Friday, December 29, 2006

To a Reluctant Writer

I wrote this poem about reluctant writers, who desperately want to write but can't. A friend was having problems with writing, though she wanted desperately to write, so I wrote her this poem.

To a Reluctant Writer

You can pick meaning off words,
You can paint pictures;
You can laugh at them,
Who laugh at you;
You can mourn,
The follies of the unwise.


To write is power,
Of words, thoughts,
Limitless, boundless,
As the sky above and earth below;
You will never be alone,
When words churn in your mind.


You can be heartbroken,
And cry and cry;
But a poem would wipe tears,
Puts a smile on your face,
Erase the pain,
Of loneliness and love.


So won’t you write?
A letter, a poem, an essay;
We would wallow in its depths,
Smile at its humor,
Relish what pains it took you,
And forgive friendly trespasses.

Today I received this beautiful note from a total stranger, saying she has written a poem after nine years, inspired by my poem.

All I can say is "Yipeeeeeeee...."

"I wrote a poem after 9 yrs. I posted the english one on caferatti and hindi one on AKN...

"Txs for the inspirational poem on hesitant writers."

This is reward enough, thanks dear friend. Who says poems have lost their relevance? Who says literature has no meaning? Sorry, I will stop ranting now.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Shutting Themselves In - New York Times

This came via Zigzackly. The "hikimomori" are young people who shut themselves to the world, play computer games, surf the net, listen to music and generally cut themselves away from the world. Though the word is Japanese it has world-wide connotations, an off shoot of the competitive world we live in. Read Shutting Themselves In - New York Times the article that describes the phenomenon that has grave implications, yes, to the youth of today.

Not moralizing but I guess one way of bringing up children is not to put too much pressure on them to perform. I was particular that I won't force my son Ronnie into activities that he doesn't like.

Modern gizmos, computer games , musicians, cult movies, internet networks, message boards and chat rooms all have a negative sides to it if indulged in too much. The warning signs are out, better beeeewwwwaaaarrrreeeee!

My Latest Short Story

 Here's the link to my latest short story, on Christmas, this time (Link to "Christmas with Cheriachen" page). Please read and comment here or on the Caferati board.

The story is about a lonely couple who spend Christmas away from their daughters, who are in ersatz heavens (according to protagonist Cheriachen) - US and Ireland - where there is much joy and everything is free, free, free. They are in for a rude shock.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Don't Mess with Me, I Am Too Smart!

Oh, no! Blogger hasn't come out of beta, at least, for me. My blog is too big. Being claimant to the title of the "Longest Running Blogger" in the Limca Book of Indian Records, I have almost 450 posting over the past three years - that is more than some collablogs - starting from August 2003.

That makes my blog too big to be transformed in the Blogger scheme of things. So they have deferred it. Waaaaah! Instead of making my face droop, I should make my New Year resolutions.

******

There is a lot of staring in the train on the way to work. I don't like the way they stare in trains. I guess people hate each other and tempers are at the boiling over point. A man objected to another man leaning against him.

"I am only taking the support of this seat here."

"Why can't you stand straight like everyone else," this with a Telugu accent.

"If I lean on you, you would be like a football," this with a thick Malayali accent.

"I am saying why don't you stand straight and read your paper? Your paper is tickling my nose."

"Why don't you take your book away from my face. This is not your train, if you want to be comfortable take a taxi, understand this before opening your mouth."

The other man is quite and they glare some more at each other and resume their journey. A man is listening to music on a mobile phone and talking into another. A man is fiddling with his laptop. Another is chanting some mantra from a small pocket-sized book, another is koochie-kooing with his beloved. That's my daily commute.

"Hell is the other man," said Jean Paul Sartre. Yes in the first class compartment to work, it really is. It never was this way before the bombs went off. We were a nice bunch of friends, casual acquaintances who would say hello when we met outside. No more. We are rivals, enemies, staring at each other, murdering each other with our eyes, hating the man who pushes us even a little, and woe to the one who step on our toes, we go all out and demolish him.

Kilos of flesh, there are kilos of flesh, fat, overfed, tumbling from belts, packing the jaws and necklines, the stomach and the backside, flopping, flipping, in this very Indian ethos of the middle-class, wage-earning, degree-holding, software-MBA-BPO-ized humanity travelling to work and back. And they are smart and competitive as hell. "Understand this before opening your mouth," that is like a Malayali, sharp-tongued and not to be taken for granted.

It clearly says this, "Don't mess with me, I am too smart."

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Blogger is out of Beta, hurray!

So finally Blogger is out of Beta. Hurray! But I don't know until I click on the publish button after I write this post. Have patience, have patience! Gone is the longlish apostrophe going round and round that used to drive me crazy, I hope. Sometimes the screen would freeze in the middle of this and I would be at the end of my short wit.

I have tested the beta version and it had great functionalities. Much better than the pre-paleolithic monstrosity that compelled me to try various blogging softwares like Quamana and Live Writer. The thing with these softwares is that sometimes they too clam up without the usual by your leave.

Wife is away in Kerala and I am alone here, stranded during the Christmas season. For that matter I have never had a happy Christmas season, though the platitude is to have happiness and joy thrust on one measuring in oodles and oodles. Boiled my first pitcher of milk without the usual white froth spilling all over the kitchen platform, good work!

Now to testing that Beta-less Blogger!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

What I Saw At Babri Masjid By Jeff Penberthy

I stumbled accross Jeff Penberthy, Time magazine Bureau Chief's account of the felling of the Babri Masjid quite by accident (click here: What I Saw At Babri Masjid By Jeff Penberthy).

Seems the mob at Ayodhya chanted "Patrakar Murdabad" or "Death to Journalists." Innocent journalists might ask, "What wrong did we do? What role did we play?"

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Cultural Awards? It's All a Cultural Thing, Isn't It?

Cultural awards? makes me think. A post I had made on a literary network made me gloat a bit. What isn't cultural these days. We are swamped by cultural shows, dance shows, award shows, all these have the same set of beautiful culture-vulture people smiling for the crowds, that's us, the receipients of culture.

A newspapers (I think the Guardian) called the Booker Award as a cultural award. If a certain author wins the award several times over the years, it mean the award is cultural. It's so natural. When the judges sit to confer an award, they say, "Oh, so and so is excellent in this novel. The also rans lack the touch of this genius, besides it is safe and politically correct." The publishing industry minders, the leeches who live sucking blood from the system are also happy as it helps with sales. The many deserving writers, who should have won an award, or been given a break in writing, don't get a foot in the door. The ones who are queueing after them, well, forget them.

Likewise if an actor, say Shahrukh Khan win the Filmfare Best Actor award five times, then it is more a cultural award. It shows the "industry" is in awe of him, his dimples, his acting prowess, his promotional skills. Those four awards out of five could have gone to more deserving debutants. But, no, it's a cultural thing, isn't it? We have a lot of talented actors who aren't recognized. Arjun Ramphal for one. I have admired his skills for long, and he manages to hold on, but never wins an, erm, cultural award. Is it that he is a bit reluctant to cultivate the culture vultures?

This fame business, methinks, works like a conveyor belt. If the top ones don't fall from the belt the smaller ones do. If the top ones don't gracefull exit the small ones don't make an entry. So the ones on the top make every effort to stay on top, or, sort of jam the movement of the belt, and that's a cultural thing. Merit gets side tracked for popularity and visibility.

The same thing happens I guess in matters literary. Poor writers (such as the humble me) have been trying in vain to get established writers to recommend their (our) work. This is established practice. Where would RK Narayan be without Graham Greene? Where would Arundhati Roy be without Pankaj Mishra? But, no, how could they? What would people think? How can they recommend a writer who may be a dud or a future competitor when they themselves are so desperately sucking up to the system? Make it a leeetle difficult for them, or, better ignore them, they would naturally fall off the conveyor belt soon.

Ranjit Bolt, a translator of classical European theatre who lives in the UK gives another jolt to the Booker as culture discussion by the statement that being brown helps to win the Booker. More the reason to believe that the Booker is indeed a culture award. Political correctness would have it that the awards go to the previously oppressed classes, incarcerated in their color, wanting desperately to come out. But Bolt forgets that one must be brown and female to win culture awards. Aw, look at Arundhati, Jhumpa and, now, Kiran. What flawless skin, what smiles, what teeth. But that is the cribbing of an unpublished, grumpy author.

If culture is what awards are all about society is also not far behind. Kalimpong has raised the flag of revolt claiming that it has been wrongly represented by Kiran, and likewise Brick Lane. Who says novels are for woolly headed nerds? Shows that people do take novels seriously. But the culture-vultures of the genteel literary world meet in discreet eating houses in New York and New Delhi and exchange notes on who is "cool" and who is not. What styles could likely win culture awards and what styles are most likely not.

These self-appointed guardians of culture can be seen everywhere. At award shows, art shows, movie shows baring their fangs (sorry, teeth). Visibility is what they are after. And the media, ever in awe of the Page 3 culture is only too willing to oblige. Culture rules, long live culture!

Monday, December 18, 2006

More of Ronnie

He has poster boy looks hasn't he? My son, Ronnie Posted by Picasa

Christmas Carols, My Style!

Saturday was the Church's Carol service. See pictures below. The church is rather nicely done and the choir members, too, look well turned out. hmm. I was Santa's escort, but none of what I said could be captured as I was behind the camera most of the time. My fellow choir members ganged up on me and said I didn't fit any of the noises (sorry, voices, i.e., Bass, Tenor, Alto and Soprano) generated and blackballed me out of the choir. I don't blame them. I am erratic as far as choir practise is concerned, working as I do in Andheri. Not to speak of late appearance at most practise session. Serves me right! So, poor me was relegated to clicking pictures and escorting Santa around. Ho, ho, ho!

Friend Bino Oommen played Santa, and I guess we made a good pair, witty, and boisterous. Nice. I also called out the names of children Santa was to give presents to. "Lisa Tharian, please come forward, thank you, nice, say I love you Santa," and all that stuff that I normally do. It was a good evening to store in the memory and we dispersed into the night after eating cake and drinking cups of hot tea. It wasn't cold, in fact, a bit hot. So I had to take off my sweater and give it to Mercy to hold. A lot more programs, including house-to-house singing, Christmas service are to come in this season to be jolly, tra-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Joel on Software, and the Kurla Foot Overbridge

See what Joel Spolsky has to say on elegance in software design in this article (Link to Joel on Software). Have always been a great admirer of his. The style is lucid, the witticisms makes my stomach wiggle (so much the better to control the paunch!).

Today,  I have shot a great video of the Kurla railway station foot overbridge (FOB). The act was very risky. I could be beaten up by someone who may have had a bad night because of a drinking problem, or a fight with girlfriend or wife; or I could have lost my expensive (by my standards) Nikon Coolpix L3 camera; I could have been trampled in the crowd in the process; I could have been stared at and abused, with choice Bambaiya invectives.

Mercifully, none of these happened. Thank god!

You will see what commuting in Bombay is all about, and what people such as me go through in the craze to get to their work place. The city is exploding with people, they are everywhere, on top of trains, hanging to windows, balancing in between two bogies. Dangerous, I know, but we lead dangerous lives.

Hope to post it here soon, so watch out people.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Laughing Gas

She is ahead of him in the crowd. She is wearing the shortest of kurtas and a churidar that is so tight the buns of her behind form a perfect round football-ish sphere in red. The skin is so fair it is almost golden ("The golden girls" is the name he has coined for her type. They seem to have stepped right out of a golden chariot driven by Eros himself), the profile of the face is even and so well formed that water would glide from her forehead and touch only her nose and would slither further down and only touch the fronts of her breasts. She is wearing heels and the sleeveless yellow kurta only covers up to her waist. Aaah, he groans.

Adrenaline pumps. Nitrous oxide, or, laughing gas releases into his scrotal region, dilating the blood vessels, so that more blood pumps into his sexual organs. He had read in medical school that the reason for an erection is quite simply, nitrous oxide, or, laughing gas. Ha... ha... ha....

He remembers the texts he had read in physiology. "Mechanically erection can be compared to an electromechanically controlled hydraulic system. The most important roles in the phase of erection are played by nitrous oxide and vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP)." So the sexual process is nothing but a release of laughing gas, the physician concludes. He as a doctor knows.

He... he... he....

But the exquisiteness of the human being in front of him is what he cannot understand though he has closely examined many of them in the hospital. But then there he is a physician, but here? What's wrong with him? Has he forgotten medical ethics?

He feels an urge to talk to her, but she doesn't look at anyone. She is inhabiting a world presided by the deity Eros, lost in some sweet memory of someone. A man? A woman? That someone is very lucky to at least know her. Of course, she would like to meet and talk to a post-graduate physician such as him.

Model? No. Airhostess? No. Office worker? Could be.

He was sure the work in the mundane and drab office in some congested lane in Andheri would grind to a halt today. Everyone would be staring lustily at her buns, her slow lilting walk, her silky black hair. Could he talk to her.

From what he could see from behind, as he slowly inches forward on the Kurla railway bridge is a soft cheek, and a bit of down around the ear. The slow-moving crowd has come to the end of the bridge and is slowly descending the steps to the west of Kurla. He is careful to keep right behind her, and it's easy because on both sides are slowly inching office goers clutch their rexine bags.

May be, at the exit when there is some more space he can walk ahead and introduce himself with a killer pick-up line. Something like, "Hey beautiful, it's a sunny day, can we make it funny?" No, that won't do. It has to be a lot better than that.

The crowd has moved glacially to the end of the stairs and is dispersing now. The slow crawl has come to an end. Now is his chance. he walks ahead. His heart thudding he prepares to turn around, he does.

"Hi! Darling! Goodu Maarrniinnggguu!"

He could have killed that man, the boor! He feels rage. Some men are so crude. This Road Romeo is dressed in cheap jeans, has his cowlick falling over his eyes, and has a hundred bursting pimples on his scarred face.

He walks ahead, glances back at her one last time. He freezes.

She has earplugs on! She is listening to music. There's no way she could have heard either him or the Road Romeo. He heaves a sigh, then groans, and then laughs ha... ha... ha.... After all, it's only laughing gas.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Get Well Soon, Felix!

Ganga called today to tell me that Felix is in depression. He has had this problem for a long time, and we friends had been trying to cheer him up.

For the uninitiated Felix, Ganga, yours truly, Sanjeevan, Ajit, Geetha, Sarasa, Chandran, Anil, Murli, Vinod all studied in Adarsha Vidyalaya in Chembur, back in 1973, when most readers of this blog weren't born. I took the initiative to bring my school friends together and organized a meeting, which is taking place regularly now, sort of a support group. When Chandran had to undergo an operation all of us helped with blood donations, and whatever we could.

Felix was one of the stars in school. He was the red house captain, while I was the Green house captain and Ganga was the yellow house captain. We were rivals then and are good friends now. He was good in studies, in sports he was excellent, he had a great marksmanship which he used to win marbles by the hundreds. God, how I envied his talents! He got a great job with a multinational and all was well for some time.

But things started going wrong suddenly and he became depressive and suicidal. The problem is excessive doubting of everone around him, including his wife. I know this is a very troubling malady and there have been books written, movies made (Aap Ki Kasam), studies done about it. But still if doubt enters the mind (as it did in St. Thomas' mind), then a man is slowly consumed by doubt, becomes depressed.

Anyway, we friends are going to Felix's house this evening to see if we can sort things out. He listens to us, especially Ganga, with whom he shares a special relationship.

Queer turns life takes! Felix Thomas, don't worry you will be okay. We friends are there to take care of you.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Children of the Genetic Code

Again on a Saturday a few thoughts as I sit here in my Boxer shorts, having got the Saturdays off I can now have a weekend. See my latest story and the reactions it received from Caferati.

Working in a stream allied to pharmacogenomics is interesting. The other day I was explaining genomics to a friend, who is a programmer.

"See, all human being has genetic codes embedded in their various secretions and they have found that hereditory illnesses, color of hair and eyes, all are related to the absence of presence of certain codes."

"Like in a computer program. There are codes and if I change a code here, the whole appearance of the output changes."

"Well, you can say that. They have also established that if a disease is under control, or, is cured it reflects immediately in the genetic code."

"Fascinating isn't it?"

"Yes, that means we are all dependent on codes, aren't we?"

We both laughed.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Inimitable Charu Hasan


This is my reply to my friend Charu Hasan's article in Caferati. Sorry, this article was written by a friend of Charu Hasan, which he reproduced in Caferati - The Writer's Network.

Interestingly here is an rare and old picture of Charu Hasan's wife, his daughter Nandhini and Kamal Hasan. Yes, the brooding guy with the handsome face is Kamal Hasan, I guess, he was handsome even as a child. Child handsome? anyone?

"This is awfully good. We all are in search of the elixir, the pill, that would give us the talents to write. In fact, nobody realizes that there is no quick fixes to good writing. In fact, every writer struggles with words even though he may be a published, nobel-winning writer.

"When can I get this into people's minds?

"At the place where I have worked they wanted instant writing done within hours, and didn't want to pay for it too. They think a writer can put fingers to keyboard and come out with stunning copy in seconds. How wrong they are.

"Those women who want to write have ideas, but no skills. But Ideas aren't writing skills. Ideas have to travel from the brain through neurons, down the spine, down the chest where it takes a ninety degree turn, down the forearm, down the wrists to the fingers. It is such a long journey and anything can go wrong in this process.

"Sorry for meandering but this thought occurred to me when I was reading your article, sorry, your friend's article."

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Train Crossing

There’s a train,
On the other tracks,
Coming towards me, in rain,
On life’s twin tracks.

A station, shrouded in mist,
I pause, I am uncertain,
If I should stop there, rest,
Before the train passes, in rain.

Look, that train is so heavy,
Lots of baggage, people,
It trundles slowly, ponderously,
Seems its engine has trouble.

Will that train pass me?
Will it slow down, slight?
Or, will it crash into me?
Or, halt at the red light.

I remember similar trains,
In a whirl of memories, tears,
They have passed, it's certain,
This too shall pass, ere mist clears.

As the sun also rises,
So, the moon will also rise,
Trains pass each other in the night,
This train, too, shall pass into daylight.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Nigerian Money Scam Claims High-profile Indian

Along comes news that Manubhai Shah of Consumer Education and Research Center (CERC) has been sacked for his invovement in the Nigerian money scam. I feel sad.

When I was Executive Secretary of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) I had depended a lot on CERC to prove the validity of claims made by advertisements. If, for example, a company claims, in their advertisement, that their fairness cream can whiten (actually I haven't tested this on me, dark as I am) skin in a week, and if a complaint was logdged with ASCI, the complaints committee used send the product for verification to CERC.

Now CERC founded by Manubhai Shah was, and I suppose still is, impartial and turns in a dependable verdict from their laboratories after testing the claim. It was trusted by a lot of organizations and in some case even by the government.

Anyone familiar with the Internet knows what the Nigeria money scam is. A rich Nigerian has died without a will and his lawyer or widow needs someone to transfer the money running in millions of dollars. They need you to only pay around Rs 50 lakhs to claim what would be $ 5 million. Greedily, you take out the calculator and calculate, as I am doing now! Whoa! Rs 22 crores for nothing.

My inbox is flooded daily by these emails which I know is a scam from the very language used. The following is such a scam letter from one supposedly Anita Jone-Moktar that I fished out from my deleted files just now:

"I do recognised the surprise this letter will bring to you, most especially as it comes from a stranger. I am Anita Jones-Moktar. We are from Sao Tome. I am married to Dr. Mohammad Moktar who was a wealthy cocoa merchant in Ivory Coast for years before he died in the year 2004. We were married for eleven years without a child. He died after a brief illness that lasted for only two weeks. Before his death we were both faithful Muslim. Since his death I decided not to remarry or get a child outside my matrimonial home which the holly Quaran is against. When my late husband was alive he deposited the sum of  $4.8Million U.S. Dollars) with the securitycompany here in Abidjan Presently, the fund is still with the security company. Recently, my Doctor told me that I have serious sickness which is cancer problem. The one that disturbs me most is my stroke sickness."

So since Anita wanted to get married again and suddenly finds that she is dying she wants to give me this $ 4.8 million only if I give her the processing fees of around $ 100,000 which would be around Rs 45 lakhs. Nicely put. Do you believe it? I believed a similar scam sometime ago and landed up in a nicely created mess that has me and a certain other person fuming even now. Leave that unmentionable incident alone. I was too immature and new to the ways of the wired world.

This Anita Jones-Moktar would turn around after receiving the money and disappear. But some people unused to the ways of the Internet are vulnerable, yes, even Manubhai Shah. Why, if I have, you could be the next one, so beware.

Manubhai Shah, the doyen of the consumer movement in India, the once championed icon, fell for this trap and gave the agent Rs 32 lakhs from CERC's money and around Rs 10 lakhs of his own. He even borrowed money from well wishers in the US of A to pay these scamsters. He was soon discovered and had to resign from the chairmanship of the organization he himself founded, and is being investigated for fraud.

Tough luck, Manubhai Shah!

Poison Woman

She's a tease,
She's the queen of trash,
Of baubles and all things tawdry,
She's the talk of cocktail circuits,
Fashion shows, book launches, and art openings.

She is poison,
Beware, her tongue drips lies and poison.

She can't hold her tongue,
Doesn't know what tact is,
She will make you feel,
Wonderfully naive with her words,
And then suddenly drop you!

She is poison,
Beware, her tongue drips lies and poison.

Don't trust her,
Or fall for her charms,
She can suck you dry,
And then leave you a shell
Of your ribs, to rot in your grave.

She is poison,
Beware, her tongue drips lies and poison.

Man, didn't I tell you,
Keep away, safe distance,
She's too smart for you,
Mamma's boy, she can make you,
Dance to her selfish beats.

She is poison,
Beware, her tongue drips lies and poison.

She walks with affected grace,
She wears platform heels,
The make-up she wears is really a mask,
But her eyes are like poison darts,
To shoot you down, boy.

She is poison,
Beware, her tongue drips lies and poison.

(With apologies to Elton John's "Slow Down Georgie (She's Poison)"

My Brown Patented Shoes!

Today lights went off at 7 a.m. Got up did fifteen minutes of yoga, shaved and bathed in the dark, couldn't see what I was going to wear, so, got mismatched clothes on - peach green cotton shirt and blue trousers. But what got me excited was the idea of wearing my new Bata patented leather shoes bought on Friday for Rs 2000, Rs 1999, to be exact.

I guess, they have this Indian aversion for round figures (except of the feminine variety!) and it is always Rs 2001 or Rs 1999. Rs 2000 is like a bad omen. I think I am an eyesore around the office in my mismatched peach green and blue trousers. But I check my shoes, oh, they just shine.

I guess there is no dress code in outsourcing companies. If there is, then it is universally ignored. But I stick to my self-created dress rules. Our software development guys come in crumpled, loud-checked shirts, and dusty and torn loafers. Those guys don't know, and don't even wish to know about power dressing. I can't help them.

I remember the words of Shashi Kapoor which is still emblazoned in my mind after all these years, "Dress well, and doors will open for you." And Shashi Kapoor was the ideal male metrosexual even before the term was coined. Women would faint in theatres showing his movies!

Bata shoes are something I indulge because my last pair of Bata shoes lasted me two years, and was in a bad state. The sole had a hole in it, and the side was beginning to tear. This one is Hush Puppies and is made of patented leather, or, so the salesman told me. "This is specially crafted for people who wear shoes the whole day, and need that extra comfort," the salesman added.

Mmmmmmm (that's her online identity), an online friend, says that women always look at man's shoes. I guess she's right. They do. I always polish my shoes, and as a rule, don't like dirty, dust-caked shoes. It shows a sloppy attitude.

Ahem.

Mmmmmm says, "A man would wear the best of clothes, and give no thought to how bad his shoes look." How very true! Shows man's Male Chauvinism. But are our roads, sidewalks, public places made for patented leather shoes? Most of it is stones, large aggregate, garbage, and spit.  I found myself muttering, "Please don't step on my shoes, for heaven's sake," when I was getting down at Kurla today. I am that paranoid about my new shoes.

But I know they will do it the first time, and the clumsy, bulky guy with a big plastic suitcase did that immediately, as if sensing my thoughts. I gave him the dirtiest look I have ever given anyone in my forty-eight years. And imagine, after this, as I got down from the train at Kurla I stepped into a gob of green, gooey, spit.

Yeeeecccchhh! I wanted to scream. But that isn't very appropriate on a Monday morning on the way to work, spoils the entire day. I rub and rub the soles against the concrete to rid me of the ugly mess sticking to my feet, and feel so sorry for my shoes.

When I narrate this to a friend in the office, he smirks. After all these software developer guys are crude and rough, these geeks, they won't understand. But this one forms complete sentences and is so bookish, he looks like an open book with the pages resembling his unruly, stand-on-end, moppy hair.

"How do you like my shoes?" I ask him hoping for a compliment.

"How much do they cost?"

"Rs. 1999," I feel a bit triumphant.

"Why such expensive shoes? Shoes are meant to be worn on the feet, aren't they?" Typical Hindi-film dialogue, "Jootey kitni bhi mehengi ho, woh pairon par hi pehna jata hai." Sorry, my Hindi isn't perfect.

"Is that why you are wearing those tattered shoes of yours?"

"What else? Why waste money? This pair is five years old. I only change my shoes once in five to six years. Shoes are after all shoes."

Mmmmmm, here's the guy you are looking for, give him a piece of your mind will you? This specimen of Male Chauvinism. I guess he is also the type who would buy cheap quality undergarments and spend the whole day adjusting his crotch.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Face It, Always Face It, That's the Way to Get through. Face It!

"Facing it, always facing it, that's the way to get through. Face it." — Joseph Conrad.

My god, my god, what a quote, what a quote. I read this and something in my head went, "Boom." Just when I was feeling like hanging my head and stepping sideways, and letting life pass on by, comes this quote from the author of Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness. Feeling a bit down and despondent. Guess, it will go away. Somethings do not happen the way we want it to.

A relation happened to be coming from the US and I had asked him to bring a gadget along, thinking it would be cheap, easy to pick up there. I said I would reimburse them. Today they came and went, empty handed, and didn't even mention the gadget in passing. Well, relations are relations, and selfish at that. They probably were embarassed to take money from me, or, as the the young generation is fond of saying, "whatever."

I am going to write this a thousand times if need be. I am going to face it, always face it, that's the way to get through. Face it.

The Riot of Idolators

Mobs go on rampage because a leader's statue was allegedly desecrated, elected parliamentarians go on a destruction spree in the legislature of a state. Familiar? Yes, all too familiar.

But when it happens on the same day as it did when a Babasaheb Ambedkar's statue was abused by vandals in Kanpur and Mamta Banerji's followers ransacked the legislature in West Bengal because she was arrested, I must, um, clean my glasses to see if I am reading right. Perhaps, my news addled mind is imagining things, am I Mamtadidi?

This hold of collective ransom, this destroying of public property in anger,  this disruption of normal life should be taken seriously. The Kerala high court had decreed that Bandhs were illegal and bandh callers could be fined. But in which state was it enforced and the fine collected? I guess, parties not paying the fines shouldn't be allowed to compete in the elections. This retaliatory vandalism because of perceived offense to leaders is taking things too far. Isn't it? For heaven's sake we aren't a tinpot regime, at least not yet.

But I do think inflation and economic disparities are creating frustation among the people. The anger and violence had to be seen to be believed. Even a small group of angry individuals is enough to hijack an entire nation, and cause losses worth ten thousand million rupees.

Who is to blame? The modern glass and chrome call centers and oursourcing companies, the organized but enslaving private companies or the corrupt political class?

Friday, December 01, 2006

There's a Riot Going on in My City of Bombay!

"There's a riot going on in Bombay."

"What? Another? Oh, God! No, Not another! " wife says. I just spoke to her so matter-of-factly that she first thought I was calling up to say I would be late at work.

Hm. Read the gory details here. I think they should rename Bombay as the Riot City, would be nice. This time five compartments of the grand old lady known as the "Deccan Queen" that plies between Pune and Bombay was burnt, shops have been ransacked, 91 buses damaged, and two youths killed.

I shouldn't mention this here, but I guess the militia culture has arrived in India. Our cities, towns and villages are vulnerabe to small gangs of disgrunted men led by a ruthless leader who can hold the majority to ransom.

Well, I got to go home early, or I will get caught in their petty quarrel, so bye, and as our priest says at the end of the church service, "Let's depart in peace."

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Two Gaffes and an Improbability

I am dying, choking, sputtering as I write this. I must get this out. So here goes, wheee!

Two most ridiculous things that happened in the rarified echelons of power recently. Well, people in rarified atmospheres do commit gaffes because they are there, and we are here. Sounds to me like Bush's gaffes which you can read here.

Gaffe number one: Ram Jethmalani claiming another man killed Jessica Lall, a mysterious, probably dark-hood-wearing, Mr. X. I am choking and sputtering as I write this and don't know how to get this out of my way. Hm, uh, mysterious Mr. X may have killed Jessica Lall, but as a lawyer did you hijack the investigation from the police, or, are you only defending your client? Goodness gracious!

Gaffe number two: After the Sharad Pawar episode, this one is a a gaffe of gargantuan, godzilla-sized proportions. The honorable members of the parliament wants Chappel out because, he... he..., ha... ha..., haw... haw..., he apparently batted probably as the thirteenth man and scored a duck and, he... he..., dropped many catches, and gave away many runs, ha... ha.... Poor chap(pel), he is only a coach for providence sake.

Imagine our lawmakers taking cricket so seriously. Don't they have better things to attend to? Like for example the frightening state of electric power in most states of the country, the skewed sex ratios in most states in North India, the water problem, the flooding problem, etc.

Why do we take cricket so seriously? I was lunching out with a group of Malayalis on Sunday and the game was playing on television. Now, these fellow Malayalis have never held a bat or a ball, or, even been within touching distance of it in their lives and they were discussing the batting order as if they were Mister Chappel himself.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

TechGoss.com

Here's a site (Link to TechGoss.com ) for BPO/KPO/ITES worms such as yours truly. The articles seem prosaic. But this article on bloggers making $ 30,000 to $ 40,000 from Google adsense had me sitting up and taking note. I am still salivating, Pavlov salivating dog fashion, no jokes.

If I could earn that kind of money from this blog, or, this site I guess I could retire here.

Monday, November 27, 2006

We're all Indians now | Magazine | The Observer

Read this, um, perceptive article (Link to We're all Indians now | Magazine | The Observer) in the Guardian by Sidhartha Deb, full of delightful statistics comparing  India to China. Siddhartha Deb, born in 1970 in northeastern India, has worked as a journalist in Kolkata and Delhi, has an MPhil in comparative literature from Columbia University, and is currently writer-in-residence at the New School for Social Research in New York. His novels include The Point of Return and Surface. Courtesy: Guardian.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Mundu-wearers in the Capital

Now that AK Antony is defense minister of India, it reminds me of the time another mundu-wearer was the defense minister - VK Krishna Menon. I am a ardent fan of VKKM and had during my college days participated in many essay competitions in which I wrote glowingly about this son of Kerala. A ruggedly handsome and hardworking man he holds the record for the longest speech delivered in the United Nations, lasting about eight hours.

Though born into a rich family Menon led a frugal life; he is believed to have survived on coffee and biscuits on busy workdays. AK Antony is also a frugal, soft-spoken and honest man. So a lot is expected of him, as defense minister. Antony has powerful friends in Delhi and hope this will help him survive the shifty-as-sand political climate there.

Hm, be it VK or AK, Kerala politicians are yet to make a mark on the capital. But it is foreign services where Malayalis have traditionally shone. Now that Shiv Shankar Menon - no mundu wearer this - is foreign secretary, Malayalis are the envy of the Delhi political circuit. Shiv Shankar Menon is the grandson of KPS Menon, also foreign secretary, whose memoirs is eminently readable and the work of a talented writer. Hope Shiv Shankar Menon also writes his memoirs, just as his dignified and talented grandfather did.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Mack English

My post on Mack English is drawing rave comments on Caferati. Do take a look and comment, if it inspires you. No offense to any one, or any community, as I am a humble Mack English speaker myself, men.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Commuting Blues, and Reds, and Greens...

Today was bad. I mean the commuting. To begin with the basics. I was commuting by train only three years back to Victoria Terminus and to my office in Colaba. Those days the first class compartment used to be a comfortable way of travel, I had a group of friends - Shukla, Iyer, Murali, Shashi, Damodaran, and occasionally Henry - and travel would be a lazy, light-hearted bantering experience. We had enough space to sit comfortably and travel.

But they all have gone their separate ways. I meet Shashi, Murali these days but they have changed, no longer talk, only smile at me from between all those strange hulking bodies. The compartment is so thickly populated that I can't hold a book in front of me. I am reading friend CP Surendran's An Iron Havest and I couldn't see the page in front of me. There were two hulking bodies in front pinning me to a wire partition, not letting me move to turn a page over.

Where did these people come from? Where are they going? All of them have big bulging bags that now fill the rack above. And all of them look unfriendly, staring ahead of them as if they were in a race to finish with me. I know new technologies have opened up a lot of jobs of the outsourced variety around Andheri, Bandra-Kurla, and Lower Parel, which were, at one time, down market and grimy places compared to the tony Colaba and Nariman Point.

The progress of business from South Bombay to Central Bombay was insidious and today I work in Andheri, a place I would never have imagined working (snoberry, I guess, having worked in Colaba and South Bombay all my life). How one eats humble pie.

Oh, one more thing, my co-commuters all are very engrossed: be it  abook, a mobile phone, newspaper, thick computer manual, and, wait a minute, novels, yes, novels. I guess these are the guys who read novels, and post those nasty but learned comments on literary forums like Caferati and Shakespeare and Company. Yes, I know where the suppressed and subdued angst in their prose comes from: from right here in this churning of flesh. Oh!, if only I could get published and see my novel in one of those hands!

It's a miracle I got down at Kurla station. Then the bridge to the west of the station is so crowded that I can only see a series of heads progressing like a wave towards the top.

Silver Lining: Yesterday I had 70 hits on this blog and that is some good news, would keep me blogging I guess. Thank you visitors, do keep coming for more. I love you all.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

iPod nano

Always been a great sucker for gadgets, so, hm, here's a quick review of the iPod nano. The iPod nano has replaced the iPod shuffle for audio listening, it's tiny, the screen is great, it has all the things one would like about the iPod photo, but in an impossibly compact size and shape.

Source: MAKE: Blog: iPod nano

The Ziegarnik Effect

The soap opera is playing on television, the tension mounts, grips you, you are on the edge of the seat, or, couch, hanging on to each word spoken by the characters... what is going to happen? what? and then the soap ends. Familiar? Yes, this is a most usual scenario we face every evening on the idiot box, that every ardent follower of saas-bahu (mother-in-law-daughter-in-law episodes) are familiar with. But what is this called, this sudden building up of tension, this sudden withdrawal, this teasing of the senses?

In advertising there are teaser campaigns. Day after day an advert appears on a scheduled page with some sort of teasing line, which doesn't disclose what the product is, or, who is advertising. The tension builds, you are in the nail-biting stage of curiosity, progressing inexorably towards incurable dementia, when the final advert appears. Aaaah! Seems like it is a condom/restaurant/newspaper launch advert. Also, seemingly, it is a game, which it is.

The game, or rather the effect is called the Ziegarnik effect and is the bread-butter-and ghee of those sultans of the soap box. It was first invented, or, formulated, or, whatever you may call it, by a Russian by the name of Bluma Ziegarnik while she was sitting in a Viennese cafe in the nineteen twenties. While waiting for her order to be fulfilled, she did a bit of scouting around and found that the waiters remembered the unfulfilled orders well, while they completely forgot the orders they had served.

Come to think of it, we all do that, don't we? I mean, give only teasers and then wait for the tension, the finale to build up? We see the cute newscaster on television saying prissily, "When we are back we will show you how a five-year-old boy survived in a pit of vipers with only his wits around him." And then comes all the boring adverts and you are waiting, waiting to see how the boy survived. And after that you wonder, "Damn, what was all the fuss about?"

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri - A Review

I have just finished wading through “The Namesake” written by Jhumpa Lahiri. “Wading” is the word I use because, though Lahiri is an engaging writer, she fills her novel with too many details, over which I stumble, ponder, wonder (hmm, now why would she have had to say that?), genuflect, and then straighten myself. Her paragraphs are uniformly half a page and in that, too, these inconsequential details of everyday life, some cultural vestiges lie around like stumbling blocks.

I am constrained to mention this here because the flow is hampered, I lose track, and finishing the book was a great effort. I don’t like to be exhausted reading a book; I like to be entertained. I guess this applies to most writers of the Diaspora and, our own homegrown variety. We are so much anxious to impress with our knowledge and our articulation that we overdo it, consistently, constantly.

Now, I may be veering into the rant mode but this is something Lahiri does through this excellent novel. If you are through the first hundred pages, it becomes a little better. You can safely ignore the details and go ahead, come what may. But getting over the first hundred pages is the toughest part. When Lahiri describes each item in a house, or, a rented hotel room, you have no alternative but to sit up and cry, “Whoa! She is so perceptive, she gives me a complex.” Yes, she does, to all pretenders, such as I, who think they can write. But one also thinks, “There she goes, why would she include all that? Is it significant, a leit motif, for the rest of the story?” But disappointingly it isn’t.

It’s the story of Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli. Ashoke is told to leave the country by a man he meets during a train journey. The train in which he is traveling is derailed in the night and the compartments are smashed and thrown off the rails. Ashoke is injured in the accident but has a providential escape because he happens to be clutching a novel written by Nikolai Gogol which he was reading at the time of the mishap. So, obviously, Nikolai Gogol has a prominent part to play in Ashoke’s survival and he names his first-born Gogol, probably to record his thanks to the Russian story teller.

He immigrates to the United States with Ashima, gets a job raises a family of two. Gogol and Sonia are the two children he raises the Indian, sorry, Bengali way, protectively, always apprehensive, always paranoid about security. The children are happy-go-lucky American kids and they do not know from where their parents’ fear comes from. (They do not know that the fear originates from India where anything left untended is summarily snatched away, or vandalized.)

But Gogol resents being named thus, and is not flattered by his Russian name, that too of a writer thought to be a maniacal genius. He militates against his father’s choice of nomenclature. He has his name changed to Nikhil but the original name sticks to him like a ghost from the past, and haunts him. The teaching of Gogol’s writings in school is a big embarrassment to him, and he cowers from any association with Gogol, the writer.

Ashoke and Ashima does a heroic job of raising a family, protecting a culture in an alien land, in which they are recently emigrated strangers. They have a very close-knit community of Bengali friends in the US and their interaction is restricted to this group who meet for weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and other social dos. The urge is very strong among migrants to maintain their cultural identity when they are in an alien land, and Ashoke and Ashima would like to pass on their Indian-ness to their children.

But the children are drawn towards the mainstream White culture. Gogol has affairs with white girls/women and nearly marries one much against the wishes of his parents. The Indian girl he marries eventually, through the persuasion of his mother Ashima jilts him for a Russian. Sonia marries a white man, and therefore Ashoke’s and Ashima’s dream of propagating the culture they have so assiduously cultivated in an alien land collapses. So, in that sense, the emigrant’s strict phobias seems trivial and unfounded.

The most poignant part of the novel is the sudden and unannounced death of Ashoke. Now, this is the best part of the novel. It is narrated in such deadpan prose that it rings so true, so authentic and life-like. Death is the most unexpected of visitors. The reader is shocked beyond disbelief, and can understand the emotional turmoil that Ashima, and her children Gogol and Sonia go through at this juncture. It is to Lahiri’s credit that she has handled this evolving drama pretty well.

Gogol falls in love with Moushumi, the girl his mother has picked for him, and who is trying to get over a broken engagement with her White boyfriend. They marry, and for sometime all is hunky dory. This section of the novel is well handled and the reader is shocked that Moushumi would go off with another man, a Russian professor, leaving poor Gogol. But that is life, and that is literature, so authentic as to be stupefying. Lahiri handles these passages really well, one is awed how naturally it happens, and how her story lends the incident so much life-like uncertainty. This is Lahiri at her best, delivering a deadly punch in the narrative when the reader least expects it. This is as shocking, or, was as shocking to me, as was Ashoke’s death.

The novel is a chiaroscuro of images, experiences, some sad, some elevating, all written in the author’s perspicacious style, with much detailing. Much as I had enjoyed “The Interpreter of Maladies” I relished this one that promises to be a watermark in the annals of literature produced by the Diaspora.

Heard on a bus to Kurla

This is what I heard while travelling to Kurla from Andheri on bus. A perfect example of Bombay's Mack English (Mack English is the one spoken by Goans, East Indians and Anglo Indians in Bombay. Parsis speak a variation of Mack English which should probably, hm, be called Pack English).

"Then whaddappen, no?, I told him not to do this that, and he says, it's all urgent, no?, like that, like that."

"Yeah, I told him only, don't do it, but he wont' listen only, no?"

When I am with Macks I do talk their English, I do confess. Now, some people mistake Mack English for the real English English and sometimes go to ridiculous extents to copy the style and intonation.

"What men [don't say man, it's always "men"], not to be seen only these days, no?"

"What men, you are the big man, carrying big bag, executive-bixicutive, forgetting poor, khadka, single phasli, like myself, no?"

"Hey what men, khali fokat, don't take panga with me, eh?"

"What you will do? This your dada's property, or what? Big man, coming, coming."

"Hey men, joking only, men."

"I know men."

Both laugh.

"I know your are good at making fun of myself, no?, too bad men."

"Whaaat men? simply teasing, teasing."

"Arre, I went to ask that bar fellow no? that baldy, he won't give me quarter only, men. He *$#@ said he wants fifty rupees, no? I say mother****ing devil, I will **** your arse."

"Then what he did?"

"Silent, men. Like that only. Shut him up only."

So went the conversation. Most of the above is my own invention, but serves to illustrate the way Mack English is spoken.  Here's a song I have written to Mack English:

Mack English

Mack English is spoken,
Though it is at times broken,
In Bombay and in Girgaon,
In Goa and in Konkan.

Grammar we know none,
Speaking Mack is fun,
We talk like this only,
For we are like this only.

Father forgive don't hate,
Mass and confession can wait,
It's feni and fish we crave,
Before the call of the grave.

Johnny play the bongo,
Michael sing the Fado,
Together we will dance,
And Rosy we will romance.

Fado is a Portuguese song.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Why I Don't Like Hritik So Much

I am sitting here and wondering why I don't like Hritik Roshan so much as Sharukh Khan. Hritik tries to much, just too much for my liking. He is a nice looking bloke, muscular and all that, but sometimes when I look at him on screen, I have this feeling he should go a bit slow, no linger a bit over his lines, may be, pace his delivery.

But Sharukh Khan can pace himself, make all those endearing dimples dance, seem a bit self-deprecatory, laugh at himself for a fleeting nano second, and he the quintessential Hindi film hero. That's why he is the best we have around.

Another actor I fancy is Saif Ali Khan, no, not just because I met him. Yes, I met him once at Jehangir Art Gallery and he was polite enough to give me an authograph which I still treasure. He has the best, and most natural acting style we have in Bollywood, but his voice modulation needs working on. His voice is a good bass one but needs to explore a bit of tenor and alto too, which are the singing voices in a chorus.

Speaking of singing voices the church choir - of which I am a member - found that I am neither soprano, nor alto, nor tenor, nor bass and banished me from their carol chorus singing group. Well, zilch to them. I am sure they will end up a sorry mess, and miss my strong tenor, sorry, bass, sorry alto. Soprano, I can't, and never will be. Sigh!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Notes of a Nag and a Roisterer

Came across this NY Times article about Germaine Greer's The Madwoman's Underclothes from Annie's blog

Quote

Germaine Greer has never truly been a writer. Her spirit has illuminated her written word as if the very act of expressing herself were but a brief, rushed gathering-up of her living. She is, perhaps, one of the marvelous letter writers of an age that no longer trifles with them much. Her essays, columns and books - transcripts as they are of a heroic heart and intellect - seem to have been dashed off in the fire and dispatched to her many sisters. Feminism as a literary family.

Unquote

"Dashed off in the fire and dispatched to her many sisters" and "Feminism as a literary family," I like that.

To read more click here: Notes of a Nag and a Roisterer (NY Times needs registration)

Heard on a bus to Kurla

This is what I heard while travelling from Kurla from Andheri from work. A perfect example of Bombay's Mack English (Mack English is the English spoken by Goans, East Indians and Anglo Indians in Bombay).

"Then whaddappen, no?, I told him not to do this that, and he says, it's all urgent, no?, like that, like that."

"Yeah, I told him only, don't do it, but he wont' listen only, no?"

When I am with Macks I do talk their English, I do confess.

"What men [don't say man, it's always "men"], not to be seen only these days, no?"

"What men, you are the big man, carrying big bag, executive-bixicutive, forgetting poor, khadka, single phasli, like myself, no?"

"Hey what men, khali fokat, don't take panga with me, eh?"

"What you will do? This your dada's property, or what? Big man, coming, coming."

"Hey men, joking only, men."

"I know men."

Both of them laugh.

Road Rage Bombay and Dilli Ishtyle

Here's the difference between driving in Bombay and Dilli. In both cities road rage prevails. Both cities believe in aggressive driving, the kind of aggression that scares me, makes me cower in my seat.

On a recent trip to Delhi I was being drropped from my hotel to the airport and on the way another driver yelled at my driver in Punjabi and my driver yelled back. I didn't understand, so I asked him what he had said.

He said, "He was asking where I have learnt driving."

"And what did you reply?"

"Stop, I will show you where I learnt driving."

On the same trip, I was being dropped from the airport to my place in CBD Belapur and a motor cyclist overtook us and threatened thusly:

"Mother******, Sister******, Pimp, who taught you driving?"

My driver, may be in his early twenties, didn't respond, preferring to ignore the threats. The threats were the same, the same youngsters, the same rage.

Hmmm, some random thoughts after I read this article about how rash teenage drivers killed seven laborers who were sleeping on the road side in Bandra.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Dom Moraes' "Sailing to England"

Friend Max Babi reproduced a poem "Sailing to England" written by Dom Moraes on Caferati. Reminded me that I have written a short biographical sketch of the famous poet in this blogpost on this blog.

Dom Moraes' biographical sketch is here if you are interested.  

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The First Day of Winter

Today I felt the first chill of winter. Am trying to write a poem about it. The hills of Artist Village (where I live) are blue, the hazy blue that makes me want to go somewhere where it is very cold. Didn't go to work today, as I got up groggy from a stomach ailment that made me wish for the comfort of my bed all the way from office.

Afternoon was so pleasant, neither hot nor cold, the sun on my eyes so mild that I could look at the hills without shielding my eyes. I noticed several thing. One that the gulmohurs that fringe Artist Village (they were planted after I came to live here) have grown so high that it forms a canopy around the entrance to the village and the dappled sun falls on the road, making little patches of sun.

Two, the sights that I miss when I am away working, there are children waiting to go to school, and I remember when Ronnie was that age and was taken to school by an autorickshaw. He is in engineering college now.

Three, that the cobbler is taking a long time stitching a rent in my leather bag, and that I can't blame him, he sits here on this crossroad all day. But, then I am enjoying the view, the promise of blissfulness.

I guess that's all for today!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Sigh of Relief for Battered Women

At last battered women can breathe a sigh of relief. The government's rules for "Protection of Women from Domestic Violence" has been enacted and gives powers to women who are in exploitative relationships.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development has put up this .pdf document of the gazette notification detailing the rules, a bit shabby, but what else do you expect from the "Gorment?" The English section appears after the Hindi section.

Hope domestic bliss prevails!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Apathy or indifference? Why are we like this only?

I don't know if its apathy, carelessness, or a "what do I care attitude." High technology companies do not bother a bit about how the roads are laid out outside their compounds. I work in a high-tech business area in Andheri East. I go for a walk outside my office  complex every afternoon and what do I find? Rubble, debris, aggregate, dust, huge exposed plastic pipes through which the modern technology's fibre optic cables pass, couple of stones, no, boulders, a trench that hasn't been filled for the past one month, a broken, foul-smelling septic tank, dogs, turds and more turds.And I step ginerly over them every day! Can you imagine?


The companies that skirt these oddities all have well paved compounds, glistening sun-screened glass, chrome, expensive tiles, order and efficiency. Is it apathy or whatchamacallit indifference? Or is the "Gorment" to blame for creating these bubbles that shine and the surroundings that stink? Sorry, even my mind goes blank on a Monday morning. Guess, I will rant about it some other time.


Meanwhile read this poem written by David Israel in reply to my poem for my stolen mobile phone.


For all ye cricket lovers, the Sharad Pawar episode!

I don't know what the big fuss is about Sharad Pawar being asked to step aside for the Australian team's Champions Trophy victory photograph. See for yourself on this video. Ricky Pointing didn't shove him (as was reported). And if you see the shoves we get in the 8.28 local from CBD Belapur, then you would probably cry murder. Much ado about a little push?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Sridala's Refutation of My Following Post "The 'Gora' Mughal"

Sridala, (my reply appears within double asterisks)

**Sridala, Let me begin by saying I hold no brief for anyone, no, not even missionaries (when my dad took me for an admission in the venerable OLPS in Chembur, Bombay, I was rejected by the fathers there.) If this reads like a bitter tirade because of that fact, then it is a bitter tirade.**

I find it astonishing that you have so much to say about two books you haven't even read.

**Sridala, I was basing my observation on the articles written by William Dalrymple and not his books. And I mentioned this clearly at the beginning of the article. **
I'd like to take you up on a few things you've mentioned in your post; perhaps you could clarify.

You say, "I confess I haven't read any of them, but what caught my attention was several articles in today's newspapers (November 5, 2006) about his second book."

First of all, *The Last Mughal* is not his second book. He wrote *In Xanadu* when he was 18; among his several travel books are, *City Of Djinns*, also about Delhi; *From The Holy Mountain*; *At The Court Of The Fish-Eyed Goddess*; *The Age OF Kali*, in no particlular order. Of his 'popular history' books, *The White Mughals* is certainly the first. If this is what you meant, it is not clear from the sentence I've quoted above.

**Sridala, Yeah I was referring to the two books in the Mughal series that why I wrote “gora” Mughals in the title of my post. **

Next, you say, "Now Dalrymple bases these premises on a few freakish personalities of history".

May I ask how you would know, not having read either of the two books in question, who else he may have cited as examples of integration? Just because the interviewers of newspapers and magazines pick up a few names, it does not mean that Dalrymple himself confines himself to, to quote you, 'a few freakish personalities'.

**Sridala, this is not an interview I am referring to, but an article written by Dalrymple himself. And Sir Ochterlony has been portrayed as a freakish personality by Dalrymple himself. You who have read the book should know. **
Finally, you seem to have understood that Dalrymple's sole premise is that these early Company people turned up with the sole intention of making full use of, again to quote you, 'a sexual cornucopia of a lifetime'. I'm not very clear exactly what this phrase means; perhaps you will explain.

**Sridala, I will refer to my experience in the Persian Gulf, working for a British multinational. Trust me I have worked with them and have intimate knowledge, and I am not basing this on just guess work. The British managers and supervisors were mercenaries when it came to making money in the Persian Gulf projects and even their lifestyles (a close resemblance of theirs in colonial India) was decadent.

When I say this I have seen it with my own eyes and this is not just verbal flaff. They underpaid the Indian laborers and consigned them to labor camps where life was horrid, while they lived in huge bungalows. And they were arrogant towards Indians in general, even their staff and managers. And as I mentioned they needed Indian and Philippino women to keep houses for them while they had left their own women in England. And to their lavish parties they would invite Indian/Philippino/Srilankan nurses but not their senior managers. So where’s the integration that you are talking about? Is an eye witness’ account less true than the research of an historian who can only theorize in his mind?**

But I should mention, having read *White Mughals* and having started *The LAst Mughal*, (and having read his wonderful Introduction to *The Journal Of Fanny Parkes* which is entirely in the words of a travelling 18th century woman -- a useful departure from the standard notion that the history of the Raj is the history of its men) I can assure you that his contention is a lot more than that people came here and became white mughals because it supported a lifestyle they could not afford 'back home'.

**Could they afford the harem that Dalrymple talks about at home? Hardly. So they enjoyed (both money and sex) when they were in India (they still do enjoy [money and sex] in the Persian Gulf) as mentioned above. And believe me, the writer of this, I have been there, and seen it. If you wish to read more on these read a writer named Russel Baker who has written such books as "Monginis" and "Ice Factory"**
Integration -- a more pleasant word, isn't it? -- happened not only in the home, it also happened with translations, writing, and in the arts. It is this broader willingness to understand another culture that Dalrymple was hoping to emphasise. If there is a better climate where examples of tolerance over rabid imperialism needs to be highlighted, I'd like to know of it.

**Yes, integration is a pleasant word if there is integration. If there isn’t and a people aren’t willing to integrate then why clutch at straws? You write “Dalrymple was hoping to emphasize,” so, well, has the hope of an Englishman turned into manna for gullible Indians to make him the toast of Indian social circuit? Is that what you want to emphasize? So can a hypothesis of convenience be relied on more than historical facts and eye witnessed accounts? Is that right? If you are looking for examples of tolerance over rabid imperialism it can be found in the most unimaginable quarters, the works of missionaries, whom Dalrymple criticizes so much.**
You have cited a British missionary, William Carey, in your post. If you've linked it, the link hasn't appeared. Perhaps you could make a more complete citation? When did he say this? Where does this appear?

**Please read my blogpost at: http://johnpmathew.blogspot.com**

In the same paragraph, you mention that you've read books where you say the British dissuaded the missionaries from practising in India. This is completely true. But a mass petition in Parliament apparently lobbied for the missionaries to operate, and after 1830, they were allowed to do so. This is why dates are important. Things did not proceed in the same uniform way throughout the EIC's time in India. I'd suggest that this is a part of what Dalrymple tries to bring to the foreground.

**As I said earlier, I hold no brief for missionaries, mission schools or hospitals, but it seems missionaries are like dogs that can be kicked around these days. As the saying goes “Call a dog names and hang him.” Dalrymple does that and we go, “Oh, he is so right.” Which is really very unfair. Education, hospitals, healthcare, nursing have been taught and given to India by missionaries. As also printing, grammar, dictionaries, books, translations, etc. And if they had the rider that one should be Christians or converts to benefit from their generosity, then I should surely have been admitted into OLPS school, Chembur. I wasn’t.

Moreover, if the missionaries were so mercenary as everyone claims these days why is it that only two per cent of the Indian population is Christian? Of this one per cent were already Christians even before the British missionaries’ ancestors knew about Christianity (Syrian Christians, of which I am one, were Christians from the first century while the British adopted Christianity much, much later). Certainly there should have been more Christians if the missionaries were such ruthless proselytizers. **

I'd also urge you to read the books. Perhaps you might change your mind.

**Now that we have this interesting dialog going, I will, perhaps, read the books, vastly unread as I am. May be I can pick a few more flaws in the books under discussion.**

Monday, November 06, 2006

The "Gora" Mughal

Suddenly William Dalrymple author of "The White Mughals" and now, "The Last Mughal" is everywhere. I confess I haven't read any of them, but what caught my attention was several articles in today's newspapers (November 5, 2006) about his second book. He seems to be the flavor of the season, and for a talk he gave in Bombay even celebrities turned up to listen. ("Oh, here at last is the Englishman (or, Scotsman) who thinks like us and whom we always wanted to befriend, besides our own Mark Tully.") He himself is being treated as a White Mughal, which he has denied in an interview with DNA Sunday in which he was asked, "Are you in a sense a White Mughal writing about the natives?"


Dalrymple, a historian contends that the first wave of British colonizers came to India with honest intent and even lived like Indian Mughal rulers taking on Indian harems and assuming Indian ways and dresses. He avers that this would have continued hadn't the Neo-conservatives and the missionaries intervened. And that India would have been a country of White (British) Mughal harem-keepers. Oh, how inconsiderate of those missionaries!

Now Dalrymple bases these premises on a few freakish personalities of history. One is Sir David Ochterlony who is believed to have donned Indian clothes and travelled around Delhi with his thirteen wives in tow, all on elephant backs. What Dalrymple forgets is that the British colonizers who came to India had no other intention than to plunder the country and the Indian women they took as wives was because they had such a sexual cornucopia of a lifetime available, oh, so easily as rulers. Who wouldn't, given a chance, in an exotic country, have a harem of willing oriental women? Certainly not the British with their famous sexual appetites.




How do I know? I have worked in the Persian Gulf for a British multinational and know this from experience. Most of the British managers of the company had married Asian women and given half a chance they would have had harems too. And they weren't friends of the "Natives" (poor, us!) who toiled for them at less than standard wages. In fact, plunder was their main objective, and if an Asian woman was willing then, why not? These women were Indian and Asian nurses who were invited to their parties where they formed their liasons. We poor sods, even our senior managers weren't invited. (I have devoted a book in my novel "The Love Song of Luke Varkey," to the vulgar corporate greed of the British managers, a chapter of the novel can be read here).




Sir Ochterlony was a creature of circumstance, probably with a big sexual appetite and took advantage of the situation of sexual plenty in an impoverished land of which he was a Mughal master. So were his compatriots who too went completely native with harems and palaces they could ill-afford back in England. There wasn't any holistic intent here, neither had our British managers in the British multinational for which I worked. They were after money and the fulfilment of their carnal desires for which Dalrymple is raising them on a new and exalted pedestal. May be, the Indian intelligentsia lapped it all up and put up Dalrymple's mugs in the press before considering these aspects.




Now another specious argument from his book "The White Mughal" is that the missionaries with their evangelical fervor dissuaded the Englishmen from going native. I have read books that speak of how the British ruling class were dismissive of the missionaries and their attempts to educate the heathen. William Carey the British missionary who set up the first Indian printing press in Serampore and established the first college for training priests was actually dissuaded from travelling to India as an excerpt from this article would show:



"En route they were delayed at the Isle of Wight, at which time the captain of the ship received word that he endangered his command if he conveyed the missionaries to Calcutta, as their unauthorized journey violated the trade monopoly of the British East India Company."



Obviously since an educated Indian would be a threat to their "White Mughal-hood." Then they would have competition from educated Indian men who would want to court their harem members. Not only that, a Christian India would have been an embarassment for the British colonists as they would have to share a church and a religion with the native Christians. So then how would missionaries, zealous as they are known to be, dissuade Englishmen from going native and owning harems? Many accounts I have read have given the distinct impression that missionaries - with their belief in Christian charity - were at cross purposes with their administering countrymen.

Dalrymple's theory, even if it has substance portrays a somehow dystopic scenario of what India would have been if the White Mughals had persisted in their ways and the missionaries hadn't come. We would have had a legion of "White Mughal" sahibs, and their brown offsprings inhabiting and ruling over an India that would have been still entrenched in the supersitions of those times. And Indian men would have had a slim chance with their women, pitted as they were against the "gora" sahib's alluring offer of a comfortable life for their women, not to mention elephant-back rides through Connaught Place.


Thank god for missionaries, in that case!



Saturday, November 04, 2006

Cold Shouldered by Technology

The following is just by way of what could go wrong in the connected world. We are so over-dependent on electricity that any gadget we own has to be plugged, switched on, and recharged.  And, we are so dependent on them to be connected to our work, our communities, and our projects. The electricity company on which we depend so dearly increases rates, and sometimes even sends us fancy bills beyond our meager monthly earnings.


I recently lost my cell phone, and with it vamoosed all my telephone numbers. I wanted to make an urgent call. My new cell phone was down, meaning dumb me hadn’t recharged it. The home phone was dead as there was a power cut. I asked my son to lend me his phone. “But, papa, I haven’t yet refilled my cell phone,” he says. I was virtually shaking with indignation.  Of all the nine billion people in the world (okay, one billion Indians) why did it have to happen to me?


May be I can send an email. I open my laptop. I have the latest web access, a V Card installed, so that I can be online anywhere, anytime. What can beat a laptop toting guy who goes straight to his email box? Makes email-browsing Blackberrys a joke. But, no, even my laptop is on a blink. I had forgotten to recharge it after the last time I used it.


Oh, dumb, dumb, dumb. Or, should I say as Jim Carey say, “Dumb, Dumber?” That made me trudge to the nearest shopping complex, nearly ten minutes away to make a call. Once again, technology had failed me, badly, at that.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Lost, My Wallet!

Today I lost my wallet. I paid the rickshaw, carelessly placed the wallet beside me, and stashed the change in my shirt pocket. A woman wearing a large bindi on her forehead was asking the rickshaw driver even as I was getting down if he would take her to Saki Naka. I didn't want to delay them and got down in a hurry and forgot all about the wallet.

 
 

I met my colleague Rahul on the way up, and in the lift, for a moment I felt inside my pocket and the usual lump (yes, my wallet is quite lumpy with the desiderata of modern life like credit/debit cards, visiting cards, receipts, driving license, and some lucky charms) was missing. I felt as if I had dived into a pool with no water in it. Foolish!

 
 

Rahul suggested blocking all cards. But I had another idea. What if they hadn't gone far, I could board another rickshaw and follow them. I ran down six floors. Alas, the rickshaw wasn't there and I stood foolishly gaping at the spot I had got down. No, nothing there. Then I asked the security guard one Dilip Kumar if he had seen a woman with a large red bindi going out. He said, yes, she works in a clinic on the second floor of our building.

 
 

I ran to the second floor and was informed by Masooma, a nurse, that Kaushalya the woman I described worked there and she would be back by afternoon. I gave her my number and asked her to contact me as soon as she came. Meanwhile, I went to my office and cancelled all my credit and debit cards, and kept blaming myself for keeping the wallet aside while I always returned the wallet to my pocket. This once I had deviated from my habit and I had lost a lot of things that had become an integral part of me. The lucky charm in my wallet had me believe that I am sort of invincible and nobody, nobody could do me no harm. I prayed fervently that it should come back to me.

 
 

12.30 p.m. I received a call when I was in a meeting with my boss. A man named Ranjan said an employee had given a wallet to him and could I please come down. My wallet! It had come back to me! My prayers were answered! I ran down to the second floor office and there it was my lost wallet with all the cards and money intact. I wanted to reward Kaushalya but Ranjan said no need. I can only admire the honesty of this lady by the name of Kaushalya.

 
 

The wallet with the lucky charm is inside my pocket now, safely ensconced in its rightful place, and I believe I will never lose it again. As for the credit and debit cards, I called up my bank to be told that they cannot reactivate the cards and that I will have to wait for them to issue new cards. Well, I can afford to wait. At least, my lucky charm is with me.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

To a Hesitant Writer

To a Hesitant Writer

You can pick meaning off words,

You can paint pictures;

You can laugh at them,

Who laugh at you;

You can mourn,

The follies of the unwise.


 

To write is power,

Of words, thoughts,

Limitless, boundless,

As the sky above and earth below;

You will never be alone,

When words churn in your mind.


 

You can be heartbroken,

And cry and cry;

But a poem would wipe tears,

Puts a smile on your face,

Erase the pain,

Of loneliness and love.


 

So won’t you write?

A letter, a poem, an essay;

We would wallow in its depths,

Smile at its humor,

Relish what pains it took you,

And forgive friendly trespasses.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Please do not cross rails. It could cost your life!

Posted it below but didn't know how to post it in this format. Well it is an amazing video, reproduced here as "fair use" as it has a social message.
Shinkansen - Bullet Trains - Japan

While on the subject of Trains see the Shinkansen Bullet Trains of Japan. See how the cup stays steady at that amazing speed.

Did You See Many Pudava Sets Today?

Through a speeding rickshaw, a Kerala Pudava set – the gold filigreed cream colored sari worn by Kerala women on festivals – peeped out. What? Was it some Kerala festival, Onam, Vishu, Christumas, that I had missed in my dazed-as-a-dodo-nearing-extinction life? I leaned over to catch a peek at the South Indian beauty – but of course, all Mallu girls in Pudava sets are beautiful. Sorry to say I didn’t succeed. She vanished in a haze of blue rickshaw emission.

Then again, another woman, wearing the same attire. Whoa! This time I got a full frontal view, what lush hair, and what enchanting grace, reminds me of tall coconut palms waving gently in the wind. But what is today? Then as I progressed towards office, more such beautiful sights unraveled to make my heart skip many, many beats. Oh! My poor, poor heart!

Once in the office I did a Google search. And this is what I got. Duh, today is the Fiftieth Anniversary of the formation of Kerala, my beloved native state. Shubhashamsakal, all my Mallu friends, and well wishers. Happy Fiftieth Anniversary!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Do Not Cross Railway Tracks!

Riveting stuff, this video! Crossing railway tracks at unauthorized crossings is dangerous. It has cost many people their lives as can be seen in this captivating video. Got this in the mail so can’t give credits, but, I guess, it is only for fair use as there is a social message involved.

And this fact from the World Socialist Website: http://www.wsws.org :

“’The Hindustan Times commented in its Sunday edition: “Indian Railways possibly runs the most unsafe service in the world. If the trains aren't killing people in collisions, then they are running over people at manned and unmanned crossings ... the body count is too high for anyone to feel safe in a train.” Pointing to the poor state of railway infrastructure, it added: “The railways today have 11,928 kilometers (7,455 miles) of broad gauge and 4,700 kilometers (2,937 miles) of meter gauge waiting to be replaced.’”

Monday, October 30, 2006

Random Thoughts on a Monday Morning

A couple of random pieces for today, got to keep blogging, to avoid mental clogging, you know.

I would like to rename the 8.28 local from CBD Belapur (where I live) to Victoria Terminus (now CST, something) as the “Meatpacking Express.” Meat, meat and lots of it, soft, supple, sweaty, and hot. Honestly, there are so many chubby bodies so close and tightly packed like I have seen in frozen chicken factories. And they are all in their own worlds. I am new to commuting by train these days as I work in Andheri, and feel the three years I spent working in New Bombay, close to home was heaven. And the trains are so packed – an index of India’s population problem, I guess – that people are standing between your legs. As you sit down, people stand in the space between two seats where you are seated. And this is the first class compartment I am talking about, not the cattle-class compartment.

And everyone around me are pretty stressed on this Monday morning. One man is chanting a Mantra under his breath, his lips moving regularly, and he seems so stressed that his chanting is coming out in bursts of breath that hit my cheek. Another is reading a spiral bound office manual, something about “Capital Charge for Credit Risk” and it seems he understands such stuff. Reinforces my belief that anything can be learnt if you keep at it long enough.

Then I see this advertisement about airline tickets for Rs 499 and wonder why I have not been able to get my hands on one despite trying hard enough. Now this is a case for Advertising Standards Council (ASCI) which I headed as Executive Secretary not long ago (Yeah, another one of my fifteen odd jobs. I am the original rolling stone). The claim is false and whatever tickets are offered are cornered by staff or cohorts of the airlines. A fraud to fuel the greed of these competitive airlines. Advertisements are getting bolder in their claims and it seems ASCI is not doing enough.

There is something called surrogate advertising that advertisers use to get over the ban on liquor advertising. They would manufacture a few batches of mineral water and give it the same name as the whiskey they manufacture. The advertisement would tom-tom the mineral water while everyone knows it is the whiskey advertisement. Nowadays they do not even bother to be so smart aleck. I saw a couple of giant Seagrams hoardings at Vashi that openly flouted the ASCI code and it seems nobody is bothered.

Now back to the Meatpacking Express. If you even touch a man on the back in the process of getting out of this giant flesh train, you get murderous looks. The process of getting out of these trains is as difficult as childbirth, or what I have seen of it. First there are the induced spasms by everyone pushing towards the door, and then there is the actual ejection on the to the platform and the cries of relief and arguments about who pushed whom. I go through this everyday and it is a merry circus, I must say.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Ghastly Accident. Who's to Blame?

Five of a family killed in a vehicle accident. The family is that of a friend's cousin's. They were returning from Goa when a truck rammed into their Maruti Zen car. Of the seven people in the car, five died, two children who survived are in intensive care. What had started as a holiday trip for pleasure has ended in tragedy. Many cases, many incidents come to mind. I wonder if it is worth the while to buy a vehicle at all. After securing my driving licence, I have not bothered to update my skills or buy a car. Poor, poor, me. I have been putting off the decision for long, though I do see greenery when I see other people's cars, their safe havens in this hostile world, their abode on the roads.

What's at fault is the system of training drivers. My trainer gave me perfunctory lessons, and expected me to drive on a four-lane highway. I did it with his help. The test for a licence was another farce. I didn't even steer a car on a road. I just drove it around the Registered Traffic Officer's (RTO's) compound and was considered eligble for a licence. A friend says that a heavy driver's licence is easy to obtain in Bombay, where anyone can walk away with it as here anything can be bought with money. No wonder I see all those speeding trucks in Bombay with small kids - the age of my son - at the wheels, driving as if they were Michael Schumachers in the making. A small mistake of theirs can cause death and grief to a lot of people. Do they realize that, do they even care?

Meanwhile, the family I mentioned is devastated. A mother, her two sons, and two daughters-in-law are dead, the entire family has been wiped out, well, almost. The survivors are two innocent children, parentless, and friendless. Another casualty of a lax training system for vehicles. I think the RTO who gave the licence to the offending driver should be responsible. Hopefully, this could curb the random giving away of driving licences to all who can start a car and make a few turns on the steering wheel.
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Friday, October 27, 2006

A Column by a Busybee Called Behram

Read this column by Behram Contractor, by apro (our) own Busybee. Now don’t ask me who is Busybee and I will ask, “What, you don’t know Busybee?” Okay, okay, okay, (throwing up hands, these brash youngsters!) he belonged to another age of Irani Restaurants (not baristas), evening newspapers (Evening News from Times of India, Bulletin from Free Press), and the little column that appeared in Evening News’ last page called “Round and About” by someone called the “Busybee.”

That was another age, wasn’t it? I know, I am growing old, and when I read this piece in “The Upper Crust” magazine’s website, I went all watery in the eye. I met Behram a few times at the David Sassoon Library and we had a few common friends. He was very soft-spoken and would hardly speak a few words at a time. His writing style was something else. Brief, pithy, guaranteed to bring a smile on even the dullest of evenings. On Saturdays he started his columns thus, “Another Saturday, a few observations, a few points of view, all my own work.” And he would go on to make the most pithy and poignant observations about film stars, politicians (his politician friend who lived on the eleventh floor), Irani restaurants, brun maska, tea coffee, and the quintessential Bombay, or, what was then the quintessential Bombay.

Behram was Behram and a Busybee at that, always observing and writing in his engaging style. Folks, read it and enjoy its simplicity. His friends still miss him dearly. I wasn’t so close as to call him a friend, but I liked him and the few times we spoke the beatific smile would never leave his face. Well, as I said that was another Bombay, in another slice of time, that we all forgot.


 


 

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Cultural Prizes and Prizes as Culture

This article in the Guardian talks about how awards have turned into cultural totem poles that writers uphold to show their power and prestige in the literary firmament. Nay, it is not confined to things literary per se, even the music and entertainment industry endorse the creation of cultural icons, idols, by heaping awards on their already famous sons (being a writer I am more concerned with how awards affect the hallowed literary wordosphere). Not fair, the article warns, as many deserving, struggling, starving authors, musicians, lyricists, story-tellers are likely to be ignored in the process. True, once awarded the Booker/Oscar, the book/movie carries on with the new tag, "Winner of Booker/Oscar" and goes on to sell a few more million books/tickets, but at what costs? A celebrity is created with the detritus of the deserved acclaim of a hundred writers who languish in anonymity, a book is made a bestseller by sacrificing sales of a hundred other deserving ones. A celebrity writer is "Ooh-, aaah-ed," by the all, deliberately ignoring a few writers who do not even get read by agents and publishing houses. In fact, as they say, "The bitch goddess Success favours the already successful."

In India I guess the system is similar, but a bit more vicious. Here authors are directly in touch with publishers, and publishers do not even entertain first-time authors. Writers aren't welcome in publishing houses, "Let your work speak for itself," one editor tells me eyeing my warily. Speak from under the slush pile, I want to ask. Recently an editor in a publishing house returned my manuscript five months after I submitted it, with a lot of internal office stationery attached to it. "What am I going to do with it?" I wonder. All those returned manuscripts have formed their own slush pile beside my desk, a grim reminder of the progress of my writing career. This is accompanied by my worst nightmares of remaining unpublised.

Some excerpts from the article:

"He would have been even more indignant today. For ours is truly the age of awards. Prizes are becoming the ultimate measure of cultural success and value. One prize inevitably spawns another, in imitation or reaction, as the perceived male dominance of the Booker spawned the Orange Prize for women's fiction. There are now so many, in so many different fields, that it can be difficult to find a professional artist, writer or journalist who has not been shortlisted for a prize."

"The culture is no longer so patient. In a time of information overload - of cultural excess and superabundance - our taste is being increasingly created for us by prize juries and award ceremonies. Art is beginning to resemble sport, with its roster of winners and losers and its spectacles of competition: the Oscars, the Baftas, the Brits. Indeed, the larger cultural festivals and prizes, such as the Venice Biennale, the Oscars and the Nobels, are consciously imitative of international sporting competitions like the Olympics."
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