Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Yes, Armaan. There is no Santa Claus.

Abhi tells me Armaan already knows there is no Santa Claus. Daddy and Mummy give all those presents he gets. He has even shared his discovery with Anika. I feel whoever told him the truth did him a big favour. Fairy tales with happy endings and euphimisms are the bane of the human race. The sooner they know the truth, the better. I remember Avantika at age six or seven telling Ujwal and me how her didi, Aditi, used to cover her (Avantika's) eyes every time there was a scary scene in the movie they were watching together. This annoyed her no end because she has already sensed it was all make believe to start with. Abhi of course does not agree with me. This is contrary to his normal realist thinking. But then there seems to be a huge worldwide conspiracy to perpetuate the Santa myth. This Christmas, the ho-ho-ho man is reported to have got more than 750,000 letters at his Santa claus, Arctic Circle, Finland address. The Santa Claus Post Office is in a stone house eight kilometres from Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland. Santa's eleves sort outthe mail there. Strolling down my personal memory lane, I remember receiving Christmas gifts but never seeing a Santa hanging around the toy shops. (Akbarallys were to introduce a Chacha Deepak during diwali shopping in the sixties. Santas came much later - probably with the malls and rampant consumerism.) I'm glad Armaan and Anika don't believe in the ho-ho-ho hoax. Bully for them!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Yes, Virginia. There is a Santa Claus.

He's said to be the patron saint of children, scholars, virgins, sailors, merchants and theives as well as the national saint of Russia, Greece, Apulia, Sicily and Lorraine. Which probably explains why he wears red and hangs around the malls pushing sales. The more charitable view worthy of the Christmas spirit of charity and goodwill is here: Merry Christmas, Ho, ho, ho.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Mallika-e-tarrannum* and I.

Incredible as it may seem to you, I used to be a student of music as a child of ten. A music teacher used to come to 233 Khetwadi Main Road to teach me to sing and to play the harmonium and the tabla. Incredible as it seems to me today, I abhorred those music lessons. I was fond enough of film songs of the era, though. I used to listen to them on a hand-cranked gramaphone and on the radio. I distinctly remember my poor hapless teacher once coyly singing Noor Jahan’s Aayee Ghadi Yeh Suhani from Dil (1946) – the film eclipsed by her super-hit released the same year, Anmol Ghadi – and Hum Khelenge Aankh Mein Choli from her 1942 hit, Khandaan – in which she co-starred with Pran. I also recall my music masterji trying to entice me with Tu Kaunsi Badli Mein, also from Khandaan. To no avail. I just did not make any progress in my singing or harmonium-playing. Using the desperate excuse that the music lessons and the (non-existent) riyaz were eating into my study and play time, I managed to wriggle out of the hated chore. This memory morsel came to me while listening to NJ’s old songs which I often do while working. My love for film music as a listener continued apace, though. Later on, goaded by snobbery no doubt, I began to listen to Western pop and classical music and – wonder of wonders! – even enjoy it. There’s something undefinably charming about old 78 rpm Indian film songs – specially from the 40s and 50s – that nothing done since seems to possess. Oh, I forgot to mention that the NJ oldies are on a CD that somehow came into my possession. Whoever sent it my way deserves a ton of thanks. Apart from the cream of Mallika-e-tarrannum’s pre-Independence repertoire, it has songs by Suraiya, Shamshad Begum, Suman Kalyanpur and Geeta Dutt. I may not be able to make you understand the immense joy these 40s. 50s and 60s no- Lata, no-Asha musical feast gives me. Imagine Noor Jahan leisurely crooning raag-based poetic lyrics, as if she had all the time in the world, often repeating a line or two with complete command, confidence and authority. Imagine the range of her voice and style variations. And, the subtle nuances. One thing that really amazes me is how the music directors never went over the top. In other words, no overdramatization, no crescendos. All that crept into Hindi film music soon afterwards, though, after NJ's exit. Take her duet with Mohamed Rafi from Jugnu (Yehan Badla Wafa Da). There’s an eerie, chilly feel they convey by their quiet rendition, a sense of inevitable disaster ahead. Brrrrr! Listening to these songs stirs the pool of memory. For instance, I get the feeling that I’ve seen some of these movies in theatres (Majestic, Imperial, Central, Krishna). Anmol Ghadi and Jugnu for sure. Khandaan, I’m not so sure about. And, I somehow cannot get rid of the feeling that the song, Aayee Ghadi Yeh Suhani from Dil, is sung in the movie just before the interval. By the way, there’s a story, probably apocryphal, about how Noor Jahan met the young Lata and Asha when she was starring in Vinayak’s Badi Maa in which both the Mangeshkar sisters were playing supporting roles. During the breaks, Noor Jahan used to ask Lata (“Latto”) to sing with her. She sensed her new friend’s potential and told Vinayak about her discovery in no uncertain terms. They evidently continued their friendship even after NJ went to live across the border after partition. P.S.: Apart from learning music briefly, I also did a short stint in Urdu as a young kid. Which reminds me: *Mallika-e-tarrannum = Queen of Melody.

Monday, October 22, 2007

On the deathbed with severe spinal injuries. Well, almost.

Picture this. It was either in 1973 or 1974 that I acquired an even-then rare copy of The Bodley Head Leacock, edited by JB Priestley and published in 1957, from the old Manneys bookshop in the Poona cantonment one Saturday morning. The other book I bought with it was Napoleon's Book of Fate, an almanac of various predictive devices. I enjoyed and read both the books over the years but somehow lost the latter along the way, probably in the shift from 233 Khetwadi Main Road. As a rule, I’m careful with books. Time takes its toll. Preventing it is beyond me. In the case of Leacock, though, it has been criminal neglect on my part, I’m afraid. I had been missing it for quite a while now. In spite of my best efforts and intentions, I was unable to figure out its location. The other day, when I was clearing a cabinet of its contents for Ujwal (she needs the space to store her craft paraphernalia), I suddenly chanced upon the elusive Leacock. It was lurking at the bottom of the cabinet almost completely covered with a black soot – a victim apparently of a prolonged attack by white ant. Its spine as well as the spine lining and the hinges at the front and the back were in near ruin. The gutter at various places too was badly damaged. Looking at it made me vow never to buy another book. I may not live up to it almost certainly. But vow I did in that shattering moment. Well, I did my best to alleviate its suffering – and my guilt – with vigorous brushing off of the black soot followed by a generous application of an anti-white ant spray and scotch tape. The patient seems to be slowly recovering and in a fairly readable state as of now.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Incest in the air… er, swear.

I have always been intrigued by the genealogy of the two ancient-as-the-hills, incest-loaded swear words of choice in India, cultured India not excluded. and My very first childhood acquaintance with them was in the boisterous bezique sessions that used to be held every week-end at 233 Khetwadi Main Road. I noticed my father never using them but neither objecting to nor minding his friends using them even with me hovering around all the while. Even now, I keep hearing the same usual suspects being bandied around off and on all over the place. Nobody – neither the swear word user nor the swear word listener – seems the least bit embarrassed by the sudden expletive. Of late, I’ve even overheard seemingly respectable women freely resorting to them – without batting a just-glued eyelid. I have a feeling these once potent expletives have lost their original intended “swear” meaning and continue to exist as empty impotent shells. In Marathi, we have a word for it: tondi lavne. In other words, something to improve the taste on the tongue. Like pickle and chutney, for instance. With some, the insertion of these expletives in speech substitutes endearment or acts as an attention-catching device. Given the reality of the swear world, I guess there’s no point either wondering about or investigating their genealogy. QED.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Making a spectacle of himself with a pair of them.

I don’t know how I happened to see at the Regal Cinema, probably in 1950 or 51, Harold Lloyd’s last movie, Mad Wednesday (aka The Sins of Harold Diddlebock). It was a full-length feature made the year India became independent. The one scene I’ve not forgotten from it is a shell-rim spectacled Lloyd, in his usual timid nice-guy character, hanging for dear life from the minute hand of a giant clock on a tower. The pair of spectacles – actually no glasses but mere frames – was his distinguishing trademark, a “positioning” prop. Lloyd’s other distinguishing characteristic was he did impossible-seeming stunts himself. It appears that he kept himself in a fighting fit condition in order to be able to do them without a double. His earlier silent films, I found out, were made without a script. Start with a central idea and go on from there was his favourite formula. He got his movie break – and bug – in San Diego when the Edison Moving Picture Company visited San Diego where he was schooling and attending a drama school as an assistant to Mr Connor in 1914. He went to work as an extra at five dollars a day and got hooked for life. He followed the Edison outfit to Los Angeles and joined the Keystone Company. There he teamed with Hal Roach in the latter’s own company. (Roach later produced Laurel and Hardy comedies.} At that time, the benchmark for a comedian, Lloyd realized, was Charlie “The Little Tramp” Chaplin with his funny baggy attire and a tiny moustache. Not wanting to be a Charlie clone or imitation, he wore tight-fitting clothes and a different kind of moustache and made 150 farcical one-reelers featuring ‘Lonesome Luke’. They – and he – made people laugh and made lots of dough too. But he wasn’t happy with what he was doing. By then, he had started “to make a serious study of comedy” (“a contradiction” to his way of thinking) after he realized that there was no “harder job in the world than to make people laugh”. Around that time, he chanced upon the pair-of-spectacles device and a different type of character, the timid nice guy, who got into doing all kinds of unexpectedly and spectacularly bizarre stunts. “Folks like to be surprised” was the logic of his new style. It worked and Lloyd became a legend in his own right. "Harold Lloyd was not a comedian. But he was the best actor to act the part of a comedian of any person I ever saw." That’s what Hal Roach once said of Lloyd. And, here's what Lloyd said about a comedian: "I feel that to be a comic is as vital and important a mission as being a physician, healing other wounds.” There’s a July 1922 interview of Harold Lloyd (The American Magazine) here:

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Got killer instinct to spare, dude?

This morning, I read about the appointment of small-town boy, MS Dhoni, as the Indian captain in the coming ODI encounters with Australia and Pakistan. A little later, at, I came across what I thought was an amusing online adver-game, Book of Deviants, meant for 18-34 old male “deviants” evidently with no moral objection whatsoever to mindless mayhem. By the way, I chanced upon the game while listening – irony of irony! – to mushy Rajendra Kumar love songs sung by Mohamed Rafi. The object of this role-playing game is for the short, pudgy, scythe-wielding monster, Little Deviant, to beat, mutilate and murder spineless “Sheeple” – people who don’t drive Toyota Scion, in other words. As the player progresses through the ascending levels, he keeps collecting Sheeple blood in a tube. At the last and highest level, he can use the blood – horror of horrors! – to fuel the Scion factory. This deviant behaviour by Toyota has earned the ire of the blogosphere. “People that find it offensive are not our target,” Simon Needham, co-founder of ATTIK, the game- designing agency, told the online magazine Slate. This is an example of a recent viral marketing gambit. The question often raised about viral/word-of-mouth marketing revolves around the measurability – and trackability – of its ROI. The detractors of viral/WOM marketing accept that it can create brand awareness but doubt if it can generate market share. Can marketers identify and/or spawn brand evangelist – those consumers who actively promote their favorite products and services to family, friends and business associates? Can their effect on the bottom line be measured? How can viral campaigns link to existing loyalty-marketing efforts? Is a cool viral video really all you need to create customer advocates—or are agencies who sell viral services simply blowing smoke? Before there was the printed word, broadcast media and the Internet, WOM was the only way to sell the wares. So actually it’s as old as the hills (or, is it Jurassic Park?). Two recent examples of WOM successes at share building and awareness building respectively were the 2003 Pabst Blue Ribbon beer 134% sales spike and the 2004 20-million-hit Burger King website Nearer home is the Unilever Sunsilk Gang of Girls online initiative with its unique online Makeover Machine: It harnesses the upsurge In broadband usage in India to use the power of social networking and WOM as well as user-generated content for product promotion. A noteworthy evangelist initiative is P&G’s Vocalpoint where 600000 “connector moms” share new product knowledge with more than 20-30 other women every day. A 29 May BusinessWeek article reported a doubling of sales in test locations as a result of the Vocalpoint initiative. Then there is BzzAgent, an essentially smaller, brand-neutral version of Vocalpoint with an army of 300,000 agent volunteers who receive coupons and sneak previews of new products and evangelize the client’s marketing message to an average of 12 other people – just the first-generation contacts. The next generation percolation will be an average of 4 people, as the BzzAgent experience shows. (P.S.: According to an eMarketer research report, there are currently 33.2 million Indian Internet users. That’s 2.9% of the total population, to be precise. The broadband households and penetration are 3228000, i.e., 1.6% of the total households. The comparable Internet user estimates from comScore, Internet & Mobile Association of India and JuxtConsult are 22.8, 42.5 and 30.3 million respectively. & The GOG website was designed by the award-winning web designer

Sunday, September 16, 2007

What do I know?

Nothing – after I take stock of what I presume is my sizeable reservoir of knowledge. I have gathered over the years scraps of information. I reckon. When it comes to the crunch, though, I know just about enough to get by. This morning, for instance, I read in the papers a juicy bit of gossip about an actress who I think has oodles of talent, much more than her sister who has been in the Hindi films for much longer than her. I thought of the time I had seen her at close quarters, close enough to make an eye contact. It happened to be a preview of one of her early movies. The movie was nothing much to write home about, terribly derivative and much too long. She held her own against another much more experienced actress. What was important for me was the eye contact. It immediately told me here was an actress worth watching. Also, a person who would go her own way no matter what. She proved me right soon enough. Then she was in the midst of an “affair” that seemed to me to be made to order for the media and her fan following. Now it seems she is out of it and in another “relationship” where she is probably following her own inclination and instincts. What has that got to do with the price of potatoes? Nothing. Only I wonder it what I “knew” or “sensed” in the moment I described is “knowledge”. If it is, what use is it? P.S.: Maybe, my understanding of this whole business of “knowing” is all wonky. Maybe, know-nothing is my middle name.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The black buck stops here.

I am not for capital punishment. In fact, I’m against any sort of punishment. I don’t think it works in changing behaviour. So, I am not a part of the whisper campaign that goes: Do unto Salman as he did into the black buck: shot her legs and slit her throat with a knife. My view has nothing to do with his giving away pedal bikes to street urchins or a Rs 25-lakh Mercedes to a fellow artiste or a lakh of rupees for the medical treatment of the Dalit poet who called Mumbai a whore once upon a time. To retract a bit, I first became aware of his propensity to give away pedal bikes sometime towards the end of the last millennium. On my way back from a business trip to Colombo, I had broken journey in Bangalore to visit Ashu, Nandini, Aditi and Avantika in their Koramangala residence. Salman was then shooting a David Dhawan flick there. Nandini, Aditi and Avantika had gone to watch the shooting. Avantika who used to be quite a smart tot caught Salman’s eye and fancy. Pat came a mock marriage proposal with a pedal bike thrown in as an additional incentive. I remember calling the gesture “cute” and “sweet” like everyone else. All this happened before the poor guy’s sadistic steak made a public showing: manhandling girl friends, mowing down street dwellers, slitting the throat of a member of an endangered species and who knows what else. And, yet his colleagues and fans – who, I’m sure, are all honourable men and women – say that he is a victim of celebrity, a much misunderstood person, a benefactor of humanity. Maybe I’m mistaken but I happen to strongly feel one ought to side with the Bishnois and Maneka Gandhi here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

To be or not to be.

That’s the question the Indian State should be pondering deeply right now. To be or not to be a client-state of the United States of America, to be precise. Thank the Comrades for bringing it to our notice. At the latest count, i.e. as of February 2005, the self-appointed Leader of the Free World had 81 client-states (43 per cent of the countries in the world). This list is based on the US State Department information on Treaties in Force and Fiscal Year 2006 Budget Justification. Around 1945, Great Britain, France and Russia had about 50, 30 and 20 colonies/client-states respectively. The vacuum created by the decay of European Imperialism was filled by the US propensity to acquire and maintain client-states for strategic reasons of its own including its self-determined roles as the Leader of the Free World and the Global Peacekeeper. It is in this community of 81 would-be peers that India is likely to lose face were it to try to renegotiate the 123 Nuclear Treaty. That’s a fate worse than Death, I guess, if one were to judge from the headlines in the Indian Press. When India chose to remain “non-aligned” and Pakistan enrolled as a US client-state after partition, we know what happened. As is well-known, the relationship between the “central star” (the US) and its satellites (say, Pakistan) is identical to the mother country (Great Britain) and her colonies (say, British India) under Imperialism. The leader of the pack offers the satellites goodies (Green Revolution in Pakistan in the fifties, two decades before India got hers) in return of flooding her markets cheap made-in-the-US goods. This involved large-scale mechanization and capitalization of the agricultural sector and the generation of a huge market for the based-in-the-US agribusiness (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides). Our brush with WTO has already taught us what to expect in the future. Even then, I wonder why the US wants to add to its liability by getting hold of one more client-state. All the biggies among US businesses have already made it to the Indian shores. Having got into the habit of acquiring more and more clients, maybe it just cannot deny itself the pleasure of getting one more. I’m being facetious, of course. The US white culture is a culmination of its history of stealing land from the Native Americans, slave trading, dehumanization, exploitation and Imperialism, as even a casual observer of history can vouch. In view of this backdrop, Imperialism may now almost have become life blood for the Leader of the Free World. And, the supreme imperative to be the ultimate arbiter of Truth, Justice and the American Way to the rest of us lesser mortals, most likely.

Friday, August 17, 2007

60 years after.

Is in-your-face hypocrisy the birthright of free Indians, as much as it was of their forefathers? I’m amused by the ad released by an international bank which claims to have been in India from 1902. It is said to be an open secret that this worthy hires goons to recover debts from lenders, something that the Pathans who were in the same business before Independence used to do all by themselves. The ad is for celebrating “60 years of partnering with independent India”. Good lord! Then there’s a recent article by a “political psychologist’ agonising over why the partition was a violent-infested event. In all of its long arguments, it never even once considers the simple truth that partition was a property dispute after all and, in India as elsewhere in the world, property disputes trigger extreme passions and are more often than not settled with a knife, a chopper and a gun – not to mention hired goons. Then there’s all this hoopla about the ‘progress’ India has made. At whose cost? The poor and the destitute whose meager holding and right to livelihood is trampled upon? The faceless, voiceless, powerless non-citizens that never even come within the orbit of calculations of the planners? & There was no freedom at midnight, girls and boys. There was only a ‘transfer of power’ to bully, to exploit, to manipulate from the British to the Indian comprador capitalists, as the Indian Troskyist Vinayak Purohit mentions in his memoirs. Purohit is a Socialist who worked with Dr Ram Manohar Lohia. (By the way, his Troskyist pseudonym according to his Sri Lankan colleague, Hector Abhayavardhana, was most probably ‘Pankaj’ or “Pokoz’. Don’t ask me to even guess the reason why. Coming back to the present, the only Indian worth remembering at this juncture, to my simple way of thinking, is probably the one whose cause Medha Patkar has been championing all these years. Nostalgia must not be a bare-faced lie.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Oh, to be a Nobody!

More on the subject of less is more which I broached here: I just came across an amusing story by Mulk Raj Anand, ‘The Man Whose Name Did Not Appear in the Census’ (Selected Stories, Penguin Classics, New Delhi, 2006). In it, there’s an illiterate old villager living in perpetual fear of the government as well as creditors knocking on his door. So when there is another unfamiliar knock one night, he refuses to open up. His disgusted wife opens the door to a census officer. But her terrified husband refuses to divulge his name and personal details fearing other repercussions. At that point, the disgruntled official stomps out saying that this man does not exist because his name is missing from the census. Ludicrous though his reasons may seem, the man had the right idea, I daresay. This reminds me of a Tukaram abhanga where he prays to God that he may be granted the boon of being small (or. insignificant). He cites the example of the infinitesimal ant getting a grain or two of sugar to eat. The gargantuan Airawat, the ten-tusked elephant (one of the nine jewels from the churning of the ocean), on the other hand, has to bear the sting of the sharp prod in the hand of his mahout. The bigger they come, the greater their trials and tribulations. His advice is to be humble and insignificant. The original abhanga in Marathi (#744) with a rather crude English rendering can be found here: In the very next verse (#745), the sage again reiterates the same principle, singing the praises of a low profile. A raging flood can uproot the mightiest tree but spares the humble moss, he says. Duck and the mighty wave will pass over your head. Catch the feet of your enemy and his might becomes inoperable. In a later verse (#928), Tukaram suggests that he who is humble before all becomes the abode of the Infinite. He has performed an act of great courage that wins over the Almighty. Water can pass under anything because of its low density. Likewise, the thinner a person’s ego, the better his chances of getting to the heart of the truth. Tukaram undoubtedly was speaking in a spiritual vein. I feel nonetheless that it’s good practical advice about how to survive without making waves. Swim with the tide, in short. Not against it. . Gandhigiri anyone, boys and girls?, & P.S.: By the way, it seems Gandhi translated Tukaram’s Abhangas into Gujarati during one of his sojourns at Pune’s Yerawada Jail.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Monk who sold his Ferrari.

No, I’m not talking of Julian Mantle, the millionaire lawyer turned enlightened monk. No, I haven’t read the book. Yes, I’ve heard of it from people who swear by it. I’m merely referring to the idea embodied in the six words. “Enlightened monk” = Sage, wise person. “Sold his Ferrari” = Got rid of his expensive possessions. I’m sure he had acquired the made in Italy gas guzzler long before he became “enlightened”. Had he been wise to begin with, he would never have acquired it in the first place. Think of all the headaches he would have spared himself by doing so. No drain on his bank account caused by enormous fuel bills, service expenses, insurance, chauffeur’s salary, fines for traffic law violation, the aftermath of accidents, and so on and so forth. Why not just use public transport or hail a cab? Or, take a walk when you’re not in a hurry. But if you’re a Somebody like the aforesaid JM (or think you’re a Somebody), then you must reach the court house in a Ferrari. Else, people will think you’re a nobody. It's all about validation. You must not look small in people’s eyes. Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion. Or, the famous story of how Sita had to undergo a trial by fire just to prove her purity after her return from Lanka to Rama’s subjects, led by a washer man who, for maybe professional reason, was fond of washing dirty linen, real or imaginary, in public. I recently heard a friend of mine calling over his cellphone one of his associates and telling him that he would like to disassociate himself from him. Because he, his associate, was picking fights at their common workplace, the home of a sage where a daily satsang happens. This apparently was hurting his, my friend’s, image. When I asked him why he was doing this, he explained his pre-emptive step using what amounted to the Caesar’s wife thesis. Incredible! Coming back to the point I was making earlier, less is more. The fewer possessions you have, the fewer worries you have, the more peace you have. This is not spirituality. This is pure common sense. I saw my father who was a successful criminal lawyer practising it in his later life without realising what he was up to. So stupid of me, I realise now. A bit too late in the day.

Monday, July 16, 2007

“Do you know me?”

Much as I dislike people forwarding me jokes, I’m going to make an exception for this one. I got it in an e-mail dated Monday, 16 July, 2007 10:57 AM from a long-lost family friend. He happened to find me after a long separation via ‘Pop Goes the Slop’. The reason for making an exception with it is that it made me think of Seinfeld and Larry Richards. Here it is, warts and all.

Lawyers should never ask a Southern grandma a question if they aren't prepared for the answer.

In a trial, a Southern small-town prosecuting attorney called his first witness, a grandmotherly, elderly woman to the stand.

He approached her and asked, "Mrs. Jones, do you know me?"

She responded, "Why, yes, I do know you, Mr. Williams. I've known you since you were a young boy, and frankly, you've been a big disappointment to me. You lie, you cheat on your wife, and you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you're a big shot when you haven't the brains to realize you never will amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes, I know you."

The lawyer was stunned! Not knowing what else to do, he pointed across the room and asked, "Mrs. Jones, do you know the defense attorney?"

She again replied, "Why, yes, I do. I've known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, too. He's lazy, bigoted, and he has a drinking problem. He can't build a normal relationship with anyone and his law practice is one of the worst in the entire state. Not to mention he cheated on his wife with three different women. One of them was your wife. Yes, I know him."

The defense attorney almost died.

The judge asked both counselors to approach the bench and, in a very quiet voice, said, "If either of you idiots asks her if she knows me, I'll send you to the electric chair."

I rest my case.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Crossing.

You don’t come across many of them anymore in Mumbai, I guess. Railway crossings, I mean. When I was a child, I used to be taken in the Mankar family car to Antop Hill, Wadala, for Ganapati darshan. That was in the late forties and early fifties. We had to wait at two railway crossings to reach the Hill. Mostly, it was for a local train to pass. Sometimes, a lot of shunting used to go on because of goods trains proceeding to or from the BPT warehouses abutting the Mumbai Docks. My cousin, Nalini, married into the Jayakar family lived on the Hill (the rest of the Jayakars still continue to live there) in a sprawling house. The last time I went there as an adult was in the early nineties to attend my cousin’s funeral. By then, the railway crossings were long gone, replaced by a flyover. There was no waiting, no delay. The reason for the nostalgia for the railway crossing is because of a 1990 Australian movie I saw yesterday on the Pix channel. Hugely underrated, unpretentious (it doesn’t even pretend it isn’t a movie) and slow-moving, it somehow managed to grab my attention and interest. It has a very young Russell Crowe as Johnny, the best friend of the arty Sam. Johnny ends up with Meg, the girl whom Sam had deserted. Meg agrees to marry Johnny the very night Sam returns to the village of his birth after an absence of a year and a half. Set in the fifties or sixties (I reckon), it has small-town parades and car races on freeways for spectacle as well as the heartbreak of young love. To save the girl and her betrothed, Sam sacrifices his own life at the crossing. No hamming, no melodrama. Just the irony of random happenstance. Excellent. A serendipitous discovery for me. I thought the use of the long shot as an alienating device was brilliant. By the way, the movie taglines are: “A time for dreams... A time for choices... A time that would never come again.” And: “Where destiny meets desire.” A bit too over the top for the way the movie happens to be, if you ask me. P.S.: One railway crossing in Mumbai that, I know, is still alive and kicking is the one near Andheri Station at Amboli close to which in the Vikas Towers I own a flat.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Think laterally.

I can’t swear this is not apocryphal. I got it via e-mail that said it was an extract of the answers given at the Indian Administrative Examination (interview?) by candidates who are now officers. It goes as follows:

“Q. How can you drop a raw egg onto a concrete floor without cracking it?
A. Concrete floors are very hard to crack! (UPSC Topper)

Q. If it took eight men ten hours to build a wall, how long would it take four men to build it?
A. No time at all, it is already built. (UPSC 23rd Rank Opted for IFS)

Q. If you had three apples and four oranges in one hand and four apples and three oranges in the other hand, what would you have?
A. Very large hands. (UPSC 11th Rank Opted for IPS)

Q. How can you lift an elephant with one hand?
A. It is not a problem, since you will never find an elephant withone hand. (UPSC 14th Rank. Opted for IES)

Q. How can a man go eight days without sleep?
A. No prob[lem]. He sleeps at night. (UPSC - IAS 98th Rank)

Q. If you throw a red stone into the blue sea what it will become? [sic!]
A. It will Wet [sic!] or Sink [sic!] as simple as that. (UPSC - IAS 2nd Rank)

Q. What looks like half [an] apple?
A: The other half. (UPSC - IAS Topper)

Q. What can you never eat for breakfast?A: Dinner.Q. What happened when [the] wheel was invented?
A: It caused a revolution.

Q. Bay of Bengal is in which state?
A: Liquid (UPSC 33rd Rank).”

The following seems to be from an IIM interview:

’Interviewer said "I shall either ask you ten easy questions or one really difficult question. Think well before you make up your mind!"

The boy thought for a while and said: "My choice is one really difficult question."

"Well, good luck to you, you have made your own choice! Now tell me this. What comes first, Day or Night?"

The boy was jolted into reality as his admission depend[ed] on the correctness of his answer, but he thought for a while and said, "It's theDAY sir!"

"How?" the interviewer asked.

"Sorry sir, you promised me that you will not ask me a SECOND difficult question!"He was selected for IIM!’

Talk of Lateral Thinking. Dr Edward de Bono would have been proud of them.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Beyond a reasonable doubt.

It irks me at times when someone asks me why on earth I did ‘it’. Somehow, that question seems to belong in a lapsed lawyer’s lexicon. Or, maybe, in a Pandora’s box overseen by a proto- philosopher. When I look back at most of my past actions, I detect a total lack of sense or logic. I’m astonished at how random life happens to be. ‘Rational behaviour’ used to be once upon a time an obligatory assumption in Classical Economics. Rational self-interest, I’m afraid, has been a behavioural trait totally alien to my way of living and working. It has been so even before I came to know the pejorative view of it taken by such luminaries as Thorstein Veblen, John Maynard Keynes and Herbert Simon. Then there’s Albert Einstein declaring his credo in a 1932 speech to the German League for Human Rights: “I do not believe in free will. Schopenhauer's words: 'Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wills,' accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others, even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of free will keeps me from taking myself and my fellow men too seriously as acting and deciding individuals, and from losing my temper." All this probably drives me towards a modern compatibilistic view such as Daniel Dennet’s. His argument goes as follows. “... if one excludes God, an infinitely powerful demon, and other such possibilities, then because of chaos and quantum randomness, the future is ill-defined for all finite beings. The only well-defined things are ‘expectations’. The ability to do ‘otherwise’ only makes sense when dealing with these expectations, and not with some unknown and unknowable future. Since individuals have the ability to act differently from what anyone expects, free will can exist." Personal experience precludes the inclusion of ‘free will’ in my schema, though. There's nothing beyond a reasonable doubt, so far.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Peace Pipe Dream.

To aver that John Lennon was a “radical thinker” is as naive as calling Amitabh Bachchan, India’s newest wannabe farmer, a worthy successor in Rastrapati Bhawan to Dr. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam. Lennon was no thinker, radical or otherwise. He was without a shadow of doubt one of the all-time greats among pop song writers and music makers. (From among the vast Beatle body of work, the surreal “Eleanor Rigby” and the nostalgic “Yesterday” are personal favourites.) He also must have owned a good rhyming dictionary if you were to judge from the lyrics of “Give Peace a chance”. His intentions were probably noble. His execution was pathetically juvenile and puerile by the most charitable standards. All this reminds me of an ex-colleague of mine insisting to another ex-colleague and friend that now it’s all a matter of style and form. Content, he insists, is no more king. Maybe, he’s bang-on. If “Give Peace…” despite its shortcomings could achieve a cult status and could take in someone as shrewd as Kunal Kohli, the reign of content is truly over. The medium is the message, boys and girls. The title of the so-called peace anthem, mind you, came out of Lennon’s smartass repartee, in the early days of his first Bed-in, to a journalist’s “What are you up to, mate?” query. Guided by his ear for le mot just and a nose for high drama, he decided to set his by then famous words to music. Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “radical thinking” for peace gave the world such media events as the lavish Bed-in in the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel’s Room 702 (25 – 31 March 1969) to celebrate their honeymoon and the April 1969 launch in Vienna (Austria) of their madcap and elitist “Bagism” concept while eating chocolate cake. In essence, the idea was to live inside a bag and thereby insulate oneself from being judged by the colour of one’s skin, the length of one’s hair, the clothes one wore, one’s age or any other “defining” attributes that evoked a discriminatory response. The second Bed-in was to be held in New York. The US Government’s paranoia made them ban Lennon’s entry into the country using his 1968 marijuana conviction as a viable excuse. So, to spite the spoil sport, John and Yoko held it eventually in neighbouring Canada’s Montreal – Queen Elizabeth Hotel’ s Room 1742 – after having fled from the Bahamas, the earlier chosen venue, after a single sweltering night in the Sheraton Oceanus Hotel. (If the self-appointed Messiah of Peace – did he not once claim that the Beatles were more famous than Jesus? – and his mate could not brave the 86°F (30°C) inferno for peace’s sake, what chance did peace stand in the long run?) In Montreal, Lennon and Ono were in the celebrated company of Timothy Leary, Tommy Smothers, Dick Gregory and Al Capp with all except Capp donning the mantle of peace anthem singing groupies. Kunal seems to be awe-struck by Lennon and Ono’s December 1969 grand gesture, the “War is Over! If You Want It – Happy Christmas From John and Yoko" billboards put up with their own money in eleven cities. It was an ego trip, a self-promo, no less, no matter what they claimed. If he really wanted to make a difference, he could have spent the money to help the war victims, could he not? A control and power freak, an egomaniac, addicted to sex with groupies, heady unquestioning adulation from fans, drugs and non-stop hedonism with no responsibility whatsoever, yet a great pop artist in spite of it all, Lennon was no St John, unpalatable as it may sound. No “hero”, no “role model” as Kunal wants us to believe, I’m afraid, “The US vs. John Lennon” notwithstanding. Let us not get confused between hagiography and biography, for Pete’s sake, whoever St Peter happens to be.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Subliminal persuasion.

In a previous post I had briefly alluded to Vance Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders. In this Fifties’ bestseller, Packard claimed that advertisers were playing on unconscious motivations of their prospects. "If people spent millions of dollars and millions of hours on the analyst’s couch trying to fathom the deeper depths of their own minds, where was the question of a humble copywriter doing so?” was the question posed by his detractors. Frankly, I was highly fascinated by Packard's hypothesis when I joined advertising. I did not realise that Packard was obviously theorising from the then American reality. Then on, I was always on the lookout for a real life example of subliminal advertising. It kept on eluding me till Chini Kum with ‘Sexy’ happened. Intentionally or unintentionally, Balki, a successful advertising man, stumbled upon the perfect way to inject a subliminal persuasive element into his product. He got the brilliant inspiration to name an important child character in it ‘Sexy’. It got people talking whether or not it is okay to call the chief protagonist’s “innocent” little neighbour and confidante by such a wicked, almost grungy moniker and – hey, presto! – it snowballed into millions worth of word of mouth or viral publicity. Any publicity, good or bad, is good for the product, especially a made-for-the-multiplex movie. This is the cleverest creative coup by Balki, cleverer than the product placement in the film if only because it is so much more subtle. Even Seth Godin could not have outdone this gambit. Brilliant!

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Photoshopping as Worship.

Life sure is getting funnier and funkier by the day. The old Irani bakery, Sassanian, opposite the Gol Masjid, close to Liberty and Metro, where I go to buy crispy and delectable mutton and chicken puffs twice a week or so, has started calling itself a Boulangerie of late. I find it as pretentious if not pernicious as the recent propensity of the Bollywoodians and journalists to add the ‘Mr’ tag before Amitabh Bachchan. Nobody does that to Tom Hanks, Robert de Niro, even Paul Newman in Hollywood, for Pete's sake. I’m dreading the day when the credits in an AB-starrer start using the ‘Mr’ tag before his name. Indians seem to have mastered the art of morphing admiration for a movie star, a sportsperson, a politician into worshipful obsession. A daily example are the ads released by government departments with VVIP and VIP photographs. The recent news story about the Vasundhara Raje Scindia qua Goddess Annapurna poster is an apt case in point. That this work of art is the brainchild of a BJP MLA and a local priest is an especially illuminating clue. Both have a vested interest in the Hindu pantheon. Equally illuminating is the fact that Vasundhara Raje who only last year was caught on camera smooching or being smooched by Biocon India Chief Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw has also to her credit a fan-inspired poster depicting her as Goddess Durga as well as a batisha, a chalisa (32 and 40 worshipful couplets respectively) and an aarti. (The most famous chalisa, of course, is the one dedicated to Lord Hanuman. It is significant that one of the couplets in it claims that Hanuman’s worship is the one-stop route to Lord Rama’s worship.) Those who object to the Annapurna poster saying that it hurts their religious sentiments ought to remember that Hinduism isn’t strictly a religion but a tolerant way of life. The seemingly bizarre behaviour of the worshippers seamlessly fits into it. Don’t’ forget too that most gods ultimately reveal their feet of clay, as several recent examples show.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Birthday bumps.

1963, come to think of it, was quite an eventful year. JFK, CS Lewis and Aldous Huxley all exited the world on 22 November. Six months before that simulti-exit, 233 Khetwadi Main Road welcomed Ashutosh among the Mankars. On 25 May, also the birthday of the living Advaita teacher, Ramesh Balsekar, to be exact. A bonny and pink baby, Ashu was an instant darling of all the nurses in the maternity ward on the then top floor at the northwest corner of Sir Harkisondas Narottamdas Hospital which used to be our landlords at the time. (Please read an earlier story about the Hospital here: Abhijeet was born 15 months later in the same Hospital. My father, who loved babies, used to sing to both of them and they would fall asleep listening to him on a four-foster ancient bed, a Mankar family heirloom. I remember my father once weeping loudly when Ashu fell off the edge of the dining table where he was perched laughing uproariously at something. He bumped his head and I guess he was so zapped both from the fall and my father’s crying that he forgot to cry himself. I also remember Ujwal, as exemplary a mother and daughter-in-law (she single-handedly nursed my mother through her final illness) as she is a teacher, comforting both of them. Speaking of falls, I also distinctly recall that when Ashu was still an infant, I slipped down the staircase of a holiday place in Pune we went to with Ujwal’s parents with him cradled in my arms. It could have been a major disaster had I not managed to twist and turn, break the stumble and take the fall on my shoulder. Luckily, nobody was the worse for wear. As tiny tots, Ashu and Abhi used to sit on their respective potties, red and crome yellow, and have long chats under Ujwal’s watchful eye. I was the world’s worst father, absentee to boot and more wedded to work, I’m afraid. Even Homer Simpson would come out with flying colours in comparison, I daresay. The Mankars owed their existence and continuance to Ujwal. Another memory is the time when Ashu used my razor to cut himself on the face claiming that he was “shaving, na”. Once around noon, Ujwal got called by the Principal of Cathedral & John Cannon School. When she rushed to her office, she found Ashu sitting on her table quietly sobbing but absorbed in drawing a picture. The front of his white shirt, she noticed, was all covered in blood. He had a gash on his forehead acquired from a fall while playing in the lunch break. The bleeding had stopped thanks to ice compresses but the wound had turned stark white. Come evening, Ujwal ferried him to Dr. Talwalkar, a well-known pediatrician and the father of Ashu’s classmate, Mark. He used to have his rooms on Lamington Road, fifteen minutes from 233 Khetwadi Main Road. He examined the wound, applied some disinfectant and medicine and asked Ujwal to hold the edges tightly together while he slapped a tape on it. No stitches, thank you. The scar gradually faded away with the passing years. As a child, Ashu used to be generous to a fault, wanting to bring home every sobbing kid whose mother was late in fetching him after school. So he and Ujwal would stand vigil until the defaulting mom turned up apologizing profusely. Ashu was also very intense about what he did. Once while, we were holidaying in Matheran, he went with Shantaram who used to stay and study with us to the bazaar. When they failed to return for more than hour, Ujwal was worried. When they finally arrived, Shantaram explained that the delay had been because Ashu insisted on bowing down to every road marker insisting that it was a deity. Ashu would always run out of his stock of pencils before it was supposed to get over and then ask Abhi, the hoarder, for one. Abhi would always rise to the occasion although a bit grudgingly. Nonetheless, they were brothers in arms and would rise to each other’s defence if one of them was being disciplined. Abhi who started staying with his grandmother, Jubie, became interested in cars and motorbikes quite early in life. Once, the fool that I was, I denied him permission to enter into a Mumbai-Pune bicycle race. My self-justification was that I was thinking of his safety. Ashu and Abhi had a large circle of friends. They all used to come home and Ujwal would feed them puri-bhaji or oodles of idli-sambhar. To their and Ujwal’s credit, both Ashu and Abhi passed high school with good grades without tutoring unlike me (I had a tutor throughout my school years). After Cathedral, they managed to get admitted to good colleges – Ashu in St Xavier’s and later in the Pune Univ and Abhi in Rachana Academy of Architecture and later in the Joliet School in Illinois (yes, the very same Joliet, boys and girls, in the closed State Prison of which the first season of Prison Break was shot) – all on their own steam. So, the birthday boy’s day has brought out quite a flood of memories, eh? Well, well, well. Many happy returns, Ashu. The Chinese Astrology book says you’re The Cat while I’m The Rat. Hmmm. Interesting coincidence, wouldn’t you say?

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Cheshire-Cat Grin.

It’s intriguing the way the Mumbai newspapers kept flashing file photos of Haseena and Koushambi almost every day of the past week or so. The one thing common between the two photos is that both of them have a Cheshire-Cat grin stuck on their faces. In the case of Haseena, it is understandable. After all, she pulled the famous Cheshire Cat disappearing stunt on the baffled Mumbai Police Force who once upon a time used to be compared to the Scotland Yard. For the IT girl though, the smile is hardly appropriate considering the sorry end she met. In case you’re not an Alice in Wonderland fan, the Cat in question was quite a cat. She could appear and disappear at will, you see, and was in the habit of holding long philosophical discussions with Alice. The self-respecting girl that she was, Alice found both her habits disconcerting. Lewis Carroll reports one of the more memorable exchanges between Alice and the Cat in question. It goes like this:

“I wish you wouldn’t keep appearing and vanishing so suddenly; you make one quite giddy!”

“All right,” said the Cat; and this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone.

“Well! I’ve often seen a cat without a grin,” thought Alice; “but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in all my life!”

Watch the Cheshire Cat disappear:

Friday, May 18, 2007

Avantika’s “Enf of the Year Speech”.

Avantika sent me her “Enf of the Year Speech” – at least, that was the subject line of her e-mail dated Friday, May 18, 2007 6:27 AM – that she said had been “enetred to a contest for the end of the year ceremony. Hopefully it will be selected”. I wrote back to her: ” Hi, Avantika. I liked your speech very much, warts and all. I'm intrigued by your use of a hyphen ('-') in place of a dash ('--') as parenthesis and you don't even insert a space on both sides of it. This is not criticism, just observation. I'm so impressed that I'm going to put it up on my blog. Watch for it. I may make a few explanatory comments. Excellent work.” I decided to reproduce it here – “warts and all” – not out of inertia or indifference but because I wanted to preserve it in all its spontaneity. I really felt proud when I read it. What it told me is that young Avantika is observant and aware of what’s going around her. She is capable of thinking cogently and of feeling intensely, When I was her age, I wasn’t even half as introspective or sensitive. In fact, I was quite a dumb kid. So, here it is ready or not, Avantika’s “Enf of the Year Speech”. [P.S.: If her teachers don’t select it as the winning entry, I would pity their lack of judgement and good sense. Her carelessness grammar is only a sign of her carefree exuberance, I guess. This is not the opinion of a besotted grandpa but a writer with an eye for great writing, believe you me.] By the way, Avantika’s school website is here: Her previous appearance on this blog is here:

Imagine… When we were given this word to base our speech upon, I laughed it off thinking it would be a breeze, but when I sat down to write, I sure did prove myself wrong. As I was deep in thought, trying to muster my 3 years at Grover onto a piece of paper, I realized that there is no imaginable way to condense 3 eventful years into a mere 3 minutes. And now that these three years are coming to a close, we can only imagine what the future brings.

Well for those of you who didn’t already know this; we’re going to high school, and I think that we can all agree that many of us are feeling excited, sad, anxious, clueless, thrilled, relieved, and much more, all at one time. Though we will all be together as a class next year, there will always be much to miss. For starters, the most important thing we will be leaving behind-is our bubble, our sanctuary-our school! For most of us, Grover has been our home away from home, and the people here have become like family.

In the words of Oscar Wilde, “The best way to appreciate your job is to imagine yourself without one”, so I think the best way for us to appreciate our teachers, is to imagine to imagine ourselves without them. I don’t think any of our wild imaginations can imagine a day without Mr.Mayer’s constant leadership, and guidance. Let’s face it; the infamous “Mr.Mayer talks” will only be a memory for us. Imagine a school without Tino’s help, and friendship, and for those of you who are on 8B-imagine living without our teachers! Imagine going to class everyday and trying to survive without Ms.Kirkpatrick’s relentless nagging about due dates, Mr.Maskells alligator and brain dance, Mrs.Dailey’s funky hand motions, and Ms.Grooms story time. Mr.Coppola’s crazy personality or the amazing feeling of knowing that Mrs.Rathbun will always be there for us. I don’t think any of us want to even begin to imagine what middle school would have been without Ms.Gilchrist’s ability to listen, advise, and of course, fix jammed lockers! Who’s gonna help us open our locker now Ms.Gilchrist?

As we imagine our high school career, we begin to realize that our future has been shaped by our past at Grover. The lessons we learned here, academic, or social, will not be with us just for a year or two, but for the rest of our lives. Grover will always be a part of who we are, and what we eventually become. Our wonder years at grover have been the foundation of what will be the ultimate us. So, now it’s time to go on with our journey to complete the ultimate us. As Paul J Meyers said “Whatever you vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe, and enthusiastically act upon must inevitably come to pass.” Similarly, our time at Grover has come to pass, and I don’t think any of us could have imagined that it would come so soon…And now that I have imagined what life will be without our teachers, let me ask you,our teachers to take a second and imagine what your life will be without us?

FAMOUS LAST WORDS: Just like a woman! Now Madame A laughingly tells me it was an unedited copy she sent me. And not a word of explanation why I had to be one of two recipients (the other being Aditi, her newly graduated didi) who was privileged to be given that honour!

Stop Press: From Avantika, Saturday, May 26, 2007 3:31 AM: "Hey dada, just wanted to let you know that I did get selected for the speech. I'll e-mail more later as i'm verry busy with packing for my Quebec trip. Love, Avantika" (Can you beat that?)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Talking pictures.

I can’t believe my eyes. Or, my luck at finding it. Here’s this simply written book by a successful practitioner from the retail space with gumption and courage of his conviction. He believes in doing things his own way, His credo is non-elitism, simplicity, thrift, transparency, trust, risk-taking, humility and rewriting the rules to suit the Indian reality. I had heard glowing things about him from my friend, Deep Bisen. Reading his It Happened in India was something else altogether, though. I liked the way the book is 'packaged' with an autobiographical narrative punctuated by "real people" commentary. The most fascinating part of his story is about the use of design thinking in communication. Talking in pictures, in other words. One of the earliest uses of this technique in India was by MK Gandhi. He shed his earlier Western garb to dress himself like the lowest common denominator of India. Believing as he did that India lived in her villages, he chose to dress like the villager. No wonder the aam janata took him to their hearts and followed his lead so readily. (Never mind Winston Churchill's "naked fakir" taunt, boys and girls.) The other interesting stuff I found in Kishore Biyani’s seminal textbook about retailing is his exposition of memetics. Gandhi’s “Quit India” was one powerful meme, for instance. (Meme is ”an information pattern, held in an individual's memory, which is capable of being copied to another individual's memory”. Memetics is “the theoretical and empirical science that studies the replication, spread and evolution of memes”. Being the bania that he was, Gandhi is believed to have said the following: "A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so." [Also cited here:] Gandhigiri anyone? That’s exactly what Kishore Biyani has been telling us. Indeed, his 2-step test to gauge the suitability of wannabe Pantaloon franchisees is based, chapter and verse, on the Gandhian precept. P.S.: Biyani is a Hindi film buff and has two feature films to his credit. It’s interesting to speculate what would have happened had he been associated with the Munnabhai series. Would he have included the above quote in the script? You may want to read an excerpt (‘Family Values’) here: Another excerpt (‘Early Life’):

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Music for the soul.

I stopped believing in the soul around the time I stopped believing in God of Big Things. My life theory then started hovering on random happenings and chance as the ultimate truth. I stopped visiting temples – something I had been doing all my life at 233 Khetwadi Main Road – not probably out of conviction but sheer habit. I remember visiting in my mother’s company twelve Shri Ram Temples on the Ram Navmi day at least three or four year running. I also used to accompany her on her Saturday visit to the Hanuman Temple on Picket Road near Crawford Market. These last few days, though, I suddenly found myself wondering about the probable existence of the human soul while listening to some really soul-stirring stuff. It has been a mishmash of Pandit Hariprasad Chourasia, Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, Ustad Allah Rakha and Zakir Hussain, I’m afraid, with a generous dash of Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Grieg, Tschaikowsky, and Vivaldi as well as Count Basie, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller – and, last but not the least, the incomparable but utterly underrated Geeta Dutt. Her slow number, Ja Ja Ja Bewafaa, from Aar Paar, is nothing short of beatific, for instance. So are her other numbers (Waqt Ne Kiya from Kaagaz Ke Phool, Naa Jao Saiyan and Piya Aiso Jiya Mein both from Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam) to mention just two examples from her heavenly repertoire. All this makes me wonder why she lies forgotten in the vault of Time while far lesser talent are revered. My guess is, she never had a good spin doctor posthumously or even while she was alive for that matter. More’s the pity.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Better dead than Ash.

Being a woman in India is the pits. If you don’t see eye to eye with me on this, you need look no further than Aishwarya Rai. A highly accomplished and supremely successful human being in her own right who in her own words is “very demanding when it comes to hair colouring”, she had to bow down to social and, probably familial, pressures when it came to getting hitched before she passed the marriageable age barrier. Of course, she has done well for herself by marrying into the so-called First Family of India. But the amount of humiliation she had to undergo to achieve her goal because she was a manglik was simply unbelievable. Hats off to the consummate artiste in her for going through the surreal scenario written for her by the Great Script Writer up there with her chin up and a smile on her lips – even to the extent of publicly showing a preference for her married surname! After what happened to her, I shall never, never blame the hapless Indian parents for resorting to female foeticide. and

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Seminal imagery.

There’s one seminal image, in black and white yet, eked from the Hindi movies of the late fifties and early sixties, that’s embedded deep on my mental landscape. It’s Vyjayanthimala standing in a field, shading her doe eyes from the harsh midday sun and scanning the horizon for her boy friend, most likely Dilip Kumar in Ganga Jamuna or Madhumati (remember “Aajaa Re Pardesi”?). I’m intrigued that I should call it ‘seminal’ which according to my Collins English Dictionary, 3rd Edition (p. 1407) means either “1. potentially capable of development”, “2. highly original, influential and important”, “3. rudimentary or unformed”, “4. of or relating to semen; seminal fluid” or the Biology-centric use of “5. of or relating to seed”. While I would not rule out the relevance of #4 entirely in that a screen image is dreamlike and fraught with Freudian possibilities, I would imagine I had sense #2 in mind most probably. This image is “2. highly original, influential and important” to me because in real life it is I who has stood waiting for others. The gender issue aside, Vyjayanthimala qua me, you’ll agree, would be a “highly original” casting coup because I for one thing cannot dance to save my life. (This rules out Hema Malini qua me in Sholay as well.) Coming to the “influential and important” part of the definition, the unforgettable image ought to teach me a very important life lesson. Never, never believe the other person will be as punctual as I am. Especially given the Mumbai traffic situation as also how seriously people take their own word.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Doctor Love. Or, how to stop worrying and learn to love the bomb.

She is an ephemeral Creature of the Night. I wouldn’t have met her but for my habit of working late nights while listening to an FM station. When she first went into the business of giving advice to the lovelorn several months ago (I don’t exactly remember when), she used to have a full and busy schedule with the phone ringing often and lots of advice being sought. Then I stopped listening to Radio Mirchi for a while – not on purpose, somebody changed the setting on my Sharp World Receiver and I didn’t notice for a long, long time. Now that I’m back at the Doc’s headquarters, I’m surprised by the change in the situation. There don’t seem to be so many appeals for advice as before. In fact, she keeps repeating resignedly and patiently, “I’m waiting”. (Maybe, summer is a slow season for the lovelorn though this goes against all the wisdom of the ages and the mythology of popular culture.) Also, we don’t get to hear the caller’s voice and problem live anymore. Her current advice seems to be as down-to-earth and romantic as before (she has to live up to her name, after all), though. If the advice is truly off the cuff, she seems to be doing quite a competent job. But sometimes I wonder if she could not be completely mistaken in her assumptions about the situation. For instance, I just heard her advising a guy who said he didn’t believe in love and was feeling lonely that he should start believing in love. Although the good Doc did not mention it in so many words, the drift seemed to be the right girl would eventually come along if only the lonely advice seeker started believing in love. My question is: suppose the lonely guy is a latent homosexual and does not know it or admit it. In fact, his emphatically insisting that he does not believe in love gives me every reason to suspect his sexual preference. Because our culture and Bollywood condition us into thinking of only a heterosexual “relationship” in terms of “love” and “romance”. Tricky, eh? P.S.: Or else, the advice seeker may have been looking for Erica Jong’s “zipless sex”, i.e., “no-guilt, no-baggage sex”. This has been described by Cristina Nehring (‘Zip It: Erica Jong's Stunning Self-absorption’) as the “fantasy of elated anonymous sex – sex without strings, preambles, or consequences; sex with a stranger on a train, an itinerant Romeo who comes, sees, conquers, and disappears into the mists of the station.” She cites from Fear of Flying, the whole mythology of which is based “on the availability – and ecstasy – of the zipless fuck.” "The zipless fuck was more than a fuck," intones Isadora. "It was a platonic ideal. Zipless because when you came together zippers fell away like rose petals.... Your whole soul flowed out through your tongue." "And," she adds abruptly four pages later, "I have never had one." It’s a mine field out there, Doc. Be very, very wary about what advice you give and what it may all lead up to.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Dance macabre.

If my reading of the by now notorious Gere-Shetty video clip is correct, I think both of them are more to be pitied than hounded with court summons about taboo PDA. To my untutored eye, Gere’s weird behaviour looked like an unlikely vampire about to tear into his victim’s luscious neck. He insists he got the macabre routine from his 2004 movie, Shall We Dance. In it, his John Clark did this very thing to Jennifer Lopez’s Paulina. If what he says is true (no need to doubt him – after all, Richard Gere is an honourable man who is into lot of charity work which occasionally lands him into messes but, all credit to him, he’s quick on the draw with humble apologies for having hurt the sensibilities of folks), this is what probably transpired. As he helped Shetty up the dais and watched the dusky damsel yakking on and on, a tsunami, part nostalgia and part amnesia, hit him. He saw himself on the polished floor of the dance studio in Shall We Dance. Dusky Shetty was no more Shetty but the delectably dusky Lopez. The rest, as they say, is history. Trite but true? Who knows?

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Homeless in India.

Two items caught my eye on the Edit Page of The Times of India a couple of days back. One of them was an article by a documentary film maker describing the plight of the tribals in India who are made homeless every time the governemnt decides to build a dam on a river. It seems there have been 60 million oustees ever since 1947 as a result of these river dam projects. I had written about this sorry state being a symptom of the utter heartlessness of the Indian State earlier. Sagari Chhabra’s ‘Sarkari Violence’ cites several atrocities perpetrated by forestry department’s official, police personnel and contractors on tribals. The first one of them was at Pararia in West Bengal in 1991 where the guilty went scot-free. In the second instance, a few years later in Sagbara District in Gujarat, the two policemen who raped Guntaben, a young tribal, were imprisoned for ten years thanks to the intervention of Amnesty International on her behalf. The other instance he cites happened in Nandurbar, Narmada Valley, where the tribals were displaced four times, literally hounded by the officials all the time. The motive for the horrendous treatment according to Chabbra is to demoralize the hapless victims who have nobody to turn to, nobody to fight on their behalf. The Dalit have a champion in the shape of a political party. The other instance the author mentions is the first major river valley project, Hirakud in Orissa, where the oustees living on open land were relentlessly harassed by the forestry personnel. The story repeats itself in Singrauli, also in Madhya Pradesh, where the tribal oustees were displaced at least three times in three decades. The other eye-catching item in The Times of India was cheek-by-jowl with Chhabra’s article. This little piece by PM Warrier (‘Banyan Jitters’) was about the writer’s trepidation at the likelihood of what might happen to the banyan tree right across his brother’s house in Kothakurssi (Palakkad District, Kerala), called “our” tree by the Warrier Family. The reason for worry is as follows. One of the nearby banyan trees which was supposed to be the residence of malignant spirits had been sawed down. The oustees had gone berserk and had gone on a killing rampage. The only way to placate them seemed to be to find them a new residence. The author was horrified by the possibility of that “honour” falling on “our” banyan. Ironical, isn’t it? Anything is possible in “our” country, where mangalik brides marry peepul trees in Varanasi, banana trees in Bengaluru and gold or silver idols of Lord Vishnu in Ayodhya and get slapped with a PIL for their trouble, though.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Lie detector. (An inconvenient truth?)

I’ve always been wary – nay, downright suspicious – of the role of the so-called creative workshops much touted in magazines like Writer’s Digest and Fiction Writer and various websites for writers as the ideal way to master the art and craft of creative writing. The saga of the Blacksburg mass murderer has however given me solace by throwing up a hitherto unimagined alternative use for the panacea for wannabe writers. Join the Virginia Tech Creative Workshop this Fall to find out if you’re a killer in the making – even if you have not a chance in Hell of evolving into a potential Pulitzer Prize winner! I’m kidding, of course. Because all this talk of how Cho’s English teacher and course mates sensed that something was not quite right, if not downright wrong, by reading his workshop output is just that: so much talk. The two scripts posted at and : ape the way contemporary American writers write. Explicitly even at the risk of offending the reader. No different from what a Stephen King, a David Mamet or a Quentin Tarantino would do. And then it’s called a stroke of genius. Even granting these know-alls and see-alls knew all and saw all, why did they not insist on doing something about it? Yeah, I know, I know. Cho refused all offers of friendship and help. I guess nobody could have prevented what was meant to happen. The DVD of Destiny had already been burnt.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

“You made me do it.”

The irony of the Blacksburg massacre, I reckon, is that the killer chose not only 33 victims including his 23-year-old self but also several scapegoats to pass the buck to – that is to say, to blame – excluding himself. These were: religion (rules and restrictions, dos and don’ts?), women (rejection?), “deceitful charlatans” (hate?), “debauchery” (sin and guilt?) and “rich kids” (envy?). He even wrote an 8-page rant blaming them profusely. He was majoring in English. This probably explains the verbosity of the outburst. His creative output, according to those who studied with him, was steeped in profanity and obscenity and hate and violence with chainsaws and hammers – all pointing to his psychopathic bent of mind. The themes he chose – a fight between an allegedly paedophile stepfather and his stepson and students fantasizing about stalking and killing a teacher who had sexually molested them, for instance – left no room for doubt about his mental state. He seemed to have first-hand experience of stalking. According to a Chicago Tribune report citing unspecified source, he had recently stalked some women in addition to setting fire to a dorm room. According to the Virginia Tech authorities, Cho Seung-Hui posted a warning on a school online forum: “im going to kill people at vtech today.” Both the play scripts he wrote for a creative workshop have been posted online by Ian Macfarlane who was Cho’s contemporary at Virginia Tech but who now works at AOL. The script for ‘Richard McBeef’ is here: while the ‘Mr Brownstone’ script is here: Of the two, the former bears an uncanny resemblance to ‘Hamlet’. The writing is crude and lacking in craft as well as class but the storytelling is not bad. Given time and persistence, the writer could have turned into a proficient practitioner. Fate intervened unfortunately and tragedy struck. Life once again proved its random nature.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Change, change, change.

The more I think about it, the more amazing I find it. I must have been born under a forward-looking star that ordained that I would see so much change and so much history in the making in a single lifetime. For instance, as a child, I saw MK Gandhi at fairly close quarters at one of his prayer meetings in Mahabaleshwar. I wrote about it in my still unpublished novel on Gandhi and Hollywood, The Last Gandhi Movie. A few years later, I listened to Nehru’s famous eulogy at his funeral (“the light has gone out of our lives”) on our 5-valvr Bush radio. So even if I rank among the lesser mortals who do not make history, I have been a mute witness to history in the making. Some of the late 20th landmarks I watched at more than six degrees of separation were Nehru’s death, the infamous Emergency interlude, Operation Bluestar and its aftermath, to mention the most noteworthy. I witnessed India’s progression from a colony to a state capitalist economy to a free economy. I saw at least one hack Victoria driver being butchered from my third floor terrace at 233 Khetwadi Main Road in the 1946-47 riots as well as Muslim houses behind as well from across my present residence in old Thakurdwar being put to flame in the 1992-93 massacre following Babri Masjid’s demolition. Apart from these, I saw my own family graduate from the coal choolah and the kerosene stove to bottled cooking gas and from the coal-fired water heater to electric heater. I saw the valve radio making way for the transistor powered one. I saw my portable typewriter making way for the PC in a span of forty years. And, I also saw myself graduating from the milk in a bottle and later in a plastic bag that needs boiling every morning to the milk in a carton that needs no boiling at all. The Internet, e-mail, IM. SMS, Wen 2.0, cellular phones, CDs, DVDs, the likelihood of the end of the civilisation as we know it and of the institution of marriage … good grief, Charlie Brown, where are we headed?

Friday, April 06, 2007

Pain and suffering.

Is Art always and without exception a child of pain and suffering and deprivation? Can an artist never be someone who has had a normal – even a “boring” – childhood as Alan Bennett has repeatedly pointed out? An artist as a tortured soul suffering in the Nether World is the fashionable take and a much touted figment of popular imagination as well as a conscious and deliberate media spin. A deprived background adds a dramatic edge to the story no doubt but need not be the fact of the case. Sunil and Nargis Dutt surely did their best to give Sanjay a happy childhood. He turned out the way he did despite it. Now there is a media conspiracy to whip up sympathy for him by projecting him as a tortured but noble soul loved by one and all. His recent Gandhigiri-spouting Munnabhai screen avatar is put forward as an additional proof of his being a good but misunderstood human being. Even if all this is taken at face value, does it condone his role in the Mumbai blast case? I no longer belong to the eye for an eye school. But the Indian State surely cannot afford to take a lenient view of the digression and make an exception for an individual citizen for the sake of its very existence. That’s the way the cookie crumbles as the saying goes. However, the point I’m making is that the art born out of suffering seems to be a false premise. Just as much as the rosy-hued portrayal of an artist as a rootless person, a born expat or émigré, an outsider – the other trendy self-delusion much favoured by Salman Rushdie – happens to be. Art can be a way of earning money like anything else people do for the same purpose. If you happen to be good at what you do, it may even turn out to be a fairly lucrative and comfortable way of doing so. And who knows Time may decide to forgive you all your trespasses and faults as it did Yeats in Auden’s view:

Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and innocent
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique

Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet

Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.

Truth to tell, there was a time in my life when I too flirted with the artist-as-a-tortured-soul and artist-as-an-outsider self-delusion. I even affected what I thought of as an arty mode of dress, khadi kurta over denim jeans. (I was no stranger to jeans of course as I had adapted them as my favourite garment of comfort in my early youth. I also started frequenting art shows and craft stores regularly. I used to visit Contemporary Arts & Crafts when it was a first-floor walk up – with a wooden floor and down-to-earth prices – opposite the Bombay University near Kala Ghoda as well as the old Bombay Store on Phirozshah Mehta Road. I was a regular at Wayside Inn, another Kala Ghoda landmark that disappeared quite recently. Arun Kolhatkar and George Fernandes too used to frequent the moderately priced eatery. More truth to tell, I was attracted to copywriting because I thought it was a creative field. Along the way, I dabbled in writing for children and was successful at the very first try. The ditty book I did with Sanat Surti (I See, I Think, I Sing) published by Thomson Press as a Sunflower Books paperback in 1972 won the National Book Trust Award. The second book (The Cloud & the Kite) – we tried selling it to a Japanese publisher – never made it. I lost the comprehensive dummy of the book soon and along with it the children’s writing yen. I continued to do well at copywriting and won a few awards as well, though, fortunately having shed the copywriting = art notion. It’s just business writing – a fairly comfortable way of earning good money if you’re good at it. Experience shows that the Auden hypothesis applies to good copywriting too. Amen to that.

Friday, March 30, 2007


A couple of days back, I got an e-mail from Anita under the subject line: “Kids” (meaning Armaan and Anika).

Today I got asked where do babies come from and about getting married.....

Thank god I had read a little of it - how to answer them at this age but could not remember the entire story, so now I have to do my homework on it!

They were too funny and most of it on the mark too.

I e-mailed back as follows:

I don’t remember asking anything remotely approaching the birds and the bees territory when I was a kid. I was pretty dumb and incurious by today's standards. But good to hear they had you stumped for a moment. Bully for them.

Ujwal and I had a huge laugh about it and she told me about the girl on Judging Amy [a Hallmark TV show] asking her judge mom what an orgasm was.

This got me reminiscing about how it used to be in those days of innocence. Growing up must have crept on me suddenly and unknowingly, I guess. At what exact moment, I can’t quite recall.

Or, maybe, I don’t want to remember, who knows?

P.S.: I found a couple of sites where a simple answer to the difficult and embarassing query is given: and Also a rather amusing hint is here:

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Gulp! Merritt of the Pulps, I presume?

I met the ghost of the late Abraham Merritt on the Hornby Road pavement in 1954. I was 18 then and he had been dead and gone for 11 years. I used to go there frequently to hunt for bargain book buys. I distinctly remember picking up at least three of his novels: The Moon Pool, Burn Witch Witch! and Seven Footprints to Satan. All of them were paperbacks published by Avon Books, an imprint I don’t come across much these days. I was a total genre-illiterate then. (In fact, I doubt if I even knew the meaning of ‘genre’.) What probably attracted me to Merritt was the back cover blurb extravagantly promising weird and mind-blowing story lines in the comics/pulp novel style. In hindsight, I was a pulp junkie back then without quite knowing the name of my ailment. Recently when I saw the movies of The Shadow and The Phatom on the idiot box, I got a distinct feeling of déjà vu. Now I know why. I used to be a regular visitor to the pulp realm once upon a time, see? If memory serves, The Moon Pool is an expedition-into-a-lost-world fantasy in the best escapist tradition – contrary to the sci-fi genre tag on the back cover of its Collier Books edition which I subsequently purchased probably at the Strand Book Stall out of sheer nostalgia but haven’t so far read. Burn Witch Witch! is a horror novel about witchcraft while Seven Footprints to Satan combines horror with mystery and detection. At the time of reading Merritt, I used to be also a regular watcher of the B-Grade black and white sci-fi movies with flying saucers and alien invaders in them. I don’t think I ever thought they were in the same category as Merritt’s alternative worlds. Not having read H Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs, I also did not make the connection between them and Merritt. Project Gutenberg considers The Moon Pool meritorious enough to deserve an inclusion. (The novel was written in 1919. Merritt’s second wife, Eleanor, renewed the copyright in 1947. Now it seems to be out of copyright – which explains the sudden upsurge of interest among publishers to bring out special editions such as the University of Nebraska Press's Bison Frontiers of the Imagination Edition, for example.) P.S.: Considering that I was a flying saucer flick fan, I should have been reading Ralph 124C 41+, the sci-fi novel by the so-called ‘father of science fiction’, Hugo Gernsback. It is said to contain predictions of wondrous inventions to come including electronic music, fluorescent lighting, glass skyscrapers, helicopter buses, jet planes, jukeboxes, liquid fertilizer, loud speakers, micro-film, night baseball, organ transplants, plastics, radar, radio directional-finder, radio and television networks, solar power, stainless steel, synthetic fabrics, tape recorders, tear gas, the word "television", tin foil, vending machines and voice prints. As things turned out, I could not have read Hugo Gernsback’s magnum opus. Its debut was in a serialized format in the world's first radio magazine, Modern Electrics in 1911 in the US and I guess it was never brought out as a solo novel except recently in tandem with a Merritt trio. .

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Revealed at last! My shameful neurotic past.

I was 18 and in the second year of college when I became convinced that I was neurotic. Having just read an American paperback on the subject (I cannot for the life of me remember its title and author), I had come to the conclusion that every young American worth his or her salt had neurois and had undergone long drawn psychoanalysis for it. In fact, I thought it was a rather chic and smart malady to suffer from. I continued to read pop psychology and search for labels for my neurosis. Like a true hypochondriac, I used to imagine a whole gamut of typical symptoms in myself such as vague unease, wakefulness, a forlorn feeling of loss and foreboding and the meaninglessness of life. I used to walk up and down on the terrace above our third floor flat at 233 Khetwadi Main Road for a long time at night on the pretext of a constitutional. My neurosis library was built from books bought on the pavement of Hornby Road. I also used to borrow from a comics wallah at Lamington Road a pseudo medical and slyly prurient magazine from the US, quaintly called Sexology. Started by Hugo Gernsback – after whom the Hugo Award for sci-fi is named – in the 1930s, it contained vaguely written gibberish about various maladies and conditions and was full of scientific seeming line drawings. I used to borrow and browse through every issue religiously as soon as my comics wallah got it. I don’t think I read many articles in their entirety, though. (To add a cloak and dagger flavour to the whole affair, he used to always cover it with a newspaper before handing it over to me.) I had also got into the habit of reading a slim DIY magazine called Psychology. After a couple of years of all this, I slowly got out of my delusional mode and, somewhere along the way, came to realise the utter sham of the whole thing. Today, I am of the firm opinion that all the so-called angst, anxiety, low self-esteem and resultant suffering that people bitch about are mostly bogus and self-manufactured and the therapeutic ‘help’ industry is a vast money-making racket. The whole self-delusion is created by unrealistic over-expectation, greed, jealousy and an obstinate refusal to call a spade a spade. I fully agree with what Samuel Goldwyn had to say on the subject: "Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined." See what Sexology looked like: There’s a slide show of Sexology covers too at To read an article from the magazine set to pop music from the sixties including Beatles, click here:

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Not even a startle.

When I was in Guam for a couple of months in 1991-92, I met a jovial American architect, a friend of my son Abhijeet. Apart from a body odour sharper than his wit and a stunning Scandinavian live-in girl friend, his most unforgettable characteristic was his love for and intimate knowledge of the sci-fi movie genre. I remember going with him for a sci-fi movie (most likely The Terminator – I seem to have forgotten the movie’s name as well as the avid movie goer’s) and listening to his almost non-stop commentary about the lore and the treatment as if it was a matter of life and death. I almost cited to him Ashok Kumar’s “It’s only a film” comment borrowed from Hitch. I was reminded of the incidence while watching Batman Begins Friday night on HBO. That the movie did not dazzle me, did not get a startle response from me means nothing at all, really. The original intention of the movie maker was to undo the damage done to the Batman myth and lore by the spectacular box office and critical flop of the expensively mounted trio preceding it, I guess. According to all indications, Batman Begins marked the beginning of the success of the Batman franchise in moviedom. The gamble to make the Batman myth as preached by the Batman Comics more credible and more human has apparently paid off. For instance, how Batman became so adept at combative skills. (Ans: By joining the League of Shadows.) How and from where he got his costume, his weapons, his armoured vehicle, his hang glider cum cape and so forth. (Ans: From Wayne Enterprises’ experimental lab.) Central to the tale, though, is the theme of Brue Wayne’s fear of bats. He got it when he fell into a well as a lad of eight and was startled by the drove of bats. He overcame it under the hallucinogenic influence of a mountainside blue flower during his spell as a League of Shadows rookie. The introduction of Bruce’s childhood girl friend Rachel Dawes early on and her continuing presence in the narrative may be interpreted as a ploy to lay to rest once for all the lurking suspicion that he is gay. (It seems George Clooney wittingly, unwittingly, or maybe even mischieviously, resurrected the gay ghost by telling Barbara Walters that in Batman & Robin he played Batman as gay. "I was in a rubber suit and I had rubber nipples. I could have played Batman straight, but I made him gay." Barbara Walters laughed, then asked, "George, is Batman gay?" To which he responded, "No, but I made him gay." Emulating the excellent Hitchcock and equally admirable Ashok Kumar, I would like to remind all those who take such matters seriously: “It’s only a comics character, for Pete’s sake.” P.S.: A couple of months ago, I resisted the temptation to buy an expensively produced paperback about the movie. Bully for me.