Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Gift.

Pop culture has an entire mystical edifice built around 'giving’. The Biblical-sounding admonition, “’Tis better to give than receive” sums it up. Christmas is the season of giving. It’s the Christmas spirit, see? Santa Claus is also a part of it, I guess. What’s his role in the whole season-of-giving rigmarole? Frankly, he’s the guy who sits in a mall to act as a conduit of children’s wish lists. The marketing suits hire him. So, he owes them one. Things got murkier when ol’ O.Henry from good ol’ Greensboro hopped on the giving wagon with his The Gift of the Magi. This short story ranks with the best in the genre. O.Henry − William Sidney Porter in real life − was the son of Algernon Sidney, a physician, and Mary Jane Virginia Swaim Porter. His great-uncle, Jonathan Worth, was governor of North Carolina from 1865 to 1868. Dogged by bad luck, he was incarcerated between 1897 and 1901 for alleged embezzlement of bank funds. In1910, O.Henry died of diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver in New York. Five years earlier, he wrote The Gift of the Magi in the bar of Pete’s Tavern, extant even now, in the Gramercy area of Manhattan. Giving is a sign of love was his message. But a sign to whom? In Della and Jim’s case, there was no need to prove their love for each other. In buying the gifts they could scarcely afford they were merely conforming to a pop-culture ‘tradition’ fuelled chiefly by commerce. Were the Magi’s "gifts of gold and of frankincense and of myrrh" to the new-born in the manger a wise and thoughtful choice? Frankincense and myrrh were probably for the baby’s body rub. What about gold, though? Was it a tribute to the perceived royalty and divinity of Jesus perhaps? P.S.: This morning, purely by accident, I happened to watch on the MGM Channel a 1988 movie called Masquerade. It’s about Olivia, a recently orphaned heiress swept off her feet by a dashing yacht racing skipper (Tim). To start with, his courtship is a part of a conspiracy to wed and kill her and share her wealth with his co-conspirators. But as their relationship grows, he begins to love her in right earnest so much so that, after marriage, he voluntarily gets his name removed from her will without her knowledge. He wants nothing from her, in short. He even sacrifices his life to save hers. How about that? (I know. I know. It's only a movie.)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Babes in the woods? Tiger lurking!

If what Jamie Jungers says is not an experiment with truth, Tiger has walked willy-nilly into the Mahatma league. He is now on par with MK Gandhi no less. (AN AUTOBIGRAPHY OR The story of my experiments with truth, Chapter 8: My Father’s Death and My Double Shame, p.16). How come nobody noticed it?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Amar Akbar Anthony, anyone?

Recently, one morning, I was listening on my iPod to Mohamed Rafi singing the qawali ‘Pardah Hai Pardah’ from Manmohan Desai’s Amar Akbar Anthony. It suddenly occurred to me what an ass I had been not to have made friends with Desai when I had the chance. I used to bump into him in the late fifties in our mutual friend’s (Vinay’s) den in the Bhagini Samaj building virtually next door to 233 Khetwadi Main Road We somehow never hit it off. By all accounts, he was a gem of a guy whereas I used to be, in those days, an opinionated oaf who took himself too seriously. I remember thinking of him as a wastrel because he had quit college and was doing nothing. He used to borrow comics books from Vinay because he did not have money to pay the circulating library fees by his own admission. Then he disappeared from the scene. Vinay told me that he was probably assisting his brother in film production. In 1960, MD directed the Raj Kapoor and Nutan starrer Chhalia. It had hit songs and did quite well at the box office. His magnum opus unarguably was Amar Akbar Anthony (1977). I enjoyed it when I saw it in Apsara Talkies in spite of the innumerable cinematic clichés he peppered it with. For instance, in the opening scene under the credits, blood from the three long-separated sons of different religions flowed into the veins of the mother (Mother India?). Then, in the unabashedly exploitative ‘Shirdiwale Sai Baba’ sequence, the son’s prayer triggered a miraculous recovery of the mother from the jaws of death. There was nevertheless an infectious joie de vivre he managed to inject in the movie that made it a fabulous fun flick. The story, by the way, was credited to Desai’s wife who was from the Khetwadi Main Road neighbourhood. Even after MD’s success, the couple continued to live in the same neighbourhood. What was incredible in the Manmohan Desai saga was the ending totally out of synch with his persona. He jumped to his death from the terrace of his building abutting the Bhagini Samaj building. Inexplicable!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Alternative History: freedom or transfer of power?

Come to think of it, the Congress Party at the outset was almost a non-starter. It debuted, on 28 December 1885, somewhat anemically under the baton of Allan Octavian Hume, Esq., formerly of the Indian Civil Service, a decorated veteran of the 1857 rebellion and coincidentally also a noted ornithologist, with the aim of keeping a watch over native civil unrest and collaborating with the British Imperialist administration. The idea was perhaps to act as a facilitator for the Indian accommodation to the powers that happened to be.

I just finished reading Freedom Struggle Betrayed: India 1885- 1947 (originally entitled Indian National Congress: How Indian? How National?). Described by its publisher as a search for answers to basic political and economic questions, it tells a story about how India won freedom and what role the Indian National Congress played, quite different from what we read in school history and other popular narratives. The thrust of the argument here is that what we learned about what happened is a huge and horrendous lie.

The Indian National Congress was always a collaborator or comprador of the British Raj right from the beginning with a program of lukewarm petition politics. It was so when Dadabhai Nowroji, Gokhale, Sir Phirozeshah Mehta and like-minded moderates − closely linked with the Indian businessmen, financiers and landed gentry − were running it in the early days. It remained so even when Mahatma Gandhi took over the reins of the Party and steered it right till 1947. The book cites evidence, chapter and verse, from various published sources to make a case for the betrayal of the freedom struggle by the Congress Party at every step of the way. It points a finger at Gandhi as the principal villain. Among his many trespasses cited in the narrative are the famous Champaran campaign, his intervention in the Ahmedabad textile strike and the Kheda episode. In all these instances, Gandhi persuaded the victims of injustice − the working class and the peasantry − to settle for less than what they had fought for. The beneficiaries of his intervention were the exploiters who got away with having to pay less than the rightful penalty. Similarly, in other instances where Gandhi claimed to be agitating against the British Raj, he would stop the movement when it had gained momentum but before it had really started to hurt the Raj. The famous example was the Chauri Chaura incidence. All these are seen by the authors of the book as an abject continuation of petition politics at the cost especially of the downtrodden masses, i.e., the working class and the peasantry. Gandhi is also accused of manipulating the Congress Party to suit his will and whims. There is a long list of transgressions in the book to his debit. The book is sharply critical of Nehru as well for his socialist “pretensions” and his claim that he was a champion of the rural masses. But once again the blame is shifted to the puppet master or Svengali aka as the Mahatma for manipulating Nehru on many policy issues favouring the other side. The trouble with Nehru was that he was a fairly decent writer with probably a writer’s ability to deceive himself and others.

My own take on reading the alternative history of the Indian freedom movement and thinking about it in the light of what little I’ve managed to learn on my own about Gandhi is that there could be quite a bit of truth in what it says. Reading Girja Kumar's BRAHMACHARYA Gandhi & His Women Associates is a big eye opener. One of the grossest instances of his interference in the lives of his associates is how he punished an adopted daughter Jeki for her sexual transgression involving his own son Manilal. and In one of my earlier posts, I had written, inter alia, as follows: “This [Girja Kumar’s] 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.” He could have lived up to the image the report in question accords him, in short.

Did India wake up to freedom at midnight on 15 August 1947? Or, was there simply a transfer of power from the British Imperialists to their equally ruthless Indian compradors?

Take your pick or toss a coin.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Conspiracy by omission.

As a rule, I distrust and shun conspiracy theories. Today, I’m going to spin one. It has been bothering me for a long time. The more I try to shoo it away, the more it refuses to vamoose. It concerns the last months of Gandhi’s life. He had become something of an embarrassment and a liability to the powers that happened to be then and there as well as to his colleagues. His mahayajna – his by then notorious Brahmacharya experiments, to be precise − had infuriated his close associates including Sardar Patel who had accused him of committing adharma – of being guilty of moral and spiritual decadence, in other words. Long time colleagues like Kishorelal Mashruwala and Narhari Parekh and even Devdas Gandhi joined in the protest. Thakkar Bappa, a top associate of Gandhi, journeyed to Noakhali in December 1946 to dissuade him from continuing his mahayajna. Gandhi felt completely isolated. “For after all I am not God, “he wrote to Birla. “I can commit mistakes; … this may prove to be my biggest at the fag-end of my life. … all my well-wishers can open my eyes if they oppose me. If they do not … I shall go from hence even as I am … Whatever I am doing here is a part of my yajna.” He was totally transparent. “… when I take M[anu] in my lap, do I do so as a pure-hearted father or as a father who has strayed from the path of virtue? What I am doing is nothing new to me: in thought I have done it for the last fifty years; in action, in varying degrees, over quite a number of years.” In February 1947, he spoke of publishing the findings of his research but nothing came out of it. His honesty and courage to follow his convictions did not cut ice with his followers. The old man had to be punished with at least a slap on his wrist if nothing worse. Meanwhile his intervention on behalf of the Indian Muslims and his recommendation to the Government of India to pay Pakistan her share of the pre-partition finances (Rs 55 crore) had raised the hackles of the Hindu fundamentalists in and out of the Congress Party. Several attempts had already been made on Gandhi’s life. B G Kher, the then Chief Minister of the Bombay Presidency and a close confidant of the Central Home Minister Sardar Patel, had been apprised of the plot by Dr J C Jain after he had got an inkling of it from Madanlal Pahwa, one of Godse’s fellow conspirators. Balukaka Kanitkar, a well-respected Congressman from Pune, learned of the plot from G V Ketkar – a former editor of Kesari. He wrote a registered letter to inform Kher. The intelligence was passed on to the authorities in Delhi and yet the security was not beefed up. The Godse Brothers, Apte, Madanlal and their colleagues were just some of the conspirators apparently. There were more who collaborated by omission. Culpable negligence, anyone?

Friday, November 06, 2009


In the typically self-deprecating, understated RKN style, Rasipuram Krishnaswamy Iyer Narayanswamy once described how his renowned novel The Guide written in his room at The Carlton during his 1956 Berkley (California) sojourn on a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship was reduced to a distorted caricature by Bollywood’s preference for the “canned” instead of the genuine and the sanitized instead of the raw. For instance, he wrote how, after condescending to take his guided tour of authentic ready-made locations peopled with authentic ready-made crowds at the time of a fair to replicate Malgudi, the director and the lead star preferred specially erected, exorbitantly expensive sets in Jaipur and a cast of thousands of junior artistes called “extras” in those days before political correctness came to our shores. They also soft-pedaled on the adultery angle. The eponymously titled essay where Narayan wrote about how his The Guide metamorphosed into Vijay Anand’s Guide happens to be in a collection of his non-fiction I own that is right now out of my reach. A friend who borrowed it quite a while back has not returned it so far. Be that as it may, I quite enjoyed Navketan’s Vijay Anand-directed Guide (1965) particularly for Sachin Dev Burman’s music. I read The Guide much, much later. In retrospect, what had transpired, I guess, was that Vijay Anand could not break away from the then prevalent norms and style of film making – contrary to RK Narayan’s expectations. Had the director lived up to the author’s standards, maybe an art movie would have been born instead of the box office bonanza that Guide turned out to be.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Obsessed with Bom Bahia?

“The trouble with poetry is that it doesn’t call a spade a spade. Anthropomorphic language tends to confuse every issue. For instance, if you call a piece of real estate motherland or fatherland, you’re bound to confound the confusion by believing yourself in the role of her/his gallant son/daughter and transferring a host of human attributes and emotions to her/him.” This applies to a city, as well. No matter what anyone says, in the final analysis, it is no more than a swath of real estate. Like the city named Mumbai, the erstwhile Bombay, believed by some to be the Anglicization of the Portuguese name ‘Bom Bahia’ (= good bay or good harbour), when it changed hands from Portugal to Great Britain as a part of Catharine de Braganza’s trousseau when she married Charles II in 1662. The Portuguese first visited the good bay in 1509 and grabbed it from Bahadur Shah of Gujrat in 1530. Citing documents dated from 1525, a leading Portuguese etymological authority, José Pedro Machado, traced the origin of the name to the Marathi term ‘Mumba Devi’, the city deity. From it came the name Mombaim later modified to Bombaim and probably further to Bom Bahia, he argued. Be that as it may, when the British got their hands on Bombay, it was an archipelago of seven islands: Colaba. Little Colaba, Bombay, Mazgaon, Parel, Worli and Mahim from South to North. After Shivaji’s plunder of Surat in 1664, the East India Company shifted its operation to Bombay in 1668 paying an annual lease rent of £10 sterling to the Royal Family – an arrangement confirmed by William III in 1669. A securely fortified area for the British officials’ work and living spaces – known as ‘Fort’ even today – was built on the largest island, Bombay, with only three gates (Apollo Gate to the South, Bazaar Gate to the North and Church Gate to the West) as the sole access to it. Within the Fort, there were offices, shops, commercial establishments, warehouses and churches. The locals, among them quite a few Pathare Prabhu Sokajis, used to enter the Fort in the morning and quit it in the evening using the North or the West Gates. A step in 1860 to consolidate the seven islands was the building of the Colaba Causeway (now Shahid Bhagatsingh Marg) from Sassoon Dock at the South end to Museum at the North. Around 1782, Lord William Hornby, Governor of Bombay, started the Hornby Vellard project as a first step to connect all the islands north of the Bombay island. Ramji Shivaji Parbhu, a Pathare Prabhu contractor, got the contract. The idea behind it was to construct a bund that would prevent sea water from flooding the areas neighbouring the Worli Creek at high tide. According to one legend, during the construction, the sea wall kept collapsing till a Laxmi idol was recovered from the sea and was consecrated in the specially built Mahalaxmi Temple close to Haji Ali. The second stage of the reclamation was to fill in the shallows between the islands of Parel, Worli, Bombay, Mazagaon and Mahim with a bund to stop sea water intruding into the nearby areas. The Governor went ahead with the project in spite of the Company Directors saying No to his proposal and was reportedly sacked for his insubordination.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Irony of ironies.

Cliché of clichés! What to do? Jawaharlal Nehru wrote on p.333 of his An Autobiography (London, 1953) that he was “attracted to the idea of losing the house [the ancestral Anand Bhavan in Allahabad]. I felt that would bring me nearer to the peasants who were being dispossessed…”. This was the state of his mind after his father Motilal’s death on 6 February 1931. Jawaharlal had been active in the cause of the peasantry since 1920. He had walked with them under the scorching sun, listened patiently to their tales of exploitation and dispossession and even managed to lessen their misery to some extent owing to the moral pressure exerted on the Goverment and the landlords by the agrarian movement of which he had become a part. In fact, his first glimpse of the UP peasantry had, according to his own admission (ibid., page 52), filled him “with shame and sorrow, shame at my own easy-going and comfortable life and our own petty politics of the city which ignored the vast multitude of semi-naked sons and daughters of India, and sorrow at degradation and overwhelming poverty of India.” Nonetheless, after independence, the same Jawaharlal thought nothing of dispossessing the Indian peasantry for building his temples of modern India (mega dams and mammoth public sector undertakings). He did nothing to stop the ruthless and venal Indian State from appropriating all the national resources with impunity and in the process dispossessing the already impoverished masses.

Worse than yesterday and today.

I’m no futurologist. Neither am I a born pessimist. What I’m about to write is based on observation. I could be totally off the mark when I say that life will get worse and worse – never better hereafter. Ever after. That is going to happen because mankind has been profligate all along. What’s more, we refuse to learn from our mistakes. In Mumbai, for example, water will become scarcer and scarcer as high-rises keep rising all over the landscape and people callously insist on taking long showers, soaking in tubs and using high-end washing machines that waste water. Soon, power cuts may become pandemic even in South Bombay – oops, Mumbai. The recent Congress Party’s call for austerity should have been contextualized properly. They should have placed it squarely in the framework of the coming drought of resources which is likely to last for a long, long time in the absence of a miracle like a technological breakthrough or a major geological find. In the interim, we have to make the best we can of what is available. Greed (sorry, Mr Gordon Gekko is no more good. It’s time we cease and desist outdoing the Americans in greed, profligacy and venality and learn to husband our scarce resources and share them with the less fortunate among us. This is not a sermon, mind you. It’s merely an opinion and a reminder.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cat’s whiskers.

If you’re one of those who think “intellectuals” are cat’s whiskers, better stay away from Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals (Harper & Row, New York, 1988). My friend, Manohar Mason of Pentagon Communications is probably the most logical people I’ve met so far. Don’t believe me? Just read this: He is also a huge fan of Bertrand Russell. Whenever we meet and end up talking about (Ahem!) intellectual and philosophical stuff, good ol’ Bertie pops in the conversation. If memory serves, Manohar told me more than once that he had read Bertie’s autobiography and spoke of it in glowing terms. I wonder if he would go into a Fahrenheit 451 mode were he to read Chapter 8 of Johnson’s tome. Johnson runs through the gamut of this brainy specie right from Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Brecht, Russell, Sartre, Wilson, Gollancz and Hellman – with a quick worm’s-eye view of fellow sinners like Connolly, Mailer, Tynan, Fassbinder and Baldwin. His main grouse is that these worthies do not practice personally what they preach publicly. They have clay feet, in other words, as well as being guilty of all the major sins not excluding greed, lust, envy, pride, mendacity and venality. He pitches at us shovelfuls of dirt on each and every one of them in an entertaining and highly readable romp. I rather enjoyed it but then I have always been a sucker for historical gossip. For example: and At times, though, Johnson sounds a wee bit waspish, condescending and holier-than-thou. To me, it’s a simple matter of so what. But for most of the time and most of the people, to err is human; to forgive, out of the question.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Second thoughts.

The other day, while watching Deepa Mehta’s 1947: Earth, it occurred to me that the only victim of partition I witnessed at first hand was a hapless hack Victoria driver being butchered in the 13th Khetwadi Lane facing my 233 Khetwadi Main Road terrace. Why the “cracking” of India as Bapsi Sidhwa called it could not be achieved without bloodshed and strife and monumental human tragedy is something that has always puzzled me.

Looking around for clues, I’m dumbstruck by the unconscionable haste with which partition was announced and carried out. On 4 June 1947, quite out of the blue, Lord Mountbatten announced at a press conference that the British would quit the sub-continent by 15 August of the same year, i.e., in less than 3 months − instead of the earlier set deadline of June 1948 for the transfer of power. Eleven months earlier, on Jinnah-decreed Direct Action Day, 16 August 1946, policemen in Bengal were allowed to go on a holiday by Governor Fredric Burrows with Lord Wavell’s tacit assent. The Calcutta massacre went on without police or military intervention for three days. It is as if the British Raj had washed its hands of the erstwhile Jewel in the Crown and wanted to get the hell out of India at the earliest without involving itself further in the emerging mess.

Had Churchill been the British PM instead of Attlee, the holocaust might have been avoided or at least postponed for a while given that he would never have agreed to the colony’s independence readily. That would have been a blessing in disguise as it might have given the Indian leaders time to think up a cogent and workable plan of action for an orderly partition and the massive migration involved when the moment arrived.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


When I was growing up at 233 Khetwadi Main Road gaslights used to light up the streets of South Bombay. A runner with a long pole in his hand would trot from street lamp to street lamp and fire them up one by one. The darkness of the dusk would then gradually yield to the white-yellow glow of the street lamps. I’m talking of the 1940s and maybe even the early 50s, mind you. As dusk approached, the Vanita Vishram Garden behind our house would be filled with twittering birds joyously heralding for almost a quarter of an hour the approach of darkness and time for repose. Some evenings, I used to take my bicycle to the Garden and ride a few leisurely laps around its periphery listening to the soothing chatter of the birds. Those were also the days when tramcars – double as well as single deckers – used to ply on the streets of Bombay from dawn to midnight. The other noteworthy feature of South Bombay life that is no more was the daily washing of the streets at dawn by bullock carts fitted with sprinklers. In those days, by the way, the minimum fare for the yellow top taxicabs was 6 annas (= 38 paise approximately). Those were the days, boys and girls, believe you me.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Come again?

It caught my eye one Saturday morning near Crawford Market where I had gone shopping with Ujwal. Called Bokoma, it has a stylish plastic handle out of which sprout a dozen curved springy wire “fingers” of varying lengths ending in tear-drop finials −a kinky kitchen tool or claw look-alike. It must have something to do with acupressure, I thought. It seemed to me that it would make a cool art deco doodad/thingamabob/gizmo were it to be stuck in a bottle. The boy hawker was asking Rs.80/- for it. I haggled him down to Rs.30/-. Its smart-looking tapering carton printed in German with the unbelievably exorbitant price of €19. 50 (= Rs.1355/-) marked on it and the underscored legend “Das Original” in red intrigued me. My first reaction was someone was pulling a fast one. Maybe, it was a locally made product passing off as an imported one. This impression was further reinforced when I heard that Bo was being hawked for Rs.20/- near Sicca Nagar, close to where I live. Then I stumbled on to this: and this: Pay Rs.100/- or Rs.125/- for Bo plus shipping charges. Hold your excitement in check for seven days till you get delivery. Instead, why not zimply come to me and I will take you to where you can lay our hands on it instantaneously at a mere fraction of what the shopping site is selling it for. By the way, they are claiming Bo can do you a lot of good: “Originally developed by the to obtain a complete body relaxation, today it still serves that purpose and is a strong and positive source of new energy to you.” P.S.: Times Shopping mentions Pick N Sell as the seller of Bokoma and the only Pick N Sell that I found was a wholesale super market in Bangalore: I couldn’t trace the Bokoma seller at Rediff Shopping (e-bizwizard). Bokoma’s cousins are congregated here: Bokoma is also a place situated at 0° 22' 19" South, 17° 8' 23" East in Congo Republic (Africa). What’s more, Semi Document: Bokoma Kegasu is a Japanese romance-porno movie.

The lament of the lover boy in Rangoon, circa 1949.

I saw Patanga (= moth) in my early teens at the Imperial Talkies It was within easy walking distance of 233 Khetwadi Main Road. I had nary an inkling then what an NRI or an expat was. The terms were not in vogue at that time. It was maybe 30 years too early. The rollicking joke in the movie was around the prediction made at the time of the hero’s birth. The astrologer said that he would be surrounded by droves of cars. (“Iss ke aagey pichey motor gaadi daudegi.") Everyone and his aunt took it to mean he would be a rich man and said: “Bahut khoob!” In the very next shot we saw him in the uniform of a traffic cop directing traffic at a busy junction. Later in the movie, he tried to break into moviedom. That’s when he and his co-star performed the song concerning an Indian expat in Burma. In those days, a lot many Indians used to go to Burma to work in the timber − mainly teakwood – trade. (Remember The Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation? It was a well-paying job. Anyway, the movie song sequence within the movie had the lovelorn young man calling from Rangoon his wife in Dehra Dun. An overseas phone call was a big thing then, costing virtually a bomb by the then prevailing standards. Even sending a telegram was not very common. It was considered the harbinger of bad news. History tells us that the Indo-Burma Radio Telephone link was established between Madras and Rangoon in 1936 – the year I was born. In 1949, the Own Your Telephone plan was introduced. Also, the surcharge on trunk telephone calls was raised from 40 to 60% by the Honourable Finance Minister, Shri RK Shanmukham Shetty, in the 1948-49 Central Government Budget. By the way, the Japanese occupied Burma in March 1942 and China invaded Tibet in 1949. All this is now in the dustbin of history, of course. Coming back to the song it had a prose preamble wherein the caller identified the originating town as Rangoon for the benefit of the Dehra Dun trunk operator and asked to talk to his wife. After that, the proud wife took over to tell us the story of her husband having gone to Rangoon, boasting that he had made the trunk call just to tell her that he missed her terribly. The husband admitted he had made a big blunder by not taking her with him to Burma. He then went into a detailed description of how he was suffering in a mock serious, even somewhat naughty vein. The lyrics in Hindustani can be read here: The lyric writer was Rajinder Kishan whose greatest claim to fame was the all-time single biggest jackpot pool of Rs.48 lakh he won at the Mahalaxmi Race Course in 1971.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Incredible India II.

At the end of the last post, I wrote: “The saga of incredible India goes on…”. It did. The visit to the VP Road Police Station yesterday was a big surprise and revelation. PC Nalwade was the very antithesis of his colleague who had paid me a visit on Tuesday: smiling, polite, soft-spoken, knowledgeable. His colleague, a woman PC, matched his demeanour perfectly. The questions were respectfully put, the answers smilingly recorded. They explained that my passport reached me prior to the police enquiry probably because of my age. Getting it police-checked was optional, the risk being I could be prevented from flying if they noticed on the computer screen that I had not been police-checked. Fair enough. If only all of Mumbai Police behaved like these two …

Monday, August 10, 2009

Incredible India.

Will wonders never cease in incredible India? On 5 August, i.e., last Wednesday in case you are not in a Gregorian mode, I searched the India Passport website and was duly informed that my passport was ready and was expected to be sent to me by 04-09-2009 subject to all documents being in order. On the afternoon of 5 August, i.e., of the same Wednesday in case you are still not in the Gregorian mode, a Speed Post person dropped in at home when I was out on work and left an intimation for me to pick it up from the Kalbadevi Post Office the next day between 10.30 am and 2.00 pm. Which I eventually did as directed! Incredible India had one more surprise in store for me. Yesterday, i.e., on 10 August, in the afternoon while I was once again away on work, a policeman dropped in to do the police check – a pre-condition to the issue of a passport. He was told I was out and the passport had been already received. I wonder if there are more wonders to come in incredible India.

Update: No sooner had I finished and poasted the above than one more wonder came my way from incredible India. It was in the shape of Police Constable Hanurkar from VP Road Police Station. After comparing my mug with the picture on the form in his hand as well as the one on my new passport, he invited me to present myself on Thursday morning at the said Police Station to meet a certain Mr Nalwade with two copies of all documents submitted with my passport application and three copies of my photograph. When I protested that the passport was already in my hand, he said “they” had to “complete” my file – whatever that means. He also broadly hinted that he had had to make two trips to my residence on my account. The saga of incredible India goes on…

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Sepia tone.

In the 1967-released Bonnie and Clyde, when Clyde meets his brother, the film is still in full colour. But when Bonnie overpowered by nostalgia and missing her mom terribly finally takes the gang to meet her family, Arthur Penn shoots the entire Parker family reunion in sepia tone. Why?

If only I could've emulated Penn I would have done that very thing to this press note I found in my old papers. It’s about The Last Gandhi Movie website’s performance between 09-09-1998 and 30-06-1999. It’s also about a gambit that failed owing (in retrospect) to the lack of timely follow-up and inability to provide sustained support mainly because of inexperience and over-optimism. I thought I would reproduce it here for nostalgic reasons:

32181 hits in 295 days* is ‘jolly good show’ for a niche Gandhi novel website.

Mumbai, 20 July:- He wrote a novel, ‘The Last Gandhi Movie’, cross-p0llinatin Gandhi’s life with Hollywood lore. Then, instead of chasing literary agents and querying publishers, he opted for the internet route, to take the pulse of fiction readers. Last September, as soon as the site was up, he sent out ‘visit this book site’ e-appeals to some of the readers who had posted book reviews at, in addition to ‘listing’ his site with search engines and directories.

Interest is where you find it.

The Internet is a great leveler. Ask nicely and you shall be given. ‘The Last Known Address of MK Gandhi, Esquire’ at is a living proof of it. Here, you get to read sample chapters of the novel and e-mail them to friends. You can also meet the cast of characters – a bevy of unusual suspects, get to know the chronology of events, and play an interactive role-switch game. A fair proportion of the people who visited the site came from search engines like Alta Vista. They asked to be taken there out of interest or curiosity is what it means. The highest point in the hits curve coincided with the time span when the e-mailing was done. The next high point came when the posting to search engines and directories was intensified. No banner advertising, just e-mailing and site listing!

What they have been saying about

Here’s an assortment of comments from the site visitors. “Who is publishing The Last [Gandhi] Movie? When and where will it published? Who is your target audience? Your site is graphically very exciting.” (, 05-11-98) “… if you are the maker then you have it in you. The very essence of looking at things differently, think separately and mere fun of speculating ‘What ifs’ and ‘What if nots’. I really do like your style and appreciate your work.” (, 12-11-98) “I checked out your site and it’s interesting. I’m not really into role-playing games or Gandhi, but I enjoyed it just the same. I’ll visit again…” (infringer13@, 24.10.98) “I very much look forward to your forthcoming novel. Please keep me apprised of its publication schedule.” (, 23.10.98) “Hi, I really liked your site. I heard about it from a friend… Very interesting, will it be published?” (, 23.10.98) “I was pleasantly surprised at your site. I do intend to read your novel some time … where can I find it in bio-degradable format?” (, 20.10.98) “… your site is lovely, informative, and with attitude.” (, 14.09.98) “Brilliant site by the way, haven’t laughed so much for a long time and that was only after visiting it for a short time … can’t wait to get back and see what else is there.” (, 15.09.98)

No bells, no whistles.

In keeping with the essential simplicity of Gandhi, the site is devoid of gimmickry. The only concession to the ‘movie’ of the book title is a preamble with a smiling Gandhi on a ‘screen’ pop-up. The tone and the writing are upbeat and literate like the novel it showcases. The site has RSACi’s seal of approval for content, has a link to via a books and music section and a Recommend-it link as well. Deepak Mankar who wrote the novel created the content. DBS Internet Services Private Limited designed and host the site.
[*From 09-09-98 to 30-06-99]

To date The Last Gandhi Movie remains unpublished. You can find the scattered remnants of The Last Known Address of MK Gandhi, Esquire at, though.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Don’t get me wrong.

There is one amusing ad making the rounds of the idiot box just now. Its subtext is completely out of kilter with its own original intent. In trying to persuade the Indian metrosexual to take to a fairness cream, it unintentionally pokes fun at two desi demigods: cricket and people born with safed chamdi, preferably from abroad.

In it, the pretty girl busses the metrosexual businessman because he has apparently used the product with positive results. In the process, she pointedly ignores a star Indian cricketer as well as two white skinned colleagues of his.

Kya yaar, Doni?

Friday, July 31, 2009


All those who crib and gripe about Hindi movies neglect to mention their one monumental achievement.

Almost single-handedly, they did what the national government couldn’t.

They made Hindi acceptable all over India so much so that even its most vociferous opponents eventually joined the band wagon.

If that isn’t something, tell me what is.

Now the Hindi movies made for the Indian Diaspora as well as the domestic multiplexes are probably doing for Hinglish what its mom never thought it being capable of.

Becoming global.

Kya yaar, Doni?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wrong again.

I have been doing things for the wrong reasons all my life.

Take travel, for instance.

I have never been a great traveler. I remember a ditty from my childhood that said something to the effect that travel made a person wise and well-rounded. I don’t think I quite believed it. Still, as a child, I travelled quite a bit and even made myself enjoy it. Or, more accurately, made myself believe that I enjoyed it. Somehow, around that time, I got hold of the notion that important people travelled a lot. And, that they did it mostly by air.

In my Clarion-McCann stint, as a senior writer and later as Creative Controller, I got to travel quite a bit on work and found colleagues envying me for it. This and the fact that a promotion as Creative Director with unlimited travel among other mouth-watering perks was dangled as a bait to prevent me from quitting Clarion-McCann further strengthened my belief in the equation “travel = important persona” and vice versa.

In my Everest days, both as Creative Chief and later Creative Consultant, I got to travel way too much and stay at the best of hotels and found myself to be the target of envy of colleagues.

Later, I flew twice to the US of A to visit Abhi and Ujwal and twice to Sri Lanka on work.

Somewhere along the way, though, I lost my zest for travelling and finally, late in life, came to terms with the fact that I was a lousy traveler. I didn’t really enjoy it. Never did. I did not have the stomach for it. Never had. I would rather stay put in South Bombay. I feel safe and out of harm’s reach in SoBo, something I may not feel in Soho.

Sometime in the future, I shall be travelling to the US. I’m not looking forward to it, I’m afraid.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Give me five.

Frank Sinatra’s fan, I ain’t. I don’t care much for Lata Mangeshkar, either. Give me a Noor Jahan, a Suraiya, a Geeta Dutt, a Suman Kalyanpur or a Shamshad Begum any time. But that’s neither here nor there. The story I’m about to tell you is of the very first song in English I remember hearing being played on the family gramaphone at 233 Khetwadi Main Road. The 78 rpm disc had, if memory serves, a blue or green EMI label. The singer probably was young Sinatra. This was in 1946 when I was just ten. He had apparently recorded what may have well been a cover version of the Gordon ‘Tex’ Beneke hit single Give Me Five Minutes More. Tex was the lead singer of the Glen Miller Band in those days. The song in the blues/jazz genre was originally sung by Phil Brito in a B-grade movie called Sweetheart of Sigma Chi. The Tex Beneke hit was on the charts for five weeks at the No.4 spot in the US, it seems. I distinctly remember the refrain of the song:

Give me five minutes more, only five minutes more.
Let me stay, let me stay, in your arms.

P.S.: The reason I went to the trouble of Googling the old song is that I have a strong feeling that there is some happy memory connected to it. Try as I might, though, I cannot fathom what.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Poor princess.

A few days back, I happened to watch purely by chance Mona Lisa Smile in which Julia Roberts plays Katherine Watson, a feminist and forward-thinking Art History instructor in Wellesley, a women’s college in the US in the early 1950s. Though smacking at times of the feel-good chick flick aroma, a key sequence in the movie in which Katherine’s most committed student keen on joining Yale for a law degree suddenly does a 360-degree turnaround to opt for instant marriage instead made quite an impact on me. It reminded me of Grace Kelly. To me, Kelly’s abdication of a most promising career in insecurity-laden Hollywood just a year after winning an Oscar for The Country Girl (1955) and turning down the marriage proposal of co-star Bing Crosby to wed Prince Ranier III of Monaco has epitomised the compromise women the world over make in favour of marriage offering long-term security and a future as a virtual broodmare. Monaco, by the way, was a little known (till then) principality – and tax haven – in Europe which “in those pre-Jet Set days catered to the frantically idle über-rich and the Eurotrash who clung to them in an altogether more discreet way than it can today”. Like Kelly, I have seen plenty of women sacrificing their career and future on the matrimonial altar. For instance: and

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Sagamore Saga.

Seven-year-0ld Billy’s Uncle Sagamore in Charles Williams’ The Diamond Bikini (Simon & Schuster, London, 1956) is quite a character. As usual, I happened to have this gem of a book lying unread for years in one of my cupboards. What a treat it is. First of all, this (to me) unknown mystery writer has a great knack for story telling. Secondly, he uses Billy, the son of Sam Noonan. an itinerant race course tout, to tell it. This makes the narrative rip-roaringly hilarious because Billy recounts every shenanigan of his uncle with a straight face without understanding the deviousness behind it. Sagamore has a genius for making money without doing an honest day’s work. He sells moonshine, runs the gambling racket and even the whorehouses in the nearby town in the Deep South of the US of A in the early fifties. What’s more, he does it while claiming to be always cooperating with the law and manages to duck out of every confrontation with the Sherif, whom he calls "Shurf", unscathed. When a nightclub singer - and the star witness in a gangland killing - takes refuge on his farm and then goes missing in the wilderness wearing nothing but a diamond-studded g-string, he masterminds a whole carnival around the search for her and literally mints money. The law finally catches up with Sagamore who is incarcerated for a long, long time. In the jail too, he organises all sorts of money-making rackets until the thoroughly disgusted jailor and the State Governor conspire to have him pardoned claiming a mistrial. It’s a laugh riot.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Ray of no hope.

I am ashamed to confess that I was no fan of Satyajit Ray to begin with. When I joined Clarion-McCann back in 1965, the Bengalis there with whom I had to hobnob used to speak of him in a hushed, deeply reverential tone. That must have kind of put my back up. I started to almost despise Ray for no reason at all but did not articulate my views to fellow Clarionites for obvious reasons. It was only later when I started to understand the rudiments of what cinema was all about that I did a complete about-face on Ray. This morning I read a piece in Mumbai Mirror (Interval by Chako) about a free screening of a Satyajit Ray film, Charulata, in fact, in – hold your breath! – Kolkata recently. There was only a solitary person in the auditorium – a homeless vagrant who had wandered in for the free air conditioning. Even he wanted to walk out half way but was detained by the two Ray enthusiasts who had organised the show. By contrast, the Satyajit Ray retrospective at the Lincoln Centre, New York, this April, organised by the eponymous Film Society, draws huge crowds of cinema aficionados with seats sold out weeks in advance. Chako also draws our attention to the fisticuffs in Venice between a female professor and a male journalist over the last ticket of Devi, a part of last year’s local Satyajit Ray retrospective. “A Ray film invites you in, but also demands that you accept it on its own terms. And those who open themselves to Ray's method are in for some of the richest experiences the cinema has to offer." This is the opinion of Richard Pena, the Film Society's director of programming. Pauline “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” Kael described Pather Panchali, the film that brought Ray to the world’s notice, "beautiful, sometimes funny, and full of love". Akira Kurosawa wrote: “The quiet but deep observation, understanding, and love of the human race, which are characteristic of all his films, have impressed me greatly. Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon.” “Ray's magic, the simple poetry of his images and their emotional impact, will always stay with me,” wrote Martin Scorsese. All of which brings me to the question that has always bothered me. Why are Indians so grudging in accepting genius amidst them? Why are we so petty minded? The problem, I reckon, lies in Ray’s propensity to portray life at its most humdrum as he sees it (“a 5-minute close-up of water being poured from a pitcher”). “We don’t go to the multiplex except to be bedazzled and razzmatazzed, man. We want kitsch-laden, glitzy tripe, man. Hang realism, man. For us, reality Tv with Rakhi Sawant is the only reality we can face. We are Indians. We are like that only.” Chako lays to rest the usual, most-bandied accusation against Ray that he got his fame by selling India’s poverty to the world. He points out that only the first Ray film was about the rural poor. The rest of most of his ouvre was about the affluent and educated Kolkatan Bhadralok of which he happened to be very much a part.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Fin de siècle.

The French, they say, always have a propensity to put across things rather stylishly. Literally speaking, “fin de siècle” means “end of the century”. The phrase contains a hint of a suggestion, though, of the end of an era and the onset of the coming one as well as of a time of degeneration and a time of new beginning. In a broader and worldlier context, it connotes a sinister mixture of decadence and opulence. All of which sounds a mouthful and bombastic and pretentious. Reading Hanif Kureshi’s The Buddha of Suburbia (Faber and Faber, London, 1990) is one entertaining way to get an insider’s view of a fin de siècle. The Whitbread Prize winning novel is set in a decaying London just before the onset of Thatcherism when Britain was said to have become totally "ungovernable”. The protagonist, Karim Amir, a second-generation British-Indian, is the bi-sexual son of the Buddha of Suburbia, Haroon ("Harry") Amir, who had emigrated from India in the late fifties or early sixties. Pop music in the times of the Punk Rock supremacy, theatre, art, deceit, fast-changing sexual mores, race relations, fake gurus, social climbing and “moving away” from the decaying suburbs are what The Buddha of Suburbia deals with in an often farcical vein.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bear your Cross with pride.

The other day, while wading through a plethora of gifts bestowed on us on various occasions and stored away in our steel cupboard, I came across a Cross Select Tip Rolling Ball Pen with a rich brown enameled body, rather handsomely boxed. As I took it out to admire it, it triggered a memory. I’m backtracking to the late seventies and early eighties. I was working in Everest Advertising as a writer and enjoying a rather long spell of success. This agency was run on feudal lines with many fiefdoms operating under an overlord. From time to time, durbar used to be held and favours bestowed on the deserving underlings among whom I happened to figure. One Diwali, I was among the select coterie to receive from the Overlord’s second-in-command under the benign gaze of the King-Emperor a golden Cross Ball Pen, a much coveted status symbols for executives. I was quite thrilled to get it although I did most of my writing on a typewriter. Being absent-minded, I managed to lose my Cross soon enough and was much castigated by friends, well-wishers and associates for being so careless and uncaring.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The family priest.

At the thread ceremony we attended on Wednesday last I saw at close quarters the presiding priest. He looked like a benevolent version of the first family priest at 233 Khetwadi Main Road. Our first family priest, hailed from Telangana (now Andhra Pradesh and a hotbed of Maoists and Naxalites), just like the presiding priest at the thread ceremony. My mother used to call him Shambha (Samba?) Bhatji. So he must have been named Shambhu after Lord Shiva. He was quite a jolly fellow, though bald and fierce-looking. I can hear inside my head the refrain of a mantra that used to be chanted at the fairly frequent Laghurudra puja commissioned by my mother. “Padma hastey sugandhe, sugandhe, padma hastey” which has something to do with the floral aroma wafting from lotus hands, I reckon. There used to be several priests chanting the mantra. They were divided into two teams and after one team finished chanting a verse, the other team would take up the refrain and so on and so forth. It was quite an enjoyable performance. Shambha Bhatji stopped coming one fine day and was replaced by his younger brother, Balkrishna Bhatji who used to earlier accompany him from time to time. I remember Balkrishna Bhatji telling me with his eyes closed and after silent chanting of some mantra (I presume) that I would do well in the exam I was about to write. He was later on succeeded by his son Datta Bhatji who and, after him, his son used to also preside at the temple of the Mankar family deity, Maheshwari, in Navi Wadi. Neither he nor his son is attending the shrine now. I lost track of them a few years back.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sacred Thread.

This morning, I went with Ujwal to a thread ceremony among her relations, the so-called Upanayna, the second birth of the twice-born (dvija) Brahmin, Kshatriya or Vaishya male. The first birth in the womb is followed by the second birth when the gayatri mantra is received. The three-threaded, three-stranded yajnopavitam (sacred thread) worn by him thenceforth is a reminder to the Brahmachari to be pure in thought (Gayatri), word (Sarasvati) and deed (Savitri). The Jewish Bar Mitzwah and the Zoroastrian Navjote are also rite-of-passage rituals (in both cases for both boys and girls) with similar intent. The crowd was naturally Pathare Prabhu, very hip and prosperous folks one and all with a globally spread diaspora and, surprisingly, still sticking to age-old traditions. The family of the new Brahmachari had come from Dubai to get the ceremony performed. Related posts: Breaking News. Bad boy. Not my best friend’s wedding.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Fact or fiction: "A book is a product"?

No kidding. I read this eye-opening post by Sean Silverthorne in The View of Harvard Business ("What You Can Learn from the World's Top-selling Author") It describes how the world's top-selling author, James Patterson, has a book-writing "assembly line" of 7 or 8 writers each capable of producing a book. Patterson provides the plot, manages the "brand", writes his own ads (He used to be JWT's chief honcho once), buys the billboard space. His guiding principle is to occuply a large chunk of shelf space by producing 7 or 8 titles every year. "Sentences are hard. Stories are easy" is how Patterson with over 35 New York Times bestsellers to his credit besides an Edgar in 1976 put it to Guardian's Gaby Wood. The Harold M. Brierley Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School John Deighton (no relation of Len Deighton presumably) has this comment on the Patterson "age of brands" phenomenon: "I see his success as a sublime integration of operations and marketing ... if you want shelf space you need to publish a lot of books; that you need a production system with more than one author; and that you need to mind the brand." Julia Hanna, Associate Editor, HBS Alumni Bulletin writes in "The Case of the Mystery Writer's Brand" that the "case also highlights the spread of the blockbuster phenomenon. Ten years ago, a book was considered a success if it sold 200,000 copies. Today, the bar has been raised to 1.5 million copies, thanks in part to the dominance of "big-box" retailers (such as Wal-Mart and Costco) that only stock twenty or so bestsellers yet are responsible for 34 percent of book sales in the United States." I guess what Patterson does is a far better thought-out variation of the syndication model used by such mystery and spy brands as Ellery Queen, Michael Shayne, The Saint and James Bond.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

My brush with the Nine Naths.

Reading the story of Guru Gugga of Bagar (Bikaner) in Veronica Ions’ Myths and Legends of India (Hamlyn, 1970) – in which Gorakhnath plays a prominent role – this afternoon reminded me of my mother reading the Nath Kathas when I was seven or eight years old. The roots of the Shaivaite Nath Panth, associated with Hatha Yoga and the Sikh Guru Grantha, are traced back to Adinath or Lord Shiva or Mahadeva. Shri Machhindranath, considered an incarnation of the first of the Nine Narayanas mentioned in the Bhagavata was initiated into the path of self-realization by the great Adinath Himself. Machhindra lived when all power in socio-religious matters was in the hands of the followers of the ritualistic form of Vedic religion, the so-called Sanatanis. The Nath lineage starting with him had Gorakhnath, Adbanganath and Gahininath, the guru of Nivrittinath, who was the elder brother and guru of Dnyaneshwar. If memory serves, according to another version of the Nath legend, Shri Dattatraya, an incarnation of the Hindu trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, was its initiator and first teacher. I remember that we used to have a large framed picture of Shri Dattatraya in our puja room. The 20th Century proponents of the Nath teachings are supposed to be Nisargadatta Maharaj, Ranjit Maharaj and their guru, Siddharameshwar.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Take no offence.

"I do not wish to seem overdramatic but I can only conclude from the information that is available to me as Secretary-General that the Members of the United Nations have perhaps ten years left in which to subordinate their ancient quarrels and launch a global partnership to curb the arms race, to improve the human environment, to defuse the population explosion, and to supply the required momentum to development efforts. If such a global partnership is not forged within the next decade, then I very much fear that the problems I have mentioned will have reached such staggering proportions that they will be beyond our capacity to control." A troubled U Thant, whom The New York Times hailed as "this dedicaed man of peace" and who was a licensed "ham" as well as interested in UFOs, wrote this in 1969. If his guess about the timeframe was accurate, time has already run out for mankind. The way things are going lends credence to what he said. The more I think about it, the more inclined I'm to the view that the most important lesson parents can teach their children is not to take offence at the slightest (often imagined) of slights. That may be one little step in curbing the increasingly violent manner in which people respond to almost every event at present. It's no cakewalk to follow this naive advice, though, given that the parents' own upbringing has been in a context of "despise-the-other" and "never trust a stranger". The point is simply this: the root of humanity's problems is human nature. The Stanford Research Institute study funded by the Charles F Kettering Foundation, Changing Images of Man, shrouded in conspiracy theory and mind control rumours ever since, offers the propogation of a safe, officially-approved, neutred, materialistic religion - a sort of a "secular monotheism" - as a probable solution for the future salvation of man. Freemasonary ("true Freemasonary" to be exact) with its "one lodge, the universe - and one brotherhood, everything that exists" and each person having "the 'privilege of labor,' of joining with the 'Great Architect' in building more noble structures and thus serving in the divine plan" has been cited as an example. L Ron Hubbard's Scientology might well be its close running mate. It all smacks of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World to me. By the way, do read Changing Images of Man 2000 here:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Saint on earth.

For reasons I cannot fathom, Sant Tukaram has always fascinated me. As a child, I saw V Shantaram's eponymous movie. I don't remember being too impressed by it at the time. My latter-day interest in Tukaram prompted me recently to read Mahipati's Tukaram, a part of his Bhaktalilamrita. Its English rendering by Dr Justin Edwards Abbott, an American scholar who lived in India in the early twentieth century and contributed to the development of Marathi literature in his own way, retains the flavour of the original. It reminded me of the pothis my mother used to read, Shivalilamrita being one of them, particularly the eleventh chapter on Mondays. I'm not sure if what I read is historically accurate. What struck me, though, was that Tukaram as an enlightened person insisted on possessing nothing. There are repeated instances in the story I read of Tukaram inviting brahmins, mendicants and poor people to "loot" his home. This reminded me of what I had written earlier: In researching it, I had come across informed opinion that enlightenment ought to change a person for the better. Also, there is the Simony angle to the practice of sainthood, I reckon. Mahipati's account of Tukaram qua an avatar of Namdeo explicitly states that his protagonist was almost violently opposed to the Advaita way to enlightenment. He was all for bhakti. In other words, total devotion. This was a bit bewildering in that I could not imagine a gentle soul like him opposing any idea vigorously - especially if it had the sanction of the Vedas. The other puzzling bit is that, while all along Tukaram seems to be drifting away from his wife Avali who is cross with him for giving his total devotion to Vithoba and neglecting his family, at the time of his ascent to Vaikuntha, Vishnu's heavenly abode, he sends a message to her to join him. She, however, sends back a message that she is in the fifth month of pregnancy and cannot join him. How did it happen?

Bizarre behaviour.

I just finished reading David Pryce-Jones' Unity Mitford A Quest (Star, London 1981). It had been lying hidden in one of our cupboards until it caught my eye serendipitously one fortunate afternoon. Many of the events it covers took place before I was born and some, when I was a child. It is a difficult read what with all the Germans and other Europeans peopling it, German, Hungarian and Czech place names and, above all (or, uber alles, as Unity Valkyrie Mitford would probably have preferred it), the dry and clinical style of writing that Pryce-Jones uses. It's a psychological thriller in a sense. It scared me no end to enter into Unity's mind. It ticked like the mind of a latter-day groupie of a rock star or a movie star. She was a British aristocrat by birth and upbringing, related to Winston Churchill. Yet, she was a Fascist, anti-Semite and more Nazi than the Nazis. She followed Hitler, somehow intuiting his movements and whereabouts and managing to be in the right place at the right time to catch his eye. The Nazis thought she was a British spy. The book suggests she was an ardent fan of Hitler who apparently saw her as the perfect specimen of Aryan (Nordic) womanhood. There has of late been speculation if Unity had Hitler's love-child. and Pryce-Jones goes to great lengths to cite hearsay evidence to prove that there was nothing sexual about the Unity-Hitler link-up. Nor, according to him, did she have an affair with the Hungarian aristocrat and closet-Nazi Janos Almasy, the brother of of Lazlo (aka 'The English Patient"). Unity fervently hoped that Germany and England would be allies and jointly "police" the world. When they went to war, her inner world imploded and she tried to commit suicide. Weird!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Slumdog not Indian? Says who?

Unlike Gandhi, the other Oscar winner made in India by a non-Indian auteur, Slumdog Millionaire has a British Indian in the lead. Of course, AR Rahman, Gulzar, Resul Pookutty and others make up for the strong Indian contingent of creative contributors. But those who scoff at it as being not Indian are forgetting that it has the one pivotal element most Indian made-for-multiplex magnum opuses insist on as a must-have ingredient: a load of faeces.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Stranger than fiction?

I’m talking Indian reality. The idea of pollution has forever been at the centre of it. Take Gandhi. He was always thinking and talking about purifying himself and others. His innumerable fasts and weekly days of silence and perennial enemas were for purification of the soul and of the body. Gandhi was not the only one obsessed with purity. Most Indians are in a lop-sided sort of way. They keep their homes scrupulously clean and yet don’t seem to mind, nay, even notice, if the neighbourhood is turning into a garbage dump. There are latter-day urban Indians who look upon a menstruating woman as a polluting influence in a home. I remember back in the late sixties or early seventies a young colleague of mine saying to me that he found it repugnant that women "bled every month". These were his exact words. I was taken aback and tongue-tied. I think I blurted out something about Nature and slunk away. What I did not then realise was that the young man, who by the way was not a Hindu, was merely parroting the deeply ingrained belief of his compatriots. To quote the JNU Professor, Dipankar Gupta: "According to the caste principle, all routine substances that come out of one's body, like perspiration, excreta, and menstrual blood are polluting even to oneself. By the same token, hair is also polluting which is why a ritually proper tonsure is a shaven head. The traditional roles of the barber, washerman and scavenger were precisely to absorb specific pollutants so that members of the upper castes could remain 'clean'." (Gupta earlier in the same article quotes the anthropologist Mary Douglas who once pointed out that "dirt was simply 'matter out of place'. Food on the plate is the way it should be everywhere, but becomes dirt when it is on the floor. Shoes on one's feet are fine, but if placed on the table then that's dirt." She also wrote the following: "Rules about eating and not eating certain foods, touching or not touching certain people (castes) or people at certain times (during menstruation, mourning, etc.) have nothing to do with 'primitive' ideas of hygiene." If all this makes sense, the Mangalore pub incidence is not Talibanisation of India. One of our long forgotten ancestors thought of it æons ago. Indian truth is stranger than fiction. Imagine in a land where more than half the population goes to sleep hungry, hunger strike is a powerful weapon of protest and political blackmail. What's more, it works.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Scary story.

Sometimes, a story scares you without warning. I'm reading one just now. It's called The Anderson Boy. Joseph Hansen wrote it. Hansen's chief claim to fame is that he created a gay private eye character, Dave Brandstetter. I have not read a single one of the 12-book series. Apparently, they are very good. This is the first time I'm reading his work. The story line he uses in it is to confront the perpetrator of a past crime with its victim who is suffering from amnesia. The anticipation of what will happen any moment is what raises the fear quotient. Also, there is a seeming similarity in the circumstance of the past event with the circumstances of the present. It's very like what Hitchcock used to do. Raise the anticipation of the shape of something dire coming soon. The reader's mind does the rest.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Waiter.

This morning, I chanced to watch a bit of the Blake Edward 1968 comedy, The Party. Peter Sellars plays an Indian actor called Hrundi V Bakshi who is black-balled in Hollywood but gets invited to a party thrown by the hot-shot producer of the movie from which he has been fired - owing to a clerical error. Thanks to his native talent to attact accidents and havoc, he turns the party into a near-disaster. It seems the film was mostly on-the-spot improvisation with a very short written script. The guy who sent me into splits was not Sellars, though, It was Steven Franken as Levinson, the drunken waiter. He reminded me of the well-orchestrated antics of Chaplin in his two-reelers. In The Party, Bakshi's presence acts as the catalyst to get Levinson more and more inebriated every time they cross paths. In one scene, we watch over Bakshi's shoulders Levinson's boss throttling him in the kitchen every time the swing door opens and closes. I thought it was the height of Chaplineque humour. There's also Sellar's one-liner to his "partiner" who is teaching a starlet to play pool: "Don't mind me. I'm merely spectating." This hilarious movie had drawn a lot of flack when it was released in India and, if memory serves, was even banned for a while. According to Hollywood apocrypha, Satyajit Ray was supposed to make a sci-fi film with Sellars. But he was so disgusted with his performance in The Party that he refused to go ahead with the project. He was perhaps offended too by Bakshi's pet monkey's name, Apu.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Nobody's perfect.

In Sydenham College of Commerce & Economics, then partly resident in the now-demolished Sukhadwala Building, close to Kitab Mahal and Excelsior Cinema, you had to climb steep rickety stairs to reach the FY Commerce lecture hall on the third floor. If you had patience, you could wait and try your luck with the rattling elevator. This was back in 1952. I had just passed my SSC exam and enrolled for the B Com course only because one of my cousins had become a Chartered Accountant. I wanted to emulate him, I guess. Anyway, that's how I came to know of Joan Robinson. Professor Gangadhar Gadgil used to teach us Economics or Eco as we called it. He wasn't as good a teacher as he was a Marathi littérateur, I'm sorry to say. He lectured deadpan and made Eco sound a parched, scorched, desolate, harsh, coarse, grating and excessively rude discipline. Reading Joan Robinson, thanks to my ingrained habit of going to the source, made me realise how much fun it could be. She had quite a writing style all her own. She was perfectly lucid about imperfect competition. From her, I learned the "monopsony" concept, the buyer-side equivalent of monopoly. We did not hear of it in the lecture hall. It's amusing to note that the most striking latter-day example of monopsony is the government as the sole buyer of sophisticated weaponry in a national market. The entry of the terrorist buyers turns the scenario "duopsonic". By the early fifties, India was already showing clear symptoms of morphing into a state monopoly. In the automobile market, a duopoly was emerging. This reminds me of her perceptive remark about India made popular by her illustrious student, Amartya Sen: "Whatever you can rightly say about India, the opposite is also true." It seems she lived for three years with her husband, Austin, in India before the country got its Independence. "I don't know mathematics, therefore I have to think" was her other oft-cited remark. Her ability to put into words really complex mathematical concepts was the result of this realisation on her part. Reading her and W Arthur Lewis, the first Novel Prize winner of African descent, spurred me to do research in development economics for my M Com degree. Unfortunately, Robinson could not get the Nobel Prize for Economics although Business Week had tipped her as the likely winner in 1975 echoing all her colleagues' expectations. Her Indian ward, Amartya Sen, did. The reason she missed the bus was, it was rumoured, her increasing leftist leanings as she aged. For instance, she openly expressed her admiration for Mao Zedong’s China and Kim Il Sung’s North Korea. In the meantime, perfect or pure competition continues to remain the neo-classical economist's ivory-tower fantasy. Maybe, he wasn't paying attention to Jerry Louis' repartee to Dean Martin when he called him a perfect fool. "You're wrong, Dean. Nobody's perfect."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Time-barred jokes anyone? (Their use-before date is long past.)

You'll have to go when your time comes, common sense tells you. That's wisdom learned from experience and observation. Even jokes are not exempt from this fate, it suddenly dawned on me when I read the following jokes from an old dog-eared joke book this evening.

A veteran bank robber much hassled by his wife's demand for cash tries to placate her: "Just wait till the bank closes, dear, you shall have all the cash you need."

Then, there is the much harassed lawyer who keeps calling home and finds the line busy. So, he summons his secretary, tells her to take down a telegram for his daughter. "Send it by express wire," he tells the secretary. "Get off the line this instant, Sue," his telegrams reads.

With the advent of ATM, the first joke works no more. The second one was funny in the Jurassic era much before email, cellular phones, SMS. No such luck now, though.


Friday, January 02, 2009

Flick. Movie. Film. Cinema.

The two rhyming pejoratives in Chicks on Flicks, the Sony Pix review show title, took me back to the days when I could, and would, distinguish between movie, film and cinema. According to my then received ideas on the French theory, here is how it goes. The "filmic" facet of the art concerns its relationship with the world. The "cinematic" aspect deals with the aesthetics and the internal structure of a film. "Cinema" may turn out to be high art, for all you know. "Movie" delineates its role as an economic commodity or a marketable product. You watch a movie just like you eat pop corn and drink soda now sold in the multiplexes at as conscionably high prices as those of the movie tickets. If you dare me to spout some more of my borrowed wisdom, I would bore you with the definition of "auteur" again according to the French theory. The French word means "author". When it is applied to cinema, it means a film maker whose individual style and total control over all elements of production give a film his or her personal and unique stamp. Hitchcock was considered the quintessential auteur although he worked in the British and, later on, in the Hollywood Studio System. Ask Francois Truffaut, the originator of the auteur theory. John Ford and Howard Hawks too sailed in the same boat as the Master of Suspense. Woody Allen may also fit the bill. If you're still not bored to distraction, let me enlighten you on what a chick flick is. Simply put, it's a movie specifically designed to appeal to a primarily female audience, the exact opposite of a guy movie. Two recent chick flicks had either a made-in-India (Monsoon Wedding, 2001) or a British Indian Sikh expat (Bend It Like Beckham, 2002) bias. Was Chak De India a chick flick?