Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Train entering Nerul Station



Out of ennui (a state of having nothing else to do!) I shot this video of this train entering Nerul railway station, New Bombay. Watch the smooth way in which it glides in, this metal monster!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Are We Being De-sensitised? Are Teen Reality Shows Any Real?

Yesterday, in church, I heard a very good sermon which, somewhat, correctly mirrored what was happening around us. Hope this helps those seeking answers to one of the most vexing challenges of modern life. The speaker a teacher, a head mistress, nothing less, said that we (our children) have been de-sensitized by what is given out in the media – she means the electronic media – television, et al.

We think watching cartoon is harmless but that also desensitizes us to some extent. As for movies, MTV (all the crap like Roadies and Splitsvilla [yes, I have no alternative but to watch the girls screaming rotten cuss words at each other, in addition to, hitting, slapping, kicking, etc.]) these cannot be called harmless to youngsters. Makes me wonder when someone from the moral brigade will take action against these programs. Judging by the viewership of these programs, it’s really difficult for me (someone who grew up in more gentler times when reality was reality not just a show) to imagine why teenagers have to go through such violence and desensitization.

The premises are all wrong. The selection to the program is nothing short of hilarious. Two people (identical twins at that) judge who gets into Roadies. They say they are looking for character, attitude, moral strength, blah, blah, and are merciless when they think all these qualities are absent. A youth who ditched his girlfriend was given the short shrift. Then what do these paragons of virtue go and do? The terms roadie means: "The road crew (or roadies) are the technicians who travel with a band on tour, usually in sleeper buses, and handle every part of the concert." So are they training people to be technicians to pop acts, shows, what? I guess they named the program wrongly. By what goes on in the show they behave as if they are groupies: "A person who seeks intimacy (most often physical, sometimes emotional) with a famous person, usually a rock band member." The shows throws up a few aggressive Alpha Male types and the girls just throw themselves at them, so actually they aren't "roadies" (a pop band's technicians) but "groupies" (crazed fans of the alpha males). People who have read Jackie Collins' novel Rock Star would know these terms.

No they aren’t. They are choosing the virtuous citizens of the future and that too people who can swear, cuss, and hit, punch, kick and scream. Is this the kind of citizenry that India needs. Wake up, people.... We are rearing an impatient generation unable to judge what is good, honest, and scrupulous. Another reality show that got my gall was one that featured the moll of a gangster. I am not against her, but I wonder what sanctity can a reality show that features the moll of a known ganster have? If she needs to prove herself let her reform and demonstrate that she has reformed and is no longer a victim by doing something relevant to society and not a star in a reality show.

So this lady who gave the sermon said: we become so desensitised that we do lose our scruples and when man’s scruples are lost, he doesn’t hesitate to do anything, even kill, commit suicide, or even rape. I guess, today, society is going through a mass breakdown of moral and societal values and that the electronic media is foisting on the younger generation values that we (at least, the thinking feeling sensitive beings) can’t condone.

Fathers rape their own daughters, friends kidnap their own friend when in need of money, children and adults are easily tempted to end it all, commit suicide, teenagers break down and cry if they aren't selected into one of those reality/singing competitions. All this shows a large-scale breakdown in moral values. The Mira Road father who raped his daughter for nine years, and in addition, gifted her to a tantric who told him that he would become rich if he raped his own daughter, the monster of Austria, Josef Fritzl who repeatedly raped his daughter and sired seven children all these are a result, I guess, of desensitisation to the rights and emotional needs of others, who include, quite sadly, their own children.

So I would urge parents, to preserve their own good sense, to disallow their children to watch reality shows that emphasise the baser instinct in human beings. Yes, it will start with my own.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Just Now... at the Airtel Gallery....

Went to the Airtel Gallery at Fountain, Bombay, directed there by the stationery shop that sold me the refill card. I was dying to tear at somebody, give somebody hell, face somebody. But I am directed again to a phone near a corner facing the wall. Is a customer not worth anything these days?

I amn't facing any human being, still. I am facing a wall and talking into a telephone again. It seems customer support is only for selling new lines, new cards and fancy mobile phones. I feel insulted, cornered and embittered. Is there any end to my humiliation? Why can't I face an executive and tell my story, give him/her a piece of my my mind that is in turmoil. Has all human touch vanished from customer support? I swallow my pride and go the booth indicated. I dial 999 and am told by Roshan Karkera, again from Airtel Customer Support that some virus thingammajig had entered my Rs 18,000 Nokia E61i and is deducting the balance in my Airtel prepaid card. He tells me he can't do anything, give me any credit. I will have to re-format my phone or buy a new one!

Presumtuous crap! I am livid with rage! I shout and rant!

How can a computer virus, however potent, deduct money from my prepaid card? How? Can any thinking, feeling human being tell me that? Can they?

Oh hell, I can't believe this is happening to me. I leave the Airtel gallery disgusted, my head hanging down, disconsolate, discomfited.

Taken for a Ride by Your Carrier?

Imagine what would happen if your telephone carrier would keep deducting your balance without any reason? Can you imagine? You can’t unless it is you who is being unreasonably charged without any reason. The carrier in this case is Airtel and the victim: ME.

The following is the sequence of events and through the day I lost Rs 125.80 for a few SMSes and local calls. This robs me of my confidence in my cellular phone carrier i.e., Airtel. Even my faith in technology is seriously challenged. I tried several times (unsuccessfully I might add) to get this redressed through their customer service.

Customer service should be renamed customer disservice as far as the CS people at Airtel are concerned. They keep playing their ads and jingles instead of giving valid information and their customer service executives disconnect before you can even begin the call.

Time Action Balance (Rs)
9.00 am Checked balance 60.00
1.20 Called 982xxx4755 (local number) 0.00
2.00 pm Refill of Rs 198 177.00
2.30 pm 129.50
3.20 pm Sent an SMS to 986xxx5467 120.80
3.30 pm Sent an sms to check balance 111.20

At the end of the rope, end of the tether, clutching at straws, after gnashing enough teeth to render me toothless, I wrote a letter to the Airtel chairman Mr. Sunil Mittal with a copy to the chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), and Secretary, Department of Telecommunications. I am waiting for the worthies to reply, if at all.

Meanwhile I am still gnashing my teeth as I write...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Other John Abraham

Everyone knows John Abraham the film star and handsome hunk, the heartthrob of the millions, but the world has forgotten John Abraham the film director who was trained by Ritwik Ghatak, worked with Mani Kaul on Uski Roti and produced such marvelous Avant Garde films such as:

* Vidyarthikale Ithile Ithile (Malayalam)
* Agraharthil Kazhuthai (Tamil)
* Amma Ariyan (Malayalam)
* Cheriachente Krurakrithyangal (Malayalam)

John's lore (of which there are plenty, according to mutual friend Ajith Pillai, now Senior Editor of Outlook) has it that for a preview of one of his film he had invited the press to a screening in Bombay. Now conventional directors know how scribes like to drink. To satisfy this craving, they organise scotch and expensive canapes and starters.

But charismatic John (Being John) did things differently. He had a drum filled with the local hootch kept at the entrance. The journalists were given plastic mugs which they were supposed to fill with the hootch and sit down to watch the film. Guess the journos liked this unique twist in the Avant Garde saga of John.

Today I read this article by Adoor Gopalakrishnan eulogising the life and work of this unique film director who had made sterling contribution to Indian cinema and who was snatched away at a very early age. It is said that his body lay unclaimed in a Kozhikode mortuary for six days after he fell off a building and died. He was nomad, a loner, and an alcoholic. John Abraham R.I.P.

The Online Us and What We Are in Reality - Schizophrenic?

A friend sometime ago said that online forums, social networking sites, chat rooms, shorn of frills, devoid of pretensions and minus the desperate pick-up lines resemble real life flesh and blood social interaction. Yes it does. Is it a good thing, or a bad thing? I don’t know. My meagre interactions online since 1995 (that’s from the doggone days of slow dial-up lines) tells me that people tend to trust too much what their online friends tell them.

So what happens next? You set up a meeting with great expectations. And then? All those expectations come crashing down. We are a bit schizophrenic about our image of ourselves. For example: I have this rather youngish, dashing image of me, which I also pretend to be online, which collapses when I meet an online friend and all my dreams go for a toss seeing the disappointment in their eyes. What did you expect? John Abraham? Guys, I am John P Matthew , a struggling writer and I am only human! Meaning: I have a right to have my own disillusionments. I have got pretty much disillusioned myself. Is this the one with whom I had exchanged long emails thinking this is a friendship that would last? No, I am not looking (Yes, however, I am looking for story situations and experiences that would trigger a short story or a poem, at the very least), but what's wrong with meeting a fellow netizen from another city, another country and trying to understand what's going through their life? But this is not what I had imagined! At least I thought she would wear presentable clothes and pat on a little face powder to hide that shiny nose.

Agreed. We all lie a little about ourselves. When we are online we hide all our little foibles and character quirks. This morning I saw “Bringing the House Down” as I was getting ready to go to work (Yes, I confess I do this. It’s another matter that the movie viewing came to a sudden halt when the electric supply blinked, then vamoosed!). In it, Steve Martin, a lawyer, lies about his looks (boyish crop of hair, mid-thirties, and all) to his online friend “Lawyergirl” and sets up a meeting with her, who is supposed to be a smart lawyer. Imagine who walks in at the appointed hour?

Huh?

And look who turned up at the door at the appointed hour? She is an ex-convict, a convicted felon, is loud, uncouth and is also African-American (a role played to perfection by Queen Latifah)! Can you beat that? It transpires that when chatting with Steve Martin she used a few legal terms she knew because of her ex-convict status. No doubt our hero was floored and started fantasising about her as all men do. We all do that online, don't we?

The way the youth is taking to the internet we (I mean the more mature generation, not that they would listen to us!) have to be very careful about how we project ourselves online. Nothing can substitute our real personalities for some imagined creature online. When we are online we must remember that we are on display to the world, it's as if we are on television. We must be ready for the insults and the badmouthing we, inevitably, must receive at some point in our online avatar. But dammit, whoever said the net is the answer to all our social problems, eh? No it isn't, and anyone thinking they can land their beautiful friends/wives/husbands online are in for a big, solid surprise.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Criminal as Mai-baap!

He sits opposite me and is reading the papers. What's so unusual about him? In his shirt pocket is a pen with a face on it. It's a familiar face. It has appeared on several news stories, keep appearing even now. A politician? Sort of. A star? No. A social worker? Don't know social workers are dime a dozen and you don't know every one's antecedents. Then who? He is a criminal and gang lord who has murdered and extorted money from many. He floated a political party but that couldn't buy his respectability. The police kept haunting him and now he is in jail.

Imagine a decently dressed middle class man wearing polyester shirt and trousers and decent shoes accepting this man, this criminal as his role model, his saviour, his benefactor, his mai-baap (mother-father figure)!

My mind boggles, I cringe at the thought, I am dazed.... Is this what democracy mean to us, making a criminal into a hero?

In passing

My newest poem Barrel of an AK-47 appears here. It's about how the world is exploiting the youth by creating teenage armies armed with Kalashnikovs promising to make them like John Rambo. Do read and comment.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Queue-jumper

A short, short story I wrote today:

I had gone to my village of Kidangannoor on holiday (where my parents [now deceased] lived in retirement) and went to the Chengannur railway station to buy tickets for my journey back. It was summer vacation season and tickets for the return journey to Bombay were scarce. So I had to leave home early hoping to get ahead in the queue to book tickets. After reaching the station, I had stood in a long queue for about an hour and was at the head of the queue when a youth appeared from nowhere, stood beside me and began pushing towards the ticket vendor. When I objected he started complaining loudly to the people present that I was trying to push him and that I was (you won't believe this!) the queue breaker!

Imagine! A Hindi saying goes, “Ulta Chor Kotwal ko dathe,” a case of the thief scolding the policeman.

Me, a queue jumper? I am not sympathetic to such boors and fought back and got my position at the head of the queue and bought a ticket. Then I saw something that upset me further. The man was buying a ticket after me! I said with all the animus I could muster, “People, people, my dear kind and law-abiding saars (they say “saar” instead of “sir” in Kerala), can’t you see, that man is a queue jumper and he is buying a ticket.”

“He said the same of you, remember,” one man said.

“But I am saying he pushed ahead of me, he is a reactionary, an usurper, a hooligan, an anti-social element, a..., a..., a..., blot on civilised society,” I blabbered on.

They stared blankly at me, you know, the way you would look at a dimwit.

By this time the man who had barged in front of me had bought his ticket and was coming menacingly towards me.

“Enthado thante problem? What is your problem? Podo ividunnu, haaaaahn, kanichu tharam! Go away from here, or I will show you.”

“Are you threatening me after jumping the queue, in front of all these people?”

“What people? Ask them. Did I jump the queue, people?”

“No, no, no, no....”

I couldn’t believe my auditory senses, or my visual senses, for that matter.

“Pinne... then?” the queue-jumper was moving menacingly towards me.

“Oh, dear and esteemed and highly-regarded saars, can’t you see he is turning the public opinion against me, against propriety, against the laws of civilised society, against every tenet that you, decent, mundu wearing, respectable people believe in?”

“Hey, who are you to give big lectures, haaaahn,” this is a member of the public whose rights, decency and civility I was trying to protect.

“I am no one. In fact, I don’t even live here. But if this man barges in, buys a ticket while you have been standing in queue over an hour today, mark my words, he will be raping your mothers and sisters, stealing from the government’s public coffers, thumbing a nose at law and order next.”

“Heey manushya, watch your words,” with this the queue-jumper came towards me, folding and tying his mundu in a tight double fold over his waist (the Malayali’s preparation for a fight). I could see his striped underpants and the loose-hanging string he used to tie it to his waist. It was a threatening gesture, alright; the sort used by superstars Mohanlal and Mammooty to scare the shit out of villains in Malayalam movies.

Hell, no! I am no coward when it comes to a fight. I have well-toned and exercised biceps and triceps that I flex everyday for around thirty minutes, even on holidays. I also know a few Karate tricks thanks to a lightning course in Karate I took when I was working with a former employer. The teacher didn’t think much of my moves then, but if I could scare him with a few grunts and shouts, maybe, just maybe, he will hightail it.

So I got into Shotokan Kata position, or some such, I don’t remember, and shouted really menacingly at him, “Aaaaaaahhhhhhhh.”

“What are you doing man; can’t you see the man has grey hair? At least respect his age,” this is from an esteemed member of the public, whose honour I was getting ready to protect.

I stopped in Karate-mid-stance and gaped at him open mouthed.

He untied and dropped his mundu and said, “Since this kind and nice saar says so, I am leaving you, or you know I would have broken that knee of yours.” (In Kerala they always aim at the knees, so that a man will limp for the rest of his life.)

I stare at him, at the people whose rights and privileges I was trying so hard to champion, and then walk away. At least my knees have been saved the bother, and I got my tickets!

Islamisation of Pakistan, Who Is Responsible?

Just in case you are wondering who is responsible for the Islamisation of Pakistan, read this article by Yvette Rosser titled "Pakistani Textbooks: Politics of Prejudice. Excerpt:

Just because Zia used the word ‘Islamization’ time and again, doesn’t mean that he was successful in his so-called ‘Islamization’ of Pakistani political and economic institutions. While Pakistan’s governing elite may have been relatively liberal, pragmatic and secular, the majority of Pakistanis were always devout Muslims, and Pakistani culture was always ‘Islamic’ [and] thus didn’t need any further ‘Islamizing.’ If Zia’s so-called ‘Islamization’ of Pakistani society had actually occurred, Pakistanis would never have elected two relatively liberal, pragmatic, and secular Muslims to run Pakistan four times in 11 years in free and fair elections based on adult franchise–Benazir Bhutto (1988-1990, 1993-1996) and Nawaz Sharif (1990-1993, 1996-1999). General Pervaiz Musharraf, who usurped power on October 12th, 1999, is also a liberal and pragmatic Muslim, who has said that he admired Mustafa Kemal Ataturk of Turkey [who] is denounced by devout Muslims all over the world for being a secular dictator who tried to Westernize Turkey. Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was not ‘actually working to establish an Islamic-dominated state.’ A ‘Muslim-led government’ is by no means the same thing as an ‘Islamic-dominated state!’ Most governments in the Muslim world are led by Muslims, but they are not Islamic regimes based on the Islamic Shariah (like Iran or Afghanistan [under the Taliban]).

Saturday, March 14, 2009

“It happens only in India.”

I thought I was being exploited when I was working 8 hours a day, six days a week. But I met a man who works 12 hours a day, seven days a week, almost twice the hours I am working.

Now don’t say incredulously, “What?” There’s a Bollywood song that goes, “It happens only in India,” and, sadly enough, it’s one of those things that happens only in this country. That’s 84 hours a week and the job isn’t that simple, too. It’s that of a guard and he has to be awake and watchful and will be held responsible if something goes wrong when he is on duty.

These guards come cheap. And they are exploited. They also perform duties like maintain the muster, arrange for vehicles, even double as telephone operators, receptionists and drivers, which aren’t jobs they are trained to do. But being poor first time migrants, they are treated as cheap Jacks by the mushrooming security agencies in the metropolis and are given the raw end of the deal.

He stays with ten others in a small room in Colaba. It’s near the workplace and he can’t afford anything else for the monthly pay of Rs 4,500. He spends around 2,500 on himself and the rest he sends home to his wife and two children in Uttar Pradesh. His uniform is provided by the security company, he doesn’t even have time to go for a movie because he is working seven days a week.

What future does such a life hold for him? He doesn’t have a family with him, he is a loner, he lives like an animal, he lives a bare essential life, has only two pairs of uniforms which he wears to the place of work, eats frugal meals, he is like “Animal” in Indra Sinha’s “Animal People” and has come to signify the sad state of teeming humanity in cities like Bombay.

“It happens only in India.”

Friday, March 13, 2009

Video of Orhan Pamuk in Bombay!



Orhan Pamuk reading in Bombay

First of all apologies! The video I caught (so that I can share it here with you, friends) refuses to upload on youtube because it is so heavy and my mobile is designed to upload only files below 300 MB. However, I made a shorter recording which is here. Thank heavens! So, you can at least hear his voice though you can't see him properly (Remember, I was on the last row beside a pillar with some people blocking my view.).

Why Have the Card-carrying Leftists Done So Well in Life?

I wonder why all the leftist activist friends of mine, the apologists for Moscow and Beijing, the bearers of the red flag, the card-carrying members of the Communist Party of India, the ones who believed in revolution happening during their life time have done so well in their lives when compared to the believers in democracy, fair play, market economics and laissez faire, such as yours truly. For example:

One is a capitalist entrepreneur with factories in 6 locations!

One is heading his own advertising agency with a billing of 6 crore!

One is ruling over an internet conglomerate that designs the website of India's premier industrial house.

One, who was a naxalite in his youth (he had burnt a bus, he confessed, modestly) is heading a publishing group that's rising very fast in the power echelon.

And many more! Take these four examples and what's in common? Commitment? Ideology? What? It stumps me to think all these! While I am struggling to make ends meet these others have at least three cars, big bungalows, air=conditioned homes and offices. I have none of these. Amen! Alleluiah!

En Passant

With modern and instant communications why are we so backward in addressing a receipient of our emails/SMS? Here's an SMS from someone I don't know:

"Can you send me mobile number of xxxxx?" He/she doesn't address me. Come on, even a "hi" or even my name "John" would have done. Then he doesn't sign himself. So how can I figure who he is? Could be anyone for all I care. Needless to say, I didn't reply. I don't encourage such brevity and such arrogance.

Times were when I used to send letters/cards to my relatives, my pen friends, my contacts around the world and actually write a nice message sign it and then write the address and stick the stamps and put it in a red box. Then I used to wait in anticipation for the reply, which usually took a long time, and the expectation was sweet. What happened to all that? Are we progressing or regressing?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The New York Times - A Dying Medium

This is Michael Hirschorn writing in The Atlantic about the death of newspapers in America. He says The New York Times will have to close in May this year if they don't do something fast. Much as I love the New York Times (someone said sometime "It's good to know all the news is in it, though one may not read it," or something such), I can't help but wonder if newspapers aren't doing themselves a disservice by glamourising the swish set and ignoring the common man.

I mean open any newspaper and you will find politicians, rock stars, movie stars, socialites, social climbers, wannabe stars, sports stars, in fact, so many stars as to make one go blind in the eye (blink!). But then what about the common man, his aspirations, his dreams, what he is facing, what he is going through. Zero, zilch, none, shoonyam! And what about aspiring writers, poets, artists, naturalists, etc. Again zero, zilch, nada!

I have long believed that newspapers should never compromise editorial sanctity. But, as a person who has also worn an advertising mask (remember I headed ASCI, not long ago), I have often thought of a newspaper's struggle to surivive against odds.

Here's what Hirschorn has to say, "But what if the old media dies much more quickly? What if a hurricane comes along and obliterates the dunes entirely? Specifically, what if The New York Times goes out of business—like, this May?

"It’s certainly plausible. Earnings reports released by the New York Times Company in October indicate that drastic measures will have to be taken over the next five months or the paper will default on some $400 million in debt. With more than $1 billion in debt already on the books, only $46 million in cash reserves as of October, and no clear way to tap into the capital markets (the company’s debt was recently reduced to junk status), the paper’s future doesn’t look good."

Wonder what the fate of Indian newspapers would be!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Slumdog - A Flawed Film, Made on a False Premise

I finally saw “Slumdog Millionaire” and came away nauseated. No, it doesn’t have to do with seeing all the shit on the protagonist’s face, as it has to do with the faults in a movie that has won so many awards. But it opened my eyes about how the world sees us: as being a poor country, as a country of immense contradictions. They have heard stories about us and don’t know how true they are, but here they are, “Godawful, goddamit, are things so bad there? Man, I heard stories, but is Slumdog what really happens in the boondocks over there, man?” Well, something similar. There are several things in the movie that made me want to puke and, my only medium being my blog, here it is, slime and all.

As I sit in the movie hall, glitches after glitches parade before me on screen and I think how can they reward a movie that is so persistently bad? I fish in the dark inside my rucksack for a notebook to record what was puke-worthy about “Slumdog Millionaire.” It was dark and I had to grope, sort of, hit and miss connecting pen to paper. I couldn’t take it. It was so bad.

To some of my compatriots who have gone ga-ga over the film I have this to say: puhleezee don’t sell your souls. I had defended Arvind Adiga for “The White Tiger” because he portrayed the life of a driver with some originality but I won’t defend this shit (pun intended). I guess I should have seen the flick before all the adulation started, so I could have contributed to the chatter and pointed out the glaring directorial and script glitches that only a person in the know could point out. But it’s too late! Or, is it? I guess the damage has already been done, it has won awards, it has damaged India before the world, and we, ingenuous and gullible, are celebrating as if we have won something big. Damn! So pardon this remorseful soul for putting this up so late. It’s better late... and all that.

Having set the tone of this review, let me state categorically that the movie damages Indian sensibilities, the basis of India. I saw the movie the Saturday before Oscar and then I saw the Oscar ceremony on Monday where the presenter, Hugh Jackman, performed the (by now) famous “excrement” scene while doing his jig. (I guess this is the scene that most people remember from the movie.) The audience laughed. Actually I could hear the world laughing with them. So I ask: is India so full of “excrement” that its only award winning movie should start with the hero jumping into a pit full of the stuff?

The nausea extends even further. There are a string of nasty phrases, “Excrement”, “slumdog,” “overnight millionaire,” which wittingly or unwittingly seeks to break through the stereotype and give India a new and less-than-desirable definition. So is it goodbye to images of India as one of rope tricksters, mango pickle makers, and snake charmers and hello and welcome to the third-world repository of “excrement” and slums? We could be the next Zimbabwe for all the director cares. I am not speaking of just these portrayals here, but of the attempt to associate India with the absolute pits (pardon this term) of humanity by a deeply flawed and technically unsound movie. The script has several loopholes that don’t ascribe to it the qualifier of a “film deserving the Oscar.” No, not even our own Filmfare Award.

Excrement
Let me start my major issue with the “excrement” scene where Jamal jumps into a shit-pit and runs to get Amitabh’s signature. (I am told Danny Boyle revels in shit-pit scenes in his films, so this gimmick!) My detractors could argue that this is called artistic expression. But isn’t Mr. Boyle stretching things a bit too far? If shit constitutes artistic expression then sooner than later we will have sculptures made of shit in art galleries. No, shit is shit and it should remain where it belongs.

First of all, let me clarify this, no Indian boy would jump into shit just to meet his movie hero. How do I know this? May be, it is the Indian’s revulsion to anything to do with “excrement.” (A neighbour is popularising affordable toilets in India and finds his task insurmountable in spite of government grants because he says Indians baulk at the mention of the word and want to get it done with and not be bothered with the thought of “excrement.” May be that’s why a lot of people squat on the road instead of building an affordable toilet for themselves!) And would Amitabh give an autograph to a boy covered in shit?

Taking this episode in the film further, the above is the only scene inveigled into the movie, by design, just to answer the quiz master’s question “Which was Amitabh’s best movie?” or something to that effect. The whole shit sequence is a complete fabrication to pander to the rather juvenile and sensationalistic need to show Indians in a bad light, as a dirty people inhabiting a dirty world. So much the better to make foreign audiences rush to fill movie houses around the world. I have a queasy feeling, as I sit in the darkness that the joke is on us and, ironically it might seem, our headlines are screaming, “Hollywood, here we come”.

The show host
My second issue is with the character of Anil Kapoor. I assume it is a character of Prem Kumar that he is playing and not Anil himself, even then the characterisation has several flaws. He is shown as being critical of Jamal and makes fun of him before the audience calling him a “chaiwallah.” Incredibly, he even goes to the extent of deviously suggesting a wrong answer to Jamal, which would have seen his exit from the show.

Now, why would Anil Kapoor or Prem Kumar do this in real life? Hosts of Kaun Banega Crorepati such as Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan have been very kind to the contestants, so why is Prem Kumar so full of animus? “He is a fraud,” he says. Instead he should be sympathetic to Jamal, because he came from a similar background as he says in a subsequent scene, “I also came from there.”

The reason, I suspect, is that the director mustn’t even have read the book on which the film is based. In the novel, Jamal works for a female film actor who has an affair with actor Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor), the host of the show. It’s to avenge Prem Kumar who mistreats Jamal that Ram Mohammed Thomas (Jamal in the film) appears on the show, smuggling a gun with him. Once in the show, Prem recognises him, reason for his contempt. In the book, Ram confronts Prem Kumar with the gun in the toilet when the latter tries to misguide him by suggesting the wrong answer to the question. This crucial fact, so germane to the story, was ignored by the director making me suspect that neither Danny Boyle nor Simon Beaufoy have read the novel.

The chase scene
The opening scene of the film shows a team of policemen chasing the boys playing cricket. I watch as a posse of North Indian looking policemen, wearing beret caps, chase the children. A little later, the chasing policemen are shown wearing the Bombay police’s typical garrison caps, and again when the boys are captured, magically it might seem, the cops are shown wearing berets. Does it mean the policemen chased them from Agra all the way to Bombay? How can a film showing such sloppiness in continuity/costume/direction be awarded an Oscar? I don’t know. I have to ask the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science.

Maman and Punnose
The villainous team of Maman and Punnose who blind boys to make them beg is another characterisation (among many) in which the film’s plot slips.

Now “Maman” mean “uncle” in Malayalam and Punnoose is a regular Syrian-christian name hailing from Kerala. Despite their names, Maman and Punnoose do not in the slightest look like Malayalis to me (I know. I am one!). For one, Maman doesn’t have the south Indian accent, the walk, or look of a Malayali and looks to me like a North Indian political lackey in his safari suit. His sidekick, Punnoose, supposedly a Malayali, also doesn’t remotely look like one and wears a kurta-pyjama which a Malayali goon will never do. The reason: the directors don’t know! They don’t bloody know the characters and what they wear. For all they care Maman and Punnoose could be Italians or Malaysian. Again, the film stumbles badly.

The Taj Sequence
More hilarity comes in the Taj sequence. Did the directors go to the Taj to shoot the sequence? Did they at least talk to someone who has? As far as I can remember on my two visits to the Taj, I found that shoes aren’t removed at the main gate but near the mausoleum, but then, they are deposited with a special caretaker who issues a token (I don’t know if this procedure has changed, but I don’t think it has). How then can Jamal make a living stealing and selling shoes at the Taj?

Then follows a sequence in which Jamal becomes a guide and shows some tourists around the Taj. This is laughable. No private guides are allowed inside the Taj, as far as I know. The guides who accompanied us on our visits were all trained and certified by the government of India.

Again, Jamal is shown taking Americans around for some slum tourism and when they come back the Americans’ car has been stripped of its tyres. This scene looks trumped up from the very beginning. “See, man, this is the sort of country it is!” The American wife forces her husband to be kind and offer money to Jamal. A clear bias of the director becomes apparent here. Why is Jamal being blamed for the prank committed by others? Is it because the basic assumption, the subtext of the movie, is: all poor Indians are thieves? And why is the American wife telling the husband to pay Jamal, because all westerners are kind-hearted and Indians are untrustworthy rogues? Again, the director shows his bias, and the film shows holes the size of shit-pits.

Darshan Do Ghanshyam
There are more glitches that make the film appear worse than a shoddily made B-grade Bollywood film. More grist for the diary mill as I sit and make notes in the dark. The song “Darshan Do Ghanshyam” is ascribed in the film to poet Surdas while it has now come out that it has been written by Nepali G S for the film Narsi Bhagat (1957)directed by Devendra Goel.

The song writer’s son N.S.Nepali as quoted by the Times of India: “Surdas has over 1,500 poems to his name, but, he (Nepali’s son) says, 'Darshan do Ghanshyam' was definitely not one of them.’ Another song, 'Ankhiya hari darshan ko pyasi', written by Surdas, also expresses a similar sentiment and this is the song that should have been featured. But Slumdog quiz show clearly mentions 'Darshan do', and the name of the actual writer of the song is not mentioned.”

As I delve in, making notes in the dark theatre, the film gets murkier, the script meanders without any redeeming features, the slender love story plot falls apart, and my nausea grows! I have seen more hastily assembled documentaries which look better made when compared to this feature film. It’s sad!

In my humble view...
Does the film sell, as some allege, Indian poverty to a western audience? Or, is it aimed at smashing the myth that Bollywood films are ever so keen to propagate of a shining industry originating from a country on the cusp of being a world power? That too, an industry in which if you are dark-skinned you don’t even get to play role as a dancer in the periphery of an “item” song!

For long I have believed that Bollywood films have veered away from the realistic backbone that should characterise all works of art and have dwelt purely in a phantasmal realm, devoid of any touch with common everyday aspiration of Indians. Given this, is it any wonder that the world wants to believe someone like Danny Boyle who came to India with a story idea, visited a few slums, held his nose at the stink, and filmed a boy jumping into the shit-pit to show originality? And how ironical to think that we are applauding it because we feel guilt about ignoring our own poverty and slums! Yes, that’s what is making us say “Hollywood, here we come.”

The ultimate page in this degrading saga comes in the form of the item song “Jai Ho.” Much as I like the music of A.R. Rehman I couldn’t contain the nausea that was waiting to purge within me. Rehman did a great song but Boyle made it into an item song (a song which has a lot of hip shaking and lewd gestures) to show the western world how crude our movies are. “Hahahaha” I swear I can hear him laugh when he shot this song.

As Danny Boyle himself states, the film is British, not Indian. He clearly distances himself from associating it with India because his main purpose was to show life in the slums (ugh!) from a British (Western) perspective, to entertain fellow Westerners. From the Indian standpoint, I feel it is a very flawed film that sends a very negative picture of India to the world. Throughout the film there isn’t one character who would say something kind to the protagonist who goes through a virtual hell. In the entire film the camera dwells on shit, garbage, menacing faces, and treachery of those who have power over poor Jamal.

Is India and Indians that bad?
Let’s be realistic. What would happen if an Indian on the highest rungs of a quiz show like “Kaun Banega Crorepati” is abducted by the police and tortured? The press would be snapping at the police’s heels and human rights activists would have descend on the police station in droves. Does this happen in the movie? No, because the biased director and script writer is convinced that Indians live in medieval times, that there is no respect for the law in India, and that, of course, a finalist in a popular quiz show can be abducted and tortured by the police, that too a day before the final show where he wins a crore. Absolute crap this! This is so because the director came to India, saw a slum, say, Dharavi, and decided that what was true of Dharavi was true for the rest of India. “Cor blimey! Those slums are pretty bad aren’t they?” I can’t contain the rising nausea inside me.

Why are we so ecstatic about the Oscars?
Now the crucial final question: why are we so ecstatic about a movie that speak ill of us? Aren’t we able to see that the world is sharing a laugh with the British director; the dramatisation of “excrement” in the opening jig of the Oscar proves it? True it gave A.R. Rehman his dues as a world-class composer. The only saving grace of the movie! Does it make Bombay proud? No, way. The memory of the terror attack is fresh in everybody’s minds and the movie reinforces the image of it as a city of immense contradictions.

May be, it’s because of a misplaced sense of importance. We know, try as we might, we never got any attention from the Hollywood big wigs and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. All our previous entries failed miserably to get an award in the “Best Foreign Film” category. So, here was “Slumdog Millionaire” the story of a youth leading the life of a dog in the slums of Bombay getting the honour of “Best Picture” and “Best Director”. You see, in India even infamy is good and even a bad name is celebrated, don’t you know? See all those men in white who rule over us. “Areee, deva, deva,” as they would say in a Bombay slum, “Itna bada award? Kuch tho hoga na, kya?”

As I leave my nausea overwhelms. I run to the bathroom and purge myself of the caramel popcorn I had injested. “Away with it” I say and put the movie behind as not worthy of my hard earned sweat of brows.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Orhan Pamuk in Bombay!



Orhan Pamuk was in Bombay and he read read from "My Name is Red" at the British Council auditorium. I got the only seat available in the auditorium in the last row, beside a pillar, beside an architect to whom I mentioned, as an aside, that there are many architects who write so well.

"Maybe it has something to do with sentence construction," I say, trying to sound insightful.

"Yes, as an architect I can't afford to make a mistake. We consider sentence and structure of language as sacrosanct," said this suave lady architect (who writes on architecture) with a pleasant and kindly smile. What a succint way of putting it! I should learn from architects, I guess. Sentence construction is a lot like architecture, I know, I am constructing my own house.

The cognoscenti and literati of Bombay so notorious for coming late/not coming/being dismissive of literary events turned up in force wearing the latest chiffons, hip-hugging denims, perfumes, low-cut blouses sporting their latest gadgets/cameras/mobile phones. Men either shave their tops or wear their hair long, I could see. What a sight it was, my heart was thumping, literally! So much adulation for a writer? But Pamuk is Pamuk, unassuming, natural, no put on airs, guileless and candid.

The show begins, Pamuk walks in dressed in a casual tee-shirt and trousers, accompanied by the British Council man who jokes, "The fire exit is this way, in case there is a fire," all laugh, the ice is broken, the tone is set for the evening. There's more to come from Pamuk himself. Is it that all good writers are also entertainers? In that case, where do I stand? Suniti paid me a compliment when she said my writing has a "wry humour" I don't know if I would be as entertaining on stage before an audience. And to my surprise he was also trained as an architect. I look knowingly at the architect beside me.

He begins to talk, his voice is fluent, his tone even, his expressions restricted and economical. The reading from "My Name Is Red" is full of twitters from the audience. I am a muddle of details as I was busy capturing the event on video for upload to youtube.com, so i missed some of the details, but his words came to haunt me in my dreams last night, and even now I can hear snatches of what he said:

"My family wanted me to be an engineer, I trained to be an architect, and then became a writer."

"You don't have to imitiate a great writer, keep at it till you discover your voice."

"I can't writer in English, I tried. But India is different, it has its own problems of trying to find a voice. A writer should write in the way one speaks to ones shopkeeper, ones brother."

Hopefully my video should be uploaded to youtube today and i would be able to put a link here tomorrow. Then you can enjoy what he said live, and I can put up some of his quotable quotes here.

Yes, he has a sense of humour and several times the auditorium erupted in spontaneous laughter! One questioner asked how he makes time to write when his life is full of events like this. His answer was simple: "Don't open mail, pull the wires of your telephone, that's it." Shows the great humour of the man.

Bombay is honoured to have you speak to us, Pamuk!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Is Internet the Answer to Book Publishing? Cory Doctorow's View

These observations of Cory Doctorow on locusmag.com is revealing, so far as my limited exposure to book publishing is concerned. True, publishing companies can't maintain regular editors, proof-readers, and salesmen anymore. Many people say Internet is the future of publishing, while many rubbish the very idea that books can be made available as internet downloads and read with electronic readers, instead of the paper-bound books we have today. Though publishing houses are full of "consulting editors" why haven't authors' co-operatives and boutique operations succeeded like it has in the music business. The author feels it is because these "vanity published" books are not marketed by a sales force (the sort that rubs a lot of leather on pavements and befriends bookshop clerks).

Says he, "The best definition I've heard of "publishing" comes from my editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who says, "publishing is making a work public." That is, identifying a work and an audience, and taking whatever steps are necessary to get the two together (you'll note that by this definition, Google is a fantastic publisher). Publishing is not printing, or marketing, or editorial, or copy-editing, or typesetting. It may comprise some or all of these things, but you could have the world's best-edited, most beautiful, well-bound book in the world, and without a strategy for getting it into the hands of readers, all it's good for is insulating the attic. (This is the unfortunate discovery made by many customers of vanity publishers.)

"Today, many of the key functions that we think of as publishing are actually done by outsource firms, consultants, and freelancers. It's a rare publisher that runs its own printing presses. "Consulting editors" (freelancers) outnumber salaried staff at some houses, and every house has a few kicking around. Many copyeditors and typesetters have long worked on a freelance basis, flitting from publisher to publisher, getting paid by the page. PR departments are not adverse to hiring specialist consultants or to tapping into a nationwide network of local freelance media reps who act as shepherds and crying shoulders for touring authors. Art departments commission paintings from freelancers, art students, promising designers, and all manner of creatives, expanding the aesthetic range of the house beyond a few in-house illustrators."

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Jeet and Suman Performing "Drowning Man" at Kala Ghoda Arts Festival



Here's Jeet Thayil and Suman Sridhar of the group Sridhar/Thayil performing "The Drowning Man" at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. Kala Ghoda is precint of Bombay famous for it's bohemian cafes, art galleries, the Max Mueller Bhavan, haute cuisines, and lots more. Jeet and Suman have a wonderful range of sounds in their repertory including: jazz, soul, blues and even pop. What's more, they perform their own songs!

Caught Ticket-less!


(Ladies clinging to their handholds inside the Bombay train.)

It’s like the opening sentences to the Dickensian novel “A Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ...."

To be honest, sadly, it’s the worst of times. The crowd in the train this morning had to be seen to be believed. Here’s a picture I clicked of the ladies compartment (No, no MCP thing this, just that the camera couldn’t catch anything but the backs of necks, and chunky bottoms in the gents’ compartment!).

People kept piling into the compartment and just when I thought there’s no space left, there would come a battering from behind, pushing mass of flesh, as the stations progressed towards Victoria Terminus. Everybody had a job to protect, everybody depended on a monthly income to pay rent, equated monthly instalments (EMIs), children’s fees, insurance, taxes, etc. So, denying a man space was like denying him his existence. So we adjust. Co-operation takes the form of adjusting ones paunch a little to the left, standing on one leg to let the other keep his leg down, ignoring the guy whose unmentionable is thrusting into your unmentionable, and receiving and putting other peoples’ bags on the overhead racks. Simple deeds for simple needs! But an occasional fight would breakout and there would be angry words, even pushes and punches. Anger takes on a new meaning in such circumstances. Imagine what people are going through: recession, slowdown, stagflation, in fact, the whole jiggery-pokery thingamajig.

Remember the episode of narrowly escaping the ticket checker a month back? Today’s episode proved that travelling ticket-less (It’s a favourite of Indian railways “Ticketless travel.”) doesn’t pay and, not even petty infringements. I didn’t know my monthly pass had expired. Damn! I kept thinking it was March 3 when it would end, when it was March 2, and there he was right in front, asking me to show my ticket.

Bummer!

I had to shell out Rs 360 sheepishly in front of all my fellow commuters. Oh! Shame! I remonstrated saying it’s just one day, I would be a good guy and buy a ticket this evening. I know, so careless of me! Even the man standing next to me tried to intercede on my behalf. Nothing worked. He has targets to meet. In these times of job loss, pay cuts, no pay at all, Rs 360 will cut a big hole in the pocket. “It’s the worst of times,” probably. I am still smarting at the smart aleck ticket checker’s irreconcilability, if there’s such a word. (Word doesn’t underline the word in red as I type it, so I know there is!)

En Passant...

Anthonybhai says, “Men, you have no sense only, why didn’t you check your wallet the previous day? I, tho, check my pass regularly, fine kisko bharneko mangta, no?”

Monday, March 02, 2009

Arundhati Roy on Narmada Dam Outstees, and Other Things...

Here's Arundhati Roy in a freewheeling interview with N.Ram of The Hindu about her pet concerns. I guess she makes several important observations, statements of facts that we, as a much maligned and abused believers in democratic norms, need to sit up and take note. Much of her views I agree with. It's shameful how we, and our democratic institutions haven't taken care of our own dispossessed people whom we call Adivasis ("early settlers" - Indigenous people from whom we have taken their land by force) and are depriving them of their settlements. It's like the Red Indians being deprived of their reservations by the government of the US.

My concern is genuine. How can we who call them "Adi Vasis" (early settlers) and at the same time deny them the resettlement they have been promised? I guess there needs to be more transparency on this score, more discussion, even a grassroot movement to give justice before the empty promises of successive governments are exposed. Why isn't this being made into an election issue?

Must say my admiration of this gutsy writer goes up even further.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Salman Rushdie on the "Slumdog Millionaire"

Salman Rushdie on the "Slumdog Millionaire" and the adaptation of books to movies. Shows his vast reading and viewing of films. Go here

My own assessment, I will post here, anon. Have patience!