aseptic homes: tv, but no books!

You know what I mean?

You go to his/her place, after getting quite a few repeated invitations – you live (because you chose not to die in the city) in the outskirts of Bangalore, um,  just beyond the hemline to be precise, and so going anyplace means a loooooong drive and lots of initiative. Your children would also chide you for spending so much fuel and for being so environment-unfriendly, if you choose to go driving all the way. In any case, the family knows how the trip is likely to turn out, how are you going to react etc etc, given their prior experience. They say it so many words. Oh the exacerbation

The hosting couple also happen to be members of that horrendous phylum (0f the kingdom of Idioticus Indicus) called NRIs, who call themselves, rather incorrectly – ‘ex-pats.’ Your prior experience in dealing with the indifferent members of this phylum, has not always been interesting… You anyway have way too many of them in your extended family and otherwise. Oh the aggravation

But, this couple have children, make reasonable noises about life, there have been a few email interchanges, their children go to some ‘alternative’ school – and you think that, with any luck, at least your kids can have a nice time. So you set aside all other sundry work, including the preparation for the next session at school etc and leave.

The roads have been dug up recently and so finding isoPotholes ** and isoLedges along which to dexterously position the tires of your aged jalopy, becomes a challenge – no complaints, it is fun, it makes you feel alert – at least that’s what you tell yourself. You are a skilled driver proud of your sidewinding, slithering skills and the ability to retain your cool in an Ant Colony Optimization problem – I mean the traffic snarls, the heat, the sweat, the swears, the fellow drivers – the works! grrr…

Finally, you land there at the host’s multistoreyed complex (aptly named some ‘Manthri Prestige PressureCookerVille Chrysanthemum TopazToccata Garden’) and the gruff security guards at the literally sand-bagged entrance, demand to see your identity, phone number (Oh! you don’t have a cell phone? From which planet are you?),  and already you have started sweating, thinking how on earth you forgot to bring your passport (oh God, is it even valid?) and ohmygod, may be you should have gotten a visa from your host, duly countersigned by the Chief of the Internal Security for the apartment complex. Your spouse realizes that you are dazed and offers to step in, but your silly machoness does not permit that…

At the security office, the closed circuit TV cameras whirr around and zoom in and look at you quizzically and somewhat lazily through their monocled eyes and suddenly you wonder whether your fly zipper is up. You turn away from the camera to do a quick check, and the security guards instinctively stiffen… One would think there were some hep political bigwigs/VIPs living in those apartments, but you know for sure that, after all, there are only white collar slaves and lazy bozos working for MNCs ‘live’ there in that complex…

The guards finally ring up your host’s house and ask whether they are expecting us – but only the servant-maid is there, saying “memsahib gone out.” Not only that, “Yejamaan busy” and “bachchon doing homework.” So “please thodi dher ke baad try keejiye” and all that… aha!

You curse your goodluck with the choicest of epithets that you never had a chance to utter in the past couple of decades, and hope  your children did not hear your vile swearing;  and week-kneed that you are, you go to the nearest phonebooth and call the memsahib’s cellphone number. Some smashhit ringtone with some monstrous tune of A R Rahman – keeps you agitated. “Oh sorry. We were expecting you, but thought I could do a quick weight reduction at the nearby Vandal Lutheran Chic Centre. You see, today was the last day for an exciting ‘first time in the entire history of the world’ offer FatChance – sell 2 Kgs at VLCC, buy 3 kgs at home viewing ‘Desparete Housewives’ and eating chips. Lovely. Nice of you to have come. Will be there rightaway.”

So, you are stranded at the entrance with a sullen spouse and puzzled children and look for some one else’s fingernails to bite, as your’s are already over –  it has been a nailbiting finish for the past 30 minutes.

And so, finally, the ‘rightaway’ happens after half-an-hour more and the illustrious ma’am (less 2 kgs, hopefully) arrives, and you get in to the ghetto. Sorry, I should say ‘walled community.’

At their home, you are surprised to find the husband plonking himself down in front of TV, watching a FormulaOne race, but supposedly in the midst of a serious ‘office conference call’ – The laptop (sorry, this was a paunchtop), is on and the latest cricket score of the IPL madness keeps wafting in. Five filament lamps are on, there is so much light and heat – and  hence two fans are working overtime – luckily, the air conditioner is not on, thank God for small mercies… The cell phone chimes, the blackberry announces the arrival of some new email. You feel jealous. You wonder, how on earth could a person juggle between so many things and be productive.  You wonder whether you miss your corporate life. Nor really. You only miss the steadily & obscenely climbing bank balance.

The lady is sweet otherwise, and the steady stream of excellent junk makes you break all the rules that you have imposed on your children. You would like your children to be ‘engaged’ in some activity or the other, so that you can slyly gorge on the junk. But you realize that it is not possible.

The children of the host are busy with their video games. Like in many families, the ‘bringing up’ of the host’s children too, apparently seems to have been outsourced to the videogames, TV and the ayaahs. Your children are bored. You start feeling guilty.

Some elderly people emerge from the bowels of the house (perhaps, either in-laws or outlaws of the couple) and want to discuss the Tamilnadu politics with you. You are sick and tired of Sriman Karunanidhi (and his gazillion families, nephews and the incredibly ‘scientific’ corruption) and do not want to talk about any scum or scam. The elders persist.  You ask whether they voted in the recent elections. They say that at the time of elections, they were in the ‘States!’  &?^*%$# You ask them whether they were in the neighbouring AndhraPradesh State during elections? They say NO and tell you that they were akchooly in YouYes. Heh! You persist and ask as to why they did not consider voting through the postal ballot system. They are truly puzzled.

Here they are, trying to make polite conversation about solving the problems of the world (‘mind you, we have even been to States’) and there you are, who is only interested in some damn voting… You want to rudely say that they don’t have any moral right to complain about anything, but keep quiet. The reason: your spouse is looking at you rather coldly. You know the consequences. You promptly shut up.

Eventually, the husband finishes off all his ‘tasks,’ and tries to chat with you – the usual ones about traffic, great spiritualism, crass materialism, yoga, schooling, ecology, diversity, sustainability, energy conservation, ‘going green’ etc etc. Your eyes glaze over. You ask him whether he has any idea about how his apartment complex gets its water supply and what happens to their sewage water. The guy vaguely says ‘bore well‘ (at this point, you want to tell him that you didn’t ask for his skill set) and ‘I don’t know’ respectively. You are mighty peeved. What a cognitive dissonance! You desperately want some distraction from this endless drivel.

You wonder where the books are. They are not there at all. The host’s family does not have any use for them, obviously.  Not even a telephone directory! Nothing.  You realize that the overall attitude of this family is: when our Sony Bravia or some darn plasma TV is there, what else would one need to be informed, entertained & educated? Sheesh…

You are angry, your children distraught, the spouse caught in ‘the deer in the headlight’ syndrome. The hosts are happily doing whatever they would do, even otherwise. They think your family is having a great time. You tell yourself: Never ascribe to malice, that which can be sufficiently explained by stupidity. You  remember having read this quote, in some USENET chatter a couple of decades back. How perceptive, you wonder and chuckle… The hosts look at you, rather amused and understanding.

After, what looks like a couple of years, you come back home, cursing everything and anything, all the way. And, as soon as you get in, you spread a hundred books in the ‘hall’ and plonk down in the middle of them, lie down and start browsing your favourites. An obsessive-compulsive disorder, really. What a happy escape! You eventually calm down.

You look around – the rest of the family has also calmed down, thanks to books. Nice ones at that.

You know that you don’t socialize much, and in some cases where you must absolutely visit someone, you tend to hum and haw, weigh various pros and cons and finally give-in, but only in a few cases. You obviously don’t learn lessons. You should NOT give in at all. But you are a mutt-head (no, not like those lustrous ‘Nithyananda Paramahamsa types, sadly no universal love is possible in times of AIDS). You have to learn. Sorry to remind you of this.

Yes. You can never understand homes without books. You are not asking for much – the books could even be borrowed or leased or stolen or whatever. Dammit, it does not cost much to have a few books, especially when the aseptic homes spend large sums of money on all kinds of frivolous and obscene stuff!

But, you don’t want to even try to understand folks who not only have no books, but instead have wide screen / plasma / LCD / whatever TV screens that stare at you in the living room. Sometimes, you feel the power of these dumb boxes, even when they are switched off; you shudder.

You realize that many such folks have only the following at the places, where they pretend to live:

  • Lounge room – Entertainment center (TV, DVD player, home theatre etc)
  • Cafeteria (um, kitchen, gaudy dining tables, glittering crockery)
  • Impeccably tiled toilets
  • Bed rooms (master and a couple of slaves)
  • Gadgets everywhere – including US style fridges, washing machines and allied monstrosities
  • Some children (purely because of biological accidents, you suppose)
  • Some in-laws or outlaws (that is, when they are not in ‘States’)

They don’t live in homes, you realize to your horror.

You resolve to spend the time that would be spent on such terribly underwhelming visits – on reading and rereading the books that have left indelible mark in you. You do it rather religiously. Your would-have-been hosts would not understand, it is fine. You build-up a reputation for being ‘unsociable’ and an ‘unfriendly’ person, the I-Me-Myself guy – that stereotyping is  great, you realize! It gives you so much leeway. You happily realize that you have saved (and will continue to save) on an incredible resource – time!.

Morals of the story:

  • Good ‘forward looking’ noises and emails maketh not a ‘home.’
  • At least, when there is a will, there is some inheritance. However, when there is a TV, there is NO way.
  • Avoid social visits prompted by reasons such as birth day parties, death day mournings, your children going to the same school etc…
  • But, don’t ever go for random get-togethers – just to ‘chill out’ or ‘hang around’ or for ‘getting to know more about others’ – it is simply not worth it.

ps: Yeah.  know that just because a home does not have any book(s) does not translate to it not being a home. There could be reasons of economics. Or, the folks could be actually doers so they do not need to brandish books to prove their intellectuality. But these kinds of folks are in a microscopic minority.

** : Actually, the roads in your Hennur – Bagalur area are very good now – a rolemodel for proper macadamization, but that is not going to encourage you to venture out to aseptic homes, sorry.

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