Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Adam Apple or Adam's Apple - Which Is Right?

Strange. Someone asked me which websites I have written and I am stumped. I have written content for many websites, I mean, written their entire content from A to Zee. But none of them are in the form in which I had left them. All of them have gone out of business, disappeared, facing technical problems (like my own domain name which my effing service provider has difficulty renewing), or, are defunct in the way only technology can be.

Strange are the ways of online entities. I guess the technology has something to do with it. Look at it like this, there is this large, humongous, world where we can connect, chat, enter into friendships or other relationships and it’s so disorganised and chaotic that web entities just die and are never resurrected or resuscitated. I spend a lot of time online, that is more time than I give to my family, friends, or even to writing. They say the age of publishing on paper is gone and it’s the era of hand-held e-book readers like Kindle. Recently, the venerable British Council Library shifted to online lending and borrowing. I don’t know if these are good or bad trends but truth be told there isn’t the joy in a Kindle that can match opening a book yellowed with age, smelling the glue and perusing the typefaces of old, the style, the indentations, the matching of lines, the drop capitals, the italicisations, etc. all of which were standard instructions for a sub-editor (which I was) entering the world of publishing. Typesetting and sub-editing (or, subbing) was an art then. Alas, no more. The caption writers of a popular newspaper these days write "Adam Apple" instead of "Adam's Apple". There's a subtle difference, you see.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Year End Reviews - My Own Too!

What do I write? What do I write today? I am fumbling for words, for thoughts. It is rarely that I don’t have three or four subjects flitting about like butterflies in my mind, trying to find an outlet in my blog.

There are several issues of newspapers and magazines doing year-end, decade-end reviews. I like them. The reviewers are all erudite fellows giving profound pronouncements about the markets – stock and commodities -, political uncertainties, the terror attacks, the future of the world – meaning the environmental catastrophe that we have been ignoring – the ice-thin  sheet of environmental safety over which we have been skating at high speeds. Defaults are high (e.g. Nakheel Group, the Dubai group that's building the world's tallest tower - The Al Burj), many more financial entities are going bust a la Lehman Brothers. There’s a tendency among money managers to pay themselves high salaries. Have you observed? Look at any organisation, the finance guys who manage the company’s funds always get away with high salaries and perks. Come on guys, what a selfish thing to do. Well that’s going to change. It has to. We should have looked at our marketing and production guys, they are where the company’s real excellence is, not the guy who totals it all up.

It’s as if the brakes are difficult to put on the way we are progressing, like a “runaway train” as Elton John sang in his song of the same name. The lyrics that accompany it go thusly:

“When we break out of this blindfold
I am gonna take you from this place.”

Noble thought, but take you where? Yes, breakneck speed and blindfolded we are progressing towards a destiny we don’t know where it will lead. In fact, there’s nothing finite about anything anymore. We all tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to control people and the way we think. Marx and Engels did, Mahesh Yogi did, Beatles did, Elvis did, Jim Morrison did.

Coming back to year-end reviews I guess the ones I liked are: Forbes and Crest. The first tries to harness several things in its ambit and succeeds, and Crest (May this newspaper from the Times of India group survive is my fervent wish) sounded very knowledgeable and upbeat in its prognostications. Its contents are well balanced and for once I really like a Times Group publication. Good for them. It seemed well written and edited. As for me I did my year end review long ago. Go back and see.

Monday, December 28, 2009

In the Chromo Today: അയലത്തെ ഇയെങ്ങര്ക് മൂന്നു കൊമ്പ്

At the Chroma store in New Bombay today I see this rare sight. It’s an Iyengar, a very distinguished looking gent – yes I can make this out from the three vertical lines on his forehead – in a longish angavasthram and bordered with red and green strip stippled with gold filigree work. His top half is bare except for an end of the vasthram drawn around his neck. He looks learned and I could guess immediately that he wore that dress out of conscious choice, not as a gimmick, and looked graceful in it. I almost break out into a Malayalam ditty we sang in our school. (Pardon my insolence, please, if I sound that, by any chance. I have no intention of hurting the sentiments of my Iyengars friends. We had a very generous Iyengar family as our neighbour in the suburb of Chembur and I owe a lot to them.) The ditty goes thus:

വീടിലെ പശുവിനു രണ്ടു കൊമ്പ്
അയലത്തെ ഇയെങ്ങര്ക് മൂന്നു കൊമ്പ്

Veetile pashuvinu randu kombu
Ayalathe Iyengarku moonnu kombu!

Roughly translated, it reads thusly:

The household cow has two horns
The neighbouring Iyengar has three horns!

(The Iyengars can be distinguished from their equally venerable cousins, the Iyers, by the three lines they draw vertically on their foreheads with sandal paste. Hence, the horn analogy.)

This rather distinguished Iyengar has hair as white as snow and his angavasthram was also thusly coloured (hm, if white can be called a colour). I would place him somewhere as, at least, Chief Financial Officer, in a blue-chip company which offers a lot of perks. Anybody with the name of Iyer or Iyengar just shoots to the top is my theory, just like thairu-sadam shoots to the brain soon after it is imbibed. This Iyengar gent went on to buy so many electronic equipment that it boggled my mind to just look at him carrying all those stuff, while my mouth was watering at the light-weight Sony Vaio Zero sitting there like a Kareena Kapoor on the shelf. Oh, why wasn’t I born an Iyengar?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Cluttered Website and a Walk in the Wild

Hm. Today I am confronted with another common problem. Has anyone faced this? You surf a website or a social networking site and suddenly you observe that the icons have been changed, the links don’t appear where they usually were, the colours have changed, you can’t remember the username and password, you try different combinations and are frustrated and, sad to say, a few hours have passed, too much clutter, you give up.

I was at my domain registration site trying to renew my website’s thingamajig. Innocently, I clicked, clicked and clicked again. Nada, nothing doing. Clutter upon clutter fills the screen. I can’t find that page where I had renewed the domain last year. Why did they have to change the website every now and then? They lost business and I, a lot time, valuable time I could have spent elsewhere and god alone knows what damage I have done to my liver, pancreas, heart, arteries and veins. Yeah, sitting in one place for a long time can damage these organs.

Yes, websites have this habit of changing their look as they grow big. They add on this and that, and before long there is too much clutter, while the mantra should be very little clutter. Google could have filled its homepage with a million links, thank god, they kept only very little. That’s the secret of a good website.

x-x-x

After this episode I go for a walk. I am fortunate enough to be living somewhere close to a pristine rainforest. I decide to skip the tarred roads and take a walk in the wild, a one-person-only path that leads into the centre of the Artiste Village valley. It's eerily silent and I can hear the sound of insects and crickets over the pond in the centre of the concavity. The tall grass on either side, now dry, graze my legs, the silence is awesome. It is as if I am alone with nature, a bit frightening, no doubt. When I reached the middle of the valley I paused and looked at the looming Parsik Hills, so majestic that it looked overwhelming. The thick forest clung to its base forming a green canopy, where leopards and wild hogs are said to hunt. This valley is rich in bio-diversity, having as many as 379 identified species and will soon be developed into a nature park by the government.

The walk did a lot of good, it requires skill to walk in the wild and it invigorates. Felt a lot fresh after I returned. Guess, I am lucky to be living so close such a beautiful place, that too, in proximity to a beauteous forest.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

It’s Boxing Day, Stupid!

Ah, boxing day, not boxer's day, sorry for the gaffe of a few day's earlier post in which I referred to it as boxer's day, duly corrected by Peter Griffin (thanks, Peter, guess you are an authority on these subjects, and thanks for reading what I write on my blog), so accepted, boxing day it is. Today is boxing day, traditionally, the day of giving gifts to the needy and less privileged, which term, would also include employees, dependents, knowing as how underprivileged (and underpaid) this blogger is. Alas, no one gave any gifts, or, presents, so I will let it pass.

Spent Christmas at home, writing, what will be my second novel, completed a difficult chapter, i.e., chapter nine. The day outside was beautiful, the sky an inexplicable and indefinable blue, only known to the color palette of an artist, not common writers of my ilk. The valley was green as usual, myriad shades that merged and emerged, only to please the eye by nodding and waving playfully at me, as I sat writing on the small balcony attached to my bedroom. Have set myself a deadline of completing the novel by year end, which I am sure I can do, if I am freed from stupid stumbling blocks.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The "Christmas Truce" and a Murder that Turned into a World War

Thank God, the wishing and saying of “God bless” and “take care” are over. Empty, facile, unoriginal, insincere, it seems. But we say these words all the time. Do we care? Some do but some don’t. A few thoughts in this time of forced jollity and superficial caring, where we depend on messages on Facebook or on the mobile phone to make our day, not live conversations with friends and relatives. I called up all my siblings, with whom I am on good terms: a brother and sisters. No, they didn’t call. The onus is on me I guess. I am a little upset about that. I believing forgiveness and forgive a lot to a lot of people. But there are a few hurts that cannot be forgiven.

Read this on Ratna Rajaiah’s blog “Choti Mooh”. It’s the story of “Christmas Truce” when around 1,00,000 British and German soldiers fighting the First World War came together in the battlefield to sing hymns and celebrate Christmas as well as they could. This was the war that escalated into a big battle of nations because one trivial event led to another and then another. Led me to research the First World War a bit and, serendipitously, I found a lot of information online.

The spark that ignited the war was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in Sarajevo in Serbia on 28 June 1914. Here’s a film footage of Ferdinand’s arrival in Sarajevo. Austro-Hungary asked Serbia for an explanation.

Then started a chain of bizarre events that led to an even macabre massacre of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, which is documents in the website firstworldwar.com:

  • Austria-Hungary, unsatisfied with Serbia's response to her ultimatum declared war on Serbia on 28 July 1914.

  • Russia, bound by treaty to Serbia, announced mobilisation of its vast army in her defence, a slow process that would take around six weeks to complete.

  • Germany, allied to Austria-Hungary by treaty, viewed the Russian mobilisation as an act of war against Austria-Hungary, and after scant warning declared war on Russia on 1 August.

  • France, bound by treaty to Russia, found itself at war against Germany and, by extension, on Austria-Hungary following a German declaration on 3 August.  Germany was swift in invading neutral Belgium so as to reach Paris by the shortest possible route.

  • Britain, allied to France by a more loosely worded treaty which placed a "moral obligation" upon her to defend France, declared war against Germany on 4 August.  Her reason for entering the conflict lay in another direction: she was obligated to defend neutral Belgium by the terms of a 75-year old treaty.  With Germany's invasion of Belgium on 4 August, and the Belgian King's appeal to Britain for assistance, Britain committed herself to Belgium's defence later that day.  Like France, she was by extension also at war with Austria-Hungary.

  • “With Britain's entry into the war, her colonies and dominions abroad variously offered military and financial assistance, and included Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa.

  • “United States President Woodrow Wilson declared a U.S. policy of absolute neutrality, an official stance that would last until 1917 when Germany's policy of unrestricted submarine warfare - which seriously threatened America's commercial shipping (which was in any event almost entirely directed towards the Allies led by Britain and France) - forced the U.S. to finally enter the war on 6 April 1917.

  • Japan, honouring a military agreement with Britain, declared war on Germany on 23 August 1914.  Two days later Austria-Hungary responded by declaring war on Japan.

  • Italy, although allied to both Germany and Austria-Hungary, was able to avoid entering the fray by citing a clause enabling it to evade its obligations to both.  In short, Italy was committed to defend Germany and Austria-Hungary only in the event of a 'defensive' war; arguing that their actions were 'offensive' she declared instead a policy of neutrality.  The following year, in May 1915, she finally joined the conflict by siding with the Allies against her two former allies.”

Before anybody knew it, it became a global war, and hundreds of thousands got killed, for no apparent fault of theirs. But the spirit of “Christmas Truce” in the trenches of France made heart-melting reading. Thanks Ratna. If only people decide what they want politically, and whether they want to get killed in a foreign country, or celebrate the spirit of love, which is the theme of Christmas. I wish; I wish.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Yuletide; Happy Christmas!

Yuletide greetings! For those who don’t know yuletide is the season before Christmas and Boxing Day is the day after Christmas (thanks, Peter Griffin for the clarification). Time for a bit of introspection and retrospection, which is what I generally do before Christmas. The church carols are over; a carolling party came home and went. I bought plum cakes from the Sassanian bakery at Dhobi Talao which is nearby the office. A Parsi man objected to my bag touching him, he also laughed a typically Parsi laugh as he told me so. Trust the Parsis to be gentle with criticism, too. I love this community, their quirkiness, their cosmopolitanism, their spirit of brotherhood, their cultural assimilation; the protagonist of my novel is one.

So, what next? Next is what is Christmas; the joyous occasion of the birth of Christ, the season of joy, as it is termed. But thousands are dying of the cold and adverse conditions throughout the world. And, most importantly, Jesus was born in a cold manger not in a five-hotel resounding with the strains of dance music and the merry laughter of flirting couples. Ahem! My intention is not to sound holier-than-thou, but to think of people who don’t have a ceiling over their heads, as we do. Poverty is never more felt than during Christmas. What is trumpeted is the feeling of joy, but it is also the time of intense sorrow and depression. Many commit suicide, many descend into addiction, many are the homes that break up during this season.

Nevertheless, notwithstanding, nonetheless, a happy Yuletide and a happy Christmas!

Some Thoughts for Christmas. Can’t Believe It’s That Time of the Year to Be Jolly!

It's Christmas once again! I don't know how time has passed, and the songs on my lips, as I take my shower (disclosure: I am an unashamed bathroom singer) are: "Deck the halls with boughs of holly", "I am dreaming of a white Christmas", "Christmas is the season", etc. I love to sing them, out of key, out of harmony. But what a changed Christmas: moved into my new house, the shadow of the recession hasn't lifted from my head, work, well, work is work, never ending. I haven't seen my novel to the end. Don't get the time to steer it towards the end, though I am so charged up with ideas, I only have time to drop into bed after the day and dinner is done. Guess, it will have to wait. Meanwhile I am at a crucial juncture when my protagonist mulls if he should or shouldn't have sex with his secretary. Any suggestions? Ideas? Is it ethical? He is not a very ethical person, too. Consider that.

Hm. How do I celebrate the spirit of Joy that is Christmas, then?

I used to send a lot of cards during Christmas, to my brother, sisters, cousins, friends. But now, we make a phone call, not send cards. And, here too, we make compromises. We put off calling, or, when we call the other party is either busy, else, his or her mobile is dead. Technology gives you a lot of choices, but we are left confused by the choices we are given. Most of my business contacts phone me on my cell phone rather than my office extension. The result is that they find it convenient to disturb me when I am commuting and when I am in the bathroom. Damn! I can't hear a thing when I am in a train, because of the background noises, and the constant jabber of my fellow passengers. It's good we have mobile phones, but we communicate even less and less. A friend got upset that I had disturbed him on his holiday. I don't know in what critical dilemma he was in when I called. But he later made up, so it's okay.

Both Anthonybhai and Kuriachen Kuriakose, regulars in this blog send their greetings to my readers for Christmas. But maro friend Dhansukhbhai Jethalal Shah, one of the biggest money bags of Bombay, is sulking because the market is going through a volatile phase. His company's shares have dropped like the burnt remains of the fireworks of Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Of Copenhagen and Prostitution of the Media

So? Now that this blogger has left the big folly that was Copenhagen behind, he is at a loss to understand and reconcile with what happened. A lot of powerful people gathered there. Sure. Surely they all had children – Obama has Malia Anne and a second daughter, Natasha; Berlusconi has a few: Pier Silvio Berlusconi, Barbara Berlusconi, Eleonora Berlusconi, Luigi Berlusconi; Sarkozy has: Pierre Sarkozy (by Culioli), Jean Sarkozy (by Culioli), Louis Sarkozy (by Ciganer-Albéniz). Now didn't any of them think of their children and their grandchildren when framing the terms of climate control? Hm. What I am asking is rhetorical in the extreme, I know, I know. But don't they realize they are cheating their children and grandchildren out of a good life, a reasonably good and honest life enjoying the bliss of nature and its produce.

Duh, there I go all preachy and maudlin sentimental. But Copenhagen, people, readers of this blog, was a big disappointment, and I can't get over it.

Vir Sanghvi, whose gastronomically delightful shows I sit through out of habit on discovery travel and living – though I don't like his accent which starts with a treble in every sentence and tries (um, unsuccessfully) to end in a base tone – has this to say about the prostitution of media space, considering that most politicians bought editorial space – as distinct from advertisement space – in the recently concluded Lok Sabha election.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Copenhagen – “A First Step in Several First Steps”

Says Anu Jogesh from Copenhagen in this article in business.com:

"To me, it's the first step in a series of first steps over the last 17 years. Kyoto, which couldn't get the US on board, was a first step, Bali where any semblance of a global emission target disappeared was a first step, and Copenhagen where no country signed up is being seen as a first step."

Clearly shows there wasn't an accord. Why don't they realize that the environment not a single country's responsibility - not poor, not developing, not developed - but that of the entire earth, the whole jing bang world? The article also shows Barack Obama as an old man in 2020 saying, "I am sorry. We could have stopped catastrophic climate change… we didn't." Exactly. The man won the Nobel Peace Prize not the Nobel Prize for Environment. They were supposed to reiterate the fact that the problem exists for the thousands of "nay sayers" who don't even believe that we are sitting on complacently on a powder keg about to explode, a boiler that is about to go, "boom." Guess, the leaders who were in Copenhagen didn't agree on cutting down on emission of gaseous carbon, but, instead, produced a lot of gas, ho hum, I mean of the verbal variety. No, not that, puhleeeze!

So be prepared to re-locate to higher ground, put on raincoats, wear bare minimum clothing (because of the sweating), cut hair closer to the skull (like some clones do) or wear a pony tail, which I am thinking of doing as I keep my hair rather long. From now the shadow is upon our children, we have robbed them of this beautiful world, a unique world, the only living, thinking world we know of in the universe, the only evolved culture and civilization we are aware exists, the only body of knowledge gathered scientifically and methodically, the only concept that worships a being bigger than them. From now on it's only extremes in this world: stifling hot or biting cold, drought or floods, riches or poverty, passivism or extreme fundamentalism, etc., etc., I could go on…. I will stop for now.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Truth about Copenhagen

Have you noticed? It's difficult following the talks on climate control in Copenhagen. Damn difficult. Nobody knows what the new norms of emission are. All we know is Obama got together some face saving compromise. Which is? Will it save mankind? Nobody knows.

The world media is not like it was before. There is misinformation everywhere and people, especially journalists, aren't asking the right questions. Or those that do haven't been given the chance to ask them. We know Obama did some last minute accord, but nobody knows what. I surfed the net, perused the newspapers, and listened to bland talk on television by so-called experts. But the truth remains hidden as it always has been. Yes, there are streaming videos of Obama, sound bites, audios, by the dozens, no, millions. But the truth is: there is no news on the accord on climate control from Copenhagen. That's the truth.

I should say it is frustrating that is happening when there's media here, there, everywhere, making shrill pronouncements but not being able to get facts. And to think I saw a documentary on National Geographic yesterday which stated that we would end this planet if we don't cut down on emissions. It's titled "The Big Melt". Go watch. It shows a graph where the carbon emission level takes a steep climb, and it doesn't seem to stop. Simultaneously, it shows scientists in the Arctic, Antarctic and Greenland measuring the amount of ice melting and glaciers retreating. They say if it continues all the ice could melt in a couple of years and the sea levels could rise by a few metres. The world is a beautiful place why do we want to kill it, steal it from our children? Why do we want to self-destruct it and leave it desolate with our greed? Well, I could go on.

That's goodbye to backwaters in Kerala, entire country of Maldives, Vietnam, large parts of Indonesia and could be even Bombay and New York (costal cities).

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Musings on a Sunday Morning

This morning, I woke up late, being a Sunday, and I sat of the terrace of my house in Artist Village looking at the blue Parsik Hills, that surround our little valley on the edge of a rain forest and thought how insignificant are our worries, anxieties and frustrations when compared to the inexorable march of nature and history. I was reading my favourite book – the Bible. It is a best-seller all right, and contains everything from murder, deceit, rape, harlotry, seduction, etc. I am reading Genesis, and this is part of a project to read the bible as another book, say a novel, as a progression of event that marked the coming of Christ. I read how Judah’s daughter-in-law seduced her father-in-law pretending to be a harlot. I also read how the wife of the Egyptian captain-of-the-guard of the Pharoh tried to seduce Joseph into lying with her and when he didn’t, alleged that he had tried to rape her. All too common events we encounter in life. Must say reading of the word, whether the Bible, Ramayana, Mahabharata, etc. puts things in perspective.

When I read the Bible as a chronicle of my faith I understand the greatness of humanity, of the written word, the propagation of faith implicit in it. But if we read only a part of it, for example, that how the daughter-in-law seduced the father-in-law pretending to be a harlot and interpret it as the gospel truth and therefore admissible in society, as a precedent exists in it, and fight for it to be legalised, then, that’s where most interpretations of the holy books go wrong. They do it. That’s where fundamentalism creepily sidles in and the zealots begin waving flags and clanging their religious cymbals. They say that since it has precedence in the holy book it is condonable by law and they demand laws passed in this advanced stage of human consciousness based on the less-intellectually-evolved social conscience of those days.

Take today’s literary world. Umbrage is taken on the contents of a book even before people have bought and read the contents of its pages. They buy a book to read a certain chapter, or a passage and start hitting out at the author. I am sure they would think otherwise if they read the entire book, starting from page one to where it says “the end.” Simple enough to say, but hard to do. We humans have a tendency to jump to conclusions, even I. 

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Indian Society, Politics, Business Still Work on Caste Lines

You wonder why everything in India goes the caste and creed way. Really, I wonder. For example step into a Gujju organization and you will find all the top level executives are, you guessed who. Likewise if it is a Kayastha organization, you will find Kayasthas in key positions, if it is a Brahmin organization, you will find Brahmins in key positions, if it is a Jain organization you will find Jains in key positions. The problem is endemic, I worked for a Mallu organization (distantly related) and all the key people were Syrian Christian Mallus. I knew that if I played the Mallu card and pleased the bosses with some blandishments and obsequiousness, I could have stuck to the job, and jumping jimneys, become some hot shot like General Manager, or something. But I am not one for regrets. I have decided earlier in life to rise only if I deserve the rise, not otherwise (no asslicking for me!). Guess that's why I am still stuck somewhere in the lower rungs. Actually there are only a very few organizations which are really professionally managed. All the rest are organized into caste feudalities, governed by their own satraps.

The idea of a person getting into a job with a company and bringing along his kin from his village hasn't ended even in twenty-first century India, I suppose. It still shows at what atavistic level Indian society operates. Even political outfits function in this paradigm. The SP, BJP, Congress, all have their caste equations. In a state if a Brahmins dominate a party all Brahmins will vote for that party. Same applies if an Ahir, Gujjar, Rajput, Kayastha is in power.

Isn't it time we changed this?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Today Is Saki's Birthday

Today is Saki’s birthday. We had a story in our English text book in school by him, I don't remember which. Memory fails. (Before my critics claim I have Alzheimer's, let me clarify. No, neither has Alzheirmer's nor growing old has anything to do with it, I was always forgetful.) Hector Hugh Munro, better known by the pen name “Saki” satirised the Edwardian society and culture. Saki, according to some accounts, was the cupbearer in The Rubayat of Omar Khayyam, an ancient Persian poem. His stories were caricatures of people, making them look ridiculous. He was killed in World War I by a German sniper, and his famous last words were, "Put that damned cigarette out!"

He wrote books such as The Rise of the Russian Empire and When William Came. He shares more than a few similarities with Rudyard Kipling. Both were born in India, were brought up by strict aunts and both wrote about apparently bizzare subjects.

Some Random Ramblings on a Frustrating Friday

I had meant to write about this for a long time. But since Ratna Rajaiah has beaten me to it with this lovely article, I will cease and desist. The tiger's romp in the woods comes as a great surprise, but most of us aren't surprised. The escapades of our leaders and politicians haven't been documented, which is small mercy. Were it to be done, the holier-than-thous would become fallen angels, pardon the bad simile. Hm. So this frustrating Friday when the week is progressing to a fitting finale, some rambling thoughts.

There's our Deepy-baby who ditched Donny-baba and Raj-babu and hitched up with Ranu, the youngest silver-spoon-in-mouth scion of the Kapoor family. News is she is out of sorts with him too. What I can't understand is how all this remains hush-hush. I guess the public relations gurus work overtime on their accounts, which is why. But these days we can't trust anything that appears in print or television. I trust Facebook more because it is an exchange between a known group of acquaintances, and you can't spread falsehoods among friends can you? I get most of my news from there be it deaths: Michael Jackson, Patrick Swayze, or my friends Manoj Rane or poet Dilip Chitre.

Why do I trust Facebook more? I don't have any clear reasons, but, on a primary level, I am in a lonely profession, which gets achingly lonely most of the time, and I like to connect with kindred fellow writers online (after all, this vanishing breed is notoriously shy and despondent). So online life for me is social life, and has been for some time.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Little Sparring between Kindred Bloggers!

This blog has been moving up in blogosphere. (After all, what's a little sparring between kindred blogs? Hope you will forgive me those bloggers who I feature below:

Blog

Author

Technorati Authority

Overall World Ranking

http://johnpmathew.blogspot.com

John P Matthew

126

30392

http://indiauncut.com/iublog

Amit Varma

124

32844

http://jaiarjun.blogspot.com

Jai Arjun

111

60105

http://sadoldbong.blogspot.com

J.A.P.

99

82002

http://middlestage.blogspot.com

Chandrahas Chaudhari

106

68980


 

Amit is the leader by far and the more talented and prolific blogger, but my blog is ahead in the Technorati Ranking and in the overall world ranking. Does that make me India's leading blogger? Don't know, it remains to be seen.

Copenhagen: We Are Sweating in Winter!

Read some depressing news on the talks going on in Copenhagen. Yesterday evening was very warm, I should say hot. I found, suddenly, that I was sweating in winter. I had to remove my sleeveless LL Bean jacket I wear during winter for protection against sudden cold. Even then I was uncomfortable, the shirt was wet, the bodies around me in the train were hot and were shifting uncomfortably, seated as I was face level against the round lips of a man's ample behind. Yeah, that's how I travel these days on the Harbour Branch of Bombay's famed suburban railway system.

The heat is inexplicable. Usually Bombay is pleasantly cold in the morning and evening, and slightly warm during the day in winter, which is okay. But yesterday I found myself fretting, frustrated that I wasn't able to concentrate on the book I had in my hand (Meena Alexander's Manhattan Music).

The world's chattering classes and faltering masses are now in Copenhagen trying to arrive at a consensus on global warming issues. There has been no consensus so far. I have been following it for some time, with frustration and above usual level of anxiety. No one is agreeing that the planet is going through a dire crisis and cities are being overloaded with people displaced by the after-effects of warming. (I know some people will dispute this, but I am reserving my reasons for a later post.) While they play their petty politicking games we the miserable citizens of the badly affected cities – mostly in developing and under developed economies of India, China, Brazil and other high in the misery index - are sweating it out.

Can we have some consensus soon please? We are sweating and guess you need to switch off your air-conditioners, climate controllers, whatever, to see what we are going through.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why I Like Football

On the way to work I can see cute girls in green striped jerseys playing football at the Goan Sports Association football ground at Cross Maidan, Churchgate. Makes me think of the green football jersey I had when I was in the Somaiya College of Science football team, Vidyavihar, for which I didn't play a single game. I was one of the extras. Well, hm, I have played the game and love it still. It requires skills, keeps the body toned, and you can strike the ball all over the field. That's the game I love to watch on teevee. Atta girls, football's the game for you to keep mind, body and soul together. This also refers to this post where I lamented (quite ingenuously, I suppose) why I hate cricket. Mercifully, there were no hate mails, or, hate comments, whatever. There were a few nice comments agreeing with my viewpoint for which thanks are due. Thanks.

“Hafta” and the Underground Economy

We think most of the small businesses we see on the roads are illegal. Not so. They pay protection to the police and municipal authorities. Yesterday I heard my fruit seller curse the men who had come calling with choice expletives. All these vendors you see on the roads: gram, vada pao, fruits, newspapers, sugarcane juice, tender coconut, flowers, etc. are protected by the police and the municipal corporation. This system is called "hafta" meaning weekly, meaning a weekly bribe. Seems a politician's goons beat up an engineer because he failed to give a hafta to a chief minister's birthday party. This underground activity is prevalent in most parts of the country and is an economy of its own volition.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dilip Chitre: The Recession of an Era

Poet, sculptor, translator Dilip Chitre passed away on December 10, 2009. I never met him, except for exchanging messages on Facebook. In my interaction with him, he seemed a warm and friendly person. My loss. With his passing recedes an era of vernacular and Indian English writing, of writers eager to pass on the richness of local languages to a new generation. He was renowned for his translation of Sant Tukaram's poems into English. The loss is even more evident when I learn of his multiple talents as a sculptor and painter. Truly, Dilip is a big loss to all of us in the literary world. He deplored the crisis in Indian culture "where any dissent can be seen as an act aimed at 'hurting sentiments'" in this article reproduced in indiauncut.com. Other works include Ekun Kavita, An Anthology of Marathi Poetry, Travelling in the Cage, Says Tuka, etc. He also directed a movie named Godam. Dilip Chitre RIP.

What Famous Authors Have Been Reading

Here's the Random House India editors' compilation of what authors have been reading this year. The list includes Vikas Swarup, Basharat Peer, Namita Devidayal, Jhumpa Lahiri, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Alice Albinia, Geoff Dyer, Mohammed Hanif, etc. Rather impressive, I should say. Link through Chiki Sarkar by way of Facebook.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sample of Modern Communication

I actually got this mail in my inbox. WTF? Is this the communication of the future? Must say brevity is the trend of the day, but such brevity?

this is anil xxxxx
my contact no. is xxxxxxx
i am forwarding u d proposal of d event.
if u like it pls reply here.
thank u. 

I hate to open the proposal and read. It is written by a college level student who wants sponsors for a theatre event he is organizing. Is this what is being taught in colleges? I wonder. Here's my reply:

Dis is Jm
I kno u r despr8 2 gt sponsor \_/< --- ship
but thr iz a way 2 ask no?
can u pls send me prpr request?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Why I Hate Cricket – Part II

This is an expansion of yesterday’s post “Why I hate cricket.” Again, my apologies to those who are in love with cricket and write odes to Sachin's cover drives and metaphysical drivel on Bhajji's wicket-taking skills. There are some things that make me feel the article isn’t complete, that I haven’t been able to express all I wanted to. I hate cricket for various other reasons too.

For example, why is the Indian team chosen by zones, that too, through a politically motivated selection system? What is the fate of those thousands of boys (and girls) who practise in the hot sun to find a place in the team? It takes five days to give you the result of a game that involves throwing a ball at a man? That too, a man who takes his own time to take a stance and a bowler who rubs the ball (cricket ball, stupid, not his) obscenely and make a long run-up to the wicket.

Why this over-emphasis on one sport when there are many like football, hockey, basket ball, and countless others which will make children even better athletes? Cricket is a huge waste of time, that’s why you will find pot-bellied cricketers, not pot bellied footballers.

Cricket is a grace-less game. Look at how they sledge, how they use obscenities on the field, how they adjust their crotches in full view of the public. If it's a gentlemen's game why is it that gentlemen always finish last in the game, never get past the selectors?

It’s also an uneven game in which some players who are good gets all the action, becomes better, and the others (even if they are good) get sidelined. Look at Sachin and Vinod.

Why is it that a lot is written about cricket and cricketers in the papers and in the electronic media, at the cost of diverting attention from burning issues (pun intended) such as global warming and melting and receding of antarctic glaciers.

Apologies again. This had to be written and, so, I wrote it.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Why I Hate Cricket

I know many people will hate me for writing this. I can't help. For them cricket may be religion, for me its not. On my way across Azad and Cross Maidan, today, I see an abundance of white; white every where, as M F Hussain famously put it. However, the white was from the uniforms of thousands of young cricketers practicing the game of patience and uncertainties. Made me wonder why I hate cricket. I just can't stand it anymore, in spite of being a left-hand bowler who scored a few good wickets and a left-hand batsman who has scored a bit of runs.

It happened thusly: I was captain of the Green House in school and was leading the team in a crucial game. It started off well. I took an amazing diving catch in the slips when I latched on to a ball with one hand, in an act I never thought I was capable of. I then took over the bowling and took some good wickets. Then the sun hit me hard. I became tired. A friend and batsman from the opposite Yellow House team, Abdul (who later became notorious as the gangster Abdul Kunju) began punishing my bowling all over the field.

Now imagine this. A good start, mind you, I am in excellent control of the game when the game starts to slip out of my hand. Abdul hits my bowls all over the fence. Still I persist. Then I change bowling and he does that to the other bowlers too. The heat gets terrible. I am dehydrated. By the time they wrap up, they have a huge total. Then we bat. My top line of batsmen is decimated by some good bowling by Abdul and company. My side is in disarray and batsmen gift catches and walk back. When I go to bat, I have a queasy feeling the game has flown out of my hands altogether. I get out cheaply. That did it. We lost.

Abdul's team, lead by the talented Gangadharan Menon (captain of the Yellow House and their wicket-keeper), won. I started hating cricket. Why did the game slip out of my hands when I was in such good control? Then I decide that all my time, my interest, my analysis of scores and averages aren't worth it for a game of such immense uncertainties (Only Englishmen and Aussies with their outdoorsy physiques can be good at it). The whole nation goes on a state of stasis when there's a match on television. Abdul remained committed to cricket, he played, and he even got killed when watching a cricket match. Abdul Kunju, my childhood friend (he became a gangster much later), rest in peace.

Friday, December 11, 2009

“Sets Shouldn’t Appear Lit.” Bollywood Are You Listening?

"Yeh, kya hai boss?" I ask the corpulent man sitting on a plastic chair outside New Empire. (What is this boss?)

"Yeh, vanity van, hai," he answers. (This is a vanity van, used by actors.)

"Koi shooting chal raha hai?" (Is a shooting going on?)

"Han, Veetee mein shooting chal raha hai." (Yes, a shooting is going on in Veetee.)

So this is a vanity van? I have never been to a shooting except when I walked into a set which was set right in CBD Belapur station, from which I was shooed off. It looked like the opulent resting place of an actor of some high pedigree. It set off a trend of thought.

That trend of thought goes something like this: What is it that makes our movies – meaning Bollywood movies so obvious. As I surf channel, if I come across an over-lit, over-made-up, over-colourful set and characters over-hamming their part without a trace of shadow anywhere, I know it is a Hindi film. Even a sunny garden is lit with tens of reflectors, so that the over-made up heroine is made to look like a doll frying in an oven. (I know there are exceptions; some like "Taare Zamin Par," but exceptions prove the rule, isn't it?)

I watched a prominent south Indian cinematographer's interview on television. He had won several awards, and what he said struck me as very important: "A set should not look lit." Meaning – for our Bollywood folks – a set shouldn't appear over-lit as they are prone to do. I am a student of cinema - and an avid cinema watcher - and I enjoy a well-made film and all the good films I have watched do not appear lit at all.

Anthonybhai is also a film aficionado. "Men, what, what, films I see no, I like when films are subtle-vubtle, men, I tell you, like this only."

 

Thursday, December 10, 2009

This Blog Has a Technorati Authority of 123

I think a pat on the back, even if it happens on ones own back, is not a bad thing. Really. It's nice to know that this blog has a Technorati authority of 123 (the authority of all things in blogging) and is ranked 37466th in world rankings. Not bad. But there's a lot more to to go. Amit Varma's Indiauncut.com has an authority of 536. I am getting there, slowly. This blog also has an Indiblogger rating of 80 upon 100. Newspapers such as New York Times increasingly refer to bloggers on their news pages. I guess, that day is not far when Indian newspapers also will follow.

I use technology to pull my blog post (through syndication (RSS) ) to my Facebook and Twitter pages. That's how you see latest posts on my Facebook wall, Facebook fan page and profile page.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

President Obama’s Path-breaking Health Care Policy – Need Something Similar in India

Just stumbled across this website of the White House showing Barack Obama presiding over a meeting. I also viewed a summary of Obama's famed Health Care Policy, salient points of which appear below.

But before I go into that, let me detail my personal encounter with health-care in India. I remember falling ill with a stomach infection last year. I was admitted. The bill came to Rs 28,000 for a 3 or 4 day residency in the local hospital. When it came to settling my insurer cut down the amount to half what was due. This, despite paying my premiums on time and going holiday-less for months. Hmm. We need an Obama here to upgrade our health-care system. Fast!

"Ends discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions.

"Over the last three years, 12 million people were denied coverage directly or indirectly through high premiums due to a pre-existing condition. Under the President's plan, it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny coverage for health reasons or risks.

"Limits premium discrimination based on gender and age.

"The President's plan will end insurers' practice of charging different premiums or denying coverage based on gender, and will limit premium variation based on age.

"Prevents insurance companies from dropping coverage when people are sick and need it most.

"The President's plan prohibits insurance companies from rescinding coverage that has already been purchased except in cases of fraud. In most states, insurance companies can cancel a policy if any medical condition was not listed on the application – even one not related to a current illness or one the patient didn't even know about. A recent Congressional investigation found that over five years, three large insurance companies cancelled coverage for 20,000 people, saving them from paying $300 million in medical claims - $300 million that became either an obligation for the patient's family or bad debt for doctors and hospitals." So on….

In India medical insurance stops at age 75, after that you are on your own. What do I do when I turn 75? It's cruel, very cruel. Growing old is cruel in India, they don't care; they take you for granted and will you to die.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Fairness Creams – An Invention of the Indian Mind

Okay, okay, you are bored of my review of 2009. What has changed and what hasn't changed is subjective, really. Everyone will have an opinion on it in this opinionated nation. Just look at the contestants of Big Boss and you will know what I mean. So I am moving on. So this post is about my favorite whipping boy – advertising.

Television is really spreading the butter thin through their content. The The same ads repeat over and over again. Taste this for example, "Babur ka beta Humayun, Humayun ka Akbar…," etc. Is it some history lesson? Then it is followed by, "You are worth it." Are we? It's misleading. What is really worth is the money we spend for your products. Then "daag ache hain" (stains are good), "have a happy period" about which I have written here. As an advertising practitioner and former Executive Secretary of the ASCI I find a lot wrong with these ads, but I don't have the time to point out what. When I sit through the barrage I wonder why every model in these ads are fair-skinned, has thin lips, almost Western in looks. Come on, no one looks even Indian, the sort you meet on the streets. Do we hate ourselves, and encourage our people to hate themselves? I don't know if such a bias exists in a country other than India. In the only country I lived for a year other than India, the ads were really representative. Even dark models were used.

Well, that could be an existential question, but television is a powerful medium and there are millions who sit through the ads thinking that what is shown is the gospel truth. Almost every brand today has a fairness cream in the market: Garnier, Ponds, Emami, Fair and Lovely, and now even Vaseline and, countless others. I am sure fairness creams are an invention of the Indian mind. Nowhere else would people spend huge amounts of money just to look fairer for a few weeks, at the most. How do I know? Well, I am ashamed to say, I used it, and gave it up. Mea Culpa!


 

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Here’s Looking at You, 2009 – Part III

The saga continues…. I don't know what 2009 had done to me to be so nostalgic, not wanting to let it go, not ominous, because I am not a superstitious type. Nah! So here goes my list of things that have changed, very droll, very self-serving cud-chewing type of thing, really. In a world of calloused sentiments that have turned into extremists warts, sour grapes of the un-fermentable variety, I am a softy with a core that refuses to develop a hard exterior, the hard kernel that I talked about in my first post, the one that started this "Here's looking at 2009" stuff. (Actually "here's looking at you kid" was spoken by Bogart's character Rick to Ingrid Bergman in "Casablanca", a film I loved and consider a classic.)

What Has Changed

The markets aren't stable anymore, we can expect more shocks, wild swings (Disclosure: I was earlier in financial journalism). The huge financial bubbles that hung over the markets haven't been deflated, not yet, they are still full of hot air waiting to be blown, one day, soon.

The job situation has changed. No longer are companies hiring for the heck of it and putting recruits "on the bench" but they are making do with the downsized, dwarfed drones who helped them pull through the recession.

The mall culture has failed in India. Most mall projects are finding it hard to sustain, even, take off. Long live the street corner kirana store. They combine hard business acumen that malls can't replicate, however much they try.

Outsourcing is on the way out. Outsourcing means greed and it was meant to destroy young men's/women's careers. Most of the young people I know who took to outsourcing are out of it and learning things like underwater welding (yeah!) as a solid way to make a living.

What Hasn't Changed

People continue to be callous about global warming. "Yeh global warming kya hai," asks Marxist thinker Kuriachen Kuriakose. "Another publicity stunt by the imperialists hegemonies of the west? They need a firm whack on their behinds for spreading canards such as this."

Slums continue to grow in Bombay in spite of the slum re-development program of the government. These new slums are situated just outside the high-rise free-flats created by the government for the poor in exchange for their tin hovels. Take a train from Vashi to Victoria Terminus and look to your right before Mankhurd station and you can see the steady progress of slums – another Dharavi in the making.

The rich are growing richer and the poor, well, poorer. In the US the number of millionaires doubled between the nineteen nineties and two thousand, while in China the number of dollar millionaires is about to double. In India I am sure it is set to triple.

Enough griping for the day. More anon!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Here’s Looking at You 2009 – Part II

Yes, yesterday I nearly collapsed on my laptop writing the post that appears somewhere, ah, just below this one. It was about change and how it happens unannounced, how things change, how we grow old and how things change but they remain the same. I promised to expand this theme and here it is:

Things that Changed

In 2009 Bombay entered the terror map. Everywhere I turn there are armed policemen, their eyes alert, fearful, on edge. Will they fire on me, a crazy burst? One feels a bit insecure, a bit on the edge and wants to leave the city as soon as one can after finishing work; don't know if the Toyota Qualis coming from the opposite directions would contain the deadly barrel of a Kalashnikov pointed at one by "external terrorists". These agents of death are funny, they kill without reason, quite randomly at that. So, it's just a throw of dice or a game of Russian roulette. Bomb blasts, grenade blasts, AK47 fire, in a laidback trading town, which has never been conquered, pillaged, or desecrated, sounds odd, and for this suburban boy from the somnolent suburb of Chembur - a bit ingenuous at that - it is a difficult thing to digest.

It is also the year when the government thought about aerially attacking its own people in tribal areas it suspects are hideouts of what I call "internal terrorists". No, terror isn't good. It's the worst thing that happened to ever since the Afgan hoards invaded India. And to attack one's own people using bombs and firepower from the skies is like declaring war on its own people. Has anyone heard of discussing it with them sitting across the table? Has anyone found out why tribals in the hinterlands are taking to extremism? Anyone? We have a responsibility to be compassionate to our own citizens before dropping bombs on them, which only tinpot regimes contemplate doing.

It is also the year of two reality shows called "Rekha Sawant Ki Swayamvar" and "Flawless Bride" both of which touched nadirs in television content programming in India. Can you call these reality shows when everything is gaudily made up, and just about everything appears artificial and crassly vulgar? Give me a break. The "Tamashas" and "Lavnis" are more real in this respect.

Things that Haven't Changed

India continues to be bad to writers and their ilk. I am still unpublished, despite trying my best. Yes, I will go on being like this only, just to see where it leads. I am the eternal hopeful. What was hoped to be the great middle-class reading public is no longer extent. People listen to music while commuting, they don't even buy pirated low-cost books, forget the fancy priced ones. Homes don't feature book shelves they feature plasma television sets and home theatre.

Apart from a few print newspapers and magazines who ply their craft with diligence, the rest of the print media has been bought by business interests. It's the age of Rupert Murdoch, who I am not quite sure if he will be another Robert Maxwell, notice the similarity in names.

I have to go. More anon. Watch this space.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Here’s Looking at You 2009

A colleague remarked how the month had gone so fast, I said, month? I don’t remember how the year went, nay, how a quarter century went. Actually time passes at its own speed, the clock ticks quite smoothly and evenly, it’s our anxieties that make us feel time has passed quickly. The reason: we weren’t stopping and enjoying our moments. 1984 was the year I got married (we celebrated 25 years recently), that was also the year of the Union Carbide tragedy in Bhopal, a tragedy that has still not been resolved, its victims compensated. A quarter century has passed since then, some have died, some have moved away, some have given up on getting whatever they were promised, some have lost the fight to bring the guilty to book.

Likewise some of my close relations have died, some have moved to foreign countries, some have given up, retired and have sought to live in friendlier environs. It makes me think that getting justice for the poor and deprived is too Herculean a task in India. They are easily intimidated, ostracised, marginalised, terrorised. The company responsible for so many deaths (20,000 dead and 5.7 lakh affected) still operates in India without any seeming compunction or guilt. It will go as one of the worst industrial disasters in the world. (Compared to it Chernobyl only affected 3,36,000 people.) We have become calloused and inured like a coconut kernel, like the hard exterior of a cashew nut, nature’s protection against hurt and dissipation. We don’t know who will dispense justice. Justice, ah, nice word, but not much of justice exists for the poor, does it?

That was 25 years ago, when I was full of expectations for the future, laid a lot of groundwork, wanting to do a lot of things, all at the same time. Now I am more restrained, but my life is still as hectic, the commute is still harrowing, the pain, all over, more evident. My friend Ganga is retiring after an illustrious career in advertising. He wants to devote his time to writing from now own. I am jealous of him. So he tells me a story narrated by Osho in his (Ganga’s) typical style: A man wants to retire; so he calls his accountant and asks him how much money and property he owns. The accountant adds up his assets, deducts his liabilities – as good accountants are wont to – and tells him that what he has will last for five generations. “Aila, then what will happen to my sixth generation?” and he again goes back to work.

Soon I will be in 2010, can you imagine? I can’t. I think it comes with age, we become so busy that seasons pass, winters come and go, children grow old (a small guy [my son] I had to look down upon, who used to hold my hand while crossing the road, now, I really have to crane my neck to look up to him), localities change (there’s an airport coming in the sleepy village where I was born), trains get crowded, there are more people everywhere, there aren’t the familiar Mallu faces on D.N. Road any more, they have been cleaned up by another Mallu (Johnny Joseph), revolutionaries have become prosperous bourgeoisies, so on and so forth.

There are things that haven’t changed. Among them: Bollywood scripts haven’t stopped meandering, Dev Anand hasn’t given up making movies, Asrani hasn’t stopped acting, Amitabh is still our greatest star, books and book writers continue to be ignored by the mainstream media, television continues to meander through its reportage, and policemen still round up suspects and give them the third degree (which they couldn’t do to Kasab, because he is a high-profile guy, you see).

Enough meandering, my eyelids are heavy, I will reserve the rest of this rant for another day and another blogpost.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Poet and His Poetry; Excuse the Pretentiousness


 

Borrowed this from Aditi Machado's Blog. Since poetry is the soul of literature, just as the mind (or, whatever is in the centre of the body) is the soul of the human consciousness, the following definition of poetry fits well into the vast amounts of drivel poets (and pretenders, like me) have to sift through to arrive at the few lines which pass off as poetry.

Poets on Poetry: Han Dong

" The direction of poetry goes from bottom to top. Poetry is something dimly discernible in the sky which descends to the human world thanks to the productive force of the writer's waiting and yearning. Poetry is not an excavation down into the depths; it is not coal. Writers are not labourers — they must set aside the attitude that writing poetry requires some form of exertion."

That said, I can't, just can't write poetry to a deadline. I tried it recently for a Poetry Slam and came a cropper. That may be the reason I don't participate in writing exercises which state a theme and encourages you to work hard. If I did that, not only would it turn out bad, I will be like a shirking schoolboy, hating his homework. Because poetry as Han Dong says, cannot be dug out by hard work, it has to descend from the sky, shape into a few pithy words, transcend obstacles (bad grammar, bad figures of speech, worse pretentiousness), and then sit on the poet's finger tips burning to be put on paper or into pixels.