Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dear Teacher, Your Questions Are Mistaken!

A colleague brings me a second-standard-child's homework. He is flummoxed. His child can't answer it because it seems too profound. Neither can he, though he is almost, not exactly, literate. He sees me as somebody erudite, which impression I maintain by looking distracted and being a bit weird at times. And he knows I write so I could possibly have the answers. But he doesn't know I write perverse and anarchic things, things that are never read (especially this blog). He shows me the homework teacher has given his six-year-old. Oh! I exclaim this is weird, as weird can get. I don't know the answers myself. I guess I will fail a second standard test of these days. The questions (verbatim):

  • What is population?
  • What are responsible for growth?
  • Is this growth has positive effect and how?

(There are more questions along these lines, but I am ashamed to go any further.)

God! Imagine a six-year-old being asked such deeply, mentally-taxing, econo-socio-centric questions! I ask him: "Who is the teacher who has set these questions? I would like to meet him or her."

He senses my agitation and withdraws the paper, feeling contrite, as if he has really offended me.

I am confused, really am. I don't know what or who is at fault: the educational system, the poorly paid teachers, the abysmal anarchy of the questions, the overbearing dictatorial tone, the self-righteousness of it all. Apart from the language, lack of basic understanding of a child's intellectual powers, what boggles is the associations one makes with the teacher's mental state. Is that person an ogre who preys on the minds of small children? In this open letter to Kapil Sibal, I had raised some issues about the level of education in the country. Why are our children treated to such homework by such malicious teachers when they should actually be playing and enjoying themselves?

Or are we turning into a super-illiterate country, unable to grasp even the basics of language and primary education? I guess I should withdraw the request to Minister-ji it because it may have gone beyond the permissible remediable limit.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The US’s Chinese Obsession. Can Manmohan Undo the Damage?

Regarding the recent shift in US's allegiance to China, Fareed Zakaria writes in The Newsweek, "Obama must keep in mind that South Asia is a tar pit filled with failed and dysfunctional states, save for one long-established democracy of 1.2 billion people that is the second-fastest-growing major economy in the world, a check on China's rising ambitions, and a natural ally of the United States. The prize is the relationship with India. The booby prize is governing Afghanistan."

How true! US have a propensity for playing with fire before being fired upon itself. China is exerting its economic might over the US and the US is turning a blind eye towards it and now this! Says this article, "Last week, China's pool of reserves passed the $1 trillion mark, making it the largest lake of money in the world." And it is said it is adding dollar reserves at $ 30 million per hour.

Is a shift in allegiance in order for the US, as Fareed argues? Can Manmohan (now on a trip to the US) undo the damage?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Brave Wife's Account: Vinita Kamte's Book "To the Last Bullet"

Vinita Kamte, wife of Ashok Kamte, who was killed in the encounter with terrorists on November 26, 2008 (the anniversary is tomorrow) has alleged in a book titled To the Last Bullet, co-authored by journalist Vinita Deshmukh, several lapses by the Bombay police. In this article in rediff.com, she alleges that there wasn’t a back up team to support the top cops Hemant Karkare, her husband, and Vijay Salaskar who died in the incident, in spite of a request being made for it.

Imagine this: terrorists enter and kill around 50 people in Victoria Terminus, walk into Cama Hospital and walk out coolly, all taking all the time from 10 p.m. till 11 p.m. or thereabouts and there aren’t any police teams available to surround the affected areas. Meanwhile watch the following footage of the horror at Victoria Terminus.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How Credible Is Our Media?

In this blog I had decried the vested interests that manage the media these days. According to commonly available information, editorial freedom and integrity that are vital to the survival and credibility of newspapers seem to have been compromised and quite irretrievably lost. In my profession, which involves buying of various media: newspapers, radio, outdoor, etc., I know that some newspapers (leading ones, at that) actually compromise in editorial integrity for monetary objectives and to push an advertiser's point of view.

I didn't know how prevalent in televison, which was glaring made apparent in a recent encounter with a leading channel the other day. Whoa! Here the stakes are higher. This one was about panel discussions in the business section of the channel. They needed sponsors for the discussion which you presume are objective and purely of academic interest. Not so. The sponsor can send one representative to the discussion to plug their point of view, and the associate sponsor can send one person to augment their corporate image. So, in effect that mean you can have your publicity and visibility if you are able to pay for it, and they quite blatantly mention this in their pitch. Credibility, did you say? The cost, which I wouldn't mention, is no trifling matter either and would run into eight figures. Whoa, again!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Writing a Novel Is Tough, Really Tough!

Writing a novel is a tough, difficult job. Apart from plotting there are the characterizations, the settings, the subject, the voice, the tone, the foreshadowing, the explication of ordinary things you understand but others do not, the picking up of the tempo, the organizing of the work, everything takes so much time. The most difficult part is organizing the work on your computer so that files don't get over written by the wrong versions and the one you open and edit is not the wrong one. If the latter, you undo all you have done in the past several days. I don't know why I have embarked on such a journey when I can sit back and watch television, or, spend more time on Facebook. No work needed for all this. I had committed myself to doing this and I guess I am right, if I have the will, and so on….

The market for the novel is drying up. So the last bastion of publishing (as we know it) is crumbling. Poetry is already dead, because nobody reads poetry, and publishers and literary clearly state, "We don't accept poetry," as if it is a pariah dog. If poetry – the most sacred of written arts, the most sublime of thoughts sifted through the sieve of experience – is given such shabby treatment, then what's the future of literature? Will it survive the onslaught of a mindless media – television – or a sea of irrelevant information – the Internet? I don't know the answers. Only time can suggest some answers.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

New York Times Gives Blogs, Online Networks Their Due

While on the subject of New York Times (NYT) I am amazed to see that the articles centre around people's experiences in online forums like Facebook, Orkut,


Myspace, Twitter and such like. Is NYT following a future trend before it has arrived? Will newspapers in future follow blogs for opinions or vice versa? I must admit that I do follow newspapers for news and information, as of now. Or, is it with a view to gain popularity of these online networks. I am a bit confused because I don't see the trend here. Also most articles have at least one reference to bloggers, or, blogs, giving them more than their due in India. One steady and consistent Twitter user is the President Barack Obama himself. His latest tweet: The senate has unveiled an excellent health reform bill. Call your senators and ask them to move forward: http://bit.ly/8Ar4yG #hc09.

Perhaps, this is only a conjecture, over here most people aren't as familiar with online networks as they are in the U.S. And when Shashi Tharoor wrote some micro blogs on Twitter there was a lot of tittering in media circles. Are we a bit out of sync here?

(I am testing this upload on Word 2007, so the picture is insert to see if it really appears.)

Obama’s Men-only Obsession

Over at the white House, as New York Times reports in a front page article, the major crib is that Obama is surrounded by men, and not pretty female interns. A picture shows Obama trying to basket a ball, watched by awed cohorts. Obviously when you are president nobody dares block you, or even call foul. What could be the reason for the men only obsession? This blogger acknowledges that men make better “Yes Men” than women (ever heard of the term “Yes Women”? Nah!). May be, he is vary of the reputation the White House garnered from Monicagate and Eisenhover-Kay Summersby affair which go to show that powerful men in the most powerful office on earth are susceptible to matters of concupiscence.

Kurianchen Kuriakose is of a different opinion. A confirmed god-fearing (and loving) Marxist he says, “All this shows the unmitigated rot in the Imperialistic/Democratic system. Who knows what skeletons lie hidden in the closets of the leaders of the Indian pantheon.”

Friday, November 20, 2009

Why I Believe in Online - the Medium of the Future

This is in reply to a poem by Alankrita on Shakespeare and Company and sort of sums up my experience on social media and the entire wired world.

Like it or not, social media or networks, call it what you will, are here to stay. Why else should all celebrities insist on writing their own blogs, even sending micro blogs about snuggling close to ones husband, as Mrs. Ashton Kutcher (Demi Moore) is fond of doing? So the initial euphoria may be over, but blogging and social media are still growing and millions of addicts are being added every day.

Being stalked online, as Alankrita wrote in her poem, is a good thing. It gives you pleasure to know that someone cares about your posts without getting too intrusive. It is also a ready audience for communication, connection, and getting to know another person. And you don’t divest yourself of your power to control the situation. Intrusion is not a question because you can just remove the person and cut him/her off. And nobody can intrude without your adding him or her.

Since the mainstream media (newspapers, channels, news websites) are run by the so called vested interests, people are constantly searching for communities where they can get the latest from the horses’ mouth, so to speak. They need to know from someone they know, even remotely, because they have grown to distrust paid newspapers articles, manipulated network coverage. No wonder the daily newspaper these days look like public relations handouts by agents who are interested in spreading the cause of their celebrity clients. In fact, public relations agencies are paid on the basis of how many articles they could manage, how many interviews they could garner. There are also celebrities who charge the media for rights to cover their wedding, anniversary, birth of child, whatever.

Actually, I wouldn’t expect too much from so called friend on these networks, but don’t rule out lasting friendships either. I have known both sides of friendships online – one elevating and deep and the other shallow and superficial. Remember they are in some other parts of the world, and may have views and affiliations that you don't agree with. But overall, you can exchange ideas, catch news as it happens, and even forge genuine friendships with people in the same professions and with the same concerns. Our online identity, according to me, is a reflection of our true selves and only the ones with strength of character can survive what I call the dumbing down of the global community through these virtual communities. Our online persona and our real persona match exactly, so don’t bother to hide behind a mask. You will soon be found out. Persons who have joined for ulterior motives perish in the end and go away.

What I do is consider online networks as an extension of my blogging activities. I import my blog posts into them and have them read and comment. I have 800 followers on facebook, 200 on twitter, 300 on bloglines, 500 on ryze and its networks, around 100 who subscribe through feedburner, and around 50 daily visitors adding up to 1600 subscribers daily which is a very good thing. And I know my network will grow.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Gotul: Has National Geographic Got It Wrong?

Saw this interesting documentary on National Geographic on the Madia tribe’s Gotul custom. Gotul, as apparent from the documentary is a place where young people older than ten years go and spend the whole night together, drinking palm toddy, smoking tobacco and even having sex – promiscuously or not, the documentary doesn’t mention. All these are governed by tribal customs and rules laid down by elders, who don’t interfere as long as rules are obeyed. They can spend the whole night in the Gotul with other free-thinking young people and only return to their homes in the morning. Good. This allows young people to get acquainted and choose their own partners, eases sexual tension, and consenting young people are enter into matrimony.

If this was true this could have been a pointer of how India was always open in sexual matters and how young people behaved in age-old tribal societies, from which, quite obviously, we have descended. Anthonybhai has this to say, “Imagine man, what, what, those young people might be up to in that Gotul-Votul, whatever. Sure, men, I would have liked to flirt with some Senoritas from my own village in Margao, hehe!”

However, from this article in nagpurpulse.com it appears that that is not true. One Madhukar Ramteke, in a very fractured English, calls it bunkum, and says “Gotul is not sex club, its [sic] home of culture.”

Anthonybhai is all downcast when I tell him. “Whom to believe, men: National Geographic or Madhukar Ramteke?”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Frankly: I Don’t Know

I will be frank about this one: I don’t whom to be more afraid of: the terrorists from within the borders or the “inner terrorists” or the fundamentalists from across the borders the “outer terrorists”. It confuses me. I could swear on that. Both have motives that match their sinister design of upsetting the peace. When one strikes; the other maintains a dignified silence, I have this queasy, very unsettling feeling that they both encourage each other. “Go ahead kill a few, let the media scream as if one possessed, let the cops work overtime without end, let everyone stay indoor and watch television.” Which is bad for health and humanity, but who cares.

Likewise I don’t know if I am leftist or a rightist. I don’t have a clue. As fellow blogger Dilip deSouza famously says on his blog: “I am not a rightist, I am not a leftist, I am a typist.” My first job was as a typist, a honourable and extinct job these days. I couldn’t find a job with a degree in hand, so I used the only skill I had to get a job as a “typist.” But I used to get upset and humiliated when the office peon would call me a “typist.” I guess “typists” and “stenos” went out the way of the dodos. Other tribes that went extinct are the “punch operators”, the “cardex clerks”, the “filing clerks”, the “delivery boys”, etc.

I don’t know whether writers should also be activists. Frankly I don’t know. I guess writers are born activists and mercenaries. You only have to see the politics in the editorial departments of newspapers and magazines to believe this. I would rather have writers clean up their neighbourhoods rather than talk about world peace, which is difficult with the inner terrorists and outer terrorist, being as they are in collaboration, sorry, the term is “joint-venture” in the globalised world.

I wonder why the “chicken” is such a maligned bird. “Why did the chicken cross the street?” and such like. Get the drift? Again “chicken” for coward, “chicken shit” for something very easy, “chicken feed” for something insignificant. Et cetera.

I guess I am lazy and sleepy. So I am off, good night blog, and blog readers.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Google Wave, Making Waves

Read about Google Waves after requesting Amit Varma of India Uncut for an invite to use it. I read it up on Wikipedia in this article, and feel it is the next big step in online connectivity. Excerpt:

“Waves, described by Google as "equal parts conversation and document", are hosted XML documents that allow seamless and low latency concurrent modifications. Any participant of a wave can reply anywhere within the message, edit any part of the wave, and add participants at any point in the process. Each edit/reply is a blip and users can reply to individual blips within waves. Recipients are notified of changes/replies in all waves in which they are active and, upon opening a wave, may review those changes in chronological order. In addition, waves are live. All replies/edits are visible in real-time, letter by letter, as they are typed by the other collaborators. Multiple participants may edit a single wave simultaneously in Google Wave. Thus, waves can function not only as e-mails and threaded conversations but also as an instant messaging service when many participants are online at the same time. A wave may repeatedly shift roles between e-mail and instant messaging depending on the number of users editing it concurrently. The ability to show messages as they are typed can be disabled, similar to conventional instant messaging.”

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bar News Coverage of Humpty Dumpty

Saw the latest edition of Bar News, and it sounded like a bar brawl to me. The news was about a prominent film director’s son caught in a muddle with extremists, hence the treatment is also a bit like Bollywood, but I am exaggerating, or am I?

It’s a different take on this post by Paul Nixon, which is hilarious. Loud Bollywood-is music playing in the background, the presenter shouting like he was presenting “san sani” and the commercials in between that did a bit of self-promotion, all a big waste of the viewer’s time. If this is going to be news, I better not watch it. Internet, social networking channels, twitter, facebook, here I come.

Bar News presenter in studio:

(Hitting the high notes, screaming into the mike) Dekhte hain how humpty dumpty sat on a wall and humpty dumpty had a great fall.

Tun... tun... taann....

Bar news walks to you, talks to you, it even talks down to you, you idiot. Over to you Kishore, Kishore?

Kishore:

I just learnt that humpty dumpty sat on a wall and humpty dumpty had a great fall. Dekhna hai how humpty sat on a wall at all, and how he fell, whether he defied the laws of gravity, or did the wind do it. Over to you.

Studio:

Bar news, talks to you, walks to you, even talks down to you, even screams to you, even pokes you in the rib with its rib-tickling news, so stay tuned. Over to you Kishore, Kishore?

Kishore:

I just learnt that humpty dumpty sat on a wall, humpty dumpty had a great fall, and the latest news is that, all the kings men came (on horses) and couldn’t put humpty dumpty together again. Over to you.

Studio:

See, bar news is doing this great service to humanity. But why aren’t you people giving us TRPs which is what we want. See (screaming) humpty dumpty sat on a wall, humpty dumpty had a great fall, all the kings men couldn’t put, humpty dumpty together again.

I switch off the television.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

To Die or not to Die


To die or not to die. That’s the dilemma facing most people these days. Even young people die these days. There are some who die every week, some who die every month, some who die every few months. It comes in an array of colours: blonde, brown, dark brown, black, jet black, burgundy, even flaming red. So to die or not to die. I die because, as told by a rickshaw driver once, I have to maintain appearances in a workforce which is still young. So does a lot of innocents born in the heady days just after independence. My dad died. I die only black. I see these aging bald men die-ing their hair blonde and the funny result is a VIBGYOR or colours: a few blonde wisps a few black wisps mixed with a few white strands. Looks grotesquely ugly, especially in broad daylight. What say? And there is a dark-skinned man I know who dies his hair with the local barber. Being a lazy barber he dies the man’s scalp, too, a jet black. That makes him look uniformly black all over, as if, as if, oh forget it!

To die is a good thing. Honest. You look ten years younger when you die. That’s why women always die. They know it’s no longer that age when a woman’s strands of white were considered sexy. So Aishwarya dies and she says “you are worth it.” Worth what? Die? A woman is only worth the die?

To die is messy. I never seem to get the mixture right. Sometimes it oozes down my fingers, sometimes it oozes down my scalp making me look ghastly. But the result is I look younger, though I don’t look as young as A.K. Anthony, who I am sure dies. I use Godrej. Every Malayali worth his coconut oil does, I mean die, not use Godrej. Kuriachen Kuriakose too dies. He says man must die so that he can live. That if he doesn’t die, he will be dead. I don’t know how that can be, but I can guess. And my guess is:

Die (pun intended) or else die. 

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Be Prepared to Be X-rayed, Stripped, Humiliated

Guess one has to live the life of an over-protected, under-privileged human being from now on. So shout it from the rooftops: “you will never be free to walk into a library, a railway station, a government office without being frisked, stared, x-rayed, in short, humiliated by musclemen who look like they haven’t slept all night thinking of their jobs. That’s all right with me, so long as I feel protected. The problem is I don’t.

I just returned from the American Centre library where my wallet, bag, and cellphone were x-rayed, and though my cellphone was on silent told in a sullen voice:

“Please switch it off sir.”

“But it is not silent. I do a job like you and I should be available twenty-four hours.”

“Switch it off, sir.” I didn’t hear “or else?” that was firmly and untactfully meant to all who might have listened.

x - x – x

Then I enter the library and borrow a book. The librarian on the mezzanine floor scans the book, hands me a slip, and when I try to exit with my book, the metal detectors go, somewhat like an infant who hasn’t been fed for an entire day:

“Pee... pee... pee...!”

Two burly security men jump to attention hands on their holsters. I am all agog, confused, which is an understatement. They barge in through the glass doors and short of pinning me down snatch the book from my hands and hand me over to the librarian, who, again look at me suspiciously and asks a few questions. Fear, naked fear courses through me. Will I be arrested as an enemy of the US? Sent to Guantanamo, or wherever they send such offenders? Extradited? Stripped?

Heart beating, pulse racing, I repeat the procedure I had followed and then she says rather sheepishly, “I guess the librarian (on the mezzanine floor) made a mistake.”

“So the mistake is yours?”

Nods.

“Why am I being held if it’s your mistake?”

The beefcakes leave my skinny little arms, now aching with the unceremonious contact with authority.

“M**** ****s” I say under my breath.

My erudite childhood friend Kuriachen Kuriakose says, “Nations should strengthen their intelligence not subject citizens to futile security checks.”

He believes in Marxism and, methinks, should learn to adapt. You know dialectic materialism, class struggle and all that used to be so hot when we were misguided youths?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

My Interview in Webneetech. Hubris? Nah. Well deserved? Yes.

It feels nice to be interviewed for a change, though it took a long time coming. For most of my life I was at the wrong end of the mike or recorder, I now feel. Ah! But that’s just hubris, nah, it’s a well-deserved hubris, me thinks. After all, amn’t I one of those silent and unappreciated bloggers (unlike those celebrities, who took up blogging as an adjunct of their public personas) who have been silently pecking on my computer about issues of my concern since August 2003? So I am pleasantly and mightily pleased to see this interview featuring me (John P Matthew) in Webneetech.com. Read, comment (here or there online), transmit it virally, and share it on your favourite sites.

Mucho gracias, in advance. Bows!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Television, Movies, and a Lack of Indian-ness

I like to make these comparisons, now that my writing work can resume. The laptop has come back after repairs with a new keyboard, there’s a nip in the air, the dam where I go for a walk-cum-trot is chilly early in the morning, and I relish what little winter we get in Bombay.

This was then; when an idealistic nation doted on inspiring national figures, and movies (the India twentieth century pop art) used to be all about Raj Kapoor’s clowning philanthropist Raju, the brooding patriot Bharat played by Manoj Kumar, an idealistic Dilip Kumar playing Sagina Mahato, and even Balraj Sahni playing the role of a poor farmer in “ Do Bhiga Zameen” – which is one of the best Hindi films I have ever seen – is also a commentary on Indian society. Even Guru Dutt’s films were full of idealism and the national spirit a newly-born nation on the brink of great things, I don’t know what.

Where’s all those patriotism and idealism in movies gone? These days we ape the west with unoriginal movies like “Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge” (this is a refrain from an old Shashi Kapoor film, again, showing the lack of imagination on the part of the writer and director) and other Khan-capers turning ourselves into poor caricatures of our more worthy non-resident brethren. And television programs are either saas-bahu stuff, singathons, or stand-up comedy shows where the performers and judges try their utmost to be funny – in a nervous and edgy kind of way, you know. Sometimes I feel the "mind blowing", the "fantastic", the "fantabulous", "want to take you home" all said with smiles - as if their botox will come apart - are all scripted.

Sunday newspapers in those days discussed national issues, and featured literary oeuvres like short stories and poems. Debonair had a poetry double spread and Youth Times and Illustrated Weekly of India published poems. These days none, onnum illa, oru rakshayum illa (nothing, no escape), as my friend Kuriachen Kuriakose would say.

I was reminded of these and many more things when Christina Daniels asked me to fill in a questionnaire (which I gladly did) asking me about my identity as an Indian in the Doordarshan days and now.