Tuesday, December 30, 2008

PIs and I.

Detective fiction is a genre I've enjoyed all my life. I remember my father buying me a hardbound copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, published by John Murray. This happened to be in one of my childhood summers at 233 Khetwadi Main Road http://digbig.com/4xyxy. I was recuperating then from a severe bout of tonsillitis. I used to suffer from this ailment not infrequently at that time and was a frequent user of glycerin acid tannic, "the throat 'paint' of choice". http://digbig.com/4yarg. Sorry for the digression. After devouring the first collection of short stories and getting well, I was hooked on Holmes. I rapidly ploughed through the entire "Canon": 4 novels and 56 short stories written by Sir Arthur Conon Doyle between 1887 and 1927 - a total of 660382 words according to Charles E Lauterbach's calculation in 1960. Holmes had a special appeal for me because, like me, he preferred to sit down and ratiocinate. http://digbig.com/4yaty. I'm not saying my deductive logical ability was a patch on his legendary though fictional one, of course. To continue the story, I made a logical progression to Agatha Christie's inimitable egghead, Hercule Poirot and, thence, to Miss Marple http://digbig.com/4yatm in the last year of school and, later, in college. Ellery Queen, reputedly the American heir to the Holmesian legacy, happened somewhere along the way. I remember being particularly impressed at that time with the way a challenge to the reader used to be thrown towards the end of the earlier EQ novels when the reader was supposed to have been given all the essential clues. I had even read and enjoyed the four Drury Lane novels written by Queen under the Barnby Ross nom de plume. These, I recall, belonged to the locked room mystery sub-genre, a format of which John Dickson Carr was a leading practitioner. For a while around then, I was a steady follower of Mike Shayne, the Miami PI, as well. Then, the focus of my attention shifted to Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason. I began to think that thinking on one's feet and wisecracking in a trial court was the height of sophistication. Then I discovered his Donald Lam and Bertha Cool series written under his AA Fair pseudonym and found it far more witty and entertaining. My meeting with The Saint http://digbig.com/4yfre I recall, was fortuitous. I happened to browse through a Saint novel at the shop on Lamington Road http://digbig.com/4ybgc where I used to borrow comics and other reading material when I was in college. I was taken in by the flippant style and tone. I went on a pilgrimage of Saintly reading borrowing all the titles in the circulating library and even buying a few second-hand titles. Another source of my detective literature supply was the JB Petit Institute at Flora Fountain of which my father and I were members. I read quite a bit of Edgar Wallace http://digbig.com/4ybge there, including a book of hilarious short stories about a race course tout. I remember its red binding distinctly but have forgotten its name. I read, if memory serves, almost all Dorothy L Sayers (Lord Wimsey) mysteries and some by Georges Simenon (Maigret is no PI, mind!) and Rex Stout, all borrowed from the Institute as well. Dick Francis came later and became for a while quite an addiction. The Institute also gave me the opportunity to enjoy Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine for several years. Although I have not read much of Patricia Highsmith and Nicolas Freeling, I hold them both in high esteem. I must confess that although I read some of Ross MacDonald, he didn't appeal to me much. Neither for that matter did Raymond Chandler who considered himself a mere pulp writer but was the toast of the British literary and intellectual circles including notably JB Priestley, WH Auden, Cyril Connolly and Edith Sitwell. Maybe, I ain't no mystery connoisseur in verity.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gandhi, yet again.

This morning, I suddenly thought again of Gandhi. It occurred to me that he could never be at peace no matter what he was doing, no matter who he was dealing with. I was thinking particularly of his reaction to his son Manilal's infatuation in 1914 for Jeki (Dr Jayakunwar Mehta). She was Gandhi's "only adopted daughter" and the real daughter of his affluent and generous friend from his London days, Dr Pranjivan Jagjivan Mehta. The latter had left her in Gandhi's care in Phoenix Farm, South Africa. As was his wont http://digbig.com/4yaae Gandhi simply would not let things get back to a semblance of normalcy. He was unwilling to forget and forgive. Sex was his big obsession. He spoke again and again about the transgression in his prayer meetings, went on a fast, and generally raised hell. He also made Jeki shear off her hair, go off salt and so forth. http://digbig.com/4yaaf. In his letter to his associate, Kallenbach, he called the young woman "a liar, a wretched hypocrite, without pity, without remorse, full of evil passions". Earlier, when Kasturba had complained bitterly against Jeki, he had defended her and turned on his wife labeling her "the most venomous woman I have ever met" again in a letter to Kallenbach. He had even expressed his wish for her death at one juncture. As for his own reaction to the man-woman interaction: "I have often wanted to take out the knife from my pocket and put it through the stomach," he confided in a letter to to another friend. "Sometimes I have felt like striking my head against the wall opposite, and at other times, I have thought of running away from the world." This kind of behaviour was a recurrent theme in Gandhi's life throughout, especially in his various relationships with his women associates. Of course, men know at first hand women's capacity to make them think and feel in a like manner. Being a Mahatma had not spared him from being a man unfortunately, I guess.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Easy way out.

The second instance of my quitting a pursuit after a brief flirtation - the account of the first one is here http://digbig.com/4xyxq - was when I was an enthusiastic philatelist for maybe a couple of years of school. How I started collecting postage stamps escapes me. My best guess is that I must have seen someone's stamp album and jumped to the conclusion that it was the thing to do. My parents used to indulge me probably because I was a boy. I remember I had a hard bound dark green 12" x 9" stamp album about ¾" thick. Each page in it had the name of a country printed on top with a couple of pictures of the more popular stamps issued by it on both sides of it. The portion below was divided into several spaces for stamps indicated by dotted squares. I remember buying the album, along with a shiny pair of tweezers, from one of the philately supply dealers on Hornby Road (now Dadabhai Nowroji Road) http://digbig.com/4xyxs. The shop is probably still there. I also used to buy from the same shop a packet of pre-gummed hinges made of butter paper. One had to simply fold the hinge halfway with the pre-gummed surface outside; lick it; stick one half to the back of the stamp and the other half to the surface of the page where the stamp was supposed to be stuck; and, lo and behold, one of your precious collection was where it belonged. I remember having a lot many India Postage stamps, even old ones retrived from the envelopes of old correspondence. We veteran stamp collectors also used to obtain stamps by barter. I don't quite recall who I used to exchange stamps with. There was a philatelist friend of mine staying in the third of the three identical Arab Houses. http://digbig.com/4xyxy. (I stayed at 233 Khetwadi Main Road in the first Arab House, you see.) He was probably the one through whom I had managed to find some bartering contacts. Also, some of my school friends may also have chipped in with bartering aid. We used to also buy stamps from the shop on Hornby Road I mentioned earlier as well as a shop on Lamington Road which also doubled as a comic book lending library. http://digbig.com/4xyxs. What one had to watch out for was in the stamps you bought to add to your collection was postal cancellation marks on them. That was supposed to prove that they were authentic postal issues - not imitations printed to fool new entrants in the august portals of philately. After wasting a bit of my father's hard-earned money for two or three years, I suddently lost interest in and zest for "the whole bally thing" (to use one of Wooster's eloquent phrases) and quit it as was my wont. [Afterthought: Now that email is the rule rather than the exception, I wonder if stamp collecting is a dying hobby.]

Thursday, December 11, 2008

No pretensions.

Given my past pretensions galore as a movie aficionado http://digbig.com/4xypw it feels good to stumble upon a non-pretensions black-and-white movie with straight forward story-telling and no fancy camera work now and again. That's where TCM is so good for my soul, mates. Yesterday morning, I happened to find there the clunkily and portentously titled Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945). http://digbig.com/4xypx. It has that wonderfully versatile Romanian-American actor, Edward G Robinson, playing the part of a Norwegian farmer in Wisconsin during World War II. Martinus Jacobson is kind and considerate, very fond of his seven-year old daughter, Selma (Margaret O'Brien. He does not believe in spoiling her, though, and even makes her give away her skates, a birthday gift, to her 5-year-old best friend and constant companion, Arnold, because of her failure to share then with him. The simple story moves at a placid place and ends with Selma giving away her calf to a neighbour whose barn has burned down and thereby triggering off a flood of gifts from other members of the community. For a reason I could not fathom, this movie caught my attention and fancy and I could not stop myself from watching it till the end. An additional bonus was Agnes Moorehead in the role of Selma's mother and a simple housewife, so different from the many cynical and acerbic roles elsewhere I have always admired her for.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

11 Just Men.

Edgar Wallace wrote in 1905 what went on to be accorded the status of a prototype or benchmark of the modern English mystery thriller, The Four Just Men. It was about four vigilantes who killed people in the cause of justice. To promote it, he launched a competition. The challenge was to guess the method to murder the Foreign Secretary that they would employ if he were to ratify an unjust law. This got The Daily Mail, the newspaper where he worked as a sub-editor into deep trouble. Wallace did not put a limiting clause in his competition rules to restrict the prize to a single winner. As it happened, there were several correct guessers. He did not have the money to pay them. To protect the good name of his newspaper, the owner had to loan £5000 to Wallace. He took it without a whit of gratitude and contrition and showed no hurry to repay the loan. His attitude and approach were far from just, to state the obvious. Money, I guess, does that to a lot many people. Did not The Bible warn us that the love of money is the root of all evil? Now it is doing likewise to Wallace's compatriots, the English cricket team. They have thrown caution to the winds and defied logic as many, including Pakistan's former skipper, Shahid Latif, feel, because of the big bucks BCCI has in its coffers. http://digbig.com/4xymq. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose, as the French say. Translation: The more things change, the more they stay the same. In other words, nothing changes much. So, what else is new? P.S: The English Team decided to give 50% of their match fee to the victims of the Mumbai massacre. Are they just or what?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Jessica Lall redux.

Light a candle in your window to show solidarity with the victims. We've heard this call before. Not just in Rang De Basanti but also in the aftermath of the acquittal by the Delhi District Court in the Jessica Lall murder trial. Lall, you'll recall, was a member of the Delhi High Society, a model and a celebrity barmaid on duty at Tamarind Court owned by socialite Bina Ramani. She did not belong to the hoi polloi. The uproar after the acquittal was triggered by the desire of the Delhi aristocracy to avenge one of its own. Who is the common man http://digbig.com/4xybn in urban India? RK Laxman has been following his exploits since 1961 in the pocket cartoon (You said it) on the front page of The Times of India. He has always drawn him and his wise-cracking wife to resemble denizens of the lower middle class stratum of Bombay. The couple was unlikely to ever wander into Wasabi, The Golden Dragon, Tiffin, The Sea Lounge, Kandahar, India Jones, Frangapani, Zodiac Grill and eateries of the fine dining persuasion. Apart from whether they could afford to eat in any one of them, I wonder if the otherwise affable Sardarjis who used to guard the entrance of The Taj and probably of The Trident and The Oberoi would have allowed them to walk in. They were probably more likely to be embroiled in the massacre at the CST Terminus. Or, be waiting for a Western Railway local train to arrive at one of the seven stations where bomb blasts took place on 11 July 2006. With 200 dead and over 700 injured - mostly from the hoi polloi, that one was a terrorist attack of no mean proportion. Despite the loss of human life being much higher than in the 26-29 November 2008 tragedy, there was at that time no braying for the blood of those in charge of the security of Mumbai and the safety of its citizens. Come 26 November 2008 with a frontal attack on the three aristocratic and supposedly secure SoBo http://digbig.com/4xybw bastions and sanctuaries, though, and there is suddenly much agitation. Blue blood has been spilled, after all. Enough is enough. SoBo elite's hubris is at stake, ladies and gentlemen, and must be avenged at all cost. http://digbig.com/4xyck. The unspoken ground rules of special privilege must be imposed.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


You never know when and where your past may catch up with you. This morning, The Times of India informed me that (a) secret service folks from Australia, USA, UK and Israel were in Mumbai visiting the places attacked by the terrorists last week; and (b) Nariman House was a target because it was supposed to be a front for Israeli intelligence. In other words, Mossad. The reason it made me think of the past was that, when I was writing my Master of Commerce thesis http://digbig.com/4xxxk and living at 233 Khetwadi Main Road http://digbig.com/4xxxp I was also trying to make a bit of money on the side. For instance, I had done quite a lot of translation into English of dubious literature written in absolutely pathetic Hindi and dealing with sex education. The client was on Hornby Road near Handloom House. I cannot recall who put me in touch with him. Similarly, I had done some work for a publisher of study guides. Somebody had also asked me to try my luck at a travel agency opposite the New Empire Cinema. I think one of the employees there guided me to Kailas on Peddar Road (now Deshmukh Marg). This was in the days when India and Israel were not on too friendly terms. If memory serves, the Consulate and Trade Representative's office had opened in Mumbai in 1953 and was the only consular presence of that country in India. By the way, Israel was born just a year after India got independence, if you recall. Coming back to my story, I was allowed to go up to the office on the fourth or fifth floor after being thoroughly frisked at the entrance on the ground floor. That itself was an unusual experience in those days. I did not get the job although they interviewed me and made me fill up a lengthy application form. So, maybe, I was saved from a fate worse than death of serving Mossad. I'm being facetious, of course. Well, the other recent occasion when my past suddenly caught up with me was when I was reading Bernie Lee's Murder at Musket Beach. The chief protagonist called Tony, a mystery writer and a member of the Tony and Pat Pratt husband-and-wife team, also happens to be a copywriter who flies from Portland, Oregon, for a couple of days of creative work in Hollywood. The description of the meeting with the client and the creative and account service team as well as of the recording session brought back my past in advertising especially when I was in Clarion-McCann. ttp://digbig.com/4xxxn.

Friday, November 28, 2008

On camera.

What's the difference between a movie about terrorists running for about 120 minutes and live tv coverage of an on-going anti-terrorist operation in real time? In the former, you know the script in advance. If you're the star (Bruce Willis?), you know you're not going to die, even if you get a few scratches on the face and a slash on your forearm for effect. You can casually slip into your bullet-proof jacket, adjust the helmet with elan, step out of the vehicle jauntily and walk into danger. Nothing will happen to you, dude, because it is not in the script. We saw with our own eyes, though, the perils of acting like a hero (maybe because you're on camera?) when you should be acting like the shrewd chief of the ATS you're supposed to be. Never underestimate your adversary's fire power and tactical skills. Never overestimate your luck. Bravura is fine in ballet, not in a real-life anti-terrorist op. Brawn isn't the answer. Brains are. In fact, if you head the ATS, stay in the war room planning and directing. Don't stray into the field chasing terrorists in a Qualis. Unless you imagine you're starring in Death Wish. http://digbig.com/4xxke. Do we need martyrs at any cost?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Milky ways.

In my childhood at 233 Khetwadi Main Road http://tinyurl.com/48tnw4, there used to be a milk seller across the street who styled himself as a "dairy". His delivery man or "bhaiyya" as he was addressed in those days climbed up to our third floor terrace flat twice a day carrying on his head a brass vessel with a lid. As soon as the door was opened by my mother or the family retainer, he would plonk down his burden and ladle out the specified quantity of milk using ¼-, ½- or 1-seer brass measures with U-shaped handles. Most afternoons, this would be done under my watchful eye with a bit of accompanying banter addressed mostly to me. The bhaiyya used to call me "baba" and talk in a Bambaiya patois mixing a bit of Hindi and Marathi. I'm talking of the days before I started to go to full-time school, mind you. I had no idea which part of India he hailed from and even if I had known it, I don't think it would have made a whit of a difference to our daily encounter, a pleasant part of my life then. The hisaab (calculation) of the total dues, recorded diligently in a little notebook by my mother, was tallied on the first of every month and promptly paid in cash. There is one rather gruesome image of the dairy that still haunts me. In the pre-Independence riots of 1947, I watched aghast from our terrace window one afternoon the driver of a hack victoria http://digbig.com/4xxcq coming from the 13th lane being stabbed. His body tumbled from the driver's perch on to the gate of the dairy. Later, after the police came and had the body removed, the hired help in the dairy was busy for a long time scrubbing away the blood stains. As time passed, the mode of milk supply to 233 Khetwadi Main Road changed. After Aarey Diary's arrival on the Mumbai scene in the early 50s, milk-selling booths mushroomed all over the city. The nearest one was bang opposite our dairy. A queue of squabbling milk buyers would form there twice a day early morning and just after noon, jostling one another, jockeying for a better place and creating quite a racket as is the wont of us Indians. Our dairy like many of its brethern could not withstand the Aarey onslaught for long . Soon, the family retainer had to stand in the queue at least once a day with the aluminum milk token in hand. The milk used to be supplied in glass bottles with quality differnces (whole, double toned, toned, etc.) indicated by the colour code of the foil crown. Much later, the bottles got replaced by plastic pouches. The milk cooker with a whistling siren entered my life sometime around then. http://digbig.com/4xxcp. As the milk supply improved, the milk token became redundant. You could just walk to any milk booth and walk away with as much milk as you wanted. You could even stand there and sip flavoured milk or lassi with a straw if you so desired. A couple of years back, when Amul, Nestlé and others started selling no-need-to-boil milk in Tetra Pak cartons, I switched to it with alacrity. The bhaiyya is now only a distant memory. So is the milk cooker.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Slice of lime.

Quite likely I'm totally off the mark here. But I'm beginning to seriously doubt the indiscriminate inclusion of celebrity in ads in the cinema hall and on tv. I suspect it takes away some of the credibility of the message intended to be delivered, especially when the approach is slice-of-life. Take the well-made ad currently being aired for Tata Sky+. Aamir Khan is trying to put his wife (played not by his real-life wife but a dimply Gul Panag)
into a good frame of mind. He has made the morning tea, cooked breakfast just the way she likes, cleaned up the fridge and so forth just so she will allow him to watch cricket match slated for the evening even if it clashes with her favourite soap. Obviously they have just one tv set. I don't believe it. To me, they look like a two- or multiple-tv family, who would also have at least a live-in maid. Ergo, the bone of contention should simply not exist. Only if the viewer is a born cretin or has just arrived from Mars to believe the couple depicted is a typical middle class, upwardly mobile couple, then it will work. A modest apartment as the setting and a non-celebrity cast would've helped belief. http://digbig.com/4xwra.
I guess our tv watcher today is too astute and savvy. She can tell when Aamir Khan is not Aamir Khan. The trouble with the Indian star system is that, in every movie, we tend to think of the star as herself/himself. If we are telling the story to a friend, we refer to the characters by the name of the star. Remember how in most of his hits of his heydays Amitabh Bachchan used to be named Vijay? On the other hand, there is a currently running tv ad featuring Saif Ali Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor which lets them be celebs and uses a real-life relationship intelligently and believably.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Whose truth?

Of late, I have been writing on my blog about stuff to which I had not been giving much thought for a long, long time. Take, for instance, my two Mahabharata-related posts: Best of Enemies. http://digbig.com/4xsbk and Maya. http://digbig.com/4xsbn. Or, the one about Lord Vishnu's ten incarnations: Ten. Far better than Tolekien. http://digbig.com/4xsbp. All of them deal with Indian mythology and, indirectly, religion. I was familiar as a child with what I have written about here. I never paid it much heed as an adult, though. Soon after writing these posts, I switched to writing about Gandhi who used to be preoccupied with these things all his life. My last post, MK Gandhi aka 'Mahatma'. http://digbig.com/4xsbq, ends with a quote from Nathuram Godse whose disagreement with Gandhi hinged on the interpretation of Bhagvadgita. Both thought they had an exclusive access to Truth. Both had worked to eradicate untouchability, incidentally. Godse confessed that he considered the writings of Savarkar and Gandhi most relevant for India. According to him, the teachings in Bhagwadgita literally related to the happenings on the battlefield of Kurukshsetra. For Gandhi, it could well have been about a spiritual struggle, the heart's search for a saviour, more in the vein of the Sermon on the Mount.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

J Lo, K Jo, SoHo, Soho, SoBo and other wonders.

They have a J Lo. So we must have a K Jo, bro. They have an acronymous SoHo in Manhattan and Soho (“Soho! There goes the fox!”) at the centre of the West End in London. So we must have a SoBo, not a SoMu in Mumbai that used to be Bombay. When ad agencies started to migrate from SoBo en masse to Lower Parel in the 90s and later, an ad guy had the unconscionable gall to suggest that it be elvated in nomenclature at least to Upper Worli. You know what I mean? Sheer audacity, brazen boldness wedded to impudent assurance and insolence. Total temerity. Cheek, nerve, effrontry. In short, shameless, insolent disregard for propriety or courtesy. It all springs in these instances from a "born (again?) in the USA" mindset. The snobbery of this world view (i.e., the framework of ideas and beliefs we use to interpret and interact with the world or, in other words, everyday reality) makes me want to puke. I remember reading somewhere what Martin Heidegger, the German philosopher who was also a Nazi, had to say on the subject. Although we live in a common (= shared) world, went his argument, the world surrounding us is differernt for each of us. We are thrown into the world, willy-nilly, and must come to terms with it as its inhabitants. So, I guess some of us need snobbery to deal with our dreary lives. Snobbery can have its uses, no doubt. At one point in my life, I used it to teach myself to appreciate Western Classical music. While reading Nick Hazelwood's Savage: The Life and Times of Jemmy Button http://digbig.com/4xwha, I was astonished at the snobbish behaviour of the eponymous Fuegian from the southermost tip of South America, the most hostile of habitats in the 16th Century. After his contact with the British and stay in Britain, he turned into the ultimate fop http://digbig.com/4xwgt, fastidious in his top hat and gloves and spotless waistcoat, preening in front of every mirror. This is the single most common identity disorder among most wannabes, I reckon. (P.S.: By the way, now Lower Parel has at least a High Street, thanks to Phoenix.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bad memories.

With all the "oust the outsiders" poison currently vitiating the atmosphere in Mumbai, I'm reminded of two sorry events from my childhood at 233 Khetwadi Main Road. http://tinyurl.com/48tnw4. The first one took place toward the end of World War II. There was strict rationing in force. The rationing administrative office nearest to our house was at Muzzffarabad Hall (aka The People's Jinnah Hall), on the Grant Road Bridge close to Novelty Cinema http://digbig.com/4xwdb, within easy strolling distance from our house. My sister http://digbig.com/4xwdc used to work there. She had learned Urdu in her spare time before taking up the job. She was an ardent movie goer and used to buy and listen to all the latest 78 rpm discs of the hit songs from the movies. With hindsight, it seems likely that she was deeply affected by the passionate love stories she witnessed on the silver screen in the companionable twilight of the movie hall. Those were probably the days when Ratan starring Swarna Lata and featuring the hit song Ankhiyan Milake had just been released. On Saturdays, my sister's office used to close an hour and a half after noon and she would be home by 2 pm. One fateful Saturday afternoon, she did not turn up at her usual arrival time. My mother was frantic with worry. As soon as my father returned home, they had a whispered confab. Phone calls were made and enquiries too all over the city with our relatives and her friends. That night, I was woken up by the weeping of my father and mother. It scared and saddened me no end. I don't recall being particularly saddened by my sister's disappearance, though. This was because, except for surface cordiality, she was not at all fond of me. She must have viewed the late arrival of a male heir on the family scene http://digbig.com/4xwdf when she was already 18 as a threat to her prospects of inheritance. I was in awe of her, even a bit afraid too. Eventually, my sister was traced to my aunt's house in Nowroji Street. She had made this defiant move to declare her intention of marrying a Muslim colleague. I am not aware of what transpired when my parents went to fetch her. In a couple of days, she returned home and resigned her job. Broad-minded as my parents were, the shock of their daughter wanting to marry a Muslim must have been way too much for them to bear. The other sad event occured some time later, maybe in the early fifties. It concerned a cousin of mine from Khar who married a Hindu girl not of our caste. My uncle and, more particularly, my aunt http://digbig.com/4xwdg made it a point to ostracize him from the clan. Although, in their heart of hearts, my parents who were rather fond of the boy, did not want to do it, they had to follow suit. I do not think I was much bothered by all the fuss that was being made. I had never been much concerned with caste and creed right from the beginning. It perturbed me to hear much later that one of my professors in Sydenham College who was also a favourite Marathi author of mine disowned his daughter for marrying a Muslim and went to the extent of taking in her name a purificatory bath that an orthodox Hindu takes after returning home from the crematorium or the burning grounds. In short, he declared to the world that, in his eyes, she was dead and gone. Later on, though, I discovered that malicious rumour mongering had inspired this vicious canard. That, at least, is a good memory to treasure.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sweaty, smelly new theory. (It won't win me a Nobel.)

I said it once. http://digbig.com/4xsqe. I will say it again. "I have a nose for body odours – other people's, that is. A mere whiff can set me off. They're the bane of my existence, the chief reason why I shudder to board local trains, admittedly a faster mode of getting from point A to point B in Mumbai." And, the more I try to dodge the onslaught of other people's b.o., the closer I'm getting to formulating a new theory that's sure not to win me a Nobel. Based on my keen observation at close quarters of at least two young and desirable women in two totally far-apart georgraphical locations and social milieu, I am tempted to jump to a rather hasty though astonishing conclusion. It would appear that an unpleasant b.o. from a talented male may actually act as a magnet for an adoring female. The Smell Report (page 12) http://digbig.com/4xsqg tells us: "On standard tests of smelling ability - including odour detection, discrimination and identification - women consistently score significantly higher than men. One researcher has claimed that the superior olfactory ability of females is evident even in newborn babies." On page 14, there is a distiction made between the male pheromone androstenone and the male pheromone androstenol. The former is stale male-sweat smell (exposed to oxygen for 20 minutes) while the latter is fresh male-sweat smell. The former, avers the study, "is perceived as highly unpleasant by females (except during ovulation, when their responses change from 'negative' to 'neutral')." It seems that women on the pill do not have the same kind of reaction as ovulating women. Smell preferences are also linked with past associations. Be that as it may, I am beginning to wonder if there is another kind of "smell" factor at work here. This smell is "beyond" the band width of the b.o. Could it be the "sweet (sweat) smell of success/achievement"? Could it be a sort of personal "karmic" and/or rites-of-passge-related odour that has the power to nullify the offputting whiff of an offensive body odour or even a physical deficiency? (Remember the grotesquely deformed Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame from Victor Hugo's eponymous novel as well as Esméralda, the kind gypsy girl who befriended him?) I know. I know. It could be one of my totally hair-brained theories worthy only of brickbats and scorn. Who knows?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Prarthana Samaj.

233 Khetwadi Main Road http://tinyurl.com/48tnw4 was within 5 minutes' walk from Prarthana Samaj. I had been told in my childhood that the "prarthana" (prayer) meetings of the Samaj (society/institution) used to be held in the Rammohan High School. It was situated at the eponymous landmark at the corner of Raja Rammohan Marg (then New Charni Road) and VP Road. However, I did not then know who Raja Rammohan Roy, the "father" of Brahmo Samaj (Society of the Worshipers of the Absolute), was. History has portrayed him as the initiator of Hinduism's renaissance in Bengal. This is bolstered by the Daniele Hervieu-Leger's view of religion http://digbig.com/4xqjm as "a social and ideological mechanism for creating and sustaining both an individual and a communal sense of belonging ... [in brief] the mobilization of collective memory.". The weekly discourse-and-prayer meeting of the Brahmos was modelled on the Unitarian Church's sermon-and-prayer meeting. Roy and his close associates, Tarachand Chakravarti and Chandrasekhar Deb, were familiar with the Unitarian practices. Roy's monotheism had a rational as well a moral foundation from his retrieval of the Upnishadas, Brahma Sutras and other ancient Hindu texts (what he referred to as "Vedanta" = end or culmination of all knowledge as a body of work collectively). Roy's Brahmo Samaj was a living monument to his “religious innovativeness”. This spirit spurred him "to reinvent the chain" to fill up the new spaces of belief left bereft by "the decomposition of tradition". ("Traditions are forgotten, but they are also reenvisioned," explains Brian A. Hatcher in Remembering Rammohan: An Essay on the [Re-]emergence of Hinduism.) In our own times, television, the Internet, the cellphone and other modern tools are being used to help this process.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Talk to me in Web 2.0.

I am, you could almost say, a man of (few?) words. On my word of honour, boys and girls. Words are my preoccupation. Or, shall we say my occupational accomplices? Playing with words comes to me fairly easily. I revel in it. I am word-friendly. I wish I were Lord of the Words. But I find myself at a loss for words far too often to harbour any such delusions of grandeur. http://digbig.com/4xsfr. My love affair with words is probably why I so highly value Aldous Huxley, Dorothy Parker, Groucho Marx, Woody Allen, Leonard Cohen and even Seinfeld http://digbig.com/4xsfw & http://digbig.com/4xsfx. My antennae, though, are always out for the meaning of words, even subtle nuanaces. The context and the subtext of word usage http://digbig.com/4xsft intrigue and often amuse me. For me, "There's a blaze of light/In every word," as Leonard Cohen puts it so eloquently in his Hallelujah. http://digbig.com/4xsfn. Take, for instance, the way Gmail insists on calling every exchange of email between two people, maybe a bit coyly and self-consciously, "conversation". That's Web 2.0 talk, dude. Keeping in touch. That's what Web 2.0 and social networking are all about, after all. At least, that's the mantra of the Web 2.0 gurus. Having been in advrtising long enough, though, I am painfully aware that many of the so-called breakthroughs in theoretical thinking are only a new use of old words. Or, the same old words in a new context. http://digbig.com/4xsfs.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

MK Gandhi aka 'Mahatma'.

Robert Payne's anecdotal The Life and Death of Mahatma Gandhi is quite an insightful biography. According to his reckoning (ibid, page 290), while Rabindranth Tagore, the Nobel laureate, was already 'Gurudev' (Celestial Teacher) and Gandhi's South African associate, Charlie Freer Andrews, 'Deenabandhu' (Brother to the Poor) in 1915, Tagore was still to bestow the 'Mahatma' title on Gandhi.

Another source, however, attributes the authorship of the Mahatma epithet to Nautamlal Bhagavanji Mehta, an Indian freedom fighter and Gandhi's supporter, and the date and the place of the conferring it as 21 January 1915 and Kamribai School in Jetpur, Saurashtra (Gujarat) respectively. http://digbig.com/4xsbg.

In the 20 January 1927 issue of Young India, though, Gandhi wrote: "I myself do not feel like a saint in any shape or form." Was that a rejection of the Mahatma title earlier conferred on him? Or, self-doubt?

Payne offers this anecdote about an incident that must have occured during Gandhi's last sojourn in Delhi (ibid, page 550):

Once he was asked: "If you are a Mahatma (Great Soul), perform a miracle and save India." He answered sadly: "I am not a Mahatma. I am an ordinary person like everyone else, except that I am much frailer."

By the way, General Jan Smuts who had had first-hand experience of Gandhi in South Africa reportedly told his contemporary and friend, Winston Churchill, that Gandhi "... is a man of God. You and I are mundane people." http://digbig.com/4xsbc.

Payne cites Gandhi telling Manubehn on 22 January 1948, i.e., eight days before he was assasinated (ibid, page 573) inter alia: "I am a true mahatma."

He again quotes him telling her on the night before the assasination (ibid, page 579): "If I were to die of a lingering disease, or even from a pimple, then you must shout from the housetops to the whole world that I was a false mahatma. ... And if an explosion takes place, as it did last week, or of someone shot at me and I received his bullet in my bare chest without a sigh and with Rama's name on my lips, only then should you say that I was a true mahatma."

This pronouncement was at 10:00 pm on 29 January 1948. At about 5:10 pm the next day, he got his wish.

Parting shot: "My respect for the Mahatma was deep and deathless. ... and therefore on January 30, I bowed to him first, then at point blank range fired three successive shots and killed him. " (Nathuram Godse's statement in the court of Mr Justice Atma Charan, Red Fort, ibid, page 639)

Related posts: The Mind of MK Gandhi http://digbig.com/4xrdn. The more, the less sexier. http://digbig.com/4xrdp. Celebrity revisited. http://digbig.com/4xsbf.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Operation Clean-up.

At 233 Khetwadi Main Road http://tinyurl.com/48tnw4 when I was a child, the bathroom to the back of the house on the west side used to be reserved only for washing the cooking utensils. That time, coal was used for cooking and heating the bath water. http://digbig.com/4xrss. The coal ash was collected and stored. It was then used for scrubbing the cooking utensils. As my mother used to use grated coconut as well as coconut milk in the many delectable dishes she cooked, at least one coconut was cracked open every day. The fibre off the shell was used as the scrubbing pad or sponge. On the window ledge of the wash room, there used to stand a brass pot filled with ash and topped with a bit of the scrubbing fibre. I keep remembering me watching our family retainer scrubbing the pots and pans over his shoulder and sometimes offering to join him. I was never granted my wish. Little did I realise then that, some day in the far future, I would finally be granted my wish minus the coal ash cleaning powder and the coconut fibre scrubber. Instead, we would graduate up to Vim or Pril and plastic fibre scrub pads. In contrast, I have tumbled downhill from silver tongue cleaners to plastic or stainless steel ones over the same time span. http://digbig.com/4xrsy.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The end of the civilisation as we know it draws nigh.

A reporter once asked Gandhi http://digbig.com/4xrpt what he thought of the Western civilisation. It would be a good idea, he quipped. http://digbig.com/4xrmw. In December 1991, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics disintegrated. The West exulted over the triumph of Capitalism. Marx had said that the capitalist state would "wither away" eventually, "due to its own internal contradictions". What had come to pass instead was the exact opposite. The world also watched China turning to "brutal" state or authoritarian Capitalism around the turn of the century. This faithfully replicated the early development of Capitalism in Europe. There, except in the 17th-century Netherlands where democracy was confined to propertied liberals and did not include workers, all other nations were ruled by near-absolute monarchies with sufficient muscle to create ideal conditions for the emergence of Capitalism by forcible expropriation of the common people, turning them into the proletariat and then teaching them to accept their new lot. http://digbig.com/4xrnk & http://digbig.com/4xrpr. Come mid-September 2008, Marx's prophecy about the internal contradictions of Capitalism (remember last year's sub-prime debacle in the US, too?) seemed to have been fulfilled the world over. Ironically, the bailout of the American financial entities, caught in the derivatives' trap, by the US government resembled what a socialist state might have done. For a while now, alarm bells have been sounding about Barack Obama's Marxisant tendencies and radical past. http://digbig.com/4xrnr. Does it mean that, should he get elected come 4 November, he may proceed to deconstruct the Homeland of Capitalism and turn it into a post-modernist albeit Marxist dystopia? Will Marx and Engel have the last laugh? Do not watch this space for the answer.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Celebrity revisited.

Celebrity is sexy. Fame is sexy. Brawn is sexy. Brainy is sexier, though. When did you find out this secret, Mr Gandhi? Was it on 13 January 1897 as you stepped down at 5 p.m. on to the quay at Durban from the quarantined SS Courtland? To face, as it turned out, the mob waiting to nab the defender of the immigrants on board? "Let us teach the bloody coolie a lesson he won't forget in a hurry," they were shouting. Your arrival in their midst was greeted by a volley of abuse, bricks, stones, rotten tomatoes and eggs, yes? Your back to the railing literally, you escaped by the skin of your teeth, thanks to the brainy Mrs Alexander, the Police Superintendent's spouse, who showed great presence of mind and exceptional skill at wielding an open parasol while her honourable husband distracted the rioters by his passionate rendition of the then top o' the pops: "Hang ol' Ghandy on the sour apple tree". Mrs Alexander's resourceful husband once again saved the day and your life, didn't he, God bless his ever lovin' soul!, when you were besieged in the house of the excellent Mr Rustomjee later on in the evening? On 22 January, you sent a personal note of thanks and a gift in appreciation of the kindness shown by the couple, didn't you? Barely two days later, you magnanimously declined to prosecute your persecutors saying you wanted the matter to be dropped. Good ol' Ghandy ain't so bad, after all. Mahatmahood is sexy, eh, Mr Gandhi? (32, pages 50 - 51, The Last Gandhi Movie)

"I read a newspaper cutting sent by a correspondence to the effect that a temple has been erected where my image is being worshipped," wrote Gandhi. "This I consider to be a gross form of idolatry." Funny remark to come from a man who opened on 8 May 1913 a Hindu temple in Verulam, South Africa, and defended idols in an argument with Tagore much later in the presence of Andrews, an old associate from the South African days. Gandhi's argument was that the masses were not capable of absorbing abstractions. Tagore was opposed to the condescending attitude that grown-ups should be treated as children in the matter of mental age. Gandhi illustrated his point by citing the flag as an example, saying that it gave a concrete shape to a concept like nation and that great things had been achieved in Europe by so doing. Gandhi did prove his point by becoming a much worshipped idol in India. Why the protest then, Mr Gandhi, when it was too late to undo the harm? (42, page 68, The Last Gandhi Movie)

When did Gandhi become 'Mahatma'? Maybe, the first time he was so described was at a reception accorded to him in his native Kathiawar in January 1915. A month later, Tagore so addressed him in a letter. By the time Nehru met him for the first time in 1916, the halo was firmly in place. It took another five years, though, for him to exchange his Kathiawari cloak and turban for his trademark loincloth which he did in holy Varanasi. He had vowed in the last lap of his South African sojourn, to remain celibate for life in 1906 when he was thirty seven. At about the same time, his ideas about satyagraha (firmness for a good cause) were firming up while he was grappling with the South African crisis. It was also around this time that Gandhi decided that he must embrace voluntary poverty apart from celibacy. He wrote to his elder brother, Laxmidas, saying he was no more interested in worldly possessions. Mahatmahood was already creeping up on him stealthily. Later on, when he visited Europe and called on King George V, George Bernard Shaw, Charlie Chaplin and Romain Rolland, Gandhi impishly remarked: "You people wear plus-fours, mine are minus-fours." He was in his loincloth, it goes without saying. And, there was a twinkle in his eye and not an iota of malice in his heart. (38, pages 61 - 62, The Last Gandhi Movie)

Related posts: The Mind of MK Gandhi http://digbig.com/4xrdn.
The more, the less sexier. http://digbig.com/4xrdp.

The more, the less sexier?

I recently read somewhere a Brad Pitt interview where he had said that Jesse James was one of the earlier celebrities in America in the times of Mark Twain. Then celebrities used to be few and far between. He was talking in the context of his latest film, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford". He added that, even in those days (at the cusp of the 19th and the 20th centuries), there were tabloids and a lot of sensationalizing and hype. Remember this is "the apex of celebrity" http://digbig.com/4xrch talking (Brangelina, no less). He ought to know. What he was saying in fact is that now that there has been a celebrity population explosion, being a celebrity does not have the same value it used to have in the times of Twain and the James Brothers. It has been considerably devalued like the rupee or the dollar. Remember, though, that in those days, the population of the US of A was a mere 76,094,000, according to the US Census. http://digbig.com/4xrcj. It quadrupled to 305,397,000 by 2008. http://digbig.com/4xrck. Common sense suggests that the demand for celebrities must have gone up too, what with the population of tabloids and fanzines and fan websites having soared up as well. In other words, there being more worshippers, there is a demand for more icons in every conceivable field: movies, theatre, ballet, television, music, sport, fashion, literature, art, science, you name it. This may sound like specious reasoning, come to think of it. Speaking for myself, celebrity antics leave me cold. But then I am in the minority. When I look at the way celebrity gossip is manufactured and lapped up and celebrity is used to sell products, though, even I have to agree that celebrity is here to stay for a long, long time to come.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Whatever happened (in alphabetical order) to Alton, Babs, Estelle, Frank, Helen, Morty and Uncle Leo?

They all appeared briefly on Seinfeld, "the show about nothing" http://digbig.com/4xqyq, sometimes as briefly as in one or two episodes and got their share of 15 minutes of fame. Alton Benes, war veteran and celebrated author in the Hemingway mold was the father of Elaine Benes http://digbig.com/4xqyp. Elaine appropriately enough worked as a manuscript reader and editor with various New York publishers. Alton terrorised Jerry, "the funny guy", and "gay" George, in the lobby of a venerable downtown hotel "for people who like leather couches and leather patches on their elbows". He also contributed to the utter ruin of Jerry's new and horrendously expensive soft suede jacket by refusing to take a cab to reach the Pakistani restaurant five blocks away from his hotel although it had started to snow by the time Elaine joined them. Babs, Kramer's mom, finally revealed to us his first name, Cosmo, which he had been refusing to divulge all along. She, an ex-alcoholic, was also caught in a heavy petting session with Jerry's nemesis, Newman. Estelle and Frank made the life of their son, George, a living hell. Estelle read his mail routinely because "I'm curious" and castigated him for "treating his body like an amusement park". Frank could never get over the perversity of a rooster having sex with all the chickens in the roost. Helen, Jerry's adoring mom, was always wondering how anybody could not like her son. She was also a severe critic of the dress sense of her husband, Morty. He was something of a wimp and a damp squib although he was into the Florida condo politics in a big way. He was the only parent who called Kramer "Mr Kramer" while Kramer slapped him on the back and called him Morty. Finally, an honourable mention for Uncle Leo who held Jerry's elbow every time he could corner him and waxed eloquent about the newest achievements of his son Jeffrey who worked for the Parks Department "like he split the atom" in Jerry's own words.
Take a bow, Larry Richards and Jerry Seinfeld.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The mandolino guy.

With his little mandolino
And a twinkle in his eye
Senorinas he can win
Always for another guy.

I don't quite remember when I heard this Dean Martin number for the first time. http://digbig.com/4xqnq. Apparently though, the way he crooned it, the listener was supposed to feel a twinge of pity and remorse for the poor mandolino fellow. He always won the fair senorina for another guy, capiche? http://digbig.com/4xqnr. It was very unfair, though, that the fair senorina did not feel a twinge of attraction for the guy serenading her with the mandolino. Instead, she directly transferred her affection to the suitor who was hiring the mandolino guy for the price of a cigarette and a glass of vino. I guess the world is an unfair place, always has been, always will be. If you scroll down the lyrics, you will find that, in spite of all the unfairness, the aforesaid mandolino guy was quite a happy soul. He had no woman of his own (I guess he was practical: he realized that he didn't have the wherewithal to support her expensive tastes). He continued to sing a song of sweet romance for all the lovers on the dance floor. If you continue to suspend your disbelief willingly long enough and go along with the songwriter's scheme of things, you'll discover that the mandolino guy did not lose hope for the future. While he sincerely did the job he was hired for, his eyes were always seeking his one true love whom he toasted every time he raised his glass of vino. Heaven help them, though, if they found each other unless, in the meanwhile, the mandolino guy had stumbled upon a way to earn a handsome living.


She was my sister's college friend. A fair-skinned Goan Hindu with delicately etched features, she wore her nearly auburn hair trimmed short in a bob and lived with her mother in a huge elegantly furnished apartment on Laburnum Road, off Hughes Road. Even in my child's eyes, she seemed to have a mysteriously wicked air about her. Her disappearance was equally mysterious, sudden and without a trace. But while she was still around, she was probably the best coiffed, the best groomed, the best dressed creature I had ever seen. She had a weakness, I guess, for bouncy georgette and chiffon 6-yard saris in pastel hues. Even in those days, she used to drape the sari quite low off her waist as is all the rage now. Whenever she visited 233 Khetwadi Main Road http://tinyurl.com/48tnw4, I used to virtually devour her with my eyes. It didn't seem to bother her much. She chided me about it gently once or twice, though, almost as if it was all a big joke. She was my first childhood crush, I guess. The next one was a dumpy and dark English teacher in the first grade. I adored her for the way she taught me English. She was, I think, largely responsible for instilling the love of the language in me. http://digbig.com/4xqnp. The third one was another teacher, a fair and short damsel with sparkling eyes, who taught me in middle school. Almost every day, I used to watch her avidly from our terrace when she walked to and back from school.

The bedroom shrine.

In a certain bedroom I recently happened to be in while on a sick visit, there is a compact wooden shrine just behind where I was sitting. In it, there were the pictures inter alia of (1) Rama, Sita and Hanuman; (2) Krishna playing his flute; (3) Ganesh; and (4) Lord Vishnu in his virat swaroop of which he spoke to Arjuna in Bhagvadgita. http://tinyurl.com/4tqt89. There was also a pindi with a abhisekh patra (water sprinkler) hanging over it. In addition, there were idols of a flute-playing Krishna, Ganesh and several other deities. The shrine took me back to the sitting room of a guru my mother used to visit for a while. http://tinyurl.com/6592m5.
He used to stay right on the sea face in the basement of a house up the Walkeshwar Road. His shrine in dark mahogony (if memory serves) too was cluttered with lots of pictures and idols. He sat in front of it chanting mantras and answering the queries of his devotees like my mother. From his balcony, you could see the whole of Marine Drive on your left and the Governor's House on your right. What I found most enchanting about the place was the fact that the Arabian Sea used to reach very close to the balcony at high tide. The sound of the waves ebbing and flowing had a soothing rhythm to it. The guru and most of his visitors seem completely oblivious to the beauty of the here and now, though. They were concerned more with what was going to happen in the future and what the portents predicted.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


One of the most ingenious though infantile (ingenuous?) American invention is the caped and/or masked super hero. I think they haven't received enough kudos for it. Equally ingenious is the way they've abbreviated "building superintendent" to "super". This factotum is in charge of the smooth running of the facilities (water, power, electricity, waste disposal, elevators, washing machines) in a building and, in turn, for the comfort and well being of the residents. He often resides in the basement to be within easy call 24/7 and has with him all the tools and implements he may need to accomplish his various tasks. Many of the more popular super heroes too, coincidentally, reside underground and emerge to the surface to answer the call of duty. (Remember Batman answering the Bat-signal's summons and speeding to the rescue from the Bat Cave in his Batmobile?) To equate "super" with "saviour" reminds me of Vishnu, the Preserver/Saviour, in his functionally appropriate avatara coming to the rescue of his devotees (acolytes, fans?) and delivering them from the clutches of the evildoers. http://tinyurl.com/4tqt89. In the US of A, the house where Superman was "created" was recently saved for restoration thanks to the fans' generosity. http://tinyurl.com/3t9v4d. They do believe in and love "Super", don't they?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Mind of MK Gandhi.

I've always thought highly of MK Gandhi. My unpublished novel, The Last Gandhi Movie, has him as the thematic pivot. I recently read Girja Kumar's BRAHMACHARYA Gandhi & His Women Associates. It perturbed me and gave me serious misgivings. This narrative is based mostly on Gandhi's own writings. In it, the so-called Mahatma comes out as manipulative, pathologically obsessive about sex and sin as well as power-crazed. His logic sounds circuitous, serpentine and often self-contradictory and specious, at times even inane. He apparently played God with the lives of those close to him. He was too intrusive and interfering. His charisma was undoubtedly legendary. If he was obsessive about truth, how come he said/wrote different versions of an event to different people? If he was a god-fearing person, how come he believed the worst of his friends and associates time and again? Also, he was in the habit of praising a person to high heaven for a while and then suddenly cutting the ground from under her feet. He was so deeply involved in and on the centre stage of national politics for most of his adult life. How then did he find the time, the emotional resources and the energy to behave like a virtual puppeteer controlling the lives of those in his fold and under his care? All this seems nothing short of weird to me. His tryst with brahmacharya too is an enigma. He seemingly had an extreme revulsion for sexual intimacy. There was a deep emotional scar left on his psche by his failure to be present at his father's bedside at the moment of his death because he was partaking carnal pleasure with his wife. This is usually trotted out as the reason for his guilt feeling. This reminds me of what Aldous Huxley wrote in Proper Studies: "Defined in psychological terms, a fanatic is a man who consciously over-compensates a secret doubt." And: "An intellectual is a person who has discovered something more interesting than sex." (Attributed by Peter J. Mayhew in Discovering Evolutionary Ecology: Bringing Together Ecology And Evolution. Also attributed to Edgar Wallace. http://digbig.com/4xypc.) In tandem, both seem particularly apt in Gandhi's case. Maybe, Gandhi was a bit like George III in Alan Bennet's dramatic and cinematic versions of his life. In a group reading of Shakespeare's King Lear in the asylum, he suddenly realised why others thought him mad and regained his sanity. http://tinyurl.com/3hqeev. Time for yet another of Huxley's accidentally Gandhi-centric pearl of wisdom (this time from Texts & Pretexts): "Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him. It is a gift for dealing with the accidents of existence, not the accidents themselves." On this score, maybe Gandhi was found wanting. And, what about the persistent speculation about Gandhi's tantric leanings as reflected in his brahmacharya experiments with his women associates as guinea pig? There is a cogently reasoned study by Nicholas F. Gier, Professor Emeritus, University of Idaho, Was Gandhi a Tantric? http://tinyurl.com/4qdcg2 which nearly convinces one of the likelihood. After reading Girja Kumar's book, taking Gandhi at his own words seems a bit dicey to me. Even if we find him innocent of prurience, we cannot always believe in the consistency of his utterances. Dr Sushila Nayyar told Ved Mehta that "brahmacharya" was a latter-day invention of Gandhi to ward off criticism of his interaction with his female intimates. Earlier, she used to sleep naked with him for reasons of nature cure (p.41 of Girja Kumar's book). What can we make of all this? Perhaps, the answer is as simple as the moral of this Zen tale. Nan-in, a Japanese master of the Meiji era, received a university professor who came to enquire about Zen. When serving his guest tea, Nan-in kept pouring even after the cup overflowed. The professor after watching could contain himself no more: "The cup is overfull. No more will go in." Said Nan-in: "Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions and speculation. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?" Milord, I rest my case.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ten. Far better than Tolkien.

Lord Vishnu sounds like quite a brainy god. Look at the functionally appropriate forms he assumed in his dasavataras or ten reincarnations. In other words, if the task was, say, to bring up a sinking earth from the depths of the ocean, he would promptly become a tusked boar. My first introduction to it was as a child when we used to chant the Dashavatara Aarati to my khelacha (play) Ganapati at 233 Khetwadi Main Road. http://tinyurl.com/4ywmwm. Lord Vishnu, the Preserver in the Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh Trinity, would arrive among his true believers (bhaktas) having assumed what I described earlier as a "functionally appropriate form" to restore the balance between good and evil, he told Arjun in Bhagvadgita (iv, 7 -8). http://tinyurl.com/3jb5xb. When the asuras stole the Vedas, Vishnu assumed the form of a fish (matsyavatara) to save Manu, the primordal human being, from the Great Flood. In the kurmavatara (Vishnu as tortoise), he carried the sinking Mount Mandara on his back during the churning of the ocean to find the divine nectar, the so-called amrit. Enter Hiranyaka next. This demon misbehaved or sinned so much that the earth was unable to bear the load of his wrongdoings and literally did the sinking act. The ever-alert Preserver immediately put on his tusked boar form (varahaavatara) to prevent the calamity. Another demon king with a similar-sounding name, Hiranyakasipu, his twin brother, terrorised the devotee Pralahada. The Preserver had no option but to assume narasimhavatara (the man-lion form) because the perpetrator of the atrocities had a boon that he could be killed by neither man nor animal. A combo could however do the trick. A part of the boon also was that he could not be killed on land, water or air, in day or night, inside or outside his abode. So, Vishnu placed him on the man-lion's lap (neither land, water or air) at dusk (neither day or night) and at the entrance of the house (neither inside nor outside). The first four distinctly anthropomorphic avataras were in the satya or krita yuga. The next four happened in the treta yuga and the dwapara yuga. http://tinyurl.com/4r9g3e. The fifth avatara was the dwarf son (Vamanavtara) born to Kashyapa, one among the Saptarishis, and Aditi, the daughter of Agni, the Fire God. I wrote about his conquest of the all-powerful King Mahabali here: http://tinyurl.com/4p6btu. Vamana tricked him into surrendering his kingdom comprising heaven, earth and underworld by requesting for a plot of land admeasuring his diminutive three steps to which the generous king readily agreed. Vamana then regained his viraat swaroop (the original gargantuan form) and occupied the entire kingdom. (By the way, Mahabali happened to be the fourth direct descendent of Hiranyakasipu. Please see above.) So far, the Preserver was involved with fighting the demons. The sixth avatara (Parsurama) though, went after the human Kshatriya warriors. And, that too twenty one times. Yes, twenty one. They must have been up to big mischief, to be sure. In the next two episodes of Ten that reputedly took place at the cusp of the treta yuga and the dwapara yuga, Vishnu switched back to looking after the humankind as Rama who got rid of the ten-headed rakshasa, Ravana and Krishna who did likewise to Kamsa. Lord Buddha is most likely the next avatara in which case it occured in the kali yuga. Not everybody agrees with this version, though. They take Balarama, elder brother of Krishna and slayer of several demons in the dwapara yuga, as the holder of that honour. Avatara No. 10 Kalki is likely to come into the world on a magnificent white stallion when the kali yuga is about to end. Some people believe it will happen in 2012 A.D. http://tinyurl.com/47ug4c. His mission statement? Destroy all the mleccha. http://tinyurl.com/3k26td & http://tinyurl.com/46b6lp. Free the world from the clutches of Kali, the very embodiment of strife. Re-establish the perfect dharma. Inaugurate a new time cycle of existence with a brand new satya yuga.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Curl up in bed with a good book.

This morning, Ujwal was desperately looking for old issues of The Reader's Digest. I asked her why. The reason startled me. A Grade 8 student of hers attending an ICSE school had been asked to write a book review. The condition was the book should not be a "classic". Ujwal was trying to help her find a "book digest" that was appropriate to her level and that she could manage to read over the weekend and write a review of. This is unconscionable sadism on the English teacher's part if you ask me. An 8th grader who probably reads only school books, that too under extreme duress as likely as not, and spends her leisure avidly watching the Idiot Box and gossiping about Hritik Roshan and Salman Khan should not be asked to write a book review. To be a book reviewer, you have first to be a book lover and a book reader. When she was here this summer, I listened to Avantika blithely complaining about having to read Hemingway's The Snows of Kilimanjaro and the review she had been asked to write in school. When I ribbed her about Ernest being the greatest American writer and a Nobel Prize winner no less, she didn't seem overly impressed. If you must teach a contemporary 8th grader writing skills, please teach her how to write a better SMS, text message and email. If you must make her write reviews, please ask her to review the latest soaps and movies. I could go on and on foaming at my mouth on the subject. Instead, I will direct you to my earlier pearls of wisdom cast here: http://tinyurl.com/4votxp.

P.S.: By the way, for people like me who actually curl up in bed with a good book (my latest is Girja Kumar's BRAHMACHARYA Gandhi & His Women Associates), there is actually such a thing as a book specially printed sideways to make it easily readable in bed. http://www.bedbooks.net/. The only catch is, they have at present in print only "classics", maybe of the lapsed copyright kind.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Gauri comes calling.

When I was a child growing up at 233 Khetwadi Main Road http://tinyurl.com/48tnw4 Gauri Pujan used to be an annual occurrence there. It was all celebrated in the spirit of a married daughter of the house coming, after a long absence, to visit her parents for just a couple of days. It was more a social and family occasion than a religious ritual. No priest officiated on the avaahan (arrival), pujan (worship) and visarjan (departure) days. It was the Lady of the House and other womenfolk who did all the honours. I remember my mother http://tinyurl.com/6592m5 and others like an aunt, a cousin, even Ujwal after our marriage collectively placing and arranging the Gauri idol on a huge teakwood bajot set against the west wall of the passageway that divided our terrace flat in half. They all kept mum while they were doing it for what reason I could never fathom. Gauri's special zari saree was stored in its own black tin trunk. Her ornaments were kept in a brass grill-work oblong container with a lid. In my childhood days, my aunt from Khar and her daughters used to come and stay with us for three days. So I, a lonely child most of the time left to my own devices, had some company for a change. Naturally, I used to look forward to Gauri's annual visit. On the second (pujan) day, in the evening, women guests would arrive for darshan and were given prashad (two saffron- and cardamon-flavoured pedhas wrapped in thin transluscent cellophane specially ordered from Damodar Mithaiwala on Grant Road opposite the Novelty Cinema http://tinyurl.com/6rdcnx) and haldi kunku on the visiting daughter's behalf. It was an almost all-women affair except for a few exceptions made for the immediate family and friends - quite a gala occasion at 233 Khetwadi Main Road as I remember. I was allowed to skip school on that day. For a few years, I even used to have a khelacha (play) Ganapati for ten days. It was a silver idol with its own simhasan (throne) and chhatri (umbrella) and its own set of miniature silver puja paraphernalia all purchased from Mhaskar and Company http://tinyurl.com/5jfwdt on Girgaum Road where my mother shopped regularly and even had a charge account. I remember that, on one occasion, I created a miniature zoo with miniature animals, trees and stuff all from our in-house toy collection. On another occasion, it was a toy train on a ghat with a station on one side and so forth. Our second-floor neighbours, an extended Gujarati family, used to worship two Ganapati idols for 5 days. We used to go there for the evening aarati and also hold our own. Gauri ceased calling at 233 Khetwadi Main Road only after the death of my mother. http://tinyurl.com/6592m5.

Breaking "news".

Your correspondent has been boring you to distraction for quite a while with the Chronicles of The Mankars at 233 Khetwadi Main Road http://tinyurl.com/48tnw4. Now he has some "news" for you to get all breathless in Bombay (now Mumbai) about. It concerns the conquest of the Fort of Baçaim (later Bassein, now Vasai) by Chimaji Appa, a Maratha (Peshwa) General in February 1739. In the success of this expedition, Khanduji Mankar, a Pathare (Pratihar) Prabhu, and Antaji Kawale, a Yajurvedi Brahmin, were believed to have played a pivotal though unspecified role. The latter was even promised the jagir of Malad but, after Bajirao I's and Chimaji's death, the new Peshwa reneged on the promise and made life miserable for the Yajurvedi Brahmins and their associates, the Pathare Prabhus. The latter community migrated to Bombay and joined the service of the Company.

In Chapter 6 of Madame Helena Patrovna Blavatsky's From the Caves and Jungles of Hindostan (1879-80) http://tinyurl.com/5l3zb7, she wrote about visiting a Patara Prabhu household in the Bombay Presidency for an evening meal on a Monday (probably a shrawan Monday). A vegetarian menu, including panchamrit, a favourite of Ashu's usually included in a Pathare Prabhu marriage feast, was mentioned. According to her host, Sham Rao Bhaunathji, the Pathare Prabhus were Kshatriyas (warriors) and direct dscendents of Ashvapati (700 BC), a lineal descendent of Rama. Ashvapati was cursed, because of an unintended lapse, by Sage Bhrigu that all his progeny would perish. He, however, managed to get a part reprieve from the Sage and the Pataras became the Patans (the fallen ones) but did not entirely disappear from the face of the earth. She writes about how their current generation was living "by their pens" which is to say "occupying all the small Government posts in the Bombay Presidency, and so being dangerous rivals of the Bengali Babus since the time of British rule. In Bombay the Patan clerks reach the considerable figure of five thousand. Their complexion is darker than the complexion of Konkan Brahmans, but they are handsomer and brighter."

Blavatsky did not mention, indeed did not seems to be aware of, an alternative interpretation of the prefix Patan. It has been postulated http://tinyurl.com/6sacz7 that the prefix probably sprang from their hailing from Patan, Gujarat, and arriving in Bombay in the 13th Century during Raja Bhimdev's (or Bimb's) reign. Another theory by the art historian W E Gladstone Soloman http://tinyurl.com/3fnunj is that, in Marathi, Pathar means "table land" or flat land and these people occupying the plains of Rajasthan came to be known as Pathare Prabhus. Raja Bhimdev created twelve Kshatriya Lords (Prabhus) of the Solar Race with surnames like Ajinkya (= the invincible), Dhaiyarwan (= the courageous), Dharadhar (= the supporter of the earth), Dhurandhar (= the foremost), Gorakshakar (= the protector of cows), Jayakar (= the victorious), Kirtikar (= the illustrious), Kothare (= the administrator or manager of the store house/granery), Mankar (= the noble one), Nayak (= the leader), Rane (= the kingly lord) and Rao (= the noble lord). These surnames persisted even after they lost their warrior status and became minor officials under the Marathas and civilian officials under the East India Company. "If the sword had brought them glory, the pen now gave them wealth, and it is said that in the Eighteenth Century they were among the richest folk in Bombay." Around this time, the easy going and luxury loving Pathare Prabhus must have been nicknamed sokajis. http://tinyurl.com/3tx9dm. (The closest English equivalent for this tag is a bon vivant as well as a fop or a dandy.) Later in the British Raj, they held important offices in the Bombay Presidency as judges, educationist, lawyers, doctors, merchants, architects, artists and engineers. This account tallies with Blavatsky's.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Pathare Prabhus were reputedly the owners of prime properties in Mumbai: in Fort, on Palav (now Girgaum Road or Jagannath Shankarseth Marg), in Navi Wadi, in Laini (now Princess Street), on Girgaum Back Road (now Vithalbhai Patel Road), in Malad, Goregaon, Bhayendar, Kashi-Mira, Uttan, Uran, Kelve Mahim (now Mahim), Chene and a large part of Khar (West). They were also supposed to have built prominent Mumbai landmarks such as the Mahalaxmi Temple, Bhau-cha-dhakka (Ferry Wharf), Gora Ram Temple, Kala Ram Temple (both in Thakurdwar close to where I stay), Prabhadevi Temple (Mahim), Shri Ram Temple (Kalbadevi) and Kirtikar Market (Dadar). The Maheshwari Temple in Navi Wadi http://tinyurl.com/4grxkp (enshrining the Mankars' family deity) is believed to have a swayambhu (spontaneously created) idol. The one trait of the Pathare Prabhus mentioned by W E Gladstone Soloman http://tinyurl.com/3fnunj (p.49 ), the composing and singing of epithalamiums during the marriage ceremony, is something I can personally vouch for. Written in flowery and hagiographic Marathi, I have heard them at several weddings sung to the tune of the mangalashtakas (mantras solemnising the nuptials).

Finally, Dr Babsaheb Ambedkar wrote in Annihilation of Caste with a Reply to Mahatma Gandhi about the Pathare Prabhu's abandoning their custom of widows remarrying as follows:"At one time the Pathare Prabhus had widow-remarriage as a custom of their caste. This custom of widow-remarriage was later on looked upon as a mark of social inferiority by some members of the caste especially because it was contrary to the custom prevalent among the Brahmins. With the object of raising status of their community some Pathare Prabhus sought to stop this practice of widow-remarriage that was prevalent in their caste. The community was divided into two camps, one for and the other against the innovation. The Peshwas took the side of those in favour of widow-remarriage and thus virtually prohibited the Pathare Prabhus from following the ways of the Brahmins." http://tinyurl.com/4dp6lc.

Time out for a personal memory before closing: At one point in her narrative, Blavatsky wrote: "At the foot of a broad, carved staircase we came across a couch or a cradle, hung from the ceiling by iron chains." This sentence reminded me of the wooden swing we used to have in the central north-south passage way in our terrace flat at 233 Khetwadi Main Road. It was rectangular with horizontal slats, made of teakwood most likely. It hung from a special beam halfway from the ceiling - I have no clue if it had been there before we moved to the flat or not, though considering that the building was originally built and owned by an Arab diamond merchant, it's more than probable that it predated us there. The swing had four brass chains. One more thing I remember about it is that it had an almost identical twin in my uncle's ground floor flat facing the Roxy Cinema http://tinyurl.com/6hfxxx where I was born. Our swing used to be my make-believe Deccan Queen. I used to play a game of Bombay to Poona on it all by myself, varying the speed and the sweep of the swing depending on whether the Queen was running on level ground or doing the ghat gradients.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Best of Enemies.

I don't know why enmity was so widely and avidly practised by the Aryan denizens of The Mahabharata. It's astounding how most of the principal characters had prima donna tendencies: quick to take offence, quick to anger, quick to feel envy, quick to seek revenge and retribution. The higher-caste ones, Brahmin and Kshatriya, were remarkably similar in this respect. They would do just about anything for power, glory, fame and all that jazz. To my mind, the only totally harmless and thoroughly well-meaning character was the low-born (suta putra) Vidura, the half-brother of the defective duo: blind Dhritarashtra and impotent Pandu. The poor fellow would have most likely made an able and just ruler. But just because his mother was of suta extraction, he was denied the throne. He looked after the Pandavas and, in their absence, after their mother, Kunti. The other (mock) suta putra, Karna, was of course a thorough scoundrel of the first order. He was the one who provoked the Kauravas to disrobe Draupadi in the royal assembly, saying that any woman who married five men was no better than a whore. This was after Dharma had gambled away everything the Pandavas owned in the dice game master-minded by Shakunimama. What's more, Karna was no match for Arjuna as a couple of instances before the Great War amply proved. Drona, a Brahmin turned Kshatriya, was the tutor of martial skills for the royal cousins, the Kauravas and the Pandavas. He got Arjuna to vanquish King Drupad because, earlier on, the latter, who was his fellow-student and a close friend, had insulted him when he went to his court seeking his patronage. Thereafter, instead of ending the feud there and then by reminding Drupad of the error of his ways, he deprived his former friend of half his kingdom. In the best of the Mahabharata vein, Drupad promptly worshipped Agni and asked for a son who would avenge him. Out of the ceremonial fire emerged the fully grown twins, Dhrishtaduymna and his sister, Draupadi. The themes of greed and hate, retribution and revenge, oneupmanship, jealousy and envy keep recurring in the epic. There was also the pastoral Aryan lifestyle being forcibly imposed on the native Nagas, very much reminiscent of what is going on even today in India. If there is a moral to the story, it is probably the following. Learn not to take offence. Learn to keep anger in check. Avoid violence. Eschew greed. Learn to compromise. Learn to control your tongue. Maybe, I'm looking at it through a post-modern pair of glasses, though. (By the way, "Maya", the previous post, is also about The Mahabharata. http://tinyurl.com/5suent)

Friday, September 05, 2008


The first thing my son Ashu said while giving me his copy of The Palace of Illusion was: "I wish somebody would make a movie of it."

After having read it, I couldn't agree less.

While there's plenty of spectacle, action and drama in Chitra Banerjee Devakaruni's novelisation of The Mahabharata - in other words, what a shrewd filmmaker looks for in a novel before deciding to make a movie of it - most of it "happens" in Draupadi's mind. How do you show it except, maybe, using the current by-now already clichéd device of switching to (say) black and white footage from full colour to depict what she "saw" in her mind's eye?

Not good enough, if you ask me.

While the event horizon of the novel broadly resembles the Vyasa epic's, Devakaruni's reference point seems more in the vicinity of Dr Irawati Karve's Yuganta: The end of an epoch. She mentioned it as one of her secondary sources in a recent Sunday Mid-day interview. Chapter 7 of Yuganta, by the way, is about Mayasabah, "The Palace of Maya".

The closest a movie can come to a book is by suggesting instead of actually showing. Alfred Hitchcock knew this well. He never forgot the unique movie screen and projector each one of us possesses. His was the conjuror's art.

This is the kind of stuff The Palace of Illusion and The Mistress of Spices are made of. When you read them, you can run your own movie in the privacy of your mind.

Just after I started reading The Palace of Illusion, I thought it was a bit overwritten. I changed my mind on that score soon enough. In fact, whenever push came to shove, I found Devakaruni at her deftest. She knows her craft really, really well. She knows when not to overdo it. She is the Mistress of Spices. And, of Illusions. She is the supreme sorceress of subtlety when it comes to story-telling. Draupadi's swayamwar, her disrobing, the 18-day war and its aftermath are all written with great restraint using the power of suggestion.

The Palace of Illusion, a Vyasa redux in one sense, makes light even of its load of Advaita sagacity. Try to remember that you are the instrument and I the doer, Krishna, her platonic boy friend, tells Panchaali when he comes to help her soul's final journey.

(By the way, I owe the Krishna="boy friend" equation to Dr Irawati Karve's Marathi eponymous essay written in 1970, the year of her death. She described how her son-in-law called Vithoba of Pandharpur her "boy friend" once after her return from her journey there. http://tinyurl.com/5h2tvq. It puzzled her first, she writes. On reflection, she found the descriptive tag appropriate. After all, had Vithoba (an incarnation of Vishu) not been called "mother", "father", "companion", "relative", "sweetheart" and the like? So what was wrong with "boy friend"?)

Earlier, when told to confirm if Sikhandi's narration of his past is true, Krishna says: “He believes it to be so. Isn’t that what truth is? The force of a person’s believing seeps into those around him – into the very earth and air and water – until there’s nothing else.”

In reply to Panchaali's final query Are you truly divine?, he laughingly replies: "Yes, I am. You are, too, you know!"

No drum roll. No trumpets. The world is maya after all.

Got it?

P.S.: Devakaruni's feminist and pacifist concerns make their presence felt throughout, though. For instance, the initiative taken by the women of the Pandava clan as well as Gandhari to rehabilitate the widows of the war is strongly reminiscent of Maitri, the helpline for Asian women in abusive situations that she established in 1991.

Afterthought: Avantika, 15, Ashu's younger daughter, a Digital Native from New Jersey, a good writer for her age but a lazy and reluctant reader, was given the first option on The Palace of Illusion by her dad before it was passed on to me. I hope she decides to read it someday soon.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The King and I. (Well, almost.)

I could not believe my eyes. The Honourable Finance Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (the authentic one as I found out by checking at http://tinyurl.com/5zthre) had taken the time and the trouble to write personally to me citing belief in the rule of law and transparency of the President of the Republic (also the genuine one as I found out by checking at http://tinyurl.com/2mcalf) and apologising for the damage caused by the previous government to me and my company vendours (sic) and asking me to verify the authenticity of the Power of Attorney, et cetera, et cetera and so forth. http://tinyurl.com/5vxwwa. Here's the truth, the whole truth and nothing but brought to you verbatim:


Wednesday, August 20, 2008 9:28 PM

From: Dr. Shamsuddeen Usman" shamusfmf2@live.com

To: undisclosed-recipients

Dr Shamsudeen Usman
The Honorable Minister ofFinance,
Federal Republic of Nigeria


Be informed that the report on your payment file this morning stated that so many people were interested on your payment and that was what brought about the confusion and all the attempts to divert your fund. Now, every thing regarding the tenure of our corrupt ex President Olusegun Obasanjo have been cancelled.

The new president Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'adua is a man that believes so much on the rule of law and transparency. We sincerely apologize to you and your company over all the damage caused by the government of Obasanjo to you and your company vendours. This is to inform you that MR. KHALED SAMIR and his Nigeria partner, MR. SADIQ ABDUL came to my office with a "POWER OF ATTORNEY" signed by you and a new bank account as stated below.

ACCOUNT # 1-277-0084
BANK ROUTING#:102000021A.

The "POWER OF ATTORNEY" requested for a change in the receiving bank account particulars and the federal ministry of finance is surprised because you did not inform us officially of the sudden change of the new beneficiary. Interestingly, they brought the "POWER OF ATTORNEY" and the charges for the change of bank account totaling US$550.00 (five hundred and fifty United States Dollars) only. But we rejected the money pending our clarification. On this note, we acted professionally and in accordance to the laid down rules and regulations of this ministry, I interviewed them but unfortunately I was not satisfied with the answers they gave which was not in line with the rules and regulations of this ministry as regard to change of account or beneficiary. I want to state here that the conduct of the two men became suspicious due to the unsatisfactory information they provided concerning this transfer, and as a result, I decided to give them (14 working days) appointment ahead to enable me make necessary verification from you and the appropriate authorities in the release of your fund. We have resolved to do that to avoid making wrong transfer. Please, kindly advise us appropriately whether the two men are acting on your permission and instructions or not. I am anxiously looking forward to receive your urgent response.Thanks for your anticipated co-operation.

Dr Shamsudeen Usman
The Honorable Minister of
Finance, Federal Republic of Nigeria

NOTE: Please make sure you include your contact number in your response.

Need I say more? By the way, I found no mention of the above quoted email received by me in my Yahoo mailbox as scam here: http://tinyurl.com/6hqktc.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Homophobic, I'm certainly not. I have nothing against homosexuals. In fact, I feel more of them among us would put a natural brake on the brainless, breathless breeding that's putting a lot of strain on Mother Earth's bounty. The HIV epidemic to which, from all available evidence, they seem to have made no mean a contribution too is known to slow down popularion growth in the sub-Sahara region of Africa. http://tinyurl.com/6f4kpg. Not only should the gays be allowed to crawl out of their closets, but they should also be allowed to live like the so-called normal folks: marry, raise families and all the rest. I'm all for Ellen DeGeneres, 50, tying the knot with her 35-year -old Australian steady. http://tinyurl.com/5vomt7. But I'm more than a bit cheesed off by glorified darzis and their fawning Queen Bee and assorted celebrity clients flaunting it like the eighth wonder on Page Three. http://tinyurl.com/6nlslj (please search for the 18 August 2008 issue after the page loads, then click on the title of the article ). Suddenly, these half firangis who spend the better half of their lives flying to London for shopping, if nothing else, have stumbled upon the imperious imperialistic injustice of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code imposed on us by the bloody Brits. Dr Anbumani Ramdoss who used to be a figure of ridicule till the other day http://tinyurl.com/6pffpw & http://tinyurl.com/5guqx9 is now their bosom buddy, nay a virtual soul mate. Bah! The hypocrisy of it all disgusts me.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Bad boy.

That I was far from the ideal son to my parents is now apparent to me. In fact, my performance on that score was far below par, nay dismal. I must have been pretty self-absorbed, insensitive and indifferent child. Take my knowledge of my parents' antecedents, for instance. All I know about my father's father is the name, Keshav. From hearsay, I know that his son spent his early life in Navi Wadi http://tinyurl.com/5b97y5. But that's about it. About the parents of my mother http://tinyurl.com/6c2lsy, whose maiden name was Manak Ajinkya, I'm totally blank. Her elder brother who lived opposite Roxy Cinema http://tinyurl.com/4m58jq apparently brought her up and gave her away in marriage. Her second brother, a qualified physician, had migrated to Great Britain probably at around the time of World War I. (This too I came to know much later in life accidentally when my mother asked Manna, my college friend, who was sailing to London for higher studies to try and trace her brother's whereabouts. He could not.) The third brother lived in Gamdevi with his family. Her younger sister, married and with three children, lived in Nowroji Street in her own house http://tinyurl.com/44dzbz close to where I live now. My mother studied in the Kamlabai Girls' School situated in the same street, opposite my aunt's house. It seems she considered aborting me because she was going to have a child pretty late in life http://tinyurl.com/6hfxxx but was persuaded not to do so by her friend and physician. (Just think of the huge opportinity of writing an angst-splattered tale of "The man who almost never was" I've let slip through my fingers!) As I was the only son in the family, I was over-pampered http://tinyurl.com/5pctle. My mother was involved, at almost every Hindu religious feast, with some puja-paath or vrata. She used to recite every now and then Shivalilamrut (Tales of Lord Shiva's Miracles), particularly the 11th Adhyay (chapter). We used to have Laghurudra and Satyanarayan Puja every other month or oftener. On Shravan Mondays and Shivaratri, I used to accompany her to the Shiva Temple at Babulnath. On the Ram Navmi day, we used to visit twelve Shri Ram temples. http://tinyurl.com/5plowr. Vata Savitri, Gauri Pooja, Diwali ... you name it. She used to do it. She also used to go to an astrologer as well as a Guru for a while. I remember there was a lot of fuss and furore when I touched the feet of this Guru on my mother's instructions at my thread ceremony. I did not have any friends to talk of till the end of my high school days. So, I used to accompany my mother wherever she went in the evening. After I started going out with my friends, my mother took my desertion of her in her stride. She was always generous, nay magnanimous, about my trespasses and transgressions. Even in her last illness when she was suffering from blood cancer and died on 28 July 1962 in Bombay Hospital, it was Ujwal (of whom both my parents were very fond) who took care of her. I abdicated my responsibilty as usual, owing probably to a fault line in my character. This pattern of behaviour has been repetitive. I have abdicated my responsibility as husband and as father as well and repeatedly. Remorse has been my companion for quite a while. There comes to mind, however, what Aldous Huxley wrote in his Preface http://tinyurl.com/6ft3yg to the 1946 reprint of Brave New World:

"Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoiong. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean."

So what amends should I be making?

At http://tinyurl.com/68wrzb (Aldous Huxley Recollected An Oral History page 83), Huxley's daughter-in-law/Matthew's wife, Ellen Hovde, recalls how both Aldous and Matthew refused to acknowledge that Maria Huxley, her mother-in-law, was dying of cancer. Maria who had watched over Aldous like a mother hen right from the day they were married found this denial very hard to take. On page 104, Theosophical Society's Sydney Field, a friend of the Huxleys, mentions the oft-quoted account of how Aldous read to his dying wife from The Tibetan Book of the Dead. After Maria's death, Aldous told his sister-in-law, Juliette Huxley, that Elieen Garrett, "a genuine medium", had contacted Maria who told her that she had been helped by what he had done for her in the dying moments. Was that how he made amends to her, I wonder?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Coffee table colossus.

The longer I live, the more clueless I get. Or, so it seems to me. I have no clue, for instance, about how large a book ought to be before it can look the world in the eye and say, "Hey, world! I'm an honest-to-goodness coffee table book." My query to The Guinness Book of World Records http://tinyurl.com/1lgy got no response. (By the way, if you're among those who think India has finally joined the world community, you should note the glaring absence of Hindi from the list of languages The Guinness Book of World Records offers its content in: English, French, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, German, Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese, Arabic, Turkish, Swedish and Portuguese.) The absence of a world record in coffee-table books really amazed me. Are not the desire to be a world record holder and the desire to produce a coffee table book birds of the same feather, if not identical twins? I'm an avid coffee lover but my revulsion to coffee table books admeasuring 300mm x 223mm with a 28mm spine is a matter of record: http://tinyurl.com/5eapkg. Every aversion like every rule has an exception, though. There has been in my possession for the last five years or so at least one coffee table book that I love to look at from time to time in spite of the fact that we do not own a coffee table to keep it on. It's Rock Scissors Paper : Design Influence Concept Image by the Japanese post-modern sculptor and graphic designer Takenbou Igarashi, admeasuring 300mm x 260mm. Most of its text is in Japanese. There is a bit of text in English dealing with his philosophy of graphic design couched in a very Zen kind of stilted lingo. Frankly, what's written there irritates me. But looking at the pictures calms me down. Most of the images are stunning, some positively beguiling. This book was gifted to me by a bookseller for whom I have done a fair amount of copywriting work from time to time. He imports art and other speciality publications. I have a sneaking suspicion he gave me this book because it was a slow- or no-moving item. That didn't really matter because he gave me an objet d'art worth looking at, worth admiration bordering on veneration. I'm grateful for the gift, never mind the motive. The other coffee table book that recently came into my possession is larger than life, even in the coffee table space (277.5mm x 370mm). It too is a gift inscribed with this handwritten dedication on the title page:

"For Deepak Mankar
In belated acknowledgement of
the influence he has been,
With respect and admiration for
his insight and precision.

Sd/- Rafeeq Ellias

Frankly, I am left wondering if I deserve this sort of a glowing tribute. The coffee table book, Rafeeq Ellias : Selected Photographs, though, deserves the highest tribute one can pay to the art of story telling via images. The images from ballet as well as the advertising-related images in it are veritable tale tattlers par excellence. The by-now clichéd One picture = a thousand words gets a new lease of meaning when you're leafing through this stunning visual voyage. The opening section has a series of portraits of larger than life people. And there in a split second you get the reason why this book had to be in a larger than life coffee table format. Here's the email rejoinder I wrote to my former colleague and comrade after receiving the precious gift:

"Your dedication message on the fly leaf of your fabulous book overwhelmed me as much as the power and the beauty of your work. Thank you very much for both. Regards,