Saturday, April 08, 2017

Book Review: I Dreamt a Horse Fell Through the Sky by Adil Jussawala

When I was in college (oh! Those mis-spent days!) I had a free supply of magazines through a friend’s dad who worked in G. Claridge & Co., the press that published “Debonair”. Debonair, with a nude centre spread and an almost nude on the cover, was known as the intelligent man’s magazine in those days. In a manner of speaking it was the poor man’s Playboy.

Indeed it was an intelligent Indian man’s magazine and it had articles by a host of intellectuals like Anil Dharkar, Adil Jussawala, Vinod Mehta, Nissim Ezekiel, Vijay Nambisan, to name a few. Imtiaz Dharkar edited the poetry centre spread, which was something I craved to be featured in but never was. All my cajoling to make her feature me failed and I remember the hand-written manuscripts thumping on the floor inside my room in Tilak Nagar, only to be discovered by my sister, who would go on to deliver a lecture on why poetry was not so palatable, but science and arithmetic were. This is in a household where we took pride in one of our great uncles being a “Mahakavi” (Mahakavi Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan), a great poet. There were interesting articles, poems, book reviews, short stories, and humour pieces. The magazine was well edited and did well considering it had all intellectual and lascivious content a man wanted for a month in those days. The writing was balanced, thoughtful and met with Nissim Ezekiel’s sine qua non for good writing: thought, knowledge, and truth. 

The articles I looked forward to most were Aadil Jussawala’s. His were the most interesting observations and his style was like having an intelligent chat with him in person. The present volume is a compilation of poetry and as-yet unpublished writing of those days, as Vivek Narayanan could put together. The engaging foreword is also written by Narayanan.

Within these covers are impish and intimate observations of a writer who has hobnobbed with the celebrities of the literary world. If one drops names, it would be: VS Naipaul, Nadine Gordimer, Angus Wilson, et cetera. There is mischief and an omnipresent twinkle in the eye in the writing. When Naipaul had come to India to write An Area of Darkness Adil took him to Marine Drive and other posh areas and he remarked that India is good and progressive and that Bombay is cleaner than Cairo. One supposes Naipaul would have gone on and written “An Emerging India” or “A Shining India.” But, Adil had to spoil it all by taking him to a filthy area of Bombay which made Naipaul change his mind and write India off as an Area of Darkness. How one wishes Adil had stopped at Nariman Point, Colaba, and Malabar Hill. History’s perspective would have changed a great deal from that point onwards. Wouldn’t it?

There is also an excerpt from his abandoned novel, Strays, though the reason for the abandonment is not mentioned. In an article there is reference to the death of John Keats. Keats was so disappointed by the review of his collection Endymion in the Quarterly Review that he went into depression, and Lord Byron mentioned, Keats “was snuffed out by an article.” Keats never got over it and died two years later in Rome, aged twenty-five. (One wonders here whether adverse reviews are the reason for poets dying young.) 

The last days of poet Nissim Ezekiel, who died of Alzhemier’s is also documented herein. Another hilarious article is about a gathering of philosophers in a garden, presumably the sunk garden in the National Centre for Performing Arts. 

All in all, an adorable and venerable compilation of one of India’s leading literary luminaries, who is so unassuming that one would miss him in a crowd. When I met him for the first time, my star, my object of adoration, he seemed much humbler than some of the lesser luminaries of the Indian poetic sphere. Alas! Alack!

Saturday, March 04, 2017

An Analysis of Trump

Now that Trump has become a jaded subject, at least, in the world community, I think an analysis can be made of his style and life thus far. I write this as a person who has worked in industry, under people who have been a disastrously second-generation of business owners, also called second-generation entrepreneur (SGE).

As we all know Trump is a SGE, who has not had the experience of being out there, in the vanguard, fighting for his business. On the contrary, he has had everything handed down to him, without much difficulty, inherited from a rich father. He became complacent as a result and looked down upon people who worked for a living, to make ends meet.

I had seen him in the reality show The Apprentice a few times. I must say the similarity to some SGEs I worked with was stark. I said, “Oh, the similarity with my boss is obvious.” This is the boss who in a few years liquidated the business his father had assiduously built up. He is charismatic, lovable, jokes a lot, laughs but when you are close to him his flaws are like elephants in the room: he is disdainful of his own staff and ridicule and insults them liberally. Therefore he doesn’t get quality people to work with him, with the result that he has to, or, is compelled to do everything himself. Talented people would come to work for him and would leave in a few weeks, if not days. He is risk averse and quality people need to take risks to achieve their goals. Thus Trump doesn’t trust anyone to draft his executive orders; he has to do them himself, and signs them with a flourish, seemingly having achieved a lot. See the way he has been shown signing decrees with his vice-president and cabinet members in attendance. He is holding court like a SGE.

SGEs are people who have no achievement to their name but are applauded everywhere, conferred awards, felicitated, and lionised. Everywhere they go they receive a red carpet with the result they believe they are stars and that they were born to this sort of lifestyle.

SGEs also ignore some of the basic facts that make up the lives of people who slog for them from nine to five. People who have worked in low-paying jobs and have been promoted know how hard it is to rise in the organisation and how they have to carry their people with them. The second generation, such as Trump, do not see this need. They think hiring and firing will do the trick and, as an example, see how national security adviser Michael Flynn was unceremoniously sacked.
Since SGEs survive through the fear psychosis they create, they neither hear people out, nor do they value their advice. They only trust their own decisions and the opinions of the “yes” men who surround them. Watch any video of Trump and you will see how tense people are around him. They are almost afraid of what he will say next. When he speaks you can see even his closest aides flinch.
There are no black and whites in governance and management. Everything is coloured by greys. The best men for the job often carries his people with him and encourages them to come up with good decisions based on their experience and knowledge. There aren’t many people in Trump’s team who can do this.

That’s why the credibility of the Trump administration is sorely lacking and there’s the constant fight with the press. The press is an integral part of US governance and if they are ignored, vilified, and humiliated (as Trumps refusal to attend White House Correspondents’ dinner shows) then the powerful press lobby will take an adversarial stand. Unlike in India journalists in the US can’t be bought, or, mollycoddled. The press is indeed powerful in the US they have the knowledge, background, and history to support their independence and impartiality.

This could prove to be a decider in the realpolitik of that great country.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Today's Morning Walk - Encountering a Writer

 Today’s experience on my morning walk was a bit disturbing, in a sense, it affected certain beliefs and assumptions of mine. Most people think writing is a dream job and that all one needs to do is sit in a room, facing a window, and write. Most people are taken up by this illusion to be writers. Here’s what Angus Wilson says in Adil Jussawala’s book “I Dreamt a Horse Fell from the Sky” (My present reading):

“People still come up to me at literary luncheons... and say the most awful things. There was this lady who came to me and said, ‘Oh, Mr. Wilson, I’ve always wanted to write, but I just can’t find the time.’ Isn’t that extraordinary? People don’t realise how much I’ve had to give up in order to write.”

This was something such. I was on my usual morning walk around the Artist Village dam, which had dried up of late. It probably portends to the harsh summer that will follow, I guess. Grass was growing on the edges of the little puddles that were still left, making it look like a group interconnected ponds. There were birds pecking at small fishes and, on the opposite shore, a group of children were fishing with a net.

Then I heard shouting, loud hysterical shouting. It was coming from a few huts that had been built around the dam, where poor daily-wage earners were living. I was in a shock when I went to investigate. She was a published writer of repute, who had, lately, fallen into bad times. Was fortune to blame or society, or, the literary establishment, I don’t know. She was hardworking and spent long hours writing and, somehow, her brilliance is rumoured to have turned against her. Her latest works weren’t published, reason for which I am unaware.

She stops me and asks me how long I have been staying in the neighbourhood and how long the huts have been here. I found this odd because I know her, her family, and her reputation as a writer. Though presentable, she was in dishevelled state and wore a dirty-looking house coat. I tell her I have been living here for the past thirty years and know her husband. The huts came up in the last few years, as they always do in vacant spots of land in New Bombay. This is the first time I am talking to the reclusive writer. She was unhappy about the huts and the temples that had come up a few years earlier, about which we could do nothing. These days, we have a strict municipal commissioner who is demolishing these structures only to find them cropping up again. It’s a law of nature that people’s faith can’t be challenged. These things I discuss with her, telling her that she should complain to the authorities, not deal with them, meaning hut dwellers, directly.

It was a strange encounter. She is past her prime in writing and I am still in search of my identity as a writer. It seemed odd that after having achieved so much, she hadn’t found contentment and self satisfaction. I came away very disturbed by the walk.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Meryl Streep's Message at Golden Globe Awards

Meryl Streep's message struck a chord. She mentioned disability and the press. She said a future president mocked a disabled journalist and the audience laughed. No. It's not funny. It gives us the licence to laugh at the disabled, which is not funny.

She mentioned the press, a principled press. The press is given freedoms in our constitution to report the truth, not to hide it, or, subvert it. I know these freedoms because I worked in the press: (1) cheap newsprint, subsidised by the government (2) priority while travelling (3) access to inaccessible areas (4) freedom to be critical of government, and society. (5) concessions in postage and freightage, so on....
Enjoying all these benefits and making huge profits based on the premise that newspapers are products is the latest trend that big private corporations (owners) have been following. The recent sacking at Hindustan Times is an example of how despite making profits the process of newsgathering and reporting have been threatened. So as Streep said "restraining power (of government)" and reporting truth remains a vast grey area, especially with fake and planted news stories. Editors have a duty label a fake/planted story as "Advt." as mandated by the Advertising Standards Council (ASCI), which I headed some while ago.

They say it's not an actor's job to tell what the press should do. It's not mine, too. But, when the press gets a bad name, it's as if a pillar of our democracy is rotting. After all, Tilak, Gandhi, and Nehru have all been journalists and it's through their writing that we gained freedom.

Thursday, January 05, 2017


Just now I went through the process of making an EMI payment through HDFC bank. I am feeling frustrated and violated, my patience wearing thin. Grr! I am computer savvy, I wrote help manuals for some of the computer programs that are still running as a technical writer, I write blogs, I can use the adwords and adsense advertising programs on Google and Facebook, and, yet, I still I find myself frustrated by a simple banking transaction. The problem with online transaction is that most banks’ websites are keen to sell their products than to make it easy for existing customers to log in. So, the idiotic, dumb site points to several ads for car loans and gold loans, and vacation loans before you discover the tiny “Login” in a corner somewhere. After you log in, you are asked an array of confusing questions. Security. These may vary from the authenticity of your password to the expiry of your password and codes which are hardly readable. Then there is the cute little message saying check your mobile for the One Time Password (OTP). Damn. When you finally hunt for your phone and get the OTP the transaction has timed out.

It’s easy for a person who has never done cashless transactions to say “go cashless, it’s easy,” “you just have to log in” and such drivel. It’s once you sit down on a computer that you realise it’s not that easy. I, for instance, am educated in computer language because I put some of those lines of instructions there as a content writer. The instructions on a computer are written in a computerised environment and are an agreement between the programmer and a content writer. So there’s a lot of intuitive understand between these two tribes as to what should happen next after clicking a button. For a lay user to understand this functionality requires some intuitive knowledge of how computers work, in general, if not in particular. Those who don’t have this knowledge are the people who prefer to stand in queue and withdraw cash and update their passbooks. Because it’s their money they are dealing with. The pensioner, the retired, the housewife, all fall into this category. To ask them to do online transactions would be madness because they don’t physically see their money and they are not comfortable with their money disappearing into some machine. Understand this, you people who want to foist cashless on an unsuspecting population. If you don’t, you are being naive, unempathetic and cruel.