Monday, October 30, 2006

Eyes and ears only.

Just after I had passed my Bachelor of Commerce examination in 1956 and was planning to do post graduation by thesis, an unusual job offer came my way. A cousin of mine used to work at that time for the Central Excise Department and was attached to a factory. Its personnel officer apparently was on very good terms with him and asked him to find a young person willing to be the eyes and ears of the management. In those days, trade unions were powerful and wielded a lot of clout in collective bargaining. The new recruit was expected to work as a clerk in the dispatch department and join the Union. He would then keep his eyes and ears open and report to the personnel manager all the gory details. For his trouble, he would be paid a handsome amount in addition to his regular salary. The moral implications of being a snitch did not bother me much. In fact, I hardly even thought about them. What dissuaded me from even considering the offer was my inability to absorb and reproduce gossip. Because that’s exactly what the wannabe spy would have to do. Later on, after doing my Master of Commerce I worked for the Forward Markets Commission as a research assistant. One of the assignments I had was to visit the commodity trading markets and pick up the market gossip. I was a failure at it and was soon returned to a desk job. I did however manage to write a few good notes about the happenings in the commodity markets and my analysis of them. Gossip continues to be my Achilles’ heel even to this day. I cannot simply be bothered with it.

Monday, October 23, 2006

One-boy cricket.

Now that I’m in the cricket memory mode let me take you back to the days of my childhood, circa late forties. The third floor flat at 233 Khetwadi Main Road as I’ve written before was a terrace flat. I used to be a cricket fan (but not a fanatic) then. I was among the few in my school friends to have attended the famous Bombay Pentangulars contested among five teams (Hindus, Parsis, Mohammedans, Europeans and the Rest) at the Brabourne Stadium either in 1944 or 1945 The tournament used to be held, if memory serves, in winter (November-December) in a festive mood. Lots of fun, lots of friendly ribbing between various groups. Then, in 1946, the tournament was discontinued as a result of the long-running campaign against its politically incorrect format and team make-up. I even saw the ‘unofficial’ Test match (1946) between India and the Australian Services Cricket Team, skippered by Lindsay Hassett and featuring Keith Miller as well as the one against West Indies in either 1948 or 1949. I used to play cricket on our terrace with my nephews acting out an entire Test match between India and Australia, India and England and so forth. We used to keep scores and had spots marked on the wall with so many runs earned and of course we could score by running between wickets. We played either with a rubber ball or a cork ball and lost a lot many of them when they cleared the wooden ‘fence’ of the terrace. There was a little shop selling odds and ends run by a bohari gentleman, next to the Dreamlamd (previously Krishna) Cinema, within easy walking distance of my house where we would run to replace the lost ball. (We also used to use wooden balls to prevent loss by bouncing.) One notable memory of those days is that we had to wear a sweater at four in the afternoon while playing on the terrace because it used to be windy and chilly in November, December, January and even early February. My cricket at home was played not just on the terrace, though. There was a one-boy version of it which I played by my lonesome self in the six-foot wide passage that dissected our flat. This was my invention and I should have rightfully taken a copyright on it. In the one-boy version of cricket, an entire Test match could be played enacting the roles of 22 players in about an hour. The wall at the east end of the passage would act as the wicket and the opposite wall would be the bowler’s end. A rubber ball would be bounced off the bowling wall and I would ‘open’ each of the four innings in style and keep score as well. A piece of paper and pencil were kept at ready on the dinner table nearby. Insofar as I was the only player or play actor, the rules happened to be a bit too flexible as you can well imagine. All in all, though, I recall having a lot of fun playing one-boy cricket with myself.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

A bunch of clowns.

Once upon a time, life used to be really, really simple. Including the view from the Wankhede Stadium. Those were the days when I used to take interest in the game of cricket – like aam janata – and Mohinder Amarnath could get away calling the selectors by what came to be known as the most derogatory label in the history of Indian cricket. The true story I’m about to tell happened in 1996. I was a part of the pretentious “bunch of clowns” called ‘We’re Game’. We intended to operate as an independent think tank in order to help India XI win the 1999 World Cup. I have a bunch of papers from those days that actually contain a couple of think notes written by me in the form of articles. They are filed in a blue plastic folder. I found them the other day while cleaning up the storage shelves. The crawly stuff I wrote then sounds weird in sane retrospect. Nauseating stuff like: “Here we may seek enlightenment and insights from our HRD practitioners, social scientists and psychologists. [Yechhh!] We are perhaps in for a close encounter with Group Dynamics, the sociologist’s “work group” (people working on a common task) and the psychologist’s “interactive group” (any get-together of individuals for a common purpose). [Arrrraghhh!] In his book The Corporate Man, Anthony Jay hypothesized that there is a natural primordial size of the “hunting group” (translation: the “team”) no larger than a football team (nine) beyond which success gets much harder if not impossible to achieve.” The cheek of me! I actually presumed that I, who had never graduated beyond ‘terrace cricket’ in my childhood (I must write about that little-known esoteric version of the game some day), had garnered enough wisdom, expertise and knowledge to advise the India XI on how to get out of the “wrest defeat out of the jaws of victory” mode and win the 1999 World Cup. To tell you the truth, I have still not fathomed the aerodynamics of reverse swing. Fortunately, the ‘We’re Game’ never got the opportunity to unleash its expertise on the unsuspecting cricketing world. It died unsung and uncelebrated of inertia, inaction and sloth of the intending promoters and also, as I had suspected right from the start, lack of the right connections.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The earth won’t stop spinning every time you leave the room.

I’m an avid but passive TV trailer watcher. There’s a JAG trailer running at this time in which ’Mac’ tells ‘Harm’: “You know, Harm, every time you leave the room, the earth doesn’t stop spinning.” When I heard it, I thought to myself what a snide, nasty, bitchy thing to say. This morning, I read a report about Asha Bhosale’s rage at being denied the opportunity to sing ‘Mehabooba’ in the new Sholay and I said to myself the JAG snidey is the perfect retort to her Diva airs. Does she ‘own’ Mehabooba? Well, there’s a by-now-notorious precedent for that kind of high and mighty behaviour. The 1980s super model, Elle Macpherson, now a 42-year-old, 6-foot Aussie mother of two, claims she is the original ‘body’, so dubbed by the venerated Time Magazine. She is outraged by the Victoria Secret’s The Body bra model Heidi Klum’s attempt to usurp her rightful throne. (Heidi Klum, by the way, is the 33-year-old, 5-foot-9 mother of two with one more coming soon.) Boys and girls, please note that Macpherson has her own skin-care cosmetic line called ‘Elle Macpherson The Body’, plus a lingerie brand and the fitness video (‘The Body Workout’. Klum, once called ‘The Body Two’ in deference to Elle surfaced in the US in the late 1990s. Both Klum and Macpherson regularly feature in the Sports Illustrated annual swimsuit issue, including the latest one. Now on whenever I get an advertising brief exhorting me to write ads so that “we can own so-and-so positioning”, I shall think of Asha, Elle and Heidi before I get down to the task.

The cliffhanger.

One morning recently, I happened to watch the part of that The Simpsons episode where Homer is searching for his daughter Lisa from atop a vehicle with an extendable shovel. Just as he spots her and catches her attention, he loses control of the shovel that goes careening down the slope with him yelling his head off. With that cliffhanger in place, it was time for the commercial break. That got me thinking about Shahrazad (or Scheherazade). She was the brainy and spunky young wench who invented the cliffhanger for her magnum opus of tales that ran for one thousand and one nights. The cliffhanger occurred at dawn to earn her one more day’s reprieve. So inventive and resourceful was Shahrazad and so powerful her incentive – her neck on the chopping block – that she managed to insert every time a cliffhanger tempting enough for her Lord and Master to spare her life for one more day. The scriptwriters of daily soaps – with the TRP as their carrot – are worthy successors to her. One can safely aver that had she seen how far they’ve helped to evolve her brainchild, she would’ve been proud of the tribe she started. For a succinct outline of the art of story telling, go here: More about cliffhangers at More about Shahrazad at

Friday, October 13, 2006

The secret word is “Fiddlesticks”.

Along with ‘Free’, ‘New’, ‘instant’, ‘easy to master’, ‘speedy’, ‘1-minute’ and other magic words and phrases, ‘secret’ too is deemed to be a very potent word in marketing and advertising. An action-triggering word. A very, very persuasive word. The secret of being rich. The lazy man’s secret. Victoria’s secret. Ming’s secret. Official secret. The secret of success. The secret of happiness. Beauty secret. The secret ingredient. Secret language. The secret word. Secret service. Secret agent. Secret society. Secret conspiracy. Secret ritual. Secret societies. The secret handshake. The Secret Doctrine by HP Blavatsky. (It’s about theosophy and … the spiritual evolution of the universe and mankind; science, symbolism, myths, reincarnation… (says the blurb). The secret life of Walter Mitty. All hogwash except maybe the last one. It was lived in his mind and he told no one about it. The ultimate secret is there’s no secret. The secret logic that helped me to arrive at this earth-shaking dénouement is simply this. If something is known to more than one person or revealed to someone else, it’s no longer a secret. Take “secret” with a large pinch of salt is my humble suggestion. P.S.: Can someone tell me the secret of why the participants of Miss Tibet Pageant 2006 in Dharamsala (Himachal Pradesh) – probably thousands or at least hundreds of miles away from sea – are prancing around in swimsuits? My off-the-cuff guess is the fall out of the deep inroads made by American cultural brainwashing. Fall from grace, sort of.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Ensconced in velvet. (Later, in denim.)

The first three are not my words. I stole them straight out of George’s mouth. (‘The Label Maker’) The George I’m talking about is Costanza who declares his affinity for velvet in these immortal words: “I would drape myself in velvet if it were socially acceptable.” This velvety diversion comes to you because of my sudden remembrance of one phase in early childhood when I used to be “ensconced in velvet” – velvet pants of ridiculous hues actually – ludicrous as it sounds to me now. All my life, I’ve been bereft of a sense of personal style or grooming (I wear any – preferably old and therefore comfortable – shirt that comes to hand as soon as I open my ‘wardrobe’ without bothering about matching it with the rest of my apparel), I guess. And that must have been the nadir. Velvet corduroy has always been socially acceptable in the circles I move in and still seems to be. But I remember owning only a couple of velvet corduroy trousers in my youth. Strangely though, I was one of the first guys to take to denim early in life. I’ve never been out of a jean ever since I was around twelve. My love for denim must have grown of my affinity for cowboy comics and lore. (“Hey, hombre. I ain’t about to let this town go to coyotes like yuh. Draw!”) Denim lured me by its comfortable feel. At a wedding sometime back I met an old acquaintance who confirmed my presumption that I was the first one to don denim in my neighbourhood. Whew!

Band of boys.

The mentality of the Indian male never fails to amaze and, at times, scare me. Perennially patriarchal is probably the best way to describe it. I can say with some confidence that YHWH or ‘Jehowah’, the primordial patriarch would love to include them in His tribe. There’s this affluent family we know from another city, both sons settled abroad and a daughter who’s spunky and full of grit. She started working fairly early and did well but chucked it up to marry a well-heeled friend of her elder brother rather recklessly. After a few years of marriage, she got divorced on the grounds of cruelty – mental and physical. At the time, Big Bro was supportive. He nevertheless kept his links with his friend alive and also the hope that she would one day return to him. Now she is leading an independent life and supporting herself. The band of boys carries on frowning at her failure to see good sense.. Once upon a time, I too used to have the YHWH frame of mind. Thankfully, somewhere along the way, I happened to shed it. I’m not patting myself on the back for it, though. As I said, it happened. I don’t know quite how. Find another Indian marriage tale here:

Monday, October 09, 2006

Midnight cowgirl.

The estranged daughter of the Midnight Cowboy walks amongst us. Correction. Last sighted, she was riding in a scooter rickshaw in downtown Pune, hotly chased by paparazzi out to shoot her. Reading about her reminded me of the insanely funny moment from her dad’s debut movie when Ricco Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), better known to the world as Ratso, and Joe Buck are almost run over by a New York cab and Ratso bangs on its hood to declaim: “I’m walking here.” What cheek! Just like riding in a rickshaw in broad daylight and tempting the shoot-at-sight fraternity, eh? Why the sight of a celebrity triggers the intense desire to shoot in paparazzi is a mystery to me. Once you’ve seen Angelina once, you’ve seen her once for all as far as I’m concerned. What’s more, I’d rather see her as Lara Croft in reel life than as Angelina in real life. Show me every time something or someone I’ve not seen before, boys and girls. Talking of midnight, I cannot understand keeping a round-the-clock vigil just to catch a glimpse of someone – a trait shared by both paparazzi and star-struck fans in equal measure. In my books, it’s okay to hang around in a hotel lobby if you’re out to cover a war or a revolution. But a celebrity? Gimme a break. Also, what the unrelenting pursuit by paparazzi did to Lady Diana comes to mind. Come to think of it, though, you cannot really blame paparazzi for what happens to the celebrity who happens to be the target of the moment? The poor guy is sticking his nose and his camera lens in celebrity goings-on because the readers of his rag or the watchers of his TV channel expect to see the beloved mug over and over again wherever it happens to be in Paris or Pune, never you mind. Complain as they might about paparazzi attention, the celebrities need their stalkers as much as the latter need their ‘victims’. It’s mutual interdependence, I reckon. For the celebrities, it’s if you’ve got it, flaunt it and catch me if you can. For paparazzi, it’s I’ll get you sooner or later even if I’ve to risk my neck and my expensive camera. For some people, it’s always midnight, as someone so wisely said.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Dan Brown’s ‘truth’.

As a child, Dan Brown (born in 1964 – which puts him bang in the so-called Conscious Revolution era, a time of spiritual awakening in American history, demographically speaking – Viet Nam protests, feminism, ecology, a rebellious counterculture, that sort of stuff had what might be called a ‘proper’ Christian upbringing. He used to attend Sunday school and summer camps run by the Church. He also used to sing in the Church choir. Yet he grew up to write the bestselling novels, The Da Vinci Code (1993) and Angels & Demons (2000). Fiction though they claim to be what they’re saying strikes an echoing chord in the mind of anyone who knows his history. I think they’re popular not because they’re racy thrillers but because they offer a premise that seems reasonably plausible. The fundamentalists will do anything to keep their monopoly of knowing and dispensing truth. Kill, torture, maim, character-assassinate, lie, twist facts… you name it. All of which reminds me of what Aldous Huxley wrote in Ape & Essence:

Church and State.
Greed and hate.
Two baboon persons
In one supreme gorilla.

Also, of the incidence earlier in the same novel where there are two groups of apes facing each other with a different flag waving behind each one. Each group of apes has an Albert Einstein, on his hands and knees, on a leash. Each of these Einsteins is facing the other and speaking of how terrible their exploitation is. The scene ends with the announcement of the death of modern science by suicide.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. (Also: Dirty, rotten Yankee scoundrels.)

This is a story of betrayal and reconciliation. Martin Carthy was a rather famous folk singer in the UK circa the mid 60s. It was Carthy from whom Paul Simon, who was on tour there around then, learned the very Brit, very trad ballad from the Middle Ages, Scarborough Fair. Simon and Garfunkel’s Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme was a hit single of 1966 and also a part of The Graduate soundtrack qua Scarborough Fair. Missing from the credits, though, was any mention of Carthy’s contribution. Well, S&G weren’t the only dirty, rotten scoundrels. Their compatriot, Bob Dylan, too was a pirate in the true Yankee tradition (or, shall we say more accurately, lack of tradition and/or culture?). The aforesaid worthy went boldly where no American had gone before and pinched “Remember me to the one who lives there./She once was a true love of mine.” for his Girl of the North Country [Copyright 1963. © by Witmark & Sons]. One thing about this episode puzzles me, though. Scarborough Fair, presumably about a love affair between a boy who left Scarborough to seek a better life and the girl he left behind, was originally written by some unknown medieval ballad singer or bard or ‘shaper’ as they were known in their own times. Unless Martin Carthy had irrefutable proof he was that bloke’s modern day reincarnation, why did he take offence at Simon’s ‘remix’ of 'his' creation sans credit to him? By the way, Scarborough Fair was a 45-day-long trade meet starting 15 August in the prosperous mercantile town that attracted traders from all over England and Europe. The Royal Charter that gave permission to hold the Scarborough Fair was granted in 1253. If you’re wondering what the self-respecting herbs, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme are doing in the ballad, let me share some borrowed wisdom. Parsley = an aid to digestion, in the physiological as well as spiritual sense. Sage = strength. Rosemary = faithfulness, love and remembrance. Thyme = courage. Got it? Now go figure it out. Wonder where I pinched all this stuff from? Go to,, & (P.S.: Simon’s peace offering to Carthy was an offer to do a duet with him in a London concert in 2000.)