Monday, June 30, 2008

Privileged, who me?

I have more than a sneaking suspicion that I saw myself as a member of the privileged class in my childhood. No, I did not know the exact phrase for the state I imagined myself to be in. The reasons for this self-delusion were simple. I was waited upon by a couple of servants, one of them an old family retainer. We had a car. Not many others we knew had one. We took an annual summer holiday either in Matheran or Mahabaleshwar. We also used to go occasionally to Pune, sometimes staying at the Morarjee Gokuldas Sanitarium opposite the Pune Railway Station and eating out at Dorabjee's and the Railway Restaurant managed by Brandons. Our train travel was by first or second class in a reserved coupé. We lived in a fairly spacious terrace flat at 233 Khetwadi Main Road. I did not attend a posh school, though, like Ashu and Abhi. My first school was bottom of the barrel. The second one was fairly respectable. We ate and dressed well. We owned a gramaphone to play 78 rpm discs and a Bush radio I had plenty of toys to amuse myself with We went to see a fair number of movies and plays. The illusion of living a privileged life stayed with me till the time I joined the Forward Market Commission on a measly salary of Rs.400/- a month after doing my Master of Commerce by thesis.; By and by, however, the scales fell from my eyes, as Pelham ("Plum") Grenville Wodehouse would have succinctly put it. What I should have realised is the so-called privileged status is ephemeral, like everything else in this world. Truman Capote would have most likely understood.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

My life as a DI.

I became a Digital Immigrant about 10 years ago when I began using a PC regularly circa mid-1998, learning to surf the Internet and to use email later the same year. I continued for a while the use of my portable typewriter but after a bit I abandoned it for my PC. (I graduated to a laptop used as a desktop only a couple of years ago.) Unlike many DIs, I did not get into the habit of printing emails I received or, worse still, getting someone else to print them for me. Even now, from time to time, I go into the "Did you get my email?" panic (landline or wired) phone call mode. But that's more because of the unreliability of the MTNL DSL connection than a lack of trust in the Internet. I have always been editing on the screen instead of on a printed copy. I don't drag people to my PC to show them an interesting website I've found. I mail them the url, instead. I'm not at all comfortable, though, with fast-moving video games. Twitch-speed is not within my ambit. Having been digitally undexterous all my life, I play slow stuff like solitaire. Slow downloads rarely upset me overmuch. I haven't learned to multi-task and parellel-process as yet, except maybe as far as listening to music while working at the PC. When it comes to a choice between television and books (the tree-cutting kind, not online), I go for the latter anytime. I don't care for a cellular phone, don't carry one. No faxing for me. Email has been as far as I go in online messaging. I haven't graduated to instant messaging. The spellings that go with it make me uncomfortable. In fact, the phenomenon of aliteracy (the inability to spell, punctuate and construct a sentence) bothers me. On a different note, I don't insist on bottled water like the Digital Natives do. I haven't taken in a big way to social networking although blog I do fairly regularly. For me, Google is both a noun and a verb (with a lower-case 'g'). Last August, I got a USB thumbdrive as a birthday gift. I use it rarely and sparingly. Recently, I got a basic iPod Shuffle also as a gift from Ujwal. I listen to Beethoven, Brahams, Tschaikowsky, Bach, Wagner and other classical masters as well as Glen Miller, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Noorjehan, Geeta Dutt, Mohamed Rafi and similar oldies on it. I'm beginning to accept that digital information is ephemeral (44% of websites vanish within a year) and democractic, not authoritative (Wikipedia, not Britannica). P.S.: There are, I reckon, only two born Digital Natives among the Mankars: Anika and Armaan. From recent personal observation, I would add that Aditi and Avantika too have, by their own efforts and interest, attained the DN nibbana by now. Bully for them.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Beloit College Mindset.

The Beloit College, Beloit, Wisconsin, in the midwest of the US, chartered in 1846, found an honourable mention in Loren Pope's best seller, Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools You Should Know About Even if You're Not a Straight-A Student (ISBN 0-14-029616-6) in 2000 "What Beloit turns out is a better, more effective person and one who tends to go on getting better...," writes Pope, 96, reputedly a fighter for colleges that have everything but Ivy League status. Beliot was also among the top 20% of the five benchmark categories measuring the quality of the student experience in the 1999 National Study of Student Engagement, one among only four to achieve this ranking. Last year, it was ranked 35th for "Best Value" and 61st overall, among liberal arts colleges. Its chief claim to fame since 1989, however, appears to be The Beloit College Mindset List written by Prof Tom McBride claiming to summarize the world view of 18 year-olds in the fall of the year of enrolment via a broad-based list of the experiences and event horizons of the students as they commence higher education. Some think The M-List is a marketing ploy or gimmick. Even so, it seems to have caught the imagination of the media. More important, it seems to have acquired the status of an HRD buzzword. And, what's ironical is that it has most likely earned Beloit a status better than or at least equal to an Ivy League school. Has it helped the school in attracting top graders, though? I have not a clue.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Decline and fall of the English language?

Maybe India-born Eric Blair, better known as George Orwell ("Every book is a failure."), fancied himself in the role of a prophet, if we go by his Animal Farm and 1984. As early as 1946, though, when the British were preparing to quit India more or less willingly, he had prophesied a bleak future for the English language in his essay, Politics and the English language. He saw "inflated style" ('..."a kind of euphemism" that hid the real meaning') and use of "swindle and perversions" as the chief villains. He was more perceptive than everyone else, I reckon, to see it coming so early on.

In Why George Orwell's Ideas Still Matter to Lawyers, Judith D. Fischer pinpoints the parallel themes of his Politics and the English language: (1) writers should use plain English; and (2) "euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness" prevent or conceal clear thought ("necessary for cogent analysis" in his own words). 1984, published in 1949, the portrait of a dystopia set thirty five years thence, has been described by Bob Hodge and Roger Fowler in Orwellian Linguistics as his "major work on language". Remember Big Brother, Thought Police, Newspeak, Doublethink, Doublespeak, War Is Peace, Ignorance Is Strength, Freedom Is Slavery (the last three Newspeak slogans illustrate what he meant by "swindle and perversions")?

Orwell's six rules of style for English writers relating to his first theme were:

1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you're used to seeing in print. (For him, clichés were to living English what crutches were to a leg. )

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. (In short, be succinct.)

4. Never use the passive when you can use the active. (There are two clear benefits. You clearly know who did what to whom, i.e. the identity of the actor. What's more, you need to use fewer words.)

5. Never use a foreign word, a scientific phrase or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. (About foreign words, Orwell wrote that a "mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details." Jargon is the specialised language of a particular field. For example, "void and of no effect", "give and bequeath", "whereas", "herein", "forthwith' and "aforementioned" are legalese, "lawyerisms" or legal jargon. Suggested alternatives: "Herein" = "in this document. "Forthwith" = "immediately. "Ab initio" = "from the beginning". "Ipso facto" = "among others". By contrast, "dictum", "habeas corpus" and "res ipse loquitur" are appropriate terms of art "conveying meaning more precisely and economically than ordinary English does".)

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. (The final, and the most important, rule: use your own discretion. Rely on common sense. Writing is an art. For best results, eschew formulae.)

Coming to Orwell's second theme ("avoid misleading and duplicitous language"), his objection was to political speech and writing calculated to deflect attention from the facts, even to "make lies sound truthful". The Party of Oceania in 1984 encouraged Doublethink, i.e., holding two contradictory ideas at once and forgetting (banishing from the mind) "whatever it was necessary to forget". Doublespeak is "the language that pretends to communicate but rally doesn't. ... that makes the bad seem good, the negative appear positive, the unpleasant appear attractive or at least tolerable." ("War Is Peace" = War keeps the Oceania public pacified.)

Orwell gave instances of political euphemisms from real life of his time designed to conceal the truth. For instance: "Pacification" = Bombing of civilian villages. "Transfer of population/ rectification of frontiers" = Ousting peasants from their homes. "Elimination of unreliable elements" = Imprisoning people without trial/banishing them to the Arctic to die in prison camps. The intent behind this coinage is to refer to things without calling mental pictures of them and to defend the indefensible.

Orwell's examples of meaningless words (i.e., vague terms intended to arouse positive emotions of which the user has his own private definition but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different) were "democracy", "freedom" and "patriotic". A recent "almost Orwellian" variation is the post-9/11 USA PATRIOT Act. The acronym was cleverly coined from the awkward mouthful "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism". The emotive terminology is obviously expected to deflect attention from the Act's encroachment of civil liberties.

A recent illustration of the Orwellian euphemisms intended to make the bad sound better (killing seem respectable, for instance) is the current common phrase "collateral damage" to connote killing, maiming and wounding civilians while attaching military targets.

Finally, "tort reform" where there is merely curtailment of tort liability without even-handed reform exemplifies the Orwellian "evasion" (= hiding a concept's real meaning, masking disagreements/controversies).

The English language is also being abused and misused for other than political ends. Hype rules the life in the globalised world. Ask John Humphrys. In his Beyond Words: How Language Reveals The Way We Live Now (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2006), his gripes are many. "The prevailing wisdom about language is that anything goes" is just one of them. The "new" (21st century?) vocabulary (semantics) bothers him no end. "Fun events", "deliverables", "silos", "product offerings" (of the US Army, no less), "empowerment", "passionate", "lifestyle", "awareness" and so forth turn him off. "Enjoy!" from a waitress instead of "Enjoy it!" makes his blood curdle. The decline and fall of formality in public life (Blair addressing him as "mate") makes him stop in his tracks. We're all doomed is his verdict. His row with Professor David Crystal via Her Majesty's Royal Mail reproduced here in selected extracts is "virtual linguistic character assassination", in the Professor's words.

These dudes are from the linguistic Mars (= United Kingdom), mark you. Wonder what lengths they would have gone to had they been on the linguistic Venus (= India) where English after her big comeback has to cope hourly with Hinglish?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Mannerisms, not manners.

If William of Wykeham's "Manners makyth man", also the motto of Winchester College and New College, Oxford, has a grain of truth, equally true for the Indian films of yore is the just-coined maxim: "Mannerisms makyth the hero". This profound truth dawned on me while watching a part of Humjoli (1970). This super-hit film had a totally ludicrous Jeetendra with his absurd mannerisms in the male lead. The other two Hindi film stars with distinct mannerisms who readily come to mind are Dev Anand and Rajesh Khanna. They were a bit more tolerable than Jumping Jack. Speaking of tolerance, the level of this rather rare quality in the Indian moviegoers of that era must have been phenomenal. Imagine accepting J as hero, buying a ticket and patiently watching him for two and a half hours. Of course, those were the Jurassic Age, pre-multiplex days. You didn't have to pay through the nose for the seat or the snacks. (And, of course, even in those days, the scalpers made avid moviegoers pay prices comparable to what the multiplexes now charge.) Going back to the forties, Noor Jahan too had to make do with timid, insipid, vapid costars. There's a story narrated by Naushad about how she used to make the timid Surendra Nath nervous while recording a duet with him for Anmol Ghadi. She would sing her portion of the song and, instead of yielding the mike to him and turning away, would keep staring at his face. For that matter, even Suraiya's leading men were equally uninspiring. Shyam, Suresh, Karan Diwan and Bharat Bhushan, to cite just four instances. In such cases the willing suspension of disbelief had mainly to be about the male lead, I reckon. P.S.: By the way, Humjoli (1946) starred Noor Jahan who also sang two fabulous songs Raaz Khulta and Phoolon Mein Nazar Yeh Kaun Ayaa which I simply love.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Irani Cafés and I.

Right from my childhood at 233 Khetwadi Main Road in South Mumbai to this moment, Irani Cafes have been a part and parcel (takeaway?) of my life. At least three of them from those good ol’ days are extant just a five- minute walk away from my childhood home which unfortunately is extinct. The closest to the now non-existent centre of my erstwhile existence, New Yazdani Restaurant, diagonally across Dreamland Cinema is now a liquor bar. This restaurant used to be a regular first port of call whenever I accompanied my father to the nearby Grant Road market, usually on a Sunday morning. I used to coax at least a rupee worth of boiled sweets out of him every time. A minute away from New Yazdani is Café Mazda Restaurant at the corner of Pauwala (literally unleavened bread maker) Lane and New Charni Road (now Raja Ram Mohan Roy Marg). I don’t remember ever stepping into this eatery as a child or as a grown-up, come to think of it. In the opposite direction on the same road at about the same distance is Cosmopolitan Restaurant & Stores at the junction of New Charni Road and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Road (earlier known as Sandhurst Road). We used to sometimes do emergency shopping there: eggs, butter, loaves of pau (unleavened bread) supposedly a Bombay specialty, khara (salted) biscuits and stuff like that. Its next door neighbour is Famous Pharmacy under the same Irani management. The distinguishing mark Cosmopolitan and Famous shared was Mr Muchchad (Rustom Khodabux Irani), the unsmiling but jovial man with a gargantuan moustache who worked behind the counter at both the places. We used to rib him about his proud possession. He took it in his stride unsmilingly.

The Irani Café we Mankars occasionally went to on weekends was Café Darayush, quite close to the Central Cinema. Now it is a liquor bar, restaurant, bakery, pastry shop, all-in-one. In those days (I’m talking 1940s), they used to serve home-made ice cream made in a hand-cranked ice cream maker. Darayush then used to have “family rooms” with swinging half doors allowing a measure of privacy to courting couples. Marathi short stories of that era have quite a few references to this feature of the Irani Café.

Later in the 70s, an eatery much favoured by courting couples as well as Blitz’s Rusi Karanjia was the open-air one storied Café Naaz on top of the Malabar Hill. Commanding an awe-inspiring panoramic view of the Queen’s Necklace, it used to serve piping hot mutton samosas to die for and even beer. Naaz closed just at the fag end of the last millennium.

Going back a few decades, though, guess what scuttlebutt of yore offered as the inside secret of the refreshing Irani chai? Opium lacing, believe it or not. About as convincing as the use of pau to pollute well water and convert those who drank it to Christianity, what?

That brings me to the all-time favourite Irani Café of mine. Café Excelsior opposite the New Excelsior Cinema near the Victoria Terminus (now Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus). Although they serve decent Mughlai and Chinese fare, my favourite dish there is the simple Mutton Sandwich which I take away often enough even now.

My other favourite takeaway Irani café is Sassanian for mutton and chicken puffs and garlic bread. I started frequenting it after the closure of Bastani opposite Kyani at Dhobi Talao where I used to buy this stuff earlier

If you’ve been wondering why this Bombay bloke has not mentioned even once brun pau (hard brown bread) smothered in maska (butter), the Bambaiya fad food for slumming preferred by the denizens of Page 3, the answer is he simply doesn’t fancy it. But somebody close to him does. Yes, whenever our son Ashutosh, who lives and works in New Jersey, drops in to see us, one of his must-visit spots is Sunshine Café at the junction of Babasaheb Jayakar Marg (Old Thakurdwar Road) and Jagannath Shankarseth Marg (Girgaum Road). That’s very close to where we live now. This restaurant with an attached beer bar also sells bread, eggs, butter, cheese, milk, pastry and so on. We shop there occasionally.

And, if you haven’t still had had your fill of my geographically, chronologically and palatably mapped memories, here is the parting shot. About eight months after I joined Everest Advertising (October 1976) situated in Kitab Mahal behind Café Excelsior, I fell ill. During convalescence, I grew a beard which is extant even today albeit in an abridged avatar. This is what came out of a close encounter of the real kind in an Irani café immediately after the said beard’s debut:

a case of mistaken identity
summarily dismissed

i met a woman
with gaps in her grin
mad enough to mistake
me for saint francis

my bald pate and beard
were the clues
she said

i soon showed her
the error of her ways
by refusing to grant
her the boon of a measly
cup of tea

surely i argued
saint francis’s munificence
cannot stoop
so low

P.S.: Famous last words supposedly heard in a Mumbai Irani café: “Khaya piyaa kuchch nahin. Sirf galas todaa. Barah anna.”] [“Ate-drank nothing. Only broke a glass. Collect 12 annas.]

Copyright © 2008 by Deepak Mankar. All rights reserved.

[This is my article posted at on 04.06.2008 reproduced here. At that website, you’ll find pictures relevant to the text as well.]

May your car never stall in the street.

Having just written about the pedal powered scooters, cars and bikes of my childhood, it's time to tell you about a hilarious song Suraiya & sang for the movie, Moti Mahal (1952), in which her co-star was Ajit of the much later Loin fame. What's wonderful about the song is the verve and comic timing with which she sang it. This is remarkable because she was known for her sad songs. I've translated this wonderfully happy song into English staying as faithful to the original text and true to the English idiomatic usage as possible.

May your car never stall in the street.
May you never have to stand helpless in the street.
May your car never stall in the street.

Clothes dirtied, face blackened
Never mind whether you're Suraiya (ahem!) or Madhubala (tra-la-la!)
The mightiest become the butt of a joke in the street.
May your car never stall in the street.

You crank the handle again and again.
Push the car again and again till you're light-headed.
She's virtually made mincemeat of you in the street.
May your car never stall in the street.

You feed her oil, top her water level.
To no avail, because the shrew's stone-hearted!
Cry your eyes out, remember all your forefathers in the street.
May your car never stall in the street.

The world is absolutely right.
Only she who runs deserves to be called a car.
A car with a puncture is akin to a bullock cart, no less.
May your car never stall in the street.

May your car never stall in the street.
May you never have to stand helpless in the street.
May your car never stall in the street.

I'm sure my rendering is nowhere close to the original Hindustani lyrics spraklingly penned by Mulkraj Bhakri and set to foot-tapping music by Hansraj Behl. The text I followed is on p.35 of Hit Filmi Geet, Suraiya compiled and edited by Ganga Prasad Sharma for Manoj Publications, Delhi.

I would like to end this post with a bit of Hindi film trivia. Suraiya and Madhubala were obviously big names by 1952. (This was the year I passed my SSC examination, by the way.) Suraiya was obviously the bigger of the two (she mock-coughed while singing her own name in the song in the second stanza). Mahal (1949) had already boosted Madhubala's popularity and star value. Coincidentally, Madhubala was to star six years later in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, the hit comedy that got its name from a line in the song above (the second line in the fifth stanza: "Only she who runs deserves to be called a car"). The back page blurb of the song book I mentioned earlier informs me that Suraiya used to do her daily riyaz with the help of a gramophone or phonograph. She would play a 78 rpm record and sing along. Suraiya acted with Prithviraj Kapoor & in Ishaara (1943) when she was 18. Later, she also acted with his sons Raj Kapoor in Daastan (1950) and Shammi Kapoor in Shama Parwana (1954). I was surprised to find out from the same source that she knew Marathi apart from Hindi, Urdu and Farsi. Like Noor Jahan, Suraiya could team up with any hero and still make a success of the film she had starred in. Phenomenal!

Monday, June 09, 2008

On the terrace.

At 233 Khetwadi Main Road, we lived in a huge terrace flat. The terrace in front was our cricket ground. It was also where we anchored the poles of our Bush radio aerial. The tiny strip of a terrace on top of the flat was used mainly for flying fighter kites. There were many more uses to which the terrace abutting the flat was put. Like drying stuff: home-made papad, just roasted seasamum seed before making the til ladoos, drying red chilli before grinding it on the hand-powered grinding stone, making sun-dried pickles, you name it. As for me, I used to sail paper boats in the rain water streams that flowed all over it. I also used to park and drive my pedal powered cars and scooters there the year round. I don't remember ever riding a tricycle up there, though. I did have a rather natty light blue topless car with a dark blue trim all around it. After having weathered two or three monsoons, it acquired several rust spots all over it. Though I cannot swear on it, I have a feeling that the first car was replaced by a red roofless one. I remember being pushed around in my car as well as furiously pedalling it in all around the terrace, eyes screwed up in concentration. After the pedal cars, I also owned a couple of scooters. The scooter was a rectangular platform with a wheel at each end and a handle attached to the turnable front wheel. You planted your left foot on the platform, gripped the handle with both hands and propelled yourself around with your right foot. I used to play-act a script with some sort of a super-powered, caped character in it. The scooter played the supporting role of my super-fast vehicle. When I was 12, a Middle Eastern friend of my father's, Mr Kazrani I think his name was, gifted me with a sleek green Clyde semi-racer bicycle complete with wire breaks and a dynamo-powered head lamp. I learned to ride it on our terrace. Later on, after adding gears to it, I used to ride it on the Marine Drive and even take it up to the Hanging Gardens in the summer holidays. I learned to drive after age 18 on the second family car: a red Renault 4CV.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Purely archival. In anticipation of certain arrivals.

Now that the Mankars from New Jersey are coming to visit us – Aditi will arrive on Saturday, 7 June; Ashu the following Saturday; Avantika and Nandini, Saturday following that – I serendipitously found an old piece I had written about their Kunuchacha on 5 March 2005 in my now defunct Hindustan Times column, column. I thought I would put it here in anticipation of the girls’ arrival. Read on.

Kunal, Avantika's – or Tika's as the "spunky monkey" likes to call herself these days – and Aditi's uncle won the Filmfare Best Director Award for HumTum on Saturday, February 26, 2005. February 26 also happened to be Tika's twelfth birthday. Kunal proved second time lucky on that very day. HumTum was his second directorial venture, you see, after Muzse Shaadi Karogi. We were all rooting for him, of course. He was telling Ashu and Ujwal and his mother Yash just a couple of evenings before the awards night that there was simply no chance of his winning. Maybe, that was his way of mentally preparing for the unknown. Do your best and be ready for the worst.

From what I've seen of him, I've always found him to be a cool, no-nonsense sort of a guy. Ashu was telling me that despite shooting his movies at exotic locations abroad, he never overruns his budget. When he received the Scene of the Year Award, Sonali Bendre mistook him for Kunal Das Gupta. Maybe he looked more a denizen of Bhadra Lok to her than the Mumbai-born Punjab-da-puttar that he is, a Kohli.

This, I reckon, is a symptom of how low profile he is. (For instance, Saturday's Bombay Times covered all the leading contenders but somehow overlooked him.) I'm sure Kunal will go places and – what's even more important – handle success humbly and diplomatically like the cool dude that he is. He has a good sense of humour, which gives him a sense of proportion too. And, he isn't the least bit hypocritical unlike most of Bollywood. Here at you'll find a bit about Kunal's next project.

P.S.: Kunal’s new movie, Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic, is due for an early release, I understand. He has smartly put an article on Wikipedia already . I’m sure he will be using all the social networks as well.


Ever wondered what rakish (ray-kish) meaning smart, sporty, flashy, breezy, jaunty, dapper, natty, debonair, dashing, snazzy, raffish, devil-may-care (according to Collins Essential Thesaurus 2nd Edition 2006 © HarperCollins Publishers 2005, 2006 cited by The Free Dictionary: looks like? All right. Follow me closely. Insert a Royal Wedding (1951) DVD into a DVD player. Press ‘Play’. Fast-forward to the scene where Fred Astaire, after accidentally bumming a light off her on the street, follows Sarah Churchill (right, Winston’s second daughter) to the theatre not knowing she is in his show, spots her among the actors waiting for the audition to start, asks an assistant to find out who she is and to start dancing. He then parks his butt on the back of the nearest seat in the auditorium and turns his torso slightly forward so can he watch her. Happy with her performance, he tilts his hat – there you go – at just the right rakish angle and grins rakishly. He has found love. Also, not to be missed is the Fred Astaire solo You're All The World To Me in which he literally dances on the walls and ceiling of his room. This optical illusion was made possible by a custom-made set quipped with mechanical rollers. Incidentally, Royal Wedding was directed by Stanley Donen who also co-directed and choreographed Singin’ in the Rain.

Which brings us to the second place to look for the perfect visual interpretation of “rakish”: the Broadway Ballet interlude in Singin’ in the Rain (1951). Here’s an account of it from my unpublished novel, The Last Gandhi Movie (pp. 28 -29):

“What a fabulously marvellous place for my hat to perch on?’ is the question writ large on Gene Kelley’s face as he glides to an abrupt halt on bended knees. He stares dumbfounded at his hat as it dangles invitingly from a green pump on an arched foot emanating from 1952’s sexiest stockinged leg emanating, in its turn, from Cyd Charisse’s emerald green-sheathed torso. Wow! This is what CC does in reply. She blows smoke through her nostrils with a half smile. She puts her hand on her hips. She elevates said leg, foot, pump and hat from a horizontal to a near-vertical position, sending all over collective BPs soaring in the bargain. Once Gene has retrieved his hat and his breath, she arises majestically from the chair she’s straddling to join him in an erotic – by the fifties’ standard! – rendition of the Broadway Ballet in Singin’ in the Rain. Born with an appetizing given name, Tula Ellice Finkles (for Pete’s sake) in Texas, this statuesque and icily chic combination of Scottish, Irish, French, English and Red Indian bloodlines had had ballet training that she put to good use in so many MGM musicals in the heyday of that genre in Hollywood. Va-va-vroom!, as Uncle Sam would eloquently put it. Me too.

Somewhere along the way in the action described above, Gene Kelley too does a Fred Astaire (whom he admired tremendously and co-starred with in Ziegfield Follies in 1946) with his hat, tilting it at a rakish, devil-may-care angle, if memory serves. Check it out.