Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Ending 2015 on a good note

(Published on December 26, 2015 in Business Standard)

I’m usually thrilled to watch the taillights of a year disappear into the dustbin of history. But I’m smiling fondly at 2015, because of all the music.

I cannot live without music, and I wouldn’t want to. If it’s not playing around me, it’s playing in my head. I sing constantly, either out loud—a sound like a bee trapped behind a window, or an animal losing the will to live—or in my head, and I can put up with any amount of annoyance, inconvenience, or delay, as long as I can listen to music through it. Learning to play the guitar seemed like an obvious move.

But let’s face it: I’m an old dog, and playing music is an altogether new trick. It is deeply humbling to start from scratch, and have to learn to walk and speak all over again, in the early afternoon of your life when you’re supposed to be master of your ship, snoozing in the first class cabin while minions do the grunt work. But while one’s synapses are frayed, and one’s fingers clumsy, one can make slow, unsteady progress, even without a teacher. I really should have gotten a teacher.

I did at one point hire a random curly-haired youth who, in four lessons, made me realise that I was spending precious booze money on a chap whose musical ability was vastly outweighed by his ability to make me feel as old as the pyramids. I made a tough budgetary cut, and went back to learning from random curly-haired youths on the internet, who also make me feel as old as the pyramids, but for free. The result is that I haven’t gotten beyond the basic chord strum, nor been able to resist looking up chords rather than figuring them out by ear. I have written a bunch of horrible little dirges—which I have to be completely drunk to sing, and you need to be completely drunk to hear—and one fake-happy song. All in all, after three years of enthusiastic guitar playing, I still suck.

But I’m also still having the most fun I’ve had in my life. My guitar may well be a version of the midlife little red sports car, but my god, does it put a spring in my step and roses in my cheeks. Or maybe the roses come out of a bottle—whatever. The point is, it makes me feel the best a person can feel.

This last year I’ve also spent massive amounts of time sitting in bars listening to live music, and if there’s one thing I’ve discovered, it is that this city is filled with the most insanely gifted musicians. It’s a source of constant amazement to me that they walk amongst us, like normal people, without large signs around them declaring that they have magical powers in their fingers and lungs.

Also, and this is critical, musicians are the best people. Hanging around them can be exhilarating or exasperating, but it’s never boring. They’re all totally bonkers. My theory is that the bits of brain that allow people to make music are cannibalised from those bits of brain that allow people to match their socks. Some musicians you experience as a warm bath, some as a drive-by shooting, but they’re all mad fun.

So to all the people that I’ve been privileged to listen to, and to the hapless few with whom I play regularly, thank you for the music, you’re the best. Now I will sing a song for you. Wait, where’s everyone going?

Air today, gone tomorrow

(Published on December 12, 2015 in Business Standard)

It’s hard being a smoker who outrages over the quality of Delhi air. Once the hoots of derision die down, everyone looks at you as if your teeny tiny little cigarette is stealing their children’s future all by itself. Never mind that you’re already exiled to the lepers’ area outside, arm politely stretched over the edge of the planet, stealing the future of Martian children instead. Let me tell you something: Delhi air is so virulently poisonous that cigarette smoke is the clean stuff in it. Anyone will tell you that living in Delhi is the same thing as smoking a pack a day.

Not that I’m defending smoking. Smoking is very bad, children, don’t do it. There are all kinds of other really fun roads to self-destruc—I mean, may you live long and virtuous lives and eventually die in the natural way, of boredom, and have your children drive you to the cremation ground on whatever day works for their car number plate.

That is, if the Delhi Government’s number plate scheme—cars with odd number plates allowed to ply on odd dates, even number plates on even dates—lasts longer than the two-week trial scheduled for next January. I’m not even sure that we’ll last the full two weeks, because this is a country where people who can afford cars would rather choke on toxic air than give up the convenience of rolling out of their houses and into their cars for the thirty second ride to the market to buy books on how to get active and fit. I can’t see them standing around hailing autos or hoofing it to and from a metro, even in clement weather.

There’s been lots of talk about quick fixes, by which I mean outwitting pollution control rules, because creatively bypassing rules is the national forte. Rich? Buy two cars, one odd-plated and one even! Smart? Buy fake number plates! Morally flexible? Steal whichever car you need that day! Activist? Vote out the creeps who are trying to disrupt our lives! (Voters are widely known to be politically motivated.)

Many good arguments have been made for why the Aam Aadmi Party’s odd-even response is not the best solution, and they merit consideration. But listen people, we have to do something, because we care about our collective quality of life.

Hahahahaha! That’s hilarious.

Let’s face it: if we thought like that, we’d never have gotten to this point of emergency—we’d have cleaned up our air, water, and waste systems years ago. The fact is that widespread dying and astronomical health costs are probably less of a catalyst for action than global mortification. We’re more likely to get a move on because of really pressing issues, like the Chief Justice of India’s embarrassment about having to admit to Delhi’s pollution levels to the President of the International Court of Justice. The national image is at stake.

Admittedly I work from home, am fit enough to take public transport, and do the vast majority of my driving after 8pm, so the odd-even rule doesn’t freak me out. And frankly, pollution control was the one thing that I—and my asthmatic mother, whose doctor advised her to leave the city—wanted from the AAP, and they’re trying, so it’s a start.

The even better news for people like me, i.e. with ovaries, is that they’re thinking of exempting women from the odd-even rule, on grounds of safety. Who says that patronising patriarchy has no silver lining? I expect that other motorists will give us the evil eye, but that’s what sunglasses are for.