Sunday, December 18, 2016

DEMONETISATION - MUSINGS OF A SOLITARY WALKER - 2




It’s cold. There’s a nip in the air as I trace my path through the thick foliage of the Artists’ Village. It’s here that I spotted the king in all his glory, his hood up, his teeth ready to strike, the calm assurance that his poison will work. The birds and dogs make a great hullabaloo as the king exits the scene. Not to worry, by now I have whipped out my phone and captured his image.

I think of the events of the past month as it has unravelled till now. There has been a lot of grief cause due to the withdrawal of 500 and 1000 Rupee notes, called demonetisation. Middle class people like me are running around to get cash. My advantage was that I had familiarity with computers since I worked as a content and technical writer for computer start ups and therefore I had converted all my bill payments into transactions over the internet. Therefore I am not too much affected. In fact, I am already cashless.

What about the average person? Yesterday my friend dropped in. We were discussing the withdrawal of notes and I know a few things about him as we have been friends for a long time. He is a graduate, has a post-graduate qualification in management, and has worked in accounts almost all his life. But he still can’t operate a debit card or use the smart phone. When he makes a call to his wife, he used the old way of dialling, i.e., he touches each number on his dial pad from memory. Such are the people who are most affected by the demonetisation, those who have a phobia for computers, those who don’t know what to type in when the computer cursor blinks in the password box.

And, he is a graduate, and a post-graduate in management. What about the people in villages who aren’t educated, who don’t have a bank for miles around, who may not have the money to pay for transport? Telling them to go and learn computers is being cruel, insensitive, and apathetic to their misery. It’s the poor education and infrastructure system that made them illiterate, not themselves. To all those pontificators who defend the policy of the government are either people too far removed from the reality in Indian villages – such as NRIs and city-dweller having jobs – and need to be made to live in an Indian village forthwith.

Till the age of eight I grew up in a remote village in Kerala. The first bank in the village was opened in the nineteen-eighties, which was a mile away. Market days occurred on only two days in a week when most of the purchases were made. The affluence of the money from Persian Gulf was yet to flow into Kerala, and money was scarce. Farm labourers were paid Rupees five, and it seemed to meet their expenses, because a plate of rice and vegetable cost only eight annas or fifty paise. (For three paise [half anna, one-twentyfourth of a rupee] we could buy an ice candy.) Now, the new generation doesn’t know what an anna is and what is fifty paise. They don’t need to.

What people – especially leaders – ignore is that governance is a slow process, that change takes time, and there are not short cuts, or, as the new generation puts it, quick fixes. A chief executive who thinks technology can fix everything is harbouring an illusion. Furthermore, if this chief executive is also under-educated and under-informed, there’s greater danger of his plans failing. There are limitations to technology that only those who are intimately involved with technology know about. I worked in a team which was supposedly going to give a company its enterprise resource planning (ERP) software solution and know, at first hand, what can go wrong. Though the contractor was paid fully and had completed his work (according to him) the ERP software solution didn’t work. Being able to send a few emails, posting a few words on Twitter and Facebook doesn’t make one computer literate. It takes a lot more than that.

There is also an over-reliance in technology that I have witnessed of late. Government notifications, announcements, legislations, and rulings are being sent on Twitter and Whatsapp these days. Not only has it subverted the system of recording sending and receiving, but it is using a private network which can be hacked and opened by computer experts. (The United States’ [US’] candidate for President Clinton’s email hacking is an example of this.) Schools are receiving directives from education departments through Whatsapp, discussions about policies are being done on Twitter instead of the Parliament. Twitter and Whatsapp are private networks, which are, at best, informal media of communication. Government departments should have a written and replicable source of sending and receiving documents, complaints, and redresses. This is often done by maintaining an in-out register in government departments, which acts as proof of delivery and receipt. Ignoring this system of delivery and receipt should be seen as a subversion of the procedures established by our democratic institutions.

The 2008 collapse of banks in the United States following the sub-prime crisis has shown that banks can collapse and financial markets are prone to misbehave. To overcome the crisis the US Federal Reserves (The Reserve bank in the US) printed and circulated billions of dollars in the economy. Financial experts such as Bill Bonner (look him up and watch his video) has predicted an impending and sudden collapse of the US economy because of the dependence on credit in the country. He says credit cards won’t work, and debit cards will not ensure dispensing cash at ATM machines (Something which is happening in India now.). Such printing of currency and manipulating the economy is a dangerous thing. That great country is still unrepentant and continues to live on credit. This is something, which the planners of demonetisation ignored when they printed huge numbers of new currency. Since the loss to the nation in terms of lost small businesses, jobs, decreased goods flow has been humungous; it would be advisable to be very circumspect about printing currency to boost the economy, something which uninformed tin-pots regimes do.

In conclusion, in order to generate and sustain a vibrant democratic system, which India has been following till now, we need to strengthen the financial arms of the government like the Reserve Bank, not weaken their powers. India has so far withstood wild fluctuations in currency-related upheavals through a strong currency. We need to strengthen it to withstand further shocks and not manipulate it in anyway.

The sun is up over the valley, the birds are singing, and I must return to my computer to key in these thoughts.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

RANDOM MUSINGS OF A SOLITARY WALKER - 1


After the two shocking events I wrote about yesterday – election of Trump and demonetisation of 500/1000 rupee notes in India – my mind is searching for answers, which are hard to come by. My post about the latter has invited a lot of comments from friends and trolls, praising the PM for his bold move, overnight transformation of the economy, et al. A lot of people are put to needless harassment and loss and people in well-paying jobs are saying: it’s for the good, so grin and bear it. So, you, urban middle-class office workers, what do you know about the rural villager who has to walk a few kilometres to the nearest bank, and, when there, he is handicapped as he doesn’t know how to fill in a form? We are living in frightening times where every day brings some new revelations, or, news of revelations not made. Therefore, here are some rambling thoughts on democracy and development.

When you dig deeper, you find that the malady lies buried down in several layers of a deep gorge of misdeeds in this unipolar world. Is there a disregard for democratic norms? Is there a lack of proper understanding of how democracy works? Was democratic institutions compromised? Is the one who is better at compromising democratic norms the winner in an election? If so, what have we done to safeguard democracy? Is communism the better alternative, in a world where the world’s leading communist countries have turned capitalists with a vengeance?

It’s a fearful world we inhabit. First let me deal with the election of Trump to the highest office of the world. There were allegations of Russians having hacked into Clinton’s emails. It’s quite possible. Maybe, even Clinton had rigged the Democratic nomination to be the nominee. As I said it’s a fearful and distressful world we inhabit. The winner could be the one who knows how to subvert the democratic process. As the Wikileaks revelations reveal the world is not a safe place for governments and corporations anymore. However, the Wikileaks revelations came too late, didn’t it? By the time it came out everything was over. Anything could happen today. We are probably experiencing the first shocks of this horrid future as demonstrated by recent incidents.

There’s no doubt that the America (By America I mean the U.S.A.) that stands for truth and democracy may be truly compromising its democratic ideals. To get ahead it is willing to sacrifice anything, as Obama’s support for fracking and the Keystone pipe line shows. Around the world also, America says it has interests, meaning private business interests, not interest of a free and democratic world. The point is, America is no longer interested in propagating its democratic ideology, nor is the leadership here in India, as seen by the oppression of minorities in recent times.

In its quest to be a world economic leader, China has created one of the biggest commercial-industrial complexes in the world, leading to pollution of its air, water, and cities. We have to ask ourselves if this is the development we want and aspire for. Our present dispensation wants to follow the path shown by China, i.e., development at all costs: smart cities, superfast trains, industrial corridors, exploitation of earth for minerals, etc. There are some pitfalls here, which we aren’t aware of.
After plundering its countryside for coal, iron, copper, gold, and bauxite, China is aggressively seeking mining licences in Africa and less developed economies. At the forefront of development, China is today the world’s largest economy and is increasingly being belligerent militarily also. And, discreetly, America and Russia are partners in China’s growth.

Meanwhile, the vast military-industrial complex in America keeps wars going on in Asia and other parts because it’s in their interest to do so. There used to be a sacrosanct rule that militaries will not attack civilian targets and places where people lived. These days, wars are going on in city neighbourhoods putting the women and children there to unnecessary trauma as the wars in Homs, Aleppo, and Mosul in Syria show. Soldiers and militia-men are pictured blasting whole towns and neighbourhoods.

America is perhaps one of the few countries where arms can be manufactured and exported to foreign countries freely. There is the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) by which the President can stop export of arms, but it’s rarely enforced, because, as often seen, the President himself acts as the salesman for American arms. There are curbs on exporting arms to groups who are of an extremist ideology, but these rules are conveniently overlooked. The military-industrial complex and its lobbyists see that the flow of arms to even extreme groups is maintained.

In India, when we have development as the foremost ideal to generate jobs, we tend to overlook the pitfalls into which America and China fell. We are following them in the mad scramble for development, giving mining rights in our pristine lands to Chinese corporations, buying arms from America, and generally revelling in our new friendship with America. But, do not forget, America only has interests, meaning business interests. Once this is kept aside America will consider India on par with Pakistan, even favour the latter.

America is a big user of biotechnology. Many believe that biotechnology is an advancement of science and its use can alleviate world hunger. In fact, this fallacy has no basis in truth. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may give marginally increased production for a few years, but take a heavy toll on the soil on which cultivation is done. The pesticides that form a part of GMO-based cultivation have been proved to cause cancer and birth defects. American corporations have used biotechnology with disastrous results in the developing world, spreading poisonous pesticides, giving birth to mentally-challenged children, and increasing the number of sick people in the world.

The powerful GMO lobby in the US can bend laws to their advantage, and appoint chairmen to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) which regulates biotechnology. Over the years, it has been found that top executives of GMO companies are appointed as chairmen of FDA because, ironically, they are experts and have the knowledge. They, in turn, turn a blind eye to the doings of GMO corporations with the result that today harmful carcinogens like Glyphosate are widely used in America. Obama assumed office with the promise of labelling GMO products on their covers, but, as he remits office, he has signed into law, a proposal that precludes the labelling of GMO products.

The GMO lobby sees India as a big market and is waiting to introduce their products through legislation in India. The danger to India is that GMOs may be seen as bringing about development and, therefore, adopted, as a part of the development agenda. So also is the condoning of the demonetisation of 500/1000 rupee notes. It’s a part of development, isn’t it? It’s because of the stiff fight put up by activists such as Vandana Shiva and others that, so far, India hasn’t become a GMO-cultivating nation like Argentina. Argentina has discovered, albeit late, that GMOs are harmful because of the increasing cases of birth defects in its child population. Venezuela has totally banned GMO products from the country, after its bitter experience with its usage. In India, BT cotton is the only GMO product that has been approved for cultivation, and has caused untold sufferings to farmers in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

More in the next instalment of “Random Musings of a Solitary Walker.”


Wednesday, November 09, 2016

TWO BIZZARE SCENARIOS (Written on 9th November 2016)



I
The day dawned polluted and grey. Sinister, I may add. It was a day like no other. The pall of pollution hung in the air, obscuring the heat from the sun. I am feeling cold. Two things were at a crucial juncture for which people were anxious to get through. Say, “Fu*k it” and “go away.”
When I went for a walk there was an eerie silence around me. Yeah, it’s all those people with stashes of black money counting them and keeping them ready, not knowing it will be waste paper they couldn’t even wipe their behinds with. Remember those photographs where you had these stacks of 500 rupee notes and 1000 rupee notes in a room, of which the owner was a guy who ran a medical school. He had collected all these bribes for admissions and was storing in a granary, those traditional ones in Kerala, as if it were rice or tapioca right after harvesting. There were people committing suicide in the rest of the country and this man was accepting bribes for giving admissions to future doctors. Well, it’s these future doctors who would treat you and me, when we are sick, peoples. What will he do with that money which is paper now? Make a bonefire of it and cry?
II
On this same day, at another end of the world, a long and vicious fight had come to a close. Two candidates accused each other of being monsters on public platforms. Yes, monsters! A man who is a racist, a misogynist, a rapist facing a rape charge (what else?), a man who threatens to jail his competitor, a man who is known as a sexual predator, win, becomes the president of the most powerful country in the world. What? You ask? Who elected him? Ask yourself?


9th November 2016, I will never forget you! What's about these 9/11s?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Interview to Dhauli Review

INTERVIEW TO DHAULI REVIEW

John P. Matthew


Why did you want to be a poet?

The decision was spontaneous, not one made as planned, or foreseen. I have a Mahakavi (Mahakavi Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan) in my family who wrote in Malayalam and naturally I ended up reading poetry. The real trigger was an English teacher in Secondary School who romanticised poetry and poets. This teacher inspired me to experiment with the poetic form. This led to more reading and contributing to a slew of magazines that featured poetry in those days: Illustrated Weekly of India, Youth Times, Mirror, Debonair, Imprint, Onlooker, Caravan, et cetera. Most of these magazines are extinct except Caravan. Today, when I think of those days, there was great interest in Indian poetry in English and there were many talented poets. I don’t know where they have disappeared.

Who is your model for your style?

My style is eclectic and I draw inspiration from a lot of poets. I write both rhyming and free-form poetry, and also classic poetic forms like Odes, Sonnets, and Villanelle. Recently I wrote a Villanelle in the style of Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that night.” My poem is called, “If Death Comes Calling Tonight.” I am inspired by the romantic poets and also poetry of Whitman, Keats, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, and closer home Tagore, Dom Moraes, Nissim Ezekiel, Jeet Thayil, etc. This is not by any means exhaustive.

What is the usual process you adopt before writing a poem?

To be honest, there is no process. I don’t plan to write a poem on this or that subject. I always carry a notebook and pen with me. Some of my best poems have come to me as whole stanzas on my morning walk and, I seize the opportunity and write it down immediately. Then the process of developing the rest of the poem comes, and it evolves into what I post on online social media and on my poetry blog.

How do you distinguish between poetry and non-poetry?

I agree that the internet has generated a lot of interest in poetry, I must also state that most of what you read online is not poetry. Many of them are expressing their internal angst and their obsession with the self by creating violent and disturbing images. I think poetry should move away from the self into neutral territory to be of true aesthetic value. Personally I think poetry – and all literature – should move out of self-obsession, subsume the self, and reflect the state of existence we live in. Our lives have become so complicated that trying to capture its intricacies has become very difficult. A novel, a short story, a poem has the potential to do that. However, interest in the novel, the poem, and short stories – three of my favourite artistic expressions – has been waning. When a writer makes a sincere attempt to reflect society, we should admire it, not denigrate it. However, we live in a standardised society which worships success and makes celebrities out of successful people. By successful people I mean actors, sportsmen, and politicians. The days when writers and poets were admired and revered are gone.

What fundamental misconceptions about poetry irritate you and how would you correct or refute them?

It is said that unlike prose – for which you have to work very hard – poetry should come naturally, like a star falling from the skies. And, I will vouch for this, when you are mature in your writing, whole lines, and stanzas will form in your mind without much effort. The problem is when a writer sits down saying; I am going to write a poem. Then the effect is laboured and full of artifice. And some of these efforts are un-editable and irredeemable. So instead of getting irritated it is best to let it pass and hope the poet realises where he/she is going wrong.

How does a poem come into being?

As I have mentioned, it can be triggered by a thought, something I pass when I am walking, or something I watch from my terrace. I know poetry, and its accomplice music, which I believe is an attempt to capture what is beautiful about this life, are eternal, and everyone has these fleeting inspirations to capture what is beautiful.  So for me poetry exists all around me. In scientific terms, there is a point when the magma transforms into rocks inside the earth. That’s the point at which I make a note and, at home, I go through the note and decide if there is a poem in there.

How does the timeless appeal come to poetry?

Poetry of a time and age has a timeless appeal. No longer. At least, in India. Today, when I want to buy an epic poem written by my great uncle Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan, there’s nowhere I can get it. I have hunted it in bookshops and online, but they appear nowhere. I want to buy Nissim Ezekiel’s poems, Dom Moraes’ poems, I can’t get them anywhere, except, maybe, a few poems in some anthology. Like I said before, from the seventies to now, a whole generation of talented poets have come and gone. Today we don’t remember any of them except a few. Therefore, in the present context, in India, poetry has no timeless appeal.

What is the fundamental as well as essential nature of poetry? Does it change over time?

Wordsworth said poetry is, “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity." I would go to say that everybody is a poet. Yes. Everybody has poetry and a poet in them. I have seen people humming tunes, people drumming tunes, people looking and exclaiming, “how beautiful.” The trained poet gives shape and form to this spontaneous overflow of feelings through skills in language and by long exposure to poetic forms. Rhyme is an essential part of poetry everywhere. Poetry in Kerala is rhymed on the first word, a word in the middle, or, the end word. For example here’s a verse from poet Kunchen Nambiar:

Nabi arennu chodichu,
Nambiarennu chollinen,
Nabi kettathu kopuchu,
Thamburaney kshamikkaney!

Now coming to the question of has poetry changed, yes, poetry has changed over the years. What was strictly iambic pentameter has become a loosely connected tapestry of vivid images these days. Punctuation canons are flouted, as poets see no point in wasting thought over it. The result is an amorphous collation of images, somewhat, personal and shocking in nature. Fixed form poems like odes, villanelles, and sonnets aren’t written these days, because they are rather difficult to write and takes weeks to perfect. The idea these days is to be spontaneous and never mind the form.

What is most important in poetry? What makes a genuinely great Poem?

Take for example Wordsworth’s Daffodils, Frost’s The Road not Taken, and Dylan Thomas’  villanelle Do Not Go Gentle into the Good Night, Keats’ Ode upon a Grecian Urn. These are great poems that have withstood the test of time. A poet these days need to experiment with form. There are a few poets in India who are experimenting with form, and I love to read them. I must admit they are quite few in number.

What is the relationship between poetry and truth?

Well, to me poetry must be the truth, because if you write something false the insincerity would be quite obvious. Poetry is not something you fabricate as you do fiction. It has to occur naturally, through a vision of truth and beauty, delicately woven by the poet into words.

What is the relation between tradition and innovation in poetry?

There have been many traditionalists in poetry and many innovators. Among traditionalists I include the romantic poets, sonneteers, ode, and villanelle writers. Innovators are e. e. cummings, T. S. Eliot, Allan Ginsberg, Shel Silverstein and others who showed us that poetry can be written in a different format.

In India, in my mother tongue Malayalam, poetry is still sung and is not recited. Malayalam poets almost all have great deliveries and singing voices. They don’t mumble like some Indian-English-language poets. Poetry reading is an art and poets must cultivate this art.

Can poetry counter the paralyzing effect of globalization?

I don’t know. Poetry may have been the agent of change many years ago, but its role has diminished in the use-and-throw world. People are no longer drawn towards poetry the way they were used to. We have globalised very fast, but poetry hasn’t kept up. We have these literary festivals in which hardly any poets are featured. Of course, there are poetry slams and poetry readings, but the audience has been dwindling. Maybe, poets should reinvent themselves for their art to survive to the next century.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Will Chicklit and Dudelit Destroy Indian Writing in English?

  The problem with IIT-ians writing these days is that there are too many of them, and mostly they are men. If they wanted to write novels why didn’t they do BA literature and an MFA? No. They would rather go to IIT where all the smart people can be found doing smart things, and then they will see what they want to do. In the meantime, they want to try writing a novel. So, they write a kind of DUDELIT – of and by dudes – akin to CHICKLIT, the genre about girls facing growing up pangs. There’s heartbreak in between terms, there are those mischievous episodes, laboratory shenanigans, wild parties where alcohol is consumed, and dread of coming exams, which all of them pass. They drift to their management jobs, family businesses or go to IIM (Indian Institute of Management) to learn management. Then they will be called the “Double Aiis”. Basically, they are very confused about their career choices.

Do Dudelit writers know that the government is subsidising Rupees two to three hundred thousand for their education every year? What has the Indian government gained by making Chetan Bhagat a mechanical engineer when he went on to become a banker and then a writer of pulp novels? Yes, he pays taxes, but didn’t he deprive a poor deserving candidate of a seat in the prestigious IIT, who would have gone on to pay taxes and invented better railway coaches, or, better toilets?
The United States has a system by which meritorious students get scholarships and grants for studying in prestigious institutions. Therefore they realise the benefits of hard work and progress in life using the lessons they have learnt using these scholarships. They do not abandon their engineering degrees, but work in them for years as dedicated engineers. Here our government – not universities – provides the subsidies, the hostel accommodation, purportedly to create excellent engineers, but ends up getting an individual who writes pulp novels.

So what does it all say to those beholden readers who approach the dude’s Dudelit book with a reverent look, and a feeling of trepidation? “Look we are cool. Dude, we made it. And, believe us, it’s no big deal. Most of all, we had fun.” An IIT-ian enters his career with an advantage. Irrespective of whether he has done mechanical, civil, or, chemical engineering, he is directly recruited into a management position without having to go through the grind. Yes, life is unfair. From my personal experience, I rotted in middle management jobs all my life where I did all the work and had to report to such IIM managers who didn’t know an “artwork” from a “work of art.” And when it came to promotions and increments I wasn’t given any and they became vice-presidents overnight.

There have been many novels in this genre including ones by India’s most successful indigenous Dudelit writer, Chetan Bhagat. In the US literature about the growing up pains of girls is called Chicklit, Dudelit is something similar. There is growing up pains, problems with teachers, problems with girlfriends, a bit of allusion to books and famous writers, a lot of technical stuff which a lay reader won’t understand, the heavenly tea at the nearby kiosk, and, ultimately, heartbreak.
Dudelit and its sister Chicklit have done much damage to Indian literature. They have rather successfully closed the doors for a few emerging literary writers, translators, occupying their space with titles such as “Half Girlfriend,” and “An Indian Girl.” Love and heartbreak occupies a major chunk of the narrative, though a sanitised kind of love. Now you can find novels with titles such as “Why I will always love you,” “Endlessly in Love,” and “I can’t but love you.” In other words, it’s the deliberate pandering to a low taste by publishers and their agents who deal in pure tripe. Sometimes, the dumbing down is deliberate, a lowly attempt to titillate the reader to browse through the book and then buy, as it is priced cheaply. These novels are empty of any intellectual content because they are written in a hurry and are badly edited. The authors of these books regularly appear on television shows and in literary festivals and even endorse corporate entities. Eager news channels give them that opportunity.

Reading these novels one would almost think India is a land of well-heeled middle-class people who address each other as “dude,” and “guy.” [Some also address each other as “laudey” meaning, phallus.] There would be no mention of the raging problems which can be seen in IITs like suicide and casteism. Their worlds are sequestered and the huge gorilla in the living room of poverty and environmental changes are never mentioned. Reading them you will believe love is the panacea to all ills of society. Publishers are making the mistake that Indian film industry made years ago, i.e., give the audience what they want and forget about the art of film-making and scripting.

It’s painful to see the slow decline of what authors such as Khushwant Singh, Anita Desai, Kiran Nagarkar, Shashi Deshpande, Amitav Ghosh, Arundhati Roy, Anita Nair, Amit Chaudhari, CP Surendran, et al have tried to build up, i.e., a tentative fledgling identity for Indian writing in English. I am not including Salman Rushdie, or, Vikram Seth because they are expatriate writers and their points of view are unique and extraneous. It was a small beginning which should have led to something bigger and better. One almost thought that there would be a lot of translations of prolific regional language writers and poets. But this dream remains a dream. Today, regional writers would consider themselves lucky to be published by Sahitya Akademi, if at all. Even those authors published by the Akademi have not been successful in establishing a readership because of Chicklit and Dudelit novels.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Book Review: Junkland Journeys, as Whacky as Ajith Pillai Can Get!



Junkland Journeys, Ajith Pillai, Author Upfront, Rs 325

Here’s an author, a former senior editor of Outlook, who can beat the s*** out of the dudelit masters such as Chetan Bhagat and, other nameless ones. Here’s a novel that’s balanced and can shed light on the world of a drug addict, his redemption and the hollowness of his soul, well captured in scintillating prose, punctured by witticisms that would make you want to crack up. Well, do please roll on the floor! Ajith Pillai is a friend, but that didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the book. It is a definitive work of fiction owing to its humour and authenticity. The novel is at once subtle and hard hitting in its narrative full of scenes drawn from everyday Bombay.

“He was an anti-national in the guise of a holy man – an enemy agent with a mission to poison the herd of the gullible.”

That’s the description the author gives of Hari Menon, failed copywriter, whose father wanted him to be a doctor, or, failing which, an engineer. Rebellious Hari, on the contrary, wanted to be a journalist, but his father didn’t want him to have anything to do with journalism, except if he is being written about. The novel tells the story of Hari, who is on the detox path after slumming it out with his girlfriend Vandy in Antop Hill, the official quarters for government servants.

What follows is a detox program which results in a trip to Hari’s father’s hideout in a little-known village in Kerala. A dog strays into Hari’s life when he is having an LSD high and he believes firmly that the dog is god incarnate. The dog is named “Bow-mata” and an Ashram named Niravan is created for the dog by Hari’s father, a businessman, who treats it as a business enterprise. The dog becomes god and is worshipped by common people, film personalities, and even Hari’s ex-boss. His girlfriend Vandy abets him in this grand larceny of people’s adoration and wealth.

The author makes it abundantly clear that in this country, to be a goddog is simple, the dog only has to put his paw on his devotees’ heads to bless them. Of course, it has to be toilet trained so as not to shit or piss during a darshan.

All in all, the novel is a brilliant debut, worth a read because of its wit and perspicacity. The author transports the reader into the world of an addict with felicitous ease.

A must read novel, as unputdownable as the best available literary works in India today. Hope it wins some awards and recognition for its author.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Lionel Shriver "Cultural Appropriation" Issue

My video blog about the Lionel Shriver "Cultural Appropriation" controversy. Well, it's nothing but a controversy about who can write about whom, whether a white writer can write about a black woman, and vice versa. Do have a look, if it interests you.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

How the Mainstream Media Let Readers Down

Take a look at this discussion about how our reading habits have changed, how it has been curtailed by the oppressive mainstream media. We have been deprived of the following:

1. Book/music/art reviews
2. Engagement/Events column
3. Crosswords
4. Poetry
5. Short stories
6. Letters to editor, etc.

Instead we have paid PR news about:

1. Which star is in bed with whom
2. Leggy models at parties and fashion shows
3. Which marriages are breaking up
4.  Holiday destinations of stars
5. Who bitched what about whom
6. Ghost-written columns by stars
7. Which star punched whom
8. Which celebrity is rising and which one is falling.

Is this responsible mainstream journalism. The newspaper publisher in mainstream media seems to be saying:

"We don't care fuckall for your five rupees. We get enough from the PR agencies. Your readership be damned, take it, or, leave it. Take your five rupees and scram. Your opinion is worth shit compared to the celebrities we have on board."

And, the readers seem to be saying, "If you are not careful, mainstream media, you will soon be dead as dodos. We know how to get news from the social media. You aren't doing us a favour. So, rest in peace, Mainstream Media."

What do you think?

https://www.facebook.com/JohnMatthew101/posts/10157272939225459

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Book Review: Anu Vaidyanathan's Anywhere But Home

 
Gutsy and humourous!
Anu Vaidyanathan’s Anywhere but Home is an engagingly written account of a woman’s commitment to sports. Written in a wry, humorous, and whacky style, Vaidyanathan unveils the intrepid Indian’s journey through her chosen sport of triathlon – a combination of running, cycling, and swimming. What seems impossible to an old codger like me seems possible for this woman owing to a can-do spirit and a gutsy temperament. I learn a few things like if you are chased by a pack of dogs while on your morning walk/run – as I have been – sing to them. Yes, it does the trick and the dogs wag their tails at me, after my tuneless singing of old Rock-and-roll hits.

Engagingly written, well produced, this book is worth a look because of what it can offer, especially after the Olympics where it was our girls who picked up the medals. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Book Review: B Ground West



Disclosure first: B Ground West is a novel written by a Siddhartha Bhasker, an author I know, whom I met at the launch of an anthology which published his short story as well as mine. Let me introduce him, he has been to IIT, Kgp (Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur) – that hallowed institution of engineering – and this is a story which may have autobiographical elements, though I don’t know for sure. For people like me, who balked at the thought of even writing the entrance exam to IIT, approaching the book itself holds a sense of trepidation. What happens inside the IIT? How brilliant are these superbly endowed beings? What do they do for leisure? Are stories I heard true?

Yes. Stories I heard are true, so the book tells me. What the student looks for is a respite from the intensive coaching that they have been subjected to right from ninth standard. There is also respite from the demands of hands-on parents who are worried that their wards will not make it. One way of rebelling against this merciless drubbing they receive is to write it all and let the world know. That’s how an IIT author is born. The IITs were created to train hardcore engineers who would build the nation, but they turn out to be softcore, confused generalists who would then work as authors, copywriters, film people, consultants, or sales and marketing managers. In short, IIT-ians are considered as the IAS brigade of the corporate world.

Bhasker studied in IIT Kharagpur and wants the world to know the zeitgeist they can expect in this prestigious institution. Wild parties with booze do exist, so also does ragging of a minor kind. The author has chosen the self-publishing route to publication which clearly shows, insofar as editing is concerned. After all, engineers are engineers and not sub-editors.

The present novel B Ground West, is a frank and forthright look at the life of an IIT graduate going through a life crisis, which his friends help him overcome. Kabir, who works in a consultancy, is caught in the firing at a terrorist hit in Churchgate station and becomes depressed. The style is light and readable, and the editing leaves much to be desired. The camaraderie, the chumminess of undergraduate life is obvious as the story shifts from IIT Kharagpur to down-market Kharghar in New Bombay. We get to read a lot about IIT Kharagpur and how the hostel inmates spend their days of youthful abandon. The novelist is good in parts and since the author has also shown commitment in publishing a collection of short stories, he needs to get his act together and read and understand more about the issues facing India and how his characters face them, and, probably overcome them.

Read this novel if you are a fan of IIT novels.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Will GMOs Be Approved in India

One of the crucial debates that’s going on in the country is whether Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) foods will be approved for India. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee which comes under the ministry of environment is considering whether genetically engineered okra, brinjal, mustard, etc. should be allowed to be cultivated in India. Both proponents and opposers are trading charges and accusing each other of being misguided, corrupt, and unreasonable. After all, the activists claim, it’s in the interest of our own children, grandchildren that GMOs need to be banished from this country, as has the Soviet Union and Europe. The dangers of GMOs-related-pesticides and the associated abnormality bring to new-born babies and their parents have been studied independently and verified. But GMO proponents sweep all these under the carpet and claim that it is harmless and bio-degradable.

Recently, around 110 Nobel laureates came in support of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). They signed a memorandum endorsing GMOs and especially Golden Rice which is a product that the GMO-giant Monsanto has been developing over the past 20 years, without success. The endorsement has been spearheaded by one Nobel-winner Richard Roberts who is the chief scientific officer of New England Biolabs. New England Biolabs according to its website is, “a recognized world leader in the discovery, development and commercialization of recombinant and native enzymes for genomic research.” In fact, it is closely related – for comfort – to the GMO manufacturing companies in the scope of its research and products.

Roberts has succeeded in getting the 110 Nobel-laureates to believe that those who are opposing GMO rice – in this case Greenpeace and other NGOs – are entities which aren’t scientific, and who do not follow scientific thought. For example sample what he says:

“We’re scientists. We understand the logic of science. It's easy to see what Greenpeace is doing is damaging and is anti-science," Roberts told The Washington Post. “Greenpeace initially, and then some of their allies, deliberately went out of their way to scare people. It was a way for them to raise money for their cause." What made the GMO-producing company choose the head of a laboratory of a similar research company to garner signatures of so many Nobel laureates? What’s not clear is who funded the signature campaign Roberts initiated, and who funded the special-purpose website which was created to tom-tom support for the GMO, golden rice. No, Roberts wouldn’t spend time and money to do it himself, if he had no monetary incentive given to him.

In fact the activists opposing GMOs have always been repeating the very same thing. They have been stating again and again that they are for scientific discussion and discourse on GMOs based on third-party scientific research, which GMO companies like Monsanto are firmly opposing. Monsanto has been researching and arriving at its own conclusions, which, according to another hoary Indian saying, is like appoint a thief as the guardian of the treasury. Monsanto has it going smoothly as most of the top functionaries in US’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are people who have been associated with it in some capacity. Michael Taylor, a Monsanto director, was appointed in 2010 as commissioner of FDA. The current chief of FDA was Monsanto’s vice-president for public policy. This also applies to US department of agriculture (USDA) where most of the top people are linked to Monsanto as executives or lobbyists.

India has had a record of GMO use since the eighties with its approval of BT cotton, which is grown in the cotton-growing areas of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. Increasingly, the farmers who have been using BT cotton seeds have been committing suicide because of the high cost of seeds and the weedicide Roundup which goes by the chemical name of Glyphosate. Glyphosate is known to destroy gut bacteria, which helps in digesting food and assimilating nutrients into the body.

It’s this weedicide Roundup which is causing more problem than the GMO seeds itself. It is a carcinogen and has been found to penetrate human bodies, and is found in the blood, urine, and milk of humans. Moreover, it pollutes aquifiers and causes trans-gene pollution of other crops. The delicate ecosystem of Vidharba’s cotton-growing areas have been so compromised by Glyphosate that farmers who want to return to traditional cotton cultivation are finding that the soil has become fallow and unproductive.

Even the produce of the GMO seeds is questionable. As Dr Michael Antoniou of King’s College London School of Medicine in the UK states:

“Research studies show that genetically modified crops have harmful effects on laboratory animals in feeding trials and on the environment during cultivation. They have increased the use of pesticides and have failed to increase yields.”

Monsanto is like the Microsoft of genetic engineering, wanting to control and hold its market to such an extent that it wants nothing but world domination. Like Microsoft it will brook no interference in its way of functioning and policies. It saw a window when the present dispensation in India announced its Make in India initiative. It came with a big bag and promised so much investment to appease those in power, the rider being that its products would have a smooth introduction into the Indian market. It seems, an unsuspecting public that has tasted the fruits of GMOs (BT cotton) is being force-fed other GMOs with the delusional argument that they are scientific and, therefore, good for people.

So, now, in addition to BT cotton a whole lot of products like okra, brinjal, mustard, rice, etc. are going to come to India in the near future if their introduction is approved by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). Proponents of GMOs are fighting tooth and nail for its introduction saying it will end hunger from our midst if the GMOs with magical properties are approved. Activists and right-thinking people who know the perils of GMOs have been opposing it. The problem is that once GMOs gain entry it would be very difficult to make them leave, as the GMO-producing companies will use every trick in the books to stay. The fight is evenly balanced now and there’s no knowing which way it would tip.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The City of Nocturnal Terrors

 “For the city, his city, stood unchanging on the edge of time: the same burning dry city of his nocturnal terrors and the solitary pleasures of puberty, where flowers rusted and salt corroded, where nothing had happened for four centuries except a slow aging among withered laurels and putrefying swamps.”
-   Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in Times of Cholera

In Gabriel Marquez’s Macondo nothing happened for four centuries, but in the small town of Kidangannor, a lot had happened, most of which unnoticed and undocumented. It was so small and rustic a place that to buy a tube of toothpaste I had to travel four kilometres to the nearest town of Kozhencherry. The very social fabric had changed from one of respect for the neighbour to one of hatred. The town changed, as all places should. If you go there today you will be stared at, sarcastic comments will be made, and even caustic questions would be asked to your face. Such was the transformation that people who once returned for its idyll stopped coming, others went to distant countries to settle down as migrants and never come back. They had outgrown the town.

It could all be attributed to the discontent growing among the poor and dispossessed. The once subjugated ones had risen and created their own political affiliation and demanded better terms for themselves. Farming ceased to exist as a driving force of the economy, and unpredictable weather made it difficult to plant anything with any success. The labour rates went sky high and one-time farmers were making losses on their crops.

Consequently farm labourers turned themselves into gangs of thieves, raiding uninhabited houses, and geriatric homes where the old house owner and his wife were the only residents. The children were in far-away countries, working at their unforgiving jobs, affording a holiday to the native land only in two years or more.

My father was one who had come back from the great city of Bombay to settle down as a gentleman farmer, facing heavy odds. He gave up farming when his health declined, or, was it the other way around, I don’t know. I used to regularly visit my parents in my home town, out of a sense of duty. That was until the day it happened.

We – my wife, son, and I – were sleeping in our house, beside our ancestral house. Those were pre-ATM years and I had carried a lot of cash to do some maintenance work on my house. The robbers somehow entered the house, burgled all our money, even extracting the money from my wallet without disturbing my return ticket. Then I woke up and found the night light off and asked my wife if she had done so. She said she hadn’t. Then I thought maybe it’s a power cut of which there were many. But then glancing up I saw the fan whirring and, suddenly, I became alert, I knew something was going on. I switched on the light to see the extent of the burglary. The money I had kept for repairs in a leather bag was all gone, so were a lot of accessories including: sun glasses, deodorants, and a few saris of my wife.

I never imagined I would be the victim of a robbery in my own home town, a small place where there wasn’t a police station or even a movie theatre. The precision of the theft startled me. Such was my shock. The robbers had executed everything carefully, having studied and planned everything. They knew how and from where to enter the house, where I kept my money, and where we slept. All this meant that they knew us and our routines well. Immediately my suspicion went on the maintenance workers who came to my house to carry out repairs. They were all trustworthy people with whom I had worked before but you can’t look at a person and know who is a thief. Maybe, their economic necessity was dire, they were dissolute, and they needed the money to survive.

From that day I withdrew from my village of my birth, Kidangannoor. Years passed, my parents died, and I lost touch altogether. These days I pass by it, look at it, and remember all the good days I had enjoyed in it. It had grown distant and had become for me the “city of nocturnal terrors and the solitary pleasures of puberty” as Marquez wrote. The nocturnal terror of that night had made me wary. I had enjoyed its pleasures, and bathed in its canals and walked the hills, but it held no more charm for me now, because I had moved on in life.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Novel "Bandookwala, MBA, Harvard" Going in for Sixth Edit

What? A sixth edit of your novel, are you mad? Some of you know how mad I am for my novel "Mr. Bandookwala, MBA, Harvard," for which I will do anything even a sixth edit.

This time it will be complete re-write. Yes, every word will be re-typed. I know where I have gone wrong and how I can correct it. I need to take it away from the writing desk, into more intimate spaces, such as the terrace, and the perch by the window. Writing, sitting at a desk, makes us dogmatic, didactic. A novel is not that. A novel is a fresh new look at things, from a wholly new perspective, which is why I want to move away from the desk.

Reading Nabokov and Thakazhi has helped. I consider Thakazhi one of the greatest writers of our times, undiscovered, because no good translations exist. He has written around 25 novels, 200 short stories, and a few autobiographies. All his novels are exceptional, his writing characterises the human condition better than most over-hyped writers of today.

However, I am not as talented as Thakazhi. His range and canvas is immense, varied and unmatched. In talent he can match Shakespeare and Cervantes and in range he can easily beat Marquez. But why is he still considered a regional writer and ignored? I think the Sahitya Akademi should translate all his works and then put it to the world to decide on his greatness.

Reading an interview I learnt that Thakazhi wrote in the night. Even his daughters were surprised to learn that he wrote at all, under cover of the night, when all was calm. After a tiring night of writing he used to drop in to the local bar (kallu shappu) for a few drinks of palm wine. The writer who went to interview him at home was told by a wayfarer, "He must be in the kallu shappu." I think during the day he read and thought deeply about contemporary issues to put them into words in the night.

Already I have sacrificed a lot of time on this novel. So, why not sacrifice a little more. After all, as a friend said, "It's only the good things - writing - that matter, the rest can be forgiven." So, friends, wish me luck, if you see this in a kindly light.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Slaves of Technology

I had suspected this would happen all along. One fine day you wake up and find that your phone doesn’t respond. There’s this offensive message, “Unfortunately, contacts has stopped.” I receive a call from my brother-in-law who is on the way for a visit, but I can’t access his telephone number. I sit and fume. Not unlike the stupid content writer who wrote this script, the phone, too, is an idiot of the exalted kind. I know because I was one.

Having worked with techies, I pride about my knowledge of technical gizmos and gadgets. So I try uploading my contacts to cloud and restoring it to the damn thing. It restores alright, but still the contacts section is inaccessible, showing the abovementioned message. It’s a virus I am sure, I say, convinced my gizmo is in the last throes of life.

I call up my techie son in the US. It’s midnight there and I can hear his sleep-deprived dreamy voice mumble something about operating systems. It seems he uses an iphone and has used that technology all his life, so he doesn’t know much about Android. Can a phone operating system be so weirdly complex? Papa, how many Applications do you have? I say I have around thirty different applications, including one on which I do sketches and doodles. That’s too many, an application can infect your phone, delete some, it will work, and he goes off right back to dreaming. I try posting my problem on the family Whatsapp group, since that application is working. A cousin’s techie son points me to a discussion group and says I can get my solution there. I go there. There are people who sound like techies with names like Star War characters. Three-pee-oh says the phone is overloaded so delete some applications. I have heard it before.

It sounds so simple. Delete some applications. So I delete a lot many applications I haven’t used lately. I switch off and re-start my phone. It still shows that pesky message, “Unfortunately, your contacts has stopped.” What’s so unfortunate about it? I know it is unfortunate, so don’t rub it in. Besides, your grammar is bad.

This is unfair. I shouldn’t have gone for a smart phone in the first place. Or, I should have bought an iphone, which, I hear, can never catch a virus, and therefore can never be infected like my phone is. Meanwhile, I can’t make any calls. Brother-in-law has to be picked up because a strike is on and rickshaws won’t be plying. There’s no way of knowing when they would reach. Wifey is away in school, so I can’t use her phone.

As one who prides in knowing a bit of technology and has used it to advantage I sit and wring my hands in frustration. I know what it means when friends say their phone memories have been wiped out along with their bank passwords. This is technology without the redeeming factor of good content writing and good programming. The nearest service station is ten kilometres away and, anyway, I won’t be able to go there because of the rickshaw strike.

And, that’s what modern life has become. We all have become slaves of technology.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

About... Britain's Exit from European Union

Overheard in a pub somewhere in England:

Them bastids want to take over our country, heard?
No way, mate. We take them back with what they call Brexit. It means exit from what those arseholes call EU.
Cor blimey! What the bellend is EU?
Some blighters, want to take our beers and our chicks.
Bollocks! I don't want nothing to do with them Twonks!
Then vote Brexit, I say.
Yay! I am bloody Brexit, myself!

The Real Reason behind Suicide of Cotton Farmers in Vidarbha


Today I met Ajit Chavan (name changed) who is from Yavatmal, a district in Vidarbha which is the cotton-growing region of Maharashtra. He works as a driver in our locality and he could only speak Marathi, which I, thankfully, am conversant enough to carry on a conversation. He had recently migrated to the city, which was the reason I became interested in his story.

I asked him why farmers were committing suicide in the cotton growing areas of Vidharbha. From 2012 to April this year, a total of 3,145 farmers committed suicide in the six districts in Vidarbha region – Amravati, Yavatmal, Wardha, Washim, Akola and Buldhana. He said it is because of BT Cotton, the cotton seeds sold by Monsanto’s subsidiary Mahyco. Having been a farmer himself, he could shed light on the real reason why there is a spate of suicides among cotton growers in this region. He had migrated because his family could no longer cultivate cotton which was the traditional crop of that area. He knew the economics of Mahyco’s supposedly superior seeds which are driving cotton farmers to desperation. Here’s what he had to say.

The seeds aren’t cheap, they cost Rs 2400 per 400 gram and you need Rs 6,200 worth of seeds for one acre of land. He has seven acres of land. Monsanto’s seeds have to be sprayed with its own herbicide Roundup (a lethal chemical and a carcinogen called Glyphosate) which cost Rs 1500 for 100 millilitres. (I am not going into the toxicity of Glyphosate in this short article.) Roundup has to be sprayed five times during the crop’s life cycle so it is an additional Rs 7500 for an acre, assuming 100 millilitres will suffice for an acre. And, he hasn’t included labour costs in this. By this time the farmer has already spent Rs 100,000 and is in debt. Mahyco’s seeds are supposed to give better crop, but it isn’t so. The finished cotton when sold in the market fetches Rs 5,000 per 100 kilograms.

BT Cotton Seed per acre = Rs 6,200
Roundup (herbicide) per acre = Rs 7,500
Total of BT Cotton and Roundup per acre = Rs 13,700
For seven acres it works to = (13,700 x 7) Rs 95,900 ... (1)
Labour cost (weeding, sowing, harvesting) = Rs 25,000 ... (2)
Total expenditure (1 + 2) for 7 acres of land Rs = Rs 1,20,900
To recover his investment he will have to get 2500 kg of cotton (@ sales price of Rs 5000 per 100 kilograms). He doesn’t even get that much.

After investing so much money – often borrowed from unscrupulous moneylenders – the subsistence farmer is not able to recover his investment, leave alone meet his food expenses. How could he maintain a family? BT cotton needs constant care and also needs more water in the water-scarce area of Yavatmal. This is what drives a farmer to suicide.

A word about traditional Indian agriculture would, I am sure, be of interest. Indian farmers being poor don’t buy seeds; they store seeds from their own crop to sow in the next season, because it is free. May I call this seed cycle? Mahyco wants them to buy their expensive seeds and herbicide every season. That’s an expensive proposition leading to high costs for the subsistence farmer.
So, Ajit’s family has abandoned BT cotton cultivation and has taken up soyabean and pulses cultivation, on which expenses are low. These crops don’t require constant tending and also requires less water. And, since he is working in the city as a driver he is able to send some money home to meet expenses.

Recently, the government has approved cultivation of GMO mustard seed in India. Monsanto’s brinjal, okra and other products will follow. A multinational can trot out many reasons to convince us that their seeds are better because they are genetically modified and are, therefore, high technology. But at the poor and illiterate farmer’s level, the above economic assessment shows that farmers end up being ruined and have to think of selling their land and migrating to cities to survive.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Shifting Paradigm

Today the whole paradigm is shifting from the performer to what is happening behind the stage. So, it’s not what is happening in Indian Premier League but what is happening behind the scenes (Who is paid what? Who gets to comment?). It’s not what is happening at Euro cup, but how and where the fans are clashing. It’s not about music but what the singers like Kayne West and Kim Kardashian are doing. It’s about why Justin Bieber – that chap who sings like a woman – and Selena Gomez split. It’s not about the movies anymore but what the stars did, how often they had sex, what they said after breaking up about the “silly ex.”
So, also in literature – since this is a passion – we are interested in Where Rushdie and Lakshmi holidayed and what they ate and wore. Our literature festivals are hardly festivals where people go to hear authors and ask questions. (I am assuming that they do read books.) The authors, faux authors I may add, who may have written a book ten years ago, or a celebrity who had her biography ghost-written, a la Monica Lewinsky, comes and pontificates about literature. And the true literature lover drools at the star value on display, the humour, the smart repartee. The audience gets talked down to, and when they want to ask a legitimate question they are told to shut up – had this experience – and told to take the conversation back stage. Only, the conversation backstage never happens.
In the interregnum, in this melee of sorts, the real artistic talent, or sportsperson gets sidelined. It’s always how much money was bet and how much made. Artistic talent is ignored. Therefore is it legitimate to develop artistic talent? Yeah, why not write a nonsensical book and spend a couple of millions hiring spin doctors and internet marketers to sell it. And fall in love with a celebrity of sorts and then break up and have the press writing vitriol about your sex life? Else, why not write a scathing caricature of a megalomaniac political leader and get a blackened face? Ah, you have made it my boy! Brilliant!
That’s what we are secretly aspiring for, aren’t we?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Architecture of the Flesh – Ravi Shankar


Ravi Shankar has the unique talent of combining the everyday aspects of life with eroticism and mysteriousness. This collection – mistakenly filed under Architecture by an ignorant librarian! – is about his obsession with the body and the things about it which shocks us on a daily basis. Sometimes, our bodies are fine, coasting along, till it, of a sudden, refuses to oblige. Then terror strikes. His poems may shock at first with their erotic content, but on a second reading there is a hidden sub-text of political comment, an apparent social injustice and a whiff of the exotic. How he manages all this is puzzling and enigmatic. His talents are in full show in his poetry collection, “Architecture of Flesh,” published by Paperwall.

Hailing from Kerala he has an excellent command over many languages including: Malayalam, English, and Tamil. In Aphrodisiac he writes:

“My balls!” he cries as shredded testicles
Find their way into dark alley eateries
Where powdered sperm with battered baby flesh
Are sold as phallic pills
To bolster flagging will.

There are places on earth where powdered sperms are sold as aphrodisiacs. Now this may deviate a bit from erotic, but the symbolism is one of mixing the esoteric sexual power of the Aphrodisiac with body parts. Bold and experimental the poet takes on known canons of poetry with his unique opinion about what constitutes poetry.

In a sensitive poem about death Intensive Care Unit – I he writes:

Four islands is a death row in a shroud
Glimmering and tearful glints that fade into the spirit.
Four square squints of machinery life
Chrome sores lit up with steely corroding tides.

Porthole lights went off in one island today
As it sank into a sea wet with wasted sadness
Its generators switched off and respirators cut off
And oxygen vents closed for public view.

Certainly it’s a poem about death and how one thinks of it when one is confined to a bed in an Intensive Care Unit. It is also about the architecture of the flesh, how our arteries and veins refuse to co-operate some times, how our bowels complain and then shut up.


All in all, a good collection from a major poetic talent from down south. Worth buying for a look for its provocative imagery and boldness of treatment with occasional erotic glimpses. (To buy online: www.poetrywall.in, Rs 225).

Saturday, May 28, 2016

What Does Social Media Mean to You?

One of the things I have noticed on social media is that everybody is broadcasting themselves, as if they are celebrities. I called up a friend and was told, “What, you don’t read my Facebook posts?” he was accusing me of not reading his Facebook posts to learn about his broadcasts, of his celebrity status. He was actually thinking, “Here I am such a celebrity on Facebook with 2000 followers and this idiot wants to meet me. Let him see my posts, I don’t have the time.”

We may lose a lot of friends that way. And, truth is, of these 2000 followers whom you call friends, no one cares a hoot – nada, zilch – about you, what you post, what selfies you upload. It all goes into a void. And, you aren’t a celebrity, some people have already ignored you, others are in the process. What you consider as your broadcast has already been censored by listeners.

With what I have experienced in online forums – quite a few – I have no illusions about celebrity-dom or being popular. Sure, I admire those people who get hundreds of likes on their posts. They have made social media their alternate life, while I see it as just a place to relax, catch up, stay in touch.


What do you think?

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

A Wedding: When the Rap Music Made Us Hungry

I went to a childhood friend’s son’s wedding yesterday. This friend was a neighbour in the suburb of Chembur and all the family was known to me. So, it was an occasion to renew old bonds, and to show off my mildewing old suit. It is interesting how the Syrian Christian weddings take place. People are at their best and their worst at the same time, as you will see. At this wedding, as usual, there is an interesting mix of Christians from around Bombay. In one corner were the Santa Cruz Marthomites, because the girl was from there, in another was the Vashi Marthomites, because the boy was a member there, in another corner was the Panvel Marthomites, as the boy is currently based there. Scattered elsewhere were the odd Anglican CSIs from Sanpada, Chembur, and Vakola.

Everybody was in their best behaviour at 7 p.m. which was the official time of the reception. Children were running around, a DJ was being crazily loud, but no dancing happened, we are conservative, you know, though a few old uncles, well past their seventies were seen jiving with their hands in their pockets. Well, um, the DJ also danced alone, behind his console. Then the welcome drinks came as a welcome relief from the heat, and, then, what is called “starters” which was panneer, vegetable sizzlers, and chicken tikkas. We waited exchanging pleasantries with an old neighbour, my companion for the evening, from long ago. We hadn’t seen each other for ages, so we had a lot to share.

Though the DJ was splitting our ear drums with crazy rap and hip-hop numbers, we managed to talk, as only Malayalis can. We used sign language mostly. Then one hour passed and the bride and groom hadn’t arrived. An emcee said they were on the way and there would be a sweet welcome for them. Meanwhile, beauties were seen sashaying and young studs were seen swaggering around. So we waited in patience, ogling the girls in pretty numbers, men doddering around, old uncles and aunts in wheel chairs, all in silent expectation.

The emcee was looking harassed but was managing quite well. We had run out of subjects to talk about. Then we started pointing out the people – who looked familiar - and how we were either related or were from the same village. It was like playing a game. Then this game, too, exhausted. We were consuming starters and welcome drinks by the litres. It seemed as if we won’t need dinner if this continued.

Then the emcee triumphantly announced, at 9.30 p.m. that the girl and boy had arrived, after two-and-half hours of waiting. Curiously we were very hungry by this time. The zen-like patience we had exhibited earlier had evaporated and we were waiting for the announcement that food is served. Even the sashaying and swaggering had stopped. See, the music had not entertained us, it had made us impatient and edgy. All the more reason to believe that modern music doesn’t work for us old codgers. We were waiting for the meeting to begin so the music would stop.

Then there began a round of introduction for the bride, groom and their families. The emcee handled this expertly. I guess he has some experience with such states of anomie, or he would have been a wreck by now. That over, the bride sang a song, which was melodious. We all admired her voice and said, “She is very talented.” Our eyes were on the buffet tables to see if it had begun to be filled with food.

Introductions over, the groom gave a very humorous speech, which was lost on a distracted audience. Only a few claps resulted. Since the music stopped, talk had resumed. One uncle, potbellied, was standing, welcome drink in hand, staring at the audience continuously from a front row, as if searching for meaning to life.

Mercifully, then the emcee announced that the function had ended. And then the whole audience erupted into an ungainly and unglamorous dash towards the food tables. The carefully nurtured sangfroid of the evening was abandoned. Manners were disregarded, feet stamped, saris and sequinned dresses held aloft, husbands were separated from wives, mothers from children, brothers from sisters. At the buffet queue, luckily I managed to get behind my wife, but my companion for the evening and his wife, son, and grandson were not to be seen.

Luckily we found a seat to sit on. Like in a train, seats were reserved, and a handbag on the seat meant it was “Reserved against Cancellation (RAC)” by the lifting of the handbag. My companion then came around asking for his wife. Then the wife came asking for her husband. And, then the son and grandson came asking for both father and mother. We had become a chomping, slurping, gorging mass by then.


You see the rap and hip-hop music had made us crazily hungry.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Problems of Today's Youth


A survey in today’s Times of India states that 58 per cent (Bombay) of youth have considered committing suicide. Only 26 per cent in Bombay have told their parents about it and discussed the reasons with them. This is frightening and shocking, at the same time. What is going wrong? It also says that the reason for contemplating suicide is because of depression. Whatever, however they are, parents love their children. I am yet to meet a parent who says he/she dislikes his/her child. (With the exception of a celebrity who allegedly killed her own daughter recently.) 

Something is wrong and, obviously, seriously wrong. So I decided to go a bit into the problems faced by children. What is causing this huge resentment in children? We, as middle class parents, want the best for our children and work hard for it. In the process, we also forget something about the modern world in which children grow up.

Here are a few pointers, because it concerns us, most of all, because they are the future of society and of the country.

1. They don’t understand what is going on.

Yes, they don’t. They don’t read newspapers, they skim through the news. They would watch some reality shows or competitions rather than a few good news channels. Parents should encourage the reading habit in children by buying them books appropriate for their age.

2. Easy availability of sub-standard entertainment (video and audio).

I mean, I listened to some of the songs young people listened to and was appalled. There isn’t music, just beats, and the lyrics are just horrible, except for a few catch words repeated, “Waka, waka, yeh, yeh.” Is that lyrics? That would make the youth more frustrated because entertainment should also address human issues: love, longing, nature, and incidents. Songs about love and longing is acceptable but not music videos that are provocative, such as Lady GaGa’s (She isn’t a lady, is she?).

And, most importantly, pornography is easily available, leading to a growth in desire, but not respect for the other sex. A person who views pornography cannot and will never respect the other sex. As a corollary he/she may not get respect from the opposite sex, leading to depression. Thoughts about unnatural sex forms a barrier between a boy and a girl and that could lead to misunderstandings and fights. That might be the reason behind most cases of sex offenses and crime.

3. Mobile phones.

Parents give mobile phones to children to know where they are, and to find out if they are safe. However, the sad fact is that these high-end mobile phones are misused and most youth exchange pornographic videos on them. That was not the intention with which the phones were given to children. Being in a very impressionable age, they would be tempted to experiment with sex, a bit too soon. I think youth should shun pornography as unnatural, thereby obviating a market for obscene videos.

4. Income disparity. 

Though you may give the best you can afford to your child, they are not blind to the income disparity between you and parents of their friends. This could upset them and depress them. Suddenly, all the love you give them may seem meaningless, though you may be working very hard to give them what they want. Parents should make children understand their financial background, so they wouldn’t make unreasonable demands.

5. Marital discord

Some parents do not get along which each other, resulting in fights, which may really depress the child. Parents need to understand that their fights would affect the child, and that should make them careful before fighting before their child.

6. Children should know how to speak to strangers

Parents teach children not to speak to strangers. But they should also be taught to speak friendly, non-threatening strangers, or, adults, with respect. They should also know how to discourage unwanted people from talking to them. They can demonstrate this by taking children with them for outings and letting them learn from your own behaviour.

7. Learning

Learning should be an overall, personality developing activity. A child should develop musical, athletic, and social skills. They should also respect and appreciate the art and culture of their parents and their ancestors. Put them in touch with these early in life. Just hankering after good grades and percentage is not enough, he/she needs to be an overall champion. So what if he/she is not on the merit list? Being on the merit lists has its on problems; it puts pressure on children and youth. Many merited children have failed subsequently, and non-merited children have excelled also.

8. Being depressed doesn’t help

Psychoanalysis is a science that deals with the working of the mind. It isn’t really a medicinal science (it prescribes medicines in chronic cases) in that it goes into the working of the mind to suggest what can be done. Having positive thoughts, being with positive people, and being occupied by positive activity can cure most cases of depression, which is what I strongly believe. A firm belief in one’s religion can help, that’s why I encourage children to believe in whichever faith they belong to. Faith doesn’t teach children to hate anybody (except maybe the fundamental ones). The very act of singing songs and chanting can heal a troubled person.
Young people idol-worship certain movie stars forgetting that they are humans and, therefore prone to failures. When these idols fail, or, rebuff their advances, they become depressed. Youth should never worship another human being as being infallible. They have their own weaknesses and fallibility.
Waking up every morning thinking how awesome the day is, loving the nature around you, loving the birds and animals can cure you of depression for the entire day. Recently I read somewhere (A Facebook post, I think.) that a single positive thought as soon as you wake up can carry you through the day and make it a big success. So wake up thinking “how beautiful is today.”
There is a lot more to share. So watch this space, as they say.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan's Biography Is Published

There are things that come to you by way of ancestry that you cannot deny. One such thing, which I am proud of, is my great uncle Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan, who was my grandfather's cousin. Tharakan also known as "Mahakavi (great poet)" was also called "Sarasa Gayaka Kavi (poet who sings)". He was, as mentioned above, a good singer and writer. The only novel of his that I have read is "Madhubalika," which is curiously set in Calcutta, may be, he has travelled to Calcutta in those days. Among his poems is an epic poem "Vishwadeepam (Light of the World)" based on the life of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Thomas Cyriac (Right) Presenting Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan's Biography to writer Ravi Varma Thampuran.
Here is his Wikipedia biography, which I have written. Family lore is that when he used to visit our village for a Poet's Conference (Kavi Sammelanam) he used to insist on my grandfather P C Mathew sitting beside him on the dais. He and my grandfather were close, as they had grown up together, and were good friends. My grandfather, the abovementioned P C Mathew was a lover of reading and literature and filled his house with many books. I have inherited quite a few of his books from those days, which, bye the bye, is another story, for another post.

I have often felt a need for a published biography of Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan. That seems to have come true with the publication of his biography by Dr. Jose Parakadavil. Here's a photo taken at the launch of the book by Dr. Thomas Cyriac (former Vice-chancellor of Gandhi University) presenting the said book to writer Ravi Varma Thampuran (whose novel Shayyanukamba was published recently).