Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Slient Night, Fiery Night.

It was 1995. I was young. (Okay, okay, I was 27, but when you reach my age, 27 is young.) Roaming upcountry Maharashtra for a photography shoot, we found ourselves at Gaganbavda, a place near Kolhapur where the ghats peak before they curve gently down into Konkan. It was evening and there was a nip in the September air, the kind that makes you yearn for hot coffee and a soft blanket. We had to spend the night there, wake up at the crack of dawn and catch the light needed for a perfect photograph. The only hotel there had a long corridor with a row of rooms that held the promise of mosquitoes, bed bugs and bathrooms that smelled of body fluids secreted since 1947. We decided to check out the local PWD bungalow and got lucky.

So far so not fiery.

For dinner, there weren't two options. The only hotel in Gaganbavda had the only restaurant too. Looking at a lone lizard on the wall stalking a thousand insects in the dining hall, we decided to pack the local food - zunka-bhakar and some daal-rice and threw in some egg omelettes, just in case.

By ten, after having fortified ourselves with some whisky, we were ready for dinner. It was quiet outside. All of Gaganbavda's residents had pulled blankets over their heads and were doing what people do under blankets on a cold night. The only sound was the racket in the other part of the bungalow - College boys on a picnic. Decibel level of a pack of dogs chasing a cat notwithstanding, their noise was reassuring; we had all watched movies of what happens to city folks who check into deserted bungalows with rickety caretakers who are three hundred years old.

We unpacked dinner. And all noise faded away. The zunka, the daal and even the omelettes were a strange red in colour. The colour of dried blood. I, being accustomed to the cuisine of Kolhapur, was the only one who had been rendered speechless because my mouth had watered at the sight of so much chilli powder. The rest were simply stunned into silence. For them, chilli was an additive to be used occasionally in food and Kolhapur was a district in the sugar belt of Maharashtra. As I attacked my food with gusto (or maybe ‘gut’so is a better word), the rest looked on. Seeing that I had neither fainted nor were my eyes streaming, they put the morsels of red into their mouths.

To date when a child refuses to sleep in Gaganbavda, its mother tells the story of a September night when four dragons ran around the streets breathing fire from their nostrils and mouths. 

Monday, 26 December 2011

Calling a skirt a skirt

I came across this in a column by NK who is the editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine (definition: more ads, less editorial; more pictures, less words; more glam, no slam).

‘We thrive on BS and blowing sunshine up each other’s skirts. (Replace “skirt’” with the English word for derrière and you will know what I want to say.)’


Okay lady, we understand you are the E-in-C of a fashion mag and hence your French is probably better than your English, and your finishing school (defined as a school where they lay mighty stress on dental hygiene while teaching you to cover your mouth when you laugh), upbringing mandates that you appear polite while being rude, but this is the 21st century - or did I get my calendar wrong?

Then again, I wonder if the E-in-C of a French fashion mag had to write the same thing would she use ‘arse’ and request us to replace it with 

I also wonder if NK has kids and if she does, did she teach her children to say, “Mom, I am done with my merde so can you wipe my derrière, sil vous plait?” Yeah, the classes wipe while the unwashed masses wash.

Push the example further and you can safely assume that the only language spoken in the bedroom is French. “Oui! Oui!! Oui!!!” That is, when the lady can find her tongue.

And further in the same column, this:

‘If you are blunt to a fault, you often share the same tag as a dog of the female persuasion.’

A dog of the female persuasion?! Did the lady mean ‘bitch?’ Or did she mean a dog who has been persuaded to turn gay? And was she referring to the gay community with a word that starts with a ‘b’ and rhymes with ‘itch’?

Well, it does take all kinds to make the world come to a grinding halt.

But back to the column. The irony of the column is that it is about the virtues of being equally honest in your praise and criticism. Of not being afraid of being called a gay dog for speaking your mind.

The column appeared in last Sunday’s Indian Express supplement, The Eye. No, I cannot mention the writer’s name. You will have to excuse my French for that; it isn’t good enough to translate the name from Punjabi.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Crawlers - The Sequel

Remember the joy of watching pirated movies on local cable?

If you don't, you are obviously underage, so go away! This is no place for a kid who is legally allowed to vote but can't order a beer.

Back to the joys of movies on local cable. The video quality was grainy, so grainy that Dev Anand in the 1980s looked like Dev Anand in the 60s, or 90s depending on the print.
Not all movies that came on cable were pirated though. But legal or not, the grainy nature of the video, as if the magnetic tape of the video cassette had been scrubbed with a wire brush, was a constant. The scratchy picture didn’t bother much, the thrill of watching the latest movie without buying a ticket in black was compensation enough.

What bothered us most was what happened at the bottom of the screen, especially since the standard screen those days was a generous 21-inch that fitted snugly into a wall cabinet containing trophies won at school competitions and various articles called ‘show pieces’ that had entered the house disguised as gifts at weddings or souvenirs bought on trips to exotic locations like Matheran.

The bottom of the screen, to use a bad pun, was the pits. It was filled with creepy, crawly words that advertised all the businesses in the neighbourhood – sari shops, jewellers, sari shops, tuition classes, sari shops, the occasional chemist shop and sari shops. With clarity that seemed amazing in comparison to the picture above, they ran merrily from one end of the screen to the other, jumping, dancing, pirouetting and doing cartwheels. They covered the legs of the hero as he walked into the frame, made the fallen villain invisible and supported the heaving bosom of an about-to-be-violated heroine. She got saved of course. Probably because a particularly colourful logo of a sari shop reminded the villain of the traumatic hours he had spent in one buying a sari for his wife.

Not that the commercial breaks in the telecast were any better. They were full of ads shot with a hand-held video camera bought as spare parts and put together by a plumber for brands of – refer list of crawlers above. We preferred them to the crawlers of course; the breaks were long enough for the entire family to visit the bathroom and stop to wash hands on the way back.

Cut to present day. Local cable is dying. Not dead, my friends who know these things tell me, 80% of India, the shining one, still watches its TV thanks to the local cablewallah. But TV is so my age. The today thing is youtube. It is what the vote-enabled, alcohol-disabled generation is watching. From movies to music videos to cricket to slapped politicians, if it is a video, it has to be on the net. The logic now is, ‘If it gets hits, it’s a hit.’

And therein lies the sequel to Crawlers. Log on to youtube today and click to check out a video. And there they are – the crawlers – disguised as pop-ups at the bottom of the screen. Usually, the video quality is not grainy; it is pixelated. Which is a ‘today’ word for scrubbed with a wire brush. Well, there is a little cross sign at the corner on the top right that gives you the choice to turn it into a pop-down. But heck, at the heart, it is the same thing – A Crawler.

Like someone said long before video was invented; the more the things change, the more the same they remain. 

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

About me

This article on the net is titled, 'A Surprise Delight'. I found it on the blog of a fellow writer, K.D. Norris, from Bennington, Vermont, USA.

It couldn't have been more aptly titled as I found out when I stumbled up on it.

Posting this link is a tad self-congratulatory, but heck, if you are here because you don't mind reading what I write, I presume you will not mind reading what someone has written about my writing.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Steve Jobs. On second thoughts.

A child is born out of wedlock. (I have always wondered why is called that - wedlock.) The mother puts it up for adoption but the first couple rejects it because they want a girl. The second in queue adopts him, promising his mother they will give him a college education.

The boy grows up and is sent to college but he drops out soon. He starts his own company and designs a path-breaking personal computer.

A few years later, the CEO and board of his company make him resign as the company is not doing well.

The board re-hires him. He designs and launches successful product after product to the extent that for a brief while his company is the largest in terms of net worth.

In 2004, he is diagnosed of cancer and makes an incredible come back after surgery.

Seven years later he succumbs to cancer. The world mourns.

The next time you see a loser, please be considerate and give him or her a second chance. It might make the world of a difference. Or, even a difference to the world.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Anna Hazare & being a damp squib

Let me begin with a honest confession (not to be confused with signed confessions given at police stations and retracted twenty years later when your case comes up for hearing).

I am a pessimist. That is, where an optimist sees a blue sky, I see a dry spell and receding ground water tables. The sky is half-full for me, always.

I am also aware, painfully so, that anything negative said or written about Anna Hazare today will have those who support his crusade (I am not sure if that’s the right word because the one crusade I remember from history was rather bigoted and violent), up in arms against those saying/writing it. I am just pinning my hope on the fact that Anna is hailed as the Modern Gandhi (actually Post-modern Gandhi because the Modern Gandhi position has been taken up by Munnabhai. Trivial aside: If Munna is Gandhi, does it make Circuit, Nehru?), and his supporters will stick to the path of non-violence and desist from breaking any bones.

So here goes, with a deep breath, prayer to non-violence and a salute to pessimism.

Lokpal – The very concept is a joke, pal.

I am not a lawyer nor am I a constitutional guru, but correct me if I am wrong, in theory in this country nobody is above law. (This of course presumes there is only one missionary position and the law can’t be f*d from below.) Of course, you can’t drag an elected representative to court but you can sack him or her first and then do the needful. But I could be wrong.

To go on a tangent to prove a point, take the wonderful skywalks built all around Mumbai. They are built for commuters who are forced to risk their lives in the chaos of traffic outside each railway station. But what’s the reason for chaos? No footpaths to walk on. Why? The hawkers have occupied it illegally. The roads are dangerous because the auto rickshaws are parked or cruising indiscriminately and private cars are double-parked illegally too. So what’s the solution? Skywalk. And not kicking encroachments out, or kicking the butts of auto and car drivers. The skywalk is like putting a cushioned toilet seat to cure loose motions – it relieves the sore cheeks but the motions continue.

We have a constitution, the Indian Penal Code, a judiciary, police, anti-corruption bureau, CBI (known in certain circles as Congress Bureau of Intimidation), various committees to probe (not solve), various crimes, economic offences wing, RAW (the name says it all), and god knows how many offshoots that are all supposed to prevent crime, corruption and obscene dances by adults and enforce law and order and pub closure times.

To me the Lokpal is a skywalk in disguise. Or a cushioned toilet seat, if you prefer that kind of humour. We want a Lokpal because none of the above works.

The current Anna Hazare movement is for a strong and powerful Lokpal. One whose purview (defined as the noise made by cat who likes the view), includes the Prime Minister of India. Let’s say we get that. Then what? Even a kid who is not old enough to wipe his own snot (butt if you prefer), knows the Prime Minister of India is a designation and not a role. A puppet whose strings are tied to the aprons of a dynasty (defined as nasty people who don’t die), which, even in the face of an all-powerful Lokpal will say, “Take the PM, kiss my snot; we will find another PM (short form of Puppet Minister).”

Then again, think some more and ask, “Who will appoint the Lokpal?” The same nasty bunch! It’s like having the world’s number one test cricket team with limping players.

Now, for a moment let’s suspend disbelief, and imagine that Anna Hazare’s movement succeeds in toppling the current government. The Loksabha is dissolved and we have general elections. Who forms the next government? The opposition? Do we have one? So we are back to square one – The Dynasty (Motto: Power is my right. Emergency is my heritage.).

I was there my friends, when we all marched to Gateway of India to light candles and protest 26/11. What a movement it was. What a moment it was. The educated youth was there. The rich SoBoites were there. Ministers got sacked. The city got its own commando force. The police got armoured vehicles and amphibian boats to patrol the roads and sea. Railway stations got metal detectors. Then, we got elections and the usual voter turnout and the same government.

Then, on 13/7/2011, we got three bomb blasts.

But what to do, I am a pessimist. A damp squib. Sorry Anna Hazare. I would have appreciated your fast had I not been eternally hungry. For a little grain of hope.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Woman versus Man

Ah, that’s an old trick up there in the title - Grab the readers’, no, not what you are thinking old boy. Grab the readers’ attention with the promise of a little controversy and then let them down. Blame it on my advertising past where grabbing readers by the balls of their eyes is a highly prized skill and letting them down is standard practice.

The client thumps the table and declares, “Give us ads that get maximum eye balls!”

The agency thumps its chest and declares, “Yes sir!” and mutters to itself at the same time, ‘For that you need to have balls!’

So, if the title has had you rubbing your, no, not that again ol’ girl, rubbing your hands in anticipation of bio-theo-psycho-socio-logical insights into the great man-woman phenomenon, go away! Visit a library!

Now that we have gotten rid of cheap thrill-seeking and serious debate-seeking readers, time to get down to the business of this piece:

We are going to take women in social situations (you still here? Go away, there is no pun on ‘take’), and compare them with men.

As always, this piece is not original; it is based on a few observations and that’s it. I am sure similar observations have been made by teams of psycho/sociologists funded by universities with impressive seals and mottos in Latin that mean, ‘Making nonsense credible since 1582,’ and, depending on the source of funding, who publish papers that give scientific reasons why coffee is good or bad for you.

So here are some non-funded, non-original observations.

1. A woman walks into a room:

All men check her out, most of them surreptiously.

All women check her out openly.

Men don't notice what she is wearing. In fact the gifted ones try to imagine her without what she is wearing while the others try putting her face on certain pictures or videos they have seen on the net.

Women make a note of everything - from toe nail colour to hair colour - and try to figure out if they are original, fake or bought in a sale.

Getting no look in return, men go back to doing what they were doing.

Women decide that what she is wearing will look better on them and add a few things to their shopping list and also visit the parlour while they are at it.

1A. A man walks into a room:

Big deal. Shit happens. Or rather, nothing happens. Unless he has MONEY written all over his forehead. Or if there is a woman with him. Then we are back to situation one.

2. A woman gets up, says ‘bye’ to her group of women friends and leaves the room.

The women left behind do not continue their conversation. They wait until she is out of earshot. Then they start talking, about her.

“Did you notice? She has worn the same dress the last time we met!”

“She shouldn’t be wearing such dresses at all – makes her look fatter!”

“Hasn’t she been going to the gym for over two months now?”

“If I had a personal trainer like hers, I would go too!”


“I heard…”

“It’s true!”


“What world do you live in?”

2A. A man gets up, says ‘bye’ to his group of men friends and leaves the room.

He has barely left the table when the men start talking.

“He doesn’t show it, but he lost quite bit on the market last week.”

“Dude, it’s the time to sell. Now! I made quite a packet yesterday.”

“What are you saying? Do you think I should too?”

“Damn! Watch the football guys – he just missed the goal by a whisker!”

Sorry, have to stop writing now. I have to channel my imagination elsewhere. A woman just walked into the room.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Welcome the new leader of the house

Yesterday, in the morning, my ten-year old daughter was surprisingly engrossed in reading the front page of The Times of India. Surprising, because she normally reserves this kind of concentration for the front page of The Bombay Times. But before I could congratulate myself on her new found maturity and interest in current affairs, she got this look on her face that said Trouble. (When people say she has taken after her mother I only half-believe them. But when she gets this look I agree with them wholeheartedly.) Luckily, it was time for her to get to school so she couldn't translate the look into words.


The sigh of relief lasted only until the evening. Once I was back from work the daughter sat me down:

“It’s time for a little chat,” she declared.

I sat down of course. As a much married man, I know it is futile to battle The Look. 

“When we go visiting our relatives who gets the maximum attention?” she asked.
“You,” I replied.
“And your friends?” she continued.
“They positively shower you with attention, affection, kisses and gifts,” I replied. As a much married etc. I have realized the power of flattery and am not miserly in its use.
“Even perfect strangers, you'll admit, have gone gaga over me since I was so small,” she said holding her tiny palm a few inches above the floor.
“Yes indeed,” I admitted. I remembered with a pang the hugs and kisses she has received from attractive young ladies who were strangers and perfect at that. If only…
“I have been around for over ten years now and I have spent all that time being an integral part of the family. In fact, you can say that I am the face of the family. If you turn up at a family function without me, the first thing they enquire about is me, right?”
“Right,” I said, and this time I wasn't even flattering her. 

(Yes, she did use the word, ‘integral’. She is a precocious young lady, my daughter. Not long ago I had told her exactly that: You are a precocius young lady. To which she had replied, “Is that what your generation calls a young girl who is cool?” I had slapped my forehead in response. She had commented that we should move out of the suburbs; there are too many mosquitoes here. Again, it had taken a lot to stop myself from slapping my forehead. And her.)

I wasn’t sure where this was going but I didn’t have a good feeling about it. (Read earlier references to The Look.) So I decided to conclude the conversation with some more flattery.

“Hey, you are the face of the family, the cool one and what's more, you are the future!” I said, sure that this would help me escape now. And she could go back to watching music videos unsuitable for her age. And mine.

“I am glad you brought the future up,” she said without blinking. “Now that you agree with all that and given that I have ten years' hands-on experience in the family, you should step down and make me the leader of the family.”

It took me a few minutes to respond and even then, all I could manage was, “Huh?”
In response she gave me sweet smile and said, “My eleventh birthday is a couple of months away. We could start the new arrangement from then!”
“Hey-hey-hey!” I exclaimed, “Whoa!” I was so taken aback that I was still incapable of coherent speech and all could manage was a string of exclamations. Finally I took a deep breath and let loose: 

“Do you know what it takes to run a family? Do you think you can get up every morning, battle peak hour traffic, get to work, fight office politics, handle deadline pressures, all kinds of stress so you can earn some money and then make it last for a month? Do you think you can handle MOM? Do you have ANY IDEA what it takes?”

“Chill dad, there is no need to scream,” she replied without batting an eyelid, “you are doing a great job earning the bread, paying my cell phone bills, mom's credit card bills and handling the stress. Mom’s awesome at handling the home stuff. You guys keep up the good work. All I am saying is leave the leadership thing to me. After all, we need a young attractive face to show the world that we are cool family!”

“And why the,” I swallowed an expletive here, “Why do you think that it's necessary? And what makes you think you are qualified?”
“Wait here,” she said with quiet authority and walked away. She returned after a few moments (moments I spent doing breathing exercises), with the newspaper. “Here,” she said pointing at a news item on the front page, “Read this.”

I read:

“I think it is time that Rahul can become the prime minister,” (Digvijay) Singh was quoted… adding, “Rahul is now 40 and he has been working for the party for the last seven to eight years.”

I finished and without bothering to look at her triumphant face, walked away and burnt the newspaper. No, I didn't do that. Instead I went and looked at the calendar: I have one month and twenty nine days before I hand over the charge to my daughter on her birthday. After all, she is better qualified.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Fast tips to being a celebrity

Anna Hazare, the name that launched millions FB updates and thousands of celebrity tweets (not to be confused with the similar sounding ‘twits’), and whose deceptive spelling had the Western media imagining a lady named Anna with the impossible second name Hazare, has launched more than the Jan Lokpal movement. His unprecedented and unexpected success in creating mass and upper class hysteria, had Baba (a word inspired by the sound a sheep makes in the classic nursery rhyme), Ramdev (ram meaning male sheep, which explains the prefix baba), in contortions.


Baba: Here I am, getting up every morning at four and twisting my body into impossible shapes to get the attention of the nation, teaching the world to breathe and using desperate measures like declaring homosexuality to be a disease to get my face (yes, somewhere he has a face in that mass of tangled hair) in the news, and there comes an old man from a village and pulls the yoga mat from under my posture! Why, I even tried hitching my slow wagon to his fast train, but no, he continued to hog the limelight. Ram, ram, ram! (Said to rhyme with damn, damn, damn.) He even had all kinds of people wearing Anna cap (formerly known as the Gandhi cap), with the slogan, “Mai Anna Hazare” and marching up and down streets with candles as if there was a power outage in the city. But finally, there is some relief. As the saying goes, ‘Bhagwan ke ghar mein der hain, andher nahin’ (loosely translated, ‘There is delay in god’s house, not darkness’. With every religion having a ritual of lighting lamps, candles etc. but obviously there is no darkness.) The process of formulating the Lokpal Bill is all tangled up like a novice yoga practitioner attempting one of my asanas– what do you expect with me adding my two bits to it? But it is not enough! Anna might come before Baba, alphabetically speaking, but as the other saying goes, ‘Der aaye, durust aaye’, (loose translation – Came late, came correct), my time has to come. I have to make it come.

Saying this Baba did rapid breathing movements that created the effect of him being hit in the belly by rapid Tyson punches. This removal of hot air from his body calmed Baba somewhat. He decided to pray and began chanting, “Baba black sheep have you any fool?” until he reached a state of meditation where just one word remained in his consciousness – Black. Exhausted, he scratched his left ear with his left toe and exclaimed, “Black! That’s it! Anna, this will make you feel sheepish!”

The next moment he called a press conference (defined as the conference you get when you press the right buttons), and announced:

“Unless and until the government forms a committee (with me in it), to get all the black money stashed abroad, I will fast unto death!” Of course, he didn’t specify whose death. And as the cameras flashed and TV reporters thrust their microphones into his beard, he said to himself, ‘Just wait Anna. The day is not far when everyone from Rahul Bose to Priyanka Chopra will sport a beard like me with a tattoo on their foreheads – Mai Baba Ramdev’.

Breaking news – In a midnight operation, Baba and his followers were evicted by the police from the Ramlila Grounds. Baba escaped by jumping into the women’s section – but naturally, he doesn’t suffer from that disease called homosexuality. A Page 3 reporter spoke to one of his followers after the incident:

Page 3 reporter: Does Baba have a squint?
Follower: No, he just has one eye on the cameras.

Friday, 3 June 2011

No beauty without cruelty

In the Hollywood movie, Shallow Hal, Jack Black’s perception is altered and he begins seeing people for what they are inside and not for what they appear to be on the outside. As a result Jack sees a 300-pound woman as Gwyneth Paltrow and of course, falls in love with her. Towards the end of the movie, Jack’s perception is re-altered to normal and he sees the ‘real’ body of his lady love. Of course, he is put off and after the usual twists and turns in a Hollywood romantic comedy, returns to his senses and realizes the folly of judging people (and his lover), by their appearances. He reaches the conclusion that a she-elephant with a heart of gold is any day superior to a b* with a black heart.

What a load of bull.

I had watched the movie in bits and pieces on TV and decided to find out the name of the actress who played the 300-pounder. My search threw up (no puns intended), a number of web sites. But guess what – the weighty actress’s name didn’t show up in the cast. Here’s a link to the imdb web site; check it out for yourself. The sites list three names – Jack Black, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jason Alexander. Period.

That made me wonder about the motivation behind the making of the movie. Maybe the directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly are fat and hence. But no. They aren’t. What about the writer, Sean Moynihan? Not him either. So what? Jack Black? He is plump, sure, but nowhere near the size of the Kung Fu Panda he lends his voice to.

So I sit back and imagine the discussion between the Studio Executives:

Studio Exec 1: It’s a thin plot.
SE 2: That’s a bad joke.
SE: Sorry, unintended. But who’d want to see Jack romance a mammoth?
SE 2: Now you are talking sense. But the beauty is, no one sees her, not even Jack, until the very end!
SE: Agreed, but listen up dude. I know it’s a romantic comedy and research has proven again and again that the average movie-goer is a moron – but with practically all industries and all media in the world spending billions of dollars promoting the toothpick figure as the ideal beauty, what chance do we have? I mean ask a man in the street if he is heard of Gandhi and he will say, ‘No’. But ask about Kate Moss… You know what I mean.
SE 2: All I know is you are talking like an intellectual and if the Board hears you, you will be fired. But wait. You said a relevant thing there.
SE: I did? What?
SE 2: Research. Let’s call in the research guy.
Researh Guy: Hmm. According to the last figures, 34% of the US population is obese. US has the highest obesity ratio in the world.
SE 2: That means, we have a captive audience of 34% Americans. Plus, if we cast a hot toothpick as the chick this guy sees with this altered perception, we have 100% men wanting to see the movie. We are doing this film.

But that’s my imagination so you can discount it. However what you cannot discount is the fact that our ideas of beauty are shaped by our environment and we are not born with them. Yeah, we don’t cry when we are born because we find the doctor or the mid-wife or the nurse ugly; we cry because the doctor slaps us on our bottom. I wish other professions had the luxury of slapping their sources of income; I know more than a few clients who could do with some butt-slapping.

Let's admit it. Every culture, every region and every society has its own definition of beauty. Like certain African tribes believed that the darker you were, the more beautiful you were. Which is also a prejudice of sorts because it implies that lighter complexions are not beautiful. Or in Burma, as it was called then, a tribe believed that longer a woman's neck the more attractive she was. Today, with the power of western money, corporations and media has led us to believe that beauty is thin, fair and young. Yeah, young too - ask the makers of Botox. Though I know men who find older women more attractive - they are usually described as kinky. I know women who find older men attractive too – they are described as bounty hunters.

So it is really this: Whether it is media, opinion leaders, the village elders or just some king with a kink (imagine the chaos if a Burmese tribal found his way to Africa and saw a giraffe!), it is always someone with power who decides what is good, what is bad, what is beautiful and what is not.

To bring this post to a quick conclusion (before I start a long rant on fairness and anti-ageing creams, weight loss clinics, gyms, silicone or a graphic description about the Burmese who saw a giraffe), here’s the problem with ‘Real’ beauty:

Every concept of beauty is inherently exclusive. When you define something as beautiful, you automatically condemn those who don't fit into the definition as ugly. And therein hides the tragedy.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Not cricket

A couple of days ago, I went to Wankhede Stadium to watch the IPL 20-20 cricket match between Mumbai Indians and Kochi Tuskers. Thousands of words have already been written, and more will be written, about why Mumbai lost and Kochi won, so I am not going to add to that. Instead, I will write about things I saw but were not necessarily cricket.

We had to queue up, climb a flight of stairs to go up a bridge, cross the bridge, come down and enter the stadium. I had climbed the same bridge in 1987, when India met England in the World Cup semi-finals and had lost. 24 years later the cops and the organisers are doing a better job. However, when it comes to moving ahead in an orderly queue, ants are definitely more evolved.

Inside the atmosphere was chaotic. Mumbai Indians’ fans outnumbered the visiting teams by a large margin and it showed. There was a time when commentators said complimentary things about Mumbai’s cricket fans because they were knowledgeable about the game, were well-behaved and most important, applauded the opposition if it played a good shot or bowled a great ball. Not in this match. It was a partisan crowd. Hardly anyone applauded the opposition. Which is funny because no one is really from Mumbai. Except for the fishing community, who either doesn’t care about the IPL or can’t afford the price of a ticket. And yes of course, this is the IPL, a thing that most sections of the media choose to portray as some kind of war - between this captain and that, this owner and that, this celebrity or that, even this city and that. Team loyalty, in this case, has to be created and fuelled throughout, else who will buy the tickets or switch on the telly?

There was also a time when Mumbai was called the cradle of Indian cricket because it nurtured young cricketers who made it to the national team in large numbers. Today, it is still the cradle of Indian cricket because from the time a child is in the cradle Mumbai mums and dads start dreaming of making him the next Tendulkar and you see boys carrying cricket kit bags the size of a cradle in grounds around the city.

If all the shouting, waving, whistling and blowing your own vuvuzelas made you hungry, you could buy a vada-pav, samosa, roll, burger, sandwich, ice cream, soft drink and water at the venue. However, all choices were vegetarian. I wonder why. I wonder if the Mumbai Cricket Association recommends a vegetarian diet for sportspersons and fans alike and whether that was the reason why the Mumbai Indians’ attack lacked teeth.

Apart from a glitzy and large electronic scoreboard, there was also a traditional black and white one. It was being operated by an unseen pair of hands, manually. But no one paid attention to it – it still lived in the era of day cricket and was rather dimly lit.

We had tickets for seats in the Sachin Tendulkar Stand. Thousands of words have been written about the miniature bucket seats (in a city with a perennial water scarcity, the buckets are bound to be small – one argument goes), and the lack of leg room, so I will not add more. But I believe like all great architecture is inspired by local conditions, the architecture of the renovated stadium (and hence the seating), probably takes inspiration from Mumbai’s iconic space-crunched slums as made famous by a movie that was not about dogs but made Danny Boyle a millionaire.

There were two more stands named after Mumbai cricketers – Sunil Gavaskar and Vijay Merchant. From where we sat, I couldn’t see any more. I am certain that most young spectators were wondering who Mr. Merchant was and why he had a stand named after him. Well, such is the effect of time. However, despite having played his last one day match in this very stadium 24 years ago, the same one I had attended, no one would have been wondering who Sunil Gavaskar is. After retiring, he continues to enjoy a successful career as a cricket commentator and manages to stay in the news. 24 years from now people will still know him because his son has followed his footsteps in to the experts’ panel, and every time someone wants to know who he is, they will be told, “Oh, he is Sunil Gavaskar’s son.” Of course Merchant, Gavaskar and Tendulkar are all cricketing greats from Mumbai and they deserve their stands.

No prizes for guessing who gets the biggest name of them all. The politician of course. That’s who the Mumbai stadium is named after – Sheshrao Wankhede, a barrister, a minor politician and the President of Mumbai Cricket Association in 1974 when the stadium was built.
Maybe I am being too harsh. For all you know young Sheshrao might have led his school cricket team to triumphs unheard of!

When the match ended, we retraced our steps over the bridge and out. There was no pushing, shoving, shouting or trumpeting. There was no waiting for the presentation ceremony either. Everyone  plodded, including a couple wearing rather strange headgear. On closer observation it turned out that the man was wearing a clown’s hat and carrying his wife’s hand bag. Maybe he had lost a bet. Or maybe it was some kind of superstition. Like one of the guys who works with me requested today, “Please don’t go to watch Mumbai play; every time you do that, we lose.”

Sorry Mumbai Indians for being responsible for your failure; won’t happen again.

Friday, 8 April 2011

The pizza, like the rose, by any other name...

Recently I had lunch at a new restaurant called California Pizza Kitchen. It's a high end kind of place where a pizza costs around 350 rupees plus loads of tax. The décor is faux something; I am not an authority on architecture or interior design but the place could have been described as ‘contemporary (word meaning a con that doesn't last too long), Italian’. For those who have seen the Godfather Trilogy at an impressionable age, the term contemporary Italian might inspire images of Italian men in sharp cut suits carrying AK 47s instead of Tommy guns. But hold your imagination - the term ‘contemporary something’ is used by the builder-architect-interior design industry to describe something that looks modern and very vaguely resembles something but you can’t say what.

But back to California Pizza Kitchen. The food, pizza and pasta in our case, was good. The two desserts we ordered, Red Velvet Cake and Tiramisu, were big, beautiful and finger-lickingly yummy. But what flummoxed me was the name of the place - I can’t get it out of my head and I keep wondering about it.

For those who know their geography, California is the place where a whole bunch of Indians work in the IT (not income tax), industry in Silicon Valley* and live in areas like San José (where the ‘j’ is pronounced as an ‘h’), and Bay Area. In fact, there was a time in my childhood when bright kids (described as kids who attended expensive tuition classes), would spell out their career ambition as, “I live in the Bombay Area but when I grow up I want to drop the Bom”. Only kids (and parents) in the know would ‘get’ what they were saying while the rest would wonder who they wanted to drop the ‘Bom’ on.
*Sorry, this being a responsible blog, we will not give in to the temptation cracking one-liners about Silicon Valley and Pamela Anderson.

For those who know their literature, California features in the novel, ‘Grapes of Wrath’ by John Steinbeck (not to be confused with the piano by the same name). But there are only a handful people who would make this connection. But there is a vineyard full of people who will connect grapes to California. “Napa Valley and California wines,” they will say as they enrol for golf lessons as the next step to the next level in the corporate world, “I have a white from my last wine tour, hic, that goes well with tandoori chicken”.

But California and pizza? That’s not a connection. (Well, neither is California and kitchen a logical connection, but if people are eating in that state one presumes they have kitchens too.) Of course, like closer home, where there is always talk about connections between Bollywood and the underworld, there might be a connection between Hollywood (located in California), and the Mafia which is run by Sicilians who are reluctant Italians and an inspiration for, among other things, the Godfather books, movies and TV series. But those who know their Godfather will vouch for the fact that the Corleones never ate pizza. Not on screen, not in the book. I mean what kind respect would you have for Brando if you saw him struggling to separate a slice of pizza while battling chewing gum-like strings of cheese?

So why would anyone name an eatery California Pizza Kitchen? Here’s an implausible theory or two.

Once upon a time, I used to live in a far-flung western suburb of Mumbai. (Yeah, I wasn’t bright and didn’t make it to the Anderson Valley, sorry, to Silicon Pamela, damn, I mean Silicon Valley). Parked on the corner of the highway and my poor lane used to be a Chinese Fast Food Cart. (Further down was a dance bar called 'Madonna'. But that's another story and this is a responsible kind of blog.) The Chinese Cart was intriguingly named ‘American Chinese Fast Food’. I used to find it funny. But not anymore. The owner was probably ahead of his time. Or, he had a bright son who had migrated to the Silicon part of America and had funded his father’s Chinese Food Enterprise. Or maybe he, the owner and not the son, made a fortune on his American Chinese Cart and has now launched the hip (not to be confused with the body part of the same spelling), and happening Grade I eatery called California Pizza Kitchen. Luck to him I say. But not without a little worry that soon it might turn into a trend and we will have restaurants with names like ‘London Dim Sums’ and ‘Paris Biryani House’ started by someone who made a fortune with a road-side enterprise called ‘Shanghai Wada Pav’.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Death of a writer, kind of.

‘I have neglected my writing,’ I say to myself, 'I am going to sit here for at least, no, for exactly twenty minutes. Apart from looking up occasionally at the sky for inspiration and at every girl who walks in, I am going to put my nose to the paper and write. And if need be, re-write. Maybe at the end of these twenty minutes, I would have written utter nonsense or my pen would have spent more time suspended over the paper instead of running on it, but I will get up happy in the knowledge that I have tried. It is this kind of discipline that made Somerset Maugham a great and prolific writer; he would sit in front of his typewriter for two hours at an appointed time every day. It didn’t matter whether he wrote or not. Of course I can’t spare two hours a day. Twenty minutes is all I can afford every other day what with Facebook, Twitter and checking my e-mail on the phone, exchanging and forwarding ideas, thoughts and videos over the internet – the days are so full with action that it is a miracle that I can find twenty whole minutes every alternate day for this. The internet is truly a democratic medium – it is fed and kept alive by common people like me and you; without us this wonderful thing will implode and wither away like an uncharged cell phone. Maugham had it easy. If he wrote a letter, he would get a reply several days, even weeks or months later and he could always blame the postal services if he didn’t feel like replying right away.

Anyway, this sitting in a café and working like Hemingway is totally awesome. Except that there are so many girls walking in every now and then. And the sky is barely visible through the gaps in the buildings, gaps that aren’t wide enough for inspiration to flow through. And it is sixteen minutes since I switched off the phone and I wonder how many text messages and e-mails I have missed or if the internet has imploded worldwide because without realizing everyone has decided to spend twenty minutes without checking it. And that girl three tables away has looked at me the third time and I believe in the old saying – third time lucky. It’s already eighteen and half minutes and honestly, what’s going to happen in the next ninety seconds that hasn’t so far? I have only one regret - The world just lost the next Maugham or Hemingway. Or maybe even Shakespeare.’

Friday, 4 March 2011

So who's your hero?

A politician’s son got married to a politician’s daughter in Delhi. The whole affair cost Rs. 100 crore out of which 33 crore was spent on buying a 7-seater helicopter for the bridegroom. Needless to say, all the money was spent by the bride’s family.

But the biggest news of the event is the barber from the bride’s side who was paid Rs. 2.5 lakh as a tip. Because the groom deserved a fat wedding and a chopper. The barber just got lucky.

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court set aside the appointment of the CVC of India as being illegal on the grounds that he had a case of corruption pending against him. The ruling party says it appointed him because he was a really nice guy and his bio-data didn’t mention the corruption case!!! By the way, CVC stands for Chief Vigilance Commissioner. The newspapers are celebrating the fact that since the appointment of the current Chief Justice cases like these are getting the attention they deserve from the Supreme Court after a lull of three years.

That’s because the earlier Chief Justice was a laidback guy and after his retirement his family is under investigation for having assets disproportionate to their known sources of income.

(As I write this the Prime Minister of India has accepted responsibility for the appointment of the CVC.
“I have already said I respect the judgement of the Supreme Court,” Singh told a televised press conference. “I accept my responsibility.”
So what next? Will he resign? Or will he be sacked? Are you kidding? His party has the majority. He will be allowed to stay on the same grounds as the appointment of the CVC – he is such a nice guy.)

Chew on this too: Out of the 543 members of Lok Sabha, 154 have criminal cases against them.

It is a common thing these days to see a BMW or Mercedes with a red light on top being chaperoned by a bunch of police vehicles. No one pays attention and wonders what the salary of a minister is in this country. Neither does anyone react when a politician puts a few hundred crore against his or her name while declaring assets and goes on to put his or her occupation as ‘farmer’.

Everything is in the open. Like Adarsh or 2G. The building is there for everyone to see. The 2G spectrum was auctioned, that is, the price it was sold for was public knowledge.

No one cares. Ever wonder why?

Is it our ‘chalta hain’ attitude? Let it be yaar. They are politicians and hence they are corrupt. Ditto for cops and bureaucrats.

Or is it?

The capital of this country is the capital of ‘jugad’ – if there is an illegal way of doing it, we will find it or create it and get work done. The means justify the ends. We like success. And everyone knows that you can’t be successful or powerful or wealthy without bending a rule or two, right?

Mumbai’s most famous paani-puriwallah is at Elco Market on Hill Road in Bandra. He started off humbly. He invented cold paani-puri and made a fortune. When I first heard of him, they said, “He is a road-side paani-puriwallah but owns a Mercedes.” It didn’t matter that his stalls were illegal. Or he inconvenienced thousands of pedestrians by encroaching on an entire stretch of pavement. What mattered was, ‘He has a Mercedes.’

Chief Justice Sarosh Homi Kapadia of the Supreme Court started off humbly too. He started as a Class IV employee and has risen to the rank of Chief Justice of the highest court in the country. His father was a poor defence clerk.

But I have yet to meet anyone who speaks about him in the same manner as they speak about the paani-puriwallah. That’s probably because he doesn’t have a Mercedes.

And therein lies the problem.