Saturday, July 11, 2009

Dharmendra in Ghana

I know the title sounds like a corny B-grade flick something on the lines of "Tarzan in New York City" but my time in the USA has led to many such strange encounters. My barber here is Joe, a guy from Nigeria and like all barber shops, it is the world headquarters of all casual conversations. A couple of days ago while I am getting my wild hair trimmed to domestic proportions in walks Rashid, a recent immigrant from Ghana. Talk is initiated on the grounds of soccer and how dumb Americans are not to follow such an exciting game.

All of a sudden, Rashid has a brainwave and asks me, "You are from India, aren't you? Isn't Amitabh Bachchan like... the Prime Minister of India?" I almost decide to give him a lecture on the rather significant differences between the Indian Parliament and Bollywood, but settle for a terse "No. He probably could have been but he never really did make it to that post." My barber and his friend seem quite taken aback from this revelation. Rashid adds that he had always liked Dharmendra better. "Dhormendraw!! Great hero! My favourite hero!" says he in a visibly excited state, "and Hema Malini! Wow, most beautiful woman in the world!" And the unlikely Bollywood fans almost go into convulsions of joy as they discuss movies like "The Burning Train" and "Dus Numberi", about childhoods spent in memorizing every word of Hindi numbers without understanding a single one and of thrilling afternoons spent in the darkness of cinema halls.

My new friends say that Indian culture (or what they perceive to be Indian culture from our movies) is much closer to African culture than any others as far as family life, society's rules and a general attitude to living went, which is why Bollywood movies were huge in Africa. I had always heard stories of Bollywood mania in the lesser known countries of the world but here I am witnessing for real the impact that our far-from-reality movies have. As I walk out with a lighter head for more reasons than just a hair cut, a question hangs on the tip of my tongue unanswered. How would "Kuttey! Kaminey! Main teraa khoon pii jaoongaa!" sound in a thick African accent?


I wonder if there is a scientific phenomenon to explain this but I am pretty sure that walking through museums makes me trippy. It is in fact inseperable from the other highest states of intoxication that I have frequently experienced from more conventional means like alcohol. I stumble around in a daze, not talking or wanting to talk to anybody and all the little notes which describe the object on display begin to read like utter gibberish. It does not matter if it is an Egyptian mummy I am looking at or a Polynesian ceremonial boat, a beautiful landscape splashed across the canvas or a hypersonic plane. I find myself so absorbed by the significance of the object: say a prehistoric monster's bones, a toy played with by a child from 2000 years ago or the first practical motor car that I frequently lose my bearings of time and space. A casual observer couldn't be faulted for notifying the museum security of a runaway lunatic if he/she has the patience to observe how I can remain motionless and expressionless for minutes on end in front of a display that I take a special fancy to. Till someone invents a time machine, this is how I get my highs.

This is not a bad development at all speaking from a personal perspective. No bartender's bill and tip to take care of, no next day morning hangovers, absolutely zero chances of being handed a DUI (Driving Under the Influence), not to mention the exercise to be had wandering through massive dimly lit halls are the first few advantages that come to mind. I am sure there are plenty more. And like in all other cases of being buzzed, I have only the faintest of memories of actually having been there and done that. A really good excuse it turns out for doing the same ol' trip, again, again and again!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Costumed clowns

There are only a few things from my childhood favourites which I've had the maturity to outgrow and at the top of the list is my former devotion to 'pro' wrestling. WWF (WWE in its more recent avatar) was a craze for almost every young one with a TV back then and names like Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock were right up there with the Sachin Tendulkars and the Zinedine Zidanes. Why well built actors playing out scripted roles on an unusually violence prone stage was so likable and almost up there with real sportsmen in terms of popularity I don't know but it was and it still is going strong judging by the "sports entertainment" categories unflagging popularity.

Early on in the days of cable TV, I used to walk down to my cable operator's house in the hot summer sun and pick a fight with him only to have Star Sports/ESPN re-instated amongst the handful of channels which could viewed at one time. Then I'd run back to my house to catch Summer Slam, Royal Rumble or Monday Night Raw as the toothpick chewing Razor Ramon, the coldly impressive giant Undertaker and Shawn Michaels went about their rehearsed business of jumping off ring corners, dropping knees into abdomens and other methods of bone crunching physical retribution.

Evenings would turn into late nights as friends would gather debating who was likely to win that vengeance re-match complete with steel cage and a room full of hazardous looking fight props. We were ready suckers for it all: the drama, the trademark entries (like Austin's shattering glass, the Undertaker's gong and Rock's "If you smeyallll...") and the choreographed violence performed in the most outlandish of costumes. If a real wrestler were asked to wear it, he'd probably be too ashamed to even come out of the dressing room. But no, not these guys! They drank in the crowds appreciation and the fawning crowds loved them back even more. As if falling off ladders, falling through tables, smacking someone's head with a chair while parading in fluorescent pyjamas were as natural an activity and as essential a function as breathing air. I am sure there were definitely more educational and practical programs on other channels at the same time but we sure as hell weren't watching, mesmerised as we were by what was nothing more than a circus of costumed clowns.