Saturday, March 31, 2012

Dilip D'Souza's Expose of Kota's IIT Factories

And this is where Dilip D'Souza writes a brilliant expose about Kota's coaching institutes that churn out IIT entrants like flour from the flour-mill (Sorry for the bad simile, but not in the mood today. Somethings aren't going as expected. Maybe, we should tell you about our problems, but we stand the risk of being ridiculed, made fun of. That's another thing to agonise over.)

Witty, ironic, as ever. I am a great fan of his writing. Here's a sample.

This is a place for schools. When students come to Kota to work towards the IIT exam, they still have to sit for their 12th Standard board exams. For that, you can enroll in a school at home, or in one of several Kota schools. Rushika, for example, was officially a student at A's Saint Steward Morris Convent School in her hometown, Bhilwara. Her two friends were enrolled in two Kota schools, but neither could tell me their names. 
Puzzled by this stuff—that Rushika was enrolled in a school hundreds of miles away, that her pals could not remember their schools' names—I walked one morning into one such school, in Talwandi. A man ushered me straight into the principal's narrow office. From behind a desk that seemed to fill the room, he told me all I needed to know: annual fees 35,000, admission guaranteed as long as you are admitted to one of the coaching institutes, attendance required once a week. 

The article raises a lot of issues, we think. Such as: 
Is education for knowledge and betterment of society, or only to attain enough marks to enter IIT? 
Can knowledge be handled by a group of hack tutors? 
What does it say about the nation? 
Can you expect an IIT graduate to be a polished and smart Indian as was supposed, not long ago? 
Can education be degraded to the state of a nut-and-bolt industry?
Can the government afford to invest so much on IITs when primary and secondary education are suffering?
Shouldn't the IIT coaching factories be closed down?
And above all, are they paying any taxes?

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

Friday, March 30, 2012

J.K.Rowling Sets Up Site to Sell eBook Versions of Her Books

So J.K.Rowling, the teller of stories about wizards and witches, has started a website to sell digital versions (ebooks) of her books. Go to Pottermore for details. 

However, one rider. Need to have some patience. The store is going to open only in April. Meanwhile, the site is in the beta stage.

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

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Following in the Footsteps of the Midnight's Children's Author

Contrary to the popular belief that authors are reclusive lot working from lofts or, better still, from padlocked studies filled with books, our own Salman Rushdie is living it up on the New York night-life scene. Here's the article in New York Times. Read.

What is impressive about Rushdie (something I garnered from interviews I have seen on Youtube) is his personable, affable nature and his sense of humour. He can say something witty about almost anything and make people laugh. This is great considering most writers can't open their mouths to say anything profound. They are creatures of the written work, they argue, not the spoken word. That must be the charm of Rushdie and the magnetism with which he attracts women to him. The article ponders about Rushdie's recent love interests also. Need it have? These days a book is more about its author than its contents. Books have become publicity tools. It's the age of instant mass consumption, use and throw, glance at a few pages and place on the shelf. So if you want to make an impression then you have to be written about. So, why not in the society columns?

In an interview, I remember, Rushdie saying to effect, "You have read about me in the social pages, where do literary pages feature authors these days?" What a true statement on the state of literary show biz!

Right. Then Indian Writers in English (IWE) how about casting aside your shyness and tutoring yourself to face the press and attendant publicity, if you become as famous as him, that is.

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

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Giving Hope and Help to the Distressed and Poor. Why I Like Oommen Chandy, and What Manmohan Singh Should Do.

They emerged out of the gloaming outside CBD Belapur station a few nights ago. The mother was the one who hailed me, soon the young son came forward, rather shyly. I asked what the matter was. I knew from their lost looks that they were from out of town and, moreover, totally lost. I have seen people like them all over Bombay, looking shocked and rendered immobile by the frenetic activity around them. They are basically good people wearing clothes that are frayed but washed. They show signs of obedience and good upbringing, unlike their city-bred contemporaries. They may have come, I assume, for some purpose, which wasn't served and, they are stranded with no money. All this is guess work.

Bingo! They are. I am right! See? Around 48 years in the city, I can make out who belongs and who doesn't. (Aside: people tell me they have seen me before. Obviously, since having been around for 48 years, you can add the nickname of "Most-seen-around-man-in-town" as one of my credentials. Aside over.) The son starts to speak hesitantly.

Well, he came to the city for a job, as promised. Once, in the city they couldn't find their employer. He has disappeared, pardon this cliche, into thin air. Vanished! Did they give any money?

"Yes we paid him Rs 10,000 upfront. The balance was to be deducted from the salary."

Nice ploy! Very clever and cunning way of conning people. I admire these guys (for it's always a guy). What guts, what gumption. 

"And you paid him?"


"Where do you come from?"


"How will you go back?" There are three of them, the mother, and her two sons.

"We will board a train without tickets, we can't help."

As the bad reporter of news that I am, I forgot to ask them the reason they wished to leave their village. What was the cause? Drought? Displacement from dams? Micro-credit (Seems micro-credit is turning out to be the Credit Cards of the poor villagers, something they can be tempted to fall for and then suffer huge pangs about.) they couldn't repay. 

Since the night is old, and I am in a hurry I give them Rs 100 and walk away. I tell them to have something to eat, since they look famished. I help such people. I used to help such stranded people who walked into the office of Malayala Manorama, similarly duped by people who offered them jobs, when I was working there. I have helped families who have come from Gujarat, UP, Bihar and Tamil Nadu. I am a sucker for sob stories. Anyone can suck the blood out of me with a convincing story, which I think, is the trouble with people like me who write stories.

Anyway, I absolutely like Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. The man is wonderful. He goes around villages offering money, help, and jobs to distressed people from the chief minister's fund. He knows that if he sits in an office and signs requests for help, no help will ultimately go to the poor in the villages. Instead the money will fund the holiday of some devious clerk. So he tours villages and gives help on the spot to the poor and really distressed. I don't know if it is our Christian upbringing. Really, I don't know.

I think that's what Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi should do.  

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

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

World TB Day – March 24 (Apologies for Posting This Late!)

March 24 was World TB Day and on this occasion here's an interview with Ms. Karishma Sadan, Program Assistant of Global Health Strategies, New Delhi, on the subject. Of late, drug resistant TB (DRT) has been in the news giving cause for concern for all since we live in over-crowded metros. People living in over-crowded cities like Bombay are worst affected because people spit without looking. You never know when the man sitting in a bus or a man standing on the road would turn around and spill deadly Tuberculosis virus at you.

Why is India leading in the spread of TB, is it because we spit so often, indiscriminately?

 We seem to lack what is known as 'cough etiquette'. In the case of TB it is essential for one to cover his/her mouth when coughing to prevent the spread of infectious germs and of course spitting does not help.

What is drug resistant TB? How far is it prevalent in India?

These forms of TB include Multi-Drug Resistant (MDR), Extensively Drug Resistant (XDR), Extremely Drug Resistant (XXDR) and Totally Drug Resistant (TDR) TB. The latter two terms have not been recognized by the WHO yet.

MDR-TB is caused by TB bacilli resistant to at least isoniazid and rifampicin, the two most powerful anti-TB drugs. This means that two or more first line drugs are ineffective in treating MDR-TB.

XDR-TB is defined as resistance to at least isoniazid and rifampicin, and to any fluoroquinolone, and to any of the three second-line injectables (amikacin, capreomycin, and kanamycin).

The recent reporting (January 2012) of 12 cases of TDR TB at Mumbai's Hinduja Hospital has created quite a panic as researchers suggest that the patients are resistant to all known TB drugs. The National Programme has suggested that these are not cases of TDR-TB rather they are cases of XXDR-TB which stands for extremely drug-resistant TB as against XDR and MDR versions. The term TDR-TB has been used by local investigators.

The annual incidence of MDR-TB is estimated at 99,000 cases according to the WHO Global TB Report.

Why is there such social stigma attached to TB?

There is ignorance, a lack of awareness and at one point in time this disease was associated with the lower socio –economic classes. It was considered to be a disease which spread in unhygienic conditions. Although now we see that TB affects people from all sections of society.

Free TB drugs made available by government are not available in hospitals. Why?

Free TB drugs are supposed to be available at all government hospitals. Free TB drugs are for all, although sometimes patients turn to the private sector where they might be charged for the drugs. In some cases there is a lack of monitoring which is why the drugs are not available.

What's India's expenditure in TB control?

The direct and indirect costs of TB stand at $23.7 billion annually. (RNTCP Status Report 2011)

How many children die due to TB?

TB kills close to 280,000 men women and children each year in India.

What is the ratio of adult to children when TB deaths are concerned?

Exact figures are not known.

What new research has been initiated into finding a definite cure for the disease?

New research is being carried out to develop a vaccine for this disease. For more info:


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

Monday, March 26, 2012

Your Weight Increase Might Be Dehydration, Keep Yourself Hydrated!

Having problems with fluid retention, something I think I have been facing for a long time. I used to like carbonated drinks and would wait to feel thirsty to drink liquid. The result was that I used to feel bloated with the slightest intake of water. Then I started reading about fluid retention, water intake and related subjects. I  found that there was a lot of misconceptions about drinking water. I had assumed that drinking water was causing the retention, and therefore the bloating. How wrong we are sometimes! 

However, to my shock and disbelief, the opposite is true. Drinking less water leads to bloating as the self-sustaining system in the body retains water when it is dehydrated. People who are overweight also think water is leading to all the weight increase. Not true! People who are overweight should increase water intake as fat accrues more with dehydration. And most important of all, all the craving for food is not actually hunger, it's dehydration. And, consumers of wine and alcohol, here's another truth: the craving for a drink is also dehydration. Also don't wait to be thirsty before drinking water, take small amounts throughout the day, that will keep the supply regular and constant.

Here's to a rehydrated you. 

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

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Elmo Leonard's Writing Insights, for You Writers!

Thought I would post this Elmo Leonard's pithy, though insightful, quotes for writers in this space. 

I find that these are the rules I keep breaking. I don't know if it's inbuilt fault mechanism, or the problem with my education and upbringing, which is partly to blame. In childhood I was - sort of deliberately - kept away from reading books by strict puritan parents. They thought reading would corrupt my mind and compromise my Christianity. For them reading the book meant reading the Bible. All this in a family which gave Malayalam three of its stalwart writers! Imagine! In school the library was in a small room having musty dust-laden books, which were under lock and key most of the time. The library was a namesake library. All the books I read were clandestinely passed on my kind friends and those were bootleg books. Books would be seized if seen by teachers and parents and the possessor questioned on his/her intentions. Punishment would be meted out, which included writing, "I will not bring story books to school" a thousand times. A bit on the hyperbole side, but situations such as these have occurred. Such was my childhood. Imagine, that too!

Never open a book with the weather (We all are tempted to do that, aren't we?)

Avoid prologues (I wrote a detailed prologue for my current novel, which I am ditching into the dump.)

Never use verbs other than "said" to carry on dialogue (Yes, I use a lot of "said wistfully" and all that crap. It's also out.)

Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" (same as above.)

Keep your exclamation points under control! (Now that's not done! I love exclamations! You too have to go dear!)

Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose" (well, I have used them in my "wet-behind-the-ears" years.)

Use Dialect sparingly (my present novel is full of them. Pronto, will go and delete most of them. Too much dialect bores and results in turgid prose.)

Avoid detailed description of characters (Yes, I avoid them. I let the characters emerge in the narrative.)

Same for places and things (Yes, I avoid. You too avoid! Places and things can be described cursorily so that readers' imagination takes over and completes the picture.)

Leave out the parts readers tend to skip (In Dostoevsky's The Idiot [which I am reading at present] there are a lot of unwanted dialogues and it's a pain to read. Will do that.)

Thanks Leonard and thanks Amanda Patterson for sharing the original.

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

Friday, March 23, 2012

Is Twitter Long Form, Short Form, or What?

This article in the New Yorker says that far from being a medium that discourages long-form journalism, Twitter actually is long-form where writers and journalists post links to their detailed stories. So the argument that it can't cite facts and develop arguments also flies in the face of what the author - Sasha Frere-Jones - states:

It's sort of a self-cleaning oven, where the wisdom of the crowd can work out the kinks. 

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Arundhati Roy on Failed Trickle-down Capitalism. And Yes, Ghosts, too!

Here's Arundhati Roy's world view compressed and encapsulated in an article in Outlook titled "Capitalism: A Ghost Story". A commendable effort. The article might have been triggered by her visit to Antilla the 27-story home of India's richest Indian - Mukesh Ambani. (Antilla is also the most expensive residence of any living person in the world.) I have not seen it yet, but I suspect I will faint whenever, if ever I set my eyes on it. Because only a kilometre from it are the cages of  Kamatipura, probably the world's worst centre of human trafficking. If I am invited into Antilla's hallowed portals, I guess I will have a heart attack. Come on, do invite me, come on!

Rumour has it that the first couple and family doesn't stay in this huge pad of their's because of bad Vastu (traditional architectural concepts) and ghosts. In my own meagre house I get a queasy feeling when wifey and Ronnie are away. So our fears become ghosts lurking in the shadows behind expensive curtains, in deserted guest rooms. Why even car parks are spooky these days.

As she says trickle-down capitalism has failed. How are India's 10 per cent holding all the wealth while people are dying of hunger in the interiors? Well, that's a question nobody is asking because we all are beneficiaries of the capitalist make-believe. We all profit from it one way or the other, even Arundhati does. However, must admit her guts in exposing the very system she may even be part of. Let's remember the hungry millions when we gorge on those expensive tarts and chocolate fudges.

Here's to Arundhati Roy's versatile pen and its vitriolic ink!

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

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Elderly People Are Taking to Crime Because of Financial Need, Senility - TOI

"Mumbai Grapples with Grey Crime Wave" screams the headline of this article in Times. Now, what? 

As the article alleges (probably a first to its credit), old people are increasingly taking to crime. For the life of me - one who is on the threshold of old age - cannot imagine India's biggest newspaper alleging this spurious thought on its page number two. 

Has all sense of common decency gone from people, will they stoop to anything to make a sensation? That's what popped up in my mind when I read this. The statistics the paper quotes also show a one-sided view, as if it is going all out to prove it is right. It shows an increasing number of criminal acts committed by elderly people. Sure, buddy, all crime and criminal acts have gone up. So what's new if elderly people also committed more crimes? Is this news? But why didn't they show the increasing number of crime by juveniles, youths, by middle aged people, and people in their fifties? I am sure these graphs might have shown an even more grimmer picture.

The newspaper is firmly on the side of the young in this case. So, the thinking seems to be: old people are criminals. Now, spread the word. They are doing this because of, "Financial need, deteriorating community ties and senility." Old is no longer the period when a man rests on his laurels, a man is content to give up his fight gradually and fade away, because a new allegation has been put forward: old people are also criminals. 

Imagine the number of young people who are - with their tongues hanging out and salivating - waiting to cite this as example to drive poor helpless parents on the roads, forcibly seize their assets, brand them as satans and excoriate them, brand them as anti-social elements. 

Oh, God! It's better to die than see such a day!

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

Monday, March 19, 2012

Jhumpa Lahiri on Writing

Here's Jhumpa Lahiri in the New York Times blog writing about her writing and what makes her writing so special. Here she speaks of underlining sentences she likes in famous writers' passages. I remember that's precisely what I did when I read "Interpreter of Maladies."

"The urge to convert experience into a group of words that are in a grammatical relation to one another is the most basic, ongoing impulse of my life. It is a habit of antiphony: of call and response. Most days begin with sentences that are typed into a journal no one has ever seen. There is a freedom to this; freedom to write what I will not proceed to wrestle with. The entries are mostly quotidian, a warming up of the fingers and brain. On days when I am troubled, when I am grieved, when I am at a loss for words, the mechanics of formulating sentences, and of stockpiling them in a vault, is the only thing that centers me again."

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

I Thought My Job Was Tough

And I thought my job was tough! Construction workers are basically very tough because they have to be to do jobs like these. They also talk rough. Ask me I have worked in a construction site.

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

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sachin's 100th 100 and Other Things on a Lazy Sunday Evening

Spent a lazy sunday mooching (loitering [between floors and terrace] in a bored or listless manner), that is, doing nothing much except for guitar classes and writing. Got up late, so couldn't go to church. Church begins at 7 a.m.

Looks like Sachin is the flavour of the season. Judging by the ads and the encomiums looks like the guy has made a few more millions, adding to product endorsements he already has.

Oh, by the way, congrats Sachin! I am glad you made that 100th 100. For a man who hasn't scored beyond 30 in his life (that too only once with a tennis ball) this is high achievement. When Sachin was a rising star a friend said he will go far. He said, "lifts up and hits it man, as if the ball obeys his commands." Attaboy, Sachin. You rock man.

Looks like the master blaster is here for some more time. Look at the hypocrisy of it all. The people who lambasted him, wanted him to retire, are now singing his paeans. It's a hypocritical world and two-timing tykes are all around you. Beware!

That's what cricket and show business is all about. I am glad you are out of the "chakker" (the wheel)  Rahul Dravid.

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

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Why Do Girls in Bombay Veil Themselves Deliberately

We asked this colleague long ago about the reason she covered herself in a veil though she isn't Muslim. We thought only Muslims veiled themselves. So why this new sort of "purdah (veil)"? What she said quite shocked us. We can imagine our consternation when she said:

"To escape eve teasing because if they can't see my face, they don't know how I look. They like to tease someone who is good looking. I think with a veil I look quite ugly."

Then she told us something that shocked us further. "They don't know if I am the right person, if they want to throw acid at me."

Oh God! Oh God, have mercy! 

Acid attacks! I never thought of this angle. A jilted lover (what with the male to female ratio being skewed there are a few jilted lovers to every girl, quite naturally), takes recourse to throwing a bottle of acid on the girl if his feelings are hurt and he wants revenge. What sort of young people have we fostered? With the rapid urbanisation we are seeing, there's an almost mercenary tendency to attain with force what one can't legitimately get. Or, to destroy the object of ones desires if one can't get it.

A girl doesn't like unwanted attention like all of us. We feel funny when somebody stares at us, what about a pretty girl who is stared wherever she goes? Why is the man staring? What's going on in his mind? Is he thinking dirty thoughts? What when in addition to staring the following taunts from a perverted mind are aimed at her:

"Chamak Challo." Straight from a Bollywood movie script.

"Aati hai kya Khandala" this is straight from a movie song.

"Sham ko miltein hai kya?" (Are we meeting in the evening?). Again a movie script writer's favourite.

And not once but ten times in a day. We guess they die a little with each comment thus passed. Countless are the movies we watched where the heroine is treated as a plaything by the hero, teased, pulled violently by the hand, and called "Chamak Challo." All this is fun, you say? Not so. There's an underlying message that appeals to the male ego.

So what does she do? Increasingly we find these girls who cover their faces and heads entirely , in a sort of veil, while travelling in Bombay. There is less attention to a veiled form, there is less teasing, there is less attention, and less acid attacks.

What needs to be done? I guess the censor board should put an end to wrong portrayal of women. The portrayal of women in media plays an important role in the way men perceive them. The problem is there are no quick fixes, only a gradual change in perception.

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

"A Thousand Dildos for the Military Wives," Says Who?

So, hm, how do we say this? There were times when cyber sex was that furtive thing you did in an Internet chat room. Two chatters would get cosy and would type "follow me" and create a chat room of their own to exchange sweet nothings (or was it only sweet nothings?). We don't know. We have only heard that it was so. Most of those who did it considered it as a harmless activity, a mere timepass, as we call it here.

Now it so happens that a porn company in the U.S. wants to sell the U.S. military dildos (sex tools, sex toys). What they want to do is revolutionary, just short of the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies, which we, poor folks, saw in passing but never fully experienced. Yeah, we were the underprivileged scruffy ones. We might even have had dandruff and halitosis, which must be why girls avoided us. Again, we don't know.

Here's the modus operandi described in this article "A Thousand Dildos for the Military Wives" in PC Magazine. The wife would sit in New York or Oregon and press a lever which would send electronic impulses to the macho military man husband in Eye-raq (Iraq) or Aafgaeen (Afganistan) who would experience it all by inserting (you know what) into a lubricated dildo. For military wives working in these countries it would be the other way around. Follow?


The fun part is that the porn company wants sell the dildos directly to the military and not to the sex-starved military man in the war trenches. And there is no possibility of rapes in these wars. (Aside: in wars of earlier ages the soldiers were given 3 days after victory to do as they please. So sex was a part of the agenda for winning.) As if the right-wing conservatives (who as such disapprove of abortion) would allow that. But then it could also act as a birth-control thingy, these dildos, maaeeen. So out goes the sex dolls and in comes the dildos. That's the second sexual revolution in a world that increasingly doesn't know what real "sex" is all about, what with the modern liberated women being so choosy in matters of "sex".

Again, we confess, we don't know.

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

Friday, March 16, 2012

Rejected Thrice by Friends This Morning - Is This What Friendships Are All About?

Realised after I was suited and booted for work that the autorickshaws (hereafter called autos) had gone on strike in New Bombay. Bummer! That meant I will have to walk all the way to the railway station and be rejected by 3 or 4 friends whom I considered friends. Yes really, it really happened this morning, believe you me. About the gravity and tenuousness of friendships I will philosophise another day, but meanwhile, here's a live demo.

Soon as my conscience registered the absence of the faint puttering of the autos I started walking the one-and-a-half kilometer to the railway station. I met a friend in a similar predicament. So we ganged together and he remarked:

"It's nice to walk with a friend especially like you. I have good company." This made me pep up a little and walk a few inches higher than my one-inch heel.

Then I met a friend who was riding a bike all alone.

"Can you drop me to the station, since the autos are on strike? Come on yaar!"

"I think walking will be good for you," he said pointing to my paunch.

My friend laughed (the one walking with me)!

Good God! Point blank! What a putdown, what an insult early in the morning. I swore at him in my mind and decided to never speak with him again. I used to walk with him in the mornings. The b*****d. I will never give him any order for his stage and decoration business, yeah, that's what he does, the insect.

Then I meet a friend who is sitting in a Maruti Omni van. I repeat my question, this time with a touch of great humility. I said I wanted to board the 8.46 a.m. train, or I would be losing my salary, my leave, and all. My boss would be sore and who wants a sore boss? Don't you agree? Times are so bad, these days, I add.

"No, I am waiting to pick up my wife. She is due to come anytime by a bus."

That's betrayal no 2.

The friend who is walking with me smiled and assured me, "Don't worry we will walk, the station is nearby and we can board the 9.07 a.m. train instead."

Then along comes the local doctor on his snazzy-looking bike. He stops for the friend who is walking with me and imagine what happened next. With a smile my friend hauled himself on to the pillion and with a wave to me scooted away.

I will never patronize the local doctor from now on, I swore maliciously.

That's betrayal no 3.

Then I walk to the station. Cars whizz by. I show my thumb with practiced ease thinking someone would stop. A car full of girls laughs at me. Sleek cars zoom past me. Bikes varoom leaving trails of blue smoke. No one stops. I walk all alone.

Then I feel the soft morning sun on my face, the light wind ruffling my hair and think, "What the hell, I should do this more often."

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

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Three Cheers to the Railway Budget. Hooray!

Whatever it be said by the pundits, good or bad, I think the railway budget is good. As a frequent traveller by train, yes, right from those steam engine days, I think I have a right to wax eloquent on the subject. Those days local trains in Bombay were made of wood, not metal. Anybody remember that? I do. The seats were along the windows as they have in Metro rail. They were magnificent trains, which covered great distances with just coal and water to feed them. The railway men were also a courageous lot. I saw a guard dressed in white with a red tie and decided I would become a guard. Alas, how dreams fall by the wayside.

We kids used to fantasise about the trains thusly:

"The front lights are so powerful the driver can see till the next station, without any difficulty."

"The engine is so powerful it can even upturn an elephant in its cow catcher. Cow catcher! They should name it elephant catcher!"

"The ticket checker can enter another compartment by walking on the collision springs (those days there weren't connecting doors)."

Such like.

I say let's give the railway guys a fair deal. Okay, we pay you higher fares, but we need better services too. We need clean toilets, better linen (we were given used linen that stank in our last journey), we need clean platforms, we need escalators, we need airy coaches, we need more space to stand (forget sitting), we need good handholds, we need... the list is endless. 

Of course, I forgot one thing. How careless of me! We need good food, not the stale "pazham poris" and "vadas" dished out by the pantry car.

Also, we passengers need to improve. We shouldn't take bath inside the toilets (the toilets are for defecating, silly), we shouldn't clog the wash basin with fish bones, we shouldn't litter the compartments, we should always flush (we shouldn't wait for the other person who comes to use the toilet to flush our shit), we shouldn't smoke, we shouldn't play cards, we shouldn't watch movies on our laptops. 

Most importantly, we shouldn't pack up our entire home for a 2-week holiday. See, if you do, you don't know where you kept Chintu's swatter (sweater) and Pintu's chuddies (underwears). On that note I say "Two cheers for the new railway budget."   

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

Elle Fiction Award

Sent my story "Susamma's Story" to the Elle Fiction Award. Today is the last day. Keeping fingers crossed.

The story is about a Keralite nurse whose life is completely ruined by the wrong choice of spouse. I can't divulge more. Sorry.

Wish me luck!

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

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Night in Atlantis the Palm for AED 3,290

That all isn't well with the world is evidenced by this ad by hotel Atlantis The Palm in Dubai. We have been feeling the cold pinch of it quite recently, I guess. And I confess, it's not a good feeling. Hm. Apparently, the most expensive hotel in the world isn't getting any customers despite its size and majesty. Some say it's a 7-star hotel, some say the stars are more than seven. Whatever the stars what do I care?

Now Atlantis the Palm was constructed and inaugurated with great pomp and fanfare. I saw a travel program where the reviewer lives in the hotel and it shows everything on a grand scale. There are fountains and waterfalls in virtually all places (being a desert country they have a great fancy for water). There are dolphinariums, there are rooms where you can see the fishes swimming in the sea live, meaning in their natural environment. The rooms are super luxury. They are supposed to cool the soul in its serene environs and give you that much-needed verve. Unnerstand?

No? Then what happened? Why are they offering me suites for AED 3,290 (around Rs 44658.25) a night when it would cost ten times that if a customer walked in? Sure I would love to live a night there, if it is offered free of cost.

Seems like the Dubai economy isn't doing that well. Or, is it that the world economy is going through a slump?

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

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The "I Don't Care" Generation

I don't understand these MTV guys, I really can't. There seems to be some perverse force at play making my understanding of this channel into the equivalent to my trying to understand the moods of my son, who, by the way, is a big fan of the channel. He is glued to "Splitsvilla", "Roadies", and that Akshay Kumar something where he talks in his high baritone-gone-bad voice about adventure and how he loves it.

Yeah, I watch these channels as my son sits glued to them. I try to understand his understanding of what is happening in these channels. Wait, this is getting a bit confusing, so I will simplify, simplify. I am trying to understand how the younger generation is being misled by the notion of what young people should be doing in the modern world. Hope you get the drift! The dominant theme here is to "not care about anything," or, as "Splitsvilla" puts it "Be Raw."

Being Raw as I understand it means: saying what comes to mind (without thinking), doing what you feel like, and disrespecting everybody. Be Raw also mean, by a corollary, that I don't care. There's great danger in bringing up a generation in this belief. People do not understand this. A generation weaned on "Be Raw" or "I don't care" should also be prepared for rawness from others, and also be prepared for "don't care" when some social atrocity has been committed on them. They should know that there are wars being fought, genocides being planned in this world. These young people are still in the care of their loving parents. However, are they prepared to face the world alone, on their terms, as their parents did around thirty years ago? 

We as parents did whatever we could to cocoon them from the world and its ills. We worked hard to provide them a home, clothes, bikes, education (which is very expensive these days). We genuflected before tyrannical bosses, ate humble pie in office meetings, took shit from our clients, swallowed our pride before aggressive colleagues to hold on dearly to our jobs. If we were raw and "I don't care" they would have ended up in a broken family, all alone, living in some slum, without a job to give them the security they are flaunting. 

Okay, I will stop ranting now.

But why I don't understand these MTV guys is because on the other hand there is this guy Raghu exhorting everyone to be caring, polite and a good citizen of the world. And he bloody imposes himself of the poor trembling darlings. A girl said she wanted to be in Roadies because that would make her famous and give her the right break. Girl, grow up! This thought of instant stardom through the teevee is figment of the fertility of your imagination. And there's this show where the spoilt brats of rich industrialists are summarily insulted and traumatised by another presenter, or Veejay, or whatever.

Now "I don't care" has become something of an anthem for the youth. There are young gangs everywhere sporting their "I don't care" on their sleeves, in a manner of speaking. I saw a girl crossing the traffic, ears plugged by a hearing device, talking to someone, unmindful that the cars are honking impatiently for her to cross. "I don't care," she seems to be saying. And there's this guy, his hair like spikes on his head, his ears, nose and eyebrows pierced, wearing skin-hugging clothes, and a pointed pair of shoes. He also seems to say, 'I don't care."

Do you care? Do you? I don't understand this generation.  

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

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Swiss Don't Want 42 Days Paid Leave: What? You Mad?

Ah, if only it were in India. It says here that the Swiss people voted "no" to a referendum that would have given them six weeks of leave a year. Here most employees, the hard-workers with their nose nicely ground to paste against the millstone (around their necks!) would be lucky to get twenty days. Six weeks would be 42 days. God! More than twice that in India! And we work 48 hours or more a week.

It also says that the Swiss have referendum on issues on more than 1,00,000 citizens feel strongly about. Why not have it here in India? We have not elected representatives and left them to their own devices to do as they please. We should vote on issues we feel strongly about.

I will write to the prime minister on this. And there's this cliched thing that all journalists use (which I will use for this nonce): watch this space!

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

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Chuck Berry - The Legend of Rock 'n' Roll

Here's a video of Chuck Berry singing Johnny B. Good, one of my all time favourite songs. (One good thing about broadband internet is that you get to play the songs on Youtube without buffering.) He is and has been one of my most loved singers and performers. Watch how he fools around, dances, and does his antics without any self-consciousness. He is credited with turning rhythm and blues into what is today known as rock 'n' roll and has had admirers such as Elvis Prestley and John Lennon. He is also one guitar players whom I rate even higher than Bruce Springstein and Eric Clapton. Clapton is said to have remarked:

'If you wanna play rock and roll - or any upbeat number - and you wanted to take a guitar ride you would end up playing like Chuck...because there is very little other choice. There's not a lot of other ways to play rock and roll other than the way Chuck plays it; he's really laid the law down..."

At 85 Chuck Berry still plays and gives performances in the Blueberry Hills restaurant in St. Louis. (Ah, that's some life an artiste should aspire to.) He is one successful musician who hasn't fallen victim to the addictions (I think of Jim Morrison, John Lennon, Michael Jackson in this context), which the profession has been susceptible to.

We talk of Bob Dylan as the "Pied Piper" of Pop. Why not give the sobriquet of "Mover and Shaker (He is the original pelvis, see how his pelvis moves!)" of Rock to Chuck Berry, since the mantle of "King of Pop" is already taken.

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

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Judicial Activism in Pakistan

This article in Dawn is about how the Pakistani judiciary is taking its activist role seriously with what is called the "Mandate of the People" to oppose the arbitrary act of the all-powerful Pakistani military. Read, dear reader.

When a political order or the military manipulates and dictates terms to the judiciary, the judiciary should fight back, because it's the last bastion of a democratic country, in my humble opinion. Not that it counts!

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

Art as a Subversive Act

How about this? Asked to make a film about "Art as a Subversive Act"  independent filmmaker Caveh Zahedi of "I Am a Sex Addict" fame went overboard. His brief was that he can make a film on whatever subject he chose except anything that make fun of the Sheikh who was sponsoring the Middle East Biennial of films.

Maven maverick that he is, he turned his camera on the Biennial itself and, quite shamelessly, pressed every culturally sensitive button he find about the Sheikh. The result was the film "The Sheikh and I." But not everybody was pleased. Zahedi's film has earned the dubious reputation of being branded as blasphemy, has been banned, and he has been threatened with a fatwa.

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

Friday, March 09, 2012

14 March 2012 is the International Day of Action to Defend Blasphemers and Apostates

14 March 2012 is the International Day of Action to Defend Blasphemers and Apostates. This article points to a list of people who have been imprisoned for blasphemy and apostasy in Muslim countries. Do read and spread the word.

Hat tips to Maryam Namazie.

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

Digital Fitness Is Equivalent to Physical Fitness - Got to Push beyond Comfort Levels

Here's an interview with Bonin Bough by Forbes India, who says among other things:

An organization that is digitally fit is one that has adapted to these changes in the landscape and created programs and processes around it.  You get digitally fit in much the same way as you get physically fit: it requires rigour, dedication and commitment; it requires pushing yourself past the point of where you want to stop, and a lot of organizations aren't used to doing that.

Yeah, I know what he is talking about. We created an elaborate social network for a company and when I checked last, it is languishing for want of fresh new content. 

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

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Happy Holi, Spring is Here, So Is Summer!

So spring is here. The winter's last biting cold was felt yesterday in my bedroom window, which I had left open unknowingly. I also hear the sound of the cuckoo and sundry other birds. I like their sweet sound and I have written a poem which is here somewhere on my poetry blog.

With spring the heat will start. Prickly heat. Stabbing the skin with a million pin pricks. Then summer will come. The scene will change into a desertscape, the throat will parch from want of water. I will drink more water because I can't drink aerated water. Thirst will consume, thirst will parch, thirst will dehydrate. Aerated drinks are bad for health, doctor said. The doctor is a kind man, but I know the pressures he is under. So many patients to see that he can't take a personal interest in everyone. He is also under pressure from the medicine companies to perform, meaning to prescribe more medicines. Also, from specialists to refer patients to them. After all, he (or his parents) have paid a huge amount to see him through college. A medical admission costs around Rs 5,000,000 (Five million rupees) in a private college. 

In India we have institutionalised all corruption. That's why our engineers and doctors rebel so much and take to other professions. What does an educated graduate see before him, when he knows his education was itself a big act in corruption? There's disillusionment, disappointment with life.

I digress. Summer in India is a bad time. The rivers dry, the well grow shallow, the anxious wait for the rain starts. Temperature in the interiors shoots up to 48 degree C, I am told. You can't walk in the sun after 9 a.m. or you will be fried like an egg. 

Wish you, dear reader, a happy Holi (the festival of colours, which is today)!

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

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Laissez Faire -- My Uterus -- That's a Novel Form of Protest!

This picture was seen courtesy Tanya Larkin on Facebook about a protest at the Virginia state capitol for women's rights. Guess its very imaginative. Some of our sloganeers, slogan-writers (and slow-gun Murugans) can imitate this perhaps, considering we are great imitators and plagiarists (ducks the brickbats!).

With protests growing innovative around the world, it's time we did some "out of the box" thinking, too, methinks (oops! typed methings!)!

Nothing, just a getting-old Mallu's grumbling!

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

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Limerick for Akhilesh Yadav

There was once a politician named Mulayam

Called a "neta" and an "elephant-killer" by some

Came a day he ran for UP elections

Mulayam won the public's affections

"Not him," they said, "Look the rising star his son Akhilesh has become."

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

Birthday and All, How Facebook Is Playing Such a Huge Role!

It's the birthday and all. Yawn! Growing old isn't a good thing, is it? Got up today, hugged the wife, shook hands with son, dressed casual, as it's birthday. Bought sweets for office colleagues, HR department called, HR manager called, sweet girl who recruited me (Trupti) called. There's an avalanche of messages on Facebook, which I will reply to personally, of course. It's amazing how many people know me, I mean, how many people I came across through Facebook and Twitter. And to top it all I got this message written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (whose birthday is also today!) through the medium itself. I will brand these words on my forehead right-to-left and read it every time I look at myself in the mirror. He... he... Joking.

"It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams."  

Oh what a message to receive on your birthday when you are despairing about growing old. Absolutely awesome! Yesterday I thought I should give up one thing: the novel, blogging, guitar. I can't go on with all three. Today I get this message and it changed my thinking! The best wish that I have received so far from Facebook is the picture above sent from Madrid by Marisa Riveira Navarro, daughter of the Spanish famous painter by that name. I have friends across the world with whom I am in touch, daily. 

I won't say how old I am except that I am in the mid fifties. Fifties! Man, how time flies. My son keeps constantly reminding me to grow up, probably because when he was young I used to tell him to grow up. The other day when I coloured my hair he said, "You shouldn't do this. You are old now." Guess youth is unkind and youth is brash. Yesterday a boy, probably ten or twelve, not even a teenager, yet, gave me a "hool". You know what is a "hool?" "Hool dena" is feinting as if to hit, in the local parlance. Shows the total lack of respect for age and maturity by the immature boor. This is how it happened.

I was going out of a hotel and the boy was coming in. On seeing me he thought "Let me give 'hool'" and he came towards me as if to strike me. When I was a bit fuddled and preparing to defend myself, he walked away. That's "hool." "Are you giving 'hool' I asked after him, but he turned away. I know he isn't mature enough for a confrontation, a coward, so he walked away. If I was to confront him I would have told him about the kind of people I have given "hool" to in my younger days. You know, I grew up in a tough neighbourhood, which, in those days, was the petri-dish which cultured the tough gangsters who rule the city today. And I know how to handle a "hool" giver. Hm. Don't mess with me! He would have pissed in his pants, I am sure.

Joking again! Don't take any of the above seriously except the Marquez quote, of course. Thanks friends, fellows, comrades, co-conspirators for the messages. Keep them coming. I am going to need it.

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

Monday, March 05, 2012

How $ 28 Billion Disappeared in Bill's and Bono's Health Control Effort

And you thought all these aid and welfare programs funded by the original marauders of intellectual property were spent well? It turns out that not at all. The $ 28 billion fund to fight Aids, malaria and tuberculosis (funded by no less than Bill Gates and Bono) in African nations have been misappropriated through fancy "training programs", improbably "travel vouchers", non-existent "housing" bills, combined with shoddy bookkeeping according to this article in Daily Mail

Sounds familiar?

Yeah, you might say. That's nothing, you might add, we have bigger scamsters back home. We are used to it all. We have raised misappropriation into an art. Ask our ministers and a certain bearded gentleman who needs toilet paper worth Rs 400 to clean the poop of Commonwealth Game participants. Is their poop so expensive, just saying. They know the art of swindling. According to lore one man got a grant to dig a well, never dug it, and when the authorities came to check said he had leveled the well due to mosquito problems. Haha! Almost everyman in this country is looking to be a president or chairman of some leader-less ennui-filled society or trust to misappropriate from it. We don't value public property, so we treat it with contempt.

Okay, okay will stop ranting. However, what gets my goat is that in countries such as Djibouti, Mali, Mauritania and Zambia where malnutrition and hunger is such an issue how come such large funds disappeared without a trace.

Better not talk about the Indian programs to controls Aids, turberculosis and malaria.  

Anyone thought about dropping those 28 billion dollars in the most acutely affected areas by helicopter? I think that would be the most viable idea to reach funds to the poor, and some tinpot African despot will read about it on this blog (high hopes!) someday and, implement it, and lo and behold! be called the "Saviour of the people." Hehe. Joking.

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

"Performance Poetry Is Dead" Says Who?

This article poetrysociety by Cornelia Grabner says performance poetry is dead.

Agree? I don't for several reasons. Poetry has always been performed, right from our cave-dwelling days when people gathered after the hunt to swap stories and sing and dance to a few rhymes composed by the local poet laureate. (The Ramayana and Mahabharata were written in verse. The Psalms consists of poems written by King David.) It was only in the hoity-toity fifteenth-sixteenth-seventeenth-eighteenth centuries that poetry was published as books and read with a wooden face sitting facing the study wall. 

Now with a lot of poets taking to performing their poems (I have seen and heard excellent performance poets on the internet, go thither and check) I think performance poetry is once again taking centrestage, literally. 

So, Cornelia, on this basic premise I beg to disagree with you.

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

"Recent Indian Writing Has Been Extremely Timid... with Regard to Form"

Here's Vivek Narayanan in Poetry Foundation being interviewed by Alan Gilbert about poetry in India and much else. One sentence struck me:

"Recent Indian writing has been extremely timid and unadventurous with regard to form; the "innocent, simple writer" is an image that's carefully constructed, duly championed in Indian letters. I'm not saying that a "transparent" narrative form can't be brilliant and profound, you understand, just that it shouldn't be a dogma or an imperative, that there should be more space cleared for plurality and the innovation of literary forms."

Hm. Interesting.

He also says that a lot of cross pollination is happening between the Bhasa poets and English-writing poets. Hope some major trend emerges soon, before these fingers grow cold and wrinkled. Hmmmph. 

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

Saturday, March 03, 2012

The Beatnik's Glossary. We Spoke This Language in College, Did You?

We talked this Beat Lingo in college.  We used terms like "cool", "groovy", "bread", "bugged" in those days because, well, it was cool. Teenagers and adults still use it. Do you know the origin? The following words comprise of the Beatniks' Glossary I got through Molly Fisk (thanks Molly) and it brought those days back. After reading "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac I became more interested in their lingo.


So it is here for the Beat Generation, the Beat Poets, musicians, collegians, of those days and now THE BEATNIKS' GLOSSARY:




Angel = One who pays the bill

Axe = Musical instrument

Beat = Way of life for a select few Thank God!

Beatnik = One who lives like there's no tomorrow

Beatkel =Tourist

Blow the Jets = To become angry

Bread = money

Bugged = bothered

Beatsville, Swinsville = a good place (for beatniks)

Blast the Edison = Turn off the lights

Bent Brummel = Bow Tie

Barrelsville = Las Vegas

Cat = Cool Jazz musician

Cool = Wonderful, he who enjoys without showing emotion

Crazy = good beatnik, accepted

Cube = worse than square, strict conformity

Chick = single girl

Chicken = engaged girl

Plucked chicken = married woman

Cover = lingerie

Make with cover = to get dressed

Cheap creep = freeloader

Cave = office

Can the lip = stop talking

Cyclops = eye glasses

Cool it = slow down

Crazy quilt = new dress

To "Cherry Tree" = to lie

Dad, Daddy O = Term of affection

Dullsville = unpleasant place

Dig = to understand

Dummy up = shut up

The End = the most wonderful

Face = identification

Freebee = freeloader

Flat = analyst's couch

Fuzz = police, federal agents

Fall in = to enter

Fall on = rough an individual up

Fall out = to leave, exit

Flick = motion picture

Goat = beard, goatee

A groove = a thrilling exciting thing to do

A groovie = one who understands the swing of things

A gas = something wonderful

Gone = really with it, swinging

Ginchiest = the greatest

Galaxy = one's circle of friends, group

Germsville = hospital

Cooney roost = library

George change = change for a dollar

Graveyard = deadbeat

Hip = to be with it, to understand

Hipster = best character, musician

Hootenanny = a wild beat party

To feel hairy = to feel good

Handcuffs = parents

Head shrinker = psychoanalyst

To be high = enjoying oneself

Men house = security house

Hustling Hershey = ex

The Horn = the telephone

An Ivy = suit of clothes

Ivy tower = university, college

Iron pile up = getaway

Hot iron = a gun

Icck = a bow tie

Jazz = music, collection of items

Jazzing = to make love

Juice = liquor

Juicehead = one who drinks

Juiceman = bartender

Johns, Long Johns = trousers

Kick sticks = cigarettes

King's jive = English language

Kookie = wild character

Knuckles to the creep = to do physical harm to someone

The Lama = the leader of the group

Later = goodbye

Leathers = shoes

Large charge = double drinks

A mazda = a very hip person

Moo juice = milk

Moo goo = butter

To make = accomplish an action

Moss, moss = etc. etc.

A mickey mouse = a wrist watch

Murgatroid = an outcast, a square, a dope

Money run = very easy, ordinary

Muscle cats = rock and roll-ers

Nadaville = nowhere, dull place

Orbs = eyes

Our St. Beatnik = Santa Claus

Off the wall = very far out, extremely unusual

Pad = apartment

Pick up on = to dig, to understand

Pucker palace = drive in movie

Rags = sportswear

Short trip to Rio = coffee break

Hot or Cool Rod = nice automobile

Fuzz rod = police car

Swinging = one who is with it

Swinging like sixteen = really wild

Shades = sun glasses

Swings in squareville = inferiority complex

Squaresville iron = jail

Squaresville peep = police line up

Stable = garage

Stable the iron = park the car

Solo flight = going stag

Snagged stag = going steady

Shake it = forget it

Soco = social conscience

Slides = photograph records

Squatchel = love making

Turn up the stereo = listen to me

Torniquette = wedding ring

Twin trees = high heels

Thrill pills = benzadene, dexidrine

Tough toenails = very difficult

Tuned in = with it

Vitamin village = grocery store

A Washington = a dollar bill

A words = an attorney

Way out = unusual

Wild = terrific, unusual

To wail = to have a good time, to play a tune well

Whistleburg = Centre where many girls pass by

Wasteland = far away

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

Writers and Activism -- Why Don't We Shed the Mantle of Victims?

Reading this article by the venerable Indra Sinha in Guardian about bringing justice to the Bhopal Gas Tragedy victims my train of thoughts went into a different stream altogether. The question is: Are writers activists? Do they fit in as activists. 

A bit of background is required for those who don't know about the basics of the tragedy. More than 25,000 people were killed when poisonous gases escaped from the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal. The gas was methyl isocyanate, a cynide compound -- a powerful poison -- and deaths were instant. There's more. Some survived and are going through hell, with their bodies weakened by the deadly poison that has been insinuated into their system. The remnants of the chemical have poisoned the groundwater in Bhopal and still cause disabilities to new-born children. What's more horrendous is that the Union Carbide which has been merged to a giant multinational Dow Chemical disowns the tragedy and has failed to compensate the victims. This is the worst industrial catastrophe in history. Chernobyl on the contrary has resulted in the deaths of only 64 people.

Now, it so happens that author Indra Sinha (mentioned above) has written a moving novel "Animal's People" based on the tragedy for which he conducted original research in Bhopal. Since then he has been so overwhelmed that he has been actively seeking support for the Bhopal Gas Tragedy victims, both through the media and by establishing clinics for the affected people. In short he has become an activist for the cause.

I hate to think of writers as just people who create beautiful language and nothing else. Then writing can be termed as origami or Feng Shui (frankly, I don't know what Feng Shui is), ornamental fads. Here's another venerable writer Adil Jussawala on the curious and enigmatic being -- the Indian writer:

The resilience of individual [Indian] writers has helped them survive the worst shocks of history, and there's nothing so bad about the situation in India that will silence its writers permanently. But if Indians who write in English don't normally consider it important to produce novels of social history or write poetry that fully confronts the social and political realities of their time—despite their real admiration for such work from other countries—there must be a reason—perhaps several reasons—and I think it's important to examine them. Some of us, certainly, are going through a crisis which is making us question the validity of our work and our usefulness as agents of social change. Now, more than ever before, we are unsure of ourselves as witnesses. Far from helping to change the course of history, we are finding ourselves its bullied victims. It's as though History had become the Englishman in Victor Anant's novel The Revolving Man, telling the writer, as the Englishman tells the novel's protagonist, "Spin, you Hindu bastard. Spin!" And the bastard goes on spinning. 

So why do we IWE (Indian Writers in English) shy away from the term "agents of social change?" Books written by Valmiki and Vyasa have been adopted as holy books, Gitanjali has been an inspiration for generations of Indians. But why isn't the Indian writer adopting the mantle of activism, except of course Arundhati Roy? Even she hasn't much support. Activists consider her as a writer and writers consider her as an activist. Could there be a platform on which writers can come together and make meaningful dialogue possible? Something like Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA) in which all Malayalam actors co-operate despite their differences. Don't laugh at the comparison by I am just conjecturing, as is my wont. Why shouldn't we drop the mantle of victims and take on some activist role?

When the situation demands I have used my pen to bring about changes, more of a local nature. These may sound silly to mention here, but I have brought lighting to unlit streets, made the authorities build roads and paths where none existed, started a postal service in our area in Artist Village, corresponded with the then railway minister Lalloo Yadav to improve the seating arrangement in Bombay's first class compartments, removed an incipient slum in our area, had trenches that were open for four months closed, etc. I take pride in doing such everyday humdrum things because I know I have been given a talent by God to express the grievances of the people.

So why shouldn't I shed my role of victim (As Adil Jussawla says) and see myself as an "agent of social change"? 

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

Friday, March 02, 2012

I Have an Issue with Staring

I have an issue with staring. A lot of it happens in our public places in India. People blankly stare at you without reason. Just a blank stare of no consequence. Seriously this an issue I want to deal with in this post. 

From our cave-living days we have been conscious of being watched. We know it when a wild animal or another of the species is watching us. We [and our ancestors] knew it on hunting expedition when we became the hunted instead of the hunter. For example take this passage from the novel "The Idiot" by Fyodor Dostoevsky which I am reading now:

"Two or three days after they had left, Prince Lyov Vikolayevitch Myshkin arrived by a morning train from Moscow. No one met him at the station, but as he got out of the carriage he suddenly had a vision strange glowing eyes fixed upon him in the crowd that met the train."

He was conscious of someone watching him, as we all are conscious of someone watching us on the train. In Bombay, because of the confined spaces, it is worse. I often find guys staring blankly at my face, and when I look back after avoiding gaze, the f**** is still staring! This is happening in First Class the realm of Indian middle-class reticence and good manners. Here people help each other with their bags and even offer a seat if you say you are feeling giddy. Can you believe it? It's the height of bad manners, but that f**** is still staring at me as if he has nothing better to do. F****!

Some days ago I was sitting on the Wadala platform waiting for my train to Panvel. A girl and her acquaintance (a boy) were seated next to me. A few trains passed and what I observed was this: almost every male standing at the door stared at the girl seated on the platform. It was scary because I was seated next to her and I could feel their eyes staring. Staring! Staring! Staring! Some whistled at her, some made funny sounds, some winked, some sang a few lines of a song, some passed a smart comment. It was as if they were raping the girl with their eyes. Oh God! what atrocious behaviour! It wasn't funny at all, but neither the girl nor the boy budged. They didn't react. They knew it was expected behaviour and didn't bother to react. 


What shall I say now? I hate people who stare. If you know me and see me on a train or bus, smile, I will smile back, even shake your hand. But, please, please, please, don't stare.

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

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Is Forwarding Emails Wrong? An Ethical Question

I am not against forwards (messages forwarded by email). Some of the best tips for health and well being-have been culled from such forwards. I am grateful to the friends who have forwarded them and I am notorious for forwarding such messages to around 10 google groups in which I am a moderator.

Now the question of whether this is ethical or not. That's an issues writer poet Jerry Pinto raised on Facebook.

This is what I wrote as a comment to Jerry Pinto's post, which you will read in the above link, I am sure:

Welcome to the future. In the days to come we will all be reading and believing what our friends read and forward to us because news today has lost credibility (what with paid news and all). Ideally, the person who forwards such news should first check its verity before sending it to his/her dear friends. If he/she doesn't do that, he will be ignored on the networks. Simple!

I myself am not very sure. What will be the future of news is a big gorilla-like question I would hesitate to grapple with here. However, I must admit that my newspaper has been testing my patience these days in the following manner:
  1. One day all the "i"s on the front page of the newspaper has been printed in blue because the advertiser requested that to promote his/her product (isn't that selling out to commercial considerations?).
  2. Another day the entire front page was made-up of faux news, written by some 10th failed, grammar-challenged, writer in only minutes of mental masturbation. The results obviously showed.  
  3. Another day the "o" in the masthead of the newspaper was changed to a red "0 (zero)" probably showing the level to which editorial sanctity has sunk in the newspaper.
  4. The headline in a supplement of the newspapers reads "so-and-so goes house hunting." Now is that news?
If this is the trend, in future, I would only go for news forwards and not touch the newspaper at all.

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