LETTER TO MY PAKISTANI FRIEND

Hi yaar!

How’s it going? Sab theek? Aur baaki sab?

You don’t know me – yet. But your Quaid-i-Azam was dadaji to the chap who makes my bed sheets, so we’re practically family friends, nai?

You may have seen me, though. I’m ashamed to admit that I was once part of the jingoistic mob which screams patriotic challenges across Wagah Border every evening. For the sake of our friendship, I hope you weren’t reciprocating on the other side.

I’m writing to you because I’m worried. I recently read about a survey which found that a majority of my countrymen, and yours, hate each other. I’m worried because I know it’s true.

But I don’t hate you, yaar.

I realise that you are no more capable of presenting me with Dawood than I am of gifting you an undiverted Jhelum. What is firdaus bar roo-e zameen in India is the ‘k’ in ‘Pakistan’; neither of us can solve the Kashmir problem, so let’s not celebrate Diwali with N-bombs, okay?

Tough luck with all that political instability, man – I feel for you. Must be difficult accepting that the guys in power aren’t the guys you voted for (or against). And I hope you haven’t lost anyone you know in those horrid blasts that occur every now and then.

Those reports of an alleged dalliance between Hina Rabbani Khar and Bilawal Bhutto did warm the cockles of my Bollywood-romantic heart, though. And Fatima isn’t too bad to look at either.

I learn more about your world every day. Khuda Ke Liye was a gut-wrenching watch. Mohsin Hamid’s novels reflect our mutual disenchantment with irrational religious dogma. An anthology of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poems is the first non-English work I’ve ever read. I doze off every night to the strains of Farida Khanum’s ghazals and am just beginning to discover the greatness of Madam Noor Jehan. The porosity of our cultural borders inspired born-there-bred-here poet Gulzar to write:

‘Aankhon ko visa nahin lagta

Sapnon ki sarhad nahin hoti

Band aankhon se roz main

Sarhad paar chalaa jaata hoon

Milne Mehdi Hassan se.’

My orthopaedician uncle visited your nation – twice – and was charmed by its gracious hospitality. They’ve even relaxed the visa norms now, so let’s not wait until Aditya Chopra makes a Veer-Zara sequel (or we look as ghastly as Shah Rukh Khan) to meet, okay?

I want to visit Lahore some day. I’ve always imagined it as a replica of puraani Dilli, replete with cloistered courtyards, patli galiyaan and great street food. And I really want to meet some Pakistani medical students.

I hope you live in Lahore, yaar.

You’ll visit me here too, won’t you? I’ll take you to Mohammed Ali Road during Ramadan and you’ll tell me the kebabs are just as good as they are back home. I’ll visit Haji Ali Dargah for the first time, with you. And you’re going to love Marine Drive.

We’re not so different, you and I. You’ll see.

Your friend across the border,

Mrigank.

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STRIFE IN A METRO

Dear Prithviraj Chavan,

Screw you.

I hear you’re the Chief Minister of Maharashtra. I couldn’t care less. What concerns me is that you also head the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority.

Now that’s established, screw you again.

Publicity material for the Metro your organisation is helping build claims that someday, I can zip from Versova to Ghatkopar in twenty minutes. Wonderful. A Ghatkopar friend of mine jokes that he will frequently pop over to my place simply because he can.

Until that joyous day, I’d like your still-under-construction Metro to disappear. Here’s why.

You, in your infinite wisdom, have seen fit to block the main road leading to Andheri station. You’re building your infernal project right in the middle of it. This causes kilometre-long traffic jams in the lane-wide diversion you have deigned to provide. Ironically, the Metro is supposedly going to ease our traffic woes.

Getting to the station in the morning is like getting out of Jallianwala Bagh – too many people, just one passage. It’s been two years since you cordoned off my regular road; I’ve died a thousand deaths since.

My daily journey to the station earlier took ten minutes past four bus stops. It now takes me no less than fifty minutes on an already congested route. Sitting in the bus. Checking my watch. Sweating buckets. Fuming.

Share-rickshaws somehow continued to ply on the officially closed route. Last week, you put an end to that. Sure it was illegal. But it was also cheap, comfortable and quick.

It’d take me half the time if I walked. And I would, were I not terrified of falling beams, mosquito-infested potholes and the constant danger of being trampled by the crowd, which braves them, and walks. Should I lose any more weight that way, I’d look even more like the stick I’d like to screw you with.

That Mumbaikars are resilient is a universal truth. We cannot, however, tolerate anything that wastes our time. There are places we have to go and things we have to do. It’s when we cannot that we want to do things to you, in places you never knew existed.

I know you feel the same way. I think that’s the real reason you scrapped the part of the elevated railway between Mahalaxmi and Oval Maidan; nothing must delay you on your way to the Vidhan Sabha, where you are currently absorbed in replacing the word ‘Bombay’ with ‘Mumbai’ in 150 acts of law.

Among other crucial tasks.

You mustn’t overestimate our patience. The first to revolt would be BEST employees – they are sick and tired of spending their workday breathing fumes. Rickshawallahs would follow. That’s when everyone who lives in Andheri would really lose it.

On a late night drive with friends, I was shooed away from the vicinity of your residence for security reasons. For the sake of the security of the Metro, you should either complete it fast, or get it out of our way.

Or else.

* * *

COMING OF THACKERAGE

Dear Aditya,

We are not so different, you and I. Both of us are nineteen, have anglicised surnames and fathers who love photography. I hear you are to be anointed heir to your family business today. Here’s some friendly advice from one liberal young man to another:

  1. Get yourself a makeover. Dump those T-shirts and designer jeans on a Marathi-speaking beggar. Buy plain kurtas and stock up on ochre dye. Lose the fashionable specs; sunglasses are the way to go. Rudraksha-malas are great as accessories. Grow a beard.
  2. Start an employment agency. This is critical. Monopolise the supply of extras to Bollywood and make your soldiers a part of every Akshay Kumar and Sunny Deol film. Rajnikanth will do too. He’s originally Maharashtrian. Conscript those more aggressive into the Indian army. Bangladesh will become Marathi-rashtra, so migrants will no longer be a problem. Pakistan will have a zunkha-bhakar stall within a week. Let the cultured ones register with Teach For India. Your unemployed cadres can boast of literacy as a qualification and someone will read Rohinton Mistry.
  3. Tie up with karate classes. This is even more critical. Mumbaikars have started taking the dormancy of your supporters for granted. Let your boys learn to hand-split a brick, and no Plexiglass will present a challenge. Don’t make it easy for our police force to stop you. On second thought, they never really try to anyway, so don’t bother.
  4. Incite hatred. This is paramount. Do not deviate from this one and only point in your party manifesto. Spread rumours. Threaten people. Destroy the fragile peace that exists in Mumbai. This will get you publicity.
  5. Publish more poetry. Write more poems in Hindi. Get South Indians like Shankar Mahadevan to render them in tune. Give it a nice Marathi title like your first work, ‘My Thoughts in Black and White’. Get an Uttar Bharatiya such as Amitabh Bachchan to launch it. This will get you publicity too.
  6. Rename places. Call Marine Drive, Sambhaji Maharaj Marg and your college, Sant Tukaram Mahavidhyalay. If this doesn’t get you publicity, nothing will.
  7. Work hard. Make call center employees respond to American queries in Marathi,  demand that English be taught in Devanagari,  and get Sanjay Raut into Big Boss 5.  Make some noise. It’s because of you and your ilk that tigers will never be extinct in India.
  8. Don’t fall in love. I was born on Valentine’s Day. Throughout the nineties, headlines on the fifteenth of February were of your workers remodelling card shops and giving couples unobtrusive company. I’m kidding.

Don’t get yourself a girlfriend. If you do, I’ll come after you.

I’m not kidding.

* * *

TO RAKHI, WITH LOVE

Dear Miss Sawant,

You are Bollywood’s finest actress.

A script today is a few hastily written scenes that connect song videos. Others claim to choose films for their scripts but end up accessorising item numbers; you choose them for their item numbers and let others take care of the unimportant things in the script. Others say they will only show skin for author-backed roles in scripts which demand it; you have roles specifically authored for you to show skin, whether or not the script demands it.

Your colleagues try to play different kinds of roles and goof up in every one of them. You play the same role in every film but you do it so well. They say they’re enacting characters but play themselves in every movie. You always play yourself and Rani Mukherjee comes to you for tips for her role in Saawariya. They want to play roles that are different from their personalities; you are set to play the Virgin Mary.  They think audiences come to watch them play roles; you know that all we’re looking for is a little role play.

Top actresses are hungry for substantial roles; you are happy to be the glam doll. They want to do woman-centric films; you are usually surrounded by men but are always the centre of attention. They gain and lose fans according to their work; your fan following is a work only in progress.

Your contemporaries hide their relationships but you have been courted, engaged and have broken up on national television. Both of you fear ‘settling down’ because it will mean the end of your careers – they, when there is talk of them marrying and having children, you, when you are not in the news for two days in a row. They undergo plastic surgery and strain to keep that fact hidden, you do the same and your hidden assets strain to come out into the open.

The media manipulates your peers, you manipulate the media. They prattle on about secularism and visit darghas burkha-clad; you unabashedly ‘love Jee-jas’. Others respond to rumours by keeping their mouths shut; you do the same by shooting your mouth off.  Others spend most of their time making bad movies and struggle to become celebrities; you spend most of your time being a celebrity and do a bad movie once in a while.

Like I said, you are Bollywood’s finest actress.

At least you don’t pretend that you are here to act.

* * *

AN EDUCASHUN

Dear Teacher,

You too were a student once.

Back in your day, you would blabber and argue and scream. And run and play and laugh. And think and watch and learn.

You know what? We do it too.

But somewhere, sometime, somehow – something went wrong. Our preceptors were no longer receptive, our instructors were only about the instructions and are mentors became our tormentors. Why?

Two roads diverged in a wood and you took the one NO ONE should have travelled by, and THAT has made all the difference. Let’s take a walk down that road back to where we all started.

Kindergarten – where less is more but even too little may be too late. Depending upon the tender mercies of our parents’ choice of a ‘good’ school, we were either subjected to exhaustive and exhausting sessions of phonetics, what’s-the-good word and the Three Blind Mice or simply left to our own devices, each and every Tiny Tot a veritable Alice in Blunderland. What we would have liked to have was not knowledge but the means to acquire it. We needed you to let us be but not let us go (out of hand). This was the time when we imbibed the traits that would stay with us for life; while we were busy watching the world, it would have been nice to have you keeping a watch over us. After all, our mindless chatter and meaningless drivel were the ‘early observations’ of tomorrow’s thinkers.

School – An entire decade of experiences, experiments and expectations. First things first – your teaching is only a part of our education and as we are not given a choice of what we want to study, we often wantonly choose not to study at all. We question your question papers and answer back when you question our answers – early on, we have realised that the ten years of bookish balderdash you try to stuff into us isn’t going to matter in the long run. Does it really matter whether we know who Nebuchadnezzar was or why the Hanging Gardens of Babylon he built was famous? Babylon is now Iraq and the original Hanging Gardens no longer exist, but we are quite familiar with Kamala Nehru Park, I assure you.

Some of us are slow and steady while the others are blooming child prodigies. Push us to, but not beyond our limits and remember that child prodigies are CHILDren after all. The child you will meet tomorrow will be different from the child you scolded yesterday; we change daily, so give us a second chance every single day. Like you, we make mistakes; admonish the inexcusable but keep in mind that sometimes, no rebuke is the most effective rebuke of all. Corporal punishment is a no-go – please spoil your rod and spare the child.

Barbed tongues are worse than wooden rulers; do not find fault when we falter, for our ignorance need not lead to ignominy. Making mistakes is our way of asking for help. When we get it, we take it. And we learn. But when we don’t, do not punish us repeatedly for making the same mistakes and give us labels like ‘problem child’. Somewhere down the line, we took a wrong turn; all you have to do us is set us back on track.

We come from different homes and backgrounds – not all our families are financially stable and none of us were born with fluent spoken English. Be sensitive – isolating us or favouring those more fortunate makes us withdraw into our shells and sometimes, we never come back out. And by God, we are not our siblings and Parent Teacher Meetings we consider portents of the Apocalypse – treat us as individuals in our own right and do not help our (dis)reputations precede us to other teachers. Let us make our own first impressions.

Nobody learnt nothing by keeping their mouths shut – try to enforce a reasonable amount of law and order, not a curfew. We learn by talking so let us talk nineteen to the dozen. And be careful about the way you talk – consciously or not, we try to emulate your language and mannerisms. Were you to be coarse-mouthed, God forbid what kind of persons we will turn out to be if we were to IMITATE you.

You have longer than anyone else to make a difference in us; just remember that we are all different.

Junior College – Respected Sirs and Madams, please note that you must invest the ‘principal’ of homework and updating to receive the dividends of interest among your students – if you yourself are bored with your subject, how do you expect us to be anything else but? Read our minds and not your notes before you begin a lecture, and stick to teaching our courses, not giving us discourses. Remember that every adolescent seated before you is an Angry Young Man or woman – we are in no mood to listen to your reprimands because it takes us two years to recuperate from the previous ten years of receiving the same.

Tuition teachers – Yes, everyone is running the rat race and it’s each man on his own, but don’t forget  that this is when we consolidate our friendships and establish a social circle; do not Divide and Rule by pitting us against each other. Respect interpersonal relationships, in whichever form they may be – these are turbulent years and we need all the support we can get. We are officially young adults – try to treat us as such without bypassing us and involving our parents for every small misdemeanour. If you’d only talk to us as an equal, we will try to come to grips with your problem, along with every other thing going haywire.

College – Lecturers, Assistant Professors, Associate Professors, Professors and Heads of Department; please leave your egos and personal problems at home. Our respect is to be earned, not demanded, and is received only when reciprocated. Just like you, we are competent – those of you who are foolish enough to make the foolhardy decision that we are fools are only fooling yourselves. Marks are not directly proportional to knowledge so be corrective but not corrosive while guiding us. We often bump into you off campus; keep in mind that our personal lives and preferences are no business of yours. Medicine is a profession where doctors teach doctors – every time you embarrass me, remember that you are embarrassing a future colleague. And what goes around, comes around.

An EDUCATIONIST is the rightful inhabitant of a place of learning i.e. a U CAN DO IT SITE.  You must know how to motivate us, so that when we make it big, it would be because you would inspire, and not in-spite-of-‘er. Temperance is the key to prevent your pupil from heading from an institute to an ‘institution’. You are our masters and we are your masterpieces. Don’t ever do to us what you wouldn’t have wanted done to yourselves……..but I think you know what I mean.

After all, you too were a student once.

* * *

Note: I’ve been repeatedly fortunate enough to have the most amazing teachers. Once again this was gleaned mostly from observation, not experience.