Sunday, March 30, 2008

Old Lady, What Ails Thou?

Well, India’s leading newspaper has done the forbidden thing, which I couldn’t have imagined any newspaper doing. I have been observing it for a few days now. My favourite newspaper has headlines in SMS-ese these days, yes, that hated word for all respecters of good writing, of good English. Most people in literary forums of which I am a member just detest SMS-ese, as they feel it is beneath them to shorten words that they would find comfortable in a short message on the mobile phone. (Confession: I have written a short story and won an award with my “Flirting in Short Messages” but I have never used SMS-ese anywhere in this story, because I don’t like the language, and rarely use it, if ever.)

The headline on page 5 of Times of India dated March 29, 2008 reads:

“Only 2 directors of mgmt colleges have varsity nod.”

Note the mgmt above, short for management. (I don’t have a scanner or I would have scanned it and reproduced it here.) If the aim was to shorten the headline to save space then why not:

“Only 2 directors of management colleges have approval.”

Or, well, something such….

You don’t have to say the entire story in the headline (I am saying this because I have been a sub-editor myself and know the hazards and pitfalls of writing captions). You can generate interest in the headline and inspire readers to read further.

What is reprehensible is not the shortening of the word as much as the entry this headline has given to the popular culture that centres around mobile phones, dull, tasteless jokes, and even duller SMS poems. I am sure no newspaper in the world will give such language even a backdoor entry into their hallowed precincts, then what about our own old lady of Bori Bunder? Old lady, its time to introspect.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Taslima from Somewhere in Europe... I Want to Come Back!

"Speaking from a hospital bed somewhere in Europe, Taslima said: "I cannot tell you where I am because for the first time the world thinks that I am a dangerous person, thanks to the Indian government which kept me in a lock up for nearly seven months.

"By keeping me confined for so long and trampling my human and democratic rights they could tell the world that I am dangerous and should be kept away from the mainstream society," said Taslima, who is believed to be in Sweden, using her Indian mobile number in order to disguise her whereabouts. "

She wants to return to india and continue her activism:

"I still want to return to India. I am not sure if I would be allowed. I can lead a cosy, tension-free life here anytime. But I am a secular humanist and a feminist and I have to write and work for the women there (in the subcontinent). The society there needs me. I have to work on social projects in India in the most backward places," she said."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Taslima Goes Back to the West

Persecuted, traumatised, ignored, maligned, pilloried, Taslima Nasreen, author of “Shame” has been forced to flee to the West for her own good and her health. She was even denied medical care that any ordinary person can expect as a right. All because she supported the cause of the minority Hindu community in Bangla Desh. Most people who haven’t read “Shame,” and actively (or, rather passively) persecuted her, do not know that “Shame” is all about a Hindu girl who went missing in Bangla Desh and her brother’s vain attempt to find her. She makes a few incisive statements about Bangla Desh society in the novel.

How can the Muslims of India claim that the book offends religious sentiments when there is no offence meant in the novel? I have read the novel, and if memory serves me right, throughout the book the author doesn’t mention one word that would offend the religious beliefs of Muslims. That shows that none of the people who wanted her out of the country have read her novel. Ring a bell? Yes, who among the fundamentalists who have put a fatwa on Rushdie read Satanic Verses?

This shows an absolute lack of respect for the rights of a writer, and the writing and the reading and publishing community in general. Actually, the reading, writing public in India is too emasculated to even raise a finger of protests. Where are our crusading writers, activists, so to speak? Why haven’t they spoken? What is holding back those people who can go on for hours about freedom of expression, artistic licence, et al?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Our Fears Are Abnormal, So Says Joseph Murphy

Groggy? Yes. Sleepy? Yes. Go to work? Yes. I don’t feel like it. I guess to be sick is a blessing given by God. And I had the blessing of God for a week, when I was laid down with unforeseen fear of a possibility of “hernia” which turned out to be “edema,” something a lot less serious. So I relaxed at home, wrote something, edited a pile of manuscripts that were crying for attention, caught up on some work and generally got in the way of my wife and son. It can be fun in the first few days, but can be traumatic after that. I wonder what retired people do. They downhill fast after superannuating, I guess.

It’s hot and the first day of work after a hiatus; yesterday was terrible and I was beset with the worst fears. Joseph Murphy, the self-help guru, who I am reading now says, “Normal fear is good. You hear an automobile coming down the road toward you and you step aside to survive. The momentary fear of being run over is overcome by your action.

“All the other fears are abnormal. They are caused by particular experiences or were passed along to you by parents, relatives, teachers, and others who influenced your early years.”

How true! From our childhood our parents’ fears have been drilled into us. My parents weren’t very educated and they had the superstitions and fears of the people of a small village of Kerala – which is steeped in superstition and sorcery of all kinds. I find it difficult, sometimes, to get rid of these fears.

Monday, March 24, 2008

This Video Touched Me, So Watch!

This video is so heartrending that I saw it again, and again, and again.... It makes us wonder why we are like that only, without a little patience, a wee bit of forbearance, and a lot of tolerance. May be we can learn our lessons from children as the video shows touchingly.

Watch and imbue, and don't just click and surf away!

Friday, March 21, 2008

On Writing a Novel!

A few chapters into my second novel, I think writing a novel, or even attempting one is a great act of faith. The very prospect of developing a story, so many characters, so many situations are daunting, if not intimidating.

So, what about those great writers: Steinbeck, Hemingway, Dumas, Turgenev, Tolstoy (I fell sick reading War and Peace), Shakespeare, Rushdie: I am awed and humbled at the effort they must have put into their works. My head lowers in shame and humbleness.

And to think that the world doesn’t think much of the author is absolutely disconcerting, and disappointing. All ye critics be kind to someone who cloisters himself/herself in an attic and writes, and writes, and writes. He/she is not the freak you might think, but is trying to capture in words what life and living is all about. John Fowles said:

There are many reasons why novelists write – but they all have one thing in common: a need to create an alternative world. John Fowles

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Live Blogging Right Here!

Almost lost touch with the online world, as my laptop gave me a lot of trouble. And the Nokia E61i, sort of, blackberry, wasn’t any good either. But got it all fixed. Increased the RAM of my laptop and got the blackberry fixed. So now I can blog live, so watch out for live blogging right here, on my blog. Can you believe it? I can't.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Kitab 2008 and a Case of “Ulta Chor Kotwal Ko Dathe”

I don’t know why I am going on and on about Kitab 2008 but I want to get this off my chest, at least, so that I can breathe easy. The whole thing seemed to me an unsavoury reflection of the very vitiated atmosphere in the Indian literary space, if at all I could call it that. Also, it shows that we do not hesitate to gang up against a person without knowing, or asking for all the facts. I have been a victim of such ostracism in the past, and do not mind being ostracised in future, I know the mechanics, so I don’t care. And come to think of it, what happened to our “Mehman Nawazi” that we crib about giving our honoured British guests a little more care than our desi guests?

But why did the signatories of the email wait till the last minute to make the non-payment issue public? I also saw an SMS on Pablo’s mobile blackmailing him to pay up or face the music of a public exposure. Isn’t that amounting to blackmail and coercion? Doesn’t that also show the juvenile mind of the people behind the shoddy affair? David Israel calls this “appealing basically to tribal instincts,” and a commenter on Zigzackly’s blog says, “Correct me if I am wrong, if some Ganguly or the other didn't pay me, I would be after him, hound him, serve him ultimatums, drag him to court. What I would NOT do is wait for an entire year and then do some very public breast-beating.”

What misconception got lodged in people’s mind, and stays there is the fact that Pablo took all the money, didn’t pay the people who sweated it out, and this was their attempt to flesh him out (see Equivocal’s comment on Sharanya’s blog ).

But talking to Pablo what has become obvious is that the poor chap wasn’t even aware of where the money went (fact is: one of the signatories of the email was fully aware). However, fact is also that Pablo (Poor Pablo) expected to be paid a salary from the funds this lady collected and not pay her! And it was this lady who took the money and then disassociated herself from Kitab. Case of the famous Hindi saying, “Ulta Chor Kotwal Ko Dathe?” Meaning, “The case of the thief scolding the police.”

Now who’s the employer and who is the employee? Could be the plot of a good whodunit, don’t you think? Now, read the following two opinions from poet David Israel and Sharmila Dasgupta. Both think that it was deliberate “sabotage” at the end moment by misguided people motivated by the quest for more money.

David Raphael Israel

From what (very) little I've read about the Kitabfest brouhaha, one thing that struck me as questionable -- (though I certainly don't know many background details nor two sides of this, whatever they be) -- was that seemingly, the objecting employees went to the press just a few days before the launch of the new festival. If they had a legitimate complaint, there could (presumably -- a presumption no doubt) be many other ways and times to voice this. What they seem to have done was to sabotage the new festival -- harming not only Pablo, but also a budding institution and, for that matter, obviating many good things/activities/opportunities for a big community of writers and listeners. By playing the prejudice card (so to speak), they appeal basically to tribal instincts -- communal impulses involving archetypal feelings of mistreatment (etc.). If there is real mistreatment of this sort involved, why can't the matter be properly aired months before a new festival?

- David Raphael Israel in a private email, reproduced with his kind permission.

Sharmila Dasgupta

“I was there at Kitab 2007... all through the event. Didn't see any pro-British slant. Yes, we were very hospitable, and all Indians would be proud of this aspect of their cultural heritage — well, apparently not all.

“Another typically Indian thing about all this mud-slinging is the timing. Just on the eve of Kitab 2008. Correct me if I am wrong, if some Ganguly or the other didn't pay me, I would be after him, hound him, serve him ultimatums, drag him to court. What I would NOT do is wait for an entire year and then do some very public breast-beating.

“But in retrospect, that's so Indian. By the way, before some crackpot accuses me of being one of those preferentially-treated Brits, let me clarify. I am very much Indian, though occasionally ashamed to be so.

-Sharmila Dasgupta
On Zigzackly’s blog

They did all the real work behind the festival, including listening to complaints and yelling from participants, while Pablo Ganguli appears to have taken his own salary and disappeared out of reach right after the festival.

- Equivocal on Sharanya’s Blog

Friday, March 14, 2008

It’s hot; and the Power of the Subconscious Mind

The heat is here. I felt it’s sting in the train yesterday, the swelter, the feeling as if the skin is erupting into a hundred rashes, the clothes soaks in sweat, and the air is filled with a kind of loathsome lassitude that makes one want to retreat into the airconditioning which has become a part of our working lives.

There’s the craving for soft, aerated drinks, which makes the thirst even more intense. No, never drink those aerated water mixed with sugar and god alone knows what additives. Rickshaws went on a flash strike yesterday in Belapur, damn, and I had to walk all the way home. No, I didn’t walk all the way home, I took a bus that goes to the bus depot from the railway station, and then walked it. I think it is the rickshaw drivers showing their might; their unrecognised might by going on such flash strikes. More of this is in store in future because they are at the receiving end of liberalisation and modernisation.

The market fell again, oh, hmm. Guess Indian markets aren’t mature enough and the primordial rumour mentality takes over. That could only mean that people are not holding on and are selling at a loss. This is the same sort of tribal instinct that poet friend David Raphael Israel referred when the Kitab 2008 festival was cancelled. He said it was a kind tribal instinct fostered from aeons ago of following the product of fearful speculation. Well, we aren’t a mature market yet, but I hope we get there. I exited all my stocks before the fall so I am not a big causality. However, a friend who was sitting on a big pile of investments found it reduced to almost 33 per cent of what he had assiduously built up.

I am reading a very interesting book, “The Power of Your Subconscious Mind” by Dr. Joseph Murphy, which is very interesting. Dr. Murphy says that the human body is able to heal itself, regenerate its own cells, and make one better, if one believes and leaves it to the subconscious mind. I am all taken by his suggestions and am already implementing in my life, and I believe healing, prosperity will be mine.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Stagflation, eh?

They are digging up the roads everywhere. Just beside my house is this huge trench where they are laying cables, outside my office a huge hydraulic excavator is digging away, extracting mounds of earth and stones, constricting the passage of cars, rickshaws and buses.

Hmm, it's the new economy at work,I guess. They work 24x7, all hours of the day, the crash of the stock market doesn't seem to have affected them. But my wife tells me products, even vegetables, are expensive, and they aren't available. She went for fish and couldn't get it.

Stagflation? Uh? Did you say? That peculiar state in which products are expensive, and there isn't much of it around. The sort Russia witnessed after the fall of Communism. Then where are the cables going? I wonder.

Read what this study has to say:

"Rapid economic development in China and India has placed increased demand on the world capacity to produce both food and energy and therefore has surely contributed to the persistent gap between core and headline inflation numbers observed over the past five years."

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Sea, Poetry and Bhel Puri!

Imagine this: the sea reflecting myriad rays of the setting sun, a terrace so beautifully adorned with flowers, bougainvilleas, the rays of the setting sun caressing your skin, the gentle wind on your face, lights coming on in the buildings (peopled by the privileged who can look at the sea from their houses). What could be more hedonistic than to share such a moment with writers, poets, and the gentle folks of Caferati yesterday at the tastefully done home of a member in Nepean Sea Road area, the very area that Rushdie immortalised in "Midnight's Children." (Yes, he used to live in this tony area, and we, the underprevileged from the suburbs such as Chembur, were called "invisible people" in his above novel.)

I read my poem The Platform (the latest version) which was, hmm, appreciated. Raamesh wanted me to read it flat without intonations, while some others liked my intonations, special effects you see. The Merchants are fine and gracious hosts and we had a wonderful time. Met Sunil Kadawala, whose family owns my favorite bhel puri joint Vittal Bhel. He tells me that his great-grandfather began it on the street, and there aren't any mention of bhel puri anywhere except with reference to the said gentleman's stall, which makes them the inventor of Bombay's most distinctive cuisine, something Bombayites are proud of. Was dropped by Sunil at Dockyard Station in the night, and from there took the local train to New Bombay.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Hey You B******, Don’t You Have Eyes, Train Animal?

This is quite common for all commuters of Bombay: just as the train is about to stop at a station there is a jostling crowd is waiting to get in, pushing, shoving, trembling, shaking all over. You must see it to believe it. Cool executives lose their avoirdupois, managers in the middle of furious corporate takeovers become like school children, and aged uncles try all the might in their osteoporosis-affected bones to wiggle in through the steel doors. This homily is directed at them:

“Can’t you be human beings for just one day? Just for one day can’t you stand back from the madness knowing that you will get a seat, at least, at the next station? That standing in a train won’t cause you any hurt, that being human beings for one day would be a nice change, isn’t it?”

But it’s their fears that get the better of them. They tremble at the prospect of not getting a seat, are hurt when another man returns their shove, are like animals (even worse) when someone steps on their toes, says the worst curses, all for a half hour of bliss inside a moving train. Yes, I am all these too. I do all that I mention above.

But think about it. Where do we get some free time to ourselves, in these busy times, except inside a train with strangers? Where do we get to sit and stare a little bit, or read that bestseller that we have been carrying in our bags for so long?

So I am back to being an animal inside the train. Anyone who grabs a seat in front of me better watch out!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Kitab 2008 – What You All May Have Missed!

I have been terribly busy, what with the just concluded Kitab 2008 and those little little things in the workplace that upset one. So, dear readers I didn’t have time to blog about the wonderful speakers at Kitab 2008, the best in my opinion.

Those who stayed away missed meeting some of the best minds in the literary world, except me of course. Yes, true. Being a small audience there was much more interaction and the outcome was frank and noteworthy without the trappings of a big event. Sudeep Chakravarti could hold on for hours about his book, answering all questions about his book “Red Sun” with a coolness, which I dearly wish I had. As I had promised someone, I think Pablo, I am blogging about the festival in detail below.


Niall Griffiths: I missed the first day of the festival as I had some urgent work in the office. On the second day, at the high vaulted Durbar Hall of the Asiatic Library, the first author to speak was Niall Griffiths who spoke about darkness in contemporary fiction, interspersed with short readings from his own work. I missed most of Niall’s talk as I walked in when he was half way done with it.

Robert Irwin: Next came Robert Irwin’s interesting talk on orientalist paintings including Vereschchagin’s wonderful Indian canvases. What made the visuals so appealing was the ability of the artist to capture life in all its dreadfully dramatic detail, and convey the sense of ennui that must have prevailed even then. We think of the past in sepia tones, but do not realise that they also lived in the heat, the flies, the dust and the general din and clatter of Indian life. His paintings capture all that we miss in photographs.

Robert followed this by a talk on “The India of the Arabian Nights: The Arabian Nights of India” in which he hypothesised that the inspiration for the Arabian Nights indeed came from India and Indian stories like the Panchatantra. He went on to give some specific references, too. But as a member of the audience suggested, we pride in telling the world that everything originated in India, then travelled to the Arab world and thence to the Western world. Remember that character from The Kumars?

Christine Jordis: Christine’s talk was a curtain raiser, at least for me, about the workings of the French publishing industry. According to her the French love translations of Indian novels because Indian novels and stories have great narration, lots of details, and exotic locales. This is good news. I agree wholeheartedly with the French.

The French book publishing industry works without literary agents. The manuscripts are sourced directly by the publishers who travel to different countries scouting for talent. Which is what publishers do in India, too, i.e., dispense with the literary agents, except that they do not do the latter, i.e., scout for talent. Sorry, I am being bitter.

Sudeep Chakravarti: Now Sudeep’s talk according to none other than Indra Sinha (booker nominee author of “Animal’s People”) was the most important and noteworthy event in Kitab 2008. I tend to agree. Sudeep’s book “Red Sun – Travels in Naxalite India” is a study of the Maoist movement in India is seminal and authoritative, and would stand next to P. Sainath’s book “Everybody Loves a Drought” as an in-depth study on poverty and dispossession in India. It’s all about what we are conveniently ignoring in our pursuit of liberalisation and outsourced moolah, i.e., alienating the below-subsistence-level inhabitants of Indian villages.

The writing of the book took about one and a half years and during this time he travelled to various states in India troubled by the Maoist extremist movement that once took root in Naxalbari, West Bengal. According to him 176 districts in the country are affected by the problem of Naxalism, or one of the variations of the movement that took root in a nameless Bengali village. It is spreading like wildfire throughout India and is today infiltrating into the towns and villages. He read out the Maoist manifesto for the cities of India and remarked, “It reads much better than anything our babus could write.”

To a questions whether Naxalism is evil, he replied, “No.” An angry and persistent young man asked, “Would you like your book to be plagiarised by anyone who doesn’t believe in your right to private property?” He replied, “No.”
“Then how can you say Naxalism and what it is doing is not evil?”
Valid question. Sudeep only could say that he is not a Maoist though he has worked among them to gather information. At one point during the reading he really broke down as he recounted the plight of the poor in the villages in which he has worked.

Sudeep also mentioned another chilling fact. The movement has also infiltrated the bureaucracy. Some of our babus are also Maoists. (I am using Naxalism and Maoism as synonymous here though they may be hugely different in ideologies.) Also, some businessmen are supporting the movement with money and information. Another obvious fact is that most of the members of the movement are the traditionally oppressed lower caste members.

So what are the implications of the movement? Will it lead to a revolution in India like it did in Cuba? Will the poor and dispossessed overthrow the government. Will Maoism survive in India, while China is going the imperialist route to prosperity? A member of the audience remarked that during a visit to Shanghai, China, he asked around for Mao’s Red Book and instead he was shown books on Kamasutra.

To a question of mine about how successful would be the Maoist movement in India and how far the revolution, if at all, will progress in India he postulated that that may be the pockets of wealth and influence such as Bombay-Pune-Ahmedabad would turn into city states in future. Delhi-Jaipur-Gurgaon would become another city state in future and the rest would be controlled by the warlords of the various militant groups. So what could be the portents of a revolution inspired by the great leader, only time will tell.


Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan: Meanakshi, also a blogger, spoke about her blogging experience. My talk on “Why Writers Need to Blog” was scheduled next. Meenakshi was dressed in a party dress which she felt was inappropriate for the occasion. But the first exchange with Julian West (who interviewed her) brought out some bombshell facts that established her as a “bindas” girl in the mould of Kamala Das, who is now Shakira or Sameera or something such now. Her candid confessions have gained her a readership and I hope it gets her book enough visibility and exposure. Blogging is a sure way of getting popular and then “bang” when your book is out, you can cash in on your popularity.

Meenakshi has a blog which is a very popular and is visited by several lakhs of people. The blog is very candid about her private life and is in the mould of several confession blogs that have become hugely popular in the west. Do visit and encourage her.

John P Matthew: Next was my talk on “Why Writers Need to Blog.” I had prepared a PowerPoint presentation on why more and more writers are taking to blogging. (The final work on the presentation was done early in the morning at around 2 a.m. I make presentations for a living, so this wasn’t anything great.) I pointed out blogs of some famous writers (and not so famous writers, such as I) such as John Baker, Paulo Coelho, Indra Sinha and I. John Baker knows mobile blogging and had answered some queries I had put to him earlier. What he said was that bloggers should write only if they have something to write. He is an amazing blogger and the blog which I had on my slide was written when he was waiting for his breakfast in a London restaurant.

I summarised that writers can keep up with their craft, discover new story angles, and have a conversation with their readers through their blog. Indra Sinha uses his blog to provide links to reviews of his books, his itinerary, and general information about the causes he is championing. I could see some people in the audience taking notes when I spoke and, so, I presume my talk was, sort of, a success.

Just an aside: This blog has been erratic of late because of my preoccupation with several things and has therefore dropped in rankings. Hope to catch up with you soon, my readers.

Indra Sinha and Mahesh Mathai: I am turning into die-hard fan of both these people who used to be regulars in the advertising industry in Bombay. Indra was a copywriter in his earlier avatar and Mahesh was, and still is, a commercial film maker.

Indra spoke about the cause of the Bhopal Gas Leak victims whose cause he is championing. Right as he was speaking, a bunch of people affected by the gas leak from the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, were walking all the way to Delhi to impress upon the government that they have not been paid the compensations they were promised. Now why do politicians make promises they can’t keep. They have not received justice even after twenty-five years of buck passing. Governments after governments have sat on the files and never bothered to redress the problems of the victims who were affected. Thousands died and thousands still suffer ailments caused due to the leak of gas.

Indra says that still the vestiges of the chemicals that led to the leak remain in the factory and that the company is not cleaning up the mess it created. If it catches fire the chemicals and sludges could give rise to the same gases that killed thousands. There are incidents of poisons found in mothers’ milk and malformed children are still born because of the events that happened twenty-five years ago.

An excerpt from Mahesh Mathai’s film “Bhopal Express” was shown next and Mahesh said that the plight of the victims still remained sad though Bhopal has moved ahead. Poet David Raphael Israel who was present in the audience, and who is currently a resident of Bhopal, mentioned that he had tried to make enquiries about the incident, but nobody seems to recollect the incident. Indra mentioned that Bhopal has moved on and citizens do not like to mention the tragedy as they would rather forget what happened. But does that bring justice to the people who have been rendered sick and jobless because of the incident?

Indra also pointed out that what is documented in Sudeep Chakravarti’s book “Red Sun” is an indicator of how the urban India of malls and outsourcing units were drawing away from the poor villages and how the latter is turning to radicalism to address their problems. India has a problem in its hands, it seems. The talk was moderated by Nikki Bedi.

Julian West: Next on the dais was Julian West who spoke on “War and Sex,” also moderated by Nikki Bedi. Julian (Sorry, Julian, my laptop battery had run out of battery charge and couldn’t show a rather incendiary picture that would illustrate your talk.) through a photograph of two pin up girls taken inside the tent of some soldiers who were fighting the Iraq war, said that war generated a lot of sex because of the need for people to have “human contact” and “human comfort” during or after a traumatic event.

That is not surprising at all because rape and sex are parts of every war. Also in the days of yore soldiers were promised by their generals sex as one of the spoils of war. Julian (who is half Sri Lankan, and is based in Delhi, as I discovered later) has worked as a war correspondent in Iraq and Afganistan and surely knows her subject as she has been in the war fronts and has seen it all herself. I surely admire the guts of this soft-spoken and attractive half-Sri-Lankan woman.

Her novel “Serpents in Paradise” was on display at the Crossroads bookstore. But she didn’t plug her book much, and I wonder why. May be she was being modest about it. She also read an excerpt from her novel which also deals with the subject of war and sex.