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.

Out-of-the-box ideas – boxed!

To my delight, I recently located this review filed by me on February 7, 2004 a t

'Parlour cards' smacks of after-dinner liquer and Cuban cigars - not my cup of tea (pardon the mixed metaphor!) mainly because I don't move in those haloed Page 3 corridors. I bought After-dinner Freud and After-dinner Shakespeare - sight unseen as it were - mainly because the form of packaging and presentation fascinated me. It was only later at home that I discovered what a treasure I had stumbled upon unwittingly. Dr Joseph Aguayo and his Editors have picked out pertinent and pithy brush strokes from Freud's life to create a quick mental sketch of the last of the deliverers of "the three blows to man's pride". For instance, Card #22 tells us that Mrs Freud thought her husband's ideas were "a form of pornography". Don't waste time reading the review. Get your own set of the parlour cards and enjoy! (No, I'm not on the payroll of Becker & Mayer who helped to shape these brilliant 'packaged books'.)

P.S.: I recall that I bought both the delightful products from Strand Book Stall a few years back at (probably) Rs.100/- (about $2.50) each.

P.S. #2: My earlier review of God of Small Things is however missing at the Amazon website. It’s now members only’, I guess. The surviving reniew was written after I bought Jakob Nielsen's Designing Web Usability a couple of years back.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Wireless in Mumbai.

One thing has always foxed me. While we took to British spellings readily, why didn’t we adapt the favourite British nomenclature ‘wireless’ instead of sticking to ‘radio’? Could it be because our radio was not wireless in the good old days? For instance, our first radio at 233 Khetwadi Main Road was a multi-band, valve-powered Bush, not the more popular Murphy. It was bought just after 1947 from a huge radio showroom at Opera House which is now no more. It had a green ‘magic eye’ to show whether the listener had fine-tuned the station. If memory serves, it was a gimmick, pure and simple. But the point to note is that it was by no means wireless. There used to be an aerial wire not quite stretched diagonally between two poles at the opposite corners of our terrace. The bottom end of it was inserted in a slot at the back of the radio set. The aerial used to be quite a nuisance especially in the kite-flying season snaring the guide thread whenever we flew kites from the front terrace rather than the one on top of the flat, next to the tiled roof. I remember consulting a weekly or fortnightly guide called (probably) The Listener after the eponymous BBC weekly known for its literary content. The desi programme guide used to list systematically all the All India Radio stations in three columns on every page. The transmission would start around 6.30 a.m. and would close down at 11.00 p.m. There used to be a couple of breaks in the transmission along the way. I remember listening to Nehru’s famous eulogy at Gandhi’s funeral (“the light has gone out of our lives”) on our radio. I wrote a moving section about it in my still unpublished novel on Gandhi and Hollywood, The Last Gandhi Movie Our Bush radio also brought us endless hours of entertainment including Binaca Hit Parade on Monday evenings from Radio Ceylon and, later on, film songs on Vividh Bharati. In the fifties, the transistor radio debuted in the US. Our first transistor radio set was a Philips bought in 1967 after I started working on the Philips Radio account at Clarion-McCann. It had a built-in aerial as well as an extendable one and worked on battery cells. So, finally radio had turned wireless. The FM era was still far, far away, though.

All this brings to mind what WH Auden wrote:

Let all your last thinks be all thanks:
… … … … … … … … …
In boyhood
you were permitted to meet
beautiful contraptions,
soon to be banished from the earth,
saddle-tanks loks, beam engines
and over-shot water wheels.
Yes, love, you have been lucky.

('A Lullaby', April 1972)

How very true.