’S STORY TIME!

*INSERT TROMBONE MUSIC*

Flashback sequence on!

Ba Duhm Tsh!!!

You see, back in the days of being a Padma Shree recipient for Excellence and leaving behind a large body of work in the field of Professional Idiocy, (a.k.a childhood and teens), I had my own “childhood dream” that I was sure was going to be my source of happiness. I had the ambition of being a Telugu film maker. It was only when I tried to poke into those circles that I realized I had long moved beyond my childhood dream and that I, for too long, had romanticized the idea of following a boyhood passion. Not that I think I am superior to Telugu films in any way. I know nothing makes me laugh harder than the goofball Telugu comedies I consumed like a frustrated investment banker at a buffet of free alcohol and recreational drugs. But still, I didn’t enjoy the process or the company. The bubble of a romanticized childhood dream was burst by the universe. (Yes, I’ve seen Tamasha and 3 Idiots. Nope, all childhood dreams are not meaningful! Somewhere in Bombay as that statement echoes through the time-space continuum a weeping Imtiaz Ali is given a group jaadu ki jhappi by Aamir Khan and Raju Hirani).

And then, an art form that I learned to watch and appreciate during the many nights in college, which otherwise were being spent over-thinking the chocolate ice cream out of love, love life and the Proletariat revolution, came to mind – standup comedy. I wanted to give it a shot before migrating for a Masters education in Rebels with Failed Causes in the London School of Confusion (LSE for over thinkers. Especially for all the times I’ve thought, is it LSC or LSE? Or are we all saying LAC really fast? I digress!)

With not much to do in a new city nor too many familiar faces, standup comedy happened. And of course it was still not a happily ever after and it’s probably going to be tougher now than ever but there was marginal closure to that problem (Will someone please check on Imtiaz Ali? He’s probably committed suicide by now.)

While the “what-to-do” was solved, temporarily at least, the how-do-you-tell-parents had just opened up. How do you explain standup comedy to Telugu parents who grew up in a different sort of India and with a radically distinct cultural baggage altogether?

*me after poetically explaining the art and history of standup comedy*

Parents: So you do mimicry in Telugu?

Me: No no! Not in Telugu. It’s in English.

Parents: So you imitate Hollywood actors?

Me: No. I don’t imitate anyone. I just talk and people are supposed to laugh.

Parents: Are you going to come in drag on Kapil Sharma’s new show?

I still think the worst part is, they will be sweet enough and try to show me off to other parents even if they think standup comedy is me doing mimicry of Bollywood celebrities on Colors TV.

Non-my-Parents: (showing off their son) This is our male offspring who was birthed after we sacrificed his grandmother to the god of fertility. After pursuing a Masters in a University founded by White people in the Whitest town in Whiteland he works at a multinational company where he is a revered demigod whose sperm is so powerful that his male genital organ has an underground cult following where it is called Magic Mike. What does yours do?

My Parents: Standup comedy.

Non-my-Parents: Speak, jester! Tell us two jokes and we shall pay you handsomely in buffaloes.

But after much over-thinking and Vedic Mathematics I did tell my parents about pursuing standup comedy. And contrary to the banishment and exile that I was expecting (I am not being over dramatic, it’s just that I already told them about wanting to become a part-time house husband. Read Dropping The H-Bomb), they were actually really happy and surprisingly supportive. And I know I should get killed for over-thinking a reasonably sappy moment, but I think they were actually glad that I didn’t end up in a B Grade Telugu soft porn film. Imagine finding out from  a dim-witted cousin, in haste to make fun of me but foolish enough to reveal his choice in erotica!

And that was that. Thus another chapter in the constant misadventures of a bumbling Mukthegaul came to a close. (Sorry that last bit of mush was just to give some oxygen to a dying Imtiaz Ali. I swear!)

Trombone Music.

Exit Flashback Mode
Ba Duhm Tsh!

13b5rm

My Big Fat Pajama Shaadi

Watching a friend get married gives you a good sense of what your age really is. There is a formula for this.

Number of years since you were born (Y) times the number of friends of yours who are already married (F) divided by the estimated number of years you are not going to earn money (E).

Real Age, R = Y*F/E

My real age, R, is nearing a zero. Mostly because my E has discovered the end of numbers! It’s a surreal thing to attend a friend’s wedding, because on the one hand you are admiring the courage that a person has to take this bold step of promising, what hopefully should be, a lifelong commitment, but on the other hand your brain is also thinking “CRAP! CRAP! CRAP! CRAP! CRAP! CRAP! DID I LEAVE THE GAS CYLINDER ON?”

I am not your average pop-culture inspired teenager adult who is “afraid of commitment” and says things like “Marriage Bro. I don’t know if I can handle it. It’s too much effort bro”. I have always thought that marriage is a great institution for as long as I can remember.

*In School*

Teacher: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Non-Me1: I want to be a Truck Driver. (There is always one kid with this response)

Non-Me2: I want to be an archaeologist. (This kid probably saw Indiana Jones last night)

Teacher Cliché 1: In our days we only had Engineer, Doctor, Lawyer.

Teacher: Mukesh, what do you want to be?

Me: Husband.

Teacher Cliché 2: With your marks you’ll end up there only.

As to what kind of wedding I want, I didn’t give it much thought until I attended one recently. Going for one reminds you of how elaborate a process this can be. I don’t think I know as many words in the English language as the number of people at that wedding. I’ve decided mine is going to have a strict pajamas and shorts only policy. It’s going to be a Bring Your Own Pajamas Wedding. (Repost that until it becomes a cultural norm). There’s going to be a giant game of hide and seek and the ceremony ends when the bride and groom find each other. Then there is hurrah and merry and champagne and speeches and everybody passes out till they leave.

When people come out of it, people are not going to go “Bro, it was so much fun dudebro. I don’t remember anything”. People are going to go “Wow. That was just super comfortable.

Also no pictures allowed. I believe that a moment should be enjoyed and lived in and stored as a memory rather than trapped in an abstract socio-metaphysical construction such as a photograph. And because in photos my face looks like the age rings of an ugly Eucalyptus tree! So no photos!

The number of photos and the amount of makeup and the amount of smiling for photos at shaadis, gives a dubious desi touch to how The Joker got his scars.

Joker: I can’t feel my face any more. What is happening?

Batman dressed as North Indian Uncle, Bruce Jain: Why so serious, beta? Put a smile on your face?

Is that the best origin story for a villain? Or the worst?

Before I get stereotyped as the guy who wants to get married as soon as possible because he saw a lot of rom-coms, STOP! It’s more a belief in the practice of living together, which I get, is not for everyone. And I understand that there are so many things that go into the life of a couple living under the same roof, beyond the usual rut of romantic gestures etc. But I still feel, that there is a lot of cynicism regarding marriage in so many young people. And I am no one to blame people for their fears or pinpoint the source of their cynicism (American pop-culture, I tell you).

Now I am speaking with the confidence of a Fair Skinned, Brahmin, MS in US, settled in Silicon Valley Telugu Software engineer on Shaadi.Com. But, I am aware that the prospects of my wedding happening in such a manner are near zero. I mean, there are more chances the bride will happen to be a Koala bear given how much they like eucalyptus trees. But I shall be relentless in my optimism. Please consider this as an invitation for the wedding which has the probability of a renegade fat goat Rambo-ing itself to survival during Bakrid in interior Baluchistan.

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This Post was Awkward to Write

I want to talk about something that’s a little embarrassing and people might find it uncomfortable to read. So before you proceed, note that I am squirming as I write this. So if you think it is difficult to read, imagine how difficult it is to write. So here goes!

I want to be a Pakistani shepherd.

Sorry. Fine! I’ll tell you the truth. I want to talk a bit about male molestation. *A random goat in Pakistan who is reading this just went “how the tables have turned”.*

So you might be thinking how and why I chose this topic. On a bus journey back from what was nearly a perfect holiday, I was woken up abruptly when the bus I was travelling in hit a speed breaker so hard and fast, I felt like I was inside the belly of a drunk Malyali uncle fighting an angry Bengali intellectual over the correct interpretation of Sitaram Yehcuri’s left eyebrow. But I also found the hand of the guy sitting next to me all over my crotch. I knew it had been there for a while and he had the obvious guilty look of a teenager watching porn for the first time and he quickly got up and sat in the seats behind. It all felt a little surreal and I got down from the bus as soon as possible.

The reason I felt a little surreal because I assumed that once you grow up these kinds of violations would stop. Yes! I was a fat chubby pink kid while growing up which meant that at almost all busses, trains and weddings it would be extra alright to be pinch buttocks and be extra affectionate with their tongues. And this was when I used to wear pants. So wasn’t really revealing much!

Of course, it was always passed off as affection and it wasn’t until you learn to label the acts that you feel bad for yourself but also for that random uncle’s aunt who probably has the sex life of a basaltic rock.

And it doesn’t really stop there! During college a similar incident happened while standing in a local train in Chennai, when I was with a male friend. Him and I decided the best way to deal with it was to laugh about the fact that it was a Tamil man who looked like a Mahalingam who went for my lingam. That was really how that was dealt with because as men we have to give Thor a run for his hammer, no pun intended!

But more than the labels and boundaries it is the surprising lack of emotional infrastructure to deal with these issues that leaves a lot of conversation to be had. And as the psychological bile piles up, you just hope that you don’t do something stupid along the way.

Somewhere along the way stand-up comedy helped. Not that my jokes are all rants on molestation or anything. It’s just that sometimes standup comedians are lovely people to talk to about anything.

Normal people conversations

(Some place with loud music that sounds like the footsteps from an uncoordinated three legged race with three one-legged people. Some beers because…just the warm piss of a cow, man)

Me: Hey!
Non-Me: Hey!

(Awkwardly tear away at the label of the beer company)

Me: Isn’t it strange how we say hard work pays but in gyms we pay for hard work?
Non-me: What?
Me: Sorry.
Non-Me: Hey. Listen. I have to go now. Just…for something.
Me: Understandable!

(Retreat into a self-made invisible cave and sip the beer awkwardly)

Standup Comedian First Conversations

(Awkwardly hang about at an open mic)

Non-Me: Hey. First time?
Me: Yeah. Kinda nervous really!
Non-Me: Don’t worry man! It’ll be fine. You’re going to be a rockstar. Do you want to try your bit with me?
Me: Hey. Not really. I’m sorry. It’ll just get me more nervous.
Non-Me: That’s cool. Do you want to hear my bit out?
Me: Sure. Would love to! What’s it about?
Non-Me: Actually. Childhood mein, molestation hua mera! I am just trying out some bits on it. This is the opening line. “I know I was an attractive kid during school days. Not because I had many girlfriends as a kid, but because I got molested by older uncles a lot”. Kaisa hai? Edgy, no?

Of course not all standup comedians are like this and this is clearly exaggerated, but you get the drift.

I also found out that the legal framework isn’t too helpful either.

And it’s not surprising that conversation regarding the matter is surprisingly minimal. But the worst direction this conversation can head towards (and I swear I heard this once) is the “It happens to boys also so all these girls are just complaining”. It’s part of the same problem methinks!

Anyway, I’m sure such instances are all around us. So next time you are with your friends and enjoying a moment so warm and cozy that life feels like an American sit-com just say “So guys! How many of you were molested as kids?”

New Year’s Eve with a Serving of Murphy’s Law

I am actually a big believer in “New Year, New Me”. Unlike a lot of people my age, I genuinely enjoy making sappy speeches at 12 in the night after re-introducing my body to old friends like Kalyani, Commando, Jack, an Old Monk and The Teacher. Despite better wisdom, the romance of “New Year, New Me” has persisted from childhood. New Year’s Eve has been a cathartic experience wherein I manage to let go of the previous year’s ups and lows. I love to feel like it is a genuine chance at doing and being different.

And yes, I know. I know! Many people would love to point out that New Year’s Eve is just another day. And we are all celebrating something futile and that there is a capitalist motive behind creating this celebration. Now that you are done dropping deuces on my dreams, why don’t you go tell children that Santa Claus isn’t real and remind the people of Chennai that CSK doesn’t exist.

Anyway back to my New Year’s Eve.

I have always felt that old people have the perfect start to the New Year: spending time with loved ones, sleeping through midnight and entering the year with a fresh start. On the other hand, the younger ones have to choose some variant of a party where music is played by DJ Nagraj and cheap beer that is clearly Mountain Dew past its expiry.

Waking up with a hangover that feels like there is a screaming cat going through a colonoscopy inside my head, has been a regular feeling on the first day of the year. On this January 1st, I wanted to wake up to beautiful surroundings and sleep and wake up early, so I took up a friend’s offer to spend it at a beach house. I was sure I would start the New Year peacefully. But because life in general is Murphy’s child after Murphy has mated with a female dog, I ended up twisting my ankle just before New Year’s Eve.

I took part in the World Hopscotch Championship and defended the honor of the country in a grueling 40 hour cage match against Oscar Pistorius.

I lead a secret life as a ballet dancer where I am known as Manjunath the Graceful and twisted ankles are an occupational hazard.

Okay faaain. I’ll tell you the truth.

Now for those of you didn’t believe any of those excuses because your parents aren’t siblings, I was taking part in an evolutionary exercise of planting my feet in the reverse direction as opposed to the hegemonic style of forward momentum. Basically I was walking backwards and I twisted my ankle. As someone who has started to look like Rahul Gandhi’s younger brother who gobbled down a dozen cupcakes, a lot of weight was put on my ankle and I’m still reeling from it.

When I realized I failed at walking backwards, I imagined that Evolution as a process might have had an existential crisis and thought about moonwalking back into an amoeba. But it was probably consoled by the fuming skeleton of Charles Darwin, who pointed out that I probably have the life expectancy of an overripe tomato during summer, if I continue like this.

Staying at a beach house gave me the urge to try one of my pop-culture infected fantasies. I have always wanted to send a message in a bottle in to the ocean and this time I didn’t get to do it. There is some of that old school romance in the idea that no amount of internet messaging and calling can substitute. It’s a quaintly poetic idea that in a distant land somewhere, at a time only destiny can control, another human being reads the message:

“If you can read this, you know English. Pass it on”. Oh, the serendipity!

A New Year tradition I have tried to stay away from this year was where I try to convince myself that resolutions can be maintained. My track record has been so bad that once I had idlies while telling myself that I’d stay away from carbohydrates. After I found out that idlies have carbohydrates, there were more chances of ironing out Akhilesh Yadav’s nose than keeping me away from the breakfast of Spelling Bee champions.

Akhilesh Yadav nose

The Celestial Enigma that is Akhilesh Yadav’s Nose

 

The New Year misfortune did not end with twisted ankles and unfulfilled wishes. On January 3rd, a drunken man, who I would later find out, was a construction laborer, bumped into my scooter while he was crossing the road. I was traveling at dangerous speeds of 30 km/h on the left side of the road because responsible driving is the new sexy (Repost that until it becomes a cultural norm). I stopped and bought him cotton and tape to seal the wound, till I could get first aid. Of course, as we all know, drunken men, especially drunk construction laborers are the epitome of reason; he invoked my sister and mother and threatened to file a complaint in the police station. The crowd which had gathered to watch drama in 3D, told me to leave him on the road and that they would take “care” of him. I told them I would take him to Apollo Hospital nearby and he said he would guide me to Apollo. Taking advantage of the fact that I have zero knowledge about Hyderabad, a few “shortcuts” later I ended up in his slum and he started yelling for his friends. A crowd gathered and someone in the crowd snatched the keys of my scooter. And at this point I was scared and angry. Scared because there were lots of angry people around me! And angry because I felt like I should have driven away after I bumped into him. In fact I was so angry I had the worst thought I have ever had in my life. And don’t judge me for the thought.

“If I was in Salman Khan’s position, I may have done the exact same thing and I am not as nice I think I am.”

Anyway, things cooled down after a couple of teenagers talked to everyone and calmed everyone’s nerves. And I took him to Apollo and got yelled at by the doctor for not getting him there fast enough as he lost a lot of blood. I must point out that, I have never been to Apollo Hospital myself and may go there, if and only if, I want to sell my kidneys to make money for groceries. And I took this man there!

I also had a couple of bad days at work.

So twisted ankles, unfulfilled wishes, no resolutions, almost getting beaten up in a slum, bad days at work, my 2016 has been a Murphy special. If the beginning is supposed to foreshadow of what is to come, then, the countdown to 2017 has already started. I can’t wait to meet my friends again this time, maybe in the comfort of my own house. I already miss Jack, the Old Monk, the Teacher and Kalyani.

So while I try my best not reading into the beginning too much, I hope I get a chance to do and be new. And most importantly I hope all of you start believing in the magic of New Year’s Eve too. It gets lonely when I am being made fun of during my corny speech.

 

 

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.

A Jog a Day Keeps the Carbs at Bay

Entering the early twenties is quite a refreshing change. I feel like I have reached an age where I can complain like a 40 year old man. Even my concerns have changed a bit because fitness and health have started mattering a lot more. After much thought I set two goals for myself: to eat a fruit a day and go jogging five times a week. I have only successfully accomplished the eating part. And the most amusing aspect is that my mind possesses an amazing smugness despite having lost no weight.

“Bro, Don’t eat all that rice. Too many carbs! And you should add more vegetables to your Sambar”

“Dude, I am a beggar.”

Forget losing weight there is still some fat and grease left from the chilly chicken I had during the second semester of college. The reason it bothered me so much was because while in college, on most days, my body wasn’t my temple as much it was a chemistry lab in the hands of a curious nerd: dump any liquid and solid inside and cry when it all explodes. With the way college life was hyped, staying in a hostel sounded like a paid job as a water slide tester. Except what I didn’t sign up for was the food available on a student budget. The sandwiches were roasted in Castrol engine oil, while some rice had been accidentally found in baking soda powder and the curries had been through the digestive juices of a cow (Imagine the water slide tester found out that the water was being procured from drain pipes of Union Carbide)! And in most student friendly restaurants, if raita was served, it was just an excuse to get rid of yesterday’s onions while soaking them in the tears of students who were eating there.

And student messes. Of the following items one of them was found in the dal while I was eating. Take a guess?

  1. Toothbrush
  2. Nail
  3. Insect remains
  4. Bones from Chicken pieces

I lied. It was all of the above!

The problem is that during college nutrition and health are highly neglected by eateries and messes in college and students really don’t know better. The healthiest students are the ones who take no nicotine or non-coriander green leaves for recreation and manage two meals on most days. On the other end of the spectrum lie nicotine airbags held together by cigarettes for ribs, noodles for intestines, and chicken lollipop leftovers for limbs. Yours faithfully lived somewhere in between like every North Indian villager: breakfast was a myth.

College management rarely cares because when students are not assignment churning machines they are mostly uncultured excuses for youth who are just busy wiling time away. At which point you point out to college management that not all students listen to EDM. It’s one of those problems that authorities dismiss as students rebelling against establishment for the sake of it.

What Students ask: We want some decent food that is mildly healthy so that we are not permanently sleepy and tired.

What management hears: We want a humanoid amalgamation of Gordon Ramsay, Sanjeev Kapoor and Anthony Bourdain who will invent a new cuisine every day with the help of Hobbit-esque oompa loompas while the food must be served by the waitresses from Hooters. The food that we waste must be donated to the Great Feast in Hogwarts. (And such a demand would be preposterous. Where would we find such hot waiters in India?)

The biggest benefactors are obviously the caterers. The manager is almost always a potbellied man with a misplaced moustache and a frown that looks like Winston Churchill had a secret to tell.

And of course students are supposed to be responsible adults and the administration is not responsible if students smoke their lungs to stone or drink their liver to sludge. But students should have access to healthy food and it shouldn’t depend on how hard they work. What are they? Black people in America?

Anyway who am I to rant? The fight is for the younger lot to take up. And as for me, I shall continue eating this banana as I wistfully stare outside the window imagining myself finishing a marathon while the Kenyan guy I overtake wishes he had more biriyani the previous night. Oh wait. What is that? Oh god! Some college kids just gave a beggar fried rice in a parcel packet. I think I’ll take him jogging tomorrow morning.