Things: A Brief Autobiography of a Burger

I am a burger.

It is difficult for me to ascertain the precise moment when my identity rose above that of the many objects that constitute me to become that of a burger. Some might say, that in this peculiar mode of origin, I am like a nation. Made by bringing together smaller entities of economics values just as small, to form a composite being that inspires and commands both a higher economic value and emotional respect. I have been told by learned peers that men have gone on hunger strike for being bestowed with Statehood. I also hear of children who do not wish to take food except for burgers. I have seen, in the formative years of my being, a little boy swinging from his mother’s arm on the floor and howling abominably with the intent to embarrass her  in public to get himself a burger. So even in bringing men gastronomic satisfaction, burgers and nations go together.

Like nations, we too have our own problems. Many of my component elements, especially those blasted lettuce leaves, have secessionist tendencies. They plan to fall out at the sides with the first bite and walk to freedom. In vain do we try to make them realise their freedom is but delusional, a lonely cabbage leaf is only likely to get trampled over or go straight to the dustbin, to be nibbled at by cockroaches or maybe the occasional rat, doomed to a future far removed from the glory of bracing the end at the mouth of a hungry human. The best case for these fledglings is to be eaten by pets, though I have heard cases when some people have picked up lettuce, tomato and onion pieces from the floor, looked around and put them in their mouths. Such extraordinary luck is rare.

The most important question that confronts us burgers is, as succinctly put by a man while biting on one of my ancestors, that of suicide. To paraphrase it, as the said man did in an essay, existential crisis stares at us in the face from the moment we are born. Add to it the crisis of identity that haunts us as much if not more, and you have the subject matter of a Zack Snyder movie. But being born of and with these two crises makes us similar not only to the glorious idea of State that is so dear to man, but to man himself.

You think I am, therefore I am. – Macques Donaldus

I knew a rebel of a lettuce leaf. He was here just sometime back, though. When entreating him not to fall off, he asked me what the use of the entire exercise was. We were all going to end up the same anyway, some probably in ways perceived less glorious. The top loaf quipped, “But you will go knowing you were part of an ABC burger! We are famous!” “And pray tell me,” said the lettuce leaf, before a man came in and flicked him to the floor, “what good would that-”

His sentence was left unfinished. While the dissenting voices inside me were all waiting to be quelled by time, I, their collective conscience, could not help but wonder about the lettuce leaf’s point. I have seen my cousins across the cardboard cut-outs on the floor. In fact, I heard my would-be-consumer talk about a relative of mine whose picture he had seen on a bill-board. But I wondered, that was not me. To this consumer and even to that man who puts together my constituents to create me, I am just another burger. No different from the ones put on advertisements or the one last consumed. Just another burger, marketed to be exceptional than others, but actually very similar, in use and by birth.

I may scream and shuffle my loaves in hurt pride at the thought to being told I was same, and go to great pains to show how the lettuce inside me is of a different shade of green, how specially has the chicken or beef patty been prepared, the subtle touch of spices to render the precise characteristic taste but in the end, when you look at it, I am not that special.

I am just another entity formed entirely of things that might be same across other burgers or sandwiches or even salads, given a name for consumption and made to feel different by the powers that be for economic gains. And suddenly, the patty and lettuce inside of me, or even the loaves,  seem to have a bigger claim to an identity that I ever did.

But my time has come. I have been served hot on a plate, a curved piece of paper lying next to me on top of paper tissues, with two sachets of ketchup for company. I go to embrace the most defining moment of my life. It should seem ironical, that my destiny is fulfilled in consumption. But it does not, suddenly. My identity starts and stops at the plate. Before that I was nothing, beyond this I would be nothing. All the human being would have consumed would be  just an idea. An idea of a being that I am sold as, something he should know very well.

And with these words, I depart, leaving you to chew on what I hope would be more than food.


A Handy Guide to Survival in the Calcutta Metro

Are you new to the city?

Have you been told that the Metro- the oldest in the country- is the best way to travel in Calcutta?

Have you tried commuting on the Metro and been put off by the struggle you have to put up with to reach your destination in one piece?

Fear not.

This article is a handy guide to your survival in the Calcutta Metro. It matters not if you are used to the swanky interiors of the Delhi metro, or are seasoned in the wilderness known as the Mumbai Local and hence are qualified on paper to brave most transports, or you are new to this form of commuting.

Let me assure you at the outset, none of that really matters. Even if you have been using the Calcutta Metro ever since its inception, you are probably unaware of many of the nuances required for efficient commuting on the metro.

Introduction: The Calcutta Metro is, as they take care to remind you, as if by way of justifying the decade old rickety coaches and the numerous rakes still without air-conditioning facility, the oldest such system in the country. Accordingly, the rules of engagement in the Metro are primitive as well.

Metro Station:

The first few points cover your desired behaviour at the Metro station to get the most out of your travel:

  1. Calcutta Metro is brutal. There are long flights of stairs awaiting you at the entrance and at the exit. You can only go up and down the escalator from and to the platform, that too, if you are lucky. At rush hours, you might often find yourself pushed to the wall. Don’t do that. It is advisable to walk in the middle, at a slow pace if possible. Remember, people will be in a hurry and want to move ahead, but you should NEVER give way. If you give way, the ungrateful idiots will push you to the side without even a dry ‘Thank You’ and soon you will feel like Simba caught in the stampede of the wildebeest. To prevent that, it is always better to walk down the middle coolly. In case people start abusing, you can always turn, glare and abuse back. This is Calcutta. It is more about noise, very little about action.  You can rest assured that the verbal assaults will never transform into physical blows. So be cool, and let those in haste find their own way.
  2. If it is summer, and the humidity has got under your skin (literally, in a way), you need to cool it off before you get in for the battle. Locate a pedestal fan, if you think spots beneath the air conditioner ducts are crowded. Make sure you stand SQUARE in front of the fan. If you find someone standing already in front of the fan, and the gap between the fan and that person is sufficient to accommodate yourself, squeeze into that gap. Stand with your sweaty back to that person and pretend he does not exist.

In case there is not gap enough for someone to squeeze in, abuse the man standing in front of the fan and get him to move back. Since he is most likely to be the possessor of skin so thick that it can put a rhinoceros to shame, just like yourself, you must attack him enough for him to budge. Once the man steps back, go and occupy the position now vacant. In doing that, you will be following the same behavioural pattern exhibited by most politicians and civil rights activist-turned politicians in this country, albeit done by them at a different stage and in a broader context.

  1. Once the Metro arrives, you will be standing shoulder to shoulder with people waiting to get in. You can, of course, forge an unlikely alliance with your would-be co-passengers and charge the wall of resistance you will face in the coach, together. However, true to the principles of a Prisoner’s Dilemma problem, this best case scenario will never happen. As the door opens and the crowd comes out, it is every man/woman for himself/herself. Except for couples in love, of course. They are quite complicated a case to deal with in this guide.

In the Metro:

  1. Assuming you have boarded the Metro successfully, you must now prevent other people from getting in. There was less space in the coach as it was, and you and your co-invaders have depleted it further, so much so that people are now finding it difficult to stand. You, and those with you near the gate, now must act as good Samaritans and protect the coach from further invasion. You should hold your belly out, position your chest outwards and with your friends at the gate, assume a formidable first line of defence. When the gates open, wily invaders will try to come in, but you must hold them back. You will find sufficient support from the back, without even asking for it.
  2. Have you ever felt bad because of your body shape? Have you been called short and fat and made to feel miserable? Well, Metro is the place where you have your revenge on the world. If you are beneath 5.5ft and thin, you are in luck. You should have no difficulty in finding gaps where other people think there are none. If you are short and fat, you have the best chance of breaking the wall at the entrance. All you have to do, as evinced by a boy with a ridiculous hairstyle some days back, is to fling your weight on the people standing at the door. On the other hand, having a large protruding belly also gives you better chance of weathering the onslaught of wannabe passengers.

Contrary to popular expectations, it does not help if you are tall and well-built. You will be roundly abused for trying to force your way in.

  1. If you have earphones, pop them in your ears. It helps that you don’t hear abuses, or the plaintive cry of some poor soul whose feet you happen to have trampled.
  2. If you are short of space to stand, you can bend down at the knees and wriggle your hips. This amazing technique was first demonstrated by a short bald man who was almost pressed to the door. He confessed that he had picked it up during his days on the local train.

Getting down:

  1. The only thing worse than not being able to get up on a Metro is not being able to get down at your stop. No matter where successive unrelenting waves of passengers at stations have carried you to, you must punch, bite, kick and elbow your way out to the door when your stop comes. If you think it is barbaric, we are sorry, the Metro is no place for a gentleman.
  2. Once out of the Metro, make a wild dash towards the escalator. When on the escalator, do not stand. Continue running up. This may appear against common sense, but you have to be ahead in the queue at the gate.

This concludes the broad guide to the tips to ensure a smooth ride for yourself on the Metro.

However, if in the heat of the moment, these rules elude you, like they did the great warrior Karna in the epic Mahabharata, here is a golden rule that will stand you in good stead even in such times.

Be absolutely insensitive to the feelings of others and act like a complete idiot.

That should take care of everything.

*The End*

Things: That time of the year again

It is that time of the year again.

No. This is not about the highly ‘uncivic’ civic polls recently concluded or the new polls scheduled on 8th. This is not about the retreating monsoon which leaves around the 8th of October with a parting salvo of severely uncomfortable humidity and occasional heavy rains. This is a little about the skies, though- the blue skies with fluffy cotton like clouds.

This is not about the traffic that blocks the roads of the city now. It is a little about the things that cause the traffic. Structures that look like bamboo scaffoldings tied with coloured clothes at the joints. These objects of nuisance starve the already narrow roads of space and contribute heartily to the slow and serpentine movement of traffic. Carpenters can often be found in front of these structures making elaborate patterns of wood. Overnight, these scaffoldings are clothed and before you know it, there is something draped in newspapers sitting on the platform inside that passers by with folded hands seem to pay silent obeisance to.

This is not about the huge banners and hoardings that blind the sides of the streets and render the city unrecognisable. This is a little bit about the reason for such extensive sponsorship by companies. Soon the city would be covered in advertisements of companies in every sector conceivable. Banners will come down from houses, every inch of space available will be used creatively for posting advertisements. People have recently claimed that this is as much a festival of consumerism as anything else. However, this is not new, it has been this way for long, even when the state was under a communist regime.

This is not about the innumerable count-downs shown at the corner of television channels or the deluge of people at shopping complexes. We are not talking about the home grown fast food joints that will mushroom out of the courtyard of houses and put out hand written menus at the gates. This is not about special ‘sharadiya’  magazines eagerly awaited for by generations of loyal readers. This is a little bit about the aniticipation, of something the entire city seems to wait and prepare for.

This is about the smell. The early morning smell in the soft sunshine and of incense- that seems to grow with every passing day. This is about the white and orange sheet of shiuli flowers that are laid dutifully at the bottom of certain trees every morning. This is about the lights that are put on all the houses of the para. This is about that maddening, intoxicating sound of dhaak, that familiar beat that your pounding heart recognises. This is about the feeling of unbridled joy that takes captive every being in this city, despite the silent sweating metro rides, the despondency of directionless dirty politics and torturous weather.

This is about a feeling which is an experience in itself.

And this feeling comes around this time. Even if you do not stay in the city during the pujas, even if you hate passionately the leering drunken crowds in the streets who seem to have come from elsewhere, even if you curse feelingly the long hours of being stuck in traffic, you cannot deny this feeling. And you know why.

For it is that time of the year again.