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 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 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. 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"

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:

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. 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. 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. (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 & 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 But that's about it. About the parents of my mother, whose maiden name was Manak Ajinkya, I'm totally blank. Her elder brother who lived opposite Roxy Cinema 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 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 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 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. 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 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 (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 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: 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 clich├ęd 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,


Sign of madness.

Ujwal has been telling me that her mother used to say talking to oneself was a first sign of madness. If that were so, I wonder, what about all the Marathi playwrights of yore who used to make their characters talk to themselves or in asides to facilitate plot development? I'm sure this device is used by writers elsewhere even now. I remember in my childhood reading what used to be called natyachhata in Marathi, usually one-page monologues that unfolded a complete story, usually ironical and humouous. In other words, it was a sort of a capsule sitcom. Diwakar (Shankar Kashinath Garge), the pioneer of this dramatic genre, used to work as a clerk in Baroda. Later, he became the headmaster of the Depressed Class Mission's primary school in Pune and, afterwards, worked as a teacher in Pune's well-renowned Nutan Marathi School. One of his pieces was called Pant Meley, Rao Chadhley (When Pant died, Rao got promoted) told the story of a head clerk's death, the promotion of one of his subordinates to his post and the subsequent change in the latter's attitude and behaviour. In another little masterpiece, Wordsworthche Phulapakharu (Wordsworth's butterfly), the poet's fan waxes eloquent about the little creature's beauty but doesn't hesitate to promptly burn a bug he catches. In Eka Natache Atma Natya (An actor's soliloquy), the protagonist talks about the tragedy of an actor's existence and kills himself by swallowing poison. Similarly, Phatato Patang (A kite gets torn) is the dirge by a tattered kite of which the career ends when it is literally soaring at its zenith. Diwakar was a friend of the poets Keshavasut, Madhav Julian and Yeshwant. I remember studying their poems in school. He was also a member of the well-known poetry circle, Ravi Kiran Mandala. Apparently, Diwakar, a keen student of English poetry, found inspiration for his new genre from Browning's poems. Diwakar was a master of spoken everyday Marathi. There was nothing artificial or stilted about his language. Perhaps, Tukaram's abhanga "Words are the only jewels I possess, words are the only clothes I wear, words are the only food that sustains my life, words are the only wealth I distribute among people" aply describes Diwakar's contribution to literature. (I wrote about Tukaram's abhanga earlier here:

Friday, August 01, 2008

Are you what you eat?

Hmmm. Good existential question to flag off the 251st post of Pop Goes the Slop, eh? Time out, if you please, to let me chew the cud a bit before answering. Having ruminated to my heart's content if such a thing is possible, let me confess I don't know. But then when I was a pampered kid growing up at 233 Khetwadi Main Road in the late forties and early fifties, I used to be a very fussy and whiny eater. I hated almost all vegetables and loved mutton and fish. I guess in that respect I had taken after my mother. She too used to hate Mondays when we used to be vegetarians by her choice. By contrast, my father was not too bothered about what he ate. In fact, the ultimate imbecile who then was officiating as our family physician made him give up meat and fish and even advised him to have all his teeth pulled out in order to cure his urticaria. The net result? My father was left with his urticaria, a denture and a bland vegetarian diet for the rest of his life. Coming back to my own dietary eccentricities, there was an oft-told family tale about how I fell ill for no other reason except that my body could not tolerate the vegetarian-only meals at the hotel in Mahabaleshwar where we were staying one summer. Our usual hotel had no vacancy. Anyway, the upshot was that the family had to cut short the vacation and motor down to Pune. There, so goes the story, I had a hearty non-vegetarian lunch in the station's dining room run by Brandon & Company, if memory serves, and my health as well as my disposition were miraculously restored to normal. It was only in later life that I learned to eat vegetables with equanimity. Now while I enjoy mutton and fish immensely as before, the occasional vegetarian meal does not faze me. Given the food shortage that is staring Planet Earth in the mouth &, I reckon we should all learn to eat frugally whatever we get and be grateful for our good fortune in getting it. Also, we must put an end to all the gourmet razzmatazz forthwith. Water to grow rice is surely more important than water to grow grapes for wine.