Sunday, December 19, 2010

Not everybody loves Sachin Tendulkar.

Reading The Hindu’s and The Telegraph’s online reports of his 50th Test Century this morning, I thought of the neighbours Sachin will soon have when The Tendulkars move into their new home. It is now under construction off Carter Road, close to Otters Club – which, in June 2002, turned down Sachin’s request for membership − and Jogger’s Park, in Bandra West. Right now, the builder’s crew is making so much of a din and a nuisance of themselves that the folks staying around are just about ready to throw up in a manner of speaking. This – despite the fact that Sachin had sent them a letter in advance begging for their indulgence for the inconvenience that was going to be let loose on them! Well, almost nobody can get universal adoration, I guess. Didn’t a psychotic fan shoot John Lennon in New York in 1980 just because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lie to me.

Don’t know about you but I can still remember the time when there were no senior citizens about, no differently abled folks. There used to be old people and disabled people. Movies were movies then, not franchises. Governments used to be as vicious and ruthless in dealing with citizens acting against their diktats, i.e., not toeing the official line, as they happen to be today, though. Had Julian Assange or Arundhati Roy or Dr Binayak Sen been around then, they would have been hounded as relentlessly and mercilessly as they are being hounded right now, no quarters granted. Little white lies were the better part of valour, then as now. Demonizing or criminalizing the enemy of the State used to be the favourite gambit. It continues to be likewise. This brings to mind what George Orwell wrote in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949): “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” Also, for people who love to rewrite History to suit their own ends, here’s another Orwellian gem: "He who controls the past, controls the future."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

My good self at a Clarion reunion.

Excuse me but I’m a bit allergic when it comes to reunions. I don’t quite fancy gassing about good ol’ times half of which I cannot quite recall with guys I once knew well but have been out of touch with for a long time. I don’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings when I state this. But then as time goes on, people change. I am not the Deepak I used to be in Clarion-McCann. Anyway, an email invite from Rajan, a follow-up call from Jitu Kothari and a not-so-gentle nudge from Ujwal sent me scurrying to Pritam Restobar in Dadar – a place I don’t much care for – on Saturday, 27 November, a day after the second anniversary of 26/11. It was good to meet the Clarion crowd, though, despite my apprehensions. There was good ol’ ARK Pillay, then accountant now heading several NGOs, reminding me that I was somehow responsible for getting him his first landline connection through my friend Vairale. There was young Bhawsar, then art director now graphic designer/"tutor", gushing about how active he is at his age despite his heart condition and diabetes and how he will be going for the umpteenth time to the US of A next year. There was Jitu who hadn’t lost his talent for keeping in touch with people out of genuine affection and who reminisced about a crisis he faced when the journalists he was herding did not reach a CIDCO inaugural function in time because of a mix-up about the address of the site. There was Robin, then an Account Executive and eternal victim now a happy retiree in Goa, sounding really excited over the cellphone about hearing my voice. There was one gentleman who apparently joined Clarion much after I’d quit and whose name I didn’t quite catch. And, there was ever-smiling Rajan, then AE now heading his own ad agency in Chennai and an acknowledged expert in rural marketing all over India, telling me how much he had enjoyed living his life, handing me a copy of his self-published autobiography and asking for a feedback. Mrs Rajan was there too watching the proceedings with a half smile. A couple of mugs of draught and a vegetarian meal rounded it off. Short, sweet and memorable.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Chicago Manual of Style.

The Windy City and I are not even on nodding terms. My only and somewhat tenuous links to it are the eponymous Oscar winner and The Chicago Manual of Style. I happen to possess the 14th Edition of it in a rather shabbily brought-out Indian reprint by Prentice-Hall of India, New Delhi, in 1996. I managed to get one of the advanced copies through the kindness of my late friend, Shoiab. The reason I’m reminded of it (Can’t say I’ve used my copy very much – I had to really search in my book cabinet to find it!) is because the 16th Edition with “state-of-the-art recommendations on editorial style and publishing practices in the digital age” went on sale in the US end-October. As the very idea of an authoritative and seminal guidebook on style and usage has always fascinated me, I thought that a timeline of how The Chicago Manual of Style evolved was worth looking at.

1891 The University of Chicago Press with own compositing room and experienced typesetters opened for business. A common set of rules for the process of typesetting to ensure consistency in usage and style (a style sheet) was evolved. It later became “the University Press style book and style sheet”.

1906 The 1st Edition of Manual of Style: Being a compilation of the typographical rules in force at the University of Chicago Press (200 pages) was offered for sale for 50 cents plus 6 cents for postage and handling.

1949 The 11th Edition of the Manual went on sale.

1969 150,000 copies of the copiously rearranged, expanded and updated 12th Edition of the Manual were sold matching the combined sales of the all the earlier editions.

1982 With the publication of the 13th Edition of the Manual, the nomenclature was changed to The Chicago Manual of Style as at present. Among the then current issues it addressed were the new US Copyright rules, the emerging typesetting technology and the PC and word processor.

1993 The 936-page 14th Edition dealt more systematically with the style, usage and technology issues concerning the wide spread use of PCs. Sales soared to 500,000 copies; cumulative sales to over one million copies. (I own a copy of this Edition.)

2006 The Chicago Manual of Style Online debuted attracting more than 200,000 recurring visitors by 2010.

2010 The latest Edition appeared in October simultaneously in print as well as web formats.

Monday, November 15, 2010

History of India after 1947. Redux.

There’s much chest-beating and heart-burning every time Arundhati Roy’s recently expressed view that Kashmir was never a part of India is discussed. If you were to realistically and unemotionally look at the geopolitical status of pre-Independence India, it was as follows. The British Raj consisted of British India directly governed by the Governor General – and, later, Viceroy − of India for the Emperor of India and close to 590 Native Princely States under suzerainty of the British Crown, supervised by Residents. There were also Portuguese India comprising Goa, Daman, Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Pondicherry (now Puducherry), Karikal and Yanaon making up French India. India was pretty much balkanized as of then as it used to be before the East India Company took over the governance. Come to think of it, even with the so-called Mughal Emperor in Delhi or prior to that reign, balkanization was the rule rather than the exception. The Undivided (except for Pakistan) Independent India was an idea of those to whom the absconding British transferred power in unconscionable haste in 1947. These latter worthies with eminently Middle Indian values, sensibilities and concerns used the stick and the carrot route to fashion a federation out of it. Along with the transfer of power, the departing Imperialists also left behind with their successors their arrogantly domineering Imperialist attitude and style of governance. The inheritors promptly picked up where the British Raj had left off. For their own first colonial conquest, they chose the native aborigines and tribals and the rural masses to play the role of the victim. Arundhati Roy summed it all brilliantly in her The Greater Common Good. "The Indian State is not a State that has failed. It is a State that has succeeded impressively in what it set out to do. It has been ruthlessly efficient in the way it has appropriated India's resources – its land, its water, its forests, its fish, its meat, its eggs, its air – and redistributed it [sic?] to a favoured few (in return, no doubt, for a few favours). It is superbly accomplished in the art of protecting its cadres of paid-up elite, consummate in its methods of pulverising those who inconvenience its intentions." And: "India lives in her villages, we're told, in every other sanctimonious public speech. That's bullshit. … India doesn't live in her villages. India dies in her villages. India gets kicked around in her villages. India lives in her cities. India's villages live only to serve her cities. Her villagers are her citizens' vassals and for that reason must be controlled and kept alive, but only just." (pp.14-15, IBD, 1999) There have apparently been 60 million oustees ever since 1947 as a result of these river dam projects. Numerous atrocities have been and are being perpetrated by forestry department’s official, police personnel and contractors on tribals with impunity. The first one of them was at Pararia in West Bengal in 1991 where the guilty went scot-free. In the second instance, a few years later in Sagbara District in Gujarat, the two policemen who raped Guntaben, a young tribal, were imprisoned for ten years thanks to the intervention of Amnesty International on her behalf. The other instance happened in Nandurbar, Narmada Valley, where the tribals were displaced four times, literally hounded by the officials all the time. The motive for the horrendous treatment is to demoralize the hapless victims who have nobody to turn to, nobody to fight on their behalf. (The Dalit at least have a champion in the shape of a political party to take up their cause.) In the very first major river valley project, Hirakud in Orissa, the oustees living on open land were relentlessly harassed by the forestry personnel. The story repeats itself in Singrauli, also in Madhya Pradesh, where the tribal oustees were displaced at least three times in three decades. Felix Padel, the co-author of Out of This Earth (Orient BlackSwan, 2010) and the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin, hazards a guesstimate of displaced persons in India since Independence at 60 million and in Orissa alone by the Aluminum Cartel at 3 million. Given the scenario of virtual genocide of the tribals and the continuing armed occupation of Kashmir, why should the Maoist upsurge and the Kashmiri call for azaadi outrage us?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Would Ripley believe it? Or, not?

There is a self-confessed manic depressive living in Colorado, US of A. His name is Philip R Greaves II. His claim to fame is The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover's Code of Conduct. This self-published work became available for download as an eBook last week at $4.79 a pop in the Kindle store and immediately whipped up a storm. It attracted 100s of angry reviews, calls for boycott of the website unless it stopped selling it − and just one sale according to the author. Although has refused to comply on the grounds of its opposition to censorship, freedom of expression (First Amendment?) and the customer’s right to choose her/his own reading material (they say they won’t sell porn, though; apparently, they don’t think this book belongs to that dung heap), the download link does not seem operational right now. The 404 Error message reads: “Looking for something? We're sorry. The Web address you entered is not a functioning page on our site” and redirects you to the Home Page. Would Ripley believe it? Or, not? Believe it or not, Mr Ripley, in early October, the United States Justice Foundation had faulted for "contributing to the potential rape and molestation of children" by offering for sale Understanding Loved Boys and Boylovers by David L. Riegel and threatened it with protracted litigation if the book was not removed within 30 days. The link is still operational at the time of writing. There is even a “Look Inside” option there.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Next of kings.

I’m at my wit’s end. To get to the bottom of my puzzlement, you’ll have to scroll to the bottom of the list (please see below) at the bottom of the recent email I received from “Coca-Cola Company”. It informed me that my email address had won £500,000.00 in the “just concluded annual final draws held on the (21st September, 2010) by Coca-Cola in conjunction with the British American Tobacco Worldwide Promotion”. To claim the prize, I had to send them the following details:

“1. Full Name:
2. Country:
3. Contact Address:
4. Telephone or Mobile:
5. Marital Status:
6. Occupation:
7. Ticket Number:
8. Sex:
9. Email:
10. Age
11. Ballot Number:
12. Next of kings:”

Could it be a case akin to a serial murderer leaving clues so that the investigators can catch him? I rest my case, members of the jury.

Monday, November 01, 2010

“Let my people go.” Fate of Kashmir.

I’m no Old Testament fan. Leonard Cohen, Woody Allen, The Marx Brothers, Mel Brooks, Albert Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci, MC Escher, George Gershwin, Dorothy Parker, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David and the clueless Rabbis in the hilarious Rabbi jokes are some of the Jewish folk I admire. So, why am I quoting from Exodus 7:26 wherein God orders Moses to tell Pharaoh to “let my people go”? Syed Ali Shah Geelani as Moses, the Indian State with its occupation forces in Kashmir as the Pharaoh and India’s multiple vicissitudes in the valley as the ten plagues let loose on Egypt by God somehow seem to be the perfect metaphors for the current scenario. You cannot keep an entire tribe captive against its wishes indefinitely. The Pharaoh learned it the hard way. So has the Indian State. It has tried the carrot (Special Status within the Indian Union) and stick (armed occupation) approach. Now it’s probably the time to follow in the Pharaoh’s wise footsteps and bid adios to the crisis. Give the Kashmir Valley the “azadi” it is clamouring for with a clearly agreed proviso that once it leaves the Indian Union, both of them shall have nothing whatsoever to do with each other: no military and financial aid, for instance. A clean break is most likely the best solution.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

News’s doppelgänger. (I’m stupid or what?)

Now that I think about it, teaching myself to write good ads did not come easy. In Clarion-McCann which I joined in 1965 I became obsessed with making the print ads I wrote resemble news as closely as possible. This was because I thought naively that an ad qua news (even spurious news) may command greater credibility with newspaper and magazine readers than an ad with no such pretensions. I remember working on a Forhan’s Toothpaste extension product ad for more than two months on my own time at night and early mornings to develop the “perfect” editorial ad. Call it persistence. Call it stupidity. The ad got plenty of praise from the finicky client as well as within the agency. Unfortunately, the new product launch got canceled. This, however, did not dampen my spirit or my resolve to write credible ads. I looked for affordable inexpensive books, mostly paperbacks, to teach me how to write crisply and to the point. Among them were Rudolf Flesch’s The Art of Plain Talk (1946), The Art of Readable Writing (1949) and The Art of Clear Thinking (1951). For a while, I became an ardent admirer of the Reader’s Digest house style with its technique of neatly compressing stories into bite-size info-bits. In the sixties, the magazine was at the zenith of its popularity and success selling more than 20 million copies a month the world over. I got over the infatuation after a brief flirtation, though. In the process, I developed my own style and also learned a few tricks about how to vary the style for different types of ads and products. I gradually mastered the technique of converting raw facts into persuasive writing fairly quickly. Simultaneously, I searched for a reliable technique to generate ideas speedily. The one described in James Webb Young’s A Technique for Producing Ideas (1975) worked for me. (Young, by the way, was J Walter Thompson’s VP for creative work and an Advertising Hall of Fame inductee.)

Friday, October 29, 2010


For those of you who are like Maya, a great singer, a devout Shahnaz Husain fan and my copywriter colleague in Everest Advertising, I will give you something to worry about. Before I tell you what it is, I shall try and explain to you why it would worry Maya. In Kitab Mahal of which Everest occupied the entire top floor, there was a wholesale book distributing agency on the first floor accessible by the back staircase. I used to go there almost daily and pick up books at discounted prices. Once I picked up a Dictionary of Symptoms and took it up to my room where I dropped it seemingly carelessly on my desk to catch the eye of any visitor and after a while called Maya on the pretext of discussing a copywriting assignment. I knew she was like me an avid book reader who couldn’t pass a book within reach without picking it up and browsing. As soon as she arrived, I left my room saying I had to pee in a hurry. By the time I returned, she was already scanning the book looking worried. I pretended not to have noticed and started chatting about this and that. Mayamemsaab was not listening. She had got up from her chair and was pacing behind it with the open book in her hand. Then, she asked me if she could borrow it for a while. She had swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker. The next few days were hell for her. Every now and then, she would come to my room and check with me if she was looking all right. She kept on dropping dark hints of suffering from some new malady every few minutes. I also caught her off guard checking her pulse once. Others too noticed her unease and we all had a big laugh about it. She never returned the “borrowed” Dictionary and I did not bother to remind her. The ghastly deed had been done! In retrospect, though, I was thoroughly ashamed of myself. I had played the dirtiest trick one could on a hypochondriac. Which brings me to the very same dirty trick I’m about to play, with advance warning, on those among my few and far between readers who are in the habit of imagining that they suffer from some rare psychological malady. In this case, the malady on offer is “Dysthymia”. This deadly sounding condition is defined as “a mood disorder characterized by chronic mildly depressed or irritable mood often accompanied by other symptoms (as eating and sleeping disturbances, fatigue, and poor self-esteem) – called also dysthymic disorder”. Any self-respecting hypochondriac can easily delude herself into believing that she is the victim of this scourge – thanks to the vague “one size fit all” wording of the definition, just the kind of stuff a bestselling Dictionary of Symptoms is full of. Want more food for thought? How about “Dysrhythmia”?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What do you expect from an army of occupation?

The recent “Breaking the Silence”/Facebook exposé of the callous abuse of hapless Palestinians by Israeli soldiers reminds me of the acrimonious and blasphemous label Arundhati Roy recently used to describe India after Independence: a “colonising power”. Her choice of the epithet was guided, no doubt, by the Indian State’s attitude toward and behaviour with the tribals at the time of building the dams and granting mining rights to business interests as well as by its armed occupation of Jammu & Kashmir. The well documented human rights’ abuses by the Indian Army behind the protective shield of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 are no doubt a result of their brutal role as an army of occupation just like the Israeli Army amidst the Palestinians. That is how guardians of disputed property tend to behave. If possession, as the well-known adage goes, is nine-tenth of the law, is it any wonder that the Indian Army personnel look upon the Kashmiris as their inferior – by no means their equal? To me, the Kashmiri cry for “azadi” sounds like a desperate plea for justice and fair play as also sheer survival: “Don’t kill our children and innocent bystanders at the slightest excuse. Leave us in peace.”

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Lower your expectations. Even, aspirations.

Curb your enthusiasm, enthuses Larry David. He ought to know. He curbed his, quit Seinfeld at its zenith, went on to HBO and greater heights with Curb Your Enthusiasm and later on to the lead role in Woody Allen’s Whatever Works. Recently, when I was in the US, I was witness for the spell of a few hours to the family life of a guy whom I had met before on a previous trip there and also in India. He is a trained architect from India. He is married to a white Caucasian who works as a nurse part time and owns a dressage horse she rides herself. They have two pre-teen school-going children, live in the Topanga Canyon in the Greater Los Angeles area. Theirs is a rather cluttered house built on a hillside and seems to reflect their belief in sustainable living. The lunch they served was far from fancy, no liquor – not even beer or store wine. What I saw there was a contented family. I mean, really, really contented – no stress at all. This guy is far from successful, seems to be making his living with little chores nobody else wants to do. But his Third Worldliness seems to stand him and his family in good stead. They have lowered their expectations as much as they can in the pressure-cooker, cut-throat LA environs. Alas! If only more of Middle India were to do it instead of aspiring to First World life style in India and resign to the fact that India is a Third World country that’s likely to remain in the Third World for a long, long time. Take my own case when I joined Everest Advertising 5bcqyf in October 1976. The Chairman of the ad agency, which was run along feudal lines, was a pseudo: a total fraud with pretensions of being a socialite. He dropped names, including brand names. He was surrounded by his inner circle of ardent sycophants who treated him as the ultimate oracle on trends and life style. Since I used to work on Swissair, I had to constantly interact with him. This meant I had to appear to be as suave and well-informed as the next guy in his coterie. Fortunately, there was a Swissair annual publication that used to come to me as a part of the brief. This amazing compendium used to carry advertising of the latest life style products as well as nuggets of curious information on Swissair service, year after year. Given this arsenal and my propensity to read, I could gather enough ammunition to outtalk the best of the pretenders among the courtiers. In the process, though, I began to crave a faux life style and, for a while, even lived it – thin imported cigarellos, Bacardi with soda, the works − until the scales fell from my eyes somewhere along the way. I realised that lowering my expectations as well as aspirations was a sure way of saving me from disappointment, especially since I was a Third Worlder living in a Third World country.

Monday, October 18, 2010

In these biblioclastic times.

I love reading. I adore it to distraction in all its exclusionary, anti-social, selfish, I-me-myself glory. You could call it bibliolatry. Well, almost. Some of the books I read transport me to where nobody can follow me. What’s more, I love every “forest-killer”, turn-a-page book as noumenon, “thing-in-itself”. 5bcqef. Let me loose in a well-stocked Borders or Barnes and Noble and watch me go giddy with delight like a kid in a Toys”R”Us. So, the latest ruckus about Such A Long Journey ought to make me fume, don’t you think? Strangely, I’m unperturbed. My personal preoccupation with books has nothing to do with what happens in the world. Come to think of it, the world – especially, the Third World – may well get along better with a little fewer books on the shop shelves, for all I know. Right now, what this country needs is, maybe, a really delicious 5-rupee wada pau. Now don’t give me all that talk about being facetious and not supporting freedom of expression and the rest of the rot. The moment you allow these humourless and witless twits to get your goat, all is lost. Let us instead drool over all the extra sales that apro Rohinton’s Indo-Nostalgic novel must have drummed up thanks to the much ado about nothing. By the way, good ol’ Rohinton is no stranger to a bit of brouhaha. Back in 2002, in the course of his US tour to promote Family Matters, he and his wife were racially targeted at every airport (he had the looks of a Muslim in the eyes of the US Immigration officials) and had to even cut short his long tour. I’m happy for him now that the local goons in his erstwhile home town have targeted his book and pushed up his sales. The only worry is, in the process, the Indo-Nostalgic nice guy that he is may well metamorphose into an Indophobic boor – although, with him, it seems highly unlikely.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

New meaning for old.

The wonderful thing about the English language is that not only does she willingly admit new words into the Oxford English Dictionary but also readily accept old words acquiring new meaning. The latest example of the cheerful adaptability of the English language is “dogging”. Remember the time when a determined sleuth used to dog a desperado? Well, you can forget it already. To learn the new not-so-innocent meaning of “dogging”, please go here: 5bcpcy. (Want a clue to what you’re about to learn? Think where cats differ most from dogs and pigeons, particularly in shamelessness.) For even more enlightenment, go here:

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Lame duck? Devil incarnate? Choose one.

Not a day passes without someone pointing out the linkage between crime, terrorism and the “minority community”. Whenever this connection is made, I’m reminded of MS Sathyu’s Garam Hawa (1973) and Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s Salim Langade Pe Mat Ro (1989). The former film deals with the turmoil in the mind of the Agra resident Salim Mirza (Balraj Sahani) in the midst of the post-partition tumult around him until the time he makes up his mind to stay back in what Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had for a while been calling “Hindu India” and joins the mainstream in the final shot. The other Salim living in latter-day India is a victim of poverty and prejudice. With little education under his belt, he has turned to petty thievery for survival. His tragedy is that, after seeing the error of his ways, despite his best efforts, getting on the right side of law and out of the clutches of his former criminal colleagues in order to earn an honest living seems simply out of his reach, mainly because of his religion. Whereas Salim #1’s saga is deathly serious, being as it is set in the aftermath of a monumental blood bath, Salim #2’s saga is laced with a lot of humour, somewhat like Mirza’s tele-serial, Nukkad. Both of them are very relevant to the Indian reality as of now.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Goodness gracious! A lion in my lap, no less.

If memory serves, I saw Bwana Devil (1952) at the Strand Cinema in Colaba, wearing the special polarized specs, in either 1953 or 1954. The tagline in its publicity material, I distinctly recall, was: A lion in your lap! A lover in your arms. This Natural Vision movie kick-stared the 1952-54 3-D craze in the US as a kneejerk reaction to the TV threat to cinema, the others being CinemaScope and the 3-projector Cinerama. But the makers of Bwana Devil were so hell-bent on proving its three dimensional credentials that the ingredients which make a movie (plot development, acting and the rest) were ignored with disastrous results. Most critics in the West mauled it mercilessly. Even I who used to be quite naïve about English movies then found it intolerable. A better-made 3-D movie, I’m told, was Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954) using the process to bring out the depth of field instead of wasting it on gimmicks such as stuffs being hurled at you. It was released in India in the 2-D format as also was the horror flick House of Wax (1953) made in the alternative StereoVision 3-D process with its paddleball man and cancan girls showing off the 3-D edge. For that matter, even The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and It Came from Outer Space (1953) came to India minus the 3-D. All this chitchat reminds me of a character in the sci-fi comedy Back To The Future (1985) set in the mid-fifties who wears the red/blue 3-D glasses to remind us from which era he hails. He is called 3-D. Coming back to 3-D and me, though, I later realised that, in the West, from the 1860s to the 1920s, almost every middle-class home owned a Holmes stereoscope and stereo cards. 5bckrx. In the 1920s, it seems a couple of movie halls in New York City had mounted on the seat in front a pair of gooseneck rotary-shutter viewers somewhat like the present liquid crystal shutterglasses. 5bckry. Again, I read about the 70s sexploitation 3-D movie, The Stewardesses (1969) and the critically acclaimed Andy Warhol's Frankenstein (1973) purely by chance. There was apparently a brief revival of the 3-D fad in the 1980s with Jaws 3-D (1983) and Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (also 1983). Finally came the 3-D revival in the new millennium spearheaded by the 2009 magnum opus Avatar. Alfred Hitchcock briefly toyed with 3-D (Dial M for Murder) but did not persist with it. He went nowhere close to CinemaScope with its aspect ratio of 2.35:1. He did experiment with VistaVision in To Catch A Thief (1955), Vertigo (1958) and North by Northwest (1959) before returning to the good old aspect ratio of 1.33:1 in the standard (Academy) format for the black and white cult classic, Psycho (1960). Makes sense and works for me too.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Life across the board. Mine, to wit.

Truth to tell, I haven’t been much of a game player most of my life. Neither the board nor the outdoor variety. Among the earliest board games I played were Snakes and Ladders and Ludo, both among the more popular children’s board games. As a child, I used to persuade my mother or father to buy me a combo set of Snakes and Ladder-Ludo-Chinese Checkers-Draughts every year we visited the Navi Wadi jatra (fair) or went Christmas shopping. One of the reasons for doing this was that, after a few days of use of the new purchase, most of the play counters used to go missing and we had to make do with unsatisfactory substitutes like buttons. All this had become a sort of ritual, almost. And, being the pampered son that I happened to be, my wish was my parents’ command and mostly granted. I must have graduated to Monopoly when I was about ten. Scrabble too must have come into my life around the same time. Draughts (Checkers) had been a part of my early board gaming. I distinctly recall a Mankar family heirloom predating my birth: an exquisitely crafted black wooden box with large red and black Draftsmen stored inside. You opened the box, turned it on its innards and it became a Draughts or Chess board. I stumbled upon Chess much later in life. In 1972, if memory serves, when the Fischer-Spassky world championship made Chess the flavour of the month. Since then, I’ve spent many pleasant moments playing it. For instance: In fact, I became quite a Chess aficionado acquiring quite a few fancy Chess sets including one, purchased in Nepal, with the Chess pieces resembling warriors, elephants, camels, horses and so forth as well as the board wrought in brass. Also, a large number of (mostly unread) trade paperbacks on play analysis. One book on the game I enjoyed most, though, was the story of the Fischer-Spassky world championship I bought from my friend Shoiab. My board game playing in the 21st century has been mostly confined to playing with Armaan and Anika Both of them don’t like to lose and, until recently, used to get terribly upset if I burst out laughing at the turn of events. Armaan has his own innovative approach to board gaming. He makes his own rules as the game proceeds.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Lust is in the eye of the voyeur.

Renato (Giuseppe Sulfaro) of the puppy-dog eyes and halting speech, a resident of the Sicilian small town of Castelcuto as yet wearing a humiliating pair of shorts, is about to come of age. He becomes the proud owner of a bicycle on 10 June 1940 − the day Il Duce declares war on the Allies. On the same day, he joins the gang of bicycle-owning oglers of the daily spectacle of a stroll through the village square by the callipygian Maddalena Scordia (Monica Bellucci), aka Malèna, a recently widowed school teacher who is the daughter-in-law of their Latin professor. So infatuated is he by the unwitting siren that he begins to stalk her. In the process he becomes a voyeuristic witness of her secret life and a raconteur of her tragic tale. Her widowhood makes her an “available” target for all the lustful men and an object of hate for all the women in Castelcuto. Imaginations run riot. Tongues wag. Gossip gets spun. Malèna’s name is mud especially after she sells herself to the German Army officers out of desperate destitution because the town has ostracized her. Once the war ends, the women of Castelcuto turn vengefully on this sinner among them and, after a merciless beating despite Renato’s valiant attempt to shield her, virtually force her to leave town. When her husband, wrongly presumed to be dead at the start of the war, returns looking for her, Renato writes him a quasi-anonymous note assuring him that, no matter what happened, Malèna had always loved him faithfully. He points him to her probable destination. A year later, the Scordias return to Castelcuto. They stroll through leisurely across the town square, she a little plumper now, demurely handing on his arm. The townsfolk seem to be in reconciliatory, let-the-bygones-be bygones mood. They gradually accept Malèna whom Renato wishes the best of luck after he lends her a final helping hand to pick up the oranges she has spilled from her overstuffed shopping bag. This in a nutshell is the moving narrative of Malèna (2000) written and directed by Giuseppe “Cinema Paradiso” Tomatore I happened to chance upon the other morning on Star Movies. Lucky me! I even found the exceedingly apt adjective “callipygian” in the Online Dictionary by sheer accident.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Once a delinquent, always a delinquent.

One morning recently, out of the blue, I had a bout of nostalgia. It was about a friend who is no more. He was my colleague for three years in Clarion-McCann when we became firm friends. He had to leave his job because he could not get along with his boss. Although I used to be quite serious and solemn about work and the world in general in those days, I made an exception in his case and got to be quite fond of him. He used to address me as “DW” (short for “Deepak Waman” Mankar) – a very British trait (“TS” = “Thomas Stearns” Eliot and so forth) he had acquired during his years of stay in London for higher studies followed by a job in advertising. He did it to nobody else, though. I was his chosen victim probably because I used to be such a square and a crushing bore in those days. The bloke was straight out of PG Wodehouse, full of pranks all the time. PG was also one of his favourite authors as he was mine. Our other shared reading preference was Edgar Wallace We used to hunt for PG and EW books jointly in shops stocking old books, magazines and other scrap as well as pavement stalls on Hornby Road and Lamington Road. He also loved Topol and "If I were a rich man" from A Fiddler on the Roof . He watched it several times when it ran at the Sterling in the eighties. Later on, we discovered that he had been Ujwal’s contemporary in St. Teresa High School which he had to quit after rustication as a reprisal for what he himself described as a “dastardly” prank. He finished school in St Sebastian. Though a devout church-going Catholic himself walking almost a mile to attend morning mass at the red St Teresa’s (Portuguese) Church, Girgaum, he apparently never got along with the priests running both the schools and even St Xavier’s College. One of his abiding passions in life at that time, besides chess games on the terrace of 233 Khetwadi Main Road and spending the whole day in the David Sassoon Library in Colaba, was the World War II history. He used to regale me with thrilling accounts of the various battle theatres. One event of the era we disagreed about was the Holocaust. He didn’t think the accounts of it were grossly exaggerated although he agreed with me that history is mostly written by the victors. Somewhere along the way, he had acquired a taste for locally brewed hock in spite of his years of pub crawling in London. It probably had something to do with his dire financial straits. He had his own unique style of downing his poison. He would take a fairly large swallow of his drink, make a face, take a lick of salt, quickly pour his next shot, bolt it down and make his exit. He also got into the habit of carefully hoarding stubs of cheap cheroots to later crumple them and smoke the tobacco in a pipe. One of this prankster’s weirdest – and stupidest − pranks cost him the opportunity offered to him on a silver platter for a late comeback into advertising. A newly launched ad agency floated in the late 1980s by his friends had hired him as the operational head. Had he taken the tide at the floods, it could well have turned out to be his swan song, his last hurrah. Alas! It was not to be. Instead of concentrating on marketing and client acquisition, he frittered away scarce resources on ads released on a whim and also alienated a few clients. Then came the point when he had no other alternative except to resign. For several years before his death a couple of years back, we had lost touch. When we came to hear of his hospitalization, both Ujwal and I went sick-visiting almost every day. We even attended his final service held at his younger brother’s flat in Bandra.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Nostalgia on steroids.

Namrata Dutt Kumar, the elder daughter of Nargis and Sunil Dutt, writes well, even cogently. She is the chief narrator of Mr and Mrs Dutt: Memories of our Parents (Rollibooks, 2007). She wrote it in tandem with her younger sister Priya Dutt, according to their joint admission in the Foreword. I’m impressed by the élan with which they shrug off, also in the Foreword, the responsibility to be truthful and to avoid veering toward hagiographic excesses: “Seen from the eyes of their children, an objective and impartial view [of the parents’ lives] is perhaps an unrealistic expectation.” I loved the master stroke at the bottom of the Foreword: their handwritten signatures appearing below their photographs from early childhood. I was not looking for 100% honesty and authenticity when I picked up the book. As an ardent admirer of the actress par excellence though (I thought − and still think − she was one of the greatest talents ever to have graced the silver screen pre- and post-Independence), I was looking in the narrative for the Nargis I remembered vividly from those days. I found some of the Nargis I remembered in her movie stills. I could at a stretch accept Namrata and Priya's portrayal of her and her bubbly buddy Shammi clowning around like Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) and Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance) from I Love Lucy (ibid., pages 66 -71 and page 90). But pre-Mother India Nargis without even a fleeting shadow of Raj Kapoor is like Hamlet without the ghost in Act I, Scenes 1, 4 and 5 of the eponymous play, especially considering the trouble they've gone to piecing together the antecedents of both their parents. I find it incredible that the son and daughters of Nargis never heard by sheer chance, if nothing else, at a wayside tea stall or over Radio Ceylon maybe the Lata Mangeshkar-Manna Day all-time hit: “Pyaar huwa iqraar hua hai, /Pyaar se phir kyoon darta hai dil?/Kehta hai dil, rasta mushqil, /Pyaar ki hai kahaan manzil?” (Love happened, vows were exchanged, /Why then is the heart so spooked by love? /The going’s arduous, says the heart, /Who knows where the trail of love leads?) Apocrypha has it that even poor Morarji Desai got a first-hand glimpse into the Fifties’ First Romance when he was the Chief Minister of the then Bombay Presidency. That of course was much before the Dutt progeny came on the scene. All this ducking and dodging and sticking one’s neck into a hole in the ground like an ostrich reminds me of what Erica Wagner wrote about Sharon Dogar’s soon-to-be-published novel for young adults, Annexed. This is a fictional account of Anne Frank’s life when she was hiding from the Nazis and incarcerated in the concentration camp to which the Anne Frank Trust has taken a strong objection because of graphic accounts of the narrator Peter van Pels’ desire for Anne and intimate scenes between the two. “When does history become history?” Wagner asks. “How do we draw a line after which speculation — factual or fictional — becomes permissible and unlikely to cause offence to anyone? Living memory? Longer? Who gets to decide?” Wagner goes on to confess that she found it difficult to find a “true version” of any event while writing Ariel’s Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and the Story of Birthday Letters, her non-fiction book about Ted Hughes’ account of his life with Sylvia Plath in a series of poems. Did the truth vanish in thin air then?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Croupier.

The following is a real story. Once upon a time, for one enchanted evening, I was indeed the honoured guest of an honest-to-goodness croupier working in a London casino in Great Russell Street (for all I know). I never got to watch him actually working in the pit: dealing the cards expertly or raking in and pushing out chips with his long T-stick across the green felt surface of the gambling table, though. By the way, the guy happened to be the elder brother of an ex-colleague of mine from the time I was in Forward Markets Commission in the early sixties. Clarion-McCann, where I worked for a little over 11 years from 1965, sent me to London in 1971 for 3 months’ training. This was the time when the ex-colleague offered to inform his brother in London of my visit and make sure he entertained me suitably. I had been unaware till then of the brother’s existence. The reason for keeping it hush-hush became clear only after I met him. In London, I was rooming with an old school pal who was writing his Ph D thesis in Chemistry. This was in the attic of an old house in Drayton Park, Islington, in North London with its own taciturn London landlady in attendance. The eponymous tube station was on the Northern City Line, 5 minutes away from where I was rooming. Anyway, the mystery brother called me one Friday to say that a limo would pick me and my friend up the coming Tuesday at 7 in the evening. He said Tuesday was the day of choice because it was his weekly day of rest. The designated Tuesday arrived in due course. On the dot at 7 pm so did the promised limo. The aforementioned landlady was startled out of her habitual stupor to express her astonishment at its appearance to my friend and me. To cut a long story short, we rode in the limo to an unknown destination which turned out to be the restaurant and watering hole attached to the casino where the mystery brother worked. There we were treated to a most lavish spread of dinner with champagne flowing. My friend as well as the mystery brother and his cheerful sari-clad wife were teetotalers. So, I was the only guy guzzling. From what little they told us, it turned out to be the classic black-sheep-of-the-family story but with a happy ending: the ne’er-do-well finally making his pile in faraway London. I was puzzled why the couple was going out of their way to impress someone whom they had met the first and, most likely, the last time in their lives. I reckon they must have wanted me to carry a glowing report of the royal treatment I had received to their family in India. I did my bit out of gratitude. A few years later, I heard from my ex-colleague that his brother had passed away and his widow had opted for living in London rather than going back to India. I guess it made sense. The couple had no children and also no emotional ties left in India.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Work fascinates me. I can watch it for hours.

This morning, I went out wearing my canary yellow T-shirt with the “Work fascinates…” legend emblazoned across the chest. That, by the way, is not “by the way”. I’m upset at the way Mumbai opens up for work later and later as time goes by. As late as the early eighties, shops in our neighbourhood used to be open by 8 am. Now you can count yourself as lucky if the shutter is up by 9. By one of those bizarre happenstances, all my chores today got done earlier than I had thought and despite taking a really leisurely walk via Khotachi Wadi to my final chore I reached the spot 45 minutes too early. There was no alternative – no good bookshop within easy reach – to while away the time on hand. So I strolled aimlessly through a sudden but brief cloudburst around the once familiar neighbourhood most of which seemed so alien thanks to the new shops and new multistoried buildings. I finally landed up in the Cosmopolitan Restaurant & Stores for a cup of tea. After taking my order, the lady who now seems to be in charge of the Irani Café started scolding someone for being late. He happened to be the man from the raddiwala there to collect the used cardboard cartons and plastic bottles for recycling. His lame excuse for being late was the cloudburst I mentioned earlier. I watched him as he went about his task systematically while I sipped my tea. He seemed to be good at it the way he unhurriedly undid every carton and flattened it out to arrange layer on layer. It took him as long to finish his chore as it did me to finish my cuppa: all of fifteen minutes. My last chore saw me again admiring someone taking ten minutes and a lot of chitchat on the side to do a job that should have taken no more than two minutes at the most. That’s the way the cookie crumbles these days, I reckon.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Category error.

Something is categorically amiss – nay, noxiously rotten – in the erstwhile State of Porbandar. That, by the way, was the principality where the grandfather as well as the father of the Father of the Nation did duty as Dewan or Prime Minister once upon a time and where the latter was born. Porbandar, on the nose of the uniquely shaped landmass of Kutch and west of Ahmedabad and Sabarmati Ashram, was categorically not on the Dandi March route. That salt-bound trail of 241 miles wound its way southwards along the mainland coast.

But that’s neither here nor there. Except perhaps for the fact that the 241 miles that Gandhi and his 79 Satyagrahi followers covered in 24 days inspired Montblanc of Germany to launch a limited edition of 241 hand-crafted Gandhi fountain pens. Tushar Gandhi, MK’s great grandson, found nothing wrong with the idea. According to BBC “[h]is charitable foundation has already received a donation of $145,000 from Montblanc and will receive between $200 and $1,000 for each pen sold.” Tushar, I reckon, thinks like the bania that he is and his great grandfather was.

Banias are from the trader/merchant stock. According to Jafar Mahmΰd (Mahatma Gandhi: A Multifaceted Person, page 53), Gandhi once admitted that he was a bania and there was no limit to his greed. On page 64 of the same book, there’s an account of how he was not averse to raising money by auctioning the gifts he received. A lime went for Rs.10/-; a cotton garland for Rs.201/-; a golden takli (drop spindle) for Rs.5000/-; a thrice-auctioned ring worth Rs.30/- for Rs.445/-; a casket for Rs.1000/-. Imagine what these bids would be worth at the 21st century prices. When it came to raising funds for his causes, Gandhi was also a shameless beggar.

Dijo Kappen of the Centre for Consumer Education, Kerala, does not agree with Tushar Gandhi’s bania logic. The Centre stopped the sale of the Montblanc product by filing a suit in the Kerala High Court evoking a 1950 Indian law prohibiting the improper use of emblems and names. “It is a mockery of the great man and … an insult to the nation … to use him as a poster boy,” argued Kappen. Are there haves and have-nots among NGOs and are there internecine rivalries and jealousies out there too, one wonders.

The text on the Montblanc website clearly says that the $25,000 (£16,000) gold and silver limited edition pen is homage to the 241 miles travelled by Gandhi on the Salt March from Ahmedabad to the coast.

Is there what is known in philosophy and semantics as “category error” lurking here?

I’m reminded of my mythical friend Henry Root’s daughter, Doreen, a student of philosophy and sociology at the University of Exeter in the sober seventies when Mrs Thatcher ruled the roost in Britain. Young Doreen used to be rather adept at spotting logical faux pas.

She would probably have posed the question in the present case as follows.

Can a profit-making product pass off as homage to a man who made a fetish out of living in poverty although it took a lot of money to keep him there, said Sarojini Naidu?

Or, can a self-serving act pose as homage to a selfless person?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Funny things happened on the way to the mash-up.

I’m an avid reader of the old-fashioned “forest-killer” book. I like to hold it firmly in my hands. I enjoy the tantalizing smell of fresh glue in my nostrils as I flip the pages. (Occasionally I read eBooks on my computer when there’s no other option but am not happy with them. No, I do not own an eBook reader like Kindle, thank you.) What’s even more significant, I’m from the Third World. My mind is soaked in the Third World reality of scarcity and poverty and deprivation. It’s in my ‘acquired’ nature to get the books I want at the lowest possible price even when I have the extra spare cash. Ergo, I don’t mind a second-hand book provided it’s not too dog-eared, not too worn out for wear. Every time I do this, I know I’m depriving the author and the publisher of their share of the spoils. Too bad!

In Los Angeles this April, I went to a Saturday sale of discarded books at the local library (#32 Eagle Rock Branch) right across from my grandson Armaan’s school. The room was jam-packed with eager bargain hunters jockeying for space. The senior citizens running the sale were generous to a fault in pricing the books on sale. They would give every shopper a free paper bag and tell her/him to fill it up and take it away for just $3.00. Between me and my daughter-in-law Anita, we picked up some 20 odd books, many of them in near-mint condition − and two badly battered and nearly torn shopping bags − for the princely sum of $6.00. That really perked up my Third-World soul.

Then I remembered from my distant past lived in good ol’ South Mumbai the Strand Book Stall with its 20% discount on all books no matter what. TN Shanbhag, its owner, was really astute to have zeroed in on the buy-wholesale-sell-retail stratagem as early as the early 50s. The Padmashree he got from the Government of India as well as his UNESCO-recognized award were both well deserved. Single-handedly and no doubt with the best of intentions, he turned remaindering into an honourable pursuit.

You can spot a remaindered book by the unsightly telltale slash on the bottom of the pages next to the spine, by the way. You can see the stigma on most marked down books. Only hardbound and trade paperbacks are fortunate enough to be remaindered. Normal pocket books get “stripped” (i.e., shorn of their front and back covers) or burned or pulped. This practice, I understand, conforms to the sound accounting principle of using the available warehouse space optimally by not carrying too huge an inventory for too long. In the entrance portals of Borders and Barnes and Noble bookshops I walked past the line-up of books at marked-down prices − as sure a sign as any that they were on their way to the remaindering warehouse. This sight too reminded me of the late Mr Shanbhag and his standard 20%-off-on-all-books policy. I also remembered a friend of mine in the book trade who used to always blame the Strand Book Stall owner for having “screwed up” their business by using remaindering for marketing leverage.

Why does a book get remaindered? Probably because it did not sell as well as somebody at the publisher’s expected it to. That somebody goofed up big time. It turned out to be a turkey, one of “[t]he Edsels of the world of moveable type” if one were to borrow from the inimitable Clive James’s poem, 'The Book of my Enemy Has Been Remaindered' ”. But, wait a sec. Maybe I’m oversimplifying, though. Didn’t I see several books of bestselling authors like James Patterson and David Baldacci hugely discounted in the entrance portals of Borders and Barnes and Noble bookshops, ostensibly on their way to the publisher’s backlist? Some of them were at that moment being hailed in the newspapers and on the Internet as top of the charts. Maybe, they were not down-sliding into a backlist slot after all. Maybe, their presence in the entrance portal of a Borders or a Barnes and Noble bookshop had something to do with that particular store’s inventory status.

On the other hand, aren’t the sales of some books resurrected at times by something happening somewhere faraway or a chance remark by someone? There are the classics among books of course, the perennial good sellers. But the average book, it seems, loses steam after the initial spurt of a few weeks after launch. Then it becomes a has-been, a part of history; in other words, a part of the publisher’s backlist. If it continues to sell in trickles, the publisher may decide to keep it in print and in the warehouse – provided the remaindering logic works in its favour. Also, remember: the fewer the copies of a given title in the warehouse, the more difficult it is to keep a track of them and to keep them in shipshape.

In publishing, there’s an entire slew of rights to sell (territory, audio book, large print, translation, paperback, movie, video game) to shore up the publisher’s and the author’s earnings. Successful authors have their own websites to keep the fans keyed up and asking for more. So, I suppose that, in some cases, remaindering may simply be a tactic rather than a sign of failure. For all you know, remaindering on the massive scale like what The Works in the UK and BookCloseOuts and BooksAMillion in the US practice may well be working as a covert channel for reaching out to the Third Worlders living by default in the First World but who are keen on books − especially in the current state of the economy over there. Pardon me for sounding like a conspiracy theorist, though.

Fear of remaindering has not deterred publishers from experimenting with new genres, mind you. Once you start thinking of a book as a product, the next logical step is to treat it like a product right from the time of its birth. For quite a while, ongoing series − The Saint, Mike Shayne, James Bond, Ellery Queen, Sherlock Holmes and the like − in the mystery/spy thriller genre were being written by writers other than the respective designated authors. In fact, when you think of the art of successful collaborating or finessed ghost writing in recent times, the first name that comes to mind is James Patterson. idea is to make the most of the popular brands like James Bond, by getting new books written about him. The same principle holds good for movie franchises.

The latest debut in this field is what’s known as the mash-up. It started, I would imagine, with somebody’s brainwave to do what the music industry has been doing for decades: cover versions of hit songs. They borrowed a leaf from their musical colleagues and picked on the perennially popular Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen to remix into a novel of the gothic horror genre featuring the original characters peopling living, in the cover version, in an alternate universe.

The advantages, once one gets down to counting them, are many. Firstly, the Pride and Prejudice copyright lapsed long ago. It’s been in the public domain for quite a while. (So are Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park and Emma. So too are Jane Eyre, Huckleberry Finn, The Wizard of Oz, The War of the Worlds, Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, Robin Hood, Romeo and Juliet, Dracula, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde for that matter.) No one can stop you should you choose to reuse the content, even remix it. Secondly, a pre-teen in middle school is likely to have already read Pride and Prejudice and one or more of the other classics for a book report assignment. If not that, she may at least have heard the name of the book and also the name of the author.

Already, there is a Stephanie Barron-authored Jane Austen mystery series sporting such antique-sounding titles as Jane and the Unpleasantness at the Scargrave Manor, Jane and the Man of the Cloth, Jane and the Wandering Eye, Jane and the Barque of Frailty and so forth, written in authentically Austenesque style and language. ”. it, Jane Austen is a sleuth like her other namesake, Jane Marple. The remixing concept has also already been applied to Sherlock Holmes.

The next incremental step in the mash-up evolution was to make a contemporary writer collaborate with Jane Austen. The cover of the mash-up sensation that started the trend reads:


by Jane Austen and
Seth Grahame-Smith.

The Jane Austen moniker is defender-less. Nobody has a financial stake in it, either. A while ago, her distant descendents did bitch about being denied their slice of the Jane Austen pie, i.e., the material benefits of her continuing popularity and the slew of movies and television series based on her works. ”.

The Austen collaborator Seth Grahame-Smith (née Seth Jared Greenberg) followed up his New York Times bestseller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies debut as a mash-up auteur with the equally successful Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. This hit remix has its roots in US history and the American Civil War. Grahame-Smith is an accomplished television producer and writer. That he can sound exactly like Austen in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies becomes evident with the very first sentence of his pastiche with panache:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”

Compare this with Sentence #1 in Chapter 1 of Jane Austen’s original:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Ironically, emotional succor for the deprived descendents of Austen came with the publication – in the remix genre itself – of Michael Thomas Ford’s Jane Bites Back. In its sixth chapter, Jane Austen, the book shop owner with vampire fangs, actually spared Seth Grahame-Smith for the way his Pride and Prejudice and Zombies had done her in in her non-vampire avatar.

Jokes apart, a spell of walking the aisles of Borders and Barnes and Noble bookshops and the less strenuous alternative of Googling rewarded me with the bounty of a list of literary mash-ups or remixes of classics now in public domain. This is by no means the definitive line-up. By the way, some titles in the list were published long before the mash-up idea caught the imagination of the publishing industry. They are nevertheless included because they conform to the concept. So, here comes the mash-up line-up, ready or not:

Mash-ups − a tentative list

1. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – This novel kicked off the mash-up genre and is considered the best of the lot so far. It uses the original text of Jane Austen's famous novel with all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie action added. The Pride and Prejudice mash-up franchise is currently in two flavours:

1a. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance - Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem! by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith (Quirk Classics)

1b. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith (Quirk Classics) In this prequel Elizabeth and her sisters learn the martial arts and battle the dreadful undead. ”.

2. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H Winters (Quirk Books)

3. Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith (Grand Central Publishing)

4. Little Vampire Women by Louisa May Alcott and Lynn Messina (HarperTeen)

5. Mr Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange (Sourcebooks Landmark)

6. Vampire Darcy’s Desire: A Pride and Prejudice Adaptation by Regina Jeffers (Ulysses Press)

7. Mansfield Park and Mummies: Monster Mayhem, Matrimony, Ancient Curses, True Love, and Other Dire Delights by Jane Austen and Vera Nazarian

8. Emma and the Werewolves by Jane Austen and Adam Rann (Coscom Entertainment)

9. Android Karenina by Ben H Winters (Quirk Classic) Probable release: June 2010.

10. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim: Mark Twain's Classic with Crazy Zombie Goodness by Mark Twain and W Bill Czolgosz (Coscom Entertainment)

11. The Undead World of Oz: L Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Complete with Zombies and Monsters by L Frank Baum and Ryan C Thomas (Coscom Entertainment)

12. Robin Hood and Friar Tuck: Zombie Killers - A Canterbury Tale by Paul A Freeman (Coscom Entertainment)

13. Alice in Zombieland: Lewis Carroll's 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' with Undead Madness By Lewis Carroll and Nickolas Cook (Coscom Entertainment)

14. Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter by A E Moorat (EOS)

15. The War of the Worlds Plus Blood, Guts and Zombies by H G Wells and Eric S Brown (Coscom Entertainment)

16. Jane Slayre by Charolette Brontë and Sherri Browning Erwin (Gallery Books)

17. Romeo and Juliet and Vampires by William Shakespeare and Claudia Gabel (HarperTeen) Probable release: August 2010.

18. Dracula The Un-dead by Dacre Stroker and Ian Holt (Dutton Adult)

19. Sherlock Holmes and the Plague of Dracula by Stephen Seitz (Mountainside Press)

20. Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula by Loren Estleman (I Books)

21. Dr Jekyll and Mr Holmes by Loren Estleman (I Books)

After snookering you with all this crypto-literary malarkey for so long, I shall now deliver a sobering reminder. Back in the late fifties through middle seventies when Hammer Film’s Dracula franchise was in full thrall, I remember reading a couple of hastily produced and badly written Dracula books by authors other than Bram Stoker, published by Pyramid Books most likely. (In case you were wondering, Dacre Stoker whose Dracula The Un-dead features in the list above is Bram’s great-grandnephew.) I already pointed out earlier that books about pop series characters like The Saint, Mike Shayne, James Bond, Ellery Queen, Sherlock Holmes and the like have been ghost-written for decades.

Maybe, the French critic-journalist-author Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr got it right the first time. "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose," he proclaimed grandly. (The more things change, the more they remain the same.)

In other words, nothing new under the sun, eh?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Thingamabob = thing-in-itself? Ask Bob, Bart and Immanuel.

The reason I’m positing the question, boys and girls, is simple. Or, maybe, not so simple. Bob Newhart, with his presumably put-on stammer, is such an antithesis of what you’d expect an all-guns-blazing, red-blooded, brimful-of-Testosterone American male to be, so subversive to Truth, Justice and the American Way in a way. The subtext doesn’t quite gel right. To give you a concrete instance, on page 25 of his book, I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This! (Hyperion, New York, 2006), he writes about his childhood: “I really didn’t get much recognition from my father. I don’t think it scarred me for life; it’s just the way it was.” (Italics mine.) This admission reminds me of Homer every now and then throttling Bartholomew Jojo Simpson with his “Why you little…” snippet of angry outburst and his fourth-grader son insouciantly ignoring the repeated indignity and nonchalantly ─ nay, coolly ─ taking it all in his stride and being disrespectful as ever of authority. I don’t mean to say Homer is not paying Bart attention. It’s attention of the wrong sort tantamount to no attention at all and therefore bound to be psychologically scarring to the child according to any right-thinking American’s way of thinking. The same, I reckon, would be true of the lack of paternal recognition Bob writes about. In fact, the way Bob describes his childhood and youthful selves in his book, he sounds like a self-proclaimed underachiever like Bart. On page 109 of I Shouldn’t…, Bob confesses to not having a driving license at age 32, even after he had “… finally moved to Los Angeles, with its crisscrossing ribbons of freeways”. But that’s where the similarity to Bart ends given that, at age 10, Bart can drive a car and already holds an official driving license given to him by the Springfield powers-that-be for having saved the town from fire. (Even before he got it, Bart used to drive a vehicle with fake papers. But that’s neither here nor there.) I found another link between Bart and Bob, though, on page 233 of the latter’s book. Bart has been a lifelong fan of Krusty the Clown. In the episode of The Simpsons dealing with Krusty’s death, Bob was one of the speakers at the funeral. It’s a small world in the idiot box universe too. My acquaintance with Bob goes back to the 1990s when Newhart revolving around the life of the inn keeper-writer Dick Loudon used to be telecast over cable in Mumbai. The quirky Bob somehow caught my eye ─ and my fancy ─ there and then. Back to the future: 15 years later, I get to borrow his book from the #32 Eagle Rock branch of the Los Angeles Public Library and enjoy it. What luck! Who wouldn’t believe, given the circumstances in the existence of noumenon, “thing-in-itself”, in other words, a posited object or event as it appears in itself independent of perception by senses. Thank you, Immanuel ─ to wit: Herr Kant in case you didn’t recognize the given name of the author of Critique of Pure Reason.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Comics for big boys (and girls?).

Correct me if I’m wrong. These days, the syndicated comics strips in your daily and Sunday newspapers (Calvin and Hobbes, Dennis the Menace, Peanuts, Dilbert, Garfield, for instance), so full of irony, angst and other trendy stuff reminiscent of Woody Allen’s Annie Hall days, are strictly not for kids. That goes for many of the full-length animated cartoon feature films showing your local multiplex like Shrek and Ice Age.

Some of the contemporary comic book superheroes from the Marvel Comics family, to wit: Thor, Xena, Valkyrie, Elektra, Hellboy and X-Men's Jean Gray, are known to have Wagnerian antecedents ─ in many cases in the Asgardian universe ─ and operatic connections too. They are most likely to appeal to grown-up sensibilities, agreed?

A question for culture vultures: Are many adult readers of comic books in the US opera aficionados?

Forgive me but I, as is not unusual for a recently arrived stranger, don’t really know the answer.

I googled for comic reader demographics surveys, though.

Among those I found on the first page of my search results, a 1995 DC Comics survey described them in the following terms: 92% male; 80% ages 18-39 (median age: 29); a little over 70% attended college; 60% single (never married); 37 spending $100 or more in a month on comics (on an average 50 comics bough every month).

Another one ─ circa 2007 or thereabouts probably but hotly disputed ─ portrayed the average mainstream (superhero) comic book reader as ‘Male, 20-25, video-game player, disposable income, “techie”, single‘. More than 90% of the readers, it said, were male. There was some debate here on whether it was due to the predominance of T&A content. (Sidebar queries: Don’t you see a lot of it in the Marvel and Japanese Manga Comics? Doesn’t it suggest a preference for soft porn [Girls Gone Wild anyone?] ─ presumably an important cultural cue?)

However, whatever may be the exact nature of the latter-day US comics reader constituency, the most demography-sensitive marketer, Hollywood, has acknowledged its importance and significance as a body of consumers worth its focused and undivided attention. In the recent past, many of the successful movie franchises (Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, The Hulk, X-Men, Daredevil), television series (Smallville, Witchblade) and video games (Spider-Man) have had their roots in comicsdom or graphicnovelville. As a matter of fact, Hollywood has been the saviour-in-chief of the comics book industry after the lean times it went through in the 1990s. In a late 2002 article (“Comic Books: Bang! Wham! Pow!”), Bill Jemas, President, Marvel Enterprises, was quoted as describing comic book reader as ‘bell cows’ — opinion leaders and adding that they “may not be socialites, but they're certainly affluent and influential and ... they’re enthusiastic about the things that they love." They are consumers of “… other entertainment media, especially music, movies, TV, and video games … and packaged snack foods, candy, and cereals”, according to David Ward, the columnist who wrote the cited article.

While I still do not know the answer to the riddle, what I see in LA book shops and libraries and read in the LA Times nudges me to wonder if superheroes and fantasy are very much a sine qua non of the contemporary American psyche or not. To continue in the belief that you’re the leader of the world, you cannot have anyone less than superheroes for icons. The more, the merrier.

That Middle America gets near-orgasmic pleasure from mere hints of the likelihood of American culture spreading especially among people in the Third World whom they believe the US was appointed to “save” from fates as varied as Communism earlier and Islamic terrorism now is fairly evident when you read rave reviews like this Bahman Ghobadi’s Farsi feature film about how rock and roll gets dispersed in the Iranian youth underground, No One Knows about Persian Cats, was shot “on the run in just 17 days and without a government permit” (as film critic Betsy Sharkey gleefully reports) and became “a favorite on the festival circuit after winning Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2009”. All these frills add extra value to its provenance and gravitas in American eyes ─ a bit, I suppose, like converting films shot originally in the 2-D format to 3-D in post-production (Alice in Wonderland and Clash of the Titans, to cite two recent examples) in order to be able to justify $3 extra slapped on to the movie ticket price.

In my youth, during the post-World War II decades when the US was taking over the mantle from the UK, France and other lapsed Imperialists and those posted on US Government duty abroad to handle this newly acquired “white man’s burden” were vilified by the much shunned Ugly American nomenclature chiefly thanks to their insensitive and heavy-handed treatment of their charges, the symbols of American culture for me ─ not necessarily in chronological order of appearance on my mental landscape ─ were Coca Cola, comic books, denim jeans, Hollywood, hot dogs and rock and roll (kicked off by Bill Haley and the Comets in Rock Around the Clock I watched in the Strand Cinema in South Mumbai’s Colaba neighbourhood in the early 1950s). Those were the six principal conduits through which I remember distance-learning ─ and imbibing ─ American culture from across the oceans. These were, again for me at least, gradually reinforced over time by Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Eartha Kitt, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Glen Miller, Jim Morrison, Simon and Garfunkel, Elvis Presley, Truman Capote (Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Answered Prayers), Woody Allen (and Annie Hall), The Groucho Letters, Erica Jong, Kurt Vonegut, Andy Warhol, John Updike, John Irving, Mad Magazine, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, even Ellery Queen ─ and, last but not the least, by those dishy 1950s black and white sci-fi movies in which men in crumpled white lab coats kept muttering to one another: “There’s no hope. We’re doomed, Professor!” as well as by the equally scrumptious pulp fiction from those great times that are gone forever.

"Life is full of loneliness, misery, suffering, and unhappiness ─ and it's all over much too quickly," is what Woody Allen’s middle-brow Jewish comedian Alvy Singer confides in us somewhere at the beginning of Annie Hall. What better way to drown the resultant post-modern angst than slumming with the ever pumped-up-for-action superheroes in fantasyland, pray tell?

Monday, April 19, 2010


The signs I have seen almost throughout my stay in the US so far, first in New Jersey from 13 March to 2 April and later in Los Angeles, have made me feel the recovery in selective perception. Wherever I've been I have seen Middle America spending money and having a rollicking time. On Saturday afternoon, I went with my young son Abhi, and his even younger children Armaan, 9, and Anika, 7, to the Dodger Stadium to watch the local team being outplayed and getting clobbered by the San Francisco Giants by a wide margin. (To their credit, the Dodgers avenged the defeat the very next day to gladden the hearts of the local followers,) Two home runs by the Giants I could understand - one done with a deft tap to land the ball close-by - but not much else. I am ignoramus as far as the rules of baseball go. The cheering and the general prevailing mood of bonhomie got to me, though, I am happy to confess. The fans really knew how to have a good time in spite of everything else. We were sitting plumb behind the catcher in - what seemed to me to - exorbitantly priced seats ($90 a pop), consuming unconscionably steep priced food and drinks and ice cream and what have you. We reached late (the Dodgers' first inning had already begun) and left early at the beginning of the sixth to avoid the rush hour traffic. It was, if I may hazard a guess, a bit like attending an IPL Twenty-20 cricket match back home. Anika in her wisdom wanted to know why we could not have watched the game on the idiot box in the evening. Very astute of her, considering her tender age. For me, it was a first of sorts and also a rare insight into the American psyche and culture. On Sunday, I got the opportunity to once again watch Middle America at play, this time in a swimming competition for school-going kids who were cheered by their enthusiastic parents, grandparents and peers. Armaan did really well for himself coming third and then second in the first and second of the three events he participated in. During the evening visit to the Glendale mall, the Borders bookshop and dinner at the Outback Steak House, the signs seemed all hopeful. By the way, I also got a virtually touchy-feely glimpse into the wondrous world of the iPad and the iPhone, courtesy of Anita's friend, Sheena. She teaches Gender & Women's Studies at California State University, Northridge and, to my untutored eye, looks like a spare-time techie. More importantly, she qualifies as a favourite "aunt" of Armaan and Anika.

How to turn the kiss of death into Midas touch.

The seemingly sudsy saga of Conan O’Brien is a classic example of sympathetic “positioning”. Positioning, if you care to recall, is the advertising canon (“how to be seen and heard in the overcrowded marketplace”) evangelized by Al Ries and Jack Trout originally between the late sixties and early eighties.

For his much flaunted martyrdom, the underdog in the present scenario has no one else but his erstwhile-mentor-turned-Judas and his own banishment from the idiot box till September 2010 to thank for. It is to O’Brien’s eternal credit that, instead of moping around and shedding copious tears over his tragic exit from the NBC late night line-up, he turned the setback into the “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television” tour. His audacious coup reaped for him a bountiful harvest of support from his loyal fans in the shape of monumental Twittering and the “I’m with Coco” blitz on Facebook.

Meanwhile, he also managed to net the 11.00 pm spot on the TBS cable channel effective November 2001. In the process, the Red Skeleton look-alike (at least that’s how he has made an impression in my memory bank) did unto George Lopez, the incumbent of the said slot at TBS what he had refused to let Leno do to him at NBC and got fired for his effrontery. The far-seeing Lopez in his wisdom saw O’Brien’s stupendous young following as a desirable asset capable of adding an extra zap to the young but limited fan base of his still-in-the-rookie-stage “Lopez Tonight”. Does his ready and willing acceptance of O’Brien reflect his belief that one plus one is greater than one plus zero? Or, is he harking back to the tried and tested logic of Vaudeville and stand-up comedy artistes that the later acts in the evening continuum gain momentum from their predecessors?

Ries and Trout would applaud the O’Brien stratagem and his “NBC and Leno done me in” positioning whole-heartedly, I would think. What’s incredible, creditable and remarkable is that he did it all by subtle indirection: not a single Jay Leno joke, I understand, in his on-the-road comedic routine. This would be a sure way to earn him greater goodwill of and credibility with his loyal fans. As well as respect all round.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Better safe than sorry in the times of the Internet. (Or, how vulnerable r u, m8?)

Read very, very carefully the scary ─ I say scary because it has an eerie “it could happen to you and me” feel ─ Chapter 8 (pages 51 to 58) of David Baldacci’s Hour Game (Pan Books, London, 2005), America. Especially if you want to learn how easily and effortlessly a criminal can steal your personal details. In the course of these eight pages, a hooded killer in a “virtually untraceable” blue VW ─ who happens to be the real-life Zodiac killer copy cat ─ is able to acquire, within a highly productive twenty-minute span, the following information on three potential victims he spots in the shopping district.

1. He sees an old couple tottering out of a super market and notes the license plate number of their relatively new Mercedes station wagon. (After an Internet search, he would have their home address.) He already knows from the condition of the car and the logo of a country club on the man’s cap that they are not living off mere Social Security. The fact of them doing their own grocery shopping tells him they have no live-in help or grown children living nearby.

2. Next he notices an attractive thirty-something woman stepping out of a pharmacy carrying a large shopping bag. She withdraws cash at the nearby ATM and thoughtlessly throws away into the trash bin the receipt which he later retrieves. From this veritable treasury of personal information, he knows right off her name (D. Hinson) and would later get her home address from the phone book and her workplace details from the business listings. From the vanity license plate on her bright red Chrysler Sebring convertible (‘DEH JD’; JD = Juris Doctor, i.e., Doctorate of Jurisprudence), the current-year American Bar Association bumper sticker, the absence of a wedding ring, her healthy tan and a gold anklet on her left leg, he deduces she is a still-single, well-heeled practicing lawyer probably just back from a vacation.

3. Finally, there is the scatter-brained careless soccer mom her T-shirt bellows her status to the whole world!) of three kids (the baby strapped and totally unguarded in the back seat plus plenty of telltale clues about the other two strewn in the messy interior of the van). While doing her shopping, she has left her car unlocked, her keys in the ignition (he takes a putty imprint of what look like her house keys) as well as her cell phone in the holder (he takes shots of all the pages of her phone book with his mini digicam). By then, he knows enough about Jean and Harold Robinson and the names and phone numbers of those who matter to them. He also has in his possession the impression of her house keys.

So where do we go from here? Here are some simple safety precautions suggested by common sense. In the 21st century, the “If you got it, flaunt it” advice from good old Salvador Dali dispensed in a 1967 TV ad for Braniff Airlines has become as extinct as the airlines itself. (Braniff went kaput in 1982, remember?) And, totally unacceptable as well. There’s a time and place for everything one does. Wear your country club hat when you’re going there, not when you’re buying your groceries. Vanity license plates may be good for your vanity but not necessarily for your health and safety. Do not ─ repeat NOT ─ throw away your ATM receipts. There’s no such thing as being too careful with your car keys, your house keys, your cell phone and your baby when you go shopping. Be very caution of what you post on Facebook, Twitter and the like, too. Please, please do not tempt fate. Mack the Knife may be sneaking round the corner.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Jane Austen Redux. And how?

When last heard of, Aunt Jane is thriving merrily under the solicitous and caring tutelage from her great grand nephews and nieces across the big pond, wonder of wonders. Now she is solving crime – it’s Austen and not Marple I’m talking of, mind you – in Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen mysteries sporting such antique-sounding titles as Jane and the Unpleasantness at the Scargrave Manor, Jane and the Man of the Cloth, Jane and the Wandering Eye, Jane and the Barque of Frailty and so forth. Their authentically Austenesque text reads thusly: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that the expectation of pleasure is generally preferred to its eventual attainment – the attainment being marred, at its close, be the resumption of quotidian routine made onerous by the very diversions so lately enjoyed.” (Jane and the Man of the Cloth, Chapter 1) More recently, Aunt Jane has made inroads once again into Regency-era England this time set in an alternative universe and infested by the persistently pesky undead (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). Her other foray into Regency-era England set also in an alternative universe features sea creatures arrayed against humankind (Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters). Both the pastiche mash-ups in the gothic horror genre got fairly good (read “enthusiastic to middling”) response. PPZ is slated to spawn a series of spin-offs: a graphic novel, a video game and even a movie. This plethora of multi-media parodies seems to me to be an apt stratagem to lure contemporary young readers, game players and movie-goers to Austen.

All this reminds me of June 2006 when I found re-reading Pride and Prejudice after more than four decades somewhat daunting. I cannot quite recall what I had thought of Austen when I first read Pride and Prejudice, if memory serves, in the 1950s. In the late summer of 2006, I found her 18th-century spelling as quaint ('chuse', 'teaze', 'shew', 'stile', etc.) but her dialogue and storytelling impeccable, to be sure. Imagine keeping me riveted – in eager anticipation – to the exploits of young damsels in rural Regency-era England seeking desirable husbands! Austen's most popular and well-known novel was originally written between October 1796 and August 1797 (qua First Impressions) but published only in 1813. In 1811, her Sense and Sensibility was published and became an instant success. After that, she revised First Impressions and it was published a couple of years later. At the well-organized and copiously informative website, you’ll find more about Austen’s P&P characters, timeline and locales. Don't forget to take a good look at the 1895 edition illustrations by Charles E Brock, either.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Meanwhile back at 3252 Romulus St., L.A.

Arrived at LAX, 4 p.m., Good Friday. Haven’t posted till today, i.e., Sunday. Excuse? Just as I reached the Newark Airport, Friday morning, heard about Suresh, Anita’s dad, being on life- support at Holy Name Hospital, Bandra. Anita was already on her way to Mumbai when I reached LAX. I was picked up by Abhi, Armaan and Anika. No hassles about the baggage reclaim. Abhi’s place is fabulous, like something out of one of Shoiab’s coffee table books on American architecture I used to write folders for in the good old days if there ever were such times I lived through. Nonetheless, I’ve been off mood generally with Suresh’s condition being unstable ─ something everybody else seems already resigned to. I guess I’ve grown to be quite fond of the guy over the sixteen years since I got to know him. Never realized to what extent, though. Didn’t get much sleep Friday night/Saturday morning. Felt awfully cold, tossed and turned in bed. Went out yesterday afternoon to the park with the kids and Abhi for a couple of hours or so. This morning too for a few of their weekend chores, e.g., visit to the library. All’s as well as can be under the circumstances.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Home is where mishaps are. Especially for a mishap-prone person. Like me. Take his morning, for instance. I’m supposed to leave 541 Sayre Drive, Princeton with Nandini to while away 4 hours at Barnes & Noble at the Market Fair mall. It’s drizzling outside. At the last minute, I change my mind and decide to do a bit of writing at home instead. Nandini leaves for work. I get myself some pineapple juice and cereal. After working on my writing assignment for a couple of hours in the basement, I lie down in bed reading and nod off to a not-too-deep sleep. Suddenly, footsteps on the upper staircase nudge me half awake. I’m not quite sure if I really heard them. I get up, walk up from the basement and try to open the garage door. The security alarm goes into an overdrive with the siren wailing loud enough to wake up the dead, let alone the slightly groggy me. I get a call from the security company to enquire if all’s well. I say Yes. The siren continues to wail. In due course, firemen and cops arrive. In the meanwhile, my repeated attempts to get in touch with Nandini and retrieve the code to put the fire alarm off are in vain. Finally, she arrives in person quite perturbed. Apologies are offered and the mystery gets solved. The footsteps I heard earlier were Aditi’s. She came to get her iPod, found the fire alarm was off and, thinking nobody was home, turned it on along with the motion sensor. Had I continued with my snooze, stayed put and not gone up to investigate, there would have been no problem. Well, the mishap had to happen. And, like it or not, it did.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Love story. Chapter 11.

Romeo & Juliet. Beckham & Posh. John & Yoko. Superman & Lois Lane. Sonny & Cher. Homer & Marge. Penny & Kenny. Of the seven couples cited on the cute card from the hitched-for-25-years-"serious love"-birds-and-shoe-makers I found in the DSW Shoe Warehouse on Sunday, three are fictional. The Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection filed on 31 July 2009 in New York by Penny & Kenny ("... we LOVE shoes as much as you do!") is not. “Marge, it takes two to lie. One to lie, one to listen.” And you thought love meant never having to say you were sorry?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Alexander the Great, Porus and the Walls of Jericho.

The Alexander-Porus confrontation happened long, long ago, in July 326 BC if you want the exact date. Does it really matter now? Is it really necessary for a school student to mug it up? In the 1962 movie Anpadh (literally “uneducated”), the young Kalu (Mohan Choti) wonders about it so much that finally he breaks into a song: “Sikandar ne Porus se ki thi ladaai/ Jo ki thi ladaai to mein kya karun?” (If Alexander the Great fought Porus [once upon a time] where do I come in?”) In other words, do I need to even know about it? Point taken. Which brings me to the Walls of Jericho. A school super drops into little Johnny’s classroom unannounced. “Who broke down the Walls of Jericho?” is his rather stern query to Johnny. “I don’t know,” confesses Johnny, “But it wasn’t me.” Appalled by the student’s lack of basic Bible knowledge, the super marches up to the school principal’s office to report the matter only to hear him say: “I know little Johnny and his family and can vouch for them. If he says he didn’t do it, I believe him.” Even more incensed by the school head’s ignorance, the super goes to the regional head of education and spills the beans. After listening to the complaint, that worthy says soothingly: “Take it easy. Why don’t we call for three quotes and get the darn wall fixed? Our insurance will cover us.” (P.S.: In the alternative version, little Johnny’s dad offers to get the wall fixed.) Just in case you’re wondering who really did it, it was Joshua, the son of Nun, according to Elvis Presley. Good ol' Josh did it with his 12-foot spear when he went into battle. Some infidels say the Walls were washed away by rain, though. Others claim they never existed.

P.S.: Finally comes my “Eureka!” moment with Jef Mallett’s Frazz in the Calendar section (p. D15) of Los Angeles Times, Thursday, April 8, 2010:

Mrs Olsen: '8) Define “platitude”.’

Caulfield: 'A duck-billed, web-footed mammal’s approach to life.’

C to Frazz: 'She gives me a word I don’t need. I give her a definition she doesn’t need.

Frazz to C: 'You give, you get.’ (Please search by date.)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Gloriously goofy.

What can you say when an author whose name spells to you thrills and suspense decides to give you goose pimples with romance? That he probably lost his marbles? That he is now in his second childhood? The plot kinda thickens when you realize that James Patterson has been called "the absolute pits, the lowest common denominator of cynical, scuzzy, assembly-line writing" by Patrick Anderson, a reviewer for The Washington Post. Either Patterson is the incredible writing machine with no writer’s block or he is the most skillful manipulator of the conjuror’s trick called ghost writing. The latter seems a distinct possibility because he has more than one publication, stand alone or series, in a single year to his credit. Plus, he caters to both sexes, all ages. Admit it or not, he is a big success in pop lit, someone Forbes keeps track of. He is quite the opposite of the failure-prone Orson Welles. Patterson has been criticized for using collaborators frequently to write on a prolific scale. But, remarkably, his many co-authors share an authorship credit on the cover. The co-authors agreement with Patterson has a non-disclosure clause about the terms of their working relationship, including the extent of Patterson’s involvement. My guess on the gloriously goofy Sundays at Tiffany’ in tandem with Gabrielle Charbonnet, principally a children’s book specialist, puts his plotting contribution at 100% and writing at zilch. In other words, I feel in my guts he is the mastermind but not the craftsman in this case. I could be totally off the mark of course. But there you are, boys and girls. Patterson is J Walter Thomson's former CEO, the ad pro who thought up the "Toys R Us" slogan, ergo presumably well versed in product development. I rest my case