Tuesday, December 23, 2014

People Say the Wrong Things in Hospital

During my recent illness, I was toying with painful idea of giving up on my novel I am writing Mr. Bandookwala. This may anger some and make some go "Ah! So he didn't make it, yeahn?" "So much wasted effort." "Thank God, I won't have to bear his prattle of what stage the novel is in."

Yes people say wrong things. I know, I know, you deny this right? You can see this at funerals. There would be a group of uncouth dregs of society laughing on the solemn occasion. The reason I didn't want people to visit me in hospital was this. People say the wrong things and you can't stop them from doing so. There is one fellow parishioner who I suspect has necrophilia in a very advanced stage. Whenever he speaks he will bring out the medical condition in which people he knew died, along with descriptions in gruesome detail. Imagine him visiting me in hospital. I would have a tough time handling him. I suspect I would collapse. In hospital a patient is thinking of his recover and along comes this tyke, this moron, who talk so casually about medical condition and death.

So I said no visitors, please. A hospital is not the best time to meet me. Drop in at home; we will have a coffee and a chat. I am unshaven and have not slept for six days, what would they think? They will pronounce the end of the road for me.

I thought I had a lot of fight left in me. I still do. I used to play football and was in the college team. Though – smarting from hurt pride – as an extra, sitting on the bench.

After coming home and seeing the manuscript my heart melted. I said to myself I can't let this go just yet. I love this story. I have spent six years of my life on it. Some publisher will surely see it for its quality and publish it.

So I switch off the television at 10 p.m. and say our family prayer and I am in bed by 10.30 p.m. or, at the most, 11 p.m. I am up at 5 a.m. and working, sipping on hot green tea. Hope to give you the good news that the final copyediting is over and done.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Axis Powers: The Word Dominator that Almost Was

I have been blogging about Japan's advance through the south-east Asian region in the past few blogs, a military advance in which I lost my uncle. This is after reading Richard Flannagan's "The Narrow Road to the Deep North," which won the Man Booker Prize this year. This, unwittingly, set off a train of thought the narrative of which is as follows. I would like you to comment freely on what you think of my hi-falutin ideas (worth nothing, though they may be).

Now imagine if Japanese forces had succeeded in building the Death Railway and captured India and went on to East Asia and met up with Rommel's forces in Africa. India would have come under the oppressive rule of Japan, much like China and Korea. Then the history of the world would have been a whole lot different than it is now.

The Axis powers would have had the largest territory in the world and soon Russia and US would have been subdued and brought under it.

This would have resulted in our being subject to two extreme political ideologues the twentieth century has seen: Nazism and Nipponism. Both were oppressive, undemocratic, and dictatorial. We would have had no freedom though we were a free country and India would have suffered from the manufacturing dictates of great Japanese corporations.

The reason why Japan's ambitions have remained a secret is because they didn't permit the documenting of history even by their prisoners. Letters were either burnt or thrown into the sea. They may have kept some record in Japanese, which is uaccessible to researchers. Nippon's votaries were far more ambitious than Hitler himself. They wanted to subdue the world at any cost, and had grown drunk with their own spirit of greatness. They assumed a megalomania unseen in the civilised world.

Japanese bosses are known to strike their subordinates. We Indians would not have suffered this indignity and would have chafed at their power.

Such a behemoth political force as might have been created – nay, almost created – would have seen the downfall of all struggles for freedom.

So my question, which rankles my mind often, is: which was better? Western hegemony with its pretended democratic real politic, humaneness, and compassion or the Axis powers ruling the world. You answer.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Cruelty of the Japanese Army in the Eastern Front, As Told by Richard Flanagan in the Booker-winning Novel "The Narrow Road to the Deep North"

Reading as I am Booker-winning The Narrow Road to the Deep North (author: Richard Flannagan) I am convinced that the act of bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified. Here we see a race that has no compassion, love, grace, or, for that matter an approximation of justice. The scenes depicting the cruelty meted out to prisoners on the Death Railway built at that time from Thailand to Burma is indeed horror-filled, inhuman, and insane. If such a people had captured India, our plight would have been worse than under the British. Yes.

Disclaimer: my uncle died in this great and ambitious struggle. He had been enlisted in the British army and then drafted by the Indian National Army of Subash Bose. Impetuous and compulsive (also good looking) he was my grandparents' favourite son. The last letter received from him talked of taking my father to Singapore where he was stationed, before the Nips (as Japanese were described at that time) invaded it. (Aside: if he had taken my father to Singapore I wouldn't have existed, so wouldn't this blog. My father would surely have died with him before siring me! What a sick, but probable thought!) Subsequently, all communication stopped, because the Nips didn't transmit any letters, knowing the cruelty they were inflicting would become known. So, no records exist. That itself is a larger cruelty than killing the soldiers with work, without food, without medicines, without rest, and without tools. Prisoners were punished for simple transgressions as resting when they were sick. He is believed to have died of starvation, though he was a soldier of a friendly army.

The greatest irony of the war in the eastern front is that there are no records, no letters, no any diaries. That is why this novel assumes importance and deservedly has won the Booker. The names of people who have died are also not known. It's a strange mixture of extreme cruelty and atrocious suffering inflicted on people and should be researched, at least, to correct the wrongs done by history.

The Nips were all duty-bound to obey the emperor, obsequiously so. But why deny human beings common facilities like medicine and food? The cruelties on the eastern front surpasses, if not equals that of the Jewish genocide in Europe. Will history forgive the perpetrators? Will some justice come to those who died?

My mind flusters, it goes blank, I am not able write anymore. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Death Railway to Burma and People Who Built It

From Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North, which I am reading now, it is obvious that the Japanese Imperial Army (JIA) weren't kind employers. Prisoners of war (POWs) were required to work all days of the week in gruelling shifts of twelve hours a day to build what was known as the Death Railway to Burma.


It also appears that when my uncle Cherian Mathew joined the Indian National Army under Subash Bose he might have imagined being treated better than the POWs. But I have a suspicion that he wasn't and the JIA meted out the same treatment as the POWs to the members of INA. There have been eyewitness accounts of how my uncle died of hunger and malnutrition, working in dire conditions. I guess he must have been working on the Death Railway project which sought to connect Thailand to Burma through thick forests. The Bridge over the River Quai is a poignant movie that documents the trials of the prisoners.


In Flanagan's novel the author recounts the experience of Australian POWs working under Japanese supervision. Their boss Nakamura is strict and relentless. Workers are dying around him of malnutrition and cholera, but he shows no concern. He is bound only by the code of honour of serving the emperor, unflinchingly, unquestioningly. He is only worried about meeting his deadlines for the construction of the railway.


It also seems that the Death Railway was built in patches, not end to end. Meaning several gangs were working on different sites, which then would be joined to create the final railway line.


I trolled the maps to find the attached one of the Death Railway. However, on following it to the Burmese border I find that it terminates at a station named Nam Tok and doesn't proceed any further than that. It falters, then comes to a dead end there. So, the railway to Burmah through thick forests was a failure after all. So much effort, starvation, deaths, ill treatment, all happened for nothing.


Now if you search Death Railway on google maps, you will find that the line is dotted by many resorts. I guess, the Thai government must be exploiting the tourism potential of the Death Railway, which happens to be the only saving grace of this wasted effort.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Where Will This Materialism Lead?

This is recent. Very. I was discussing materialism and its far-reaching implications into our psyche with a friend. The papers are full of ads this Diwali season exhorting people to buy and there are discounts to be had, cars to be won, gold coins to be availed of. As often happens during such ruminations, I – self righteously, I may add – defended my non-materialistic aspects.


"My fridge lasted 20 years, my washing machine 10 years, my gas stove was changed recently after 20 years, my teapoy is more than 30 years old, I still have the same drawing room cane furniture of 10 years."


Hm. My high-ass proclamations seemed empty when compared to the following, which I am writing here, and was not told to my friend, who, after all, doesn't read my blogs. So here it is safe. And here goes:


My mobile phone is 10 months old, I had to replace the old one because the battery ran out within hours; my laptop is only 6 months old, a replacement warranted by a bad keyboard and screen; my guitar is only 2 years old, as the old one warped and had to be replaced, my television is only 1 year old as the old gent gave up after 15 years of sputtering.


All those things I mentioned first were manufactured around 15 years ago and were high in quality. Meaning they went through a manufacturing and quality control process. However, the products I mention second don't seem serious about quality at all. They all bring out newer models and advertise aggressively to sell. Try and get your laptop and smartphone repaired. No, they don't have parts.


It is this materialism that is at the root of society's evils. When you invest money in a badly produced product you are wasting your precious resources.


The latest iphone costs around Rs 60 thousand. It's the version six. What if I buy one? Will it last me for five years? No, I will want to buy version seven when it comes out for a fancier price. For that 60 thousand rupees I could have:


1. Repainted my house

2. Bought books

3. Bought half a Tata Nano car (I don't know about this!)

4. Gone on holiday

5. Given to the poor

6. Put in fixed deposit and earned 9 per cent interest (Rs 5400)

7. Some of these and much more....


Man will never be satisfied with what he has. But his greed is giving rise to the adoption of the "use and discard" philosophy. Manufacturing is no longer important, only researching new products is.


Where will this materialism lead?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Book Review: Orfeo by Richard Powers

Richard Powers
Orfeo by Richard Powers is a novel that combines sci-fi with sheer mundane things like a hobby turning into an ordeal. Els is a chemistry man, a geneticist, and a life-long music addict, who plans to weave music into DNA strands in his hobby laboratory at home. He tinkers with genetic modification using equipment bought on internet sites. In addition, he composes music, and has done a few shows with his friend Richard. He is divorced, estranged from his only daughter, and lives the life of a recluse. The only thing that goes wrong in his sedate life is that he is found out when his dog dies and the police come to investigate. The policemen suspect him to be a bio terrorist and one day coming back from his morning walk, he discovers that his home has been broken into by the security agencies. He runs away, a fugitive now, sure that his genetic experiment will be viewed as being of grave security concerns by the agency, and he would be implicated.

Desperately, he runs away from home, drives through multiple states using a student's smart phone. He realises he lives in the hell that is the modern world where every phone call can be traced to the exact location. So, wary, he plods on from state to state, depending on cash transactions, as he knows his credit card usage will be monitored by the agencies. There are excellent passages in the novel that brings us closer to the character of Els, his genius, his knowledge of music, his understanding of modern technology. Also he pre-empts discovery and arrest by his vast knowledge of science and technology.

For example, "(Russia) crumbles into a dozen-plus countries. All the world's data weaves together into a web." The language is terse and therefore the author holds reader in thrall, imagining what the next revelatory sentence could be. "Els said 'do not invent simply discover.' One or two of them understood him." These are the sort of stray gems littered throughout the novel.

Els' journey takes him on a whirlwind tour of the states of the United States and his wry humour keeps us involved. He visits his estranged wife and daughter. However, in the end, when he is caught in his daughter's home, the narrative encounters its major stumbling block. There's too much of technical details, beyond the comprehension of the lay reader. That's the only drawback in this excellent novel. However, on the whole it's a novel that entertains with the sheer brilliance of the author's knowledge and innovative use of language and keeps us on the edge wanting to know more.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Trip to Kerala: September 2014


Just returned from a trip to Kerala yesterday. Writing a few words here about the experience: the beauty, the ugliness, the mental forbearance needed, and the agony of waiting.


First of all, Kerala is beautiful this time of the year. The monsoon has retreated so it's not warm or cold, and the bright sun shines on palm fronds and rubber leaves. Beautiful is also the entire Konkan coast. But Kerala promoted itself as a tourist paradise and the name stuck. However, this has ramifications for me, a frequent traveller to the state which is home, second to Bombay, that is. The trains are crowded, tickets aren't available, and I have to suffer the assault of many unknown languages. That's forgivable but what is not is the Indian – I mean general – tendency to litter. Spitting red pan spittle is a malaise in North India and not South India. However, this habit is catching on.


Every home, or, locality, has a resident pest. This is usually a mentally disturbed individual who speaks very loudly, under the influence of the liquor of the night before. My sister's neighbour is one such individual; my brother-in-law's (from my wife's side) has another such pest. They disturb the peace during day and night, talking loudly so that everyone can hear and generally behaving like a tyke. There is no logic in his talk and he claims to be a prophet of god and a god-fearing man. Then why this high-decibel hectoring? Why this boasting and disturbing the peace?


If you want to get anything done in Kerala you need a Bangla Deshi, a Bihari, or an Assamiya. Kerala men won't work even if they are able bodied and look like Salman Khan minus the cute looks. Here every working class man sports a six pack, but still he won't work for a living though the daily wage is Rs seven hundred. Yes, you heard right, seven hundred. Seven hundred plus two breaks for tea and one for lunch won't lure the lousy lout to pick up the hoe and spade. All my life, I slaved for much less. He would rather laze at home and live off his wife because he gets rice at Re one, a plot of land for free and a loan to build a house.


So imagine my surprise when I see the crowd of Bangla Deshis waiting for the Gauhati Express all along the route to Kochi. I am on my return trip and going for a brief stay at my brother's place in Kochi. They are paid only half the mandatory wages, but look prosperous and happy.


Gulf money has spoilt the countryside. There are unsightly bungalows dotting the verdant villages, painted in garish pink, yellow, shocking blue, and screaming violet. All of them have aluminium roofing to protect against the rain which adds to the ugliness. But architectural beauty is a subjective matter and I could be disputed on this. So, I will leave it.


Then the state doesn't have a viable garbage removal policy. Literally every little town reeks with the disgusting stench of refuse. A lot of junk food is consumed and the wrappers are thrown by the side of the street to rot with remains of food, meat, and fish. Even the city of Kochi – the premium city - doesn't have a proper garbage removal system in place. People pay to get their waste removed.  


These are some of the issues, I faced. More, if time permits. Meanwhile, I should run. Wifey has been announcing that lunch is ready.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Luke R.I.P.

Sept 20

Just as I am about to leave for Kerala today news comes that my friend Luke, handyman, friend, died. Hr fell down and just died. I whine in disbelief as my wife tells me this. Yesterday I had discussed some urgent repair work on the house with him. And here he is: no more. Gone from this world.
Luke, friend, partner, r.i.p

Luke was Sri Lankan and I have been wanting to write a short fiction about him, his English, his gentle personality, his lack if guile, his readiness to help any time. This was a series of short fiction I am planning on the South Asian diaspora living illegally in India. I have already written on a Bangladeshi migrant.

Why he left a comfortable life in Negombo, Sri Lanka, to work in a remote valley in a satellite city is beyond me. I had visited his native town of Negombo when I had gone on a visit. We discussed its beaches, its people. His brothers are business owners he tells me, placed highly in the island nation. They had come to India to take him back. At the airport he ran back, out of the terminal, away from where his brother waited for him, to the country he had no wish to leave, because he loved that country. He said many times that he loved India.

Now he is no more. He was walking on the street. He fell down and died. He had long greying hair, a bulky body used to working, and the softest expression in his eyes. I remember his face clearly from our meeting yesterday. He had said, "you come back no, then I do your work, little, little, money give me anytime, no worry, only you be satisfied wid my work."
Those were his parting words.
(Sent from my mobile phone.)

P.S. I wrote a first person short story on Luke here. Do visit, read, and "share."

Sunday, August 31, 2014

How to Know the Difference between a Tamilian (Tamu) and a Malayali (Mallu)

The substantial and up-and-coming talent of the young Raamesh Gowri Raghavan (a Tamu, by the way) referred to one aspect of this post and the response was phenomenal on Facebook. I had posted this on Facebook first, not here, as I usually do. 

The point in question is "Not all people who speak fast “anda gundu” are Mallus" fifth in sequence below.


I have often been asked if I am a Tamu. When I say no, then they ask me if I am a Mallu. When they hear no, they ask me if I am from Andhra. I say I have spent most of my life in Bombay, so I think I am a half-Bombayite, but I was born in Kerala, so I am half-Mallu. I am a hybrid. Therefore I am essaying below a short treatise on how to make out who is a Tamu and who is a Mallu:

Not everyone with curly hair using coconut shampoo is a Mallu

Agreed Mallus use coconut oil in all their dishes, and also on themselves. So all shiny curly tops aren’t those of Mallus, some of them are Tamus also. The difference is Mallus apply coconut oil before bath and Tamus apply the oil after bath.

Not everyone with a dark skin is a Mallu

Yes, Mallus have dark skin but Tamus also have dark skin. Their degrees of darkness vary from district to district. Example: skin colour of a Mallu from Kasargod will be lighter than his cousin from Quilon. Likewise a Tamu from Nagarcoil would be darker than a Tamu from Erode.

Tamus make stars out of those from other states. Mallus like their stars home grown

MGR was a Mallu and Rajnikant is a Maharashtrian but both of them became big stars in Tamil Nadu. But Kerala’s stars are from their own soil – e.g. Mohan Lal and Mamooty. Kamalahasan made a brief foray into Malayalam cinema but didn’t succeed.

Tamus substitute “P” for “B” and Mallus substitude “B” for “P”

A Tamu will say “Pollywood” for “Bollywood” but a Mallu will say “Simble” for “Simple.”

Tamu: Pollywood poster
Mallu: Bollywood boster

Not all people who speak fast “anda gundu” are Mallus

Tamus speak very fast. That’s because the excitement of a Tamu meeting another is so great that they want to share as much as possible in the shortest time. Whereas Mallus are standoffish when confronted by other Mallus and would speak guardedly, meaning slowly.

The nurses in hospitals you have been admitted to are Mallus, however, the guy who designed your operating system will most likely be a Tamu

Because there are more nurses per square kilometre in Kerala than any other state in India. Also there are more programmers per square kilometre in Tamil Nadu than any other state in India.

Party affiliations

DMK, AIADMK, PMK, are parties in Tamil Nadu, ergo, Tamu while CPI, CPI (M), CPI (ML), Congress (I), Kerala Congress, Kerala Congress (Mani group), Kerala Congress (Joseph group) are parties in Kerala. I know, I know, Mallus are like protoplasm that divides and subdivides. When two Mallus get together there would be two political parties.

Hope the differences are abundantly clear. If you have any doubts please ask in the comments section. Hobe I have made the differences simble enough.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Hey, Young People, Want to Know What Life Was Like Then? - Part 1

I was just thinking: do young people know how difficult life was for us old timers? You would like to know? 

Imagine these vignettes from around thirty to forty years ago:

You had to go two kilometres to a shop having a telephone to make a call. So, you mostly used your office telephone to call friends and relatives. And, that too if there was an emergency. You had the round dial that would go "krrr... krr... krr..."

You still wrote letters to know what was going on in a person's life. If it was urgent a telegram would be sent. People used post offices to send money.

Movies were the only sort of entertainment and we would gather at the nearby theatre on a friday to catch a movie's first show. We used to call it "first day first show."

Matinees were movies shown in the first show of the day and "matinee queen or idol" meant a female star who is so sexy that we all wanted to catch the first show. Waheeda Rehman, Madhubala, Sadhana, were all matinee idols. Wonder why that term is no longer used. 

All our spare time was spent in playing, or, at home reading books. Friends would drop in and call us for the following games: marbles, gilli danda, lagori, tag (pakda pakdi), eyes prize (I don't know what this game is called except that you touched a spot and said "eyes prize"), langdi (hopping on one leg), et cetera. All these games have vanished. In addition cricket and football were our favorite games played at school and near home. 

There were tournaments - both football and cricket - where the local team was cheered. Since I am a Chembur boy we had the Chembur Challengers in football, the Ginnis were the favourite of the Kannadiga boys. KV was called "Pele" at that time and he was treated like a star.

Picnic meant going to Kanheri Caves or Elephanta Caves with our own food and water. We didn't have bottled water then.

In Tilak Nagar where I lived (where future star Anil Kapoor also lived, yes, we are contemporaries) we had screening of films during the festival season. Since we had 112 buildings there were a wide range of movies being shown with stars like Shammi Kapoor, Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Manoj Kumar, et cetera. Music was also played before the film show, which was the only source of listening to music.

When television arrived around 1973, a house in the next building bought a black and white television. I remember it was kept on top of a cupboard so that everyone could see. We used to watch the Sunday movie standing outside, peeking in through the bars of the window. On wednesdays we watched Chitrahaar which was a compilation of songs. 

Since cricket matches were five-day affairs, shops used to keep a television in their windows facing outside and we used to watch kneeling on the sidewalk. It was good advertising for the shops.

News came through Siemens and Grundig radios. Newspapers and magazines were subscribed by the really educated and shared with neighbors. There were lending libraries that lent books and magazines for a price, Re one for a book and fifty paise for a magazine or comic.

(Got to go now. More to come.)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Treyvon Martin, Michael Brown, and now Kajieme Powell: Three Black Youth Shot by Police

Today I saw this gruesome video of the police shoot down an armed (yes, he had a knife on him) black man in St. Louis, US. This is the first time I saw someone being shot in real life on computer. It wasn’t a pretty sight. It’s stark and it’s disturbing, a man losing his life in front of you. There were several witnesses on the spot and one was capturing it all on movie camera. I hope it will be accepted as evidence of what happened.

This came closely after police gunned down Michael Brown in Ferguson, close to where the above unfortunate scene happened.

The above video shows a black man (Kajieme Powell) who has stolen an energy drink from a store waiting at the sidewalk. He isn’t drinking the frothy drink, just standing there, saying he is on Facebook etcetera. I cannot understand his argot, but I have a suspicion that he is talking about Michael Brown’s shooting. He seemed a disturbed young man. Then why didn’t the police use some harmless method to arrest him: spray or rubber bullet?

St Louis happens to have a majority black population though the police force is majorly white. It is alleged in this article that the police mostly stop and search innocent blacks than whites. The town council is also made up of white people, a majority, that is.

After Michael Brown’s shooting the town of Ferguson erupted into violence and looting. People poured into the streets and took the law into their own hands. The protestors should have shown restraint, but didn’t. The anger was evident.

In February this year Treyvon Martin was shot in Florida because he was wearing a hood when he returned after meeting his would-be step mother. A man suspected him to be an armed robber and shot him.

The issue in these three shootings is the same. Racial discrimination and hatred. Is it so rampant in the US, which as I understand guarantees freedoms to all races and is the most democratic of countries in the world? Can we expect some justice here?

True US has a black president, it is the policeman of the world (Iraq, Afganistan and now Syria). But incidents like this give it a bad name and give it the appearance of a helpless witness of race violence in its own backyard.

Does this mean that the efforts of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks (the gritty lady who refused to give her seat to a white man triggering the transport boycott) have gone in vain? Is US still a nation of freedom and equality for all races?

I guess only time will tell.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams R.I.P.

(Sorry, the video that I posted here seems to have some copyright problems. So, I am removing it.)

I saw this video of Robin Williams' standup comedy (full performance, because it's an hour-long performance) and laughed and laughed. I checked Twitter in the morning after I woke up and found he was dead, a suicide. I went no, no, no, not him. I was devastated. Why does a comedian commit suicide? For what reason? He is so much loved, so much adored. He can say whatever he wants without being sued for libel. He has the world under his feet.

I watched the video and then wept. For him, the world, the way the world is ridding itself of talented people. Why does God take away such good people and leave the dregs behind? Why are comedians' lives so tragic? Is it because all our lives are tragic?

I loved his movies. I have seen quite a few of them and liked the way he made you laugh, the funny faces he made. I liked him a lot less than Jim Carey, but Jim Carey is Jim Carey. I don't like Chevvy Chase and Adam Sandler type of comedy acts. No. They are too stiff, while Robin can make things funny with his voice and his actions. Turns out he was shy as a boy and then picked up confidence doing plays. He did many stand up routines like the one above.

He ridicules everyone: Bill Clinton, Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, George Bush, Tony Blair, Jack Nicholson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the whole lot. Doing comedy is not easy. It's tough. You have to work hard on your lines, act them out, be perfect, because there is no room for failure. And to act out in front of an audience (a packed auditorium as you see above) is even tougher.

It is said he liked to put people at ease and help people. He was also good to his fans and talked to them. In a world increasingly devoid of comedy he was one beacon of light that shined on us humourless people.

I hope - up there - you are making God chuckle with your cracks. Rest in peace Robin Williams.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Demise of Literary Criticism in India

 There's something frightening going on. Yes, it's fearsome, it's unprecedented, it's disturbing. It's the lack of literary criticism we are witnessing. Anybody can write anything and get away with it, provided it isn't communal, doesn't offend the majority community (or, the minority), outdoes the doodhi in blandness, and veers towards the occult and mythical figures in phantasmal settings.

Yes! Literary criticism is dead in India. Was it there in the first place? Did anyone venture to write a critical review of Nehru's Discovery of India and get published? But that was in the days of the independence euphoria. Hardly any English books were published. We thought criticism would become more mature. Today with around eighteen thousand English language books being published in an year, in India, the absence of literary criticism is worrying. That's more than a thousand books a month.

This total absence of literary criticism is disturbing. The newspapers have given up reviewing books, unless it makes news. They have included the really stinking tell-all memoirs into their breaking stories. A book makes it to breaking news when the subject of the memoir visits the author and requests (threaten, rather) to withdraw the book. And, they don't give space to a first-time novelist looking to hold on to some straws before his book sinks into oblivion. And they don't give a damn for those novelists as Maria Carey is divorcing husband Jermaine Dupri over poor album sales, which, for them, is breaking news.

The Times of India used to have book reviews, and then they stopped them. India's leading newspaper having a circulation in million doesn't think literature or literary criticism is important. So, no book reviews. Instead it reviews the colourless and tasteless books issuing from their own press. DNA used to have book reviews, which were also withdrawn.

So as expected, shit happens. A man appears on the collective conscience of us literary types, the dregs, that is. His name is Dinanath Batra and the organisation he spearheads called Shikshan Bachao Andolan Samiti (SBAS) specialises in book extremism (I didn't say terrorism, deliberately). Roughly translated his organisation means "Society for Saving Education through Revolution." How far-fetched can one be?

He is reported in the press as saying that Indian culture must be saved from external influences, however, erudite, however, well researched. We must do this and also uphold the concept of India being a Hindu nation. So he asks the publisher of Wendy Doniger's The Hindus: an Alternative History to pulp the book. The publisher does. Another book On Hinduism by the same author is also likewise withdrawn. Now the literati types are aghast. The shock is tremendous. How did this come about? How can a published and distributed book be withdrawn from the shelves and made into pulp?

That's because the literary types didn't give shit when literary criticism itself was given a go-by by the media. They didn't raise a finger. Nada. If they had they could have pointed out to one or two reviews in newspapers praising the book. Then the publisher would have had a case if the matter went to court. In this case the publisher had not even the straw of literary criticism to fall back upon.

If we don't have a healthy literary community, criticising or praising a book, we give rise to the likes of Dinanath Batra and SBAS. If you don't like a well-researched book you pan it in the media, or, else, write a rebuttal. We, the literary types, have nothing, or, nobody to go to, we are in disarray and the foe is at the gate.

So, then, literary criticism is dead. Long live literary criticism! Welcome book extremism!  

Monday, July 28, 2014

Today's Maid: a Case of Reverse Exploitation

This is something I am writing with great reluctance. Cases of people abusing/overworking their maids are many. But our maid has been abusing us and taking advantage of our, well, erm, good nature. Today, we live in a smart world: a world without principles, loyalties, old-world bon homie. Therefore the concept of the household maid who comes, talks politely, does work, and leaves is no longer applicable. Or, so we feel.

We pay her the prevailing rate for sweeping and swabbing (floor only) and a bonus on festivals. The beginning, a few years ago, was encouraging. Then, insidiously, from coming every day she started coming every second day. We said okay because every time there was a valid excuse. Then it became every third day. The work also started deteriorating. She wouldn't sweep or swab the balcony and only passes the wipe perfunctorily over the floor. Some room she doesn't sweep, only swabs, assuming it will take care of the dust and fallen hair. (We are people in our fifties and a lot of shedding happens.) The whole job hardly takes ten minutes and she is out of the door after that.

Then, horror of horrors, she started coming once a week. The stories were the same: fever, chills, cough, back pain, and long wait at the local doctor's clinic. We realise we were being exploited. Cheated. In a month she comes only four times and takes full pay. Imagine!

We hold consultations - wife and I - about what to do. She is an old hand, and, being sentimentally attached, we don't want to be rude and ask her to leave. God forbid who comes as replacement. Stories abound about maids stealing gold, giving information about valuables to boyfriends, even killing house owners.

We are not decided about the exploiting maid, well, not so far. But she will have to go for the way she has been taking advantage of our leniency. And, before the once in a week visit becomes once in a month visit. Nice no? Go to place of work once a month and pick up your salary. Anyone said not done? I didn't know exploitation happens both way. Duh!

Monday, July 07, 2014

Some Progress! A Brief Note on the Magazines of the Seventies and Eighties.

There's some progress on the novel's side, at last. I am to glad to tell you that the painful sub-editing, copy editing (call it what you will) has finally reached the half-way mark. It has been slow progress because I could do hardly four pages a day, that too, not on all days. Some days, football came in the way. Yes, football. Other days, a lot of things: sundry maintenance work at home (e.g. protecting against the rain), poetry submissions (that don't bear fruit), Sangam House submission (a mystery), a short story submission to New Yorker (which they said would automatically not qualify for a reply). So that's understandable. With so many submission they must be tired. There are so many people writing, especially short stories, and all the markets have died out.

I remember those days - Illustrated Weekly, Youth Times, Mirror, Imprint, Eves Weekly, Sunday, Sunday Review, Debonair, Beautiful - all had space for short stories. Among the crop of magazines at that time I think Caravan and Frontline survive. The rest have been wiped out. Illustrated weekly and Youth Times had two pages for poems (Debonair too)! My God! Those were golden days for poetry and short fiction. Adil Jussawala's learned articles in Debonair were looked forward to. The late Santan Rodrigues' poems were read and appreciated. Salim Peeradina used to run poetry appreciation classes in St. Xaviers college. Kamla Das used to conduct poetry soirees at her residence in Bombay. None of these events or magazines exist today. I would send out short stories and poems to all these publications and keep a watch if they appeared, while waiting in the barber shop. Yes, barber shops then had quite a few of those magazines in their racks. Some of them were published. But, then I was a poor documenter of my successes. All of them got lost in the various movings I have done.

Today these magazines have been gobbled up by bigger media. The big newspapers shut down their smaller magazines, as they made no profit. These magazines were the hotbed of intellectual discourse in those days. People actually wrote letters to editors, bereting them for bad issues, congratulating them for good issues.

Where are those magazines? Where are those heated discussions? Football, anyone?

Saturday, July 05, 2014

The World's Most Expensive Home Needs Plastic-sheet Protection

Look at the building on top, which is the home of India's richest man, built at a cost of roughly $ 1 billion. It's also the costliest house ever built. The house boasts of two floors for parking cars, two floors for guests, and one floor for a gymnasium and sauna.

And, then, look at the picture below. It is a picture of a slum where there is no water, no electricity and people shit in the open space around it. To make things worse, it gets flooded in the rains.

These days it is raining in Bombay, India's richest city, and the richest man has to protect his house with the same plastic sheet as the poor man. (See the blue plastic sheets on both buildings.) Perhaps, the rich man's architects have bungled, they didn't think that glass if not properly fixed would leak. So now they have had to fix the humble plastic sheet used by slum-dwellers on their wonderful architecture stretching into the sky.

What is obvious from the picture below is that our urban city planners and architects have also bungled. A one-bedroom flat in the city costs around Rs 1 Cr ($ 166 thousand). If a man buys a flat he is a slave to his employer for ever. (I was one of such employees.) If you can't buy a flat, you can live in one of the huts seen below.

The rich man I mentioned is the chairman of the biggest corporation in India. All his employees are required to work six days a week and, sometimes, more. He doesn't believe in charity. His hospitals and schools are the most expensive ones in the city.

The problem is seeing a corporate captain behaving thus, the lesser bosses have also started imitating him. Thus most of the offices of the corporation work six days a week giving employees neither free time for hobbies or for their children. The belief is that if you have political patronage you can do anything in India. Nobody can touch you. India is like a tinpot African regime (sorry Africa!) not a genuine democracy in the hands of these people.

Need I say more?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

On Reading Jeet Thayil's Novel "Narcopolis"

After a long time spent in prevaricating, I have gotten down to reading Jeet Thayil's Narcopolis. No, this isn't a case of hero-worship (Jeet is actually younger than me) for a person from my community, but a frank appreciation of a novel which is set in my urbs prima, Bombay. I know Jeet Thayil as an essayer of fine prose and poetry, and even our native places in Kerala aren't far from each other.

Narcopolis is a many-layered piece about a man castrated to be a eunuch. I guess this is a system that is prevalent in India, only in India, that is. Here we have the eunuchs come to our home and if the child is born with inadequate sexual organs he is castrated to be an eunuch. A eunuch thus castrated can only become a beggar or a sex slave. Nothing could be sadder than a story of an eunuch (nowadays called transgender) in the class- and community-conscious Indian society. The transgender Dimple also works in an opium den set in the seventies when Thayil came of age and what is interesting is his re-creation of those days.

Through his exquisitely crafted prose – having the ring of poetry – Thayil recreates an era that has been forgotten. Those days in Bombay opium was easily available. There was marijuana in every street corner; there were the dons of Dongri who managed the narcotics business with diligence. Today the dons are on the run and drugs aren't easily available. The opium dens of those days have closed down; the curtains have come down on an era of hedonistic excesses. Commissioner JRF Ribeiro the supercop and his brave men have seen to that.

The author moves easily across boundaries and time lines as is seen from Lee's – a top-ranking Chinese official – story. Lee is marking his days in Bombay and is Dimple's customer. Dimple is employed by Rashid in his opium den and Thayil reels out a stream of slang terms which stands for the use and abuse of the narcotic. Rashid is a man damaged by the profession and indulges in excesses of sex and gluttony. He seems like a man beyond redemption.

And, of course, there is the six-page opening sentence which as Thayil says "is a good sentence." I find nothing wrong in that since Joyce has a page full of outdated degrees and qualifications in Ulysses.

The famous Malayalam writer MT Vasudevan Nair has said that every novel puts across a novel concept, a novel idea, something for the society to ruminate on. I can't fish out the original Malayalam words, but he said as much. True Thayil has presented the unrecorded past of Bombay as a novel idea of which we may be unaware, but in which surely have played a part.

My only complaint with Narcopolis is that it ends too soon. I would have liked to see some more resolution and closures. I would have liked to read more about Dimple's life and about Ramesh, Rumi, as he is called. He has some interesting quotes ascribed to him: "This chooth country, this cunt country, how the fuck are you supposed to live here without drugs?" But then a novel has to end somewhere doesn't it?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Rant: Why Indian Writing in English Has Failed to Evolve

In this Video I expound (rather pompously, rantingly, I might add) on why I think Indian Writing in English has failed to evolve. Do have a look and please, please, comment.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

A Fight in Train, Mollywood Styleu!

It's strange how I meet these types in trains. While I have written about some of these types who - I thought - existed only in movies and stale comedy shows, this time it was downright hilarious. On my recent trip to Kerala, I mean. It was something out of a Mollywood movie.

There was this army office who got into the Durondo to Ernakulam with a quarter of whisky, or more, in him. And next to him there was this officerly man with his wife and daughter. After dinner wifey - mine - and I lay down to sleep, as did the others. The inebriated officer was supposedly sleeping on the lower berth opposite mine. There is a passage and next to that are the two seats of the officerly man, now occupied by his dowdy-looking wife. Her husband lay down on the berth opposite mine, which was above the army officer's. 

This officer, being sloshed, was writhing a lot, the whisky churning inside him. In the night the woman sat up and alleged that he had touched her. The husband came down, caught the army officer and slapped him. They were tight slaps administered dexterously, as if by the police. Then, I still don't believe it, nor would you, he unbuckled his belt to beat his adversary who was threatening to call the police.

The coach attendant came hearing the commotion and offered to call the ticket checker. This rather authoritarian man checked tickets and asked for identification. The army officer turned to be a captain and the officerly man turned out to be an officer, a big shot, in the Intelligence Bureau (IB). The ticket checker didn't know what to do with two government officers and said that they would have to get down at the next station if he complained to the control room.

The IB officer then sensed the situation would get ugly if he and family were stranded in some godforsaken station in the Konkan and said he was sorry. The army officer, too, sensing that the situation had gotten out of hand, offered to move to another berth. The man sleeping in the berth above mine offered to take the vacated berth below. 

Now both government officers were in opposite bunkers near the roof. I thought again a war of words would ensue with fistcuffs being the final resort. I steeled myself for this assault.

Hm, nothing like that happened. Apparently both realised they were employees of the state and started exchanging hesitant pleasantries, which then escalated to a camaraderie which I have not even seen in childhood friends. 

Happy ending? No, there is an unsettling ending to this saga. The newly made friendship resulted in chatter throughout the night while the rest of us - including wifey - spent a restless night turning hither and thither on our narrow beds. 

No sleep was had by anyone of us in the coupe. More of these travel anecdotes later, friends, keep reading....

Friday, May 30, 2014

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A New Government; a New Dispensation

So the democratic process electing a new parliament has ground to a halt. The process of determining the next government will soon begin. But have you thought of how distanced we, the people, are from the governing process? True, right to information has unearthed a lot of things. On the whole, looking at it from an academic distance, what do we see? The politicians need us only for electing them. After that, it's pretty much their own turf, they can decide what they want to do. 

A government run by proxy is the worst form of government. I hear the congress was run by it's president than the prime minister. Also, there is talk of the cabinet of the potential future prime minister being decided by the RSS. Do we need such governments run by proxies? Such governments have their risks: decisions are not made at appropriate time, often wrong decisions are meted out. There is also the monster of some favourite influencing the decision. 

Ah, ahem, now comes the question of diplomacy and projecting our leader to the world. How will Modi - a small-time businessman - appear in the company of Obama and Cameroon? Can he speak English with sophistication? Whatever I have heard him speak appears shallow, uninspiring. What will be his sartorial preferences? How will be conduct himself in world fora? 

You need all that to be a leader of a nation, and much more. Empty rhetoric will not compensate for realpolitik. 

Hm, all we can do is wait and watch.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Jackfruit Tree I Planted... and Why Jackfruits Are So Important to Mallus!

Sometime in my childhood, I wanted to be a farmer and would go around our property in Kerala with a hoe and plant trees and look after a cow that was gifted to me by my mother. And then I had planted this jackfruit (it's also called breadfruit in some cultures) tree in our property. Actually, I took a plant that had germinated from under a jackfruit tree and re-planted it, and then watered it. The tree did very well and grew. Today that tree has sprouted many branches and my brother Joseph John sent me this photo, which shows, well, a lot of fruits. 

Erm, what I am waffling, eh, proceeding to announce here is the joy of seeing something bear fruit. This does warm the cockles because other endeavours of mine are forever languishing: a novel, a collection of short stories, a book on Kerala. Well, they are taking their time, while the jackfruit tree has spread its wings in many directions. Secretly, in my heart, what I am wishing is: why hasn't my other projects taken off? Where am I going wrong? Of course, health issues and medical system have taken a toll, but do I give up so soon, without closure? I don't know. 

I need to... need to.... Okay I will leave it at that.

In Kerala a jackfruit is put to different uses (as every Malayali knows), as I said to Facebook friend and guitarist Lindsay Legane:

We eat it as a fruit
We make a sauted delicacy of its seeds
We fry it in coconut oil
We steam it 
We make a curry out of it
We eat it raw
So on and so forth....

Well, so many We's in the above for my liking. I will let it stand. That's because we Mallus are an egotistic people when it comes to our fruits and our eats. He... he...!

So, people, never ask a Mallu if he misses jackfruit. He may well double up his lungi into an improvised short pant and prepare to climb a jackfruit tree. And sure as hell he won't come down for hours until he finishes his "chakka" on the "plavu."

Here's the Wikipedia article on Jackfruit, if it interests you.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

About Employers and Suchlike...

Absence can make the heart grow fonder. So, dear reader, I am assuming my absence would have made you fonder about this space. Or, am I dreaming, or something? Well, be that as it may
I have kept aside (rather, swept aside
other concerns to pen a few words here today.

Sonny's leaving for the U.S.A. was a shock for both me and wifey. Didn't expect it to happen so soon. We miss him. We thought the company would give him some more time for the rona dhona (crying and wringing) and packing. No. Corporations are very demanding these days, which says something about the job market. Don't ask me what. So the actual rona dhona is happening now: on a little application called Whatsapp. Our first question to him is Have you eaten? If yes, what? It seems he has met some good people in the U.S. and are staying at their house, a beautiful bungalow with two garages and a drive. These are only things we can imagine here, but there it is common, or, so I guess.

And, then there are health issues. I think the whole concept of western medicine - as it exists in India - is a sham.
Yesterday I went to get some tests done and the girl there couldn't spell my name.
She kept writing my name wrongly and I had to correct her.
Now, suppose, she mixes my name for someone else's? Such things do happen in laboratories, don't they? That makes me a believer more and more of Indian medicine. Oh, why couldn't I do Yoga, meditation, and walking a few years ago - as I do now - and stayed clear of my health issues. But then I was too much in awe of life and wanted to live as if each day counted. I was a sucker for the promises of my employers, wanting to do great things in the corporate world. Did I succeed?

Well, how can you succeed when you have to meet the following foolish demands:

The MD wants a new website of the company in just four days
The in-house magazine should read like a combination of Penthouse and Playboy
Each advertisement should have five, yes five, different concept for the MD to choose from
Everything should be approved by the chairman or the MD
You have to sit beside the office copier and do your best thinking
All they - the VP and above -
is drink tea, hold meetings and go home, you have to sit and do the poop scooping
An office of a 100 people has two toilets and 4 urinals. Sometimes even these facilities have to be shared with the neighbour's office staff.
(The MD and Chairman have their own.)​ 
If you want to crap the best option is the nearby star hotel, into which you walk with all the dignity you can muster, given the situation.
et cetera, et cetera.

Enough bitching about employers. The liberties they take
​ ​
in India
are undocumented.
More of this to come.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Nest is Suddenly Empty

Not been here for a long time. Not that I am lazy, but that something drastic was going on in our lives, meaning wifey's and mine. Sonny was told to pack bags and be in the Yoonited States within a week. And the desperation started: for luggage, for suits, for warm clothing, for jackets, for foreign exchange, for sundry other toiletries. And, of course, masalas and pickles. These days travelling to a foreign country involves all these.

Then his flight was cancelled and he was given accommodation in a city five-star hotel. This hotel even has a bathrobe for residents, I discovered. I have never worn a bathrobe in my life and none of the five-star hotels I lived in provided one. From the hotel room I could look straight into a slum and see life at its worst before me. Naked children running around, mothers sitting on doorways, the roofs cluttered with plastic sheets, the open gutters thick with sewage. Oh God! What would those firangs who stay at the hotel think? Do they sit in their bathrobes watching the naked children being bathed in the open? The staff at the hotel were suitably obsequious and "namaste-ed" us everywhere we went, and I didn't disappoint them, meaning, to say, I responded with a regal wave of acknowledgement. Do they know about the poverty that I saw from their window? I don't know.

And then sonny flew away and we were devastated. The nest is empty. It's as if our lives had become barren and decrepit. The house sounded strangely hollow, the buzz had ceased, his bike lay derelict, it's thrum and boom - announcing his arrival - replaced by silence. The soft patter of feet up and down the stairs was gone and we didn't know what had laid our lives bare. Wifey felt it more as he was very close to her, and she indulged her only son's every wish: his clothes immaculately washed and ironed, his food peppered with the right amount of masalas, his requests for sweets fulfilled. 

I didn't know it could be this damaging. So, I tried to make it a bit bearable for wifey, telling her a few jokes to make her laugh, and explaining what I read in the papers, now that I am nearly unemployed. We know we have to depend on each other now, for vast periods of time. So, now I realise what it would have been for my own parents. But, for my parents there was a different kind of engagement; they fought a lot. 

Now though we chat on Whatsapp quite a lot, I don't know what's going on in my son's life. He says the streets are empty in the small town in which he is based. There are no people and no animal life around. Hehe. He would have been more at home if there were a few stray dogs and cows on the roads and feverishly rushing people. I said, yes, there people live in their houses and when they go out they drive themselves. When they need something they go to a mall and pick up food and pack their refrigerators with them. No wonder all of them are so fat. But they are an ethical and industrious people. Over here men stand outside their homes in their drawstring chuddies quite a lot, to catch the wind, as they say. Over there if they want to catch the wind they go to the beach. Hm. Life's a beach. Or, so they think. 

We have to content with silent mornings, nights, and our own attempts at survival. Wifey has her school - where she is principal - and, she has mountains of work to be done there. As for me I have nothing, except this blog, perhaps, which nobody reads. 

Life goes on. Doesn't it? 

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Missing Aeroplane in the Indian Ocean and Other Musings....

Some things just upset me. Like this one: a jet plane from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing veers away and is not seen again for more than two weeks. Information comes very slowly over the media: much tom-tomed (yes, that's the word) as on-the-spot reportage and live coverage. I think of the relatives of people on board, their desperation, their stoicism, their occasional outbursts. Is this the modern world we live in? Is this the technological advancement we have made - making soldiers, most likely to be soldiers, looking out of windows to spot some tell-tale sign of the jet. Has the suicide/terror angle been investigated? Is this some kind of modern Hara-kiri?

Well, no one knows.

India said it will join the search and quite forgot about it. Well, um, it happened in our back yard, the Indian Ocean and we forgot about it. How else do you explain the virtual blanking out of India from the references by the experts. "!@#$%^&* unka plane gaya hai, hamara kya jata hai," they must have said in hushed voices. But there were Indians on board and Indian planes should have been sent for the search in the Indian Ocean. Of course, a great public relations opportunity of making use of a much international aeronautical disaster to display our advancements and achievements was lost. An Indian plane should have reported that it has spotted debris. We owed it to the world and the families of the compatriots on board. Largely situational albeit a significant positioning as a power of consequence in the Indian Ocean. On the other hand China offered to snoop around in our territorial waters (the ingenious Chinese know their diplomacy and war tactics much better).

Well, we wait, we wait for what? For Godot? For some news from Australia, China, Malaysia, even Thailand. No, not India.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Man in Light Bulb Is No More! R.I.P. Khushwant Singh

I saw him at Tata Litlive, a frail old Sardarji, talking to someone at the Experimental Theatre where he was going to receive a lifetime achievement award. I wanted to go and introduce myself. But what do I introduce myself as? As a writer I don’t anything substantial to talk about, all I have is a bunch of short stories, poems, a blog, and a novel permanently in a state of suspended animation. Well, er, hum. Here is a man of substance, considerable amounts of it, charm, wit, and achievement and I was overwhelmed. That is to say I didn’t muster the courage to speak to him. And, damn! I bungled that opportunity, which will never come again. I thought writers like him are immortal, they don’t just die. So, no worries, maybe, after the novel is published I could introduce myself and give him a copy of my magnum opus.


Alas and Alack, that’s not to be! The sardarji in a light bulb is no more. Mario’s cartoon of him, pictured him in a light bulb. Why I don’t know, because Mario is also no more. It could be that he wrote at night, or, it could be that ideas for his columns spring to mind like a light bulb, a sixty watt one. Writers are such mysterious creatures.


My first acquaintance with his writing was through the Illustrated Weekly of India which he edited. My dad would bring the magazine home from office and immediately all the neighbours would want to read it. (Actually they wanted to ogle at the semi-nude pictures.) It contained salacious bits of information no newspaper dared to print in those days. He would not spare the holy cows of society. He satirized Amrita Sher-Gill’s paintings, he rubbished Godmen like Rajnish, he spoke boldly against Bhindranwale. Nobody was above his acerbic wit, he spared no one: neither self-styled gurus or punch-drunk divas. Sometimes you hated him for his frank criticisms; sometimes you loved him for demolishing an icon. His style was simple and he gave his journalists full freedom. I have read his articles and columns but not his novels. I mean to, soon. This is a loss that must be recorded in letters of black in our literary history.


As I am writing this I receive a call from a friend who worked with him in the Times group. He says he used to come to office in a tee-shirt and mostly his pheta would be either blue or yellow in colour, and that he was jovial with the staff. This is quite a departure from the norm because those were the days of casteism in the editorial echelons. Forget editors, not even assistant editors would drag their stiff asses to the copy desk to see how a story was going. But he changed it all and we got a new crop of editors – Akbar, Karkaria, Nair, D’Monte – all who believed in his style of running a publication.


Rest in peace Khushwant Singh, man in a light bulb!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Working Hardly on the Novel - Love Writing; Hate Editing

Sorry for not being in this space for some time. It's that I am reading the novel on my Kindle and have noticed a lot of printer's devils - hm, the abominable creature's guts - in them, which I wouldn't have noticed otherwise.

I love writing. But it's the editing that I hate, no, detest with all my being. While writing keeps you entertained and innovating, it's the editing that kills. I have edited the novel four (repeat four) times and I guess there is one more editing to go. 

So there goes me, a doddering old idiot, a tottering fool, a cranky and bankrupt writer back to another editing. I should have gone back to painting which would have been more lucrative. Ho, hm. 

Wish me luck, because, sorry folks, it's going to take a while.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Honoured to Be Felicitated by David Sassoon Library

I have only served in two managing committees so far: the church committee and David Sassoon Reading Room and Library (see pic), the iconic library in Kala Ghoda where the literature section of the venerable Kala Ghoda Festival takes place.

The David Sassoon Library
The Certificate of appreciation
While my service to the church is understood and appreciated, I was pleasantly surprised when Adv. Vivek Ajgaokar, President, David Sassoon Library (DSL) decided to felicitate me along with other who have rendered service to it. Ergo, the neatly gilded certificate was conferred to me at a function in the refurbished library in the presence of dignitaries, an MLA, judges, lawyers, and sundry others.

Accepting this in my own humble way (IMHO), I said a few words about the library and how I came to be associated with it. (I confess I didn't do much good for the library except select some good books for it.) Which went thusly:

I was appointed editor of the Bombay Management Association's journal AMBIT by none other than Mr. M.B.Bhaskare, former MD of Greaves Cotton. The association is situated in Army & Navy Building, where Westside is at present. Actually Westside used to be the atrium of Army & Navy Building. And further, in actual fact, this atrium was the entrance to the Army & Navy Stores back in the halcyon days.

Ah, how the memory wanders over these stray threads of my past. Those were humongous times spent reading in the DSL and watching shows of Hussain, Raza, Monet and Picasso at the Jehangir Art Gallery and the NGMA, National Gallery of Modern Art for those who came late.

Thanks DSL and Adv. Vivek Ajgaokar for this honour.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Danger of Doniger’s Book Pulping

Wendy Doniger’s book Hinduism: An Alternate History was pulped. Enough has been written about it by the pundits of prose and I need not go into them here. But there are two aftermathic consequences I wish to draw attention to here. The book must be pulp by now, rotting in the gutter or in the recycling factory but two things give me sleepless nights, i.e., causes for frequent hotness under the collar.

One, first and foremost is Censorship. There is grave danger here. The publishers instead of being editors would turn into censors and will stop considering whatever they don’t like. The excuses they can mouth are so many:
No, this won’t sell
No, the plot line is weak
There’s no market for this
To them I say: first you publish a cerebral author writing about controversial and topical human issues and then see if there is a market for it. With this attitude of censoriousness nothing controversial can be published in India and we will have more cookbooks, hagiographies, and travel directories. It’s better not to take a risk than try out something that could turn controversial. It’s as they say: sit at your desk for 20 years and then complain that nothing ever happens.

The danger is in us becoming a people without history and a people who needs foreigners to write our history. We then become a people whose human condition went unexamined and we complain that foreigners have a stereotypical attitude towards us. Heard that familiar refrain, eh?

Second, is self censorship. This would be a corollary of the one mentioned above, i.e., censorship. When a writer finds that his/her works are slammed even before they could see light, then he/she goes into a shell and becomes his own censor. This is also a virulent disease in society. We find hundred of articulate people who write well and they fail to find a publisher to give them the opportunity. They go into a shell, become depressed and begin to think they aren’t good enough.

This is a phenomenon that is really happening in our society. There are so many narrow-minded vigilante groups around that we tend not to take up issues which we think are important for our own benefit. One of them is culture vigilante-ism. This is the most pernicious of the brain-dead groups advocating going back in evolution. The reasons they trot out are, “but that’s not our culture,” “but, we need to preserve our culture.” Well, if culture is to be preserved then insert it in a bottle, pour some formaldehyde in it, and keep it on the shelf for all time. We would never have progressed from leaf-wearing Neanderthals if we believed this type of people.

A culture is as good as its ability to adapt. And, adapt we must to changing patterns of life around us. Otherwise, we would go the way of the lemmings. Sorry, lemmings, no harm meant.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Not Been Blogging for a Long Time. Now I Know How to Upload My Writing to Kindle

Yeah, I know, I have been so involved with my Kindle that I have not been blogging these past days. After all, it's a brilliant invention and I have been reading loads of stuff.
I carry it wherever I go and am a bit smitten by its dark and pretty looks.

Now what I have done is upload my novel to my Kindle and, there it is, as if it (read I) have already been published. The formatting is as of a published book and everything is so presentable, it makes me wonder why I didn't buy a Kindle earlier.

Of course, during the reading I am watching for bloopers in the plot and the language,
little, little inconsistencies here and there, no,
as Catherine, Dinshaw's mother would say. It helps that the novel is one big file and not many small files, so that I can browse whichever portion I would like to edit.
Also, a printout wouldn't give you the feel a book, the font for instance, as the Kindle can.

How I went about it is as follows:

When you buy Kindle you get a Kindle email address, something like you@kindle.com. This is just a concept email and don't try to open it on your Outlook or elsewhere. When you mail your documents to you@free.kindle.com you
documents will be transferred to your Kindle device for free [Advise: you should be logged in to Amazon and should have a wi-fi connection.]. If you want it transferred without wi-fi you will have to pay a fee for their document transfer network, Whispernet.

Simple? Do let me know if it works for you. Just imagine the joy of having hundreds of boring documents in a free-flowing Kindle format for you to read in trains, in cars, in monrail, in metro,
doctor's waiting room,
well, whatever!

I think Amazon and kindle should pay me for this recommendation. Yeah they should.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Trying This Post from Our Kindle

Ever since we bought our Kindle Paperwhite we have been experimenting new things on it: how to hilight a portion of text and have it sent to FB and Twitter, how to read email and browse,and more importantly how to download books and articles. So, kind readers, this-blog-is-cool fans wenare trying out our first post on the Kindle. Hurrray!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Finished Another Landmark - Copy Editing the Novel

Another landmark! No, nothing to do with Landmark, the bookstore, of which we are a regular visitor and fan, though we have seen the area for books shrinking, of late. Last time we were there we bought an expensive leather shoebox which we intend to use as our toiletry box. An expensive toiletry box from a book store? Dumb us! Why are we a bibliophile and not a clothesphile, or, toiletryphile, for starters?

We finished another painful editing process on the novel Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard. This time it was copy editing, removing silly spelling mistakes, respecting word territory (we make this mistake too often, i.e., using same words repeatedly in close proximity), removing needless footnotes (there were too many, in the final copy we intend to eliminate all footnotes), deleting self-indulgent passages (of this there were too many), eliminating literary flourishes (Ahem!).

All this because, in the madly competitive world of today, where anyone owning a laptop is writing a novel (ya know, "am writing a novel" is the best pick-up line there is, beats "I have seen you somewhere"), publishers depend too much on literary agents to turn out publishable manuscripts. And, this is the sorry part, literary agents won't look at manuscripts that have simple flaws, no matter how good they are (they receive too many submissions that are utter tripe). We don't blame them, poor fellows, much harried as they are about copyrights, territories, and suchlike.

Now, boo hoo, we have to sit down and carry out all those corrections, 350 pages of them. Writing sucks. Why weren't we a painter, an architect, a musician?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Singing and Strumming at a Christmas Celebration!

The occasion was Kairali Belapur’s Christmas celebrations and friend Henry wanted me to sing a song. So I dug out an old Christmas song I had written and composed, changed a few lyrics, and sang. The change in lyrics was because when I actually stood and sang there appeared to be some tunelessness, some mis-match in the harmonies.

Singing and strumming... it isn't easy. My right hand is a blur!
Then there was the situation, the stage fright to be thought about. My son said, “Papa, don’t make an ass of yourself, one mistake and they will laugh at you for ages.” He is my biggest critic. Son, Papa can handle all that, I am, sort of, well, used to all that. Son didn’t come for the performance, so as not to be ridiculed by friends. Wifey was supportive. But then, can I do it? What will those Malayalis whom I meet everyday think? They don’t even know I write, write poetry, sing!

So I had a lot of butterflies in my stomach as I sat through the program. There was a lot of Karaoke singing, which is acceptable these days, I guess. Then my turn came and I went on stage, after some backstage shenanigans. One of the singers, a pretty young lady was so overcome she refused to sing despite a lot of coaxing by her mother. Then – for the first time in my life – I sang standing up strumming my guitar. Hitherto, I had only sat and played the guitar. Must say standing up, playing the instrument, and singing is tough. You have to concentrate on so many different things. But, I managed fine without nervousness, well, not much.

Midway through the performance I felt my strumming becoming unsteady. Haven’t I rehearsed this for three days? Panic. Overcome by singing the choral part twice, no, thrice. Then it was time to say “Thank you, God bless,” and go off stage. Wifey says applause was deafening. A woman sitting beside her wanted to know how I do it. As if wifey knows how I do it. Hehe. Takes hundreds of hours of practice, lady. I am self-taught, so, it’s all the more harder. All those lonely hours you would be watching television serials, I am strummin, and singin! Nothing in life is easy, really, nothing.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

A Few Musings at the End of an Eventful 2013

A few thoughts at the end of an eventful 2013. We live in troubled times. Well, yes, that’s an obvious truth we need not emphasise. However, trouble is of the variety that never existed in our days, halcyon days in which we lived a deprived but enjoyable life nevertheless. Yet, we ignore certain realities, take risks, trust our intuition – which turns out to be wrong – and proceed gingerly. We forgive but we can’t forget. We hold hands and try to forget those piercing barbs aimed at us, we gamely accept kitsch such as reality shows and the petty tripe shown therein just to go with the flow. And, this worries us. Time heals but also leaves scars.

Many people left us for their heavenly abodes, among them our friends. Sarasa Gopal’s death shocked us, as did that of Varghese Mathew, a regular church-attendee and active member in all spiritual activities. You were never meant to die, people. You were supposed to live and share the milk of human kindness and joy with us. As the above, so did Mandela’s departure disturb us. We have an idea that may be a distortion of truth which goes: God calls all good people to him and leaves the trash – like us – to haunt the earth with our inanity (MS Word changed this to “insanity” and, shocked as I was, changed it back).

India’s biggest business brat (we call him immature little chap [ILC]) drunkenly crashed his car and hurts a few people. We say, no, it’s okay, brats are meant to crash cars. What else are they for? Already police may have been bought. We know. This brat’s mother – who is into serving the poor – doesn’t like to see peons (this is hearsay from someone who works in the office) around the office. So when she arrives peons are told to hide their poverty-stricken personage somewhere. All this they do because the brat’s grandfather worked hard and built an empire for his sons and grandchildren. We have ingrained in us this concept of dynasty, the bade log (big people) syndrome which makes things easy for the ILC to get away scot free. Is this a good thing? Why don’t we introspect on this?

We had the occasion of working with a few ILCs. Believe you me, they, with their immaturity can make your life hell. We had to correct their incompetence and also praise them for attributes they didn’t have. Another ILC is making it big in music, another ILC is making it in films, another ILC is making it in politics. And, ironically, we all are standing aside, giving way to these ILCs. Nay, we are even endorsing them and condoning their transgressions with the law.

One such ILC who is in prison now, should have been in an institution long ago for drug possession and terror-related activities. Another ILC is facing manslaughter charges for recklessly killing a few people with his SUV. We shut our eyes to all these, seemingly trivial atrocities, which really aren’t. Then can we blame them for turning into monster wife-beaters and social psychopaths? Can we invite them for a public function knowing their background? Can we wait in queue for a glimpse of them inside a theatre, hall, or, public place?

No, none of the above. But they are the pillars of society, turning up at social functions and invited to functions of Governors, Prime Ministers, and Presidents. So, hm, where are we going wrong? Can morality be judged by the tenets we clung to earlier? We don’t know.

We digress. On the culture-literature front we see nothing great happening. The Tata Litlive and Times Carnival went by without much ado. A trend started by Pablo Ganguli with his “Kitab” events has set off a chain of literary festivals throughout the country. Hats off to Pablo. Though he was ostracised because of allegations made by vested-interested people, he was the precursor and originator of the idea of literary festivals in India. We wonder why the same people who criticized Ganguly have their tongues firmly in mouth about the other festivals, where they may have been treated worse.

Our politics will see a cataclysmic something happening this year. The AAP’s success will change the equation quite a lot. Popular leaders have upset staid political set ups – such as Congress and BJP – before as well. This is the age of instant gratifications and in a fire if you shout “follow me I know a way out” people will follow you. Well, ahem, that’s what is happening to the world now.

There’s more to be said but do come again to read them. Meanwhile, saying goodbye with hope for the new year that’s at our door. Happy 2014!