Saturday, December 31, 2011

Return to Sender

Every year, when December came by, me and my wife would grumble about the fact that we would soon need to buy greeting cards. To wish our friends and family, a happy new year and possibly, tell them something about the wonderful year that just went by. When we were not that busy, we would get customized stationary, and print our annual family bulletin on it -- we would let our cousins know, so that they could let their cousins know, how many diapers we went through, in that particular year, and, if our baby had new teeth -- since ours was the only one in the history of the world to have new teeth, ever. We were always sure that our cousins cared about the diapers and the teeth, they were our cousins after all.

Then, there were the greeting cards. In the earlier years, we would customize them with family pictures. Then, as things got busier, we would buy the ones that supposedly contributed to charity. And of course, when our cousins and their cousins would see that we were doing something for charity, our stock in their eyes would definitely go up, wouldn't it?

And then, there would be those years, when we would be scrambling till the end of the year to get other things done, and we would start sending our cards out, when we received the first ones in our mailbox. A couple of weeks after that, around the middle of January, we would get some cards back. And on those cards, prominently stamped would be a phrase that Elvis Presley helped etch down in the sands of time -- "return to sender." 

People move. Some get new jobs. Sometimes, some get new families. And sometimes, they move on to a better place, that we all have to go to -- some day. The people in the business of sending season's greetings, find out about  all these moves, when the postman brings the letters back in January. Letters, that remind them of Elvis, once more.

We don't send out greeting cards any more. I would like to convince myself that we don't, because we care about the environment. But the real reason why we don't do it any more, is that we are lazy. And, email has made it much simpler to greet people.  So, a couple of days before the end of the year, I type out my greetings, and send them to the near and dear ones in my address book. But, the greatest thing about email greetings is the fact that you don't have to wait till the middle of January to find out if people still remember Elvis. With a curt message about un-deliverable email, your mail software lets you know about the people who have moved on. To different destinations, that you have to find out about.

Yesterday, I found that a close colleague of mine, got fired. I only knew that he was no longer employed at our last place of employment when the email bounced. Then, another colleague replied to my greetings, and added that our mutual friend was fired. Fired, for speaking his mind in the land of the free. The land, that invented "straight talk from the gut"  and the first amendment. And worst of all, when the email came back, I didn't hear Elvis singing, since "return to sender" is not really that prominent in emails that bounce.

This year, I have been passionately following the anti-graft debate in India. It made me happy to see that the people were taking an interest in running their country, in spite of the fact that those who were indeed running the country, had no interest in letting the people take an interest.

December started off on a high note. It looked like there would be some legislation after all. And then, if we finally had an ombudsman to keep an eye on graft, we could move on to loftier things in life. Like a hot cup of  chai and steaming jalebis, early in the morning -- in a small town, somewhere in India. That Desi Babu dreams about, all the time.    

Alas, that was not to be. I have switched off my television, because frankly, I am bored of our politicians yelling at each other. They all remind me of my first grade buddies trying to convince the cane wielding teacher, that they were not the first ones to sling the mud. But, in the end, mud or not, everyone in the class would get caned.
As India's first anti-corruption ombudsman bill, also known as the Lok-Pal, gets shelved one more time, as much as I hate drawing parallels with my returned greeting-cards, I can almost hear Elvis singing in my ears, in his deep baritone.

Return to Sender, address unknown.
No such person, no such zone.

Wish you all, a happy new year. In case you have been postponing your jalebis for medical reasons, you might want to reconsider. For in 2012, the world might end after all. And when it does, there won't be any jalebis any more.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The trouble with ninety nine..

Many years ago, I learned a wonderful expression in Hindi, that is not very commonly used any more.

"Ninyanve ka pher", or roughly translated, "The trouble with ninety nine", represents a basic human trait, that has both positive and negative connotations. Mostly, people use it to demonstrate how greed works. If you have ninety nine Paise, you would love to have a Rupee. If you have ninety nine Rupees, a hundred would probably work out better. Those of you, who are in the corporate rat-race, have probably had a frequent desire to move to six figures, when you are making five. And, it specially hurts, if you are just one away from making the cut, doesn't it?

To me, the number ninety nine, has always been fascinating. It has always been a sign of hope. A hope that there is something beyond my reach -- something, that I can strive to achieve. And so, I am not really a big fan of hundred, or thousand, or any round number, with a bunch of zeros at the end. A train of nines, just gets me going, like that energizer bunny -- on and on and on.

A few weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to see, that I was a few posts short of a hundred, and a few weeks away from the one year anniversary of my blog. I kept wondering, which number I would hit on the one year date -- ninety nine, or hundred? Since I had enough time on my hands, I could probably make it work, whichever way I wanted. But as serious wannabe sadhus do, I left it to the greater dynamics of the cosmos, and the will of the greatest cosmic dancer of them all, who also smokes pot. And, as it turns out, one day before the first anniversary of my blog, I am just one post short of a hundred.

It has been an amazing year. I started out writing primarily for myself. For the joy of writing. But then, slowly, the comments and the emails started trickling in. Comments and emails, that made me aware that there are people out there, who like my writing. I have been blessed with readers, who have always let me know what they like and what they don't. And, I have slowly realized that although I write primarily for myself, it is an honor writing for the readers of this blog, who are amazingly well-read, opinionated, and most important, surprisingly kind to a never-gonnabe writer and a seriously-wannabe Sadhu.

I dedicate this ninety-ninth post of The Peanut Express to its readers. A day before its first anniversary. Here's to the missing ones!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Release the Kraken!

The land of the free has many pet shops. In fact, in every strip mall, that has a Blockbuster video store, a Subway sandwich corner and a mom and pop's Chinese restaurant,  there is a possibility that you will find a store that sells some kind of pets' supplies. And some, also sell pets. Once, I had inadvertently stumbled upon a store like that, which specialized in reptiles. They only sold snakes and lizards -- of all kinds.

I still remember a lazy copperhead in a glass display case, staring at me with its beady eyes. The look had nothing to do with a caged reptile. In fact, I could sense contempt and pity -- as if, the snake wanted to tell me, "There could be another time and place. With you, running in the forest, and me, lying down on a bed of dry leaves. First, you would run by me. And then, I would bite you. And of course, you would die -- quickly. Pity you."

I have always wondered what type of pet store ends up being more efficient. The neighborhood mom and pop's pet store, or the multinational with supply chains running all the way to African mamba nests and South American piranha colonies. While the moms and pops would be frugal with their supplies, sometimes catching rattlers in their backyards with butterfly nets, the multinational would negotiate volume discounts with field mice suppliers -- to feed the snakes. Somehow, my findings on who would ultimately win, have always been inconclusive.

For the last few weeks, the corruption debate in India has heated up once again, with the government trying to bring Wal-mart into India. To sell me cucumbers and cheese, and make my sandwiches cheaper. And then, all hell broke loose, all around the country. With the political left and the right united against an idea, that could probably have made my sandwiches cheaper. But then, in all my years in the land of the free, I seldom shopped at a Wal-mart. I remember buying a couple of avocados from a Wal-mart once. Those green things, stayed green for a month, and no insect in our house dared to attack them. Compare that to the avocados that we would usually buy from an organic store, which would start rotting in a few days, and you would probably start calculating how much pesticide went into the multinational avocado. To give it the long shelf life that improves Wal-mart's bottom-line, and balance sheets. And of course, they also have a pharmacy in the store, just in case you need anticancer drugs. At a huge discount, of course.

The public reaction in India against foreign retail chains, has been quite intense. And many, have tried to tie the ubiquitous graft issue around it, as if corruption, is somehow involved in all of this. But the ongoing anti-graft movement has called this entire issue a distraction, with which, the government is trying to delay pending legislation against corruption. 

In all of this, an anti-corruption news story that caught my eye, was that of a disgruntled snake charmer from the heartland. The man had apparently been granted some land to raise his cobras, but the local officials would not release it to him without a bribe. And so, he took a cartload of snakes to the government office, and released them there. The rest, is history.

In fact, the recent trend all around the world, of throwing shoes and slapping public officials who are perceived the be corrupt, has not really impressed me much. It does bring out basic human emotions of anger and frustration in all of us, but somehow, to me, it has never been elegant enough. If you want sophistication, you somehow need to bring the animals in. Pull them apart with horses, trample them with elephants, throw them to the lions. If you will.

I remember reading an old novel, in which an English lord responded to trespassers on his property, by barking to his butler, "Release the hounds!" And then, if you watch the recently made Hollywood movies on Greek gods, you will invariably find Zeus ordering Poseidon, "Release the Kraken!"

And so, I keep wondering, did the poor snake charmer from Desi-land do anything wrong by releasing his cobras in a government office? He may have been on the wrong side of the law, but you have to agree with me, that it was quite elegant. Wasn't it?!