Friday, July 31, 2009

Is spitting our national pastime?

It’s insulting to find people expectorating, urinating, and shitting everywhere. You say we can’t avoid it because there aren’t enough toilets? Who says? I found this nasty red paan-spit in a urinal in a place I use quite often, while the wash basin was quite nearby. (I had a camera with me so I shot the above picture.) I find this habit repulsive, an assault on my senses. What can one do? There are rules against it, but can the police arrest by the hundreds for spitting? It shows a callousness and “don’t care a damn” attitude.

(This is done -->Sorry, a glitch has made the upload of the photo impossible. Created a shortcut on desktop without realising I was connecting from the camera's memory, then when I searched for the image, it wouldn't open, and then the battery ran out, the screen went blank, that's what technology does to intrepid bloggers. Will do this when the battery is back in action!)

Is spitting our national pastime? Yesterday I was standing at the Victoria Terminus and as I watched, a boy made a swaggering walk to the end of the platform and stylishly squirted spit through his two front teeth; another man spat a mouthful on the track, another was eating tobacco and spat the quid on the platform, made me wonder if it indeed was a national recreation. We are a nation of great spitters, we can spit in different styles, yes, we have made it into a fine art. Just watch that man expectorating: he heaves his whole body while doing so, as if he is undergoing some sacred purification ritual, and then when he spits, he exhibits the expression of someone who has fought off the demons. Aaah, what joy! Anywhere you go in India this is what sets us apart from the rest of the world, a disregard for others and the generous spreading of our internal secretions all around us. Ugh!

The malaise is so widespread that anywhere you go: staircases, toilets, corners of walls, office spaces, even sacred worshipping places are smeared by the red spit from fast-working, fast-drawing, ever-chewing mouths. Is it because we like to eat, or is it because we are poorly trained in hygiene? The man who has committed the above offence (the municipality calls this “nuisance” and they have “nuisance detectors” to catch the culprits) has scant respect for the people who would be using the urinal after him. I guess this stems from his over-inflated ego in which there is no space for anyone else but himself. I think that’s why we perform so poorly in team sports. Indian players will do all they can to score goals by themselves, or, hit the ball for a boundary with their own bats, as the case may be.

What’s the solution? I think spitting should attract fines of Rs 1000, or, one year in the slammer throughout India. I don’t know if the truculent denizens of Bombay, or, elsewhere would be deterred. But what’s the harm in trying?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Ambani Brothers' Duel

So the Ambani brother’s spat about sharing of KG Basin gas is out in the open and charges are being traded in newspapers, as can be seen in this exclusive in Economic Times.

Will India’s premier industrial conglomerate remain embedded in such fraternal spats for ever? Who will be a peace-makers or a peace-broker to the brothers, as Mukesh has already allegedly ruled out the mediation efforts of their mother, Kokilaben.

But aren't the children forgetting something their father believed in, quite adamantly at that? He never, repeat, never washed dirty linen in public. Even at the height of the controversy with Bombay Dyeing (when the press were giving him loads of bad publicity) he never went to the press to clarify his position maintaining his dignity and his distance.

Are the sons following these basic rules?

Monday, July 27, 2009

When Will Indian Stars Grow Up?

It’s sad. It’s also mind-fodder-for-a-blog (desperately in need of worthwhile subjects) and, well, um, er, in a manner of speaking, sort of, putting it mildly, disconcerting. The jury is out in the inner soul of Indian consciousness: Indian men always take their women for granted.

First, a confession: I am an awards addict. If there’s one thing I would be glued to the telly unless it happens to be a movie starring these three of the world’s finest actors – Gene Hackman, Clint Eastwood, and father-son-duo Kirk Douglas and Michael Douglas –, it’s an awards function. Why I am a great fan of these three actors is because besides being great actors they are rather old-fashionedly chivalrous and gentlemanly around their women/girlfriends. Watch the gallantry of Gene Hackman in Mississippi Burning, of Clint Eastwood in Every Which Way but Loose, of Michael Douglas in Disclosures when he is told by his secretary that she dislikes his accidental touching of her. He apologises immediately.

I can’t vouch the same for Indian actors. The setting was the IFFA awards and on stage to receive the awards were Hritik Roshan and Arjun Ramphal. You know the scenes: the actors (Hritik and Roshan, not together, separately, in two different award categories) walk to the stage, the cameras pan Suzanne Roshan and Meher Jessia (wives respectively) several times, the awards are presented, the actors thank the IFFA, the producer, the director, (camera pans Suzanne and Meher again, and again, and again, catching their teary-eyed, breaking emotions), the cast, crew, the production designer (the cameras pan the wives ad nauseum), even the co-stars (the lens pan crazily at the wives [some good souls in the control room think their names will come up]), but still no names of the wives, the ones who cook, clean, decorate house, maintain the wardrobe, decorate the house, wait for their men to return from their shoots. Yesterday, a whole nation sat on the edges of their seats to see if their wives would find a mention (at least, I did), but, no, they weren’t even mentioned. Hmm. Indian actors/stars, rarely, if ever, mention their mothers/wives.

What does this behaviour say about our stars: the role models who are imitated, trendsetters, worthy of being aped, who should be setting the standards on camera, the celebrities, the lucky ones? See this article in which Michael Douglas thanks his father Kirk and mother Diane for his genes and his talents. Did our stars, at least, even mention their mothers? No. Am I any different? I don’t know what will come out of my mouth if I am asked to receive an award. (Which eventuality, might never come, I am sure.) I still don’t know if I will mention my wife and my mother because it’s the way we, Indian men have been raised, indeed, conditioned to think.

Interesting article I read recently titled, “ Why Indian Men Are Still Boys.”

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How a 24-year-old Saved the Silent Valley, Kerala

Here’s it in friend and bum-chum Gangadharan Menon’s own words how he persuaded Indira Gandhi to do something about Silent Valley which was going to be turned into a hydro-electric project back in the 1980’s. The article has been published in Sunday Mid-Day.

I quote his words:

“We screened the film for Mrs Gandhi; and after seeing for herself the richness of one of India's untouched natural treasures, she patted the back of a stunned 24-year-old [Ganga was 24 years old then. Now he has the flowing beard of an Albus Dumbledore] and whispered in his unbelieving ears: 'Don't worry, son! This will be declared a National Park!' And it was, in the year 1984!”

It’s miraculous how a 24-year-old can save the eco-system of an entire valley by firmly believing in what he is doing. A lesson for all young people, I guess. Friend Ganga, besides being one of India’s top-most ad copywriters, is doing his best for the younger generation, as a teacher and mentor in various fine arts institutions in Bombay.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Colour Perception and Should I Stop Writing?

Feeling down, having the blues, mood nahi, all said with a sad shake of the head. Bad vibes travelled down the net and found a tender spot the day before yesterday, i.e. Thursday the 16th of July. Two such inauspicious – in a manner of speaking – occurrences un-nerved me more than a little. On a forum which I am a member, a very aggressive sort of individual attacked me on a discussion regarding “colour” and “colour perception.” Actually it started off as a discussion on this article by African-American Diepiriye Kuku who while relating his racist experience in Indiamentioned among other things, “Racism is never a personal experience. Racism in India is systematic and independent of the presence of foreigners of any hue. This climate permits and promotes this lawlessness and disdain for dark skin.”

I had agreed with the view of Diepiriye Kuku and mentioned on the forum that in India there’s deep rooted discrimination masquerading as “colourism.” Discrimination is more facile and evident in Delhi than in Bombay, which I discovered on my visits to the earlier-mentioned city. Along came this member who opined that I should “get real” instead of whining about colour and colourism. How can I take this charge that I should get real (which meant – sort of – that I should also “get a life” and sweep the issue away from my consciousness, which I wasn’t willing to do) I demanded an apology and got one. Shows we should stick to our guns when we are bullied in online forums.

What does it feel like if a former colleague and fellow writer, actually, a publisher, tells you: “pal [sic. Pray why this familiar Americanism?] i [sic] suggest you stop writing[.] do [no capitalisation here] your work that earns your money and stop peddling your ware as a novel[.] this [again no capitalisation] 'advice' [you] might find hard, but that is the truth; you are not cut out for it[.]

I nearly burst out laughing. My answer to him is: yes, I will consider stopping what I do, if you consider my suggestion of stopping what you do.

For the funny part is: this individual calls himself a publisher (albeit of the “vanity” type), and produces books (if I can call them that) that have no aesthetic value and you would die of boredom if you read even a few pages of his things (I know, I have spent sweat-of-my-brows for a few of his books and tried). The paper quality, editing, proofing, layout, pagination, style, everything is so bad, you would wonder why he didn’t take a crash course in book publishing before setting out in publishing. Or, is he going through some financial crisis, or something? Quite possible. You can't fool writers and authors and get away with it, they eventually get their revenge, mind you. That's why a politician I knew always said, "Never pick up a fight with a writer, they can maul you so bad, you may never recover."

Can people be so ruthlessly cruel and so casually crude? Yes, in the cannibalistic Indian literary world they can, but, then, it can happen on the same day, too, as it did in my case.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Chinese in Rural Areas Can Have Two Children!

China is doing its best to lose its race against India in the population race. This is one race that India should lose, not win. Justifiably so.

Many of you, esteemed readers of this blog know that China advocates a one-child per couple policy. Methinks it's high time we did, too. But a new rule makes it okay for couples from the rural areas to have two children. I am rather amused to read this one Josh Xiong's article in the venerable Britannica Blog:

"I was at a lunch and was told about all the exceptions to China’s one-child policy. Given the absence of a strong social welfare system since the reforms, most Chinese consider themselves lucky if they can have another child to act as a provider in their old age."

According to rules:

"- If you are from the country [country meaning rural China], you may have two kids. This applies if your wife or mother is from the country [meaning rural China] as well.

"- If you belong to an ethnic minority, you may have two kids.

"The former didn’t make sense at first, considering the urban-rural income disparities and the greater earning potential in the cities. If you’re going to encourage more children, why not do it in the cities, where they’ll have a better chance of becoming part of the middle class? But then the policy makes sense if the government is more worried about concentrated pockets of unrest, which is more of an urban phenomenon. Larger urban populations = greater chance of urban instability."

Apparently Chinese couples want two children, so what do they do? Migrate to rural China perhaps? Well, um, decongest the city. Good idea. Something Indian mandarins should look into, perchance.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

My Latest Short Story "P.K.Koshy's Daily Routine"

My latest short story "P.K.Koshy's Daily Routine" appears here. Read, enjoy and write a few words of encouragement, I am feeling a bit down. A so-called friend said, his exact words: "i suggest you stop writing."

Monday, July 13, 2009

We Are Opportunists, and We Are Like This Only

In a somewhat hard-hitting and cerebral article that would either tingle your neurons or make you hand your head in shame, Aakar Patel, former editor of Mid-day, writes about the Indian psyche, a very opportunistic one at that. He says Indians don’t give back to society which is obviously why an Indian leaves toilets dirty and litters public places. I agree. I also agree that Indian industrialists do not give back to society, and whatever meagre amounts that are forcibly extracted from them are because their accountants tell them they will get tax breaks. An excerpt from the article:

“Some characteristics unite Indians. The most visible is our opportunism. One good way to judge a society is to see it in motion. On the road, we observe the opportunism in the behaviour of the Indian driver. Where traffic halts on one side of the road in India, motorists will encroach the oncoming side because there is space available there. If that leads to both sides being blocked, that is fine, as long as we maintain our advantage over people behind us or next to us. This is because the other man cannot be trusted to stay in his place.”

Yes, we do crowd the aisle before the aircraft stops, we do push the other man away to misappropriate that precious train seat, we do spit in public places because it’s nobody’s father’s space (I was passing a man whose back was towards me, he turned his face and spat, the spray hit me, and he didn’t even apologise!), we scratch and fondle our private parts (Ugh!) because we don’t care if there are women around, we badmouth our neighbours and colleagues behind their backs (that sala, b*****d, what is he thinking-binking of himself, he is become someone big big, what they say, celebrity-celecrity or what?), we spread salacious rumours, we put the other guy down to elevate ourselves (the Marathi term is “Paya-khechi” meaning pulling down by the leg), we come late to functions and appointments and do not apologise, we eat and throw wrappers wherever its convenient to us (which is quite nearby), we burp, pass wind, we spit at wretched guys (The corners of our government offices can be identified by long strips of red spit adorned there by the officers themselves. One officer used to spit into his waste paper basket, I am told.), we elevate cruel brutes to positions of power and then complain of being harassed, we bow our heads to crooks and complain that our spines are bent, we protest against corruption but when it comes to getting things done we willingly pay, etcetera, etcetera.

While most of us wouldn’t think twice before doing something that would be profitable or something that elevate us, we are great pretenders and wouldn’t be caught dead wearing the wrong or politically incorrect opinion. We elevate those in power to bitch about them behind their backs; we show respect and at the same time curse them in private. (A peon who was obsequious in the boss’s presence began calling the man a b*****d out of earshot.) There is nothing gentlemanlike about us when we bitch about our colleagues when they are absent and spread rumours about them. You don’t have to go far to get evidence. Listen to conversations in trains and public transport, you will get enough of it.

I think, perhaps misguidedly (prove it!) that it’s our poverty and lack of opportunities that makes us so. Plus a lack of a social awareness that could have been inculcated by the reading of literature. We read very little. When I am reading a novel in the train my neighbours peep inside my book and read along with me. Bad manners, notwithstanding, I ask them if I can lend them the book so they can read it, “it’s a nice book,” I say.

“No, I won’t be able to finish it. I don’t have the patience and the time. Besides they are expensive.”

“Make time, I read on trains. There’s a guy I know who will lend it for Rs 20.”

“I would rather listen to music.”

What music? Pirated ones? Surreptitiously ripped from albums and downloaded from shady online sites, hosted in Pakistan?

I think I have made my point. My opinion is: we are opportunists and are like this only.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Air India Takes Big Bossum's Relatives in Cockpit

On my desperately last resort journeys to Kerala to attend to my father and mother when they were ill, I had to travel sometimes cooped up in cabins of buses. It was uncomfortable and I knew how they were doing it for the extra cash. I didn't know Air India was also doing the same. Strapped for cash, perhaps?

This article in today's Times of India states that airlines regularly take relatives of top officials inside the cockpit. And recently the worthy to travel thusly was the close-to-the-heart dearest relatives of their "quality management" boss.

Sounds ridiculous? I bet it does. What "quality management" can they offer if the cockpit is crowded with relatives?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Perhaps, the Last Shot Video of Michael Jackson!

My 15 All-time Favourite Books

Reading Shankari Murali's wonderful note I am persuaded to put my own list of 15 books that influenced me not exactly in the order they are presented here:

1. Lolita - Vladimir Nabakov - a book that made me want to be a writer. I am re-reading it at this moment and can admire his erudition, his research, his vivid description of scenes, his absolute mastery over language, etc. Truly Nabakov is one of the all-time greats of literature.

2. The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway - a book about doomed love that resurrects in the last few pages. Hemingway's style is something I try had to imitate sometimes.

3. The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Himingway - a book about a human being pitted against nature and a huge fish.

4. Grapes of Wrath and Travels with Charlie – John Steinbeck. Steinbeck is a wonderful chronicler of the US of the depression years.

5. War and Peace – Tolstoy – took two months to read this huge treatise on Russian life and fell ill in the process. Loved the way pre-revolution Russian society unravelled with its pettiness and selfish deceit.

6. Sadie Thompson and Stories of the South Sea Islands – Somerset Maugham – loved this collection of short stories that remain still imprinted in my mind for the fresh whiff of the exotic South Sea Islands. Again, made me yearn to write similar stories.

7. Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger – loved the hero Holden Caulfied both times I read the novel. Full of juvenile angst and youthful energy.

8. Silence of the Lambs – Thomas Harris – liked it for its eerie quality, a good thriller, inimitable in its genre. Liked the movie a lot for some fine acting.

9. Dr. Zhivago – Boris Pasternak – liked the pastoral beauty of Russia described against the backdrop of intensely personal happenings in the life of Dr. Zhivago in the novel with its intermingling of poetry and prose. Loved the post-revolution scenario described in this epic novel.

10. The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy – Especially liked the espousal of the Syrian Christian community (to which I belong) in this novel which deserved all the adulation it received. Roy’s prose has the glitter of diamonds undergoing polishing, though it might, I feel, need a lot of disciplined editing.

11. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie – a Hummer of a book, notable for his use of English in a chutnified form. Chutney mixed with pickle, too, it might seem.

12. Chemmeen – Thakazhi Shivashankara Pillai – Thakazhi’s story of a poor fisherman and his lady love set against the backdrop of Kerala’s beautiful coastline.

13. Paschatya Sahitya Tatwashastram – KM Tharakan – an authoritative book in Malayalam about the philosophy of Western Literature by a noted Malayali critic.

14. The Last Mughal – William Dalrymple – An authoritative history of the last days of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal emperor, how he was more of a poet than a ruler of the world.

15. Marketing Warfare – Al Ries and Jack Trout – a must read for all involved with marketing, advertising, branding and selling. Ries and Trout infer that marketing is like warfare and they quote from the works of Clausewitz to prove their point.

Now that it is done, Alleuiah, Amen!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Are Our Genetic Characteristics Changing Faster Than We Think?

I think this is earth-shaking, no, don't dismiss this as drivel. I read this in the Britannica Blog here. It explicates why Ashkenazi Jews are more intelligent, and perform better in IQ tests.

Sample this:
"In the same way we selectively breed dogs, so we are selectively (but not as deliberately) breeding ourselves, turning our descendants into crossbreeds. The difference is that, when it comes to human breeding, we have no idea what we’re doing. The sorts of jobs we enter into, the types of social experiences we have, the advice we take about who to marry and how to eat, each of these little decisions and actions — carried out repeatedly over multiple generations — will have effects that show up in the genome."

"Cochran and Harpending single out the Ashkenazi Jews as a textbook example of how cultural decisions from just a few hundred years ago (a nanosecond in the conventional view of evolution) have already resulted in new genetic advantages. Prior to the Middle Ages, Ashkenazi Jews lived in the middle of an important cultural route, linking Europe to key parts of Asia. The Jews were the recipients of tremendous genetic variety as ancient people crossed through their territory, settled down, married, or just mated."

"Just mated"? So, hm, that's matings' insidious contribution to the genetic pool? Further, is that why all human think of mating so much in their idle time?

And this:
"Ashkenazi Jews show slightly elevated levels of sphingolipids, a class of fat molecule. Sphingolipids are common in neural tissues and play an important role in signal transmission. Elevated levels of this molecule can lead to more interneural connections, therefore, a bit more brain.

"The authors go on to show that people of European Jewish descent, regardless of family background, perform better than average on IQ tests. They are disproportionately well represented among lists of major math and science award winners. Although they account for less than 3% of the U.S. population, they comprise 27% of U.S. Nobel Prize winners over the past two generations, account for about a fifth of CEOs, and about 22% of Ivy League students."

If such is the case I guess areas in countries that have had invasions and genocides have a better intelligence and survival instincts, right?

Like a Pack of Cards

Believe it or not, what you see in the foreground is an under-construction building that collapsed in Sanpada, New Bombay. They say it crumbled because of the heavy rain; I guess proper foundations weren't laid. Luckily enough nobody perished because the building wasn't inhabited.

Monday, July 06, 2009

An Insider’s Hot Tips for a Better Website

As a search engine optimiser and a web content writer I have a few thoughts on why most websites are doomed to fail, nay, flounder and hardly keep itself afloat despite the millions spent.

I realised this the hard way. Here's my gyan. I worked for a website that made 5 million dollars with not even a million in investment a year and a website that spent millions and didn’t earn a dollar in return. So brace yourself, here’s the secrets from an insider.

Lowest Quotation

If you as the website owner choose the lowest quote and give the development work to an amateur then the website is doomed even before it has taken its first faltering steps. Look for a developer who is competent and knows the ropes and a bit about the way search engines operate. An expert in making cheap websites will do tremendous harm to the brand awareness you have created around your product and company.

No Search Engine Optimisation

Companies think they don’t need search engine optimisation (SEO) because they are already well known in the market. But the Internet is an ocean and website need to work hard to show up on the first page of searches. After all, in the ocean your website is only a few streams and trickles. That’s why a search of Chemicals + India shows none of India’s topmost chemical companies on the first 10 pages of the results.

No Keyword Optimisation

What most lazy website developers do is to write a set of keywords and copy and paste it on all pages of the website. Not done. Each page is individually searched by search engines and need to have keywords of the relevant page inserted into the page's keyword list. A lazy developer will doom your website from the beginning!

Your website should show up on the first page for all relevant keywords, not only a few. Ask your search engine optimiser how to do this, preferably before the site is online.

Have Short URLs

I worked for a really hi-tech social networking website where the URL for each page was at least a metre long with a lot of “%$#” thrown in. These characters aren’t indexed by the search engines and the longer URLs are just ignored. If you have good, and$john#$matthew?3 (or longer) is bad news in optimisation terminology.

Content, Not Design, Is King

Websites should be content driven not design driven. Okay, okay, you don’t agree because I am a content writer, right? No, content is king, which is the truth as search engines search for words not images. So, don’t think having a lot of sexy images, flash programming and blinking lights will bring visitors. No.

When I was working for a web marketing company they first designed the pages and then asked me to fill in the small gaps they left for content. I was miserable. That showed they had scant respect for content and that’s why the website perished in the end.

Remember content is king and content writers (such as me!) are at least prime ministers in the king’s court!

The Content Shouldn’t Be Too Technical

A company which wanted to put up a website needed (here's the surprise) an engineer to write content. I was approached. I said an engineer is the wrong person to write content because he will put a lot of technical stuff which readers won’t understand. And, with due respect to all engineers (including the oddball me, an industrial engineer), engineers make things work, not make language work. Ergo, engineers are poor at communicating ideas. I am not saying engineers are poor writers, only engineers who have a sufficient command over writing and editing should be entrusted with writing website content. Or, websites will look like product manuals. Ignore this rule to your own website’s peril.

Create a Community around Your Site

Start a free newsletter and mail it to all your visitor. This way you get their all-important email addresses, and the right to mail them without breaking spamming laws. Ask visitors to register and reward them when they do. That way you have a ready list of emails to send your occasional promotional offers and receive feedback.

Most websites do not have newsletters and neither do they reward visitors who want to really come back again and visit.

More of this later.... Meanwhile if you have any tips, do please share in comments.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Is There Life after Democracy?

I am touched by this article, no speech, delivered by Arundhati Roy named “ Is There Life after Democracy?” Much of what she says is after my heart, and therefore I couldn’t but agree with her views. The Indian poor have been marginalised as never by economic liberalisation (I guess there's nothing liberal about liberalisation, agree?) before and stand at a crucial juncture to their ultimate subjugation by the wily "market" - as she calls it. Come to think of it, we could have set an example to the world by our vision and foresight of what a democratic country should be, but it seem from this essay that we have seriously bungled the chance. She comes across as a bit strident, but such issues need stridency, or who will listen to poor you? She speaks thusly:

“The battle for land lies at the heart of the ‘Development’ debate. Before he became India’s finance minister, P. Chidambaram was Enron’s lawyer and member of the Board of Directors of Vedanta, a multinational mining corporation that is currently devastating the Niyamgiri hills in Orissa. Perhaps his career graph informed his world view. Or maybe it’s the other way around. In an interview a year ago, he said that his vision was to get 85 per cent of India’s population to live in cities.[1] Realising this ‘vision’ would require social engineering on an unimaginable scale. It would mean inducing, or forcing, about five hundred million people to migrate from the countryside into cities. That process is well under way and is quickly turning India into a police state in which people who refuse to surrender their land are being made to do so at gunpoint. Perhaps this is what makes it so easy for P. Chidambaram to move so seamlessly from being finance minister to being home minister. The portfolios are separated only by an osmotic membrane. Underlying this nightmare masquerading as ‘vision’ is the plan to free up vast tracts of land and all of India’s natural resources, leaving them ripe for corporate plunder. In effect, to reverse the post-Independence policy of Land Reforms.”

The questions she poses are appropriate; she doesn’t supply the answers, but makes us think as no other writer can. Here’s for more power to her pen.