Monday, June 30, 2008

Sam Bahadur Is No More!

No, I didn't know Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw, but I lived in an era when he was considered a hero, a larger-than-life figure, may be, the last of the straight-talking, upright officers of the Indian armed forces. He was a gentleman of great charm as I can make out from this post by KVK Murthy moderator of Shakespeare and Company.

Sam Bahadur, goodbye, may your memory linger in our hearts and minds for ever and ever.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Man about Town

Been wandering around town and these are images I caught:

This lingerie maker is taking things a bit far, methinks! There's a light inside the mannequin!

This is the crowd outside Andheri station which is so crowded commuters constantly look down to see what muck they are walking into.

This hoarding promises to teach English speaking for Rs 599 only!
Amazing! I have been learning English all my life and still think my English is weak!

The new and spruced up Metro. I stood in queue but had to beat a hasty retreat when I saw the price of tickets. I used to watch movies for Rs 3.30 in the same theatre once! Now it cost 280 for what they call a Gold Seat. Are the seats made of Gold, or something? Even then it's unreasonable. Don't know, I couldn't even enter, the price kept me away. If movies are so expensive they would become elitist, and become what publishing has become today.

I shot this in the atrium of a building I visited in Lower Parel, central Bombay. The rings you see are the balconies of different floors. On top is the transparent roof.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Morning Musings; Morning Raga, Whatever, but I Am Feeling Grumpy!

The markets are falling. It’s all coming down. From 20,000 to 13,000 is a steep fall by any standards (53 per cent). Oil prices are rising. Panic buttons have been pressed. Companies are cutting down on a lot of things. Pandemonium is just a few steps away. No fresh recruitments, no nice bonuses and perks, no parties, no free goodies. And prices are rising, remember price rise affect you and me while market falling affects the billionaires among us. How does it affect my life? Wifey tells me that not only have vegetables and fruits become expensive they are disappearing from shelves fast. Today’s paper says there’s going to be power and water cuts.


And the government is hanging on to its power, though the constituents of the UPA are fighting. Stubborn old fogeys, all of them are beyond their sixties, and am sure have diabetes. Look at that doddering old idiot with his mouth open, talking. The oil producers who met in Jeddah to discuss oil prices have achieved nothing. (Oh! Jeddah how I love your streets, Balad and Sharafiya and Khozham Palace, how I loved to just wander around in your malls, your wide open spaces, while Andheri, where I now work, stinks to kingdom come.) Our own Chiddu was there, don’t know for what. A few days back I spent some thirty minutes to get to my office from Andheri station, the street was so full of vehicles, all at cross purposes, honking away, polluting, as the traffic system had failed totally.

Some chick singer Duffy is singing, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I am begging you for mercy….” on television.

And Bill Gates is quitting Microsoft. Remember, I said it here. Well, almost. The guy who said his dream was to put a personal computer in all homes (by that he means a PC with Microsoft software) wants to quit, it’s getting too hot to handle. The nerd is leaving his company to the hordes. Steve Ballmer is the guy of the moment, he is a drone who eats quarterly results for breakfast.

Mumble! Grumble! Rumble!

Shobha De enjoys blogging! She says blogging is addictive.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Bill Gates Shutting His Gate at Microsoft?

"After a two-year transition," says this article in Economist, "Bill Gates prepared to step down from the day-to-day running of Microsoft, which he founded in 1975. He remains chairman and will be involved in some projects along with the company’s chief executive, Steve Ballmer. The bulk of Mr Gates’s time will now be devoted to his foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates' Foundation, the world’s richest philanthropic institution.

"To understand what that means, and the difficulties it poses Microsoft, start with the idea that computing is undergoing one of its great periodic shifts. In its early days, most computing took place on mainframes. Ever-falling costs led computing to shatter—first into minicomputers, then into personal computers (PCs) and, more recently, hand-held devices. Now communications is catching up with hardware and software and, thanks to cheap broadband and wireless access, the industry is witnessing a pull back to the middle. This is leading much computing to migrate back into huge data centres. Networks of these computing plants form “computing clouds”—vast, amorphous, delocalised nebulae of processing power and storage."

Now, now, if Bill Gates needs a holiday from work, we poor suffering humanity needs it too. This is what my friend Anthonybhai says, "What men, Bill Gates-Vill Gates, I know the bugger made lots of money, in fact, it must be rotting in in his attic, this fellow's. Now what he will do with all that money, men, he should give it to us, no? What friggin shit, men, he leaving the company when that other company, Goggle, somethin, snapping at his bloody heels, imagine. No bloody himmat this bugger has got, re!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Amitabh on Why "We" Are So Mediocre

Says the patriarch of the Indian movie industry, the one man icon whose mug appears in every newspapers, magazines and channels in this blogpost:

"Because of the announcement of the Reliance Entertainment and our tie up, there was media bombardment from all sections. The phone was filled with queries and requests for answers and talk ins and bites from the electronic community. They are all friends and i consider it common courtesy to respond to them even if I am completely unable to comply with their requests.

There were other developments too during the day. The song that was being picturised on set for ‘Aladin’ had to be finished. Dates of artists were not available and the floor was booked by some other producer and had to be given up. Then there were creative discussions for the Tour and some recordings and rehearsals that needed to be executed. There was concern on Aishwarya’s condition and on her father’s who has recently undergone surgery. There was continuous TV ‘breaking news’ on legal and police procedures being instigated against Jaya and the desire of the channels for reactions. In between all this 3 prospective producers had been given time on set to discuss future projects and they needed attention. Some friends from the print media had sent urgent email questionaires and had ‘dead lines’ to adhere to so an urgent reply was being pushed…

And the song for the film is a romantic happy moment !! With so much on your brain is it any wonder that we are mediocre performers!!"

Monday, June 23, 2008

Jerry Yang on His Way Out from Yahoo? Popstar Britney Needs Talking to from Dad!

Seems Jerry Yang founder of Yahoo is on his way out from Yahoo and his nemesis is going to be Sue Decker, president, Yahoo.

Pop star Britney Spears' father Jamie, who is her legal guardian, is charging 1,250 pound per week to talk to her and do her cooking. Where was she when papa was preaching, and that too, for free? I would do it for free. Interested?

"Playback singers always get relegated to the sidelines. They continue to be underdogs of the music industry," says Alisha Chinai.

Top Hollywood action heroes Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger are set to act in a Bollywood flick - 'Kambakht Ishq' - a Rs 90-crore production.

Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan said on Sunday that politics is not his cup of tea.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Ganga Is Alive and Well, Shankaro-sir!

Went to visit Ganga at his residence which we friends call Gangalayam. Ganga is fine and recounted his encounter with elephants. The elephants charged him twice and left him with a long gash on his back narrowly missing his Aorta and spinal column. If the horns of the wild beast had touched either Ganga wouldn’t have lived to tell his story. He is lucky to be alive. That makes it two among the people closely known to me who consider themselves lucky to be a live – Ganga and Peter – both admen, both of whom have worked in an agency called Trikaya. Sounds corny?

Met Shankaranarayanan-sir, who was responsible for initiating my love for literature and poetry. His English classes in Adarsha Vidyalaya used to be keenly looked forward to by me, and several others, fired at that time for the infectious fervour he had instilled for all things literary. He still is a “sahityakaran” – a literary person. He informs me that his play is being published in Kerala, in Malayalam. To which I reply that I too am a “cheriya sahityakaran”, a struggling man of literature, and extend my card bearing my web and blog addresses. Shankaranarayanan-sir, if you are reading this, thanks, thanks, thanks, for enthusing me with the abiding love of literature. I bow and touch your feet, sir, for this abiding passion that has become an indelible part of me.

Shows how much teachers can inspire a love of a subject and how much they can make us hate a subject. Shankaro-sir was, and still is, a very intelligent and perceptive teacher. On the contrary, my maths teacher gave us all a fright when she announced at the beginning of the term that it will become very difficult as the term progressed and many of us will have to fail, or drop out. Such fear psychosis! Predictably many of us did.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

My Friend, Ganga

The snowy-bearded guy is Ganga!

This is about my friend Ganga, the irrepressible, irreverent co-owner of a six-crore advertising agency. He is fun to be around! We were friends from the time we used to roam around in half pants. In school he used to be captain of the yellow house and I used to be captain of the green house. Needless to say, the guy trounced my house in every aspect of: games, debating, performing arts, etc. Now he is a big shot adman, and that hasn’t changed his rather rambunctious conduct of life.

We, a few friends from our school in the Chembur suburb meet every few months for a freewheeling alcohol-smoothened entertainment mostly at Ganga’s beautiful bungalow in the Basant Cinema area of Chembur, near the Presidency Golf Club. When I visit the area memories of films like “Lawrence of Arabia” (I was so impressed by this film that after seeing it in the 12 p.m. show I again bought a ticket and saw it in the 3.30 p.m. show), “Dr. Zhivago”, “Red Sun”, etc. etc. jump at me. How with a few rupees in my pocket I would brave the afternoon sun, on foot, to see these films. When inside, the cool air, the stereophonic sound, the wide 70 mm screen (the only one in Bombay then), the dim lights from the theatre ceiling, the pretty girls who would flirt coquettishly with their eyes, would mesmerise me into a state of near ecstasy.

I digress. I get too sentimental about those days. I must also add that Ganga is an actor (he is a friend of Nana Patekar, er, the other way around, his latest movie was the Pankaj Kapoor-starrer, Dharma), a copywriter par excellence, and a wanderer of far off places including Leh, North-East, and stray other game reserves in India, despite suffering from a back problem that has been troubling him for long. I would call him and he would answer that he would shout his usual greetings (“Matthew P John,” which was the name I answered to in school, before the school itself put the surname first and changed it to John P Matthew.) from the nether regions of India. He has also worked for several ad commercials, one being some fairness cream or the other (there are too many to remember), in which he is a bearded sadhu explaining the benefits of herbs in treating skin blemishes. Guess ad guys have to do it for a living, and I don’t blame him. There are too many talented ad guys doing these types of dumb things. The portals of Indian advertising agencies are teeming with thousands of would-be Rushdies who write scintillating prose, but the flattery and chicanery of advertising copywriting would wash their talents down the drains, I am sure. What to do? What a shame!

Again, I digress. And Ganga went off to the south recently, Ooty, in fact, for a jungle expedition. (That way, he is a profligate risk taker.) He went deep into the jungle to take pictures of elephants. (I might mention here, though he is humble about this, that he was instrumental in the Silent Valley area in Kerala being turned into a national park during the emergency days, and he met Indira Gandhi personally to get this done.) He got shots of elephants, all right. And guess what, Ganga being Ganga, when the guide shouted, “Elephants are coming, run for your lives,” Ganga tarried just a little bit to take some pictures from close up, was hit by an elephant, and bludgeoned just where his back wasn’t hunky dory, and had to spend a few days in hospital for surgery. When I enquired this is the SMS I received in reply:

“No damage at all, Matthew. Came to the hospital for room service.”

Thank God he is well. That’s Ganga for you!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Fight in the Said Air-Conditioned Bus at Andheri (East)

Had a huge fight with the conductor of the air-condition bus mentioned in the post that appears below. It’s Andheri (East) and after the usual sweaty, hot, impatient wait, I get inside. I have bought this smart card that I pay for in advance and which says I can travel in both Bombay trains and BEST buses without paying cash, the fare being deducted from the card in the smart way. I paid for the comfort in advance, didn’t I?

I show the card to the conductor and ask him if it works on BEST and can I please make use of it. This is because the card clearly has BEST written on it.

He touches it with his thinga and says, “No, from where did you get this, it has expired and you haven’t renewed it?”

I am aghast. I had renewed it recently and the railway thinga had shown that I have Rs 185 balance on my card.

But he won’t let me go. “I will have to confiscate your card, because it is an offence to carry an expired card.”

I say, “But I only asked you if it works, and am willing to pay the full fare in cash.”

He says in his loud, bullying voice, “No, I will have to confiscate your card.”

I become very worked up at this point, you know sugar levels and all that, and start shouting that I have my contacts, “You can’t argue with a passenger. You don’t know what places I have pahunch (reach) and I will see you,” and stuff like that and take his identity number, what is the “billa number” on his badge.

He becomes all humbleness and humility after this. Good, I scared the bugger. Several passengers “sush” me down. They seem to be on the conductor’s side. Traitors, I am trying to fight for them and they are “sushing” me! I can’t believe it!

Then the paragon of humility hands me back my card. But I still have his number and I am going to complain. He was very rude and aggressive and said he didn’t have a blemish against his name for thirty years and I am going to see that he learns a lesson after thirty years of bullying his passenger.

Yes, I am going to complain, I am determined.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sweating in an Air-conditioned Bus in Andheri (East)

Andheri. The name means “darkness” and darkness it is. Today Andheri has been taken over by IT majors, BPO companies, and outsourcers of Bangalored business from the shores of the US of A. One would assume that Andheri is some futuristic area of office complexes, well laid out roads, gardens, and wide-open spaces where people could enjoy a relaxed working style.

The opposite is true, as darkness pervades like a shroud over this area. As I disembark from the train I see that platform no. 7 is dirty and several puddles of water has collected on it. Moreover, it doesn’t have an exit system which results in the whole train of some 10,000 odd people queueing, moving slowly, looking at each others’ feet, agonising, impatient to get to their office. There are some zombies listening to music and talking, talking, talking on their cellphones as nothing in the world matters. How out of touch can you be? Once you are finished with this ordeal, you are into the exit on the East side, where a rivulet smells suspiciously of sewage and, yetch, I am not talking of the average everyday sewage of the bathroom variety. This is even more serious. It stinks badly but nobody flinches, except me, I guess. Still glued to their mobile devices. Mobile phones are going to create a generation of cynics, I am well aware. After all, I am new to Andheri (having worked so far in other parts of Bombay) and am a new kid in this block, so to speak. Welcome to Andheri (East)!

Over here are several layers of people standing, just standing doing nothing. It is tough extricating yourself from this crowd, and if you do, you are into a crowd of rickshaws and the cramped depot of the BEST bus service. If you are a new kid in town (remember the song?) then you would amazed to find that this mass of people consists of queues for several buses: 415, 422, 531, etc.

“Where is the queue for 415?” I ask. I am directed to a plastic sheet under which are stand a mass of sweating humanity, with flies circling over them and the hordes of pan-bidi sellers, tea vendors, mobile cover sellers, diary and knick-knack sellers, etc. Why don’t the government throw these people out and make the station accessible? I ask myself as I sweat and board the 415 bus.

This long queue of suffering humanity creates a traffic jam outside the station that extends well over a few kilometres into the Marol area. What a mess? I board a 415 air-conditioned bus and am sweating all over. The bus is crowded and hot and again nobody is complaining. They charge us 10 bucks for such a short journey and there isn’t even the promised air-conditioning. Oh, God!

But then that’s Andheri (East), the area of darkness. In the evening rickshaw drivers, those angels of the night do not deign to drop you at the station. You promise them double the fare and they don’t budge, and you stand and stand by the piles of garbage, enduring the stink, the heat and the vehicles that seem to run you over for your impudence of waiting for homeward transport.

As I said, this is Andheri, the software technology capital of Bombay, the area of darkness Naipaul mentioned, the shining gem in the outsourcing map of India.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Et Tu, Manil? "What a Waste!"

Manil Suri confesses about being gay and about his love of mathematics in this article in New York Times:

"And there was something else. I knew I was probably gay, which was completely invisible in India at that time.

"I had obtained a fellowship to Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh. Immediately, I was surprised how easy it was to set down roots here. Unlike immigrants from other parts of the world, I had the language. I’d seen American movies and had read Mad magazine. There was no culture shock.

"In America, I finally had a chance to investigate my own sexuality and take small hesitant steps in that direction. Today, I’m with my partner of 18 years.

"One thing I was shocked by was how much Americans hated mathematics. You almost needed an antidefamation league for mathematicians. People actually took pleasure in explaining how bad they were at it. There’s a doll here that says, “I hate math.” You wouldn’t be able to sell such a doll in a sari."

What's this thing about being gay and writing. Seems Seth is gay and now Suri. As Shobhaa De once famously remarked, "What a waste."


Zigzackly is Back!

Writes Peter alias Zigzackly about his recent heart attack:

"...I got a bonus life.

"I have no business being here, actually. Providence, sheer dumb luck, call it what you will, fact is that if one was going to have a 95% blocked artery leading to a massive heart attack that left one, for a while, with a heart functioning at about 45% efficiency, the only way one could have planned it better would have been to go check into the ICCU, get tucked under the blankets and then let 'er rip.

"Even so, I pulled through this only thanks to enormous amounts of help of various kinds from not just close friends but even from folks I don't really know all that well, some that I've never met in the flesh.

"Many friends want to know exactly what happened, and how I am now, and so on. This post attempts to answer some of those questions."

He is recovering and has started I wish him godspeed!

Monday, June 16, 2008

India: the Place of Sex

In this article in New York Times' book section website titled "India the Place of Sex" the following is what William Dalrymple has to say:

"As James McConnachie makes clear (in his study of the Kamasutra in his book Book of Love), the Kamasutra was in many ways an act of resistance against the growing tide of Hindu and Buddhist ascetic puritanism that was beginning to question the libertine lifestyle of the third-century nagarikas—or young men about town—at whom the text was aimed. These polygamous and hedonistic nagarikas sound a little like characters from a classical Indian version of Sex and the City. They "incline to the ways of the world and regard playing as their only concern," writes Vatsyayana. Such a man, he writes, chooses to live in a city "where there are smart people" or "wherever he has to stay to make a living." He sets up the perfect home, "in a house near water, with an orchard, separate servants quarters, and two bedrooms." One is for sleeping. The other is devoted entirely to sex. Inside he keeps his vina to strum, implements for drawing, a book, garlands of flowers, a board for dice, and cages of pet birds. His bed should be "low in the middle and very soft, with pillows on both sides and a white top sheet." His orchard should have a sturdy swing.

"In the early evening the nagarika should attend a courtesan's salon, to discuss art, poetry, and women. Later he should visit a musical soiree before returning home to await his lover. If she arrives wet from the monsoon rain he should courteously help her change, before retiring to the frescoed bedchamber which has been festooned with flowers and made fragrant with incense. Dancers and singers will amuse the lovers as they chat and flirt. Only then are the musicians sent away—and the lovemaking begins."

So, seeing all the prudishness prevalent in our cities (remember the moral brigade that swooped on lovers holding hands in parks?) one wonders where all the nagarikas have gone?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Exploitation in the Gulf, What I have Seen With My Own Eyes

Read this article by Sonia Faleiro on the exploitation of household helps in the Gulf countries. Something I have seen with my own eyes (when I worked there for a multinational, which wasn't good enough) and have written about in my novel. Loved Sonia's detailed exposition on the subject, her talent for investigation is unmatched. Keep up the good work!

Two Worlds Within One Country

The Affluent, previleged ones are queueing up outside this stall to have a free shave, and a free razor.

They materialised out of nowhere, and squatted on the platform, the underprivileged ones.

They materialised out of nowhere, by stealth, like guerrilla fighters in the jungle, except that this was the urban jungle. There were unwashed and their shiny, dark faces had a beauty of their own, something gypsies and troubadours have.

They sat on the platform in Andheri station as I was waiting for a train to CBD Belapur, and I, too, quite stealthily took out my mobile phone and captured them and here’s the result. None of them seemed to have an iota of education, and none of them would qualify for a job, except that of scrounging for plastic in garbage bins and selling them to businesses that recycled plastic, which is what they seemed to do as they had metal hooks they used as implements. They were well built and able-bodied with well-shaped arms and legs and seemed dangerous. I guess even the black-coated ticket checker daren’t ask them for tickets as they knew the consequences.

In this relentless monsoon where will they stay? Who knows? May be in plastic hovels held up with sticks in some dumping ground. This is one aspect of India that remains hidden from the television cameras, the movie cameras, the one that the privileged do not even acknowledge. This is the truth of India.

If I ask them there would be a story that would shock and awe me. Truly, these are the sort of people who are at the receiving end of globalisation which the diametrically opposite faction is tom-toming as the future of India, the India of “India Shining”, “Twenty-first century India”, and “Yuppie India.” And they aren’t going away anywhere. They multiply like the opposite camp does and democracy has taught them that they too have rights. They may have been displaced for dams and expressways, but they survive all right, even if it means eking a precarious existence by selling plastic scrounged from garbage bins.

Two days later I was in Centre One in Vashi, New Bombay. I saw another face of India, the consumerist face. People are buying, buying, buying! Trolleys are full of snacks, fruit juices, anything and everything is available. I can’t even believe it is India because I see tinned baked beans in tomato sauce, sauerkraut (cabbage something or the other), and a whole lot of stuff; I don’t even remember what they are.

On the other hand, exercising my grey cells, as I am rarely wont to do, I do remember: scented candles with candle stands, wine and champagne glasses, rows of shampoos, and vitamin enriched shaving foam (this one’s a marvel at Rs 100 for a can, the last one I bought from Reliance Fresh was Rs 250 a can), at prices so cheap. Which makes me want to kick Bush for saying India is consuming all the world’s food, when his country is dumping baked beans and sauerkraut on us.

I digress, and when I digress, I digress bad. Damn! Coming back to the mall, this is the affluent India of call centres, mercenary marketers and brand managers, and FMCG executives who offer you a sachet of shampoo and comb with every pack of the fairness cream, etc. etc. The men all have harassed looks, and the women a glow from all the freebies on offer. Such as the following:

Free razors if you have a shave (several unshaven guys queuing up here); a free pack of cappuccino if you taste one for free; two packs of potato chips for the price of one. And a sign says blithely in bold 250 sanserif Arial print: “The Only Way to Save Money is to Buy More.”

Buy… buy… buy….

A salesgirl sidles up to me as I am admiring a John Miller shirt and we start talking. I like the design, the colour, the stitching, the works, except that the price is Rs 1125, for which I can buy two decent shirts of a lower brand.

“But sir, it’s the brand. You will stand out in a John Miller shirt.”

“Oh, will I?” I ask and she isn’t bad looking too.

“Yes, sir, this shirt will look very good on you.”

Then I have my doubts and I look her in the eye, smile and thank her and walk away. Suddenly, as if on cue, her face droops and she loses all interest in me. Gosh, I thought she liked me.

Now this guy John Miller (with whom I share a first name) must have been some very inventive guy to sell shirts at double the price. “Wot men,” my friend Anthonybhai would have said, “aaj kal, aisaich hai, no value for money, men. Those richie-rich buggers who throw money have it so good, no men?”

He should know because he is neither the privileged one, nor the forsaken one. Neither am I.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Why Such Hype Over Arushi?

Arushi Talwar
As I sit here an excited reporter is ranting, raving, screaming on Star TV about the Arushi murder case. His voice is hoarse, breaking, he is obviously working very hard. Or is he so emotional because he is feeling sorry for Arushi, then what about the thousands of girls who go missing, are threatened, beaten, and starved if they don’t go into prostitution in the country? How much should he cry for all of them?

Why has the media invested so much time and effort on one murder when there are a hundred rapes that have taken place today, yes, this very day?

(For those who aren’t familiar with the case, here’s the low-down on the Arushi murder case. Fourteen year old Arushi was found murdered in her room in a tony area of New Delhi, and her father, a doctor, was the prime suspect. The reason: she was suspected of having an affair with a servant, who was also found dead on the terrace of Arushi’s house.)

The anchor at the studio is acting, no, hamming it even more than Shammi Kapoor in his heydays. On second thought he was aping the ponytail who conducts “San sani” and doing it quite badly at that.

“Mobile phone… blah… blah… blah….”

“Hatya Kand… blah… blah… blah….”

“Kya kaun doshi hai… blah… blah… blah….”

He goes on and on and on… I have lost track, switched off.

Admitted it is a sensational murder case and the truth must be found out. But then what are the police for? The anchor is acting like the compere of an award ceremony, and he is quite animated and involved, pointing his finger at the screen, screaming into the camera, repeating words unnecessarily, in fact, making a complete ass of himself.

The channel is overdoing it, somebody must tell this man off, I am getting irritated instead of informed, and they are replaying statements as if the audience was some dummy who can’t understand the language.

Will someone tell this man to shut up? Will someone stuff some cotton in his mouth, gag him and throw him out of the studio? Why is he breaking the rule every journalist is taught in elementary journalism class one of “objectivity”?

I think something bad is cooking. The whole edifice is coming down like a pack of cards. What is on show, so spectacularly, so vividly is the ham-handed way in which things are handled in India, where emotion is rife that even the once suave anchor is made into a screaming, platitude-spouting idiot.

So much for objectivity in journalism.

Colaba Goes Without Water!

Says Shekhar Kapur in this post on his blog":

"My assistant went out and shot a little video in Colaba, in Mumbai. There's no water in the taps in this area. It is served by Water Tankers, that come once a day if you are very lucky, and you queue up for hours to get water. A few burly guys are pushing and pulling people, bossing them around - (and they have a kind of a barricade for the tanker that is carrying water) - I'm not sure who those guys are. They certainly don't look like government employees to me. They look like local goons."

What? The posh area where celebrities like the Ambani brothers, Ratan Tata, Sobha De live is facing water problems? I can't believe it. A couple of politicians also live in the area, and if they can't do anything to ensure that their children and missus can't have a bath in the morning, I have grave doubts about their ability to govern over me. So now they know what it feel like to stand in a queue for water in the slums of Dharavi.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Trousers Creased at the Sides

Trousers ironed with the crease at the sides (instead of in the centre) make even the smartest man appear like a village yokel just rolled out of bed after a particularly bad binge in the night. Wonder why it’s a range among young people these days.

As you must have guessed I absolutely HATE trousers creased on the sides instead of in the centre. Awful.

I saw this guy today; well dressed by all accounts, clean shaven, wearing a tie, a good physique, all in all, good-looking executive material of some multinational. Then my eyes travelled down to his trousers. Holy cow! It was ironed with the crease on the sides, instead of in the centre. There goes my esteem of this guy, the ignoramus. I could catch him by his neck and throttle him. Doesn’t he know that trousers are creased in the centre and not on the sides, the idiot?

My dhobhi (washerman) brought my trousers creased on the sides the other day and, cool guy that I am, completely lost my head and shouted at him. I blasted him so badly, the poor guy looked befuddled. He couldn’t understand what it was all about, this creasing at the sides or at the centre. I made him take it back and crease it in the centre and bring it back, the good-for-nothing.

What’s the difference between trousers creased in the centre and at the side. There’s a great big chasm of a difference. A chasm that only a generation that has lived in more gentler times, who valued tradition and culture would understand. What culture you ask?

The culture of formal wear, the culture of respect for elders, the culture of being gallant towards women, the culture of sensitivity to the needs of others, etc. I could go on….

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Lady Catches Thief in the Act! What about Morality?

Read this story about a brave lady who caught a thief in his act. Seems she has a knack for catching thieves while they are mighty busy deciding what to shove into their cloth. What’s amazing is that the thief remained unrepentant and said it’s not his mistake and that, on the other hand, it was hers as she had left her car unlocked.


And an airline employee actually told her niece not to bother reporting it to the police and she didn’t.

Seems we, in our over-zealousness, are out to guard the thieves against punishment. Have we become so cynical and world weary? What sort of a system have we created? Where’s the long arm of the law that is supposed to stop theft, where is the morality, where’s the airport security? Where? What?

Tips If There Is an Emergency This Monsoon

Remember July 27, 2006? The great deluge that engulfed Bombay and most of us had to wade through neck deep water to our homes, or had to spend the night in the office? here are some precautions to take in case the same disaster occurs this monsoon:

Ensure that this handbook is in the glove box at all times.

A well equipped first aid kit with bandage, pain relief spray, antiseptic cream, anti-allergic like Avil, Aspirin, mosquito repellent cream or spray like Odomos.

Car drivers with diabetes, blood pressure, asthma or illness for which they take prescription drugs , should keep a stock of their medicines in the car.

In a disaster- like situation instead of trying to reach home, first reach the nearest acquaintance. Try to minimise travel.

Lower your window panes while driving through water logged areas.

Carry out pre-monsoon checks of batteries, tyres, electrical wiring, engine, maintenance of your car including wipers and top -up the fuel of your car during the monsoon.

Initial light rains will mix with the dust and oils on the road to produce a very slippery surface. Such conditions must be treated with extreme caution as tyres tend to have less grip on slippery surfaces.

Ensure that your tyres have the recommended air pressure and sufficient tread depth.

Install in your car mobile battery charger and ensure your FM Radio is in working condition to tune into announcements. Ensure that you have at least one CDMA cell phone in the car. It seems that CDMA phones worked more effectively than the GSM phone during an emergency.

Handy tools to be kept in the car :

Hammer: to break the glass on the driver's window from the middle/centre, in case of an auto-lock system failure.

Thick long at least 20 metres nylon rope with a hook to be kept the dicky.

Fully charged powerful torch.

Plastic sheets and spare umbrella

Dry and non -perishable food items should be kept in vacuum container in ample quantity. Dry fruits are recommended.

At least two litres of bottled water to be filled daily.

A working whistle.

Create in the contact list of your cell phone ICE (In Case Emergency) to enable any rescuer to inform your nearest ones at the earliest.

Never drive alone preferably in the disaster -prone areas.

Avoid low lying areas.

At any time your Life is more precious than your car, so in case you are stuck be prepared to park and walk.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Why Some Writers Have It So Good

The great Jeffrey Archer, in India to promote his new book:

“Now this all began, well, 34 years ago, when I stopped being an English member of parliament, couldn’t get a job, so I wrote my first book — “Not a Penny more, Not a Penny Less”. Now, I have to tell you, papers all across the world said it was an instant success. I want to tell you about that “instant success”. Sixteen publishers turned the book down. The Seventeenth paid me 3000 pounds. And they published 3000 copies. Only 200 came to India — Not much of an instant success. But when it went into paperback, they published 25,000 copies and they sold them in a month. I went back and said, “Please would you publish another 25,000 copies.” They said, “No no, Jeff, we’d like you to do another book”. “No,” I said, “I’d like you to publish another 25,000 copies.” “No, No!”, they said. “Yes, Yes”, I said. (I) Finally got them to publish 25,000 copies and they sold them in a month. So I went back and said, “I’d like another 25,000 copies.” They said “No”, I said “Yes” and I got another 25,000 copies.”

“Last month they published another 25,000 copies.”

Makes me wonder why it’s so easy for some people and hard for others to break into publishing. Yesterday I had another rejection from yet another publishing company that wanted to bring out a collection of my short stories. The editor said, “I am still enthusiastic about the project, but the economics of the business doesn’t work out,” or something to that effect.

Guess, I should have started out by being some kind of a celebrity, say a member of parliament, and then I would have made it to being an author. Khushwant Singh took the other route; he became a writer and then went to parliament (hmm, didn’t he?). Yes, a Google search proves that he was. I typed “Khushwant Singh, Member of Parliament and clicked, “I am feeling lucky.” I use the “I am feeling lucky” option very often and it works. Do try.

I digress, as I often do. So as poet CP Surendran once wrote, “It’s the age of standardisation, we don’t want to be the ones seen as the loners, the questioners and doubters who stand outside the pack.” We fall in line and say “no issues” so easily, or, our jobs are on the line.

That’s why when Kitab 2008 was organised all the writers who had enthusiastically attended the champagne parties (even fought to get admittance) in Kitab 2007, avoided it like the jaundice. Nobody wanted to be seen as the outcast as I was made to feel. I am so glad I had the company of greats like Indra Sinha who valiantly said, “Just because a friend is in trouble doesn’t mean he stops being a friend.”

Thank God, there are some sensible, humane people around. I am sure Jeffrey Archer would have approved.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Oil Companies, Reverse Robinhood, and Zero Carbon, Me!

I am not a very figures kind of person, except when it is “figure” of the other kind. I can remember bank account numbers, pin codes, ATM codes, etc. but when it comes to remembering a lot of statistics I go blank.

But this thing was easier than expected. Since the government is increasing prices of petrol I did a few searches on the net and a few calculations. I found that all the oil companies owned by the government, including the ones that were prospecting for oil were running at losses.

I remember those halcyon days when Bharat Petroleum was Burmah Shell, and Hindustan Petroleum was Esso. These companies were making decent profits before the government nationalised them, and my friends, whose parents worked in these companies were well dressed, and came to school in bicycles from the nearby Shell Colony in Chembur, while I sweated it out on my two feet.

How can a government company that has a monopoly turn from making profit into making losses is what beats me. What gets my gall even further is that Aramco and other oil companies make obscene profits while our companies are wallowing in the red. Sheer inefficiency and laziness. Why look at Aramco when Reliance Petroleum, a recent entrant, can import crude, refine it and sell it locally and make a profit of Rs. 1,463.55 crore in 2001 (I don’t have the latest figures, but this will suffice).

Which makes our public sector oil companies including ONGC, HPCL, and BPCL into money guzzlers and blood suckers making losses in excess of Rs 8,000 crores. It’s to mitigate this loss that Manmohan and his merry company of friends are increasing prices. I did some simple maths and found that the increase in revenue being touted as the panacea will still not cover the losses made, and therefore the public sector companies will again be in the red. Remember my words!

Why is the government feeding these inefficient vultures who can neither fly or hunt for prey? Why can’t they privatise the oil companies and let them by run by the Ambanis, or the Ruias for that matter, if not the multinational corporations mentioned above? Why can’t oil in India retail at international prices, considering that our huge economy is so dependent upon it?

I saw a break-up of oil pricing in India and was amazed to find that taxes accounted for almost 50 per cent of the sale price. Why can’t these taxes be reduced? None other than Saha, a former chairman of ONGC has suggested that the regime of controls and public distribution benefit the rich and not the poor, something of a reverse Robinhood.

From an article in The Mint I found recently that I am one of those specimens who are the most unpolluting in the world. I use public transport, doesn’t use electricity to shave or brush my teeth (as such, the electricity board in my corner of the world switches off for a few hours when I am doing all these), don’t use the geyser (well, occasionally, when it’s too cold), I switch off the computer monitor when I am not using it, I don’t own a car, I don’t use deodorants (the worst contributor of chlorofluorocarbons), and therefore I don’t contribute much to the carbon deposits in the outer atmosphere. Ergo, I should be compensated with Carbon Credits which have recently started trading on MCX (India’s commodity exchange, read this poem I wrote.)

Oh forget that, who bothers, but what I don’t understand is that good carbon citizen that I am, why am I being penalised by the higher prices I am going to pay for the autorickshaw, the vegetables, the train tickets, etc. just because the national oil companies are making losses.

Privatise those damn bloodsuckers and fire those drones who sit guzzling all my money in those mammoth oil companies! Damn you reverse Robinhoods!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Bombay in the Rain - Part Two

The rain brings with it a host of catastrophes, unique to Bombay. If you are about to visit Bombay, hold all plans. I read this travel advisory The Economist gives free to all and sundry, and this is by way of warning people who would be planning a trip in the season of inclement weather. A colleague’s home got flooded, the roads around Andheri, the area that teems with call centres and software parks is so dirty that garbage lies strewn on the streets and it looks as if no effort has been made to collect garbage for days.

All this with the first hesitant showers? Then what all will follow, whattapen, God only knows, no?

Forces of nature, force majeur, acts of God, all phrases resounding with man’s helplessness when pitted against nature. But what to do? Things are like that only no? The rain sweeps Bombay into the gutter, and everything takes on a dirty greyish brown colour. It doesn’t cleanse but mixes the dirt into a paste, which then sticks to trousers, shoes, and saris. And the authorities sit and blink, and wring their hands. They don’t know what to do; they have been vanquished by the first onslaught. I can see them cowering behind their dusty files, the morons.

Commuting is hell. Really, commuting is the worst part of living in Bombay. The roads being what they are, the drivers become surly and bad tempered, even the genial rickshaw driver becomes a devil with a pitchfork and a long tail. Two days ago we tried all we could to persuade one of them to drop us at Andheri railway station. But none would oblige. It took us nearly one hour to finally coax an unwilling specimen to take us, and the result was a long wait in a traffic jam stretching all over Andheri-Kurla road. After that there was the long queue of patient people waiting to negotiate themselves to the railway platform, then the long commute. Reached home at 10.30 p.m. I had left the office at around 6.30 p.m. So that makes it a four-hour commute.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Another Rejection Letter!

You wait and wait, and wait some more…. You lose all hope, and then comes this sweet letter. I am a bit wary about putting it here so publicly, but I have said it before and will say it again, this is all about the thought process of a writer, and I will be honest about my struggle, my failures and achievements in equal measure. So here it is, the dumb mail that arrived in my inbox a few days ago:

Dear John

Thank you for submitting your novel, and apologies in such a delayed response.

After much discussion in the Literary Department (Really? Thanks!), we have concluded that, unfortunately, your novel is not quite right for us.

While you write in fantastic detail with a great passion, sadly it is not a project we feel we can take forward. The publishing business is fiercely competitive (as if I don’t know it already); we all have to be one hundred percent convinced by a writer’s work (mister, you don’t pass muster), in order to represent it effectively.
We are very sorry to write to you with this disappointing response. This is always a personal decision, we're sure others will feel differently (Oh, would they?).

Wishing you the best of luck in seeking representation at another agency (“This is the end, beautiful friend (novel),” as Jim Morison sang).


Another rejection letter. And after years of waiting, years of editing, years of re-writing, years of waiting for something to happen to your pet project – your novel – your heart sinks. Remember, we are reading this on a busy suburban railway platform and a tear forms in the eye and lingers on around the edges. The man sitting beside you, a casual acquaintance, wonders why I haven’t smiled and nodded at him and avoided the usual pleasantries.

I have spent a lot of my time, sleepless nights, years, in fact, on this novel, which has been rejected. Now I think I should abandon it and not waste more time on it. Instead there is this new novel I am working on which seems promising, nay, full of the bitter after taste of rejection.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Rain in Bombay

The rain struck Bombay on Tuesday night and the above was the result of the backlash it unleashed. Tuesday night it grew very hot inside the compartment, and when the train approached Kurla, I felt a cool gust of air, soothingly caressing my skin. I looked outside, and, one of nature’s beautiful sights awaited me.

It was raining!

The water was dripping slowly from the windows, it cooled the sweaty bodies around me and the train stopped at several places in between stations. It was 10.30 when I reached Belapur, only to be met with a long, snaking queue for autorickshaws. A sardarji tried to bring order to the queue, mostly ignored by the queue-standers, too tired to listen to him. Well, dammit, the rickshaw drivers had made the rain an excuse to take the rest of the day off, and would be quaffing on rum by now, I thought. The rascals!

And the above is the picture of my commute on Wednesday when the trains again played truant, my usual train was cancelled, and when I made it to Andheri, the above picture was what caught my eye at the exit from the station on the East side. A long queue of people, slowly pacing, a step at a time, impatiently pushing against each other, head down, deep in thoughts, sweating freely, wet all over, some even listening to music.

Ah, well, that’s what the rain does to Bombay!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Resplendent Glory of Jodhpur

Saw this most engaging documentary on the Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur on Discovery channel. What was amazing was how this royal has managed to maintain the traditions of his royal house at his own expense. Of course, the pomp is a bit subdued, the attendants look a bit down cast and jaded and the entourage isn’t as big as it must have been in those days of yore when the royals must have sashayed into their palaces in style. Royalty has its charm, I think.

But what it gave me was a look into their lives, the way their lives must have been lived in those ramparts, the stones of which tell the story of love, hatred, betrayal and war. The ancient legacy of India, a rich Rajput tradition that speaks of the glory of India before the British Raj, is displayed in the customs and ceremonies still followed by the descendant of this royal family. A good effort, well captured on television. After all, who can manage to keep up those tradition now that the kings and princes don’t even receive a privy purse? The struggle Maharaja Gaj Singh takes to maintain his forts and museums was, to my mind, obvious from the documentary.

See it on Discovery channel if you can, if only to capture the glory of an India that has passed into the pages of history, whose traditions are being valiantly upheld by the royals of Jodhpur.

Monday, June 02, 2008

This is the article that appeared in Mumbai Newsline about Amitabh Bachchan launching his blog where I have been quoted. All I said was I would like to see Shobhaa De blog, and lo and behold she has started a blog of her own. Check it out.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A Poem and All about Medical Insurance

A poem written to a friend who was in ICU recently. It was shocking how he, youthful, a fitness freak, a cyclist, maintaining a busy schedule and a robust life ended up in hospital. Shows nobody is immune to heart problems even at a young age. So take care of your heart, care for your body, eat healthy, stop smoking, drink moderately, sleep well, live happy.

I am doing all these after a recent stay in a hospital, a traumatic experience for me. The nurses were so inexperienced they couldn't insert a canula in my wrist. I suffered four days of trauma because of a friend's choice of the wrong hospital. It was even more traumatic getting paid for the treatment from medical insurance. They made me run around submitting multiple documents thought I had filed and submitted all my documents scrupulously.

But that is over now, and they say my claim has been passed. I will look elsewhere if it isn't, there are so many medical insurers around. Take Tata AIG for instance, which pays back your premium if you don't fall sick. Good isn't it? Take a look.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Oh, Give Me a Break….

I have this habit, I don’t know good or bad, of looking over shoulders at laptops and taking a peek at the stuff people near me are working on inside Bombay’s cattle pens, euphemism for trains. And there was this ordinary looking guy who was working on a powerpoint presentation. And, wow, he seems to be an employee of the biggest consumer products multinational in India, and is reading a presentation that was a sort of exhortation which ran as follows:

“A society’s values and environment are important parts in the company’s marketing effort. The company should always protect and upkeep social values.”

Imagine reading all this rot and not the daily newspaper in the train. (Not to imply that newspapers are full of uplifting stuff, and all, you know.) Not the exact words but something similar. So, what are the social values this company upkept over the years, huh?

That the fairness creams it so blatantly sells can get a girl with an inferiority complex a fairer skin and a good husband, that when we use the soap used by film stars we become as beautiful as them?

A big laugh to all that. Ha… ha… ha… ha…!

A corporation exists for the only purpose of making money for its owners and shareholders. Let this fact sink into you, smart guy with the laptop. And if you or anyone stands in the way of the corporation’s pursuit of money then you are the one who will have to quit. All these talk of benefiting society, social responsibility are bullshit.

That brings me to why Bill Gates would give so much to his foundation. Actually if Bill Gates’ heart bled so much for the poor of third world countries why doesn’t he sell all he has and give it to charity, as Jesus suggested to a follower? No, he has to have a foundation and only the foundation will help the poor, i.e., supply computers to schools in rural areas of India. Actually he is selfishly creating a market for his products in India, and he knows once people are hooked to windows, they would remain hooked for life.

And why don’t the companies that have schools, hospitals, universities genuinely admit the poor and the deserving? Because they do it for the tax breaks they get and the goodwill they receive out of bestowing favours to people whose services they need.

It makes me laugh, this corporate social responsibility, CSR, in short. That corporate type sitting near me looked like a fool to believe all the shit being dished out by the powerpoint presentation, that of companies going on about social upliftment and all that. He should know that if tomorrow he is struck by lightning the company will terminate him and not think about their social responsibility towards him.