On Sunday night, the government shut down its 163-year-old telegram service, with the most ignominious end I can think of – a last message to Rahul Gandhi.
We all have several childhood memories that technology has put paid to. Cows don’t come home to get milked anymore. We can’t snatch undisturbed siestas by keeping the phone off the hook. I don’t remember the last time I saw an inland letter. I feel absolutely no nostalgia for the painful process of booking ‘trunk calls’. However, there are some things we simply can’t seem to get rid of, irrespective of the engineering progress we make.
Well, so technically, they’re out of our lives. But why is it that none of our system software programs will accept the fact, and change the ‘Save’ icon? Floppy disks were the bane of our student lives and working lives – it was anybody’s guess whether our precious work would have been saved; it was anybody’s guess whether it would be retrieved; it was anybody’s guess whether the floppy had magically contracted a virus and would kill our hard drives before it died. And yet, we trust this symbol even today. For God’s sake, isn’t it time someone changed the ‘Save’ button to a USB stick?
Remember when women would clang our bells just as we had dozed off in the afternoons, and greet us with big bags and bright smiles, selling everything from sewing machines to sanitary pads? Who would triumphantly ask for water when we asked them to go away, and eventually force us to let them plague us with a demonstration?
It appears we can’t quite get rid of these people. They don’t land up at our doorsteps as often nowadays, but they do manage to wake us up with telemarketing calls at the most inconvenient times, irrespective of whether we have subscribed to the DND service or not – bright smiles in their chirpy voices, selling everything from home appliances to insurance.
Postcards asking for donations
If they saw fit to shut down the telegram service, why didn’t our government think to stop issuing plain postcards (I don’t mind the picture ones)? Every couple of weeks, I find a postcard from a stranger, addressed to my grandfather (who passed away nearly forty years ago), asking for a donation to a random charitable trust, or sponsorship for a disadvantaged – and most likely, nonexistent – student.
I’m not quite sure when it all started. Perhaps it was with the superhit Nagin, and its Tamil remake Neeya. But I do remember that the Eighties and Nineties were crawling with beautiful, nearly-naked women with telltale blue or green eyes, out to avenge the death of their serpentine spouses. They were always outwitted by a sharp hero who resisted their seductive charms, and became the sole survivor of a band of young men.
Each of these films had a moment of reckoning, when the hero would figure out the woman who appeared to be in love with him was, in fact, a snake. One of my favourites involves an eagle attacking the snake lady, who screamed and ran in fear.
The hero of that film – Action King Arjun – carefully scattered broken glass on the steps, collected the snake lady’s blood as she walked into the trap, and tested it by dropping it into boiling milk, which sizzled and spat.
Apparently, that was the best available lab test at the time to ascertain whether a lady was a snake in disguise. Unfortunately, all our brave heroes put together couldn’t rid us of nagins – the latest avatar having been donned by our self-proclaimed “fallen woman and superstar”, Mallika Sherawat.
For some reason, our ghosts have a penchant for finding themselves children to haunt. It was a Hollywood fantasy for a while, with the Devil creeping into Rosemary’s Baby and Damien. But it found its most dramatic outlets in Bollywood and Indian regional cinema, with daayans, jilted lovers and murdered parents possessing the heads and bodies of children. The last film I saw involving a haunted child was Aatma, but it came in the heels of Bhoot Returns – which, ironically, was Manisha Koirala’s comeback film.
RJs and VJs
We all know they’re annoying, they talk nonsense, they usually have unpleasant voices, and they only serve to get in the way of the music. And yet, long after the likes of Rahul Khanna, Malaika Arora and Cyrus Broacha have moved on to better things (or not), our music channels persist with their skimpily-dressed women and PJ-spouting men. Our car radios ring with the voices of RJs who refuse to take a breath between their sentences, leave alone words.
And I don’t mean just Sunny Deol, whose dhai-kilo haath continues to pummel us with one terrible film after the other. Over the last couple of years, we have seen a spate of remakes – Sholay/Aag, Agneepath, Himmatwala, Chashme Buddoor/Baddoor, Don, and now Zanjeer. Well, so some of them go further back than the Eighties, but can’t we simply move on, and stop regurgitating the same films that were better-directed and mostly better-acted a generation ago?
Remember Samay? My Sunday mornings were never complete without “Yada yada hi dharmasya” and Harish Bhimani declaring “Main Samay hoon”. A boy with that unfortunate name was bullied every Monday in school. A colleague with that name was bullied every time he introduced himself, more than twenty years after Samay first entered the lives of the Indian television audience. As if the memory were not enough, The Mahabharata is back on television. Sigh.
Trams in Kolkata
They are slower than octogenarian pedestrians. They are dirtier than most buses. And yet, the trams continue to run, often disrupting traffic in the overcrowded City of Joy. I am fairly sure the current lot of vehicles is rather slower than the earliest, drawn by horses. I am told that when there is a power failure, the trams stop bang in the middle of the road, and the commuters get off, and search for other modes of transport. Despite the metro, buses, share autos, taxis, cycle rickshaws and hand-rickshaws, all of which are arguably faster than the tram, it persists.
These may be the worst things fashion ever threw up, the most unsightly accessories that were designed to adorn a woman’s hair. Through most of my childhood, I aspired to tame my big hair with what I believed was a style statement, for reasons made popular by Madhuri Dixit, Sridevi and Karisma Kapoor. All those women have said goodbye to cinema, and made their comebacks, and yet the scrunchie has not disappeared, at least from these shores. Even today, in a suburban mall or in a crowded crossing, I am forced to face my past in the frilly frame of a ponytail bobbing before me.
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