Saturday, December 23, 2006

Saint Nicholas. Never met him in person. Did you?

My most persistent childhood memory of Christmas is of the stuffed stockings sold in the toy stores of Crawford Market. Made of white netting and edges trimmed with a red ribbon, they used to contain a lot of junk – mostly stuff you could pick up for an anna or two from a balloon seller. Whistles and balloons and miniature packs of playing cards and folding paper tricks and party knick knacks, you know, the collective value of which was way below what the brigands charged for the whole stocking. The smallest sized one used to be priced, if memory serves, at Rs.7/-. Even that was a lot of money in those days. I remember forcing my father foolishly to buy if not the largest at least the second largest stocking for me. This set him back for a fair amount of his hard earned money. The poor dear never once complained, though. So, figuratively and literally speaking, he was Santa Claus but I never knew it. He also used to take me to the Army and Navy Stores at Kala Ghoda in either the same or the adjoining building where the Watson Hotel used to be I remember buying a Meccano No.1 set from there apart from a chutney green clockwork road roller about which I’ve written before. The other Christmas memory from childhood is on the tip of my tongue: the delicious plum and rum cakes bought probably from an Irani bakery at Dhobi Talao – within easy walking distance of Lucky Toy Mart which stocked the Christmas stockings.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

It’s a puzzlement.

Maybe I shouldn’t be putting these thoughts down on … I almost wrote ‘paper’. But I’m perturbed. Seeing them in front of me may prompt a probable answer. There’s a practising Advita preceptor whose view of the working model of the world tallies with mine. Where I veer away from his worldview is that he postulates the ‘guru’ as the gatekeeper to Consciousness. I’ve never believed in the guru-shishya parampara. Anyway, I’m friendly with one of his most devoted shishyas (disciples). He casually said a couple of days back something that I found puzzling. He was talking about an infrequent visitor to his guru’s daily satsanga (discourse). I know the concerned person at second hand, by reputation, to be an intellectual, highly successful in business and on intimate terms with the crème de la crème. From some of her published letters to her guru, I feel she’s devoted to him. And, yet, her shortcoming in my friend’s view seems to be that she doesn’t regularly donate to the guru as some other well-to-do disciples do. From what I can see the guru in question – whose unwritten motto for his daily satsanga is “Nobody is invited. Everybody is welcome.” and who spontaneously gave a one lakh rupee donation for the Kargil war – does not need her donation. But as my friend puts it, it is a way of showing your unstinted devotion to the guru. Here’s why I found this disturbing. It reminded me of Suketu Mehta’s description – in Maximum City – of how the wielders of illegitimate power keep a tight grip on their followers. “Show respect or else” seems to be the guru mantra. “Pass the leader the lion’s share of the booty" is one of the ways of showing respect. It’s the dhandawala’s way. Or, the way their kind of business works. My question: Is everything a dhanda these days? It’s a puzzlement, as the King of Siam would have said. P.S.: On the other hand, maybe, it’s none of my business.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Gandhigiri on the silver screen. An earlier sighting.

Aimlessly surfing the TV channel often throws up serendipitous surprises. This morning, for instance, I came across a movie on the Sony Max channel I never knew existed. Called Ranbhoomi (Battlefield), it had a surprisingly young looking cast including Rishi Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia, Shatrughna Sinha, Jeetendra, Gulshan Grover, Shekhar Suman and Neelam doing a passable Basanti imitation. The way they all looked, it seemed like a mid-70s flick – given that Bobby was released in 1973 and Sholay three years later. But when I checked it out at I found out that I had missed the target by almost 16 years. The storyline was nothing to write home about. The IMDb website gives it a surprisingly – and suspiciously – high (7/10) rating, though. What was interesting, however, was Bholanath (literally a simpleton) played by Rishi Kapoor doing a Gandhigiri act practically throughout the movie in his bid to end the rivalries between the two gangsters played by Sinha and Jeetendra.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The medicine cabinet.

In the third floor flat at 233 Khetwadi Main Road in the room behind the sitting room or ‘hall’ as we used to call it was the room separated from the former by a wood and glass partition. It served as the puja-dining-store space. On its eastern wall was our medicine cabinet, a miniscule walnut veneered wooden cupboard maybe 2 feet by 1 foot and 6 inches deep. All the Mankar family’s first-aid needs were stored there. Minor cuts, wounds and scrapes were treated with either tincture of iodine or benzine – both of which burned like hell and brought tears to the eyes – or else with Mercuryochrome – which didn’t. There was cotton wool to swab the wounds, boric powder and potassium permanganate to disinfect them and rolls of gauze dressing and a Johnson sticky tape roll in a blue tin case. I had my generous share of falls and scrapes on the knee and was a real cry baby at the time of dressing the wounds and all through the healing process. Glycerine acid tannic was the throat ‘paint’ of choice for treating my frequently recurring tonsils infection. I remember being offered the bribe of ice cream in order to undergo a tonsillectomy. Being the coward in constant dread of physical pain that I have always been, I somehow always managed to dodge the Damocles’ sword and eventually managed, as I grew up, to outgrow the menace. Towards the end of my childhood, when I was fifteen and poised to appear for my Secondary School Certificate exam in maybe a couple of months, I managed to burn the ring finger on my right hand on a Sunday afternoon while thoughtlessly doing a lab experiment in the south-western part of our terrace. My father and his friends were busy with their weekly session of bezique and they all rushed to my rescue with Burnol and sympathy. The same evening, I went with my sister to the Imperial Talkies on Lamington Road within easy waling distance from home to watch the hit musical, Albela. It was made by Bhagwan, a successful stunt movie star turned comedian, and Geeta Bali who was a big star already and a good sport apparently for having condescended to act with someone far below her own class. Coming back to my medical ordeals, the second major catastrophe was again just before my Bachelor of Commerce exam. This was when an inverted abscess on my butt had to be surgically removed in Dr Hiralal’s surgical clinic. It was situated on Queen’s Road halfway between the Royal Opera House and Charni Road Station. A few days later while I was recuperating and studying for my exam, my right hand index finger got infected and had to be operated on. This resulted in my ending up with a foreshortened index digit with a rather pointy round nail.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Red versus black.

My mother, a god-fearing and simple person, used to tell me never to harm the black ants. I used to watch them fascinated as they marched in a disciplined and civilized queue to collect and carry away the stray crystals that had dropped on the kitchen floor as she measured out the sugar for the tea she had put to boil. As for the red ants, she had no such reservations. They would devour anything: sugar, fish and meat bones… you name it. They would also bite you if you displeased or disturbed them in some way. In my mother’s book, the black ants were Brahmins while the red ants belonged to a much lower social order. They were the scavengers, useful but villainous. These days, it has come to my attention that the rules of yore do not apply to the ant universe. No more do the black denizens stick to the white-collar chores and the red to the other sort. The difference has blurred, nay disappeared. I’m aware that the ant world I’d witnessed in the good ol’ days was on the third floor of 233 Khetwadi Main Road, figuratively and literally another world, I guess, for all practical purposes. I sometimes wonder if there are several parallel ant universes (or, alternative realities) like what sci-fi writers write and quantum cosmologists theorise about. Stuff like: “There is no one reality. Each of us lives in a separate universe. That's not speaking metaphorically. This is the hypothesis of the stark nature of reality suggested by recent developments in quantum physics. Reality in a dynamic universe is non-objective. Consciousness is the only reality.” Sounds trés Advaita, no? Enough already. Coming back to the ants of this world here and now, being a very fair-minded guy, I decided to give the black ants another chance. This morning, I left a strip of rind from a slice of ham on a piece of a paper on the kitchen platform. Lo and behold! A few minutes later, the truth of my earlier observation was reiterated by a long line of very agitated black – yes, black and not red – ants. What is the world coming to, boys and girls?

LATEST FLASH! Recently, Ujwal forgot to take her daily Revital Ginseng-Vitamin-Mineral capsule and her Calcium tablet. They remained open overnight in a plastic receptacle on a lowtable in the living room. The next morning, I found them infested by a horde of miniscule black ants. Either the medicine was sugar-coated or the ants belonged (shudder! shudder!!) to a Mutant Ninja specie. Will they take over the earth? Who knows?

Friday, December 01, 2006

More is happier. Maybe. Maybe not.

The Oliver (“Please, sir. May I have some more?”) state of mind is very much a nearly constant part of the human condition. If that sounds too convoluted and pretentious, what I mean is we always want more of anything whether we have enough of it or not. What triggered this thought was a recent Iconoculture report claiming satellite radio is as unsatisfying as cable television, contentwise. “Why isn't the sheer volume of content – much from big name personalities - enough? One word: relevance,” explains Kate Muhl, Director, Travel/Leisure and Transportation. All this brings to mind something quite relevant to the topic under discussion. It’s a poster I noticed in my morning workplace. It’s the sort that presumes to make a seemingly witty though in fact a rather vacuous comment about something topical. In the present instance, it is about Farhan Akhtar’s Don. “Priyanka. Kareena. Isha. Gauri,” it reads. Then the punch line: “One lucky Don.” Not necessarily. It could mean trouble four times over. Well, Don could sort it out with a bullet or two, though. The fewer, the merrier? Maybe. Maybe not. Kemo Sabe?