Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Am writing in the new 'out of Beta' Blogger. So, as they say, here goes.

I have started watching television. Yes, Sharukh made me do that with the new look Kaun Banega Crorepati. He is sassy, has style, has humor, and is a likeable chap, isn't he? Can't say he is better than Amitabh because they are in different genres altogether.

But the guy has style, panache, whatever. That's why I have started watching television after a long, long hiatus. So it's back to late nights watching HBO. It can get addictive can't it?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Review of CP Surendran's "An Iron Harvest"

Poet and columnist CP Surendran's debut novel "An Iron Harvest" is a living chronicle of how an industrially backward state took a leap into radical ideology of the industrial era (communism) to find itself slowly enmeshed in a seemingly unending class struggle.
Communism has been a by-product of the industrial age of systematic production, streamlined marketing and shrewed people management and its failure is in most parts because of the eclipsing of the industrial age by the information age. The information age is another deal. Here people work as if no clocks exists. But still, communism continues to thrive and prosper in an industrially backward state, Kerala, and has fanatical adherents there who believe that revolution is possible and that workers of the world can rule countries. CP Surendran's novel depicts such a group of people who is bent on carrying on with the idea of revolution.
Kerala is the first state in the world to elect a communist government by a democratic voting process in 1959. Almost half a century later, it is today (in 2007) ruled by a communist government though all over the world communist governments have failed. Communist Russia and China have embraced market realities and its communal ideologies have been washed away by capitalism. But Kerala still adheres to Marx and his teachings of dialectic materialism. The exploited labour force still believe that only a communist revolution can redeem their plight, and have a stranglehold over industrial enterprises across the state.
It is in such a revolution that John, ersatz Che Guevera, protagonist of Surendran's novel fights for his ideology, and believes he can achieve with this associates. He along with his band of men are killing evil landlords, attacking police stations, terrorizing the ruling class to bring about a revolution (remember Crasto and Che Guevara took over Cuba with just eighty men, they had the backing of the people).
They call themselves "Red Earth" and this breakaway group of leftists is led by Varkeychayan, who is an erstwhile communist leader. John's comrades are a motley group who use sickles, matchets, and crude country-made rifles to achieve revolution. But in what sense? Could a revolution in one state of India transform into a mass movement to take over a country such as India which has world's second largest army to protect it? They achieve in some measure to spread terror among the landed classes and the ruling elite.
Ironically the epoch is the emergency days of Indira Gandhi and Kerala's home minister Marar has deputed commissioner Raman to hunt down the radical revolutionaries. Raman is a bachelor given to lascivious thoughts, masturbates copiously, presumably because sex is unavailable in conservative Kerala. But he is shown by the author as ruthless and powerful, despite his puny appearance.
Abey, an innocent student in John's college is picked up by the police for questioning. He dies in the police lock up at Raman's behest as a result of the police's highhanded interrogation methods. His father Sebanstian makes it life's mission to get justice for his dead son. He is helped in this mission by Nambiar, the Inspector General of police - a theatre aficionado, therefore an artist - who is at loggerheads with the ambitious Raman.
Surendran is at ease with his narration of the beautiful Kerala conuntryside, and its customs. What this author liked best about the book is that to a great extend Surendran has succeeded in capturing the Malayalis' aspirations, behavior and "mentality" with his words. All through the book a Malayali's innate cynicism, humour and wit is amply depicted.
The author's prose has poetic inclination right from the start. Examples: "The sky paled in slivers over the paddy fields and rivers and, in between them, the railway tracks bared themselves in the first light like bones of distance. A necklace of white birds flew past in the East." Who but a poet can write such elevating prose?
Raman's life and actions provide comic relief throughout the novel. His deviationist look at women and sex is told hilariously, especially his encounter with his subordinate Vijayan's wife. "Mrs. Vijayan spoke very fast, as if she had only one breath to speak and a great deal to tell," a very apt description of some fast-talking Malayalis I have seen and met. Raman is ruthlessly caricatured throughtout the novel. His discription of the excesses of the emergency as seen through Sebastian's eyes brings home the terror of those dark days.
I would have loved it if John's relationship with his love Janaki was explored a little more in detail and intimacy. All in all, a well-crafted, intricately woven novel that looks not only at the radicalisation of God's chosen state, but also provides a window through which to view Kerala and its people.
Surendran's novel is dark but with a purpose. He takes the reader on a new high with sharp observations and pointed irony. He tells the tale of a people caught in a time warp trying to exorcise the ghost of an ideology that has failed, and like obsessive love, compounds it by going even further in an unproductive attempt to revive the lost magic.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Shilpa Shetty and Racism of Convenience

Here's my take on the Shilpa Shetty-Channel 4-Jade (whatever) controversy.

For one Shilpa knew very well what she was into, so the tears were, well, crocodile tears, bolstered nevertheless by a fat fee, fame, recognition around the world, etc. Come on, we know you gained a lot from this trip, Shilpa, but racism?

Well where is the racism in calling Shilpa an Indian? Indian, as a term is not a racist, nor is the description of the Indian custom of washing one's arse. Jade is not a Caucasian racially, she is mixed blood.  So where does racism come in? Racial slurs are flung in England and mentioning that so-and-so is Indian is not one among them. I know of more vitriolic racial terms of endearment, if you really want to know.

Now, as Shobha De says, there are worse cases of racism in our own backdoors. Do you know Shilpa that in your own so-called industry, dark-skinned dancers are not preferred in item number sequences that you yourself have danced? What did you do about them? Shed tears?

Just calling Shilpa Indian is like calling me Malayali or Mallu. But the difference is that Shilpa was in a high-viewership show with millions watching.

Do you know Shilpa that there is a show on MTV called "Lola Kutty" which every week, days without end, makes fun of us Malayalis, our accent, our clothes, our color, our personalities, our habits, our food, our very existence? What has all those people who burned flags of England and denounced racism against you in the press done about it? Nothing.

So when you attempt at world-wide recognition and want to get ahead in the elimination rounds you cry foul and allege racism? Let me see what you are going to do about racism of the garden variety in your own back door, ie, Bollywood. Donate your fat fee to the dancers who do not find work because they are dark-skinned?

Any publicity is good publicity and get it all where you can, right? For you racism is just an epithet, a catch phrase with which to give away your sound bites. We know that you will come back and sit cosily upon your millions and even say, "Oh, I don't think it was such a racist attack after all." Becasue it is racism of convenience.

Lola Kutty, oh that? That's just a television show to have some fun. Isn't it? Not racism, do you think?

If you wish to hear some great guitar music, and great vocals!

I am a great lover of guitar music (regret I couldn't learn the instrument). Here is Annafree on her guitar with some great vocals. I like the tremendous range of her voice, and the guitar chords, which is difficult, believe me.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Review of "The Inheritance of Loss" by Kiran Desai

Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss springs at you with the many-splendored colours of life in the North-Eastern part of India, Kalimpong to be exact. It is tragic, comic and a dark reminder of how insurgency, extremism is threatening to wreck this once-peaceful region of India. In fact, the threat of violence looms large throughout the novel, in the very words of characters that seem to have something lacking in them, just the feeling that their lives aren’t fulfilled.

Picturesque, but crumbling Chuo Oyu is the abode where young Sai is sent to after her parents’ death to live with her grandfather, the retired judge Bomanbhai Patel, who is living out the last phase of a life of a taciturn man who during his training in Civil Service in England didn’t speak to anyone for years and has painful memories of how he mistreated his wife to death, which he is trying to atone. He had sent his wife back home where his daughter was born. This daughter, a scientist, who never met her father lived all her life in hostels married Sai’s father, an orphan, who was also a scientist. The couple then go to work in Russia where Sai was born and both her parents die leaving her grandfather as the only caretaker and relation Sai has in the world.

Sai is being tutored by Gyan, in Chuo Oyu, who being a Ghurkha is sympathetic to the Ghurkha national Liberation Front (GNLF) which is violently demanding a separate homeland in this North-Eastern region. Gyan reports to his friends that the judge has two rifles in his house and one night they come and rob the house and humiliates him and his cook. The judge and the cook have a common bond that runs back to the days when the former was a district collector in a remote area where he went hunting for patridges and would write fake entries in his diary about the number of patridges he killed, whereas the truth was that he was a poor shot and killed none.

The situation in Kalimpong is shown to be getting worse as the militancy gains ground and the sisters Noni and Lola are coerced into harbouring terrorists in their house and they even come and poach on their property, building hutments over it. There are demonstrations where Khukri knives are brandished as the GNLF men demand a separate homeland. The irony of how they masquerade for what is according to them “a noble” cause, using insurgency and murder of innocents is brought out very well by the author.

Perhaps the most potent message that the novel conveys is of how a band of youth recruited by goons can threaten peace in a sleepy and peaceful haven and is only waking up to the new realities of life. These youth are inspired by re-runs of karate movies of Jackie Chan and the violent movies of Rambo. It’s a sad reflection of modern life. The novel’s principal comment, made lucidly clear, according to this writer, is how media can corrupt the youth and sow in them the ideals of violence and mayhem, manipulated by a few misguided individuals.

The cook’s son Biju is away in the US as an illegal immigrant, working in hotels run by shady Indian characters, being paid low, working all days of the month to chase his dream. But he finds that he hasn’t made any friends, and his relations are away in India. The idea of migration is well portrayed in these sections. Biju’s and Sai’s life become the leit motif of the novel with Sai being shielded from the childhood she hasn’t had neither in the convent nor in Chuo Oyu where she is a virtual prisoner and pines away for the love of the elusive Gyan, immersed in his poverty and ideals. There is a poignant section in the book when she goes in search of her absent lover and sees the depravity in which he lives.

Biju’s life is even more of that of a prisoner of his own conscience. Though he lives in New York he hasn’t the time to see the country, lives in poverty where he has to sleep in shifts, or on the floor of the hotel he works, and even has to serve beef which he detests. His friend the philandering Saeed Saeed is a colourful character from Zanzibar who is tormented by friends referred to him from his home country, as is Biju by his father the cook from India, who recommends to him stray wastrels who want to immigrate to the US from India. These “tribes” come to US for the first time and are desperate to make a living and like Biju is willing to undergo any torment to make ends meet. The novel truly depicts their sad lives.

The good father Booty who lives with Uncle Potty is found to be an illegal alien, though he has lived all his life in Kalimpong, trying to make it into the dairy capital of India. But he is thwarted by the ever present Amul brand of the original dairy capital of India – Anand. Father Booty is sent back to Switzerland for overstaying, and Kalimpong descends into mayhem with no food available, not even bread, and is overrun by terrorists and the military.

Much speculation has gone on in the media about the portrayal of Kalimpong, of how the denizen of the town hasn’t taken kindly to its portrayal by the author. But this writer feels that the novel has a valid point to make, of how an author can use artistic licence to make his/her point though it may be somewhat in the extreme. The author is primarily writing a work of fiction and not a factual account. It is a story of imaginary characters, though the settings may be real and the world he/she creates is unreal, and hints at his/her view of the truth.

She encapsulates the essence of Indian thought and thinking in this oeuvre of vivid colours of the literary spectrum. For example when the judge loses his dog and goes around asking if anyone has seen it, and the men whisper behind his back, “Sala, he is bothered about a dog, when people are dying here.” How typical.

A definite must read, even if only for Kiran Desai’s devastating wit, charming style, and the way she keeps the pace going. Desai is an author of the new breed who use multiple question marks “???” and multiple exclamation marks, “!!!” throughout the text. I think it jars and should have been avoided. The need is for subtlety and not overt exaggeration. What I also found jarring was the intimate description of the characters including some of the disconcertingly intimate habits of the judge and that of Gyan. Was the author following a stereotype here? Don’t now. However, given the Booker Award and all the salient points the novel makes, a not to be missed novel by a true artisan of the word.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Epilogue - The End of the Journey

Cross posted from my blog: http://johnpmathew.blogspot.com

So final isn't final anymore. I have decided to extend my impressions of Delhi in a blog diary. How does it sound? Web log diary? Not nice, eh? But that's it what I want to call this series. I am writing this on the train back to Bombay in between reading Kiran Desai's "The Inheritance of Loss," as the coach has a socket to recharge laptops. Thank God!

I look outside the window and see the areas of the city that had remained shrouded till now. It is actually floating on a sea of multi-colored plastic. Plastic, plastic is everywhere. I see the equivalents of the slums of Bombay, juggies, they are called here. The masses living in them have come out to sun themselves and stand in circles, or huddle around a fire.


On the final day in Delhi I have lunch with the pretty and smiling Smita (I bought her lunch when I was in Delhi last, so it's her turn), or "one who smiles," or, smilestop (her blog name), or, land of the smiling sun, a utopian land of her own creation. Verily, knowing her is like being a citizen of a land where there are lots of infectious smiles. I am a great smiler myself, and have found true friendship in this amazing woman. I owe a lot to her, and she is, in fact, all of friend, philosopher and guide.

It was she who offered to edit my novel when nobody would even look at it, teaching me the tricks of the book-editing trade. She is the one who helped me when I visited in May 2006, and again this time. This time she introduced me to her friend Asheeth who also has her quality of genuine concern and camaraderie. This is what Delhi is all about, I think, this lack of hypocrisy, this complete trust, this age-old mehman navazi. I may be wrong because I have seen only the kind and gentle members of the ryze.com community so far, except for my nephew Tommy (who, I am proud to say, has gone through a lot of deprivations in life and is now managing director of a multinational publishing house and drives a Chevrolet Optra), who is family.

Smita has found a job she genuinely likes and is so confident she will do well in it that I am truly pleased. The job involves, she tells me animatedly, in between her captivating smiles, as we have lunch, telecommunication projects, writing interesting content, giving presentations, which have made her super-confident, liberated, independent, and a new woman. I wonder why I don't meet her likes in Bombay. Or, may be I move around in the wrong circles. But there are Anita, Rekha, Sairee, Asmita, Annie, all making waves in their own ways. How do I classify and stereotype these new women? I can't. These women who are aggressively pursuing their careers and dreams defy stereotyping, and speak their mind which men tend to avoid. How does Smita manage to juggle a high-profile job, a family, a circle of friends? She says Buddhism has helped her to deal with the hurly-burly of life. I can see that it has from the glow on her face when she smiles. She really believes and practices what she says.

Asheeth, a friend I made through Smita, made sure I would attend the TC do on my first day in Delhi by picking me up from Connaught Place and dropping me back to my hotel. There I had the first karaoke experience of my life singing "Break out to the other side" and "Wonderful Tonight." I had arrived tired from my journey from Bombay and wanted sleep badly after sharing a seat with an underworld don, whose wild-eyed minions stood guard outside the door of the compartment and would touch his feet repeatedly to show their obsequiousness.  They, the underlings, gave me a fright by their constant watchfulness and their distrust of all who were seated near their boss, the don.


On the day I leave, I catch a taxi to Nizamuddin station. When I arrive there the cold is unbearable, seeping into my five layers of clothes like the tentacles of some cold, shivery sea animal. The station is swarming with people, the sort I have seen pulling cycle rickshaws that I had mentioned earlier. They have a variety of jackets, sweaters, mufflers, hoods, etc. on them. It all looks so surreal and Kafkaesque.

There are these incandescent lamps that shed their pale glow on a huddling mass, as if one big greyish black chunk of humanity, breathing stolidly, mothers pulling their children into the warmth of their bosoms, men shivering, teeth chattering, a few shouts, "Yeh, laundiye," don't know what that means. I also hear the mother profanity, but said in such low-key tenor as if it were a compliment.

What I think about is migration. Migration as from Pakistan to India, Bangla Desh to India, Central Asia to India, India to the US. They have these huge polythene sacks filled with their things, may be, pots and pans and even bedding. The floor is littered with tea and coffee cups, dirt hangs even on the incandescent lamps and no one is there to man the enquiry counter where I have to enquire which platform the Sampark Kranti Express would arrive. There are these eerie sounding announcements on the smallish public address system which instead of informing adds an amount of absurdity to the whole situation.

I ask a porter. Yes, they know such things. He directs me to platform number seven. Here the sense of migration is even more stark. People with their huge bundles cling to the doors as if for their lives. I think of the pictures of the partition of India and Pakistan where people are seen travelling on the top of trains. Hasn't anything changed? A wild-eyed man, his body covered in a bedsheet, only his eyes, nose and mouth showing asks a neatly dressed man whether the train stops at Mathura. They ignore him. Then he asks me. I don't know and say as much. It's his type that Lalloo should be helping not me. I can open my laptop log in to http://indianrail.gov.in and immediately find whether I have been allotted a seat, or, even make alternate bookings then and there on http://irctc.co.in.

True the new railway minister has brought improvements in tickets bookings, upgrades similar to airlines, facile changes, but is this still what it is like? Where are the courteous public relations staff to help the illiterate masses who do not know how to book a ticket on the computer? In this respect Lallooji's initiatives have failed. There is not an inch of spare space on platform seven. The whole place is littered with huddling masses of grey and black, a huge shivering protoplasm distinguished only by the moisture that wafts from their mouths.

I ask a porter to be shown where the two-tier air-conditioned coach would be. He takes me to the other end of the platform and deserts me pocketing the twenty rupees I give him. When the train comes, I find to my dismay that the two-tier air-conditioned coach is at the other end! So I have to lug my luggage back across the entire platform.

The cold is so unyielding that thought deserts me. I try to make notes about the great hulking mass that disappears into the maw of the train compartments. But the scene is so rife with the shouts of people, the wailing of children, the eerie announcements, the signature tune that goes "trrring tooong" after the announcements that I am thoroughly disoriented. I withdraw. I give up. No thought is possible in these circumstances.


Yesterday after having lunch with Smita, I had walked in the environs of the colonial Connaught Place, eaten in Kentucky Fried Chicken (as I had done in Jeddah, when I had worked there), shopped, drank coffee at Cafe Coffee Day (where I did some of the writing of this blog post) and looked at the well-fed children of, may be, bureaucrats businessmen and executives. They seemed a different world than those that I saw on platform number seven. These people were very unlike the rickshaw pullers from whom the educated classes keep a distance, and only come together in the great equalizer of Indian Railways.

Shubhra, who has started writing poetry after nine years messages me to see if I am gone. I message back saying I am at Connaught Place and; can we meet? The reason is this poem (permanent link "To a Reluctant Writer") which I wrote to encourage a reluctant writer, which has inspired her to write after nine years. I am so glad I could help her. All my time on the networks is rewarded by the email she wrote me thanking me. She heads the human resource function of a large television network. She can't make it as it is a very busy day. This is what I mean. People in Delhi really care, and as Smita put it once, "It's our culture."

The poverty of the people I saw at Nizamuddin is amazing. They have no fancy branded suitcases. They use plastic sacks. And they carry their entire household utensils with them fearing that if they leave even their pots and pans in their hovels it would get stolen. Then it also comes handy for cooking in the villages to which they are migrating back, disillusion by the city. These are subsistence level laborers who dig the ditches, mend the pipes, make the furniture, and lay the bricks. I have worked with them in the construction projects in the Persian Gulf and their lot hasn't improved for thousands of years. They are people who lead lives of loss, I think, as I am reading Kiran Desai's, "The Inheritance of Loss." Many of them, with whom I had worked, had lost their everything in the process of emigrating to the Persian Gulf. This forms a constant leit motif of my novel (www.johnwriter.com). And they are still undergoing the pangs of the age-old system of migration, of armies invading, one people subjugating the other, the victors taking over the possessions of the vanquished. It's still going on. I am shocked and amazed no less.

This time the armies taking over surreptitiously are the internet-savvy, technophiles with their laptops like me. In Cafe Coffee Day I network with my friends on ryze.com and I can see another bunch on a computer with orkut.com on their screen. This online tribe can network as I have done in Delhi. In this city of the Mughals, because of my network contacts I could meet a lot of friends and even extend my agenda and my goals. They work in new economies like I do - telecommunications, Internet, financial services, ATM-driven banks. Yet they are a minority of the people of this nation, and this is the case of the minority taking over the majority.

The clothes the passengers that crowd Nizamuddin wear are probably the only ones they have, a polyester make that can be easily washed and used again. Where has Laloo Yadav's superfast trains and upgrades benefited them? Where are the clean toilets, clean services he promised? Yes, the two-tier air-conditioned compartment is clean and a fellow traveller lambasts the attendant who has given him a dirty towel. "They are all together, sab mile huye hain," he says meaning this is a result of corruption. But the sleeper and unreserved compartments which I have travelled often are dirty, stinking and waterless. On my way to Delhi a group of people, irate that their compartment didn't have water, had accosted the ticket checker, who showed his indifference.

There is pain here, there is dispossession, there is dissipation and loss of faith in democracy and democratic process. What is democracy if the huge changes that the government envisages cannot benefit these people? They don't even know what booking tickets on the Internet means, and if they go to the station to buy tickets they are told that the tickets are sold out, over the Internet, over computer terminals, by ticketing agents. So they don't bother to book tickets, they hang on for dear life, cling to the doors with big plastic bags full of their precious pots and pans.

As the train moves smoothly over the rails, I think of these things, write them on my laptop. My job is to record and I am recording what I think is a crucial aspect of life that I discovered, rather epiphanically during my visit to Delhi. They say travelling broadens the mind. But if it also does broaden the minds of those poor huddling masses with their blankets around their heads and shoulders, who are indistinguishable from the floor on which they huddle, I would be more than happy.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Final Installment - Blogging on Delhi

Lots of things to write about Delhi, but don't know where to begin. Wonderful friends met online become flesh and blood realities, Vijay, Rekha, Sairee, all disembodied names in the networked world become living persons, with personalities of their own.

When I called Vijay he said he was in Connaught Place and can wait for me to have lunch. I am something of a Metro expert now as a boy comes and asks me for directions. I board the metro but lose my sense of direction and go in the opposite one. Chavri Bazar? What's wrong? It should have been Rajiv Chowk. Slightly disoriented I get down and walk to the opposite side and board the next metro to new Delhi and Rajiv Chowk. Metro expert, indeed!

Vijay Nair, carries his lawyerly success with ease. He is dressed in a natty black suit and carries two mobile phones, one of which is a Blackberry. He shows me some of his poems on the blackberry. Yes, a lot of poetry is happening on blackberries these days.

We have Darjeeling tea, which reminds me of Kiran Desai's "The Inheritance of Loss" which I am reading now. There are a few Brits around, obviously attracted by the name "Oxford Book Stores." Vijay, a corporate lawyer, tells me that the prices of property has increased many times over. It's not only the backoffices that are shifting to India but the front offices too, he says. He should know, he deals in corporate law.

Vijay is unassuming, humble about his beginnings, and we have a common background in that we have been educated in English-medium schools run by Malayalees which have Malayalam as a subject. That's why we both can appreciate the Malayalam poetry of Sachidanandan, whom Vijay translates for the literary network Caferati. He tell me that Sachi lives in Delhi, which is news to me.

Vijay drops me to Greater Kailash II where I have an appointment with a publisher for my book on Kerala. I wait in a Barista coffee shop nearby as I am early for the appointment. I overhear the conversation, as is a habit with me. A man says he wakes up at 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays as he spends the whole night chatting. I wonder how much the internet has changed people's lives as I am here myself because I booked rail tickets on irctc.com, booked hotel accomodation, and even fixed up appoinments by email.

A group of girls sitting nearby turn out to be young moms discussing their first-born children. Their skins are soft and blemishless (what creams do they use?), and their excited chatter is about things like, "They are little budding flowers," obviously referring to their children. I am shocked, they don't look like moms.

Appointment over, I call Rekha. She is in Saket and says she can come to her Greater Kailash I office to meet me. Anita, Asmita and Sairee also work from that office, so I think I can meet the three of them. I while away some more time, as Rekha would be in the office only by 6 p.m.

Finally I catch a rickshaw after bargaining the fare and is left at Greater Kailash I M block market. Here I am at a loss as I am directed here and there for the address. I cross several lanes, all lined by neat bungalows of Kholis, Khannas, Gargs, etc. Some have watchmen guarding the door who seem helpful but are confusing.

Rekha, statuesque beauty that she is (we have been chatting and emailing for a long time now), is an interior designer and makes exquisite home furniture. Sairee is busy on her computer. Anita has left for the day and Asmita is in a client meeting. Rekha and I discuss family, Kerala, writing.

I ask her why she is not on the networks, and she says she writes for websites on interiors but do not get paid for it. I tell her to at least ask. She has been to Lebanon, Greece, Turkey and Italy and a website wants her to write about her "budget" travels in these countries. Of course, she doesn't expect to be paid for this. But I say "you must insist that they pay even a small honorarium which most publishers do." The joy of receiving a cheque in the mail for something you have written is unbelievable, I tell her.

Rekha gives me some tasty apple tea she has brought from Turkey. It is such a wonderful blend of tea and apple that I exclaim in delight after the first sip. Then I talk to Sairee who is still busy on the computer and tell her what a wonderful network NCR Delhi (which she manages) is. She says its the members who make it so and she wanted a network where members' questions are answered.

Meetings over, I walk in the chilling cold and am directed by a kind man who tells me it is safer to take a rickshaw and not a bus, as the bus stop can only be accessed through a jungle, "Kya jaane kaise log milenge wahan par."

A rickshaw driver takes me to Rail Yatri Niwas for Rs 60. The roads are bordered by trees on both sides and I can't see where I am going, as there are no landmarks. It's a bit like Jeddah, I mean, the well-laid roads and the absence of clearly visible landmarks as in Bombay.

Delhi is an affluent city with spare income and spare time, I reason, compared to Bombay. People spend less time commuting and waiting. I pay Rs 5000 for a first-class pass and commuting to work for which I can easily have a car and fill it with petrol and meet a lot of friends and participate in social activities in Delhi. Not so in Bombay. Even after spending that royal sum of money I am hard up for time, waiting for trains and buses and rickshaws, and generally fretting all the time.

Bombay is a planner's nightmare while Delhi's circular structure is a planner's dream. The posh Greater Kailash I visited is well spaced out and there is none of the clutter one sees in Bombay. New Bombay comes close to Delhi but New Bombay also suffers in infrastructure, activities and entertainment.

Young moms who discuss their wards over coffee, a man who chats the full night on the internet, a karaoke night consisting entirely of ryze.com members, conversations and friends who are politeness personified (people drop me back home after every do I visit), all constitute Delhi.

But lurking somewhere is poverty and dispossession that remain neatly hidden somewhere behind the trees and parks, signs of which can be seen in the rickshaw puller laboring on his pedals on the slight incline of the road outside my hotel room. He is only dressed in a long-sleeved shirt, trousers with a bedsheet thrown over his shoulders in this bitter cold. A photographer clicks me as I stand making some notes at Connaught Place and moves away before I can talk trade with him. He is apprehensive I would snatch his film roll or something. I am a photographer, too, you see, dumbo, and want to ask what techniques you use.

All said and done, Delhi is happening, and this being the twenty-fifth year of my first visit to it, I would want to come back, again, and again, and again....

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Second Part - Blogging Live from the Capital City

This post is from my hotel room. It's cold and the traffic outside is a constant hum in the dark, the train hoots in the still darkness, a few lights puncture the inky black outside the sixth floor window. I am sitting on my bed with the laptop positioned, where else?, on my lap.

Had dinner yesterday with a nephew from my grandfather's grandfather's sister's side whom I am meeting for the first time. This side of the family has produced two great Malayalam writers - Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan and his son KM Tharakan. My nephew, who is almost my age, is the managing director of a company in Delhi. I like his enterprising nature and sense of control over situations. He took full charge of the dinner at Kwality in Connaught Place, including ordering a meal which I must say was yummy: tandoori chicken, bhendi masala, dal makhni, nan, and to top it all pudding.

It is wonderful to eat a proper meal after all those burgers at KFC and Macdonnels. Makes me wonder if eateries like Kwality - which serves food the old fashioned way - would go out of business. There was a Kwality restaurant in Colaba Causeway (wonder if it is a branch of this Kwality), I tell my nephew, but it closed down and in its place is an apparel store now.

I like my nephew's direct talk, his honesty and his camaraderie. I have a drink while I fill him up about our family's history, right from my grandfather's grandfather's grandfather's father's time, of which I am something of an expert. We talk of the hypocrisy of new money in Kerala, how our forefathers really worked hard to put us where we are. He drops me to my hotel.

Speaking of meals the day before I went for Andhra food at the Andhra Bhavan complex with Garima, Asheeth and Varun. It was Garima's idea, or, probably Asheeth's, I don't know. It was Garima (she owns an IT company) who directed us to the place. The place is accessed after several blind turns, and suddenly we are in the midst of the hustle and noise of a south Indian restaurant. Andhra restaurant, in this case. Well, the speciality of this place is that you get mouth-watering Andhra food for Rs 60 only. I was a bit apprehensive as the other Andhra food I have eaten have all been very spicy, but this had just the right amount of spice, and the curry, vegetable and the various other delicacies had the distinct taste of well-made South Indian food. I certainly recommend.

After dinner we talk of going to Goa and Kerala. Asheeth has this idea of beach bumming on the Goa beeches, which also appeals to me and also Varun. Only Garima is a bit finicky about the idea. The plan is to go with nothing on you, buy a few bermudas and tee shirts for Rs 100 each, bum on the beach, sunning and having fun, and then discard the clothes there and come back swinging hands. No luggage, no problem. Shave? Why shave? Grow a beard, if you really want to shave use a barber, Varun suggests. Guess I should try this. Garima talks of going really cheap on South India, that is if you know people living on the way. She says she did it for around Rs 5000. It is possible as Kerala is really cheap as far as hotel accommodation and food is concerned. A hotel room comes for around Rs 200-300, or at the most Rs 500, and a full meal for around Rs 7.

Varun and Garima drop me to my hotel as Asheeth has to go elsewhere, and I really admire the sincereity and sense of fun of these young people. I am as if I am their age, there is a hidden teenager somewhere inside me all the time. So is Asheeth, who recently cropped his long locks and his identity on ryze.com is "18 till I die." So I won't reveal his correct age.

Men, that's the way to live life, men, be a bum for a few days, no?, grow a beard, don't shave only, men, what the f***, enjoy life, men, come to our beaches, dere's lot of sosegado here, men. As they say in Mack English.

More to come, watch this space!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Blogging While Drinking Coffee in Connaught Place

Am blogging while drinking coffee at Cafe Coffee Day in Connaught Place, New Delhi (yes, technology makes it possible!). It is bone chilling cold. A cold wave is going on the temperatures are hovering around -2 degree C, close to freezing. "Wear four layers," a friend had said, "Carry sweaters, mufflers, gloves, monkey caps, wollens, anything that will keep you warm." I am wearing all these and am still cold. I think I am not used to the cold.

Rail Yatri Niwas, where I am staying, turned out to be a disappointment. But at Rs 450 a night with breakfast what did you expect? The door doesn't have a handle, paint is peeling in patches, the curtain rod has been torn off and hangs bent crookedly, the bulb in the bathroom hangs by the wire, the electrical sockets do not work (I had to hunt around for a socket that did, which is down below a table, so, good exercise for my lazy bones), and there is only some slim glass windows shielding me from the cold outside. So it is as if I am in the open, well, almost.

At night I can't sleep as I am close to New Delhi railway station and the hooting wakes me up in a dither, frenzied. Last night my leg had grown so cold it was numb, so I had to get up and walk around. There is no hot water so the precious liquid without which I can't take a bath has to be fetched by the attendant, who is as lazy as they come. I have a habit of oiling my hair before a bath, but the coconut oil has frozen, and no amount of coaxing would make it yield. So I cut the neck with a knife, my trusted swiss knife, and had to rub the oil in my palm to transform it from a goeey paste to something remotely resembling oil.

I first travelled to Delhi in 1982, on business, of course. I was working for Chemical Age of India and being the man-who-dons-many-hats I was sent off to supervise the printing of our magazine, which for economic reasons was in Delhi. I was raw and my boss was so worried that he insisted that I phone him first thing after I reached Delhi, and had the press owner come and see if I was comfortable. I loved working in CAI, it was as if I was a member of the boss's family. Until today the very word "boss" evokes memories of JPdS. Don't know where he is or what he is doing now. Forget, as I do most disturbing things, long story which I might write about sometime.

A lot has changed about Connaught Place. Brand showrooms have replaced the quaint shops selling shawls and saris. Yesterday I walked around Palika Bazar which is all glitzy, the touts are still there, and bargaining is a dream! You can get away with quoting half of their price, and can get away, too. People are much more well dressed than before. There is money, don't know where it comes from but there is a lot of greenbacks out there. There are many discount sales of winter wear, and I regret buying a jacket from Bombay. There is such a wide variety available here, and cheaper, too.

Delhi girls are still beautiful, though a bit filled out. I don't mind. I guess the cold makes them eat more and the calories stick to them more than in a humid city like Bombay. The roads are a dream come true! So what if the driving is a bit aggressive. Scooterists come at you on the sidewalk where they aren't supposed to be. Delhi people are much more polite and civilized than Bombay denizens. Don't crucify me for this, dear Bombayites, but I am yet to hear a sister... mother... or sistermother... profanity.

Attended a karaoke at Turquose Cottage organized by Subbu and Asheeth Manu. Mostly ryze.com member turned up. Garima, Smita, Sachin, Bobbin, Umesh, Shalin, Shashi, Richa, Bohemian Rhapsody, besides Asheeth and a lot of others turned up, and a good time was had by all. I sang "Breakout to the Other Side" and "Wonderful Tonight," my first karaoke experience.

Makes me wonder whether online communities are THE trend of the future. I can't imagine a website programed and hosted in the US can make all this happen. Amazing! More in future instalments.

Monday, January 08, 2007

In Delhi... and Blogging

I am in Delhi and am blogging from my hotel room as my V-card allows me to be online anywhere I go, that is in India.

The journey to Delhi by the Sampark Kranti Express included sharing a seat with an underworld don who had ten rings in all ten fingers, yes, including the thumbs! And he seemed the perfectly normal kind of guy smiling and joking with us all.

And a businessman who had five mobile phones. Imagine! He too sat next to me and we exchanged cards and promised to meet.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Extreme Mendicancy!

I am rather upset a little (just a bit, not much) by the following examples of mendicancy:

The last few days I saw novel formsof begging being done in the Indian urbs prima - Bombay. In the first instance, there was ths group of attractive-looking pubescent girls dressed in low-slung jeans, tops, and short hair boldly and brazenly stopping people on the road, paper in hand. They all were rather giggly and neatly rounded in shape and had figures like the number eight.

Even I was stopped by a girl wearing a trendy capri trousers and high heels and this paper which said they were from some village and that their village (imagine these modern-looking girls living in villages) have been hit by some catastrophe (don't remember what, finer details escape me) and that they needed money.

I looked at the contribution list. People indeed are generous, I think. Rs 200, Rs 300, and even Rs 500. Who are these people? Who is leading them? No authoritative figures were around, no one who would look like they have a control over this operation, no address is mentioned on these papers.

I refuse to pay them and they nonchalantly go away.

The second thing is this:

There is this little girl of around eight years who comes into the train compartment every day, holding a harmonium in her hands. She doesn't play the instrument, nor does she sing. But, yes, she is crying, she wails, and says odd things like, "For three days I am hungry," waa... waa... "I will eat your shit," no jokes, she actually said that. I know it sounds crude and out of place, and it does embarass me a lot to put it here. What could make a citizen of a free, democratic country say this? Can poverty drive a person to such desperation?

The first day I saw her I looked away thinking somebody must have punished the little girl and forced her to beg and the tears are a result of this. That's how cynical I am. But, no, she did it the next day, and today, which was when I thought of writing about it.

Should I be apathetic and not have written about these things. But it did upset and disorient me. Who knows there may be people out there who feel likewise.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Bollywood, South Indian Movies Show in Detroit Suburb!

That Indian movies are popular abroad is beyond doubt. But I didn't know that even in suburban Detroit there are multiplexes (no less!) exclusively devoted to Bollywood movies and even South Indian movies. This comes from a posting from a SASIALIT member:

"This is happening in other parts of the country also-- In suburban Detroit there are sevelar multiplexes with some of their screens devoted not only to Bollywood but also to the regional languages, especially the South Indian-- and the area operates an 800 hotline to inform you of the weeks shows."

Now if only our movies got just a leetle better. I mean cross overs are fun, but a little less of leg showing item numbers and more of sensible story telling.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Tech Bitch!

See if this makes your stomach turn! It did mine!

A new KPO (knowledge process outsourcing, if you didn't already know) is being staffed. The job is writing content for a US-based website. Initially all writers are treated equal, since the company is only getting the feeling of the work, playing around, seeing who can lead and who can be led. They all lead perfectly normal lives like college sudents, ribbing each other, joking, and seemingly equal.

A few weeks later the leader of the team is announced. Let's say Mr. X. All girls in the team switch allegiance immediately, as one, to Mr. X. The other senior member Mr. Y, a serious contender for the post is stumped. He doesn't know what hit him.

Mr. X how do you like my new hair style?

Mr. X how are you this morning?

Mr. X what sort of music/movies/books do you like?

Mr. X how is your wife's cold? ad nauseum.

When Mr. X brings his son to the office, he is pampered, mollycoddled, stuffed with eats and drinks and warm hugs from the girls, as if their survival depended on it.

Mr. Y is ignored, ridiculed, side-lined, ribbed, cast on a lonely island, but carries on. He has every reason to feel that he has been short changed. In the end he leaves.


The BPO office party is on. The game is "dumb charade" and the staff is divided into two groups. Let's say group A and B. As the division is under progress supervisors in Group A which has no managers in their ranks are seen surreptitiously crossing over to Group B, which has the CEO leading them.

As the game progresses, there is an altercation about the rules, as the CEO is seen to be cheating. A member of group A, let's say Mr. O, a natural leader protests. Due note is taken of the protest.

The game is over, the party disperses after the food is eaten and drinks, well, drunk. A few days later Mr. O gets a call from the human resource manager. Need to meet, he says. Mr. O goes to the meeting fearing the worst. Yes, they want him out. Reason given? Performance has been bad.

All these and more are live examples from India's hot new technology companies.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Democracy, Bombay Smells, Yetch!

There I am, as usual, waving to rickshaws that would take me to my place of work. Usually somebody takes pity, nay, compassion seeing my distraught "I am late for work, I will lose myjob" look. But today, no one stops, no one. Why? I am so upset and angry that after asking the twentieth owner of the beetle-shaped-contraption I feel like dunking them into hot oil and boiling them. What is wrong with the tribe today?

They all shake their heads, stocially, their noses touching the roof of their grimy chariots of dust. I have contempt for their types, these guys who drive with one leg up on their seats, they all have the lean and hungry look of starving sharks in some brackish sea, ready to eat their own kind. See that one in the dirty khakhi shirt and trousers, eating betel nut and spitting freely around him?

No, they are protesting, they are unionized and it seems one of them was roughted up by the police. See how even a minority can ransom the majority in our "loktantrik" nation. How fragile life is. Somebody called this the "thin line of democracy." Indeed it is.

So I decide to take a bus to work. But the queue for the bus winds long, twisted, serpentine into god only knows where. And, dear reader, picture this. There I was standing at the end of several "S" shapes, kicked and trod on several times, pushed and yelled at ("chalo, chalo, chalo"), by these smart, surly guys on their way to some sweat shop or the other. This I deduce from their sweaty smell. I make it to office by bus.

Speaking of smells, Bombay has a variety of smells, which meld and sit like a veil on Bombayites. People in Kerala, my own dear ones, say that "They (meaning Bombaywallahs) have a smell, you know." Quite possible, it's a smelly city.

But then, ah, damnation, apocalypse, utter despondency, I don't believe it one bit. I smell myself, pointing my nose et al at me. Do I smell? I have been accused of BB, early in my life, and I guess I do smell after revelling in epicurean delights. But that's the subject of another blogpost.

Monday, January 01, 2007

What a Gruesome End for a Dictator

I have heard of dictators' ends. Hitler shot himself in his bunker, Mussolini was killed, hung upside down and publicly spat on, Pinochet died of heart attack under house arrest, ad nauseum.

But it is for the first time, probably, that the death of a dictator is being documented by the electionic media. Here's the video minus the gruesome end. (Viewer discretion requested though the video only shows him being led to the gallows).