Tuesday, June 30, 2009

You Will Hear It From Facebook in Future. Long Live MJ.

When Michael Jackson, the self-styled king of pop died last week, curiously it might seem, I read it on Facebook. What’s the point I am making here?

When an earthquake occurred in the US and the husband phoned the wife, she said, “But how come it’s not on facebook.” We like to hear our friends say it, not the screechy big media news presenters because we know what’s behind their put on excitement – Television Rating Points (TRPs in short).

The world just got more interactive, and communities are deciding what is news and what is newsworthy. Today I read Mark Zuckerberger’s interview in Wired magazine and he says print, electronic and internet media aren’t deciders of what’s news anymore. Then who or what is? He says, in a manner of speaking, that in future news will be decided by communities of people who belong to social networking sites such as Facebook. And, what’s more, most of the feeds to such communities would be from blogs and uniquely social networking phenomena called “status messages” and their “feedback.”

I have been fascinated by Facebook and have around 500 friends whose status messages I read and give feedback upon everyday. Over time I have built up a network of friends and they comment on the articles on my blog links of which I provide on the social networking site. When I put the news of Michael Jackson’s death as a status message four or five people who just got the news from me commented on my message.

The concept of an editor or journalist deciding what is news may be waning, who knows. Truth be told their act was rather arbitrary and, god forbid, maybe a good thing for online media and websites. Newspapers and news media might have fallen into the graves they have dug with their own hands. But Zuckerberger is the owner of an online media, don’t forget. So he will say things supporting his pet marketing theories.

However, the way social networking sites such as Facebook and Ryze are gaining in popularity it may not be long before we give up reading ad-cluttered newspapers altogether. I guess readers would get tired of reading articles which have been paid for by corporates seeking cheap publicity.

After all, didn’t some wise guy say: you can fool all the people for some time, but not all the people all the time.

Michael Jackson

I liked the guy ever since I read his autobiography. He seemed like the typical child star thrust into stardom not knowing how to handle the huge success he has become. He was very vulnerable for the huge role that was cut out for him. Admittedly, he was a great performer and I was spellbound by his performance and presence on screen. My greatest regret is that I couldn’t see him perform live when he visited Bombay.

Now that the crooner of “Heal the world” (my favourite song) is no more I can only wish that he find peace and harmony away from his harried and harassed life in the peaceful world of his maker.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

More Habitual Grumbling from a Grumpy Writer

I guess moving house is one big traumatic task. I so much hate it that I have sworn not to do it again, ever. I am told there a people in Bombay who move house every year because their tenants do not trust to keep them for more than a year, there are people who move house to different cities and even different countries. Given a chance I would like to psychoanalyze their brain cortex for their unique neuron activity.

For the past twenty-five years I have been a resident of New Bombay and the house had developed a lot of faults that no amount of reparing could mend. Therefore, being a stand-alone bungalow, I decided to raze it down and build from scratch. I filled up the umpteen bank loan forms, ran around to get no objections from an array of local municipal authorities, before the construction could start. Then the excruciating process began: of shifting to a new place, settling there, going to work, changing jobs, supervising the job, pulling up the contractor, cajoling the bank officer to disburse the funds, in fact, I ran around like a monkey with his tail on fire.

Then when it all got completed I couldn’t believe my luck. I have a private terrace, a small study where I am keying all this in, it came out rather nice, touch wood. Touching Wood. I can listen to the approaching rain over the hills, watch the rainforest of the valley where Artiste Village is situated turn into thousands of shades of green, wake up to a symphony of bird sounds, and despite a few faults of plumbing, the house has turned out well.

Then the task of moving into the new house. We had accumulated a lot of junk as we all do over the years. There were hundreds of books to be stowed into boxes and taken to the new home, old clothes to be discarded, gifts to be thrown away(Most of our nephews and nieces gift us expensive perfumes knowing perfectly well that we don’t have any use for them. They persist. So, it gathers dust and ultimately ends up in the garbage.), old photoframes to be dusted, outsize furniture to be laboriously taken downstairs and then taken upstairs, shoes to be thrown away, and most importantly, files and documents to be taken care of.

But most of disturbing of all is dusting old copies of manuscripts and submissions that are waiting to be made to publishers (which I had copied and kept expecting a deluge of requests for these). Here I go all sentimental. There’s an inch of dust on my novel, and an added half an inch on my collection of poems. I have three publishers who haven’t yet said “no” to my debut novel (neither have they said "yes"), and hundreds of stories and poems that are awaiting keenly to see ink and paper. I go all sentimental and teary eyed. Only the schizophrenia of having to shift so many things brings back to my senses. Then what can I do but wait, hoping, not daring to give up because of the statements of pride I have made about my uncles being great and pioneering writers. Yes, I have to persist and I will because, after all, it is my calling and writing has given me so much which I cannot ignore.

So here I sit in my second floor study, beside the terrace and fingers to keyboard make depressions of these words for my blog post. What does the future hold for me? Will I be published? Will I receive an acceptance letter from a publisher instead of the rejections that now have become a part of my life?

What do I care even if I haven’t succeeded as I had imagined I would? After all, I have tried my best and given back to writing a few words of comfort to the many writers who may be reading the story of my struggle. So, then, even if I don’t get published I have hopefully given to the world some gyan (Indian Zen, actually it’s the other way around, Indian Gyan got corrupted to Chan in China and later on crossed the seas to Japan and again got corrupted to Zen.) through what you are now reading – this blog post.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


A view of the terrace. on Twitpic

For long I have longed for a terrace and got it, at last! Moving house this week.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Manoj Rane, Friend, Fellow Writer, R.I.P.

Manoj with our common friend Abhijeet Gadre at the Aap Ka Nazrana meet in April 2008

He was one of my best friends though we met hardly a few years ago. The sort who didn’t talk behind your back, though disillusioned with some “so called” online friends, we both believed in online friendships and the whole gamut of online connectivity. I met him online through a literary network - Caferati, to be exact - and soon a friendship developed when we found that we had spent our childhoods in the suburb of Chembur. In fact, he used to live near the school where I studied. He would drop in to my house in CBD Belapur, we would spending the evening at the nearest CafĂ© Coffee Day, chatting.

He wrote well in both Marathi and Hindi, both of which I can read, write, and have a good enough understanding to know the extent of his talent. His father retired as a high-ranking official in the state government. He could pull strings to his advantage if he wanted to, but in his unassuming way only helped people who were genuine friends.

Conversation was all about online friends, the literary forums we were members of, the puerile deceits we had experienced, the treachery of people. In all these conversations I detected a will to carry on despite the odds, a tenacious hanging on to what he believed was right. He had confessed he liked the company of older men such as yours truly and Abhijeet-da our common friend. He was wiser beyond his age and loved to meet people. Once he had said he would “even get up in the middle of the night to go and help people, but only those who deserved to be helped.”

Those occasions we spent together used to be rare; when he was biking back to Bombay from Pune, he would pick me up and then he would spend the evening with me. The same bike let him down a few days back while driving down the treacherous winding mountain roads of Lonavala. He met with an accident. He died. Just like that.

He was a keen biker and as we watched a youngster doing a bike trick outside the CCD where we were seated, he described some of the stunts he used to do in his earlier days. I don’t remember the exact details, but was it such a situation he faced on the descend down the zigzagging mountain road? I don’t know. Why don’t they allow bikes on the Bombay-Pune Expressway? There could be a separate lane for them.

Now, I wonder at the transience of life, I wonder why it had to be him, I wonder what he thought about in his last moments. My heart goes out to his aged father and mother and close relations. I rang him several times thereafter, thinking he would answer the phone and say, “Yaar, yeh log kya, kya bol rahe hain, main tho bilkul theek hoon. Bada joke hua, yaar.” (Friend, what are these people saying about me, I am quite well. This is a big joke.)

Alas, not to be. Manoj Rane, friend, fellow writer, R.I.P.

The Discussion So Far on Rape

My blogpost has attracted heavy criticism and comments which has prompted me to do this new post. Much water has flowed downstream in the interregnum including the alleged rape of a maid by a successful Indian film star. These days 25 per cent of Indian newspapers are filled with shocking disclosures of one rape case or the other. Recently another girl was taken for a good time by her boyfriend and gang-raped by him and his friends.

I fail to understand where I have laid the blame on women for being raped because they deserved it in the above post. The following is the comment I have made, note especially the use of the word “approve”: "So actually I also do not approve of sexily clad pop singers and their many imitators I see around me." That I don't "approve" (Blame my age and my conservative upbringing for this. After all, it's my blog, isn't it?) doesn't mean I am implying that their act of dressing sexily has invited the rape. In fact it’s women who dress ordinarily who get raped, women who dress provocatively are too smart to be taken advantage of. So where’s the question of my saying “they were raped because they dressed provocatively?” What I was implying was that a man (with his ancient, chauvinistic and libidinous outlook) when he sees an almost naked pop star on television and walks out and sees a few provocatively clad women (newly liberated, progressive, smart) he gets aroused. What next? He exercises his dominant male power over another woman (a powerless, probably minor, vulnerable, very un-provocatively dressed, financially challenged a la the maid in the alleged Ahuja rape case).

Why do men do this? Good question. But a difficult one to answer. However, I will give it a try.

The answer may lie in the difference in the sexuality of men and women. In the testosterone-charged workplace of today, where more men wield power than women, the latter are at a disadvantage and if she wants to make any progress, the choice put to her by the men are obvious. So the male film/commercial director or dress designer who asks the actress/model to bare knows she will do it. What then? Instead of condemning and fighting the exploitation of women, they take this as a sign of their progress. So the bolder the better; the more provocatively dressed, the best.

Commenter here have deliberately twisted what was my "disapproval" or what I thought was not appropriate to label me as anti-women and postulate that I believe that the women were asking for it. Not true. What I was offering was a considered view deduced from much soul searching, and not a bias against women. In the cases I mentioned in the blog post one was a servant or maid and another was only dressed for shopping in the mall. Come on guys and gals, do not impute meaning and twist words and implications without reading my post.

This is what I wrote in a reply to a comment: "I understand your concern. Society [Please note, I wrote "society" and not "women"] itself is to blame for making womenhood into an abhorrent word, to be abused and taken advantage of. Emancipation has come with more women working, but also the abuse continues in them being portrayed negatively as "sex objects" in films and videos (Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce, etc.) which has taken the level further down instead of up. Women who imitate these icons are following a stereotype instead of breaking away from it. So actually I also do not approve of sexily clad pop singers and their many imitators I see around me."

My critics on the blog has substituted "women" for "society" on the double and then proceeded to comment without reading any further what I wrote about "emancipation" and "sexual stereotypes". Not done. One even wrote in a rejoinder, "There’s a potential rapist in our midst." I am aghast!

Agyatmitra writes: "Also your whole argument puts the onus on women? Ironic. It is like saying people who are rich invite decoity/murder. It is saying women are to be blamed for prostitution because they do not take a stand. It is blaming a child for making a mistake for being abused by a teacher/parent."

You know what an "item number" is in Bollywood parlance, and what is the meaning of "item"?
"Item" in this case, if you don't already know, is a "sexy bold woman". You know what, there are many actresses who specialise in doing "item numbers". Have these sexy dancers ever voiced their concern at being called an "item"? In fact, has anyone from the feminist brigade? Why aren't they campaigning for the removal of the word from movie magazines and other trade publications?

Why Bollywood alone, in every Indian linguistic culture a beautiful woman is called "maal", "item", "charakku", "phataka", etc.

“Thu cheez (thing) badi hai mast mast,
Thu cheez (thing) badi hai mast.”

(You are an alluring thing, yes you are!)

I didn’t see any protestations and demonstrations after this song became a big hit. It is this mind set that has to change and it is not happening because even men who sympathise with the cause and want to discuss and remove the cobwebs are branded chauvinists.

Follow up comments on this post, not on the old one. I would like the discussion to go further than my old, narrow-minded, probably ossified mental confines.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ganga in the Serengeti

Here's an image Ganga captured in the Serengeti

Bum-chum, writer, and wilflife enthusiast Gangadharan Menon has capture the essence of Africa in this article in Mid-day. He writes: “The tale of a species of butterflies that migrates all the way from Africa to far-away Canada and comes all the way back. But the twist in the tale is that butterflies being as short-lived as three months, it's the third generation that reaches Canada and the sixth that reaches back in Africa!”

Wow! Six generations in one migration? A life of three months, meaning a change of season? Worth going to Serengeti to check out, isn't it?

Here’s a picture of a lion he captured with his to be loved Nikon D 60 camera (when I get anywhere near this beauty, I am not going anywhere without her by my side!).

And another fact which I am not tired of harping in this blog. Way back in the seventies the state government was thinking of building a big dam in Silent Valley (a la Narmada) in Kerala. Ganga made a documentary on the valley and showed it to the then prime minister Indira Gandhi. This was during what can be described as the cusp of the emergency regime's reign. A few days later the state government did a virtual about turn and turned Silent Valley into a nature park, the pristine beauty of which can be experienced in Palghat district, Kerala.

That’s positive intervention. Like Ganga I too believe in positive intervention without taking to the streets. I guess we are a street sort of people. If only we wrote more readable and meaningful mails and talked to each other.... Anyone listening?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fratricide Most Foul

It’s scary, indeed it is: the hold of criminals over politicians, and vice versa; to kill adversaries and silence the policing authorities. The underbelly of this Indian phenomenon came fully into the open recently, and the reverberations in the press haven’t died down so far. It’s so awful it’s depressing, and takes away one’s cherished dreams of living in one of the world’s functioning democracies with some amount of fairness built into its systems. It’s something that would make most law-abiding, peace-loving citizen hang their heads in shame.

A prominent politician – a former minister of the state of Maharashtra – allegedly paid goons to kill his cousin, his own cousin brother – amounting to fratricide. Now, another fratricide happened recently in Maharashtra; a while ago another prominent politician was allegedly murdered in cold blood by his own blood brother. At the root of both these feuds is money, which has been unscrupulously accumulated from shady business deals. And in the annals of Indian politics it’s no surprise that a politician has resorted to help from goons to settle scores with a close associate. It shows the extent of corruption to which Indian politicians have descended without shame or hesitation, and it doesn't look like it's redeemable in any way. As an Indian, this blogger is so inured to events such as this, but is blogging about this incident nevertheless because it makes him nauseous.

It’s a curious case. This is an example of a law-maker allegedly giving money to a few law-breakers to kill his cousin brother, a member of a rival party, while at the same time keeping the policemen from investigating the murder. The killers who allegedly accepted money to do the killing have squealed to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI, the Indian FBI), but since it’s been three years since the police have been side-tracking the investigation, all evidence has been wiped out as the car used in executing the murder has been gutted, evidence destroyed. Does one smell complicity here? Even the competent CBI is at a loss to establish their case.

The politician allegedly not only hired goons to kill his own cousin, but also orchestrated the police machinery into not proceeding in the murder investigation, when the needle of suspicious pointed at him. Why? He is a prominent politician belonging to a party now in power, and he allegedly was also the right hand man of another power-wielder in the central coalition government. There’s something called the “old boy network” in these parties and they together decided that their “old boy” should not be investigated. All this happened despite the fact that the man he killed belonged to another party in the coalition dispensation in power.

Thanks to the slain man’s wife’s and son’s persistence the case was handed over to the CBI (the FBI of India) and the whole messy saga of skulduggery is now out in the open. One also wonders whether anything will really come of it as in another case a prominent politician was exonerated in a similar case because of the delay in investigation. He was implicated in the murder of a close associate – his private secretary.

Whoever said power corrupts absolutely was right on the mark!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

It’s either the Blog or the Dog

Son wants a dog badly. He says he is the only child and needs some company, as if we (wifey and I) aren’t good company.

On my morning walk today, as I was thinking about this, two dogs barked and bounded towards me. They were ferocious looking ones, the sort my bosses have in their homes, the sort that are fed a lot of red meat and even cake. Yes, that’s what a boss fed his Nepalese royal family’s scion of a dog, whose ferocity was unmatched in the annals of my encounters with dogs. This Nepalese scion once bit an acre from my ankle and then when I kicked it, started yelping as if I had tried to strangle it. I have never been on my boss’s good books thereafter.

I have a long history of such confrontations. The first one was when my nephew (older than me) pushed me ahead when we went visiting a relation, knowing fully well the house had a ferocious Alsatian. Well, what happened was predictable, the nephew escaped and left me to deal with this brute, which canine floored me with a jump towards my throat, then when it was about to gouge my eyes out the lady of the house, my aunt, came and rescued me. So much for the trustworthiness of nephews who are older than one.

Well, I digress, again, a habit. These two ferocious mutts bounded towards me when I was at my most peaceful and meditative about the problems dogging my life. My first instinct was to turn and run, but then what would neighbours think? So I kept my cool, and walked straight ahead, to one side, ignoring the damn curs. They, wonder if I can call them that – having been a dog-unfriendly person all my life – stopped near me, saw I was not responding and then walked away, goofily, I might add.

Son Ronnie keeps insisting that now we have a bigger house we should keep a dog. I say, “For what? I would rather spend it on feeding a human being, or give money to charity.”

“But, papa, having a dog is cool. My friends all have it. They say dogs can be trusted more than friends these days.”

“I know. I have some friends of that type. And some critics, too.”

“How come?”

“My critics, they don’t read what I write on my blog and jump to conclusions," my eyes grow moist.

“What papa, here I am talking of dogs and there you go talking again about blogs. What’s the connection?”

Well, see the connection, son? Dog and blog rhyme and it’s expensive keeping both of them for a few comments and a few wags of the tail, which I get from my blog when readers comment. So either it’s the blog or the dog and I prefer the blog.

Monday, June 08, 2009

At an Awards Night

It was my ambition to go to an award night. I got a pass to go for a Filmfare Award night, but I, fool that I am, let it go, saying many such events will come. But turned out the organisers took the event private and not even the son-in-law of the minister’s co-brother-in-law (what’s that? Good question. Co-brothers-in-law are guys who are married to blood sisters. Both are brothers-in-law with equal responsibility of protecting, etc., so the “co” factor.) can get in these days. However, a few night ago, I got a sneak peek at an award nights. God, are they jazzy? I wonder where product marketing and product launches are going by the bottomless budgets they have, or, as I suspect, are they all sponsored? I don’t know. Is the food paid for by the sponsors, dear pony-tailed professor?

Yes, it was the pony-tailed professor’s launch of an award that I attended and there were Russian dancers performing a weird dance along with laser show and something they call a boom camera operator panning the audience including a few friends and me. It something to behold and the usual hep individuals among the glitterati were there including a starlet in a shiny golden dress who kept giving sound bites for the television cameras.

As for the awards, nothing needs to be said. The awardees themselves were derogatory about the great honour conferred on them. Hold your breath, “I don’t deserve this, but I will, however, accept.” Release breathe with a loud hiss; adjust breathing; control the heart that almost skipped a beat.

That done!

Then it got so boring that the crowd gravitated to the bar, which made the organisers close the bar. So the crowd did what they do best, i.e., stand in the foyer and gossip. The awards function pulled along with most of the chairs empty and the boom camera panning empty chairs.

Then the bar and the buffet finally opened and there was a mad rush and much cursing and “abbey, yeah, dikhta nahi hai kya” and the starlet was seen grinning and making the most of the attention and ogling. Couple of high-heeled stilettos were seen criss crossing the foyer and making pitches.

As for the pony-tailed professor, he gave a very stirring speech and then stuck to dark corners of the hall. Shy, or what?

Saturday, June 06, 2009

More on Genetically Modified Cotton Seeds

More on Genetically Modified (GM) cotton, seems I am obsessed with the subject ever since I wrote about it many moons ago. Lest my dwindling number of readers accuse me of not showing evidence of the link between farmer suicides and GM cotton seeds which I had written about in this article and this article,here's an eyeopener, a gem of an article by eminent campaigner for the cause of farmers Vandana Shiva about the definite link between GM cotton and farmer suicides not only in Vidarbha district of Maharashtra but in Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh.


Sterility of seed on a large scale is already a reality for Indian peasants, who have been persuaded to give up their own seeds and buy costly corporate seeds through high profile advertising. With the promise of riches, the corporations are pushing them into debt. Now farmers are killing themselves. Indian farmers have maintained a reliable and diverse seed supply over millennia. Today the foundation of this sustainable and secure agriculture is threatened as global chemical corporations invade the countryside, replacing agricultural diversity with vulnerable monocultures of hybrids and genetically engineered seeds that need more pesticides and herbicides. The justification for opening up the seed sector to multinationals has been the supply of better seeds, and hence higher incomes for farmers. But corporate seed is failing frequently, so pushing farmers into debt. In 1998 thousands of Indian farmers committed suicide due to indebtedness linked to poorly-performing new hybrid seeds. In the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh the shift has been very rapid, converting the area from a mixed farming system based on millets, pulses and oilseeds to a monoculture of hybrid cotton. The failure of this cotton seed led to 500 suicides last year in one district alone. Thirteen more have been reported this year. These failures are not restricted to the cotton growing areas of Andhra Pradesh alone, but have been experienced in all regions with commercially grown and chemically farmed crops.


Where does India stand in this controversy? Will it be a mute witness the loss of gene diversity taken for granted by our "kisans" or would we have to be subject to the new imperialism of the genetic mafia?