Saturday, April 11, 2015

Launch of CP Surendran's Novel Hadal at Palladium

Was at friend CP Surendran’s novel launch yesterday. His novel Hadal was being launched at the tony Palladium in upper Worli. Upper worli for those who don’t know it is Lower Parel, the mill district. They have cleverly manipulated the name to upper Worli to save them from the blushes of saying they live in Lower Parel. So you live in Lower Parel, does your father work in the cotton mill, eh? What could be more insulting than that?
It was an evening of drinks and discussion as the author interacted with film maker Anurag Kashyap and Ravi Subramaniam. Ravi had read the book overnight, he said. Earlier actors Suchitra Pillai and Denzil Smith had done a dramatic reading of a chapter from the novel. The banter was pleasant and the paparazzi were present in great numbers sensing some great story was up. But the news never got the coverage it could have. I scanned the papers today and found nothing. Surely, DNA will not carry it because CP – I call him that – had just left it. The Times didn’t carry it also. Some media shenanigan behind this? Then why was the paparazzi so strongly and intrusively present? They were all over the place. They were building their photo portfolio on CP and Anurag, or, so it seems. Nothing succeeds like success.
Ravi Subramaniam, CP Surendran, and Anurag Kashyap
CP said that these days people go by phonetics of language and not by their etymological origin. So you becomes “u” and we becomes “v.” Ravi also read out a passage from the novel which states that Indian men are over-sexed and underfucked. Yes, agree with that. What else would make drivers and bus attendants so horny that they would abuse small children? We are an underscrewed nation. Where do we have the time or the place? In a one room kitchen flat, in which most of Bombay lives, where’s the place for decent conjugal bliss? Even married people have to look for a vacation or a room in a seedy hotel to consummate.

Hm. I don’t know; this must be the way launches are done these days. The paparazzi, the drinks, the verbal jousts, the humour, the fun. CP shone with his intelligent asides. You are doing great man! A good evening of intellectual stimulation was had by all. 

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Some Cogitations on Vishu

The Konna, Cassia Fistula

On my morning walk today I saw this regularity, rather, miracle, of nature. The Konna (Cassia Fistula), a flower like dappled sunlight, a profusion of them looking like the sun glittering on a placid lake, is blooming again. That means the Malayalam new year Vishu is here. Vishu is on April 15, in case you would like to know. It’s the day on which farmers begin their farming activities in Kerala ending in the harvest season during Onam. So it’s a time for Vishukani and Vishusadya.

Sunlight when it falls on the Konna makes it even more beautiful. It’s like heaven on heaven, a two-fold blessing to sore eyes that missed many a bloom this spring. The mango tree which should have been full of blossoms is dry and devoid these days, the jackfruit tree in the courtyard is forlorn and a few jackfruits in its branches have turned black and fallen down.

This spring I didn’t see the gulmohurs blossoming in my locality. I don’t know why. Even some of the plants in my garden have wilted. The heat is harsh, the wind is dry, a few days of rain hasn’t mitigated the heat. So global warming is a reality isn’t it? How do we cope with it? Are we prepared?

Yesterday, out in the sun to do a few things I was putting off, I visited Vashi. The heat was so intense that I had to escape to somewhere in the shade, probably with air-conditioning. So I went to Inorbit mall, Vashi, and did some shopping. Bought a large-size green shorts and a size XL tee-shirt. I would have never done that in my earlier days. Nowadays, with a bulging tummy those are the things I wear at home.

Came out at 3 p.m. and the heat was still intense. My skin seemed to scald, the tender organs of the body seemed to shrink, I was feeling dehydrated. That’s when I decided to hire a taxi, though I usually take a train. The heat seemed to have exhausted me. I had a butter milk after reaching home, as I am not in favour of aerated drinks.

There’s about Vishu much more than meets the eye. It’s Bikhu in the Kumaon area, Baisakhi in Punjab, Bisu in Mangalore, Rongali Bisu in Assam, Maha Vishuva Sankranti in Orissa, Naba Barsha in Bengal, Navreh in Kashmir, Sinhalese New Year in Sri Lanka, Official Nepalese New Year in Nepal, Songkran in Thailand, Tamil Puthandu in Tamil Nadu. All these point to the unified legacy and anthropological origin of the people of the sub-continent, which should make for an excellent anthropological study. Anyone?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Miracles Happen, with Yoga and Exercise

The doctor went through the reports I gave him and smiled, “your reports are good, come let’s examine you.” Usually he has a grim expression on his face and rarely smiles, and, therefore, this must be good news. I lie down, he examines me. “You have made good progress; your problem is under remission, so we are taking you off the surgery list.”

Warmed the cockles, ventricles, the aorta, and whatever else there is. I thanked my Lord and saviour then and there. I was praying for a breakthrough, and now that I got it, I will keep working for it. For a doctor recovery of the patient is his ultimate reward and I could give him that, I am proud to think. My wife would be happy with the news. She has been through a lot since my last illness. I would have to continue with medicines though. I agree. He fills out a new list of medicines.

For the past few months I have been maintaining a strict regimen of meditation, yoga, weights, and walking. It’s not easy and is a tough regimen, which I followed because of the seriousness I felt about my situation. I have many more things to find closure to and the thought was troubling me. Even if it took my entire morning hours I didn’t deviate from the schedule. First comes meditation, which brings my mind and body together and prepares my body to tune up, as musicians do on their instruments. The body, according to me, is like a machine that needs tuning so that it can work continuously. Then I do pranayama, deep breathing, for about 45 minutes to one hour. This is essential to get oxygen and blood to the unreachable parts of the body, ergo, I have the abovementioned tuning effect. Then the ultimate of all yoga postures, the Surya Namaskars, which is a combination of several asanas in one. I can do only five of them, because it is difficult. It involves every muscle groups in my body and it has given me a lot of flexibility. It gives my body a lightness which is needed to prevent arthritis and falls.

I don’t put the fan on, because sweating is what I want to do. By the end of this routine I start sweating. Then it is to weights, two four-kilo weights in either hands, so that blood thumps through the arteries and I feel the abdominal muscles move. The skeletal system is better controlled by muscles than fat. Then it is breakfast and the newspapers before I go for my morning walk. I walk, in sunlight, may be, two or two-and-a-half kilometres, on an undulating road swinging my arms. Here also I sweat a lot. I hear the chirp of birds, I look at the greenery, I listen to music on my ipod, and I feel the freedom. I have made progress, which I have been praying for all these days.

It’s a lot better than being in an ICU which should be re-named Intensive Carelessness Unit. All the outside world is screened off, you can only talk to the nurses, the wardboys, and your own wife. ICUs are dull places, where there is no sunlight, you are fixed to machines that go, “blip, blip, twing, twing, twing,” those machines have a life of their own. Though you are spending a ton of money, you aren’t getting any humane treatment back. This must be the only industry where they are careless towards a high-paying customer. You are treated with callousness, you are just another patient about to conk off. The machines keep you awake in the night, and, therefore, you get no sleep. Then how will you recover?

I am writing a longer piece on my experience. Something called, “Would you trust your life to the medical professional?” Or, something such. India needs good doctors of which there is a shortage, especially general practitioners. The country needs good trained nurses who have a holistic and humane touch for treatment, and not a big attitude problem. The new lot of nurses can’t even give an injection properly. They aren’t paid much because hospitals are money making businesses.  Well, most of them are Mallus, from my native place.

My advice to all of you dear readers. Exercise your bodies, do yoga anything that stretches those idle muscles. Medicines can’t cure everything.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

R.I.P. Max Babi

Max Babi, R.I.P.

Max was a friend. He promised to visit me “darken your door” as he said, many times, but, unfortunately he is no more, will not darken my door, ever. He died this week. The Facebook was full of tributes to him one day, and the next day there was nothing. So, I am writing this to keep his memory alive, to list some of his talents, so that Max is not forgotten. However, I forgive him for not darkening my door.

Max was a multi-faceted person. Plasma technologist, engineer, professor, poet, writer of humourous prose, jazz enthusiast, translator, sufi poet, much more. I don’t know how to classify his varied interests and preoccupations. Only God, with whom he is now, knows how he managed to keep doing all these.

During the early days of the online writer’s forum caferati, he would organise meetings in Pune, and visit meetings in Bombay. He had keen interest in building communities and succeeded in his attempts to some extent. It was during these meetings that our acquaintance grew into friendship. He said my talent was underestimated. (I was flattered by this and many more kind comments he made on my poems, short stories, and other literary output.)

It’s a big loss to me. He would take pains to comment on Facebook and I would reciprocate. Though he lived in Pune, we kept in touch. We called each other “word warriors.” I heard he had a bypass surgery and things weren’t too good after that. I also had my health problems. I am managing to keep alive with yoga, meditation, and long walks. I don’t know how Max didn’t resort to any of these remedies, let alone succumb to his illness.

We had many things in common. We discussed them. His writing was humourous in the extreme, and were it not for the services of a good editor who could put it in a semblance of order, he would have been published. I was too busy with my own work to help him out. Despite his overweening talent, all he has published is a collection of poetry. That’s a sad reflection of the literary community’s loss. I love Jazz but I am not as much proficient as him in its appreciation. Only now have I seen a TEDx talk by him about serendipity and realise what a good talker he is. He has a natural style, all his own.

Many facets about him were not known. He was cousin of yesteryear’s film star Parveen Babi, whose death devastated him. He belonged to the royal family of the Babis of Junagadh, the pathans who came to India as vassals of Humayun.

I have drawn the above sketch, my tribute to my friend. Friend, wherever you are be the kind soul you are, be yourself and spread love and kindness around you. R.I.P. Max Babi.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Do We Need This Progress?

“The project in question is a “smart city,” a concept that is very dear to Mr. Modi and unclear to Indians who have tried to find out what exactly it does. A smart city, it appears from the government’s sketches, is a cluster of high-rise buildings that shine in daylight and glow at night, and loom over waterways and handsome trains that have automatic doors. A smart city would be run and managed by software that would, among other things, suck human waste from buildings and send it at high speed to some other place.

“Mr. Modi plans to build scores of smart cities and hundreds of other cities that are only marginally dumber. He also wants to develop many industries.”

This is what is being dreamed by an individual who thinks Genetic Modified Organisms (GMO) crops are safe, as also is nuclear energy. (For a better understanding of GMO crops see the links on top left of this blog.) Because they are modern and somebody has told him that they are modern. He thinks acquiring farmers’ land is easy because they are destined to be destitute and vagabonds without much education. Believe me, the individual in question hasn’t read a book in his life, and I doubt if he has read an article on the above subjects in his life time. 

The world is trying to phase out nuclear energy. Germany is closing its last nuclear energy plant and substituting it with wind and solar energy. We have 365 days of sunlight and wind and do we need nuclear energy that bad? Despite what happened in Fukushima and Chernobyl we seem to think nuclear energy is safe. The soil around Fukushima is contaminated for around 40 kms and the residents of the town have not returned to their homes. It is estimated that many more years would be required to clear the area of contamination. Nuclear energy is not safe, in any circumstance.

I despair about the intellectual vacuum that is around the current government. There is nobody who is sort of well-read or aware of what the world is going through. The UPA had people like Jairam Ramesh and Mani Shankar Iyer who, at least, knew something. AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal lacks the temperament to be a national leader. So what have we? A totalitarian theocratic state in the making?

Would you follow this man in the path to progress? Chauvinism, and by this I mean, religious and other development-oriented chauvinism, can destroy a civilisation and plunge it into darkness like that of Pakistan. Our fears are coming true much earlier than we imagined they could become reality.

Are smart cities and high speed trains the answer? China is groaning under the onslaught of the fallback of rapid industrialisation. It’s cities are virtually unliveable. We don’t need that type of development, do we?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

RIP Vinod Mehta

I didn't know Vinod Mehta personally. My greatest regret. I have seen him from a distance and have heard a lot of stories about him from friends. There has been a body of legends around him, as with all celebrities. The stories that created the myth of Vinod Mehta are many, in fact, young journalists worshiped him. To be discovered by him meant that you have arrived. You could follow him from publication to publication, because you knew him, the God, or, at least, the prophet of modern long-form journalism.
The fact that he launched magazines and made them profitable was notable. Those were the days of magazines. It had a good readership and there was space for a short story and some poems too. These magazines provided you with enough reading materials throughout the week. The short stories and poems were part of the mix of good journalism then. Alas, no more.
I used to pounce upon the Debonair and Illustrated Weekly that my neighbour brought from office. Pritish Nandy used to edit poems for Illustrated weekly and Imtiaz Dharker used to edit poems in Debonair. My initial interest in literature and reading arose from these magazines. Also, my ambition of working in magazines started with these periodicals. 
Vinod Mehta was a bold journalist who stood for ethical journalistic values. One instance particularly stands out in my mind, narrated by a friend. It seems he was doing a story and a wealthy industrialists was trying to kill it. He called Mehta in the newsroom and, there, in front of his staff, in calmest of voices, he said, "Don't fuck with me, okay." Such bold irreverence cannot be found in today's journalism, at least, to my knowledge.
I am grateful to think such journalists existed. RIP Vinod Mehta. In a country where journalists shun publicity and coming out in the open, he was a rarity. There were other great journalists: Sadanand of Free Press being one. Sadanand is the one who was boss of RK Laxman, Bal Thackeray, MV Kamath, etc. in Free Press. He was a tough editor and during his time Free Press was the number one newspaper. In these days of self-censorship and the so-called "scissors in the mind" where will you find another Vinod Mehta? Arguably, nowhere.
There were others too. But they are all dead. Bal Gangadhar Tilak was a great editor and edited the Kesari. JP deSousa was a great editor, and a pioneer in technical journalism. Desmond Doig was a good editor and edited Junior Statesman and then Youth Times. Doig was a Sri Lankan. Indian journalism will never be the same again having lost these veterans.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Victim of Globalisation

I think I am a victim of globalisation. The same “tion” that shut the small trading shops, small magazines, small banks, small hotels and gave it away to the big corporations. I used to work in a small magazine which could pay a salary every month and I was their general manager. It was heady times. Vinod Mehta was editing Debonair, Pritish Nandy was editing Illustrated Weekly, Gulshan Ewing was editing Eves Weekly, RV Pandit was editing Onlooker, Desmond Doig was editing Youth Times, some editor was editing Mirror, Vishwanath was editing Caravan and there was hope eternal for small magazines. I was too shy to try and work in a newspaper so I stuck to magazines.

But along came the crunch in advertising. Those days there were small ad agencies like Frank Simoes Advertising, Sylvester D’Cunha advertising, Chaitra Advertising, Everest Advertising, Interpub, Trikaya, etc. who would give us advertisements. However, the situation drastically changed as all these agencies became part of conglomerates. The flow of advertising stopped and the small magazines started folding up one by one.

My boss had entered politics at that time. He realised there was more money to be made in politics than in publishing. And, he was right. So he decided to close his magazine. I was left bereft, without a job. I then joined the Bombay Management Association as its editor. I had proved that I could bring out a magazine and here, too, I brought out a monthly magazine all on my own. I was: ad manager, subscription manager, sub editor, editor, publisher, and what have you. Moreover, they could pay me only a measly sum as salary, which was something like Rs 1800 in those days. This sufficed for me. I was sort of happy.

The coming of the big corporation signalled the end of that small dream, that small happiness. The age of outsourcing and corporate reengineering had begun. Why do we need ten people to type invoices and collect payments when that can be done by five? Why do we need stenographers and typists when all the work can be done by the executive himself on his computer? Why send typed letters by post when you can send it by email and get a confirmation that he/she has read it?

It is said that the cruel East India Company who ruled over India had only eight people in its rolls in London. The west wanted to implement the same policy in their corporate offices. Their headquarters would sprawl in several floors but that would be as a space to show off their paintings, sculptures, and their projects. The real work will be done in India, China and the Philippines.

This idea appealed to Indian bosses also. “Why are we paying him so much when his work can be done by another employee?” In fact, greed had entered the lexicon of managers, unmitigated greed. That’s when companies began downsizing. My dad who had worked in Larsen & Toubro for twenty-seven years retired but I couldn’t get in. The company I loved, and had ambition of working in one day, had changed and moved on. I could do nothing.

Then I decided I would join the devils themselves. I joined outsourcing unit after another, still, I found myself a fugitive from my real calling. These units were looking for younger people to whom they can give more and more responsibilities, make them work harder, hardening their arteries in the process. I stuck with them for some time and then called it quits.

Now that I am retired and doing what I wanted to do, I think I am a victim of globalisation. It’s a time when the rich are growing richer and the poor are growing poorer. There is unrest and unreasonable demands everywhere and not the wherewithal to address them. Those in power shut themselves from reality with their security apparatus. I feel alone, tragically alone, as I type this. But that’s how I see myself: a victim of globalisation.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Gangadharan Menon’s Book Evergreen Leaves

Gangadharan Menon’s book Evergreen Leaves is an unrestrained peek into the life of a naturalist who is at home in the wild forests of India. Not for nothing does his email identity begin as “Wild Ganges.” I know him as “Ganga” from my childhood. We used to study in one class at Adarsha Vidyalaya, Chembur, a suburb of Bombay. He was a superman right from school: good in studies, good in sports, good in writing, good in dramatics and debating, etc. We used to be rival house captains; he leading yellow house and I leading green house. Leading my team against his proved to be a herculean task in those days. Those days remain a daze now.

Ganga went on to shine in advertising as a copywriter, the best in the field. Before that he experimented with many genres: film maker, actor, script writer, and artist, so on and so forth. Then somehow after 28 years of advertising he gave it up at the peak of his career to be a writer on nature and to teach young people. Was he a bit disillusion by advertising? Yes, he told me one day. Like many of the stalwarts of those days he was disillusioned by the tasteless ads produced today. Today all they know is to “make the logo bigger” and “why is this space empty?” So he quit.

Today he teaches creativity at Bombay’s Rachna Sansad and when he is free he travels to the sanctuaries and national parks around the country, discovering new flora and fauna and writing about them. Photography is one of his passions and has a huge catalogue of birds and animals in his computer. He does this because he loves doing it and most of the time he drives his own vehicle across the length and breadth of the country. From Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat and from Leh to Kanyakumari he has seen it all, experienced the mountains, rivers, lakes, sanctuaries and national parks, sitting in the driver’s seat. No safe beaten tourist tracks for him, he loves the wild as it comes, through dangerous tracks, often with only a guide for company.

The elephant that almost killed Ganga is now known as Gangadharan
It was on one such expedition on June 15, 2008 that he was almost gored to death by an elephant in the jungles of Masinagudi. Here it is in Ganga’s own words, “As I turned back to look at what we were running away from, I saw a wild tusker aged about 16 barely 30 feet away from me, in full charge. I ran for my life, as fast as my 52-year-old feet could carry me... then the tusker went down on his front legs and attacked me with his right tusk, right on my lower back, exactly where I had a slip-disc for 14 years.” After many days in hospital Ganga was out of danger. When I asked him if he held any grudges against elephants he said, “No, I still love them.” I am reproducing alongside a photo of the elephant that attacked Ganga which has been named “Gangadharan” by the people living in the area.

During his travels he has been shocked b the wanton destruction of forests by greedy men and poachers. The Chilika lake is one such conservation effort launched by Chilika Development Authority with the help of the local people. “The poachers turned protectors patrolled the waterways of Chilika, day in and day out. They took nature lovers in their boats, with the precise knowledge of which species can be found where. The division of labour among them was well-defined. Some of them became boatmen, some turned cooks who provided food on a day-long boat journey, and the ones with better communication skills became guides.”

He adds, “Conservationists across India would do well to take a leaf out of the Book of Chilika. If a conservation effort has to be successful as the one in Chilika, the local community has to be deeply engaged and passionately involved. That’s the only way to protect the last green bastions left in our country.”

The book serves as a memoir as well as a chronicle of India’s vast natural beauty. It is written in the lucid style Ganga is known for. He uses every cliché that exists with certain panache. It’s a worthy addition to every nature lover’s library.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

We Break Rules without Knowing

I went to get some work done today, work of a mundane nature. I walked to the commercial centre nearby, substituting my daily walk with this one, deliberately taking the path that led through the mango garden so that I can catch some greenery. The mango garden had deteriorated over the years. The tiles are broken, the seats have been taken away, the pond where swans glide is dirty and green with algae. I don’t come here much these days, preferring a different route to the hills.

The following are the misdemeanor I saw in a matter of a single hour, which, somehow, points to how undisciplined we are. We break a law when we can, and we don’t care about others.

As I was crossing to the mango garden, careful about the oncoming traffic, two bikes carrying pillion riders come up from behind me without even honking. I raise my hands in protest, for they could have hit me. They merely smile.

Then at the commercial centre the owner of a rubber stamp making shop tells me that the said job would take Rs 300. When he writes the bill he makes it Rs 350. When I ask him he says he had said Rs 350. Saying three hundred and three fifty are phonetically far, far, apart. The experience mentioned above has upset me and I am all antsy with rage. I know he is lying, the bastard. So I argue with him and shout at him. But he seems unrelenting. Take it or leave it. Since the need is mine, I pay him.

When I am waiting in queue for an auto rickshaw several people come and stand in front of me on the road. They aren’t following the queue system, though there is a small kiosk where the queue is supposed to begin, where I am standing. As soon as a rickshaw comes they jump in, leaving me gaping after them. This went on for around half-an-hour before I decided that I would do the same thing. What could I do, except break the rules or stand there for a few hours?

This shows we will break a rule when we can. And, funny part is, we do this without knowing. What would become of a country that can’t obey the rules? I don’t know.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Bloodline Bandra - A Seminal Work of Fiction

For hundreds of years – five hundred to be exact - Godfrey Pereira’s people spoke a corrupt form of English called Mack-a-pao English. Through his novel Bloodline Bandra Pereira has brought this language to the attention of the world. This is a seminal and ground-breaking work in this regard.
However, one shortfall I found while reading the story is that often this language of the village in which he was brought up intrudes into the narrative. The first forty pages are replete with “bleddy good one bugger,” and “Shee baba” that forms of address which distracts the reader. I, for one, know the language because I have grown up among Catholics and speak it, too. But for a novitiate it could prove a frustrating exercise. It is sort of like reading Irvine Welsh’s “Train Spotting” a novel in which the British forms of English is spoken and one can’t make much headway after a few pages.

Bloodline Bandra - a Seminal Work of Fiction
However, since I understood the lingo I persisted in reading Pereira’s Bloodline Bandra and found it to be good, especially after the story really began, in the second half. So, in my humble opinion, the second half should have been the first half, in which case the novel could have read much better. But, that’s my opinion. The novel is a seminal work, a first of its kind, which should be savoured for its description of what New York is like from the eyes of an illegal immigrant. The sleaze makes no sense, the life is hostile, and the cold gets to your bones.

The story is about a Bandra boy named David from Pali Village immigrating to the U.S. to work for a newspaper. He is given subsistence wage and is asked to live in the office. He leaves one newspaper to work in another and finds both his bosses mean and exploitative. They also promise him the Green Card but do not apply for it on his behalf. A Green Card would have given him the opportunity to change his job and be a legal immigrant. The protagonist agonises over why Indians change after they go to the U.S. They become mean and bad tempered and have their eyes only for making money by exploiting illegal labour.

He is mugged by a sweet-talking black man named Duke Ellington in Harlem. The black man points to his watch and says, “I would like to have it, that’s if you don’t mind, sir.” He also asks to see David’s wallet. David gives away all the money he has. Frustrated by his life, David tries to kill himself by throwing himself under a train, but is held back by fellow commuters. In the premier city of a world he finds love in a Japanese girl Hatsumi Nakamura, who plays the cello at Grand Central station. It’s the love of this girl that keeps David going and he is distraught when she has to leave New York because an earthquake has devastated her native town and her father is missing.

The novel – in the second half – is fast paced and is tightly crafted to appear like a murder mystery, or, thriller. Yes, there is a murder in it! The author is working on another novel and hopefully this reviewer will get to read more of his elevating prose. A truly commendable work by a Bandra boy.