Thursday, 25 February 2010

The days of good English

In 1990, Nissim Ezekiel, the first and famous Indian English poet, told us about this incident:

Ezekiel had been to Madras, as it was called then, to conduct a two-day workshop for post graduate English  students. On reaching there he was appalled by the English he heard: These people were living in Victorian England! So he dedicated the entire workshop to bring the students up to date with contemporary English. After the workshop was over, in the concluding ceremony a representative of the students came on stage and offered Ezekiel a bouquet with these words, "Sir, we are beholden to you".


It is almost 20 years since he told us the story. Ezekiel is no more. I am in Calicut for work. I open the newspaper and there it is, this wonderful photo caption in a local newspaper that has its headquarters in Madras as it is not called anymore:

An epic effort: Sachin Tendulkar, who delighted with bold brush strokes of genius on the canvas - the colours celebrating batsmanship, showed he is still an explosive athlete; he still has the eye of the tiger.

The English language remains beholden to my Southern brethren.

Thursday, 18 February 2010


A seven-year old boy came up on stage and began playing the harmonium. His was a filler act between the main performances. The first performance had highlighted the importance of having a hobby and not being a bookworm so you could develop an all-round personality. And of course there was the current rage-of-the-season three idiotic message: Follow your heart, only then will you succeed and be happy, delivered with suitable doses of Bollywood song and dance that had the audience clapping and foot-tapping.

The boy played the harmonium with expertise and concentration. The audience, comprising parents of performing kids, used the break for chatting and catching up with their neighbours, unwittingly transforming the harmonium music into a background score like music played in a crowded café.
The boy played on, oblivious to the chatter, oblivious to the irony that the audience that had clapped loudly in favour of hobbies, passion and all-round development had no interest in the real thing.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Art attack

I am a philistine. Which is not to be confused with Palestine. Palestine is a country while philistine is a state, a state of mind. If you look up an English dictionary you will not be able to find the meaning unless you have a few hours on your hand because every year these dictionaries keep adding words to themselves, words from technology and words from Hindi because India is the only country that speaks English, the reason why all those call centres are in India. If you are thinking about the USA, Australia and the UK, well, the Americans speak American and the Australians, Australian. In the UK, the Scots speak Scottish, the Welsh speak Welsh and the Irish, Irish. It is too cold in England too speak and in any case, it’s usually the President of USA who speaks on behalf of England.
So who is a philistine? He is the guy who is sleeping in a classical music concert. Or the guy who sits on a bench in an art gallery because staring hard at paintings makes his head spin. Or the one who has thoughts like these at a classical dance recital: “Is the layer of make-up on the dancer’s face thick enough to stop a bullet fired at close range?” But most theatres these days have adequate security arrangements and it is difficult for a philistine to smuggle a gun in and find the answer.
So there I was last evening, a poor philistine, gun-less, at Mumbai’s Kala Ghoda Festival.
It’s a great festival, this Kala Ghoda and there were a lot of horses around because ‘ghoda’ is the Hindi word for horse and I propose it should be included in the English language and if all one billion of us vote online for it, the English dictionaries will have no option but to take it in. In fact, with the internet being what it is and people doing everything online, yes everything including ‘that’, the day is not far when the first American Presidential Election is held online and we, the billion and multiplying Indians, will have the deciding vote. Who knows Mr. Prasad from Bihar might become the President of the United States of America. After all, how difficult is it to capture a web site?
The Festival: There was one very realistic horse towering over the Festival, there was a horse made from twigs and there was a horse painted with chalk on the road. There were two more horses, harnessed to Victorias (buggies named after Queen Victoria but let’s not try to find why a buggy with a horse attached and available on hire is named after the late Queen). These horses were not part of the Festival. They were just flesh and blood horses with their flesh and blood owners waiting to give a joy ride to Festival visitors. The rates were negotiable, but not less than Rs. 150 per ride, a horse is a big animal and eats a lot and so does a big family dependent only on a horse.
There were sculptures of other animals too. There were a lot of sculptures, installations and photographs. In tune with the world-wide outcry, there were a lot of doomsday messages about the evils of industrial and vehicular pollution, global warming, rising oceans and of the fast-depleting forest covers. There was a classical dance performance. There were bells and whistles. There were arty things for sale. There was a booth pretending to be a photo studio from a village fair. There were children painting pictures. There were heavy words like ‘the artist expresses the dichotomy of urban angst and…’ There were hawkers selling books, bubbles, pinwheels and drums.
I, the philistine, paid attention to nothing. I had nothing but three cups of coffee and five biscuits since morning and was hungry enough to eat a ghoda.
Today, after a good lunch, I will visit the Festival again. On a full stomach, who knows, I may not be a philistine.

For more pictures of the Festival please scroll down.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Beg your pardon

The picture here was clicked by Dr. Sanjay Garude, a good friend and one of the best knee and shoulder arthroscopy surgeons in this part of the world. In fact, if you go weak in the knees often (despite not being a teenager looking at pretty women), or if you are the types whose shoulders are constantly drooping, you should stop reading this right now and visit his web site. I hope you have internet access while you are recuperating from surgery and will return to read this blog.

Great. Nice to see you back on your knees again and/or able to shrug your shoulders nonchalantly (a word coined either by writers trying to describe the walk of cowboys in the Wild West or by James Hadley Chase to describe his heroes doing everything from walking to having a glass of milk. Why? What did you think they were having?).

Finally to get around to the subject of this post: The photo on top. It’s not just a photo, it’s also a coincidence. Recently, a couple visiting from the USA mentioned their surprise at seeing people who could barely afford a pair of clothes suddenly whipping out mobile phones from their pockets.

I am dreading the day when my children grow up and I have to get them mobile phones. Their bills and frequent upgrades to latest handsets are going to make me look like one of those guys – no money to spend on clothes after settling the cellular expenses. Did you know that the feared prison set up by the British on the Andaman Islands for those serving a life sentence was called the Cellular Jail? The British had foresight. You have to give them that.

The couple, William Drenttel and Jessica Helfand, are some of the nicest people you can meet. So are their children, Malcolm and Fiona. They, William and Jessica, have a web site called Design Observer and they are single-handedly, or rather, couple-handedly creating one of the most comprehensive on-line resources of design. Do visit the website and get to know all the work they are doing. It is worth the trip; even if you are not in Design.

Why am I so all over the place today? To be honest, recently I received an invitation to syndicate my blog posts on a web site. I accepted. However they just don’t accept posts unless they contain a lot of words. There, it’s off my chest. Now to get to the subject of this post:
There are no beggars in Mumbai city. Or rather, the beggars we see all around us are employees of some big conglomerate called something like, ‘Beggars India Limited - A Misfortune 500 Company'. Slogan: Just take it.

Either that or they are members of PGCCU (Parents of Grown-up Children with Cellphones Unlimited).

Monday, 8 February 2010


As the car turned at the junction of Lilavati Hospital and MET College, I saw an old man, probably returning from a trip to the hospital, waiting patiently on the road divider. I stopped the car for him to cross the road. He didn't move; cars usually don't stop so that old people can cross the road. It took some time for him to realize and to step off the divider. In that split second, at least two of the cars that had come to a halt behind me, honked.

A little further, at the junction of Hill Road and SV Road, at any given time of day, a crowd of pedestrians collects on the Hill Road side and in its impatience to cross the road, begins edging its way towards the middle of the road. Soon it is large and far enough for cars to come to a crawl and then to a halt. The traffic light still shows green for vehicles and red for pedestrians.

And if you thought that democracy is about rights of the individual, then you are wrong. It is about the power of the herd. At least in the world's largest democracy.

Monday, 1 February 2010

India Paes respect to Leander

BOOM! There it was, his eleventh Grand Slam title. Expectedly, it led to an Indemic, defined in the 2022 edition of the Oxford Hinglish Dictionary as an epidemic affecting India and Indians only, and its symptoms were visible on Facebook, Twitter and text messages:

Proud to be an Indian!

Goose-bump time!

India does it again!

And such other whoops of joy that our boy Paes had done it again, had matched Mahesh Bhupati's record and had made India and Indians proud.

Of course, if you were to ask most of the people whooping their Indian-ness, if they knew where the nearest tennis courts were, they would suddenly switch the subject to the IPL auction. Of course, the same guys would call every friend, relative, neighbour and paanwallah to try and get tickets to the next cricket world cup. Of course, they would have never attended a tennis match in their or Paes's life. Or will never attend one unless Sachin plays an exhibition match and they get free passes.

The print media has been whooping as well. Paes is on the cover of most newspapers I have seen today. I haven't seen the news on TV; I never do, the doctors have told me that I have a weak heart and it is not good for my health to watch grown-up men and women reporting breathlessly that an auto-rickshaw has collided with a buffalo on Delhi-Patna Road and the police are investigating if the rickshaw driver and the buffalo were having an affair.

That also explains why it is called, 'Breaking news'. Nowhere else in the world will you find news, that wonderful thing, broken so mercilessly. In fact, that's an Indemic too.

But back to the Grand Slam winning ways of Leander Paes. The guy is 36 years old. He first represented India in the Davis Cup when he was 16. The way he has been playing, and the way Indian tennis has been going, the poor chap will still be playing when my son grows up and writes on his Facebook: 'Paes does it again. Proud to be an Indian'.

Enough. I have to find the name and number of a guy who graduated nine years before me from the same college as I. He now works for the Mumbai Cricket Association and I need those free tickets to IPL 3.