Sunday, 26 January 2014

Mujhse `Fraandship' Karoge??

Whatever the merits/demerits of `The Social Network’, no matter how astronomical the net worth of Mark Zuckerberg, the one albatross that will always hang around his neck is that he forever devalued the concept of a`friend’.

Friends start early in life, and if you’re lucky enough to still have friendships that date back to your school days, you’ll know how cherished these are. Sowmya has her `Gang of St Joseph’s’ and how heartwarming that is!

Sid’s first `best friend’ in kindergarten was a guy called Gagan Porwal. He called him `G-A-G-A-N Gagan’, spelling out the name every time he spoke of him. This was way back in 1985 at Rani Laxmibai Public School at Jhansi, where I was then posted. In those early years, `G-A-G-A-N Gagan’ was the most important person in Sid’s life!

So when Sid got married in 2012, I was very keen that we track down `G-A-G-A-N Gagan’ and invite him. So I messaged the three Gagan Porwals I located on Facebook, asking them if they had attended Rani Laxmibai Public School at Jhansi in 1985. The first politely declined, the second said he hadn’t even been born in 1985, but I managed to hit bull’s eye with the third – he indeed turned out to be the one and only `G-A-G-A-N Gagan’!!

I wish I had met with similar success in tracking down my old flames from Fergusson College, sigh..

Friends in those days were people you shared your lunch money with, people you bonded with over masala dosa and coffee at `Vaishali’ or girls whose hand you furtively held in the darkness of Alaka theatre.

To make a friend, one had to really work at it. To keep him for life was a mountain to climb! Today, you just send a friend request, which he accepts in a jiffy, and there, you have it!

In those days, if you had a tiff, you broke off the friendship by wagging a crooked finger at the `offender’ and saying `katti’. Today you just unfriend him if he has been nasty, block him if he has been really nasty, or merely block his posts if you find them mildly irritating!

You had friends you could count on your fingers – one hand if you were the reserved type, both hands if you were a bit more gregarious. Rarely did you have to remove your shoes to use your toes to count on. Today if you have less than 100 friends on your list, you’re considered gauche. People these days easily have five to six hundred friends, and a Pakistani journo who is on my list has, I kid you not, a whooping 1127! Hell, I don’t even know that many people!

So is this a good thing?

If you track down your Gagan Porwals and re-establish contact, it can be really exhilarating. It’s also terrific to keep track of how beautifully (and how fast) your grand nephews and nieces are growing.

But of course there’s a flip side. People post pics, get likes and comments, that’s how it works. If you take offence at harmless remarks or perceived slights, or if you get into heated political or cultural arguments, you probably shouldn’t be there in the first place.

My take, at my age, and with all the wisdom that nature and the years have endowed me with (seriously?), I’m happy with the plusses. Of course I’ll take a warm evening over a single malt any day, but in the absence of such real bonhomie, facebook friendships, I guess, will have to do.

And of course, the day I manage to reconnect with those old flames of Fergusson College, that’s the day I’ll actually send Mr Zuckerberg a thank you note!

Monday, 6 January 2014

More Equal Than Others??

The Brahmins top the table – they’re the ` crème’ de la crème’ of the pernicious caste system among Hindus. The shudras are at the bottom rung. Being a Punjabi khatri, I guess I’m a kshatriya, and figure somewhere in the middle (or so I’m told).

Good or bad, pernicious or otherwise, like it or not, there’s no getting away from the hierarchical, and sometimes tyrannical structure in practically every facet of life – caste, colour, creed or even your social standing.

One would think the Armed forces would be free from this blight. Far from it. And it starts right at the Academy. In the aviary that is the IMA, the birds from the NDA are the `peacocks’ (and even among them, we have distinct school wise layers, with the Rimcolians strutting the brightest plumage!). Then come the Direct Entries, followed by the `Techies’ and finally the former rankers from the ACC! 

One would imagine things reach a state of equilibrium, and water finds its own level once we all are commissioned and join units. There, professional ability, rather than breeding would count – but heck, who are we kidding?

Check out the Air Force, where an extremely rigid caste system is de jure right up the ranks. The fighter pilots are the top guns. (Q – What is the difference between a fighter pilot and God? A – God does not think he’s a fighter pilot!) The transport wing comes a very distant second, followed by the chopper pilots. The ground staff doesn’t even figure in the ratings – they’re as puny as pedestrians viewed from the top of the Empire State Building!

The Army is only slightly better. First, there’s the yawning gap between the Arms and the Services, and even among the Arms, we have the `queen of the battle’, the `king of the battle’ and what have you. Ask any Cavalry man which arm he belongs to, and you’ll get a lesson in military history starting from the American Civil War!

A friend who had served as a `tank man’ once asked me to rewrite his CV in tune with the Corporate world. He handed me his own draft, which ran into, I kid you not, twelve pages! Now the guy had spent his life in a tank, for Christ’s sake, and therefore had no real qualification to speak of. Yet, he had a CV longer than my arm! And in those twelve rambling pages, the words `Elite Armoured Corps’ figured, again I kid you not, a full seventeen times!

An aside here. Flashback to January 1974. Station Artillery Mess, Delhi Cantt. As a subaltern, I sat sipping my rum and coke in the bar, when a gunner and an Armoured course mate walked in. They ordered drinks, and some snacks. As was common in that `mess’, snacks took their own sweet time in showing up. The Cavalry guy, by then pleasantly high, tossed back his drink, and declared pompously “In the Armoured Corps, we have our own snacks!”  and proceeded to chomp on his empty glass. Crunch, crunch. The gunner soon followed suit “Anything you Armoured guys can do, we gunners can do even better!”. More crunch crunch. They both then turned to me. “We Signallers,” I hurriedly interjected “just wait for our snacks!”

Back to the present. Maids, as we know, are hot news these days. Devyani Khobragade, being a VIP Indian, of course had to have her maid in New York! That apart, the most telling symbol of your social standing in the Middle East, is the maid you employ. Those at the top of the social ladder have Filipino maids. (And since Filipino maids have their own client-hierarchy and agenda to consider, none will ever deign to work for us brown skins!). Next come Sri Lankan, followed by Indian, and lastly Bangla Deshi maids (no offence to dear old Heena, Samina!).

As a Project Manager for a Telecom MNC in Iraq, I noticed that the white collars (engineers, project managers) were mostly Indian, the blue collars (drivers, crane operators) were Pakistanis, and the conservancy guys (cleaners, sweepers) were invariably from Bangladesh! We from the subcontinent have not just hogged all the space in this segment, but have also created our own hierarchy!

Are we any better at home? Walk into any beachside shack in Goa during rush hour. Watch the `gora’ tourists being fawned over by the staff. Then take a look at how the same staff treats Nigerian tourists. Get the picture?

In the heart of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, there's a French restaurant (`La Maison') where, believe it or not, Pakistanis are not permitted!

In the UK or the USA, it’s rare to spot a `gora’ doing any menial job – these are reserved for the skins of darker hues! Even among the brown skins, the local Arabs In the Middle East contemptuously lord it over the sub-continental expats! Walk into any restroom at the Kuwait Airport – or even London Heathrow, and you will only see a fellow Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi slogging away.

Children of lesser Gods? You bet!