Sparrows, sign of times


Mumbai, a city built upon land barely risen above the sea, a city on the edge in many senses – geological, social, political, cultural – wisely avoided by the canny Peshwas of Pune – had one of its periodic calamitous encounters with the Monsoons the other day. The world saw the gazillions of bytes dealing with stuff about all sides of it. But I also saw after what seem like ages, two sparrows, who came to sit outside my window glass to take shelter from the lashings of torrents of rain darkening the morning sky. Unlike the crows and pigeons I am accustomed to and who have a proprietorial air upon my window-sill – often boldly peeking in to read the newspaper I hold in my hands – these small, gentle beings were indifferent to me across the glass. Wet, shivering, coping, they huddled together looking out at the rain. I am told and I also believe that sparrows are losing out in the harsh survival stakes. I have also read that when sparrows go much else will go too. No wonder most of us who are not Davos apparatchiks have a fellow feeling about them. So while the atmospheric tumult and catastrophe was swirling in the sky I was rejoicing, watching them as a personal visitation, as a social factoid of solace. I sat still without turning the page of the newspaper so as not to startle them, till they flew off into the rain. Sparrows have not quite perished yet — it takes calamities to push them out of their current hideouts. That morning was a commentary on the times.

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Glorious pasts : The Graffiti Wall


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Idea of India : Cartoon Tota-Myna


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Haircuts — give or take

Haircut image 2

There was this old land which had, like all old lands, all the oldest professions. The profession of barbers was one of them. Like in most old places people here too had always been mostly poor. Seeing this, the old, kind god had long ago appeared to an elder in a dream and told him to make his people take up the profession of barbers. God said that with this profession your people will never go hungry and will never have to beg – you will be “na-bheekh”, never a beggar. So it had all started, and barbers have been around for centuries in all lands. Even today barbers are called nabheek, nabhik, napit, or simply nayi. They are a sober dependable type, and people don`t think twice about confiding their family secrets to them while being barbered; they are even used for their contacts for arranging marriages.

Now, barbers` business has always been a regular one. Men and boys have been coming to barber shops out of necessity or vanity, getting their hair cut, shaved, trimmed, paying, and going away till the next time. Some can`t pay immediately, and so they ask for and get credit till the next time. Barbers know their customers well. They have been barbering their fathers too and have already started on their sons. It has been a steady business of intimacy and mutual accommodation.

So when the 20th century which was said to run on something called populism changed into 21st century said to be running on something new called tycoonism, barbers didn`t at first notice any difference except for mobile phones. Yes, their business had started improving. Now women too had started coming for barbering. And so suitable arrangements, annexes etc were made by the barbers which now also included female barbers. Then fashions which used to change steadily now started changing very fast. New and unthinkable styles (“products”) of cutting, trimming, shaving, face-packing, dyeing, highlighting, etc grew in demand. Then even old and middle-aged men started on the fashion trail, and middle-aged women too. Then other such innovations kept cropping up. The barbers adapted happily, dizzily, and made more money.

Sometimes the fashion was of Ronaldo, then suddenly it would be Justin Beiber, and within a week it would change to Virat Kohli. Seniour men went swiftly from Mallya( before Kingfisher fiasco ) to Zuckerberg, and on to Branson, to Warren Buffet. Then tattoos business chipped in. Tattoos had to harmonise with hairdos. Barbering was becoming an exciting and sunrise business. At the same time new problems also started showing up. Since haircutting visits were becoming more and more frequent, not all were paid for in cash. This was nothing unusual but now the credit started going up in volume and duration. The customers were old and trusted ones; so the barbers didn`t worry. Demands made by the vibrantly changing fashions were to be met after all. Where else would the customers go after all?

But it gradually dawned on the barbers that while the customers were getting richer and coming in newer bikes and cars and dresses and perfumes, they were not paying their dues as promptly as before. They bore this for some time thinking it is some bullish thing of the new century. But soon the volume and duration of credit became unbearable to the barbers. They too had to eat, raise families, and pay their suppliers. So they started asking politely for their dues to be paid. But this didn`t work. The customers, living in the era of ease-of-doing-business, started avoiding their old barbers and instead took to going to the new barbers which had mushroomed to catch the sunrise business. There too new credit accounts were readily opened, and soon enough these too started growing in volume and duration. New barbers didn`t tell the old barbers about taking away their customers. But it was no secret. Everyone knew what was going on, but since so many miracles were said to be happening in the newly globalized old land everyone hoped that some miracle will solve their problems too and the boomtime will continue.

But the anticipated miracle kept getting delayed. So the barbers went to their Regulation of Barbers Institution ( RBI ). Now RBI was a dear old thing. It had long back been given a large shed near the port area for storing and distribution of new razor blades and storing and recycling old and used razor blades through razor making companies. RBI was staffed by some clerks to do the book-keeping and the paperwork. It did not know much about barbering except that it involved using razor blades. But the market traders association used to invite RBI to represent the barbers because someone had to. RBI felt important and was in the habit of sending to barbers pompously worded cyclical letters from time to time on harmless things like upkeep of account books, issues related with used and duplicate razor blades, AIDS, promotion of some national language, and so on. Nobody read these letters, and used them as disposable plates to eat singdana, sukha bhel, or bhajiya.

When barbers came to RBI with their problem it had no clue as usual. But it was delighted. It started sending more cyclical letters now about important thing like Early Warning Systems, Prompt Reporting Matrix, Debt-Resolution Mechanism, Joint and Coordinated Action Methodology, and so on. But no banana.

Then barbers went to the National Barbers Association ( NBA ). Now, what NBA did nobody knew, including NBA itself. It heard out the barbers and promptly issued a press release that barbers problems needed government intervention. Government was as usual only too ready to intervene. It formed an SIT which suggested that an Expert Group be formed. It was. Its Report recommended a Detailed Action Plan, to be monitored by Joint Overweening Committees having nominees of Government, RBI, NBA, NGOs, Planet Warming activists, Animal Rights activists, and others.

Many meetings were held, their outcomes broadcast on national TV, liked and shared on Facebook pages, tweeted in the twitterland, and suchlike. One word kept cropping up: Haircut. Verdict was that it was all barbers fault. They were insulted and criticized for their non-performance, unwise business judgements, even collusion with the innocent customers, bringing global disrepute to the noble profession, lowering national credit ratings, and worse. Barbers quietly swallowed all this hoping that they just might get their dues out of these committees and resume their old profession. But no banana again.

Some naïve voices timidly raised their hands and said that perhaps the customers too had a role to play in resolving the problem. These were shushed down for impertinence, immaturity and even unpatriotism. The issues were serious, it was said in caution. Reputations were involved, Privacy issues loomed, Constitutional rights were to be respected. Weighty stuff. Some Coded Mechanism had been evolved, using Vedantic concepts like Insolvency or Bankruptcy, or both to deal with the issue. Permanently. No, no. The business onus will remain with the barbers. They have to take haircuts. This was the word. And is.

After all this barbers are foxed. They don`t know whether they are coming or going. For centuries they gave haircuts to their customers and got money for doing this. Now they are being told to take haircuts. Who will pay their money? Nobody is talking about this.

Meanwhile the current fashion is to wear long hair and unbarbered mustaches and beards.

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Poetry of the day


This world ended the first time
when your school friend left town,
leaving you bereft, shocked
that the universe was flawed.
Such things
happened many times later,
though you tried, held
the world close.
Too many times.
Yes, Rukmani, yes;
it is more than chance,
it is less than dance;
this world.
It comes with one
of its abrupt two faces;
trust or betrayal – always
you are included
or cast off.

It is an unformed, mindless thing,
a ramshackle and crazed whirl
let loose, randomly
picking up or throwing off
bits and scraps
that are you and I – suddenly
getting included or cast off.
Yes, Rukmani, yes;
it is more than chance,
it is less than dance.

Whales dance together
in huge, deep oceans,
get stranded
in shallow lagoons.
Yes, Rukmani, yes.

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Cow,Aadhaar, Drama : Cartoon Tota-Myna


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Wars, civil and uncivil : Graffiti Wall


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India the Greatest : Cartoon Tota-Myna


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Kingfisher Vijay Mallya : Graffiti Wall


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No Front Page Anymore : Graffiti Wall


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