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.


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

"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.


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):


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.