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?