Saturday, July 31, 2010

What Went Wrong in Lower Parel?

Whenever I visit Lower Parel and the various mills in the area (Phoenix Mills, Todi Mills, Kamla Mills, etc.), I am struck by the striking poverty on one side and the elite display of conspicuous consumption on the other. Festering, moss-blackened old buildings stand proud and erect beside tall and statuesque concrete towers. There aren't any open spaces, gardens, playgrounds as were originally planned by the architects of the mill land development. The youth of the area living in the original Chawls (basic accommodation of one room and kitchen with common toilets) of the area can be seen lolling around in groups unable to be a part of the city that has grown around them. When I ask for directions to this or that night spot I can see a feeling of hurt and defiance in the young people who show me the way.

This article authored by Naresh Fernandes, which originally appeared in Time Out in Mumbai which was reproduced in Citizens for Peace website points to one of the biggest gaffes in modern city planning, i.e., for redevelopment of the heart of the city of Bombay into a pleasant and livable area replete with gardens and social spaces for the residents of the area. Remember, they have the first rights to their neighbourhood. Today there are multiplexes, clubs, fine dine restaurants that none of the local residents can afford, to which the citizens of Cuffe Parade, Pedder Road and Napean Sea Road congregate. There have sprung up a number of high-rise office complexes in the area which are choking the infrastructure and a friend said that even in these posh complexes they have to remove their shoes and socks to wade through the collected water during monsoon. What should have been well developed turned into a nightmare of mismatched development:

"To be fair, Menon [Meena Menon of Girni Kamgar Sangharsh Samiti, an organization representing the workers of the mills of the area) points out that AGNI was among the groups that supported her union in its decade-long battle to demand that the 600 acres of mill land in central Mumbai would be properly planned, creating more open space and public housing. Still, when the Supreme Court ruled in May 2006 that mill owners could develop their 54 plots piecemeal, most Mumbaikars had no idea about the enormity of the opportunity that had been lost. This lack of knowledge mirrored the city's lack of will to force significant change the previous year, when a cloudburst left 447 people dead and showed conclusively how our development plan had been completely undermined by builders in association with corrupt bureaucrats and politicians.

Well and truly a momentous decision that upturned a lot of what has gone wrong with that area. Today everyone is bearing the brunt of the lopsided development. There are traffic jams a kilometer long in the arterial roads, there is shortage of water, poor sanitation, rubble and garbage lying on the roads, and people, people everywhere. Talk goes on about big developers moving in, but nothing is certain, an unhealthy silence prevails. Close to this is the planned 117-storey residential towers that will rise like a phoenix above the city skyline.

God help Bombay if that happens.

I Want My Freedom

I know this world isn’t a friendly place anymore
I know I am not here ‘cos I don’t belong any longer
I know this ain’t my own complaint, no, it’s not true
I know you all feel the same; all are of my view.

I want my freedom, I want my life
I want to be there for the entire human race
I want the sun and wind to touch my face
I want the wide world to be a better place.

I want my music, I don’t want this noise
And this cacophony isn’t one of my joys
This petty fake piracy offends my freedom
I want my software free from officialdom

I want my freedom, I want my life
I want to be there for the entire human race
I want the sun and wind to touch my face
I want the wide world to be a better place.

I want these killings to stop in our country
I want the world to stop this banditry
I want the bloodshed to end in your land
I want you to be free, please understand.

I want my freedom, I want my life
I want to be there for the entire human race
I want the sun and wind to touch my face
I want the wide world to be a better place.

(Finally here it is a song I have been writing for a long time. It has a simple rhyme scheme, you can sing it. Want to hear me sing it? Do come to the next Caferati meeting.)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Three Crimes in Three Minutes

I look at the youth sitting opposite in the train rather closely. He is well and cleanly dressed (considering its raining and everybody looks shabby), has a clean tie in his pocket, is handsome in a clean-cut sort of way, an M.B.A. holding a manager’s position in some good company, I guess.

Then the good old checker of tickets has to spoil it all. His job is to check if everyone in the first class compartment has a ticket. He comes to our seat. The young man doesn’t have one. What? Such a well-dressed chappy has no ticket? I for the life of mine can’t believe it? His excuse that he has a season ticket but left it at home doesn’t impress the ticket checker. He is asked to get down at the next station to pay a fine. Just then the train starts to move. The youth jumps into the train with the intention of making his get away when the ticket checker is busy with some other free loaders.

The train gathers speed. The ticket checker jumps in after him, chasing him, almost catching hold of him. The youth then does something so stupid I will never forgive him for doing it. It was a darned dumb thing to do. He runs to the other side of the train and throws himself out of the fast-moving vehicle. He lands on his face and I am sure he has hurt himself badly. I couldn’t see anything after that because the train moved away.

The foolish young man put his life at risk for a few hundred rupees. He knew he had broken the law by being in a train without a proper ticket. Then he tried to escape. That’s a double crime according to me. Then he tried to kill himself, suicide, and that’s a triple crime. Three crimes in the matter of three minutes from an educated, well-dressed youth working in a responsible position in a corporation.

Has his upbringing, his parents, his teachers got anything to do with it? Yes, of course. For these three crimes I saw enacted in the matter of minutes, we all are responsible, our teachers, our schooling system, our mindless entertainment. Is this what they teach in the prestigious M.B.A. institutes, how to be irresponsible, how to cheat and then refuse to own up? We ignore despicable behaviour at a cricket match thinking they are being patriotic; we ignore religious bigotry saying it is again loyalty to one’s god, we condone jingoism saying it is love for one’s own country. What was enacted in a few minutes will lead us to our ultimate failure. The failure of a youth to own up for his mistake. I saw it with my own eyes.

മലയാളികള്‍ക് മാത്രം

"കണകേച്ചി" എന്ന ഒരു ചെറുകഥ വായിച്ചു. വളരെ ഇസ്തപെട്ടു. നിങ്ങള്‍കും ഇവിടെ വായിക്കാം.

The Malabar Hill Skyline from Nariman Point.

This is the Malabar Hill Skyline from Nariman Point. Bombay's own Hill is the abode of the rich and the famous and the Governor of Maharashtra. The narrow strip that separates skyline from the sea is Chowpatty beach.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Disappearing Bananas

I wrote only yesterday that fruits and vegetables were disappearing from shelves and carts in India. This afternoon I went for a post-lunch helping of fruit and found that the banana-vendor whom I patronize everyday had sold out his entire supply in a few minutes. I used to buy a banana for Rs 3 each. A case of the disappearing bananas.

There was a time when a dozen bananas cost, well; you know what I am going to say. So? Today I pay for one banana what I used to pay for a dozen of the green tempter of a fruit, still I can't get one. Ultimately I had to buy an apple, today, an expensive one at that, at, hold your breath while I clear my throat, Rs 20 an apple.

I will not go into that bit about how I bought, yes, you guessed it... In those sepia-toned, halcyon-esque, nostalgia-drunk days, which is now just a dream, a dozen apples cost Rs 20 each. So also are the days when all the entertainment I could get was "Wednesday Special", "Saturday Date" and "Sweet Hot and Blues" on Bombay A. Bombay A as in All India Radio's Bombay A channel with presenters such as John Israel and Natasha Mathews (I have this tendency to remember names that somehow have bits and parts of my own [anyone who remember these people, please, please, write to me.). The only entertainment on television was "What's the Good Word (wassat?)," hosted by a rather severe Sabira Merchant and the funny "Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi" that made a star out of Satish Shah. I am actually removing cob-webs from grey cells.

I got carried away. Sorry. I was discussing bananas and apples. I don't know what's happening. I really don't. Just as I don't understand much of what is happening in today's world. Is it the big retailers walking rough-shod over the poor "bhajiwala bhaiyas (no pejorative here)" or is it the genetically modified (GM) crop lobby trying to take over the food chain?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Army & Navy Building at Kala Ghoda

This is the Army & Navy Building at Kala Ghoda which today houses Westside Stores. It used to house another store, viz., Army & Navy Stores in the British Raj days. I have worked in the building for three years when I was editor and PRO of the Bombay Management Association (BMA). The BMA is still based in this building.

The Copper Chimney at Kala Ghoda

How Food Is Disappearing from Indian Bazaars

Starting this week I will be writing a regular column for Technorati - the blogging and technology portal. Here's the first instalment. 

Wonder how food is disappearing from bazaars in India. Till a few years ago vegetables were available freely and cheaply. Over the past few years vegetable and fruits have begun to cost more and have become scarce. I guess stagflation is here.

It’s surprising because India is basically an agrarian country and once food was abundant and locally available. It is also a result of a slow and steady decline in agricultural production in India because of environmental problems such as: droughts, water scarcity, and absence of a ready market for agricultural and food products.

Inflation in April 2010 stood at 9.6 per cent compared to 1.3 per cent last year. This is unbelievably high. The small trader who sold vegetables and fruits have been wiped out because they can’t afford to buy at the higher rates fearing what would happen when people don’t buy because of high prices.

The fuel price rise has also affected food prices. A survey conducted among 27,000 internet users showed that Indians are equally concerned about food prices and terrorism (12 per cent each) compared to their concern for the economy, global warming and education (8 per cent each).

Article first published as How Food Is Disappearing from Indian Bazaars on Technorati.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Commuting Tips for Bombayites

This is going to be the final installment, absolutely. Even I am tired, as you are, or, so I suppose, with my incoherent ranting. Age is catching up, you know. Also, it has been raining for around a month and commuting got that little bit tougher.

The Dripping Umbrella-raincoat Forgetter

It's raining cats, dogs and bulls and this man never would carry an umbrella. Neither does he carry a bag, a notebook, a pen, or, loose change. Travelling with such a person is torture. Really. I had one such friend. I had to share my umbrella with him getting wet for no fault of mine (as I have to stand beside him in the crowded train), then he didn't have change to pay the taxi, so I had to pay the taxi fare, he didn't have a pen to write a note, so, I had to provide notebook and pen, he didn't have a bag so I had to provide a sanctuary to the different papers he carried. He forgot his ATM pin number and I had to provide it.

It even got to the point that since he didn't carry lunch I had to provide that. Mercifully, that time is past and that friend is out of my life. Thank God for minuscule mercies.

The Slipping Game

You are at the railway station and the train is approaching. You are in a mad rush to rush in before the other animals, so you stand a little ahead and as your compartment approaches jump in before others do. This is risky business and I manage this fine. (So, you thought I would slip, eh?)

Then all of those who got in would slip, slide, tumble, slither into a single seat. The result is that we six of us are sitting in a seat meant for three. Six others have missed the seat completely and have landed their fat asses on the laps of the six already seated. That makes twelve people competing for three seats. Then the six who are sitting on the other six's laps get up grinning sheepishly. Then a fight ensues between the six who are sitting on the seat meant for three. The argument goes something like this:

"I landed a nano-second before you. I timed my ass's ETA so that it was programmed touch down before yours. Ass**le, so I will sit."

"I kept my handkerchief on the seat before you," he points to a dirty hanky that's under his arse.

"I hurled my bag at the seat, but I missed. Is that any fault of mine? I will sit," this said by a short man in a hectoring intolerant voice, the sort of voice I have heard another short man with a tooth-brush moustache shout from a podium wearing a peaked cap and a swastika on this arm. Get the picture?

Being a reasonable fellow, I get up, as I don't consider these types the sort of people I would like to sit with for the one hour commute back home. I don't wish to come even within touching distance from their nasty, loser personalities. Nay, I wouldn't even pass them the hand-fan when I see them being shown the way to hell by St. Peter. So all the above guys get the seats and I hope they get a terrible bad back pain from the seats that sag badly in the centre.

(This is the end of this series. If I feel like I will add more. Meanwhile let me know (through comments) if you liked this series.)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Commuting Etiquette for Bombayites

Got to bury this and move on, got to bury this and move on, got to....

Now where was I? Last heard I was ranting about the brash businessman. Today I will touch upon some new types before I run out of ideas. 

The Back Packer

He is outfitted for an expedition to the Arctic. Yeah. Though he is a puny little chap who will make Lilliput (the miniscule Bollywood character actor) blush, he has a rucksack the size of a baby elephant, no, make that a baby dinosaur. He carries it with the bravado of a Scot Amundsen and wriggles a lot to get himself through the door. Once inside, he will refuse to get the load of his rucksack off his back and will stand with it and hit all who comes within swinging distance, like a baby dino with his tail. Or, a salsa dancer with his partner. He carries a big bottle of water in a side pouch as if he is really on the North Pole and there’s a scarcity of water. I can guess what’s inside his rucksack. Inside are the following things fit for a guerrilla in the Congolese Jungle:

  • A big laptop with the power to compute NASA rocket take-offs
  • A camera, a digital SLR of Nikon make
  • Hunting knives, Swiss Army Knives
  • A gun, just in case
  • Several boxes of chewing gum which seems to be what he survives on

That’s no all. He wears cargo pants in the pockets of which are ammunition and a few grenades, again, just in case.

Get away from this type as soon as you can, dive into the space in between the seats, because he could set himself aflame any moment the way he wriggles and writhes through the crowd.

The Constant Eater

This type is a true cud-chewer like a cow. He eats and eats and eats like a bovine. By now it may be clear that he lives to eat. Anything he opens goes down his gullet in seconds – Lays, Fritos, Digestive biscuits, paratha, naan, chapatti, anything. He spills most of the residue on his co-passengers so beware of this type. If you are hungry, and can’t control, don’t ask him for a share. Ask him to give you the empty packets, it will contain enough to fill your meagre stomach. Not that I think that you would ask this glutton.

But all in all, he is the most harmless guy you can find in the whole compartment if you give him a wide berth for his ample girth.

(More coming, I am extra sleepy today.)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Commuting Etiquettes for Bombayites - III

The list of etiquettes goes on...

The Cellphone Freak

He speaks on the cellphone as if he is in a bedroom with his girlfriend, lot of purring and cooing. So you just can't stand him. He does this deliberately to make you jealous since he knows you don't stand a chance.... Well, never mind. Better not talk about my trysts of fate with the fairer sex on a blog. May be, in an autobiography. And who knows who all are reading this. This freak though he irritates speaks in a low voice, so you shouldn't really mind. But watch out for mood swings and sudden bursts of, "What? What didIdo yaaaaaaaaaaaa?" Well that's this type.

Coming back to the cellphone freak there's another type who goes on thusly:

"What have you made for dinner?"

"Have you put curry leaves like I told you?"

"But darling, I told you I like curry leaves, naaaaa?"

"But I like curry leaves and a pinch of ginger, no, darling?"

"But why didn't you put curry leaves, now tell me?"

"Now promise ahinda (now on) kabhi bi (always) you will put curry leaves."

So on and so fart, beg your pardon, forth. Why can't the fart talk all this nonsense when he reaches home when nobody is within earshot? Why does he have to make one suffer with his obsession for "curry leaves?"

The Brash Business Man

Now this type is the most interesting. In addition to being devoid of manners like the guy mentioned above he is also loud and boastful. He wears a lot of gold jewellery, masticates constantly on tobacco and is so fat that the flesh of his neck and that of his cheeks meet with that under his eyes in an unbroken big bulge. His eyes are nearly invisible in its sockets. His mouth is like a big void producing a dry rasping noise.

"Hello, how many tonnes have you loaded today to Japan?" Japan is his favourite country.

"Twenty tonnes, why what happened to the balance eighty tonnes?"

"Bhai mere, mai phas jaoonga, mere karodo rupaye pani mein beh jayega (brother of mine, I will be trapped, my crore rupees will sink in the water)."

"That maal (goods) from Japan when are you sending?" Laughs loudly without reason.

"Japan mein koyi dhanda nahi ho raha (no business in Japan these days)."

Why does he want everyone to know his business secrets? Can't he shut his mouth for at least some time and let people contemplate on the different ways to stuff his mouth with enough pan masala to choke him.

(Lunch is ready, wifey is calling. So more later.)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Commuting Etiquettes for Bombayites - II

The Fight for the Wind-facing Seats

If you are lucky enough to get a seat, select the one facing the wind. Meaning facing the direction in which the train is moving. Or, else, suffer the stuffy humidity and heat. The one near the window commands a premium such as the one given to Infosys and Wipro on the stock market. When you get in you will find that these seats are probably already occupied by athletic looking guys in pointed shoes and gelled hair. Since all these guys have pointed shoes manoeuvring between their toes is a difficult business. So "step on their blue suede shoes" and apologise profusely for doing so, because, gelled-hair and all, whoever has some commonsense left would not to wear such shoes in a crowded compartment. Certainly these guys are not among those.

So you try for the next best seats. The one opposed to the wind. Only fools like you would ever opt for these seats so plaster a smug expression on your face and open your paper, or, novel, or even your monthly sales report and start reading.

If You Are Unlucky Enough Not to Get any Seat

If you are the unlucky sort and don't get any seat, stand near the window. You will be passed all the heavy bags to put on the overhead rack. Don't throw them out of the window because these guys are really nasty, the outsourcing-call-centre-types. They could send a virus down your cell phone that could infect you with HB2, which is a fever they all suffer from. News is that this fever is related to the absence of a certain sort of visa, which they all crave for.

The advantage of putting all their bags on the overhead rack is that when these guys get down at the nearest outsourcing software park, you get their seats. Isn't that a nice arrangement? But wait, not before you hand them back the bags with the laptops they have entrusted to you. Nice outsourcing here, eh? Didn't I tell you they are smart?

The Snorer and the Leg-shaker

If you are sitting near one of these – snorers and leg-shakers – then only providence can help you. The snorers snore so loudly in your ear that you can't read your paper or novel. And they slowly and insidiously creep on to your soft tummy thinking it to be their pillow. Ah, such bliss! When they start drooling on your just-ironed-by-wifey shirt, which you have preserved for the crucial meeting with the boss, give their body a toss in the opposite direction. Then they begin drooling on the man sitting in the other direction. This goes on till you are playing with the man like two tennis players while tossing the ball in centre court. Then you get up from your seat and let him drop ever so softly on to the seat and then topple to the ground, that's when he really wakes up with a grunt like a pig's.

The leg-shaker is another animal of the type mentioned above. He shakes his leg so violently that your entire body shakes with him. Actually there's nothing you can do with him except warn him that if he doesn't stop you would connect his legs to a piston which will then be attached to the wheels of the train to make it go faster.

(More of this to come. Ronnie really needs the computer badly.)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Train Commuting Etiquette for Bombayites

I knew I had to do this someday, so why not today? I know etiquettes are tedious things but they have to be written, especially when one has been commuting to well nigh thirty years, the year I started commuting to work being 1980 (oh, those were the halcyon days of the 8.30 chembur local). So here goes. Since I am a man who travels in a gentlemen's compartment (hardly gentlemanly conduct there) I am writing from a man's view point. But it is equally applicable to the fairer sex, the better halves and the corporate chamak challus.

A Little Push While Getting in and Out

You may be forgiven a little push while getting in and out. But don't overdo it. After the push smile broadly showing all your mis-aligned dentures and say, "so, so, sorry, I didn't observe you standing like a stupid donkey at the door." Sorry. Don't say that, you will get beaten up if you do that. Just a smile and a lot of nodding of head would do.

How to Break a "You Pushed" Fight

Soon after you get in you will be dragged into a "you pushed" fight with your neighbour which will go on as follows:

"You pushed."

"No, you pushed."

"You pushed."

"No, you pushed."

Since the common threat of the argument is "you pushed" just give him a huge push and say finally, "you pushed, so I am pushing you back." Watch him fall and the admiring looks of the bystanders. But this isn't practical, is it? Just give him a look of disdain and a small push and say, "I pushed so what? Everybody is pushing each other."

If the Man Next to You Leans on You

If the man next to you leans his coconut-oil-gelled hair on your Arrow shirt and is breathing his idli-sambar into your face give him a gentle nudge with your bag, or umbrella. Keep doing this till he removes his head and deposits it on the man standing opposite.

If the Man Shows an Unwarranted Liking for You

I know. I know. What the heck? They are all men. But there are those types you know. You dislike contact but for them it's heaven sent. So lean towards him with an exaggerated snigger and breathily whisper, "I am not that type, you know."

(More later, son is repossessing his computer by force. So I will continue this tomorrow.)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Void Behind the Door

Read this article in this blog named voidbehindthedoor, lamenting the loss of another book store, another little magazine called "Smoke." (Wonder: had all those rejections got to do with the assumption that "Smoke" was about smoking? Most unlikely, but also possibly true. The generation these days is of an extreme kind. Either this or that, no in betweens. Anyway, the blog post is about a little magazine called "Smoke" which wound up and so did a lot of small and independent book shops who didn't stock "Smoke.")

And then serendipity struck because the writing was good, just subtle, just that bit self deprecating, just the right amount of humour thrown in to make you want to go "mmmm." So "mmmm" it is to this blog which ate up a whole afternoon of browsing in its fantabulous prosody.

By the way, it brings me to the subject of the disappearing bookshops. I was sad when my friend Mani wound up "Search Word" near Regal Cinema which was a favourite for a long, long time. I can remember browsing for hours in Mani's bookshop. So what does one do when a bookshop closes and a little magazine too? "Jesus wept," is one of the shortest and most lucid passages in the Bible. I weep. I weep the passing of an era when books – meaning printed words – were all the entertainment we had. We were richer for the pursuit of those printed words, which when placed in a row and fitted into a beautiful cubic-shaped element made of paper that fit in the palm of the hand, would give us hours of joy. There were no ipods, no iphones, no macs and personal computers. Alas!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Is India Well Nigh an Oligarchy?

A friend recently mentioned that India is turning into a nation of the elite, where politicians the brokers of power and money allow only their sons and daughters to succeed them, business barons would only be satisfied when their sons/daughters have taken over their business, actors would like to see their sons/daughters settled in the acting business, and so on.

That led me to the definition of Oligarchy in the dictionary. This is what I found on the Wikipedia. It defines Oligarchy as:

“Oligarchy is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small segment of society distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, military control, or religious hegemony.”

The friend is right. The fabric of our society rests on the individual’s ability to suck up to his/her political master. There are too many examples of this, I need not point to specificities. The movie Rajneeti, which I saw, underlines this when the woman politician is willing to switch her loyalty to get a seat in the legislature. Our political-executive system is run along Oligarchic lines, which is not novel to us. According to Robert Michael’s “Iron Law of Oligarchy” political systems degenerate into Oligarchies if democratic traditions are not strong enough.

This break down of democratic systems maybe what is happening now.

Behind every deal, behind every permission for a college or university is a dealing of power and money by close relatives of the politician in power. This powerplay has often led to dangerous consequences in the case of politicians who have been killed by their own kin. The cost of these deals percolate down to us, as we are the ones who pay the taxes, the fees, the atrocious amounts we shell out for a roof above our heads.

But in the middle class there’s an immense ability to bear all this without a grumble. The 200 million middle class is an effective sponge that bears the burden of the Oligarchy without a murmur. They pay taxes, pay the fees, pay the bills and keep quiet. They don’t ask questions if the roads are bad, the public facilities are next to absent and education is getting more expensive.

Thanks to the Right to Information Act, a lot of questions are being asked. Let’s hope they keep the spirit of democracy alive in this great country of ours.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Why Are IWEs Writing More and More about Bombay?

Why does Bombay serve as the subject of many novels by Indian Writers in English (IWE)? That's a question being addressed by BBC on its website in this article. Um. Happenstance, my novel – Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard, is also about Bombay, the city I have lived for the past forty-five years (Who better to write than a veteran of so, so many years, huh?). Manu Joseph's novel Serious Men is about it. I am yet to read it. My novel is about a brilliant and top-rated M.B.A. coming back to India to contribute his mite and failing totally to make a mark in the internecine machinations of the city's corporate world.

This might come as a surprise to those who swear they love Bombay and hate all those who don't. I don't love Bombay; I don't hate it, too. I am ambivalent about it, nothing fixed, nothing set in stone. Well, kind of. I hate it at times, I love it at times, but then nothing percolates to a fixed love or hate. For example I hate it when it rains without stop and there seems no end to the filth that mixes with the rainwater making me go "yech" when I have to wade through it. Yes, Bombay drainage stinks, literally. I love it, love it, when I walk in the shades of the archways of D.N.Road and the sun strikes a cornice or a gargoyle and there's such joy in the light and shade it throws. I want to capture it on camera, but my camera is down with the heebee jeebees. It clams up when it is in contact with my clicking finger. What I now want is a digital SLR, nothing less. I digress.

Coming back to my ambivalence about Bombay, though I am recognized everywhere as "your face is familiar", "have seen you somewhere", "have we met?", I don't have a feeling that I belong. Having lived for forty-five years in one place is itself is a record. I was absent, away in the Persian Gulf for one year, during which time I felt I had missed Bombay and I thought I loved it. But the ambivalence returned on the day I returned after I suffered the hot sun of May beating down from the tin roof of the taxi that took me from the airport to home in New Bombay. Saudi taxis have air-conditioning.

Yes I can say I love New Bombay. I live in Artiste Village, near a dam, surrounded by a tropical rainforest which is being developed into a national park, so I hear. When I go on my morning walks, it's so beautiful that I feel I can't live elsewhere, there are the serene green mountains, a waterfall and a morning mist so dense the hill seems like it's floating. Guess I am lucky to live in such natural greenery, so close to a big city.

But my love for New Bombay doesn't in any way affect my ambivalence for Bombay. I still will not relent. On working days I am happy when I cross the Thane Creek and with great booming sounds and the train's wheels cross over from disintegrating Bombay to its well-planned satellite city – the largest man-made city in the world. I digress, again.

Coming back to why writers from Rushdie to Joseph have chosen Bombay as their subject, I feel the city is so diverse that there are too many things to write about. The problem is what to write about and what to leave aside. It's a novel by itself, and perhaps, I will write that novel some day.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Two Books from Iran Point to Its Degenerative State

It's indeed sad what a dictatorial regime can do to dissenters and minorities. What gives birth to dictators, regimes and corrupt militias? An absence of a watchful public. We in the social media take on, sort of watchdog status with our smart status messages, links to articles, and our smart quips. Rarely do we, if at all, aggregate these opinions and smart-ass rejoinders into something cohesive and definitive in terms of action, as the following two books that I am writing here about would indicate. The action is in Iran. We don't realize the full import of what's happening in that country to our west. "Ah, it's after two countries to our west no? I am least bothered, men" says my friend Anthonybhai. At least, Anthonybhai should read the two reviews mentioned in this article which made me think up this post. Iran (Persia of old) has degenerated from a land of plenty and prosperity to one of intolerance and bigotry. That means the whole region to our west is troubled – Pakistan, Afganistan and Iran. Not a happy thought.

One is Roxana Saberi's book "Between Two Worlds" in which she write about how, "For all their exhilarating potential, however, the new media can also warp a budding democratic movement, hurling it into premature confrontation with the state," as happened recently during an election in Iran. She was arrested in Iran for buying a bottle of wine.

In another book "Death to the Dictator!" the pseudonymous author Afsaneh Moqadam argues in that Iranians were at best profoundly ambivalent about technology's role in the protests: "Cellphone cameras, Facebook, Twitter, the satellite stations: the media are supposed to reflect what is going on, but they seem, in fact, to be making everything happen much faster. There's no time to argue what it all means."

We all who are in awe of the social media do not know if it can sow the seeds of peace or fan the flames of rebellion. We become addicted and carry on nevertheless, sharing mountains of information which sometimes confuses and confounds. Sometimes, as happened in India in the IPL imbroglio casual Tweets have dethroned ministers and excommunicated self-styled business barons.

We all in the new media are singing paeans to modernism. But it seems a part of the world we do not know about is descending into oligarchy and obscurantism. There seems to be no respect for fundamental freedoms and respect for basic human dignities.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Build and They Will Come

Yeah, I am something of a bibliophile. All my young age was spent in the quest for finding a book to read and to lovingly swallow every word. I read them even if I didn’t understand much of it. Not surprising since even now some of the books I read leave me foxed. I don’t know. Libraries used to be the best environments for me to satiate my hunger, satisfy my curiosity. I say “used to” with regret because libraries are disappearing fast from this country. The corner lending library is no more, the library near Chembur station – my favourite – which used to lend comics of Superman and Batman has been replaced by one selling pirated music. The books we see are all pirated, the sleeker ones are too prohibitively priced.

Therefore this article by Abby Wong came as a pleasant surprise. Titled Build and They Will Come, it gives new hope to Malaysians from the exemplary trend set in Australia. Excerpt:

“In well-loved libraries [in Australia], the smell of books, old and new, emanates seemingly from everywhere. This smell wafts in the air and fuses with the smell of coffee, producing an intoxicating aura that relaxes the mind. Classics come alive in this environment and look more irresistible than ever. My left hand grabs Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God and my right gobbles up Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. As I turn the corner, Terry Pratchett’s Nation winks seductively. Though I once publicly reproached Pratchett’s over-the-top imagination, my recent craving for fantasy has allowed a more unstinting exploration. Who knows, I may find joy this time. After all, I am given 21 days to come to a verdict.”

Hat tips Susan Abraham for the link to the article.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

What the Internet is Doing to the Younger Generation

How will the Internet change the way our children think feel and act? This is in response to Raamesh Gowri Raghavan’s note here on Facebook, which in turn is prompted by Nicholas Carr’s book, “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.”

As the father of a net-savvy youth (and also be reasonably skilled to navigate the medium and understand its working [alas, he doesn’t think so, he being the bachelor of computer science]) I understand the difference between his world and mine. The differences quoted below may be subtle, the nuances superficial, but change has happened between these two worlds and keeps happening. I don't think the Internet is the only medium to be blamed, the blame lies with a host of other media, i.e., television, mobile phones, music players. I have a sneaking admiration for my world, which I feel was more complete. However that could be just nostalgia and loving of oneself more than any other. Apologies if I sound overtly judgmental.

Here are some of those vital differences alluded to above which may actually be the raving of a man getting old:

My world
His world
Information had to be researched from libraries with difficulty
Information is available at a click
Friendships were more personal, local, and based on compatibility
Friendships are international, casual and treated with indifference
Not much peer pressure, could be more individual
Peer pressure is intense, I can feel it, want the very best to stand out among peers
Had more respect for age, experience and worldly wisdom
Not much respect for people who haven’t made it in the social chain
More patience wrote full sentences and didn’t use abbreviation
Less patience and prone to using “u” for “you” and “r” for “are”
Since knowledge was limited action was taken, not mulled over till no action was possible
This generation can’t take decisions of their own, they have to be guided
Less knowledge but used knowledge more
More knowledge but is used less
Since information was rare even useless information was stored
In a surfeit of information, knowledge is discarded and disbelieved
More idealistic
Less idealistic
More empathetic, moved by violence on screen
Less empathetic, can see graphic violence and be unmoved by it
Spiritual, believed in God and supernatural
Not much spiritual, and not concerned to much with the supernatural

The attention deficit Raghavan mentions is just because of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) which even television addicts suffer from. Having worked with youngsters I feel these attention deficits could lead to serious problems concentrating on long-range goals setting rather than short-range satiations. My two-bit for the discussion. Beg your pardon if this sounds like an aging man’s rant (remember having mention this before) but the older generation has always complained about the new. Therefore this post.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Who Do You Write Like?

There's this website "I Write Like" which compares your style to that of famous authors. Author Alison Flood tried this out and was informed she writes like Margaret Atwood. Atwood tried the site and found (wonder of wonders…) that she writes like Stephen King. So who does Stephen King write like? Margaret Atwood, perhaps? A second attempt found her writing was similar to James Joyce. James Joyce, I would choke and sputter over that having waded through his turgid (and, perhaps, turbid) prose for the first half of Ulysses and quit in frustration. Mother Mary, have mercy on this poor illiterate with high pretensions!

Excerpt from Alison Flood's article:

"In fact it's been so popular that Margaret Atwood, one of the authors included in the site's database, was prompted to try it out. Unfortunately, Atwood revealed, she writes like ... Stephen King. A second attempt told her she wrote like James Joyce. The site's creator is now promising to "train the database" with more of her works so it'll be able to recognise her in the future."

My niggling doubt is that the site searches for a random author and puts him/her as the style in question. Of course, she make a lot of wannabe authors think that they (or, their style) resemble Vladimir Nabakov, naturally, since he is the most unsuccessfully imitated of all authors. And this might come as a revelation: imitators include yours truly. Many have been the hours I spent writing and re-writing his prose to imitate him, alas, without success. Some of the words that still linger in the mind from Lolita:

"Petrified paroxysms of pleasure."

"She died of typhus in Corfu."

Truly a master of his class.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why Do We Spit So Much?

This happened at V.T. station a few days ago. It's so common that we don't give it much thought. I am standing on the edge of the crowded platform looking into the distance to see the first flicker of a train, a vague slithering that would be followed by the steady beat of wheels on rails. There's a crowd of similarly anxious people behind me. A tall well-dressed man comes from behind me and expectorates a mouthful of dirty red concoction on the rail, as if it was some kind of ritual he has to follow after bending from the waist and peering at the rail for the slightest sound of the approaching train. He is unconcerned. He is just following a habit, looking and then spitting, unconscious of what he is doing.

Then another man comes up from behind and peering into the distance at the converging lines of the rail in the distance for a slight movement that would hint at the vehicle that would take him home, aims another mouthful on the tracks. His spit isn't red, it's just spit. Then another, then another, then another, then another till the railway track has become filled with a uniform film of spit. Then a man from the opposite platform jumps down on the tracks and coming to where I am standing offers his hand so as he can climb on the platform with my help.

Hm. I just ignore him. Yes, I do. How could I help him after seeing all the revolting spitting that was done? I still can't understand why I turned away from him in disgust. Afraid of catching germs, could be?

Why does a man born in the sub-continent of a billion spit so much. If on an average an Indian spits one kilogram of spit the country would be generating a billion kilogram of what? Spit! What pleasure do they derive? Why can't we control this urge? Why can't we grow out of this bad habit that sees every wall coated by huge arching marks of spit, drying, coagulating, defacing, disfiguring all buildings and walls of our nation?

I think we should install spittoons everywhere and anyone caught not spitting into it should be made to wash and clean it. Good idea? Let me know.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Jeff Goldblum: One of My Favourite Actors

I enjoy Jeff Goldblum immensely; both as an actor and for his commitment to acting as one of the most refined of arts in this day and age. He is intense, handsome and an icon, nay, a cult figure in acting annals. Every part he played has the mark of his commitment. So I was happy to read an interview "Jeff Goldblum: the Buddha of Hollywood."

My favourite quote from this interview: "you're interesting to the extent that you're interested in somebody else". Mull over this. Consider it in all seriousness. There, that sums up the man.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Arsonism: Issue 1 Fall 2008: pirated poetry anthology by Stephen Mclaughlin & Jim Carpenter

I got this from friend and fellow versifier Arjun Chandramohan Bali's blog. He mentions that his name has been featured along with the likes of Allen Ginsberg and Langston Hughes in Arsonism: Issue 1 Fall 2008: pirated poetry antholgy by Stephen Mclaughlin & Jim Carpenter, but that he hadn't contributed any poem to this anthology. On a search I find that my name too is featured in the list with the likes of Pablo Neruda, T.S. Eliot, and John Keats without my permission and without my having contributed to the anthology.
At least, feels good to be featured with these famous poets. Have I arrived? No, critics would shout themselves hoarse. But who cares for critics? Hat tips: Arjun C. Bali.

Decline of Artistic Merit – VI – How a Duet Became an Item Number

I was meaning to write this a long time ago but kept postponing, lazy procrastinator that I am. (Sometimes I think if I win an award it will be for being an "Outstanding Procrastinator of the Year 2010," or, something such.) Anyway, now I have got my lazy bones to inch towards the computer keyboard let me see what I can do to justify the pompous title. Yes, whatever made me want to write about the decline of artistic merit? As if I was an expert on it.

Well, hm, heck, I will leave that to the critics.

Chandralekha is a pretty script writer of Hindi movies with a genius for words and images. People tell her she has a sort of vulnerable look that appeals to men. She often manages to create very effective imageries from her words to inspire her directors to be called avant garde and even new wave – after the movie is made, of course – which they proudly lap up as their achievement. She has written many scripts, all hits, credits for which were snatched by the undeserving directors themselves. She has written the following scene which occurs at a point of denouement in the movie script that she is working on for an up-and-coming Bollywood movie director. The movie is about romantic love between two youths hailing from different states, therefore different cultures.


Hero (Mallu) and heroine (Hindi) are sitting on a parapet near the sea and they are supposedly talking intimately and singing a duet, rather a faux duet imitating stars of yesteryears, playfully cavorting around trees, and all. The heroine is an aspiring dancer and she executes a few dances moves in faux Bollywood style, trying to convey her contempt, rather cynicism of the medium. The Mallu hero tries to do a few steps in the manner of a successful Mallu star. By mocking Bollywood and Malluthengu (yeah, my coinage meaning Malayali Thengu [coconut tree, since mostly Kerala has this variety of wood]) rather than endorsing it they try to convey the freedom of modern Indian youth to laugh at themselves and at their stars. So they – Mallu hero and Hindi heroine – bungle the dance in a heart-rending way and laugh at themselves and have a good time. (Chandralekha feels this will give the movie a new twist, a new angle as yet unexplored in the annals of Bollywood-isms.)

That's the scene.

Then the harassed looking director, who is a horny-as-horny-can-get guy, who has a permanently leery grin plastered on his face, intervenes. He wants to convert the scene into a beach-side item song with naked women in briefest of bikinis dancing to a throbbing beat wearing glares and playing around two huge and suggestively kept, what else, coconut trees, with gazebos, deck chairs, balloons and white-skinned women dancers – nobodies from Russia, Rumania and Latvia out to grab a few bucks when they are on holiday in India.

"But sir, I wanted it to be a very dramatic scene in the movie, something that would be so ironical it will strike a chord in the viewer's mind."

"Iron, iron, what iron?" He is deliberately mocking and hectoring. He knows the meaning of irony but is playing a clown to distress Chandralekha.

"Sir don't change it into that item girls shit. It is over done, the scene I have written is quite novel."

"Who says so?" Which actually means, "How dare you disagree with me?"

"Sir, I am doing something innovative, remember you said you wanted some fresh new ideas?"

"But where else will I place my item number and you know every movie these days has to have an item number."

"Well, then you can place it at the end like in 'Slumdog Millionaire'."

"That wasn't an item number, that was a regular number."

"Why do you think so?" She adjusts her black tresses behind her ears.

"Because all the girls wore regular dresses not bikinis. I need girls in bikinis, about a hundred of them, so every man in the audience gets sexually aroused." He leers, the stupid man.

Chandralekha couldn't believe her ears. Was she hearing things? Or, more importantly was he okay? She knew he has a reputation. But so blatant a statement? Or was he trying to make a pass at her?

No, no, no, not the latter. Dear God! She prayed.

"Sir, but I want this scene in the movie as I have written it, or I want out."

"Okay, you are out then," he said without hesitation, "don't come from tomorrow. I have my standby script writer Tripathi-ji who will carry on from here."

Chandralekha packs her bag and quits. The movie, like all Bollywood movies, gets made in a patchy and erratic sort of way and the result: another flop of the "Blue", "Kites", and "Chandni Chowk..." whatever.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

FIFA Final Today

So it's the finals today. FIFA I mean. Searched vainly for some restaurant or bar where I could watch the match, nice rhyme there. Problem is I fall asleep if I watch at home. In a restaurant I am alert and watching not only the match but the batch, those show offs, who show more than they have the guts to admit they can show. Hehe. Figure that one for me, please. Thing is I am in a ranting mood. But all tickets are over-priced. So I am not going. Wonder why we think even a football match has to be seen by the industry captains and those having ill-gotten stuff. Have sports too become the preserve of the rich and decadent? Can't a guy who slogs all week have a break and watch a little football, huh?

Nevah mind.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

My Grandfather and Grandmother

Here's my contribution to something which I won't name here:

I have fond memories of my grandfather P.C.Mathew who was an important man in the village and surrounding areas. He had a job in a plantation run by the British, he dressed in British tropical clothes which included coat and a sola hat, and he even spoke English. He was a writer. A writer meaning a writer of accounts, nothing literary.

When there was a Kavi Sammelanam in the village school and prominent among them was the Great Poet Mahakavi Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan, he would have a place on the dais beside the poet himself, being his cousin. He was also a well-read and cultivated man. He had a good collection of books which I would hungrily devour as a child.

He built for his family – since he was away working in the estates in the Nilgiri Hills most of the time – a palatial house on a hill with British architecture, a sloping roof, a large verandah, columns, and stuffed deer antlers on the walls. This was the first such house in the entire region. He was known to be a very shrewd man. When he came on holiday all his children were dressed in their best by my Grandmother, a very efficient and headstrong woman. He had a big family, six children. He liked to see his family enjoying the best and wanted them to progress in life like him. Grandmother was very wise in money matters. If Grandfather sent anything less than his usual contribution to the household she would reject the money order and ask the postman to send it back to him. Thus insulted he would send back the correct amount with a lot of apologies.

But my grandfather died a lonely and disillusioned man. His eldest son joined the British forces fighting in World War II in the eastern sector – in Singapore to be exact – without his permission. Nothing was heard about him after that. He was reported missing. This was perhaps the worst shock of grandfather's life. His great regret was that his son hadn't asked his permission before joining the army. His life declined after that incident, which affected his wife, too. Grandmother also went into depression and died without seeing me – the much-awaited heir – who would carry the family's name forward. Mention must be made that all my older siblings were girls and they were eagerly awaiting a boy who would be, sort of, be the heir apparent of the family.

Will post here if something comes of this contribution.

Friday, July 09, 2010

I and Pakistanis

For some time I have been following Dilip D'Souza's interesting conversation with Beena Sarwar about Indo-Pak relations and the situation in Kashmir. Here's the latest installment. Excerpt:

"I remember the family I met in Srinagar on my first visit on '04, warm and welcoming. On my second visit a few months later, even as I entered their home I got the feeling I had overstayed my welcome. Yes, I thought they were being unfair in their coldness this time around. But our conversations had given me an idea of the complex mixture of affection and doubt, suspicion and the desire to reach out, that made up their feelings towards India and Indians like me. If we Indians want all to be well in J&K, we need to search for ways to understand and address that.

"Yasmin Qureshi's questions are ones that trouble a lot of Indians: what indeed is the meaning of Indian democracy when there is so much tension and unrest that we are now seeking to eliminate by force? (And will that eliminate it anyway?) (And should a democracy be in the business of eliminating it? or addressing it?) Yet there are also plenty of Indians who see nothing wrong with the use of force. Maybe the concerns about Indian democracy don't occur to them, I don't know. And your last letter's mention of the disappearances in Azad J&K/PoK -- or should we ourselves make the start by referring to it as Pakistan-Administered Kashmir? -- supports what the news tells me as well, that there is plenty of serious unrest and discontent in Pakistan too, and it gets fueled by the actions of your security forces."

What makes this conversation interesting to me is that when I was in Saudi Arabia I was struck by how similar were Indians and Pakistanis. Remember we were one colony. I made a lot of friends who speak like us behave like us and culturally I couldn't spot many differences. They are crazy about Hindi movies and the camp boss who is a Pakistani used to sit with us and watch a Hindi movie every evening. This thing about Pakistanis being our enemies vanished and we discussed things like Kashmir and other issues. They gave me a sweet send-off when I was leaving and some even hugged me the north Indian way.

So, as Dilip suggests we should speak to a Pakistani and hope our two governments bring about some "Aman" or rapprochement.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Amitabh to Host KBC Again

Once again. "It's yesterday once more," sang the band The Carpenters, one of my favorites in my youth. Now it's yesterday once more because one of my favourite programs is coming back on television with Amitabh as the host. I am a great fan of Kaun Banega Crorepati, still am. News via the Big B's blog is that he is the host of the new edition of Kaun Banega Crorepati. So, there's still hope, that slippery illusionary thing. I mean I did try my best to be on the show and I still have hopes. Wish me luck!

Flooding, storms, disease, droughts, species extinctions, and ocean acidification

The following is a warning by Dennis Bushnell who is the chief scientist at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, about the hazard of global warming, which as we are aware, is the prime threat to humanity. The more I think about it the more I am disturbed.

"The additional effects of these feedbacks increase the projections from a 4°C–6°C temperature rise by 2100 to a 10°C–12°C rise, according to some estimates. At those temperatures, beyond 2100, essentially all the ice would melt and the ocean would rise by as much as 75 meters, flooding the homes of one-third of the global population.

"Between now and then, ocean methane hydrate release could cause major tidal waves, and glacier melting could affect major rivers upon which a large percentage of the population depends. We'll see increases in flooding, storms, disease, droughts, species extinctions, ocean acidification, and a litany of other impacts, all as a consequence of man-made climate change. Arctic ice melting, CO2 increases, and ocean warming are all occurring much faster than previous IPCC forecasts, so, as dire as the forecasts sound, they're actually conservative."

"Flooding, storms, disease, droughts, species extinctions, ocean acidification," of course, I wouldn't be around to see all this happening but I wonder what anyone is doing to save ourselves and our grandchildren. And all this about to happen in the next century, i.e., before 2100, which means the time my grandchildren would be living on the earth, god willing.

Now, who would want his/her grandchild/ren to go through such an ordeal? The environment is precious, nurture it, protect it, savour it.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The New Indira Gandhi International Airport

The new Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi is the eleventh largest in the world, so says this article in Wikipedia. Last time I passed through the terminal it was in terrible shape and there was confusion all around and the airline staff was in a surly mood. At the boarding gate a very assertive lady of a publishing persuasion (whom I know through telephone calls and emails) was insisting, "Open the gate now (read it here)." The girl manning the gate (sorry libbers, there's no word called "womanning") was almost crying.

So I hope things are improving, and "all will be well" (shades of 3 idiots here) with the IGIA.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Olufemi Terry Wins the Caine Prize for African Writing

Since it is South Africa and football fever all over the media and television, I thought this would interest, as an aside. News is that Olufemi Terry has won the annual £10 000 Caine Prize for African Writing. Congrats! Details here.

Monsoon Disorientation

You begin the day with great expectation. Freshly laundered and ironed trouser, fresh new shirt, crisp handkerchief, socks, all co-ordinated, all pervading a newness that exhilarates me after a hiatus of two days. Yesterday was the bandh (everything closed) and the day before was a Sunday. So I had two days to catch up on a lot of writing. Got some new insights which I have incorporated into the work-in-progress novel "Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard."

But a suburban train ride and two hours have passed. Those two hours changed everything. I am feeling as disoriented and as crumpled as a discarded tissue. The train was crowded and I was standing on my toes all along, beside people all wet, trying not to be stepped on the toes. My shoes are patent leather and I don't like them being stepped on, "Don't step on my blue suede shoes," so Elvis crooned in "Blue Suede Shoes." Ah, something similar.

Then at V.T. there's a vile and unrepentant rain falling. There's a sea emptying, and a sea of people being soaked to their bones, a huddle of wet bodies sullenly making their way to work. The Azad Maidan is flooded and a wary crowd wades through the water. I take a long cut, a detour via the VSNL telecom tower, then down Fashion Street to Bombay Gymnasium to New Marine Lines. The water's pouring down my umbrella, my starched trousers are soaked, the creases gone, my patent leather shoe is full of water, my shirt is wet and clings to my skin, and the bag with my lunch is also soaked. I am wet and in a dither which feeling stays through the day.

A sad twist to a promising day, the first of the really malicious storm that descends every year. But this monsoon too I have resolved to take nature and rain in my strides. That sounds brave.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Two Movies “Three Idiots” and “Loud Speaker”

Three Idiots

Today I saw "Three Idiots" a movie I was meaning to see for what seems ages. My Bollywood quotient isn't much high (I blame fatigue) and I feel sort of impatient with long cinematic narratives that are going nowhere in particular. But having said that and having heard a lot about the movie I found it a big let down. Agreed, it has elements of an engaging film in which the characters elicit your sympathy and you go along with what is happening in their life as if you are experiencing in your own. This is the quality of all good literature and arts. First and foremost an artist wants his ideas and characters to be accepted for what he/she is and he/she wants the audience's sympathy. Which this movie gets. But why all this rona-dhona (crying and maudlin sentimentality)? Our directors think if they don't make you weep then their films aren't good enough. Bunkum.

It began on a very good note, engrossing scenes of college, fun all the way. Then it wandered into sentimental territory and I went cold and cut off. Something switched off. Why do sentiments have to play a major role in all our cinemas, the crying, the shedding of crocodile tears? As a people we are very shy of being seen crying, we keep things pent up, we bottle up, but on screen our actors shed copious tears, rant and rave and look how the women cry and throw tantrum. That was what was off-putting about the movie. But it is an excellent movie by Bollywood standards because there is a storyline and a plot line (unfortunately these two lines are often missing from our films).

Loud Speaker

No this is not a film about loud speakers. It's about a man called "Loud Speaker." This lovely and well-directed Malayalam movie is about a man who brings sunshine into a co-operative housing society with his charming rustic ways. Mammooty (big fan of his here) plays the loudspeaker to perfection.

How do I know?

The character is a Nasrani meaning Syrian-christian (of my provenance) and Mammooty through his character study exactly replicates the manner and language of Syrian-christians. For example:

What is "entha" in rest of Kerala is "enna" in Syrian-christian lingo.

Likewise "Enthina" is "ennathina." I couldn't but admire the effort, the observation, the genius that must have gone to script such nuances in this movie.

(Note: though Malayalam may sound like a single language throughout the expanse of the state the language is spoken in a hundred different variants, some sing-song, some truncated and sounding like Tamil.)

A thing that stands out is the cinematography. It's so subtle I wondered if it is a foreign movie. The camera moves unobtrusively, slickly, the dialogue is understated not loud, the acting is subtle not hamming.

On the day of the bandh when the rest of the country was in seeming turmoil I enjoyed these two movies.

Which is the better movie?

I am not being biased (which, of course, I may unknowingly be, who knows, it may be in the genes) but "Loud Speaker" is a better movie because it has consistency, a well researched script and the acting is superb. You feel as if the director is really in control. There are elements to this movie which entertain and draw your sympathy to the characters, which all good movies should do. The Malayalam movie has progressed and the Hindi movie can learn a lot from it.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Decline of Artistic Merit – V (Writing)

Scenario: You are inside a newspaper office. Difficult, but just imagine for this once.

The action is at the news desk. The latest news is coming in and intelligent and pretty Ms. Sahasrabudhe (she, wearer of funky spectacles) is writing captions and slugs and summaries that will appear in tomorrow's newspaper. She finds it difficult to fit the caption "The economy is in doldrums on the back of recessionary trends" in the available space which is 24 square centimeters. She approaches the chief sub-editor whom she calls the chief.

"Chief, I have a problem."

Chief doesn't look up. He is engrossed.

"Chief I have a problem."

"Eh? Whaaat? You aaare always disturbing me when I aam concentrating." He is the sort whose words run faster than his thoughts, "What's it tell me quick."

"Er, I want to fit, "The economy is in doldrums on the back of recessionary trends" in 24 square centimeters, she indicates the space with her fingers.

"What's your problem?" he takes a sheet and writes, "The enomy is in dldrums on the bk of rnary trends."

"But sir that's bad English, no?"

"Who says it is bad English. You know or I know?"

"Sir, but that is SMSese, and we don't use SMSese."

"Same question, repeat. I know or you know?"

"Sir, I don't think this is right, I will ask the news editor."

"Okay go," he says gleefully with a contented smile.

The news editor is Mishraji who is fond of eating powdery betnet masala from a pouch he keeps in his shirt pocket.

"Mishraji, the chief tells me to write a caption thus, "The enomy is in dldrums on the bk of rnary trends."

"Why what's wrong? You know or I know?"

"But sir, sir, that's wrong no? What will the readers say? Besides the Oxford English Dictionary and Webster's says that sort of writing is bad. The whole world will laugh at us." Ms. Sahasrabudhe says.

"Who cares about the reader? As for Oxford and Web-wib-whatever… I have got orders from our revered and respected chairman. SMSese is the new trend of a dynamic younger generation. You know or he knows better? So we are going ahead and using it. Do it or else?" Mishraji says between pouring mouthful of betelnut masala into his mouth and chewing on it.

"But Mishraji, I am the younger generation."

"You know or I know who is what?"

Ms. Sahasrabudhe, she of the funky spectacles removes the permanently-fixed appurtenance from her face as she is in tears and says, "Yes sir, if you say so."

Who decides about the goodness of English in newspaper offices?

Big B Acts in Malayalam Film “Kandahar”

The "Don" (My most enduring memory of Amitabh is in his role as "Don.") is out shooting in Udhagamandalam for a Malayalam Movie titled "Kandahar" with none other than Malayalam superstar Mohan Lal. Here's another report of the shoot.

Now the magnanimity of Amitabh is that he is not charging anything for his role. Very sweet of him.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Blog: Living a Freewheeling Peripatetic Life around the World

Lisa Lubin lived in bed and breakfast joints, torn and overused jeans and flip flops, bathed in hotel soaps the size of pebbles (the sort hotels handout with the room key), led a peripatetic life around the world and came back to settle in Chicago. Read about the way she did it, also with interesting tips on what she missed and didn't miss. Didn't miss much, that is.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Decline of Artistic Merit – IV – Writing

What's good writing? Nobody in the Indian corporate world has any idea.

"We wanted a good the writer. Hm. He, or, in the world of women's empowerment, she, should be brilliant, one another Shakespeare, or, Anne Hathaway," said corporate head honcho Gaitonde who was particularly confused about the use of article.

"We will do the needful at our earliest convenience, sir. Rest assured, sir, most humbly as requested." This is from Balasubramaniam the office busybody who has a habit of poking his nose into everything and messing things up.

So an expensive ad is put in the high-cost high-profile newspaper as follows:

"Needed Corporate Communication Specialist

"If you are the next Shakespeare in waiting, need a steady job, a ready environment to grow, we offer you the challenges you need. Salary no bar. Experience desirable but will not be a constraining factor. Apply Box No.:"

Since experience was only desirable, thousands apply. Balasubramaniam has applications by the sack full. He lists 20 candidates for interview. He selects 5 for the head honcho to interview. Out of this he selects a girl with curly hair; dreamy looks and who devours books by the way a hungry dog would swallow dog biscuits. The honcho likes her distracted looks and air of erudition.

But he finds that she is neither Shakespeare in the making, no, not even an Anne Hathaway. Though the girl reads a lot, she can't write corporate copy the way honcho wants it, which goes something like this:

"Since economic conditions are conducive to market penetration of the company's products, we should test market only the market-ready and ready-to-launch products suitably and concomitant with our pre-arranged launch strategy as per MD's directions."

Poor girl had a heart attack when she was asked to study the sentence and draft a launch strategy similar to this. According to her fine literary sensibility this is bad writing. She re-writes as follows:

"Economic conditions are amenable to selling of our products. We should sell only products according to our MD's direction."

The head honcho Gaitonde didn't like simplicity. He is a "double-eye" (meaning both IIT and IIM) which means he indulges in weaving a web of words around the most commonplace things. For him incomprehension was a mark of his market penetrability and management acumen. So he sacks the corporate communication specialist, as he thinks she is not worthy of being even an understudy to Shakespeare.

Balasubramaniam is back to square one. The search continues for a corporate communication specialist. Balasubramaniam's problem is he can't distinguish between literary writing and corporate communications. He is confused. (To be continued.)