As a teenager when somebody would ask me what music I listened to, I would proudly declare that I listened to” English Music” only.
In those days, English music was synonymous with Michael Jackson.
As a kid when my Dad bought a new 50 Watt Music system for us, I remember that the first cassette I bought was “Dangerous” by Michael Jackson.
It was also the age of cable TV and MTV. We could now see who the man was, his dance moves and his mannerisms.
We loved it. We danced with him when he taught Michael Jordan to dance in “Jam, we drooled when he grooved with Naomi Campbell in “Keep it in the Closet”, we were transported to Egypt in “Remember the time”, we sang for the world along with him in”Heal the world”, and we rocked with Slash in “Give in to me”.
My uncle used to keep telling us that “Dangerous” was nothing compared to “Thriller” his masterpiece. And we refused to believe him. Till we listened to it.
We were Michael Jackson fans for life.
Few artists can claim to have changed the musical landscape of the entire world and influenced fans across all classes, countries and races. Michael was one of them.
You should see the MJ live performance videos to see what I mean. People are going crazy, pulling out their hair and fainting like there was no tomorrow.
He brought music into the lives of more people than he ever knew. A Banker in New York listened to his songs with equal fervor as a convict in Kenya. He united the world in their love for music.
He was a complete entertainer. He made his musical performance into an art form. His music videos were revolutionary for pioneering the use of advanced storylines and impeccable choreography. His moonwalk spawned countless imitators the world over.
In his latter years, his music declined as did his personal life. Let me not go into what happened later. I don’t know what happened. But this article is not about his morality but his musical genius.
I am yet to recover from the shock of his death. The world will be a poorer place without you Michael. I hope you are teaching the guys up there a couple of jazzy steps.
As a teenager when somebody would ask me what music I listened to, I would proudly declare that I listened to” English Music” only.
I shall now wait for the shocked raised eyebrows, the disapproving tongue clucking and the hisses and Boos to die down before I offer an explanation.
To begin with, did any of you notice that these babies are not really scintillating conversationalists? After the obligatory “Kootchie Kootchie Koo” I am pretty much at a loss for words to move the conversation forward. Amusing jokes draw a blank. Witty comments on the state of politics in the country produce a disinterested spit bubble.
“Make faces”. A friend advised me. “Babies laugh at distorted faces.”
I swear I tried my best to distort my face into the wildest contortions possible. Not a snicker from the kid.
The moment the father of the kid took the baby from me ,the baby burst out into peals of silvery laughter. So what does the distorted face theory prove here?
I consoled myself with the thought that the baby will probably grow up to look like the father one day.
This brings me to an important point. I agree that babies of a certain age are cute. From a safe distance. However new born kids, are NOT cute.
Such conversations are very common at parties.
Me: (Busy eating noodles and gravy)
New Father: (Shoving a photograph into my face). Look, this is my 14 day old son. Isn’t he the cutest?
Me: (Screaming) Oh my God…what the... err…he looks great…your eyes?
New Father: Nope, his Mom’s. Look at his nose. Just look…Perfect!
Me: Where is his nose? Oh...this round blob…wait…Then…This can’t be… Oh now I get it. I seem to be looking at the photo upside down.
New Father: Doesn’t he remind you of Hugh Jackman. Screw your eyes, tilt your head to the right and look. You can’t miss the resemblance.
Me: (Jaw drops a mile) Hugh Jackman…hmm...yep…Both of them drool from their left side don’t they?
(The only thing the baby reminded me of was a cross between Sanath Jayasuriya and the lead character from ET)
It’s also a load of tosh about how Babies are chick magnets. Determined to test the theory out, I grabbed a neighbor’s baby in the pretence of giving it some fresh air. I merrily wheeled it to the nearest supermarket and waited in anticipation .Visions of the Axe effect ads sent pleasurable shivers down my spine.
Zilch. Nothing. A couple of good looking girls did wander in. They did not even glance over at the child. Not one bleddy look. I pretended to cuddle up to the Baby. The baby kicked over a row of Lux soaps in disgust.
The girls carefully skirted us, leaving a wide berth between themselves and the kid. I distinctly heard one of them mutter about parents who din't bring up kids properly.
The parents warned me not to show him any television and merrily went on their way to catch a movie.
The kid circled me warily, like he was sizing me up. ”Let’s play” he announced.
In my childhood days, playing meant a quiet game of Ludo or chess. In moments of extreme violence we would cut the opponents Bishop with a particularly fierce look.
I knew that Ludo was the farthest thing in his mind when he pulled out a bed sheet to tie around his neck and knotted his dad’s tie around his head.
“Let’s play WWE” he announced.
For the uninitiated this is a wrestling sport where big guys with funny names pretend to bash the hell out of each other in front of suitably bloodthirsty fans. The key word here is PRETEND.
After critically inspecting me for five minutes, he announced. “You are fat. You can be “Yokozuna”. (For any pretty single girls reading this blog , its not true. This is Yokozuna. And this is me.)
“I will be the Undertaker. This bed will be your casket. I 'll first hit you. Then I'll kill you. After that I will bury you in the casket. Then you will cry” He proclaimed.
I din't ask him how I would cry if I were dead. This kid watches a lot of unnecessary TV.
I wondered if his parents knew about this OMEN kid they were harboring under their roof. If I were his Dad I would lock my door before I went to sleep.
“Let’s start” he announced.
Then he paused. ”Wait a minute. Take off your clothes.”
As I stared at him flabbergasted, he proceeded to explain. “Yokozuna always fights only with his underwear”.
I refused to take off my clothes for any reason whatsoever.
Then it happened. With one sudden swift movement he came towards me swung back his arm and hit me with all his power.
With his height, his arm was about three and a half feet from the ground.
I leave it to your imagination to figure out where three and half feet from the ground is to my body.
In the last moments before I blacked out, the irony hit me. Not only has this kid ensured that I run a mile from every kid I meet, he now wants to finish the job and ensure that I don’t have any kids at all.
Omen kid is an understatement.
One experience that should be made compulsory for every Indian is to travel in an Indian Train. None of that fancy Third or Second AC but its humbler, noisier, dirtier cousin- the second class sleeper.
The trouble starts early. Irritated with all the bargaining you have done with him, the porter plants your luggage randomly in the middle of the platform and declares that S6 will stop right here. When the train arrives, you realize that S6 has come half a kilometer away and start rushing to the other end. Unfortunately five hundred other passengers have just realized the same thing .For a few moments the scene resembles a chicken coop when the butcher comes to choose his next victim. Old people with arthritis outrun PT Usha; fat ladies cease to be lazy; normally good natured men become Andrew Symonds. With a determination reminiscent of Sylvester Stallone in Rambo families pull, push and drag their luggage/children across the platform defying all known laws of physics.
By the time you pick yourself up after you were tripped by the trolley and elbowed aside by the fat Punjabi Aunty and finally reach your compartment you find that a family of twelve has squeezed comfortably into seats meant for six. After you search for a place in vain to put your solitary bag under the seat in between four suitcases, three bags and various other paraphernalia that a normal family carries across cities(Heaven knows why) ,you finally give up and decide to be happy if you at least get a place to sit. After examining your ticket they finally allow you five centimeters of seat between the fat aunty and the even fatter -auntie’s mother (And inevitably the farthest from the daughter of the group).
After trying to gently glide your behind into the five centimeters of space without falling off and inappropriate touching ,all the time getting indignant looks of disapproval from a lady old enough to be my grandmother, you decide that it cant get any worse when the kids start playing a game of cricket in that confined space.
After two hits to the eye and one to the ear, with the proud parents lustily cheering every blow I decided to relax with a book on the side upper berth.
The side upper and also one of Lallo’s priceless inventions-the side middle is made keeping the average Indian height in mind. To fit my above average (vertically and horizontally) body into that limited amount necessitates a few foetal body contortions that would make a circus artist proud.
Finally when you feel almost paralyzed by being twisted in the same lying position for so long you almost step on the bald uncle’s hand while getting down and get a rude look from him. What am I supposed to do? Glide down smoothly like Batman or something?
Hunger strikes immediately and I hastily buy some Chapattis and Dal .Not so for the big family which opens containers which contain enough food to feed villages in Africa.
After chewing my own paltry food in disgust and increasing looking more and more like a salivating dog while looking at their food takes some more time.
Soon it is time to sleep. You wont believe how early people go to sleep on a train. Even the most insomniac of Uncles is tucked into his bunk by 8 pm .They also insist in switching off every light in the cubicle. People like me are left looking blankly into the darkness for hours before we fall asleep.
Indian Trains also have their own variations of commandments:
1)When you have middle berth and are dying to sleep the occupants of the lower berth below you will take great pleasure in staying awake for long amounts of time hence keeping you awake too.
2)When you are in lower berth-the person above will fix his middle bunk at the earliest which will leave you with a permanent hunch after trying to sit up in the lower bunk in vain.
3)There shall be at minimum one application from people asking you to exchange your seat with them.
4)If you are sleeping on the top berth you will feel like peeing at least four times minimum.
5)There will be a beautiful girl traveling alone on both cubicles next to yours but none in yours. If she is in your cubicle she will be accompanied by Parent/Husband/Boyfriend.
The night’s sleep is disturbed by the uncle whose snoring is louder than the noise of the train. My large feet stick out at the bottom and kick unsuspecting passers by in the groin/stomach/Head depending on whether I am sleeping in lower/middle/Upper.
Just when you have fallen asleep the tea sellers start shouting at 4 am in the morning (Honestly who drinks tea at 4 am?).
I gently avert my eyes from the fat man sleeping opposite whose shirt has now risen above his belly and try to go to sleep again.
Finally station arrives. Suddenly every one realizes that they will die if they spend one second more than required on the train. Consequently they start lining up near the doorway with copious amounts of luggage one full hour before destination. God forbid if I want to go to the toilet.
The train stops. I get off with feelings similar to a Titanic survivor when he finally touched dry land.I wipe tears of joy and loudly hail my father who has come to pick me up.
My neighbor was having a conversation with my Mom the other day. This is how it went. The words in the brackets indicate what was passing through my mind when I heard her talk.
Mom: Err…I dunno.
Neighbor: You must marry him off soon. He is a big boy now. He must be getting restless. (What am I? A dog in heat?)
Mom: That’s why we let him watch FTV. (Poor joke Mom. BTW nobody watches FTV anymore when we want to err... expand our education. That was before the revolution called the internet.)
Neighbor: So is it going to be “Love Marriage” or “Arranged Marriage”? He is such a good boy that I am sure he will marry whichever girl his mother gets for him. (Good boy? I don’t understand this. I will obviously be on my best behavior in front of her. Even if I were a pot smoking, gun wielding ,lusty womanizer I would not give her a smack on the bottom and say” Whose your Daddy”. Obviously I would be discreet. Right? These people never get it.)
Mom: I have no clue. It will happen when he wants to.
Neighbor: I had an “Arranged Love Marriage”. It was so romantic. We went to Ooty for our honeymoon and … (I did not hear the rest because I was puking in the wash Basin)
Mom: / Trying to suppress retching sounds herself/
Neighbor: I have told my daughter to have a Love marriage only. We are extremely modern people you know. I have only told her some simple conditions. No Muslim, No Christian, No Non Brahmin, Tamilian, Non smoker, Non Drinker, Good looking, well educated, earning a six figure income, with a US Green card. (I wondered if she realized that even her husband dint qualify on many of those filters. Besides, her daughter can’t go about asking for the Gothram on the first date can she now? )
Mom: No, we don’t insist on anything. Not even the sex of the person he brings home.(I really should not have taken her to watch Dostana)
Neighbor: /Faints. After reviving/ Cheee. I am sure you dint mean it yaar. What is all this silly joking around? One day your son will really...Rama Rama. (No she was not repeating my Mom’s name twice. She was invoking higher authorities. For all the uninitiated –My moms name is Rama .Not “Raa-Ma” but “Ra-Ma”.)
Neighbor: Btw, where did your son do his MBA?
Neighbor: /Gives a oh my god what is this college-where on earth is it-Is is really not in the US kind of look/ My son wants to do his MBA from abroad. He is studying all day long in his room. (That’s what you think).He has applied to /names an obscure college in a big American city ranked 456 out of 500 US Colleges/
Neighbor: Your son works in an IT Company right?
Neighbor: Has he gone onsite to US at least? (Why can’t I hit her on the head now.Mom, Pleeeease)
Neighbor: My cousin brother has gone twice to UK, four Times to US and once to China also. Is your son...Poor guy…Sniff…is he on bench? ( I have no idea where these middle aged Tamil aunties pick up IT Lingo)
Mom: /Getting Desperate now/
I walked up to her and whispered in her ear.
Mom: Well… it is like this… my son has been looking at your daughter since some days now and…we were thinking…he also is not getting any girl himself…
We never saw her again in our house.
P.S: (I just realized, that doesn’t say too much about my eligibility does it)
And yeah, I don’t like to lend my books to anyone. I decided I wanted to compile a list the top 10 authors that I love .This is a purely personal list. Feel free to disagree.
Also I had to leave out some great authors after much soul searching. This list is by no means complete.
10) Enid Blyton: This must have come as a surprise because literary skills are very high on my criteria for evaluating an author. Enid Blyton possessed mediocre literary skills at best. But for sheer number of hours of joy that any author has given me, Enid Blyton muscles her way into the list. Enid Blyton’s writing has other redeeming qualities. She writes with a joy that is infectious to the reader. As for people who complain of subtle racism, sexism et all in her writing, give the lady a break. She just wrote with the attitudes prevalent in her era. Weaving tales of Adventure, Mystery, Fantasy and Joy she delights immensely. Go read good old Enid Blyton to savor those childhood memories again.
Faves: Five Find Outers, Mystery series, Adventure series, Malory Towers and St Clares, The Faraway Tree and Wishing Chair Series etc.
P.S: I like JK Rowling. But in my personal opinion she pales in comparison with Enid Blyton.
9) Rohinton Mistry: The only Indian author I have consistently liked enough to figure in my Top 10 lists. He never won the coveted but overrated Booker Prize though he figured in the shortlist three times. His writing skills lies in creating an ordinary world but he still keeps you rooted to his story. His only negative is the overwhelming use of tragedy in storyline (like most Indian writers).The other Indian writer who came close to the shortlist is Amitav Ghosh. I loved his “Hungry Tide” but I thought that his “Sea of Poppies” was slightly too ponderous .As for the Booker prize winning trio of Arundathi Roy, Kiran Desai and Aravind Adiga, I found Roy’s writings too dark, Desai too pretentious and Adiga’s writing skills poor.
Faves: A fine Balance, Family Matters.
Faves: Of Human Bondage
7) Ayn Rand: One of the most read, adored and controversial authors ever. This Russian American author wrote many novels-most popularly “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged”. She also developed the philosophical system called objectivism which propounds rational self interest as moralism. She was as hated by critics and philosophers worldwide as adored by millions of adoring fans. Introduced as a young teenager to Rand I was hooked. Roark became my hero –My ideal of how man strives to be but cant. While I am older and wiser now and realize some of the fallacies in Rand’s writings and philosophy, I still think she should be given enormous credit for her cult popularity and inspiring writing. Like her or hate her-You cannot ignore Ayn Rand.
Faves: The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, We the Living.
6) George Orwell: This British author writings are marked by a strong dislike to Totalitarianism. His famous”Animal Farm”, an allegory which reflects events’ leading up to WW2 was his first success. This book is as humorous as it is insightful. Another cult classic is his other famous work-“1984”.This dystopian novel made the words Big Brother extremely popular. His writings are compulsive and stay with you long after you have put it down.
Faves: 1984, Animal Farm.
5) Isaac Asimov: I was just recently introduced to this master science fiction writer. Science fiction is not a genre that I read too much of. Another Russian genius, he was one of the most popular and prolific writers ever. I have just started reading the “Foundation series” which is his most popular series to date. His strengths are amazing visualizations and creativity and a knack for making the most unbelievable things seem commonplace and somehow inevitable. Next lined up are his Galactic and Robot series.
Faves: The Foundation Series.
4) Leo Tolstoy: The Russians keep coming don’t they? This writer was universally regarded as one of the greatest writers ever. His two great masterpieces have overwhelmed me to a degree where I deliberately slowed down my frenetic pace of reading for fear of coming to the end and in order to savour every word and expression .He writes what is popularly called as realist fiction depicting 19th Century Russian life with a skill difficult to describe. I first read “Anna Karenina” I was spellbound that writing could be so skillful. Tolstoy’s epic “War and Peace” is not a novel in the strict sense of the term. His writings and sense of grandeur are impeccable nonetheless. Tolstoy stands fourth on my list but would deservedly top the charts for many others.
Faves: Anna Karenina, War and Peace.
3) Gabriel Garcia Marquez: This Nobel Prize winning Columbian author popularized a style of writing called as magical realism which uses magical elements in otherwise realistic settings. One of the most gifted storytellers I’ve ever read Marquez uses innovative storytelling like a paintbrush to literally make the story come to life in front of you.
I’ve read three books of his and fallen in love with the guy’s writings. The first book is the very popular “100 years of Solitude” set in the fictional town of Macondo. This had me hooked. I next read the novella” Chronicles of a death foretold”. Though this not magical realism, this was one of the first books I read set in non linear chronology. Finally “Love in the time of Cholera” may be viewed as his tribute to True Love. One Smashing Writer!!!
Faves: 100 years of Solitude, Chronicles of a death foretold, Love in the time of Cholera
2) Charles John Huffam Dickens: Dickens was one of the greatest writers to come out of England. Dickensian characters like the likes of Ebenezer Scrooge, Fagin, Mrs. Gamp, Charles Darnay, Oliver Twist, Micawber, Abel Magwitch, Samuel Pickwick, Miss Havisham, Wackford Squeers are so popular that people think they are real. Vivid characterizations and a proper sense of the macabre and wry humor are hallmarks of this great man. The mans greatness also lies in the fact that I love so many of his novels including The Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nikleby, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield ,Bleak Times, Hard tales, Tale of two Cities, Great Expectations.
This man’s output was as prolific as it was great.
Faves: David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Pickwick Papers
1) Fyodor Dostoevsky: It is fitting that the list is topped by a Russian. Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky was a great novelist, essayist and philosopher who wrote some of the greatest words to written by man. He was considered one of the greatest and most influential writers ever. I love his writing to distraction .His two masterpieces-“Crime and Punishment” and “The Brothers Karamazov” is so beautiful that I cannot do justice to describing them. Go find out for yourself.
Faves: Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov
Hope you liked reading my list .Do you agree? Comments are welcome.