Civilized as we are, there's always a certain pride in beating the System. Whether it's returning a not-subtle-enough wine at a classy restaurant or paying somebody an extra hundred bucks to tatkal your ass to whatever last minute destination, nobody says no to a chance to pull one over the System. What the System itself is comprised of - the government? the capitalists? the Mothership?- has never been particularly clear but one thing is for certain: it is not a very nice establishment.
Being a writer -or so I was told- comes with its own set of prescribed ideological affectations. Of which being staunchly anti-System, I gathered, is the most crucial one. A stickler for pretensions myself, I decided many years ago that I would jump on the bandwagon the minute my first novel got published. That happened a little over a month ago. Like any Indian babu worth his salt, I decided to fight the System by first doing a Case Study. What better role models, I thought, than all the firangs on Himachal's famed hippie trail? They're White, they're right and let's be honest, tie-dye never really looks as good on those of tropical complexion.
If anybody can teach me to ditch the 9-5, to live on my own terms and for my own enlightenment, it's these gentle White folk who've abandoned the comfort of microwave pizzas and afternoons at the Gap to bum around them Himalayas. I'm happy to report my instincts weren't so wrong after all. Deliverance came in the shape of an overhead snippet of conversation from a table adjacent to mine at a little cafe in Leh. The French guy at the table had been exhorting the virtues of budget travel and backpacking to a newbie British girl for the better part of my breakfast, and just as I was losing interest....
"But Pierre, how do you keep going without an income? What do you do when the money runs out?"
This was it, the mother lode, the moment that four weeks of painstaking research and analysis had been leading upto. How does one survive without a job? How does one truly beat the System? Pierre would know.
"I'm broke now," declared Pierre proudly, "so I'm off to Bombay. I hear there's a place that pays you 200 rupees just to show up."
Must be an underground moment, I thought, some kind of counter culture organization. Like minds, I thought, brothers in arms. Of course they would pay me 200 rupees just to show up, they get me! I leaned in closer to gather more information on the whereabouts of the Promised Land.
"It's at this cafe in Colaba in Bombay," said Pierre, "they don't want experience, talent, nothing. As long as you're White, they'll hire you as extra dancers in Bollywood movies."
And on hearing that ladies and gents, I spat out my coffee and calmly walked out the door, resolving never to pay for breakfast again. Take a bow, Karan Johar and Bollywood; not only have you broken the System, but you've brought back the old one. I'd stay and chat but I've got job applications to fill in.