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.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Few Thoughts about Sandel and Why Aren't Political Discourse on Religion Being Done?

It happened a few days ago. I was riding a rickshaw to Bandra station after attending the Times Litfest, and as often happens, I talk to the rickshaw driver. I get my story and blog ideas from common people like him, so this time, though my mind was a bit fuzzy from all the talk at the festival, I started a conversation.

He was a young man of 28, though he didn’t look his age. First I ask him if traffic is this bad on Hill Road. He says because of the Sea-Link Road traffic in these parts has increased. Travelling on the Sea-Link is smooth but it causes jams at either ends of it, leading to further chaos in parts like Hill Road where Bollywood celebrities like Shahrukh Khan and Salman Khan live. (As you have guessed by now, I am a die-hard filmy person, though I don’t see Hindi films.) As far as asides go, here’s one: I pass the American Express Laundry, the alleged place where Salman’s car allegedly ran over and killed one person and injured a few others. (He was acquitted in the case today, Dec 10, 2015.)

The rickshawalla smiled often, turning his face to me as he spoke, honesty in his voice and in his eyes. The general view of Bombay’s rickshaw-drivers is of a rough individual who looks surly – sort of Gulshan Grover in a negative role – and doesn’t hesitate to fleece his customers. He broke that stereotype, in my mind, at least. His name is Shahid and he was from near Allahabad, 60 kilometres from where Amitabh lived, he said. In Bombay, he lived near the Bandra terminus and is married and had a child who died (Allah ko pyara ho gaya, he said.). Earning around 500-600 rupees a day, he is content with that income. He owns the vehicle and drives only for a limited period of time. Not particularly greedy, he doesn’t seek to earn more, or, for that matter, seems not ambitious at all. This is because most rickshaw drivers try to earn more by giving their vehicle to another driver in the night shift, so that he can earn more.

The economic theories I heard that day, the one expounded by Harvard professor of government theory Michael Sandel in particular, mentioned that inequalities are what drives people to extremism. Democracies should combat this trend by having a strong public discourse. I don’t know if people here know what discourse means. Have you watched those endless shouting matches on television and a bleary-eyed, bespectacled guy screaming “the Nation wants to know.” Then you get the drift. They – the majoritarians – would rather treat everything as their right, than engage in a public discourse. Well, something to that effect was said, considering my advancing age, and impaired hearing. (Sorry to mention, Times Litfest, the acoustics was abysmal, all I could hear were big booming echoes in the cavernous Mehboob Studios!) I wonder how a young man like Shahid could be so devoid of ambition. How could he not try to earn and give his wife a better life? Sandel said, because of inequalities, everyone should aspire for better incomes and better prospects in whatever they are doing. Agreeable, considering one per cent of Indians own fifty percent of the wealth of India. This man was not crazy for money and seemed very moral in his behaviour and dealing with customers. (When I flagged him, he willingly stopped, while most of his contemporaries just sped away.)

Sandel had also mentioned that money can’t buy morality and that people’s morals are what are being compromised. His topic was “What Money can’t buy.” This man, Shahid, one among the most moral men I have met, doesn’t want to compromise on his morality and is therefore content to lead his life without bitterness. Not for him the issue of religion, which is like a gorilla, sitting in our parliament, flinging everything – mikes, mike stands, speaker’s gavel, paper weights, etc. etc.

Today – that day, December 6 – being the anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in the state from where he came from I asked him if there were riots and animosities in his village, where he grew up. He said there is no such thing. Riots are unknown in his village and people live in harmony. They go to Hindu weddings and invite Hindus to their weddings, and the atmosphere is not at all rancorous as I might have imagined. Or is he fibbing, or, has the situation changed after he left his village? I don’t know. That’s surprising because Allahabad is only 168 kilometres from Ayodhya where the Babri masjid was demolished.

I think the problem, as Sandel mentioned is the reluctance to have a public discourse about religion. As such political discourse in India mean a lot of shouting and accusations being flung at the others. “You are like that, so you must be hated,” is what we hear instead of a political or social discourse.

I also think a vast majority of people feel like Shahid. Then I think of the huge number of jobless youth being radicalised and deprived of a good future. Are these religious extremists doing the right thing? But why aren’t the voices of sanity being heard? Why aren’t they expressing their anguish? On this anniversary of the Babri masjid I have no answers. Those who seek to polarise religions without entering into a public discourse are doing the wrong thing, in my opinion.

And here’s a hat doff to Shahid, may his tribe increase and spread the message of amity and goodwill. I love that guy.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tata Litlive 2015 - the Best of Its Kind, Well, So Far!

It was great connecting with writer friends at Litlive 2015 at the NCPA, which was sixth edition of this redoubtable literary meet. I have been a steady presence in their scheme of things right from the start. This edition was resplendent in that it has grown into a lot more than just literature: plays, performance poetry, literature about politics, mime-drama, etc. The range and variety was, what to say, mind numbing. I couldn’t attend all the events and had as companion my childhood-friend Gangadharan Menon, whom I had persuaded to attend, and who, later took a keen interest in all the programmes. Gangadharan is the author of Evergreen Leaves (published by Partridge Press) which is all about his escapades into Indian Nature Parks, which you may want to have a look in. He was nearly gored to death by an elephant in a jungle in Kerala. As events turned out, he developed into a festival junkie, showing more enthusiastic than me to attend all the good programmes. He has an advantage in that he lives in Chembur and by car it’s only twelve minutes from the centre of South Bombay, yes, we counted, twelve minutes.

That’s a great advantage. In my earlier days of working I used to commute from Chembur to VT, which took me an hour. Now it takes only twelve minutes by road. Isn’t that wonderful? How much time could I have saved if I had lived in the present and been able to take advantage of this new freeway? I could have written more poems and short stories, read more books, and met more friends. Now what’s the use of remembering all these things? A sense that things could have been better pervades. But, then I could also have been better.

A hello was said to the talented writer Annie Zaidi, maverick Dan Husain (redoubtable poet and writer, whose play “Ek Punjab Yeh Bhi” is being staged at the Prithvi. Dan recently returned his Sahitya Akademi award in protest against the climate of growing intolerance in the country. Writer Maya Sriram (who is working on her second novel after her first one “Bitch Goddess for Dummies”) was also there with her now grown up daughter, whom I had seen as a small girl. Well, there were writers who didn’t say hello, which doesn’t matter, to me, at least.

There were an aging population of Bombay, the NCPA types, present in strength. I meet Usha Sheth, daughter of K.D.Malaviya, one of the first ministers in Nehru’s cabinet. She asks me about Kamala Das, but I was not part of the literary scene in those days. Ganga was. So, I divert her to him. There was an artistic-looking person carrying a sketch book looking remarkably like cartoonist R.K.Laxman. He went around caricaturing people and then getting them signed by his subjects. Ganga said it had to be R.K.Laxman’s son: the looks, the conservative dress confirmed my feeling that it was him. “Laxman lived to be ninety-something and if he had a son at age 30, it has to be him.” That’s Ganga for you. I know that Laxman has a son, who is a journalist, and maybe, it’s him. I had met him some time ago when he was covering aviation-related subjects for the Times of India. But, then I lost track.

As usual with anything worth attending in India there were queues and skirmishes for tickets for the events. But Ganga ensured that he drove to NCPA in the morning on the Eastern Freeway to collect passes for me and him. So I got to see Astad Deboo’s pirouetting performance in Rivers Run Deep (he rotated Dervish-style for fifteen minutes), which made us wonder how he did it at his age. It was a beautifully choreographed performance, one that would be truly representative of the new India. The dance was well orchestrated, great music, and Tata Theatre is the best in terms of sound. The Manipuri dancers rhythmically jumped and danced while playing the drums on stage. Ganga said this is the only percussion instrument in the world playing which a drummer can also dance. I agree.

There was this performance poetry by Hannah Silva in which she tears the novel Fifty Shades of Grey with her mouth, as the preamble to the performance. She combined elements of poetry, deaf-mute-sign language, performance poetry so wonderfully that the audience was spell bound. I wonder why Brits are such good performers. They aren’t amateurish in the least and have a good command over their material.

Chacha Pe Charcha (Discussion on Chaha Nehru)

I sat through this discussion on Chacha Nehru, which had Vir Sanghvi (journalist), Nayantara Sehgal (Nehru’s niece), Anil Dharkar (Director, Litlive), and Arun Maira (former member of Planning Commission) holding forth.

Vir Sanghvi sand that Nehru downplayed the need for individual freedoms vis-a-vis freedoms of communities, e.g., in the first amendment.  True, in the first amendment (apart from the freedom of expression clause) clauses were introduced to prevent “misuse of freedom of expression”, which in later days was open to misuse. This, it seems, have curtailed freedom of expression even more. Do we, in this country, have something like “original intent” which the US has? If so, I feel all these clauses in the amendment would not have been required.

Moving on, Sehgal opined that secularism was (still is) the bedrock of the Indian freedom movement. The freedom movement cut across religions, caste, and ideology to create a new state based on freedom for all. So why are we discussing “secularism” as a concept so late in our democracy? It’s an integral part of our constitution. Moreover Nehru was an agnostic and didn’t believe in any religion in particular. He may have performed certain rituals, but he was a true-blue secularist.

Overall, it was agreed that India didn’t choose to be a Hindu nation. It has been seen as the only democracy in a sea of autocracies, dictatorships and, authoritarian regimes. Now, even that attribute seems to be besmirched by the Hindutvavadis, out to create a fanciful Hindu state.

The Play “Ila”

There was a huge crowd waiting patiently in queue for this play and I wanted to see what it was all about. Ganga had a pass which he misplaced. We decided to take a chance and queued up for half hour to get in. Luckily we managed to gain entry, into the sunken garden which chock-a-block full. Since Ganga has a back problem I gave him my seat – the only one available – and said I will sit on the mattress on the floor. I also have a back problem, but, I know Ganga’s problem is bigger than mine. But, no one, no one including the youngsters, would offer their seats to us, old beggars.

The story is by Devdutt Pattanaik and is about a king who wanders into a forest and is cursed to become a woman when the moon changes phases. To his own surprise, the king, in his female avatar, becomes pregnant. The story is told on the background of train journeys on Bombay’s western railway between Virar and Churchgate, and this being the best part, shows the little politics of the women in the ladies’ compartment. I love the part when all of them in a co-ordinated move mimic the violent swaying of a compartment. Delicious! Delectable! The play is produced by Patchwork Ensemble and in the cast I espy my friend Mukul Chedda, who is a model and competent actor. He plays the role of king Ila in his male form.

Anyway, a geat time was had, though the commute to the venue proved to be a bit hectic for me, what with my health issues. 

Friday, November 06, 2015

When racial discrimination is very subtle...

All of us have faced racial discrimination in India. This is one such. In fact, I would venture to say that India is the home of racial discrimination because our culture was based on the Varna system, which is nothing but racism. So, it is no wonder that we have faced discrimination of one type or the other in the journey of our lives.

This happened long ago. A friend invited me to dinner. We had a cosy dinner at his home, with his father and mother. The father was a man of the world, so he was okay with me and my colour. But the mother, I could see had reservations, based on, I think, my colour. My friend didn’t have any such feelings as we were friends, had worked together, and seen many movies together. He was modern and had a friendly outlook to life and I liked his company.

After dinner, since it was too late, he invited me to stay over. I was reluctant. However the prospect catching a train at 11.30 p.m. in the night from the western suburb of Bombay to Chembur, where I used to live, dissuaded me. So I decided to stay. He gave a spare pair of his pyjamas to wear and a kurta. We actually didn’t sleep much that night because we were awake, cracking jokes, destroying reputations, and talking about things. I must have dozed off towards morning.

I awoke quite early wanting to board a train before the rush started. As is usual, since I go early in the morning, I used the only toilet in the house. This is a practise I have, because elimination is the first thing I do, every morning, wherever I am. This time it was urgent, too. The house was silent when I used the toilet and after using it I was careful to clean it as best as I can with water and a brush. I didn’t find a chemical, or, I would have used it, as I don’t want anyone to find the toilet dirty after me. At home, I clean my own toilet, and, usually it is rather spic and span.

A little later, the lady of the house, my friend’s mother, woke up. And she began to let out a stream of unintelligible – to me – chatter about something. She went on cackling like a disturbed hen, and it upset me. I understood that she didn’t like it that I had used her toilet. She wouldn’t stop. I found it wise to dress and leave the place.

Now, thinking it over I feel the discrimination was subtle. Should she have thrown a tantrum, since I was still in the house? Shouldn’t she have been more discreet? Why did my friend invite me stay if his mother was so finicky? I was hurt that an individual who talked to me nicely would do such a thing. They were middle class people like me, migrants from Sindh in Pakistan. From that day I stopped going to my friend’s house.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Kidnap in Crete - Rick Stroud

I read this beautifully-written novel by Rick Stroud more as a historical fiction than as a novel. It’s so full of detailed descriptions of the World War II, from such close quarters, as to make it seem as if one is a participant in the war. Thus far, the books I have read have all been non-fiction and this book is an eye-opener as far as the realities on the ground in the warring country is concerned. All those people who died, all those brave soldiers who worked so tirelessly, everything seem so authentic that one doesn’t want such a tragedy to happen ever after in this world. One advantage it gives the reader is that one is close to the action from page one, along with tantalising descriptions of all the equipment in use, the guns, the explosives, the hard work. Remember, they were not living in the present when a phone call and a text message is a possibility. For a message to get across it had to be sent with a runner, to a radio ten kilometres away, that too, over hilly terrain.

I highly recommend that you read.  

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Vidyarambham - Initiation into Knowledge - Life's Intervention

Yesterday was Vijaya Dashami and therefore Vidyarambham, or initiation into knowledge. I am penning just a few thoughts on Vidyarambham, now that it’s the season for this de rigeur ritual. In Kerala it’s a big and ceremonious thing. I remember my Vidyarambham thusly. My elder sister was put in charge of my education and she was told by my mother to teach me to write. I started with Malayalam letters, writing on rice grains spread out on the floor of our house in Kerala. Every time my sister would ask me to write, my left finger would shoot out. She would say, “not left, right hand finger, this one.” But then, being left handed, my left hand finger would shoot out. She would shout again, and then, very unlike the disciplinarian she was (still is), she would give up. She found me incorrigible and would scold me and beat me. I remember crying when the stick would descend on me. In Kerala left-handed people are considered inauspicious and my mother and sisters - being superstitious - assumed I would not come to any good in life.

But then I discovered language through reading of the New Testament gifted to me in Sunday School. I loved the songs taught in the said School. I would have it written in a small notebook and would sing them when no one was watching. This habit continues even today. Thus a small spark was lit; which became an obsession later in life. At age eight, I learnt English from Joseph-saar, who, it was said, was my father’s classmate in the English-medium school in Kozhencherry. (My father had a privileged upbringing thanks to the affluence of my grandfather.) He was a teacher I admired. He made English very simple and learning it a pleasure. Soon I had all the lessons under my command and I got good marks, too. That’s when my father noticed my proficiency in English and brought me to Bombay to continue my education. That’s how I came to Bombay for the first time, at around age nine.

And then, as they say, life intervened.