Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Bob Hope's Body...

Bob Hope was before our time. In fact, he was before the satellite-TV-live coverage days. He was even before the Doordarshan days! So not having seen him in action, I’ll settle for Billy Crystal as the best Oscar show host ever. In 2011, despite having the delectable Anne Hathway as his co-host, James Franco’s deadpan act had set the bar so low that I was convinced it couldn’t be lowered. Last night, Seth MacFarlane proved me horribly wrong. Apparently, there are depths and pits that are still unexplored!

“We saw your boobs!” MacFarlane sang to the ladies, naming them one by one as he pranced on the stage. Seriously, is this the depths we have sunk to in our humour quotient? Did none of the aforementioned ladies see fit to slap him across his smug face? Did the producers, the director, the audience see this as actually funny? Were they in splits? And most worrisome of all, is this the way we are headed?

Blaming it on the demographics of today’s movie going audience (over 30% teenagers or in their pre teens) only makes one lose what little hope there is. Seth MacFarlane is the highest paid comedy writer in the US today, and young Bilal, who has just entered his teens, thinks the man can do no wrong!

Have we lost it completely, I wonder? Is gutter humour the way of things to come? I have given up tying to get my kids to read Wodehouse – that they devour the likes of Chetan Bhagat only adds insult to injury!

The other day, another of my childhood icons `Reader’s Digest’ went under. There are no takers for that sort of thing anymore. Another chapter closed. No more Quotable Quotes, no more Laughter the Best Medicine, no more Humour in Uniform. No more Peter and Wilfred Funk to increase my Word Power (how thrilled I would be whenever I scored an `Excellent’ score – over 16 out of 20 correct!).

And where on earth has the uproariously funny MAD `What me worry?’ magazine disappeared? Its spoofs on Hollywood blockbusters were side splitting. Sample this. In the movie `Patton’, the general rips out a curvaceous blonde pin up from a soldier’s locker, and screams at him “Soldier – what would your mother think if she saw this?? Your old mother, who’s knitting socks for our soldiers, your old mother who’s praying for all of us – WHAT WOULD SHE THINK??” In the spoof, the soldier mumbles in response “But sir – this IS my mother!!”

Of course, the nature of humour is bound to change with time. The generation before us loved `Punch’. We grew up on Wodehouse, Art Buchwald (remember him?) and Alfred E Neuman of MAD.

Today, you have MacFarlane describing a 9 year old actress as being `16 years before she’s too old for George Clooney!’. The only actor, he goes on to say, to really get into Abraham Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth!  Not only bad humour, but in such pathetic taste that it makes you cringe rather than smile.

In the mid nineteenth century, the abolitionist John Brown was immortalised in the anthem “John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave, his soul's marching on." The anthem became a rallying point for the yankees during the Civil War.

Am posting a clip of the Opening Monologue of the 1955 Oscar show hosted by Bob Hope. Check it out for its zaniness and its sheer class. The complete show (5 parts in all) is available on Youtube, and makes for delightful viewing! This is what true legends are made of! 

Watching Macfarlane last night, Bob Hope’s body must be `a-mouldering’ in his grave. Let’s make this OUR anthem and rallying point against the banality, gross bad taste and boorishness of the likes of Seth MacFarlane!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

One Man's Meat....

We are total carnivores, and we love our meat. Also, being agnostics to the core, we are not fussy about what meat is `kosher’ and what is not. The juicy beef steaks at Arthur’s Theme, or the succulent raan at Madhouse Grill, or even the light as fluff ham-n-cheese sandwiches that the Turf Club serves have all been the staple of many a pleasant evening – washed down, of course, with the single malt of choice. 

Most Hindus that I know are of the `take it or leave it’ variety, meaning the strictures against beef are either to be winked at, or shrugged off. However, Muslims are, by and large, more particular about what is `halaal’ and what is not. Major Khan from my Unit, I noticed, was a vegetarian at Officers’ Mess parties, while Mrs Khan served the most delightful biryani and yakhni when you visited their home. However, once I made Major Khan responsible for all non-veg purchases that came to the Mess, they turned out to be as carnivorous as the rest of us!

I can understand the vegan outlook - but favouring one meat over the other makes less sense. I guess it's a case of one man's meat being the other man's poison..

I recall an incident when we were once settling down to a lazy lunch at Lavasa, and our order for bacon sandwiches was erroneously delivered to the next table where a Muslim family huddled together. Before they realised it, their kids had wolfed it down with amazing alacrity and ravenous relish! When the shit hit the fan, the man was apoplectic with rage, and the Restaurant Manager was lucky to survive the ordeal unscathed – all whilst we bemusedly sipped our Budweisers, wondering what the fuss was all about.

The horsemeat scandal that has hit UK, France and Sweden quite understandably has me in splits. Imagine buying a frozen beef burger or beef lasagne or spaghetti bolognaise from Tesco’s and finding that it’s really horsemeat (if you’re lucky) or mule meat (if you’re not that lucky) or donkey meat (if you’re really unlucky)! Are these meats `halaal’ or `kosher’? Some burgers also had traces (30% actually, so it’s more than traces) of pig DNA – which would have Jews and Muslims really up in arms!

The problem apparently lies in the Supply Chain. The meat comes from Eastern Europe. Six years ago, all horse or donkey driven traffic was banned in Romania. The law is being implemented only now, which has led to a host of these poor animals being led to the slaughter house – and thereon into Tesco’s and other retail stores.

Ok, so you love beef burgers. Would you eat a burger willingly knowing if it contained horse/mule/donkey meat? Assuming it tastes just as good? Is it then just a mental block? Nagas relish dog meat, and black dogs are a special delicacy – so why do we turn our noses up at the very thought? I have personally seen them use live (yes, live!) red ants as garnish, much as we use hara dhania!

What they eat in China is enough to turn the strongest of stomachs. My only problem in the two weeks that I spent in China was the non availability of Chinese food! The entire menu of our Mainland China was totally alien to them - and Shezwan was not, as we know it, spicy, but just another province in China! Catch Andrew Zimmern wolfing down the most bizarre of foods on his TV program of the same name – it will make horsemeat seem like an Enid Blyton tea party!

I guess we haven’t heard the end of the scandal. Meanwhile, life trudges on. And the Zinger Burger at KFC, followed by a softy at McDonald’s continues to be my idea of bliss. Horses for courses, did you say?

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The Gods Must Be Crazy!

Napoleon Bonaparte, was being extolled of the virtues of a new General - the man's heroism, bravery, skill in battle and so on.  He waved his hand impatiently. "That's all very well," he said, "but is he lucky?"

In the Indian Army, the one quality that jawans deployed in field units seek of their Commanding Officer above all others, is that he be `lucky’. Now a lucky CO is one in whose tenure the unit suffers no casualties. When I was posted as CO of a unit deployed in Nagaland, when the insurgency was at its peak, I too prayed that I remain `lucky’.

I decided to seek divine help. As my gypsy was turning into the unit, I asked the driver to take me to the unit mandir first. On reaching there, I was pleasantly surprised to find it deserted, ie the ubiquitous `panditji’ was nowhere to be seen. Good, I thought, I’ll have a few moments alone with the `Boss’. As I knelt down, I whispered a one-line prayer. “Boss,” I said “apni taraf se I’ll do my best – baaki aap sambhaal lena!”

Within two weeks of my taking over, the neighbouring Signals Unit lost three men when the 3-tonner they were travelling hit an IED. They were escorting a school bus, and we thanked the Heavens that the bus itself had not been hit. But three soldiers had been killed, including a recruit who had just landed up from the Training Centre the previous day! The `luck’ of my co-Commanding Officer had been blown to bits!

A hurried reminder to the Boss was indicated, and despatched post haste.

Did it work? It sure did! In the two years that I commanded the unit, we did suffer a few gun shot wounds, but none of them were fatal. Later, one signalman was diagnosed with cancer, but he too survived. So yes, I was a lucky CO!

Back to the missing `panditji’. He had been waiting outside the CO’s office with the mandatory `prasad’ in his hands. His assumption that the `naye CO saab’ was a deeply religious man, having visited the mandir first, was soon proved to be way off the mark!  My insistence that he wear his uniform and not the crisp white dhoti kurta to my monthly durbars, and perform his duties as a JCO (we were in field, for crying out loud!) caused him no end of anguish.

He tried his best to get back at me. Once he displayed mock horror when he realised I didn’t know the gayatri mantra. “Waisay saab”, he asked me in that unctuous tone that I found so grating “aap ho toh Hindu hi na?” I looked at him sternly, and for the first time, I offered him a seat in my office. The moment he sat down, I recited the Lord’s prayer “Our father who art in Heaven, hallowed by thy name..” which we had learnt in school. In full, and pat. Verbatim. He looked stunned, and never spoke of any mantras again.

The only time he thought he’d given me my comeuppance was when he decided to hold a `Satya Narayan ki katha’, which I would be required to preside over. “By all means” I told him “Kariye!”. He said I’d have to fast till the katha was over. “Theek hai”, I replied “we’ll hold the katha at 8 am the next morning”, that way the only meal I’d have to skip was my bed tea. “Nahin saab, it has to be after sunset” he countered. I thought I imagined him trying to suppress a feeling of glee. Ok, so he had me there – he had me starve for an entire day!

On another occasion, Major Chatterjee’s daughter was to begin school, and as per Bengali tradition, a puja was to be held as an auspicious start to her learning process. The eldest in the family was required to hold her hand and write some `shubh akshar’ on a slate that would set her on her way. I took the little girl into my lap, and held her hand solemnly poised over the slate. I looked quizzically at the pandit. “Om likhaiye saab” he intoned, knowing fully well I didn’t have a clue as to how to write `Om’ in Sanskrit! I was flummoxed, but only for a moment. I held her hand and wrote a huge `O’, followed by an `M’. Would have made him feel pretty silly, I thought!

On my last day in the unit, I did look up the Boss again, to thank him. He had seen me through, and my `luck’ had held.