When New Year’s Was About Award Shows & Home-made Pizza

When you were a child, adults often treated you like a burden during New Year’s eve, like a home loan or indirect tax. Mom and dad would stuff you with pizza, put you to bed, and then have their share of fun, that could involve anything from drinking lime juice (because it was 1998) to partying at a hotel function (sorry, still can’t admit it, getting naughty).
As you grew a bit older, they no longer had the choice to keep you out of the New Year’s party plan. You were in that phase of life where you had discovered Pok√©mon, beyblades, Roadies, and porn. It was no longer possible to fool you into eating Chyawanprash by telling you it was chocolate. You knew there was something important attached to New Year’s eve as friends and relatives kept whispering about it in the month of December. Around this time, the family began to gather around the TV to watch Manikchand Filmfare Awards, while feasting on pav bhaji and sipping Thums Up and waiting for a prime ’90s Shah Rukh Khan to lead the countdown to the New Year wearing a bowtie with a black suit.
Many Indian families have spent New Year’s this way. There was a charm to the preparations for the night as mom laid out the new cutlery and napkins that had been saved for occasions like these. It was the only night of the year when you had disproportionate food options, from unlimited popcorn and finger foods to a meal that had starters, fancy dishes (pizza in ’98), drinks, and at least two kinds of dessert. While you sipped on Sprite, dad and uncle had whisky, convinced that they’d fooled a 10-year old into thinking that it was Canada Dry just because it looked golden yellow. Everyone marvelled at the costumes and the Govinda dance number, and every year mom would make the mandatory comment on how beautifully Rekha has aged, a tradition that continues to the day, almost two decades later.
During these Manikchand evenings, the fireworks were grand. This was before we gave a fuck about the environment and climate change. As soon as the clock struck 12, there was incredible noise and everyone rushed to the windows to look at the amazing visuals in the sky. They always overshadowed the confetti and balloon shower on television.
As the years went by, the party shifted from indoors to outdoors but the family stayed constant, and the awkwardness that was once limited to the walls of the house was now in full public view. Everyone had to be dressed in their best, as rings and gold bracelets were also withdrawn from the bank locker for the big night. New Year events hosted by hotels and banquets became the new cool thing in town. By paying a fixed amount, one would get unlimited food, drinks, and entertainment. Being Gujaratis, this was music to my family’s ears.
Instead of watching people dance and perform on screen, we now watched people dance and perform on a stage. It wasn’t just enough to be spectators at these night-outs, as you even had to volunteer to be the guy who’d be cut in half during the magic show segment. It was the time when one grooved to “Made in India” and “I’m a Barbie Girl”. It was a time you discovered that your father acted weird around pretty women.
The real star of the evening though, would be the host at these events, whose enthusiasm was almost impossible to match. The goal of my life is to be as passionate about something as hosts at NYE parties are about the countdown. These were the good ol’ days, when F.R.I.E.N.D.S. hadn’t picked up yet and the concept of the midnight kiss was still alien. People just politely looked at each other and wished them Happy New Year and then, there were fireworks again. Back in the ’90s, fireworks were the dick-measuring contest for events and functions.
Since then, the cult around the New Year party has changed drastically. No matter where you live, there will be a party within a 100-metre radius. Every person you can possibly know is heading to one at a hotel, bar, club, or even their own office. Every channel now has a “special episode” for New Year’s Eve. Even Arnab released a “Best of Arnab” for 31st last year, because that’s how people want to bring in the new year, by listening to a loud middle-aged man scream at 10 other people for two hours.
It is important to be engaged in a plan, no matter how boring or fun because if you have no plan, the most difficult question to answer in life is “31st ko kya kiya?”
As the dreaded day inches closer, and the pressure to have fun consumes us all, I just wish I could be six years old again. I’d have mum tuck me in at 9.30 pm, and by the time I’d wake up, the entire thing would have blissfully ended.

Forget Monday, Tuesday is Actually the Worst Day of the Week

Monday is the worst day of the week, and reams of writing, posters, “thought catalogues” and listicles will hardly let you forget it. If you browse Instagram on a Monday morning, you’ll find pictures of dozens of coffee mugs with quotes battling “Monday blues”. Yes, the pain of going through this day has reached such gigantic proportions, that there is a phrase dedicated to it. You check Twitter and the top trend is #MondayMotivation, an internet phenomenon whose sole purpose is aiding people in dealing with the trauma of getting back to routine life, through memes and GIFs of course. Everyone from your doodhwala, to paperwala, to watchman to neighbour uncle seems annoyed and is one taunt away from losing his shit. You meet people at work and they have all decided that the world is coming to an end.
After all, Monday signifies the return to normalcy, stressful and boring. Left to us, weekends would last through seven days. You sleep for two hours on a Saturday afternoon and suddenly it’s Sunday night and anxiety begins to kick in. What could be worse than getting up early and going back to work after staring at the walls for two full days?
Yet, let me propose something that could attract blasphemy laws in India. It is in fact Tuesday, and not really Monday, which is the worst day of the week.
By theory of elimination, let me first tell you why it’s a two-horse race and the other days are nowhere close to being as horrible as the first two days of the week. If Monday is Trump, Tuesday is Kim Jong-un. Wednesday brings with itself hope that the weekend is within striking distance: It’s like crossing the halfway mark in a marathon race. Thursday is a contender to be one of the best days of the week because you are filled with hope for Friday. And there’s nothing bad about Friday, except maybe that song by Rebecca Black. And weekends, well, you don’t need me to elaborate on that.
That leaves us with Monday and Tuesday.
While Monday is the dreaded return to routine, it is also a return after a break. If you spent a lot of time relaxing, you’re in a good mood heading into the week – you might even be feeling a bit of hope. Maybe you went camping, or binge-watched a TV show, or just spent some time with your dysfunctional family. Either way, when you come back to work, there are is something to talk about. Some part of you always looks forward to meeting your “colleagues” again, if only to tell them what you thought of the latest Game of Thrones episode, Rohit Sharma’s double hundred against Sri Lanka, or the friendly shooting at the family wedding.
Monday hasn’t had a chance to stain you with its workplace cynicism; Monday is just the beginning of an action movie, when things are happy and haven’t gotten bloody just yet; Monday helps you prepare for the worst. You can perform mundane tasks at work like filing for expense reimbursements, completing some weekly HR formalities, or taking a coffee break every seven minutes.
But once Monday is done, and you feel a bit relieved that the worst is behind you, you forget all about the torture that is Tuesday.
Because when it comes to Tuesday, it’s like your soul has been sucked out. If Voldemort were a week, Tuesday would be the last horcrux. It is Monday on repeat, minus all of the parts that allow you to ease in a little. Your positive energy from the weekend is all gone. Tuesday is confirmation of how hellish the rest of the week is going to be. Tuesday is when you’re expected to suck up and just get on with it, having had your easy day. If I had the resources, I would prove to you scientifically that time moves the slowest on a Tuesday.
Work is relentless; the weekend is far, far away. You have exhausted most topics of small talk and the hopelessness starts to kick in, making you reevaluate many aspects of your life (which has also given rise to a new internet phenomenon in #TuesdayThoughts). Tuesday doesn’t attract enough negative PR because everyone is too busy occupied with their hatred of Monday.
Left to me, I’d start a movement to ban Tuesdays.
Because if Tuesday were a person, it would be the Joker from The Dark Knight. It can’t be reasoned with, bought, bullied, or negotiated with. It just wants to watch the world burn.

What You Really Mean When You Say “I’m Working from Home Today”

Working from home is the Holy Grail of corporate life. It’s like the time teacher told you to “read” something for homework. It meant that there was no homework. It’s basically a holiday that hasn’t been explicitly declared as such.

Just like a chutti, there is a sense of wonder associated with working from home. For starters, you can magically create time in the morning. On an ideal work day, you invest at least an hour in commuting, courtesy our amazing roads and the people on them. But when you work from home, you get to do in bed what you otherwise have to do at work – sleep.

Don’t get me wrong — I am not the sort of person who advocates slacking off.  Which is why it is important to follow a routine and have the discipline to stick with it. It is very important to set the mood within the first few hours of the morning, by replying to every mail within 10 seconds (by adding people to the email thread, of course). An impression must be created that you are on top of things and just because you’re working from home, there won’t be any loss in productivity. You must be so proactive that your boss wishes you worked from home every single day.

See, it is a lot like studying. You always feel you can do it at a later time and it will all work out, but it never does. Unlike office, you have no one to disturb you at home so you can finish four hours of work in 30 minutes. Colleagues aren’t around to drag you for a sutta break every seven minutes, there are no coffee breaks, and you don’t have to waste an hour having lunch. These thoughts are immediately followed by, “My Netflix queue is getting really long and I can quickly get the work done later; what could go wrong?”
You start binge-watching shows like Shah Rukh chain-smokes. Just like bunking tuitions to smoke cigarettes with friends before a paper, you promise yourself this is going to be the last one. Sadly, that moment never arrives. After a few hours of constantly staring at the screen, you realise you need a break and it is time to get some sleep.
This is the trickiest part of working from home: sleeping in the afternoon but making sure that your boss doesn’t find out. God bless the technology that allows you to do that, as you turn off the sleep mode on your laptop, set your status as “Busy” on the office messenger, and take a powernap that will last four hours.
If you get a call from your boss or colleague while you were asleep, responding to it requires a lot of tact. You can’t just pick up a call in the middle of your nap and try to sound like you weren’t catching some Zs. The call must be avoided; time to wash your face and get your voice in order before you call back. Put your skills from that one theatre workshop you attended in college to good use, as you brag about how intensely busy you were working on the file and accidentally missed the call. Yes, indeed, it’s a lot like Mom catching you with an Archie comic inside your textbook during study hour. Confidence is key to getting away.
Just like you magically pulled an hour or so of extra time out of thin air in the morning, your afternoon slumber will just as magically make a few hours disappear. All your work is still pending, and now the pressure is building up, as the sun starts to set outside the window and your boss starts following up on mail for the file you have been working on all day. You recall the crazy, desperate last-minute cramming sessions before your Physics paper. If things already weren’t bad, Mom tells you to get something from the market, and you start regretting the decisions you have made today.
And then, just like every other day at work that you spend labouring — chatting around the watercooler, taking a chai break every hour — you realise it’s going to be a long night. This time at home. You furiously type away on the laptop, promising yourself that you are going to organise your day better the next time you work from home. “I’ll study properly for the next exam,” you remember promising yourself before every test. The cycle continues unbroken.

Fantastic Marathoners and Where to Find Them

Every marathon ever run has only ever had two kinds of participants – those who registered under guilt, and those who didn’t. The former is a core group of people who mark the entire year by the marathons they will be participating in, to plan the preparation and diet that it will require. These are the guys who will show up on race day with their fitbits and phones all charged up, liquids and food packed. These are the people who know exactly what they are doing. And at most marathons, these people number one in 10.
The other 90 per cent are people like us.
When you get the bib number in your mailbox a few days before race day, it dawns upon you, what kind of monster that you have unleashed. You are the guy who takes a rickshaw to station instead of risking a 10-minute walk, but now you have registered for a 10-kilometre run that flags off at 6 am sharp. The last time you woke up early on a Sunday morning, LK Advani was still gunning to be Prime Minister of India.
You’ve followed (kinda) the pre-race diet that was recommended, but in the name of carb-loading you’ve eaten a LOT of fried rice which is making you sluggish and bloated. Also, you’ve never put on a bib before so you wonder whether you should use threads or staple it to your shirt.
As you reach the venue and glance across, it starts to feel a lot like an exam hall, 10 minutes before the start of the test. Some people look really confident and prepared, others are busy nervously looking around, just like you. Some serious runners are doing last-minute stretches — you copy them closely so that people think you know what you’re up to.
In the meantime, announcements begin and the host, who looks like a gym trainer at Gold’s asks the crowd to gather around for a warm-up. Loud music starts to play and you follow the dancercise steps. It keeps going on for 10 minutes and it starts to worry you that “Saari energy to abhi nikal gayi, ab race mein kya karenge?”
Suddenly, the lights go green and everyone is off with a loud cheer. Some people take off like Usain Bolt, and are already breathing heavily as soon as they complete 50 metres. “Haan hum sab to chutiye hai jo itna slow bhagte hai,” the regulars mutter as they watch the noobs self-destruct with irrational enthusiasm.
Many have begun walking right from the beginning and have decided that they will walk through the entire race, which deserves more respect because they know their limitations. It’s like the CA course: All that matters is that you complete the race and have a certificate. Unless you are Sharma ji’s son, nobody is going to ask you about your timing and position. The “pros” jog at a brisk pace and are out of sight within the first few minutes itself. While you secretly admire their perfectly toned body and physique, you mainly feel a lot of disgust.
As you’re about to finish your first kilometre, you find out that there are stalls offering water and bananas, and it was extremely stupid of you to carry food in a bag. Not only will you not be able to eat anything, the bag keeps bouncing with every step you take and is extremely irritating. But you’re a desi and you don’t know how to travel without theplas.
You soon notice an entire group of people wearing the same office t-shirt and based on their excitement levels, you’d think they’re at a funeral. These are the guys who are collateral damage to their company trying to achieve their CSR targets. Some companies have got 50-100 people from their staff, placards, drums, microphones, and they’re on a procession like it’s an MNS rally. Many of them are out there handing pamphlets and raising awareness about social issues like heart disease and global terrorism. You pretend to your friends that you’re interested to know more, but all you want to do is just stand and rest for a while.
Every race has the sympathy-inducing old uncle who gets a cheer from everyone for his spirit to run at this age. You just secretly hope you finish the race before him or it will be really embarrassing to be behind a 92-year-old. To make matters worse, the  eight-year-old is catching up with you.
As you cross a section which has a host of pretty girls, you try to impress by racing past them with confidence. Once you pass them, you collapse. Soon, you find yourself bringing up the rear with a group of annoying millennials who have just come there to click selfies, Boomerangs, and update their Snapchat. “Take that you lazy piece of shit, who gets up at 10 am on a Sunday morning. I already ran a marathon,” being the subtext of every social media post.
Now you don’t even have enough breath to ask the volunteers how many kilometers are left and the millennial gang, who is done with social media updates, now blaze past and attract the attention of the crowd. They cheer (mainly because they are really bored) and you feel really shit because one of them has stopped to ask if you need to sit down.
As you hobble toward the end, even the last of the stragglers is overcome by the “Let’s sprint the last few meters” spirit. It’s a bad one, but they’ve seen athletes do it on TV; what could go wrong? You join them and give it everything you have and start going past people at serious speed. Now the crowd on either side of the road eggs you on. You complete the race even as your heart threatens to stop.
But you’ve done it… now you’ve crossed the line and all you want to do is sink into the Earth. But hold on…. There’s no place to sit. The whole course is designed in a way to make every runner run some more.
You finally line up to collect your medal (it’s a long queue because nearly everyone has finished before you) but it doesn’t matter, we live in the age of “everyone’s a winner.” You go to collect your medal and the aunty gleefully smiles and congratulates you. You take your breakfast bag and realise that all it has is a banana and you are overcome with an urge to thump the volunteer closest to you.
But the medal stops you. You are now a marathon runner and must play the part.
You inhale your breakfast like medicine and start heading home, not taking away the medal from your neck so even people on the train and in your building notice your achievement. Every step you walk feels like an entire kilometre as your legs now have the constitution of dandiya sticks. But the race has been conquered and you have at least four photos to prove it.
When you reach home and sink into bed, you take a deep breath. All that remains now is to think of an excuse for work on Monday because you know that your legs will bail out like state governments before the Padmavati release.
It is the day you decide, that the only marathons you can happily complete are binges of shows on Netflix. And you don’t even need a medal at the end of it to keep you happy.

Laughter in the Age of LOL

What makes us laugh? I’m asking because as human beings we seem to love to laugh and to make other people do it too. Laughter is highly contagious and pretty much anything can trigger it. A joke. A fart joke. A fart joke involving a rabbi. A fart joke involving a rabbi who is bald. It goes on.
There are places where we go and pay good money, just so we can have a couple of laughs. And then there are moments when your father insists on reading you a WhatsApp joke (instead of forwarding it to you) and laughter suddenly seems impossible.
Generating a laugh takes work. It requires a coordinated effort from our faces, voices, and bodies. It is hard work and hard work has disappeared like grace from the Indian political discourse. Which is why digital laughter, with its acronyms and emojis, is what passes for real laughter these days.
The wide use of “LOL”, “ROFL”, crying-with-laughter emojis, and funny faces gives you the ability to be insanely manipulative. If you’re chatting with someone you fancy, there is no limit to how much you can exaggerate their funniness. While facial cues are relative to every single person and impossible to fake, words and emojis have made it a level playing field. They are like universally acceptable online emotional currency that will not be called into question.
“LOL” has had quite a journey in its short history. It has lost its charm from the early days of the Internet where it was associated with genuine laughter but is now the real life equivalent of the chuckle, when you are forced to be appreciative of a joke that you didn’t really find funny. It is an acknowledgement rather than genuine appreciation of what was said. Nobody is ever laughing out loud when they type “LOL”.
But perhaps “LOL” is collateral damage to the larger perception on texting etiquettes where shorter words are seen as mean or indifferent, a case in point being “K”. You know you’re in trouble when someone sends you a K with only a full stop. “LOL” went through evolutions and soon we had variations in the form of “ROFL”, “LMAO”, “PMSL”, and so on. However, they haven’t stuck around as highly genuine forms of online laughter because the idea of Rolling-On-Floor-Laughing being condensed to a cruel four-letter acronym feels like studying for four months, writing a three-hour subjective exam, and being awarded grades in cursory letters like A, B, C.
When “HAHAHAHAHAHAHA” arrived, I thanked God.  It almost feels like the person enjoyed what was said with a good old laugh. It is in text, the replica of the loud sound we make when we laugh. When it runs into more than ten syllables, it is equivalent to a genuine burst of laughter. In the world of digital laughter, it’s a highly prized asset. It’s the closest you can come in text to knowing that your joke was found to be genuinely funny. Incidentally, “HAHAHAHA” seems to have a lot more sincerity into it than a mere “hahahaha”, proving once again that Caps Lock can enhance the power of all sorts of digital communication.
But between “LOL” and “HAHAHAHA” lies the “hehehe”. It has a childish evil ring to it, and the set of situations where it is used are fairly restrictive. In many cases, it is used to playfully validate a joke that would be deemed to be offensive or crossing the line. The other usage for “hehehe” is on the opposite spectrum, where a joke is found to be really silly to deserve a “Hahahaha” but it was so bad, it was good, and didn’t deserve a “LOL”.
Life is hard. And digital laughter is harder — a complex maze filled with nuances, but there are very few times in life when something is so goddamn funny that all nuancing goes out of the window and we are left laughing to the point of tears.  That’s when we use the crying-with-laughter emoji.  It is to be saved for really special occasions, but, in my opinion, is used far too liberally. A half-decent meme should not get this emoji. Neither should “GOAT” be used to describe every other TV show character. The crying-with-laughter emoji is to be reserved for occasions like the time your friend got caught watching porn by his parents.
Laughter isn’t only about the raw release of endorphins anymore, it is a new social contract, a millennial currency for cool, and now a new visual language in the form of emojis. We were once told laughter is the best medicine, but in the Internet age, it is difficult to decipher the doctor’s cryptic handwriting.