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. Do we need martyrs at any cost?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Milky ways.

In my childhood at 233 Khetwadi Main Road, 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 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. 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, NestlĂ© 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.
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. and Maya. Or, the one about Lord Vishnu's ten incarnations: Ten. Far better than Tolekien. 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'., 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, 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, 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. 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, within easy strolling distance from our house. My sister 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 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 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.