Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Every day in every way.

Self-improvement manuals. Would you believe I used to be an avid reader of these DIY tomes – why, you could say almost a junkie – once upon a time? I kid you not. I read Dale Carnegie’s How To Make Friends and Influence People and Norman Vincent Peale’s Power of Positive Thinking at the impressionable age of twelve or so. I chanced upon both in a cupboard full of books we used to have. Both, if memory serves, were DB Taraporewala’s trade paperbacks. (I can even ‘see’ the rather unfriendly yellow cover with black printing of the How To book.) Being an introvert by nature, it didn’t take me long to believe that these guys really knew the inside secrets of success and happiness. This belief persisted most of my earlier life. I got hooked on to scouring for, buying and studying many more of their brethren. I remember reading Vernon Howard’s Psycho-Pictography. His ‘teachings’ were couched in an esoteric pseudo-mystical lingo. He used parables (called 'Mental Pictures'), I suppose, of his own making. His USP was that by merely reading those gems, the reader’s sub-conscious would automatically and effortlessly absorb the teaching. The catch was that it would work for you only if you let it. (can you believe 'placebo' remedy?) How this proviso could co-exist with the earlier claim of the mind “automatically and effortlessly” absorbing the teaching I simply couldn’t figure out. Anyway, this ‘lift karadey’ stuff didn’t work for me and somewhere along the way I handed over my entire DIY tome collection to an acquaintance who actually believed it could be done – without mirrors. Read a ‘psycho-pictograph’ at http://www.anewlife.org/html/book_quotes.html#PP if you're so inclined.

The Pandora’s Box you walk into.

This is a memory, circa 2003. On the way to a restaurant near home, we happened to step into what l later realised was a compact, made-in-India version of the American dime (nickel-and-dime/five-and-ten) store situated next doors. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Fourth Edition, 2000) defines this originally small-town phenomenon pioneered by FW Woolworth in 1879 [http://www.bartleby.com/61/41/F0154100.html] as “a retail store selling a wide variety of inexpensive articles”. My dime store had all kinds of glittering and seemingly useful stuff selling at Rs.49/-, Rs.99/- and Rs.149/-. We even did a wee bit of shopping there. It also stocked, I noticed, made-in-plastic replicas of what could have passed for ‘Depression Glass Objects’ (1920-1950) and made the originators proud. http://www.museum.state.il.us/exhibits/athome/1920/objects/1depression.htm. Déjà-vu, any one? Then, I found this bit of Dime Store Math at http://www.tlsbooks.com/dsmath.htm: “You are the owner of the biggest dime store in your town. You purchase your merchandise in large quantities, then repack the items in small packages for your customers. Using the information provided in each box, calculate how many packages will be available to your customers.” Also, when you are in a poetic mood, do read five and dime store dreams by Larry Jaffe. It begins with “i grew up with woolworths / and kresges / five & dime stores” explaining the passion thus: “cause everything / was supposed to be / on the cheap” http://www.funkydogpublishing.com/larryjaffe-fiveanddimestore.html. Larry’s heart was never in the American Way (“… bomb scare drills / way before terrorism was born / … we fought the commie scourge / fear of being nuked / fallout shelters the rage / and then we raged / through 60's hoopla / warring factions of peace”) as we realise by his admission right at the tail of his little stinger: “but my heart resided / in that 5 & dime / where peace was affordable”.

Never judge a book by its title. The cover is probably the better bet.

We owe a lot to Shakespeare including many a famous book title. Aldous Huxley borrowed from him, if memory serves, at least two titles for his novels (Brave New World, Time Must Have A Stop). On 6 September 2003, I had written in my weekly column about a BBC opinion poll. Poor Willie had to play fourth fiddle to Newton, Churchill and Princess Diana in it. http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/181_361190,00030007.htm. Then I stumbled on another gross miscarriage of justice when Stephen King walked away with The United States' National Book Foundation’s 2003 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. This puts him on par with John Updike, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow and Toni Morrison. I like the way Yale University Professor Harold Bloom sums up the situation in his comments to The New York Times: "He is a man who writes what used to be called penny dreadfuls. That they could believe that there is any literary value there or any aesthetic accomplishment or signs of an inventive human intelligence is simply a testimony to their own idiocy." http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/s946535.htm. One is tempted to say at this point: “What did you expect from the moronic Britons and Americans?” The temptation is a passing phase, though. Soon, one remembers it happens all the time anywhere and everywhere. The entire human race is subject to the hypnotic influence of top-of-mind icons and images – irrespective of caste, creed, gender or nationality, I guess. But wait a second, there's solace for those who're discouraged by the ignoble defeat. Read No doubts about his genius at http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/mag/stories/2003083100270400.htm. Did you know that 'the genius' used as many as 9,36,433 words in his literary output in the 16th Century – which works out to five times the number of words in modern German!

More about Shakespeare from my personal QuiteATake.com Archives [Issue #76]

AS YOU LIKE IT. Sites-for-types department.

For Shakespeare aficionados, Hamlet: an executive summary (and S-W-O-T analysis) in PowerPoint at bmillar1.users.btopenworld.com. For nitpickers and one-person fault finding missions, Movie Mistakes, Hollywood's Big Brother movie-mistakes.com and for movie goers in a hurry, Ruined Endings ruinedendings.com. For surfers who prefer to pose their queries in plain English, French, Spanish, German, Italian or Portuguese, Answer Bus (it doesn't work at times, though) misshoover.si.umich.edu. For disbelievers of the 'real' computer bug, NMAH Object 1994.0191.1 americanhistory.si.edu.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Moniker makeover. Just what Mumbai needs.

I’m surprised nobody had this brainwave so far. Especially those forward-looking, forward-thinking municipal corporators of Brihan Mumbai! After all, they need every photo op they can grab. So here it is – offered gratis. This means ‘free of charge’ – in case you’re allergic to phoren words, particularly those with Latin (i.e., Eye-talian) roots just like some people we love to hate. So let’s replace the old imperial (imperious?) sounding names of the stations of the Western Railway (suburban line). What Mumbai needs is dynamic new monikers mirroring the spirit of our glorious present and even more glorious future. In so far as Church Gate is the terminus – and it is a terminal condition of the Progressive Mumbaikar state of mind that there is only one personage deserving enough to lend his name to all termini, airports, possibly docks, the new name would naturally be CST (Paschim). Marine Lines will metamorphose into Dr C Moraes Chowk – that being the closest landmark. Charni Road will be rechristened SK Patil Udyan again after the nearest landmark. Or, if you’re not in a mood to overglorify old Congress honchos, let’s call it Maharshi Karve Marg after the friendly parallel road. The Indian sounding Nana Chowk will displace the ‘Angrezon ke jamane ke jailor’ Grant Sahib in the station currently named after the road named after him. Et cetera, et cetera and so forth – as The King of Siam (Oscar winner Yul Brynner) kept repeating to a simpering Anna (Deborah Kerr) in the 1956 CinemaScope movie I saw way, way back at the New Empire Cinema. http://www.vidkraft.com/ffvp/1999/anna_and_the_king.htm. By the way, this cinema hall happens to be near the original CST – the reincarnation of VT (Victoria Terminus). For enlightenment on moniker makeovers, amble over to http://www.famousnamechanges.com/. (Would you rather meet ‘Demetria Guyness’, ‘Reginald Dwight’ and ‘Sofia Scicolone’ than ‘Demi Moore’, ‘Elton John’ and ‘Sophia Loren’?) Question: Should parents and family not consult spin doctors before handicapping offsprings with names that are born non-starters?

The very idea of progress. Brrrrr!

“What we call ‘progress’ is the exchange of one nuisance for another nuisance,” thought Havelock Ellis. “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man,” argued the irrepressible George Bernard Shaw (Man and Superman: Maxims for Revolutionists, 1903). http://www.quotationspage.com/subjects/progress/. As a firm Murphy loyalist, I agree totally. I want to live in reasonable comfort. But when it comes to making a change for the sake of improving the way one has been living or because familiarity has bred contempt, I tend to be chary. What one’s likely to end up with are not comfort and greater well-being but worry and unhappiness – and avoidable and wasteful expense. Call me a Neo-Luddite if you will but I prefer to stick to the old and the familiar instead of the bold and the ‘progressive’ if left to myself. Maybe, I’m a born technophobe or a plain pessimist. http://personal.vineyard.net/dwright/luddite.html. (P.S.: May I add that, in the Indian context and work culture, a Neo-Luddite is likely to fare better than a progress addict?) Finally, let me remind you of what Samuel Butler wrote (Notebooks, 1912): “All progress is based upon a universal innate desire on the part of every organism to live beyond its income.”

News spreads. And how.

The way news – and rumours – spread in the world as we know it always fascinates me. That is why the diagram and the theory about the occurrence of the phenomenon on the Internet (and Blogspace), Stephen Van Dyke’s brainchild, was quite an education for me. http://stephenvandyke.com/2004/03/08/how-news-travels-on-the-internet/ To enjoy the intricacies of the graphic depiction in its full glory, view the big version at http://stephenvandyke.com/images/articles/153-how_news_travels_on_the_internet_infographic.gif. If you’re in a mood for more theory, look at The Blog Epidemic Analyzer (HP Information Dynamics Lab) http://www-idl.hpl.hp.com/blogstuff/index.htmlhttp:/www-idl.hpl.hp.com/blogstuff/index.html. Don’t skip the FAQ at http://www-idl.hpl.hp.com/blogstuff/faq.html#1 particularly #10. Why do bloggers kill kittens? This is a pithy – and witty – explanation of the trajectory of information in Blogspace using the authors’ own experience as an example. Amit Asaravala explains what rhe HP research is all about in his Wired article (Warning: Blogs Can Be Infectious). http://wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,62537,00.html.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

A grand old pumpkin tale.

This morning, I peeled and ate about 20 pumpkin seeds. I had saved them for drying after salvaging them from a pumpkin slice Ujwal had used to make some vegetable soup on Saturday. It brought back memories of my childhood. My mother used to give them to me ready peeled with their green covering intact. Peeling is quite a chore. Even if the outer covering is completely dry, it’s still slippery. Holding the tiny seed in your finger and trying to break and remove it takes a lot of patience. My other memory about pumpkin seeds concerns the annual fair (jatra) in Navi Wadi (literally ‘New Street’) very close to where I stay now. We used to go to visit the temple of Maheshwari, our family deity (kula devta). They used to have sweetmeat shops there where you could buy pumpkin seeds in sugar covering. It was considered quite a treat then. I wonder if it’s still available. Or, considered a treat. I also remembered a story from my childhood. It was about a bouncing pumpkin that a crafty grandmother used to save herself from a tiger and a fox. By a strange coincidence, I read it just the other day in a book for children rewritten by the renowned Marathi writer, Pralhad Keshav Atre. Delectable!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Offshoring’s latest offshoot. Fat of(f) the land.

Just yell “Cease and desist, dude!” if you’ve read this hush-hush outsourcing joke before. “The United States is rapidly outsourcing obesity to India and hopes to shed as many as three trillion pounds of unsightly cellulite annually, President George W. Bush announced today.” Sounds too devious to be his brainwave? Listen to how he explained the diabolically clever plot to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Milwaukee: “most of the millions of jobs outsourced since [I] was elected President were extremely sedentary”. “In the long run, the weight loss more than makes up for the job loss,” is the President’s unrepentant justification. According to the writer of this exclusive story who is no other than the irrepressible Andy Borowitz: “Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam recently said in a nationally televised address that India was ‘in the throes of a Supersizing epidemic,’ adding that ‘the time has come for the Indian people to decide whether or not they want to look like Dick Cheney’.” Wonder how I omitted seeing this not-to-be-missed telecast. Oh, to be an idiot-box addicted couch potato! http://www.borowitzreport.com/archive.asp. (Please look for the 7 April 2004 article: ‘U.S. OUTSOURCES OBESITY TO INDIA’.)

Pop 'n’ mom of spam.

Quickly now! Were Canter and Siegel, the ill-fated immigration lawyer couple from Phoenix, Arizona, black-hearted villains or pioneering heroes? Depends entirely on your World Wide Web view, I daresay. Given my interest in the Net qua an advertising 'medium', I can't help feeling they did us all a fabulous favour by testing its advertising potential, under the most trying real-life conditions on the Internet – including much abuse and not a few death threats, a while before WWW came to be a reality. The notorious US Government Green Card Lottery caper was nothing but classic off-line interruption marketing transferred willy-nilly online. The Pop and the Mom of Spam have since been divorced for reasons unknown if one were to read between the lines of Paul Festa’s Spam: 'Happy' tenth birthday. There, Martha Siegel is referred to as Laurence Canter’s “then wife”, i.e., at the time when they (Martha in absentia and by default) spawned the Net ‘s Public Enemy No.1 on 12 April 1994 – in fact, twelve years ago as of now, come to think of it. http://www.silicon.com/research/specialreports/thespamreport/0,39025001,39119938,00.htm?nl=d20040414

The cuckoo flew over to the crow’s nest. To lay an egg or two.

For the last three years or so, the spring has been springing on my neighbourhood more chirping birds than in the past. It was like in my childhood when our house abutted a spacious garden populated by lots of chirpers and crooners. They used to hold a symphony every sunrise and sunset. Today I can hear the koel at dawn accompanied by what looks and sounds like a robin red breast and a chorus of parrots. These last three years, in fact, the koel has made it a habit of repeating her repertoire at all times of the day – which is uncharacteristic and a bit disturbing. My mother used to tell me that the dulcet-voiced koel sings to herald the coming of the rains. Surely, the monsoons aren’t about to break, are they? I came across a fascinating article on the koel at this website a while ago:
http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/mp/2003/04/22/stories/2003042200020100.htm. By the way, the koel or cuckoo is the avian world’s notorious “brood parasite”. She abdicates her parental responsibilities by laying eggs in Ma Crow’s nest forcing her do the rest of the hard work of hatching the eggs and feeding the chicks. Speak of birdbrains? Hah! http://www.wildlifeofindia.com/artcuckoo.htm.

Let barking dogs bark. Even if it's in the dead of the night.

I read Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. The curious thing about it is that it’s labeled ‘Children’s Fiction’, even won the Whitbread Book of the Year Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the Booktrust Teenage Fiction Award last year. No, I don’t mean its winning all those prestigious awards is curious. I mean it being slotted as juvenile fiction. I know its chief protagonist is an autistic 15-year-old with Behavioural Problems and Level A High Math ambitions. The content is strictly grown-up, though, dude. Look at the question the child poses. Does God exist? What happens when you die? And, stuff like that. And, though his ‘model’ for the mystery novel he’s writing is The Hound of the Baskervilles, the dénouement is far from conventional. Haddon’s interview: http://www.powells.com/authors/haddon.html.

Take the promos with a pinch of salt. Preferably large.

One of my stupidest blunders in either the first or the second year of my college career was to almost forcibly take my father and mother to the Regal Cinema in Colaba to see The Robe. It was a dull and listless movie, as I now recall, with a wooden Richard Burton performance that was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar nevertheless. Victor Mature as his slave, Demetrius, was far better and even got rewarded for it with a starring role in a sequel, Demetrius and the Gladiators. (That too was a bomb. End of digression.) The reason I did what I did was because The Robe was the first film photographed in CinemaScope – badly, I admit (the newly developed lens was still full of flaws like an MS beta) – and I thought I was taking them to watch a major technological innovation in movie-making. (The ads said: “The first motion picture in CinemaScope – the modern miracle you see without glasses!” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0046247/taglines.) I used to be rather naïve and trusting about Hollywood in those days. I thought all that came from the West was best. One thing I distinctly remember, though, and am thankful for. Neither my father nor my mother enjoyed the ‘experience’ (as the promos put it) – my father, I suspect, loathed going to movies – and yet they accompanied me meekly and didn’t protest my impertinence even after returning home. What reminded me of this incidence is probably all the fuss that’s going on about Fanna. These days, my attitude is, cease and desist. It’s only a movie, for Pete’s sake. Even if Kunal Kohli whom we all love made it.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Wise and worldly? Or, other worldly? The Prequel.

Had we gone completely wacko or what? We almost ‘outsourced’ (as my friend Avinash laughingly described it when the Congress takeover drama was on a couple of years ago) our Prime Ministership – which my PC’s spell-check by the way insisted should be written as two words either ‘Ministers’ + ‘hip’ or ‘Minister’ + ‘ship’. At that time, we were also a search for India’s Child Genius. I had no problem with the former. (In my eyes, the erstwhile Italian au pair lady is a naturalized Indian citizen.) The latter in my book is sheer lunacy. The Hyperdictionary defines ‘genius’ as ‘unusual mental ability’, ‘a natural talent’, ‘exceptional creative ability’, ‘exceptional intellectual ability’ and ‘originality’. http://www.hyperdictionary.com/dictionary/genius. From the Child Genius Search promos I got the feeling that general knowledge and mathematical ability were the litmus test used by the ‘tele-hunt’. Genius cannot be hunted down, if you ask me. Like cream, it rises to the top. All by itself. The rest is Kaun-Banega-Krorepati clonemanship. What irked me most about the promos was the so-called kid genius wannabes strutting about hurling attitude with a capital ‘A’ at the viewer. Borrowing a turn of phrase from Dorothy Parker I would like to humbly submit that “This is not a show to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” Like what the anti-incumbency wave did to the NDA! Huh? http://www.quotesplace.com/info/browse/Dorothy_Parker.

Wise and worldly? Or, other worldly? Take your pick.

I’m wary of people who compare Sonia Gandhi to the so-called Mahatma and Jayaprakash Narayan for renouncing’ power at the last moment when Congress replaced the BJP as the prime mover at New Delhi in the last election. My own reading is, MK Gandhi was not interested in wielding it once India became independent. On 15 August 1947, he was in fact praying and fasting in Calcutta. He had gone there to quell the massacre of the innocent. That day, by the way, also happened to be the fifth death anniversary of Mahadev Desai, his principal secretary and close confidant from 1917. (This part of our history is succinctly and tellingly depicted in The Last Gandhi Movie, my unpublished novel.http://popgoestheslop.blogspot.com/2006/05/back-from-oblivion-last-gandhi-movie.html.) Narayan too was probably not power-enamoured at the end of the Emergency when a Janata Party government was swept into power by an anti-Indira wave. With Sonia, the decision to say No to the prime ministerial crown was probably motivated by her anxiety to avoid a near civil warlike situation and also perhaps personal safety. To me, it seems a worldly-wise decision, not a saintly one. But I could of course be totally wrong in my reading. Because she “told her MPs she had decided to listen to her ‘inner voice’.” – in an MK Gandhi-like pronouncement. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/3721863.stm. Her reference to ‘conscience’ had prompted a VHP hate spam e-mail with ‘Whose conscience?’ in the subject line. It seems ‘conscience’ is the prerogative of the chosen few: the practising Hindus who want to demolish mosques and build temples in their stead. And, if you happen to have been born outside India, you’d better not even utter the sacred word with your infidel tongue.

Bonfire of the Vanities. Thank you, Google.

This happened some time in last June, if memory serves. At the prompting of a friend (and my vanity), I finally ventured to query Googlism http://www.googlism.com/. ("By the way, it’s a wicked site good stuff." is how Andrew Thompson describes it. “Thanks for the total roxority that is googlism," Greg Pallis adds his two bit’s worth.) about Deepak Mankar. And got a “Sorry, Google doesn't know enough about deepak mankar yet.” rebuff for my trouble. So I queried Googlism about Dr. Manmohan Singh. Same result. Never mind. Because when I checked what Google thought of such worthies as Sonia Gandhi, MK Gandhi, Shah Rukh Khan and Sachin Tendulkar, quite a few Googlisms I found were incoherent and incomplete. For instance: “mahatma gandhi is”; “mahatma gandhi is not known”; “mahatma gandhi is no more a person”; “mahatma gandhi is one of them”; “mahatma gandhi is a similar feature”; “mahatma gandhi is spot”; and so forth. Maybe Google doesn’t give a damn about Indians, hmmm? Here are the gems on Andrew Thompson from Google: “andrew thompson is an m”; “andrew thompson is a small but steadily growing company and the only way we can continue to grow is to offer our customers the highest quality and the best”; “andrew thompson is currently completing a doctorate on foreign policy in britain and hanover in the first half of the eighteenth century”; “andrew thompson is a 22 year old ultra”; “andrew thompson is a 25”; et cetra, et cetra and so forth. If you can make sense of it, please let me know. Now I know what the tern “flawed technology” means. (‘GOOGLE = PROOF POSITIVE? Even judges think so.’) http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/181_787572,00030007.htm. Maybe, what Gail D'Almaine – whoever she is – is right about Googlism when she wrote (via email): "Haven't had such a laugh in ages, brilliant tool, amazing results - and poetry isn't dead after all.” Or, Waldopepper of FilePile opined: "Its like a zany-madcap humour generator.” One last thought: Not much seems to have changed at Googlism after nearly a year, though, except probably the collection of laudatory quotes. Read about the first bonfire of the vanities held in Florence on sinful, vanity objects like mirrors, cosmetics, fine dresses, musical instruments, immoral books, manuscripts of secular songs and pictures including several original paintings on classical mythological subjects by Sandro Botticelli, under the baton of Father Girolamo Savonarola: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonfire_of_the_Vanities.

No rest for the intrepid post person. Except Newman, Seinfeld’s nemesis (probably retired by now).

Remember the good ol’ days when the US Post used to boast of the mail going through rain, hail and high water – in other words, against all odds? (“Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” This was at one time thought to be the Official Motto. http://www.britannica.com/ebi/article?eu=298597&query=stamps&ct=%22ebi%22.) Well, now the Internet has made it unnecessary to live up to it, boys and girls. In 2002, 77 percent retailers mailed catalogues. A year later, only 55 percent did. Woe is me, says the US Postal Service Chief and commissions a survey. “And guess what?” writes George Simpson (Surveys: Don’t confuse me with the facts) “The study proves that catalogs double the chances of businesses making an online sale. And that people who get catalogs in the mail spend more on Web purchases than people who don't get catalogs.” http://www.mediapost.com/dtls_dsp_news.cfm?newsId=252307. If you think this is about the US Post being wrongly at the receiving end and proving the point with an ‘impartial study’, read the rest of the article and guffaw.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Back from oblivion. The Last Gandhi Movie.

The ways in which the universe functions never fail to amaze me. I had bitched before online about how the website for my unpublished novel, The Last Gandhi Movie, so kindly hosted by the earlier marketing team at DBS Internet was killed when that team suddenly left the company. I didn’t have a back-up copy – because I didn’t take care as is my wont to be vigilant and provide for the worst. Try as I might, I couldn’t find anyone who had that precious commodity. So, I said to myself “So what? It ain’t the end of the world no way.” Or something of that sort. (Nope, I didn’t. But it sure sounds dramatic, doesn’t it?) Anyway, I carried on regardless. (As if I had an alternative!) Vinay Satyan who had finally managed to shape the website wrote from the US where he’s now working to ask about the virtual whereabouts of The Last Gandhi Movie. I directed him to The Wayback Machine http://www.archive.org/ where a few scattered remains refused to perish. http://web.archive.org/web/*/addgandhi.com/*. Then suddenly out of the blues (or greys, if you feel The Last Gandhi Movie ought to be in grainy black and white – not glorious Technicolour) popped up an angelic apparition (or so it seemed to grateful me). Now this particular Angel used to be so fond of football – like all Bongs, I reckon – that he promptly started threatening to stay up late to watch the Euro Championship (mid-2004) and root as always for Germany. What’s more, he promised in the same breath to burn a CD of The Last Gandhi Movie not only for me but for Vinay too. (He used to be with the marketing team that quit from DBS Internet.) The Angel is no more, people, but The Last Gandhi Movie is back. You can see it in its entirety (well almost) at http://www.addgandhi.com/original/. [Please turn off Popup Blocker or its equivalent software to enjoy the beginning.]

Calling Bollywood. May day. May day.

All of us owe a huge debt of gratitude to Hindi mainstream cinema. Or, what we middle-class urban desis (MUDs) with our umbilical cords firmly rooted in the Land of Milk and Honey, the home of Hollywood, insist on calling Bollywood. We ought to be grateful to it for the great heroines it gave us (Nargis, Madhubala, Geeta Bali, Waheeda Rehman, Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi, Madhuri Dixit, Kajol, Kareena – forget Meena Kumari, there was something amiss there). And, for the world’s coolest villains who could double without exception – and with panache – as accomplished comedians. The Indian hero pantheon – barring all of Ashok Kumar, Guru Dutt, Balraj Sahani, Amol Palekar, Naseeruddin Shah and Sanjeev Kumar and some of the early Dilip Kumar – didn’t amount to much in my eyes in spite of male-oriented scripts. We ought also to be grateful for the great songs that age well and sound as good remixed. And, for dances that look like vintage Ken Ghosh in their Jurassic Age incarnation. And, oh! Such wonderful entertainment, too. And, such fun-filled opening weekend film reviews. (By the way, a while back, I noticed that a film reviewer had awarded the new but not remade Andaaz a ‘*½’ in his rating scale of ‘*****’= ‘Excellent’ to ‘*’ = ‘Poor’. Was he telling us it was ‘barely above the poverty line’?) Well, even the critics who pan Hindi mainstream cinema ought to be grateful to it. And, all those television folks who do Bollywood-based talent shows and quiz shows and gossip shows. And, all those cinema-centric rags – er, mags. And, the FM stations and the record (CD, DVD) companies. And, the crazy first-day-first-show fans. And, so on and so forth… because, pray tell, where would they all be sans Bollywood? [P.S.: I have it on good authority – read Aditi in New Jersey – that a certain one-hit (okay, maybe, two-hit) star in Bollywood records ‘Many happy returns’ greetings for his fans in his spare time. Others on the other hand are giving their respective best shots – in a beysharam and/or beyreham vein – to promote colas, fridges and cars seeking the much-needed push off the shelves. If that sounds like vintage Star Dust, Meow! As they say in Cannes, c’est la vie, ma cherie! Oo-la-la!] Stop Press: One more thing before I sign off. Aditi in NJ who will be here today to attend the premier of Kunal Kohli’s Fanna had a bone to pick with me. According to her, the one-movie (sorry, two-movie) wonder star did not send her a recorded message on her birthday but “it was an actual call from him... original… not a recorded message he even spoke to mom.” Those are her original words, punctuation included. I hope that kinda absolves me of tinkering with the truth or whatever you suspected me of attempting, eh, Aditi?

Monday, May 22, 2006

True lies. Or, whatever.

I don’t know why I just thought of the autobiography by a living journalist and author I’d read a couple of years back. It’s rather well written and eminently readable. I don’t much care for her regular columns but picked up Selective Memories: Stories From My Life on a hunch. My gut feel about books is seldom wrong. No, I’m not boasting, folks. I remember enjoying the book hugely, lapping it up in a canter even. Ms Dé seems to be in her elements here, full of erudition and shrewd insights of a seemingly somewhat reluctant celebrity bang in the fame game. By her own admission, this is not a ‘bare all, dare all’ autobiography. And, yet her sincerity and candour come shining through. At times, a tad too much. Take it for what’s it worth, folks, but I sincerely feel that all fiction, ‘faction’, autobiographical writing, history and even journalistic reporting are ultimately ‘gossip’ in the Capotesque sense. The writer tends to forget, edit, embellish, alter, slant, skew, modify the ‘truth’ – not always intentionally. ‘What really happened’ exists only in the moment. What’s reported later is hardly ‘it’, indeed can’t be – given human nature and the way memory works. In Selective Memory, I sense a recurrent theme. Ms Dé tends to ‘trace’ many of her later-life ‘mistakes’ to her father’s judgments, pronouncements and diktat (he happened to be a district magistrate early in his career) about her attitudes and behaviour as an adolescent and a young adult. Maybe, she’s right. But considering his middle-class stock of pre-independence India, he too must have suffered in plenty from the shocks her ‘unconventional’ (by his yardstick) life happened to deliver. Read an online review of the book here: http://www.mouthshut.com/readreview/5176-1.html. It doesn’t do the book or the author justice, though.

Thank you for not reading. (With apologies to Dubravka Ugresic.)

Is reading uncool? One Mumbai cabdriver probably thought so without giving the matter much thought, I guess. He lost the opportunity of a lifetime. He had in his hands for a couple of days a diary containing the unlisted telephone numbers of Hrithik Roshan and Salman Khan among others. He could have easily hawked them to fans for thousands of rupees. The VIP whose diary – her ‘lifeline’, a mine of normally unobtainable info – happened to be left behind in that unfortunate cabdriver’s cab one Sunday afternoon was lucky. She got a cabdriver who thought reading was uncool and, as a result, she got her precious treasure trove back. HR and SK were spared the trouble and the expense of changing their unlisted telephone numbers. The cabdriver’s son who delivered the prodigal diary did claim a couple of hundred bucks by way of transportation – and reward for honesty, I suppose. But look at it this way. The cabdriver did read her address on the flyleaf. Else, the diary would never have come home. But obviously that was about the only stuff he bothered to read. No curiosity, no reward, what? My son Ashu who was in Mumbai briefly told me both his daughters, Aditi and Avantika, seem to think reading is uncool. That surprised me no end because both of them write well, far better than many of their peers. (P.S.: In my book, if reading is uncool, so is writing. Evidently, they and I don’t read the same stuff, huh? ) Seems kind of logical, though, since they live in the US of A where the National Endowment for the Arts uncovered “a precipitous downward trend in book reading” – despite the much-hyped Oprah Book Club helping to push millions of books. The NEA senses "an imminent cultural crisis" and predicts: "At the current rate of loss, literary reading as a leisure activity will virtually disappear in half a century." Aditi and Avantika head the trendsetters. Let’s hope pretty soon they’re not at a loss for words. http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/books/181442_reading09.html. Review summaries of Dubravka Ugresic’s Thank You For Not Reading: http://www.complete-review.com/reviews/ugresicd/thankyou.htm#summaries. (Irony of irony: Aditi and Avantika’s mom, Nandini, got me a copy of Thank You For Not Reading on her last visit to Mumbai a couple of years back. )

STOP PRESS: To read Alchemy, one of the 33 pieces from Dubravka Ugresic’s Thank You for Not Reading: Essays in Literary Trivia, go here: http://www.centerforbookculture.org/context/no13/Alchemy. Quotable quote: “The transmutation of shit into gold is nevertheless no simple thing, for if it were we would all be rich. You need institutions, galleries, media, a market, publicity, interpreters (those who will explain the meaning of the artistic gesture), promoters, art dealers, critics and, of course, consumers. Even when the shit is well packaged there is no guarantee that the transmutation will succeed.”

Scalping for fun and profits. Don’t wait till zero hour.

Now that the World Cup fever is on, this tale comes to mind. My friend, Zubin, told me how he managed at the very last moment to attend the 2004 Grand Prix of Canada in Montreal (13 June 2004). For the privilege, he had to pay a global ticket scalper through the nose. In return, though, he managed to click some prize pictures of his idol, Michael Schumacher, and to grab a piece of his frayed tyre as well. The scalper told him that he had lost a packet on the last Cricket World Cup when England and New Zealand dropped out of contention and India cruised to the finals. Scalping is apparently well and thriving in the West. These smart operators use the Internet to do bulk booking well in advance and then rake in the moolah when the fans who didn’t make it to the box office in time to get the entrance tickets clamour for them at the last moment. To read all about the fine art of ticket scalping and the intended remedy, go here: http://www.gothamgazette.com/iotw/tickets/. Read all about the 2004 Grand Prix of Canada, if you feel so inclined, here: http://www.grandprix.ca/anglais/index.html.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Legendary story telling. Wire to wire.

Born to write. Poetic prose. Word magic. Sorry, I’m bogged down in clichés trying to tell you about one of the greatest reads I came across in a long, long time. I sensed this was it when I was glancing at the ‘Acknowledgements’ section of Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit: An American Legend in Strand Book Stall. I’m almost as good a judge of books as Tom Smith, Seabiscuit’s trainer, was of horseflesh. No empty boast that one, believe you me. There’s first-rate story (and history) telling in those 314 tightly written pages, not a word wasted. By contrast, another ‘legend’ book I read recently about Kishore Kumar paled in comparison. It seemed overwritten, plodding, bordering on hagiography. Maybe, I’ve a weakness for well-crafted narratives where every well-chosen word adds to the forward march of the story and reading pleasure. More about the Seabiscuit book at http://www.seabiscuitonline.com/index1.htm. More about the KK book at http://kanaad.blogspot.com/ (16 July 2003 post). By the way, what makes Seabiscuit so special is that Hillenbrand researched and wrote it while suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome all throughout the four years of toil. Her grit and courage matched her subject’s, stride for stride, till the winning post. Seabiscuit was on the NY Times bestseller list, at No.1 for about a month.

Talk the talk. Banal is cool.

Where do celebrity (a former Miss India) and non-celebrity (starving farmers) suicides rate on a scale of zero to 9? Going purely by the media coverage of the events, I don’t have to tell you the answer. Pierre Bourdieu’s On Television, published in English in 1998 at the height of the Clinton-Lewinsky soap opera on the American Idiot Box, deals among other things with the ratings game. For this French sociologist, anthropologist, philosopher and champion of anti-globalisation, television is the “space for narcissistic exhibitionism”. “Talking heads” inhibit this space on talk shows: the “fast thinkers” who spout sound bytes on demand, banalities mostly, and dominate the “slow thinkers” who cannot match their pace. His analysis helps to explain why, despite all the information available to us on television, we aren't getting any smarter Just switch on any of the “panel discussion” shows to check out the truth of this observation. Read a review of On Television: http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0412/is_2_29/ai_77609490. Learn more about Bourdieu (1930 -2002): http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/bourd.htm.

Rooting for Henry. Well done, mate.

Diabolical, I call it. It was a send-up all along. I should’ve guessed it the last time I read The Further Letters of Henry Root, guffawing aloud all the way. Especially when I spotted more than once the wet fish merchant extraordinaire quoting verbatim his daughter Doreen (20). She reads philosophy and sociology at the University of Exeter, you know. What’s more, she spouts logic while watching TV talk shows where the likes of Malcolm Muggeridge hold forth. Stuff like “This isn’t a game of football; it’s a category mistake” – this gem pitched during a telecast of an England versus Ipswich game. William Donaldson is the culprit. He conjured Henry Root out of his cunning knowledge of the British way of life in the Thatcher era. “The eccentric, ribald, hysterical writings of semi-retired wet fish merchant Henry Root have been England's best-kept comic secret since the late 1970s. … William Donaldson adopted the nom de lettre of Mr. Root and began to offer unsolicited advice – bluffly impertinent, robustly cranky, wonderfully lunatic advice – and propose strange but just-barely-plausible schemes to Britain's most prominent individuals. Donaldson's all-too-straight-talking, archly English crackpot elicited from his targeted bigwigs one unthinkingly self-important reply after another …” says the Barnes & Noble website blurb. And, a reader’s review: “His attempts to purchase a peerage from the Conservative Party are a lesson to anyone who would undertake a serious wind-up campaign against a corporate or political entity. And his efforts to get his Grandmother onto the Terry Wogan TV show '... she's no Shirley Bassey, but she is bad…' – hilarious.” N.B.: Actually, it’s Mrs Root’s mother, Enid Potts (79), he’s trying to palm off to Wogan, if memory serves.

Whose reality? What reality?

Why do we take offence at the drop of a hat? Is it because, like the proverbial spoilt brat, we want the world to run according to our bidding? Of late, so many films have been in the eye of the storm for one reason or the other. For instance: the (erroneous?) depiction of police personnel and practices or lesbianism, to cite a couple of not so recent examples. Why cannot moviegoers (or, couch potatoes for that matter) realise that what they pay good money and spend hours to watch is not reality but fiction attempting to approximate reality at the most. So why impute dark motives and evil intentions to the auteur when (s)he’s offering what (s)he hopes will be an entertainer and a money-spinner? And, even if the movie is claimed to be ‘realistic’, whose reality do you think it portrays? Surely, neither the viewer’s nor the critic’s. There’s an insightful article (Reality Check) on ‘reality television and movies’ at http://www.metroactive.com/papers/cruz/09.27.00/filmfest1-0039.html you may like to read. A quotable excerpt: "We are bombarded by fantasy," says Sharon Simpson, co-founder of the Santa Cruz Documentary Film and Video Festival. "The popularity of shows like Survivor, which really have nothing to do with 'reality,' still show (sic!) that people are interested in what is supposedly 'real'."

Friday, May 12, 2006

Out to scalp. No cavalary in sight.

If this is not the height of irony, what is? Look at the evidence, folks. One: The much-vaunted world’s No.1 democracy was created by cheating, brutalizing and robbing the Red Indians who were the original inhabitants of the land that Columbus mistook for India. (The Indian State is no less ruthless, mind you, having callously reduced to penury farmers and Adivasis with little or no land and banished them from the Indian mainstream. [Related link: http://popgoestheslop.blogspot.com/2006/05/are-page-three-lions-inveterate-lady.html]) Two: In the American pop culture, the Red Indian continues to be portrayed as a vicious villain and a savage brute. Three: now the ‘cradle of democracy’ has met her nemesis in an Indian specie – Brown for a change – hailing from the land Columbus was trying to reach. The challenge is in the digital arena. BPO, a natural outcome of free trade and globalisation, is making the Great White Hope whine foul play. About the shabby treatment meted out to the American Native Indians, Rob Schmidt of Blue Corn Comics writes in his recent IndianComicsIrreular newsletter as follows: “On July 21, 2003, the VH1 music station debuted its list of the ‘200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons’. … Unfortunately, no one with more than a smidgen of Indian blood made it.” http://groups.yahoo.com/group/IndianComicsIrregular/message/94. [Time to pause, boys and girls: doesn’t this ‘Indian’ lament from the US of A give off a wee whiff of Mandalism? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandal_Commission.] About the Great White Whine, Carly Fiorina, the hen CEO of HP, said in a 7 January 2004 news conference in Washington, D.C.: ”There is no job that is America's god-given right anymore." http://www.career-graph.com/gen_articles/bangaloreboom/index.shtml. Amen!

A host of golden daffodils? Scrub, Willy, scrub.

I have a cute little bottle of bath gel (they call it Smoothing Shower Scrub: Daffodil Fields) with a cute little insouciant kind of notice at the back warning me that “This finished product not tested on animals”. Simpatico and fool that I am, I naively assumed that this intimate confession was meant to prove once for all how gentle the Shower Scrub makers (aptly named Bath & Body Works) and, by implication, their Smoothing Shower Scrub, were. The truth is far from simple. The gel really lives up to the second part of its descriptor. When I coax the lazy fluid on a loofah and start scrubbing as I’m supposed to, the lavish lather really scrrrrubs me up. So I look at the label again and there it is in small undecipherable print for me to squint at: “Cleanses and polishes skin.” (Emphasis mine.) It figures. Apparently, they forgot to remove the not-too-well pounded daffodil seeds before bottling the concoction. Do you think any self-respecting guinea pig would stand for getting its skin peeled off in the interest of consumer welfare? Every time I read Wordsworth’s Daffodils, I used to wonder what it would be like to dance with “[a] host of golden daffodils”. Now I know. Sort of. Second hand. http://www.blupete.com/Literature/Poetry/WordsworthDaffodils.htm.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Does God love Page Three folks? Like the whole wide world?

Like virtue, celebrity is its own reward. And, it confers on (s)he who wears the mantle certain privileges. Not the least among these, I’m beginning to realize after regular perusal of Page Three and much thought, is the direct, one-to-one access to the Almighty. No kidding, folks. Here you have it straight from the horse’s (or, the mare’s) muzzle (name withheld to avoid physical and/or legal mayhem): “I’ve a direct,. one-to-one, very very special relationship with God. By now, we’re on a first-name basis. He calls me Skip. I call him Boss. He never refuses to take my call. We have long, rambling chats.” There you have it, the unvarnished truth. What did I tell you? All this has also made me understand why God doesn’t have time for us lesser mortals. Makes sense, no? Remember what Woody had to say on the subject? “Not only is there no God but try getting a plumber in Manhattan on weekends.” And: “Eternal nothingness is fine if you happen to be dressed for it.” And: “If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name at a Swiss bank. ” http://www.lifeisajoke.com/woodyswit_html.htm. Also: “As the poet said, 'Only God can make a tree' – probably because it's so hard to figure out how to get the bark on.” And: “How can I believe in God when just last week I got my tongue caught in the roller of an electric typewriter?” http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Woody_Allen. P.S.: It’s a sobering thought, though, when you remember that Woody is a celeb himself. Well, he must be the exception that proves the rule. Gotcha! [Related link: http://popgoestheslop.blogspot.com/2006/05/are-page-three-lions-inveterate-lady.html]

English idiom. Spanish origin.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. When Don Quixote, the “first modern” novel by Shakespeare’s Spanish contemporary, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616), and the most widely published book in the world after the Bible, was rendered into English, several now well-known idiomatic expressions entered the linguistic mainstream. Noteworthy among these are: "sky's the limit"; "thanks for nothing"; "a finger in every pie"; "paid in his own coin"; "a wild-goose chase"; "mind your own business"; "think before you speak"; "forgive and forget"; "to smell a rat"; "turning over a new leaf"; "the haves and have-nots"; "born with a silver spoon in his mouth"; "the pot calling the kettle black"; and "you've seen nothing yet." Where did I find this gem? In the serendipitous ocean that’s the World Wide Web. http://coloquio.com/famosos/cervante.html.
P.S. : I have a rather unusual Shakespeareana of contemporary origin: After-Dinner Shakespeare by Barry Kraft, a set of one hundred parlour cards with questions and answers about the playwright and his works. It is published by Viking. I got it from Strand Book Stall along with a similar product on Freud of which I wrote in the previous post.

Seinfeld’s nemesis (“Hello, Newman.”) did it, too.

Reading other (preferably famous) peoples’ letters fascinates me no end. There’s something liberating, I find, about letter writing. It sorta lets your guard slip and, for maybe a brief instant, the ‘real’ person can be glimpsed. The last two collections of celebrity letters I read were Graham Greene’s letters to newspapers and Sigmund Freud’s personal correspondence. Freud’s son, Ernst, has selected the letters. (“As a letter writer, my father was unusually prolific and conscientious,” is his fond comment.) Among his world-renowned correspondents were people like Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, Havelock Ellis, Stefan Zweig, Maria Montessori, HG Wells, Romain Rolland, Carl G Jung and Otto Rank among others. The Freud who comes across through in his letters is totally unlike the brooding and melancholy persona I had imagined him to be. He’s childlike, poetic, open, full of joie de vivre, tenderness and wonderment, especially when he’s writing to his fiancée, Martha Bernays. Freud’s obit by (Monday, 25 September 1939) can be found at http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/healthmindandbody/story/0,6000,332994,00.html. P.S.: One of my prized finds is After-Dinner Freud by Joseph Aguayo, Ph.D. It’s a set of one hundred parlour cards with questions and answers on the Father of Psychoanalysis, published by Viking. Fascinating stuff![Related link: Saturday, May 6, 2006. Posted at 8:33 P.M. ‘Pen pal. Who me?‘]

Hey, Groucho. No giving up Casablanca, eh?

Remember Groucho Marx’s battle of wits with Warner Bros’ shysters over A Night in Casablanca in the late forties? http://www.infoanarchy.org/story/2003/9/5/211917/5941. It came to mind when I read what happened to 17-year-old Mike Rowe of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. He registered his name with a ‘Soft’ added at the end for his website last August. This attracted the wrath of Microsoft as well as a cease-and-desist e-mail (19 November 2003) from its Canadian lawyers, Smart & Biggar, saying he was infringing copyright and offering US$10 for his name. In sheer pique, he asked for $10000. In retaliation, they accused him in a 25-page letter (15 January 2004) of harbouring all along “the intention to sell my domain name to Microsoft for a large cash settlement”. http://www.mikerowesoft.com/. Mike seemed to have emerged the winner from this David vs Goliath encounter. He got worldwide attention and fame and 250000 visitors to his website as of 19 January. For a hilarious (though fictional) view of the
row(e), don’t miss out on what’s at http://www.thedailyfarce.com/technology.cfm?story=2004/01/technology_mikerowsoft_01200400027. Point to ponder: If Microsoft puts a notional value as low as $10 on mikerowesoft.com, surely it doesn’t see it as much of a threat, does it? Then why spend several times that puny sum on lawyers’ fees to bully Mike? Is it, as he writes on his website “just another example of a huge corporation just trying to intimidate a small business person (and only a 17 year old student at that) to get anything they want by using lawyers and threats”? But, hey, guys. For all his brave talk, Mike finally caved in and ended his ordeal with a ‘not with a bang but a whimper’ settlement. http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/6/35113.html. (‘Mike Rowe goes soft, hands over PR victory’ by Kieren McCarthy) P.S.: Two other Mikes – Mikerosoft.net owner Rushton and Mikerosoft.ca owner Morris – too had fallen afoul with the software giant earlier. Also take a look at http://www.cnn.com/2004/TECH/internet/01/20/rowe.fight/ for good measure.

Are Page Three lions inveterate lady killers?

If you write well, does it automatically make you a lady killer? The case of Salman Rushdie makes me want to almost believe in the heresy. Also, my limited experience as a fairly successful copywriter supports the theory. Somehow, people associate word conjuring with magic. Then, they hypnotize themselves into believing that the wielder of such arcane power must be a Pied Piper to the opposite sex. Sex appeal is to the mind of the believer what beauty is to the eye of the beholder, after all. The Page Three coverage of the Rushdie goings-on when he was last in Bombay (not Mumbai – not even when pronounced “Moom-baa-ee” in the FM deejay style) threw up some unwittingly tongue-in-cheek revelations. I wondered, for instance, what hardbound first editions (of Rushdie, I take it – and already autographed!) “strategically placed in the dining area” were meant to be doing at an intimate dinner in his honour (as the fly-on-the-ceiling report put it). Were they doubling as first edition coasters, pray tell? Or, were they a sly dry run for the secret Christie innovation, The Supper Auction – inspired by, I suspect, The Supper Theatre? Also, the intriguing reference to Padmalakshmi (who one report described as “draped around” Rushdie at the same do) complaining to Dé: “I hardly get to spend time with my boyfriend”. Dé added: “The boyfriend smiles indulgently.” Was the indulgence, his fawning hagiographer never clarified, aimed at her girlish tendency to tell little white lies so blatantly? Or, at the fact of the life lived on Page Three that he was the reigning Lion King in Bombay’s Page Three jungle and Padmalakshmi didn’t get ‘it’ (neither the attention nor the point)? And, while Bombay and Madras (not Chennai) had to be satisfied with Rushdie and Padmalakshmi, New Delhi had a galaxy of NRIs and POIOs attending a mega confab and being regaled by the President himself. In the honour list was Shashi Tharoor, senior UN official and author of the then ‘just published’ Nehru, The Invention of India. Nehru was fond of big dams to build which the Indian State callously reduced to penury farmers and Adivasis who had little or no land and banished them from the Indian mainstream. Now globalisation and consumerism have further reinforced the process. The identity equation of today reads: “I consume. Therefore, I am.” Ironic, isn’t it? (P.S.: It’s good to know that the marginalized of the world now have the World Social Forum speaking on their behalf.) http://www.shashitharoor.com/books/nehru.

Two fascinating finds. Author’s Galleys anyone?

It happened, if memory serves, about a couple of years ago or, maybe, a little longer. Near where I live and close to the Central Plaza is a book distributor’s showroom in the basement of an old and dusty shopping mall. I used to be a fairly regular visitor there for years off and on to look at the new stuff. That fateful day, they’d a couple of uncorrected proof copies of forthcoming titles lying in the stack. I offered to buy them. They said, take them with the compliments of the house. Lucky me. The first one happened to be The Travels of a Fat Bulldog by George Courtauld, was the memoirs of a Queen’s Messenger. It’s an absolutely fascinating read, fast-paced, at times hilarious, at times lyrical, always gripping. Get a feel of the world of uncorrected proof or ‘Advance Reading’ copies aka ‘Author’s Galleys’: http://www.lopezbooks.com/pr/pr-01.html. And, a feel of the QM’s job of transporting “bags marked 'HM Diplomatic Service' … made from sturdy white canvas by prison inmates” here: http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2242/is_n1574_v270/ai_19420280.

The second find was equally fascinating. But first, a little build-up for it in the good ol’ Hollywood-of-‘50s style. Once upon a time, somewhere in the golden age of Hollywood, a reporter of The New Yorker had the temerity to opine in print something outrageous. It was perilous, went his argument, for a man who had quit school after the eighth grade to be in charge of making films which disseminated so many ideas to people. Both Gregory Peck and Nunnally Johnson did not share this opinion about the cigar-chomping Darryl F Zanuck who did try half-heartedly to resume his war-interrupted education at the Los Angeles Manual Arts High School in September 1919. “Just as his contemporary and sometimes friend and colleague Walter Winchell was the first newspaperman to see that the reappropriation of journalese through slang was a form of empowerment (both for the man who wielded the pen and for his readership), Zanuck was the first producer in the sound era to realize that by making films culled from daily tabloid headlines, you could speak to the public in stylized versions of its own speech,” writes George F Custen, Professor of Communications, The College of Staten Island in his Twentieth Century’s Fox: Darryl F Zanuck and the Culture of Hollywood. http://hallbiography.com/arts_literature/571.shtml. P.S.: I wonder what the nameless reporter of The New Yorker would have to say were he to watch some of the handiwork of today’s Bollywood, though. Speechless in Manhattan?

English, yes. English grammar, no.

I write grammatical English by instinct by the grace of chance, come to think of it. I kinda took to the language (to use my favourite cliché) like duck to water almost from the word ‘Go’. Nobody spoke English at home. Marathi was the lingua franca. I was exposed to Marathi literature and theatre quite a bit. I wrote Marathi fairly well at school, once even authored most of contents of the handwritten class ‘magazine’ – the flavour of that year (in the late 1940s). Yet English it was that won my heart for some unknown reason. Nevertheless, as far as the theoretical grammar went, my knowledge – and interest – were close to zilch. I could score well in questions pertaining to ‘doing the grammar stuff’. But ask me to name the eight parts of speech and I would instantly turn to stone. This is the case even now. Which is perhaps why I make it a point to add a bit to my grammatical literacy by imbibing ‘Wisdom From the Grammar Goddess’, the occasional column by Diane Sandford. The latest one is at http://www.llrx.com/columns/grammar14.htm – just in case you’re interested. [Previous link: Thursday, May 4, 2006. Posted at 3:50 A.M. 'Why a duck to water? Quack, quack.']

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Reporting history. As he saw it happen.

Hands-on, “breaking news”, eyewitness history, anyone? Try Durga Das’s India From Curzon to Nehru and After (Rupa & Co, New Delhi, 2004, Rs.295/-). Or, if there’s a Strand Book Stall near you, Rs.236/- only. It’s one of the best ways of updating one’s knowledge of recent history. Durga Das’s writing, happily enough, is objective, sane, even-keeled, fast paced – and without rancour or malice even when he’s telling a tale of the wickedest villainy. He has told whatever happened as he “saw” it happen. As an Associated Press of India employee and a close associate of KC Roy, the news syndication pioneer in India, right from the time of Curzon’s viceroyalty, Durga Das apparently had an intimate access to the high and the mighty. He used his opportunity to advantage and did a great job of news gathering and dissemination for a long, long time. The book is an insider’s take on and a view from the wings of twentieth century Indian history. Absolutely edge-of-the-seat reading, far more exciting than the most thrilling of thrillers! Read a sample excerpt here: http://www.hvk.org/articles/1196/0039.html.

‘Making’ news. In the literal sense.

No news is good news? Not anymore, folks. These days, on a slow- or no-news day, they try to ‘manufacture’ news. And, they sink to ludicrous depths too doing it as I noticed last monsoon. It was midweek and raining quite heavily. At a certain traffic junction I pass quite frequently, the business in the pirated version of the latest Harry Potter was as brisk as ever. Then, in the evening, I read in an eveninger splashed on the front page a ‘scoop’ about this everyday happening treated like a ‘sting op’. Headlined predictably “’Dirty’ Harry”, it revealed the price charged was Rs.600/-, Rs.295/- lower than the official rate. The week before, I’d noticed The Strand Book Stall quoting Rs.674/- for the real thing. The sting operator’s office is within easy walking distance of the famous bookshop where the present President of the Indian Republic used to shop regularly once upon a time. http://www.strandbookstall.com/store/. All of which made me pause and think. Who got the most out of the sting op? The new learning, if any, for the hapless reader seems far outweighed by the free publicity for the pirates. Rowling seems to be the definite loser in the bargain. Dirty Harry, indeed! Learn what ‘sting op’ means: ’http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sting_operation. (Did you realize that an ‘agent provocateur’ – and in computing, a ‘honey pot’ – are akin to a sting op?)

Riverdale joins blogosphere.

I never much cared for Archie Comics, first published in 1939. But I’ve read them nearly all my life – without meaning to. Somehow, they kept coming my way and I took the path of least resistance. I’ve witnessed the changes that took place in the Gang’s lifestyle, clothes, even lingo – barring their teen ‘status’. They are sort of frozen in the Riverdale High era, wouldn’t you say? What caught my eye – and interest – in our unwitting association is the comic strip in Bombay Times this morning (Tuesday, 18 April). It shows our protagonist rushing home to read the blog of his latest date to find out if she had a good time with him. That’s one sure sign that blogs have ‘arrived’, I guess. And, Archie and the Gang, too. To update your store of Archie lore, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archie_Comics. Did you know about the search engines named after Archie (File Transfer Protocol – “the first ever invented”), Veronica (Very Easy Rodent-Oriented Net-wide Index to Computer Archives) and Jughead (Jonzy's Universal Gopher Hierarchy Excavation And Display)? Both V and J are for Gopher Protocol. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archie_search_engine. At http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=1990Sep11.174506.12376%40math.lsa.umich.edu&output=gplain, you can read the original USENET announcement about Archie.

Pop goes a vogue. Powered by style?

Words and phrases have fascinated me all my life. I somehow manage to ‘sense’ a coming trend in usage as it’s catching on, more often than not. ‘Powered by’ is a vogue phrase I’ve often noticed in web writing but never really paused to think about. A while back, I read Ken Fasimpaur’s post, ‘Friday Forbidden Phrase: POWERED BY’, where he calls it “a fine illustration of linguistic devolution”. I’ll quote some of the interesting bits: “Some forbidden words are manifestly evil from the moment they're coined, created only as marketing speak or existing only to evoke faux novelty. (Webinar anyone? After all, ‘web seminar’ is so lengthy and unhip.) [A relevant digression with your leave, folks: ‘Faux’ too is a vogue word that ought to be verboten. ‘Verboten’ likewise, for that matter.] “In other cases though, perfectly valid pieces of language are slowly corrupted until there's scarcely any hope left for them,” he argues. About ‘Powered by’, he has this to say: “At first glance, it's a nice functional piece of language. In a statement like ‘Powered By Apache’ where it names the web server software that make (sic!) a site operate, it's quite descriptive.” With ‘Powered By Novell’ and ‘Powered By CNN’, though, there’s quite a serious problem. “Can an entire company truly be said to drive a web site? Is CNN a steam engine or a web server? A news engine?” is his legitimate query. Then, he gives an extreme example from “this wonderful ad from Cisco”: “The main headline, run across a picture of a newborn child and happy mother … [is] …‘8 lbs. 3 ozs. powered by Cisco’, That's right – your child's motive force is a router company who drives smart people into the arms of its competitors!” http://www.networkworld.com/community/?q=node/3574.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

'Great game' for them. Vivisection for India.

The Great Game! ‘Tournament of Shadows’, the Russians called it. Both terms, the first one coined by Arthur Conolly, an East India Company man, and later popularized by Rudyard ‘Kim’ Kipling, signify “the rivalry and strategic conflict between the British Empire and the Tsarist Russian Empire for supremacy in Central Asia”, (for “the oil wells of power”). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Game. How India was vivisected as a part of The Great Game is the theme of an absorbing account of the sub-continent’s partition written by Narendra Singh Sarila (The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of India's Partition). He is heir to the princely state of Sarila in central India, an erstwhile ADC to Lord Mountbatten, and a member of the Indian Foreign Service (1948-1985). Equally important, he is an excellent raconteur. What makes his account gripping is his research in the British and American archives where the top secret and recently unsealed government documents are kept. The Indian leaders of the Freedom Movement – Gandhi, Nehru and the rest – come out as pygmies in front of their gargantuan adversaries – Churchill, Lord Linlithgow, Lord Wavell and Jinnah – totally out of their intellectual and strategic depths. Apparently, the Congress Party was outmaneuvered all the way by the British Raj. How utterly shame-making, as Evelyn Waugh would have put it. http://pavi.net/reflections/. (The 17 September 2005 post has a thought-provoking comment on the book.)

‘Celeb’ gossip of yore. (A fly-on-the-ceiling 'insider' view.)

A few weeks back, I happened to retrieve a real treasure from my pile of ancient (in Marathi ‘prachin’ or ‘puratan’ in the ‘jurassic’ sense) books. I had bought it a long time ago at the People’s Publishing House bookshop, near Flora Fountain, read it at a canter and forgotten all about it promptly. It’s a collection of printed articles in Marathi, circa 1964, offering celebrity gossip of yore convincingly supported by historical sources and/or verbatim quotes from subaltern logs (aka ‘bakhars’). The author, Yeshwant Narasimha Kelkar, seems to have gone to a lot of trouble to trowel in a heap of choicest dirt concerning historical icons of Maharashtra. Stuff like a Who’s Who of unofficial wives and paramours, for instance. It makes for racy, fluffy reading. Apart from that, Kelkar’s confident citing from various bakhars made me curious about the genre that seems to be a Marathi specially. No, that’s not true. The Marathi bakhar’s Telugu, Tamil and Sanskrit avatar is Caritra and the Persian one is Tarikh. In Sumit Guha’s authoritative and perceptive Speaking Historically: The Changing Voices of Historical Narration in Western India, 1400–1900 at the History Cooperative website, I learned that the genre was probably an Indianised version of the Arabic khabr (news report) or, maybe, ‘obtained or received knowledge’ – exactly the same as in the South Asian usage of khabar. Had the bakhar writers been our contemporaries, they could well have been (you guessed it!) political or high-society bloggers. The History Cooperative website is at http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/ahr/109.4/guha.html.

Not my best friend's wedding.

Imagine this, boys and girls. I’m sitting in the front row of the Scout Pavilion auditorium on a Saturday morning. The stage is set for a Pathare Prabhu wedding under the watchful gaze of Sir Robert Baden-Powell, aka the ‘Chief Scout of the World’, and his sister, Agnes. (The Pathare or Pratihara Prabhus, in case you didn’t know, are said to be the progeny of Rajput and Koli or fisher folk confluence. They came to Mumbai probably circa the 12th or 13th century and did their bit for the city. They built the Mahalaxmi Temple, for instance. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pathare_prabhu.) The groom is a Brahmin, though. This marriage is made in the heaven called the US of A. Only the nuptials are held in India. The rituals on the stage absorb me no end. Equally fascinating is the spectacle of the men folk from the bride’s side dressed like their ancestors in silken achkans and gold-bordered dhotis toting red pagdis (turbans) from Pune and cell phones and video cams from god knows where. But soon my attention wanders as a parallel play debuts without warning around me. Characters from my past hail me and start reminiscing animatedly. Some of them I recognize. Some I don’t. Not my intention to hurt anyone, mind you. It’s just my selective memory’s mischief. One cousin asks me if I remember her. A bit, I say. She questions the ‘bit’ bit. I smile and change the subject. Thank my lucky stars she doesn’t insist on knowing my remembered ‘bit’. My vivid memory of her is overhearing her gossip session with her elder sister and a cousin. They were drooling over Raj Kapoor and lamenting Nargis’s “good fortune”, by the way. P.S.: I found a lot of interesting stuff about the Pathare Prabhus whose number is now said to have been whittled down to 15000 or thereabouts. To know a bit about the marriage (‘lagna’) rituals, do visit http://www.pathareprabhu.org/traditions/lagna.htm.

Pen pal. Who me?

I have never been a prolific letter writer. I never had even a single pen pal, for instance. (I enjoy reading famous people’s letters, though. The Collected Letters of So-and-So kind of stuff, you know.) For that matter, I’ve never been much of a telegram sender, either. In my whole life, I must have sent no more than a dozen and a half telegrams, I reckon. That too is probably an overestimate. Come to think of it, I belong to the letter-and-telegram era fair and square, though. So Western Union stopping telegrams on 26 January 2006 after 145 years in the business caught my eye. WU started its career in 1851 under the non-glam name, Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company. It took its present moniker only five years later after taking over the competing telegraph systems. During the Civil War, by 1861, it had already built its coast-to-coast network of telegraph lines. Noteworthy Western Union ‘feats’ include the world’s first stock ticker (1866); launch of money transfers (1871); joining the original 11 stocks tracked by Dow Jones (1884); the first consumer charge card introduction (1914); using a transcontinental microwave beam to replace land lines (1964); and the launch of Westar I, the very first U.S. dedicated communications satellite (1974). Impressive! http://www.livescience.com/technology/060131_western_union.html.

Name and fame. Guilt and shame.

It’s befuddling. I’m not entirely sure what the fuss and frothing were all about. Why did Oprah Winfrey who had unabashedly promoted James Frey’s best-selling memoir of “alcohol and drug-induced mayhem”, A Million Little Pieces, fume and fret and go all teary on camera when The Smoking Gun exposed it as mostly fraudulent? http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/0104061jamesfrey1.html. Did the self-anointed best-seller-anointer feel duped and debased – after having praised to the skies earlier the graphically coarse and (fake?) ”vomit-caked” account in hyperbolic words such as "like nothing you've ever read before”? And, why did readers sue the memoirist for wasting their time? Tell me, just because you’re buying a book billed ‘memoir’, does it mean that you’ve got yourself guaranteed unvarnished gospel truth? In her piece on the Frey ‘fraud’, Melissa King cites “an old joke”: “An honest country man was serving as a witness in court. He is asked, ‘Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?’ The man sits a minute before looking at the judge and saying, ‘Well, tell me then, man, which one you want?’” He’s right. The oath is totally unrealistic. http://www.nwanews.com/adg/Style/143477/. To my simple way of thinking, truth exists only in the moment. Once that moment is in the past, vitiating influences take over. The raconteur’s memory is not always accurate nor his intention invariably honest. Embellishment is the end of the literal ‘truth’ as we expect it. Capiche? P.S.: By the way, for what it’s worth, A Million Little Pieces sold 1.77 million copies in 2005 after Oprah anointed it. Only Harry Potter pipped it at the post in the Bestseller Stakes, as the Brits would say. http://www.cnn.com/2006/SHOWBIZ/books/01/09/arts.frey.reut/. Who says real fiction isn’t more appealing that fake fact? P.S.: Now that Viswanathan’s controversial How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, a ‘packaged’ novel, has gone the way of Frey, I wonder why all those concerned in the process of ‘packaging’, editing, publishing and promoting it are not beating their breasts and wailing a dirge. Maybe, the author’s Asian origin is a mitigating – and utterly comforting – factor.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Rub your eyes. Clap your hands.

Believe it or not, this happened in front of my eyes one night in the eighties. To begin at the beginning, though, back in the fifties, a lapsed chef and cooking stove salesman from the UK started his own agency in the US. He then went on to become a Legend and a best-selling author. His famous book spurred me on into advertising. Many years later, in the late eighties, I saw him making a massive nuisance of himself one night in the elevator of a posh Pune hotel. I was there for a seminar hosted by the ad agency I consulted with. The Legend was there for a similar reason and was trying to needle his Indian colleagues into making mincemeat of the agency I worked for – very, very loudly. I was the only odd man out in that elevator crammed with the Great Man and his team mates totally oblivious of me and my reason for being there. Fortunately for me, I must emphasize. Or, I may not be here to tell you the tale, who knows? But then you couldn’t really begrudge the Genius – and “the world’s best known advertising man” by his own insistence – his carefully cultivated and widely flaunted little eccentricities, could you? An amusing and beguiling capsule biography is here: http://www.gandalf.it/m/ogilvy2.htm.

Talk is cheap. It keeps them willingly under surveillance.

Aldous Huxley, I reckon, was only partly right about technology in Brave New World. He thought eugenics was the key to world governance. Actually, it turned out to be the insidious technology of communication. Take mobile phones as a case in point. By making them an affordable status symbol of contemporaneity, technology has made people wireless yet willing collaborators in their own surveillance. Now the powers that be can know where you are and what you are up to at any precise moment. And, what's ironical is that you are picking up the tab for your watchers. Similarly, the photophone has spawned a network of unwitting spies. The Big Brother may be watching you through whose cellphone you can never tell. So what about the emerging biometric technology of scanning fingerprints before permitting access to the ATM? Read an article on this topic at http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/business/national/12855627.htm.

Sum up the human condition. In six lines.

Have you heard of the poet, Fulke Greville (1554-1628), who served both Queen Elizabeth I (she knighted him as First Baron Lord Brooke) and King James I? In a rhyming elegy, he was charged with extreme penuriousness. Yet, ironically enough, he was also reputed to be munificent to contemporary writers. What amazes me about him is how accurately he describes the human condition in the first six line of his poem, Chorus Sacerdotum from the Tragedy of Mustapha:

Oh, wearisome condition of humanity,
Born under one law, to another bound;
Vainly begot, and yet forbidden vanity,
Created sick, commanded to be sound.
What meaneth nature by these diverse laws?
Passion and reason self-division cause.

Do read the entire poem here: http://www.web-books.com/Classics/Poetry/Anthology/Greville/Chorus.htm.

How could a courtier born with a silver spoon in his mouth, as the old cliché goes, be so devastatingly world-weary – almost like The Buddha? I simply cannot figure it out.

Brief bio sketch: http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/fulkebio.htm and http://64.1911encyclopedia.org/B/BR/BROOKE_FULKE_GREVILLE_1ST_BARON.htm.

Only three steps to perdition.

Nawa varas nu sagan” (literally, “New Year’s salt”) is a pre-dawn cry you hear only on the New Year’s Day in Diwali in South Bombay as far as I can vouch. It’s uttered by the man who sells you packets of rock salt sprinkled with kumkum that’s supposed to bring you good fortune in the New Year. I remember a ritual from my childhood that took place on every New Year’s Day in my house. The servants would sweep the house, collect the sweepings and pile them up. A puja would be performed of that pile of rubbish. The pile would then be paraded through all parts of the house to the accompaniment of a chant. This was intended to banish all the evil influences that may be lurking about as well as to usher in the just and righteous reign of Bali Raja. The servants would then go down and keep the sweepings in a corner of the compound. They would buy the ‘lucky’ salt from the saganwala and only then come back home. Last Diwali, on the Bali Pratipada morning, I heard the saganwala’s cry and sent the servant down to buy some for old time’s sake. (By the way, Bali Raja was a demon king. He was the fourth direct descendent of Hiranyakashyap. Bali ruled all three worlds, it seems. So, the gods were jealous and afraid of him. The diminutive Vaman Avatar of Lord Vishnu tricked Bali into surrendering his entire kingdom by asking for the gift of “three steps of land”. Read the account of what all transpired here: http://www.hindunet.org/avatars/vaman/index.htm.) You can read some information on Diwali customs here: http://www.rumela.com/events/festival_diwali.htm & http://www.diwalifestival.org/diwali-traditions-customs.html. (I’m not sure how authentic it is, though.)

Why a duck to water? Quack, quack.

I’m amazed. Astounded. Maybe, even dumbfounded. (No, I didn’t have Roget’s Thesaurus within easy reach.) Witnessing the sorry plight of many of the non-English speaking students these days, I cannot simply comprehend how I ever managed to become fairly proficient in that totally alien language. Because I too belonged to a middle-class family that spoke Marathi all day. So, I had no contact with English until I first joined a mediocre school in the neighbourhood. Somehow I took to it like a duck to water, though. I never needed to mug up spellings or rules of grammar. All of it came to me kind of intuitively. Unlike the situation now, there was no pressure then at home to master the language. In fact, apart from The Times of India, the three magazines the family subscribed to were all Marathi. My mother used to read them and I followed suit. My sister, though, had a few English magazines home-delivered to her by a ‘circulating’ library. I’m not quite sure if I even glanced at them. (But, if memory serves, Coronet and Pageant numbered among them.) At the same time, I was also good in Marathi. Later on, when I passed my SSC examination from a somewhat better school, I topped my class in English with a distinction and even got a prize for it. My experience suggests that the lack of ‘exposure’ is not what hinders youngsters from learning a language. Lack of interest and/or too severe parental pressure probably explains their failure. Read some useful info here: http://www.cal.org/resources/digest/0005contextual.html. P.S.: Those children of a Lesser God who haven’t even heard of Why A Duck – a large format book of stills and dialogues from Marx Brothers’ movies which I had bought from Nalanda at The Taj Intercontinental ages ago but seem to have misplaced somewhere along the way – can at least take a gander at http://www.whyaduck.com/. Believe me, though, goose. It’s nowhere close to the real thing.

Full Marx.

In late August 2006, I got a set of eight Marx Brothers DVDs as a birthday gift from my son Ashu who works and lives in New Jersey. Watching them made me look for my copy of a book by Joe Adamson (Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Sometimes Zeppo). I had bought it years back in Delhi and absent-mindedly tucked it in one of my cabinets. Written with great wit and charm, it’s a wonderful narrative woven around the Brothers’ career on stage, screen, radio and television. Sample extracts: http://users.pandora.be/mx/adamson.htm and http://www.geocities.com/spazprez/cfaust.html. Read them and decide for yourself.

Now you see it. Now you don’t.

A curious thing happened to me a few months back. I had started reading Alec Guinness’s A Positively Final Appearance (Penguin, 1999), bought from the Strand Book Stall. Then it suddenly did a mysterious disappearing act. After searching and re-searching for it for an unconscionably long time (and cursing my friendly neighbourhood crow for snatching it out of spite), I finally bought a second copy, again from Strand at their usual special price. I think I made a wise decision. It’s quite a piece of autobiographical writing. Frankly, Guinness was never a personal favourite as an actor except as Mr Holland, the Dutch boss of The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). His Obi-Wan Kenobi (the fleet-footed lightsaber wielder, remember?) had amused me immensely, though. What tickled me in his book is his account of the re-release of Star Wars and his disgust at the fuss made about something so banal that had lost all its virginal freshness. It’s a rollickingly great read by any standard. Read the book extract that includes the Star War-related episode: http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/g/guinness-final.html. P.S. I learned from Alec G the origin of the term ‘scapegoat’. It seems from an account he cites from the Mishnah, supposedly a part of the Talmud, that every Holy Week, the Scapegoat with a crimson thread tied around his neck to symbolize the piled-up sins of the community was driven three miles into the desert. Simultaneously, another crimson thread was tied to the door of sanctuary in the Temple. The Scapegoat would eventually die in the desert cleansing the collective sins and the thread in the Temple would turn white. Now we know why a person falsely accused of a wrong is called a scapegoat. In other words, the fall guy (or, crow), yes?

Hitch your wagon to a star. Literally.

Star power! No, I don’t mean the one you check out in the daily newspaper’s astrological column. The star power I’m referring to is the contribution a star (in showbiz) makes to the success of the venture (s)he stars in, be it film, sports, even business. At the Harvard Business School, Professor Anita Elberse recently researched the concept and the dynamics of ‘star power. Her study included riddles like: Can studios depend on a star's track record to predict future success? Are two ‘A-list’ stars better than one? Can stars improve a studio's overall profitability and box office revenue on one movie? What stars attract the most ticket buyers? Her aim? To better understand if and how A-list stars contribute to Hollywood’s bottom line. Her modus operandi involved a design research not around actual box office receipts but rather around an online simulation game, called ‘The Hollywood Stock Exchange’ with over half a million players. Now all this sounds intriguing, almost esoteric, doesn’t it? She published her findings in a working paper, ‘The Power of Stars: Creative Talent and the Success of Entertainment Products’ . According to her, the notion of ‘star power’ “captures the extent to which an artist's involvement with an entertainment product contributes to the success of that product. … For example, in the case of films, powerful actors and actresses can help guarantee financing and push a movie through the development process; they can aid in generating interest from theaters across the globe seeking to show the film; and they can help to attract audiences to the film. Their power may find its origins in superior acting skills, a loyal fan base, a knack for picking the most promising projects, a strong relationship with other creative talent, a solid box-office record, or a combination of such factors.” Read her interview by Sarah Jane Gilbert, a content developer at HBS's Baker Library, (‘The Box Office Power of Stars’) here: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item.jhtml?id=5025&t=marketing. By the way. ‘The Hollywood Stock Exchange’ has voluntary players who use ‘Hollywood dollars’ (virtual money) to “increase the value of their portfolio by, among other things, strategically trading ’MovieStocks’. The prices of these MovieStocks reflect expectations of box office revenues.” http://www.hsx.com/.

Not so elementary, my dear Watson.

I read Lillian de la Torre’s Elizabeth is Missing or Truth Triumphant – An Eighteenth Century Mystery (Michael Joseph, London, 1947) much much later after buying it. The first edition copy had been lurking in my cabinet for I don’t know how many years, waiting no doubt for me to find it – serendipitously. To reveal a bit of what it’s all about, let me quote its sub-title word for word with its original punctuation and capitalization in tact: “Being a true and complete Relation of her MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE with her low and distrest State upon returning to her Friends, her fixing upon Enfield Wash as the Place of her Confinement, with her Accusation against Mother Wells, a notorious Bawd, and Mary Squires, an hideous Gipsy; on whose Behalf the Lord Mayor of London made a COUNTER-ACCUSATION, and what came of It.” The sub-sub-title claims: “The whole embellish’d with many MORAL OBSERVATIONS and the TRUTH at last made manifest through many Phaenomena, now first rightly interpreted.” Take my word for it. The book is as quaint as its sub- and sub-sub-title. After you’re through, you wonder a bit though, if it wasn’t much ado about next to nothing. One thing that struck me about the ‘solution’ was that it’s based on the premise that all is perception, including the so-called ‘reality’. A few scanty details about the book are found here: http://abbookman.com/ABBookman_F060305a.htm.

Invasion with a mouth-watering flavour (Don’t armies march on their stomach?)

The Punjabi invasion of the Bombay palate began, if memory serves, just after independence. I recall going with my father and mother on a Saturday evening in 1949 for the opening of a small hotel behind Regal Cinema. It happened to be owned by one of his Irani or Iraqi clients. That was the first time I remember eating Tandoori Chicken and wondering aloud at the red colour sticking to the fingers. That was Punjab pandering to the local palate. The Chinese wave came later probably closer to the end of the fifties, if again memory serves, when eateries started springing up and non-Chinese restaurants began offering a few Chinese dishes as well. What brought about this trip down the gastronomic memory lane, I haven’t a clue. The city’s free-loading foodies too were much later in coming. I was recently told a story about one of the more enterprising members of this pioneering breed. The tale teller claims to have shared his table and paid for his nips and quarters at an aunty’s joint in the bad old days. His gift of the gab and survival instinct were so extraordinary, says his fellow-tippler and my informer, that he could cajole a drink and a meal from the most tight-fisted of his companions as well as the stoniest-hearted among the aunties. All of which reminds me of Jeffrey Bernard (Low Life & More Low Life, Pan Books). Of course, Bernard was a far superior writer than the Indian journalist I was told about although far less successful in worldly terms. A nutshell JB biography is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffrey_Bernard. Also, do check out the book review at http://www.eclectica.org/v7n4/mcgowin_bernard.html. To get a quick feel of the times when Napoleon’s armies were marching on their stomach, have a look at the Time Traveller’s Guide to Napoleon’s Empire at http://www.channel4.com/history/microsites/H/history/guide18/part06.html.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Lawrence on America (with no apologies to Lawrence of Arabia)

“The essential American soul,” wrote DH Lawrence in Studies in Classic American Literature (1923), “is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” (Chapter 5: Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Novels) http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/LAWRENCE/dhlch05.htm. He made this observation long after the pioneers had thoroughly wiped out the Native Indians and enslaved the Afro-Americans. The American behaviour afterwards did not show any change for the better in the status of the American soul. Witness how atrociously they behaved in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Like the proverbial Big Bully. After I wrote last week about the recent spin doctoring coup for Bush (‘SHEER GENIUS! The US Prez as Homo sapiens. Well, almost.’), a parallel again from the American landscape occurred to me. Remember ‘Daddy’ Oliver Warbucks (literally, war profiteer) from Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie? Don’t you think calling him ‘Daddy’ thereby making a semblance of a man out of a war monger is akin to the ‘Desperate Housewives’ ploy for Bush? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Orphan_Annie. Read about the Bush spin doctoring coup mentioned earlier: http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/181_1460619,00030007.htm.

Bop Goes Aesop! No poet him, Pop.

The trouble with poetry is that it doesn’t call a spade a spade. Anthropomorphic language tends to confuse every issue. For instance, if you call a piece of real estate motherland or fatherland, you’re bound to confound the confusion by believing yourself in the role of her/his gallant son/daughter and transferring a host of human attributes and emotions to her/him. In the wake of the unprecedented deluge in Mumbai last year, people had started talking about ‘Nature’s ‘revenge’, ‘Nature striking back’, etc. All this fancy slop merely alluded to a sequence of events where greedy and callous people misbehaved and Nature continued to behave as it always does according to the Cosmic Law. If you reclaim land from the sea, the sea will flow somewhere else when the high tide is in. If you block the flow of water, it will find an alternate course. Making Nature into a malevolent villain shrewdly shifts the focus of the discussion from working towards a solution of the problem to telling the tragic tale of human suffering and endurance. For more on anthropomorphic skullduggery, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropomorphic.