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Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Sense of An Ending...a review of this year's Booker Prize winner..

My 77-year old father, a diabetic, gets up in the middle of the night to go to the loo, as is the case for most diabetics. There, in the middle of the night, a memory of what he did or said 50 years back strikes him, and he feels the pangs of remorse. A remorse so painful that he finds it difficult to go back to sleep. A remorse for which no atonement is possible, for the person towards whom he feels it is dead.
Guilt and remorse is the subject of Julian Barnes' " The Sense of an Ending", and it would be difficult to find a subject more relevant and immediate, because every decent human being has, sometime or the other, felt them.
The slim, 150-page novel is an interesting read, but nowhere reaches the brilliance of an Ian McEwan's "Enduring Love" or Ishiguro's "Remains of the Day", or Golding's "Lord of the Flies", all of them equally compact novels.
Barnes' poses interesting question for those of us who keep looking back at the past: Is what happened in the past really the same as our memories of our past? And what happens, when, by some miracle, you come across a document which shows that you acted much worse than you now remember doing? Is it possible to expatiate for your sins ? Does your expatiation make a difference to the object of your remorse ?
Unfortunately, despite raising these profound questions, Barnes remains unable to solve them. Till today, the final plot is incomprehensible to me. One of the reviewers has commented that one has to look at the novel, from the view point of the last-twist-in-the-end stories, pioneered by Saki, that brilliant short-story writer. Well, all I can say, that Saki's twist in the end is atleast comprehensible..
Anyhow, the book has a lot of quotable quotes, like this one: "History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation"...which, if, applied to the Indian context, has historians who are certain that Akbar was secular, since those who were wiped at Chittor have left no memories, and the documentation at hand does not tell us much about Akbar's motives for massacring 50,000 inhabitants, including women and children, in cold blood.
My father? This book is not for him, since his eyesight is so poor that he cannot read, and the object of his remorse, unlike the protagonist's ex-girlfriend, is dead and gone, three decades back.For him will be the remorse, like acid, biting deeply into his soul, making him sadder and sadder till he is liberated by Death...

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Death of Dev Anand..

Guess when someone dies, we Indians are so civil that we only say good things about him.
So was the case when Dev Anand died.
Yes, the songs were great.
Yes, the magic was fantastic.
Yes, he had a very positive attitude to work.
And, was he handsome.
Now, since no-one else seems to be saying anything else except eulogise him (the TV stories on him were shallow, mere packages of his interviews and those lilting songs by Rafi put together), I suppose it shall fall to me to say some harsh things.
Poor chap, he did not know how to age gracefully.
Till the last day, the wig stayed in place (the wig was too large for his shrunken face), the zany military style jackets in bright colours continued, and so did the mufflers, even in summer.
And he loved the limelight so much that he absolutely had to be the central character in every film, even the romantic lead in them, even when there were younger actors around, people like Aamir Khan. In "Awwal Number", he cast a newly-risen Aamir Khan as a cameo, while he was the main lead, at 70!!
So he became a ludicrous figure, a figure to be ridiculed.
He did not grow as an actor, say like the way Sean Connery or Clint Eastwood did (one has to just watch "Million-dollar Baby"- a repudiation of all violence, directed and acted by Clint) and ended up doing films which very mediocre, and which bombed without a trace at the box-office.
He could have retired gracefully, like Shammi Kapoor, and accepted the physicality of aging: the baldness, the greyness, again like Shammi kapoor, but he chose to go the MGR way : MGR hid the bags under his eyes with dark glasses, and his loss of hair with a astonishing Fez hat in the humid heat of Chennai.
But for all that, i confess, i, too, am a fan of the magic his songs created.
I remember a childhoold spent in front of a neighour's black and white TV, watching him in Chitrahaar and Sunday Doordarshan films, wanting badly to be like him.
If only Indian news TV had an intelligent obituary, and had a panel discussion, dissecting the magic that Dev Anand created, with Kishore, Rafi, Suraiya, Sadhna and many others...
If he lies in state here, in Delhi, I would bunk office to stand in queue, to pay my homage to the ultimate romantic hero....

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A star-struck society..

I attended the Ad-Asia Conference in Delhi on Tuesday, and I was surprised to find that the inaugural was by Shah Rukh Khan, along with Ambika Soni.
Suprised because, well, if Ad-asia had invited whoever had publicized Ra-One I would have understood the point; inviting SRK seemed as stupid to me as it would be if Aishwarya Rai was invited to speak at the Gynaecologist Annual Conference just because she is going to have a baby.
Well, I planned to miss the inaugural (no way i would be caught dead listening to a politican and a bollywood hero, and receiving gyan from them)..

Despite my best efforts, i landed up towards the end of the inaugural, and watched the tamasha from a side room: the main room was totally jampacked, and they were showing it on the CC TV.

Shah Rukh, not knowing anything much to speak about, just kept poking fun at himself, and kept the audience in splits. He then said, guys, the biggest job in India is keeping the Shah Rukh Khan brand going, and then again wandered off into his jokes. Finally, he started to dance to his chamak challo number, in desperation. Even that, he could not manage, as the music kept stopping. By now, he was drenched in sweat (imagine me going to CERN in geneva and giving a lecture on Plasma physics), and mercifully the inaugural ended.

I wondered why we are so star-struck that, to a sober professional thing such as Ad Asia, we need to bring in a bollywood star. Would the Americans bring in Al Pacino to inaugurate the Harvard Law School Seminar on Law-making in the twenty-first century? Or is it to give "value" to those who
shelled out 40,000 bucks for the three-day event?

Guess if they really, really, want to do things seriously, they need to get the right people, have multiple sessions on in smaller, different rooms,and think more in terms of solid value than be star-struck fans...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Jagjit singh kahan chale gaye..

A couple of days back, I went to Siri Fort Auditorium, to attend a tribute by Ghulam Ali for Jagjit Singh. Almost immediately I regretted it..
The guards kept the mostly elderly audience waiting outside on the street in a long queue for an hour, and then let them all in a rush, through a narrow entrance. As people kept patiently waiting, various "VIPs" and interlopers were let in through another gate.
Finally when people went in, they found another queue, this time to enter the auditorium. Not surprisingly, tempers went up, and the mood of an evening of ghazals was spoiled.
When the "tribute" started, it started not with Ghulam Ali, but with some unknown singer, who proceeded to bore the pants off the audience till he was almost booed off the stage by the audience.
Finally Ghulam Ali made an entrance, some two hours after 6.30 pm, and all the VIPs made a beeline to the stage, to "pay" their floral and aural tributes to jagjit singh. They droned on and on, and one busybody in a black suit actually went up to the stage three times to offer flowers to a portrait of jagjit singh. This busybody (apparently CEO or something of the company which was "sponsoring" the evening) then launched into a lengthy narration about some incident with Jagjit Singh, till finally the audience started slow-clapping to show its annoyance.
Finally Ghulam Ali began, and though he sang beautifully, he sang classical ghazals, not the "filmi" ghazals which i was expecting, in a evening billed as a tribute to Jagjit Singh.
So, regretfully, I withdrew, reflecting that the evening would have been spent more fruitfully listening to Talat Mehmood on the You Tube...I guess that though Classical ghazals may be more Ghulam Ali's ouevre, if he wants a younger audience, as he seemed keen to have, then he would have to sing less obscure ones first...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Paid News, or the sad mechanics of money

Thanks to producer Umesh Aggarwal's persistent invitation,last wednesday found me at the IIC, to watch a documentary directed by him, titled "Paid News". The hall was packed, and after the film was shown, there was a lively debate. The film was interesting, though it cannot be shown on any channel or any theater, because it bluntly named individuals, such as Burkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi, and therefore is subject to defamation laws.
However, what struck me was the panel discussion, which had the Chairperson of Prasar Bharti, Mrinal Pande, pontificating on the ills which ail the private channels and newspapers, while being entirely silent about how the government is gagging Prasar Bharati from doing a honest and fair reporting of stories in AIR and DD News. To add to this, a few gasbags had tagged along from Doordarshan, who heaped even more abuse on private media, while being entirely unashamed of how they had blacked out Anna Hazare.
Even more curiouser, was that the Director did not say a single word about his own film, even when invited to do so, while Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, who emerges as the Knight In Shining Armour in the film, seated himself in the back of the audience, and refused to say a single word.
Were they scared? Or simply self-effacing individuals? Nope.
They and their film had boxed itself into a position where they were the accusers, the judge, and also the, basically, they were hiding behind the panel, not really wanting to reply to the audience....

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Missing out on the sunlight, and hugging the shadows?

I just finished reading the much acclaimed "Last Man in Tower" by Arvind Adiga.
The book is about an old man, who refuses to sell  his flat in a "co-operative Housing Society" in Bombay, to a builder, while all the others in the building want to sell and cash out. The builder is giving each owner 250 percent of the market value of the flat, and because of the stubborn old man, the others are in danger of missing out on the bonanza. Relations deteriorate, and the residents start making life hell for the old man, to pressurise him to sell out. He is betrayed and shunned by everybody, including his own son.
Like William Golding's "Lord of the flies", the book is a study of human nature can be corrupted by power, and money.
It is grim, gloomy book, and as a morality lesson, it's a great read.
However, luckily, real life is not as bad as the book makes out, in a co-operative housing society.
I have been going to visit my grandmother in one such typical Housing Society in Mulund in Bombay since 1977. I have stayed there for months at a time as a schoolboy, during my holidays, and at one time, every single one of the 16 owners in the building was known to me.
The children who were there in 1977 grew up, got married, and moved out. Many of the boys married girls from neighbouring buildings, after romancing them for years. Over the years, retirement and death, have taken their toll: very few of the original members of the society are left, and those who purchased the flats have sold it to the next buyer, who in turn has sold it to the next buyer...
Basically, except for a golden period of around 20 years, from 1977 to 1997, the building, as such did not have a feeling of a "community".  For  twenty years there was this feeling, people cared about each other's children, rejoiced at each other's happiness, attended the marriages in each other's families, and ofcourse, gossiped. Each flat knew the familiar milestones of prosperity of the other flat: when the TV came, when the phone came, when the refrigerator was purchased...
There used be a diwali party, a christmas party, and a new year party, all based on contributions, with bhelpuri, sandwiches, and lemonade.
It was an incredibly satisfying feeling of community, and that is precisely not what is captured in Arvind Adiga's book.
He is concentrating on what can happen if there is a trigger which leads to the breakdown of community relations, and the residents gang up against one of themselves due to greed.
In other words, in his eagerness to narrate an allegory, he forgets the main story: the institution called the Co-perative Housing Society, and how it improved the sociological milieu of middle-class Bombay, and how many of us still feel nostalgic and long for the "mohalla" feel of the Society.
Poor Adiga, he has missed out on the sunlight, and is feeding off the shadows...

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The hope of the future...

I was in India Gate last night, at the Rally to celebrate Anna's "victory", and it was electrifying.
As I waded in through dancing youngsters, and fullfledged steel bands, and swishing tricolours, and candle-light wielding aunties, I was happy to see that almost the entire crowd was under 25. I seemed to be one of the few people with grey in my hair...
It is a good experience taking part in an agitation for improving and reforming things, and it is a character forming trait.
It was also astonishing to see youth crying out frienziedly slogans praising a 74 year old man,Anna Hazare, and not Rahul Gandhi or any of the other "youth" icons. It shows to what extent these people have become discredited in the eyes of the young.
Though I went to the Victory Rally, I do not believe the victory has been achieved.
I will believe in victory when I actually see the politicians and the IAS actually putting themselves under a Lokpal who can investigate their crimes and punish them for it. Between fobbing off an old man with a scrap of paper, and actually passing a tough law are light years of dodging and deception.
I believe Anna finally gave in, because he did not, in the end, have the guts to carry out his threat to fast unto death if a bill was not passed by the thirtieth of august.
I have seen the same Lok Sabha pass a Constitution Amendment bill for ensuring reservation in promotions in a flat two days, and I believe that the politicos got away, dodging the enormous pressure, by trotting out lame excuses.
I remember Ajit Jogi, as Congress spokesman, once telling us journalists in an off the record briefing that, the Seshan Experience had taught them to never empower and insulate a bureacrat to such an extent that he could  turn rogue, and endanger the very politicians who had elevated him.
Well, guess this House would never repeat that mistake. It would take us years to vote out these thieves and bring honest people who will bring a genuine Lok Pal bill, which could make a difference.
But tonight, I believe it would eventually happen, given the anger and enthusiasm of the youth.
PS:Even as other channels were doing live programming all day about the agitation, Doordarshan News was tonight discussing PM's forthcoming visit to Bangladesh. Guess apart from cretinous anchors, timid editors, and castrated senior officials, the experts who come in to their studios need to have their heads examined....

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The monkey, with his hand caught in the pot..

Just struggled through Amitav Ghosh's "River of Smoke".
Struggled because it is close to unreadable.
There is no central character, there are too many sub-plots, too many references to past events , and finally, too much of creole and pidgin English, and one really has to have Hobson Jobson's dictionary to make sense of some words...
And why has this happened?
Because Mr. Ghosh has swallowed a million dollar advance to cough out a trilogy, and he is forcing himself to do it, even when the urge to create is not there.
That's the problem, when the greed for dollars overwhelms the creative faculties of writers.
So, readers have coughed out five hundred bucks( it is already available at a discount over its cover price of 699 rupees, by the way) to read trash.
Unlike books of Amitav's like "A Hungry Tide" or "Calcutta Chromosome", which were tightly written around a single character, and fast paced, this book is a ramble through an entire era of history, mainly the time before the Opium Wars, and Amitav does not able to seem to make up his mind on which character to follow, and so ends up following all of them.
Wish he had tackled more modest subjects, in a less grandiose way.
But, then, he would not have justified that million dollar advance, would he??

Polarized by Anna, or poleaxed by Anna...??

Over the last few months, as Anna Hazare's movement has gathered momentum, i have come across a range of opinions from people around me about it in I thought i should put down, as a political scientist, the broad classification of opinion that I see around me:
The Conspiracy Theorists: This school of thought thinks that the whole thing is a conspiracy: some people think that the this is another Congress invention gone rogue, like Bhindranwale. Another variant thinks that the BJP/RSS is behind this Hazare.
The Pop Sociologist Theory : This says that the whole upsurge is confined to the urban "upper middle class", and that the media, being largely recruited from the urban middle class, is playing it up, to suit their class prejudices.
The "Wrong Handling" School of thought": This school thinks that whatever Anna says is bunkum, but since the government handled it "wrongly", it gave, inadvertently, a huge momentum to the Lokpal Wallahs..
The Messiah School: This school of thought is absolutely in agreement that he is the One, the Messiah who will end corruption, and redeem India.
So, which school do I belong to? Absolutely, the last one.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Raging, raging against the fading of the light....

The year: 1982.
The place: JB Nagar, Andheri, Bombay
The time: 10.30 in the night.
The day: Ganesh Chaturthi.
A big white sheet had been tied across the end of the street, and a projector was showing a movie from the Sixties.
The huge crowd sat on the street, watching the movie, spellbound.
Everyday, for ten days, they had been watching a movie on the street, as part of the Ganesh Utsav celebrations, with the Ganesh Pandal dominating the scene.
Around 9 everynight, people would finish their dinner, slip into their night pyjamas, and up would go  the sheet, and the magic would begin.
On that day, they watched as a rosy-hued man, with green eyes romanced the heroine. It was a fifteen year old film, but the magic was still strong.
These were the days before Movie channels on TV, before video tapes, before broadband downloads, and when the only film was either at the theatre, or in the evening on Sundays on Doordarshan.
The film was "Teesri Manzil", and the actor was Shammi Kapoor, and he was romancing Asha Parekh in the film.
When the song "Aaja aaja mein hoon pyar tera.." came on, the crowd went wild.
This is the song:
In the audience was a 14-year old boy, dark and thin,  perched precariously on the wall of a building: it was the first time he had seen the song, but it struck a chord. The boy thought it was the most romantic thing to do: serenade the heroine in front of hundreds of people at a bar.
It was a bit worrying too: for one thing, the boy was not good at singing, and he was not as handsome as Shammi, thought the boy, how do you exactly romance someone?
That boy was me, all of 14, and Shammi Kapoor became a part of childhood, and his songs a part of my life....
Today, he passed away, and I mourn: not just him, but, as I grow older, a part of my childhood too becoming history......

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Traitors, and then traitors...

Rajesh Ramachandran writes in Mail Today, that the only reason the Travancore Rajas could salt away such a huge amount of wealth in the Padmanabha Swamy temple is because they were traitors. When other Rajas in the Malabar rose in revolt against the British in the 19th century, they remained loyal. The other Kingdoms were annexed by the Brits, while the traitor flourished, and waxes eloquent today.
So with the case of Sir Sobha Singh, father to Khushwant Singh. He testified against Bhagat Singh, and while Bhagat Singh was hanged, Sobha Singh not only got prized contracts from the Brits to build Lutyens Delhi, he got a Knighthood to boot.
But the point is: are these the only traitors?
What about those who wrest land from farmers for  a few hundred bucks a square metre, using 100 year old legislations, and hand it over to private buccaneers, in return for fat bribes?
Is he not a traitor who forges examination marksheets for money?
Is he not a traitor who buys MPs to tide over a no-confidence vote?
Is he not a traitor who denies the poor their PDS grain and sells it in the black market?
Is he not a  traitor who puts a red light on his car, and shields himself with hundreds of commandos, in a country created by a man who did not allow the police to frisk those who came to his prayer meetings?
Yes, these are traitors, and they flourish in our midst, and they are more lethal, because they are a clear and present danger to our country, and are to be found, more than any other place, in New Delhi.....

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Murder of the Boat Club Lawns

Time used to be, when on cool evenings, Delhiites would stream down to Rajpath, and park their cars, bikes and scooters, unpack their dinners, and have picnics. Balloon sellers would roam through the families picknicking on the lawns, chaatwalaahs would weave through the crowds, and ice-cream carts would be parked on the corners. For Delhiites, traumatized by the heat and dust, the green lawns, the water in the shallow pools, all would be a welcome relief...
No longer. The Sultan, or  in this case, the present Police Commissioner of Delhi, in his Majestic Wisdom, has decreed that parking cars or bikes on Rajpath obscures the view. So no cars shall be parked.  So, can they be parked elsewhere? No, thunders the Sultan. No, no, there is no space for parking them elsewhere, because this is a high-security area, and we will tow away any vehicle that is parked any where off Rajpath.
So, the last refuge of the heat-shocked Delhiite is now gone.
Yesterday, I crossed Rajpath.
Heavy yellow iron police barricades bar anyone from driving down rajpath. The lawns are dark and deserted.
The balloon sellers have gone away, chased away by the police. The ice-cream carts have been confiscated, and rust away outside police-stations...
Will spring come again? Yes, when the present Sultan either retires, or is transferred to another dusty town, or is caught with his hands in the till or his pants down..
Till then, the Commissioner hath decreed there shall be no life on Rajpath, and laughter on the lawns, and so shall it be....

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Is this a persian cat, or what?

I went to the petfood store in Khan Market yesterday, to buy catfood for my cat, and i found this kitten playing around there. The shop owner claimed that it was a Persian cat  imported from Thailand, and he was willing to sell it to me for twenty thousand bucks. I clicked its picture on my cell, and emailed it to my brother in USA (who is crazy about cats, and who raises 7 cats), who simply wrote back, "If that's Persian, then I'm mickey mouse!). Well, I looked at the images of Persian cats on google images, and it seems to have some Persian features, like the snub nose...wonder it its a half-Persian
How does it matter anyway, since its one hell of a captivating kitten....

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A look at the sports facilities, six months after the Commonwealth Games

When there was criticism of the amount of money being spent on the Commonwealth Games, one of the things that Kalmadi and gang used to tout was that these were sports facilities which the average citizen would get to enjoy, once the games were over.
Well, the games got over over 8 months ago, and Sports Authority of India has moved slowly, reluctantly to open those facilities to the people of  Delhi.
Finally, they put out an ad in the newspapers, for the "come and play" scheme, where you would have to pay only nominal amounts to use the swimming pools, the courts, the tracks etc.
Yesterday, after a long-drawn out process for getting a membership to swim at the Talkatora pool, I was finally called for a trial,  to see if I could swim well enough to be in a professional pool.
I got through the trial, but I also got to see what had happened to the facilities.
The pool was clean enough, but the showers were stinking, and all over the place, there was enough dust to choke anybody. The floor of the showers, despite the expensive granite, was slippery and greasy. Things seem to be broken, and deserted.
Everything seemed to have been built at a grandiose scale - "international standards"- but everything seemed to falling to pieces...
I also went to the Siri Fort Sport Club, which was also one of the venues for swimming.
The shower cubicles had become airconditioned, and there was a canvas roof over the pool. It looked posher, but the crux of modernization was missing: the pool was not a heated one, so when winter comes, it will close.
How so typical of the way the Kalmadi gang functioned......a veneer of sophistication, and below, loot and grab, like the Thugs...

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Of Delhi, and its weather...

Finally, it rained this morning, after weeks of heat and humidity.
After living in two coastal cities, Bombay and Madras, (yeah, not mumbai and chennai- I do not need dirty politicians telling me by what name i should call cities), I always see the difference in how it rains in Delhi: it is a kind of reluctant, forced rain, after the humidity builds up over days and weeks on end, not the kind of heavy, natural rain you get in Bombay or the swift rain in Chennai.
And the rain is generally very light, and stop immediately, and the heat and humidity continues here in Delhi even after the rain ends.
Not surprisingly, the electricity consumption has touched 4,900 MW.
That brings me to the core issue: why have the capital in Delhi at all?
For invaders to India, it made sense: it was an outpost on the frontier, giving them easy access to their homelands in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan and to the Khyber pass. So they settled down in Delhi, and made it the base of an empire.
For the modern republic of India, it would have made better sense to have the capital somewhere where the weather is pleasant, like Bangalore or Bhopal, and far away from Pakistan and China. The summers would have been moderate, and the winters less severe.
Instead, we now have the capital in a place which is very dusty (my car gets a film of dust within one hour of it being washed), has a history of blood, where the hot wind blows in from the Thar desert, and is just a few minutes away from  forward air bases in Tibet and Pakistan.
If the British could shift to Delhi from Calcutta, so can  we, and I guess we still have time to shift our capital. After, we are only 60 years old, a very young republic by historical standards (Aurangazeb or Akbar or Samudragupta ruled almost ruled the same length of time in a single reign), and what's more, thanks to modern construction equipment, you can have a brand new Capital in a decade...
But given the lack of vision which has characterised modern India, I doubt it will happen in my lifetime....

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Hindu Idea of Revenge...

Every morning, I cycle on a DDA park laid out over one of the medieval cities which shook India: Alaudin Khilji's Siri. The park is full of huge cyclopean dressed boulders, and the pathways go up and down, as they go over vast mounds and palaces and battlements.

It would be unbelievable in USA or Europe: the ruins of the empire which reached down all the way to Madurai being neglected, nay, being buried in a staid park over which bureaucrats and businessmen take their morning walks...
Peacock cry out loudly in the  park, and lizards slither amongst the ruins..
As I walk or cycle, I try to imagine, in my mind's eye, how the court must have been, 800 years back, which lies buried below. I try to imagine the hundreds of thousands of south Indian captives, who must have been enslaved and forced to walk all the way here, to die in the cold and the heat, after being worked to death in building Siri Fort.
The scene calls to mind Omar Khayyam's famous Quatrain:

They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
The Courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep:
     And Bahram, that great Hunter -- the Wild Ass
Stamps o'er his Head, but cannot break his Sleep.

But herein lies the whole significance of Siri Fort: more than any other fort in India, it was besieged half a dozen times by the Mongols when Alauddin Khilji was ruling, and they found it impregnable.
In other words, this place, this fort stood between the Mongols and annihilation for the masses of India.
But we, unlike the Taliban, do not dynamite our history: we just benignly build parks over them, instead of excavating them. Guess this is the Hindu idea of revenge for the ending of Warangal and Devagiri and Dwarasumudra....
PS: Why Siri? Legend has it that 8,000 severed heads of Mongols make up the base of the "Siri" fort....

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Of Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi

I remember seeing Jayalalitha in my Colony in Chennai somewhere in 1986 or 1987.
She was the "Proganda Secretary" of the AIADMK then, and MGR was the Chief Minister.
The post was entirely one created by MGR for her: there was no post of Propaganda Secretary before her, and none existed after her.
No-one, either in the AIADMK or outside quite knew what were the duties of such a post: I guess it would be safe to say that these onerous duties were entirely speculative in nature.
Jayalalitha would have have been in her early forties then, or maybe 40.
She had the beginnings of corpulence in her figure then, and she looked like a fairly fat, fair woman, with big eyes.
The party workers set up a dais at the end of the street where I lived, and it was a very hot summer day.
I do not remember now whether some kind of municipal or byelections were on then, but I remember that Jayalalitha came at around 3 pm in the afternoon, and gave her address.
She was dressed in a dazzling white sari with the AIADMK's party colours at the border, or pallu. The speech was very sedate, and delivered in a very slow, uninspiring way, as if by some person who was learning to speak publicly. The poor in the area, some two hundred of them listened to her, without much enthusiasm, and after half an hour, she was gone. The pandal was taken down within an hour of her departure, and that was that.
I also remember seeing Karunanidhi addressing an election meeting in T. Nagar, but this was when Jayalalitha was in power. It was late one night, and I was walking by the T. Nagar bus-stand, when I saw that a pandal had been set up in one of the bylanes. Karunanidhi was speaking, and I stopped by, to listen.
He was speaking of Jayalalitha's "sadism". Though the rest of what he said was in pure Tamil, he used the English word "sadism" to refer to the pleasure Jayalalitha derived from harassing him, his family and DMK party workers. He went on, slowly, but gripping the audience attention, as he built up his case: Jayalalitha's sadism, his party's tolerance and dedication to the Dravidian cause, his affection for MGR (who had passed away) and his hope that the Tamilian people would return to their senses. It was very different: here was a practised speaker, who knew how to sway people by his oratory.
Years later, as AIR's News Correspondent, when Karunanidhi was dragged out of bed and locked up in jail by Jayalalitha, I came to Chenni to report on the drama for radio. The DMK workers were furious that Jayalalitha had the guts to get their leader physically manhandled by the police, and in the protests, they were obscene and ribald about Jayalalitha. Gone was the pretence that they were gentlemen. In the slogans they raised, they referred to Karunanidhi's great virility ( as evidenced by his bigamous marriages, his various children with the various wives ) and what Kalaignar would do to her, and how Jayalalitha needed a good dose of just that from him.
On the whole, I felt pity for the Dravidian movement, to have splintered and be led by such a poor quality of leaders, and issues which were so personalised and trivial....

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Stairway to Heaven

That's a pic of St. Paul's cathedral, as seen from the Tate Modern, across the Thames. The Millenium Bridge looks at though it is leading up to St.Paul's, though it actually does not. I took this pic because of its intriguing Christian allegory of a bridge to heaven...the window through which the pic is taken, also reminded me of the imagery on stained glass windows of churches.
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Travails of a parent at school admission time.....

It was school admission time, from 10th to 11th Standard, for my daughter.
We spent 40,000 crores on the Commonwealth Games, and yet last month found me and wifey begging, grovelling and profusely apologising to the principal of school in South Delhi where we were seeking admission, for my daughter's interest in sports, and her medals and certificates in football, basketball and running. It was as though it was a serious and shameful addiction: how dare your girl actually have secret ambitions in the sports arena?
Earlier, two teachers from the school "interviewed" us: with these kind of sporting (read: shameful) activities, your daughter can never keep up with her peers in studies, we were told.
How can you think of studying for the 12th exams, if some of  your energy gets diverted? She was asked.
Our defensive explanations, that we think a well-rounded individual needs to be good at sports as well as academics was scornfully brushed aside: we have seen what happens to those who are interested in sports, they do poorly at academics.
Finally, my daughter was asked to decide: if you want to get in here, forget your sports.
I was asked: what if your daughter does poorly, six months down the line?
The girl's long list of games certificates was not even given a cursory glance.
In the end, we had to give a guarantee: come what may, her academics would always be dazzling, and in no circumstances would her sports activities be allowed to come in the way. And ofcourse, there would be no question of pursuing sports when she was in the 12th standard.
After this ordeal, spread over two days, my daughter, with A grades, and the top basketball player of her previous school, was given admission to this other school.
Furious at the school, I instead lashed out at my daughter when I got home: she would have to give up most of her sports activity, and the most important thing was to ensure that she would get the top grades.
This, I guess, is the fate of most parents whose children, especially girls, participate in sports.
Is it surprising that India's ranking in world sports ( not the decadent game of cricket) is dismal? Will any amount of money, lavished at these sports extravaganzas, change the scenario? If a school in Delhi, located 500 metres from the Nehru stadium, just six months after the Games, behaves in this way, is there any hope left for sports in India's thousands of schools?
Just like maths and physics, excellence in sports needs to be recognized on the report cards, and factored into the CGPA and SGPA. That way, people who are good in sports will not be penalized and forced to give up sports.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

A meeting with Sai Baba, 32 years ago

In 1979, as a 11 year-old boy, I first saw Sai Baba, in person, at the Sai Baba Headquarters in Bombay.
It was on the extensive grounds of what was called, Dharmakshetra, as the Headquarters was named.
My father, mother, and two brothers had come in around 1 pm to the vast shamiana. Though the Darshan was only to be at 5 pm, people had come in from the morning, and there was a vast sea of humanity, singing bhajans.
As time went on, the crowd kept increasing, and the excitement grew.
It was a very different and unique kind of excitement: the excitement that, at 5 pm, you would actually see God in person.
The bhajans kept increasing in tempo, and people started singing them full throatedly.
After 5 pm, everybody's attention was on the stretch of road down which Sai Baba would come in his Black Mercedes.
When he finally came, at 5.30 pm, everybody held their breath, as the Black Mercedes stopped, and there was a glimpse of an orange robe, and Sai Baba came out.
A collective sound, half gasp, half roar went through the crowd, as people strained to see him.
Some people folded their hands in veneration, and others put their hands up, palms facing Baba's direction, as though to catch the rays of holiness coming from him.
Goose pimples erupted through me, and I watched him, rapt in attention.
Sai Baba pulled up a little bit of his robe with one hand, so that it would not snag, and delicately walked through the walkways built through the crowd. Wherever he went, people in the front rows reached out to him. Sometimes he talked to them, sometimes wrote on the slip of paper they showed to him, and sometimes he took the petitions people gave him. He would hand over the petitions to orderlies coming behind him, hunched over lest they block people's view of Baba.
Occasionally, he would materialize Vibhuti, and distribute it in the crowd.
There must have been a crowd of 50,000 there, and every pair of eyes followed Baba, as he walked down the length of the shamiana.
Baba would, once in while, move his hand in circular motion, as though in wonderment at God's creation, or Maya.
Finally, he went up to the podium, and delivered a speech in Telugu, which was translated into English by an interpreter. The speech was about being good, about the need to pray to God, and about the transience of earthly life. He never referred to himself as God or talked about his miracles.
After the speech, he sat on a throne-like chair, watching us, as we sang Bhajans.
There was a sense of being his children, a sense of perfect safety and fulfillment.
When he left, there was a feeling of loss, a sense of 'what are we going to do with the rest of our life".
The kind of feeling you would get if you had actually seen God, and spent an hour with him, and then he went away.
In the ultimate analysis, Sai Baba may or may not have been a fraud or fake, but the emotions we felt, our devotion was genuine.
Perhaps, ultimately that's what matters.
What's more, I  believe that every single person who was in that crowd of 50,000 in 1981 would have   succumbed to the belief that he was divine: the electric atmosphere, the hours of singing, and the way Baba was showcased ensured that.
If you have not seen Baba in the flesh, at his darshans, you will not understand the phenomenon......

Monday, April 4, 2011

Stumbling on to Anish Kapoor in a natural setting

In February, like so many Delhiites, I went to the National Gallery of Modern Art, to see the famous modernist sculptor, Anish Kapoor's work. Like so many others, I found the circular mirrors, and the black spaces boring, and wondered what the fuss was all about. Well, last week found me taking a walk in Kensington Gardens in South London, and I stumbled onto this giant mirror in the park:

Ducks were pecking at it, and it looked absolutely stunning in its setting, amidst verdant English turf and a crystal clear pond. There were no placards saying who the sculptor was, or what the work was titled. Unmistakebly Anish Kapoor, I thought. When I went back and googled it, sure enough, it was "Sky Mirror" by Anish Kapoor, unveiled four years back. Of such stuff are serendipitious discoveries made, I thought....

Sunday, March 6, 2011

"South Indian Vegetarians Paradise" ???

It calls itself the "South Indian Vegetarians Paradise", proudly, on the illuminated board at the top.
As I lunched, for the twentieth year, at Sagar in Defence Colony, I reflected on how much change had come about, since I first went there in 1991.
The prices, of course: a Masala Dosa used to cost 12 rupees then, and it cost 75 rupees now.
It was possible to walk in anytime then, but now, especially on weekends, there is a long queue of people waiting to enter. And the single floor has now become three storeys.
Much of the rest is the same: the sambhar, the chutneys, all of that remains. They taste as good as they did twenty years back. Even the faded sunmica, the underfed south  Indian boys, all that is unchanged.
Ofcourse, they do not innovate here.
There is an entire range of South Indian food that is not reflected in Sagar.
The food they serve is the Udipi interpretation of South Indian food, mostly done by a single community, the Bunts (famously, Aishwariya Rai belongs to this community), and is about as authentic and representative of South Indian food as Chopsuey and Chowmein represents "Chinese" cuisine.
I guess I am as contemptuous of South Indian food served in the restaurants in Delhi as a Chinese guy who lands up in Delhi must be of the Chinese cuisine here (Vir Sanghvi christened it 'Sino-Ludhianvi" in those days when he used to write his own articles).
Why? Well, I know enough about atleast Tamilian vegetarian cuisine to know that there two dozen different sambhars in the cuisine, and I keep getting to eat the same one, the "raw coconut sambhar'. Where is the great "vatha Kozhambu"?, the King of Sambhars ? And where is the "Pavakai Pitla", the sambhar made from bitter gourd? Where is the glorius "Morkozhambu", sambhar made with curds?
Where is the "Adai", the multi-grain dosa, which every home in the south makes, once in a while?
Where is the humble "Mor-Mologai", the golden fried chilli, that accompanies curd rice?
Where are the avials, the porichai kootus, the thorans and the "mambazha patchadi"? Where is the "Baghara Baingan", and the "Bisi Bele Baath"? And where is the "Vella Payasam", kheer made with gur?
If Sagar wants to be authentic, they would have these items, commonly found at the tables in Kerala, Andhra Pradhesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
Instead, they have peddling the same boring stuff for 30 years, without any new items coming in, and, not surprisingly, most North Indians think they are getting to have genuine South Indian cuisine.
And, what gets my goat is the Rasam sham. Whereas Rasam is generally had with rice, they serve it here in Sagar in a tall glass with an Appalam, and a lot of North Indians really think that Rasam is an appetiser!!
I believe, that in a city full of Lebanese, Japanese, Goan, Korean, Thai, Sri Lankan, American, European, Italian and every-other-cuisine, it is a pity that there is no place which serves genuine South Indian cuisine, reflecting the range and diversity of the food, in an authentic ambience (which South Indian would want his sambhar in a little steel katori, as opposed to being poured out of a huge steel ladle??). Andhra Bhavan used to serve a good South Indian lunch, but sadly, their standards have gone down, even though their breakfast still remains a good option.
South Indian Vegetarians' Paradise? Nah!! More like a fool's paradise....
My search for true South Indian food in Delhi still continues, two decades after I settled here...
PS: I did not order Mineral Water there in the last twenty years, so please excuse me if I do not know if it is sold at MRP there, since some of my readers seem more bothered about the price of the water than the food...

Friday, February 25, 2011

Terracottah Warriors

It's an incredible story.

23 centuries back, an Emperor decides, at the age of 7, that when he is buried, he will be protected by an army of warriors, who will be buried with him.
Only, the warriors will be of fired clay, "terra-cottah".
And that, the facial characteristics of no two warriors will be the same: each will be a distinct individual.
Over the next forty years, 8,000 bigger-than-life size statues are fired in kilns, and each one is coloured beautifully.
There are horses, carriages, generals, and they are buried in tunnels around the tomb of the Emperor.
When the Emperor finally dies, the tomb is sealed, and so are the tunnels containing the terracota warriors, in 3rd Century BC. Oh yes, a final detail: there are rivers of mercury in the underground tunnels surrounding the tomb.
And also, the weapons the warriors have are real: and since they are chrome-plated (23 centuries before the discovery of chrome-plating by anyone else), the weapons will remain sharp, century after century, without rusting.
The tomb is discovered soon enough, but the soldiers lie buried for 23 centuries, till they are discovered in 1975.
The Emperor? Chinese, obviously, from the Qin Dynasty.

Well, two of those warriors are in Delhi, at the National Museum. For those of us who are not lucky enough to go to China, it is an awesome experience to come  face-to-face with the Terrocotta warriors. The link to the Exhibition timings etc is this (its on till March 20th):

Happy hunting!!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Breaking bread with bloodhounds.....the PM's breakfast with editors

I watched the Prime Minister's 'breakfast meeting' with 'senior' editors today on TV ( echoes of the Agra Summit, and Musharraf infamous breakfast meeting with editors, ofcourse, crossed my mind...)

Ordinarily, put any Prime Minister in a one-to-one interview with a journalist, and 99 times out of 100 he would come out well, because the journalist would be overawed, and would feel obliged, and also because on any given day, a Prime Minister generally has more information than a journo. And, it is not too difficult to "negotiate", and get to know the questions beforehand, and be prepared beforehand. Even some one as argumentative as David Frost was putty in Nixon hands, if one sees the documentary "Frost/Nixon".

But when a Prime Minister takes on two dozen editors, and that too, on live TV, group dynamics take over: they have to demonstrate to each other, and to the world, how leonine each one is, and how "independent" they are, and so, they proceed to outdo each other in aggression. After all, they have nothing to lose: all the suppressed anger at the humiliation each one get from his or her proprietor can be safely channeled and let out, in a heroic amount of indignation and independence. The Prime Minister (atleast not this one) is not going to order raids on their paper or channel, or cut off advertising.

That's what happened today: the Prime Minister was interrogated, and came off apologetic, eager to please, defensive, in front of a group of journalists who skewered him. Apart from the format of the interaction, the second problem, which anybody who is familiar with TV knows, is what kind of TV persona the subject has. Since the PM is not Ronald Reagan, with quick repartees, or Obama, with his made-for-TV eloquence, or even combative, the PR set-up, headed by Information Adviser, Harish Khare, should not gone in the first place for a televised event of this kind at all, in the first place.

But then, Harish Khare has been a press journalist, and after today's performance, it is clear that a newspaper journalist has no business to be Information Adviser in today's TV age. If Prime Ministers before had HK Dua or Baru or Ashok Tandon, it was because TV had still not achieved the kind of prominence it does today.

If the whole idea was to project the message that the Prime Minister and the government are in control, and to tell the government's side of the story, it did not work: it seemed at times that all the editors out there had come off straight from the daily 3 pm BJP briefing to grill the Prime Minister.

Not even Doordarshan was on the PM's side, with its  "senior" editor asking a question on, what else, corruption. Neelam Sharma is a TV presenter, with no reporting experience, and I wonder whose idea it was to send her to the "breakfast' meeting. A big number of anchors and presenters on DD News are still selected with zero journalism experience, with their looks being paramount, in the old-fashioned way, and boy, did it show....

All in all, a worthy successor to Musharraf's breakfast meeting.......

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Is The Age of Writing Over?

We know the age of reading is over: reading, that is, as defined as "general reading, motivated by curiosity, for the pleasure of reading, without any specific benefit in mind'. We know it is over: a walk down Nai Sadak reveals that the famous Sunday Book Bazaar consists of little more than textbook guides, GRE workbooks, medical books, and Lonely Planet guidebooks. And what's more, despite the crowds at the Book fairs and the "great explosion of Indian writing in English", the younger generation now spends its leisure hours smsing each other, surfing social networking sites, watching reality shows on TV, and if they read at all, those books are likely to be technical manuals or textbooks.
The Age of Writing, too, seems to be at an end. Emails and Smses have ended the long, detailed inland letters we wrote to friends and relatives, and "u" for you, and 'b4" seems to be the cutting edge of spelling innovation amongst youth. SMS English has crept into emails and Facebook.
All this would not matter, if atleast our youth knew how to convey their meaning, even in such painfully amputated English. Everyday, in office, I find educated youth, with post-graduate degrees, and in responsible posts, writing shockingly poor English, in terrible constructions of words, which would have put a Second-standard student to shame a few years back.
The truth finally struck me: like the Viennese Waltz, or pencil moustaches, both general reading and writing are going to be extinct in a few years from now. Sad, but true. We are going to be a nation of data entry operators, and mechanics and technicians.......
PS: I asked my daughter, who is in the 10th standard, to name a single battle in Indian history. She did not know. Hopefully, I asked her, 'What about the Battle of Plassey?". She replied, "Well, I read about it last year, and now I do not remember what that was'.
And academically, she is amongst the top in her school. God help us!!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Taslima Nasrin of Europe

That's the woman a lot of extremist Muslims across the world hate, and that's the cover of the book by her that I just finished reading.
So who is she? Well, if you can have a combination of Salman Rushdie, and of Taslima Nasreen, then you would get the picture.
She is the woman who, finally concluded that the problems Muslim women face finally stems from the Koran itself.
She also concluded that the Koran is just a book written by a human, not revelation from God, and that it sanctions violence against women by men.
She went vocal with her opinions, and has been in hiding ever since.
The book above makes for some compulsive reading, and I would recommend it for all those who want to think about issues such as multiculturism, and tolerance of physical abuse.
Ofcourse, we all know how many Hindu women get bashed up all the time by their husbands, and get compelled into marriages they do not want to get into, but what about the situation of women in our Muslim Community?
We would rethink the government's indifference to this issue if we were to read the book...