Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A neo-Luddite relents. Sheepishly. Shame-facedly.

A confirmed neo-Luddite, I've been ranting and raving about the near impossibility of progress ever happening. The scales, as Bertie Wooster used to say, have finally fallen from my eyes. One everyday product I've started using of late promises real advancement: homogenised milk in a carton. It frees me from a lot of hassles. No boiling the milk every morning. No removing and storing the cream on top. No washing the boiling pot. No changing and washing the milk container. Storing space in the fridge saved. Cooking gas saved. Pour as much milk as you need straight from the carton. Throw it - the carton, not the milk - away once it's over. Sheer bliss! Hope Captain Murphy doesn't get into the act, though. Cross my fingers and toes for that.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

I'm like ...

I find young people in urban India using "was like" and its various cousins to hide the gaps in vocabulary and/or memory in the firm belief that it's the hep thing to do. This is probably because the sloppy young Americans they watch admiringly on the idiot box do so. In advertising where I work, a lot of young copywriters and art directors do it all the time. As I'm neither their parent nor their teacher nor their boss, I tend not to correct them. But I go like "Yechhhhh!" inside every time. Read what others are saying:

Whose wife was she anyway?

Now comes your way a story from the Mumbai ad world circa the early sixties. I first heard it in 1965 a little after I got my first big-agency break with Clarion-McCann. Clarion was the DJ Keymer spin-off in Kolkata – where the Shantiniketan-trained and world renowned film maker Satyajit Ray had once upon a time worked as an art director. It had joined hands with McCann Erickson worldwide and come to India’s ad capital for the first time. They had a quaint but crowded office in the basement of Advent at Nariman Point. The room I worked in adjoined the privately owned Golwalla Swimming Pool now long demolished. I could hear people diving and splashing in water as I tried to think up ideas for Forhan’s Toothpaste and Poysha. At lunch time, I used to go with a couple of my new colleagues to Coffee Corner at Kala Ghoda where we ate a mean grilled mutton sandwich at Rs.9/- a pop washed down with hot freshly brewed coffee. While we ate, a senior guy would spin yarns about advertising folks. The one I’m about to relate to you is about two inebriated friends who came to blows outside The Taj Mahal Hotel, opposite the Gateway of India, one evening after an advertising meet with cocktails and dinner. One of them was the flamboyant owner of an Indian agency well known in his later life for his fine collection of antique chess sets. His friend, well known for his masterful media planning, worked for one of the two leading multi-national agencies. The argument revolved around the former’s more than friendly interest in the latter’s spouse. The cuckolded husband, as often happens, was the last to know the widely discussed open secret. My informant did not know how exactly the bout ended. A couple of years down the line, the media savvy hard drinker joined Clarion and I had the opportunity to watch him at close quarters. All I can say now is that , by then, the magic had long evaporated. More’s the pity.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Actors = cattle. (So, where's the Hitch?)

Carole Lombard died young. In 1942, when she was just 34. It was a mere one year after whe starred in Alfred Hitchcock's Mr & Mrs Smith, one of his earlier films shot in the US. (It seems he directed it on Carole's special request. He must have had high regards for her.) She was reputedly a great comedienne. She also must have had a great sense of humour - off camera. The most famous instance of it concerned Hitchcock. He was reputed to have said somewhere, no doubt in an unguarded moment, that actors were cattle. The remark had been widely quoted all over. Taking a cue from these words, Carole arranged for a troop of oxen to be let loose on the sound stage one afternoon and promptly left for home. I couldn't find any record of the mayhem that must have resulted. This leads me to wonder if the story is apocryphal. Later, however, Hitch tried to do some damage control by explaining that he had actually said actors should be treated as cattle. Game point and set to Ms Lombard.

Not another Royal Canadian Air Farce surely?

First, the post-Presidential sequel: Clinton plumbed his Random Access Memory and unleashed on the unsuspecting world his weighty 957-page autobiography, My Life, a couple of years back. According to the 21 June 2004 story in, one copy of the tome “fell off a bookstore shelf in Portland, Oregon today, killing three people and seriously wounding five others.” What really happened? Answer from the report: “From what we can tell, it just kind of tipped off a high shelf," said police detective Mark Drayton. "How on earth anyone ever got it up there is still a mystery to me." Moral of the story: "This book is more than just deadly boring – it is deadly," said Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski. Really? More deadly boring than the present incumbent of the White House who reportedly “shot himself in the foot the other day while showing off a pistol that once belonged to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein”? P.S.: Another ‘reliable’ dispatch (24 June) reveals a diabolical White House plan “to outsource prison abuse to India”. They’re "actively exploring the possibility of establishing a telephone calling center in Bangalor (sic!) that would harass Iraqi detainees at all hours of the night with highly annoying telemarketing inquiries.” Shudder!

Now, the latest pre-Presidential prequel: You are aware of the political ambitions of the present New York senator and former First Lady surely. She wants to run for the White House. It looks like it may turn out to be a case of Hillary proposing and God - er, Bill - disposing, though. Scuttlebutt says, Bill has a new girl friend. She's Canadian. She's wealthy in her own right. She's powerful. She's divorced. She's blond. She's photogenic. She's astoundingly well-connected. She's a floor crosser from Conservative to Liberal. And, she's his junior by two decades. The tabloid's are going to town tagging Belinda Stronach "blonde bombshell" and "Bubba's blonde" ("Bubba" as in "Bill"). One more thing. Unlike Hillary, Belinda is a quitter. She dropped out of the run-up to the Liberal Party leadership after sizing up the competition.

Finally, a personal and unrelated Indian post-script: By the way, if my memory doesn't fail me, there used to be in my distant youth an ad agency called LA Stronachs. Their office used to be at Ballard Estate, the port precincts of Mumbai. It later became, I was told, Norvicson Advertising. Its office now is within walking distance of Strand Book Stall as well as of its original location. The agency is presently headed by an energetic young adman who is a friend of my friend, Deep Bisen.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

There goes the bride. And a couple of mistresses, too.

The martial-sounding fanfare flagging off ‘The Wedding March’ from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, aka Felix Mendelssohn (3 February 1809 - 4 November 1847), always made me wonder about the state of his marriage. But the Wikipedia article assures me that all was well with it. “Mendelssohn's personal life was conventional. His marriage to Cécile Jeanrenaud in March of 1837 was very happy and the couple had five children,” is how the free encyclopedia describes the situation. On the other hand, the marriage of Richard (‘Here comes the bride’) Wagner with the actress Christine Wilhelmine ('Minna') Planer on 24 November 1836 was troubled right from the start. A few weeks after they moved to Riga, then in Russia, where Wagner became music director of the local opera, Minna ran off with an army officer who then abandoned her, penniless. Wagner took Minna back, though. Despite all the turbulence, the marriage lasted three decades until Minna’s death in 1866. ‘Here comes the bride’ is from the ‘Bridal Chorus’ of his sixth opera, Lohengrin (1848). It is sung in the opera when the bride (Elsa) and the groom (Lohengrin) – whose tumultous marriage collapses 20 minutes after the chorus – go to the bridal chamber. Wagner’s marriage was still very much in place when he wrote the ‘Bridal Chorus’. The Wagners were always on the run dodging their creditors. One of his operas, The Flying Dutchman (Der fliegende Holländer) (1843) was inspired by their flight from Riga to London on a stormy sea. In 1858, during their stay in Zurich, Richard had a passionate affair with the poet-writer Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of the silk merchant Otto von Wesendonck who was his fan. It came to an end when Minna intercepted a letter from Wagner to Mathilde. Soon after his wife’s death, though, Wagner sowed his wild oats, if you pardon the cliché, with Cosima von Bülow, the wife of the conductor Hans von Bülow, one of his most ardent supporters, and the illegitimate daughter of Franz Liszt and the famous Countess Marie d'Agoult. The wench was 24 years younger than Wagner, mind you. Although Liszt was Wagner’s friend, he disapproved of the liaison. In April 1865, to Cosima was born Isolde, Wagner's illegitimate daughter. Munich was scandalized by these goings-on. The members of King Ludwig’s court, who were suspicious and jealous of his influence on the King, under whose patronage Wagner was then living, were furious with him. In December 1865, Ludwig reluctantly had to banish the composer from Munich. It seemed the King even flirted with the idea of abdicating and following his hero into exile. Wagner dissuaded him swiftly. On 25 August 1870, he married Cosima after which he wrote Siegfried Idyll. On 25 December morning, it was performed on the staircase of their villa as Cosima’s birthday present. Their marriage lasted till the end of his life (13 February 1883). In addition to Isolde, the couple had another daughter (Eva) and a son (Siegfried). Moral of the story: Never judge a composer's work by the state of his conjugal bliss. End of story.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Red Book.

I wish I could tell you with a straight face that I learned the story of The Ramayana from my father and mother or by listening to kirtans or by watching Ramleela. It simply won't be the truth. And, although I haven't sworn with my right hand on the Bhagwatgeeta that whatever I write here will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, I just cannot bring myself to lie to you so early in the game. So, I shall stick to the truth. In the bottom part of a book cabinet in my childhood home in Khetwadi, there was lurking a 12" by 7" hardbound red volume. It was waiting for me to discover it, I guess. In this priceless tome was the story of The Ramayana retold in a series of four colour pictures (one on every glossy page, back to back) drawn by someone who seemed to have learned the craft at the feet of Raja Rammohan Roy. The story started with King Dashratha's Putrakameshti Yagna (the fire sacrifice for progeny) and ended with Rama, Laxman and Sita's return from vanavasa (banishment to the forest). I read it so often and handled it so roughly that my red book got tattered in a few years. I cannot recall where it finally vanished. (Maybe, Mother Earth opened up and swallowed it like she did Sita.) I wish I had the sense to handle it with kid gloves. Had I done so, Aditi, Avantika, Armaan and Anika could have enjoyed it as much as I did. I shudder to see them reading the atrociously illustrated and slovenly written Amar Chitra Katha comic books and have a secret Fahrenheit 451 fantasy about the monstrosities.

Expiry date.

"People ought to be born with expiry dates," I told a friend yesterday at the Chandanwadi Electric Crematorium. I was only half joking. Of course, we're all born with expiry dates. Only we don't come stamped with the information on a bar code. We got to go when we got to go. Knowing the exact time is not a part of the human condition. We can't even plan the details of our exit. Like do we want someone reading to us The Tibetan Book of the Dead in the final moments as Aldous Huxley did for his first wife Maria whe she was dying? As in life so in death, pure chance and random happening hold sway. Maybe, that's the only way to go.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Toys for boys. An Egyptian mummy, too.

A favourite childhood toy I remember vividly was a chutney green road roller cast out of metal. It had a tall chimney. It was powered by a spring-loaded clockwork wind-up engine. You could remove the key before you put it down to do its backward and forward road rolling routine. I have a feeling I had persuaded my father to buy it for me from the famous Lucky Toy Mart at Crawford Market. I also used to play with a clockwork train set - green as well - pulled by a 'coal-fired' replica engine and railroad sections, straight as well as curved. I had managed to acquire from I don't remember where quite a few more such sections. I used to set up an entire journey track with a gradient and a bridge using bits and pieces of other toys like wooden house building sections. No readymade layout for me like the one I see Armaan and Anika playing with! My Meccano set, a modest No. 2 or No. 3, had been purchased from Whiteway Laidlaw, the pucca Brit department store near Flora Fountain. (Its premises were later taken over by the Khadi & Gramodyog Commission and now houses the Khadi Bhandar.) I used to make windmills and other movable toys with my Meccano set and run them with a miniature battery-powered motor they used to sell at the time. I also had a pink coloured nicely sculpted wooden street lamp with a tiny bulb. I remember using a flat Everready battery to light it up. It was a regular part of my improvised railroad layout. Once, during a Navi Wadi jatra (fair) for our family deity, Maheshwari, I bought myself a plastic 'coffin' with a plastic Egyptian 'mummy' lying flat in it. So tiny was this toy that I could easily hold it in my childish palm. In the coffin's false bottom was hidden a magnet - as also inside the mummy. When you gave the coffin a nudge, the magnet would shift causing the mummy to rise. It was applied magnetism and polarity at their best. I thought it was powerful magic, though, and paid the toy seller ten rupees instead of the real price of five rupees for it. (In short, I did not haggle.) When the truth was out, one of my cousins accompanied me to the toy shop the very next day and managed to get back the extra five rupees with a combination of cajoling and mild threats. I watched this drama with a red face standing far from centre stage and thinking the fuss was uncalled for. Powerful magic was supposed to be worth a lot, wasn't it?

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Meet Edward A Murphy, Jr. He laid down The Law.

Edward A. Murphy, Jr. was no rocket scientist. He was merely an engineer on the rocket-sled experiments by the U.S. Air Force in 1949 to test human acceleration tolerances (USAF project MX981). In one of them, 16 accelerometers were attached to different parts of the subject's body. There were two ways each sensor could be glued to its mount, and somebody methodically installed all 16 the wrong way around. When that happened, thus spake Edward A. Murphy, Jr., who was no rocket scientist as pointed out earlier: "If there are two or more ways to do something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe, then someone will do it." The ‘guinea pig’ (Major John Paul Stapp) quoted it at a news conference a few days later and then it spread like wild fire. The Law was later whittled down to: “If anything can go wrong, it will.” The sudden spurt in the volume of wrongdoings by the citizens of this 'spiritual and morally superior' country reminds me of Murphy's Laws. Although now treated as more or less of a joke, I find them very profound. Try this one for size: “If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong. Corollary: If there is a worse time for something to go wrong, it will happen then.” So, no matter what kind of scandal you're thinking of – bribing selectors, printing fake stamp papers, leaking CAT question papers, catching politicians with their hands in the till or whatever have you – Murphy has already codified the Laws to explain every type of corruption and criminality. He has, as the Yankees would put it, all the bases covered, including this one: “If anything simply cannot go wrong, it will anyway.” P.S.: Apart from the first Law, my personal favourite is this one: “Every solution breeds new problems.” Also, of particular application to India is this NBC's Addendum to Murphy's Law: “You never run out of things that can go wrong.” Drop in at That's where Murphy's Law was born.

NOW TRY THIS ONE ON FOR SIZE. Using a PC and the Internet can be both humbling and – if not life- then at least – attitude-threatening. You begin to believe firmly in Captain Ed Murphy's famous First Law. You give up the pursuit of certainty and perfection. Which, come to think of it, is not such a bad thing. It takes off the load of a lot many burdens your conditioning has thrust on your shoulders. You no more find it demeaning to admit an occasional defeat. You can even gradually start to accept life as random events beyond your control. Instant enlightenment at the click of a mouse? Search me.

Aditi learns about ‘those days long past’ from Ujwal.

This post too is family lore gleaned from the replies Ujwal gave to her elder grand daughter for her Chicago school project.

Home & Family as a Child

1. Date of Birth: 10 August 1938.

2. Where lived, siblings: As a child, I lived in South Mumbai, Thakurdwar, a predominantly “Marathi” area at that time. No siblings.

3. Growing up, entertainment, books, games, etc.: Growing up wasn’t too bad. But I was lonely. Our games were simple. When it was too hot to play out or it was pouring, we played card games, checkers, carom. Other times, we played robber-and-police, running races and the like on our huge terrace. In the front yard, we played kabaddi (hu-tu-tu) and kho-kho. I read books in Marathi, my mother tongue, as well as comics, Enid Blyton and stories from Shakespeare and abridged versions of his plays in English.

4. Parents, family values/rules, own reaction, how they moulded me, etc.: My father was the Principal of a well-known school. My mother was a general physician who passed her medical examination in 1926 when hardly any women went in for professional training. Her colleagues were British and she the only Indian woman in the group. Discipline and punctuality were very important for my parents (One day she was scolded by her boss for being late for work by three minutes.). Work is worship. Duty is religion. Extending a helping hand to others should be a way of life. Such were the lessons in the art of living I learned from my parents. If my mother called out to me, I had to be in front of her before she finished pronouncing my name. Such was her demand for punctuality. I hated this. I would say, “Wait a second!” and would be angry with what I felt was an unreasonable and too finicky a demand. (In retrospect, though, I feel it has helped me so that I am able to finish my chores faster than most today and have time for other things while my friends are still toiling in the kitchen.) If I said I would be home by 7-30, I jolly well had to make sure it was 7-29 when I rang the doorbell and not 7-31. (I didn’t realise the importance of this rule until I had my own children and I started worrying about their coming home late. I never had to sit down and enumerate the rules to my children. Somehow, they sensed that respect for elders, value of hard work and being a caring-sharing person were important to me.) I belonged to a middle class family. So, spending money just for the sake of spending was a no-no in our house.

School and college

1. School: St. Teresa High School College(s): Sophia (till B.A.); St. Xavier’s College of Education (for B.Ed.)

2. Subjects: (School) English, French, History, Geography, General Science, Math. My favourite subject was English because it opened up a new world to me which otherwise would have remained unknown. (College) English Literature, French. (B.Ed.College) Apart from English and Marathi, I read Sociology and Psychology with special stress on Child Psychology.

3. Dating scene in college: Not a common phenomenon in my college days, though some of the ‘forward’ girls and boys did date with fairly stringent ‘dating protocol’ rigidly enforced by parents.

4. My parent’s view on dating and my reaction: Parents, mine included, generally frowned on dating. I did not dwell on it overmuch as I did not have a special boy friend.

5. My dating: After I started to date the person I eventually married, there was opposition from my mother although she knew his family well. She didn’t mind my marrying him but did not relish my being out with him late. A matinee or early evening movie show was okay: late night show, unthinkable. Although I was forced into telling lies at times, I didn’t resent her attitude as I felt that’s how moms were supposed to behave.

6. Friends’ dating and my feelings: Yes, a couple of my friends dated on the sly. I was not judgmental about their behaviour and even helped them as a friend is supposed to. On the whole, though, we usually moved in mixed groups rather than as couples on their own.


7. Most popular, my choice: The most popular music when I was growing up was from Hindi films. In English teaching schools, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Pat Boone were top of the pop.

8. Impact on youth: Hindi film songs were a great hit with young people. They were sung at parties, picnics, school and college get-togethers. Some of the patriotic songs from films were also believed to have moved young folks into sacrificing their careers in the freedom struggle. With the elite among the youth, rock and roll which had just made a debut too held a certain amount of sway.


9. Popular with college kids: In the circles I moved in, skirts and blouses, dresses and, to a small extent, salwar kameez. The hemlines had started to go up gradually.

10. How I dressed: Dresses, skirts and blouses.

11. Views on fashion: I was not very fashion-conscious. I dressed for comfort and what went with my somewhat generous figure.


12. Ideals, goals, life-view in youth: Being a good human being was very important to me. Being a caring, sharing person aware of the needs of another human being mattered. I had no academic ambitions. Being a good daughter-in-law, a good wife and a good mother were my goals.

13. View on achievement of goals/ideals: I believe I am a caring, sharing, warm human being but what makes me most happy is how my children have turned out to be: helpful, hard working, sensitive and responsible family men. But I have not achieved my dream of owning a small house of my own by the sea.


14. Sports popular when I was in college: Cricket was all the rage even then. (Our college had an all-girls’ team – a rarity at that time.) Also popular were table tennis, carom and badminton.

15. What I played: Table tennis.

16. Anything else?: I would have loved to take up riding and swimming. But we didn’t belong to a club, so swimming was out and riding would have been too expensive to learn in Mumbai at that time.


17. Movies in my youth: Love stories and socials in Hindi with lots of songs. English: Martin and Lewis (comedies); Hitchcock; Doris Day/Gene Kelley (musicals).

18. How often seen: About twice a month.

19. Impact on youth: Hair styles and dresses set the fashion trends. Songs were hummed and hit parades on Radio Ceylon were popular. Not every second collegian wanted to be a Shammi Kapoor or a Dev Anand, though.

20. Favourite movie and why: “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (James Stewert and Doris Day) for Day’s rendering of “Que sera, sera”, apart from the inimitable Hitchcock touch.


21. What kind of marriages? Love marriages acceptable: In the society I lived in, most marriages were arranged. Love marriages were acceptable and not uncommon. The trouble usually arose when people married out of their community (caste/sub-caste) or religion.

22. My marriage: Mine was a love match. I knew my husband-to-be for about five years but got engaged just a year before the wedding. I was allowed to go out with him but had a fairly strict ‘curfew’ (reporting home time).

23. Family resistance, own say: No resistance from my family about the person I chose to marry. Yes, I had a say in the matter.


1. How old: At the time of the War of Independence (1857), I was not born. When India was partitioned, I was nine.

2. Any memories? I remember my mother saying, “I wish you were born in happier times”, probably referring to the vivisection of the country and the violence accompanying it. I also faintly recall going out round the city in a truck to see the illuminated building on 15 August 1947.

3. Personally affected? No personal loss such as what the people in Punjab and Sind who had to leave their homes and migrate to India suffered.

4. Opinions, thoughts, feelings: My mother who had a lot of Muslim patients tried her best to keep on an even keel about them. But there were such strong ‘hate’ vibes in the air that they affected the children like me also. I was too young to really understand how and to whom to mete out the responsibility for the bad happenings all over India: the killings, the looting, the riots, the refugees. As I remember, we were deeply affected by all the talk going around us. Two people emerged as the principal villains: Jinah and Gandhi. (Though today I know that the latter had nothing to do with partition, I can never persuade myself to hail him as ‘Father of the Nation’.)

World War II

1. How old: One year old when it started and seven year old when it ended.

2. Personally affected?: Not really. Except from hearsay around the time the war was nearing its end, I felt that India had unnecessarily been dragged into it and that it was unfair to expect us to fight for Britain when we were fighting her for our independence. Also, vague memories of rationing and shortages again from what I remember my mother or neighbours saying about how it was tough to get this or that.

3. Pearl Harbor?: Too young then to really understand all the implications.

4. Hitler?: I was no fan of his, although I admired a compatriot of mine, Subash Chandra Bose, who fled to Germany hoping to raise a liberation force to free India. Also, I have heard in later life people saying that the Holocaust was a Jewish ‘invention’ perpetuated by Jewish-controlled Western media .


1. Family recipe to share: The much celebrated Prawn Green Curry by Ujwal Mankar.


One fresh coconut 15 medium sized prawns, shelled and de-veined. One small bunch of coriander leaves (cilantro). 2 long green chillies. 6 black pepper beads. 8 cloves of garlic. Juice of one medium sized lime. Salt to taste.

How to make

1. Grate the coconut. 2. Grind ¼ grated coconut along with the coriander leaves, chillies, black pepper and garlic in a mini-mixer to a smooth paste. 3. From the remaining grated coconut (3/4), extract thick juice (‘milk’). 4. Again, from the same coconut, extract thin juice (by adding water). 5. Mix the paste with the thin juice. Add salt. Bring to a slow boil in a wok. Add the prawns. 6. Let it all simmer for 7 to 8 minutes. 7. Add the thick coconut juice (milk), bring it to a quick boil for a minute and remove the wok from the stove. 8. After it cools down a bit, add the lemon juice. IMPORTANT: Never reheat the Prawn Green Curry – even if you have stored the leftovers in the ‘fridge. Serve after thawing thoroughly. NOTE: Fresh coconut may be substituted by tinned coconut extract.

2. Whose? Why special? Anyone else knows? Pass on to whom? This is a family recipe in the true sense because I learned it from my mother and my mother-in-law. It is special because both in its ingredients (coconut milk, coriander leaves – cilantro to you Yankees! and green – not red - chillies mainly) and its taste, you can get a glimpse and a feel of the kind of people we are: warm, hospitable, caring and sharing. No, nobody else knows how to make it. Yes, I would like to pass it to all my daughters: Nandini, Anita, Avantika ('Tika) and you.

The story of 'Jubie'. (As told by 'Tika.)

A bit of family lore – this time about Ujwal’s (Talpade) family side – as recorded in a school essay by Avantika written in New Jersey:

‘Jubie’, my great grandmother, one of the first Indian women to become a doctor, was born in the sixtieth or Diamond Jubilee Year of Victoria as Empress of India. Although named ‘Shakuntala’ after the heroine of Kalidasa, she was fondly called ‘Jubie’ (short for ‘Jubilee’) thanks to the historic year she was born in.

Jubie grew up into a fair, five-foot-nothing girl with dark long hair and grey-green eyes – and fire in her belly. Though born and brought up in a conservative family, she decided to become a medical professional. When her parents learned of her dream, they were stunned into silence. In those days, girls wore nine-yard sarees, covered themselves demurely with shawls and were married off as soon as they finished high school. Only those who couldn’t find a spouse would pursue higher studies.

But our Jubie’s mind was made up and not even the Almighty could change it. Though her family was not too well off, money didn’t turn out to be the hurdle as scholarships were aplenty. The family did not speak to her for a few months after she entered the Grant Medical College. They would keep her food aside and she would have to eat alone. Only by and by they came to terms with the fact that their darling Jubie who had already given up wearing a shawl putting the whole community’s tail up (“How could a girl like her belonging to a decent family expose herself to the eyes of the whole world?”) was indeed going to become a doctor.

In the college too, it wasn’t smooth going in the beginning. The boys used to rag Jubie saying she had opted for medical education because she couldn’t find a husband. But they too finally came to accept her and respect her as one of them. By not bowing down to convention and familial pressure, Jubie also made it possible for her younger sister, Kusum, to follow her in the corridors of the Grant Medical.

In the meanwhile, the Swaraj (independence) movement was in full swing. Young Indians fired with a nationalistic zeal and answering the call of Mother India were giving up their studies in government schools and colleges. Jubie was studying in the Grant Medical College – which was very much a government college. Unlike her own younger brother, Gajendra Rao (‘Gajumama’), who chucked up his medical studies and never became a doctor, Jubie followed the advice of her favourite school teacher (‘Vaidya Sir’) not to quit college “because India would need doctors even after independence” (to quote his advice in short).

Jubie graduated in 1926 and started working in the Haffkine Institute in Parel in Central Mumbai as a research assistant. Originally known as The Plague Research Institute, opened on 10 August, 1899 by the then Governor of Bombay, Lord Sandhurst, with Dr. W. M. Haffkine as its first Director in Chief, to produce the plague vaccine for use all over India, its name was changed in 1930 and later it began to make rabies vaccine and snake bite anti-venom. Staffed mostly by British, Jubie was among the few Indians working there. As her family lived in South Mumbai, she had to commute to work by a tramcar spending the princely sum of two annas every day for travel.

One day, she happened to reach her work late by two minutes and was reprimanded by her British boss for the blunder. Jubie took the reprimand in her stide and promised herself there and then never to be late again. Says my grandmother, Ujwal, her word was her bond all her life.

In those days, there were a lot many little principalities (known as ‘princely states’) where purdah for women in the harem was very much a part of the princely style of living. Naturally, there was a great demand for women physicians who could look after the harem. Jubie, always the enterprising livewire, got appointed as the State Physician and Gynacologist in the state of Saurashrta (literally “a region of one hundred kingdoms”) in Gujarat, about five hundred miles north of Mumbai, her home town.

Working in a princely harem was no bed of roses though Jubie got her salary in silver biscuits. Though she was a very skillful and competent gynaecologist – she presided over the birth of my grandfather, Deepak, in 1936, for instance – she was no politician. In a harem, when a male child was born to a ruler, his brother who wanted to move up in life would want to have the heir nipped in the cradle if you would pardon me a mixed metaphor. And who else was in the best position to do so but the State Physician and Gynaecologist? Golden carrots would be dangled in front of Jubie as a reward for doing the dirty deed. If you did not become a part of the court intrigue, your life could be in grave danger as well. The fact that my great grand ma didn't die a rich woman although at a ripe old age is enough proof that she managed to tell the Satan to get behind her.

Around the end of the 1930s, she returned to her old job at the Haffkine where her old British colleagues welcomed her with open arms. She also started her own private practice as a general physician setting up a clinic in South Mumbai in an area on the borderline of Hindu and Muslim localities. She had patients from both communities and treated them with equal devotion. Those were the days when at the slightest of excuses, trouble would erupt between Hindus and Muslims. When this happened, her patients from both the sides would see her home safe often risking their own lives in the process.

As India’s Independence Day approached, Jubie’s British colleagues decided to leave for home. So enamoured were they of Jubie’s talent and forthrightness, that they offered her a job in London so as not to lose a valuable member of their team. Jubie remembered her favourite teacher’s advice and decided to stay back. Had she done otherwise, maybe I wouldn’t be here telling you her tale.

[Thank you Avantika, Ujwal and ‘Jubie’ for a great story.]

Friday, June 16, 2006

Oh, God!

An over-zealous public official believed in first-hand assessment of all his assignments. He always used to go out in the field for the purpose. Once he was touring a remote area and no sooner had he settled himself in the dak bunglow and had a cup of tea than he got into his Jeep and drove out to observe how things were in the vicinity. To his horror, he found signs of neglect and desolation all around him until he came to a plot of land which had been well developed into a pretty garden. He noticed a man puttering about inside. So he stopped the vehicle and walked to the fence. "Hello there," he bellowed. "God and you seem to have done a wonderful job with this garden." The man got up and came towards him. "Well, thank you, sir. It's kind of you to say so. But, really, you ought to have seen this place when God was in sole charge."

Are you hungry tonight?

Recurrent reports of starvation deaths bring to mind a couple of poignant passages from Arundhati Roy's The Greater Common Good: "The Indian State is not a State that has failed. It is a State that has succeeded impressively in what it set out to do. It has been ruthlessly efficient in the way it has appropriated India's resources – its land, its water, its forests, its fish, its meat, its eggs, its air – and redistributed it [sic?] to a favoured few (in return, no doubt, for a few favours). It is superbly accomplished in the art of protecting its cadres of paid-up elite, consummate in its methods of pulverising those who inconvenience its intentions." And: "India lives in her villages, we're told, in every other sanctimonious public speech. That's bullshit. … India doesn't live in her villages. India dies in her villages. India gets kicked around in her villages. India lives in her cities. India's villages live only to serve her cities. Her villagers are her citizens' vassals and for that reason must be controlled and kept alive, but only just." (pp.14-15, IBD, 1999)

Commoncraft. For an e-ignoramus like me.

Try as I may, I have not really managed as yet to get a firm grip on some of the web-related ‘techie' stuff that I ought to be able to roll off the tip of my tongue to pass off as a venerable Internet guru. Ask me to define RSS or Trackback or Wiki offhand and chances are you’ll find me tongue-tied. Yes, I have written about these things in my column ( by Deepak Mankar) from time to time but only with the help of the technical stuff I can refer to on various websites. I was much relieved to find Commoncraft. It explains this kind of stuff in easy-to-understand non-techie lingo. Whew!

O Henry. Not your average, run-of-the-mill “Ugly American”.

Reading O Henry in the time of Bush and Powell is quite an eye opener. It dawns on you that empathy with the human condition is not anathema to all Americans. B&P are busy in the holy crusade of single-mindedly resurrecting that sixties' phantasm aptly called (if memory serves) "The Ugly American".

"She began to eat with a sort of dainty ferocity like some starved wild animal." Surely this - and The Gift of The Magi - could have been written only by someone who had observed hunger at close quarters and probably felt its pangs as well. O Henry, born William Sidney Porter, was imprisoned for embezzlement. He borrowed his pen name from Orrin Henry, an Ohio prison guard. Coincidence and chance loom large in his tales. Those two and, yes, the nagging suspicion that, all said and done, the control of events is not at all in human hands.,

What’s your favourite conspiracy theory?

Do you believe in conspiracy theories? Like the one that got Mel Gibson into hot waters in Conspiracy Theory? You know, the "there's a big cover-up involving the US Government and a ham-handed, bumbling CIA" sort?

In the fifties and the sixties, there used to be stories that G-Men in Black cropped up out of nowhere every time there was an "incidence" involving UFOs and aliens and muddied the water so much that, in the end, no one knew what had really happened. (In the 1997 hit, Men in Black, Jay/Will Smith and Kay/Tommy Lee Jones had to wield their neuralyzers to deal with the scum of the intergalactic space, remember?) Read the script:

Now let me point you to the once-familiar Internet conspiracy theory with Microsoft as everybody’s favourite villain. At,5859,2823588,00.html, you'll find a typical conspiracy theory scenario. It's about the control of – no, not intergalactic space – the Internet. The secret weapon – Windows XP and the bundled IE browser – were to be allegedly used by Microsoft in cahoots with the US Government to help it control the distribution of information over the Internet. (Don't forget Congress had by then already given the US Government unlimited electronic surveillance power.) The article, Microsoft: Too much control of the Web?, was written by the well-respected CEO of UserLand Software, Dave Winer, who kept a daily blog, "Scripting News," at

A walk into my past.

There’s a charming piece of Mumbai’s ‘East Indian’ past within walking distance of where I live. Stroll in there and you’re transported into a Goanesque village. Well, almost. It wouldn’t be true were I to claim that the place is steeped in the past. It isn’t anymore. And, yet there are enough relics around to remind one of the good old days. Every time I get a chance, I walk through the wondrous labyrinth from my past called Khotachi Wadi and come out at the other end feeling like a new man. You can sample a bit of the wonder of the place in In Some Spaces in Time.

It’s only a film.

Ashok Kumar was one hell of an endearing actor. Totally a non-cliché, non-method performer who claimed to have told a fellow artiste of the opposite persuasion: "Hey Charlie. It's only a film. Take it easy," he later laughingly admitted to film critic Khalid Mohamed that he had borrowed the idea from Hitch. By and by, he became the quintessential actor who never was, I daresay. He wanted to be a film technician when he left Bhagalpur for Bombay, you see. I'm certain he was fallible. I'm equally certain he would have been the first to admit it. He was terrified of his very first heroine (Devika Rani, I suspect), he confessed. The first of his last two films I saw on the idiot box a week before his exit from the divinely produced, directed and scripted movie we all feature in was Khoobsoorat, c. 1980. In it, he kept calling his soon-to-be 'bahu' (Rekha) "girl friend". The other one, called Harfan Maula (1976), was full of cinematic clichés one associates with the seventies' Bollywood comedy-thrillers. (In the filmography, 'HM' is listed as a 'family drama', though.) So what? Each one of them was "only a film", as he would have said. An Ashok Kumar Filmography of sorts can be found at

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Just a few days ago, I had to travel to a suburb on the Western railway track. I chose to go early morning thinking I would thus be safe from having to jostle with the commuters to get off the train. It didn’t happen the way I had hoped for. I had to stand for at least five minutes in close proximity with a wall of them at least five deep. I have a nose for body odours – other people's, that is. A mere whiff can set me off. They're the bane of my existence, the chief reason why I shudder to board local trains, admittedly a faster mode of getting from point A to point B in Mumbai. Well nigh a decade ago, I met a jovial American architect in Guam whose b.o. was sharper than his wit. It didn't seem to bother his stunning Scandinavian live-in girl friend one whit, though. It's indeed within the pale of possibility that she mistook it for the scent of virile manhood. Like beauty and the eye of the beholder, b.o. too resides in the olfactory orifice of the smeller, I daresay. Guess what the Chinaman told the man with an offensive body odour? "Yu Stin Ki Pu." If you have the stomach for 'wit' in a similar mildly offensive vein, slink to

(read out aloud the following phrases, mumble the English meaning sotto voce and duck before he starts kickboxing):

1. "Sum Ting Wong." ["That's not right."]
2. "Hu Yu Hai Ding?" ["Are you harboring a fugitive?"]
3. "Kum Hia Nao." ["See me ASAP."]
4. "Dum Gai!" ["Stupid Man!"]
5. "Tai Ni Po Ni!" ["Small Horse!"]
6. "Wai Yu So Tan?" ["Did you go to the beach?"]
7. "Ai Bang Mai Ni." ["I bumped into a coffee table."]
8. "Chin Tu Fat." ["Maybe you need a face lift."]
9. "Wai So Dim?" ["It's very dark in here."]
10. "Wai Yu Mun Ching?" ["I thought you were on a diet."]
11. "No Pah King." ["This is a tow away zone.]
12. "Wai Yu Kum Nao?" ["Our meeting is scheduled for next week."]
13. "Lei Ying Lo." ["Staying out of sight."]
14. "Wa Shing Ka." ["He's cleaning his automobile."]
15. "Yu Stin Ki Pu." ["Your body odor is offensive.]

Goom-bye for now.

Reads just like a novel.

"Oh, yes, I'm the great pretender
Pretending I'm living well
My need is such,
I pretend too much
I'm lonely but no one can tell."
(The Platters, Buck Ram)

I read Intimate Lies a couple of years back. It's the story of the F Scott Fitzgerald-Sheilah Graham liaison retold by her son. He wrote it a few years after her death to set the records straight. It reads rather like a novel, as a seasoned blurb writer would put it. For all we know, it is a novel. Else, how do you explain the way he describes her state of mind at various times in her life as if he were living inside her head? Truth to tell, I don't mind. To me, all memoirs, history, biography and autobiography are pretence if not outright lies, at times unintentional. That's also why the so-called rewriting of history doesn't bother me. [You'll find The Great Pretender song lyrics at either of these websites: or]

Fancy free.

Do you know what a chimera is? It's a monster with a lion's head, a goat's body and a serpent's tail from the Greek mythology, says my dictionary. In other words, an exceedingly fanciful notion. Getting something for nothing has been one such wild dream of human beings from time immemorial. A power generator that conjures energy out of nothing, for instance, was Leonardo da Vinci's chimera. It seems an Irish inventor has finally cracked the riddle after 23 years' of tireless toil with the Jasker Power System. Of course, those who believe in the first law of thermodynamics ("You can't get out more energy than you put in.") as gospel say it cannot be done. Meanwhile, read the Reuter's story at this address (if you don't find it there, read it from the Google cache using 'Jasker Power System' as your search phrase):

Spell bound.

In many ways, I find US spellings more logical, less irksome. Out there, they don't hesitate to use a 'z' for a word with a 'z' sound, e.g., 'organisation'. Even 'color' and 'favor' seem sensible to me. Their double 'l' policy is also eminently sane. They spell 'travelled' as 'traveled' but 'fulfil' as 'fulfill'. The rule is: don't double a letter unless the stress is on the final stem of the word. (Their cousins across the big pond spell with a double 'l' the past tense of verbs ending with a single 'l', though. 'Travel' and 'fulfil' become 'travelled' and 'fulfilled'.) The final consonant in a monosyllabic verb is doubled because not doing so would lead to it being pronounced wrongly. So 'pit' becomes 'pitted'; 'brag', 'bragged'. When it comes to words ending in an 's', authorities everywhere seem to prefer the single 's' as in 'focuses', 'focused', 'focusing', 'buses', 'bused' and 'busing'. Though I admire their practicality, I've so far been loath to use American spellings probably out of habit and inertia. Anyone who wants to improve his command of the global lingua franca ought to take a look at

Missionary impossible.

L Ron Hubbard was a moderately successful sci-fi writer. He said he was a World War II hero. History says the US Navy sacked him for incompetence. L Ron also 'invented' Scientology. This dianetics-based cult with 'applied religious philosophy' has always held a strange fascination for me. Its eccentric, sci-fi like, totalitarian theology does not appeal to me. What intrigues me is the list of its adherents. It reads like a high-achiever Who's Who. (Tom Cruise and John Travolta are two examples. No business like show business, what?) I read on the Web how the 'Church' used the much criticised and much feared Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) forcing Google to expunge from its database URLs of several Norway-based's pages [] containing "mirrored excerpts from sacred texts which the cult guards jealously as its intellectual capital." (Thomas C Greene in 'Scientologists gag Google'.) Also read a related Reuters report ('Google revives Scientology Web page') at

Eyes only. Art advice and addresses. Priceless!

My friend, Sanat Surti, is sure to appreciate this post. For art connoisseurs, here’s Raymond Mortimer’s advice on the art of seeing (The French Pictures: A Letter to Harriet, c. 1932) and a list of art websites, both gratis. Mortimer explains how an artist ‘sees’ and how art lovers should look at paintings: “A painter … goes on being surprised. He … can see objects divorced for the moment from their purpose, origin, and meaning. He sees like a man blind from birth who suddenly recovers his sight. It would be the most thrilling experience to spend one day seeing the world as Claude or Renoir saw it.” Next the list of URLS as promised: Monet Vincent Van Gogh Camille Pissarro Auguste Renoir Paul Cézanne Who was Raymond Mortimer? Good question. He was a British writer, critic and literary editor whose full name was Charles Raymond Mortimer Bell. He also worked for the Foreign Office and wrote fiction while living in Paris in the twenties.

Heat of the days long past.

Another blast from my past, as it is fashionable to say these days. Ever since I remember, in my childhood days, there used to stand in the west corner of our Khetwadi bathroom a heater made of copper. Whenever they really scrubbed it up (just before Diwali for instance), it used to shine with a friendly red glow. It had in the middle of its body a vertical hollow tube, also copper, a good conductor of heat. In it, live coal embers were put after the outer vessel was filled with water. The water would then get piping hot gradually as the convection current spread the heat throughout its body. I remember putting bits of paper into the burner tube just to see the flames spring up about the mouth of the burner. The one problem with this contraption, though, was that it spewed a thick layer of soot on the ceiling directly above it. It was hard to get it off. In the kitchen too, we used to have a couple of coal-fired choolas apart from a couple of kerosene ones – all of them great soot throwers. It was only after I joined college in 1952, I guess, that we switched to an immersion heater run on electricity to heat the bath water. We were also perhaps among the first families in Mumbai to take to cooking gas and pressure cooker around the late fifties or the early sixties. Not the pack leaders, mind you, but probably the early majority, you know.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Go fly a kite, bum.

Some people are born bums. This story is about one such character from my childhood. He was an ace kite flyer and I was absolutely fascinated by his skill at snaring other kites, cutting off their string and setting them adrift. He used to do it with such ease in the crowded kite flying day sky (Makarsankranti or Pongal). He was notorious for his pranks and was banished to a boarding school in Bordi, a coastal village near Mumbai, after his father's death and his mother's realisation that he was an incorrigible and irrepressible bum. His brother, though mild and controllable, was banished too (like Laxman with Rama). The prankster never turned a new leaf after he returned from the vanavasa. And, never held down a job. He used to drop in on and off at our house in Khetwadi and invariably on Makarsankranti. Always joking, always ready to fly a kite. Then, one fine day, he simply disappeared from my life. After a while, everybody stopped talking about him and I forgot him too. Till this morning, when I suddently looked up and saw a lonely kite flying up there.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Worth zillions.

A few days after the much-hyped Indian Oscar contender ended an also-ran, my eye and attention were caught by an e-mail ad. Hollywood films are now produced more and more by independent producers, it said. They, in turn, depend for funds to 'develop' the project (the story, the talent package and the producer's ability to get the production financed) on legitimate individual investors (not money launderers). If one invests in the development of a movie, one can well recoup one's investment including interest as soon as production starts. What's more, one's 'stake' in the profits to come after the film is released remains untouched. Consider the multiple revenue streams now open to feature-length movies (theatre release, television, pay-per-view licensing, DVD/video release, merchandising and niche markets such as airlines, the armed forces, schools and colleges). Even alien also-rans may access all these money-making avenues once they're inside the magic circle. I also came across another instructive news byte. Looks like Hollywood is now using online auctions (Yahoo, eBay) to encash on movie memorabilia - instead of stashing it in a store room to gather dust and cobwebs - as well as to promote forthcoming projects. (Hollywood studios are sold on Web auctioneering by Doug Young) (Free registration essential.) There are the studio-owned auction sites too, such as where props from Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring came under the gavel and (or

Words can be wonderful. Wretchedly worrying, too, at times.

Words never fail to beguile me. I did not know till recently that the opposite of 'esoteric' ('known to a privileged few') was 'exoteric'. Had you noticed that 'guerrilla' (related to the French ‘guerre’ = ‘war’) has a double 'r' as well as a double 'l'? And that 'restaurateur' ('owner of a restaurant') drops the 'n'? I hadn't, I'm afraid. I was probably using the wrong spellings thus far. The scales fell from my eyes after the authoritative and entertaining Mind The Gaffe:The Penguin Guide to Common Errors in English by Professor Larry Trask fell into my hands. Don't miss either the excellent review (at this website) or the book. By the way, Stark teaches linguistics at the University of Sussex. What inspired him to write the Gaffe book? The oodles of mistakes he found in the answer papers he had to mark as a part of his job, it seems.

Dotty and … who me?

Dorothy Parker and I have one thing in common. We share the same birth date. The similarity ends there, though. She was a successful poet, short story and screen play writer, a literary and drama critic as well as a founding member of New York's famous Algonquin Club along with Robert Benchley, James Thurber and Harpo Marx. I'm at best a moderately successful ad writer and online hack. Now that I think of it, there is another shared passion. Both of us – yes, even she, despite self-deprecation off and on – admire(d) the Dotty who could write Grouchoesque stuff like: "This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown aside with great force." And, pithily sum up the irony of the human condition as in this perceptive excerpt from the poem, Résumé:

"Razors pain you; Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you; & drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful; Nooses give;
Gas smells awful; You might as well live."

A short selection of Dotty's quips and quotes is at

Jokes apart. A funny thing happened …

Believe it or not, the silver lining to the dark clouds of the new millennium's first year was an Internet-based experiment into the psychology of humour called 'Laughlab'. Launched by the University of Hertfordshire and the British Association for the Advancement of Science, its first findings based on an overwhelming response of over 10000 jokes rated by more than 100000 people from 70 odd countries were released in the latter part of December 2001. The winner with thumbs-up from 47% participants was this joke sent in by Geoff Anandappa from Blackpool, UK:

Holmes and Watson go camping. They pitch their tent under the stars and go to sleep. Middle of the night, Holmes wakes up Watson.

"Look up at the stars, Watson, and tell me what you deduce."

"I see millions of stars," says Watson, "and even if a few of them have planets and even if a few of the planets are like the Earth, there's a likelihood of life out there."

"Watson, you idiot," retorts Holmes, "somebody stole our tent."

Move over, Seinfeld.

Way to go, Sir Alf.

"I had a letter from a man who wrote, 'My daughter after seeing the French film Diabolique would never use the bathtub. Now having seen Psycho, she won't take a shower, and she is getting very unpleasant to be around. What shall I do?' I wrote back, 'Dear Sir, send her to the dry cleaners.' " This is what Hitchcock told Merv Griffin on the latter's television show once. I've no way of checking the veracity of the event. It sounds like truth being stranger than fiction in a very Hitchcockian way, though. (Seinfeld fans may like to read the script of 'The Merv Griffin Show' episode.

Undo. Way to go.

Why is a PC more user-friendly than everyday living? Because it gives us the Undo option. Were such an option there in life, we could well have used it to undo the colonial institutions and the colonial attitude that dog us. (Mark Tully found them persistent in India on his return after a gap of twenty odd years.) It is these, rather than corruption, that goad the Indian elite to ignore, if not to downright despise, the poor and the destitute amongst us. (This is what he's hinting at in his The Defeat of A Congressman [Introduction].) Else, how can we account for the indignities that are the everyday lot of the terminally deprived in this secular democratic republic?

No way to go.

What is it about old jeans and kurtas? They're as comfortable as old habits. (Isn't 'habit' also the customary apparel of a particular occupation, notably nuns and monks?) Try as I may, I find it well nigh impossible to let go of faded jeans and threadbare kurtas. They've to be literally snatched out of my clutches, er... back. With most other stuff including books and pens, even memories, I'm comfortable to part ways. Old clothes and habits? No way, at least not without a good bit of whining and wailing.

Take a break.

Gimme a break, pleads the tv host as the channel goes for a commercial break. Gladly, says the couch potato as she lets her fingers do the channel surfing. Come to think of it, a break is not such a bad thing after all. Especially if you want to steer clear of Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS) or Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). Very painful and debilitating if not treated early on, OOS/RSI is the lot of PC users who refuse to take a break, I'm told. At, there's Break Reminder, a software free to install for personal use. Its job? To remind you to take timely breaks, including micro pauses, from your PC. Take a look. And, take a break now and then.

Takes all sorts … (An ad buying masterstroke, you think?)

Once upon a time not so long ago, I used to be a regular reader of the 'Laughmeister.Com Presents Art Buchwald' newsletter. Three ads appearing in it regularly had caught my eye – and my fancy. One of them promised me 'breakthrough' hair regrowth and seemed bang on target. (If you see me or my picture, you’ll get my drift.) The second ad about anti-aging and improved sexual performance choosing the newsletter to reach me made sense too. It was the third one that puzzled me no end. I could not bring myself to believe that among Buchwald readers lurked alien life forms aspiring to possess 'LARGER, FIRMER, SEXIER BREASTS! As Seen on TV, Womens (sic!) Magazines, Talk Shows and Talked about in every coffee shop in the country.' I shouldn't be bitching, I guess. It takes all sorts to make the world, doesn't it? Like to have your funny bone tickled? Try these Art Buchwald quotes: His 8 June 2006 column:

Often the best man. Never the bridegroom.

How movies change the way we behave is both amusing and annoying. Ever since the three-and-a-half hour ‘wedding video', Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, became a smash hit, mehendi, sangeet and baraat with traffic-stopping street dancing – invariably with a video crew in attendance – became a sine qua non of nearly every (not necessarily Punjabi) affluent wedding in Mumbai. Even if the groom's and the bride's families were sharing the wedding hall, the make-believe baraat would start a little distance away just so that the baraatis and their spouses or fiancées got a video op to have themselves digitally immortalized as the pseudo-HAHK couple. That those on the road inconvenienced by this hankering after fifteen minutes of fame may be wishing fervently for a ‘shoot' of a very different kind won't even enter their HAHK-besotted brains. We can see this "Smile. You're on Candid Camera" mindset in operation in Indian studio audiences and sports fans in stadia too. Speaking of weddings, do you remember the often-cited phrase ‘Often a bridesmaid but never a bride'? In the Listerine mouthwash (halitosis) ad which ran without a break from 1923 for a decade, it summed up the sorry plight of the graceful but foul-breathed Edna. It is also an ‘original' addition to the English language? The copywriter, Milton Feasley, invented it and the mainstream lingo accepted it with open arms. Also see

Sunday, June 04, 2006

"Postpone anger."

Wise words. Especially when one finds them coming from a chubby thirteen-year-old. It's a technique he apparently uses in real life. To cite his own example (sorry, not verbatim): "If I'm livid with a friend and want to punch him in the mouth, I tell him to come back the next day and I'll punch him them. And, it works for me." Wonder why Dr. Buddy Rydell (Jack Nicholson) never recommended it to his patients. Maybe, He didn't know the technique that works for Pratik (see above), who's a summer vacation student of Ujwal. She told me the story. Take a peek at Leonard Ingram's Anger Management Blog too: (Want more Pratikisms? In the context of an essay assignment,'Every life must have an aim', he coined these contemporary similies: "Life without an aim is like a mobile phone without a Simcard or a plane without a pilot.")

Friday, June 02, 2006

R. I. P. The new rip-off. (‘P’ for ‘Prosperity’, not ‘Peace’.)

True or false? There are crypts and crypts of money waiting to be made after death. Especially if you happen to be a celebrity. Maybe Shri Manoj Night Shyamalan can throw some light on the mystery. Jokes apart, though, has definitive live evidence that death may be "the optimal career move" for some famous folks. Better dead and rich than alive and poor, what? The late and much lamented Elvis Presley, for instance, earned $ 37 million when a funked-up version of A Little Less Conversation was used in a World Cup television ad in June 2002 and reigned for four weeks as the No.1 single in the U.K charts. Charles ('Peanuts') Schultz was a not so close second at $28 million. Other prosperous estates are John Lennon ($20 million), Theodor ('Dr. Seuss') Geisel ($19 million), George Harrison ($17 million) and JRR Tolkien ($12 million) among many more. (Don’t miss the slide show, The Recently Departed Celebrities Slide Show.) P.S.: Where there’s prosperity, can there be peace of mind? Ask an Indian Idol.

;- ). And the whole wide world will ;- ) with you.

I don't much care for the Smileys of the World Wide Web, hardly ever use them. I get the feeling that they're a bit like scare quotes, a device to guard your butt. Mr S was born on 19 September 1982, sired (it seems) by a certain Scott E. Fahlman, on a bulletin board at the Carnegie Mellon University. So he is around 24 or so as of now, His family is known as 'Emoticons'. Their job is to convey the emotions of an e-mail writer or a bulletin board poster. There's an amusing article, Found: The first ever "smiley". by at,39024649,11035542,00.htm. And if you are in a nostalgic mood, you'll find a list of links to other articles about digital topics and paraphernalia of the yore. (By the way, in case you didn't notice, I didn't use the original Smiley in the headline. It's a winking Smiley.)

First impressions don’t last?

Re-reading Pride and Prejudice after more than four decades has been daunting. I cannot remember what I had thought of Jane Austen when I first read it. Today, I find her nineteenth-century usage quaint ('chuse', 'teaze', 'shew', 'stile', etc.) but her dialogue and story telling impeccable. Imagine keeping me riveted – in eager anticipation – to the exploits of young damsels in rural England seeking desirable husbands! And, that too, pushing aside a couple of topical books I'd been planning to read for quite a while now. Austen's most popular and well-known novel was originally written between October 1796 and August 1797 (qua First Impressions) but published only in 1813. In 1811, her Sense and Sensibility was published and became an instant success. After that, she revised First Impressions and it was published a couple of years later. If you wish to know more about her P&P characters, timeline and locales, go to the well-organised and copiously informative website at Don't forget to take a good look at the 1895 edition illustrations by Charles E Brock, either.

My portable typewriter tale.

There’s a story, apocryphal perhaps, about Woody Allen’s technophobia. Every time he needs to change his typewriter ribbon, a friend gets invited to a home-cooked dinner. (Read ‘printer cartridge’ just in case he has switched to a PC by the time you read this.) True or not, it goes well with Woody’s screen persona. I used to think of myself as a technophobe till the time I got myself a portable typewriter, back in 1958, to pound my M.Com. thesis on. (I never admitted even to myself that my handwriting was atrocious and illegible.) My new acquisition was a made-in-India machine. I forked out the princely sum of Rs.1500/- for it. My dissertation ran into some 700 and odd pages. After reading it, my external assessor, Dr. K. N. Raj, told me that had I waited one more year I could have got a Ph.D. for my trouble. That’s not apocryphal, trust me. Technophobe and techno-illiterate – I’ve continued to be both most of my life. I gave up driving long back because I was terrible at it, even worse at parking. When the PC came along though, I was among the early majority in getting converted by around 1995. I even managed to write a part of my still unpublished novel directly on my PC. I’m okay with surfing, e-mail and word processing but haven’t yet ventured into spread sheets. A part of the reason is I don’t really need to use Excel. This memory segment is brought to you by courtesy of Mr Gerry McGovern in whose article (Metadata is essential web writing skill.) I came across the Woody Allen anecdote which I had read before. “Metadata is the: who, what, where, when and how, of your content. … (and) may include: heading/title, summary/description, author name, date of publication, geographic classification, subject classification, keywords,” explains Gerry. The core of his argument is: “Metadata gives your content context.” Part 1 of the article at Part 2:

Hum, tum aur Harry.

I’m proud to be an urban Indian, aren’t you? We did it. Akhir dikha diya duniya ko ki hum bhi kisise kam nahin, what? (Never mind if I sound like an ad headline in Hinglish – supposedly the height of creativity in India these days. In case you didn’t get it, what I was saying in Bollywood Hindi was: “Didn’t we finally show the world that we lag behind no one?") Imagine joining the great global mainstream big time! Imagine Mumbai reportedly gobbling up 25000 copies of the latest Harry Potter the very first day it was let loose on the hapless universe at Rs.795/- a pop in hardcover in June 2003! Doesn’t the feat rate on par with our penchant for foreign film locales, foreign film technicians, foreign post-production, foreign faded/fading musicians in concert, foreign surgeons for digital correction involving our pride and joy, foreign barely edible junk food, foreign labels on all and sundry, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and what have you? You made my day, mera India! Way to go, mom. Forget the plight of a Bharat Ratna. Serves him right for daring to play the shehnai when the flavour of the day is synthesizer, guitar and drums. (P.S.: CyberAtlas has a fact-and-figure-packed article on Harry Potter at,1323,6061_2226321,00.html. It’s by Robyn Greenspan and is called ‘Wild About Harry’.)

Us and them.

Every time the talk turns to keeping people out of Mumbai and driving the ‘aliens’ back to where they belong (and it has been happening more and more frequently of late), I’m reminded of the notorious international precedent for such a course of action. Where do you think it occurred? In the magnificent bastion of freedom and democracy, no less. The hapless and desperate victims of the Dust Bowl seeking work in California (much like the Joad family in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath attracted to California, portrayed as ‘the land of milk and honey’ in the bogus ads for fruit pickers placed in Oklahoma newspapers in order to drive down the minimum wages) were deported from Los Angeles by the police. The Los Angeles Examiner, 8 February 1936, featured this event under the photo caption “And Don’t Come Back!” The report said inter alia: “Facing an influx of thousands of undesirables, Los Angeles police are taking drastic action. Here the ‘unwanted’ are being deported by train. Courts are questioning the rights of police to bar them.” Now that we’re taking a cue from The Empire in everything from lifestyle to morals to junk foods, maybe the day is not far when the Los Angeles high drama is re-enacted right here in our railway and bus terminals. (Read the entry under ‘1936’.)

Celebrity DIY instruction sheet. Step #1: Open mouth. Step #2: Shove foot in. Step #3: Go blab, blab, blab.

The foot-in-the-mouth disease spares no one. Its most famous victim was India’s (most probably) No.1 ‘icon’ when tied himself into knots on being asked if he would continue to work for a cola that’s at the toxic hub of the pesticide scandal. First he said Yes. Then he said ask the company because he didn’t understand ‘these things’. All he needed to say was, he was only the hired help, he did what he was told to do. (Remember the factoid that Alfred Hitchcock reportedly called actors cattle?) In the same newspaper another ‘icon’ made an ass of himself in a special ‘interview’ – obviously a part of the publicity blitz for his new release – by telling his equally clueless interviewer that Hollywood started making spectacularly mounted sci-fi flicks only twenty years back. (Huh? Duh!) Obviously, he wasn’t aware of, say, George Pal’s The War of The Worlds with its Oscar-winning special effects made as early as 1953. He also proudly said that he had persuaded his dad to make India’s first (?) sci-fi movie to clear the way for others to follow. If they didn’t do it, that genre would be lost forever to Bollywood. (Huh? Duh!) What about Kidar Sharma’s Armaan made as early as 1942, the Quit India year? I stopped reading the gibberish at that point vowing never to read another word uttered by him – a promise to myself I’m sure I shall break. Serves me right for my ‘scratch an icon to find an intellectual’ frame of mind, what? P.S.: All the critics were hailing the ‘ten-year-IQ-in-an-eighteen-year-old’ act put on by the latter ‘icon’ in the new sci-fi-set-to-music flick. Maybe, it’s not an act, after all. To read a bunch of ‘foot-in-the-mouth’ jokes concerning ordinary mortals, head for

The new apple in Mumbai’s eye? (Hint: It puts Mumbai on par with the Big Apple.)

One lives and learns, I guess. A little over two years ago, I first read in the press about a brand new social animal that had infiltrated the Indian Page 3 milieu. Can you guess who? I shall give you a hint in the form of a definition: “A dandyish narcissist in love with not only himself, but also his urban lifestyle”. Mark Simpson, the original inventor of this social prototype, defines it as “a young man with money to spend, living in or within easy reach of a metropolis – because that's where all the best shops, clubs, gyms and hairdressers are. … [also] … officially gay, straight or bisexual, … [which is] utterly immaterial because he has clearly taken himself as his own love object and pleasure as his sexual preference. Particular professions, such as modeling, waiting tables, media, pop music and, nowadays, sport, seem to attract them but, truth be told, like male vanity products and herpes, they're pretty much everywhere.” (Sounds pejorative, almost scurrilous, and scarcely desirable, does it not?) Apparently, the arrival of this exotic and exclusive life form in our midst has now blessed Mumbai with a global status on par with the Big Apple. How very fortunate! We’ve our world-standard fashion industry as well as our widespread urban prosperity to thank for the new arrival, I’m told. And, who is the beneficiary of this bonanza? All those who come under the ‘grooming industry’ umbrella, who else? Find more enlightenment on the new social phenomenon here:

Are we like that only?

Imagine! A cursory Bollywood history (of sorts) tells you Kishore Kumar was “a relatively unknown actor” before Padosan (1968) – and banking on our willing suspension of disbelief against all hope! This sloppily written and shoddily edited paperback makes no mention whatsoever of Rajesh Khanna and V Shantaram. If memory serves, Kishore Kumar was a renowned comedian of long standing much earlier. Remember Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi released exactly a decade before Mehmood’s cult classic? The omission of Rajesh Khanna too is curious, almsot callous – especially considering his singing voice was Kishore Kumar in most of his movies. (RK scored eleven hits in a row followed by eight flops.) Shantaram’s Duniya Na Maney is considered a landmark in societal filmmaking. Could it be a case of selective amnesia, I wonder? Considering the high editorial standards of the book’s renowned publishers (after all, they’ve India’s No.1 print columnist-novelist on their marquee), it’s also irritating to come across such erratic but obvious blunders as “Dean Martin and Bing Crosby’s Road series”. Well, to err is human, I guess, and we all are like that only.

Professional hazards.

Actors are such hoaxes, don’t you agree? Not their fault. It comes with the job. They’re ‘role acting’ on stage, when the cameras are rolling, even in real (not only reel) life when they talk to the gossip rags, to give just a few examples. It happens to all of us, come to think of it. See the stuff ordinary folks like you and me do on camera. Think of the way they dress when they go to watch cricket matches. Think of the way they raise their hands and sway to music in the television tamashas and call attention to themselves in the idiot-box debates. At times, one wonders if the theme line of actors from all walks of life should not be “Watch my lips”? (Excerpted from an old BBC Radio 4 program: BUSH: “Watch my nose: no new taxes.” / QUAYLE: “Er ... Mr President ... That's meant to be ‘Watch my lips’.” / BUSH: “No, Dan. If they watch my lips, they'll see that I'm lying through my teeth. Watch my nose, no new taxes.” / QUAYLE: “Er ... Mr President ... Your nose ... It's getting longer!”

Literature as gossip.

Truman Capote. The Princess Diana ‘revelations’ reminded me of his unfinished novel, Answered Prayers, peopled by Unspoilt (and Spoilt) Monsters. "All literature is gossip," Capote reportedly told Playboy in December 1976. This is part of what I find endearing about him. He was a taleteller to the core in the best and the worst sense of the word – a raconteur as well as a gossipmonger. In fact, the advance publication of excerpts from his work-in-progress got him in trouble with a lot of his high-society friends because they didn’t like him tattling on them. Coming to the Diana prediction of her own impending death in a road accident planned by ‘X’ in a note to her butler Paul Burrell nine months in advance of the event, why did not that worthy say anything for so long? For snippets of Capote’s writing, visit the starkly designed tribute website: At, the new spotlight on the Princess Diana mystery is covered.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Shop till you drop?

Take One: I'm about to let you in on a closely guarded secret about an original discovery of mine. Unfortunately, I don't – indeed can't – hold for it a copyright or patent or whatever else an inventor or a discoverer is supposed to hold. In a supermarket or a warehouse - never mind its location - where a lot of people are shopping at a time in the hope of saving money or getting bargains, there is a distinct smell in the air that only my nostrils can detect. It approximates the smell of boiled sweets laced with a dash of peppermint. On the many occasions from 1970 when I've shopped in American, British, Scandinavian, Sri Lankan or Indian shopping places in the company of friends and relatives, only I have been privy to its presence. I call it the Scent of the Fervent Shopper. I got a whiff of it after a long, long time while shopping at the Big Bazaar one Dassera morning. For a moment or two, I couldn't place it. Then, memory of where I had met it last – and when – hit me. Right in the nostrils. Incredible!

Take Two: Going shopping on a rainy Thursday afternoon is hardly my idea of fun. I made an exception to my rule on this Thursday afternoon because Nandini needed company. Ducking out of a light drizzle, we dripped our way into the Cottage Industries Emporium near the Gateway of India around three. It was like stepping back into the past for me. Time seems to have been snoozing on its feet for CIE. Nothing looked different from my last visit years back. No new stuff on offer. Same somnambulant staff. The only glaring change was the shoppers. There used to be a lot of foreigners around earlier. Now there were mostly NRIs like Nandini moving around as if they owned the depressing joint, speaking Marathi in an American accent and choosing stuff to furnish their newly acquired homes or, maybe, to gift to their phirang friends. It’s a sobering thought that these folks who have left their country to make a better life elsewhere take with them bits and pieces of their first homeland every chance they get. Later in the afternoon, when we stepped into the then three-days-old downtown showroom of Fab India, I found recent history repeating itself. But, in this case, the stuff for sale and the staff pushing it were livelier and smarter at least. To get a cursory feel of the NRI mind, please take a look at this home page: It claims to be the most comprehensive information resources for the lost tribe. Other sites worth a look:,, and

History’s saddest lesson. Will we never learn?

Say what we may, India's record of inter-communal co-existence has been atrocious throughout the last century. On every occasion, the slightest breath of suspicion would fan tension into a major conflagration. In 1926, for instance, Hindu Mahasabha's national conference in Delhi, the ambiguous government policy on allowing music to be played near mosques and the opposition within the Indian National Congress to the Bengal Hindu-Muslim pact - painstakingly steered to fruition by the Deshbandhu (CR Das) - conspired to spark off a nationwide carnage, in Allahabad, Bombay, Calcutta, Dacca, Delhi, Hyderabad, Lahore, Panipat and Rawalpindi. 'Music near mosques' has a familiar ring. It has been the recurring bone of contention, even as late as in Mumbai's post-Ayodhya (1992-93) riots. Is secular tolerance, I often wonder, a sheer sliver of a veneer over the Indian psyche? "The more the two sides try and call attention to their religious differences by slaughtering each other, the less there is to distinguish them from one another. They worship at the same altar. They're both apostles of the same murderous god". That's how Arundhati Roy described the Gujarat episode of this never-ending gory tale. (Democracy. Who is she when she's at home?)

Ever checked the ‘Use before’ date … on digital data?

What do you think should be the 'Use before' date printed on digital data? To a techno illiterate like me, it seems virtually indestructible. I'm wrong, though. Abby Smith, Director of Programs, Council on Library and Information Resources (a Washington, DC, nonprofit organization that was helping the Library of Congress to draft a proposal asking legislators to fund research on a long-term solution for data preservation) has this to say: "The layman's view is that digital information is more secure, when in fact it's far more ephemeral. We know how to keep paper intact for hundreds of years. But digital information is all in code. Without access to that code, it's lost." Succinctly put, the problem, according to Claire Tristram (Data Extinction), is: "… how to preserve digital things - data, software and the electronics needed to read them - as they age. Paper documents last for hundreds of years, but more and more of what matters to us is digitally produced, and we can't guarantee that any of it will be usable 100, or 10, or even five years from now." And: "The naive view of digital preservation is that it's merely a question of moving things periodically onto new storage media, of making sure you copy your files from eight-inch floppy disks to five-and-a-quarter, to three-and-a-half, to CD, and on to the next thing before the old format fades away completely. But moving bits is easy. The problem is that the decoding programs that translate the bits are usually junk within five years, while the languages and operating systems they use are in a state of constant change"

Here comes the spleen. (Sing it to the tune of ‘Here comes the bride’. Once more with feeling.)

This specimen (from the twenty-fifth issue of comes from my own Archives. (The Hindustan Times Archives do not go back beyond 01 August 2004.)

> Quoting verbatim an unsigned hate E-mail I received is an apt way to open the twenty-fifth issue of …

"Sub: Naipaul

Naipaul is a not a sourpuss, and unlike you is a well respected man of considerable talent and sharp intellect.
I bet you have not read some, let alone most of his work, yet in order to improve you (sic!) Indian version of secular credential, really a well established Nehruvian type of muslim appeasement, you feel that you have to slight this man. Pathetic hindu wimp forever subserviant to islamists!"

I wonder what the Nobel laureate would make of it. Either this fan of his has given up on English spellings or his ability to spell has given up on his mind so full of hate and venom.

Anyone wishing to answer him may apply to me for his E-mail address.

In the meanwhile, my PC's spellchecker has put the whole thing in proper perspective. Helpfully, it offered "muslin" as an alternative to "muslim" sans capital "m"; "hind" for ditto "hindu"; the correct spelling of the Frenchified "subserviant"; and "psalmists", "alarmists" and "Islamite" in lieu of "islamists." It made no comment on the "you" used in place of the intended "your," though. (The "sic!" is mine own.) And, it even offered to change "Frenchified" into "French-fried," the joker!

[P.S.: One of the joker’s contributions I forgot to mention was “Peruvian” instead of ”Nehruvian”.]

The piece that drew the hate mail-writer’s ire was two issues earlier. It read:

> If passport denotes nationality, Naipaul is an "intellectually and culturally bankrupt" Briton or Britisher if you'd rather I use a word the British shun.

He's certainly not one of us "unwashed" Indians, thank our lucky stars, nor an "unlearned" Trinidadian. An Oxford don who later confessed to having wasted his youth at "a very second rate provincial university," Naipaul is a sourpuss with a disposition to match.

Or else why would he perpetually view the world through jaundiced eyes?No, my bone of contention is neither An Area of Darkness nor India: A Wounded Civilisation. I found both these uncompromisingly truthful and brilliant.

It's simply that, Nobel laureate or not, the man comes across as an insufferable boor.

Give me, instead, the Royal Canadian Air Farce anytime.

In retrospect, though, I feel I wrote too harshly and unfeelingly about Sir Vidiadhar. After all, he has the right to feel and write any way he wishes. Sorry for the lapse, Sir Vidia.