The truth about bullet riders

This was written in response to a Quora question.
 The question was “Why trend to purchase bullet bikes increased in India?

I think bikes (as most other things) are bought not only for its functional relevance but for its psychological relevance. (If you can commute ably with a 35k bike, why would you spend a lakh more on a bike which essentially is a bulkier, less advanced machine?)

The purchase of bullet is purely a matter of fulfilling a psychological need. So the question is – what is the psychological need being met by Bullets and why are more people in India feeling that particular need?

Bullet is uniquely manly. While Pulsar is ‘definitely male’, it is also immature. Pulsar is boyish, bullet is manly.
Most fared bikes are positioned to younger audiences. They answer the need of adrenaline rush.. what we call ‘potency needs’. Its the quintessential teenage need to feel on the edge. Bullet is not for these men (boys).
Bullet has been traditionally used by people in armed forces, government services.. so it has a connotation of authentic power. When modern bikes were introduced as being ‘definitely male’ and such for the teenagers-at-heart, the bullet automatically got positioned as the ‘authentic’ men’s bike, due to its lineage. Substance v/s show.
Bullet – less advanced, heavier, slower, louder.
New fared bikes = advanced, lighter, faster, refined.

Bullet has a stronger ‘physical presence’. slow, heavy  and loud = a more assured and solid rider imagery.
New bikes, even if they are technologically better, being quick and light – they seem (to people with masculine anxieties) as less robust and less manly.


The reality is most Indian men are still boys. not completely responsible for themselves, and proud of it. afraid of women, yet dreaming of ‘conquering’ them. Depending on parents well into late 20s (if not later too.) essentially, incomplete men. Pose them a real challenge in life and they would rather leave for Himalayas.

In a world of youngsters facing identity crisis, Bullet gives an unambiguous Indian identity of rugged macho.
In a world of sanitised skyscrapers and sedentary lifestyle, Bullet fills the need to belong to the rawness of Bharat, the earthen macho.
In an increasingly risk-averse society, the bullet lends an identity of the ready-for-any-reality macho, to the rider.
The signature loud (annoying) sound of the exhaust, announces presence of the rider. It fills the need of the less-loved men to imagine them having a ‘presence’.

Essentially, a bullet enables a person to feel good about himself when he is concerned about the inauthenticity and emasculation of his modern identity. Bullet frees him from masculinity anxieties.

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Rebels without a cause

Saw ‘Tanu weds Manu returns’ yesterday.
Excellent movie after a long time. 🙂 (apart from one dimensional Manu and the Haryanvi family as prop.)

I – Restless = humans
It made me think about the trend of lead characters in bollywood movies – men/ women. (Raj in countless SRK films or Kangana in most of her films). They are all spontaneous, restless, rebels (often without a cause). They are also someone who people graciously put up with for the sake of movie’s plot.
This is in contrast to lead characters from earlier days. (80s – macho, 70s – angry against system, 60s – stoic silent, graceful). The grace is gone from modern world and modern cinema.

With rise of corporate careers and desk-bound audiences, the lead characters are increasingly ‘bubbly’ (females leads), ‘spunky’ (male lead) and are infantile and narcissistic. The more inconsequential and replaceable lives become (of white collar audience), the more spunky and bubbly the characters become in films.

The office goer audience has no real purpose, have no real challenges and benefit a lot from status-quo. That reflects in the content they consume – self help books, identity anxiety soaps, mindless comedies as blockbusters (to avoid critical analysis of their own lives), support to the powerful bhai (“We can be irresponsible and successful too.”) and so on.
These office going drones face tremendous existential angst as a result of their digital and desk bound existence.
And when such drones are ripe for pairing, they desire life through their mates. They want life partners who ‘do things’, who ‘are fun’, who ‘travel’, who are ‘foodies’ and so on.

The reason a drone (Manu) chooses a rebel without a cause (Tanu) in the movie, is to ensure that he is marrying a human being. It doesn’t matter that she has some serious psychological issues. Her incongruence to societal expectations prove that at least she is a human being, not a drone like him.

People get married in search of life.

II Rebel without a cause
It is essential that there be no cause. A cause will make things too real too quick. The audience of white collar drones ‘can’t handle the truth.’
All lead characters try to show the middle finger to their immediate environment, but they are always lacking in ambition.
Indians are so scared to identify the elephants in the room that there can be no revolutionary cinema in India. Existential angst is profitable and it doesn’t point fingers. The angst is impotent. Speaking of which…

III – Threat to Masculinity 
The film subverts masculinity in a way not seen in hindi movies before.  All male characters in the film are impotent. All they can do is – ‘manage’. (Manu is a loser who never acts or reacts. His sardar friend is literally impotent. Jimmy Shergill has no agency of his own – he flexes his muscles, but all he does is to obey Kangana. The advocate who falls for Kangana, tries to make a scene but is ineffectual.)
When the traditional actors in the theatre of society (patriarchy) stops answering to new realities, new actors (anarchy) will rise to shape the new society.
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Originally published at Rebels without a cause.

On why it took a firang to start FabIndia/ OR Why India still can’t chart its own modernity

Exhibit 1a. Girl wearing a chuda, off for clubbing late at night

This is one of those simplistic visual tropes one might expect in any ‘tradition meets modernity’ narrative.
In one of the automobile brand ads, I believe there is one such shot too.
(the brand champions the insight about modernity being tempered by the Indian youth in Indian terms. What this assumes is – to be Indian is to be ritualistic. and to be urban/modern is to reject the rituals. Brands come to rescue us here and provides an in between truce. ‘Adjust kar lo‘.)

Usually the narrative is set in the premise of ‘victory of the young’, as ‘smart strategist’.

Smart strategy – yes – to the extent that traditions and modernity, both are reduced to mere symbols that are entertained for maintaining the status quo. That’s the strategy- to strip our acts off their meanings.

Why wear a chuda? ‘I am supposed to. must be the right thing. I am confident now of being Indian. This is ethnic cool.’
Why go dance to yo yo Honey Singh in crowded clubs? ‘that is what i am supposed to do to have fun.’

Both acts – wearing chuda, clubbing regularly – seem to be acts whose will is outside of the person doing it.
A part of the society wants you to wear Chuda, so you do that. Another part of the the society tells you that you cannot really be ‘free’ and have ‘fun’, unless you spend a quarter of your income in expensive clubs.  and you do it too.
There is no ‘victory of the young’. The young are supplicating to whatever forces they are subjected to.

They are supplicating to not just one god, but many gods! and that is being a true Indian.
Second misreading – its not the confidence of being Indian that is allowing people to continue practicing old rituals. Its the permission from the western image that ‘allows’ us to feel confident about our own rituals. We look to west for what is acceptable and what is not, for we deem ourselves incapable of charting our own modernity.
(why is the image of a man wearing a mundu,woman wearing a salwar kameez in corporate offices, sacrilegious? why wear coat and tie in the hot tropical climate? if modernity is about rationality, what is the rationality behind the uniform of coat and tie for corporate image?)
When the western image accommodates an Indian images (that it cannot understand) as ethnic/ exotic, we in return also see our own traditions and rituals as ethnic/ exotic.
See how us city folks pronounce the words ‘Mahabharata’ or ‘Ramayana’,
or how we tend to act as outsiders at traditional events, we literally keep ourselves at the periphery.
Or how there is still an audience for ‘America returned do-gooder’.
It took a firang to start FabIndia and such. The cultural industry of Indian identity is almost entirely run by Firang, for firang.
The visa to ethnic pride still gets stamped in the western image. 
Another observation by Saba Dewan – 

“Why are the new jingles based on a reworking of old Hindi film songs sung in this fake, ‘firang’ accented Hindustani? Regular desi speak not good enough uhnn? We need to sing even good old Hindi filmy songs in some phony nowhere accent to match our ‘global’ aspirations?”

What does it mean to not being able to see ourselves with our own eyes? that we need a western eye to recognize our own  self?
We Indians can accept ourselves, only ironically. Its as if we do not exist outside the conscience of the white man. If we are not recognized/interpreted by the west, we probably do not (should not) exist. (Imagine Dongria Kondh’s fight without Survival international’s image building. Imagine the futility.)

P.S. – Again.. wearing chuda/ going to club – both acts by a woman. Tradition and modernity, both hold women responsible for transacting with symbols of meaning. A man’s act is invisible to the civilizational meaning, but a women’s is not. heavy unfair imbalance.

On how it is ok to be ordinary

Ordinariness has such melancholic grace to it. Perhaps, its the finality of its evident fall that leads to submission, that stillness.

Just saw the movie ‘The illusionist‘. Its script was written by Jacques Tati, one of the most wonderful film makers ever. Most of his movies are keen empathetic witnesses to the effect of modernity on a simple human existence. When I saw his movie, ‘playtime’, I was spellbound with the many layers of stories woven in a comic portrayal of  a man navigating a modern city.
Watching the Illusionist, reminded me of the fragility of our identity. The movie is about a magician who is finding it more and more difficult to get work due to advent of modern entertainment of rock music and television. One scene is especially telling, when people in the cities are not at all interested in his acts, while in a village in Scotland, his acts gets appreciated. A woman tags along being awestruck with his ways. He tries to earn more to keep her happy, but she finds happiness with another young man. His fragile existence, a function of a bygone era, is erased when he puts a note to her saying ‘magicians do not exist’ and leaves. He sets free the rabbit that had been his trusted aide in magic tricks for years. One is left wondering, what is he going to do with his life now? But no such worry seems to paint his face. He has simply accepted the end of his identity as a magician.

It made me wonder about my own career too. Since I was a kid I have always known exactly what I want to do with my life, and how I want to lead it. The conception of a life was blamelessly grand and simple. It was simply a business between me and ‘the world’. Of course I was born for greatness.

But somewhere along the way came the question of money and debt. And now what must be done is to judiciously carve a route that will keep me as close to my desired life while being able to earn enough money too, without the aim of greatness. (well, towards nothingness really. more about it later.)

A few years of walking the safe path and you start appreciating the hardship that you are not compelled to do. Hence the simplicity of labor becomes all the more alluring. But great things are simple too. and though they are alluring, your safe distance keeps you away from greatness too. You know that you are not Ajinkya (Invincible). That you are quite ordinary really. And all of a sudden, life becomes so much easier. The self-imposed weight now lifted, you can aim of nothingness and be happy.

But then my chosen identity, that of a ad man, is so fragile. I was in that industry for a while, and now intend to get back into it for good, but our addiction for change will force extinction of my identity as a planner too in some time.

Well, good then. It makes my life easier really. It took a long time for me to accept career as a industry and a role. Earlier, I could only imagine career as what I would learn and how that will shape my life and experiences. I guess, the later view of career is better. I do not remain susceptible to times then. My life doesn’t remain just about my labour then.
After-all, I am more than my 10 hours of weekdays.

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Originally published at On how it is ok to be ordinary