I’m sick of you getting Leh’d

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I know that’s an easy pun that obviously emerged after everyone had started visiting Leh after ‘3 Idiots’ made it all hep and famous. Pop culture has an incredible ability to boost tourism – Goa became a ritual for all college kids after Dil Chahta Hai, India became interested in Skydiving after ZNMD, and Leh became the new right to passage for calling yourself a ‘traveller’ after 3 Idiots.
But there’s something that irks me about all of this, this new hipster life, which seems so pseudo and superficial just because of the scale at which it is practised. In the process of being a ‘traveller’ and ‘wanderlust seeker’, most of us forget the most essential thing – to travel responsibly.
We are doing a guide on Responsible Tourism at work, in which we are covering places that practise better ways of tourism. But I’ve realised that before institutions and hotels try and imbibe better tourism practices amongst us, we as individuals need to be a little more sensitive toward the places we visit. And here are some of the things I’ve observed during my travels that need to STOP RIGHT NOW (the points are very savage, to say the least).
1. Let’s start with Leh.
Majority of the people who visit Leh want to go there for experiencing some sort of hipster way of life; apparently those parties are amazing et all, and of course the place is pretty damn picturesque. But if your core purpose (which you won’t admit) to go there is to upload pictures on Facebook and use hashtags such as #wanderlust #adventure #gotlehd #traveller , etc., then please don’t go there. You’re only increasing the carbon footprint in such an ecologically sensitive area and that is not okay. There has been an increase in the reports regarding the garbage piling up there, and that needs to stop. Let’s pledge to not make Leh another Everst basecamp. Travel more responsibly if you’re going there – visit Alchi, Thikse Monastery, Leh Palace, whatever, and make sure you’re not degrading the environment there. Learn about the place. It’s really not cool if you visit a place and upload some selfies and come back with nothing but those. If you’ve visited Leh and not learnt a thing about the place, then you might as well party in Hauz Khas Village and photoshop your face in the cold desert of Leh, just saying.
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2. When you visit high altitude passes and mountains
Don’t throw your plastic garbage and cigarette butts around. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi is not going to send its kooda wala van all the way up some 14,000ft to pick up your garbage. Just don’t do it. And don’t scare those yaks, please no.
3. When you’re in national parks and sanctuaries
Tigers are majestic, I know. But don’t give your hotel a bad rating on TripAdvisor if you don’t spot a tiger on your safari. There are other interesting animals that constitute the excellent biodiversity of this country, enjoy those sightings. And if you’re still cribbing about the tiger, well I’m glad the tiger didn’t present itself in front of you. I have never seen a tiger, but I keep trying my luck over and over again.
4. Discipline in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries
Don’t wear red, don’t scare the damn animals in their own habitat. And if you do end up spotting a tiger, don’t unanimously shout ‘tiger tiger tiger’ at the top of your lungs. Let the tiger be, and enjoy its sightings quietly.
5. Monuments
Don’t scribble on them. Please, no. And what are you really going for if you go to a historical site and come back with no knowledge whatsoever of the architecture and history of the place. Next time you visit Khajuraho Group of Monuments, stop ogling at whatever you’re ogling at (erotic sculptures constitute for only 10 per cent of the carvings anyway). Learn about the nagara style of architecture or the Chandela dynasty. Go to Brihadeeshwaralayam not for the selfies but to learn about the superlatives in stone that the place is.
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6. Water bodies
Don’t go river rafting in the Ganges and be a wuss. Don’t go to Rishikesh and pollute the Ganges. And I have seen people cruise over the Godavari and the Brahmaputra while eating a packet of Kurkure, and then ignorantly throwing the empty plastic into the water. So much for respecting the river like its your mother. Your koodawala is not going to swim there to pick it up tomorrow morning. Tossing stuff into the sea while you’re chilling on the beach – not cool. However drunk you are, not cool.
Go to places and learn about them. Talk to people. Eat local food. Walk around. Understand. Spend time unwinding. Everyone travels for different reasons, some want to know about the culture, some want to know about the food, some want to know about people, some want to know about history and some go for the spellbinding sights. But if your sole purpose of going is garnering likes on social media, then don’t. Please don’t go. Also, you’re no #explorer if all you’ve seen at a place is the four walls of your five star hotel. The most important thing to remember when you travel is to respect the place you’re at. And once you learn to do that, you’ve got it good. Let’s all pledge to travel more responsibly this year and bring back some real stories with us 🙂

How pop-culture failed us 90s’ kids

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“Pyaar toh mein ne kar liya hai maa,” says a morose Anjali when her mother questions her about her feelings. Anjali Sharma, the quintessential tomboy, spent a decade loving her best friend Rahul Khanna from college. The best part is, she didn’t even see him in the last decade. We all loved watching these movies. I mean, BuzzFeed even has quizzes on Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabhie Kushi Kabhie Gham and we have all scored a good 90% in those. Because obviously, no one gives a damn about your ICSE Board Results in this day and age anyway. Rahul Khanna, on the other hand, is one of those guys with zero self-awareness – he does not know what he needs ever, he gets attracted to the hottest girl in college because she can sing ‘Om Jai Jagdeesh’ and delivers cheesy lines about ‘Mard ka sir sirf 3 auraton ke saamne jhukta hai,’ and all that BS. I mean, how about your boss, how about your teachers, how about a respectable woman? NO. He doesn’t care because he doesn’t know better.

Yes, Rahul Khanna’s character did receive a lot of flak in the recent years with feminism taking centre stage. But the female lead in the movie is of no good either, did anyone realise that? I mean, get over him, that boy is a shallow boy who loses to you in basketball every single day and wears a chain that says ‘C.O.O.L’ for crying out loud. And in 10 years, you haven’t seen his face. I mean in those days, there was no Facebook, how did you even remember his face? But no, Anjali Sharma’s character decided to stay in love with him and hence Karan Johar successfully taught an entire generation that love is painful and the beauty of it is in the suffering. Aman Mehra (Salman Khan’s character; had to mention since the dude only appears for an extended cameo and surprisingly, in a movie with Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol and Rani Mukherjee, he is the only one you can really stand), people say, is far more mature and actually deserves Anjali. But I don’t agree. The truth is, Anjali doesn’t deserve Aman. He is sorted and he is a peaceful soul. She would have drained his energies had they married. Anjali and Rahul actually deserved each other because if Rahul is shallow, Anjali is a loser. A sore loser who loved another loser for years on end and actually did nothing with her life expect learning how to tie a saree and grow her hair. *Potential bahu in the neighbourhood alert*

Not just this. There are a plethora of these films that us, as 90s kids, grew up watching. And for whatever reason, these stood out the most and the lessons they tried to teach got drilled in our head so deep that it is alarming how some of us might be living in beliefs that this is how love and life should be. Do we remember Kal Ho Na Ho? Oh yes, that movie with that song with the heart beat music that everyone uses as background score in farewell videos. Naina loves Aman, Aman loves Naina, but we are not proud of you. GUJJU. Okay, that Aman dude literally forces Naina to marry someone else because he is dying. I mean, that woman is walking into the mandap of her own wedding, in tears. But Rohit (Saif’s character) has no self respect, so he will marry her anyway. Because love is supposed to hurt, right? And some 20 years later, Naina recounts this story to her kids and Rohit walks in and says ‘I love you’ to her and she doesn’t even say it back. I mean, still? Aman died. Rohit is nice. Love your husband. Stop showing us that love is painful and love is all about the suffering.

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Death brings me to the rise of Hrithik Roshan. Remember those days when most of us actually liked Hrithik Roshan and him making a debut on silver screen was actually the best thing that happened in the year 2000? Everyone knew how to groove to Ek Pal Ka Jeena. The dude dies in the movie. And his girlfriend finds his doppelganger and falls in love with him. I mean, what’s the guarantee that she won’t scream the previous dude’s name instead of the new dude’s when they are doing it, man? And this new guy is rich, suave and dances well and can score anyone. But why not be the shining knight in armour to that damsel in distress, although you can clearly see that she has issues and that’s why she is stalking you. But he will fall in love with her although he knows she may never really love him back because well, love is supposed to hurt, right?

And that magnum opus Mohabbatein that most of us were prohibited to watch (but still somehow sneek in rented DVDs and saw it) because Shamita Shetty’s character wore hairbands for blouses? Raj Aryan Malhotra returns to his college after years to seek vengeance on his deceased girlfriend’s father, in the form of love. So he propagates lessons in love to some dudes that can’t even manage to act and sings songs while he imagines his dead girlfriend running around pillars and meadows of England. He has psychological issues. He believed that love can change the world while he hurt himself and we all believed that he is the ultimate preacher of the lessons in love.

Has anyone noticed that all these characters that believed in this and waited till the end of time for their college lovers to return to them, actually lead pretty darn mediocre lives? Anjali Sharma was chilling in summer camps, Naina was storytelling to her kids, Raj Aryan Malhotra was teaching the violin and beating the drums on the roads during Karvachauth. The truth is, love is not about the suffering. And you’ve gotten your entire life wrong if you believed so. I don’t have an issue with the way Imtiaz Ali deals with love (well, mostly). Shahid Kapoor’s character returns happy and rejuvenated when he returns back to his normal life after falling in love and letting that person go, in Jab We Met. And when he returns and lets it go, he achieves a truck load of things. Love is the wisdom to realise that it is more important to love yourself the way you’d want to be loved. It is realising that you should validate yourself before some Raj or Rahul comes into your life to complete that fairy tale.

Indian pop culture failed us. There is a reason we don’t have our Devil Wears Pradas, there is a reason we don’t have our Batmans. There is a reason why most things that taught us sense back in the day (and even till date), is considered parallel cinema (or simply failed at the box office) or just remained on comic books and was restricted to TV (until crap Saas Bahu serials took over, of course). The reason is really simple. We don’t give ourselves enough credit and respect. And we as a growing economy, were so engrossed in the pretty locations and awesome new clothes on silver screen post liberalisation that we did not realise that the values and lessons that these movies were teaching us about ourselves were utter rubbish.

It is really up to us to cleanse ourselves of these disrespectful, self-deprecating ideologies ingrained so deep in our heads. And the first step to that is realisation. I mean watch Kuch Kuch Hota Hai the next time it’s on TV. But don’t you fucking feel bad for Anjali while watching it. Laugh at it. I know you’ve already done that. Laugh at it some more and go love yourself. And for all those people who somehow escaped the storm of the 90s Bollywood cinema, I am extremely happy for you. And I am coming for you. Let’s be friends.

Don’t you dare let your child dream

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“I wanted to be an astronaut. My parents encouraged me to aim high, to the stars, and work hard toward it. So I went to school. They attacked it.
Now I’m here, among the stars. Only, I can never go back.”

-Probably every second child who was killed in the Peshawar attack

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Don’t you dare let your child dream

I was 9 when I dreamt of becoming an astronaut. Planets fascinated me. Uranus was my favourite. Maybe because of its name, I don’t know. Meteors were exciting too and let’s not even get started on my enthusiasm toward comets. I had an entire set of Childcraft books at home and the one on space was my favourite. I dreamt of being in a space ship and floating in vacuum and being burned by Jupiter and Saturn and discovering another planet where people could dwell in after the Earth perishes, so that humanity doesn’t have to end.

My Mom encouraged me very much. She brought me more books and magazines to keep me motivated. She asked me to aim for the stars and work to get there, literally. (Today, I’m not an astronaut. I changed my professional interests half way through school. But I did go to school for many years so I could become an astronaut.) Those were my childhood dreams. They would have been solid world changers had they worked out. They would have found a new hub for humanity.

The morning of December 16 (a brutal day, really. Rewind to Delhi gang rape in 2012), a few hundred children went to the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan, with the same kind of dreams. Each of them wanted to do something great. Some wanted to be the next Malala and win a Nobel Prize, some wanted to be Neil Amstrong, some wanted to find a new world, and maybe some wanted to just survive and even study with the dangerous Taliban dwelling next to them.

But just like that, seven armed men entered the school premises and started shooting down these dreams at random. One hundred and thirty two of those dreams perished at a place where dreams are supposed to be built.

Dreams ended there, 132 of them. Childhood ended there. Dreams shape the world and children, who dream the best, shape the world. Humanity now has no future with no one to shape the world which it dwells in, right? Humanity ended with the end to childhood.

So why, what and who ended childhood and subsequently humanity?

Religious ideologies, revenge to the Waziristan attack, plain extremism and Taliban are all bullshit answers. We all know who funded Taliban while it was being created, anyway. Forget about the country which funded Taliban, it feels like every single country and government has been working on an auto-pilot mode when it comes to curbing terrorism.

“Oh, they played out an entire hostage drama in the middle of the commercial capital of India, so let’s install metal detectors in all the corners and negotiate with the other side of the IB till all the perpetrators are not met with justice.”

“Oh, a plane just took down the twin towers in the dream destination of this world, let’s freak out and rage a war against a random country and also just go find the guy who planned the attack and kill him ten years later.”

One country’s lazy but peaceful response gives the wrong people all the time to do more wrong things and one country’s violent response gives scope for more wrong people to emerge. In such a scenario, are we associating the word ‘wrong’ correctly? Really, who is wrong?

The answer is my Mother. She was wrong. She shouldn’t have let me dream. Because now I don’t know if my dreams will ever come true before someone decides to shoot me down in a cafe or a railway station.

The answer is the parents of all those children who died in Peshawar. Don’t you dare let your children dream because I don’t think we are protected enough to live on till those dreams can be achieved. We may reach the stars even before we become astronauts and design space ships to get there. When we reach there, it’s better to explore than to have a deja vu and a never ending desire to go back home.