Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Happy New Year! May 2012 Mend Our Hearts! May You Read Many Books in 2012

This blog wishes all its readers, its well wishers, its fans, its critics, its oh-what's-it-all-about skeptics a happy 2012. May it mend our hearts as we grow older and teach us to live like responsible and honest citizens of the world. I lost interest in the anti-corruption thingy not long after the tamasha about reservations in Lokpal. Providence sake, please leave such statutory bodies from the reservation ambit. 

Terribly sad about Sujit's death, of which I wrote in a previous post. I will miss his well combed pony tail (something I wanted for a long time, but never could.) He had this nice ponytail which he would maintain well, with coconut oil, and Ratri Hair Oil, I guess. (These are the guys who guarantee thick hair even to bald people in just two weeks.) I will miss his witticisms (example: it takes one hand to slap and two hands to clap.) What a blow! Yeah, death is so everpresent we just give it scant attention. My cousin died of an accident in the Gulf (They say it is an accident, but in Gulf you never know.), a boy in the neighbourhood of Artist Village fell down from a train and died. Nobody noticed his falling and he bled to death in the night all alone while his parents sat vigil expecting him to be back at home. All these incidents happened in the past few days. People, people, don't die on us.

Dev Anand died. As a friend said, "I thought I could live for ever as long as Dev Anand was alive." Yeah, I thought so too. First our parents' deaths take the wind out of our sails and then some close and beloved friends. The world is getting a mysterious place to be alive in. It's a sanguine place. 

But we got to go on living. Spreading the word of cheer and hope as best as we can. ANTHONYBHAI SAYS: I AM JUST JOKING, OKAY, MEN! SO, HM, OKAY, ERM, HUH, WHAT TO SAY? HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL YOU WONDERFUL PEOPLE! May you read many books in 2012.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Sujit R.I.P.

It was a bit of a shock. I liked the man, his witticism - quite sharp - and never let the client-agency relationship reduce to one of master-servant. Our exchanges began with a "Namaskaram" in Malayalam and we always spoke Malayalam though he was an accomplished copywriter in English and a creative mind par excellence. I considered him a friend. Together we created great brochures and ads for the company, together we sat in meetings with managers whose first reaction was, "Make the logo bigger." Yes, in most meetings the first thing said is this. Without change, without hesitation. So he made the logo bigger. Before that he would look at me and, as creative people, a look of understanding would pass between us. He was creative director of our ad agency. He died two days ago, in his thirties. It's time to begin life not end it. Damn it! I think it's unfair. Fate, or, whatever. It's not a cheerful end to an otherwise uneventful year.

Sujit was a divorcee. He lived alone. He was a child of nature. He loved street food, he loved travelling in second class though he had a car, he loved to taste life at its rawest. He also liked to taste the spirits of life. Yes, he drank heavily. I don't know if it's something in the Mallu gene that does this. (I explored this gene thing a bit more and used to accompany my Mallu friends in their binges and decided it's not for me. I became sick. I am a teetotaler now. I made a very expensive mistake.) He was in hospital once, saved narrowly by doctors and admonished not to drink, was admitted again, and succumbed.

Sujit R.I.P.

One thing about drinks is that in India what you get isn't actually liquor. It rarely is. Sometimes it is raw ethyl alcohol, which is a dangerous chemical used in chemical treatment. A huge cache of counterfeit liquor in genuine-looking bottles were caught just before Christmas. I wonder how many such caches have crossed into Bombay and the condition of the people who drank them.

First the man takes a drink. Then the drink takes a drink. Then the drink takes the man." A Japanese proverb.

When the drink takes a drink, one doesn't distinguish between what is a good drink and a bad drink. One drinks anything. Even hootch, the strong drink made from rotting orange peels and God knows what. It becomes a man thing, a male thing to do, you know "I can hold my drink" and all that stuff. Then one goes on drinking unless counseling is given by spouse or parents. Friends will never counsel, they will encourage to drink more. For by this time the man must have gathered around him a band of zealots only bent on ruining themselves. That's why I don't tell my son not to drink (I know there will be some drinking), but to stop at two pegs maximum.

Drink carefully, responsibly. Or, don't drink at all. Seek help. Let not another Sujit succumb to his habit. It was the time to start living and not stop living.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Kolaveri, Kolaveri Di

Usually I would have come down hard songs like Kolaveri Di (murderous girl) and such nonsense (the stupid lyrics are here). However, I read this quote from Robert Frost and decided otherwise. After all, I don't want to lose my friends for a stupid song. The following is Robert Frost's words that gives a new and acceptable twist to the tripe that is Kolaveri Di:

A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity. Robert Frost

Okay, okay, so I will retract my stand and let the song be. Let peace prevail. I am a peaceable man. Actually it's so popular in Japan because Japanese don't understand Engrish so well (they speak broken English, mostly, you see. (Not to say this of the intellectual elite, of course; so they don't really, really know the sexist, racial slurs that dot the lyrics of this song. Being a civilised society we tolerate Kolaveri Di and half-baked songs like that because we are tolerant (we are used to sexism and racism) and because the singer is so-and-so's son-in-law, who it seems has a fixation for (murderous) girls with white skin (don't we all have it?). What does the "white girl" being a "Kolaveri" has to say about a dark-skinned girl. That she is inferior in some way? That sexism. And this whole thing of life being dark harkens to racism. My point of view. Yesterday's front page story in a tabloid was all about how a former star was not allowed to take a doggy bag from a restaurant.And the newspaper was full of what and where film stars were going/doing for new year.

But a protest has to be made. Please, singer, don't take this too far. It's stretching it too far. These things deflect our attention from serious issues like unemployment, homelessness, waterlessness, roadlessness and lack of electricity.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Tata's Nano in Trouble?

It seems India's favourite small car has run into trouble. I am a bit sad because I love that car and wanted it to be my first one. No more. Here's an article in knowledge@wharton which is a good source of information on India. Some of the coverage and precise data you get there is unmatched by any Indian publication. Try it. They have a free newsletter every week which links to these articles. Here's an extract.

By the end of the year, it was a different picture. As of December 2010, there were about 77,000 Nanos sold -- a far cry from the one million units group chairman Ratan Tata had been talking about in 2005. This figure includes open sales (that started in August 2010) and some deliveries to the second batch of applicants. That would imply that at least 78,000 (23,000 from the first batch plus 55,000 from the second) have cancelled or "delayed delivery" (where customers opted to take delivery later).

A friend said that much as he liked the Nano, we wouldn't want to be seen arriving in a Nano. I think there lies the car's identity crisis.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sarah Palin's Biography Stirs Controversy: "Racism, Adultery and Cocaine"?

In Sarah Palin's biography "The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin" author Joe McGinniss paints a grim picture of the Republican presidential aspirant. A review of the book in CNN has this to say:

If that's not enough for you, how about charges of racism, adultery, and cocaine abuse? Her parenting skills also leave something to be desired, if McGinniss is to be believed.

Needless to say, those closest to the former governor are not amused. The Palin family has had a rocky relationship with McGinniss [the author] since he moved in next door to their home in Wasilla last summer to research the book.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2012's Jaipur Literary Festival Will Be Bigger and Better

William Dalrymple says this year's Jaipur Literary Festival will be bigger and better, here on Conde Nast Traveller.

I have nothing to add. I have never been to any Jaipur Litfest. Do they serve any purpose? I don't know. Maybe, I will discover a use for them when my novel is published, if ever that happens.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Anthonybhai's Christmas

Boxing day! Christmas was a private affair with wifey and Ronnie. Went to church and spent the day at home. Had a blessed and happy Christmas, though marred by a few deaths: father-in-law, a cousin, some prominent icons of my childhood, about whom I cannot make a mention in this small post. They will be missed and, dear Lord, take good care of them. I am reminded of mortality of the flesh these days. Yes, quite a lot.

Boxing day is the day of goodwill so I will be good to all ye mine sworn enemies (or, friends). I am in the mood to forgive, so call me and ask (beg, rather) forgiveness. Joking. This is the day of gifting when employers gave their employees money and gifts and a holiday to boot so that they could go and visit their relatives.

Since I have none of these luxuries bestowed on me, poor me, I am confined to home and hearth. Took time to re-connect with old friend Anthonybhai, who has this to say:

"Men, men, men, whatappen, no Christmas, so much eating drinking, liver got worse, only, no medicine-vedicine, drank the whole night after mid-night mass, morning-morning wondering where I am. Actually, I had gone cousin Paul-baba's house, there no so many big-big whisky-bhisky bottles only, black dog, white rum, Johnny Walker Red label, Cutty Sark, Campari, couldn't resist men, I had all and then don't know what-what hit me, men, men, still in hangover, men."

That's Anthonybhai's story.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Battle for Pratapgarh

A casual reference led me to this article on the battle for Pratapgharh which established Maratha king Shivaji's kingdom. A lot of what followed was decided by this war, the spoils of which were the several forts Shivaji annexed to his kingdom. It has all the elements of treachery and deceit of those times. Afzal Khan came deliberately to commit murder though the meeting between the two warriors was supposed to be an unarmed peaceful one. Shivaji knowing his enemy had gone well prepared with tiger claws and managed to kill Afzal Khan, the 7-foot tall Afgan warrior.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Are We Profane? Do We Use Profanities without Restraint?

Are our moral standards so low? I am asking because I returned from one of India's leading banks and the executive sitting behind the desk was saying to his friend, "Mother****er, Sister****er," something or the other, which I didn't quite catch. I thought, "God, here he goes!" There were customers around and even women. He didn't give a damn when he swore his profane words. He seemed so casual and unconcerned that I began wondering why moral standards are so low in our tradition and culture.

Ahem!

Listen carefully to conversations, on the streets, even in five star hotels - I do - and you will be amazed at the profanities we fling around so casually and without restraint. I had stopped using profanities some time ago, in a more than idealistic youth. No more. Nowadays, I go with the flow when talking to friends and and profanities come naturally, as if willed by the custom of our culture.

That makes me wonder is our culture, so much under evolution now, one of open expression of profanities and swears? Has liberalisation something to do with it? We accept profanities as a part of our lives, conform with it in our less than discerning ways and to hell with the nay-sayers, the guardians of softspokeness.

Some areas of the country have the most beautiful of expression and language. Talk to a Lucknowi and you will know what I mean. Conversation with them is always a pleasure, nay, an ecstatic experience. At least, they don't swear, they don't vilify, cast aspersions, denigrate, or indulge in verbal diarrhea.

Exactly, this propensity has been captured in my novel, a chapter of which I have posted here. Do read and comment.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Author Journalist Christopher Hitchens, Another View

My mentor and former boss Anil Siqueira points to another article on Christopher Hitchens, this time by Fr. Raymond J. de Souza on the blog "Curious Presbyterian". Curious Presbyterian? Why? Maybe, an anti-view as they come after a person's death.

On hindsight, what I don't approve about Hitchens is his criticism of Mother Theresa. Nobody can dispute the selfless lady for the work she has initiated in India and still being carried out by her sisterhood. But those are my own personal views. His other views were on the human side and therefore humanist and philanthropic. That only goes to state the controversial nature of the man.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Of Bookshops on Shakespeare in Europe

I have heard of the famous Shakespeare & Company bookshop on Paris' left bank, but have never heard that there were more than one such bookshop in Paris, nay the entire European continent. So It was serendipity to discover this fact at M S Gopal's blog. He has found a Shakespeare bookshop in Prague also, imagine! It's heartening to note that a Communist-oriented East European nation would encourage an imperialistic-leaning author's name to be put up on its marquee. Come to think of it, wasn't Shakespeare's writing on imperialism: King Lear, Henry VIII, and suchlike. I guess, it's because writers of those days used to receive the patronage of royalty.

In the movie Shakespeare in Love there's a scene where Queen Elizabeth I is shown enjoying a Shakespeare play. Those were the Elizabethean days of creativity, of Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. Read more about it here.

Well, strange things happen in this world. It shows Shakespeare's influence wasn't confined to the English-speaking world. Though I am not a great fan I grudgingly admit his contribution to the English language. And, this isn't half as strange.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Indian Corporates Land Grabbing in Africa?

What seems surprising for a country that acts as the godfather of emerging African economies, Indian corporates seem to be grabbing land in Africa, at a supposedly aggressive rate, much unlike the Europeans who only exploited the continent for trade. Here's an article in countercurrents.org:

"Indian companies venturing abroad is always regarded as a healthy trend, an indicator of India's new-found economic status. But little is known about how these companies are flexing their imperialistic muscles in poorer countries, grabbing the land and giving little in return. A report 'India's Role in the New Global Farmland Grab' by researcher Rick Rowden brings forth these atrocities which are shockingly similar to what India used to blame rich western countries for.

"Joining the race with China, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, South Korea and the European Union, Indian and Indian-owned companies are acquiring land in Africa at throwaway prices, indulging in environmental damage and exporting the food while locals continue to starve. The origin of this unhealthy practice can be traced back to the food crisis of 2008 when rich countries were forced to confront the reality of how fragile the global food scenario can be, especially for those without sufficient cultivable land. To ensure more direct control over food, these countries started acquiring land in poorer African countries and shipping the produce back home. A recent World Bank report found that 45 million hectares of large scale farmland deals had been announced between 2008 and 2009."

I am immensely sad at this. For a continent plagued by famines and food shortages, the very thought of being exploited by a country that has a bleeding heart for that continent is unthinkable. Sad indeed.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Salil Tripathi on Christopher Hitchens - A, Um, Nice Obit

Here's the inimitable and lucid Salil Tripathi on Christopher Hitchens in Mintlive.

And what of his critics? Some of them disliked American hegemony so much that they failed to see, or chose to ignore, that they were siding with gay-bashing misogynists who thought nothing of sending young people on suicide missions. Others acquiesced with fundamentalists who backed the fatwa on his old friend Salman Rushdie​ and wanted his novel Satanic Verses banned. Hitch stood firm with Rushdie, naming and shaming those who failed to defend Rushdie. I know of several brave people whom he supported in writing or in private, as they defended civil liberties, free speech, women's rights, or trade union rights. He understood how totalitarian states ruled by fear: he admired those who took risks and stood up to such regimes, and he had the courage to confront tyrants with his words.

I think that would serve as an excellent obituary, unless more words of the same tone and venerability has been written in other media. If you come across any, please let me know, here, or on Facebook or Twitter. I am turning into a great fan of the man.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Digital Dindora at MET College, I Was There as a Panelist

Had a good panel discussion at MET College's Digital Dindora, Bandra
West. The college offers a journalism and mass media course. Among the
panelists were: Roshan Abbas (TV presenter and actor), Venkatanath
(journalist and blogger), Mahesh Murthy (businessman and venture
capitalist), Ashwin Mushran (Voice over artist and actor), Utsav
(Satan Bhagat [spoofer of Chetan Bhagat] and stand-up comic), Bikas
(film director and writer) and, of course, yours truly. I was there as
a social media expert (*wink*) and writer, poet and blogger. Aniketh
moderated the session.

Here are some of my observations, I warn thou, fuzzy they mightest be
(sorry guys, I wasn't taking notes!):

Mahesh Mentioned that the audience and followers of the above
panelists combined worked out to more than the circulation of the
mainline dailies (compared individually), the television channels, and
of course any other media. Bravo! Social media denizens rejoice! We
can change the world, make a difference if we want to. Mahesh also
said there are 130 million internet users and there were no
gatekeepers. You censor yourself and choose the gates you want to walk
- even drive - through.

To a question from Aniketh whether one can blog only to make money I
mentioned that I had started blogging in 2003 for the love of writing,
not for the money. Now whatever comes as a trickle from various
referrals and links I have tied up with. By no means can I give up the
day job. So there.

Everyone had their own experiences to recount. Utsav said in his
characteristic style that the only intellectual property in India is
plagiarism. Bikas mentioned that he uses his website to promote movies
by lesser known directors. Venkatanath mentioned how he asks his
students to write everyday, at least a few hundred words (which I do
best as a blogger, i.e., post half-baked ideas most times).

Roshan mentioned how Gul Panag had used the social media to good
effect. Attagirl, Gul. All in all a very good session.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Triumph Motorbike - A Lovable Beast

This is a Triumph motorbike. Only the most seasoned biker can manage this bike. I have seen Parsi Bawajis riding this bike but no others. My friend Kavi once bought a Triumph but gave up. What happened was he sat my other friend Kishore on the pillion and when the bike started Kishore was thrown on the road. Such was the power of this bike.

The bike makes a distinctive 4-stroke-engine sound, somewhat like the Royal Enflield Bullet, but deeper and resounding with some atavistic inner force. It's the ultimate bike, this monster, loved, but also feared.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Fifty Writerly Things from Robert McCrum

Here's Robert McCrum's pithy sayings on "Fifty things I've learned about the literary life."

Among the gems:

7. Poets are either the lions or the termites of the literary jungle.

8. Put a body on page one.

9. Literature is theft.

10. Everyone is writing a book. A few will publish it; but most of them will not be satisfied.

11. This is a golden age of reading.

12. Amazon is not "evil" (J Daunt).

13. The "overnight success" is usually anything but.

Relish. It's good advice for starving, struggling, wanting-to-be-noticed writers. Such as yours truly *Grin*

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Book: The Warren Buffett Stock Portfolio

Here's a book rather boringly titled "The Warren Buffett Stock Portfolio" written by Mary Buffett and David Clark. Knowing as how Buffett is owner of the world's richest holding company - Berkshire Hathaway - one would like to lay one's greedy hands on the book without much ado. However, the hype doesn't clarify who Mary Buffett is. I looked up the net to see whether the author and her subject are related. He doesn't have a love interest of that name, nor does he have a daughter named Mary.

Hm.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

How to Do a Book Launch

Was idly searching for book launches when I came across this article on how to do a book launch. Chris High certainly has some ideas. For example he says:

"Then there's what to wear. You're a professional now, so look it. If ever there was ever a time to wear your best bib and tucker, surely the "birth" of "your baby" is it? Splash out. Spoil yourself. Go to town. This is the biggest night of your writing life … especially if it's your debut novel … so live a little, look the part and live the part."

How many follow this rule in India? Yes, how many? I have seen Indian authors launching their books wearing the most atrocious clothes. I mean clothes that would have the man/woman wearing it being turned out of a star hotel. Don't we have a clothes sense, something about being appropriate?

Ah, never mind!

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Friday, December 16, 2011

R.I.P. Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens, iconoclast, author, journalist, critic, left-leaning intellectual, anti-Zionist, polemicist, etc. is no more. He died of esophageal cancer on December 15, 2011. It is rumoured Tom Wolfe based his character Peter Fallow in Bonfire of the Vanities on him. Having read the novel I remember the character very well. He was a good friend of Salman Rushdie whose Iran-imposed fatwa he opposed.

It's rather sad to see a lot of illustrious men who enriched intellectual thought passing away. Indeed the grief is great and humungous. Shed a tear for the world without them. Here's the Wikipaedia article on him.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

R.I.P. Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens, iconoclast, author, journalist, critic, left-leaning intellectual, anti-Zionist, polemicist, etc. is no more. He died of esophageal cancer on December 15, 2011. It is rumoured Tom Wolfe based his character Peter Fallow in Bonfire of the Vanities on him. Having read the novel I remember the character very well. He was a good friend of Salman Rushdie whose Iran-imposed fatwa he opposed.

It's rather sad to see a lot of illustrious men who enriched intellectual thought passing away. Indeed the grief is great and humungous. Shed a tear for the world without them. Here's the Wikipaedia article on him.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

The dark side of an Emirate - Johann Hari

For those who have worked in the Persian Gulf, or, for those who have been there, Johann Hari writes candidly about what goes on behind the glitter of malls and office complexes The dark side of Dubai - Johann Hari in The Independent.

Yes, I have been through it all. I lived in a camp in the desert, I have seen the exploitation of labour, I have seen the taking away of passports, I have seen the cruelty meted out to my compatriots. Ours was a British Multinational, so we were comparatively better off. However, I could see the workers of the contractors struggling under the harsh sun for 12 hours or more without proper wages or over time.

It's indeed sad to see how development has gone horribly wrong for these immigrants who make these countries rich. It says in the article that the Indian Embassy counted around 900 suicides/deaths, but then it stopped counting, or, forgot to give away the true figures. For a parent in Kerala sending a son to the Gulf is a big risk because he may not come back. He will either be killed, murdered, or, commit suicide.

Rivalries between Asian nationals are very high. There's an unacknowledged war between: Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Bangla Deshis, and Philippinos. People get beaten up if they aren't careful. That means that it is very easy to accomplish a murder on a construction site. Just push the fellow down from a tall under-construction building and say he fell down. Who will know?

True, when we enjoy the hard work of an immigrant, also think about what he/she is going through in the desert country. It's callous how Indian embassy officials do not investigate conditions their citizens are living in those countries. I think India which has more expatriates than other nations should make it mandatory to investigate all the labour camps before sending its citizens there and ensure that they are paid legitimate wages.

External affairs ministry, are you listening?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

This Talk of Censoring Internet Content: A Solution

I am a bit nauseated by this whole thing of censoring the Internet. I have written about it here before and I am writing again. I don't know why India wants to join the repressive regimes in doing this. Obviously there is a lot of content on the net which is risque, provocative, unsubstantiated. But why take away the last bastion of human freedom (freedom of expression) as we know it. Asking web portals and service providers to delete objectionable content is like asking an ant to bathe an elephant (sorry, bad simile *grin*).

I have a better idea. Some portals and sites are already implementing it. Let the users decide which is unacceptable and inappropriate instead of the big arm of the government interfering with the small feeble fingers of online expressionists. Phew! When the big media houses are run like production houses of pig iron, it's natural that people will express their opinions through blogs and comments and fora. We have seen abundant examples of such pig-iron manufacturing enterprises in our morning broadsheets.

Blogs, facebook and twitter have created a welter of voices on the net through which information flows on a regular basis. I check Twitter to find out what has been happening. And, unerringly, unambiguously, rather, most occurrences are on Twitter before it is on the tube or the newspapers. And you get a diversity of views from people you know and trust unlike in the print and electronic media.

Aside: Ever since a program named "Sansani" came into the media consciousness, every newscaster has been shouting himself/herself in the throaty stentorian of the pony-tailed Sansani reporter. Ugh! He strutted around, he pointed a finger at the camera, sometimes he provoked. It was assumed that to achieve TRPs you had to be like the Sansani reporter.

But do we need such pyrotechnics to achieve Television Rating Points (TRPs)? I don't know.

Okay, coming back. Just a minute, have patience. As I said let the user decide on user-generated content. Most sites have a link "Click to report inappropriate content" on their pages. Make this mandatory for all portals and sites. Thus you are putting the onus on the user to decide on what is appropriate. Wikipaedia does this, many portals and service providers are already doing this.

The service provider can then remove the content if there are more than an agreed number of clicks. I think therein lies my solution. Anyone listening? Viral this please!

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Steve Jobs and His Times (A Re-post of an Old Article, with Changes)



Steve Jobs - A Life in Reflection








Dear Son,

Since the last week I have been wading through Steve Jobs' biography by Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon and enjoying the flow of events and the rich details contained therein. So, here's my take on his life and his days, as we were contemporaries, well, sort of. The book provides a ringside view of the most momentous developments in computer history. I am much more involved because I was there to witness most of the events mentioned in the book: the transformation from Microsoft's operating systems (OS) to Windows and the evolution of computers from clunky boxes to the sleek ones you see today. So here's a gleaning of a few thought for you son and your contemporaries.

Let's get the scenario right. Here's what used to happen when I switched on a computer in the 1980s when I started working for the first time on computers. Windows hadn't made its advent (which you and others of your age take for granted) and what we got on switching on the computer was this (remember, there were no mouses or mice in those days, so everything was typed):

C:\_

The underscore (_) after the C:\ used to blink and we had to type the following:

*.* (star dot star)

That would display all the directories in the computer. Then I would search for a directory I had created that contained my file. I would press "ENTER" and the directory would open. Then I would select the file and press "ENTER." This would open the file in the accompanying program.

The display wouldn't be the colourful pixellated ones we have these days (as you are wont to see on your computer these days) it was sheer black with the characters in white. Above the text would be a set of short cuts including:

^S - Save
^N - New
^D - Delete

So on and so forth.... Remember, all these happened before you all were born. Hopefully, you were a mere happy thought in your parents' minds.

Remember, if you forgot to save, the data you had typed would vanish leading to panic and frustration. Also when you closed a file it wouldn't ask you to save it before exiting. So, next time you open the file, you cross your fingers, then cross your eyes, and hope the changes were saved.

The mouse or mice came later in the nineties. The windows came also at the same time. Before that there were no windows to look at and move your mouse or mice across.

I and Steve Jobs and people of my generation lived through these times, son. Computer were clunky things, not the sleek laptops with colour screens which we see these days. Whatever his failing Steve Jobs took his companies through the momentous changes in computer technology, animation technology, and a lot more.

Yeah, music technology. Because those days we didn't have computers, ipods, mp3 players, and the like, son. Now that you are a computer scientist who has all these gizmos, let me tell you about those days. All we had were clunky cassette tapes and gramophone records. All I had was a cassette player with a mono speaker that issued Beatles and The Doors songs with a squeak. And when the cassette jammed we had to eject it, put a pencil through the wheel which was causing all the trouble and wind it to the end of the tape and try again on the other side of the tape. Yes, the tape had two sides.

Today what you take for granted, son, seem like great revolutions to us oldies. You take all this as given while we didn't have all these luxuries. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and the lot were the men who plodded through these technical cataclysmic changes and made their companies into some of the behemoths of electronics technology.

Why Brilliant People Die Young. Mario Miranda R.I.P.

In Julian Barnes' novel "Sense of an Ending" which I am reading now, the protagonist Anthony's friend Adrian dies. Adrian is a brilliant man and commits suicide after having dated Anthony's girlfriend. The novel is wonderfully insightful and full of deceptive simplicity behind which the author examines profound meanings of life in an offhand sort of way.

Now the question posed by the protagonist's mother is very valid. Do people who are brilliant reason themselves by their superb logical powers into committing suicide? Valid question. Any answer? Most brilliant people I know (how do I name them?) have either killed themselves or worked towards ending their lives in the most obvious way. I mean their brilliance came in the way of their acceptance of things as they were. Is reasoning and local (the essence of what we call learning) such a bad thing?

Questions. Questions.

The best poets also died in their youth, e.g., Keats (age: 26), Shelly (age: 30), both of them died in the prime of youth. Jim Morrison of The Doors, himself a not mean poet, died at the age of 27 drinking and drugging himself to his death.

Wonder why brilliant people die so young.

By the by, Mario Miranda died recently. When I was editor of Ambit he used to freelance as cartoonist for the magazine. Once he met me while he came to deliver the cartoon himself (usually a boy does this menial task) and when he saw me he said, "So, now you are working here." I said "yes" and we exchanged a few words. What he meant was that he had seen me when I was working for The Week magazine at their office.

Exception proves the rule. Mario was by no means in the prime of his youth. He died at the ripe age of 85 having lived a full life. R.I.P. Mario Miranda.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Do You Understand What Your Business Associate Is Saying?

Dan Pallotta writes I Don't Understand What Anyone Is Saying Anymore in Harvard Business Review about a malady omnipresent in modern business communication.

I entirely agree.

Hat tips to Raamesh Gowri Raghavan for the link.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

The Artist of Disappearance - Three Novellas - By Anita Desai Is Out

Here's a review of The Artist of Disappearance - Three Novellas by Anita Desai in the New York Times.

Opening with a deprecatory sort of line meaning, to effect, a mango is rarely a mango in Indian literary fiction, the review concludes with these rather grudging lines of mitigating prose:

At her finest, Desai is a brilliant anatomist of people like Prema — men and women who seek, gain, but fail to triumph in such moments and are left to play their own kind of solitaire, matching what was to what might have been.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Is Lizzie Miller Going to Be the New Trend in Modelling? Bulges Are Okay It Seems!

Is Lizzie Miller going to change the trend of ramp walkers being thin as match sticks? See for yourself. The photograph brought hundreds of approving letters to Glamour magazine which featured Miller's over-size, bulgy body. Who says bulges looks bad? Most of them admired the magazine for putting a real woman on its pages.

What about India though? Here normal is: several love handles, big hanging coconuts and jackfruits in the abdominal and posterior areas. (Not meant to criticise, as yours truly also has a bulge around the waist which seems not to go away.) What say?

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Safeguard Needed for Telecom and Online Content

In this article in Mediainfoworld Kapil Sibal vehemently states that he is not in favour of censoring internet content in India.

Then what is the hue and cry all about?

The problem is that on the net not even the service provider knows what contents are going online. Can Google monitor all the blogs, the social networking sites, the email groups, etc. Can it monitor the discussion groups where Indians and Pakistanis exchange the worst insults known to man in Hindi and Urdu? How can the service providers monitor these?

Can Facebook monitor the acreage of content that is already online? I do understand Sibal's angst about unwarranted content going online without any restrictions. There should be filters. But none of the biggies have any sort of customer redress system.

Why, even the telecom department that Sibal heads doesn't have a monitoring mechanism for the lack of customer support among service providers. Call any helpline of a telecom service provider and you are connected to an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system that mechanically recite the company's ads and offers and do not give any proper response. Call any number and what you hear is, "To download this caller tune, dial 5."

This is an open letter I wrote to Murli Deora, Minister for Corporate Affairs, in this regard. Among other things I had suggested that all calls should have the option of "Dial 9 for live operator's assistance." Nothing happened.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

King of Good Times in Bad Trouble

The self-styled "King of Good Times (KGT)" is in trouble with his finances. His airlines is suffering losses. The only time I travelled his airline, I could say I - hm - enjoyed it very much. Kindness in plenty, good service, smiles. The hostesses (in blood-red colour uniforms) were all very kind and friendly. (Unlike the Air-India hostess who laughed when my son rushed to the toilet when the aircraft had just landed in Cochin. I felt offended and asked her, "Why are you making fun of people?" She said sorry. But she shouldn't have laughed in the first place.) Above all, good food, and blankets in blood red colour. The airline made my travel pleasant.

:)

That's alright, but what about the KGT's request to the government to bail out his airline? He had built the airlines into a huge brand, so, isn't branding and marketing enough? What's with airlines that ail and tycoons that fail? Why should the tax payer's money be used to bail out (literally) a business that's making a loss?

That's something I can't, for the life of me, understand.

:(

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Pratap Sharma, R.I.P.

A few years ago I wrote the script for the corporate film of the company I was working for. Since I was too supervise the production and the recording also, I went to the studio in Bandra to see the editing of the text and visuals. The agency executive met me at the recording studio and in the darkness of the studio he played the voice he had recorded.

As I listened to the recording I was reminded of "the voice" as the sound I was listening to bore an exact resemblance to him. I said:

"This sounds like 'the voice,' but not quite," to the executive.

"Yes, 'the voice' has become an industry standard." There are many imitators but none can capture his exact talent and style.

He knew 'the voice,' as I did. 'The Voice' was one of the people in advertising whose accent was imitated, inflections and half-tone intonations were copied, whose baritone was what studio executives craved for ad films and corporate audio visuals. I remember in the eighties sitting in darkened theatres and hearing the smooth baritone waft from the stereo speakers, creating an aura of richness and of the good life. Alas, those days are no more! They were ones sweetened by a youth gone waste, nothing done, nothing achieved.

I remember him being active till the very end. A few years ago, he attended the Kala Ghoda Literary Festival, breathing from an oxygen tank as he wasn't keeping well.

But when he died, no newspaper carried an obituary. It's a shame to let the great among us die unsung, ignored. We are a profligate people who heap praise on an actor who does a hamming job, but don't respect the memory of a man who moved the standards up another notch. I hope to compensate.

'The Voice' was Pratap Sharma, writer, broadcaster, playwright, ad man and humanitarian. He wrote a detective story serial called "Dog Detective Ranjha." He is no more. I didn't know him personally, but I will always remember him from his 'voice.'

Here's the Wikipaedia article on him. Pratap Sharma, R.I.P.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Article: Corporate Psychopaths May Be Running (Ruining) Our Economy

This article is scary. It really is. It implies that corporate psychopaths may be responsible for bringing the world economy to its knees in the last recession. Just read the opening para:

"Given the state of the global economy, it might not surprise you to learn that psychopaths may be controlling the world. Not violent criminals, but corporate psychopaths who nonetheless have a genetically inherited biochemical condition that prevents them from feeling normal human empathy.

"Scientific research is revealing that 21st century financial institutions with a high rate of turnover and expanding global power have become highly attractive to psychopathic individuals to enrich themselves at the expense of others, and the companies they work for."

It goes on to state:

"Scientists believe about 1 per cent of the general population is psychopathic, meaning there are more than three million moral monsters among normal United States citizens. There is emerging evidence that this frequency increases within the upper management of modern corporations. This is not surprising since personal ruthlessness and fixation on personal power have become seen as strong assets to large publicly traded corporations (which some authors believe have also become psychopathic)."

If that was the case in the first recession then what's the prognosis in the present one? The prescient notion is that another dip in the economy is in offing, in the very near future. No wonder they are talking of occupying Wall Street.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Gabriel García Márquez Wins 17-year Fight over His Novel Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Nobel-prize winning Columbian author Gabriel García Márquez recently won 17-year legal fight over his murder classic Chronicle of a Death Foretold reports The Guardian.

While overturning the case filed by Miguel Reyes Palencia alleging that the novel was based on his life, the judge observed:

"Hundreds of literary, artistic, and cinematographic works have had as their central story facts from real life, which have been adapted to the creator's perspective, without this being an impediment to [the author's right] to claim economic rights over them."

Hope this turns into a good precedent for novelists and authors who write authentic novels based on characters they observe in real life. Afterall, there's nothing wrong in basing novels on true incidents as it makes the story more believable and also serves as a documentary portraiture of the times in which the characters live provided the characters' true identities are protected. Besides, artistic licence is granted to writers and authors of fiction who need it to base their characters in authentic situations. I think it is a landmark judgment and will be a booster to writers everywhere.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Urban Shots - Bright Lights Will Be Out in January 2012

Urban Shots - Bright Lights in which my short story "P.K.Koshy's Daily Routine" will be featured is coming out in January 2012. This is the cover. The competition was organised by Greyoak Publishers.

I can't wait. The publisher intends to do a 5 city launch for Urban Shots - Bright Lights, where it hopes to cover Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore (possibly even Chennai) to launch this book.

Friends, just look out for this book on the shelves of your favourite bookshops.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Poem: Lest We Forget the Night of 26/11

Lest We Forget the Night of 26/11
(Written three years after the attack on Bombay in 2008)

I

Night of 26/11

Lest we forget the night of 26/11
When sleep didn't crawl into our eyes,
We lie vacantly staring at the television,
Playing, playing, playing footage of burning Taj,
Trident exploding in gunshots and fire,
Stories of bravery and treachery,
That came from across the seas.

Lest we forget what happened that night
Washed away in a burst of tears in the gloomy night
When the sky above the Gateway was a smouldering black
And over Marine Drive hung the smell of death
Rich men paraded to their untimely end
And a child left without parents
And parents left without son
We mourned all this; still we forget
Can we? Can we? Can we? Can we? Can we? Can we?

II

Victoria Terminus

The blood that stained this floor
Its sanguine past
Has been washed away
The huge cavern of V.T. station has been sanitised
The bullet-chipped granite has been replaced
That bloody night has been erased
From memory
From consciousness
From priorities.
Amnesic we plod
On granite floors smelling of disinfectant
Wondering where bombs will explode next.
Where will shrapnel enter soft flesh?
Where will cries echo in the night?
Where will the men and women be carried:
In trucks,
Handcarts,
Plastic sheets,
Stretchers,
Blood oozing from fresh wounds?
Could the surgeons stitch together?
The wounds inflicted by nails, ball bearings,
In the hearts and minds
Of people like you and me?
Tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Flash Mob at V.T.

There was this flash mob at Victoria Terminus (V.T.) on November 27, 2011. This is the link to the flash mob dancing to the song "Rang De Basanti" from the film of the same name. The film is all about teenage angst and, presumably, it was selected for that reason.

So, hm, what to say. I watched the video with mouth open, jaws not yet falling to my ample bulging tummy. Those girls danced naturally, without inhibitions and they were well choreographed and managed. How did it happen? How did they dance with such synchronicity? They were pouring in from all sides. I guess it got on the social media (Facebook, Twitter and others) and went viral. It was picked up virally and young people joined in from everywhere. Natch.

When I asked a friend what form of dance they were gyrating to, I was told it is called "Indie-pop." What's that? It's an Indian dance, I am told. Ergo, it seems we are masters in the world of the synchronous dance, the shake of the pelvis, the thrust of the breasts.

Great show! Loved it!

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Harini Calamur: Three years on, 26/11 has been reduced to just another ritual - Analysis - DNA

Three years on, 26/11 has been reduced to just another ritual, says Harini Calamur in this article in DNA. She further writes:

"And finally, everyone knows where the terrorists came from. Everyone knows who funded them, trained them and deployed them. They also know that these weren’t non-state actors. So why does India persist in this delusion of ‘we need to be friends’ with Pakistan? They aren’t our friends."

I think she is right. The issue has dragged on with the government incurring a lot of expense to protect a man who has unleashed terror. We don't feel safe anywhere in the country. We are always looking over our shoulders when we walk. We are startled by sudden sounds, we don't extend a helping hand if someone is suffering on the street. I could go on.

Thanks Harini for pointing this out.

The Writing Scene in Nigeria

Here's Felix Abrahams-Obi on The Unsung Nigerian Writer in a Hip-hop World and about how writers should appeal to readers instead of to other writers. A lucid and frank look at the writing scene in Africa where one of my writer friends Onyeka Nwelue (met him on FB) resides. I think there's a lot we Indian Writers in English can learn from this, so posting it here.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Perfect World, a Novel by Priya Kumar

Received The Perfect World by Priya Kumar in the post. I have merely glanced through the novel as I don't have the spare time to go through 315 pages of what seems to be a layered narrative that has many of the aspects I love about magic realism. It's a handsomely produced book and I wish I had more time being as I am in the midst of writing a novel myself.

However one put downer, if I may call it that, is the cover says, "Internationally acclaimed motivational speaker and best selling author" which makes you think the book is a self-help book, which I avoid with all my heart. Confession: I used to gorge on them in an earlier avatar, one of misguided optimism. Sigh! Yes, it's quite off putting and spoilt the mood to go further into the book. I would advise aspiring novelists not to declare thusly on their covers.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Immensity of Anger Spilling into the Streets

Many things running through my mind at the same time. Some stories crystallising and other just evaporating into a vaporous haze, irretrievable, like clouds on soft winds.

Beg your pardon, I was trying to describe the general feeling of a few days ago. What do we do when we are confused? We do things that confounds us more. What do we do when the friends/partners don't talk? We respond by not talking. But rationality and a sense of fairness demands that we be civil and level headed. What do we do when we apologise for standing on the toes of the man nearby in the crowded Panvel local train. This is what happens:

"Sorry, boss, for standing on your toes."

"Sorry will not do."

Ouch! I almost said that word. several answers came to mind. "What will do?" "Then will fighting like dogs do?" "Then screaming like banshees will do?" No. I shouldn't add to the anger that already exists. There's tremendous anger. When anger spills out to the streets arson happens, looting happens. As happened in Egypt recently as is happening today. I won't mention any specifics except that a leader was slapped and his followers are on the streets. Google it, you will find it.

We live in a world that is angry, upset, frustrated. We don't need to add to this anger. We need cool, soothing words, words of wisdom. But who will offer these words considering all are lost in the nether regions of selfish enterprise. I mean immersed in the petty grouses, lost in their iPods, immersed in their addictions, angry in their trivial quarrels, reveling in their own demons.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Steve Jobs and the Momentous Changes Computer Technology Underwent, for You Son, and Your Contemporaries


Dear Son,

Since the last week I have been wading through Steve Jobs' biography by Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon and enjoying the flow of events and the rich details contained therein. So, here's my take on his life and his days, as we were contemporaries, well, sort of. The book provides a ringside view of the most momentous developments in computer history. I am much more involved because I was there to witness most of the events mentioned in the book: the transformation from Microsoft's operating systems (OS) to Windows and the evolution of computers from clunky boxes to the sleek ones you see today. So here's a gleaning of a few thought for you son and your contemporaries.

Let's get the scenario right. Here's what used to happen when I switched on a computer in the 1980s when I started working for the first time on computers. Windows hadn't made its advent (which you and others of your age take for granted) and what we got on switching on the computer was this (remember, there were no mouses or mice in those days, so everything was typed):

C:\_

The underscore (_) after the C:\ used to blink and we had to type the following:

*.* (star dot star)

That would display all the directories in the computer. Then I would search for a directory I had created that contained my file. I would press "ENTER" and the directory would open. Then I would select the file and press "ENTER." This would open the file in the accompanying program.

The display wouldn't be the colourful pixellated ones we have these days (as you are wont to see on your computer these days) it was sheer black with the characters in white. Above the text would be a set of short cuts including:

^S - Save
^N - New
^D - Delete

So on and so forth.... Remember, all these happened before you all were born. Hopefully, you were a mere happy thought in your parents' minds.

Remember, if you forgot to save, the data you had typed would vanish leading to panic and frustration. Also when you closed a file it wouldn't ask you to save it before exiting. So, next time you open the file, you cross your fingers, then cross your eyes, and hope the changes were saved.

The mouse or mice came later in the nineties. The windows came also at the same time. Before that there were no windows to look at and move your mouse or mice across.

I and Steve Jobs and people of my generation lived through these times, son. Computer were clunky things, not the sleek laptops with colour screens which we see these days. Whatever his failing Steve Jobs took his companies through the momentous changes in computer technology, animation technology, and a lot more.

Yeah, music technology. Because those days we didn't have computers, ipods, mp3 players, and the like, son. Now that you are a computer scientist who has all these gizmos, let me tell you about those days. All we had were clunky cassette tapes and gramophone records. All I had was a cassette player with a mono speaker that issued Beatles and The Doors songs with a squeak. And when the cassette jammed we had to eject it, put a pencil through the wheel which was causing all the trouble and wind it to the end of the tape and try again on the other side of the tape. Yes, the tape had two sides.

Today what you take for granted, son, seem like great revolutions to us oldies. You take all this as given while we didn't have all these luxuries. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and the lot were the men who plodded through these technical cataclysmic changes and made their companies into some of the behemoths of electronics technology.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Jim Morrison's - The End

One of the most poignant songs of Jim Morrison is and will remain "The End." I have heard it several times and I sing it often. The lyrics manifest Morrison at his poetic best - unpredictable, exotic, charismatic. It's rather ironic that a few hours before he died, he listened to "The End" in his hotel room in Paris with his girlfriend for company.

This is revealed in this account by Rainer Moddemann's account "Jim Morrison's quiet days in Paris," which appears here.

It appears that Jim was tired and frustrated with his life as a rock star and wanted to write poetry and live as a poet in Paris, a city he loved. But dreams are dreams, right? All our dreams don't turn out the way we dream, do they?

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Another Literary Festival - Times Literary Carnival

There was a time when I used to thirst for some literary activity, anything. Anything would do so long as it has something to do with books and literature. My great hungers seems sated now as there is a plethora of exhibitions in my diary these days.

The Mumbai Literary Festival, which just concluded, is now followed by Times Literary Carnival (TLC). TLC seems filled with a mix of Bollywood, media, sports, and glamour personalities. A literary dumbing down after Mumbai Litfest? I don't know. The latter will be followed in February by my own favourite, Kala Ghoda Literary Festival. This time too I intend to participate in the poetry slam, win or lose.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

First Public Reading from "Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard"

Gave my first public reading from my novel "Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard," to an intimate group of Caferati at Suniti's place at Chembur, a suburb of Bombay. It was a short excerpt from Chapter 3 of the novel posted here. Caferati, if you don't know it already, is a forum of writers. I had rehearsed it twice at home (I always rehearse before a reading, it helps me get a feel of the content and that's when I decide when to emphasise which passages.). I take all readings - be it poetry or prose or fiction - seriously. Do read the chapter and let me know what you think.

I saw that a few in the audience were emotionally moved. I don't know if it is the portion I read, my melodramatic reading, or some coincidence. I wouldn't ascribe much to it except to say that the novel is full of raw emotions and the protagonist writes (It's a first person narrative, like all my novels.) with his heart on his sleeve, so to speak. 

Unfortunately, there were no photographs taken. Suniti, being the best host there is, plied us with sandwiches (the fillings, mm, I just can't describe, forgive me), biscuits, and tea. Dinner was had later at a pub in Chembur called "Jewel of Chembur." Chembur, the suburb my childhood, where I grew up, has changed so much, I couldn't recognise some of the places. The pub is situated where my friend and classmate Gangadharan Menon's dad had his business.

Oddly, the joint blasted a song that had as lyrics: "Brown dog... Brown dog... Brown dog... Brown dog... Brown dog... Brown dog... Brown dog...  Brown dog...." Then it mounts into a crescendo and after a lot of screeches, bangs, wails, screams, and syncopation (seemed like utensils being thrown around, it sounded as much) on expensive Bose music system, it became unbearably loud. I don't know what charm music played at high decibel levels have on human minds. I think somebody should research this. How about some nice and easy numbers, "Bole re papihara," "Yeh, mera Deewanapan hai," "Aa ab laut chaley," etc. I used to laugh at Saigal once, but his "Babul Mora," and "Jab Dil Hi Toot Gaya," seem evergreen hits now. Or, so I think. Or, how about Jim Morrison of The Doors, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits? What all this nonsense about, "  Brown dog...," eh?  

What's it with rap music and dogs I wonder. Another song goes, "Who let the dogs out," and incidentally, a rapper is known as "Snoopy Dog." See what I mean?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Office Bozos

In the biography of Steve Jobs that I am reading there's a mention of a category of co-worker who can be called "Bozo." I looked it up, since it looked like a significant word from the sound of it. I found it meant: A stupid, rude, or insignificant person, esp. a man.

Further the book mentions Steve as saying: "If you hire bozos, you get bozos." Seems the tribe multiples as if by cell division.

We get a lot of them these days. Probably you are right now sitting facing someone who fits the description of a Bozo. A worker sends a bunch of papers with a clip to a senior executive and the office boy removes the clip because he thinks a clip isn't needed. That's bozo behaviour one of the day.

Here's bozo behaviour two: A worker sends a few invoices with initials to another department and gets them back with the note: "Please endorse invoices with complete signature, not initials." Bozo, strikes again!

That brings me to the definition of "Sozos." Actually, there isn't such a term, but I coined it just now. Generally, in a manner of speaking it means, "Stupid Bozo."

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

India - Filthiest Country in the World

Jairam Ramesh says India is the filthiest country in the world. And he must know, he is a minister. Rural development is his subject. I suspected this all along. Sigh! Now that's something I am not proud of, though I am proud of my country. He says people own mobile phones but not a toilet.

A friend of mine had this project which would involve constructing a toilet for Rs 2,000 (approximately the same cost as a basic mobile phone). He told me the project ended in failure as there were no takers. They either wanted flashy toilets with tiles and stuff or none at all. So most of my countrymen prefer to commune with nature in the lap of nature rather than inside a claustrophobic toilet. Yetch.

The reason I don't travel much is because I don't know what sort of toilets I would get in different parts of the country. I clean my own toilet and keep it spic and span. A bottle of acid cost little, a brush costs little, but people would rather keep their toilets filthy. I guess they don't have the aesthetic sense to revolt from dirt and filth. They would even write filth on the walls and draw lurid pictures.

Ahem. There was this urinal at V.T. station that was inaugurated with great fanfare. It had granite walls, air-conditioning, the works. If you look at it now, you would retch. The smell is rank and the place is dank and there are holes where the air-conditioner used to be.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Literary Spat: Pankaj Mishra and Niall Ferguson

Literary spats are bloody businesses, as businesses go. This one attracted my attention as being especially so. The one between Pankaj Mishra and Niall Ferguson about the latter's book, "Civilisation: The West and the Rest" may lay claim to that adjective.
'If one adds together the illegal immigrants, the jobless and the convicts,' he argued, 'there is surely ample raw material for a larger American army.' 

Americans were overweight, while Europeans, turning their back on Christianity and warfare and sponging on the welfare state, were degenerate idlers. 'Endlessly gaming, chatting and chilling with their iPods,' Ferguson wrote, 'the next generation already has a more tenuous connection to "Western civilisation" than most parents appreciate.'

The talk is about the West and the Rest, pitting the supposedly superior West with the rag-tag Rest. The west has technology, they have culture, they have art, they have religion. Jim Morrison sang in his beautiful song "The End":

The West is the Best
Get here we will do the rest.

As a rebuttal Niall Ferguson writes with a pen dipped in equal amount of vitriol:

It is not my habit to reply to hostile book reviews, but a personal attack that amounts to libel is another matter. Pankaj Mishra purports to discuss my book Civilisation: The West and the Rest, but in reality his review is a crude attempt at character assassination, which not only mendaciously misrepresents my work but also strongly implies that I am a racist (LRB, 3 November).

The London Review of Books is notorious for its left-leaning politics. I do not expect to find warm affection in its pages. Much of what I write is simply too threatening to the ideological biases of your coterie. Nevertheless, this journal used, once, to have a reputation for intellectual integrity and serious scholarship. Pankaj Mishra's libellous and dishonest article brings the LRB as well as himself into grave disrepute.

Wait, there's more. Browse to the end of the page and you will find more. Pankaj Mishra writes a rebuttal of the rebuttal. God. These guys have the stamina, must admit.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Back Packs on Harbour Line Trains

I write a lot about the people and the sights I meet on train everyday. That's because for the past 31 years I have been commuting on the same route in Bombay - the Harbour Line that starts from Bombay V.T. and would end in Chembur, no; Mankhurd, no; Vashi, no; Belapur; no, Panvel. I remember times when the line used to end in Mankhurd. Then it gradually extended like the elongating man (Yes, there used to such a character in comic books) to Vashi and Belapur and Panvel in an act of expansion fueled by the population explosion. With this explosion commuting became an arduous task, cramming thousands into a few hundred square feet of space.

Most irritating of all is all sorts of people invading my personal space. I like some space around me. I no longer get any space in trains. Moreover, most people carry back-packs to office. It's frightening seeing all those formally dressed people with bulging back-packs on their backs, as if they were some alien with carapaces for backs. (Confession: I am one of this species of people.) They come in a variety of fabrics and designs. The advantage of a back-pack is that it leaves hands free for holding on to the stirrup-shaped metal holders inside the compartment. An important accoutrement, it is a vital prop that helps prevent me from falling when the train lurches.

In the 1980s when I first started commuting the trains were only modestly occupied. I could stand with comfort if I didn't get a seat. Nowadays people stand in the narrow space between two seats facing each other. The result is rather obscene. You have a man's derriere at eye- (and nose-) level.This gives rise to embarrassing situations. Suppose a guy wants to gas after a particularly gassy snack he has had on the way home. Then he is in a fix. So you can see guys contorting with pain this way and that way, not knowing how to let it go. Some even succumb to the temptation and the smell is awful, believe you me. Drat!

Well the population is increasing insidiously and there's no other alternative in sight. So, for the time being I will have to suffer the smell, the push, the awful contact with sweaty bodies in silence. How my city has changed!

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dead Sea Scrolls on the Net

The Dead Sea Scrolls, the mysterious scrolls written by a Jewish sect that fled Jerusalem for the desert 2000 years ago and who settled at Qumran on the banks of the Dead Sea, are at last public. They can be viewed here. Here's the article in The Guardian.

The scrolls have been translated. To see the translated version click on the scroll, wait a few seconds, and the translation appears in a box. Read the following text from Chapter 5: Verse 2.

"Chapter 5 : Verse 2

"And he digged it, and cleared it of stones, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also hewed out a vat therein; and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes."

I have a great veneration for all old texts. Even the ones written on palm leaves. Writing was so difficult then. Scribes (the tribe whose traditional job it was to write) had to write with crude instruments (a sharp piece of iron, quills dipped in ink) and the results were texts of amazing clarity that captured the zeitgeist of the times.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Mumbai Literary Festival Concludes, Well Done

Guess Anil Dharkar is a genius. Yes, you must give it to him, sincerely, or, grudgingly. How he pulled off the Mumbai Literary Festival is what legends are made of. Sure. I am a great admirer of Dharkar and his writing. I guess I have to add his organising skills also to that. It isn't easy to find a venue, manage the speakers, coordinate the sessions. However, I guess getting Tata to sponsor the festival was another stroke of genius because you can have NCPA for a song and all the other Tata companies are bound to chip in.

I attended a few of the sessions and they were well organised. There was Anil Dharkar, curly hair now the colour of pepper-and-salt (he has that look of deep unperturbed meditation about him [please don't think I am sucking up]), there is the pony-tailed poet and writer Adil Jussawala (whose poems and essays I used to read regularly in the magazine debonair, am a great fan of his, too!).

I also see for the first time Farukh Dhondy (no, being self effacing, I didn't introduce myself),  Mark Tully, Neil Astley (of Bloodaxe, a publisher of verse), and above all the young and effervescent poet Caroline Bird. She recited all her poems from memory, imagine! She has such a good memory, I am jealous of her.

Then there was Matthew Sharp with a flautist (forget his name, please refresh my failing memory) who played Whale Songs. Yes, now I remember, Sameer Rao. Now Rao did an exact replication of the whale song with his flute, supported on the cello by Matthew Sharp. From the Indian side there were poets: Jerry Pinto, Arundhati Subramaniam, and Ranjit Hoskote.

I missed the other performers, discussants, and book launchers, as being a corporate denizen I had my job to keep. However, the who's-who of the artists who appeared in the festival is here.

I am @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. I blog here.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Chapter 3 from "Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard

Here's a chapter from my Novel "Mr. Bandookwala - M.B.A., Harvard," (as promised on my Facebook Page) to let you know what I have been working on.

I might confess here that writing this has kept me busy and I have even dropped out of regular contact of friends and well wishers, as well as, kept away from literary events. For me this is my life work after a failed novel and therefore I am writing as if I will never write again. Therefore, please give it some time.

As I have picked to feature here an intervening chapter (Chapter 3), you will not understand much of it as it is interlinked to the narrative that comes before and after. The chapter is only illustrative, posted here to garner constructive criticism (No, destructive criticism at this stage, please! Please!). If you have suggestions, or, something good to say please say it here. I lookforward to feedback on flaws (small or big), flow, narrative style, etc. etc. I have tried to be natural in spoken dialogue, which includes a lot of naturally-ocurrng profanities, so would advise younger friends not to read it.

This part of the novel is about Mr. Bandookwala's (the protagonist's) visits his old flat in Colaba where he was bought up, where his parents live and how he attempts suicide (which happens further on in anotherpart of the narrative of the story).

Look forward to your feedback!

-------------------------------------

Chapter 3


After that day in March 2008, the smell of shit doesn’t leave me – the smell of deprivation and poverty. It follows me around every day, persistently, insidiously, making me pukey and wretched. Bombai – it has always been a city smelling of shit and piss. Its railway tracks are open toilets where men abashedly sit with their faces hidden in their laps (lest they be recognised) to shit. Probably, they know it is wrong, but the circumstances of their life in the crowded slums make them do this. Slums are the putrefying garbage heaps of society. It would sicken any person to live in its decaying entrails, lacking human dignity, lacking in human values. Violence comes naturally to them, yet a tenuous peace would prevail, enforced by men like Chota Chakli. The men who live there are helpless cogs in the wheel, a wheel that includes constructors like Himanshubhai on one side, the government on the other and the mob ever willing to extort. Slums are torn down, huge towers come up, and beside them the hovels of the poor rise up again. Everpresent. I hate the rank smell of the city. It disturbs me. The smell is of hydrogen sulphide, a powerful and destructive gas, the odour of which is pervasive and penetrating after it is expelled from the bowels. Anywhere you go you get the smell, overpowering, nauseating, quite shameless and vulgar. In certain areas it’s particularly strong: Bandra, Kurla, Wadala, and Charavi. It’s present like an odour of death in the curve of the Harbour Rail Line as as the train heaves and rolls towards Dockyard Road station. It’s present near the marshes of Mahim and illegal distilleries of Chunabhatti.



Oh! I forgot to mention the spit. Everywhere you go there are long arcs of red spit - on walls, in dark corners of buildings, on freshly painted government offices, inside urinals, and in railway stations and bus shelters – there they lay the secretions of the glands, so openly revolting. Just paint a wall white and overnight it is coated with reddish streaks of spit, coagulating over it, sending its offensive smell into your nose. It’s as if people consider the world an open toilet here, to be defiled and left unclean. People living outside Bombai say a peculiar smell envelops every citizen of the city, a repulsive odour, something of an aura. It’s a co-mingling of the smell of shit, spit and poverty, which hangs around in crowded trains and buses, overpowering the senses, and mostly you get used to it. It’s this signature smell that you and I carry, Priya dearie, I think, as I sit here and type this in the dim light of a dawn that’s breaking in dull metallic glint of copper and iron over the Marine Drive skyline. The bay is outwardly calm and serene with the waves progressing mesmerically in white plumes of surf towards the shore. I once sat next to a man in train, a man who wore a clean shirt and trousers with gold chains around his neck and sacred threads around his wrist. A man from a prosperous middle class background, I thought. He had a newspaper in his hand and was reading. He started spitting continuously through the window by his side, his lips expelling the spit rather expertly, in one fluid motion. An expert spitter, a master of the art. I asked him why he was doing it. He answered:



Thumara baap ka kya jata hai ?



He insulted my father for it! No shame! No guilt! No conscience! Shit, piss, spit and dust! There’s dust everywhere. It covers everything with its dark and amorphous coat: buildings, shops, tables, shelves, books, everything. It coats skin, and it accumulates in the armpits and groins making it look greyish-black. My darling Priya, be careful where you walk. I don’t want you to even feel any revulsion or pain. I am a concerned father, I would like you to have all happiness, straight from my bleeding Catholic heart, as big Mamma Catherine used to say. Big Mamma Catherine had a huge bleeding heart for the poor and the needy and I think I have inherited it. I mention all this because I feel for them – the poor. I am determined to do what I can do for them.



x-x-x



Then in the nightly gloaming of a restless city I go for a walk. I walk to Cooperage and then to Colaba Causeway across Wodehouse Road. It’s a sprawling city without borders. You wouldn’t know where the streets end and the homes begin, where the parlours end and the bedrooms begin, where the drawing rooms end and the rest rooms begin. There aren’t any walls or partitions, if at all there are, they are pulled down or drilled through. On the walls and gates are small shabby plastic bags and jute bundles. They contain a man’s/woman’s belongings. People do everything in a borderless condition. Once while travelling on S.V.Road with Harmeet to see the positions of our outdoor advertisement I saw men, women, and children sleeping on the sidewalk with only a transparent mosquito net held by twigs for protection. As I passed by, a man in in a vest and lungi was smiling and talking to his woman. The prelude to sex? It happens under transparent mosquito nets at night, on public grounds and parks, inside railway stations and bus stations, inside huge conduit pipes, anywhere is home, anywhere they can have sex. When I ask Harmeet “How do these people have privacy?” he asks, “What people?” He hasn’t noticed the people I have seen. He is blind to their existence. I don’t think he even knows they exist. Exclusion is for him a good thing, a convenient thing.



You know as I sit here and write in the eerie glow of an as yet unconsummated summer night, vulnerable, when all resolve leaves me and I listen to the sea and murmur of traffic, the roads down below is teeming with gleaming cars. I feel numb and disoriented. I am severely handicapped without a car. I can see a slice of the glittering sea and the electric-light-diffused sky as they meet in a subdued fusion of water and air over the horizon. Silence sits over my like a monster. I need someone to talk, to discuss, to pour out my woes. That’s one of the reasons I am writing this. The mind is a dangerous think if left alone. You become a victim of its emptiness. You feel distraught by its endless attempts to make you feel wretched. Damn Parul! Damn the whole lot of the Mehtas! They have discarded me like a used piece of tissue, they have driven me out like a dog, I can only sit here and feel helpless against the might of their money. Dust swirls from the tires of the cars that zoom past horns blaring on the Marine Drive.



Heat and dust.

Heat and lust.



Though I am not in the mood for poetry I make a note of the rhyme. Lust rips through me each time I am on the street and watch the derrieres of pretty girls. They fill me with anguish, those girls. They are so impossibly beautiful I dread to think what a brutish man could do to them: slap them, violate them, punch them, kick them, which is what happens in marriages these days. Then I think of you and despair. My despair sits on me like a brooding halo. I will kill. I will kill if anyone touches you. I anyone makes a lewd gesture at you, I will kill. That’s sure.



What’s the purpose of all this? Why was I uprooted from my life in the Los Angeles suburb? I had a car. I could go anywhere. Here I am a prisoner and my money supply is running low. Everywhere I am hemmed in by crowds. I try to board a bus to Colaba to go to Regal cinema to see a movie. I am on Veer Nariman Road. I can’t get in the bus because of the crowd. Each time a bus arrives the crowd elbows past me. If I take a taxi, I can’t squeeze my tall frame into its small space. My head touches the ceiling. If I walk I would probably be killed by the erratic traffic, because here we actually walk on the road because the pavement is full of sellers of sugarcane juice, cigarettes, betel nuts and leaves, and gram and groundnuts. Immediately after I resigned from Pinnacle Constructions a vituperative Veereshbhai withdrew the car and the driver, though he allowed you and Mamma to live in the flat on Malabar Hill. I don’t want his charity. I will live on my own. For him, that corrupt man, charity begins at home and ends there. So I sit here and write and write, which is all I can do till the divorce case comes up, darling, wherein I will fight for your possession. So be patient, Dadda will always be there for you.



x-x-x



Let me take you to an incident that happened that disturbed me. Remember that day we went to meet big Dadda Jimmy who lives with big Mamma in Elysium Manor - abode of the dead? In Bombai everywhere you go you will find these funny names on buildings: Queens Castle, Windsor Manor, Palm Court, Elysium Manor, Connaught House. The Brits wanted to replicate London in Bombai. Legacies of the British, they still stand, their once majestic arches and colonnades now harbouring years of dust and dry moss, its nooks grown with weeds or filled with the nests of birds. They look craggy, discoloured, their drains green with fungus and oozing excreta. Once decay has set in, nothing could be done, no repair could bring it back to its old charming state. So the buildings rot though hard rain and summer with the ancient architecture of the solidly-built stone structures fighting a losing battle to survive.



When you turn into Walton Road from Colaba Causeway you see a copper pod tree (flowering brightly in spring) and behind it the fake-art-deco walls of Elysium Manor. There’s a Bata shoe store downstairs. The lattices on the balconies and windows are maintained in the way Parisis do, scrubbed and with a coat of white paint. On the terrace are ornamental grills which hold rather ornate lamps. On the right of the wrought iron gate is a huge banyan tree which has stood there ever since I can remember, its vines spreading down to touch the earth, but cut by Jimmy so the tree doesn’t grow to an immense size as it is capable of. This is the place I called home before I migrated to the U.S. This soiled grimy building is hwere I lived, loved and dreamed. Receding slowly from memory and consciousness, this place of my youth, whenever I visit it, whenever I am away from it, probably because of its unchanged state, – you will know from this account how impermanent my life has been, – will for ever be called home.



You don’t like these places because of the old and decrepit people live there – in Elysium Manor - in the rotting building, reeking of death and disfigurement. It’s repelling to enter its big yawning front entrance leading to the stairs after all these years. Big Dadda – Jamshed Bandookwala - and big Mamma – Catherine Baretto-Bandookwala – are both bent and disfigured by age and the ugly detritus of guilt. Remember that day when we went visiting in March 2008? How big Mamma Catherine had gathered you in her arms and kissed you, how she wept seeing you were just like her, curly hair and all. As soon as you enter Elysium Manor from Walton Road, the stink of dissipation strikes you strongly from its slowly decaying walls covered by seepage and algae, the rubble and garbage lying in the unswept courtyard, the cobweb covered banister, and the dust accumulating on the iron grills that the residents have installed on their front doors for protection. This, darling, is the place I had spent my childhood in the company of the Wala Gang – Adi, Tyre, Mosquito, Screw and me, Bandook. Adi Soda was the leader of the Wala team; Tyre was the organiser, good writer of both prose and poetry; and Screw – what to say of Screw? – was the cool and handsome chap who could get into the panties of any girl in the locality without trying too hard, my teenage ambition of a man. I was jealous of him and we fought most of the time. He had this secret: he knew, yes he did, the monthly emotional cycles of most of the girls on Colaba Causeway and knew when to date whom; “strike when the iron is hot, hot, men, and when they are waiting to receive the juices, men. Women need sex as much as you do, men. Right now that girl in No.2 of Cusrow Baugh is getting really hot,” Screw used to say. Inside him the hormones ran really wild.



The only friend I have in Elysium Manor is Adi Soda. He is now a caterer of food for movie production houses. Feeding film crew in remote locations, feeding Russian dancing girls (ever present in song videos because of their white skin), cooking something special for the film hero and heroine according to their whims is his job. Tyre lives and writes from Poona and, I heard, is one of the country’s finest English poets since Nissim Ezekiel, and Screw as was his wont is in advertising and is heading an agency by the name of, well, what else - Screwala Communications. He runs his fiefdom by charming the panties off models and starlets and sex-starved, aging “Corporate-executive Type” women in multinational companies. Screw likes to provide his services to sex-starved women. They love him. A more appropriate name to his company would have been – Screwala Fornications. We played in the leafy sun-dappled Walton Road and inside Cusrow Baug. I have fond memories of Adi’s antics, his mimicking of Jimmy and old Mrs. Singaporewala who lived on the fourth floor of Elysium Manor. Her daughters were called duck and swan for their walking style which Adi could imitate quite faultlessly. He also could do an imitation of Stiff John Fonseca of Esperansa who was father of Evita, with whom I was foolishly in love in those days. I still am. Stiff John, Evita’s father, always walked with his hands held stiffly at his side. Well, those are my friends with whom I spent my childhood, played pakda-pakdi on our bikes, rode threesome with Screw riding the bike and me in the back with a buxom Parisi girl (I forget who, but she was his girl at that time) sandwiched in between – the most sensuous ride I have ever had - ran amuck on Colaba Causeway. We fought over petty things. All those things seem trivial now, hidden as they are from the eye in a vaporous haze. We beat up the usher of Regal Cinema when he objected to us sitting on the last row and fighting when, in a movie revival, MacKenna’s Gold was playing to a packed audience. The hall was quiet and only we were murmuring. We loved the movie and we were identifying ourselves with the characters in the movie – I liked Omar Sharif (though I resemble Denzel Washington more), handsome, enigmatic, so I laid my claim earlier than my friends - Adi Soda and Screw wanted to be Gregory Peck, the leader; and we weren’t finding a role model for Tyre - when the bespectacled haunchback usher shone his torch and asked us to stop. Before he knew it, we four set upon him and gave the Parisi-bawaji such a hiding he will never forget in his life. I haven’t visited Regal cinema from that day. Regal Cinema! The house of dreams and of cinema on the junction of M.G.Road and Colaba Causeway, opposite the Cawasji Jehangir hall. Many are the movies I enjoyed in its high portals, its cool walls resounding with stereophonic music, the softness of its torn seats like a sanctuary from the world outside. Oh! I remember how it gave me a sense of safety where love blooms and desire takes hold of one and one falls in love with all the stars.



Those were the days we discovered sex. After a show at the Regal we would find our crotches bulging and we would go weak in the knees when we saw girls, women, anyone. Women who would make us go weak: Catherine Deneauvu in Hustle, Brooke Shields in Blue Lagoon, Julie Lamar in MacKenna’s Gold, Jennifer Beals in Flashdance. There weren’t so many movies in those days. So theatres such as Regal, Eros, Metro and Sterling announced revivals and we could see the best movies over and over again, sometimes five or ten times. I remember those movies better than movies of today, all forgettable ones. Those were growing up years with my friends and I was close to Adi, Tyre, Screw and Mosquito. Bombay in those days was a city teeming with brothels. That was till the Catholic Police Commissioner Monteiro cleaned it up. There’s this red light area near Kennedy Bridge in Grant Road, where there are the cages of Kamatipura, and there in the night were the fallen angels, faces made up, tawdry sari, swinging their hips seductively and walking, walking, walking under the harsh glow of sodium vapour lamps. Oh! Kennedy Bridge, of the jasmine-scented women, the pit of all Bombai’s soured dreams, the vortex of sins! The Wala boys used to go mad sometimes with lust. We would go for a tryst near Kennedy Bridge where girls from distant lands of sandalwoods and attar would sit in rows wearing jasmine on their hair, smelling of Navrattan Oil, their faces caked with Cuticura talcum powder. They would swoop like eagles on us, dragging us into their narrow rooms, staining our clothes, driving their bodies into ours in paroxysms of lust. They would talk the bazaar language, tease and cajole a tip after the act. No man would walk the streets of Falkland Road and Lamington Road without feeling the throbbing pain in their groins of the flesh of flesh waiting to conjoin with another in the dance of the mysterious Kama – God of love. He is not a man who wouldn’t be tempted to step into a lane lined by shapely women wearing jasmine garlands wafting the cloying smell of jasmine and burning incense and joss sticks. They would stand there and tease and entice, those dark-skinned Apsaras from the South of the country and the chinky-eyed ones from the North-Eastern states. I participated in the Wala Gang’s orgies on a few occasions before I caught a deadly clap infection and gave up. It took repeat visits to Dr. Colabawala with Catherine to get me healed and Catherine made me swear not to go to these houses of human misery anymore. “Don’t know what-what infections you catch, no, men, and me, is not there to take you to Dr. Colabawala, and buy what-all medicines, baba. Don’t do it, hahnn?” Dr. Colabala demonstrated how to use a condom by inserting it on his index finger and Catherine cackled loudly and hid her face.



Beside Kennedy bridge would be heaps of garbage lying rotting: wrapping paper, plastic pouches, banana peels, chocolate wrappers. There would also be dogs, cats and cows ruminating majestically as on any street of the city. Adi excited at the prospect of having a woman would spray a sickening-smelling deodorant on us. The cloying scent would drive the women mad.



“The pleasures of life, dikra. They smell of jasmine but their mouths are like the gutter. Don’t be deceived by their talk. In fact, don’t talk at all. They talk through their gutter-mouth like they know everything, they will give advise. They don’t know a thing. Who they are to give advise, hahn? Don’t listen. If you listen they will spread a curse over you, get you addicted, so you come again. Always use condoms.”



“Yeah, men,” Mosquito would say, “dey are discovering new strain of viruses all de time. No, no, I won’t do it, y’all enjoy.”



“If you don’t fuck men, then you don’t. It’s your choice. We won’t force you to fuck,” Adi would admonish.



“The migrant workers go there, not boys from good families, that’s where they get clap, syphilis, AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, I know, I read it in the papers, what men? Don’t be victims of ignorance,” Mosquito would lisp and defend himself, his incipient paunch like a jack fruit already.



“Hey Mosquito, don’t preach, eh? As if you are bishop Lame Lobo dragging feet and all. He...he.... You don’t do it if you don’t want to, finished, na?” Screw would say. All the women would get excited seeing Screw, his blemishless face, his limpid black eyes, his healthy hair. They would go mad and preen around him, casting him long glances. They would behave as if they have seen God himself. Some men have all the luck.



There we would sit Mosquito and I, while Adi, Screw and Tyre would finish screwing the ladies in jasmine and Cuticura and come out with their skins glowing. Yeah, sex did that to you. I knew a good screw did wonders to your complexion, but I was too repressed and inhibited after Catherine’s scolding. I also was afraid of becoming like Jimmy, a sex-craving animal, a man who has lost all sense of social propriety.



As for me, I felt pity for those women. Kamatipura, the cages, is where women are tortured and starved into submission, made into sex slaves, fed on continuous runs of Hindi movie hits, their minds in a haze from seeing those lurid sexual innuendoes and violence on cheap television sets purchased from Chor Bazar . Brutal men rape them if they don’t submit to their demands. Their personalities then take the coarseness of the men who control them. They are beaten, traumatised and discarded by their pimps, left to die like rats of the city’s gutters when they are old. Oh! Bombai, you heartless city!



No, no, no, I would cringe to touch those wretched women again.



x-x-x



Again, I digress. Sorry! I am so lost in thoughtful nostalgia about my childhood that I can’t resist the temptation of adding the above details, lurid as it might seem. Remember that day a year ago, darling. I won’t forget that day we went visiting to Elysium Manor. Remember the copperpod tree, then flowerless, the banyan tree leaning into the compound? The Causeway is teeming with stalls hawking knick-knacks and tinsel, rings, bracelets, chains, antique gramophones, horns, clocks and sextents. There are flimsy stalls selling silk wraps, scarves, amulets, rings, chains, crucifixes in ivory and rudraksh . In the narrow space between these vendors pass the big-assed Mammas, the cute Japanese, the white-skinned firangs bearing the faint whiffs their cultures and foods. Colaba Causeway has different culture altogether. I cut across big-boobed women and their equally muscled and monstrous-looking boyfriends, their arms and legs sheathed in rolling-rippling muscles. The sun is filling the Causeway with its evening golden sheen and, being a Sunday, people appear on dusty doorways, balconies, and yawning windows, pottering around scratching themselves.



Remember that day? I remember it clearly through the haze of hurts and humiliations. Big Dadda opens the grime-stained door and stares at me as if not recognising me. The flat that used to seem huge to me now shrinks before my eyes. There in the corner is Jimmy’s favourite chair – a Bombai Fornicator - may be, so named because people of Jimmy’s age used to fornicate on them. Anyway, it’s called a Bombai Fornicator, that’s its name! I don’t know why. His eyesight is bad. I don’t know his exact age but he is approaching eighty. He has grown old and stoops, his nose is long and covers his lips and chin, his hair is a solid white, the old fornicator. He wheezes as he moves around. He is dressed in a dirty draw-string pyjama and has on his sadra through which his kasti peeps out. Old age is encroaching around his eyes, the corners of which have very fine crow’s feet with bags under it. Then he shuffles around mumbling, actually grumbling about Madhav our servant. His voice is a hoarse rasp, as if he is shouting across a great chasm, as if words have to struggle through an endless tunnel to reach his lips.



“What took you so long, when I phoned you said you were on Marine Drive.”



“I was. Such traffic! My god, everyone seems to have a car. They drive like crazy. Where’s Mamma?”



“The bastards. No respect for law.” Jimmy reties his pyjama draw-string which has slipped below his protruding belly. His hands tremble.



“It has become worse. The driving I mean. With so many cars and buses on the roads it is going to be a nightmare.”



“They won’t have a place to shit but they will own a car, he... he... he....”



“Where’s mamma?” I ask again.



“She has gone to meet Mrs. Freny Sodawaterwala.”



Through the kitchen door on the right, a familiar face peeps out briefly, the face is dark, hollowed out, the eyes are sunken, the bald patch shines in the ambient light from the windows. He wears a discarded tee-shirt and shorts of indeterminate colour.



“Madhav-uncle, come and meet Priyanka.” I say to him. I was very close to him and call him uncle.



Madhav, comes out and picks you up and kisses you on the cheek. (I didn’t know then about a painful secret that was kept from me at that time, but you will know about it soon.) He seems unsure as he does this. He, too, has grown old. I wonder then, for a brief moment, if this is the fate about to befall me, age, wrinkles, hollowed eyes and decaying teeth.



“Madhav, go inside,” Jimmy’s voice has an edge, and turning to me, “he hasn’t been much of a help these days.”



I don’t know what turmoil is going through Jimmy. His eyes seem wild; he seems to lack control of himself. His voice breaks as he says it.



“But why, Papa, he is one of the family. You can’t treat him like this because he is old. Can you?”



“You don’t know. You don’t know anything, dikra. If he is, he should know his position in the family.”



His whole bent frame shakes with some unexpressed inner revolt. There is in his eyes fierceness as if one possessed. It seems my intercession has angered him further. But I can’t let Madhav-uncle be insulted this way.



“I don’t agree. I have known Madhav-uncle all my life. He used to take me to school.”



“You leave it to me how to treat my servants.”



“No. He is not a servant. He means more to me than a servant, Papa.”



“Like what?”



“Like I would consider an uncle, say, Dinyar-uncle.”



“Dinyar is my blood, my-own-blood, you understand?” He is possessed by some demon, some demoniacal force is eating him up insidiously and his Parisi accent is getting worse. I wonder if he would have a seizure of some sort and contain my own outrage. I admit I am very disoriented by the whole incident. What is he trying to say; what is he trying to prove?



Peace returns to the first-floor flat of Elysium Manor.



Shamefacedly, Jimmy goes and reclines on his Bombai Fornicator on which lies a crumpled copy of The Daily. He fumbles for his glasses lying on a table nearby. Then with shaking hands he tries to withdraw into the paper, trying to read. A man consumed by his sorrows! Business has been bad, of late. No export orders are coming from Turkey. I feel sympathy for him. From the door of the flat comes Catherine, your big Mamma. She ambles into the living room and takes you in her arms. My mother, my mater, my all! She doesn’t even look at me and her attention is towards you. She laughs her full-blooded manly laugh, the masses of flesh around her bosom quaking, a bosom I know so well, having lain in it looking at the endless procession on Colaba Causeway during enactments of Christ’s passion by the Holy Ascension Cathedral Parishioners. I have also enjoyed the processions of devoted ones of Lord Krishna during Gokul Ashtami, clutching to that ample bosom filled with soft flesh. Catherine is also growing old and has the look of a fat elderly matron (as portrayed in some European paintings) around her thick waist and ample behind. Of all the women I have ever come across: those whom I have desired, or, flirted with, I like her the best. A woman who still surprises me, excites me, enchants me.



“Dinshaw, Dinu, Dinny, sonny, come give Mamma a kiss,” she says.



I peck her on the cheek and return to the sofa. Her skin is like paper on my lips. Yet I like it.



Remember how Catherine looked at you with those adoring eyes and kissed you? She has this mind that alternates between love for her own and hatred for the world. For the world she has a feeling of betrayal. She uses strong scatological language to express this betrayal, some hidden thing that she doesn’t want to come out into public view. Her cuddling you, cooing to you, evokes a fleeting vignette impressing in memory, dully reminds me of the way she used to coddle and mollify me when I was restless and upset with the world, bawling my head out at the misdemeanour of my friends when they used epithets like “Black Parisi” to tease me. Yes, she was and is my refuge, this big brown woman.



“I have baked some cakes, darling, men, my sweetheart, cho-cho sweet, come to Mamma,” she says. She spends an awful lot of time in the kitchen baking and experimenting with cakes and sweets. She used to do it for me when I was a kid. She is a preen-er, a big brown woman with wide hips and capable hands. Parul doesn’t preen like her. No, she is more wooden than a preen-er. Around her face is a glow as if she has just been to the confessional of the Holy Ascension Church and is free of all sins. The Catholic she is, she still goes to the Cathedral on Wodehouse Road to expiate her sins, though she is a professed witch. In her case witchery was an accident. She was influenced by her widow friends – Freny and Alzira. They were the bitter ones with agendas, not her, who was content to always be herself, leading an uneventful life in the bustle of a small and sultry by-lane of Colaba Causeway.



I settle down on the sofa in the living room and watch all the familiar objects of my childhood: the table I used to study at, the place where I used to hang the keys of my Yezdi bike, the rack where I kept my shoes, the cupboard where I kept my shirts and underwear, all the same. It hasn’t moved an inch since I went away. It seems so placid and so serene except when Catherine had one of her frequent hair-tearing bouts of bad temper she reserved for Jimmy when she suspected he has been to one of the bordellos that Colaba Causeway. How would she know? Because there would be blackmailers waiting to let the world know who has been to which house of ill-repute. The city is full of such evil-eyed people of a lowly nature, servants, watchmen, toilet-cleaners, and sweepers. It was traumatic during my childhood. Has anyone lived within walking distance from a whorehouse? Well, I have. I know what it can do to men of Jimmy’s type. He would go wild with lust. Catherine would smell his underwear – only wives would do this – and smell the strong cheap perfume of the other woman in it. “You whore-monger, you randi-baaz , you besharam , you son of a filthy gutter rat, you unclean one polluting my bed, you are a beast having bara lauda ,” and she would let it rip, throwing anything that would come handy, the washing machine pipe, the buckets, the pots, pans, plates, anything. I don’t know where she learnt her profanities but she had the mouth of a guttersnipe, a vile and vitiating creature when she was upset at Jimmy. Then I would feel sorry for him, the debauched man, a creature of his demented passions, now sitting and pretending to read the newspaper.



I don’t wish to disturb the peace that exists like a touch-me-not in the house. It’s too fragile. So, we sit uneasily in the living room, Jimmy and I. The day goes on. Time whines in my ears. Outside I can hear the roar of traffic on Colaba Causeway. We say nothing. I know he is hostile. He didn’t want me to come back to the country, said it was the wrong decision to take. When I completed my Higher Secondary School with the fifth rank in the Moomoori Pradesh state, he raked up all money he could so that I could go to the U.S. “Don’t live here, dikra , this country is not for you. This is only for corrupt people as me, morally corrupt and without a future,” he said pressing my ticket to the U.S. into my hand. I had already got admission for a B.S. at Berkeley. From there it’s been a long journey, I will tell you about that journey in some other account, some other time, Priya.



Madhav Shindey comes and places two cup of tea on a teapoy before me and Jimmy. He bows his head to me, hands on his chest, I bow back. He has this servantly attitude, learnt or inherent, I don’t know. Jimmy, I know, has a colonial attitude towards servants and encourages this. He would always be so subservient I would feel sorry for the fate that has compelled a man to be thus. Such subservience is not good. He doesn’t say much. He, too, is old I notice. When I was a child he would take me to St. Xavier’s School and back. He is dark, as dark as me; he wears shorts; his deep-set eyes are hollows of watery misery. I think he weeps for the great tragedy of his life, whatever it is. (The way I weep now.) I gave his son Eknath a job as my peon in Pinnacle Constructions as a favour for the way his father looked after me. He is a good man not corrupted by the ways of the world as Jimmy. How apt that people living in Elysium Manor are on the verge of death. That way a majority of the residents of the buildings of Colaba Causeway – Cusrow Baug, York House, Esperansa - are inhabited by people who have been abandoned by their children who have gone to more affluent countries.



“How’s business, Papa?”



I said this as a statement, not a question. I don’t know if he will respond.



“Bad. Too bad. There’s no export happening. The last time I exported something was two months ago.”



“You know, there’s a recession that’s coming, the trend is already showing. Things will be like this for some time.”



“I don’t know about recession-bicession, or, incision. All I care about is saving me from extermination. He... he..., (laughs mirthlessly) it’s not going good, not good at all.”



He again goes back to looking depressed. I can see only his beak-like nose, the thick-framed glasses and his wrinkled pate from where I sit. I hate it when he makes these sad attempts at being funny when he is depressed. He comes out as hollow.



I look at him lolling on his Bombai Fornicator, the deep furrows on his forehead, his dirty sadra and pyjama. During his time he was a swinger, a cad, a loose cannon. Now he is nothing, broke, and growing old, not strong as before, and is dependent on his wife and me. Sitting with Papa is similar to inhaling poison gas and dying an excruciating death. He talks little.



x-x-x



I go and stand by the window. The copperpod tree is so close I can touch its branches. The wind plays a soft murmuring symphony in its leaves. Memories come flooding in. Memories of those days. I can see the steep sandstoned entrance of Cusrow Baug across the bustling Colaba Causeway – Playground of Lucifer, according to Bishop Lame Lobo. Cusrow Baug is where Screw and Tyre still have homes. Though there is a Wadia gang in Cusrow Baug, Screw and Tyre are members of the Wala Gang. Tyre is mostly in Poona looking after his grandparents who need constant care. Screw – a creator of images and brands, and occasionally, babies for high-society babes - has moved to a tony apartment on Pedder Road with the ill-gotten wealth of his advertising business. What advertising he does? Hardly anything. I call it more of pimping. Across the street towards far right beyond York House I can see a bit of Esperansa (meaning beautiful), where my fourth friend Rudolph Mosquitowala lives.



Esperansa! Oh, Esperansa! You edifice that is named beautiful, rising steeply above Colaba Causeway, grandly overlooking its teeming maze of lanes and by-lanes. You are where the celestially beautiful Evita Fonseca lives, she of the smile sweeter than honey, the giggly laugh, she of the curly bangs on either sides of her face, she of the quick, pouty and offended look. The super witch according to Alzira Misquitta, Rudolph’s mother, because she had refused the hand of her son. Alzira and Evita are neighbours in Esperansa. The rumour is that Evita, the super witch, turned a man who had teased her with a wave of her hand into a beggar with no hands, no legs, and no clothes, shamed him into never looking at women again. He was never heard of again on the Causeway. We all were crazy for her including Rudolph Misquitta, or, Mosquitowala. She was the most beautiful and flirtatious girl on the Causeway, flirty yet uncompromised. Still a virgin. Hopeful boys, M.B.A.s, engineers, doctors, holding big flower bouquets, had to be driven away from her door by her mother Betty Fonseca. “Boys, men, why you trouble her so much, no? She not caring whether you are big-big engineers, M.B.A.s, or, doctors. Immaterial. She only want a man with a clean soul, good clean moral values, and only she will decide in the matter.” The witch she supposedly was, she had played Mother Mary in the nativity play that the parishioners of Holy Ascension Cathedral had put up for Christmas. She had such a look of piety as she wore the long-sleeved dress of the blessed Madonna. She had us mesmerised.



“Could you imagine any one else playing Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception?” Screw, he an authority on women, had asked.



“No.” I had replied.



“You know why?”



“No.”



“Because, dumbo, she is still a virgin. The only one on Colaba Causeway.”



He should know. He has wooed and bedded almost all the eligible girls of the Causeway.



Sometimes she would hangout flirtatiously from her fourth floor flat balcony and we would all look up to see her during the pale glow of the evening hours. She was a Lolita, a nymphet, flirty, loving. The Anglo, Catholic, and Parisi boys of the locality, all crazily in love, would gather at the gate of Esperansa, hang around on the hard concrete sidewalk of Colaba Causeway and remain there well into the night. There they would debate over who she was seeing tonight till the mosquitoes would swarm over them, knowledge of their lovelessness would descend on them, and give them malaria, dengue and chickengunia. Screw took her to a movie once. And he nearly died from embarrassment considering the attention he got from the crowd. I dated her a few times after the meeting in Metro Cinema for Dr. Zhivago, in movie halls such as the Sterling, the New Excelsior, the New Empire, and The Regal where I had sat mesmerized as swarms of butterflies flitted on in the bluish projection light and she would have me completely under her spell. She is a movie maniac. I still can remember that day.



I remember being always in love with her, looking at the steep walls of Esperansa, to her balcony to see if she was hanging out of it the way she used to, her two hands on the railing, her head and top half of her body outside, catching the sun as it slanted on her blue-black hair, her perfectly sculpted face, and the little sweet apples of her breasts. She was a vision. Once I caught sight of Screw looking up at her fixedly and a smallish crowd gathering around him as it often does in Bombai. Lady-killer Screw, the benchod, and the crowd, they unashamedly stood looking at her hanging out of the balcony, and slowly as I watched, a form in white floated down on a chariot made of butterfly wings; its black hair just like her’s caught the sun and flashed in million hues blinding all present as she touched her admirers with a feathery wand, like an Apsara of the Hindu Gods. Oh Apsara! From then on she took the aura of someone heavenly, someone in a legend born on the earth to people’s dreams. But to me, she remained Evita, the desirable one, the girl who sought clean moral values.



Mosquito’s mother, Alzira Misquitta, a former witch like Catherine Baretto-Bandookwala, now reformed, however, still calls her a witch par excellence, who has crossed the line of witchery into a fine life of a heavenly being. Alzira says she ha seen Evita making potions out of scorpion legs and grasshopper wings and feeding it to gullible and nice Catholic boys like Rudolph Misquitta, to ensnare them. This was only her bitterness, as in actual fact Evita had rejected Rudolph Misquitta. The threesome of Adi Soda, Mosquito and me, we have a secret bond of witchery binding us. Adi would say, “Arre, bechod, this secret society of witches was created to drive away the boredom only, men, when our mothers met to gossip under the Ashoka Tree in the compound of the Cadedral, after they brought us lunch, baba. Huhn? All this big-shig talk is nothing else, see. There is no witchery, no fitchery, it’s fuck-all rubbish. A good fuck can cure all the shit of the loveless hags, men.” Adi didn’t believe in witchery and saw Tum Tum Mata as a beggar woman fooling the public with her superstitious mumbo-jumbo. I agree with him.



They used to call it “The 3 p.m. Witchery of St. Judas,” Judas being the disciple who betrayed Jesus and thereby was denied sainthood, and 3 p.m. being the time they met. There they schemed their dubious and wish-fulfilling erotic dreams as the corpulent Archbishop of Bombai slept his deep sosegado sleep. Around the “three witches” as they came to be known, was the halo of mosquitoes, the manifestation of their love deprivation. In a nearby chamber, not far away, Lame Lobo, the Rasputin of the Archdiocese, was deep into one of his frequent flirtations with a comely member of the parish choir.



x-x-x



Again, standing at the window of the flat in Elysium Manor, triggered by the symphony of leaves of the copper pod tree and the lazy hum of evening traffic, I digress in my narrative into what my childhood had been. Still in my dreamy state I walk to my room in Elysium Manor. It’s at the end of a passage that has entrances to my parent’s bedroom and the long narrow kitchen. Not a thing has been moved. My room is preserved the way I had left it. The bed is in the same place, the cupboard is full of my books. My literary oeuvres – notebooks and notebooks full of them – line the shelf. The medals and cups I had won for writing, debating and studies are where I had left them. The windows are a palimpsest of worn dirt marks, beside the bed is the stains in dark circles where I used to lean with a pillow against the wall while I studied. I used to write: poems, stories, essays, some of them published in The Daily and the Sunday sections of other newspapers. I even started a novel on the Wala Gang in which we were leaders of a revolutionary uprising on Colaba Causeway leading to the defeat and dethroning of the rival Wadia gang of Cusrow Baug. I was not much of a sportsman. However, I was in the school football team. On one wall, suspended by a hanger, is my football jersey with St. Xaviers written on it and the number 8 in a monstrous-sized letter. I take it down, hold it close to my face, it smells fresh and newly washed. Catherine must have washed it knowing I was coming. I lie on my bed, my own bed, where I slept all through my childhood, and my eyes mist. A sob chokes my throat as I look through the eyes of the hopeful teenager I was, unsure of what the future held for me. I was afraid as I was always thinking about the future and worrying.



Outside my window I can see the banyan tree I used to love to watch lying in bed. I look at it now, its leaves playfully fluttering in the wind. I love the tree. It used to keep my room cool during the hot and sultry summer. We Walla boys would clamber up on it and Adi Soda would tease me from a bough singing loudly our corrupt version of a bawdy English song “In the Morning”:



In the morning, in the morning; in the morning by the sea

In the morning, in the morning; in the morning by the sea

If I were a doctor’s son and if I were to marry,

I would marry a doctor’s daughter more than anybody,

I will inject and she will inject and we will inject together,

Getting up in the middle of the night, we will inject each other!



(Chorus)



He was mad. Adi Soda is still mad. So was I. Heard of the term yeda Parisi? That was us. We did some crazy things together. Then I go up to Adi Soda’s flat on the second floor. There’s an iron grill on the door that wasn’t there before. The unpainted door shows years of dirt marks, now congealed into a black coating. Adi’s monther Freny, the witch, kind and delicate of speech and behaviour, opens the door. Freny is haggard and aged. Her hair has grown thin, string-like and white. Wrinkles have grown dense around her mouth and loose flesh hangs from her neck looking like the dewlap of a bovine animal. She is wearing a mother hubbard with prints. Age has caught up with her and I stand there shocked by how old age changes people.



“Oh, Dinny, Dinya, my son, how are you?” She pecks me on the cheek, “Oh, look what you have become, oh, Zara, oh, Mata.”



Mata means Tum Tum Mata.



“I am fine Freny-auntie, and you?”



“How can an old-old woman be, feet in the grave and heart in her mouth. I am just a poor old woman, nobody cares for me, witch and hag that I am, no?”



“No. You are always too precious to be a witch. Stop this witchery and buffoonery. It doesn’t become you.”



“Oh, Dinya, how can I make you understand, the feelings of an old woman. Though I am smiling, it’s hell inside. Always hell. That’s why I am looking so old-old.”



“Never mind. Where’s Adi?”



She informs me that Adi Soda is on tour with a film production company making a blockbuster historical movie (I am sure one in which women in period costumes dance synchronically), making their food, feeding the stars, and would return next week. Contrary to the air of domesticity she portrays, her witchery includes conducting psychic séances in which she speaks to dead people. She invites me to come in, which I am sure is to give me a potion with live gekkos and cockroaches in it to ward off the evil eye of the malfeasant people of the world. So I tell her I will surely come another day. I had met Adi Soda once since I had come back from the U.S. and he had put on a lot of weight from eating the rich food he made for the film stars and celluloid crews, the wild bunch he parties and drinks with.



“Dinya, now you are here, I must give warning-sharning you.”



“About what?”



“Oh, the fights!”



“You mean Catherine and Jimmy?”



“Yes.”



“Do they fight often?”



“Every day, they fight-shight. Not good no? What will neighbours think? I keep hearing crockery breaking.”



“How can I stop them auntie. I have tried.”



“Only suggestion of mine. Get rid of Madhav.”



“Why?”



“He is a bad omen. I have consulted my crystal ball.”



“But he is a member of our family.”



“Never mind. Get rid of him.”



“But, why?”



“There’s a reason, a reason beyond all reasons, which will slowly, slowly reveal itself.”



I am hurt by the way people are treating Madhav. Is it because he is poor and from a low caste? Havn’t they been able to get rid of casteism after all these years? I was innocent then, unknowing of the revelations that would come later to me, which would uproot the very concept of my own self. I find myself being challenged all the time. I am made to feel like an imposter, an outsider, an outcaste who reside too much in the past and have nothing to look forward to.



x-x-x



I say goodbye to Freny-auntie and descend the steps to the first floor where my flat situated. What reason was Freny-auntie referring to? What are they hiding? What does the whole world know and I don’t? It seemed to me then that there was some conspiracy going on. This is an uneasy homecoming: first, being adopted by a wealthy Zoozoori family, second, living in the plush locality of Malabar Hill, owning an expensive car, and living a spoilt life. From my contented life in Mountain View I was flung into a cauldron of corruption and venality I could barely withstand. My entire being militated against it. Then the unthinkable happens. It’s an aberration; I like to think of it as such.



As I descend the stairs I can hear Jimmy screaming and the whiny voice of Madhav; distinctly, that of a man who is broken, unsure, unsteady and mournfully sad. Parul opens the door and there stands Catherine in a fit of rage. You, dear daughter, was holding on to Parul’s kameez afraid and crying. I hate scenes. I could hear Catherine saying in her high-pitched bossy voice.



“Don’t you ever touch him again, unnnnerstandd, Mr. Bandookwala? You are not to touch him ever again.”



To this Jimmy blabbers, “Shut up, Mrs. Bandookwala.”



“I will not shut up. Besharam . I refuse to let this happen in my house. What will people say? Huhn? Make big-big noise, and all? Yeanh?”



“You don’t know what I have been through for yourall sakes. Do you?”



“What the fuckall you been going through?”



“Bloody should I say it loud for the world? Bitch!”



“You are totally, entirely responsible for what happened to you. You know that.”



“You have spoiled that man. He is a menial servant. He needs to be put in his position.”



I barge into the flat not comprehending the ruckus that was going on. I haven’t grasped the situation yet. There’s Jimmy’s tall bent figure, his face a mask of bitterness, standing over Madhav with his belt in his hands. There are welts, red and purple where the belt had been laid Madhav, on his wrinkled hands and feet. I run to Jimmy and snatch the belt from him. He glares at me quaking with indignation.



“Has this happened before?” I ask Catherine.



“Yes, this man beats his poor servant all the time. He has become mad, this badwa .”



Madhav is crouching on the floor the hair on his bald head in wild disarray. He is moaning and distraught, his face hidden between his legs, sitting there crouched in a corner of the living room. He looks as if all human qualities have deserted him and shows the behaviour of an animal. A helpless animal! It’s not the hurt but the humiliation that is making him cringe. Catherine is standing beside him, shaking with unbecoming rage. She is muttering to herself something about, “Black nights, blacker than hell, spilling over into day,” “Jasmine scent of woman,” something such. I don’t know. What had made Papa hit Madhav? Was he mad to hit a man who was a member of the household, had stood by us in all circumstances? I didn’t know things had deteriorated so much in my absence. I also don’t understand Jimmy’s blind rage which is making him tremble so much.



I go to Madhav, put my arm around him, hug him, and make him stand up.



“I will not live in this house. I cannot, Dinshaw-baba.”



“Nothing will happen, Madhav. You must.”



“How can I when sahib is angry with me?”



“Papa, what is this you have done?”



Jimmy is blubbering incoherently.



“You all have conspired against me. The ungrateful machod, what haven’t I given him, what haven’t I done for him. I am a nobody, no? I am worthless, no? You all have ruined me. Oh Zara, merciful, just lift me up this moment. I don’t want to live. I want to die.”



I hate scenes. The house is in uproar and probably Freny-auntie and the rest of the residents are hearing what was being said from the landing. I find the advise she had given to sack Madhav, rather mysterious.



“What’s all this nonsense you are saying, Papa?”



“Ask that woman, she knows.”



“What do you know, Mamma?”



“He hit him when he didn’t get his biscuit with his tea. He and his belt! Used it on the simple unarmed man! Poor man, he knows nothing. Then he asks him why he kissed Priya.”



“But papa, Madhav is part of the family. You shouldn’t treat him like an outsider.” I say.



“His caste cannot be a part of my family.”



“Caste, you are talking of caste in this day and age?”



“Mr. Bandookwala,” Catherine says, “you are going mad. Nothing else,” turning to me she says, “He is a disgrace, see how he cringes, but still doesn’t regret his actions. Oh, God, why is this happening to me, in my house, of all the places? Haven’t I offered you ‘Hail Mary’s’ Lenten fasting, offerings to Tum Tum Mata and money for the poor in the ‘poor box’? Why am I being tested like this?” I know this kerfuffle is all over town by now, in the Parisis Cusrow Baug, in the Catholic Esperansa and beyond.



I didn’t know Jimmy is a casteist and racist. He is such a confused man he doesn’t know what he says or does. I guess dementia and the frustration of being a failure in life is setting in. Couldn’t Zara have given me a better man as father?



Freny-auntie is at the door, you, poor darling, you are crying, and Parul is looking nonplussed, not understanding anything. Madhav is still crouching crying into his hands, a pathetic figure his lean withered hands and legs so incongruous I feel sorry for him. Catherine stands oddly her bulk spilling out from her Mother Hubbard, her face black in uncontrolled rage. The reason for what happened that day still eludes me, some dark secret they, only they knew about. What secret? Yeah, families have such secrets hidden in the dark folds of their bedsheets and mattresses, which I hadn’t realised at that time. The sheets, the mattresses, the doors, the windows must have seen what transpired on somnolent sultry summer afternoons, rainy monsoon evenings and cool winter evenings of concupiscence, of the overwhelming prurient madness which pushed man and woman into seeking temporary respite in sex. Right then I didn’t know the undercurrents, the deep flows of emotions that was driving Jimmy into such a rage and Catherine into such denial. Of course, you will read about it in the later pages, dearest, have patience. Right then I wanted to run away, be rid of the place, and leave the suffocation of tortured and tormented souls. Right then all I wanted was to go away from the sights, the experiences of my childhood, the room where I had dreamed, the books and memorabilia lining my shelf, the streets where I had walked, the unforgettable Colaba Causeway, to some place far, far away. Away from this madness.



I gather you in my arms. I leave. I swear never to return.



The next day I learnt from Mamma that Madhav – the poor old broken man – had left home that night for where he didn’t say. He had opened the door when all were sleeping and left home closing the door carefully not to wake up the family, carrying only a plastic bag with his meagre belongings: shorts, round-neck tee shirts, his paan box, and a cardboard box containing something mysterious, content of which I only came to know later. May be he has gone back to Shegaon, Matur district, where people have sex out of the daze of heat and boredom. When Catherine awoke he wasn’t in the house and the automatic night latch of the front door was closed. She had run out and searched the entire building, the terrace, the landings, he wasn’t anywhere. Disappeared! He wasn’t the sort who would commit suicide. I can’t be sure, but his grief seemed large enough. He seemed in the clutches of some massive deadening sorrow which I couldn’t for the life of me fathom. Now I know. But then, that is for later in the story, darling.



x-x-x



As I sit here and type after my morning walk on Marine Drive I can see the faint outline of Pinnacle Towers in Malabar Hill, the architectural folly, the blunder of rich-man Himanshubhai. My thoughts are spreading wings and flying through silver clouds, I am on an elevated plane from which I can view the realities of my situation. I see a city in awe of money, in the gutters of which flow greed like blood through veins. It’s a city where man refuses to sleep for fear of losing money, where fear haunts every waking moment, and you will be ripped off all your cash if you aren’t too careful. There are well-dressed charlatans with get-rich schemes, pimps luring girls with movie star offers, and publicists offering to make you into a page-three celebrity. The rich are so rich, no one can touch them and live to tell their story. They live in a different world, a menagerie of air-conditioned comfort, a moated fortress through which no one can penetrate. I read about another rich corporate czar who is building himself a fancy tower worth a billion dollars – the costliest residence in the world – with six floors for parking his cars, two private helipads, and two floors for accommodating guests. The latest news is that he is afraid to move into his billion-dollar-home because, according to a report in The Daily, “Its structure violates the traditional architectural code of the Vastu Shastra .” The contradictions and conflicts are great, indeed humungous. I will only enumerate some of them in this account.



The obscenity of it all!

The madness of it all!



For the first time I am afraid. I could be hunted down and killed. It’s a jungle where Himanshubhai and his friends in politics and the police are the wild animals. For them taking a life is just as routine as washing their behinds every morning. There’s wealth in the country, but it is rarely shared with the poor. Elsewhere in the world it would have caused an uprising similar to the French Revolution, however here no one seems to care. Liberty, equality and fraternity doesn’t matter if you are poor. Once poor, they will insidiously sink into an addiction, laying their bodies to waste through tobacco, marijuana, local hooch, cinema, or randbaazi . The poor are threatened into silence and servitude, evidence of which I had seen in Madhav’s grief-filled eyes full of unspoken misery. I can see Pinnacle Towers across curving row of buildings of Marine Drive only when the air is clear as it is now. It is as if I am looking at you darling, my dikri , through a gauze curtain of dust particles and ambient pollution. I know that you are looking at me too from your window. The morning sun is blazing down on the slow-moving traffic of Marine Drive. Wealth is not shared here, it’s snatched away. Right now exploiters of men who confine themselves to the cold draughts of air conditioners in the tall buildings of Nariman Point are sitting down on plush chairs and making their employees miserable. As I was! Selfish men who will not share their wealth, men who will do anything, even kill to hold on to their money. I will see them grovel for their lives, later on, when my time comes, darling Priya. Just you see!



Meanwhile I phone Bharat Shah, chief financial officer of Pinnacle who is the one who would release the money due to me after I quit Pinnacle Constructions. I have not received my last two months’ salaries which they say will be part of the final settlement. My finances have hit a low and I wouldn’t be able to hold on much further on my present bank balance. I am not living in luxury right now, but I won’t be able to afford Sea Blue Hotel, too, if this goes on. I don’t want to move back into my room in Elysium Manor, it would be calumny. A disgrace. How would I face neighbours in that hell, that purgatory, where people with their feet into their graves fight endless tussles, conflicts, the skirmishes that they should have sorted out when they were more sane and rational? I ask to be connected to Bharat Shah.



“Kem cho ? How are you Bharatbhai?”



“Oh, our management guru? Dinshaw? Maja ma . How did you think of me? Tell me.”



Pleasantries aside, I would like to wring the benchod’s neck if I could get to him.



“My salaries for two months haven’t been paid, Bharatbhai. What’s the delay?”



“Oh, it’s in process. I will look into it.”



It’s in the process. The exact words I had to use with the multitude of my suppliers when I was with the company. It’s same Bharatbhai, the tyke, the patterned-shirt-wearing boor, who would delay paying my suppliers and make them starve. Pinnacle Constructions delays money owed to its vendors. On any given day there were hundreds calling me and Marilyn to check on the details of their payments. Some people gave up and preferred to lose interest. All these are deliberately done as a part of a grand strategy, perfected by Bharatbhai, the financial kingpin, the money wizard, to be the country’s biggest constructor of flats for the poor. The imbecile! He didn’t care a heck for the poor. He had the curse of a thousand poor people hanging on his head.



“When will this process get over? If ever. Huh?”



“Being sarcastic Mr. Bandookwala? That won’t impress Veereshbhai Mehta.”



“I am not here to impress anyone, I want my money,” I scream into the phone.



“Don’t shout at me, have some patience.”



“Patience? What patience are you talking about?”



“You know very well all this takes time. No?”



“No. I don’t. All I need is my money.”



“Boss hasn’t approved your final settlement yet.”



“You tell that machod, your boss to have patience,” I scream and violently bang the phone on its cradle.



The sea is calm outside, a deathly calm, a virtually unceasing calm, broken only by the cry of sea gulls and the low hum of traffic.



I am shaking with anger. Then I lie in bed and my body quivers with uncontrollable sobs. Somehow Bharatbhai’s crudeness has upset and angered me. My anger turns into shame when I think of you. I think about you, as I do mostly these days, my sweetest, and cry bitter tears. I have no money, I have no wife, I don’t have my daughter. All is lost. I am alone, alienated, broken just like those poor slum-dwellers I had met in the Charavi slums. I am a besieged man, I don’t know to whom to turn, I don’t know what is going to happen to me. My M.B.A. from Harvard is of no use to me. Oh! How I miss Harvard and Boston and California and Mountain View. I should have stayed there and not come here. I lie on bed and sob. I feel wretched, the sky outside blurs, the cry of the gulls feeding on fish is a distant echo, the muffled sound of the hotel staff tip-toeing in the corridor is like a phantomime, soundless, only existing in the imagination. I get up, drag a chair to the balcony, climb on it, wanting to end it all, wanting to float down and land on the hard concrete sidewalk below. Thud! Then I look up at the hazy skyline of Malabar Hill and I think of you. Swarms of butterflies appear from nowhwere and float down the sky and occupy my tortured shoulders, torso, and arms. My little sweet darling, Dadda didn’t do it (because Dadda couldn’t), he couldn’t float down into his eternal abode, just for you. I withdraw my legs extended over the balcony wall, just so that I could see you again one more time. The butterflies flutter away into the deepening haze of day. I climb down.

Then I fall into a tired comatose sleep.

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P.S.: All Indian words in the narrative has been annotated. However, sadly, Blogger didn't accept the footnotes (compatibility glitches, you know), which actually exist in the manuscript.