Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Arundhati Roy Reporting from Maoist Country

I am reading this interesting account of Arundhati Roy's foray into the Maoist controlled hinterlands of the country. I won't comment as the contents are self-evident. Must admire her courage in risking life and limb, in my opinion. Whatever her detractors say, I think she is the voice of the conscience of the nation, the unheard voice of the oppressed. Here's for more power to her pen.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Magical Two Words for Any Writer – THE END

I was spammed, I was scammed, I was propositioned, offered pleasures, offered treasures, criticised, derided, laughed at, when I was writing it. I carried on regardless, writing I mean. I have numerous critics who doubt my writing abilities, to whom I thumb my nose and say, I am not perfect, but that I can write is no longer in doubt. One even had the audacity to suggest, “Pal, do your job and go home and watch television,” or something such. Well, the boor and the simian that he is, I have proved him wrong. One of my bosses said I am very stubborn. That I am.

Yesterday, I wrote the most magical two words a writer can ever write – THE END.  Two words at the end of a lot of pain, sweat and struggle. Oh, I forgot, self-doubt. Yes, I doubted myself most of the time. Of course as the masthead of this blog says, “A work of art is never finished, it is abandoned,” I don’t have the heart to abandon my work. At least, yet. I wrote those two words after working the whole day yesterday, a Sunday, taking breaks only to eat and visit the loo. By evening the last two chapters were done. Then I went for a long walk, in earlier days I would have made a drink, but I am a teetotaller now, so no drinks. My novel, my second baby, is complete, the first being a still-born. Though, not complete in all respects, but complete nevertheless except for the editing and the fine tuning. The name tentatively is “Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard” and is an extension of a short story I had written some time ago. You can read the short story, a link of which appears in the right hand bot of my blog. What’s it about? It’s about a brilliant Harvard graduate who comes to India to find himself a misfit. He gets mugged and thrown out of the train and is caught in the defining and traumatic moments of the Bombai terror attacks. I wrote hard as if I will never write another novel again. Ever. It is a seminal and distinctive work, which will, naturally, rake up some controversies. But a writer can’t avoid controversies in his life. Can he? Can she? I will put up a synopsis soon. Meanwhile, publisher friends, agent friends, anyone interested?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Some Great Writers in My Family... Justifiably Proud of Them

(Since my website got deleted - hm, guess the service provider goofed up, not me - I have been feeling guilty about the dead link about my family in my Blogger profile. So, I updated it and am directing it to this post. Here it is for discerning readers, the story of my literary provenance. Must warn you, might sound like self-promotion. It is. Nobody talks about your work unless you do. Anyway, what better for a writer than having three great pioneering writers in his own family? So here goes.)

My family has had the distinction of having begotten some distinguished writers in Malayalam, a language of South India. The following three major writers in Malayalam are from my family. I am proud of them and their achievements and give below a brief outline of their lives and works.

Rev. George Mathan
Rev. George Mathan, my great-great-great uncle, was an Anglican priest who was born on September 25, 1819. (Historically speaking, he would be a contemporary of great writers like Mark Twain and Charles Dickens.) 

Rev. Mathan, actually, my grandfather's grandfather's brother, was a Syrian Christian Jacobite priest before he was offered the position of the first Indian priest of the Anglican Church. He wrote the first book of Malayalam grammar called "Malayazhmayude Vyakaranam," which was published in 1863. His other books, sort of longish essays, include, "Satyavadakhedam," "Vedasamyukthi," and "Balabhyasam." He was also principal of Cambridge Nicholson Institute (CNI) which was an institution that pioneered English-medium education in Kerala.

Here's what the great Malayalam poet and litterateur Mahakavi Ulloor Parameshwaran Iyer (who is considered Kerala's finest poets along with Kumaran Asan, and Vallathol) had to say about him:

"All in all, George Mathan built a permanent framework for Malayalam literature and thus made all Malayalis indebted to him, this fact is beyond dispute."

Rev. George Mathan died on March 4, 1870 and a hospital, George Mathan Memorial Hospital, Mallapally, Kerala, is named after him. A memorial lecture at Bishop Moor's College is also dedicated to his memory.

Mahakavi Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan
Mahakavi (a title meaning “great poet”) Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan, my great-uncle and Rev. George Mathan's great nephew was born on September 5, 1903. He was a contemporary of my grandfather P.C.Mathew, a.k.a. Puliyelil Estate Writer, with whom he was in close contact.

He was a poet, a singer, a film lyricist (Gnanambikam, the second Malayalam film ever made), a novelist and principal of the Catholicate College in Pathinamthitta, Kerala. Among his novels is "Madhubalika" set in the Calcutta of British colonial era. Among his many poems, the most eminent is the epic poem "Vishwa Deepam," and "Magdala Mariam" or "Mary Magdalene" which is noteworthy for its epic proportion and intense erudition. It is "Vishwa Deepam" based on the life of Christ that earned him the title of "Mahakavi."

He was a good singer and a reciter of his poems and one of the lasting memories I have is of listening to his strong reciting voice. He was a member of the Sahitya Akademi of Kerala and won many awards for his writing.

Prof. K. M. Tharakan
Prof. K. M. Tharakan, my uncle, was born on October 6, 1930 and was a writer, critic and novelist. He was son of Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan. From 1979 to 1988 he was editor of the Malayala Manorama, Kerala's, and indeed India's largest circulated weekly magazine. Though we worked simultaneously in Malayala Manorama for some period of time, it's my great regret that I couldn't meet him and speak with him when he was alive.

Among his books are: Utharadhunikathayum Mattum, Paschatya Sahitya Tatwashastram, Malayala Novel Sahitya Charitram, Anashwaranaya Uroob, Magdalamariam Oru Muktigadha, Anugraheethanaya Bashir, Adhunika Novel Darshanam, Adhunika Sahitya Darshanam, The Poetic Act, and A Brief Survey of Malayalam Literature.

His novels are: Avalanu Barya, Ninakai Mathram, Ormakaluday Ratri, Atmavil Sugandham, Ennil Aliyunna Dukham.

He died in 2003.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

What? Me Scammed?

Bit nervous about this. Apprehensive, too. But I have to write it as it will be of use to you if you are in a similar situation, which as the internet expands is very likely. If it can happen to a net-savvy (or, so I presume), techno-geek, such as me (har, har!) then it can happen to you also.

It came as an innocuous offer. I didn't initiate it, they did, from whatever source, I don't know. The salary was a fantastic GBP 4,200 a month, with allowances adding up to GBP 2200 a month. The job was of an au pair teacher for a child aged 4 only for four hours a day five days of the week in Scotland. Heaven. I was tempted; naturally I would even die for that kind of pay. I did the usual research. The address actually exists, the email was genuine. (I know that emails can be re-directed, but that didn't hit me in the money-minded brain [yes, I have been accused of this, people. But a man with a child in college lives a tenuous existence teetering on the edge of bankruptcy; you know, fees, private tuitions, and all. If you are one, you will know.].) By now I was panting and salivating like a hound dog on the trail of the prey. Was this the big break? Was this my nest egg? Of course, being a bit gullible I believed the emails. I should say I was totally taken in. I was dreaming of the glens of Scotland, the, sort of, impressions I would make of being from India - an ancient civilization. The courtesies I would display to impress. I had willingly suspended disbelief and discretion. I was being led by the hand into, I don't know what. I was walking on air for a few hours.

Hm. And then…

Read on. Then, being the wary and careful sort, I googled everything. And this is what I found. I couldn't believe it. Gullible me, sucker me. How depressing it sounded. I found the same words were repeated verbatim, the same mistakes in the scam warning as in the communications I had received. But look at the ingenuity, the unscrupulousness, the willingness to cheat deliberately, to emotionally blackmail people. It's the age of scams and scamsters, caution is advised.

Blue Hills

Thursday, March 25, 2010

For Those Who Want to Start a Tech Company

IAccelerator is on a mission to establish world-class technology companies in India, even start ups. IIM-A is spearheading this movement and they have three programs in the last two years in which they have funded 16 such start up companies. The people behind the program claims to read every applications and enter into a dialogue with the potential entrepreneur. For more details go here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mortal Thoughts in a Night of Pain

Now this is a constant. If I am sick and if I am awake, yes, I will admit it, I think I am going to die. Have you had this feeling? Thoughts of human frailty come flashing past, instantaneously unaffected by my affliction, the world outside looks serenely unconcerned. I stared outside my window last night. I was sick. The street lights were so beautiful as they fell on the granite embankment of the stream that runs through Artiste Village. My stomach was hurting bad and my world was going to end soon. Something was clawing at my inside, suffusing my body with throbbing pain. I crawl out of bed and go to the floor below. I lie down on a mat there, but still the pain wouldn't go away. I drink a lot of water, better for a few seconds, again the pain starts. I guess old age is approaching ever so slowly. But my parents were both healthy till their mid-eighties. Why am I suffering? Then they were robust people, had good food and not junk as I do. They don't sit in front of a computer for hours and lose themselves into a make-believe world. They didn't commute for four hours every day. They don't claim to be "writer, poet, and blogger." But decisions once made have to be stuck to, even if it means a bit of embarrassment and pain, at times like these. I feel helpless. I pray.

Then the pain goes away. I sleep a tired sleep. No, I am not going to die, at least, not today.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Road Outside My House Is Dug Up. Grrr.

I have often railed about roads being dug up, drainage holes being kept open (a man, on his morning walk could succumb to gravity and end up in the water he just flushed), and sundry other things. So, imagine my chagrin when I got home last night. The entire area outside my house was dug up. Yes, and the drainage hole was open too. Revenge is sweet, the municipal guys seemed to be saying. I guess, poor soul that I am, I brought it upon myself.

As such things go; I am sure the dug space will remain thusly for many more weeks. Somani Marg is still an ugly mess. At least, three roads on my way to work and back are really in dire straits. I think there should be a commission with a commissioner for dug up road in Bombai. He (Or, she, remember gender equality and all that, the reservation bill having been resoundingly passed in parliament with a voice vote, confirming the vocal power of the fairer sex.) should go ahead seeing that every road is re-surfaced after it is unceremoniously dug up. I would like the commissioner to be a commissionatrix (or, whatever, because only a woman can do this job), so that she can out-shout and out-charm the road diggers, a pestilent lot that they are.

Meanwhile I am extra-careful not to find my behind inside a drainage hole in the next few weeks. So wish me luck.

The Kamala Show: In Conversation with Nandan Nilekani

Here's In conversation with Nandan Nilekani Part - 1 by Kamla Bhatt, who is doing a commendable job of recording interviews with celebrities in her podcasts call The Kamala Show.

Worth a dekko (or, is it a sunno?) to see what the chairman of National ID Card project is up to.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Denied My Daily Shot of the Black Stuff

I am at Café Coffee Day. I order a coffee and it doesn't arrive for half an hour. Remember: half hour. It's Monday, I wonder if it's me, or is it the service. They are usually good. But it's Monday, remember.

The foreigners chattering away in Iberian language are having their orange drink with a slice of lime on the rim. Looks appetizing. The canoodling lovers have theirs, plus eats, too, and are holding hands and doing what society would allow them in a public eatery. The long queue outside for sharing taxis to Nariman Point have disassembled and assembled thrice. Still no coffee. I need my daily shot before starting work and I don't like it when I don't get one. What should I do? Get up and walk? I do.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Healthcare - Why Manmohan Should Follow in Obama's Footsteps

In India we are used to absolute zero healthcare. Healthcare professionals look to earn a commission when they refer a patient to a higher specialist. Till recently doctors were in cahoots, well sort of, with pharmaceutical companies - who gave them expensive junkets abroad in exchange for prescribing their drugs. The company executives, yes those smart representatives in striped ties, measured the prescriptions originating from the doctor by monitoring the stock of the local pharmaceutical companies. I know of a doctor who wrote prescriptions on the stationery provided by the pharmaceutical companies, and of course can he ignore the name of the drug that is clearly visible on the stationery? No, nyet, nahi, nathi.

Once in my naive avatar, I was super-confident in the belief that I had mediclaim. But when I was hospitalised for a minor ailment and presented a bill of Rs 28,000 to the insurance company, they paid me half that amount after six months and endless letters, threats, and follow-up phone calls.

From Ru Freeman's account below I guess US will fare better and Sri Lanka is already better as far as healthcare is concerned. But what about reforms in healthcare in Bharatvarsh? Guess Manmohan will have to do an Obama for that.

About Obama's healthcare plan two women writes in support as follows:

Ru Freeman writes:

"In order to ask such a question, Sri Lankans would have to be suffering the same deprivations that Americans suffer today. They would also have to take it as a given that health care is something that is not commonly provided to all but, rather, reserved for a few. In the absence of those realities, no Sri Lankan child could conceive of a society where people are routinely denied medical care, where children remain un-vaccinated, and where the elderly perish because they cannot afford to visit a doctor."

Claudi Ricci writes:

"But health care legislation looks to be a go. It's a fabulously historic moment for sure. It isn't the bill that liberal Democrats most wanted (no public option) but it's a huge step forward. It provides affordable coverage to 32 million Americans who have no insurance; it keeps insurance companies from denying coverage -- or hiking rates-- to sick people who most need it. It lowers drug costs for seniors, it promotes preventive care, and miracle of miracles, according to the Congressional Budget Office, it even reduces the national debt."

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Lives of Others - "One of the Best Films Ever Made"

One of the bonuses of being sick is that I can see films and Fox History and Entertainment. Today I saw The Lives of Others and what a movie it was. Truly, a classic not to be missed.

The film by writer and director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck is about the Stasi of East Germany (the communist Germany) spying on common citizens and depriving intellectuals from their much-needed artistic freedom. The state was so powerful that it could do anything, interfere with their lives and nobody had any power to question them and their errant ways.

That must have led to its downfall, because after the Berlin Wall came down and Germany became one, the records kept by the Stasi was openly available to citizens and they could read how the state was misusing its powers to subvert common people’s lives. Imagine this: a minister likes an actress and orders the surveillance of her lover’s flat to take revenge. His remedy for artists who hanker after freedom: keep them in a cell without telling them any of the charges, or, when they would be released. Let them destroy themselves with their minds, and release them after six months. The damage would already have been done.

The film has a message for all who don’t realise why artistic freedom is what basically guarantees freedom of democratic expression. A state that doesn’t guarantee artistic freedom may clamp down on personal freedoms too. Just a thought that struck me vis-à-vis our own artistes.

A must-watch film – American journalist John Podhoretz called it "one of the greatest movies ever made, and certainly the best film of this decade” – for all who love films, now playing on World Movies.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Extinction before Evolution

The weather has changed. Noticed how hot it was today? At least, those who aren't safely ensconced in airconditioning? Things aren't good says this article in Guardian.

"For the first time since the dinosaurs disappeared, humans are driving animals and plants to extinction faster than new species can evolve, one of the world's experts on biodiversity has warned. Conservation experts have already signaled that the world is in the grip of the "sixth great extinction" of species, driven by the destruction of natural habitats, hunting, the spread of alien predators and disease, and climate change. However until recently it has been hoped that the rate at which new species were evolving could keep pace with the loss of diversity of life. Speaking in advance of two reports next week on the state of wildlife in Britain and Europe, Simon Stuart, chair of the Species Survival Commission for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature – the body which officially declares species threatened and extinct – said that point had now "almost certainly" been crossed."

Persistent nay-sayers can hide behind their cloaks of ignorance. But all is not well with the world's climate. Sure as hell, as I am sweating while typing this.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Temptations of Dr. Antoino – a Watchable Film

The unwellness continues. Sat watching a string of films the whole day. One I liked was Fredrico Fellini’s (Remember he was an ad guy and used to make ad films.) The Temptations of Dr. Antonio. I haven’t had a chance to see any of his films but I now have since World Movies is bringing such good films into drawing rooms. Thanks World Movies.

Now The Temptations of Dr. Antonio is about obscenity in advertising, with a little bit of intended pun, well, sort of. The subject matter is an advertisement positioned outside Dr. Antonio’s flat that say, “Drink More Milk, People of All Ages Should Drink Milk.” Innocent, it might seem to anyone. But the model is a buxom lady played by Anita Ekberg and the glass of milk is positioned just below her breast. So the analogy is clear.

Dr. Antonio rails against the ad, though it becomes an attraction of sorts, with picnic-ers and popcorn vendors thronging to it. The upset doctor goes from authorities including: the government and the church till he is accosted by Anita herself as a giant (indicating the giant reach of obscenity in advertising) tempting him and ultimately seducing him. The government official even congratulates him on liking such a good advertisement. Also, he becomes crazy in the meantime.

Wonderful, meaningful story, well shot, very authentic.

When I was Executive Secretary of the Advertising Standards Council (ASCI), in some previous incarnation, I used to deal with such issues of “public decency”. The rulebook stated there, “Ads should not offend public decency” or something such. But, I, and the panellists of the ASCI too were so much inured by the issue of obscenity and the issue of compromised morals that we didn’t realise what was wrong with such advertisements. Today when I see some ads on television I am like Dr. Antonio. But what can I do? Fall in love with such ads?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Short Post on IPLT20

Fever , chills, general ennui, don’t feel like putting fingers to keyboard. So watch out, this post will have more than the usual mistakes. This will be small.

Son is watching IPLT20. This may sound like sour grapes, as I had applied for the post of chief blogger of a team. No, it's not. I am not interested. What can I say of a game where batsmen swing at the ball away from their bodies and bowlers are so nervous they can’t bowl straight. The gracefulness of Gavaskar, Clive Lloyd, and Michael Holding is of the past. The game has changed and money has corrupted it.

Amen to that.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

P. Sainath on the Budget

While on the subject of budgets, here’s Magsaysay Award winner P. Sainath on the recent budget. An excerpt:

“Maybe the pro-farmer claim was merely a typo or proofing error. They just dropped the word “corporate” before “farmer.” Reinstate that and all is true. This is a budget crafted for, and perhaps by, the corporate farmer and agribusiness.”

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What’s in the Budget for Aam Admi? How about Genetic Okra and Basmati Rice?

I am not much of a commenter on the budget but this article in Outlook (edited by the iconic editor Vinod Mehta) had me thinking. If the trend of corporatization (not globalization, which difference I explained somewhere in another post here) continues, we would have more and more farmers being given as guinea pigs into the laboratories of companies that want to patent our Brinjals, Okra and Basmati rice. What will be do then, eat dust? To quote from Partha Banerjee's article:

"I find it unbelievable that nobody is questioning and challenging the so-called democratic government of Pranab babu, Manmohan Singh and the Gandhi dynasty on how the 80 per cent poor—rural and urban—would now be able to find food or kerosene for their families, pay rent, or get healthcare for ageing parents. Does anybody really care?"

Vague fears are playing in my mind. What would the "aam admi" do? Cornered, vitiated, squeezed and scorned, where can he go when the multinational corporates and their denizens take away the spoils of war?

Meanwhile here's the ten part video of the documentary "The World According to Monsanto." For those who have the patience to sit and watch what the food chain will unfold.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, ,Part 8, Part 9, Part 10

Friday, March 12, 2010

Commuting Blues

In the darkest of moods. Time to rave once more, about commuting blues, what else? I don't know what. Some mother-loving guy deprived me of a seat in the train today and it all snowballed from there. So. Pardon the badness of it all. After all, bloggers are humans too. So, don't bump into me around dark corners today. I don't know how my worst moods start from the train and end there. It's all got to do with the metallic nature of trains. It doesn't have a soul. It's nose is too blunt, the eyes are too glazed, expressionless, the cow-catcher looks like a huge grimace (Unlike the radiators of some cars which actually makes it look like it is smiling.) There isn't any wood to give it a touch of naturalness. The trains of my youth were made of wood, now its steel all over, paint peeling, solid, somber and boring. These are virtual cauldrons of hot and bothered flesh where men and women stand dovetailed into each other obscenely, their anger on hold, their patience being put to the test. There is a heave at every station where men start struggling to enter even before men can get down. And ten seconds is all they get to get in or be left out. Imagine this: just 10 seconds. It's a miracle how they manage in such short time and such short space.

Heave-ho, here we go!

So this guy in pointed shoes, and all, sits down before I can launch myself into the seat, and in a trifle it is gone. Some trickery, or, some magic, this? Then I stare at his pointed shoes and feel like stamping it with mine. The problem with pointed shoes is they take so much space. He has one that is at least a few feet in length. So, his feet stretch into mine, making me uncomfortable. And after sitting he goes to sleep, and then his body slides down to a comfortable reach with me between his spread legs (no, no jokes), as I am standing in the narrow space between two seats. How can people compromise so much. But that's modern life. A man – I mean an Indian man – will scrimp and save to own a house and put his children through school and college – hm, am doing this very thing right now – and will find that his life is over, finito. The scrimping and saving involves not going on holidays (reading about it in travel magazines, instead), not having a drink, not going to expensive movies in multiplexes, not being a member of a club, and wearing scuffed footwear. There's a lot more to this, which I won't mention here – no, not even in a blog.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Could Hussein Apologize? Isn’t Forgiveness a Virtue Anymore?

Here's Shekhar Kapoor on the contentious, seemingly, issue of MF Hussein's exile and his subsequent surrender of his Indian passport to become a Qatari, and other things. I for one don't have an opinion on the issues except that a certain degree of artistic freedom should exist in society, otherwise, we artists will be constrained to censor ourselves even before we have started writing/composing/dreaming our works of art. Artists are humans; they stumble once in a while when they are on an artistic high. Don't they? So couldn't Hussein apologize and make up? Couldn't we consider his age (He is 95, and is still of sound mind. Hehe. I can't imagine being the same.) and his standing in Indian society? How can we be so cruel to an artist who – only a few years ago – was celebrated as an icon and a pillar of artistic achievement? I guess the whole chattering class should take it upon themselves to bring him back to India.

Here's another story in which the Mexican edition of Playboy had to apologize and make up for showing a nude likeness of Virgin Mary on the cover. I would have been scandalized if I had seen the issue, being from a conservative Syrian Christian background. But I would, at the same time, have accepted the apology and moved ahead. I am a Christian and believe in the forgiveness of sins. Here's the apology:

"While Playboy Mexico never meant for the cover or images to offend anyone, we recognize that it has created offense, and we as well as Playboy Mexico offer our sincerest apologies."

Could Hussein do the same? Just wondering aloud.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Why can't women be good parliamentarians?

Now that the women’s reservation bill (the one reserving 33 per cent of seats for women in parliament) has been passed what can we expect to happen? Will the decision-making pass to the kitchen cabinet comprising ladies fresh from the blowing of chulhas or corporate hot shot women executives game to be a part of the shouting and desk-thumping brigade. Maybe they will show powerpoint presentations about the hazards of making three meals each night – for husband, bittoo and babloo – and the question of whether homework should be apportioned to parents.

Why can't women be good parliamentarians? The men have bungled it, now give a chance puhleezee to the fair maidens.

There will be governance, no doubt, (Women are good managers, wifey can manage a school and a home which I would describe as two full-time jobs running simultaneously. Look at any company you will find that the real decisions are made by women, these days.) and the central hall will resound with the noise of tinkling bangles and padukas. Also there will be scattering of melodious laughter instead of wild guffaws of unshaved men and much adjusting of pallus – saree wraps - and chunris – shoulder wraps. And, those boring afternoon telecast on Lok Sabha TV will be much more watchable with the dainty ladies of the parliament sashaying down the central aisle in their colourful sarees.

My friend Dhansukhbhai Jethalal Shah is cynical about the out come. Says he, “Maro vath sambhdo, corruption will increase, there will be lack of accountability as the honourable member will be used as a pawn by her husband. Poor thing she will not know anything of what is going on behind her back.”

Blinded by technology? Deaf to ambient urban spaces?

Reference this post, about bad habits we cultivate, as if nothing and nobody else matters, here's another habit which I find criticism-worthy. Why are people (youngsters, mostly) talking on phones while walking, driving, running, etc. I see this happening quite regularly of late. A woman is riding a scooter and speaking on the phone at the same time. What if a car, driven by a similarly engrossed person crosses her path. Have we become a cynical people? We don't care who is near us, who is in our immediate neighborhood, who inhabits our environs except us.

One way of manifesting this is speaking on a phone while walking. Imagine this: you are walking looking ahead and a guy barges into you. It isn't uncommon. Except for the wee little fact that the guy in question is talking on the phone and is not looking up where he is headed. Inside a crowded train, a man is watching a movie on his ipod. Imagine this: movies are no longer viewed in theatres and televisions. They are viewed on a hand held device. In my childhood I used to prepare a week ahead to catch the new movie being released on Friday. Friday, First day, First show (FFF) used to be a boastful remark to all and sundry who would listen. The paradigms of entertainment have changed, surely. Hasn't it?

Blinded by technology? Deaf to ambient urban spaces?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

On Why Commuters in Bombai Carry Back Packs

What I consider the height of bad manners: carrying a back pack in Bombai's crowded local commuter trains. More and more people are carrying these unsightly contraptions to office these days making me wonder if they are on a picnic, or something. Yeah, so many of them have these over-size back packs. I see them lumbering, back arched, head down, but they would insist on carrying a weighty bhoj on their behinds. I guess they contain their heavy laptops, books, and a lot of junk that can be safely discarded. My main complaint is that, okay, okay, they may be showing off their athletic bodies, hm, and abilities to carry such monstrosities, but, hello, people, it takes the place of two people in trains. And, a man carrying a big burden on his back is himself uncomfortable, besides he makes others uncomfortable too.

So these back-packers (a term I invented) need to explore other areas of carrying their outsourcing/financial services/banking junk and debris. Any ideas?

Monday, March 08, 2010

CP on Indian Feminism

I am a great admirer of friend C.P.Surendran's writing. He has a knack of getting down to the root of issues with perspicacity unmatched in any writer I know. He also brings a fresh perspective on problems and issues which are muddles inside my head. Here's his take on the feminist movement which appears on Facebook:

"Between these two ends of the spectrum, what we do have is a movement for lifestyle, where smoking, drinking and late night clubbing have taken on parodic gravitas. Feminism as Freaking Good Time. For, when it is all boiled down, what women seem to be fighting for is equal access as men for the pleasures of a material culture. A female Utopia where they can be as men, if not men themselves; as predatory and perhaps as lumpen. The masculine as the final destination of the feminine."

Guess there's substance in what he says.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Post-birthday Blues!

Wishes have been flowing in, around 105 of them, not a bad number considering I have 1000 friends on Facebook. What started by muddling around, messing with the links has turned into a journey of discovery. I have reconnected with school friends, college friends (not many), extended family of cousins and their children. The message is the same: love me; hate me, but don't ignore me.

As I was telling our priest – Rajesh achen – who dropped in yesterday, there was a time when busy work schedules and migration and split families and friends and scattered them in different parts of the world. Today with the help of social networking sites – such as Facebook – they are coming back and meeting each other. What was termed "schizophrenic polarization" is now "miraculous discovery of roots" – or something close. Get me? This confirms my belief that we need each other more than anything else. We are social beings after all. When our forefathers gathered in the jungle after foraging for fruits and nuts, scared of the dark and the nightly terror of wild animals, they only had their dependence of each other and their networking and consensus-building skills to help them face more powerful adversaries.

Today this world has problems which can be overcome by networking, positive interaction, peaceful protest and intelligent discourse. I am – perhaps I am a bit too idealistic – a firm believer in this. But, honestly, when the will exists the way manifests itself.

Hm. Back to working on my writing. Thanks for the overwhelming birthday greetings. What to say, am overwhelmed.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Wendy Doninger’s “The Hindus – an Alternative History” Attracts Petition for Withdrawal

Writer Wendy Dongier's book The Hindus: an Alternative History – which has attracted criticism from several quarters – has run into problem with petitioners asking for its withdrawal. The Pioneer has this article according to which:

"An online campaign has been launched to demand the withdrawal of Wendy Doniger's book, 'Hindus: An Alternative History' on the grounds that the book was "rife with numerous errors… perhaps intended to mislead students of Indian and Hindu history".

Happy Birthday to Me, and All That….

What me worry? Don't be silly! The hair is greyer (I am a dye-er who won't dye often enough to look like a frisky teenager!), have lost a few molars, the shoulders ache from sitting crouched before a computer, the yoga keeps arthritis away, sleep sounding for eight hours every night, sing in the bathroom, but the smile is still intact, the facetiousness falls flat sometimes – ask my friends about this.

No, like the much in demand Bollywood actress – I won't name which – I won't lie about my age. I am 53 today. I think the best phase of my life has just begun; I am an eternal optimist like Amitabh, Elton John, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the Internet), all of who are in the sixties or thereabouts, and still passionate about what they do.

So? The novel didn't happen, so I am writing another. Finalizing plans for four books this year – the novel, the travelogue, a collection of poems, and a collection of short stories. In blogging I am right behind Amit Varma's authority of 421 and I, at 132, am rising in the ranks steadily. You could say I am in the top ten bloggers in the country – even some who run multi-crore, corporate supported blogs.

Amen, praise the lord for all that. Here's a card I got from Indian rock singer and my teenage idol Nandu Bhende. Thanks Nandu and Usha.

Friday, March 05, 2010

LA Woman – a Timeless Hit

I am a big fan of The Doors. So I have been listening to a lot of their songs, mushy with sentiment, pregnant with sweet quirkiness, mawkish with mischief, manifesting all good music to surprise and to elevate. One particular song "LA Woman" is a favourite, and I sing it daily, in the bathroom, to be precise. I am totally immersed by sweet serendipity of the lyrics and music, which keeps playing in my mind, as it is doing now, for days on end. Alas, The Doors, is no more. Jim Morrison, poet and rock star, adored by millions, man who broke on to the other side, R.I.P.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Ready to Pay to Read Newspapers Online?

Wall Street Journal does it; Financial Times does it. The New York Times is mulling about doing it. But what? They charge visitors who wish to browse articles on their website. I am used to receiving freebies on the net, meaning I would hesitate to enter my credit card details and pay. Uh oh! But if L. Gordon Crovitz and Steven Brill have their way readers online would have to shell out money to read newspapers online. Their software Press +, once integrated into the web content would enable publishers to charge readers.

Though unheard of at present, I think this trend will catch on. The reason is dropping advertising revenues, plunging circulation figures, and the high cost of newsprint. There could be a time when – like Bloomberg – all content could be subscribed electronically.

I don't know whether to be happy or sad, vis-à-vis the free browsing I am enjoying now versus the need to pay in future. Could you keep it very low, if at all you charge, please? But those who like this idea – you read it here, on this blog, right.

I had suggested this to a publisher friend once, but nothing came of it. He was still stuck in the advertising revenue model. But advertising spends are being challenged by entertainment, sponsorships and sports. If one releases an advertisement, there are five executives phoning up the office asking for appointments. This could infuse new blood, and a new revenue stream into the ailing print media.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Harivanshrai Bachchan’s Poem: Kya Karoon Samvedna Lekar Tumhari?

Speaking of the Bachchans here's a link to Harivanshrai Bachchan's poem "Kya Karoon Samvedna Lekar Tumhari?" on Manish Kumar's blog. Makes me a strong believer in the supposition – however tentative, however flimsy – that talent can be passed on – not inherited, mind you – from an accomplished person to another. The way Amitabh writes has distinct overtones of deep introspection and sensitivity. Oh, I didn't mention sincerity and humbleness (humility?), which is why I admire him even more. Having a famous person in the family goes against the grain of mediocrity most of us fall into. But realizing the greatness of a person, his/her struggle to be recognized, be it an ancestor, a contemporary, is another matter altogether.

Amitabh had it in him. Jaya knew it; a few select people close to him knew it. His brooding "Angry young man" persona was actually real and character-based and not just superficial fluff, sported by most aspiring stars today. That's the reason he has managed to stay on top. Few other personalities come to mind: Dilip Kumar, Balraj Sahni, and Raj Kapoor. Maybe, I should do a detailed study on them. How persona was shaped by personality, how character made them distinctive and distinguished.

More on this later. Watch dis space only, no? My friend Anthonybhai would say thusly, if he is reading this.

Amitabh’s Diatribe


I am a big fan of Amitabh, been since I saw in long-forgotten movies like Bombay to Goa, Abhimaan, Zanjeer, Kasauti (remember? With Hema as his heroine?), Dost, et al, and as a fellow blogger he amazes me with his command over the language, his erudition, his fairness, his angst when he is attacked. He is not only a superstar, he is a super human being to be being so active and involved when his rivals of those days – Rajesh, Vinod, Dharam – have either given up or gone into hibernation. I still remember the issue of Star & Style (remember?) where he was featured in an inside page as a promising new talent along with the likes of Benjamin Gilani, Vinod Mehra (remember?). On the cover they had the handsome Kiran Kumar (remember?).

Oh, how time passes.

So I am again awed when I read his diatribe on a certain newspaper group for printing some news about his daughter-in-law with which he doesn't agree totally. Again he is superb here when he is in a reflective mood.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Article on Farmer Suicides

For those who have been following farmer suicides, like I have been, here’s an article in the Sunday Times of India which highlights the plight of farmers committing suicide around the countryside. 

Shubh Ho Rangon Ka Tyohar! Happy Holi!

The spring festival – Holi, the festival of colours – is here, heralding what is the Spring season. I am a bit sad, as spring means summer is here too. Winter was pleasant in Bombai with the cool air in the morning forming a misty envelope around the valley where I live. Today is a day of throwing colours on friends, family and acquaintances. Sometimes, it does get a little unruly, I know. The film people celebrate it in their own way – the Kapoors make a pool fill it with coloured water and dip whoever comes into it. So on.

I have never played Holi, but love to watch others play it. When I was in Chembur, my friends tried their best to haul me into playing it, but I resisted all the time, being too shy to let myself go. There’s a rambunctious lot of young people downstairs doused in coloured water, painted with thick oil colours, enjoying the festival. I like their carefree abandon. “Holi Ayee Re,” they shout and dance to the beat of Marathi songs. But are they being wise about it? Just asking. The colours mostly have toxic additives, the oil paint may damage their skin. The walls of a neighbour’s house look like a coloured canvas, painted with a brush dipped in multi-hued cans of paint.

Well, all these words, all these waffling, are just to wish you, my readers, “A Happy Holi.”