Saturday, January 28, 2012

Since When Has Reading Become a Skill?

Now the hullabaloo has settled down in Jaipur, dust and all, those peoples who consider telling and criticising stories as their bread-and-butter occupation can rest content. Rest content because, as so many things happen in India, it has gone into oblivion after the initial posturing and hype. We create our own brouhaha and then sit and laugh a hysterical "ha ha, I told you so."

Be that as it may. One lesson learnt was the amount of interest a banned book can create. Rushdie (actually the name is pronounced "Rooshdie") is now a celebrity twice over. Not that I mind. I like his writing and have read almost all his books. His sort of magic realism is what I try hard to re-create in my fiction writing. I think India can only be explicated in terms of magic realism. Just a generalisation. How else do you explain a scenario where an author is not allowed into a country because of a book he wrote a decade ago. That, too, not because anyone has really read it and analysed it, but because the title seemed provocative. 

A little pontification here. Just venting ire. Books and the ideas contained therein have changed lives, governments, societies in the past. At least, that is what Das Capital, Origin of the Species, and A Summary View of the Rights of British America (by Thomas Jefferson, drafter of the Declaration of American Independence) did. And to consider that books aren't that important is to say that we don't value learning and information. 

In India, I find the reading habit declining. On the commute to work I find most people glued to their music devices emitting a tinny sort of sound. Why don't they read something? When I am reading (I am reading "The Story of My Experiments with Truth") they ask to see the book, admire its jacket, turn it round and round in their hand, peep into a few pages and sort of mentally say, "No, I can't read it." Their minds are blocked.

Of late (I think this is a fall out of the television obsession) reading is considered a skill. Whoa, come on, a skill? When has it become a skill? I thought it was something that came naturally to a literate person, as natural as eating, drinking and sleeping. No, no, no, reading is not a skill, it should come to one as naturally as existing in this cacophonous world. We talk, talk, talk, rubbish. We don't read. That's where all our troubles start.

Amen to that!

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Kerala Naming Omnibus (Supposedly)!

Saw this in my mail, "Baby Varghese turns 73." Oh God, what's this a baby of 73? "No stupid," God said, "Baby is proper name in Malayalam, "it doesn't mean Baby as in small children."

So, hm, Kerala has this interesting history of assigning names to people, at least, in the area I hail from. In earlier times names were given according to the name of the place where the house stands. Thus:

Thekkeveetil meant "house on the south".
Kizhakeveetil meant "house on the east".
Puliyelil meant "house which stands near the tamarind tree".
Poovannamnilkunnathil meant "house which stands next to the Poovannam tree".
Vadakoot meant "house on the north".

These names were also used as names and surnames. The first names in those days were:

Kunjukunju meaning "little little son".
Kunjumon meaning "little baby who is the son".
Thankachen meaning "son who is of gold".

Then a radical change happened and new and more cosmopolitan names came into being:

Rajan
Soman
Santhosh
Jose
Sunny
Anil, etc.

These names were concatenated with either Mathew, Thomas, George, Kurien or Chandy to form the full name.

The latest fad is of course more interesting leading to unnecessary hilarity, sometimes. The new naming trend is to form a concatenation of the first initials of the parents.

Gigin may have parents whose first names beginning with G and N.
Jojo may have parents whose first names beginning with J and J.
Soli may have parents whose first names beginning with S and L.
Biju may have parents whose first names beginning with B and J.

so on, so forth. 

Interestingly a woman's name was Shirley and the man's name was Thomas and they invented a name of "Shit" for their child. Yes, my friend Henry informs me there is such a boy in his neighbourhood in Kerala - somehow, doomed to carry that name - probably unaware of what the word means.

Sometimes parents name the first son as Biju and then being lazy to search for a new name, names the second son as Jibu, a reversal of the consonants.

That's the interesting case of Malayali names.

Also interesting is the names of buses and shops. During my recent trip to Kerala I found a bus named "Dot Com." Also a small roadside coffee shop was named "Cyber Cafe" though there weren't any computers within a kilometres' radius.

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

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Rushdie May Speak Through Video Conferencing

Back and forth went the allegations and accusations. Suspense was rife at Jaipur Literary Festival and elsewhere in the country. We waited with bated breath to see if Rushdie will speak through video conferencing. At last, according to a tweet by Forbes India magazine it appears that he will. Meanwhile, critic Nilanjana Roy's petition to un-ban (whatever that means) Satanic Verses garnered 1000 signatures in no time.

Meanwhile authors Amitava Kumar and Hari Kunzru left the country fearing arrest and detention. Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi remain in the country and Jeet is nonplussed. His novel Narcopolis (about which I had written here on my blog) is a lyrical novel on the lines of Satanic Verse and he maintains that no copyright has been infringed or law broken. The authors only read from a printed page not a book, and in case of a ban, only the import of the book is banned. The organisers stated in their press release:

Our endeavor has always been to provide a platform to foster an exchange of ideas and the love of literature, strictly within the four corners of the law. We remain committed to this objective.

Apparently, the issue of the ban comes under the Ministry of Finance as it is in charge of Customs and Excise. What the ministry did was to ban the import of the book in any form. So when copies were obtained from the Internet and read at the festival it amounted to infringement of Intellectual Property Rights and if Rushdie as the owner of the property condones this infringement, then, in actuality, there's no breach of any kind. Correct?

I may be wrong, after all, I don't know. But this is my two penny worth to the ongoing imbroglio.

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

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Salman Rushdie Affair, Answers to Some Questions Plij!

The whole Salman Rushdie affair is nauseating. I am shocked how it has divided the literary community and how charges are being traded between the organisers of the Jaipur Literary Festival and the writers who are participating. 

I am not the one who takes sides in literary issues. But some questions arise in the mind - ignorant as I am - which need to be addressed:

  • Why didn't the government decide to allow Rushdie to come and provide him with Z-category security?
  • Is a live event the right forum to lodge your protest, that too, many years after the book was banned?
  • Can the government explain why it banned "Satanic Verses"? Has any secretariat-walla read the book?
  • What is the purpose of these literary festivals? Is it to generate some controversy?
  • How does festivals help aspiring writers? Do they really get to meet literary agents and publishers?
  • Is Jaipur Literary Festival worth the biting cold and huge crowds?

If you have any answers to the above questions, please go ahead and comment. Thanks!

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

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Few Thoughts on a Sunday

Another Sunday and a few generalisations and thoughts, all my own work (as Behram Contractor used to say.).

In these times of flash mobs and surprise sales pitches, I don't know if a newspapers should only promote the events it is sponsoring. Well, okay, it's the marathon and nobody minds. But in the newspaper is some other health thing that clearly states that its an joint venture of the newspaper with another health service company. It was featured on the front page and I found it rather odd. It was also written by the company executive. I have been used to such oddities and have stuck with the newspaper for want of a better one. 

Aren't we diluting the newsworthiness of the opinions when so-and-so's column is sponsored by so-and-so brand and even the newspaper has an opinion of its own for everything. I think opinions are for readers to have and not for the media itself to make. It makes the newspaper into a colourful brochure and not into something of intellectual value. After all, what intellectual value can accrue to a newspaper if it doesn't have a literary page and no book reviews. I wonder.

Another thought is that music television has degenerated into a forum to humiliate and demoralise young people. How long can this go on? How can people take this crap, for how long? There's this small town girl crying to be let into the Roadies reality show and she says it's a stepping stone for her into fame, fortune and a Bollywood career. Come on, be real. Do you think you will become a Bollywood star with your thick accent and ordinary looks? 

And there's this baldie who shouts at contestants for no reason. He always shouts. It's his passion, his commitment, so it seems. He has made a big nakhra of his shouting for television and it seems they are all afraid of him and calls him "Sir." "You are a fraud" he tells one contestant on national television. 

The less said the better. So I rest my case.

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

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Sadness of Parting

Some things have to come to an end. And therefore comes the parting, the taking leave from friends with whom you have worked for three and a half years. The solution to this possibly tearing and mentally unhinging problem is that you have to see things as being finite, which runs it course when your association has reached a plateau of sorts and neither benefits from the linkage. When that happens - especially in the corporate world - it's better to pack up and leave, not that you have an option.

Why can't we get all the people together in the world that we really like and then just stay together?  I guess that wouldn't work.  Someone would leave.  Someone always leaves.  Then we would have to say good-bye.  I hate good-byes.  I know what I need.  I need more hellos. 

~Charles M. Schulz


In the characters I have created in fiction Mr. PK Koshy says goodbye to a government department he has worked for more than thirty years in the story "PK Koshy's Daily Routine." This short story is being published by Grey Oaks in their anthology titled "Bright Lights" soon. There's a book launch at Infinity Mall, Andheri, Bombay, on 19th at 6.30 p.m. Do come there if you can. Let's say hello. Another character Dinshaw Bandookwala is immeasurably sad when he leaves Pinnacle Constructions, a company he had sought to change and failed. Well, I mention these in passing.

So in the finiteness of things, goodbyes have to be said at one place and hellos have to be said in another. But friendships and associations will remain.

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Writer's Mirror - Musings

I often wonder why this hesitation, this holding back about my writing. I guess, it's my self consciousness, my diffidence which is to blame. I don't know if it is such a big debility, however, it does affect me. Four years after several drafts of Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard - my novel - I am a still reticent about it. How to bring it before the public, how to put it there so everyone can see.

I have done a reading to an intimate group of friends consisting of Caferati members. It went off well. I am glad. There were not many criticism, at least, not major ones. So what's holding me back? Also the recent affliction about which I wrote in this blog put a brake on my editing, which is lagging. Then I took up guitar lessons and since I am quite passionate about guitar music that has been consuming a lot of my time. I have progressed to chord progressions and hope I can accompany myself soon, I mean, singing songs composed by me, on my guitar.

Be that as it may. I bought myself a new desk from Central, Vashi. I will post a photo here soon. I bought it last week and still the guys haven't come to fix it, or fit it, or whatever they do. This desk I have been eyeing for a long time, wanting to sit before it's wide fold-down plank, spread my computer and my books, and my files around. The other one became too constricted and my copyholder just juts out of the table and I have absolutely no elbow room to speak about. In this there's enough space for my reference books, dictionaries, atlases and all the writers' paraphernalia I have accumulated over the years. So, in effect, I don't have to run a floor up to fetch that Malayalam dictionary, or the Hindi-English dictionary. Yeah, I still use my reference books a lot though I have a high-speed internet connection. Something to do with being old fashioned, methinks.

There's the launch next week (19th) of Grey Oaks' anthology "Bright Lights" which features my short story "PK Koshy's Daily Routine." The publishers have done a great job and I am heartened to see them promoting the book, actually a contest. More of this later. Adios Amigos, meanwhile.

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

Pico Iyer on the Long Sentence

Here's Pico Iyer on the joys of the long sentence, writing in the LA Times:

"I'm using longer and longer sentences as a small protest against — and attempt to rescue any readers I might have from — the bombardment of the moment."

Further he adds:

"The short sentence is the domain of uninflected talk-radio rants and shouting heads on TV who feel that qualification or subtlety is an assault on their integrity (and not, as it truly is, integrity's greatest adornment)."

I mostly use short sentence as a mark of simplicity in my writing. I also get confused by long sentences the sort that is, "a gradual inner movement that progresses through four parallel clauses, each of which, though legato, suggests a slightly different take on things," according to Iyer.

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Jeet Thayil's Narcopolis

Here's Palash Krishna Mehrotra's review of Jeet Thayil's much-awaited novel "Narcopolis" published in Sunday Guardian. Excerpt:

"Thayil, a well-known poet, deploys his powers of description with some success. He is excellent when nailing druggy nihilism: 'You've got to face facts and the fact is that life is a joke, a fucking bad joke, or, no, a bad fucking joke.'; or the point at which pain recedes into the dark night and one is high, simply high: 'I am unplugged from the tick of metabolism; I am mineral.' Both smack and opium produce dream-like states in the user, and Thayil describes these abstractions with great felicity: 'Dreams leak from head to head; they travel between those who travel in the same direction, that is to say lovers, and those who share the bonds of intoxication and death.'"
Knowing, as I do, Jeet's lyrical prose as well as poetry I look forward to reading the novel. Another reason for my excitement is that it is about Bombay, a city about which I too am writing in my forthcoming novel. Jeet's Bombay seems dark and noir as mine is dissolute and corrupt.

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

Monday, January 09, 2012

Sepia Leaves, Novel by Amandeep Sandhu

Here's a review of Sepia Leaves in the Hindu by Uday Balakrishnan. The author is Amandeep Sandhu, and it's published by Rupa and Co.

From the review it seems as if it would be a good book to read. An excerpt:

Sepia Leaves is indeed remarkable. Rarely does one come across something as good as this; at the end of a read, one feels touched by goodness in the face of overwhelming odds and Appu's resilience truly astonishes. The book has its shortcomings. Description of places and events — Rourkela, Punjab and the Emergency — are rather prosaic; the somewhat anaemic title is a bit of a letdown. Amandeep's book is however such a good read, one can let all that pass.

Schizophrenia has been a subject of study in many novels abroad. However, I don't know of any novel in India which deals with the subject. The book seems interesting in that respect. However, I wish to differ from the reviewer in the name of the book. I think it is a fine title and would stand out in the ever-increasing clutter of books on the Indian book shelf.

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

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Can't There Be a Middle Path between Foreign Retail and the Kirana Stores?

A day spent hunting for medicines in the boondocks of New Bombay. In Belapur there aren't any good chemists who have all the medicines I need. So I came to Vashi and there, too, I faced defeat. Hm. None of the shops have a policy of stocking on essential medicines unless someone comes and asks for it. They say, "if it doesn't sell, we don't stock, you go to hell." They write in a small notebook when a medicine's stock is finished and then order them if they see that demand is good enough. This is unacceptable and unkind. I think this is also very selfish. It has killed many an enterprise. What if a bookshop stocks only books that sell? What if a kirana store stock only grocery that sells?

Talking of kirana stores, my next visit was to a kirana store. I needed refill for my mobile phone, some shaving blades, and some spices that wifey ordered. It's a miracle I could get all of these in the kirana shop and the man (with whom we have a checking account, and he doesn't charge interest) was friendly and offered suggestions about prices and usage. Try getting this in a mall. The boys and girls there hardly know the product, they don't stock on spices or other groceries, which are sporadically required, like, say, asafoetida. Where will we go if the kirana stores go out of business? 

Why can't there be a middle ground between FDI in retail and these kirana stores? As a country we are known to be very bad in drafting rules. If foreign retailers want to come they should come on our terms, not theirs. We made a mistake when we invited all those BPO units to set shop. The youth of the country is being exploited by the BPO units and they can't do a thing about it. There are no leaves, they work six days a week, there are no breaks in work, autocratic HR departments foist their antideluvian rules on them. I know because I worked in them.

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

Friday, January 06, 2012

Afflictions and All That Stuff

Was a bit under the weather, health-wise. Now it has passed I can say it here. I had Ascitis. With medicines it's under control. I had the same complaint three years ago and medication had cured it. Now it is on the way to recovery and I am feeling less bloated. Ah, the maladies one has to suffer! My stomach bloated so much that it started attracting people's attention. I felt so uncomfortable and became apprehensive that people are staring at me. I know people in India are ruthless starers. Something in their DNA. They don't think staring is bad and that the other person will mind, or, even hurt. You don't know what the other person is going through, and it's not compassionate. My condition was such that I thought it was a beer belly, a result of all the beer I used to quaff in my wasted years. (Not that I used to drink much, a beer in a week, or so.)  Those of you who drink, drink responsibly and not blindly. Don't test the amount of liquor you can hold. Test if your health will hold that much liquor.

So? Lesson learnt? Next time I see someone who is afflicted, I will not stare. What kept me going was first and foremost faith in my Lord and Saviour, blogging and social networking. Yes, I am a very spiritual person and religion comes first. I am thankful to that. So, I am recording it here for posterity.  

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

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Urban Shorts "Bright Lights" Book Launch. Do Come!

Above is the cover of Urban Shots "Bright Lights" being published by Grey Oaks.

Grey Oaks, the publisher, I must admit is serious about its book launches. It is launching it's Urban Shots series of anthologies with readings in five cities: Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi. The launch will be on the following day:

19 Jan 2012 - 7 pm, Landmark, Infiniti Mall, Andheri, Mumbai. A google map showing location of Infinity Mall is also above.

Do please come. My short story "Mr. PK Koshy's Daily Routine" is part of the "Bright Lights" collection. Your encouragement and patronage will be highly appreciated. Thank you very much, kind blog readers.

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

Encounter with another Blogger

Somebody asked me a few days ago, "You are that blogger, right?"

I said, "How do you know?" Do bloggers have some special look. Maybe, they have the the harassed, half-slept, pot-bellied, itchy-scalp-from-which-hair-has-been-scratched-out look. I hope I didn't look like an animal or something.

"I think I have read your blog."

"Which blog post?"

"I can't remember. All I remember is it was about this asskey thing."

"Asskey, what's that?"

"The ASCI."

"Oh, that, I see, I see." I knew because that post was a disaster. The thing I wanted to display horizontally came all vertical and unreadable. Also, I knew about the Bombay tendency to abbreviate. Everything is abbreviated. Dadabhoy Navroji Road is DN Road, Veer Nariman Road is VN Road, Mahatma Gandhi Road is MG Road, and of course Shivaji Terminus is ST.

See the description above, and I am thinking to myself, this guy is a blogger. He looks every part the profile of the blogger I limned above. Yeah, the harried look is there, the bulges from crouching on the keyboard is there, the rings under the eyes are there, the slumped shoulders are there. Exactly. Guy is a blogger.

"Yes."

"What do you blog about?"

"Teen angst. How teenagers can make de better world."

"What's it called?"

"F***ed Teens."

"Are you joking? Take it off you will run into obscenity problems, men." It was obvious he was a Goan or an East Indian so I added the "men."

"No, no, men, it's harmless. The word is spelt "Fcuked" so I don tink anyone will da mind. After all it is also about fashions, designer labels, men."

"But nevertheless, men, be safe."

"No, no. I am not to worry, men, like, like, all taken care, I know what I am doing." Yeah, all teens know what they are doing these days. They know more than you.

"So, men, like, how many visitors this blog of yours, getting, only?"

"Hardly ten."

"Oh!" I hope I made my disappointment clear.

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

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The Nitty-gritties of Self Regulation

Some reasons why I think we can't self regulate. Rather we self regulate badly. I remember my stint as Executive Secretary at Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) whose purported function is regulate the advertising industry. The government had vested it with vast powers, reporting errant advertisers, habitual offenders, punish advertisers who make tall claims, making standards work, etc.

However, please look at the highlighted areas of the news report below - or, above - in Campaign. The complaint was given in July and August 2011 and the decision on it was taken in December 2011 (as is obvious from the publication date on the magazine's masthead). That is 4 months later. By the time the ad campaign has run it course, the bad boys did their bad stuff in the newspapers and channels and the matters have been closed.

What does ASCI then do when the complaint is upheld, "Beta, please don't do it again, okay? Baba, now you can go scot free."

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

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Hippie Generation and the Beat Generation

Reading a bit about the Hippie generation that held us boys in thrall in school in the sixties and seventies. The Beat generation preceded the Hippies and Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg were the people who germinated the Hippie generation with their lives of carefree abandonment and spontaneous literature. Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady died young and Allen Ginsberg became the bridge to the new way of thinking and living marked by colour, free thought, free sex and free living. There were also bands involved such as Grateful Dead. In fact, one of Grateful dead's songs, "That's It for the Other One" became an anthem for the Hippies.

However, in the eighties some Hippies crossed over the consumerist culture and became thorough capitalists. Thereby ended the aspirations and dreams of a generation to change the world, which exists - still - in tiny pockets around the world.

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

Monday, January 02, 2012

Pico Iyer on the Importance of Being Quiet

One of the writers I admire most is Pico Iyer. Iyer writes brilliantly and I used to read his articles in Time magazine. I just learnt from his Wikipaedia article that were were born in the same year - 1957. He is a famous writer, and I? Well, never mind.

Here's he writing in New York Times about the joy of quiet. Which I have been trying discover of late. I have kept my phone in meeting mode and only call back those numbers I know as being a close friend. The reasons I give are many (as you may have found out). I have been trying to distance from social media, but I am not giving up totally. Here's what Iyer writes about his attempt to move away from Internet and online connectivity:

"I've yet to use a cellphone and I've never Tweeted or entered Facebook. I try not to go online till my day's writing is finished, and I moved from Manhattan to rural Japan in part so I could more easily survive for long stretches entirely on foot, and every trip to the movies would be an event.

"None of this is a matter of principle or asceticism; it's just pure selfishness. Nothing makes me feel better — calmer, clearer and happier — than being in one place, absorbed in a book, a conversation, a piece of music. It's actually something deeper than mere happiness: it's joy, which the monk David Steindl-Rast describes as "that kind of happiness that doesn't depend on what happens."

Read the article, it's got that particular quality of zen, yoga, meditation, all combined in a minuscule two pages of purely elegant reportage.

Hat tips to Manjul Bajaj for the link.

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