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.

********

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

index

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

The Art Of Dealing With Rejection

As a male from an upper caste and for most part of life upper class too, the one thing privilege never taught me is the ability to deal with rejection. I am not saying growing up I felt entitled to the world, but if someone had to be, who better than me, right?

Recently, a short story I had written got rejected from a publishing house and it felt unreal. As if the rejection itself was something new. The response inside ranged from “what is this strange feeling of sadness that has engulfed me? Tis strange and unique! Have I discovered a new feeling?” to “Me no likey. Daddy, do something”.

Now don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t gotten rejected before. You could say I am the face of rejection only to be rejected from that position because someone else beat me to being the most rejected person and leaving me in some sort of rejection paradox.

But despite being rejected so many times there is a standard way in which I think rejection is dealt with by so many privileged males me: “a mature manner that puts us me on the path of correction.”

First, of course, is disbelief!

Really? I got rejected? Me, the paramount embodiment of poetic perfection who has been thrust upon this meek world to save them from their miseries and meager lives. Surely this is a joke.

Second is rereading and confirming that an error in The Matrix has occurred.

Me: So, it did happen. This is not a joke I repeat, THIS IS NOT A JOKE. The rejection has taken place.

Also-Me: Pfft! “Rejection”.  “Not good enough”. Come on, we know this is a joke.

Me: It’s not a joke. Can you not be an idiot? It really happened.

Also-Me: PSYCH!

Me: You can’t psych yourself, that’s not how ‘psych’ works. Other people have to do it. And then you go… That’s not the point. You just got rejected.

Also-me: Dude, you are not playing this game right. You are supposed to come out and say “Got you! Of course you didn’t get rejected you magnificent paragon of the Aryan wet dream.”

Me:

Also-Me: You’re no fun.

Third is dealing with the anger stemming from it and blaming the source of rejection.

Ugh! The magazine sucks. They are a C-Grade magazine in every way. Their judges hated me because I am a man. I mean they don’t see me for who I am. Feelings! Lots and lots of feelings! And oh, why are my eyes working out? Is this eye sweat? Are these tears? God! You glorious symphony of the spectrum of emotions! Is there anything you can’t feel?

And the fourth stage is acceptance!

I guess I am not as perfect as I thought I was. I just have to move on from this loss and learn to accept that I am an average human being with no real great qualities and have to wait in line like everyone else. This is the boat I am in and like Pi in Life Of Pi, I must fight my inner demons and be on the path of greatness

Wait, before you think “That is a mature way dealing with rejection. Has this man finally learned?”

You sweet naïve child of mine!

If there is a more potent combination than gulab jamun and ice cream it is privilege and rejection. Just when you think you’ve made peace with rejection, on comes a trigger to send you back to your high throne.

And that is the final stage.

And the trigger can be anything! It could be a friend putting a comforting arm around your shoulder to a waiter giving you little bit of extra coconut chutney. No matter what the trigger, the ending seems to be the same.

“Wow, this extra chutney is the universe telling you that you are a flawless amalgamation of unparalleled artistry.”

“You are a goddamned tiger, that’s what you are. Richard Mukesh Parker! Rawr! Just look at yourself in the mirror, so sinfully stunning and ahead of your times.”

Rawr!

Rawr till your pants drop! Rawr!

The rawr-ing goes on for uncomfortably longer but you get the picture.

And the cycle repeats itself.

I guess it helps that I am an average stand-up comedian who gets rejected ever so often for cracking jokes and that sort of regular rejection helps in dealing with it. But still, it’s a battle I’m yet to win.

And I realised I haven’t even spoken about being rejected by women. Boy, that deserves a book called “Getting Rejected Despite Perfection – The Mystery”. But that is for another day. Let me get published by a C-grade magazine that doesn’t pick me only because I am a privileged male.

Goddamit! I never learn. Do I?

1nwt6x

This Is NOT History – Nehru and the Northern Problem: Dandruff

This is an excerpt from the book I hope I 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!

On the 31st of every March, the editors of all the leading national dailies meet up in their secret cabins to discuss the big prank of the following day. In the year of 1952, the first general election was held and all the editors believed they needed one big joke to keep them interested in covering the monstrous elections that were to come. So, one leading daily (rhyming with Sindhustan Crimes) asked Feroze Naaiwalla, the lifelong barber of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, to contribute to their editorial the following day.

Unbeknownst to the Editor, Feroze Naaiwalla replied with great enthusiasm and poured his vocabulary and knowledge onto paper. A lasting document of his legacy, for in his final years he rued that his remaining legacy on this planet was hair that nobody wanted. An anti-artist if you will.

Feroze Naaiwalla, a man taking great pride in his command over the language, his knowledge of Nehru and the reasons why he may have become a bald man, replied enthusiastically.

The Editor of the paper (rhymes with Sindhustan Crimes), kept the original copy to amuse himself at times of distress. 

Nobody knows what happened to Feroze Naaiwalla – the barber artist of Teen Murti Building where Nehru lived.

******

Dickens worked in a factory, Kafka was a mere clerk, and Valmiki was a hunter! So, it shouldn’t surprise my reader that I, Feroze Naaiwalla, am a barber! A barber to no less than the most powerful and respected man in the subcontinent – Jawaharlal Nehru – or as I call him fondly, JN. I knew JN since the time he was a young child parting his hair in the middle like a malnourished Pathan youth. He wouldn’t listen to his father Motilalji. No, sir! He would listen only to me. And that’s when I knew right away. Like Alexander tamed Bucephalus, I too must tame JN’s hair – for the follicular future of the subcontinent lay in my hands and that is not an easy task.

Now for the unacquainted reader, the idea of a barber might conjure the image of a frazzled, untidy man surrounded by the hair of ordinary men. Well, I am no ordinary barber, as my great late1 late great father used to say we are the “sculptors of skull”! I was trained in 19 languages (technically 20 but who doesn’t know that Portugese is just another dialect of Spanish). I had great mastery over Shakespeare, the great Bard or should I say the great Bald? I inherit my penchant for puns from my late great father. Please forgive me, dear reader, for it runs in my genes!

Impressed by my command over Shakespeare and Dickens and Dostoevsky and Jean Paul Sartre, JN chose me as his personal barber! Of course, over my barbery too, but a way to man’s heart is through his stomach and way to JN’s head is through a good dose of existential angst!

Since he was a young lad, JN looked up to men of stature – Julius Caesar, Napoleon, King Asoka, MK Gandhi, and of course, yours truly. And JN had the remarkable fortune of having me by his side. MK Gandhi too, but as every man knows, haircuts occur more often than congressional meetings. And it is there I can proudly say I groomed the man, pun intended! What’s a royal barber without a p-unny side to him?

But alas, I fear I may have made the lad far too vain! Underneath the tough veneer, lay a primal fear that seals the fate of every man – far more fearsome than the canons of the Imperial forces, slimier than failed secularism, terrifying than totalitarian dictators – dandruff!

Ask a man what his greatest fear is and if the answer is not a resounding “dandruff” or “a receding hairline”, there is a man who will pray that the myth of Pinocchio is false. And right from his youth began JN’s greatest battle – a fight as old as time, a Man vs Nature contest at its best. Many astute observers have failed to decipher what goes on behind the veiled stately mask JN puts on! They see a man consumed by worldly affairs, but I saw a young boy yelling into the void “Must my hair recede? Must dandruff be white and visible? Is there no God?”

I would tell him not to overthink for that causes dandruff and he would yell back that he was overthinking because he had dandruff.

JN and I tried many things! We tried special ayurvedic oils from the distant land of Kerala. (You think JN did not know about that inept, snob of a V Krishna Menon?). Held the position of a Defence Minister by holding ransom the rightful tonsural services to a Prime Minister in exchange for the position of Defence Minister. Pitiable petty pig!

And yet like the Great Lady Macbeth, how my poor JN suffered! All the oils of Kerala could hardly wash his scalp of the flaky soot that is dandruff!

Off late, I have devised a theory as to why so much dandruff may have plagued JN and cause such proficient hair loss. Let me give you a working hypothesis! Assume there is a certain old, bald, abstinent man – let’s call him ‘Gandhi’! If such a man spent most of his time with an impressionable JN, teaching him everything ranging from civil disobedience to absurdist lessons on how to make the whole world blind – would that exert far too much pressure on JN’s tender hair follicles. Now I am not saying this (clearly) hypothetical Gandhi should be deemed a felon but there must be space allotted in the constitution that takes into account such keratinous crimes!

Anyway, I can’t claim to know him anymore.  Distance has grown inversely proportional to the amount of hair left in his head. He comes for a haircut once a general election. He spends far more time with the other Man – for the sake of the hypothesis let’s call the other man, Mohandas! When JN greets me now, it’s not the embrace of comrade but that has been replaced by feeble handshake of a typhoidal midget! They say that he has been seen at the Mountbatten residence often. The young lad dearly overworks himself!

Last I heard, JN had made peace with himself, by wearing a cap and rebranding it to the nation as ‘Nehru Cap’. That boy is charismatic and the nation shall follow him in any path he wants to – even if he declares Emergency, I am sure the nation will understand.

index.jpg

1To clarify, my father did not become great after he became ‘late’, he was always, as he used to say “great”!

********

In the next post, we get to read a letter written by Samprati Devavarman to Asoka the Great about certain idea the emperor has about planting trees across the country. Samprati is extremely angry about being put in charge of this scheme.

This Is NOT History – The Other Man From Porbandar

This is an excerpt from the book I hope I 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!

The following is a from the biography of Bankim Soni, titled The Other Man From Porbandar.  A forgotten and imaginary figure, Bankim Soni was a fashion conscious freedom fighter and aspiring ‘Father of the Nation’ from Porbandar who was very angry with the arrival of a certain Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Here he is seen speaking to his Swedish biographer Mika Binson. Later historians figured out ‘Mika Binson’ is an anagram of ‘Bankim Soni’. Historians have conjectured that this may just have been the man talking to himself.

******

(From Chapter 21 titled – The Man From Porbandar From South Africa Originally From India)

“I saw this Gandhi fellow for the first time in Porbandar walking around with Gopal Krishna Dada. Apparently, he was a barrister in South Africa. Small fellow, looked very average. Like they say in our tongue, “A man so thin, that a sneeze of a malarial buffalo will push him off the planet”! And apparently, he is going to get us our freedom! You know what story I heard about him today?

That he travelled in a train without a ticket and got thrown out of it. Rightly so! But you can be sure that such things will only excite our chaps. By breaking rules, they think they’ve done something great. Nothing, other than throwing a rock at a British mountain. And also, now this fellow apparently is saying that everyone should break rules and not wear foreign clothes. What is he suggesting? We wear nothing but shawls? Or better, let’s roam around with nothing cover our modesty but leaves of banyan trees.

We are fighters with a fashion sense not saints with shawls!

I know, I know, he is doing it in the name of freedom, but even our quest for freedom should have limits! With so much care I have collected a fine wardrobe of shirts, coats and toupees and combs and all of a sudden, this man wants us to burn clothes. How irrational! If burning clothes got us freedom you think Mangal Pandey and Tantiya Tope would have not gotten rid of their clothes first. And it might have been better that way! Tantiya Tope had a penchant for silly hats and grandmother told me that Mangal Pandey apparently loved his reds too much.

Also, is it too much to ask the people of this country to be a little more fashionable while protesting? Do we all have to wear such plain clothes when history remembers us? Would it be too much to go down in history as the “The Freedom Fighters in India – Steadfast and Fashionable”?

Well, you know me, I’ve always wanted to be the first great man from Porbandar. This town’s name needs to reach far and wide, from Kashmir to Kerala, Communists to Capitalists, and white man to black woman. Or is it White woman? Or Black man. Oriental mongrels? Or whatever the opposite of a white man is!

But this Gandhi fellow, his real name is Mohan by the way. What kind of a name is Mohan? How outdated! I had joked to him that Mohan was such an outdated name that the only reform Raja Ram Mohan Roy needed was to remove the ‘Mohan’ in his name. Gopal Krishna Dada didn’t think the joke was very funny. He slapped me a little. But quite hard. My cheeks hurt for a few days. But you know dada! Always been a sucker for tough love.

“Bankim, the paper weight in my office has two uses – to hold paper and the other to throw at you when you say stupid things”.

“Bankim, when India gets freedom from the British, I will tell them that you don’t need it and they can keep you in their museums in London.”

“Bankim,…you are an avant-garde idiot!”

I don’t think I should have corrected his pronunciation of ‘avant-garde’ because he huffed and puffed and charged at me like a bull. But I couldn’t help it. He pronounces the second half like it’s a Marathi surname.

Aah! It’s all tough love! Speaking of tough love, I think I should tell Gopal Krishna dada, to stop wearing those turbans he keeps wearing. They really accentuate his jowls!

I was touted as Gopal Krishna dada’s fashionable successor who was going to get freedom for the country in style, but this Gandhi fellow seems to be hogging all the attention. But again, he seems too weak to handle anything in this country. Just yesterday I heard a rumour that his wife yells back at him when they quarrel. What kind of a man can’t control his wife but promises to throw the Queen of England out of this country?

What a silly man! If there ever was a competition for silly men he would be right up there with judges wearing wigs in Indian courts.

But anyway, worry not, he will soon realise that I am the man from Porbandar that really matters. We don’t need to import men from abroad, just better clothes. Porbandar’s true son is ready for grander, colourful things. It’s only a matter of time!

1n670k.jpgBankim Soni’s entire legacy is a meme ahead of its time

*****

In the next post, I shall unearth an essay by part-time essayist and full time barber Feroze Naaiwala, Jawaharlal Nehru’s childhood barber till 1961. Watch this space for more updates!

All Choices are Equal But Some are Just Classier

I recently caught myself doing something I was quite ashamed of. I cried myself to sleep thinking I’m going to die in abject poverty while my parents tell everyone that they never had a son. That was supposed to go into my diary. Sorry about that! I recently caught myself laughing at a young cousin who said he really liked the songs of Emmy awards rejector Mika Singh (that guy who is called when concert organizers can’t afford Honey Singh). The reasons I felt ashamed were two fold: first, only a couple of years ago I was that kid with my own favourite regional pop-culture icons and second, it reminded me how I had ended up on the other end of the diameter. Let me explain!

As a child who grew up on Bhopal Gas Tragedy amounts of regional pop-culture, it upsets me a little when regional films don’t get their fair share of credit. Of course, sometimes the comical depths to which regional films sink to will make Steven Spielberg want to dive legs first into a sugarcane juice machine while giving Salman Khan a career. What bothers me about the lack of respect for regional films is that, it reflects a larger disrespect for the connections that people make with pieces of culture and literature that may not be the hippest thing around.

A friend of mine laughed at me when I said that I actually enjoyed reading Chetan Bhagat’s 2 States.

Me: If you think about it is not such a bad book. I mean there are quite a few moments that will make you go lolz roflmao trololololol (which is also how I think people of Uzbekistan speak: chant dubstep from their epiglottis)!

Friend: Comrade, the hermeneutics of stereotypes are unexamined as his writing style is unpardonable because an epileptic Ramchandra Guha playing scrabble would have written a better novel than 2 States. Blistering barnacles! Thundering typhoons! These humour writers are crazy!

Me (*puff puff*): What is hermeneutics? Advanced herpes?

Friend: GRE swag!

It upset me a bit because although I’m not your average Shashi Tharoor, I do enjoy my Murakami as much as my Chacha Chaudhary and Nitin Gadkari Raja Hooja (somewhere in heaven Anant Pai just gave Pran a legendary high five). I am not trying to defend the writing style of Chetan Bhagat or his tweets. For all I know somewhere in the depths of hell, Lord Macaulay has the smuggest smile on his face while being burnt to a crisp thepla. But a little more tolerance, with respect to tastes, could be a lot more helpful to people who might be suffering from a lack of confidence because they think their tastes are weaker. Definitely, I am no saint and on a scale of one to hypocrite I am currently Anupam Kher.

Laughing at people who have “inferior” tastes in music or literature is just a way of laughing at the lack of opportunities that people might not have had while growing up. Although we are saying “Haha you listen only to Honey Singh and watch only Kannada movies” the underlying message is “Bro. Like my life has had access to more things than you bro. Tum basically gareeb ho! But like even in taste also. Like you and the Indian hockey team should hang out to share your interests about things that we really shouldn’t give a shit about. I mean you are the first educated person in the family? That’s crazy. Like when my grandfather was studying na, your grandfather was busy introducing spin bowling to Amir Khan.”

And I know it is titillating to reform the choices of other people but remember that none of us are really Manmohan Singh from the early 90s (#paidattentioninEconomicsclassSwag). So the next time, we see someone enjoying a piece of culture that it embarrasses us and makes us cringe, remember that our opinion is basically an Aarti Chhabria. Don’t even bother Googling her name because the point was to show how irrelevant our opinion is. But on the other hand if you do know her, then you fellow human being, are not a Bollywood fanatic but a connoisseur, gourmet, a ménage de trois le fafda, a Bhogle that belongs to the House Harsha.

All this applies as long as they aren’t Bhojpuri music and movies. That is where we draw the line!