Mr Prime Minister, How About Some Kaam Ki Baat?

Dear Prime Minister Modi/ Vikas Purush/ Renaissance Man,
How do we address you? During the 2014 general elections, all you spoke about was development. Vikas was the only word you heard on the radio, TV, or the internet — so much so that my friend Vikas refused to step out of the house. Along with that word, you were omnipresent, like watching Shah Rukh Khan trying to promote Ra.One. India had been waiting for a long time, for the divisive politics of caste, class, and religion to be replaced by that of development, economics, and governance. And you had caught that pulse.
You are a master orator and the microphone brings out the best in you. When the opposition spoke of caste, you spoke of Digital India. When they mentioned religion, you spoke about how Hindus and Muslims should work together to alleviate poverty. You even went on to win the social-media game, that would later be taken to the next level by your good friend Donald bhai. The people of India awarded you with an electoral victory, as your Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan began with virtually wiping out the Congress party.
Four years on, as you’ve travelled more countries than a travel blogger and dropped a Star Wars reference at Central Park, we are now heading toward election year. You have had a couple of blips, with demonetisation and GST implementation but you’re Gujarat ka dhikro. It was the dream of the Gujarat Model that you sold us 1.3 billion people; the only Gujarat Model that has worked since Upen or Ashmit Patel.
Sadly, all the positive messaging and promise of acche din from 2014 has dissolved ahead of the 2019 polls. This has been replaced by slurs and bitter name-calling. Following political debates in the country feels no different from browsing through the comments section of a YouTube video. Everyone is an Urban Naxal, and everyone is plotting against your good office.
Last December, ahead of the Gujarat elections, everyone was suddenly obsessed with Rahul Gandhi, to the extent that the Gujarat government denied him permission for a roadshow (they denied you permission too, but who knew you had a seaplane)? Where you once spoke of infrastructure and foreign investment, last year I heard you compare Rahul Gandhi to Aurangzeb. Really, sir? A man who looks and acts like Chetan Bhagat on steroids, is akin to a dreaded dictator? In an election where education and health ought to have taken centre-stage, one of the biggest issues had been whether Rahul Gandhi is Hindu. Does it really matter whether he is Hindu, Muslim, Christian, or Parsi, so long as he unites the country by making all of us laugh at him?
We have also came back to the bugbear of the Ram Mandir, the political equivalent of a tennis ball before any election. It is the Draw Four card of Indian politics, brandished every time the populace is in severe need of division. Mr Modi, we expect you to walk away from the rhetoric and focus on issues plaguing the country, such as unemployment and violence against women. Instead, the BJP seems to be more engrossed in statue politics, with a promise to build a Ram Statue bigger than the Statue of Unity.   
In the past, you didn’t let petty name-calling get in the way of your development agenda. Remember how you turned around and totally owned “chaiwallah”? But it seems no one wants to miss out on a free hit these days. Mani Shankar Aiyar offered you one and you hit it out of the park. And again. And again.
But since 2014, there is a sense of disappointment for Indians who voted you to power. 
It would be na├»ve on my part to suggest you’re the only guilty party. Your opponents have also been equal party to the crime. It feels like collectively, all of you are taking us for a ride that we didn’t sign up for. But you are the Prime Minister of the country, and the one people look up to. It would be only fair that you should direct the country toward intelligent debate, of the kind we deserve.
Can we please have some Kaam ki Baat now?

Why Every Indian Mom Suffers From the “Yeh Toh Ghar Pe Bana Sakte Hai” Syndrome

When one of the first McDonald’s outlets opened in Mumbai in the ’90s, there was a lot of excitement in our middle-class home. And though today we feel stupid like those guys who were excited about Google Plus, back in the day, all my sister and I wanted was to get hold of the toys – Toy Story was a rage then – and have a burger. We had no idea what it tasted like, we’d just seen Americans eating a lot of it in the movies. Fast food was a concept alien to my roti and daal-chawal-eating family and we have never set foot inside a eatery that did not have pure veg plastered outside its entrance in a tacky font.  
Taking a leap of voluntary faith into the world of cancer-causing food, we set aside an evening to have dinner at McDonald’s – the place where teenagers now go when they run out of pocket money. While I was enjoying the novelty of the Pizza McPuff (it looked more appetitising than a McAloo Tikki), all it took my mom was a bite of one fry, to call out Ronald McDonald’s people for lack of originality.
“Yeh toh hum ghar pe banate hai, wahi potato chip!”
My mom, like many desi mothers, suffers from “Yeh toh main ghar pe bana sakti hoon” syndrome. It is an attitude of outright rejection and dismissiveness rooted in desi pride, which acts as a hindrance when enjoying new experiences. If you tell mom you want to have tacos, she will compare it to papad and risotto according to her is just bland rice. Of course, this syndrome extends beyond the platter.
Whenever we go on a family vacation, there are only two things we do: sightseeing and fight over shopping. Every suggestion turns into an argument. No matter what I pick, mom has a standard response. “Yeh toh Mumbai mein bhi milta hai. Yahan sab duplicate maal hota hai.” Whether it is chappals in Kolhapur, shawls in Kashmir, or traditional pots in Rajasthan. Eventually, we don’t buy anything because you get everything in Mumbai.
At first I thought she only said that to avoid spending the money, but when you ask her, “Kahan milta hai”, she’d be ready with an answer. “Mira Road ke Monday market mein ₹50 mein,” she confidently proclaimed looking at a hat I wanted to buy at a flea market in Goa.
When we go sightseeing, my sister and I place bets about when mom’s “Yeh to hamare yahan bhi hota hai” syndrome will strike. During a family vacation to Scotland, while everyone was in awe of a castle, she told the tour guide, “We have a similar one in Maharashtra, the state we come from.” When we looked at her quizzically, she said it was just like one of Shivaji Maharaj’s many forts. No matter what part of the world we travel to, the minute she sees snow, there is a mandatory mention of Shimla.
When I was obsessing over the Potter movies, she told me about how Chota Chetan was magical. When I told her I wanted to visit Disneyland she turned around and asked, “Hamare Essel World mein kya kharabi hai?” The only thing left for mom to do is compare the Eurorail to the Mumbai local.
This ailment is especially pronounced when mothers see their children relishing street/restaurant food.   
Burger? Yeh to vada pav jaisa hi hai.
Turmeric latte? Bas fancy naam de do, hai to haldi doodh.
Franky mein hota kya hai? It is just roti sabzi.”
Sprite aur pudina mix karo, ho gaya tumhara Virgin Mojito.
Jokes apart, a lot of this has to do with the time our parents grew up in. My mother like most other moms had a modest upbringing. She did not travel much, she wasn’t exposed to the outside world the way my sister and I are. But this changed after our economy opened up in the ’90s. Like my father, people’s spending power increased. We started eating out, travelling. When this happened, our mothers felt like the familiar world that was so dear to them, was under attack by this alien way of life. So protecting this world became a defence mechanism of sorts. My mother’s reactions to most things foreign is an outcome of this.
And much as the BJP and I love her version of the Swadeshi movement, it often comes in the way of her enjoying fully, the beauty of new and different experiences. Now I’ve taken it upon myself to expose mom to new things, hoping that she’ll run out of comparisons.
With this in mind, I was really looking forward to a trip to New York with my family. But now I know how that’s going to turn out. Mum’s going to look at Lady Liberty and say, “Humare pass Statue of Unity hai!”  

Sweet Nothings: How to Survive as a Sugar-Conscious Gujarati

Every Gujarati wedding menu has two kinds of dal; there’s “normal” dal and then there’s meethi dalThe first bland and boring version is for the six people at the wedding who are fitness conscious and are obviously not Gujarati, and the latter is for the rest of us who will die of diabetes. Then there’s sweet kadhisev tameta nu shaak, and basundi – all this even before you reach the dessert counter – for the sugar rush we need to dance to “Sanedo” later. They say some stereotypes exist because they are true, and this is certainly true for us Gujaratis. We love sweet food, truly madly deeply.  
You could say Gujjus are as obsessed with sweet food as paps and admins of dank meme pages are with Taimur Ali Khan. In a Gujarati household, the sugar jar is placed right next to the salt jar, and used as liberally as Virat Kohli uses expletives on the field.
We can live without water but not sugar and jaggery, especially in places where the rest of the world thinks they have no business being. We like our pizza with more ketchup than toppings – in fact, the sweet tang of ketchup makes everything from dal chawal to hakka noodles to falafel better.   
For breakfast, we either have bread with layers of jam or roti, or a side of gudLunch is always followed by sweet chaas or sweet lassi. At dinner, we have mithai with food and then have ice cream an hour later for dessert. Post that, we have a meetha paan as the closing act and follow it with some sugary saunf. Our meals and drinks come in size XL but our taste is always an S (sweet).
But now, in an age where people have quinoa cake or avocado chocolate pudding for dessert, it’s not easy for us sugar-loving Gujjus to survive without judgment. At work, when I pour two entire packets of sugar into my coffee, my colleagues give me the death stare generally reserved for those who defend demonetisation. But can you really blame me? In our house, black coffee is treated like a medicine to cure stomach issues and the non-Gujarati cook who forgets to add sweet to undhiyu is promptly fired.
I don’t know how my family will cope with this new-fangled – ok, old-fangled – idea of how sugar is the biggest, hidden villain in the culinary world. Because my fam doesn’t think that we use too much sugar; it passionately believes that the rest of the world uses too little.  
While it may appear that we snort sugar instead of cocaine, the reason for excessive use of sugar and jaggery in food is the kharo paani (salty groundwater) in Gujarat that made the food taste awful. Our ancestors used the sweetners to make food palatable and today, even as the situation has changed radically, our food habits haven’t kept up. Gujaratis might be one of the most successful entrepreneurial communities in the world – shoutout to my peeps at Antilia – but our food still reflects a slightly primal urge. And it is impossible for us to keep up with the health consciousness of the modern world.
In fact, in a Gujarati family, along with a ghar and family “bijness”, diabetes is passed on from one generation to another. My grandparents suffered from diabetes and my parents are carrying forward the glorious tradition. I often wonder that if I become conscious about my sugar intake, will I let them down?
Still, at the risk of being disowned, I’ve started to be a little more conscious these days. Each time my mom reaches for the extra-large dabba of sugar in the supermarket, I keep it back and pick the small one. And every time dad heads to the sweet counter at a shaadi before his meal, I distract him. Next on my agenda, is to convince them that pizza tastes just as nice even without ketchup. I may be successful in this endeavour or I might end up with diabetes – either way, I’ll have made a dent in this vestigial instinct. As for the avocado chocolate pudding… don’t call us, we’ll call you. 

Virat Kohli: The Man Who Makes Miracles Seem Mundane

Over the years, fans of Indian cricket have worshipped different gods and their virtues
– Sunil Gavaskar was an artist at the crease, VVS Laxman was a wizard, the stoic dependability of Rahul Dravid was the yin to Virender Sehwag’s yang, and Sachin Tendulkar was the genius on whose bat blade rested a billion dreams. But Virat Kohli is Gavaskar, Laxman, Dravid, Sehwag, and Tendulkar all rolled into one.
King Kohli has mastered all three formats of the game. He is immune to the colour of the ball, the size of the ground, and the quality of the pitch. When the match demands patience, he has more patience than a kindergarten teacher. When the tempo needs picking up, he shifts gears faster than a Bugatti Veyron. In desperate times, when the team needs to grind it out, his precise efficiency is like a soldier’s on the battlefield. As captain, his brain seems to work faster than a supercomputer while making calculations and taking risks.
Indians have more confidence in Virat Kohli than they have in themselves.
When Kohli comes out to bat, there is an air of inevitability about him. Unless he makes a mistake, the opposition will struggle to get him out, and this is usually the case. His technique seems flawless, his calling between the wickets is loud and clear, he finds gaps like he has a GPS fitted on his head, he has the fitness of a triathlete, and his temperament is rock solid. It’s not a surprise anymore when he gets a 100; in fact, it’s a surprise when he doesn’t. And that is an astonishing feat.
Kohli has reached a rare peak that only few sportsmen do, where he has become so good that it has become boring. When he bats, everything is so perfect that one can get lulled into thinking that batsmanship is easy. He makes things look so easy that one wonders, “Why doesn’t everyone bat like him?” However, nothing about his career and the tumbling records is normal. We are looking at an extraordinary sportsman at his ruthless best. He is head and shoulders above the rest of the competition, akin to Messi in football or Michael Jordan at basketball in the ’90s.
“Virat Kohli will break all records except Don Bradman’s average,” said Aussie legend Steve Waugh. On the eve of his 30th birthday, Virat has already become the fastest batsman to score 10,000 runs in ODI cricket, averaging close to a staggering 50 in all three formats of the game. He is a Titan of the modern era. While the records are out there for everyone to talk about, what numbers cannot quantify or record is the pressure of a big game, a mounting required run rate, banter on the field, and the pressure of a an entire nation full of cricket-crazed people counting on him. It is freakish how often he shows up in tense situations and gobbles up the pressure like it was breakfast.
Kohli has made excellence the norm, and the fans have come to expect nothing less. When he comes out to bat, there is relief. If India is in a good situation, he will make it better. If India is struggling, you know he will steady the ship. He is the number one Test and ODI batsman for a reason: he simply doesn’t make silly mistakes or throw his wicket away. The rare occasions where he does falter are made more memorable by this quality, like the Nile missing its annual flood or a Mumbai local arriving on time for once.
That is what makes Virat Kohli so special. Everytime he comes out to bat, he is capable of getting a hundred. The Indian cricket fan’s faith in Virat Kohli was perfectly summed up by former England captain Nasser Hussain, when he said, “I would bet my life on Kohli.”
You’re not alone Nasser, because a billion Indians do too.