A bucket with dirty, dark water

Dark and Dirty Times Ahead?

A poster of the recent Hindi movie, Hindi MediumIn the recent sleeper hit, Hindi Medium, Irrfan Khan and his family (that is, their characters), who live in Delhi’s swish Vasant Vihar, find themselves having to move to the other end of the residential spectrum – to a slum. It’s like this. Irrfan and his wife, more his social-climbing wife, wish to have their young daughter admitted into an English medium school, but come up against a wall, a caveat. There is a seat (or two) available in one school, but it’s from the Right to Education (RTE) quota meant for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS). And so the desirous parents, again more the dogged mom, needing to prove they are EWS, shift base to slummy dwellings, and subsequently endure all the woes people here face on a daily basis: squalid conditions, dengue mosquitoes and less or no water.

During the time that Hindi Medium had its hit run, this Irfan and his family (that is, my parents and I) underwent a similar ordeal. No, we didn’t move from the relatively upscale locality and building we stay in, but the slums, or rather, slum-like situations came home.

Twice in the past couple of months, and each time for at least three-four days, our building, along with other buildings in the neighbourhood, received sewage-infused water. It was black and stinky, and with each passing day, became blacker and stinkier. The first day and instance, I wasn’t able to figure what the odour was – I thought it was a new, strong variety of cleaning liquid my mom had decided to try – and merrily showered and went to work. I know: ew. The next day, to my sheer disgust and horror, when the smell had turned to stink, I realised what it was. For a day, I had not just let that water run all over my body, but also partly ingested it during my brushing routine. I know: ew, ew. By the end of the third day, unsurprisingly, I fell sick. I was down with the runs, thanks to the contaminated water entering my system and causing dirtier effects within. A day later, my mom went the same way, and the day after that, my dad. Similar scenes unfolded in the other apartments in the building.

As we recuperated, we wondered how it had happened. There had been some repair work that had happened nearby some days ago. We speculated if both the water and sewage pipes had got damaged as a result and the one water mixed with the other. While we waited for the Metro Water officials to examine and get back, we began imagining other scenarios. We went from ‘Was this the EWS folk, the have-nots, envying us haves and infesting the water to give us a taste of what they go through on a regular basis’, to ‘Was this our nation’s neighbours engaging in bio warfare’.

A map showing the water deficits in the southern states of IndiaTurns out, it wasn’t so vile or evil. It was worse. Due to the water shortage that the city / state is presently (perennially?) in the throes of, the Metro Water folk had no option but to supply the fetid water. After we complained and… raised a stink, the scene got better: they started sending muddied water. And this happened, as I already mentioned, twice over.

Learning our lessons from the first time, we didn’t use the sewage-water the second time around. We employed deos and perfumes to keep ourselves from smelling and air-fresheners to keep our environs from smelling, and called for tanker water to keep our health from flailing. As we needed to ration that water, we couldn’t really venture out, at least not too far from home, and because we had used the spurious water the first day, we promptly fell sick again.

Without making light of slum-dwellers and other less-fortunate folk’s lives, those two times, we felt we were living their lives, or something close to it. It felt like residing next to a gutter, going without bathing or being clean for days, having only a can of good water to survive the whole day… I shivered at these thoughts as much as I had when using that foul water.

We have presently solved the problem, like most others in the vicinity, by digging a second borewell. Why a second? Oh, the first went dry due to both non-usage and unavailability of ground water. They had to dig deeper for the second well. Which had my mom thinking equally deep: ‘With so many of us digging second borewells, could it affect the foundations of the buildings? Could it also have geological ramifications, such as earthquakes?’ I told my mom to stop her extreme line of worrying, because the last thing this city needs is Flood of 2015, Cyclone of 2016 and Quake of 2017.

Plus, I had broodings of my own. When the water supply turned from black to brown, I went: ‘So, it’s going to be either tatti or mitti now on…’ (Going forward, it’s going to be either turdy or muddy water…)

The water may not have been clear, but the reasons are. The usual suspects of furious, inconsiderate development, unceasing population growth and increasing urbanization. The area where I stay has over the past decade gone from being peacefully residential to painfully commercial, with the two-storey independent houses regularly giving way to multi-storey stores and eateries. With more people now living and working in the same square kilometres, there’s bound to be further strain on the already-stretched resources.

Sure, we need development, and I don’t want to sound despairingly exasperated like The Hindu’s own J Mathrubootham (who blames everyone from Trump to his work-from-home son for the woeful state of all things), but if you raze trees to construct buildings, how about planting some trees again in the open areas once those buildings have come up? A stretch of the Metro Rail runs, not far from where I stay, through a two-kilometre long road that has ‘avenue’ in its name, but are there any trees on this road to make up this avenue? Go ahead and cut the trees for your digging and tunnelling and constructing, but once the work is done, how about lining up that avenue with some green – instead of spiffy signboards, spanking-new bus-stops and squeaky-clean pavements?

In my morning walks and jogs through the extended area where I live, I see more boards on building gates with the message ‘Adopt Rain-water Harvesting’ than the declaration ‘This building implements rain-water harvesting’. Any surprise the city lost a year’s supply of rainwater during the 2015 flood?

A poster for Mad Max: Fury RoadData is the new oil, information-age gurus enthusiastically proclaim. The way things are going, water will be the next ‘It’ commodity, and the disturbing future portended by movies like Mad Max: Fury Road will not be dystopia but at our doorstep. Why, a future redux of The Hunger Games could well be The Thirsty Games or, as I have witnessed, The Dirty Games. In more ways than one.

So, here’s a thought. Given how huge a hit Bigg Boss Tamil has proved to be, the next season should be held in an apartment complex. (Because resorts anyway have become the mainstay of escaping and escapist politicians.) Give the contestants all the same things they get on the current sets. Only, provide them little, no or foul water. The dynamics and dramatics that ensue will be dirtier and stinkier than that water. In no time, most will happily nominate themselves for elimination. The resolute few will quench their thirst with their apparently ever-ready… tears. Oh, savage.

I wrote this piece for The Hindu’s thREAD. Here’s the edited version on their site: This piece on thREAD

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Graphic of man tanning himself at the beach

Jottings | Tan Man

I like the heat, presently stay in Chennai, and don’t mind getting tanned. (I must also be the only person in Chennai writing that line.) So, I go for a walk / jog in the morning sun, and sometimes, especially in summer, for a swim. Thanks to all this, my body is currently tri-coloured: red earth-like face (which is the most exposed to the sun, after my hands, but my hands are Anil Kapoor-hairy and so ward off the rays); brown sand-like body, which is exposed less when walking / jogging but more when swimming; and white sand-like butt, which is obviously not exposed when swimming (and no, I have never gone skinny-dipping). So, I presently look like a multi-layered ice lolly. I just hope, also as delicious.

Man looking at a display screen of movies outside a multiplex

From Escapist Movies… To Escapist Movie-goers

Our movies are so escapist, we moan. And merrily keep going for them. Because after all… We want to be like that on-screen person, or we want to be with that on-screen person. We want that plush house we see them in, and / or we want that Eurail trip we see them on. With or without song and dance.

I like the movies, I like them as much escapist as realist (only sometimes as the same movie), and so don’t have a problem with this. As Zoya Akhtar carped to Karan Johar on his show recently, “They say my movies are about rich people! So tell me, India goes to the movies to… see poverty?!”

However, as someone who watches his movies almost exclusively at the theatres – even when I catch them on TV, they are DVDs of flicks I’ve first loved in the theatre – and has been doing so for the longest time, across various cities (Maharashtra-born and bred, largely Calcutta-educated, and currently roosting in Chennai), there’s another kind of movie escapism I’ve noticed, which has less to do with what’s happening on screen and more with what the venue has to offer. Allow me.

Young couple getting cozy at the moviesFirst up, the ecstatic but exasperated couples, married and unmarried alike. Not finding even half a place to snog in peace, with increasingly claustrophobic metros and eternally alert cultural guardians, the dim environs of the theatre provide the perfect sanctuary for these Jacks and Juliets. And the theatre operators seem to have kept this audience segment in mind too. A popular multiplex chain in Chennai has couple seats, which seem like two seats fused into one, much like the bodies it anticipates. In Bombay, most chains offer discounted fares for morning and early afternoon shows, aimed at hormonally high college kids getting off from college or bunking it, as well as BPO millennials, getting off work at… 9am. So, while the on-screen couple wages war to land up in each other’s arms, these ones appear to have already crossed that hurdle.

Composite of repeat images of French actor, Jean Dujardin, sleepingSeeking a different kind of comfort are folk who come for some shut-eye. These are usually individual men in their early 30s or thereabouts, most probably married, but perhaps with not much room or quiet at home for a good night’s DND sleep. This is typically in the afternoon, with many also coming to kill time before a meeting. Their movie of choice is unsurprisingly not a hit one – or one before it becomes… a sleeper hit – as that means less people around to disturb and more aircon to absorb. I’ve also found many not returning after the interval, and thus not knowing whether the couple ended up with each other, or more aptly in the case of our movies, how.

This next one – to paraphrase a line from ‘Sex and the City’ (the series; the movies of course I watched on screen and soon after got the DVDs) – for the cheap seats in the front. And this might be exclusive to Chennai. Where the people love their movies and their superstars, and where the government seems to want them to continue doing so. Ticket rates have been capped at a very pleasing Rs 120 for almost a decade. (Compare this with the heartburn-inducing 500-1000 or upwards it can get to on weekends and holidays in some multiplexes in Bombay.) Here, there are seats, right in the front, kissing the screen, for as low as 10 bucks. Wooden or at least a bit humbler than the better-upholstered ones just one row behind, tickets for these are available about 10 minutes or so before the show and typically at a counter on the sidelines. These are aimed at, the best way I can put it, the man (am yet to spot a woman on these seats) ‘even commoner than the common man’, but with no less zeal for silver-screen servings. With the long-standing demand to increase ticket prices, the rates for these seats should perhaps remain where they are. Even as these folk find ways to move up the auditorium-seating ladder.

The last one took me a while to figure out. The mature / middle-aged solitary man, coming in for almost every movie. Hmm, perhaps not too different from me; and I shall sportingly come to that shortly.

I would first speculate, ‘Movie reviewer’? No, the reviewer – and I’ve bumped into and spoken with a couple of them more than a couple of times – behaves differently. They are time-strapped, most probably rushing to another movie soon after this one or to write this one’s review, and are very focused: no eats, no phone checks, no nonsense; no doubt to take mental notes of every dialogue and note.

So, is that middle-ager lone ranger a connoisseur? No, this breed is quite different too. The aficionado is usually more relaxed than the reviewer, and is more often than not open to having a casual chat with a random stranger (me) about the ongoing movie, as well as movies in general, though never during the movie. We wouldn’t be cinema-lovers otherwise.

Middle-aged man looking bored during a movieMr Party-of-One (again, these are mainly he’s), from what I’ve observed, is similar to the sleep-seeker, but with more weighing him down than just lack of space. He is perhaps seeking to disengage, if only for a while, from an undesirable situation or station in life: a fractured marriage, a joyless job, an empty nest, benumbing loneliness, or some other vex that three hours in a dark cocoon can provide some solace from. He takes his seat, watches the proceedings on screen devoid of emotion, doesn’t get anything to munch on, and leaves, with the same stoicism with which he came in. Or am I reading too much into it? Well, if there’s a better explanation, the comments section awaits.

Me now. I am an escapist movie-goer too, and not just to be transported mentally to the Swiss Alps or to Super Achievement. I have both exciting and not-so-invigorating drivers that have me heading to the multiplexes.

Exciting first. I love the variety of eats at Indian theatres. Besides the ever-popular cola-popcorn pair-up, there’s a mini-Swiggy at the concessions: samosa, chaat, iced tea, ice cream, cold coffee, pizza, burger, nachos… What theatre operators can’t get by ticket rates, they are clearly aiming to get by the palates.

Not-so-exciting now. I end up ordering and enjoying those treats mostly on my own. Over time, with more and more of my friends having crossed over to marital “bliss”, and not nursing similar “aspirations” myself, I have found myself booking fewer and fewer seats at the movies, until it has almost always come down to just one. That was in Bombay. In Chennai, where one hears as much Hindi as one witnesses raindrops, I head to the movies to get some of that tongue into my ears. (I see how that sounded.) And so, I’ve gone for the insipid ‘Irada’ and the frivolous ‘A Flying Jatt’ with the sole irada (intention) of having some Hindi flying into my ears. But these films have been so listless that I’ve promptly been lulled into la-la-land, ending up exactly like one of those dozing types I identified earlier.

Warped same-language subtitles of The Star Wars beginning text scrollHowever, like all these things go, the movies and the theatres don’t seem to be doing their escapism-providing job very well these days. Or maybe, there are just so many distractions now. Screen captures at the hero’s intro; annoying luminescence from FB / WA updates during a lull on screen, and from Temple Run playthroughs during a song; those canoodling couples not stopping at canoodling; that snoozer in the depths of slumber and the heights of snoring; businessmen conducting their business in loud monologues and telling you to shut up and mind your own business when you request them to do so; corporate have-nots having to provide updates to belligerent bosses at any required time of day, thanks to the diabolical and no-doubt HR-invented concept of “work-life merge”; invocations of patriotism just before the movie begins; fervent vigilantes doing a beacon-like eye-sweep for paraplegics who aren’t standing in honour… And if all that isn’t excruciating enough for folk like me who really like their cinema, then my pet peeve: same-language subtitling. Because people don’t have the patience to decipher a foreign accent, because 100-crore-seeking moviemakers don’t want to lose these audiences, and because when you visit the Big Apple, New Yorkers will be walking around with speech-to-text display boards around their necks.

Sigh. Maybe it’s time to escape from the movies. And maybe those video-streaming sites have come to India at the right time.

I wrote this piece for The Hindu’s thREAD. Here’s the edited version on their site: This piece on thREAD

A miniature kitchen, with a man's hand showing the size

Irfictionary | Kitchend

An Irfictionary post after a long, long time. Irfictionary? An Urban Dictinary-esque series on my blog. This time’s is inspired by soon-to-be-ready new apartment.

A couple of months ago, I went to check out the apartment in the final stages of completion. It’s a 1BHK, just like my earlier flat in Bombay / Mumbai. However, on seeing it, I realized, Chennai builders don’t know to make 1BHKs like in Bombay. There, due to the space crunch, 1BHKs are most in demand. So, builders there pack in the most into a small area, making it look not so small after all. Here in Chennai, I guess, people are still getting used to the idea of apartments. Here, houses have been the norm for the longest time, but now I guess with many people from the rest of India coming here for work, things seem to be changing. So, the apartment plans are very different from those in Bombay. In fact, there seems to be no plan at all. Yes, my flat’s hall is decently sized, the bedroom and attached bathroom modest, the wash area separate. But the kitchen is a killer. It’s at the entrance and tiny as the keyhole. Why, it’s so small, it gets over even before it started. And so, should it be called ‘kitchend’?

Cover pic for this post, with Meena Tai in the logo saying, "Baseline mangta..."

Irfanvertising | Meena Tai’s, Meena Tags

Irfanvertising LogoAs an ad guy and a branding- and logo-lover, I not surprisingly find myself scrutinizing the same in ads I view. And as an ad consultant, I often find myself emphasizing the need for this to potential clients. However, perhaps because the potential clients at my level and stage of working – I started out on my own just about a year ago, that too in an Indian metro not really known for its ad industry (Chennai), compared with the earlier metro I was in, which is considered the Mecca of Indian advertising (Bombay / Mumbai) – are “relatively small”, I find them not quite getting the necessity of having a baseline to emphasize their promise to their potential customers, or at the very least, to accentuate their branding.

So, when I get a chance to come up with the baseline / tagline of a brand, that too of a category I love (food / hospitality), that too for a restaurant I have been to, loved and blogged about, how can I pass up the opportunity?

The logo for Meena Tai's, the newly opened Maharashtrian restaurant in ChennaiThus, when the relatively new upscale Maharashtrian restaurant, Meena Tai’s, announced a tagline contest on its FB page, I dove right in. Into my scribbling pad. I sweated and swotted over it for a few days, then as the end date approached, decided to go for gold by not just putting it in the comments section of the post as most folk seemed to be doing, but creating a PPT for it. Complete with a ToC, notes, routes (Maharashtra-based, Tai-based, Maharashtra- and Tai-based, Marathi-based), and yes, even an end Thanks slide. Any surprise then… that I ended up winning!?! That, and the fact that I love the restaurant, and was born and have lived in its source state for the better part of my life.

Below are some of my entries, the one that won, links to the blog posts I’ve done on it (from a vegan perspective, of course) and the site’s own links. Check them out while I go do nom-nom. The prize is a dinner for two.

A few of my entries for the Meena Tai's tagline contestThe acknowledgement post for my winning entry for the Meena Tai's tagline contest

The first of my two blog posts on Meena Tai’s, this one a prologue: Meena Tai’s – Prologue

The second of my two blog posts on Meena Tai’s, this one the main post: Meena Tai’s – Vegan / Friendly

Meena Tai’s on FB: MeenaTais

Meena Tai’s on the web, or should I say, bheb: meenatais.com

Cover pic for this post, using a part of the Social Beat Digital Chai pe Charcha ad and my text

Irfanvertising | On the ‘Social Beat’

Irfanvertising LogoLogo of Chennai-HQed social-media agency, Social BeatSocial Beat is a, or even, the leading social media agency in Chennai. They’ve handled digital marketing (DM) and social media marketing (SMM) for clients ranging from start-ups to conglomerates. But that isn’t why I’m talking about them. And no, I don’t consult with them either.

The Digital Chai pe Charcha post for Content MarketingOnce a month or so, since January this year, Social Beat has been organizing these DM / SMM chat sessions called Digital Chai pe Charcha (DCPC). These are open to all and free of charge. (Why, Social Beat even sponsors beverages and biscuits for attendees.) Each session is around a chosen topic – which they publicize for about 10 days or so before the session – and goes on for about 1-1.5 hours. So far, there have been sessions around content marketing (one of my areas, which I ironically missed as I was out of the city / country), digital advertising, Instagram, ROI on DM (Social Beat’s baby, as ‘ROI’ is there in their baseline too, and thus obviously what their agency focuses on), and the first one was a generic one.

The sessions are beneficial for multiple, though perhaps expected, reasons: networking, knowledge-sharing and gaining, and in my case, refreshing. I had taken up a course in DM from NIIT about a couple of years ago when I started working in a digital agency. However, I didn’t start applying the knowledge until I started off on my own. These sessions at Social Beat thus act like monthly checkpoints, showing me how much more I know since yesterday or the last time and what gaps I need to fill. And even where I don’t seem to know much (like with the Instagram and ROI sessions), I still seem to end up being quite a vocalizer, as I am then eager to know more, or even all.

Logo for On1yDCPC has also been good as it has led to one work, or rather showcase, opportunity. I blog a lot about vegan stuff (under the series, IrfindingVegan). So, when Social Beat organized a food bloggers’ meet for On1y, a brand of gourmet herbs, spices and seasonings, I requested them to accommodate me, although I don’t really consider myself an “influencer”. (I don’t have too many followers on my blog, but that’s because I blog about several things – which is what my blog tagline says too – and I’m okay with this.) The good folk at Social Beat (am connected with most of the senior folk on social media) were kind enough to do so, and I eventually found myself at The Raintree, Anna Salai one Friday, first listening to a presentation about On1y and then tasting some fine dishes sprinkled with their range. I of course touched only the vegan dishes. Happily enough, all of On1y’s range is vegan.

The sessions seemed to have served their purpose for Social Beat too. I’m guessing they initiated this to be seen as thought leaders / experts in what they do, network with potential clients and other professionals, and provide a forum for DM / SMM / start-up discussions.

Not surprisingly then, I look forward to these sessions, and ever since they started being held on a Saturday evening (as against Friday evening earlier), it’s become even easier to go for them. Last time, they even asked us what we’d like to discuss next. Some suggestions that came up were influencer marketing, growing a brand organically on DM / SMM, handling negative comments (trolling) on SMM. I can’t wait.

A pic from the first Digital Chai pe Charcha session

A pic from the first Digital Chai pe Charcha session. Me at the back in blue. And trust me never to be looking at the camera.

And oh, why did I pen this piece? Is it some form of content marketing for them? (No, don’t think they need it, although any positive press never hurts.) Work opps from them or other professionals and clients coming there? (Nah, the info coming from there is precious enough for now, though again, chats with potential clients and new connects never hurt either.) Well, simply to return the favour. I don’t like freeloading.

And that’s not why I don’t touch the beverages and biscuits. One’s unhealthy and the other unvegan. But then again, the sessions are refreshment enough.

Cover pic for this post, also the logo for the series, with a cartoon dog wagging its tale fervently with the name broken into two parts and written on each of his sides

Irfanimals | Wags in a Name | Here’s Wagging…

Irfanimals LogoChaining them. Caging them. Thrashing them. Training them (for the circus, where this practice still goes on, or training them beyond limits if at home). However, something equally “criminal” we can do with a dog is… giving them a commonplace name.

Pic of one of my street dog friends with some meme text of sorts

One of my many street dog friends, Johnny, who I’d love to rename, but who’s stuck with this name since he was a tot

I won’t go into home-dog territory (as I’m more of a street-dog lover), but I’ve lost count of the Tigers, Leos, Brunos and Caesars I’ve heard). Even among the streeties, the few that some folk deign to name, they show equally lazy thinking. Moti, Raja, Sheru, among the Hindi vernacular; Tommy, Rocky, Johnny, among those who know English; and down South, Lakshmi, Mani, and well, Mani. (Coming to this in just a bit.) Lakshmi (the Hindu goddess of wealth / prosperity) is such a popular name for street dogs in Chennai / Tamil Nadu that almost every second dog I come across that I haven’t named seems to be called so, including… the male ones. Arrey, at least check properly and then call him Lakshman, no? But no, a goddess has higher standing than a god’s brother, right? As for that double Mani thing, it’s a prime example of the height of laziness (and that’s why the double hyperbole). Two dogs who hang around together are both called Mani. How does which Mani know which Mani is being called? And with the equal number of men who seem to be called that, how mani, sorry, many men will also turn when I shout that name?

Well, I’m here to correct this anomaly. An ad guy, especially a branding aficionado, and a (street) dog lover, I’ve decided to put these two powers together to put together a primer of sorts on how to name a dog you come across (on the street, who you decide to become friendly with) or one you decide to bring home (if doing so, do bring one from the shelter; there’s too much cruelty in buying a breed dog, but more of that some other time).

Cover pic for this post, also the logo for the series, with a cartoon dog wagging its tale fervently with the name broken into two parts and written on each of his sidesSo, dog-loving ladies and gentlemen, I give you… Wags in a Name. A short sub-series within my animal series, Irfanimals, on how to name a dog, so that, as the name suggests, you’ll see their tail wagging. Another way of looking at it is, the name should sit well on the dog, just like their wagging tail. I’m so clever, no? That’s why I’m in advertising, I guess.

Anyway, wag, er, watch this space. Woof!