Saturday, August 31, 2013

Planning the Yet-to-Be

The Winter days of your academics does much to destroy your faith in life's inevitable good sense. Though the Desiderata will tell you otherwise, and Rilke always knows best (at least poetry-wise), you can't help wondering if the heaven's hierarchies took an extra long lunch break and kinda lost track of things.

Being a Ph.D scholar in India is a singularly disheartening situation, given that there are a dime a dozen of us sitting on the back-burner hoping someone will hire us to destroy a couple of generations. This is further augmented by the confirmed fact that-- regardless of the sterling quality of your blog-- you are not the author of the most brilliant thesis ever.In such a scenario, one's unnecessarily helpful imagination tends to think of multiple possibilities, none of them reassuring. The sweaty nights are rendered clammy by visions of living in abject poverty and subsisting on banana,bread and moong dal forever. Or having to sell your books to pay rent. Or being the object of your professionally enabled friends' and family's piteous contempt. Or, worst of all, teaching English for Communication to a bunch of disinterested kids who cannot begin to discern the beauty of the language they speak (yeah, I have my priorities straight). Being an individual with some measure of initiative, one accepts the fact that perhaps a back-up plan is in order. And since a job like this one doesn't really exist, a measure of creativity may be required. While robbing a bank or marrying a rich old guy, rigging his will and then killing him, are the immediate possibilities, both these options are too run-of-the-mill to appeal. Ours is the road less taken. After all, what are we if not inventive.
And so-

Option #1:Midnight Maggi Stall

Admittedly not the most inventive idea, but it does promise returns.
It is the Murphy's Law of university food supply that the hunger pangs hit hardest when there is no food to be had. Every university will suffer from periodic food droughts where none of the usual watering-holes function. The enterprising pauper need merely wait for the window of opportunity. A basic investment of around 800 Rs would be unavoidable ( a hotplate, paper plates and 5 packets of mini maggi noodles- the cooking utensils can be appropriated), but that can be begged, borrowed or artfully extorted  from unsuspecting cronies. Sell your first plate of maggi and you are in business for life. And I have it from the best authorities that I make a mean plate of maggi (Of course the rather obvious fact that you can't really go wrong with maggi is another incentive). To truly establish the venture you would probably have to offer chai-coffee as well, but focus on the main attraction: hot soupy, goopy maggi in the dead of the night when your stomach howls at the moon. Additions to the menu can be accommodated according to returns on investment.
The pros are many- For one thing, at least 70% of the student demographic lives on the stuff, whether they like it or not. And the added joy of having someone else make the manna  renders the experience all the more enjoyable. Furthermore, a little dedicated PR work and we have every hope of becoming a campus fixture with steady clientele. All we need is a table next to an unsuspecting power supply.
However, due to the fact that the clientele is greatly made of students and similarly impoverished denizens of the University biosphere, the venture has a great chance of running into losses through extensive  bad debts. Theoretically, establishing a no-credit policy can neuter this threat. However reality functions differently in an academic environment. And we are not just talking metaphysics here. Whether you give it or not, credit will be taken. Besides this financial issue, the venture also runs the risk of legal complications in the form of eviction notices from the law-enforcing admin. While in a Hindi movie this would be the part where the loving students rally around and fight to keep the benevolent feeder-of-the-masses character in their un-rightful places, the real-life student body is a fickle lover. The mere whiff of trouble would have erstwhile champions ambling off in the opposite direction discussing Marx, Kant and rising unemployment. In this more or less confirmed situation, the hapless proprietor will be transported  back to square one- penury, coupled with the very real possibility of pressed charges.
And thus, option #1 is shelved.

Option #2: Autodriver

True, I don't know how to drive. But that will make me fit right in with the rest of the community. The autodriver-- the human equivalent of the common crow-- is the most resourceful entrepreneur there can be. From tampering with meters to make them ring up double the amount to extorting several hundreds extra claiming non-existent traffic or even the time of the day ("Amma, it's summer. It's afternoon.Pay extra " or "Amma it's night. Pay extra." or "Amma, it's just like that. Pay extra." ) the autodriving vocation seems tailor-made to make a quick buck.

Being a successful autodriver seems a fairly simple project. All that is required is tenacity and an ability to be completely obnoxious. The Author has been known to be both on occasions. The small problem of a non-existent sense of direction might be a deterrent, but extensive observation of the species has shown that whenever in doubt ask as passerby or pretend selective amnesia/ deafness. True, the returns are not quite guaranteed, considering there is always some bargaining involved. But a little heckling and a lot of aggressive posturing seems to have some effect on most people.
The initial investment is a bit steep for the student pocket. But a little research can probably find us a proprietor willing to rent out his/ her auto. Still steep, but not that bad.

While this option seems golden, the presence of rabidly territorial auto-packs makes finding a lucrative hunting ground a challenging prospect. Furthermore, the long arm of the law once again becomes a pain in the back since one (a) does not have a licence (b) doesn't have the vehicle's papers (c) doesn't have money to bribe the cops. And as anyone who's ever traveled in an auto knows, the cops hate them. Or at least pretend they do so that they can make money off the passerbys when they get embroiled in the inevitable collision. In between paying the rent for the auto and paying the reigning auto-stand alphas their cut and paying the cops their tithe, the budding entrepreneur runs the risk of returning to poverty unless she stoops to the same levels of degenerate democracy she denigrated earlier. Ah principles, the damn things!

And so ends option #2.

Option #3: Strike Extra (Kerala Specific)

This is actually a very valid employment possibility. Kerala has a thriving hartal/strike culture which demands extensive crowds for each protest; after all what's the point of protesting if there are no protesters, legitimate or otherwise. A loud voice and a adequate stamina for long distance walking  are all the qualifications required: today you yell slogans for Congress, tomorrow for SFI. All this with the the guaranteed pleasure of 500Rs and a plate of biriyani post-rally, political ideology be damned.

Of course, you will also be beaten up and/or thrown in jail interminably in the event of the inevitable lathi charge. And I am not atheletic enough to avoid escape.  Oh dear...

There goes option #3

Option # 4: Stripper
Nah... I don't have the legs. Or the abs. Next.

Option #5: Domestic Help (Kerala Specific)

I have it from every corner of the elongated state that good domestic help is about as rare as a scrupulous politician. And given the general rule of demand and supply and the mallu tendency to favour the working class, a conscientious domestic helper is worth her weight in gold ( and sundry electrical appliances and conveniences that she can demand in return for her services.) Since the author already has a neat disposition, the vocation seems right up her alley.

But it is unfortunately her zeal in carrying out her charge that might be a key issue here. The author runs the real risk of giving her employers a blistering earful of abuse in case of sustained levels of disgusting. Furthermore, the author's often humorous but decidedly caustic use of sarcasm may not be the best means of endearing herself to her employers. Given enough,or even not all that much, incentive she may find herself remitting  comments which can easily demolish any illusion of respect among parties. In sum, whether she likes cleaning or not, the author's innate disposition will land her back in unemployment before you can spell 'broom'.
Option#5 proves unfeasible.

Option #6: Landmark Bookstore Salesperson

Ah the joy! The comforting AC, the good music, the proximity to the food court, all those lovely books--Wait.
And there's the catch.
While working in Landmark would truly be a dream job, the simple fact that the author will definitely be perched somewhere reading rather than doing her job may put a damper on things.( For similar reasons, Option#7 Film Theatre Usherer and Option#8 Candy-store Salesperson might be colossal failures.Especially Option#7 since not only will she get too caught up in good movies, she will also do physical harm to idiots denigrating aforementioned good movies or casually assault morons who may promote really stupid movies. Think Chennai Express.) Furthermore, it is almost guaranteed that she will spend the entire paycheck on buying the books she sees around her- food and shelter be damned. Poverty will return as she wastes away in book-fueled delirium and the author, though bibliophilically euphoric, would return to square one.

So no, Option # 6, #7 and #8 can't happen. Drat.

It would seem that all the possibilities for monetary betterment are entirely unfeasible. While the creative mind balks at giving up this interesting train of thought, the sad and pragmatic truth says quite unsympathetically that all these wishy-washy imaginations are just that; wishy-washy imaginations. It would seem the only real alternative available is the successful completion of the dratted thesis. A task that I have been neglecting in favor of this blogpost. But we thrill in finding means to avoid doing what we should and instead doing whatever we feel like. Perhaps the angels hierarchies are just waiting for us to get our act together so that they can sort things out once the kiddies go in for their nap. In either case, it seems the only alternative available to doing a job is to just do it. And that's exactly what I am going to do. Just as soon as I think of a possible plan B. I am open to suggestions :)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

(It's just) One Day Matram aka The Confessions of an Incurable Optimist

Forgive the mallu-wordplay in the title. The pun was irresistible.

This blog has seen many a post certifying my flagrant fraud-malluness. But this post isn't one of them. (Thankfully.)

The thing about growing up in another country-- besides the obvious diasporic confusions of being and belonging-- is that it tends to make one's  perspective on the motherland rather bipolar: either you are myopic to her faults or supremely nearsighted. And when you've grown up in Kuwait which, no offense, is the urban answer to Yoknapatawpha, you have every opportunity to foster these fallacies. Which would explain why,regardless of knowing better and daily proof of dissipation, one still finds ones heart swelling just a little bit on Independence Day.

Actually, it was never Independence Day that got any attention. That was reserved for Republic Day. Each of the Indian schools in Kuwait sent choirs (which, by the way, often consisted of SriLankans, Bangladeshis and the occasional Afghani besides Indians-- a microcosm of the subcontinent, don't you think) to the Indian Embassy with its imposing red-sandstone grandeur, to provide the patriotic background score for the flag-hoisting on the inevitably freezing January morning of the 26th. The Republic Day had the drama of unsaid competition between schools, the grueling ritual of group practices ( and the fun that follows), the simulated sense of purpose that comes from dragging yourself out of bed and into perfectly worn uniforms ( and, in my case, taming the hair into prosaic dignity rather than poetic frenzy)  at the ungodly hour of 5:30 am in a desert Winter, and-- perhaps as a result of this simulated sense of purpose-- an incredible sense of pride and joy when you see the flag climb up the pole. That , and the after program-snack box, of course.( usually a slice of fruitcake, a veg sandwich and juice)

Independence Day, on the other hand, came during the fading days of our summer holidays. We are too busy running around getting our fill of field, fallow, food  and lazing around while contemplating the ephemeral nature of holidays to think about celebrating in any sense. Travelling was discouraged because of clogging traffic. (Though there was this one time we had to go somewhere on the 15th and I got to see a 12yr old Gandhiji with a pappadam-based bald-pate trying to cross the road with an equally juvenile Nehru.)
Our entertainment was mostly confined to the screenings of Roja and Mr.India on the T.V-- if it was working. If it was not, then Independence Day made itself known through the blaring loudspeaker from the village school that burped out patriotic songs from another era. As you can see, not the most exciting holiday. It wasn't even a real holiday.

Coming to India gave me cognitive-spectacles that greatly remedied my ideological myopia. It is impossible to live in a country and not see its faults. And we know that India tends to be over abundant in that category. I also realised that so few of  us 'educated' and 'informed' citizens wanted anything to do with our country. Unfettered by NCERT censored text books, we find that Gandhiji, while an excellent statesman and a great idealist, was also a little off the deep end. Nehru  may have been Chacha Nehru, but that's not all he cha-chaed  with.  Poor confused India, flounders like a rudderless boat grappling with alien democracy it never got the hang of, parading her penchant for dynastic rule in  ballot box choices which bowed to inevitable evil either of the necessary/familiar kind, or the next best alternative, or whichever party offers the better deal in terms of material benefits like two kgs of rice, a sari and a bottle. Somewhere you start to think that democracy was never a good idea. That dissent is too wearisome and that 'choice', the fundamental premise of freedom, is just not worth it.

Everyday we shrug at idealism with studied apathy, our psyches are flogged by multiple proof of corruption running rampant and the anarchy meted out by administrations. Everyday we find new examples of atrocious mismanagement and inconsideration. Everyday we find one more reason to wash our hands off our state and fall a little more in our own eyes. Every day we find ourselves giving up on the idea of freedom, forgetting that this is what freedom is-- the inability to blame anyone else and the burden of carrying on by yourself. Freedom is a myth, it always comes at the cost of some other kind of liberty. But freedom in whatever form is something to be savored.  It may be screwed up, but it's our screwed up.

Too blind, perhaps? True, very true. The arguments against what I just wrote create an Indian Parliament worthy cacophony in my head. But I silence them with the single thought that 364 days of the year these arguments reign supreme. For just one day let us see our country as they saw it on that fateful midnight hour when we made our tryst with destiny-- with hope. They were not fighting for a section, or for a position. They fought for 'freedom'. The freedom to make choices, whether a physical one like entering a certain compartment, or a tertiary one like applying for a certain jobs, or the freedom to have a stand and to maintain it. The freedom to go where one wants, to be what one is (whatever that might be) while allowing other freedoms to exist. The times we live in give us very little affirmation of this hope, but for just one day let us try to see it as a possibility rather than an improbable pipe-dream. For just one day, let us free ourselves from our self-proclaimed cynicism and hope like they once hoped that our country will indeed awaken to that heaven of freedom. Because, that is what they fought for, that is the freedom we have-- the freedom to dream of "One day... someday".

Happy Independence Day