Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Excuse me, Officer, but I’ve lost my sense of humour

Now, I don’t know whether the general quality of humour is on a rapid downslide or whether it is just me.

May be I’m getting too old and crotchety to appreciate a certain variety of jokes. Or maybe - and I am inclined to think that this is the probable reason - some so-called “jokes” are just not funny.

Man-slipped-on-banana-peel type humour has never really appealed to me. But I tolerate it. I tolerate the widespread glee it causes in those around me - those quite obviously not in my immediate friends circle, of course.

I know that the perception of “funny” differs from person to person. So much so that I placidly tolerated this cow who used me as a back rest, arm rest, head rest and what-have-you while she was convulsed with laughter over a theatrical performance that I thought was absolute hamming at best.

Of course, I have been in stitches myself over silly, childish things. The sight of BC tripping on the stairs and falling at the feet of an usher at the cinema or running down steps into a banyan tree turned me into an absolute wreck. My “bob sledding” on my knees down a flight of stairs, all the while taking care not to upset the pile of books I was carrying, resulted in tears of laughter and bruised knees for weeks after.

This morning I awoke to find a text message on my phone. It read: “Indian cricket team penalised by animal activists for hunting 11 kangaroos last week. Pledges to pay penalty by hunting 11 terrorists today” (the day of the Indo-Pak cricket world cup semis).

And you know what? It made me plain angry.

I tried to brush it off, ignore it, rationalise it and attribute it to PMS, the summer temperature or general irritability. But it continued to bother me. I then ran it past BC and Terror. They did not think it was funny either. We found it downright offensive.

I don’t really know the sender too well having had the good fortune of working with the bloke for just a few months. Nonetheless, I replied, telling him I thought his “joke” to be “in very bad taste”. It was the most polite rebuke I could think of, given my foul frame of mind.

Whatever happened to good old-fashioned sporting rivalry? I am pro-Ferrari, pro-Real Madrid, pro-India, pro-Federer, pro-gender equality, pro-nudity, pro-meat, pro-butter, pro-matching-underwear. Does that make me anti-animal or anti-Pak or anti-men? NO. There is a distinct difference.

I am all for poking fun at people, as is evident by the snide barbs that pepper my blog. However, I am apt to think that there is a fine line between “funny” and “offensive”.

Inzamam-ul-Haq running after a cheeky spectator with a cricket bat - funny. Sreesanth’s pantomimes - annoying or strangely embarrassing. Pakistani cricketers being branded “terrorists” - offensive. Downright disgusting. Pathetic. Infuriating.

In our quest for funny, have we abandoned all sense of decency or civility? I’d like to hear the same ones laughing when they are at the receiving end of such crass humour. Crassness in the guise of “patriotism” is okay, apparently.

My mind wanders back to Ducky - you know, the one who got his camouflage knickers in a bunch over the perceived insults to his lineage, primarily his spinach-propagating aunts. While driving through Tamil Nadu to get to a holiday destination, we passed miles and miles of arid farmland, taking in the sight of scorched farmers toiling away under the unforgiving blistering sun.

Ducky remarked, “These Tamilians are such blackies, no? Ha ha ha!”

I am not sure what happened after that. I must have burst a blood vessel. But the next thing I knew, I had burst into tears. I heard myself, in a strangely strangled voice, hysterically howling about what a disgusting thing that was to say, calling him a *bleep bleep bleep* and more *bleeps*.

I was furious beyond belief and felt extremely hurt. Hurt because this was a terribly unkind remark about people of a state that I will always regard as home even if I am not originally from there. A state that gave me the best education one could ask for. An education that taught me tolerance and acceptance of anyone from anywhere. On the other hand, I was also irked by his scathing unfunny remarks about people from the north east - a region I owe no allegiance to. So there is the possibility that I might just be over-sensitive.

I only calmed down once I had cried myself out and was dizzy from the bawling, having convinced myself that I could expect no better from a chap who had been brought up to believe that light skin is beautiful. I had seen enough kitchen concoctions dumped on his face by the family after every beach holiday - the same family that lectured me on the harm I was causing my complexion by standing in the balcony at noon - to forgive him his absolute insensitivity.

So here’s the toughie. Just how do you explain the difference between class and crass, especially to morons with the intellect, wit, personality and charm of a mildewed boulder? Is offensiveness or borderline racism okay because it appeals to a possibly wider, obtuse and insensitive majority?

And if you don’t agree with my crabby rant here, blame it on PMS. Or the summer heat. Or the stench of boiling cabbage wafting from my neighbour’s kitchen.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Blundering Through the Punder Years

An old windbag, after waxing on about what a genius at embroidery her daughter was, once asked me what my talent was. I blinked, stuttered a bit, and then weakly said, “I like writing”. She snorted. “No, don’t you have any real talent?”

No. I don’t actually, coming to think of it.

I could sketch decently once. That is now limited to doodling during telecons or drawing boxes for KO. My singing attracts amorous camels. I’ve done one stint of Salsa fairly recently, but my dancing isn’t going to be impressing any rain gods any time soon.

I am not really musically challenged, seeing as I can tell an A Minor from a G-string, but I have never really taken to a musical instrument. Some people are born to play, and others are born to be played for. I can cook and bake in a non-Michelin-starred-chef kind of way. That’s more likely to add weight to a matrimonial resumé.

I can bring my feet up to my face. But I don’t think that qualifies as a talent. Anyway, it’s not as cool as Bunny’s ability to skip using his arms. He once asked me what I thought he could do with it; I suggested he do it at the traffic lights to make some money. May be I’m good at making nonsense suggestions. Does that qualify as a talent? I morph and create rude pictures of BC to be sent out on every festive occasion. That’s nonsense again.

The written word. It’s pretty much all I’ve really got. I think.

As I think back over the years, my attempts at writing have always gotten me into trouble. Well, trouble with the wrong sort, anyway – the sort without a sense of humour. The kind of people not really worth knowing or tolerating as far as I am concerned.

Writing and trouble – oh, yes, we go back a long way.

Reading just sort of goes hand-in-hand with writing. And so I learned of the birds and the bees slightly earlier than those around me. Consequently, at around the age of 7 or 8, I found myself being chased around the playground by an incensed Fightercock Lakshmi, who was yelling, “You said babies come from the bottom!” “Not bottom,” I shot back over my shoulder as I scooted ahead, “I said ******, stupid!” “You called me a stupid!”, she squealed still galloping behind me. “No, I said ‘stop it’, you idiot!” I shouted back as I tried to put more distance between us while avoiding an obstacle course some kindly diarrheic cow had laid out earlier that day.

Then there was that matter of that Garden of Eden depiction with my pal Mushroom a while later.

When I was all of 10 or 11, a handful of us were hauled up for penning fake letters to a classmate as a joke. Well, the rest were contributors while I did the actual penning. Unfortunately, the said victim did not have a sense of humour. She ratted us out to the Maths teacher, who took it upon herself to lecture us on immorality, the wages of sin being death, the “foolishness of virgins” and how she would like to “hung her head in shame” for our wicked deed. It’s a different matter that I might have wanted to “hung my head” at the grammar.

Nonetheless, she must have been fairly convincing. For she had me praying fervently to the Lord for forgiveness when I was beckoned to the principal’s office soon after. I was certain I would be expelled. As it turned out, it had nothing to do with those letters. Oo, KO’s sister who now traipses around Ireland with a butterfly net trying to catch leprechauns, had chosen that week to faint at the breakfast table. I was the sole witness when she flopped face-first into a bowl of icky wheat porridge. I can’t really blame her. You should have seen that cess-pool matter they called porridge. The principal, for reasons best known to her, simply wanted to know how long Oo had been comatose. She’d regained conscious right about the time I yanked her head out of the bowl. I left the office with a commendation for having saved Oo from drowning in porridge.

Anyhow, I digress. Again.

Cut to 2010. I was in trouble again. This time for penning a post that supposedly showed my community in a bad light and insulted Ducky’s “lineage” in front of “the whole world” (I love that they thought my readership was that huge). A post that most people chuckled at. Except the ones that lacked a sense of humour and figured the piece was all about them. I was given lectures on tradition, “respecting elders”, how no Brits would touch me with a barge pole (which would prove a tad ironic later), how I churned out no material of “journalistic excellence” (who’s going for a Pulitzer anyway?) and so forth. Plenty of drama that would put an Indian soap opera to shame later, the offending post stayed. The non-funny-boned, sons-of-our-soil, last-standing-bastions-of-tradition people did not. Nonetheless, when people are more hypocritical than they are critical, it’s easy to cut your so-called losses and blog on.

So, yes. You can take the blah out of my writing. But you cannot take writing out of Blah.

What absolute piffle. It sounded a tad better in my head. Then again, this is my blog. I can put whatever the hell I want in here.

That’s right. For the whole world to see.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Gimme a Brake!

Musings at a Bangalore Traffic Signal

1. One spends roughly 35% of one’s life in Bangalore waiting at a traffic signal.

2. The signal turns red to green and back at least three times before it is finally your turn to cross over. Cyclists, pushcarts and pedestrians wait until you are crossing the intersection before attempting to kill themselves under your wheels.

3. Eunuchs badger women to divulge the brand of cosmetics or methods of makeup they use. Whatever happened to the good old clapping, demands for money, threats of nudity and blessings (debatable) of a 100 male children?

4. You develop symptoms of repetitive strain injury from shaking your head and flapping away enthusiastic offers to sell you non-motorised Segways, plastic apples with waving leaves, silver mobike minis that dance on their haunches and other such things that the sellers insist are absolutely vital to producing those 100 male heirs those vain eunuchs deprived you of.

5. An argument between two motorists always holds everybody up. The altercation invariably involves plenty of head shaking, finger pointing and spitting by those actually involved as well as plenty of general standing around, lectures on the use of local language while arguing and scratching of private parts by a larger number of uninvolved persons.

6. No expletive is more infuriating to the local populace than “nonsense” (pronounced "naansense" or "naanshense"). Fs and Bs are passé. The exchange usually goes:
- (Thoo, bleddy) Nonsense!
- What nonsense?! You nonsense!
- What nonsense?! You big nonsense?!
- You so big nonsense!
And so on.

7. While waiting for pedestrians to cross over, you spend your time crouching below the steering wheel anxiously asking your puzzled co-passenger, “Is he gone yet?” Bangalore is a city where the six-degrees-of-separation theory holds true and the would-be-glad-to-avoid-every-fifth-person theory holds even truer. The first row of traffic at a pedestrian crossing would appear, to the uninitiated, to have several driverless cars.

8. The traffic cop thinks a shake of the fist and casting aspersions upon a signal jumper's lineage is sufficient. He would rather save his energy for doing a poor Fred Astaire imitation in the middle of the road to try and stop suspected drunk drivers after 11.30pm.

9. Dark tints on one’s window are an open invitation to chronic nose pickers to pass their time at a traffic signal showing you - up, close and personal - what they do best.

10. Women on two-wheelers take utmost care to completely shield their faces from the sun, pollution and leering male creatures in other vehicles. The same care is, however (and, most times, unfortunately), not extended to their cheeky derrieres.