Saturday, December 29, 2007

A quick poll on reading, aw shucks, the absence of reading in trains

I like to do quick polls when I am travelling. On the way back from work today I did a quick poll of what people did on the train back from work. I may be wrong but earlier a lot of people read something – the morning or evening newspaper – or if I am not too presumptuous a novel, perhaps. But habits have changed and I no longer see people reading anymore. They are either listening to music on their mobile phones or ipods, or playing silly snake games on them. Or, best of all they are dozing or just looking out through the window with a dazed expression, somewhat like they were just seeing their life flashing by.

Valiantly arranging the supplements and reading a newspaper - 2 persons
Listening to music on mobile phone - 6 persons
Playing games on the mobile phone - 4 persons
Dozing or looking out dazed - The rest of the train

Honest, people, why don’t you read something, at least, the newspaper? Why are there only two people reading a newspaper instead of a majority as I used to see in earlier days (Ah! those halcyon days when I watched with joy a newspaper or novel being devoured by hungry eyes)?

Or don’t they trust the newspaper anymore, which is bad news for the publishers. And before newspapers go on the defensive and try to prove to me facts about their readership and reach, let me say this: the modern all-glamour, all colour newspaper alienates rather than edifies. Before I get hauled by my newspaper friend here are a few examples:

1. Awards instituted by newspapers are only carried by them and not any other newspapers

2. If a newspaper sponsors a function, only they would give it coverage

3. Newspapers have started featuring paid editorial matter, also called “advertorials” which degrade their credibility

4. Newspapers have become like a business, and are run like a business to make profits. Then why don’t they buy their newsprint in the open market at market rates, not the subsidized rates offered by the government.

5. If newspapers are businesses first and not a social service for information dissemination why do they depend on government subsidies on newsprint and for postage (a newspaper can be posted for a subsidized postage of just 25 paise)?

6. I guess people are interested in reading news about common problems of common people. And too much news about this or that starlet, or who they are sleeping with, with colour pictures of them, puts the public off. They get nauseated by too much cleavage, thighs and heavy make up. Give them some hard news they will lap it up.

Newspaper barons, am I making sense, or what? Or am I too dumb to take on the bureaucracies that you have become? Sorry so-and-so, my friend, I couldn’t resist the temptation of saying all this here on my dear blog. I have been an admirer of your newspaper, but of late it sucks. I just glance at it before throwing it away, or selling it to the kabadiwala.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Some Fun with Names!

The morning cuppa and a bit of conversation. A colleague mentioned how all those working for a company named Kale (black) were white or fair. Then followed a discussion about Maharashtrian names, almost as if out of the blue.

There was this guy named Kale (black) who was in love with a girl whose surname was Gorey (white). Both weren’t either black or white but in between. But Ms. Gorey’s father arranged her wedding to a Mr. Phatarphode (stone breaker), who was neighbour of Mr. Waghmare (killer of tigers). It seems Ms. Gorey was secretly in love with Waghmare’s son, and not with Mr. Phatarphode’s. It seemed that Ms. Gorey was meeting the young Mr. Waghmare privately. Whence Mr. Gorey insisted that she go and live with Undirmare (killer of mice) who is her brother-in-law, being married to her elder sister. Now Phatarphode, breaker of stones smelled a rat and confronted Kale, who agreed that Ms. Gorey had indeed gone to Mr. Undirmare’s, the mouse killer, and that once the affair had cooled he would arrange Phatarphode’s betrothal to Ms. Gorey.

As chance would have it, Waghmare and Phatarphode had a fight over Ms. Gorey when they met in the nearby vada-pau shop and had it not been for the presence of Doiphode (breaker of heads) Waghmare would have broken Phatarphode, the stone breaker’s head. Then as if by a happy chance of fate Waghmare and Phatarphode became friends and Waghmare was the best man at Phatarphode’s wedding.

So we colleagues had a good laugh at the happenstance of Ms. Gorey’s wedding to Mr. Phatarphode, which was also attended by Mr. Khare (Mr. Truth) the maternal uncle of Phatarphode and Mr. Khote (Mr. Lie) who was the husband of Mr. Kale’s sister. All’s well that ends well.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto is No More

So, Benazir Bhutto is dead, so is the hope of democracy in Pakistan. The gruesome death was no different from that of Rajiv Gandhi: public meeting, an explosion, a stampede, and dismembered, naked bodies lying on the streets. The grief, the pain, the loss, a man shouting, “Loot gaya, barbad ho gaya,” another group attacking a vehicle, all so familiar now. Even the naked bodies with underwears exposed. Too gruesome for words, too simple a solution for a confused nation, too easy way of getting rid of dissent. Whatever we say, we aren’t ready to accept dissent. The world is too egoistic and undemocratic to tolerate dissent.

Benazir was attractive, no, I would term her beautiful with a skin so mooth and blemishless. (Fatima Bhutto, her neice and writer, whom I saw from up close at the Kitab festival, also has smooth skin, and some of her aunt's charisma.) Come to think of it Rajiv too had a very good skin. One a handsome man, the other a beautiful women, killed by the most ugly of recent social upheavals - terrorism - both blown up by suicide bombers. Not for nothing did the poet say, "beauty deserves the beast in all of us." I guess I am more than a bit grumpy, and I need sleep, so I will end this post here.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Why Are Christmases So Predictable?

I wonder why Christmas has been so predictable over the years. Frankly speaking I would love to go somewhere for Christmas, but it never happened. So we spent time at home, a few friends dropped in, we had cakes and a glass of wine, and that’s Christmas all nicely wrapped up like a present and forgotten.

This Christmas wasn’t any different. We weren’t invited, even to my sister’s place. So we decided to spend the day at home, a few friends dropped in unannounced, made them eat cakes. For lunch the same old chicken curry and I had bought some white wine and since I like white wine, sipped it ever so slowly, and, ah! the tangy taste of white wine was just divine, more like a poor man’s champagne. Felt so nice and peaceful during my afternoon siesta that I lazed on bed till 5 p.m. By that time another predictable Christmas had already gone by, or most of it. At night it was another chicken and fish curry, another tipple and off to bed for I am working today, which is boxing day.

And Rochelle since you asked what Anthonybhai would say, I am going to inflict on you what our Mack-speaking Anthony D’Souza would say:

You know men, Christmas, no men, like season for joy only, agree, like ole man Father Santa says. But I think Christmas is also season for giving dem poor people some warm clods, and eating stuff like cakes, no, men? What da people are doing is disgusting, men. Anthony not liking at all, the drinking and eating and dem becoming, becoming like pigs no?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Modi Wins Gujarat Election, What Next?

And he won… I mean Narendra Modi. And many parts of the country will weep as many other parts will rejoice. What our founding fathers had seen as a unique experiment of building a nation lies in tatters, its ideologies trampled by the likes of the above-mentioned person.

I weep for the many who have not yet got justice after the Gujarat carnage, they never will. Modi’s victory is symptomatic of the rise of religious intolerance that pervaded ancient Europe and tore it asunder. Killings and persecution followed until the fundamentalists were overthrown by the Protestants with their liberal theological concepts. But here who will reform religion as the protestant reformers did? The only result will be a hardening of positions along the trenches between Hindus and Muslims.

I weep for the many communities who think they are part of the Hindutva bandwagon, but really aren’t. I guess the victory was fuelled by money than muscle. Religious zealots do not have an in between ideology. Their aim is not rapprochement but their own megalomaniac quest for glory. Many would die, and many would be cast aside without a voice to speak out their frustration. The voice of reason is stilled, and reason sleeps a serene and dazed sleep.

I know I am being a bit cynical here, but that’s what happened to Hitler’s Germany. When he was in his ascendancy he was acclaimed as a hero, a liberator who would rid the racially pure Germans of the Jews. But look what happened. And I weep to think that even an expose of the sort that Tehelka unleashed couldn’t dent the margin of his victory. Many people talked openly about the cruel atrocities that were perpetrated. Do we people have a conscience?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

मैं जिसे चाहता हूँ वो चाहती है किसी और को !

This another joke from the below mentioned annual day. It's so funny, I want to share it badly, or I will burst. The compere was such a zany and mad character and he kept an unending flow of jokes and shayaris to keep us engaged. Another one of his witty blank verses here in my bad Hindi:

मैं जिसे चाहता हूँ
वो चाहती है किसी और को
खुदा न करे जिसे वह चाहती हो
वह चाहे किसी और को

Translated:

The one I love
Loves another
Oh God, don't let it be that the one she loves
Loves another

Ha, ha, ha... That's the mad circle of love, that Elton John sang about, poets have cried themselves to sleep about, writers have written copiously about. That's the magic of poetry and love. Hope you like it. Leave a comment if you do, and even if you don't.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Nach Baliye and an Annual Day

What’s up with the climate? It’s cold one day and warm the other day, and sometimes during the day it gets suddenly hot. The company annual day went very well. There was a dance show called “Nach Baliye” in the television reality show mode complete with judges and a rather feisty compere. Here’s one of his jokes:

Gujaratis are so well-mannered and soft spoken. A Gujarati was travelling on a plane and a man came and occupied his seat. The Gujarati came back, saw the man, and didn’t fly into a rage immediately. He sat in the seat on the other side, asked the man his profession, his native place, and his name. “Mel Gibson” the other man said proudly. “Par ha tho Mel Gibson ni seat nathi che! Ha tho Babubhai Parekh ni seat che!” The Gujrati told him ever so nicely. “But this isn’t Mel Gibson’s seat! This is Babubhai Parekh’s seat!” How sweet!

Well jokes apart, the staff did admirably well and danced like there were no tomorrows, bathed in the pale glow of strobe lights, and laser luminescence. The chairman was so happy that he awarded all the participants of the dance around 20 k each. Oh, misery, misery when wilt thou forsake my shadows! Imagine 20 k in my pocket for just shaking a leg. Why didn’t I shake a leg and collect that amount? Sure thing, I wouldn’t mind being laughed at for that amount. I didn’t even have to win, just participate. Oh, another thing, who would dance with me, eh? I know I can shake a leg when it come to “freelance dancing” but any form of organised dancing has me “all toes.” Is that the right expression?

A colleague pair moved so gracefully and effortlessly that I was envious. I guess the wonders of this world would never cease. My mundane colleagues were transformed with some make-up and some flashy dressing into the likes of Bollywood heroes and heroines. Well, it’s not your stuff Johnny-boy, you are too old for that sort of thing.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Non-resident Political Radical (read: Extremist)

Ramchandra Guha writing in Outlook (Dec 17) [doing a great job, Vinod Mehta] mentions the startling and steady growth of influence of the non-resident types, he calls them extremists, “Few have noticed the steady growth in influence of another type of diasporic extremists, Non-Resident Political Radical (NRPR). [Yes I have seen this type; too, the sort that wears Indian they are virulently communal and abhor anything remotely secular in their outlook.] NRPRs are located in American Academia, as students and professors. They are fervently against LPG (liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation). This is despite being the beneficiaries of L, P and G themselves. Some NRPR offer socialist Cuba as an alternate economic model; some others offer the Gandhian ideal of the self-sufficient village economy. The NRPRs are prone to support, and influence, these social movements which share their distaste for their state, the market and the establishment.”

While agreeing with Guha that there are many who become extremists of one type or the other after they cross the borders, I do not know anyone offering socialist Cuba as a model economy. Considering as to how un-travelled and uneducated this blogger is, it is no surprise that the blogger doesn’t find any merit in the Cuban sort of socialism. Cuba has descended into poverty because of its socialist revolution. It used to be a prosperous country before. Whether Guha got this stereotype wrong remains to be seen, and why should these errant children of globalisation be against liberalisation and privatisation has me stumped. Oh well, some people are really very ungrateful, like they say, “Khaneki thali mein ched.”

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

On Being Taught to Write

About writing I say this: you either can, or, you can’t. That’s it. Finito! There are no in-betweens that say: He can write a little, or, I can write a little. And one more thing, if you don’t write very early in your life, then you probably never can in your adult life. No teaching course, or degree can teach you how to write. They can teach you to put words together as in a scrabble, but you can’t make absolute sense of it all, you still can’t write, but you would go on thinking you can, because you paid them, those rascals! For the rest of your life you would say something like, “I did a course in creative writing, and they say I am quite good if I can apply myself to serious writing.” Say this with a “can do” smirk and you will sound credible.

This leaves the hacks, such as me, who write for a living. This type can’t do any other job, but can write commercial stuff that can be passed for acceptable writing. Writing for a living can get very tiring and boring at times, as I have learnt. I can’t enjoy the writing I do to make the home fires burning. In other words, I don’t enjoy the writing I get paid for. I wish with all my heart that I could, but things didn’t work out. So if someone says, “Write me a great article and I will pay you $ 1 million,” that would make me very nervous and unable to write. I would sweat a lot on my keyboard, and the keys would all be submerged and I would panic. But I can hold on to a writing job because, a job is different. It’s a job. Well, er, um, you see, you know, by the time they find that you can’t write, you would be out of the organisation and well-ensconced in another job, with a better salary to boot.

And, oh, yeah, in this system-addled world of today, where systems are supposed t rule the way you eat, drink, and, well, do it (what? I didn’t say it, did I?), there is an increasing need for people who can write. Because, all those systems, workflows, algorithms and programming abracadabra require documentation. Not that anybody reads such documents, but documents are needed to, at least, re-assure people that some semblance of order exists. Brilliant, isn’t it? I still have a cupboard shelf full of manuals I haven’t yet read, which I keep thinking I would one day. Well, what I do is tinker with the keys of my latest obsession, and – lo and behold! – through blind faith or familiarity, I can figure out how to operate it. Who the hell cares for manuals, anyway? But there are standards the company has to comply with, and that requires that you have everything in writing, and therefore they employ duffers like me.

That’s the reason my friend Raj wants to learn writing. He asks me how long it will take, one year, or, maybe, two? I tell him he needs to read a lot of books if you wish to write. Now, Raj looks like the sort of chap who is addicted to 64-paged “Chausatiya” erotic stories sold on railway bridges in Bombay. So, I rather expect the next stupid question, “How many books should I read?” That quite flummoxes me. Is he serious? Does he think writing is something like typing, learn to type and you can keep on typing, and typing and typing any damn rubbish. Would he understand what it means to agonize over commas, semi-colons, full stops, and colons? Would he know what it means to tear hair, rack brain, and bite nails for an appropriate word or sentence. Oh, God! What is this world coming to?

Then he tells me that he knows of an institute that teaches writing, that too, within a year. Yes, they are there by the dozens. Beware of them and their sage advice, and their spiral-bound book manuals. They would be so sweet about your great and dormant talent that you would be tempted to sell the shirt off your back to pay them, because, “Hey, I am going to be a great writer, and the cheques should start coming soon”.

Poor, poor, Raj, I feel sorry for him. He thinks he can learn to write by doing a six-month crash course in writing.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Art of Tying a Lungi

Today’s walk in CBD Belapur’s Nature Park was glorious, as being a Sunday I could sleep late and dawdle a bit before the walk, and indulge in some frippery. The sun was up as I climbed the steep gradient that led to the park, the birds chirping high above me in the boughs of the trees lining the walk. There were only a few walkers now, as most of them are early risers and would be home by now.

I walk a steady pace, neither fast nor slow, since Henry my walking partner, is not with me today. He is a fast walker and usually I have to struggle to keep up with him. So I took it a bit easy, walking, breathing steadily, swinging my arms, and enjoying the bird sounds. The sun filters through the trees, and the walk is deserted except for a few regulars, seemingly retired people, having a leisurely walk. One man sits on a parapet wall above a dry rivulet and is talking to his wife in low tones.

Then I see this man in a checked lungi, walking his dog. I couldn’t but admire the way he was wearing his lungi and managing his dog’s leash. There’s great skill involved in just keeping the lungi around your waist, honest! I had tried wrapping a lungi around me and had failed to keep it safely tethered to my waist. (I was brought up in Bombay, so actually I wasn’t initiated into the ritual of wrapping a lungi, something I regret.) I wonder how C Chidambaram and AK Anthony both ministers in the Indian government can manage their ministries so effortlessly wearing the mundu, the formal version of the lungi. Actually it’s their skill in holding on to the mundu that makes them such expert managers and negotiators.

It takes great skill, will power, and individuality is all I can say. Try it. Try keeping a lungi wrapped around you, you will find it slipping within a few seconds. If you have a belly then it’s even harder, because the laws of physics militate against it. The knot won’t stay put. But for a Keralite and the South Indian, the lungi is an attire of great comfort. It offers complete three-hundred-and-sixty-degree mobility. Convenient, when it comes to scampering up a coconut tree, or, descending into a deep well. Well, try climbing a coconut tree in trousers, a sure disaster, I have tried.

So, this man was walking his dog and the lungi stayed firmly on his waist. And that is a miracle of training, skill, and will power. Makes me wonder if it is why we Keralites are known for our well-rounded personalities and our will power. Because when it comes to sheer determination and grit, Malayalis are on top everywhere. See any corporate ladder and there will be more than a fair share of the Nairs, Menons, and Gopinathans. Attribute it to their skill in delicately keeping the lungi wrapped around their waist, the absolute zen and will power of keeping things anchored, the will to see that the lungi will not come off even when you are managing a frisky dog on a leash.

That’s what I saw the man doing today, something that I could identify with, something that I could take pride in. After all, my father wore mundus at home and my brother can manage one. So what if I prefer the loose track suit pants at home, I can always count on my fellow Malayalis to teach me how to wear a mundu, and the delicate art of throwing one end up, catching the tip with the other, and wrapping it folded around the waist. I hear that scores are settled in this fashion in Kerala. If the adversary nears, you just have to fold your lungi thusly, a little above so that your knees show, and you are ready for battle, if at all. Mostly, if you do it confidently enough, the enemy will take off in the other direction. Practice it watching Mammooty and Mohanlal doing it on screen and you will surely become an expert. All I need now is a lungi and some Mammooty and Mohanlal movie DVDs.

“Chetta, can I borrow some Mammooty DVDs and some lungi-tying expertise from you?” I ask the abovementioned dog-walking wearer of the lungi in Malayalam, my voice trembling at the prospect of this great giver of wisdom denying my request.

“What for?” He asks suspiciously eyeing my track suit pants.

“I want to learn to tie the lungi like you.”

“Than poyi thante karyam nokkado.” Hey you, go and attend to your work.

Didn’t I tell you about Malayalis having great will power and individuality attributable to the tying of the lungi? Well that secret is not to be shared easily with those who do not have the basic skill of being a Malayali, i.e., the art of tying a lungi.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

New York Times on J. M. Coetzee's Move to Australia

Hark, listen, thou persecuters of authors of their own countries (Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasrin), here's what Rachel Donaldio writes about nobel-winning JM Coetzee's emigration to Australia from South Africa on the back of criticism of his novel "Disgrace" by the African National Congress as being racist (JM Coetzee' emigration to Australia:

"A host of questions lurk behind that simple sentence. Why would a novelist who has written so powerfully about the land of his birth pack up and leave? Were his 2002 move and his taking of Australian citizenship last year a betrayal of his homeland, or a rejoinder to a country whose new government had denounced one of his most important novels as racist? Was it just another example of the “white flight” that has sent hundreds of thousands of generally affluent South Africans to other Anglophone countries since the end of apartheid? Or was it a tacit acknowledgment that Coetzee had exhausted his South African material, that the next chapter in the country’s history was the rise of the black middle class, and what did an old resistance writer, with his aloof, middle-aged white narrators, know about that?"


Well, hard luck to South Africa and congratulations to Australia, one has gained a nobel-winner and the other has lost one.

"The Sleep of Reason"

The Spanish painter Goya, well known for his satire, once said, “The sleep of reason brings forth monsters.” These days we are seeing the sleep of reason on many fronts and I am at a loss to describe some of the domains in which reason has been sleeping, a tired and fatigued sleep. All my own slightly egoistic, biased, and wafflingly meandering gleanings.

*****

Taslima Nasrin the embattled author has been under attack from Muslim fundamentalists, and she talked of separating the church and religion, as if it can ever be done in India. Can’t she see that religion is what bankrolls the political process of the religious extremists? The politicians are sleeping the “sleep of reason” mentioned above and the monsters are at play. People who haven’t read a word of her work whip up a frenzy over some offending lines in her book. If they don’t like what she writes then why don’t they stop reading her books, and stop trying to take this country back into the first century?

*****

Narendra Modi may have caused the deaths of thousands in the genocide attempted in Gujarat, if the Tehelka expose is true; however, thumbing his nose at his detractors he is soon set to come back to power. Here again reason has gone to sleep and the monster has been awakened. Imagine a Modi, high on the adrenaline of success, focusing his eyes on the next big position in his ambitious campaign – the Prime Minister-ship.

*****

Meanwhile Nandigram and Singur continue to fester and here again the sleep of reason has brought forth the monsters. I recently read an essay by Ramchandra Gandhi, governor of West Bengal, where these two towns are situated. He said that one of the defining characteristics of modern India is the way the markets have been manipulated to create new needs where none existed before, say the need to look fairer, and the need to dislocate people to put up giant economic zones. I guess this is also a “bringing forth” of monsters that devour our mental faculties and disturb our perception of ourselves.

Can we perceive ourselves as a nation of fair people? How can we when a big majority of our people are dark skinned? Skin lightening creams are f*****g up the minds of girls in Kerala. Here also, I guess, the sleep of reason has brought forth monsters. “Fair and Lovely” is the substance of which mythologies and folklore are made of in Kerala. I watched a Malayalam play recently which mentioned the skin cream, and there are queues outside medical and retails shops when fresh supplies of “Fairandlovely” (pronounced as one word) arrive. People use the word in everyday conversation such as: “Why don’t you buy your daughter some “Fairandlovely”, see how dark she looks”.

*****


I was in an art gallery to view the paintings of one of India’s foremost painters. (Since Goya inspired the theme of this post, I might as well end with the painter.) The painter, perhaps out of a much-bloated ego, had told an interviewer that he doesn’t like to discuss his painting. Fair enough. I know artists and writers find the job of explaining their paintings tedious, and, well, um, challenging. But what artist is he/she who can't discuss his/her painting? What made me think of the “brining forth of monsters” was a little incident that happened in the gallery. It happened thusly:

An aspiring artist came to the great painter clutching a few photographs of his paintings. The famous one, the one with the shock of frizzy hair, gave one look at the paintings and asked him where he came from. The boy named the place, somewhere in the boondocks, obviously, as the painter scathingly replied:

“Go back there, do some farming, cultivate something, you will be happy.”

Obviously with the sleep of reason the monsters are on the rampage in Indian artland, too. The painter Goya would be satisfied that his observation, hmm, still stands.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Gossipy Friend

My friend S – a fellow mallu – is a very gossipy guy. I don’t know, it’s so disconcerting being with him. Sometimes I meet him in our locality, and if I mention the name of a common friend – Oh, God! – whatever gossip will fall out of his mouth, I wouldn’t know.

“That man is always on water (meaning alcohol), he defrauded his friends, aioooooh, he never attends church, he is such a dog, have you seen what clothes he wears? No, style statement, he is such a thallipoli (Mallu for a failure).”

I wonder why there’s so much negativity in him. His business failed, and he is surviving on his wife’s income. Guess that would be reason enough to make anyone bitter and turn to gossip as a way to pass time. And this guy thinks checked shirts are formal wear, and is often seen wearing them to office. He is blind to his own faults but tries to magnify the faults of others, and it makes me very uncomfortable to be with him.

I guess people are like that. I am the sort that would keep quiet rather than say anything against someone. I know there must be a lot of gossip circulating about me, but I don’t care. I would rather be immune to it. One thing about gossip is that when you are immune to it, or even, er, um, walk away, it dies. Life is too short, people, thirty, or, forty years can go in a wink.

Oscar Wilde said, “I don't at all like knowing what people say of me behind my back. It makes me far too conceited.” Guess that’s the way one should be. Not conceited enough to want to know what others are saying about one.

Then I meet another friend and the talk took a detour to my gossipy friend S.

“Oh, he is such a boring gossip, I can’t stand him,” is what this friend had to say about S. Guess what goes around comes around.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Gandhigiri - The New Meme

This is a conversation I just finished with a friend:

“We had a railway boycott in Vasai-Virar area.”

I had heard of the boycott from the papers, but didn't think much of it. Can it change anything, hehe, I thought cynically.

“What was it about?”

“The railways haven’t increased the number of trains. They should since there are four tracks now. Daily a lot of people are dying, falling off from trains.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes, because of the rush people hang out of compartments, they lose their grip, or are hit by the electric poles. And, tell me, who will care for their families.”

‘Tell me how did it go, this boycott?”

“Ah, yes, we resorted to Gandhigiri, you know, we went back to Gandhian principles of Satyagraha. We squatted on the tracks and persuaded the people not to use the trains, telling them it is for their own sakes, as ‘Munnabhai did in Lage Raho Munnabhai’.”

“Was this Gandhigiri successful?”

“Yes it was a hundred per cent success.”

As far as buzzwords and memes go, Gandhigiri has caught on. I had several issues with Munnabhai MBBS when it won so many awards. I found it unethical in that a thug was being associated with the values that Gandhi had championed. The goon wasn’t shown as having reformed; instead he went about indulging in his “goondagiri.”

But “Lage Raho Munnabhai” had a nice twist. It showed what was called “Gandhigiri” and it seems to have caught on, um, to use a cliché, like wildfire. I hear the word referred to in trains, in restaurants, in theatres, in fact, everywhere. Guess it has transformed itself into a meme of sorts ("a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation.")

I guess “Gandhigiri” can do a lot to counter the inimical spread of “religious fundamentalism” in the country. I know, I know. Fundamentalism is an ogre that has to be countered, butchered and killed. No, I am not referring to fundamentalism of the Hindutva kind alone; there are fundamentalists in churches also. Don’t believe it, attend a church service, and you will find out.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

My Latest Poem: Cafe Samovar, Kala Ghoda

My latest poem: "Cafe Samovar, Kala Ghoda" appears here (Cafe Samovar, Kala Ghoda:

"I first sipped beer here,
Got to see some celebrities –
Pearl in an elegant kimono –
And almost famous theatre actors.
It is said superstars dated here,
Sitting on those spare wicker chairs,
Their lives like convoluted-
Hindi film scripts."

And while you are there, do write a comment.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

How Kerala Behaves With Women

Malayala Manorama (the largest-circulated Malayalam newspaper, of which this blogger was an employee not long ago) did a study on "How Kerala Behaves with Women" in which six of its women journalists farmed out into different parts of the state to study how Kerala treated its women. The findings can be seen here (How Kerala Behaves With Women), and are quite shocking and upsetting. Excerpts:

"Here are some of their experiences which came under collective bylines: On January 14, as soon as she boarded the general compartment of the Chennai ail at 3.30 pm from Kollam (about 70 km from the state capital Thiruvananthapuram), the reporter became the centre of attention. She was the only woman in the compartment and hands began reaching out to her from all directions. While she held on to a seat to balance herself, the passenger seated there decided to push himself back and rest his head on her hands. Those passing by made it a point to finger her, en route. Sensing danger, hurriedly she moved towards the door."

Despite hundred per cent literacy and a lineage of matriarchal families, Kerala, I guess, no better than other states of India. Just recently, a leading politician (a minister, no less, aaarrrrggghhh!) of Kerala was accused of molesting a woman sitting next to him on a flight. The woman complained to the police and the politician had to resign his ministership. Are women safe at all in God's Own Country?

What's Wrong with Indian Fiction Publishing?

Hmm (am feeling a bit defensive here), a discussion on Caferati provoked me to make the following observations, and here it is for your reading pleasure:

The Indian book publishing industry has been stagnating because it is plagued by the following maladies (I am stating it rather bluntly because my novel hasn't yet been published, and, right now, am not very confident that it will be published, but that's another story):

1. Shortage of good book editors. I mean, not only to edit books, but also to commission books and mandate a writer to do their best. Sonny Mehta of Alfred A Knopf is famous for pursuing lazy authors to finish their works. It is rumoured that he moved in with Douglas Adams in order to make sure he finished his book "So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish."

2. Need to improve quality of Indian books. Open an Indian novel in English and you will find the most atrocious typefaces, blurred text, cheap paper, cramped lines, unmatching start and end lines, even lines in the folio. All nightmarish when compared to the simple elegance of books printed abroad. Moreover, Indian readers have been used to quality Western books and find Indian books lacking.

3. Inability to develop good authors. While Monica Levinsky can write one sensational book, and Shahrukh Khan can write one sensational autobiography, India needs to find and encourage writers who can, at least, author one good book in a year and pay them well for doing that. Well, unfortunately, that has not been the case. Except, perhaps, Shobha De, there hasn't been a prolific author of the Barbara Cartland, Robert Ludlum, John Grisham, Jackie Collins and, for that matter, John Updike variety in India.
4. I know of an author friend who blasted her publisher and publicist for failing to organize a reading for her book before Yuletide, because that's the book-buying peak time. Here you would be lucky if the publisher decides to organize one reading each in the metros, and give some publicity.

Given some good editing, good publicity, and however small an advance, Indian writers can and will produce good books.

However, as Rajat says, stay away from anyone who asks for money, even to read your novel. (I am of the firm view that they should pay you to be entertained by your book. If they aren't, they don't love their jobs, and you will hardly trust a publisher or an agent who doesn't like his/her job.) Well, you have done the hard work and it's time they paid you and not the other way around. In fact, anyone asking for money is suspect. So also is anyone not offering to pay you anything for your efforts. They could entice you with promises of stardom and immortality, but then they don't know what literature or literary effort is all about.

'The male eunuch' by James Wolcott

Didn't know we men were so badly off until I read this article excerpt. Hee hee, couldn't help sniggering (The male eunuch). Excerpt:

"As if men hadn't suffered enough indignities of late (loss of breadwinner status, declining sperm counts, advertisements targeting erectile dysfunction and hair loss), along comes Susan Faludi, offering soothing words and a lump of sugar. Like a horse whisperer, she feels men's pain and wants to coax them out of the barn, one hoof ahead of the other. She isn't being deliberately patronising - which makes her tender concern all the more shaming. Men are now officially pathetic."

With more men taking to shaving their chests and torsos (see the famous Hritik, Shahrukh, Salman torsos, appearing like unshelled eggs. You mean they don't have a single hair on their chests? Baloney!), wonder if man is becoming more of a eunuch (considered a big insult, calling him that). Had a big fight with son when he said he wants to shave his legs like his friends do. What the muck? I said, "A man who has hair on his body is considered virile and manly. It's an eunuch who would shave his chest."

He wasn't convinced. But I will keep a close watch on my supply of shaving cream, lest he, you know, use them for some unmanly purposes.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

After Sixty Years of Reservations, Why This Poverty?

The city is full of people, here for Babasaheb Ambedkar's death anniversary. Looking at them, what strikes one is the abject poverty of my brothers and sisters from the villages outside Bombay. My heart goes out to the man who hesitates at the door of a restaurant, asks the waiter if he would be welcome, before he musters the courage to sit on a chair and order a Pepsi. So touching! I feel like telling him that he is an equal in this great democracy of ours and that he can enter any shop or restaurant and eat or haggle about the prices.

The number published in the papers put the estimated figure at around five-hundred thousand persons. There is an unending stream of them in every station, on the streets, marked by a silence; they only know the reason for. This blogger understands what pressure this would put on the city's services and hope the government has done enough to make the city's guests comfortable.

They trudge with bags on their heads, their sandals dirty, their clothes worn with dirt, gawking at the buildings and at the designer clothes in shops. What struck me immediately was that despite reserving around 49.5 per cent of jobs and seats in professional colleges for the disadvantaged caste in India, a huge percentage of them remain dirt poor.

Let’s go back a bit. The Mandal Commission in its report published in 1980 had estimated that 54 per cent of India’s total population or 3743 different castes and classes, were backward. Therefore, it recommended that the government give an additional reservation of 27 per cent of all governmental jobs, seats in educational institutions and posts in the administration to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Castes. Together with the existing 22.5 per cent reservations for SC and ST, respectively this would result in a total reservation of 49.5 per cent.

Despite this great concession, why haven’t they, my brothers and sisters, come forward and ended their poverty by aggressively educating themselves and grabbing what posts are available to them, as they have been rightfully given by the constitution? I think in this case their silence speaks. They have not yet been treated as equals by society. In that case, would the higher castes – who have been stung by the government’s policies – ever give them equal status?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Corporate Hired Mercenary, Management Dream Gone Phut!

And there went hopes of working for India’s biggest industrial group in a senior position, actually, Sr. Manager – Content! Ah, such things happen. But guess the jump from humble content writer to Sr. Manager would have been an ego-boost, and the dream of at last wearing a tie and working for India’s largest corporate house. Not to be, Johnny-boy.

The interviews seemed encouraging enough. I was told to give suggestion about this big industrial group’s website, which I did, spending, or rather, wasting a whole day on it. I mailed it to the senior manager who had interviewed me, and waited, and waited. Not even an acknowledgement came. Then I phoned. What happened? He said he will give a call back. And then I waited, and waited, and waited.

Then I understood. I was rejected, and the manager was avoiding telling me this. He was, sort of, um, you know what I mean, you get the point?

Yes, we don’t know how to speak in a professional tone, just a bit impersonal, without any emotion. A management trainer should have been hired to train the staff of the corporation in the basics of business communication. The response in this case would have been, “Mr. Matthew, sorry, our interview panel didn’t select you. Better luck next time,” or something thusly.

But no, they didn’t, and that rankles, and I have started harboring an unwilling grudge against the corporation. And there was this incident that happened in front of me when I had gone for an interview in the sprawling campus of the company (The sort where you would need a vehicle to go from one end to the other, across manicured gardens, fountains and sculptures). Just as I was about to enter the huge glass façade of the company, a company underling was trying to suck up to his boss in a whiny voice thusly:

“Sir, maine aap ko bola tha, sir, sir, maine aap ko usi time bola tha.”

“Kab? Kya bola tha?” This was said with an irritated look at his underling. Apparently something had gone irrevocably wrong. Obviously, the crone’s job was on the line. Such cronyism! God, what have we come to?

And that was all I heard before I went out of earshot. I guess I can’t do that sort of sucking up to people, even bosses. That’s why I have been and will always remain a corporate hired mercenary, and a corporate misfit.

Latest Literary Deals

Here are the major literary deals in the past week, kindest courtesy of Literary Marketplace. When, oh, when will I figure in these?


Debut Fiction
Film director David Cronenberg's first novel, partially set in Toronto, to Nicole Winstanley at Penguin Canada, who wrote him "several months ago to inquire about whether or not he'd consider writing a novel," in a pre-empt, for publication in early 2010, by Andrew Wylie of The Wylie Agency.

Doubleday editor Sarah Rainone's Love Songs For Lost Children, set at a wedding where a group of twenty-somethings, reunited for the first time in years, are forced to live through and live down who they were then, and reveal the secrets that have defined them since, to Carrie Thornton at Three Rivers Press, by Jud Laghi at LJK Literary Management (NA). Film/TV rights are being handled by Shari Smiley at CAA.

Recent Harvard grad, 23-year-old Pakistani writer Ali Sethi's debut novel, set in his native Lahore, the story of a fatherless Pakistani boy being raised in a family of outspoken women, and the guilt he experiences when his fate diverges from that of his closest friend and cousin, whose unconventional behavior brings severe consequences for her, to Megan Lynch at Riverhead, at auction, by Barney Karpfinger at The Karpfinger Agency (US). Rights have also gone to Hamish Hamilton in the UK and Penguin India.

Ivy Pochoda's The Art Of Losing, in which a woman weds a talented magician, whose hands attract stray saltshakers and poker chips�after one of his tricks goes terribly awry, the newly-wed is left with the question whether things she believes in are real or just another illusion, to Hilary Rubin Teeman of St. Martin's, in a nice deal, by Kim Witherspoon of Inkwell Management (World).

McSweeney's contributor G. Xavier Robillard's Captain Freedom: A Superhero's Quest for Truth, Justice, and The Celebrity He So Richly Deserves, to Carl Lennertz at Harper, for publication in Jan 2009, by Helen Zimmermann at the Helen Zimmermann Literary Agency. helen@zimmagency.com

Inspirational
Dearest Dorothy series author Charlene Ann Baumbich's Snowglobe Connections series, about a set of mysterious antique snowglobes, each capable of unlocking the desires of the heart, and the Divinely inspired transformations that occur in the people who possess them, to Shannon Hill at WaterBrook Press, in a three-book deal, by Danielle Egan-Miller at Browne & Miller Literary Associates (World English).

Mystery/Crime
Former firearms industry professional Lori Armstrong's Ritual Sacrifices, the first in a new mystery series featuring an Army sniper who has returned home to run her family's South Dakota ranch, to Trish Lande Grader at Touchstone Fireside, in a two-book deal, by Scott Miller at Trident Media Group (NA).

Thriller
Four books in the new Red Dragon series by bestselling authors Larry Bond and Jim DeFelice, to Bob Gleason at Tor, by Robert Gottlieb at Trident Media Group (NA).

General/Other
Bridie Clark's novel I Think She's Got It, a modern retelling of Pygmalion, the story of a shy, young Midwesterner who is transformed into a sophisticated socialite by a dashing but arrogant man-about-town who is convinced he can turn anyone -- even the most awkward wallflower -- into this year's "it" girl, to Rob Weisbach at the Weinstein Company, also optioning film and TV rights for the Weinstein Company, for publication in 2009, by Daniel Greenberg at the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency (world).

Children's: Middle grade
Ann Haywood Leal's debut Also Known As Harper, about a girl named after Harper Lee (and her brother, named after Hemingway) whose family is evicted from their house and makes a new home at a run down motel, to Reka Simonsen at Holt, at auction, by Daniel Lazar at Writers House (world).

Children's: Young Adult
Aprilynne Pike's Autumn Wings, a four-book series about an ordinary girl who discovers that she is a faerie sent to guard the gateway to Avalon in the mortal world, and when she is thrust into the midst of a centuries-old battle between faeries and trolls, she's torn between a mortal and a faerie love, as well as her loyalties to both worlds, to Tara Weikum at Harper Children's, in a pre-empt, by Jodi Reamer at Writers House (World English).

John Green and David Levithan's Will Grayson, Will Grayson, about two teens - both named Will Grayson - whose paths cross and lives become intertwined after a chance meeting in a very unexpected place, to Julie Strauss-Gabel at Dutton Children's, by Jodi Reamer at Writers House (world).

Children's librarian Josh Berk's debut Big Deaf Fatty, set in coal mining Pennsylvania and narrated with sardonic humor by a boy who is overweight, deaf, and mute during his first year in mainstream high school, when he begrudgingly solves a murder and uncovers a secret truth about his family history, to Cecile Goyette at Knopf, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, by Ted Malawer at Firebrand Literary.
ted@firebrandliterary.com

Jane Smiley's daughter, Lucy Silag's debut trilogy Perfectly Paris follows four Americans to Paris for their junior year of high school, where they enjoy their first taste of real freedom until one girl mysteriously disappears, to Lexa Hillyer at Razorbill, by Molly Friedrich at Friedrich Agency.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The World’s Fastest Indian

Saw “The World’s Fastest Indian” again this morning. No, no, it’s not about Milkha Singh, nor is it about PT Usha. Hehe. Quite sad isn’t it? It’s about a 1920 model of a bike manufactured by the Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company of Springfield, Massachusetts, which was used by the US army. Fondly these machines were called “Indian” and it looks more like our every day bicycles than a Hayabusa, or, for that matter, the Indian Hero Honda models. (Curiously enough, I have seen Parsi gentlemen, known for their fanatic devotion to their machines, riding such bikes in the Fort Area of Bombay.)

The film “The World’s Fastest Indian” starring Anthony Hopkins in the title role is about Burt Munro who is a New Zealander who worked on a model of this “Indian” bike to set up numerous land speed records for motorcycles with engines less than 1000cc at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in the late 1950s. So “Indian” in this case is a bike, not a flesh and blood desi Indian. Sorry, Milkha Singh-ji, sorry, PT Usha.

Go see the movie now running on Zee Studio. Anthony Hopkins has turned in a very realistic performance, again! I love this actor! By the way I am addicted to Zee Studio which is showing some wonderful films these days. Watch out for their Satyajit Ray series on every Sunday at 3 p.m.

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