Friday, April 30, 2010

Sunanda’s Story


This post on Shobhaa De's blog is about a certain Sunanda who has some association with a cricket league that ended recently. Not being judgmental, neither being in a mood to comment, I say, "Let peace and grace prevail."

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Rightly Said, Amitav Ghosh

This is Amitav Ghosh's reply to groups that insisted that he decline the Dan David Prize which he is being conferred jointly with Margaret Atwood, more here on Kafila.org.

"I would like to state clearly that I do not believe in embargoes and boycotts where they concern matters of culture and learning. On the contrary I believe very strongly that it is important to defend the notion that institutions of culture and learning must, in principle, be regarded as autonomous of the state. Or else every writer in America and Britain, and everyone who teaches in a British or American university, would necessarily be implicated in the Iraq war, and by extension, in Israel's actions in Gaza and Palestine. Similarly every Indian writer and academic would also be complicit in the actions of the Indian government in areas of conflict. And if we don't defend this principle how will we defend the rights of dissent of those who are employed in universities especially, for instance, in times of war, when reasons of state can be cited to create an explicit complicity?"

Makes sense. We sometimes mistake a few people for the whole community and the country. Like that part about disenfranchised dissenters who work against heavy odds within their own borders.

Train Rage – What’s with Saying “Sorry”?

A thing that upset me a few days ago, has been going through a churn, it's only now I am in a position to write about it. Heard about road rage? Well, this is something close – train rage. I was a victim and took it on my unfortunate victim, who didn't expect it, for all I know.


I am in a crowded train and this smart guy with a big bulging knapsack on his back is pushing me on my bad shoulder (you know, bad posture, crouching over the keyboard, etc., has made my shoulder bad). He is a small guy but he is carrying a huge knapsack, which takes the space of two people in a narrow and crowded train compartment. When I protest the guy turns to me and says:


"This is a train. You have to get used to it."


Now, how shall I say it, this is what is wrong. I can write a book on it, but I won't. I reacted. I reacted very badly. I was shivering with the affront. I don't remember the exact words I said. For a few minutes I was the centre of attention, till my shivering was subdued, with a great force of will. If it was an apology, I would have understood. But these days, hm, nobody says sorry. "Sorry seems to be the hardest word," as Elton John sang. Who has sympathy and compassion these days? What's with saying a simple sorry for some hurt one has caused, and moving on? This is a harsh city. Typical of my train rage is the fellow commuter's obstinacy in not apologizing. A man dashes against me while walking along the sub-way at V.T. and doesn't apologise, no, not even a glance. Rage replaces affront.


We have become hard and harsh. We haven't become compassionate with more learning and knowledge. One thing about modern technology is that we have more information but not much understanding. We haven't the sensitivity to understand another's problems and needs.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cameron Rubbishes Hawkings’ Theory of the Plundering Malevolent Alien


I haven't seen Avatar, the movie. However, from what I have read that James Cameron has portrayed aliens as a friendly sort, just like your likable neighbor. However I also somewhat agree with what Stephen Hawkings says here. I have to admit I tried to read his "A Brief History of Time" some time ago. I remember being dazed by it after a few pages, poor me, I don't have any recollection about what it was about.
So, hm, when Hawkings says that there is life in the universe and that the aliens could be a plundering and exploiting intelligent foreigner (unlike what directors of E.T. and Avatar would have us believe), well, okay, like the Americans were to the native Indians, and that according to him we should stop seeking them out, I nod and agree. However Cameron something interesting to say in this article in mediaite which is based on an interview on MSNBC:
"I think he's (Hawking's) right on the money. They were, you know, converted to Christianity or whatever it was. And this has been our history. So why would we expect aliens be any different?"
So tongue in cheek.
Now I have read that Avatar is about a rather benevolent alien, so apparently he is defending his position, i.e., the widely-picturised and tom-tomed image of the alien as a benevolent be-horned creature with a big head. Goes to show scientists and film directors will never agree.

Why Literary Agents Stop Reading a Manuscript


Got this in the mail. Livia Blackburne summarized the following points on why literary agents stop reading a manuscript at the Boston Book Fest. The method used was unique: an actress picked manuscripts at random (from the slush pile I guess) and read 250 words and agents from a panel would their hands when they felt they would stop reading. Then they explain why they would stop reading. Hope this makes sense to writers struggling to make themselves lucid amidst a hundred other concerns while writing.

1. Generic beginnings: Stories that opened with the date or the weather didn't really inspire interest. According to Harmsworth, you are only allowed to start with the weather if you're writing a book about meteorologists. Otherwise, pick something more creative.

2. Slow beginnings: Some manuscripts started with too much pedestrian detail (characters washing dishes, etc) or unnecessary background information.

3. Trying too hard: Sometimes it seemed like a writer was using big words or flowery prose in an attempt to sound more sophisticated. In several cases, the writer used big words incorrectly. Awkward or forced imagery was also a turnoff. At one point, the panelists raised their hands when a character's eyes were described as "little lubricated balls moving back and forth."

4. TMI (Too Much Information): Overly detailed description of bodily functions or medical examinations had the panelists begging for mercy.

5. Clichés: "The buildings were ramrod straight." "The morning air was raw." "Character X blossomed into Y." "A young woman looks into the mirror and tells us what she sees." Clichés are hard to avoid, but when you revise, go through and try to remove them.

6. Loss of Focus: Some manuscripts didn't have a clear narrative and hopped disjointedly from one theme to the next.

7. Unrealistic internal narrative: Make sure a character's internal narrative—what the character is thinking or feeling—matches up with reality. For example, you wouldn't want a long eloquent narration of what getting strangled feels like—the character would be too busy gasping for breath and passing out. Also, avoid having the character think about things just for the sake of letting the reader know about them.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Poor, Poor, Amitabh and His Affliction

In this blogpost Amitabh Bachhan talks about his affliction on his blog. I remember, when this accident happened on the sets of Coolie I was on a trip to Kerala. I took a gatefold picture of Amitabh from a film magazine I read on the train and pasted it on the wall of my room in Puliyelil Fieldview, Kidangannoor, my home in Kerala. I used to pray everyday for Amitabh's recovery during my stay there (as I used to lead my parents in prayer, their eyesight being poor). I loved this guy (still love him) and have watched him grow from the time he was featured in Star & Style as a promising new comer along with actors like Kiran Kumar, Benjamin Gilani, Raman Kumar, etc. Remember them? Kiran Kumar still acts in serials. But the talented Bejamin disappeared. Don't know whatever happens, some people just disappear from consciousness and some people stay.

Like Amitabh. He is the biggest brand India has produced, in contemporary times.

Amitabh recovered. (Thanks to my prayers, I hope. But, to be modest, it was the combined prayers of the whole nation. Not to mention his tremendous patience and holding power.) But now it turns out he has cirrhosis from some infection that developed during the surgery that was performed after the Coolie incident (Incidentally, in the film, which I saw, they stop at the spot where he had that accident, sort of gimmickry, I guess). Some events in life turn out to be thusly. We can't do anything about it. And we wonder whether we could have done anything to avoid the particular instant when it happened. I admire Amitabh for his patience, his air of calm, his delivery, his acting skills. Most of all his writing skill and style. Wah, bhai, wah! He writes so well, he puts me, a wannabe, to shame. It is said he maintains files of his characters which he studies before giving a shot. I once watched a raw shot of him arguing a scene with the Manmohan Desai. So vehement was he that poor Jaya Prada who was his co-star in the film was almost in tears. Here's a committed actor, one of our best, who knows his job and does it well.

That's Amitabh. Thank God for hearing my prayers and saving him.

Monday, April 26, 2010

SEC Officials Were Watching Porn Not Regulating Market


This is conclusive proof how the world-wide recession came about. It says **grin** that Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) officials who were supposed to monitor the financial markets were watching free porn. Porn, when the world financial indices were taking a tumble? Wassup?
Ho-hum!
Senator Chuck Grassley ordered an enquiry and what apparently came out was that the official were busy in matters libidinous than financial. It's easy for office drones to mask their surfing activities from their lords and masters. Use a proxy browser, and you can hoodwink firewalls and gatekeepers. Makes me wonder our own SEBI officials were doing when the Mehta-gate and Parekh-scams were happening.
Friend Kuriachen Kuriakose has a different take. "What new about this? Go into the cabins of the high and mighty in our own land, you will find worse things happening. There have been cases of head honchos of institutions having their own moles planted in their office [official omerta, so to speak], just like sailors who have girlfriends in every port of call. All show a decadent bourgeoisie mentality."

The “Sachin Effect” and Why Mumbai Indians Lost

The Indian Premier League final was a disappointment. It happened a few kilometers away from home. I wanted to get the experience, be there when mayhem happened. I saw the lights shimmering from far, so near and so tempting, but sonny was against it.

"Don't waste money, papa," was his advice.

Good thing I didn't go. He suggests I buy a balti chicken from the nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken and eat it as we watch.

When I come home with the chicken, having passed the D.Y.Patil stadium on the way, wifey has a fit, well, nearly.

"What Rs 400 odd for a few pieces of chicken. What sort of deal is that? We could have eaten chicken for the whole month. My God, what's with you people?" She doesn't approve of KFC or IPL for that matter and retires to bed thereafter.

People, meanwhile, me and sonney, are well into the drubbing Mumbai Indians are receiving. Have I said anything about the "Sachin Effect" lately? It's that effect Sachin's exit has on those who follow him. They, all of them, throw their bat around like they are in a badminton match and not a cricket match and return saying, "Well Sachin couldn't make a century, who are we to try?"

Snort!

That's why I feel Sachin should bat in middle order, or last. But that's my opinion.

So Mumbai Indians lost. I didn't know this for I was fast asleep on my couch. Sonny would wake me up once in a while, but I said I have to go to work the next day, that being today. Reason was: I knew the "Sachin Effect" and what was going to happen.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Stilled Voices

Stilled voices
It’s only noises
And Advertisement
And Entertainment.(Chorus)

Newspapers full of lies
Television anchors are salesmen in disguise.

Sportsmen play a weird game
After all, they are after money and fame.

They worship these nomads
And say they are the modern-age gods.

Stilled voices
It’s only noises
And Advertisement
And Entertainment.(Chorus)

Music’s everywhere, catharsis
Music’s now synthesis.

Do you sing your songs?
Or, are you afraid to sing?

Do the noises make sense?
Are there rhythm and cadence?

Stilled voices
It’s only noises
And Advertisement
And Entertainment.(Chorus)

Give the poor televisions
Nothing better to destroy their vision.

No, it’s not the gormint
Nor the reporters of print.

It’s them corporate men
Natty ties, suits and powerpoints, Amen.

Stilled voices
It’s only noises
And Advertisement
And Entertainment.(Chorus)

P.S.: I usually post poems on my poetry blog. However, since I have nothing else to post today, here it is. Got to keep up my blog ratings (if I don't post for a day down it goes, southward), you know.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Life’s Big Surprises and French

So much on my mind, but can’t find time to write. A whirlwind tour to a small town and then a funeral. Sometimes life comes in big packages, and when you open you get a surprise, a small surprise hiding inside the tinsel paper and be-ribboned box. That small surprise magnifies to fill your life, to consume you with worry. It’s good I have a blog where I can take it all off. Sort of wash myself and my linen clean.
“We all carry around so much pain in our hearts. Love and pain and beauty. They all seem to go together like one little tidy confusing package. It's a messy business, life. It's hard to figure – full of surprises. Some good. Some bad.”
- Henry Bromel
Such is life. As they say in French, cest la vie. I don’t know French. Correct my ignorance, show me my insolence. I studied Sanskrit instead. I wish I could have studied both, seeing as how much I miss French classics and old French writers. Well, Paris is where all writers want to be going to seed and vegetating. Me too.

Three Deaths in the Family


This is a bit disturbing. I am kind of like, "what?" A cousin died, then the sad news came of another death in the family, and, upsettingly, another. That's three cousins in a week. Oh God! I don't know what to say. Could it be the heat? Hm. The heat's a bitch. Perspiring as I write this. Writing comes out of effort and the effort should show. Forces a wry smile. Could it be the shock? Could it be that it shows how our lives are all linked in a chain of mortality, so that if one link disappears, the rest of the chain is also affected, insidiously, inexorably?

I felt a tad unsettled yesterday. No, no, no, you can't die. Not possible. We all had grown together, except for a cousin whom I hadn't met very frequently. When mother died, her trusted companion and help died within ten days. Oh, that reminds me I just offered condolence online to a friend who lost his father.

Weird. Of all the things to be said about death, the least is said about a honourable and painless death. The cousin who died recently - P.K.Zachariah - did that, in the full flow of life - he was in the process of setting up three places of worship in the rural areas of Marathawada - so I am told. So much dynamism flowed out of him, so much energy to accomplish things. He could take all things with a smile, a largeness of heart and fortitude. My heart goes out to his immediate family, whom I have known all along. Hope and pray that you all are safe out there. The only thing we can do is live an active life and hope. Hope and expectations for you all.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Posting from the Outskirts

It’s amazing how the interiors of India are still stuck in a different day and age. I am in Solapur, the textile town, but the television channels are all local or south Indian, as if the rest of India didn’t exist: Surya, Asianet , Doordarshan, local Marathi channels. Nothing much to write about except that it’s hot, a dry kind of heat. The train ride by Siddheshwar Express went without event, as I was slumbering in a brand new coach: no dirt; no stain; little pouches to keep glasses, mobile; blanket, sheets and pillow. Ah, what comfort, I felt like I was in the lap of luxury. Going to be a short one as net isn’t very reliable and have a busy schedule ahead.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

P.K.Zachariah, cousin, rest in peace.

The war is going on still (not on the cricketing fields this time), on email, I read in the papers. In very bad language. The sort used by clerks in government offices. Shows the caliber of these pillars of the society who manage our institutions, our hallowed legislative forums where our money (yes, our money) worth billions are decided upon. Why is the ordinary citizen an alien in his own country? Why is our lack of ethics so gargantuan that one can't even imagine those amounts changing hands? How can such monies be transferred without the authorities knowing about it?

P.K.Zachariah, a cousin, who retired as Commissioner of Excise, Bombai, is no more. The end was unexpected and abrupt. I was shocked to hear the news. Head spun a bit, took some time to recover. I had spoken to him only recently after he moved into his new flat in Juhu. He was a pious man active in the church and diocese of Bombai, had given his life to active spiritual work. As a successful man he had very few airs about him and I can recall his laconic smile, his absence of pretense, his love for those who were his own. Very actively he campaigned to establish a church of the CNI denomination in New Bombai. A marble plaque in Jubilee Church Sanpada bears his name. Can't believe the world has lost one more smiling philanthropist. One more committed individual who believed the world can be a better place. Death is cruel, death is upsetting.

P.K.Zachariah, cousin, rest in peace.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Minister; a Commissioner; the Online World Waits

The online world can make things move fast, well, virally. Viral is a term used for transmission of information, call it "byte", or "meme", or whatever at the speed of light. Our ancestors used sign languages when words weren't invented and thoughts were just feelings. Ahem. The study of symbols, called semiotics, deals with the transmission of information through signs. Signs and symbols were storming through the television screen on the cusp of the excitement of a well-loved game.

I have been seeing semiotics unraveling at a phantasmal speed these few days. A minister is sending his fans updates, so is his rival a commissioner. Two powerful people slugging it out in a medium, which is more like a wrestling ring than a public space. Images, symbols, words, expressions.

Such speed, such dexterity. Such damage.

In one the minister is cheerful hopeful until his shoot-from-the-mouth tweets become his nemesis. In the other the commissioner is smiling and signing autographs and showing a mobile phone featuring a live transmission of a match. The successful entrepreneur showing off his tech-savvy-ness. Announcing to the world that he has arrived. What will become of him? Don't know.

Meanwhile the online world waits with bated breath.

Me and My Guitar

I have had a lifelong love affair with the guitar. I love the instrument. Whenever music is playing I listen for the guitar chords. But my attempts at playing it didn't bear fruit. Laziness and lack of consistency is to blame. I would practice and then give up, practice again, and give up, until I gave up altogether. I ended up with two guitars in the house, which are in a very poor and terminal stage.

So I decided to buy a new one. Seriously. Ahem. A Fender. Fender, so I assume, is the best guitar on the market. So my guitar-vendor-friend shows me a good guitar with the right tonal values and I ask:

Is it original Fender?

No, it's made in China.

Has the whole world moved to China?

No. They make decent guitars there.

They do. But what about human rights? What about sweat shops.

Friend, we live in a world of profit maximization, not human resource utilization. Most original manufacturers have outsourced their products. Fender, too.

But will I get the same quality.

You won't get the original quality, but better than the rest at a fraction of the cost.

So when an original Fender acoustic guitar costs in the region of Rs 30,000, the China-made one is available for Rs 15,000.

What about sweatshops? I ask myself. Don't we, too, live in a sweatshop economy? I answer myself.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ajay Priyadarshi on Arundhati Roy

In defense of Arundhati Roy, Ajay Priyadarshi has written this excellent essay dripping with irony and ire. Right from the time I read GOST I have been a great admirer of Arundhati Roy. Her activism may have been a big loss to the literary world, but it has established her as the bold and fearless champion of the oppressed and dispossessed. Ajay Priyadarshi, writes engagingly, tongue-in-cheek-ily, perceptively. He writes:

"Some day some one will put a more twisted case against your foolhardy efforts. Or worst, would have shot the messenger in you, just because you have Short hairs…Mao type! And our NDTV's Barkha Dutt will report – " Arundhati Roy, a Fictional Author and a demented activist was killed in cross fire, while mediating between Indian Government and Mao guerillas (thank god I am still the queen of journalism)."

The style is engaging, rather rhetorical, a brilliant spoof I guess.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Case of the Disappearing Alphonso Mangoes

"Alphonso mangoes for Rs 250 per kilogram," says my fruit vendor today.

"Will you give for Rs 150 per kilogram?" the woman asks.

"It's not grown in my family orchard, madam," he says. He has a weird, kinda, earthy, sense of humour.

I like it. Grin.

Why are Alphonso mangoes so expensive? Because the best ones are exported? They have disappeared from the plates of a common man such as me.

Yesterday, more to give my wife a relief from the drudgery of shopping, I go to the local market to buy the week's supply of vegetables and fruits. I love these rare occasions when I can study the state of the local economy. The usually buzzing market is empty, there aren't any vegetables left except old leafy lifeless things turning a dark grey inside the stall. I am left wondering what happened, knowing as I do that the city's vegetable market is within driving distance. Am I in some ersatz world where food is expensive and not easily available too, something of a stagflation?

I ask a friend and he says these days the mall retailers buy all the vegetables and the neighborhood bhai (or, bhaiya) finds no takers for the green stuff. The best stuff, of course, is exported.

Ahem. I am shocked.

That means an artificial scarcity of vegetable. With liberalization a lot of apples and even bananas and pears have landed in Bombai's market. That must have driven away the local apples, I guess. I don't know. The food chain has become costlier. The usual cauliflower costs Rs 12 for quarter of a kilo. This was not the case in the short-term memory of shopping I have done for my wife. So there.

Now with Monsanto coming up with genetically modified brinjals, would the food chain become more expensive? It would, I am sure. So where does that leave poor me?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Adobe Apple Battle




The above is the video about Adobe's software for tablets like iPads which Apple rejected quite summarily. That has sent developers at Adobe back to their drawing boards to re-design something that grumpy product specialists at Apple might like. Apple-men say that Adobe's products, hm, according to this article in Mediaite:

"Most notably, the new tablet-based computing device does not allow Adobe’s Flash, claiming that it drains a devices battery life, slows down mobile access, and most importantly, is far too buggy a plug-in which causes Apple computers to crash far too often. Adobe responded by creating a work-around, which Apple has since forbade, essentially putting Adobe out in the cold from what seems to be a potentially lucrative new media platform."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

People Falling Down Like Logs of Wood

It happened yesterday. I am in a train, going back home after a days work. The train is crowded as usual, and hot. Unusually hot. A commotion. A man faints and falls. Those around him support him and get him down.

"Take him to a nearby hospital."

"Make sure you alert his relatives."

"Give him a drink of water."

"Make space for him."

The train starts, the journey continues, the commuters (all men) look engrossed in their own worlds, analyzing, deconstructing, deciding, relaxing.

I am deep into V.S.Naipaul's "Guerillas" about a coup attempt in a small island in the Caribbean. His style is laid back, full of little, little epiphany-ic observations, about a world gone wrong, of catastrophic things happening, break-up of tenuous social systems and understandings, etc. His language is subtle, the humor understated.

The heat is unbearable and the proximity of so many sweating bodies makes it worse. Global warming is sending alarming signals – and still those steadfast non-believers tend to be skeptical. A man standing beside me blanks out, falls into my lap. He is around thirty-five, fit and fine from his body structure, has a head full of hair (I notice these things as the thatch above me is thinning), an epitome of the middle level executive.

Panic. Panic all around. Same words repeated.

"Give water." "Make space." "Do you wish to go to a doctor?" "Make him sit near the window."

I get up and make him sit. A kindly neighbor gets up and makes me sit down. I say, "thanks."

"He is okay, nothing to worry," a friend of his says. Indeed a friend.

"He has been working late hours, 2 p.m., for the past few days. He is stressed. Account closing, you see."

Two people fainted and fell like logs. Like logs of wood. The earth is getting warmer, we still fail to understand the full impact.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Artistry of Sunil Gavaskar in Those Halcyon Days

Feeling a bit low about how a game has been converted into a see-sawing political battle. Cricket has lost its sheen. What was a stylish square cut is a wild fling of the bat, what was a leg glance is today, well, hm, a glance towards the film-star owner of the team shyly waving a flag, or a lascivious glance at the legs of the prancing cheerleader. Poor things, those cheerleaders, I pity them, they don't know a thing about the game and also, I presume, don't know what they are cheering. And poor thing, the film star, she doesn't know why her team is losing all its matches. May be, its because they don't conduct Mahurats before going to bat. No?

I remember the 1970's when Clive Lloyd's speed merchants visited India. I was terrorized watching television (a new entry in Bombai then) at the tall and athletic Michael Holding running in to bowl at the diminutive Sunil Gavaskar. Now, Gavaskar is the only batsman I know (maybe this is a world record) who didn't wear a helmet against the speeding balls of the West Indians. In fact, to see him boldly facing the big and burly West Indians in a Panama cap made me wince. Such was his guts. And about his style, most of his shots would shoot like a bullet, kissing the ground, never a bounce, because he mostly hit fours and not sixes, as he believed in defending his wicket for his country. His artistry is not evident in anyone except Sachin in the current season.

Speaking of seasons, the current season has seen an upside down, lopsided, shake-up of the very concept of this ball game. Hitherto considered a gentleman's game, I don't know if it is any longer. The rest is known to all ye readers. I rest my case.

Says my friend Dhansukhbhai Jethalal Shah, "Maro bhai, what do you know about bijness? Sports has been a business for more than half a century and here you are talking of artistry, pachi soo?"

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Sham Called Cricket

Sham. (Disclaimer: once again this may sound like sour grapes, from a disgruntled fox, who else?) I mean that’s what comes to mind when one reads about cricket these days. I also mean that how can all pretences of decency be left behind by people including a minister about a sports event, which needs to be the most goodwill-worthy activity in the world? Now the underworld also seems to have sniffed out the rich scent of money. I don’t know the details so wouldn’t dare to comment, but look at it this way, my way, however pathetic I may sound.But that's the way I am.

Why are some highly rated players just not giving their best? How is it that such a lot of wide bowls are being thrown (I almost wrote “balled”)? Also consider the number of batsmen hitting the ball into their own stumps. Why are commentators talking to players and umpires? Why is the organiser signing autographs? Why do cheerleaders cheer behind wire meshes (remember, they are supposed to cheer, all right?)? In fact, why cheerleaders who don’t understand a thing about the game (wohi jo phirang karthe hai na?)? Why does the display board read “obscene” when a four has been hit? There are more, but I leave them to your imagination.

Cricket has been reduced to a farce, and I don’t know if it can be redeemed from there.

And most importantly: with so much money going around, I have a sneaky feeling that good money is being frittered after bad. After all, can a country which has the majority living below the poverty line and in which more than fifty per cent of the children are malnourished afford such a sports tamasha?

The scribes, the commentators, the newspaper columnists daren’t open their mouths as they have all been given a share of the vastly un-humble pie, their salaries, the juicy part of the pickings. Nah! They daren’t comment. It is left to a seriously handicapped, though bravely persevering media hands to bring out the truth behind the back-stage shenanigans. They have to be careful as the people they are writing about are big advertisers.

And then comes along these revelations on Twitter. Social networks are dangerous when they are used for personal agendas, which are better left hidden. What comes out may be in the heat of the moment but it’s serious nonetheless. There are no friendships here. Remember Gordon Gekko’s words, “If you need a friend, keep a dawg.”

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Michael Jackson, Tiger Woods, Now Oprah Winfrey - What's With These Celebs?

According to mediaite, salacious details have emerged from Oprah Winfrey's unauthorised biography written by Kitty Kelly. Who, we so read, has gained notoriety for her maverick and unconventional style. Kelly's new book on Oprah has plenty of shockers in store; writing for the NY Post, Jeremy Olshan has this report:

A sampler from the book would go thus:

"* Winfrey concocted stories about sexual abuse she suffered as a child — and grossly exaggerated the poverty she was brought up in.
"* She went to great lengths to conceal her "lesbian affairs" — including hefty payoffs — and publicly attached herself to Graham to appear more normal to her audience of housewives.
"* She lavished romantic gifts — including a diamond toe ring — on ABC talking head Diane Sawyer.
"* Winfrey sold her body to earn extra money and has even described herself as a teen "prostitute."
"* She doesn't know the true identity of her biological father.
"* Her relationship with her own mother is so cold that Winfrey won't even let the older woman have her phone number."

No wonder fellow talk show hosts like Barbara Walters, Larry King, and David Letterman are staying away, not to anger the talk-show queen, the queen bee rather.

My friend Anthonybhai, who is fast with his tongue has this quote, "Arre man, look at her, with all her success and riches, is it any surprise-biprise, re, that people are targeting her? May be, they are looking for big pay offs. Remember one Michael Jackson? Celeb-dom has a high price to pay."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Iran Using Hi-tech to Spy on Its Citizens?

In what might be shocking news for proponents of free speech online and libertarianism, news from Iran indicates that the country is using advanced surveillance systems supplied by Siemens and Nokia to spy on its citizens using the internet, according to Wall Street Journal. The technology called "Deep Packet Inspection" involves:

"Deep packet inspection involves inserting equipment into a flow of online data, from emails and Internet phone calls to images and messages on social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Every digitized packet of online data is deconstructed, examined for keywords and reconstructed within milliseconds. In Iran's case, this is done for the entire country at a single choke point, according to networking engineers familiar with the country's system. It couldn't be determined whether the equipment from Nokia Siemens Networks is used specifically for deep packet inspection."

Have heard of the Stasi spying on common citizens in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) and maintaining detailed accounts of their activities. Has that come to Iran too? What should be addressed, too, is the multinationals' willingness to succumb to go to any extent to make profits.

Interestingly in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index Iran ranked 168 out of 180 countries surveyed and India ranked 84 out of 180. That only means one thing: less transparency means being neurotic enough to curtail their freedom of expression. What has happened in the tribal areas around Dhantewada where the massacre of CRPF jawans occurred is that corruption has got to such a degree that there is general cynicism and a feeling that "nothing can be done." The poor who have been marginalised are moving to cities leaving the remote villages to exploitation of every sort and in extreme cases to militias. What will result? The rise of warlords and militias as happened in Congo?

Games Airlines Play


Ryanair, a low cost carrier in the US of A is charging passengers for using bathroom facilities, says this article.

That's the pits, really it is, asking passengers money to take a leak. Another airline is asking passengers to pay for cabin luggage, another is thinking about charging passengers for an additional seat if they are overweight.

Monday, April 12, 2010

IBN Live's "Blaze" Launched

The following came via mail:

 
 

"IBN Live launches path-breaking and technologically equipped feature named 'Blaze' on their site. Blaze enables the end-users to shortlist or finalize their favorite celebs, anchors, presenters and reporters, post which users will get real-time up-to-date information on their activities (what they're reading and watching). This feature will give one an opportunity to validate or question their favorite anchor on their source of information and grow from their observations and learnings. One can even follow their updates and share comments on them as well as chat, ask and answer questions. "

 
 

So? I login and find that the "celebs" are all reporters, anchors, presenter (the same-same?), and what they are reading and reporting. I then proceed a bit nervously, I might add, to Rajdeep Sardesai's page. No I am not afraid of his reportage but his voice sometimes scares me, as I fall asleep in my easy chair most often, and am woken in dither by his shouting. Then I go back to sleep comfortably again when the other person begins to speak. In "Blaze" there are tabs for "Channel", "Ask", "Answer", "Chat", "Blog", etc. When I go to "Blog" it says "coming soon." Good. I will watch this space, for sure. Hm.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Apologies to P. C.

I know, I know one shouldn’t apportion blame without thinking, nor, even accept it. I had wrongly imagined that P.Chidambaram hadn’t offered to resign after the Dhantewada massacre of CRPF para-military forces fighting against the Maoists. One blogs things in the heat of events only to realise that one should have restrained ones finger tips. My deepest contrition, my heartfelt apologies. It now transpires that in the missive accepting the blame, Chidambaram had also offered to resign. So my sincere regret to the Home Minister, who is otherwise doing a great job.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Honour Killings Continue in Harayana


The saga of honour killings is indeed sad. Not a month has passed since the court sentenced five members of a Khap Panchayat for the honour killing of Manoj and Babli and the following is reported in Times of India.

"Honour killings in Haryana claimed two more lives as the brother of a 16-year-old girl strangled her to death for being involved with a boy of the same village, on Thursday. A day after the girl was killed, the boy committed suicide in school.

"Rakesh Kashyap [the unfortunate lover of the girl], 18, was found hanging from a tree in his school in Bhainswal village of Sonepat district."

Half of India's Children Are Malnourished


Here's writer and blogger Dilip D'Souza writing in his blog:
 
"By some estimates, over half of India's children -- something approaching 80 million kids -- are malnourished, the highest number in the world. While reading about this several years ago for something I had to put together, I found a UNICEF report from the early '90s, The Progress of Nations, that did some eye-opening for me.
 
"It said that the routine explanations for this scale of malnourishment -- poverty, low per capita food production, inequality in incomes, even vegetarian diets -- don't hold up to scrutiny. For Africa shows up significantly worse than India on some of these counts, but only about a third of its children are malnourished. Even in Mauritania, the worst African country in this respect, only 48% of the children are malnourished."
 
It is surprising how half this country's children are malnourished, while African children are shown to be better. Sure we have seen pictures of famine-ravaged children in Africa and baulk at the poverty. But travel into the interiors of this country and you will see millions of malnourished, skinny children, who, I am sure, don't get proper food and nourishment. The enemy may be the old enemy within our gates - illiteracy.
 
In the same post Dilip also mentions quite incisively that though the right to compulsory education till the age of 14 was promised at the time of Independence, it became a law only recently. What was lost in the interregnum may be never regained. But let's still hope.

By the way his travelogue Roadrunner has recently been published. You can buy a copy here.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Saul Bellow on Clinton-gate


Today I came across Ramona Koval's interview of Saul Bellow. Now Bellow has been a favorite writer of mine. I was fascinated by Seize the Day and Humboldt's gift. Then, serendipitously crops up the following piece of conversation, which has some connection to this post.
 
"Saul Bellow: Well it's partly a matter of precedent, because in the nineteenth century the great writers did—some of them, many of them—did offer prescriptions: Tolstoy taught school in a sort of Rousseau-an way and everybody had some program or other; even Dickens had programs for happiness and so forth, and the public ate that up. It was very keen to have somebody to tell it what to do. The same thing is no longer felt. I think we've been obviously brushed aside. Nobody really knows how to live in the present circumstances. There's no such thing as being 'on top of it', I don't think. I think the recent experience of President Clinton shows that, if it shows nothing else. He thought he was on top of it.
 
"Ramona Koval: Perhaps he was on top of too much.
 
"Saul Bellow: Well he…I shan't go beyond his own statement, which is that he didn't commit adultery. But I think that probably having that much power is an aphrodisiac, and I don't think that there are very many people who are prepared nowadays, in these days where everything is permitted to everybody, to reject this advantage, or any advantage."
 
Cinton, like so many men, think they are on top of it, while actually they aren't. That's how leaders make mistakes and the world is full of leaders who thought so but weren't. Good he was found out. Hitler wasn't. That's our great regret isn't it?

If He Accepts Blame Why Didn't PC Resign?


It's time to play the blame game. I think India is turning out to be a beleaguered nation. Horror incidents, bombings, terror acts are coming from every side and I don't feel very safe. I don't feel safe at all about the future. When terror came across the seas we weren't prepared and when it came from within, we are busy passing the buck. For example P.C.Chidambaram has accepted the blame for the massacre of CRPF Jawans in Chhatisgarh, then why didn't he resign?

According to this article in Hindustan Times, Amiya Samanta, a former intelligence chief of West Bengal said faulty planning by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) led to the massacre of over 70 men at the hands of Maoists in Chhattisgarh.

Using Haikus to Create a Twitterstorm


For compulsive tweeters and facebookers, such as me, it now turns out that social media like Twitter is being used as a tool for stirring up "Twitterstorms". Wassthat? Like in the case of Glen Lee Beck (According to Wikipedia, Glenn Lee Beck "(born February 10, 1964) is an American conservative radio and television host, political commentator, author, and entrepreneur." )

Seems Beck-boy has created a stir among the church-going folk by asking them to boycott churches where priests preach about "social or economic justice," euphemism he expounds for Communism and Nazism. That's nothing. In Kerala we have confirmed Marxist priests who pepper their speeches with Marxian dialectic materialism.

According this post in mediaite, "The group Jewish Funds for Justice, took umbrage at Beck's "social justice" comments a few weeks ago, has created what they're calling a "Beck Twitterstorm". Every minute from 9 am this morning till 9 am tomorrow, the group will be Tweeting anti-Beck Haikus at the man himself. The poems were written by like-minded people and collected over the past week on haikuglennbeck.com, a website set up by the group."

A Haiku submitted by a contributor named Glen Sucks in haikuglennbeck.com reads thusly:

Stigmatize the poor
write it in chalk, it's easy
as they have no voice.

Go there, there's even more.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Willie and the Tech Generation's Last Ditch Stand


Skeletons keep tumbling for our playboy former-president Bill Clinton's closet. I guess this must be some kind of purgatory happening after the wanton sexual promiscuity of the nineteen-hundreds. Seems most likely since back home hidden skeletons are tumbling out, what with in-his-doddering-years N.D.T. being caught with nubile nymphs. And with spycams and cheap handicams there is a happenstance of a voyeuristic backlash for the nineteen-hundreds. Or is it the technology generation's last stand at fame and pelf?

Hm.

So who's talking now? Norris Church Mailer, the wife of the late writer of the novel The American Dream Norman Mailer (who was once married to Marilyn Monroe), it so happens, has written a memoir entitled A Ticket to the Circus. The book is all about her rather eventful relationship with the famous author from the point she met him, (she was 26 and he was 52), through his death. However, what's interesting is that either Church Mailer or her publishers have chosen to focus on another, saucier and interesting relationship, with a 27-year-old Bill Clinton, that the author flourishes into to make her book disappear from shelves. Here's an excerpt published in the Daily Beast courtesy Mediaite:

"He was 27 years old, single, and named Bill Clinton. I came in late, just as he began his talk, and he later said that when he saw me walk in, he forgot his speech—and then he forgot his name. I suspected he said that same thing to quite a few women, but it's a good line, so why not use it?"

Says my friend Kuriachen Kuriakose, "It's not wanton sexual promiscuity, my dear sir, it's 'In Search of Sexual Excellence,' authored by none other than Willie of always-at-the-ready lingam and the libidinous author of books such as 'Naked and the Dead'," and he smiles gleefully.

One thing is sure the two-thousands are going to be a puritan's paradise for sure. Believe me we have enough spycams and mobile cameras to ensure that.

iPad's WiFi Woes


Looks like the iPad is having WiFi problems. Here's what endgadget reports.

"Judging from our recent poll, a sizable number of folks have had problems with their iPad losing its WiFi connection, and Apple has now confirmed that such an issue does exist -- although it's not exactly saying there're any problems with the iPad itself."

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Way Our Citizens of the Future Communicate


I am at a cyber café in sector 8 of Belapur, taking some prints of wifey's school question paper. Ah, how I wish I could lay my hands on them when I was in school. I and my friend Chandran even tried to bribe the watchman to let us see the question paper once. The handsome Nepali watchman – who lived in a tiny room at the back of the school – was more loyal than we thought and threatened to report us to the principal, which he never did. That was in our innocent youth.
I digress. Hm.
I am taking these prints and behind me are children, not more than five or six playing some computer game, the sort which encourages them to be violent.
"Mother*****"
"Sister*****"
"I am a terrorist," one says.
"I am a commando," another says.
"I am a US Marine."
What am I hearing? Are their parents listening?

Will Cricket End Up As World Wrestling Federation (WWF)?

Perhaps it is the end of cricket as I knew it. The tenuous boundary between sports and entertainment has blurred to a greater extent again. Yesterday, unbelievingly, I watched the commentator speaking to the umpire on the field and even asking him why he disqualified a bowler as he bowled above the waist. The umpire seemed upbeat, jaunty and a bit of a show off, smiling toothily and all. And in snatches I could see the man who set off these trends – yes the great man who put IPL together – signing autographs. As if he is a great star himself, some gall this.

When the bowler was disqualified he came to the umpire and had an argument and on national television, watched by 30 million people, (I could hear clearly) he said the word, "F***."

When I say end of sports, I mean an activity that tested strength, endurance, stamina and a state of mind which can take defeat with the firm resolve to do better next time. Alas, alack, that is no more. If you want to see this activity you will have to order a CD or a video cassette (those were the days) and sit and watch graceful men playing a game with concentration and dedication.

No more.

I guess Cricket will become something like World Wrestling Federation (WWF) where players grab the mike and try to shout each other down and beat each other with chairs and whatever. Only in cricket it will be bats and stumps that will be used. So be ready to see a Dheerendra a.k.a. Undertaker and a Stone Cold Man. Extreme entertainment. Some prognosis of it is already happening.

Monday, April 05, 2010

iPad Craze, Add iPhone and iPod, too

Here's Stephen Fry on the iPad's launch writing in Time:

"Apple's success has been founded on consumer products that address this side of us: their products make users smile as they reach forward to manipulate, touch, fondle, slide, tweak, pinch, prod and stroke."

For long I have wanted something like the iPad. Not to mention an iPhone, an iPod and a Mac. Steve Job's products have the feel of real things as the above quote shows. We touch, we fondle (don't know what that means), we slide, we tweak, we pinch, we prod, and we stroke, that's the human in us. We like to feel our products not use our thumbs over it. It is said Steve doesn't like buttons. That's why he is always dressed in polo necks.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Bombai’s Tedex Off to a Good Start

Tedx Bombai, which concluded yesterday, showcased an interesting array of talent from environmentalists, industry people, health aficionados, to, Bollywood extras. Being the first there were bound to be certain shortcomings which I wouldn’t want to elaborate here, but all in all, whatever sessions I attended there was receptiveness in the audience and a sense of coming together of minds, which matters, after all.
Held at the night spot (sorry, I will rephrase that to day spot as it was held during the day) to watch out for, Blue Frog owned by Mahesh Mathai and his beautiful wife Srila Chatterjee, there is a sense of performance-space-combined-with-all-things-gastronomic about the place which I like. What more than good food, smooth drink, and a great ambience? It has a high-domed, glass-sheeted appearance and the acoustics is really very good. You can pick each word of what is said on stage even though you are seated on a stool in the back (I was abandoned here as I arrived late. Serves you right Late John, as friend Suniti is in the habit of calling me.) I had participated in a poetry slam at the Frog and I loved performing in its elaborate lighting and superb audio settings. Of course, I know Mahesh from earlier on, so it was nice to renew our acquaintance.

I wanted to cover all the sessions in detail but time doesn’t permit me that luxury. So I will only go through the highlights.

There was a video (in B&W) on David Blaine on holding his breath. But why a video? Is it a regular Tedx thing? I don’t know.

There was Andy and Anju extolling the virtues of dietary control to cure cancer. Anju’s words I remember, being crucial to all of us, “chlorophyll and blood are so designed as to regenerate every few days.” So the lesson here is to eat healthy if you want to live healthy. Also, “the liver regenerates every three months,” which is good for those livers with bad livers (sorry, bad pun!). You know, I have had a liver problem, getting better, the doctor said, so this is good news. So only clean food for the next three months.
Anupam Kher delivered the best of the talks. He is such a humorous and engaging talker, I wonder why all Bollywood actors are such good actors, that is, off screen. I wonder why he acts so hyper on screen while he so controlled in real life. “You must be yourself, don’t pretend to be someone else as you don’t know what impressions you are sending to others.” He is the actor I loved in “Khosla Ka Ghosla” and his most memorable was “Bend It Like Beckham” where he was subdued and very understated. He quite disarmed the audience with his takes on baldness, one of which is as below:

Baldies do all kinds of things to hide their baldness. They do the cross cut (drawing hair from the side or from the back over their bald patch.) If there are anyone with a cross cut here I would advise them to please cut it. It looks horrible.”

Yes it does. And in the train back home and I saw a baldie with a cross cut and he looked, well, terrible.
Then there was this talk by Dr. Raghunathan. He gave a nice presentation based about his book (I forget its name) and the best part was about the prisoner’s dilemma. Some of his observations:

“We (Indians) are pretty smart and probably dumb.”

For example he points out that we smartly calculate the advantage of throwing the garbage in the bin in terms of a SWOT analysis, sort of, [e.g. energy expended walking to the garbage bin while IPL match is on, resulting in catches and fours missed] and then decide to dump it on the road, thinking, the garbage guy will pick it up the next day, anyhow.

“We are too intelligent for our own good.”

Yes, that we are. If the building is to be painted, we reason, “Why should I be the first one to pay the contribution, while I can earn a bit more interest if my money is in the bank.”

“We have an abysmal sense of public hygiene.”

I notice this on the way back home. At Tilak Nagar station, they have installed new station shelters and within days there are an unending line of red betal-nut-and-lime spit marks on it already.

Kishoe Rithe spoke about his NGO that is doing a lot to conserve the tiger population. He says tigers only number around one thousand now and he presented slides about the efforts his NGO is putting to preserve the fast-dying species. Commendable indeed.

Steven Baker, a Brit, gave a talk on Bollywood extras, peppered by typical British humour. “Have you seen a movie called ‘Iqrar – By Chance?’” The audience laughs. No one? He had a bit role in it. His - nah, every Bollywood extra’s - life is all bits and pieces. He says that the place he lives in is a mini western country with white-skinned Bollywood dancing girls and IPL cheer leaders and even Russian dancers - who interestingly go to shops dressed in their costumes - and are stared at by all. They make a regular living because of the craze for white skin that our countrymen – rather, Bollywood directors, and ad model co-ordinators - have for white skin. Must remember to ask God to give me white skin in my next Avatar. At least I would be employable in Bollywood.

He says that the extras aren’t given vanity vans like the stars. Poor chaps, they are not given any vans at all and have to dress in the open. Ugh! That’s a bonfire of the vanities. Colaba, which is a fashionable district of South Bombay is from where the model co-ordinators get the white skins to act in their “item numbers” and ads.

Important: can the organisers ask the presenters to stand centre-stage and move about a bit, and not look frozen like stags or deers in the headlamps? Some of them took the very edge of left stage, and stood rigid and numb during their entire presentation. A bit more relaxed, a bit more energetic like Anupam Kher, okay?

Finito. I had to rush off to the office as persistent calls were coming in about unfinished work, and as I took leave of Blue Frog and Mahesh and Srila and the wonderful people behind Tedx (thanks “effervescent” Netra Parikh), I make a note to check this spot again for the vibrant community fit for intellectual discourse and performance, at least to me, that this pleasantly cavernous and awe-inspiring interiors represents. 

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Give Them Colour Televisions

Apropos of this account of Arundhati Roy’s foray into Maoist country, I am struck by how the indigenous people in this country has been so marginalised in their own lands and treated as foreigners. I am no leftist sympathiser, nor am I an apologist for the wrongs committed by the centrists and rightists. What is wrong is clearly wrong. The extent to which the ruling and educated elite can go to defend their own comforts and well-being is legendary. Mea culpa. We get so isolated in our own ivory towers that there seems no time and inclination for building bridges across moats.

The tribals of central India have some very praise-worthy traditions which I have described in another post. The Madia tribe’s Gotul tradition I have written about deserves praise. In a world that is paranoid about sex and hidden sexual sub-texts, where sex is the prime driver in the movie industry that dictates our urban traditions and cultures, we have ignored that in our own country there existed a custom by which young people could meet and then decide who to choose as life partners. The Madia women are considered as equals and even have the right to strike their husbands, who are generally younger than them. Something here points to a strong matriarchal system of familial structure common in the South.

But when a certain section in a society remains abysmally poor and backward in spite of the country careening crazily towards super-power-dom, eyebrows need to be raised at the foolish implications of it all. When they think of using the army against our own people, it is cause enough for alarm bells to ring.

What a superintendent of police said to Arundhati Roy is significant, nay, has the potential to shake the foundations of what we consider as brain-washing and indoctrination. The superintendent said, “Give these people colour televisions, they will forget about armed resistance.”

Almighty and merciful God, what have we come to? From a medium of entertainment, has the television degenerated into a weapon to enforce non-resistance and passivity? 

Friday, April 02, 2010

IPL – They Are Interviewing Players on the Field

IPL, have you observed a curious thing? Is nothing in cricket sacrosanct anymore? I know we are in the age of reality television where contestants are asked "what do you feel?" when they are clearly shown weeping, having lost, whatever they have been playing.

So what happens, I was watching a match and suddenly this player is moving his lips and the words also match his lip movement. Could it be? Could it be that nothing is sacrosanct and anarchy has descended into the pitch the playing field too? I don't know of any game where the player on the field is asked to describe what he feels like. It was as if – damn it – he was carrying out an interview. I know we are living in competitive times, where there is no boundaries, there is chaos and anarchy in virtually everything: politics, games, entertainment. But would it come to this? Is extreme entertainment taking over extreme sports? I don't know.

The most horrible thing about IPL is the commentator asking the player on the field what they are feeling. Hm. I found this weird and unacceptable. Could players in a game fraught with tensions – that too a 20 over game fraught with wild swings – be bothered to answer questions about what they are feeling? When they themselves don't know how they are feeling? I feel this is taking things too far. Some things are never done and this is one of them. I am not an anarchist, I don't subscribe to chaos theory. I like a little aesthetic pleasure in games, as it is in art and writing.

A game is a game and players should play the game not comment on what they are feeling. More than distracting them, it makes them seem self conscious, irritated and nervous. Yes, they obviously seemed bothered.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Welcome to the New Taj Mahal Hotel

The Taj Mahal Hotel has been a favorite haunt for a long time. Not because I can afford it, but because of the many corporate sops that came my humble way over the years. So this article in Livemint announcing the opening of The Ballroom, Harbour Bar, Golden Dragon and the Sea Lounge was heartening news for me as I have very pleasant memories of times spent in these spots. When it's the Taj I don't look at my wallet, even if I am broke, and my plate has only a few morsels to scrape for the rest of the month, I lounge in the Sea Lounge and browse at the Nalanda bookshop (the best bookshop by far) because I know I am welcome here and the service is excellent, not discriminating like it is elsewhere. That's because The Taj was built as the Tatas felt discriminated by the English institutions like the Hotel Majestic around it and wanted a place where Indians would feel accepted. (Hotel Majestic, a stone's throw away, which was the Englishmen's discriminatory bastion in those days is a decrepit building today, housing the Apna Bazar and a lot of grime. Its dance floor is scraped and unpolished and houses plastic gee-gaws and sundry domestic appliances.) That being the basic premise, the food is good, the service is unobtrusive and excellent, and the ambience, well, The Taj has an ambience that no hotel in Bombai can rival. So welcome back, dowager queen of hotels and hospitality institutions. May you live for ever.