Sunday, October 25, 2015

Kidnap in Crete - Rick Stroud

I read this beautifully-written novel by Rick Stroud more as a historical fiction than as a novel. It’s so full of detailed descriptions of the World War II, from such close quarters, as to make it seem as if one is a participant in the war. Thus far, the books I have read have all been non-fiction and this book is an eye-opener as far as the realities on the ground in the warring country is concerned. All those people who died, all those brave soldiers who worked so tirelessly, everything seem so authentic that one doesn’t want such a tragedy to happen ever after in this world. One advantage it gives the reader is that one is close to the action from page one, along with tantalising descriptions of all the equipment in use, the guns, the explosives, the hard work. Remember, they were not living in the present when a phone call and a text message is a possibility. For a message to get across it had to be sent with a runner, to a radio ten kilometres away, that too, over hilly terrain.

I highly recommend that you read.  

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Vidyarambham - Initiation into Knowledge - Life's Intervention

Yesterday was Vijaya Dashami and therefore Vidyarambham, or initiation into knowledge. I am penning just a few thoughts on Vidyarambham, now that it’s the season for this de rigeur ritual. In Kerala it’s a big and ceremonious thing. I remember my Vidyarambham thusly. My elder sister was put in charge of my education and she was told by my mother to teach me to write. I started with Malayalam letters, writing on rice grains spread out on the floor of our house in Kerala. Every time my sister would ask me to write, my left finger would shoot out. She would say, “not left, right hand finger, this one.” But then, being left handed, my left hand finger would shoot out. She would shout again, and then, very unlike the disciplinarian she was (still is), she would give up. She found me incorrigible and would scold me and beat me. I remember crying when the stick would descend on me. In Kerala left-handed people are considered inauspicious and my mother and sisters - being superstitious - assumed I would not come to any good in life.

But then I discovered language through reading of the New Testament gifted to me in Sunday School. I loved the songs taught in the said School. I would have it written in a small notebook and would sing them when no one was watching. This habit continues even today. Thus a small spark was lit; which became an obsession later in life. At age eight, I learnt English from Joseph-saar, who, it was said, was my father’s classmate in the English-medium school in Kozhencherry. (My father had a privileged upbringing thanks to the affluence of my grandfather.) He was a teacher I admired. He made English very simple and learning it a pleasure. Soon I had all the lessons under my command and I got good marks, too. That’s when my father noticed my proficiency in English and brought me to Bombay to continue my education. That’s how I came to Bombay for the first time, at around age nine.

And then, as they say, life intervened.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

It’s the Season to Be Noisy!

The festival season is upon me. It’s the sounds that disturb, the high decibel level of its emanation. I live in a small valley set aside from the Sahyadri Hills, into a small knot of hills known as Parsik Hills. Here it’s dead calm most of the time till even a small sound is produced. Then it is amplified several times and echoes between the two hills facing each other over a pond and a wooded valley. From now on the assault on the senses has begun, there will be disturbed sleep, trauma, hearing loss, et al.

A neighbour’s son removes the silencer from his Royal Enfield motorcycle, and sets off a progression of high-decibel chain cracker explosions – the cheap Chinese sort – after him. The sound doesn’t cease for a long time till he disappears from the place in one of his nightly jaunts to meet with friends, perhaps, a girl friend whom he wants to impress. The sound he makes is about his identity and he tries to be as loud as possible, in dress, in behaviour, in being himself.

The garba dancers have high-decibel music going on in a nearby bus depot which has been commandeered for the purpose. They all are gaudily dressed in loud costumes and here they dance their loud dance. The band consists of several bass drums and the speakers are as tall as a floor of the building nearby. The emphasis is upon beats and rhythm.

“Rattta-tatta-ratta-tatta, tatta, thuooooom.” So on....

There are no wind instruments because they are considered feminine and not able to produce high-pitched sound. Nor, is there a guitar, fortunately, because the Death Metal sound would have screeched on their speakers and burst a few fragile hearts.

Soon Diwali will be here with another round of loud explosions and lighting of stringed high-decibel bombs that would easily imitate modern warfare. Then the skies would explode, too, with colour. The assault on the senses will continue.

Is it a Hindu thing, I wonder? But my friend who runs the local RSS Shakha, with whom I have a good discussion at times, is also against the sound. He is a scientist working in the atomic reactor at Trombay and says he knows of the bad effects of sound. He says it’s against his principles and is the first to complain about the sound. He also says it’s ignorance. Have we become schizophrenic in our quest for good health, peace, and calm?

Then is it any wonder that an Indian would be deaf by the age of sixty?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Some of the Stories Around Us Can Be More Interesting...

Sometimes the stories around you are more interesting than the ones you read. I didn’t mean to write this, sort of, filed this in the back of my mind, until this morning when I felt the urgent need to write it.

It’s about a youth whose enterprise really awed me. Let me call him Ajay. He delivers newspapers to my house, back-breaking and soul-destroying work, and one day he asks me if I have old newspapers to sell. I say yes, looking at the growing pile in the corner. He says he will come later to collect it, as a caution, he tells me not to sell it to anyone else. That day around afternoon he comes and collects the papers. I accept whatever he gives and don’t bother to question him about rates. I am glad to see his honest hard-working face, which has a trace of self-effacement about it.

That evening I go to the Croma Store nearby to look for some cellphone to replace my existing one. I can’t afford any of them, but I am window shopping in case son wants to gift me one. The salesman calls me “uncle” and he has a familiar look around him. I ask him if I have seen him somewhere, perhaps, during my morning peregrinations of my artistic village (This is what neighbours call Artist Village, which is also wrong. I tell them it should be Artists’ Village, not Artist Village). He says he is the same person who had come to buy my paper in the morning. I am taken aback. I am a sort of person who goes through life in a daze these days. I don’t know, life has become a drag after retirement. Sometimes, memories can f*****g freeze you in your tracks! The latest I hear is that writers are returning their awards, while I haven’t even earned one. A lifetime has gone past and I have nothing to show.

Sit licet ut fuerit![i]

He shows me the Microsoft phones, the Samsungs, the Sonys and all other gizmos that run the world today. He tells me, intelligently, about each phone and its advantages. I do a lot with my phone these days, like accessing Facebook, writing posts on Twitter, maintaining three forums started by me on Whatsapp, three or four forums on googlegroups, all of which get my phone so harried, it gives up in exasperation. I thank him and come away impressed.

This morning he again comes to take away my old newspapers. Wifey is at home and is a bit rude to him, being a Sunday, for disturbing her. It’s her only holiday, time away from teaching. Twin rivulets of sweat are flowing down his face in the heat of mid-morning and his shirt is wet. He isn’t very presentable. I intervene and invite him in. While collecting the newspapers I ask him about work. He says his employers are good and he gets a commission on sales, which assures a good monthly income, which could go up to 30 grand during festivals. The newspaper delivery job is because he only has to report at 12 noon and is free in the morning.

His replies are to the point and don’t show the insolence and ambition of the present generation. These days I am hesitant to ask young people questions. I know the answer would be a snarl and, “uncle, mind your business.” He is also very shy. I probe a bit further, being the writer sensing a story.

“Where do you live?”

“In sector two near the temple.”

“Oh! Near the Hanuman Temple?”


“Who all are there in your family?” I ask this gently because I don’t want to upset him.

“I live with my elder sister, she is married.”

“What about father and mother?” I ask assuming they may be living in his native village. In which case, he may be working hard to send them money.

“Both died when I was a small boy. My sister brought me up.”

I am shocked. An orphan! I am contrite to think of the possibility, just a piddling possibility, of having hurt him.

“I have been working since childhood, doing odd jobs. Now I have to work for my future.”

That explains the hard work, the taking of two jobs, and the small business of dealing in old newspapers.

It also explains the shyness, the tentativeness, the feeling whether he will be accepted, and the lack of a father’s and mother’s love.

I am dumbstruck at the enterprise of this youth, hardly out of his teens. He has forgotten all that has happened and is bravely working to be an honest citizen of this country. Whence and whereupon, I wonder if this country has given him adequate protection to seek a future for himself. That’s all I have time to ask him. He has, by now, bundled the paper, weighed it, and dealt the cash.

Yes, some of the real stories around us can be really very sad and, not to forget, inspiring too.

[i] Be that as it may!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Pitfalls of Being a Writer

When I started writing, that was ages ago, I made no secret of my ambition to be a known, recognised writer. Perhaps this was considered as insolence on my part. Nobody said a kind word, in fact, I was sure they were laughing behind my back, “What he? Wants to become writer? Does he know the language? Does he know anything.” I regret having told them that I want to be a writer. Instead I should have said I want to be something else, poultry farmer, for instance.

There were some people who deliberately vilified my writing. It led to a lot of damage and self doubt. Writing as Stephen King described is like, “navigating the atlantic in a bath tub.” Yes, it is. It is the most hazardous profession there is. Even a comma, or an apostrophe can go against you.

It’s a universal thing. You may have experienced this impudence by friends and relatives. They said all they could to insult me and advised me to take up something else. There is no money in writing. How will you make ends meet? There’s money to be made in journalism if you are industrious enough, you know, make the right contacts. Journalists are rewarded for their coverage by industrialists and politicians. But when I entered journalism I realised that it was already full of bright guys who clung to their positions like leaches.

Then I worked as a content writer, a technical writer, and finally as a copywriter. I felt the pressure here, too. They think writers are slaves, who can be persuaded to turn in an entire website content in four days, yes, repeat, four days. That also includes, proof checking, and seeing if the fanciful designer hasn’t botched up the copy. Then the chairman decides to participate in an exhibition in a far-off city and all the flexes, display material, and brochures have to be written and printed and reached to a place called Kolhapur. You are told to go there by train to deliver the material. In Kolhapur you are told to share a guest house accommodation with a foul-smelling site manager who spends an hour in the toilet every morning. That, too, for four days.

Yeah, people don’t respect writers. There’s scant respect for the scribe these days. In olden times a “scribe” or “shastri” was respected and honoured. In Bible there is mention of “Pharisees” meaning priests and “scribes” meaning writers. In India Shastris were respected members of the community, accorded the greatest of honours.   

So where’s the respect for writers? Except for the ones who have earned millions.