Friday, February 22, 2008

Poor Pablo!

I can’t but empathise with Pablo Ganguli. He has done festivals, seminars, conferences in practically every country in the world but it’s his own second country – India – that beat him to the quick (He is primarily a UK Indian.). A festival without sponsors is like a deep sea diver without oxygen. And I think he misjudged the “grab-as-grab-can” attitude of some of his former friends and fellow organisers.

Pablo’s pet project Kitab 2008 has been sabotaged, he has been called a fraud and a cheat by his own collaborators and authors, and even his friends don’t want anything to do with this twenty-three year old. Some prominent authors have said they wouldn't like to be associated with him and expressed their solidarity with fellow writers who were (allegedly) not paid. (Come on, which writer in India can claim to live just by his/her writing alone? Did they presume that this would be a junket thrown in by a British millionaire impressario just to get them on the dais? They have got their publicity, now what more do they want?) His sponsors have pulled out and he is left to run Kitab 2008 with his own money. Come on, I would like to say he is only twenty-three, the same age as my son.

Pablo, a British citizen, has been doing shows, conferences and festivals all over the world since he was fifteen. He has done festivals in Russia (two months back) and every imaginable city. In India he organised a Kitab festival in Delhi and next year he plans to do it in Calcutta. The press called him a “cultural impresario” and everywhere he goes publicity just follows this boyish-looking youth. So people assumed he has lots of money stashed somewhere.

The last time Pablo organised Kitab was in 2007. He had trusted the wrong people, the finance was with a firm that was responsible for raising and paying for all the expenses. This firm has now threatened to sue him if they were not paid a royal amount in addition. The other was his manager of sorts, who managed the events. He showed me an SMS she had written him almost blackmailing him for money, while he says he has already paid her Pounds 2000, and she is after more money, because they all think Pablo is filthy rich. Poor chap!

And that has set everyone who had come to Kitab 2007, after Pablo as if they were bloodhounds after a rabbit. He is being accused of being partial to the white delegates and putting them in the Taj, which is something he refutes. He says his manager herself was responsible for booking the accommodation for the guests, and now she is accusing him of giving better rooms to the Brits delegates and low-rung accommodation for the Indian delegates.

Pablo claims that his manager, who was paid Pounds 2000 (and is now asking for more) insisted that he invite writers from every conceivable state in India, while he had warned her that there weren’t any funds to take care of their accommodation. It is this very manager who is floating the rumour that Pablo was partial when allotting accommodation.

Will the surprises of this world ever cease for Pablo?

Pablo, poor Pablo, has no recourse but to go to court. He is taking all of them to court for defaming his character and writing email that transgress the thin line between communication and slander. If one knows the online media one would never, ever circulate slanderous emails with names and email addresses on them, which is what the accusers of Pablo have done. Hope Pablo has luck in court which has evaded him in the making Kitab 2008 the success he dreamed it to be.

Disclosure: I had promised to help Pablo with the organising of Kitab 2008 and I stand by that decision because I think a commitment is a commitment and I should honour it. Right now accusations are being traded, only later will the truth emerge, and I believe that the just will get their justice, come what may.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Satire: Who Actually Made the North Indians Flee?

Well, actually there’s justice in this world. The New Bombay president of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (whose founder is Raj Thackeray) KR Gopi has assured North Indians in the satellite town in which I live has actually said that there is no risk to them and, in fact, asked them to stay back. (The president, KR Gopi, is actually my classmate KR Shashi’s brother and is president of the local body of industrialists, too.) He also said that the scare and exodus created was a pure fabrication of the media. To quote him from the story that made front page news in today's edition of the Times of India, “My party leader…, has been misquoted and and misunderstood by the media, especially the television press. This unfortunately led to such tension in the state.”

I think there may be a wee bit of truth in all this. Read on.

So what has prompted this divergence of view between the party president and the local party president? So, was the television footage of a woman and children being shoved into a train through a window a misguided hype created by the electronic media? And, horror of horrors, I watched another channel and they were also showing the same footage. I guess the smart ass that shot that video made a killing without interviewing anyone and taking their statements. I mean if he/she was so enterprising why couldn't he/she take an actual statement, on camera?

So the final and unadulterated truth goes somewhat like this: The party president makes an inflammatory speech in which he castigates the Big B for ignoring his ardent fan (he himself), a few misguided party workers rough up a few roadside chana, sandwich sellers because they were fans of the Big B and go for darshans outside Big B’s residence, and the media latches on to it.

The news editor of this hot shot channel sends his reporter to cover the story. Now, listen to what happens inside the channel news editor’s office:

“Bole tho, bring me a story with some footage that shows someone clambering into a train. If it’s women and children, more the better.”

“Yes boss, will do whatever you say, TRP tho we all wanting no?”

An hour later inside the channel news editor’s office:

“What about the story?”

“Boss, there’s no story, nobody is willing to talk, and nobody says they are leaving the city because of the remarks of the party president.”

News editor, turning to his minion: “Bole tho, isko khopcheme leke kharcha pani de, kya?” (Meaning give him a pasting in that corner.)

And then scratching his head asks his peon, Namdeo, “What should I do now?”

Namdeo: “Boss I have an idea. My friend is a video shooter, yes, those types who shoots weddings, and he lives near Kurla station. If I ask him he will go there and shoot some scenes of people leaving Bombay, and we can make it all up for the 9 p.m. news.”

News editor: “Brilliant, Namdeo, brilliant! Ask him to go right away. What an idea. We can even have the Idea ad playing in the commercial break, remember the one in which the northie-looking man comes and tells B Junior, “what an idea, sirjee”. They will advertise because of the television rating points (TRPs) we are going to get today.”

So Namdeo’s friend Pandurang goes to Kurla with a video camera. Luckily he sees a man shoving his trunk, his children and his wife through the emergency window [in every train there's a window that can be opened for escape during an emergency] and shoots it and phones Namdeo.

“What happened Namdeo?” asks the news editor.

Namdeo dutifully shows the video shot by Pandurang.

“Brilliant. Bole tho, maha brilliant,” says the news editor, “take these shots and intersperse it with those of the channawallas being beaten, and we have a perfect news story and the highest TRPs tonight.”

The video is aired and hundreds begin leaving as rumour spreads after seeing the news story.


Meanwhile Pandurang, the shrewd businessman that he is, is in offices of different channels selling the video of a poor labourer going to Patna to attend his chacha’s son’s wedding.


Next day the channel’s TRPs don’t show any improvement and is stuck like a dead duck in a pool of muck. The reason? Pandurang’s video footage is with every channel and all of them are airing them repeatedly.

So crookedness never wins, and after all, one learns, there’s some justice in this world.

(Disclaimer: This is a satire meant only as a humourous pice of writing and no harm is meant for anybody mentioned above.)

Have You Seen Your Innards?

Have you ever seen the insides of your stomach? Nyet? I have, recently. The good doctor sprayed some medicine, asked me to swallow, and then inserted the endoscope, and asked me to swallow again. And there on the computer screen was my innards, the place where my food goes, my precious stomach, inside of my guts, on screen. It was kind of reddish with a lot of folds and I could only wonder how much trouble it has gone through from my frequent gorging on inedible food. I decided then that I would take good care of it and wouldn’t let it be sick again. So it is goodbye to junkfood, roadside eating, shadowy watering holes, and bad food in general.

With this post I have crossed 700 posts on this blog. Have a drink? No thanks, I will celebrate in all sobriety!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Pictures of the Poetry Slam at Kala Ghoda Festival

The Kala Ghoda Festival just concluded at, where else, Kala Ghoda. Well there used to be a Kala Ghoda (Black Horse) here -- though I haven't seen it -- carrying the supreme behind of HRH Edward IV or some such dignitary of yesteryears. As one who is drawn to this area of Mumbai, having worked there close to four years of my life, and having passed the area every morning close to a quarter of my life time, this area has a deep resonance as far as art, literature, culture (though I am not the culture-vulture type), eating, etc. are concerned. I have sat at the old "Woodside Inn" and ate, I have seen art shows by Husssein and Souza, I have drank the potion at Samovar and Paris Craze (which is now "Soul Fry Casa" or some such), I have seen movies at the Stuttgart Hall at the Max Mueller Bhavan and ogled girls of an agency that specialised in employing only good looking girls. Well I have done it all, and more.

So imagine my surprise when I land up in this festival and find that instead of a festival of the Western type this one was our typical Indian "Kumbh Mela" with giant wheels and sculptures of a man and a horse. Wherever we go we generate a lot of noise and this crowd was generating a noise equal to several trains arriving at Victoria Terminus simultaneously. And there were fighting calendar sellers, book sellers, curio sellers, ice cream and gol gappa sellers, the works!

What warmed the innards was the literary section tucked into the David Sassoon Library garden (I am a life member of this library and was a managing committee member once). At the poetry slam pictured above, one could see heart-felt poetry being recited and sung with theatrical gestures and improvisations. Arka Mukhopadhyaya wore a smallish drum around his neck, which he beat sporadically. A good time was had by poetry lovers. Actually as Rashmi Dhanwani said, "It isn't an audience, audience, but friends and relations of the performers." To cut this long rambling short the friends and family of the performers (yes my friends were on stage too) had a good time.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Is the Electronic Media So Desperate?

While a certain Hindutva proponent has a case against South Indians, his nephew has a problem with people from the other extreme, North Indians. Between them they have pretty much covered the entire sub-continent except Maharashtra. So what does this mean? That people from outside Maharashtra have no right to exist in this industrially advanced state ruled by a centrist government, that their contribution to the growth of the state is nil?

Irate youths took to the streets and burned buses. Not that it is something new, but I had to wait for three trains to pass before the panicking crowd got less dense and I could find a foothold inside a train from Kurla to New Bombay. I am angry because it affects a common, job-going, and wage-earning nobody like me. I don’t like to put my life at risk by hanging out of a running train. Yes, half the people inside these trains were hanging out of them, exposing themselves to the killer electric poles that have already killed a lot of train commuters in Bombay.

Enough of that. Now, I have the sneaking feeling that the media is actually fomenting trouble by showing everyday scenes that one sees in long-distance train stations like Kurla. I mean go to any station and you will find people desperate to get inside, and making the last resort of climbing through windows. So, how convenient did CNN/IBN reporter find it (the visual of a woman’s backside being pushed into a train through a window) to report as “an exodus of North Indians from Bombay.” Yes, that’s what they did without giving any statements from the people concerned. I think such unsubstantiated journalism is a blot on the whole tribe of conscientious journalists who work hard on their stories.

As far back as 1992 a riot was fomented in Bombay when the BBC played an archived edition of a riot that had happened long back. The trouble makers thought it was a riot that was happening just then and took to the streets and killed a lot of people and destroyed a lot of property. Is the urgency to present a story so desperate as to take such liberties with the truth?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Ian McEwan, Scientist -Britannica Blog

Ian McEwan, Scientist -Britannica Blog: Here's what J.E. Luebering writes in the Britannica Blog about author Ian MacEwan's aversion to literary theory. I think the writer is seeking to earn cheap brownie points by rubbishing his own profession:

"That fact is at the core of a recent interview in The Australian with McEwan, the author most recently of the novel On Chesil Beach. But his reason for disliking criticism as it’s practiced in academia today is not that its language is repellent and dull or that it’s a waste of time to read (although he uses all of those words to characterize it).

"Instead, McEwan claims, the problem with literary theory is that its aspiration to be scientific is never fulfilled. [To quote him]:

"Me, I am a realist and materialist, and literary theory always struck me as
a fabulous waste of time, people wishing to import into their notions of the
world untested theories with no evidence, just a sort of smattering of
scientific vocabulary to give it some supposedly objective credibility."

So, what should we say about such a traitorous betrayal of literary theory. Are students, teachers, academics who push literary theory eggheads and dumbasses? Hardly, but that's my personal opinion.

My Revolutions - Hari Kunzru

My Revolutions - Hari Kunzru - Book Review - New York Times: Heare what the New York Times' Will Blythe has to say about Hari Kunzru's new novel "My Revolutions".

"This brings us to the British writer Hari Kunzru’s third novel, “My Revolutions,” an extraordinary autumnal depiction of a failed ’60s radical. Imagine a former member of the Weather Underground, still in hiding, looking back on his macrobiotic salad days as a subversive, when the revolution, always the revolution, seemed around the corner, as close as a pop song blasting from a car radio. In assuming this persona (or the British equivalent of it, based on the so-called Angry Brigade), Kunzru, born in 1969, gives an amazingly convincing account of a period he never witnessed. And by treating the millenarian aspirations of his characters with respect, he rejects the popular view of such revolutionaries as delusional adolescents, playing at revolt."

Yeah, back in those misguided sixties and seventies (when Kunzru was a toddler attending primary school) we also waited breathlessly for the revolution as if it was around the corner. I haven't read Kunzru, but this book I am likely to read, if only to find what revolution in the British context could have meant.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

If You Want to Write Go for a Long Walk and Swing Your Hands!

I just returned from my walk in the Valley Park. I had to do this as a part of my recovery, have to get my tummy in shape (it is hopelessly distended after the food poisoning), and have to beat a bit of swelling around the ankles. So I walk up a steep gradient swinging my arms in long semi-circles. A lot of people stare at me, but I am not bothered. Eh, it’s me who needs healing, not them. A friend, another “Mathew” drives by with his wife, and I wave at him. He doesn’t wave back, the bum. I know why. I am wearing a muffler around my head and ears because of the cold, and on my head is a Stepney for the cold, a monkey cap, or a balaclava (Is it balalclava? I search on Google for a definition [try this: “define: balaclava” and you get tens of definition of any difficult thing, right?] and find it is balaclava. Good, I can proceed with my writing now.)

I walk all the way up Valley Park hill where the road winds up into the jungles. There are leopards around and I find that I am a coward of the jungle and its denizens. Well, hmmm, I will never make a good explorer of forests. But it is getting dark, and its cold, and I huff and puff up the gradient. Then I come across a few stragglers who are walking back, and there’s nobody walking ahead of me. As I top the hill, the view makes me draw my breath even deeper.

There before me is the blue sky bordered with a brush-stroke of red, a tiny crescent of a moon and, and I lie down flat on a rocky surface and gaze up and wonder why the sky is so clear of clouds when it’s so cold. Then I realise that I am panting and sweating at the same time inside my sweater. I loosen it. Then the refrain of an old favourite comes to mind, Carpenters’ “Top of the World.” I sing loudly, because there is no one around, and I don’t care if there is anyone around. I sing lying flat, staring at the sky, while tears and snot run down my face. I don’t wipe it and let it run.

The tears come and the snot comes and I sing through it all, this favourite song of mine. The Carpenters are dead, but their song lives on. They (Karen Carpenter and Richard Carpenter) gave us some memorable music in the fifties and sixties (remember, I was born in the fifties), and gave us what the likes of Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton gave us in the eighties, mushy and maudlin songs of love and longings. Many are the girls I sang this song to, of course, in my mind. But now I sang loudly, my voice shaky, snot and tears running down my face. The songs? Top of the World and Yesterday Once More. And I sing a Hindi song: Kishore Kumar's evergreen hit: "Aa leke chaloon."

Then all of a sudden it got too dark, and I couldn’t see the individual trees anymore. They were a mass of blackness against the clear Prussian blue sky. I couldn’t hear the bird sounds also. Probably they have all gone to sleep. I get up and walk swinging my arm in long semi-circles. The park attendant a “Pundit” is chanting his evening prayers, and I don’t engage in small talk. As I leave the park, I see the curvaceous daughter of my home goods vendor entering her bungalow. She stares at the hooded figure that’s me and I stare back. Of, course she doesn’t know I know her dad. I had bought my cupboards, my television, music system from him when I had come to live here in 1988, twenty years ago, and his sniffling daughter is now a chubby, and curvaceous collegian, not unattractive, I must say. A fleeting thought passes my mind: Yes, some of my money has gone into his palatial bungalow, and the low-waist jeans she is wearing. Ah well, it’s capitalism at its best, at least, the Indian form of it.

When I get home, my thoughts are so fresh that my fingers fly on the laptop I keep open all the time on my writing bureau. You know, inspiration to write can strike any time! And I wrote this piece in only ten minutes with the minimum of corrections. So aspiring writers, if you want to write clearly, first go for a long walk up a hill, and remember to swing your hands in long semi-circles.

Bombay Is Colder Than Delhi and Lying on the Road and Looking at Tyres!

Bombay saw some cold these past few days. It was colder than Delhi at 8.5 degrees while Delhi was 9 degrees. Hurray! We beat you at the temperature stakes, Delhi, though we know we can’t beat you in other departments, such as politics, culture, etc.

What does it feel like to be knocked down, lying flat on the ground and watching the wheels (those deadly rubber crunchers) pass ever so near you? Yes, believe it or not this was what happened to me recently. I was waiting for our company bus to ferry me to Andheri station, and along comes another bus (also the company’s own), out of control, at a great speed, and knocks me down, drags a lot of my colleagues, also waiting for the said bus, and I see what it would be like to be so near death. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, I must say on record here.

The second instalment of the medical procedure I had to undergo as a part of my recent illness was today. I go to the hospital with wifey, wait for half an hour, and I am told that the doctor is on leave. Why wasn’t I informed, as I had made preparations, wasted my time, blocked two days I needed to recover, etc.? He (the doctor’s underling) doesn’t even say sorry, and justifies himself by saying he didn’t find my numbers anywhere, while I remember having given it to the doctor’s secretary.

Guess that’s what makes these people very unprofessional. Now I have to go again on Saturday, and block another two days for the postponed affair. Waaa!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

If I Die.... (My Latest Poem)

Tell me, if I die, will you mourn;
When I finally fall, will you scorn?
Will this world be a lonely place;
When I am in my final resting place?

Read the whole poem on my poetry blog:

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Kite Runner - Khalid Hosseini's Novel Moved Me!

There’s not a single book I have read recently in my life that brought tear to my eyes when I read the last few words before closing it. (A good part of the book was read lying in a hospital bed, while drips were being administered by white-frocked denizens of the heavenly kind. Needless to say, this story, and the other eternal best seller of all time – the Bible – were the two books that hastened my recovery, and those which put me back into the circle of life.) And I decided I must write this review, though time – the monster – is sitting on me and not letting me look this way or that these days.

What can I say about the novel “The Kite Runner” by Khalid Hosseini except that it’s a tragic tale about a tragedy of a country that has been attacked, over-run, raped, and talibanised. And I am shocked and amazed that though there is such a precedent so close to our country, some people in our own country is bent on trying here the failed experiment of religion ruling over governance and statecraft. Those people who kill in the name of religion and those people in power who turn a blind eye to such progroms should read this book as a case study in keeping religion away from government. I mean it; it should be made must reading for the likes of Narendra Modi and Lal Krishna Advani.

Read the full review on my Reviews and Essays Blog.