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.