Saturday, August 26, 2006

Hitler’s Cross. Now Shablok’s, too?

Everyone’s cross at Hitler’s Cross. Five mondo honchos of Mumbai’s Pee Three swore they won’t eat there. They’re all foodies, mind you. Were I Punit Shablok, that would have me really, really worried. His reason for choosing for his new restaurant with a hookah parlour attached the name that’s leaving everyone cross-eyed seems to be a convolutedly thought out positional gambit. “This is one name that will stay in people’s minds,” he told Reuters. “We are not promoting Hitler… we want to tell people we are different in the way he was different.” Careful, dude. You don’t want to be different in the way Hitler was different unless you’re ready to be certified nuts and consigned to the snake pit. If I remember my Ries & Trout, the Hitler’s Cross promo task force seems to have applied the Positioning theory correctly. Only the window of the mind they chose to open is the one everyone would rather keep permanently boarded up. What intrigues me is this, though. Why would the Hitler’s Cross promo task force assume that Hitler would be remembered as ‘different’ (‘remarkable’?) by people, mostly Indians, who live and work in the Kharghar neighbourhood or take a detour to the restaurant on their way to Pune or Mumbai? Young people who chose to eat there seemed to recall Hitler as an evil man but didn’t think that was reason enough to deny the restaurant their patronage. Now, that sounds perfectly rational to me. And, totally non-hypocritical to boot as compared to certain politically correct foodie pronouncements mentioned earlier. The Cross(over?) incidence also reiterates the wisdom of the adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Else, could a new eatery in sleepy Kharghar ever aspire to be the irritant in the world’s eye? One more point about Hitler’s Cross is worth noting. In August 1920, the soon-to-be Füehrer was working as an artist and understood the power of visual symbols. He adopted the reverse Swastika from the Finnish Air Force whose military symbol it had been since 1918 and tilted it. “The effect was as if we had dropped a bomb,” he wrote. Shablok could vouch for that, I reckon.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Milk of human kindness.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. It’s cruel to be kind sometimes. No joking. I was reminded of it in the last ten minutes or so when I was back to the bad old days of boiling pasteurized Aarey milk packed in plastic bags as I had described earlier. First, I had to find the milk boiler from where it had been stashed away. Next, I had to clean it and pour the milk in it. A couple of minutes after I had put it to boil and gone to the sitting room to start the PC, I was suddenly seized with high anxiety about whether the milk boiler had sufficient water in it. So I ran back to the kitchen, put off the gas burner, took the milk boiler off it, poured the half boiled milk into a pot and proceeded to top up the water level. Then, I had to pour the milk back into the milk boiler and bring it to a boil all over again. See what I mean? And, just in case you’re wondering where the worrisome pasteurized milk came from, it was all out of the unexpected kindness of strangers, as they say. In this case, the stranger happened to be a neighbour who had overstocked Aarey milk without a thought for the annual family visit to Goa for the Ganapati festival. The rest of the story you know. End of bitching at least for now.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I’m a stranger here myself.

Meet my old friend, the apocryphal Martian, this time a movie critic to boot and quite up to speed with the big picture of the very latest earthly affairs. On his recent unannounced visit, he dropped in at a multiplex in South Mumbai and painstakingly watched all the Indian movies showing on all the screens. Then, before leaving, he vouchsafed me his startling conclusion. “You guys no matter where you live, whether in India or abroad, have all turned NRIs or POIOs at heart.” Noticing the effect of his words on me, he condescended to reveal his reasons for the extraordinary observation. “Just look at the locales your movie makers opt for. How does a boy who hails from a remote village in Punjab dream of frolicking with a Westernized girl in Switzerland?” “Errrr. Maybe, he was a Swiss goatherd in his previous life,” I butted in hesitantly. The Martian guffawed dismissively – or made an impatient snort that sounded like a human guffaw. “More likely, your Bollywood moviemakers imagine all their compatriots to be closet NRIs/POIOs because they themselves are exactly that. This is not a recent acquisition, mind you. Foreign locales have always fascinated your film folks. It makes better sense to use them now, I grant you. It strikes a chord with the genuine NRIs/POIOs and they end up making more money.” And, finally, this parting shot: “Have you noticed how contemptuous these NRI/POIO-minded moviemakers are of average Indians? For instance, in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, when Nandini’s husband takes her to Italy in search of her lover, the footage is actually shot in Hungary with no attempt made to camouflage the signage in the local language or even obvious landmarks on the assumption that the audience won’t be able to catch on. Is it not the pinnacle of arrogance?” One thing kept bothering me after he left for Mars. How could a purely apocryphal being be so insightful?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The family car.

The first Mankar family car, a maroon and black Wolseley Wasp used to be parked in the porch in the front part of the compound of 233 Khetwadi Main Road when I was, I’m guessing, five or so. So, it must have been purchased a few years earlier. I remember going for long evening drives with my mother up the Walkeshwar Road to the Malabar Hill Gardens, down the Marine Drive to the Chowpatty Sea Face and sometimes as far away as Cuffe Parade where now the Taj President stands. There used to be a raised pedestrian promenade along the Cuffe Parade Sea Face very similar to what you can still find at the Worli Sea Face. The other outings included visits to my two maternal uncles, my mother’s sister, two of her friends and a couple of shops where my mother used to shop regularly for sarees and silverware. The elder uncle used to reside on the ground floor of the house still extant opposite the Roxy Cinema on the Queen’s Road within walking distance of Royal Opera House, the cinema theatre of choice for V Shantaram and Raj Kapoor, that also used to double as a playhouse for Prithviraj Kapoor’s stage plays. (By the way, I was born in the Roxy-facing flat on a rain-drenched Janmashtami midnight in August.) Somewhere around 1948, the Wolseley made way for a brand new red Renault 4CV. This French car had just come into the market and had the distinction of being one of the few cars to reach the 1 million production mark in Europe. It was reputed to be the French retort to the German Volkswagen Beetle. It seemed more like flattery to me because it resembled the latter quite a bit. (That’s how I probably got infected with the Beetle bug. One of my youthful ambitions was to possess one.) I learned driving on the Renault and turned out to be an atrocious learner. I could just barely start and steer the vehicle but was very slovenly at parking. I once got a ticket for turning left at the traffic signal near the Church Gate Station from no less an officer than the Deputy Police Commissioner of Bombay (this was probably in 1954 or 1955). That worthy was under the impression that there was a traffic signal there. Fortunately for me, it was a free turn. I got acquitted in the Esplanade Court near the Victoria Terminus with my father defending me. My brush with the law was responsible, I guess, for the police putting a proper traffic signal at the Church Gate junction immediately afterwards. My father sold off the Renault around 1960 when it became almost impossible to maintain. Genuine spare parts were hard to come by. Also, I suspect, my father was not doing so well by then. Although I had a job in 1960, my salary could not have paid for a month’s petrol bill. The third family car which I bought came much later in the early 1980s. It was from the very first batch of Maruti Suzukis, s green and air conditioned Maruti 800. Ashu and Abhi used to chauffer us around in it all over Mumbai and sometimes to Pune. Of the two, Abhi was the car connoisseur and really knew how to look after it well. (He had learned it, I reckon, taking care of the grey Fiat which his granny owned.) The Maruti was sold off around 1987 when Abhi went to the US for higher studies. Since then, the Mankar family car happens to be whichever black and yellow cab, mostly Fiat, I hail to go wherever I’m going at the time.

To catch a thief.

One more 233 Khetwadi Main Road tale from the late 1940s when the Mankars were living on the third floor terrace flat there. From the third floor staircase landing, you stepped straight on to the terrace via the left hand side front door. (The other door on the right hand side was kept locked and only opened and used on special occasions like Diwali.) The north facing sitting room or ‘hall’ as we called it, also had a door and a window both of which opened on to the terrace. So did the door from the passage that separated the sitting room from the bedroom and the door and the window of the latter. On summer nights, the last mentioned door and window used to keep open to allow the breeze to flow in. This practice was abruptly discontinued and all doors and windows were fitted with metal grills after the summer of 1948 (if memory does not deceive) when we and our neighbours were burglarised two or three times in a single week. Not much was taken from our flat except for a few cooking utensils and some clothes from the clothesline. I can still remember, though, how violated we all felt, how intruded upon. A vigilante posse organised by our family retainer managed to catch the burglar and hand him over to the police. It turned out that he was from the neighbourhood and had apparently cased the joint. He used to gain access to our flat by climbing up using the water pipes as his makeshift ‘ladder’. This intrusion brought to an abrupt end, as I said earlier, the era of innocence and carefree nighttime habits like leaving the doors open to let the breeze in.

Rites of passage.

233 Khetwadi Main Road used to be quite a menagerie of a residential building. Right from the early days when the Mankars moved there in the late 1930s, there used to be a ‘Passenger Agency’ on the ground floor called ‘Jeevabhai Patel, Passenger Agents’. What this outfit did was what a travel agency does for a contemporary traveller, i.e., booking the passage of the traveller and his baggage, obtaining the passport and the visa and so forth. The difference, however, was that the Patels also provided an additional service: temporary shelter for the passenger and his belongings till the day of departure. The 233 Khetwadi Main Road compound and the front porch where the Mankar family car, a maroon and black Wolseley Wasp, was parked often used to be strewn about with bodies and crates belonging to the passengers hailing mostly from rural Gujarat and Rajasthan. These worthies performed their early morning ablutions noisily and publicly in the compound and generally made a nuisance of themselves much to the chagrin of the permanent residents. They also had loud arguments among themselves and at times with the Patels and their mukadam (supervisor) presumably about unpaid dues or overcharged fees. After the proprietor’s death, the outfit continued to be run by his widow who had shrewd business acumen and a sharp tongue. It was only when transoceanic passenger shipping went into a decline that the firm ran aground and shut down some times in the late 1960s or early 70s. The Patel family continued to live there till late 1990s, though.

Strictly for voyeurs.

That’s correct. Watching movies is in essence a voyeuristic avocation. Not in the prurient but in the broad sense of the term. After all, when you’re watching a movie, you’re looking at or witnessing what’s happening or what someone is doing without (apparently) their knowledge and consent – in order to derive pleasure. Except, in those once-in-a-while asides, when the character actually addresses the camera, that is to say, (by proxy) you. In every voyeuristic encounter, the subject’s privacy is violated, intentionally or otherwise.. In the strictest psychological sense, voyeurism is a sexual disorder where “sexual arousal … involves the act of observing unsuspecting individuals, usually strangers, who may be naked or in the process of disrobing. Even engaging in sexual activity.” The so-called x-rated blue films meet this psychological definition of voyeurism. (The other side of the voyeuristic coin is exhibitionism. In other words, the actors who perform for the camera are exhibitionists.) Voyeurism of the prurient variety is believed to be caused by childhood trauma such as sexual abuse or accidental sighting of naked adults, copulation, etc. Voyeurism of the movie-watching kind may be caused in the present times by the parents’ excessive addiction to television and movie watching on VCDs and DVDs as well as in the multiplexes. Once infected, seldom freed. It’s a lifetime addiction. And heaven help those victims who are abysmally devoid of taste and discrimination. They end up watching the worst kind of trash spewed by the film makers out to make a quick buck. [P.S.: Tangentially speaking, you’ve got to consider a real huge difference between real life and reel life. In the latter, you have close-ups, zooms (in and out), freezes, quick cuts and so on to help the story telling which the former lacks. So what you see on the screen cannot be compared strictly speaking with what you see – and ‘experience’ – in life. Even in dreams, for that matter. Have you noticed how far removed the dream sequences in movies are from dreams in real life? Keep all these things in mind, boys and girls, the next time you think of cinematic reality.]

Outsourcing. An insider’s tale?

I cannot swear by this story. It could well be apocryphal. But an acquaintance of mine says he got it from an insider who is a hands-on practitioner of outsourcing in the Brihanmumbai Mahanagarpalika’s Conservancy Services Department. By that, he means (I presume), what the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai now pompously calls the ‘Solid Waste Management Department’, of course. This intrepid band of dedicated public servants are supposed to do “street sweeping”, “collection of solid wastes including temporary storage”, ”removal and transportation of solid wastes”, “disposal of solid wastes”, “disposal of dead bodies of animals” and “construction, maintenance and cleansing urinals and public sanitary conveniences”, if one were to believe what it says at rather than what greets one’s sight at virtually every street corner every day. My acquaintance’s informant claims to be on the payrolls of this Department, signs in every day and collects his dues on every pay day. However, he outsources the actual performance of his duties to someone else who gets a cut from his monthly salary. Or, so he says. While his proxy is doing the work, the outsourcer is out doing some other more pleasant and less messy job from which too he earns money. This deception apparently has been going on for years and he is apparently not the only person to practice it. It makes eminent sense to get done what one doesn’t want to do from someone else and pay that someone else for it. That’s the logic of all outsourcing, isn’t it?

Saturday, August 12, 2006


Not really. Considering we troop to swoon over KJ’s made-for-NRI KANK in the newly opened Metro Ad Labs (soon to be shortened to MAL no doubt) at Rs.500/- a pop without blinking an eyelid to watch SRK, AB, AB Jr, RM, PZ and KK. Or, KKKG, KHNH and other initial poppers (IPs – not IPOs) of like ilk before it. I guess it’s a sign of the hurried, harried times we live in. We don’t have a moment to rest in peace (RIP). We’re afraid of getting ripped off if we do. Who knows what might happen in that unguarded moment if we were to stop and take a leisurely breather? A real WI conundrum, what? For acronym impaired folks like me, here’s an alphabetically arranged, easy-to-use glossary to mug up so that you get my drift.

Glossary for the Acronym Impaired starts here.

AB (sometimes also called the Big B) = Amitabh Bachchan

AB Jr (often called Abby’s Baby) = Abhishekh Bachchan

Aka = Also known as

IIITTII? = Isn’t it idiotic to talk in initials?

IP = Initial popper

IPO = Initial public issue

KANK= Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna

KJ = Karan Johar

KK = Kirron Kher

KHNH = Kal Ho Na Ho

KKKG = Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham

MAL = Metro Ad Lab

NRI = Non-resident India (aka born desi ab pardesi)

PZ = Preity Zinta

RIP = Rest in peace

RM = Rani Mukherji

SRK = Shah Rukh Khan

WI = What if

Avantika recommends for acronym finding. For a second opinion, try

Bibliophobe’s revenge.

Here's a fact to completely astound
Any reader who keeps books around.
There's a breed on this globe
Called the bibliophobe:
The mere sight of a book – he's unbound.

You could say that again, boys and girls. Take it from me. If you want to turn a bibliophile like me into a frothing-at-the-mouth bibliophobe, the surest way to do it is to hand him a coffee table book admeasuring 300mm x 223mm with a 28mm spine and insist he uses it for reference. I’m speaking from recent hands-on experience. Only someone as weird as Cosmo Kramer could have come up with the very idea of the coffee table book, I can vouch with total conviction. It’s one thing to open one of those obscenely oversize books on a coffee table top and insouciantly turn the pages barely glancing at the pretty pictures – making arty-sounding remarks just to show the present company how hip and with-it you are. It’s quite another, believe me, trying to read the text printed in an undecipherable small font and trying to make sense of it. They should at least set them up in large print like books for the visually impaired – if they want what’s printed in them to be taken seriously. A look at Large Print tells me that art books are not included in its fairly comprehensive repertoire that boasts chicken soup series, children’s books and even Harry Potter for that matter. In other words, no sensible soul expects what’s written in art books to be taken seriously. Ergo, look at the pretty pictures. Don’t read the drivel. [New Learning about Ye Olde Attitudes: Did you know that according to the Ulverscroft Group, one the biggies in the large print publishing business the English-reading universe comprises the UK, Ireland, South Africa, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand only?]

Music-to-your-ears last words:

This odd word, bibliolater, looks
Like a person who can't get his hooks
On enough things to read,
But I ask you, indeed,
Can a reader have too many books?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

M as in ‘mule’. T as in ‘talking’.

And, F as in ‘Francis’. Because that was the name of the smart talking Army mule who used to upstage (after six appearances with Francis, the mule got more fan mail than the actor and land into trouble his GI sidekick, Peter Stirling (Donald O’Connor), in movie after movie. I think I first met Francis in 1952 at the Eros Theatre, opposite the Church Gate Station, just after appearing for my SSC Board examination. It was good fun once you willingly suspended your disbelief which was easy to do after you listened to Francis’s cynical and sardonic smart talk in the screen voice of Chill Willis. The pivot of the comedy was that Francis only spoke to Peter and when Peter followed his advice and acted in a manner beyond his competence, he had to tell his bosses that his source of information was a talking mule. This landed him into a psychoanalyst’s couch for analysis. I was taken aback when I came across a long-faced and solemn 693-word review of the first Francis flick in the New York Times (16 March 1950) by Bosley Crowther via (Movie Review Query Engine). I didn’t know Francis inspired such awe among movie critics when he made his debut. BC called 1950 the year of the mule, bitched about “the animal's limited histrionics” and didn’t seem to relish the hypothesis that mule could be superior to man. Famous last words? “In short, we can't say that ‘Francis,’ a Universal-International film, offers comedy of rich and subtle nature. But it holds a few good laughs – especially for mules.” I rest my case.

[Note on New Learning about the Good Ol’ Days: Even in 1950, on the stage at the Paramount, there were live performers: the King Cole Trio, Larry Storch, Johnny Coy and Ray McKinley and his orchestra. Did Francis ask for all those props?]

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The marrying kind.

Thank heaven for little girls
For little girls get bigger every day!
Thank heaven for little girls
They grow up in the most delightful

Remember Honoré (Maurice Chevalier), singing to Leslie Caron in Gigi (1958)? He saw in her just a little girl “growing up in the most delightful way” and not a budding courtesan-in-training. His nephew, the Parisian playboy, Gaston (Louis Jourdon), was more worldly. He saw a courtesan-in-training “growing up in the most delightful way” and wanted to become her first patron. Honoré’s viewpoint was paternal, or, more accurately, avuncular. He reminds me of a friend who did not want his daughter to get married “too soon”. She was working and enjoying it. He enjoyed his daughter’s delight in and success at her chosen profession. Then, as he told me the story, fate intervened. She went with her mother to take part in a puja. The very next day, the pujari (presiding priest), who moonlighted as a marriage broker and astrologer, brought for her a marriage proposal. It was an offer too good to refuse. She decided to chuck up her career and join the kitty party circuit. Her father wasn’t so sure. She was adamant, though. Wiser counsels and the Indian world view prevailed. What brought about the change in the heart of the father? He did not tell me. I didn’t probe. And, although no dowry had been demanded, I know he ended up paying plenty in kind and still continues to pay, the doting father that he is. Which brings to mind another story of four fathers who were taken to the cleaners by a multi-marrying deceiver. The story hit the headlines this morning. While I’m no Sherlock Holmes, the two wedding pictures printed with the report show brides all over whom is written the reason why their parents were anxious to marry them off without verifying the credentials of the bridegroom-to-be. They’re pathetic looking, flat-chested girls who would be a cause for worry for parents. The worst kind of deception, I reckon, is self-deception. Therein lies the unspoken woe of the father - and the mother - of the bride.