Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Madras Musings

One of the downsides of living alone is that when you fall ill, there isn't anyone to take your mind off the various aches and pains, except perhaps the newsreader who only adds to your illness by repeating the news over and over again. That's what you are resigned to — watching TV. Or reading the papers over and over again, including columns that you never bother to look at otherwise. And when you are done with both, you just lie down and stare at the ceiling, pondering about what you've just heard or read. Life can be sad.

Having been recently pinned down to bed by flu for almost a week, I often pondered over the sadness of life. After much thought I realised: life might not have been so sad if I was living in another city instead of Chennai — say Bangalore or Hyderabad or Delhi. Why go that far — I would have been better off even in Kancheepuram or Vellore. Because there, even in my sickbed, I would have had Amitabh Bachchan or Richard Gere for company. You know what I mean —I could have killed time watching Set Max or Zee Cinema or HBO or Star Movies.

But the average Chennaiite has been stripped of the small luxury of watching movies on TV, because the city's cable subscribers are governed by the Conditional Access System, or CAS, under which you can only watch free-to-air channels on your TV unless you buy a set-top box by paying a small fortune. The idea of CAS was to allow viewers to choose what they want to watch, and pay for what they watch. For some strange reason, a man called Ravi Shankar Prasad — the lawyer-turned-politician who is best known in Bihar as the BJP leader in the forefront of anti-Lalu campaign and who happened to become the country's information and broadcasting minister shortly before the National Democratic Alliance was voted out of power — chose Chennai as the test case for introducing CAS.

Why Chennai? He could have chosen Patna, his hometown. Today, the NDA has been long out of power, but the CAS continues to be under implementation in Chennai. But for how long? Either the CAS is scrapped, or the entire country comes under it: Chennaiites alone can't be deprived of watching movies. But it is unlikely that there will ever be a protest strong enough to reach the ears of the present information and broadcasting minister, because all Tamil — and other South Indian language — channels, including their movie channels, are free-to-air. So are all the news channels — the ones in South Indian languages as well as those in English and Hindi. And people addicted to HBO and Star Movies and Star Plus have already bought set-top boxes. So who is left to crib?

So for a ‘North Indian’ Chennai-resident like me, the only option left was to watch the news channels — watching how the Indian cricket team had turned into a political party. Newspapers are even spelling out the allegiances of individual players, as if they were members of the Union Cabinet caught between the Prime Minster and their party president. But you can’t blame the sportsmen: politics has seeped into every aspect of our lives, even into our private lives. These days, go to a discotheque in Chennai with your girlfriend and grab a beer there, and chances these days are that you could be featured in the newspapers twice — first as a Page 3 animal, and the second time as a sex-starved animal who is letting his culture go to the dogs by drinking with the female in public. And you thought such things happened only in Shiv Sena's Mumbai.

Earlier this month, a Tamil paper called Dinamalar front-paged a picture taken in Chennai's Park Hotel. The picture shows a woman on the dance floor drinking beer straight out of the bottle. It is quite apparent, from the picture, that she is being egged on to do so by her male companion; perhaps he has just passed on his bottle to her. Whatever the case, it is a common sight for those who frequent discos. For a newspaper, a juicy picture, alright, but the caption smacked of chauvinism: “Is this what equality means?” And then it added: “In a society where married couples are reluctant to hold hands in public, how can women be allowed to sing and dance with them?”

The hotel ran into trouble with the police because of this picture as well as other pictures of that evening in the disco published by the paper. And this drama coincided with a public apology tendered by the celebrated actress Khushboo for having said that she saw nothing wrong in women indulging in pre-marital sex as long as they took precautions. She was forced to tender a tearful apology because of political protests sparked off by her statement —a statement that would make perfect sense to any average, levelheaded Indian.

Are we living in the Taliban's regime? Does equality only mean the right to vote? If a man can drink in a pub, why can’t women? Or do these so-called guardians of Tamil culture think only men can drink? No wonder no one ever points fingers at the nuisance created by men drinking openly till late in the nights outside the numerous wine shops that dot the city's map.

And as for saying, “in a society where married couples are reluctant to hold hands in public”, well, these self-appointed guardians of culture should know that married couples rarely hold hands. Handholding is an obsession with teenage couples, who grow out of the obsession by the time they get married.

And if you really want to see couples holding hands and doing much more, you only have to spend an evening in one of the parks used by people for walking or jogging. Each bench in these parks in occupied by couples who get bolder as the sun dips further. But they are unlikely to make it to the front page of any crusading paper — so far they haven't. Neither have any of these papers ever front-paged stories about the outrageously vulgar songs that feature in the post-midnight programmes of almost all the South Indian channels. Wonder what happens to culture then.

But then, conflict of culture is not the news as is being made out to be, because you really can't define culture. The news, if anything, seems to be the conflict of classes —between people who get amorous in parks and people who get amorous in discos. And it is always easy to attack those under the spotlight — or the strobe lights.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

sad but true...but our guys are the biggest hypocrites...they wrote the kamasutra and they are the ones who consider sex a taboo..

3:17 AM  

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