Sunday, March 25, 2012

Burday Burps

I have always celebrated my birthday on the 3rd of November, which I believe to be my birthdate. But my passport, 10th Certificate and PAN card choose to differ strongly. They claim that 3rd April 1990 is the date of my birth. They’ve always been in contradiction with my beliefs. Despite the authenticity of information that these documents boast of, I choose to believe that I’m a November born Scorpio.

Birthdays were fun days in our school. There were so many things that a birthday boy could get away with. If it was your birthday, you were expected to come to school in “colored clothes”. My cousins and friends from other schools would laugh at the term. “Holi khel ke jaaoge school?” was the usual question that was asked with an expression that you understand better by a colon followed by a capital-P. Then, all my cousins would correct me and call the birthday attire “casual clothes”. But if you were the teacher’s pet, you knew that your teacher could never be wrong. “Colored clothes” was what even your Irish Headmaster would call the clothes that you wore to school on your birthday, so the two words put together could not be wrong. You chose to not argue with your cousins ‘cuz you knew they were all stupid. Or calling them “Bal Bhartians” was enough.

So if one would ever spot a person in school wearing colored clothes, everyone would run up to him and wish him a very happy birthday with a wide smile. Saying thank you in reply always felt good.

All of this used to happen when I was in the Junior School. Birthday boys from the KG, First and Second grade would always have their parents accompanying them to school on the special day. The Papa would carry a huge polythene bag full of packets of “Ruffles Lay’s”, or Mango Frooti. Or there would be a pencil and an eraser along with 2 candies being distributed among the children. That day, the class-teacher would shout at the kids, ordering them to throw the sweets’ wrappers in the dustbin. Or she would correct them whenever they would say “rubber”.

Oye, woh mera rubber hai.
“Abhishek! You’re expected to talk in English. Do I hear you speaking with Sahil in Hindi?”
“Ma’am, Sahil has taken my blue rubber. His rubber was yellow. He is not giving it back.”
“It’s called an eraser”, the teacher would exclaim and then ask Sahil why he had Abhishek’s eraser.

Knowing that there was a birthday boy in class would make all the children happy. They’d keep whispering about what he planned to distribute right before lunch break.

My parents chose to distribute wax crayons and a small coloring book to all of my classmates when I was in KG. It made them happy to know that there was something different to look forward to, but “no toffee” almost meant like a “no birthday”. So after I explained the class rituals to my new to parenting parents, they added some sweets for all the little boys of KG-C.

Birthdays in school also meant you could forget your notebooks at home, not carry your school diary, act mischievous and get away without getting a warning note which was required to be signed by your parents, or you’d not be allowed in class on the following day.

When I graduated to Middle School, the colored clothes ritual remained, but there was no more a –thing- about inviting parents to school with a bag of goodies. The birthday boy would carry a bag of fifty packets of chips, each priced at Rs. 5. Variants of the birthday distribution item were chocolates or gel pens, which almost became a rage and the most sought after birthday return gift since writing with pens became mandatory in the fifth grade.

No matter how “cool” and manly the boys from St. Columba’s Middle School try to be, they’re all no better than girls in the sixth grade. A birthday boy wouldn’t go to school on his birthday if he didn’t have a pair of Nike/Reebok/Adidas to wear on his feet and a good set of clothes with images of his favorite cartoon character printed on them. To show the other shorts-wearing boys down, wearing a pair of full length denim jeans was a must. Birthdays in school for the little Columbans meant nothing less than a wedding celebration for a white gown clad Hollywood bride. There were so many things to be decided on from the pair of shoes to the Pokemon t-shirt to abiding by the no-shorts, no-trousers, just jeans rule. The dilemma of choosing between all things that were priced at Rs. 5 made one feel as bad as spelling “kinkartavyavimoodh” in Hindi. Cadbury Perk, Nestle Munch, Lay’s, Fun Flips, Montex Gel Pen… there were so many things to choose from!

Slowly, by the time we all came to 8th grade, the idea of wearing colored clothes to school seemed too childish. The ritual of sweets distribution also died a Parveen Babi death under mysterious circumstances. No one really knows when people stopped distributing sweets. Birthdays meant coming to school with a pocket that held nothing less than a thousand rupees so that you could treat all your classmates in the canteen. Middle school birthdays meant classmates, friends from outside class and the canteen-wala have a happy day.

Ninth grade onwards, lunches at Khan Market or GK, or a movie screening with popcorn at any of the PVRs was how guys in school defined birthdays. Close friends were invited for such celebrations and lots of pictures with boys going crazy enroute the venue in the host’s car were clicked.

I chose to invite five of my close friends for lunch to a restaurant in my locality on my sixteenth birthday. An Indian buffet of Rs. 250 per head sounded perfect, and didn’t make the pocket feel like Kareena Kapoor post “pop-corn only” diet. I told my peeps about the venue three days in advance. Two of them looked up its name in the Times Food Guide that evening. The following day they told me about how it had a rating of 3 out of 5, and it had their approval.

“Um, I didn’t seek an approval. I just informed you.”
“Oh we thought since your taste in clothes and eating places isn’t too great, we should look up for a review of the kind of food we are going to ingest.”
“It’s Indian. Eat as much Dal Makhni, Shahi Paneer, Kadhai Paneer and Naan as you want. Nothing else can sound better to me.”

I had a hearty meal on the much awaited day and so did three of my five guests. The other two just had enough to keep them from feeling hungry till they got back home.

“I would never give this place a 3. It looks like a baniya’s drawing room” one of them chuckled as he murmured it to the other.

While the other three of my friends ate like real men, I joined them in the game of --It’s an effing buffet. Hog till you can’t keep yourself from rushing to the toilet, biyatches—
Food made us oblivious to the ambience-bashing discussion going on in front of us. We cracked a few gay jokes post lunch and headed home.

It won’t be surprising for you to know that one of my “baniya’s drawing room” friends came out of the closet two years later and told us that he’s gay. It’s understandable. He’s pretty cool though. If you guys want any food or fashion advice, ask me to get you in touch with him. He’ll take your case like one of America’s Next Top Model and then ask you to “buzz off” to one of the places he mentions. “You just have to be ready to spend the money, honey.”

I digress. Sorry. So, I moved on to college and birthdays in CBS are taken to a whole new level. Especially if you’re a part of the street play society or a social butterfly like Navkaran Chadha. For all the non-CBSites, it’ll be enough for you to know that Navkaran Chadha is to CBS what Lindsay Lohan is to Vegas parties. College birthdays are full of surprises. Friends will drive down to your place at midnight with gifts, rip pictures off your facebook profile to make photo montages and call them videos. They send messages on BBM and WhatsApp to collect three hundred per person so that the birthday boy can be gifted a BlackBerry or a lens for his new DSLR. Some others will make huge cards that will be hung on college walls. Cakes will be thrown around more than eaten. Custom made t-shirts and tonnes of useless things will be given to you that evoke memories of inside jokes but serve no real purpose according to your parents. The boyfriend/girlfriend of the birthday person will also receive badhaiyan and text messages through the day.

Birthday celebrations change through one’s time in school and college. From discussing which “toffee” one plans to distribute in class to discussing all the “romantic” things that her boyfriend did for her on her birthday. We all grow. My parents don’t really do much on their birthdays other than ordering for food or going out for a family dinner. It’s funny how a birthday matters so much when one’s of a younger age. Well, not funny actually. Age plays its part. I’m twenty-one, and slowly moving towards the age which believes birthday celebration isn’t too big a deal after all. It’s not about how much you spend or where you treat your friends. It’s not really about saying that you don’t care and secretly hoping that your friends throw you a surprise. It feels good to get a surprise though. Really does. But in the end, it’s just about feeling happy all day long thinking that you own this day. There may be years with grand surprises and there may be some when you get no birthday calls at all. What’ll make it special is knowing that you lived another year of experience since that day on the calendar 365 days back. It’s another reason for you to stay happy and also to believe in the beauty of the fact that you don’t need a reason to wear a smile on other days.

I hope to see you celebrate a hundred more birthdays and three-sixty five hundred other days.

A very Happy Day to you :) 

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Pro Code

Some plans materialize into successful results and others just pass by inconsequentially like a noiseless fart, which brings with itself a sense of nonchalance mixed with a feeling of guilt. You feel tiny for the lack of self control, but making that extra effort of running towards the washroom seems a task not worth the pain. You make efforts in the beginning, when you know that you can hold it between your butt cheeks, you can fulfill what you planned, but letting go seems easier.

We make study plans and party plans. Picnic plans and surprise plans. But it’s hard to stick to them. I made a plan to write a piece for my blog at least once every fortnight. That meant two posts a month. February 2012 being the originating month for such a resolution, I quickly completed two posts in the first week itself, and sat with a feeling of awesome through the next thirty days, till I realized how more than a month had passed since my last post. Making my Kailash Kher framed power of self control sit on the Adnan Sami of a procrastinator inside of me; here I bring to you a few hundred words to read.

The past few days have been pretty eventful. The events being no less in number than the number of times Shahrukh Khan says Insha-allah in his sentences. But the ‘God’ in ‘God-willing’ has been the declaration of the Company Secretary Examination results on 25th Feb. I had just as much hope of clearing these papers as Abbas-Mustan’s Players being as hit a movie as its original The Italian Job. I refused to check my roll number on the day of the result, being the ostrich that I am. But dad kept reciting quotes from Vivekananda in a pseudo Shiv Khera accent, asking me to be fearless and face all situations in life with the kind of confidence that you could say, KRK portrays. One needs guts to ask a senior actor like Amitabh Bacchan to be the villain in Deshdrohi 2 and get beaten up by the 5 feet 2 inches’ tall “hero”. But I’m happy not being KRK. I punched in my roll number on the keyboard, and a screen displaying my result flashed in front of my eyes. A minute long stare later, I regained consciousness and read out the figures. I had passed. The sudden realization of how Bollywood doesn’t always offer fictional lessons about life hit me hard. I saw how “Darr” and a trail of stuttering lines starting with ‘K’ made SRK what he is today.  I would never care to touch the body fluid colored drink called Mountain Dew earlier, but the amount to which I could relate to its tagline on that day made me want to gulp a dozen cans of the liquid down my throat. “CS Sarthak Ahuja” sounded so nice to the ears.

I still feel the same way about my receding hairline and the dirty toe nails that I’m embarrassed to show the world. My feelings towards the gullibility worn by Rahat and the hotness exposed by a few junior girls from college remains the same. I feel the gurgle in my stomach after having eaten two huge servings of Rajma-Chawal in the same way as it has hit me every time during the last fifteen years. A feeling of being as old as a twelfth-grader still shows in my behavior, but things and people around me have changed.

Being a “professional” now, I’m being offered bigger responsibilities at the office. Some old members of the extended family talk about how after my twenty-six year old cousin’s marriage in October 2012, they should start looking for a girl for me. It follows a slight chuckle and my parents break into a “Abhi toh bacche ko bohot padhna hai aage. Abhi se kahan shaadi!” The Mother talks to me after office hours about how most members of the female species are no better than the fancy bindi wearing Komolikas, Tapasyas and a few more Hindi soap vamps who just want to break well knit families and steal the good guy away from his parents. I realize how along with taking the name of any of my girl friends, I’ll have to think of a believable guy’s name who will also apparently be giving me company at the planned Sunday meeting for which I seek permission. He’ll be as invisible as Mr. India during the said lunch or evening plan, and I keep praying that my mum doesn’t ask me for his number. You feel how the world starts to overlook the flaws in you that you always thought repelled girls from you. A short height, an unimpressive hairstyle and a set of crooked yellow lower teeth now look attractive in the Mother’s eyes, ‘cuz now she believes that there’s only one hunk in the whole wide world, who she calls beta.

My dadi cried tears of joy on hearing the result and I thanked her for her prayers. No matter how 1800’s-ish it sounds to thank bhagwanji for his kripa, I thanked God with all my heart to have gotten me rid of giving exams for at least one course of study.

I remember calling the Student Section of the Institute of Company Secretaries of India’s Prasad Nagar office to enquire about the exam schedule a few months back. The conversation that followed was such:

ICSI Official: Hello.
Me: Hello. Good morning, sir. Is this the Delhi office of the Institute of Company Secretaries of India?
ICSI Official: Whose number have you dialed?
Me: Um, someone passed on this number to me saying it is ICSI’s number. I hope it is.
ICSI Official: ICSI mein call karoge aur poochhoge ke ICSI ka office hai? Kaam ki baat karo seedha.
Me: I just wanted to enquire about when the schedule for the Professional Level Examinations to be held in December will be released.
ICSI Official: Jab niklega toh website pe pata lag jayega. *hangs up*

Irritated with the Dolly Bindra kind of behavior hurled at me, I vowed never to call the Institute in the future.
Two days after the result, it occurred to me how I could not do without calling up the Institute and enquiring about the forms I was required to fill to receive my Membership Number. On checking the Institute’s website for the Membership Section’s phone number, I felt good to have made some effort to avoid the embarrassment that I had to face during my last conversation with a person at their office.

Me: Good morning. I hope this is the Membership Section of the Institute of Company Secretaries of India.
ICSI Official: Yes, sir. How may I help you?
Me: I’ve been looking for the Application Form for Licentiate Membership of the Institute and it seems that it is not available on your website. Could you please guide me on how I can obtain the same?
ICSI Official: Sure, sir. Please give me your email id and I’ll send you a soft copy of the form right away.

I spelt out my email ID with each alphabet being spoken as a country’s name and thanked the official, who later offered to repeat the alphabets with each letter representing a town’s name in India. The email has made telephone operators and receptionists throughout the country pretty good at the game of Atlas.

It felt good to have been a part of a respectful two-minute conversation with the unseen man behind the telephone. And I could sense another change in the way I was spoken to by an official of the same office, where his colleague was rude to me a few days back. They drink the same chai at the same office. They both may be frustrated with the implication of their jobs on their private lives, but the one answering calls from students could find a route to give vent to his pent up anger. The one speaking to members may be as submissive as Tusshar Kapoor and may not be able to answer back to his wife who shouts at him every night for his buffoon of a job. But I’m sure he earns enough respect from his listeners that would give Anil Srivatsa a run for his money.

I am a very judgmental person. I guess I am. There are some stereotypes that define the contents of my thought process which has developed over the decade through which Johnny Lever gradually disappeared from the Bollywood circuit. One of such beliefs that I hold is how an English speaking professional may be better at his work than one who Indianizes the British language, struggling to find words that would complete his sentence and then abruptly switch to Hindi and feel more confident. Raghu Ram would hate me for such ideas. He might throw me out of a Roadies Audition like Rakhi Sawant banished Abhishek Awasthi from her household on Valentine’s Day. I’m pretty much a disgrace to the street play society I have been a part of in college. I guess the belief would change as I grow in the profession and have to consult some senior professionals for client cases. Well, I know it even now. But like a heartbroken lover dumped by someone who he thought would always stay by his side, I refuse to accept the truth.

Who am I to judge all of these people around me? A convent education that one proudly boasts about is not something that holds much value when we realize that we don’t have to ape the way the British communicate. With this, I appeal to you to Indianize your English a little more, you convent educated son of a Brit. Feel proud in talking like an Indian. Let Apu from The Simpsons be your role model, and not Karl Penn. Inglis is the language for most professional Chartered Accountants, Cost Accountants, Company Secretaries, and other such professionals. Here are a few tips to help you brush up on your Inglis:

1.       End all sentences with “na”, “only”, “ok” or “bhayi”. These are the only four words in Inglis grammar that qualify as Prefullstopitions.
E.g.:         Puchu, I love you na. You never believe me only.
                Mummy, give me roti with achaar na. I told you I don’t like tinde ki sabzi, bhayi.
                Don’t show so much bhaao, ok? I don’t anyway like you only.
                Don’t bitch about me, ok! One tight slap I will give you na.

2.       The Hindverb: We all believe that being English gentlemen will get us a job. We have to talk in English in an interview, or the interviewer won’t consider us for the job. So in our attempt to sound as fluent in the language as Inzamam-ul-Haq, we get stumped if an unexpected, unprepared for question is thrown at us. We haven’t thought of the string of English words that form its answer beforehand. It puts us in a soup when it takes a minimum of thirty seconds to think of the English for a word like “Amla”. We can’t just say Amla and not have the interviewer put some negative marks on our scoresheet. But Inglis comes to the rescue. If we ever feel the need to use a Hindi word or phrase during a conversation in English, the only license to use it is by prefixing the word/phrase by “matlab ki”. Some people have mastered this skill, as we will now see:

E.g.:    Sir, I am like a very hardworking boy. I do all work on time and am very.. uh.. matlab ki.. time ka pakka.
No, madam. My family stays in Barreilly. It is a big town. It is not like Delhi, but.. uh.. matlab ki.. it is not a gaon.
Sir, I will do anything for the company. I will take it to.. uh.. matlab ki.. aasman ki unchaai.

P.S. “Amla” in English is Indian gooseberry. But who cares? We have the “matlab ki”.

3.       The Filler: The English language has more of an American influence throughout the world than Brit. We’ve heard of fillers like “you know”, “I mean”, “like” being used as generously as Karan Johar uses the word “Mahi” in at least one song in each of his movies. You thought there are no such fillers in Inglis? Wrong. There are plenty.

We’ve all had that one person in our class (or maybe plenty in yours, including you) who say “Sir/Ma’am” more number of times than every other word in that sentence combined. It comes from the old Indian habit of sucking up to our seniors. E.g.: Sir, I have done my work sir. I mean sir Rahul was only sir disturbing sir. Sir he is not sir I mean cooperating sir. Sir please sir. Matlab ki sir I will do it sir. Sir yes sir. Sir no sir. Sir I was like sir not well sir.
4.       Now we move on to another type of filler, which deserves a whole category in itself. It’s called the Gaali. We, as Indians can make a gaali out of anything and this quality of the language permeates to formal Inglis.
Saale” being the most commonly used, is one that doesn’t deserve to be blanketed in asterisk signs. You’re not supposed to take offence when addressed as “Saale”. After all, it means wife’s brother na *grin*.
Others like Ch*****, B*******, B***ke**** are the classics. They define what we as Indians believe in, considering the huge population recorded in the last census.

E.g.:     Saale, you’re such a ch*****, man.
B****** frik, man, she’s so hot.
Dude, drop the ch***yapa.
The abovementioned usage reminds me of a couple of blue-blooded Modernites that I know from the city. I guess no one else can pull of our gaalis as well as they do when speaking in Inglis.

5.       The Yaar: We all picked up on “Dude” as soon as characters like Anvesha, Yuvi and the others started using it in our childhood favorite TV show, Remix. “Our”? Uh, sorry. I mean “your”.

If we dig out all the email accounts you’ve created in the history of your miserable existence, ninety percent of them will have “dude”, “kool”, “babe”, “hot”, “chick”, “guy” and “gal” in some permutation or combination. “”. Guilty.

The “Yaar” is the Inglis word for dude.
E.g.:       Yaar, don’t do it, yaar.
              Yaar, how do you do it, yaar?
              Yaar, shut up.

There are things that are changing around me. It feels good to be known as a “Professional”. While I stay abreast with all the latest news related to my profession, it’s also important to sound like a very experienced Finance Consultant running his own practice in Janakpuri by brushing up on my Inglis. What is it like being a professional? Almost like a Jalebi.