Wednesday, September 30, 2009

William Safire Is No More

William Safire, of the Nixon Administration, not the “howling pack of conservative pundits: Limbaugh, Beck, Coulter and Malkin” according to Maureen Dowd, is no more. I liked to read his rather simplistic style and threadbare analysis. Here’s a tribute she wrote to the multi-faceted etymologist, grammarian, and English-usage expert. Excerpt:

“The only time I ever saw a shred of doubt was after the famous dust-up when he wrote that Hillary Clinton, then the first lady, was “a congenital liar.”

"A congenital pot-stirrer, he acted delighted with Bill Clinton’s subsequent threat to punch him in the nose. But, as a famous expert on etymology, he must have known he had used the wrong word. Congenital usually connotes a condition existing at birth. Was that really what he intended?”

Monday, September 28, 2009

Salman Rushdie on “Slumdog Millionaire”

This is rather late, but what the heck, better late than not at all. Slumdog won a lot of appreciation for its provocative content, which were trumped up by a director who didn’t understand his subject and a screenplay writer who probably hadn’t even read the book on which it is based (what explains the glaring mismatch with the book's contents?). Actually it made millionaires and celebrities out of a few people, among them: Danny Boyle, the scriptwriter Simon Beaufoy, Frieda Pinto, etc. If jealousy could have compensated for the loss of my time and movie ticket cost, then I would be a jealous guy. No, I don't need such entertainment, even with a gun pointed at the back of my head. How do I classify such phenomena in rational terms: come out with something which shows the wretchedness of poverty, show a lot of violence, gore and injustice, shock your audience and critics and then disappear into the night with your millions.

This is what Salman Rushdie writes about Danny Boyle and “The Slumdog Millionaire” in The Guardian:

"In an interview conducted at the Telluride film festival last autumn, Boyle, when asked why he had chosen a project so different from his usual material, answered that he had never been to India and knew nothing about it, so he thought this project was a great opportunity. Listening to him, I imagined an Indian film director making a movie about New York low-life and saying that he had done so because he knew nothing about New York and had indeed never been there. He would have been torn limb from limb by critical opinion. But for a first world director to say that about the third world is considered praiseworthy, an indication of his artistic daring. The double standards of post-colonial attitudes have not yet wholly faded away."

Has post colonial attitude to former colonies and their inhabitants been tempered with respect for a people who are no longer serfs but are independent? Having worked with the British in the Persian Gulf I know it hasn’t. The same mindset prevails, whether it is in Newcastle or in New York.

Having seen the film I can vouch that Danny Boyle doesn’t know anything about India, hasn’t read the book, and hasn’t even bothered to have the film vetted by an Indian, least of all the book’s author. He even has the audacity to admit it. For an Indian director this would have been lethal, a case of being torn “limb from limb” as Rushdie mentions above.

My own review of this controversial, yet unbecoming film appears here.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

How Climate Change Affects Civilisation; What Are the Effects of Global Warming? Will We Become Extinct?

Ah the October heat is almost upon me. The mind goes dithery, the body sweats a lot of fluids, a vague disorientation, the mouth dries, the fingers don’t move on the keyboard, mistakes are made and generally speaking, October heat is here.

Read a book “The Long Summer” by Brian Fagan about how climate changed civilisation which is about the dramatic changes the environment made in entire civilisations with people progressing from hunter-gatherers to subsistence farmers and then to organised citizens living in city-states and then into kings and kingdoms. The book was an eye-opener in that it chronicled how the species originated in Africa (I had my doubts, but it has been set right by this book), moved to Europe and Central Asia, then to Siberia and through the Alaskan tip to North and South America. Yes the entire landmass then was one. There’s no justification in thinking that the Indians of America were a different species of people, they are actually originated from the same genes as ours. One breakaway faction came to the Indian peninsula and moved to Australasia through the Malaysian isthmus. (There still are hunter-gatherer people in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, now part of India, who live the way their ancestors did thousands of years ago.)

The first city-state was situated in modern Iraq and its name was Ur and from this we got our city names: Kanpur, Nagpur, Solapur, and even my native village name of Kidangannoor. Ur simply means in Tamil, native village. I don’t know in other languages. So we aren’t a racially disparate people as we once thought, at least, I thought, though external characteristics would make us think so. Scratch the surface of certain acquired customs and beliefs and we are still one. Pretty obvious, isn’t it?

Now an important observation here: if climate changed civilisations as we know it, will the present warming give rise to huge repercussions and lifestyle changes for our progeny, even threaten its existence? Yes it will. During the last Ice Age millions perished, even hundreds of species became extinct. If heating of the landmass and icecaps continue (the earth's temperature would rise by 6 degree C by end of the century, according to today’s newspaper), the melting ice would lead to inundation of most of the world as we know it. But civilisation will adapt and survive for many centuries more. Most of our major cities are built around the sea or rivers (Bombay, New York, Tokyo, London, etc.), due to proximity to ports and access to aquatic life. This would mean, with rising sea levels, we would be deprived of most of our modern cities and civilisation will continue with the progeny of farmers in remote hilly areas, who have learnt to adapt to climatic changes as the inhabitants of the Steppes and Tundras did during the Ice Age in northern Europe.

Not very happy thinking, especially for my friend Anthonybhai. He says, “Eat, drink and be merry, men, who is bothered about what will happen a hundred years from now. I, tho, don’t care.”

Saturday, September 26, 2009

"Managing your online afterlife"

Time issue dated September 14, 2009 has an interesting article “Managing your online afterlife”. So what happens after one kicks the bucket, er, well, sort of? We think about these things, don’t we? Just as we look out of a train window and think how many people passed this arid landscape that's nothing but sand and dust and how many of them are dead. Same as I do when I pass the dry areas of the Deccan Plateau when I visit Kerala. Yes, our boundaries blur, we fantasize, we go into the netherworlds of the imagination.

The article delves into the issue of the hereafter, based on the experience of one Pam Weiss who logged on to Facebook to trace photographs of her dead daughter and found many, in fact, a whole lot that would identify with her life, recreate it for her, in the absence of the records she in her old-fashioned way hunted: diaries (now replaced by blogs), letter (now replaced by emails), photo albums (now replaced by online albums). Life changes, so does various aspects of it, sometimes unconsciously, I might add. So she got plenty of material she didn’t know existed, before, um, Facebook actually deleted her profile. I am not sure they do.

Acually Facebook has a policy of putting a person’s profile on “Memorial State” if the person has deceased, so that people know the person is no more. No one can post a status update but can post a comment if he/she is a confirmed friend. Facebook also will delete a profile if the person’s immediate kin approaches them with a death certificate and a copy of the person’s email to the said kin.

People spend a lot of time on their online networks (I do); it’s a trend that has caught up. So all we can do is catch the trend and stay with it. What does the future portend? A life lived purely on an online forum? A life full of Facebook comments and no real conversations? Prescient? Don't know.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bloggers to the Fore. Product Launches, What Next?

So what’s up in the blogging community? Am a bit dense here because I haven’t attended any of their meet-ups or bothered to network, really. So the following comes as a bit of a surprise as it comes on the back of the revelation that India is among the top ten blogging nations of the world. This article on sheds a little bit of light about what has been happening behind the back of this blogger. Excerpt:

“For example, Marico’s chain of skin care services Kaya Skin Clinic targets beauty and fashion bloggers who try out their skincare packages and blog about them. In return, Kaya experts write guest posts on a monthly basis. Auto major Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) has used blogs to release the first look of its vehicles. Not just that, M&M ensured that along with the mainstream media, bloggers were also invited to the press conference of the Xylo’s launch. Some weeks back, producers of a recent Bollywood release Toss, upset at how mainstream media had “completely ignored” the film, reached out to bloggers who could review the film on their blogs.”

Wonder who will invite me to the launch of their premium brand. Wonder!

Of "Cattle Class" and No “First Class” in India

What do you say to a man who comes and stands in front his ample and polyester-clad behind wiggling at you, prodding the book you are reading, shifting from leg to leg, talking loudly to his companion, unmindful of the dirty looks I give him, which he can’t see, of course? He seems like a run-of-the-mill well-paid executive in a company that pays a decent salary for him to wear the seemingly expensive polyester jiggling in front of me.

All this happen in this morning’s commute to work, in “cattle class” or the “first class” compartment of Bombay’s famed local trains. I don’t know if “first class” is the right term, it doesn’t feel like “first class” at all. It’s hot, the upholstery sags (giving me a backache), there are people towering in front of me where my feet should be resting, and there’s no air circulation. And the bad manners that accompany the crudeness and the churlishness is more distasteful than I can tolerate for the one hour it takes me to reach my place of work.

Actually, I think, there is no “first class” in India. I swear. There’s only one class in India and that’s “Monkey Class.” It means a class where you can brush anyone, even touch forbidden parts, talk loudly, disturb people reading books, litter at will, spit, urinate, leave toilets dirty, after all, “what does your father lose?”.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Largest Wave of Suicides in History

This is from a blog called Progressive Rural India Forum, here’s an excerpt:

“The statistics are staggering. From 1998 to 2006, over 100,000 farmers have committed suicides. In Vidarbha, 3,000 farmers have taken their lives in the 1999-2006 period. Since June 2005, 2-3 farmers have been committing suicides every day. Yet you wouldn’t know that from the Indian media. Reports of farmer suicides and protests do appear in fits and spurts, but most of the media appears focused on the glitzy malls, the phoren fast-food chains, the luxury cars, the call centres and the hip lifestyles of the rich and famous.”

Wonder why we keep reading about the suicides by farmers in forsaken corners in our newspapers and not on the front pages. None other than crusading journalist P. Sainath calls it “the largest wave of suicides in history” in this article.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Recession's Silver Lining

According to, recession may have had an unlikely silver lining. According to this article recession has resulted in low carbon dioxide emission. Excerpt:

“It may not exactly be a silver lining to the global recession, but greenhouse gas emissions have fallen sharply as a result of the world's current economic plight, according to a study by the International Energy Agency.

“The IEA found that the drop in carbon dioxide emissions over the last year will be larger than any drop in the past forty years, including the decline in 1981 that resulted from the oil crisis.”

Hat tips: Prem Panicker.

Goodbye Rains!

It had to happen. This monsoon (the word is derived, so I read, from the Arabic/Urdu word “mausam” meaning “season”) I had taken a solemn vow to not let the forces of nature, in this case: rain, defeat me. So apart from losing two umbrellas and similar other minor catastrophes, I had come to the end of this monsoon, untarnished and untrammelled. So when the dry spell came I heaved the necessary sighs of relief and said a prayer to the Almighty for having spared me. The monsoon disappears usually around mid-September, and here we are nearing end of September. So, I had got rid of the unwieldy umbrella, trusting it not to rain. But yesterday something happened that was to shake that firm resolve, i.e., that I would be unfazed in the face of the onslaught from heaven, and all that.

It rained!

It rained rivers, streams, seas, oceans. I sought shelter in a South Indian restaurant and sat over hot tea to let all the watery hell pass. But when it rains in Bombay it rains for hours and days. One hour passes and the rain doesn't show signs of subsiding, so I come out and try hunting for a taxi to take me Victoria Terminus train station.

Bombay taxis won’t stop for you when it rains!

They see this desperate-looking, bald man soaking wet and up goes all their noses. Their preference during the best of their seasons, the monsoon, is the posh areas of Cuffe Parade and Malabar Hill where madams in sheer chiffon with feather boas tip hundred rupees in addition to your choice of taxi fare! Bastards!

I don’t wear chiffon and am a man, what to do? So I tie a kerchief around my head and walk. Proud head erect, and all, I walk so as not to appear fazed, not leaning forward, straight, so as not to lose all self composure now that it was a last of all showers, the very last burst. I walk in ankle-length water, the shirt starts clinging after a few paces, the shoes squelch, the glasses mist, I am slowly losing... losing my, what shall I say, avoirdupois.

The journey to CBD Belapur takes one hour and I sit and shiver in the cold of the sudden wetness deep into Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude” which details the privations of the Buendia family in the godforsaken village of Macondo. It says it rained for four years in Macondo. God forbid! The story narrates the hopelessness of life in this South American hell and it depresses me. But I am seated erect, backache and all, and unfazed.

Then I reach CBD Belapur where I live. Damn, it’s raining here too! There’s a long queue for the rickshaws, the omnipresent small beetle-shaped vehicles that would take me home.

When it rains rickshaw drivers don’t drive!

So I join this long snaking queue. A boy around my son’s age is holding this big multi-coloured umbrella above him, in front, and he deliberately turns it away from me, so I get wet all over, also the water flowing down his umbrella tumbles on me. Who says kindness is a middle-class virtue? Or, maybe, I am seeing things negatively. I stand straighter, hold my head higher, the rain pelts, the rivulets flow. I am as wet as a dish rag by now. A few rickshaws arrive and the queue grows shorter, the rain falls continuously, no respite, no abatement.

When you need a rickshaw you won’t get them!

Yes, no one, none. Other days they would all be tooting-teeting-cursing-lolling around with their bodies twisted in varying shapes on their front seats. Today, guess they have all gone to sleep or are drinking their moonshine hootch in their shabby watering holes.

I am at the head of the queue!

Yes, it takes half-an-hour. But I am at the head of the queue and the availability of the god’s-gift-to-Bombay rickshaws drops to the nadir of all known extents, meaning the absolute of absolute zero. Then one comes puttering out of the rain and darkness and I board its wet interior and it takes me home. I am on my way.

I walk the few paces to my house, my head erect, my pride still intact. Yes, I kept the promise: I wasn’t fazed a bit by the rains. Goodbye rains!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pain - II

Was looking around for some poems to read on “pain” which I underwent during my recent backpain episode mentioned here.

Came across this one by William Wordsworth on called “ If This Great World of Joy and Pain" that nearly describes what I went through.

Pain comes and goes like a ghost, a wraith, a spectre. One is relieved, as I am now, but there were times when I was enduring that I thought very dark thoughts indeed. Anyone share my experience?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Samuel Pepys, Blogger of Yore!

Just wandering on the net found this online diary of Samuel Pepys, the blogger (sort of!) of yore.

Pepys seems to be a very down-at-heels man though he hobnobbed with greats of the like of Oliver Cromwell going by this sample:

“Strange with what freedom and quantity I pissed this night, which I know not what to impute to but my oysters, unless the coldness of the night should cause it, for it was a sad rainy and tempestuous night. Soon as up I begun to have some pain in my bladder and belly, as usual, which made me go to dinner betimes, to fill my belly, and that did ease me, so as I did my business in the afternoon, in forwarding the settling of my house, very well. Betimes to bed, my wife also being all this day ill in the same manner. Troubled at my wife’s haire coming off so much. This day the Parliament met, and adjourned till Friday, when the King will be with them.”

See how he, in his quaint old English, talks of his piss, same as he talks of the “haire” coming off his wife. Seems hair fall was as big a problem in the 1660 as it is these days. Also, quite selfishly, I hope someone reads my blog four-hundred years from now, a la Samuel Pepys'. That's why I have kept it in the public domain!

And this article says India is among the top ten nations of blog creators.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Leave Shashi Tharoor Alone!

All this talk of austerity is bunkum. (In today’s Times of India both Shobha De and M. J. Akbar have said identical things.) Really it’s been blown out proportions, I feel, by the media machine. Look which public figure is austere in today’s world? Businessmen? Nathi! Stars? Nyet! Godmen? Mafi (Arabic)! Bureaucrats? Illa! Ottum Illa! (not even a trace, in Malayalam) Scientists? Nahi!

So why this fuss about my twitter friend Shashi Tharoor ( his twitter address if you didn’t already know) if he is a bit inaustere? Guys, be sach much real. We need people like Shashi Tharoor. He is an original thinker, an author, no less, an intellectual, has experience and contacts that can prove to be India’s strong point while dealing with sensitive international issues, especially with our foes across the mountains and the fields. But what do they, the jealous guys who are green over his qualifications, do to encourage him? They brand him inaustere and make an issue over his jokes. "Cattle class" is a light dig at economy class. I must say I enjoy "cattle class" on international and local jaunts. You can view so much diverse types of people, observe their habits. Like there was this guy who when the plane took off took ten different medicine bottles with him to the loo. For what, don't ask me. He came back, his worried face sporting a satisfied kind of look, that's all I can say. I will always remember that "cattle class" guy, his face is just unforgettable.

Come on, give him a break. He is our great big hope for foreign policy, and a look-at-able face among the bald, dyed, ageing, wrinkled politicians in the Augean Stable. All right thinking people, I mean those people with a rational mind over their shoulders would tell him to go ahead with his normal life and not be fazed by such allegations. If he needs a workout every morning, he should get it. You don’t need a sick man in the Ministry of External Affairs, do you?

Friend and enjoyer of wealth, Dhansukhbhai Jethalal Shah says, “all this is conspiracy hatched by Pakistan and China you know, to keep a good minister down.” I agree.

In passing...

The back is back to normal. I am taking things easy before plunging into work on Monday. It was a horrible hell for four days lying motionless on a hard bed, which was what I was told to do by a friend who went through a similar fate. There’s no cure for lower back pain and surgery is not advisable, so it was up to me to grit my teeth, have lots of patience, read a lot of books lying supine on bed. My advise: always take care of your backs, sit straight, always have support for your back and if you see a bad chair which shakes all over from bad springs or bearings, don’t sit on it.

Friday, September 18, 2009


Pain. Of the many lyrics written about it Guns and Roses’ “November Rain” comes to mind:

When I look into your eyes
I can see a love restrained
Darling when I hold you
I Just can’t feel the pain.”

Call me dumb idiot, pop vulgarian, whatever, I don’t mind because I am writing this in a state of pain that has lasted a few days. I lie supine, spread-eagled, twisted, curled, writhing with application of unguents creams and medications and still the back pain won’t go away.

Friend Gangadharan Menon suggested there’s no cure for it except to lie on the back on a hard bed (without mattress), legs close together, supported by a pillow just below the knees. I do this and get considerable relief. He has been through the ordeal and knows. Rest is what is needed and I hope to rest for a week.

Pain is eternal
I want to turn my back on my back pain.

Thanks friends for the support and understanding on facebook and other forums.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Perfect Bride; A Wonderful Film Needs Your Vote

There’s this show on Start Plus that takes cake in the emptiness of those who conceive it and takes India several centuries into the past, right when Aurangazeb ruled and purdah or pallu was kept, and women were treated as “paraya dhan.”

The Perfect bride is a show which parades young girls before boys and their mothers. Imagine. The girls sit alone on red seats without anyone for help and the boys loll in their seat with their moms beside them. Did I mention red? The girls look perfectly uncomfortable against deep reds, and shocking pinks of the set and also dressed in similarly shocking shades with a lot of tinsel. The eyes blink, the mind blanches.

The boys look sort of triumphant, sort of. One of the mothers says she likes the “intelligency” of a certain girl who is a doctor. The doctor in the group is the star, everybody likes her. (Does it show our mindset?) There is such mundane banter between the boy’s entourage and the girls. What’s notable about the show is – EMBARASSMENT – everybody is so embarrassed. Shekhar Suman tries to make his usual witticisms which only elicit titters; then again the mood becomes sombre. Vishal and his sidekick both are a picture of embarrassment, they don’t know where to look: either this way or that. Their cracks don’t gel.

Ho hum!

What’s the idea behind the show? Just to push some soap? Why are they showing the country as it existed several hundred years ago?

In Passing

Film maker George M. Thomas’s one minute film “Silences” has been shortlisted for the filminute award. He needs your support, so go thither and vote for this film.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Corporate Types and "Mamma Mia"

Spent a Sunday at home after a long time. Yes, I should have time for myself sometimes, as the schedule gets tighter and tighter without any let up. The tensions of modern life add up and one needs to de-stress, as the corporate-types say. I am not yet a corporate type, at least, yet, I often feel like an intruder in their midst. They are in the midst of so much make believe and conning each other the legit way with arguments that one doesn’t know what the truth is. A top executive at a software company I worked for always keeps his arguments ready in case something goes wrong.

“Why was this not done on time?”

“The specs and purchase order were given late, the negotiations took time, besides there were technical glitches, the SQL servers weren’t ready. A key programmer took leave.”

All this without knowing what an SQL server is and knowing fully well the specs and purchase orders went within reasonable time. All lies delivered in amazingly composed manner, without a flicker of emotion.

Well that’s a corporate type I was speaking about. No, I am not one, not yet. I can’t be so glib.

Mamma Mia

Today I saw a movie after my heart. “ Mamma Mia” starring Pierce Brosnan and Meryl Streep led me into such a nostalgic nadir that I began crying listening to the ABBA numbers: Dancing Queen, Voule-Vous, Thank You for the Music, Waterloo, Mamma Mia, etc. the songs of my youth, crazy ABBA fan that I am. Many monsoons ago, I have seen ABBA the movie at least three times, and remember I was in love with both Agnetha and Annifrid and their melodious voices.

Well time and seasons pass; this beautiful story of a girl who doesn’t know who her real father is brought back a flood memories and it literally drowned me in nostalgia. Bittersweet nostalgia – that’s “Mamma Mia” with some good acting by Meryl Streep as the bohemian mother who can’t really remember who her daughter’s father is. Catch it on HBO.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Padher Acquitted in Nithari Murder Case

In one of the nine cases the alleged culprit businessman Padher has been acquitted for want of evidence. However, the servant has been given the death sentence. The details are here. Hope justice is done in the rest of the alleged cases of depravity and beastliness in a serial murder case that shocked the nation.

Frankly, I didn’t know cases such as the “Silence of the Lambs” existed in India, too. The extent of man’s depravity!

Friday, September 11, 2009

I Love to Write... but I Won't Self Publish... and Other Things

I love writing, the whole process, and my day is not complete without writing a few lines on my blog. Some days I don’t have anything to write, so, um, I bum around, today is one of them. Am working on another novel, is it another exercise in futility? I don’t think so, because I love to write. There’s this character in a movie I saw who says, “I know people have differing views on my writing skills, but I write because I love to, I am at peace when I am writing.” Ditto here. People should do what they love to do. At least it keeps them away from frustration, depression and downright decrepitude.

Is the first novel published? No. several publishers offered to print it if I paid them. No, I say. I don’t mind my novel not being published, but I won’t pay money to get it printed. I have to be paid for my efforts and not the other way around. The money should flow from them to me not the other way around.

But some publishers are persistent. I guess there’s great vanity at play here, much more than what Tom Woolfe wrote about in “Bonfire of the Vanities.” I don’t know of a single author who self-published and achieved some fame and name, they have all descended into anonymity. They are even embarrassed to talk about it. I guess, quite unashamedly at that, I want a little recognition. I am not there yet, but soon I may be. So, meanwhile, I continue to tap my keyboard with my light fingers, drawing out my thought, my feelings, my imagination, the essence of my life....

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Technology, the Monster, the Goblin, Works!

During various employment changes I have worked as a web content writer, technical writer, and search engine optimiser (it's food on the table and fire in the hearth, you see). Therefore, I can say (modesty be conveniently ignored) that I am not a technology goblin. No sir! So when it works I am the happiest of persons, as it did twice today.

x - x – x

Morning: as I was entraining this morning, I realised my pass had expired yesterday. Dang! I decided on my options: should I go ahead (not advisable considering they are checking more strictly these days), the ATM was a few kilometres away. If I go there I will be late to office and maybe lose half a day. Not a good option.

Anyway, I start walking and then I remember that withdrawal is possible from every bank ATM, so I walk to the bank nearest to me, just opposite CBD Belapur station. In goes the card, punch pin, I wait a nail-biting moment, whirr... clakety... clack... there’s my money. I pocket the cash, come back and purchase my pass and – hallelujah – I am in time for 8.52 a.m. train which will take me to the office in time.

x - x – x

Afternoon: today is the last day to pay my credit card due, or, they would levy a fine. So I go to the nearest ICICI bank ATM, that damn thing doesn't have a drop box. Then I go to Churchgate where I thought I had seen a drop box; but, that space has been usurped by a music shop. Desperate, I call Justdial for the address of the nearest ATM. The operator (must be one of those celestial beings) identifies me by name (imagine!), and asks me a few details. I give these and he SMSes me back the address of the nearest ATM. I go there and drop my credit card payment. It saved me a fine and a few minutes of walking about.

In both above cases technology worked. But don’t take that for granted, no, not even from me. Well, technology, when the monster is in its right mind, is a blessing. But when it doesn’t... gr....

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Advertising: “Daag Achhe Hain” and “Have a Happy Period”

As an advertising practitioner, former Executive Secretary of the Advertising standards Council of India (ASCI), I am clued in, rather aware, of the trends that Indian advertising is going through.

There used to be a time when advertising copy and concepts used to be subtle, created by people with refined tastes, and wasn’t as brutally commercial as it is today. Today's mantra seems to be, "Anything goes, even guerrilla tactics." I would like to point out two instances that have riled me no end in the past few months:

“Daag Acche Hain”

Are stains (daag) good because that means good sales for your products? In that case it is selfish and biased and not at all good advertising copy. This is guerrilla form of writing copy. I have been told that the lines originated abroad, in that case is it okay for us to blindly imitate even wrong concepts?

If it is aimed at the social realm implying that “stain” is good, the connotations are even worse. You mean to say anything/anyone who is stained is good. (Meaning, the mole of a gangster can appear in a reality show and can be appreciated and applauded; and, obviously, the one flirting with her is the drug addict son of a former politician. Ergo, whoever is stained by “bad morals” and “bad behaviour” is, what shall I say, good?) I am shocked. I think it violates the code of the ASCI which states that “Ads should not be against public decency.”

Have a Happy Period

Oh God! Look what the cat dragged in here? Who gave you (meaning whoever made the ad) the moral authority, nay, who are you to tell a woman to have a happy period? Huh? Does it mean that periods are meant to be unhappy times for a woman? Who? What? Have we gone back again to the dark ages? Oh Almighty!

Every mother should tell her daughter that periods are normal times (at least, the modern ones, I know, I know, there used to be times when a girl with period was made to spend her days in a corner of the house and was not allowed to touch anything or anybody) for a woman. I guess that’s what every modern woman living in a progressive age should be made to think and feel. But here’s this ad by its very implication saying that using their product leads to having “a happy period” and implying that not using them means having an “unhappy period.” Who are they to judge what is happy and unhappy and who are they to associate a woman’s period with unhappiness?

Again, in bad taste. Guess advertising has become more and more aggressive and the ASCI is not doing its job of self regulating the business. The way the above advertisement concepts have impinged on my senses (for that matter any good thinking, good feeling human being’s senses) shows an utter lack of social concerns, even of propriety.

The two instances mentioned above are only tips of the clichéd iceberg. There’s more. What’s ASCI doing about it, sitting and eating hot batata wadas and samosas, which I used to be served when I was attending a complaints committee meeting in an advertising hotshot’s office?

Monday, September 07, 2009

Bombay's Own Bakers' Street - Dhobi Talao

The Parsi Dairy Farm in All Resplendent Glory (Note the Trademark Blue Colour)

Went to what is called Dawa Bazar around Dhobhi Talao to buy homeopathic medicine for a colleague and the Parsi Dairy Farm was nearby. So, out came the camera, focussed on the venerable institution and “click”, it went.

The Parsi Dairy Farm has been around as far I have been, and I have been hearing about its saccharine offerings since childhood. It is well-known for its halwas, barfis, rasmalai and what have you. On the way to it, we pass another institution – Kayani - which sells undoubtedly Bombay’s best brun maska.

Quite close is Sassanian, also famous for its cakes, another yummy eating place, now though showing the wear of years. Quite close is dark temptations, with its delightful pastries and cakes.

I would name the entire area “Bakers’ Street” or something going by the cakes and goodies on offer, or, for that matter “Cake Street” would do fine. The Parsis like their food and they cook it well, I mean, they use the best ingredients. Hats off to this enterprising community.

Satchi-sir in Russia; Rise of the Russian Mafia

Noted Malayalam poet and writer K. Satchidanandan (fondly called Satchi-sir) is in Russia attending a book fair. He has also done a reading of his poems. According to a post on his Facebook Page, “Was at the Writers' Union and Moscow State University. Leaving for St. Petersburg tomorrow. This is a different Russsia where money alone rules. Is there no way between totalitarianism and the market horror?”

Understand his angst. In a reply I wrote:

“I guess Russia went from totalitarianism to market greed because their leaders and intellectuals didn't forsee what was coming. Hope the same doesn't happen in India.”

In this regard I came across this Wikiwhen I was coasting along the net with my mouse as my surf board (I guess, a mouse's back is quite a slippery place, that's beside the point!). It gives the reasons why society gives rise to the Mafia as it did in Sicily and Russia:

“Excessive Bureaucratic Power

“In general, excessive bureaucratic power and discretion provide the basis for corruption -- for bribery, shakedowns, and extortion -- especially when the criteria for bureaucratic decisions are unclear and difficult to monitor and evaluate. The corruption of a bureaucratic agency may begin with the clients of the agency, such as the members of a regulated industry. In the Soviet Union bribes were necessary to secure everything from drivers' licensee to medical care and even higher education, as well as goods.

“Illegal Markets

“Illegal market enterprises generate a good deal of cash that can be used for bribes and investment in other industries. It is easier for legal authorities to overlook voluntary trade among consenting adults, even if illegal, than it is to take bribes to permit crimes that involve victims. Law enforcement agencies may be able to meet their quotas for arrests more easily if they cooperate with the market leaders in illegal industry. Illegal drug markets have been a major factor in the virulence of the Sicilian mafia in the last several decades.”

Rings a bell? In this regard don’t say I didn’t warn you about what I mentioned in para 3 above. The Indian Mafia, too, needs to be controlled.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

On Recession's Glitzy Offsprings - Bernie Madoff and Dina Wein Reis

In Mint Lakshmi Chaudhry writes about how the recession has produced colourful swindlers who led snazzy, high-profile lives tainted by the tawdry gliz of tinsel:

“Recession-lit’s most popular character is undoubtedly Bernie Madoff. The colourful, flamboyant [alleged] swindler-broker who conned not only his investors but all of Wall Street is an author’s dream come true. In Betrayal: The Life and Lies of Bernie Madoff, Andrew Kirtzman paints the picture of an insecure teenager “rejected by girls who deemed him mediocre”, spurring him to conceive “a spectacularly ambitious path to conquer Wall Street at an early age”. Low self-esteem leads to hunger for money by all means necessary, creating the requisite conditions for the inevitable fall. It’s melodramatic, predictable and Gatsby-esque. Why read Kirtzman when we have Fitzgerald?”

In another article I read about Dina Wein Reis another alleged swindler now facing charges, a tomboy in younger days, who had amassed USD 300 million worth by diverting good meant as free samples back into the consumer chain. How did she do it? It appears that she promised executives of large companies like Roche and Unilever jobs of CEOs in her fake companies and got them to sell her their products at huge discounts.

What’s common to both Bernie Madoff and Dina Wein Reis? Recession and a high-glitz lifestyle. Wein Reis’ Manhattan townhouse was featured in Architectural Digest and she owned artworks and rare collectibles (a pair of Louis XVI footstools, two Bugatti throne chairs, a pair of Empire sleigh beds, and a 1920s cast-iron vanity) worth over 30 million.

What? In this recession? Anthonybhai is away on vacation in Goa. But, a good friend that he be, he has SMS-ed me his reaction: “What men, these Americans as corrupt-birrupt as we beggers?”

"Yeah, men," I say.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Michael Jackson Interred

So it’s official, it can lay to rest speculation about how his brain was given for research, how his genius was being cloned, et cetera. This is the news story published on Apparently it was a private ceremony in which only his close family and friends were present. The funeral service was conducted at Forest Lawn Glendale and was closed to the public and the press.

His genius of course will live on through his songs and videos in which he performed with rare energy and élan. I guess he is the last in a line of great performers of type of – Elvis, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Jim Morison, and such like.

An era, an age has passed. People of his generation, such as yours truly, took note of the phenomenal rise and fall. Amen!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Stray Vignettes from the Streets of Bombay

Seen on a tee-shirt:

In Peace and Strenght


Avery Time

No, it’s not my spelling goof up, but someone seemed to have mucked up the spelling of “strength” and “every” on the above tee-shirt. Who said “I am okay if the gist is conveyed?” I am sharpening my instruments for you and your tribe.

Seen on a Parsi medicine shop:

Parsi medicals will remain close for reno-vation.

“Ha reno-vation soo che?” I would like to ask the ancient Parsi lady banging away on her antique typewriter inside.

Also in the same Parsi Medicine Shop

“Swine flu preventive medicine available. Three times every day for five days only.”

Parsis have a way with words, I say.

At Victoria Terminus

The steel garbage bin chained to the pillar has been stolen. People still throw rubbish, spit against the pillar unmindful of the stink it is creating.

What about a replacement? Is one coming soon?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Caferati’s Fifth Anniversary – Some Impressions

Caferati is five years old. Can’t believe that. It was five years ago that a few writers met beside the sea at Bandra Bandstand and a network of writers was born. So the Caferatii (as we call ourselves) met for the fifth anniversary on the beach of Kihim hosted by the lovely couple Hashim and Priya who run a corporate adventure outbound venture called “ Wanderstruck.

I attended Dan’s workshop on performing ones writing. Yes, it is important these days to be able to stand before an audience and perform your work. (Even, these days, publishers ask you if you can perform, or, read to an audience.) And Dan being inimitable Dan, was the best person to teach us how to perform. I have been completely floored by his Dastangoi performance at Kala Ghoda and I wonder why such a hugely talented actor is languishing in the depths of anonymity. True, merit is never rewarded in Mother India.

Dan talked of “owning your work”, of “making that much effort to get across a single idea to the audience”, to “remember to perform like an actor, improvise,” to “be a good listener, if you want to be a good performer”, to “believe in the integrity of your work”, to “create the moment the audience will take home with them.” I understand. I understand. I read a piece from “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and the feedback was: “I should improve my accent (my Mallu accent that is)”, “You begin well and then peter out (true, true!)”. I worked on these suggestions during a break and later in the section for performing our own work I read my poem The 8.30 a.m. Train Girl, into which I feel I put every emotion I could muster. The reports aren’t out on that one, yet!

Wild Winds, Priya and Hashim’s bungalow is located right on the golden sands of Kihim beach and we had a whacky time watching the sun, the surf and the crashing waves. The sound of the sea was like music, the sun flitted in and out of clouds producing alternate rain and bright sunshine. What a divine, glorious, satiating day we had in this getaway with a charm all its own along with some people who were the best company.

Today is Onam, so happy Onam everyone!