Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Problems of Today's Youth

A survey in today’s Times of India states that 58 per cent (Bombay) of youth have considered committing suicide. Only 26 per cent in Bombay have told their parents about it and discussed the reasons with them. This is frightening and shocking, at the same time. What is going wrong? It also says that the reason for contemplating suicide is because of depression. Whatever, however they are, parents love their children. I am yet to meet a parent who says he/she dislikes his/her child. (With the exception of a celebrity who allegedly killed her own daughter recently.) 

Something is wrong and, obviously, seriously wrong. So I decided to go a bit into the problems faced by children. What is causing this huge resentment in children? We, as middle class parents, want the best for our children and work hard for it. In the process, we also forget something about the modern world in which children grow up.

Here are a few pointers, because it concerns us, most of all, because they are the future of society and of the country.

1. They don’t understand what is going on.

Yes, they don’t. They don’t read newspapers, they skim through the news. They would watch some reality shows or competitions rather than a few good news channels. Parents should encourage the reading habit in children by buying them books appropriate for their age.

2. Easy availability of sub-standard entertainment (video and audio).

I mean, I listened to some of the songs young people listened to and was appalled. There isn’t music, just beats, and the lyrics are just horrible, except for a few catch words repeated, “Waka, waka, yeh, yeh.” Is that lyrics? That would make the youth more frustrated because entertainment should also address human issues: love, longing, nature, and incidents. Songs about love and longing is acceptable but not music videos that are provocative, such as Lady GaGa’s (She isn’t a lady, is she?).

And, most importantly, pornography is easily available, leading to a growth in desire, but not respect for the other sex. A person who views pornography cannot and will never respect the other sex. As a corollary he/she may not get respect from the opposite sex, leading to depression. Thoughts about unnatural sex forms a barrier between a boy and a girl and that could lead to misunderstandings and fights. That might be the reason behind most cases of sex offenses and crime.

3. Mobile phones.

Parents give mobile phones to children to know where they are, and to find out if they are safe. However, the sad fact is that these high-end mobile phones are misused and most youth exchange pornographic videos on them. That was not the intention with which the phones were given to children. Being in a very impressionable age, they would be tempted to experiment with sex, a bit too soon. I think youth should shun pornography as unnatural, thereby obviating a market for obscene videos.

4. Income disparity. 

Though you may give the best you can afford to your child, they are not blind to the income disparity between you and parents of their friends. This could upset them and depress them. Suddenly, all the love you give them may seem meaningless, though you may be working very hard to give them what they want. Parents should make children understand their financial background, so they wouldn’t make unreasonable demands.

5. Marital discord

Some parents do not get along which each other, resulting in fights, which may really depress the child. Parents need to understand that their fights would affect the child, and that should make them careful before fighting before their child.

6. Children should know how to speak to strangers

Parents teach children not to speak to strangers. But they should also be taught to speak friendly, non-threatening strangers, or, adults, with respect. They should also know how to discourage unwanted people from talking to them. They can demonstrate this by taking children with them for outings and letting them learn from your own behaviour.

7. Learning

Learning should be an overall, personality developing activity. A child should develop musical, athletic, and social skills. They should also respect and appreciate the art and culture of their parents and their ancestors. Put them in touch with these early in life. Just hankering after good grades and percentage is not enough, he/she needs to be an overall champion. So what if he/she is not on the merit list? Being on the merit lists has its on problems; it puts pressure on children and youth. Many merited children have failed subsequently, and non-merited children have excelled also.

8. Being depressed doesn’t help

Psychoanalysis is a science that deals with the working of the mind. It isn’t really a medicinal science (it prescribes medicines in chronic cases) in that it goes into the working of the mind to suggest what can be done. Having positive thoughts, being with positive people, and being occupied by positive activity can cure most cases of depression, which is what I strongly believe. A firm belief in one’s religion can help, that’s why I encourage children to believe in whichever faith they belong to. Faith doesn’t teach children to hate anybody (except maybe the fundamental ones). The very act of singing songs and chanting can heal a troubled person.
Young people idol-worship certain movie stars forgetting that they are humans and, therefore prone to failures. When these idols fail, or, rebuff their advances, they become depressed. Youth should never worship another human being as being infallible. They have their own weaknesses and fallibility.
Waking up every morning thinking how awesome the day is, loving the nature around you, loving the birds and animals can cure you of depression for the entire day. Recently I read somewhere (A Facebook post, I think.) that a single positive thought as soon as you wake up can carry you through the day and make it a big success. So wake up thinking “how beautiful is today.”
There is a lot more to share. So watch this space, as they say.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan's Biography Is Published

There are things that come to you by way of ancestry that you cannot deny. One such thing, which I am proud of, is my great uncle Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan, who was my grandfather's cousin. Tharakan also known as "Mahakavi (great poet)" was also called "Sarasa Gayaka Kavi (poet who sings)". He was, as mentioned above, a good singer and writer. The only novel of his that I have read is "Madhubalika," which is curiously set in Calcutta, may be, he has travelled to Calcutta in those days. Among his poems is an epic poem "Vishwadeepam (Light of the World)" based on the life of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Thomas Cyriac (Right) Presenting Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan's Biography to writer Ravi Varma Thampuran.
Here is his Wikipedia biography, which I have written. Family lore is that when he used to visit our village for a Poet's Conference (Kavi Sammelanam) he used to insist on my grandfather P C Mathew sitting beside him on the dais. He and my grandfather were close, as they had grown up together, and were good friends. My grandfather, the abovementioned P C Mathew was a lover of reading and literature and filled his house with many books. I have inherited quite a few of his books from those days, which, bye the bye, is another story, for another post.

I have often felt a need for a published biography of Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan. That seems to have come true with the publication of his biography by Dr. Jose Parakadavil. Here's a photo taken at the launch of the book by Dr. Thomas Cyriac (former Vice-chancellor of Gandhi University) presenting the said book to writer Ravi Varma Thampuran (whose novel Shayyanukamba was published recently).

Monday, April 04, 2016

This Happened on a Sunday!

It’s difficult to go for a walk these days. Yes. You think you are control of a situation, but, actually you aren’t. What I am going to describe left me sadly disillusioned. It happened thusly. Sundays, I go for a walk with my friend Henry in the environs of the dam, which is, alas, dry now. There is a slum by the side of the dam which was nurtured as a vote bank by the local politician. It has given refuge all kind of unwanted and fugitive elements, about which we couldn’t do anything. The slum has grown to occupy a huge area and is still growing, like all slums in New Bombay. When the politician is in league with the police, you can’t do much.

As I said, I and Henry were on our evening constitutional when we met a youth from the slum, riding a bike which was making a huge, deafening roar. Obviously he had disabled the silencer and, he was finding it a way to attract attention to him. As people with anti-social feelings often do, he was enjoying himself, being obnoxious. There is a hospital in the area, many aged people reside there, even many patients. So, we stopped him to give him a piece of advice. He got down from his bike in a menacing manner. He was only about twenty, his left ear was pierced and I think he was drunk.

-   Why is your bike making so much noise?
-   What goes of your father? It’s my bike?
-   Don’t talk like that. We are of your father’s age.
-   Then talk like old people.
-   We are saying there are sick and old people. There is a hospital in the locality. (In fact, we were standing in front of the hospital.)
-   What do I care? It’s my wish. (“Meri marzi” is a Bollywood song lyric that had become famous some time ago.)
-   But you should get it repaired.
-   I told you it’s my bike, didn’t I? Is it your father’s road?”
-   Don’t take my father’s name.

Till now Henry was leading the conversation. He had become upset about the boy mentioning his father’s name. The young man was truculent and had no respect for age. (But that’s the norm these days.) I interceded and took a flustered Henry away from the spot and asked the youth to leave. By this time some people had gathered, but they didn’t help, or, involve themselves, though, it was their problem, too. I knew I could phone the police station, but that would be taking matters too further. I fear going to the police station, because then there would be revenge from the boy and his gang.

Belapur is a small place. Everyone knows everyone, but it vexes me that this happened. Most of the people living around the area is known to me and greet me on my daily perambulation. Then I remember the incident of Dr. Pankaj Narang, beaten to death because of an argument. This happened in Delhi, it could happen in Bombay too. Economic disparities have enraged poor people and we may be the target of their anger. I told the boy to go away, the onlookers, and those looking from their balconies dispersed after they saw the tamasha, some were smiling and laughing. Laughing? About what? Humiliation of Henry, who is a senior citizen, and I (soon to be one). They don’t know they could be in such a situation tomorrow.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Book Review: Darkness at Noon

Finished reading Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler. I completed it over a month as I am a slow reader, and, generally relish every word. This, however, was worth the relish. Here’s a talented writer, much talented than many I have read recently, telling a chilling story, that makes you tremble to your bones. This is the story of a fictitious country, a socialist one, told by one of its highest disgraced founders. However, it rings true in its linear narrative that spares nothing, and you feel the cold darkness of the cell where the protagonist is kept prisoner.

If this is what happens to a founder of the socialist empire, then what could be the story of countless others who have been massacred, jailed, exiled, and disgraced? One thing that runs through the pages is the terror of such an evil empire. You shudder to think of this happening to your country, or, your immediate environment. God forbid!

Yes socialism may sound good from the outside, but inside its all hell. Theorising over class and rank, the murder of a trusted assistant, trial and execution of a friend who, initially tries to protect you through rank, must have been traumatic experience for party apparatchik Rubashov. He served his masters well, but was misunderstood and could do nothing about it. He was, ironically enough, jailed for anti-party activities, a common allegation in socialist parties. The prison scenes, the interrogation tactics are chillingly described by the author.

Worth a read, though it is a classic, or, in fact, because it is a classic.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The State of Public Schools in Kerala

The camera team from the television channel arrives at the school gate. There are three teachers, but no children to teach. They ask where are the children? This is a school, right? And, it isn’t a holiday, right?

The teachers are flustered. It’s obvious they haven’t faced the camera, in their lives, so far. They stammer and mumble that all the children have gone to a wedding. So the school is empty and the teachers have nothing to do. All the children have gone to a wedding? So how many children do you teach here? Five? Yes, five! Three teachers for five students? Yes, you are right!

That’s the state of Kerala’s public schools today according to a report in the television channel Asianet. In public schools funded by the government there are no students to teach because all the students have to gone to private schools. The government pays the teachers an atrocious salary (by city standards) to do nothing. A teacher gets around Rs 15,000 when they join. And they get a big pension – half of their salary – when they retire.

The reason is that the standard of teaching in public schools in Kerala is abysmally low. Teachers don’t bother and the children don’t care. Parents who send children to these schools are the poorest and the reason they send children here is because they get a good mid-day meal with rice, vegetable, and egg. Besides, the teachers arrange to bring children to school by sending their own cars. They also offer enticements like uniforms, bags, books, umbrellas for free. Because, if these five children don’t show up in school, their jobs are gone. They may be transferred to somewhere worse than the boondocks.

This is how education works in Kerala, the 100 per cent literate state. So, why don’t they improve the standard of education in public schools? Who is bothered, as long as Gulf income is there, who cares? Now with all oil at a new low when the Gulf workers return, imagine the situation.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Some Thoughts on Republic Day

I am on my morning rounds, after finishing a set of exercises, on a few machines installed in the local garden, by the kindness of my friend, the corporator. Thence, I sit on a park bench to make notes. A man cycles past me and I notice that his cycle doesn’t have a foot pedal on the left side. Seeing his expertise, I guess he has been going around this way for some time. Why doesn’t he get it repaired? I think people are like that. My thoughts go to my profession – writing. A good writer will write anywhere, in whatever circumstances. So I must write something on my blog today, the 26th of January 2016. So, what should I write about? Ah! Today is Republic Day. So I must write something about what it means to all of us.

This is the Wayside Inn in Kala Ghoda where Dr. B.R.Ambedkar used to sit drafting the Indian Constitution. 
India became a republic 66 years ago on this day January 26th, 1950. I am sharing this here so that the new generation, which doesn’t know much (or, care to know) about history, should know because it is about their country. It’s true we got independence in 1947, but then from 1947 to 1950 we were a dominion of the British empire ruled by a governor-general and the British monarch George VI was still the constitutional head of the country. This is something like Australia and South Africa, both of which, even now, have the queen of England as their head of state.

It was in 1950 that India became a republic, free from the domination, so to speak, of the British Empire. True, the British must have resented this. From 1947 to 1950 Nehru was not a prime minister but a secretary of state of the British Empire. The first governor general of free India was an English man, Lord Mountbatten. He was succeeded by an Indian, C. Rajgopalachari. That brings us to the question: what is the significance of the Republic Day? It was then that India became a fully independent country, and not just a colony of Britain like Australia or New Zealand.

Now we have an identity to be proud of, a nation built by our visionary leaders, who fought for the independence and sovereignty of our country with their own minds and bodies. It’s our duty to see that their fight shouldn’t go in vain and that we should uphold the principles they have laid down in the constitution. It’s our duty to protect the constitution and the principles laid down in it, such as: freedom, equality, freedom to practise any religion, fundamental rights, civil rights, and political rights. The preamble to the constitution states:

“WE THE PEOPLE OF India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a [SOVERIGN, SOCIALIST, SECULAR, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC] and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity,
And to promote among all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the [unity and integrity of the Nation];
IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT, AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.” Courtesy: The Constitution of India, LexisNexis.

Though the constitution was adopted on November 26, 1949 it came into effect only two months later. In this period our leaders suggested minor changes and later signed their approval.

Sorry! This is The Woodside Inn in Colaba. I got confused by the similarity in names. I have lunched here too!
The constitution was written by Dr. B.R.Ambedkar and it is said it took him three years to write. It’s a beautiful, though complicated document to go through. I have a copy of the constitution published by LexisNexis. I have had the luck and honour of lunching in the historic and iconic Wayside Inn (Now, changed to Silk Route), a restaurant in Kala Ghoda, Bombay, where Dr. Ambedkar used to sit drafting the Indian constitution. A picture of the historic restaurant is given herewith.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Cargill Documentary on RT

After seeing a one-hour documentary on Cargill on Russian Television, I am at a loss of words to express how I feel about the pernicious presence of big business in agriculture in the world. It seems the question of GMOs and corporate level farming will be a major challenge not only in India but in the whole world. I have written about Monsanto and its activities with BT Cotton in Vidharbha and other areas in India. What Cargill, a privately-owned corporation is doing around the world is equally pernicious, to say the least.

While at it, the multinational corporations are taking over farming in the world. Will this see the death of the small farmer, which is the backbone of Indian agriculture, nobody can tell for sure. The corporations may comply with laws in their home country but abroad they use all means to subvert and sabotage the local population. Cargill was under a cloud when they constructed a port in Brazil without Environmental Assessment (EA). It is also accused of using child labour and intimidation tactics to make small farmers surrender their land for their huge farms.

See the documentary if you can. Unfortunately it is not posted on but there’s a link to Indian farmer suicide here.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Recklessly Blundering through a Revolution

I read Jonathan Taplin’s “Sleeping through a Revolution” and wanted to write a riposte titled “Recklessly Blundering through a Revolution.” Taplin compared those of us who slept through the programming revolution as being like Rip Van Winkle. I would say, we are not Rip Van Winkle, but more like Cervantes’ Don Quixote, blundering through a revolution, a changed landscape. So here goes.

Taplin, in a letter to his daughter, begins with the statement “There was a time in the late sixties when the most critically acclaimed movies and music were also the best selling. The Beatles “Sgt. Pepper’s” album and Francis Ford Coppola’s “Godfather” were two examples. Now, it is no longer so. Now even trash sells if it is promoted well. I lived in the late sixties and know what he means. When we wanted to see movies we bought tickets and sat in a theatre, when we wanted to buy music we bought their cassette tape. Compact Discs hadn’t made its advent yet; streaming music videos were unheard of. We lent music cassettes to friends and borrowed their’s, too. This was the known practise, those days. When even that wasn’t possible we went to a lending library which let us borrow a cassette and hear the music for a fee of Rs 10. The cassette was then returned, just like a book to a lending library. We clandestinely made copies of tapes, but our tape recorders were crappy and there wasn’t the joy of listening to an original recording. We neither ripped it off internet sites, nor downloaded it, because those technologies didn’t exist.

Today we are living in a “programmed” world. Much like the movie Matrix our lives are programmed. Right now programmers are controlling our lives in many ways. For example, I called the servicing executive at my internet services company, and, after entering a maze of numbered options, I was connected, and then a mechanical voice said, “All our executives are busy, your call is important to us. Please hold on.” Then the line went dead. The executive wasn’t busy; he disconnected the call because he must have been working all day and is very tired. He must also be poorly paid and overworked. Then I dialled again and asked to speak to the supervisor. I was told “The supervisor is busy in another call, please hold on.” Perfectly legitimate excuse for a call centre. Then the line went dead. That’s the poor service we are getting because today the emphasis is on producing revenue, not rendering service to already sold products or services.

In my corporate career I have worked closely with call centres, in their knowledge processing units. I know that executives can disconnect a call if the caller is abusive. So he must have labelled me as abusive caller and disconnected the call. Who will know? Believe me, in today’s world customer is nothing: he is not king, he is not serf, he is not even recognised. Yes, that’s how they are programmed to work, all those guys doing the programming and coding. You buy the product that is marketed to you, and you shut up. Trying to give service for your product is not cool and is not the company’s priority, because there’s no revenue in it. Instead, they would rather introduce a new product. You have been taken for a ride, and you don’t know it. You just blunder on. If your product fails you come back to buy a later model, because with the last version you had trouble. So you exchange your old phone and buy iPhone 4, iPhone 5, iPhone 6, because you are familiar with the programming.

See, I said programming, because I have tried my hand at programming and know what an algorithm means. My son is a programmer and, and I am sure, he is of a similar view. When I wanted to buy a music system he asked me what I will do for the music. I said I will buy CDs. He said “Don’t be a fool, I will get them for free, and you don’t need a music system, your cellphone would do.” Does anyone know how many hardworking people the programmers drove to ruination by this attitude? They are: the music stores, the lending libraries, the small time tape duplicators, and the small artists who performed music at weddings and birthday parties. If this isn’t reckless blundering, what else is it?

Consider this piece of data Taplin provides:

Year 1999 (bn $)
Year 2000 (bn $)
Decline (%)
Newspaper ads
DVD Sales

And now consider how the programmers (aggregators) made money:

Year 2001 (bn)
Year 2014 (bn)
Rise (%)
4.8 (2002)
7  (2002)

So, is it any wonder that “virtual reality porn was going to be the killer app,” in the coming days? And even murders can be done online. Researchers have found that they can hack into robot driven cars and accelerate, brake and stop the vehicles. And you are again being made a fool and murderer without your knowing it.

Some time ago I had watched a BBC documentary on “Quants” who operate on Wall Street. Now, Quants are highly talented programmers who secretly write code that can sabotage the stock exchange’s network and place their orders before others place orders. The documentary found that Quants are mostly Russia-trained programmers holding Ph. D. in computer science whose programming skills allow them to prioritise their orders on the stock exchanges, leaving behind others. I will give you a small example on how they work. Have you tried to book railway tickets on the old system on a computer? By the time you try to login at 10 a.m. and it shows that there are 300 tickets available and the time you come online you find that all those tickets have been sold and that you are 150 in the wait list. What happened? Where did all the tickets disappear? Somebody logged in when you were in queue and booked all the tickets. This is a program similar to Quants on Wall Street. Later the Indian Railways got wise and limited one ticket per login which discouraged these Quants.

So, this is what happened. The Quants placed their orders before yours in queue and exhausted all the tickets before you came online. When this happens on the stock exchange, by the time your order is ready for execution the price has jumped higher than the price the Quants paid. That mean you pay extra for the same shares you buy than the Quants. You lose. You are made a fool of without your knowing by the programmers. The SEC in the US knows that some hanky-panky is going on, but can’t nail them. The Quants being highly intelligent programmers, know how to hide their codes so that they aren’t detected. Even their bosses don’t know what they are doing. Moreover, Quants know each other, and inside their secret society they exchange notes and strategise. Neither you, nor the authorities for that matter, know a thing. That’s the sort of world that we are inhabiting, so be advised.

The aggregators – programming platforms like Google, FB, Uber – spend heavily on lobbying governments. The reason is they do not want the authorities to levy a tax on online transactions. So they want their revenues to be tax-less across territories. “Google outspends all but a few financial and military firms in its lobbying efforts.” “Uber is valued today at $ 41.2 billion, making it one of the 150 largest corporations in the world.” And, funnily enough, Uber doesn’t own a single car. Therefore, they don’t benefit any car manufacturer, tyre manufacturer, or headlamp manufacturer. These smaller businesses would then depend on automation to survive. “Jobs are at a high risk of being automated in 47 per cent of the occupational categories into which work is customarily sorted.” With a digital assistant, do we need a secretary? The knowledge worker will be a curiosity in future. Does anyone care about grammar and syntax while writing computer programs? Yes, programming language has its own syntax, but I mean the help manual which is supposed to make the programme understandable.

The old way of doing business as you and I know (I am assuming you are an oldie like me) has changed. What is the net effect on us who have used our thinking and writing capacities to earn a living so far? “You have lost the freedom and autonomy to enjoy meaningful work. [And] The willingness to live an examined life with a core faith or philosophy,” writes Taplin. We, intellectual workers, who pride ourselves on our ability to string words do not even know that we have blundered through a digital revolution, and our roles as writers and artists have been devalued, or, have been entirely forfeited.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Rajesh Khanna - the Dark Star. "Chingari Koyi Bhadke..."

When Rajesh Khanna died, I cried. Not only I, but many cried along with me. A man who generated so much controversy and hysteria is gone. Dead. My tears were not only for him. My tears were also shed for my childhood, youth, and adulthood. Here’s how and why.

Like many in those days I came of age seeing Rajesh Khanna’s films. He was for us the King of Hindi Cinema, its first superstar. In fact, the term was coined for him, because there is no such a term for Hollywood actors, where there are stars but no superstars. Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, and Marilyn Monroe were stars at best, but not superstars. Aradhana, Aap Ki Kasam, Kati Patang, Anand, were some of the iconic films of those years that defined our youthful aspirations. We were carried into an ersatz world by their sweet sentimentality. They were of a type that not even Hollywood with its mushy tearjerkers could match. What was a Roman Holiday, or, To Kill a Mockingbird compared to Anand and Aap Ki Kasam? We were high on Bollywood elixir in those times, we sang the songs, even imitated his mannerism as he crinkled his eyes and smiled, playfully lifting his hands to the skies. We spoke his dialogues imitating his unique delivery. Upcoming actors, would-be directors, anyone, would act like Rajesh Khanna. There was even a Rakesh Khanna, a one-film wonder, who flopped miserably. Nobody in Bollywood could match his ability to get his fans rooting for him in the confines of the dark theatre, he was such a phenomenon.

Many of us wanted to be nothing but Rajesh Khanna when we grew up. His dark personality and offline shenanigans be damned! So, we imitated his hairstyle, his mannerism and wore his guru shirt with some sort of pride combined with hero worship. Umakant, the neighbour, went on to neglect studies, went to theatres instead of school and ended up a duffer, and ruined his family because he was the elder son, and there was too much riding on his success. His son later became a gangster. Ravi another neighbour entered into an affair with a girl in our building which was doomed from the very beginning and spoilt his father’s aim of making him a doctor. So on and so forth.

It was nice to read about Khanna in some detail from Gautam Chintamani’s book Rajesh Khanna – The Dark Star. I finished reading the book, and thought of writing this, not as a review of the said tome, but as a review of the era.

We were so much in awe of him that we spoke of nothing else but his movies in those internet-less and mobile-less years. We would wait with bated breaths for his songs to play on Binaca Geet Mala, on Ceylon radio, on Wednesdays. Remember Binaca? Remember Ceylon? When we would hangout after the day’s cricket was played, we would discuss his latest film. We thought he would go on like that, for ever, and, quite vainly, believed we would never age and grow old. Time stood still for us in those days and we were repetitively assured of its stationary nature by his films in which there was love, heartbreak, and courage, from which we drew inspiration. Not only us, but even adults couldn’t talk of anything else in those days. He was for us, mentor, guardian, and teacher.

Yes, Khanna was dark, he was an enigma. I lapped up all stories that Devyani Chaubal wrote about him in Star and Style, a film magazine of those days. There was a magazine boom thence and every magazine wrote about his various exploits, with his women, with his friends. Devyani’s description of his wedding was detailed, and informed us that he fed all those who had come to ogle at him, and when the food wasn’t enough, he ordered more. He was known to enjoy his drink and his food, and made sure that all his friends also enjoyed their food and drink with him.

There are many stories and legends associated with him. Some are good, some are bad. It is said that he used to lock up his wife in their room preventing her from going anywhere, to stop her from seeing anyone. He was having affairs and he didn’t want his wife to have one. He was jealous and protective of his wife and children. We knew of his weaknesses, but we wanted him to continue, and go on giving us his fantastically idealistic films. Those films gave us fun, music, songs, romance, and our mistaken idealism. They were written and directed by left-leaning idealistic Bengali writers, and directed by intellectually-oriented Bengali directors, genius music directors and singers like RD Burman and Kishore Kumar, who were on steroids, or, so, we now suppose. They worked as a team to deliver a hit and their films never disappointed.

But the star’s shine waned in the dark world where new stars emerged in the galaxy. His rival Amitabh, his co-star in many movies took over the mantle from him. Talk was that he had invited Amitabh, out of kindness, to a party at Prakash Mehra’s house where the director gave him the offer for his first big hit Zanjeer. Khanna was offered Zanjeer, but it didn’t gel with him, maybe, his asking price was too high and, moreover, Mehra was new to the industry. Amitabh went on to do very well, challenging the superstardom of Khanna.

Khanna couldn’t make the transition Amitabh made from lead characters to just grown-up, but, still, strong characters. I read about how he was nearly beaten up for teasing a girl by a man who didn’t know who he was. His films began flopping with shocking regularity. His last years were spent in isolation gazing out of his balcony at his home Ashirwad, probably reminiscing his song in Anand, sung on a beach, “Zindagi Kaisi Yeh Paheli, Hai; Kabhi Yeh Hasaye, Kabhi Yeh Rulaye.” (Roughly: Life is so strange; one moment it makes you smile and then it makes you weep.) The industry that had idolised him, now shunned him. He was not given the recognition and awards he deserved, and had to sit in the second row of a Filmfare award function. Maybe, he made wrong choices, maybe, he was not as self-assured as he was when he did Aradhana.

And, that, dear readers, is why I wept for Rajesh Khanna when he died. The book is a good attempt at capturing the filmography of this super enigmatic actor, analysing his films in great detail, but, somehow, doesn’t shed light on the person who he really was, what turmoil he might have gone through in his declining years. That said, considering the lack of material in our hush-hush Hindi film industry, it’s a commendable work of writing.