Thursday, May 26, 2016

So you think you can dance

(Published on May 14, 2016 in Business Standard)

I find myself at that point in life when people at parties are largely younger than me. Not just at parties, actually; people all over the place—serious people, like policemen and doctors and pilots and stuff. I’m not sure who thought it was a good idea to let these people out and give them uniforms and tell them to go run the world, but I feel they must be closely watched, even though I have no idea what to watch for. It has given me a whole new insight into why really old people wear a permanent look of rank suspicion.

About those parties, though, I really cannot work out where all the other older people (my age) went. I have a hunch that somewhere out there, older people are throwing parties filled with older people, to which I’m not invited, either because a) older people have higher standards and better judgement, or b) see a).

Either way, I seem to spend a lot of time with appallingly shiny-eyed, endlessly energetic young people, firm of bosom and bright of future, who have an amazing capacity to remember things, including from the week before. To watch them drink all night and bounce off to work the next day; to watch them shine at each other with natural flair; to hear them articulate three clever paragraphs in the time it takes me to place my tongue in the correct position to make an ‘L’ sound; well, I see it all as a test of acceptance sent to me by my Creator. In a questionable display of humour, my Creator giveth me these tests right around the time s/he taketh from me the ability to drink a lot.

You know the phrase ‘middle-aged exuberance’? That’s right, you don’t, because nobody says that, because it’s not a thing. It costs too much. I proved this to myself last weekend when, at the tail end of a party co-hosted by three young people, I decided to jump through an open doorway from the living room to the terrace.

There was no need to jump since the door was open. Post-facto, everyone wanted to know if I was drunk, but no—I was only full of the happy beans of dancing, and whimsy. This was the exuberance part. I jumped with both feet from a standing position, in sandals that were flat as a pancake, on an even surface. I fully intended to arrive in the same position, but somehow my left ankle turned as I landed, and I kept landing for ages, finally coming to rest on my butt, eye level with a table, seeing stars from the pain in my foot. This was the middle-aged part.

See why they don’t go together?

The young people around the table made big shiny eyes and ‘o’ shaped mouths. ‘Tell me this is an ashtray,’ I said, stubbing my cigarette out on the table and really hoping it wasn’t wooden, because this was also a housewarming. Once blood flow to my head was restored, I dragged myself down three flights of stairs, limped to my car a block away, drove myself home, limped up three flights of stairs, and went to sleep still cursing. Talk about ignominious.

So it was that I found myself in the doctor’s office the next morning, getting myself x-rayed and bandaged and told to stay off my feet for three weeks.

It’s easy to forget middle age when you hang with the grotesquely hale. But middle age will find a way to remind you. So, no doubt, will the young people.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

I’m with stupid

(Published on April 30, 2016 in Business Standard)

It became clear, the other day, that age is stupidifying me even more than nature already has. I woke up and realised that the feminine hygiene product introduced into my lady bits the previous evening had now been there for fourteen hours. I tend to be on the psychotic side of careful about removing those things, because of the risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS), so this was an emergency. Bolted to the bathroom. Scrabble for string, no string. Manual probe, can’t reach. Anxiety levels, Defcon 1.

I screeched into the emergency room. My panicked gabbling got me waved through reception, billing, and the nurses’ station, to the emergency intern, who made me wait ten life-threatening minutes for the gynaecologist. ‘If I die of TSS it’ll be your fault,’ I snarled.

In the doctor’s office I tore off my clothes and leapt upon the table. ‘Calm down, dear,’ said the doctor. She examined me. She frowned. ‘You put it in at 6pm, dear?’ she asked. (Gynaecs think that saying ‘dear’ a lot makes the speculum less speculumy.) ‘Yes, yes, it’s been 14.5 hours and I’m going to die of TSS, take it OUT!’ I shouted. ‘Nothing there, dear,’ she said. I made her look again, now worried that maybe my hoohoo had eaten it. She probed with wiggling fingers (though not in a good way). ‘See? There’s nothing, dear.’ Sweet relief, I was not going to die of TSS. I skipped home and inspected the trash, and there it was, neatly wrapped up. Boy, did I feel stupid.

But I’m not alone—it feels like the whole country is getting stupider every day.

For example, the Gujarat government wants PhD students to reach for the stars by picking their research topics from a list of research topics provided by the government, consisting of state and central government schemes and projects. Students will monitor and evaluate these, and voila, PhD. Cool, huh? The government outsources its work for free, keeps scholarship relevant, and ensures that students develop nationalist chops by getting their data and conclusions right if they want their degrees.

But who needs degrees in the republic of stupid? We have already shown, via a secret dossier at Jawaharlal Nehru University, that scholarship is measured only by moral virtue. Some patriotic teachers backed by the administration spied on empty bottles and used condoms and concluded, among other things, that the place is a huge sex racket, that students drink, and that the Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment is in fact promoting sex work.

Even the Prime Minister’s MA degree from Gujarat University has been wiped off his website. Was it retrospectively revoked because he didn’t survey the right project? Has it just been misplaced? Is it being withheld for national security reasons? Nobody’s getting back to the RTI activist who requested to see it.

But honestly, that’s just a storm in a very small teacup, because we’ve decided that education is overrated—except MBAs. The only thing the nation needs is MBAs and a hailstorm of other acronyms, godmen, ancient texts, and flagpoles that can be seen from Beijing and Kabul. Especially ancient texts. HRD minister Smriti Irani wants the Indian Institute of Technology to offer Sanskrit, so that students can research all the rich science available in Sanskrit texts. That seems like a reasonable allocation of resources if you think about it while drinking cow urine.

So really, let’s stop banging on about education, when what we really do well is stupidity—it’s better to set an achievable goal. At least in that world, I know I’ve made it.