Going Viral

It was Gol-Maal on Saturday. The original Hindi comedy about imagined twins, of early eighties vintage, with Amol Palekar in the lead.

On Sunday it was Article 15, about the reality of equality versus the utopian hope enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

Yesterday it was Highwaymen, a tepid, predictable period film with Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson tracking down Bonnie and Clyde.

Today’s movie is still to be decided. I expect a lot of decisions regarding movies will need to be taken over the next few days.

No football on TV. No cricket. No tennis. No nothing. At least nothing live.

A lot of people clapped at 5 PM on Sunday, as asked by the PM, as a token of appreciation for the medical people, working with integrity and at great personal risk, in these troubled times. I did not. Tokenism is not for me. I appreciate medical people at all times. Don’t need to clap at 5 PM to show my appreciation. I also appreciate the armed forces. Despite random people insisting we need to show appreciation for the armed forces, and that one would be unpatriotic if one did not forward a random WhatsApp message supporting them. And the police force. And the cleaners. And all sincere, honest, hard-working people trying to make a difference to the world we live in.

The people who did not clap are likely to be name-called by the people who did. Like unpatriotic. And asked to migrate to a neighbouring country. In my humble opinion, that is the nature of herd mentality. But, to be fair, the people who clapped are also likely to be name-called by the people who did not clap. Like sheeple.

One got to see pictures of many leaders, business leaders especially, clapping as asked by the PM. On LinkedIn. On Twitter. What good is clapping at the request of the PM unless you can get someone to take a picture and post it in places where there is some possibility that the PM or his minders will notice. Along with a patriotic, motivational message. In other words, a message that appreciates the PM’s vision and leadership. My neighbours who clapped are fools. I don’t think they took any pictures when they were clapping. Nor did they put up patriotic, motivational messages on LinkedIn and Twitter. I wonder how the PM, or the CM, or even the DM (District Magistrate) will know they clapped. But I will leave them to solve their problems. I have to focus on mine.

In my defence, I was misled. Or unled. How was I to know that the request from the PM to make sound at 5pm had a “very hidden scientific message” that I saw only too late. “Sound waves if created all over the country at a fixed common time will surely disrupt the travel of virus & repel them not to enter our vicinity. This is the reason why sound & noise is made at the dawn & sunset in the temples, in the old Churches in olden times and the holy Aazaan by the Muslims. Without the sunlight the virus & bacteria and all evil Spirits become more active. Hence this stand to create an aura of sound waves to shoo away all the negative forces entering and to save our country and the whole world.”  What would I not do to shoo away negative forces. Or weaken and starve evil spirits, and virus and bacteria, with sunlight. Since it was a scientific message, it had to be hidden. And since it was hidden, I could not see it.

As if that wasn’t responsibility enough for the spread of the Covid-19 virus, I also broke the chain. The one that required an uninterrupted chain of 10000008 people chanting the Mrityumjayamantra to be formed. If you must know, even people in Canada are chanting Mrityumjayamantra. Maybe one or two people, maybe in an entirely different context, but people in Canada nevertheless, which the person sending out this missive certainly would have known. And hence so must you.

When all this is over, and mankind looks back on this chapter in our evolution, and our struggle with Covid-19, I think I will be held responsible. Not only no clapping, but breaking the chain too. What was I thinking? I wonder if there will be second, or, in this case, third, chances.

By now we know that it affects the Chinese but not the French or Germans. We know it affects people living in hot climates but not those living in cold ones. We also know that It affects children and young adults but not the elderly. And it affects white-skinned people but not dark-skinned ones. Also, it affects people living in the Northern hemisphere only, and that too people speaking Spanish but not those who speak Mandarin or Russian. Most importantly, it affects the poor but not the rich. More specific to the Indian context, it impacts Jats and Rajputs, but not Kayasths and Brahmins.

Of course, we know nothing of the sort. If we do know something, it is that Covid-19 does not discriminate by nationality, language, religion, caste, or any other difference that humans like to highlight from time to time as a justification to maim and kill others for. If ever there was a doubt that human beings are a common race, hopefully the spread of Covid-19 dispels it.

This too, then, shall pass, is my belief. Of course, there will be Hell to pay. The old order will changeth, yielding place to the new. Some ways of life will undergo a drastic change. Many industries will be severely impacted. As will some sincere, honest, hard-working people, for no personal fault of theirs.

It seems President Trump was right. About the environment. We make too much of a fuss about it. Let us go about our assigned task of messing with it while we can. After all, nature will eventually reclaim its spaces, as people seem to be saying with Covid-19. Witness the once again beautiful sunsets across the Arabian Sea, or the once more breathable air in Delhi. Perhaps we have not crossed the point of no return. Yet.

It seems we had forgotten what it meant to go viral the old fashioned way…

You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby

“Advertisements are a society in microcosm”, it is often said, mostly be me.

It is either plain bad luck or an involuntary reaction against the gaining of knowledge that, despite it always having turned out to be an educational experience, I have not indulged in watching TV often enough.

My recent experience of watching the Hindi movie “PK” on TV was no different. Lady luck also seemed to be smiling on me that night. The movie was frequently interrupted by commercial breaks.

They were eye-opening.

Efforts made by our leaders with their frequent lip-service and seat-of-the-pant implementations for upliftment of women in society, through initiatives like for-women-only pink autos driven by males and rented mostly by male passengers, a still-to-be-launched-as-it-might-not-make-sense women-only bank run by males and efforts at the integration of the two genders such as a coach exclusively for women in the Delhi metro train, are bearing fruit. And how.

In the first commercial break, we came across a lady who has to feed a husband who multi-tasks. And, if that was not enough to handle, she even has to feed her son who also multi-tasks. It may be difficult for youngsters to imagine, but, being the age I am, I can tell you that the housewife of an earlier generation would have struggled.

But not the housewife of today. Faced with the situation, what does she do? In order to feed her multi-tasking husband and multi-tasking son, the woman of the house feeds them chapatis made of multi-grain atta.

Thankfully she is a single-tasker, focussed on the task of making sure her multi-tasking husband and son get adequate nutrition to go about their multi-tasking ways. And she is dressed smart. In a salwar and kurta. Not in a scruffy sari as the struggling housewife of yore would have been.

Barely had we got the chance to digest the monumental change this represented, the second commercial break came on. And brought with it a big car with 4-wheel drive. Of an American brand. With a man at the wheel and a woman in the seat next to the driver’s. Driving to a magical destination with lots of hot-air balloons going up in the air, chosen by the man, it seems. The man, as usual, in full control of the situation, as his smile indicated. As soon as he turns the power-steering with all his might by lunging left, the woman covers her face in wonder and amazement at the sight. And this woman is smartly dressed in western attire. And, what’s more, she seems willing to undertake the hot-air balloon ride. Tell me honestly how many of us can visualise a woman, say thirty years back, in a commercial, willing to go for a hot-air balloon ride.

When children come home dirty after being children, she cleans their clothes.

“So, what’s new?”, you might be tempted to ask.

Gone are the days when you would see a mother handwashing clothes, wiping sweat from her brow,  and advertising for bars of soap which clothes had to be scrubbed clean with. Today, nothing less than a washing machine will do. And they are not stopping there. Some mothers in commercials even have a choice of electric dryers instead of hanging the washed clothes out to dry on a line. Even brands of detergent are par for the course for these mothers of today. No mother ever advertised either a washing machine or dryer or detergent before these devices were invented.

Women are no longer confined to the house. They are mostly engaged in staring enviously at other women whose clothes are whiter than theirs. When pushed to the wall, they even engage in streetside speed-washing contests. Can we ever inmagine a woman of an earlier generation doing a street-side washing test to prove her soap or detergent is better?

When children come home hungry after being children they feed them. With healthy choices like instant noodles and frozen fries. Can you imagine a mother in the seventies doing that?

The time for reaping the dividend from this change has also arrived. In an FM commercial the same day, I heard two children talking animatedly as they came back home hungry.

Does your mother allow you to eat French Fries?

Of course. In fact, the frozen fries my mom uses have 50% less calories.

But I am so hungry. I cannot wait for the fries to be made.

Don’t worry. These fries take 70% less time to cook.

Wow! Such knowledgeable 8-year olds could only be the progeny of the modern, empowered woman.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man, it used to be said. Husbands and fathers are rarely to be seen in these commercials, except occasionally replacing children as the cared-for subjects.

It has seeped into the consciousness of society. This change is irreversible. So engrossed was I in the commercials and their messages, I forgot that they were the side story. Each time the movie came back, I would wait eagerly to the next break for more educational commercials.

The times, they a changing, as the latest Nobel prize winner for literature once said.

Educating Ankur

I don’t watch much TV. Never have. Only occasionally watch sport or movies, with perhaps an odd Newscast thrown in. Even sport has gradually been squeezed out as my teenage sons’ interest in football has pushed my cricket-watching opportunity to a window of time when I am either not at home or asleep.

Fates, however, conspired a few days back to give me a share of the TV that I had not received in many many years. And I came away thoroughly impressed. While I have been busy not watching, TV has progressed beyond the mundane. It has become educational.

One of the most stirring debates I have seen was between two women on TV that day, on whether bathing in natural milk is more beneficial for the skin or bathing in bathing-cream manufactured by a private company is. I sat engrossed. As the debate between the two heated-up, a secret area in the room, behind the plush sofa they were sitting on, opened up, with, eat your hearts out, two tubs lined up side by side, with a gleaming tap running fresh milk into one and an equally gleaming tap running bathing-cream into the other. And, as normal women would do upon a secret area in the room they were having a heated debate in, opening up and displaying two tubs full of milk and cream, they jumped in and luxuriated.

It was edge-of-the-seat stuff. I sat transfixed. What would the answer be? Not only did I not know the answer, I had never even realised that that was a question one could ask and hold a debate on. Such was my ignorance, I hate to admit.

Anyway, to cut to the chase, I always thought it would be milk. But, guess what? It was the bathing-cream manufactured by a private company that turned out to be the winner. And, to put the issue beyond doubt, they even showed each other their hands immediately after their respective baths. Milk is overrated.

In a land where women routinely bathe in tubs full of milk and bathing-cream manufactured by private comapnies, this was a useful comparison. I am sure numerous women will benefit. Apart from me, of course.

I have seen youngsters use Deo-sprays for several years, mainly my own teenage sons. Never really understood the purpose. Till that fateful day again when I watched TV.

Firstly, I learnt how it should be used. The hand with the spray should be held away from the body in a manner suggesting that the arm has muscles developed to a degree that makes it impossible for it to be bent and the hand, at the end of the arm, brought any closer to the body. Then, one should press the nozzle and start spraying and moving the arm in a graceful circular motion all around in a manner that some of the droplets might accidentally even fall upon the sprayer’s self. Moreover, the entire operation is to be conducted only when a number of people of the opposite sex happen to be passing by. Till then, the holder of the spray to mouth inanities either in an unbuttoned shirt or even without one.

But, I am being superficial here. Let me get to the real point. I actually learned that all other Deo-sprays are full of air. There is only one which has actual Deo. It must be correct. Because another Deo ad came on soon after and said exactly the same thing. About all the other Deos. The other reason we can be certain it is correct is because immediately after spraying oneself in the manner described earlier, the sprayer immediately received tremendous attention from members of the opposite sex. Two of them won’t lie, will they? In fact, the second ad even clarified that the other Deos were full of gas. I wish I was more attentive during the lesson, I mean ad, and checked out which gas it was. Cooking gas prices are going up. Maybe we can use Deo-sprays instead to light a fire of a different kind.

What’s more, the benefits are not limited to education, which, at times, can be theoretical. Watching TV that fateful day has helped in finding solutions to real-life problems as well.

After so many years of married life, my wife and I have settled into a comfortable routine. She shoots down my suggestions without hearing them and I, hers. With the result that our household infrastructure, be it the fridge, the washing machine, or the stove, has grown old and often stops working. But whenever a suggestion is made by one party to replace something, it is immediately shot down by the other.

I was thinking about the fridge door, which has been refusing to shut, when a housemaid came onscreen, and started talking about the family she was working for, their spending habits, their food preferences, and lots more. I was lost in my thoughts of the fridge door and the beer bottles standing in the door and not getting cold, and barely paying attention till the time she said, “when madam says buy, sir says no, when I say buy, sir goes click-click”, indicating that the purchase immediately gets effected on an online portal.

I sat up and pressed the Rewind button. Nothing happened. I had been watching TV. But it did not matter. I had got my answer. My prayers had been answered. The solution had been found.

Now, I must confess that she did not look like a regular Indian housemaid, with her sharp side profile and dress sense. But since she said she was, she must be. This was an ad after all. One has to believe what ads tell you.

I have put out an ad for a housemaid. Including the preferred side-profile and dress-sense expectation.

I now look back on all the wasted years. Years spent not watching TV. There is no saying how much more knowledgeable I would have become if I had put those years to productive use. And we could have hired the housemaid a lot earlier.

I have asked my son to call me as soon as the ad-break begins when he is watching football. Learning never ends.