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.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Hills of Artist Village

 Opening my newspaper today I read this news item which appeared in The Times of India. I sat reading it, thinking, “Good, at last, somebody has taken note.” For a long time I have been watching the temple builders encroaching on forest land in Sector 8 of Belapur where I live. It was disconcerting to say the least. Whole areas were flattened, trees uprooted, the pristine nature of the area was under threat. On top of it, there are periodic festivals in these temples in which thousands attend. There is playing of music, eating of food, and general revelry. Then the plastic is discarded in the locality to degrade after a thousand odd years.

What a shame! I go everyday to this part of Sector 8 for a walk in the morning. This is one of the biggest bio-diverse areas in India and it's slowly being encroached upon. (It's here I once saw a cobra raise it's hood at me!) It’s customary for me, these days, to turn a blind eye because of my health problems. However, the religious zeal of these constructions are not lost on me. The fervour, the panache, the loud music, which would play for the entire day, somehow discomfited me. Who am I to complain? Some of my earlier complaints fell on deaf ears. Can one person fight these irregularities? I am sure I would have been silenced. I am something of a sanyasi these days – with long hair to match – having renounced my earlier activist role in the area. (I am the one who got the roads repaired, introduced postal services, and even lighting in the area, or, so I suppose!) Ahem!

Please don’t laugh. What is also shocking is the number of huts that come up in 8B area. It has mushroomed into a big colony and no effort is being made to dislodge it. There it nestles on the foothills, spewing smoke the entire day. No doubt, the smoke comes from cutting down trees in the area. Crime has increased in the area and there are a lot of unlawful activities happening in the slums.

Now for some action from the authorities, if you please!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Visiting My School after Forty-three Years

Imagine visiting your school after forty-three years. Yes. I did exactly that last week. We had graduated from Adarsha Vidyalaya, Chembur, Bombay in 1973 and it’s now forty-three years. The occasion of the visit was my classmate Gangadharan’s book (Evergreen Leaves) launch, which he insisted should be in his alma mater. So we – Sanjeevan, Ajit, Geeta, Chandra, Ravi, Shashi, Sasikumar – reached our school at 10.30 a.m.

And what do we find? The school is not what it used to be. The entire structure has changed. What used to be a free space under the stair is now the school’s office. Our laboratory was changed into an auditorium. A new wing and a new floor has been added. Our eleventh standard class seemed so small we couldn’t fit into it. God alone knows how we sat in the class at that time. There was a sense of something gone missing, something having shrunk. Not us. Must be the school. I guess we were smaller then than we are now. Adolescence was an awkward time and we could see our concerns written on the walls of the class. Some of us have realised our dreams, some of us haven’t. Hm.

In our classroom at Adarsha Vidyalaya, Chembur, after a long time of 43 years. Beside me is Ravi Nair, behind me is Ajit Thampi and Chandrashekharan.
Melancholy thoughts aside. We had our teachers for company. Shankaranarayan-sir who taught us English was the person who inspired me to read poetry and prose. Reading led to writing, though I confess I have not proved my chops so far. I have a chip on my shoulders to perform you know, so many great writers in my family. I am somewhat ashamed that I didn’t live up to some people’s expectations. Sorry! He was also the one who inspired Ganga to write. His classes used to fun, full of anecdotes about how Keats was suffering from tuberculosis and how Shelly was his friend and champion. Keats died thinking of himself as a failure in Rome. After Keats’ death at age 25 Shelly wrote in his poem Adonais:

The loveliest and the last,
The bloom, whose petals nipped before they blew
Died on the promise of the fruit.

All this came to mind when I saw Shankaranarayan-sir. The shock of thick curly hair is gone, he is bald now. The revolutionary of those days is the owner of a profitable industry today. The transformation from proletariat to bourgeoisie happened slowly. However, he hasn’t forgotten or forsaken his writing talent and writes and directs plays these days.

Padmavati-teacher was our class teacher in the final year that was eleventh standard. Those days we had eleven standards, not ten like it is now. Padmavati-teacher taught us general science and she insisted that we carry the huge textbook to class every day. I was a bit of a rebel, rebelling against such strictures internally, and I didn’t bring it to class and got punished numerous times. To her surprise, when the board exam results were received I had scored the highest in general science in school. She gifted me a pen at that time, which I have lost, but, the gesture stayed with me. It was a pleasure meeting her.

It seemed our teachers had done very well and were in the best of health, and as someone remarked, had better health than her students. Padmavati-teacher is 75 years old and walks for one hour every day.

We took our pictures sitting in our old classroom, on shrunken little benches. Then we met the officiating principal now, and then we dispersed. I felt as if a lot of memories lay trapped inside those classes, which I had just visited.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

On Reading Chinua Achebe's Book Things Fall Apart

I finished reading Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” yesterday. Reading it on the Kindle I had no idea I had reach the end. It happened so abruptly, I wasn’t prepared for the sudden end. I wanted the book to go on. But that’s not a disappointment, right? It’s a sign of the author’s genius, taking us by the hand and guiding us through the novel, it’s plot, it’s denouement, it’s ending. Truly a masterly tale.

Why the abrupt ending disappointed me is this: the missionaries had arrived, conversions were going on, executive power was being exercised. I, for one, was interested in finding how Christianity got established and other forms of animism, ancestor worship, were wiped out. This is a subject of vast potential as most societies retain their cultural identity while converting to a new faith. The Christians of Nagaland still celebrate their past customs and belief in spite of having converted to Christianity. Likewise, in ancient church denominations in Kerala worship begins with the lighting of the ceremonial lamp, a Hindu tradition.

Okwonko of Umofia will be one of literary history’s unforgettable characters because of his sensitivity to his culture and its practices. The fact that he goes into exile willingly in accordance with the wishes of his tribe is significant. Its importance arises from the fact that he is a hot-blooded warrior and is willing to fight for the upkeep of his culture and traditions.

However, one thought lingers: is it so hunky dory in traditional societies? Achebe’s Umofia makes us think that there isn’t any rebellion in the Igbo tribe of people and all are obedient and nice. Such an Utopian society screams for explication. That community would seem like an author’s fantasy rather than harsh reality.

Anyway, Things Fall Apart is one of the defining work by an African writer and will remain so for a long time. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Tribute to Cartoonist R.K.Laxman; Starting My Own Cartoon Blog Johntoons

Here's a computer sketch I drew of R.K.Laxman's character, who doesn't have a name, as far as I know.

R.K.Laxman was one of the pioneers of cartooning in India along with Shankar, Abu Abraham, Mario Miranda, and others. Unfortunately, the current crop of cartoonists can't measure up to the high standards set by these pioneers. There was one Toms who drew cartoons for Malayala Manorama and then went on to set up his own publication. Nothing much is know about him after that.

R.K.Laxman stands out with his fluid lines, elegant brushstrokes, and acerbic wit. Though his talents declined during his later years, he kept drawing and caricaturing till the very end.

In school there was this wall paper we had on which were written the day's news. There was a small cartoon space in the right hand corner. As the school's multi-talented artist, it was my duty to fill this with Laxman's cartoon of the day. I must say I honed my cartooning skills drawing in this space.

I have now gone and started a cartooning blog called "Johntoons" at http://johntoons.blogspot.in. When Laxman's journey has ended mine as a cartoonist is just beginning. I am also buying a printer with scanner so that I can post cartoons here.

Wish me luck in this endeavour.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

How I Got Rid of "Ester Nutzer"

For weeks it sat on my browser - Chrome - two words I had no clue about. "Ester Nutzer." I didn't know what it meant. Was it Malaware? Was it a spying program? Was it one of those phishing things I hear about. Though reasonably tech savvy I had no idea what this was.
The Offensive Erster Nutzer. Oh it's Erster! Sorry for that typo. Who bothers now!

I was completely at a loss.

I put a message of Facebook. The replies weren't encouraging. I searched the net and found that "Ester Nutzer" meant first user in German. Well I am the first user of my computer, who else could have access to it?

I downloaded a Malaware programme, which was of no use to remove those two hateful words. Again, the sense of loss continued unwittingly. I have too many documents of importance on the computer to want to lose anything. 
Only now have I realised the importance of backing up my data.

We live in an age devoid of privacy. Whatever we do is available and visible to someone sitting somewhere. I was thinking of this: is he reading my mail, is he deleting my files? Who is he? And
, interestingly,the US administration says they have a right to snoop into our emails in the greater interest of humanity. I know the security of the human race comes before anything else in this beleaguered world, but what about my security? Is there no guaranty for that?

Then today I went to the settings of my browser. (It is the icon with the three horizontal lines right at the top end of the browser.​)​ There again I find my friend "Ester Nutzer" sitting above my name as the first user. What the heck​?​
Get away, off with you, man. I don't want you snooping on my computer anymore. There was a small button to delete him. I did it.

Mercifully now my browser doesn't have his august presence imprinted on it. I can rest content.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Don’t Believe Salesmen, Or, Their Talk

Two things happened today which disillusioned me irreparably about the profession I had been working in all along. Marketing. I was a copywriter for corporate in their corporate communication departments, which was, sort of, food on the table, and kept the home fires burning. I confess I wrote pretty gooey stuff for these companies that exploited my talent. But, all said and done, no regrets. At least, no major ones, that is, till today.

Today a friend thrust a medicine in my hand saying it was good for me, apparently, for my health condition. He is an marketing executive with a pharmaceutical company and I very trustingly gave him the cost of the medicine. I swallowed (wrote “ate” here, sorry) one of his pills and towards afternoon my body was itching and my hands had swollen up with welts as a result constant scratching. The friend had pulled a fast one and I was a sucker for his sales talk. Next time we meet I will wring his neck for the welts, and force feed him his own medicine. (I look at my welted hands as I type this.)

The second one is a trial software I installed. The goddamned thing doesn't have a functionality to remove it from my computer. Every day it sends messages to me to buy it for USD 19 only, per month. Am I mad? USD 19 per month is a royal amount considering I am not working anymore and whatever I scrape from the bottom is not sufficient enough. And, there are no retirement benefits to boot. (A clerk in a government department - a distant relation - draws a pension of Rs 18,000, which is a shame. They have been parasites and will remain so.) Imagine my state: no money; no software. Then I go to the directory where the programme is installed and try to delete it from there, from the root, sort of. It says I need special permission to do that. In fact, the company wants to s**** my happiness till I buy its software. Ahem!

Both the above are instances of aggressive marketing. Face it, we are living in an age of marketing with no care for the consumer, or, what his experience is. The digital age is all about selling and not servicing the customer. So, beware, don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.

Meanwhile, any help on how to remove the software? 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

People Say the Wrong Things in Hospital

During my recent illness, I was toying with painful idea of giving up on my novel I am writing Mr. Bandookwala. This may anger some and make some go "Ah! So he didn't make it, yeahn?" "So much wasted effort." "Thank God, I won't have to bear his prattle of what stage the novel is in."

Yes people say wrong things. I know, I know, you deny this right? You can see this at funerals. There would be a group of uncouth dregs of society laughing on the solemn occasion. The reason I didn't want people to visit me in hospital was this. People say the wrong things and you can't stop them from doing so. There is one fellow parishioner who I suspect has necrophilia in a very advanced stage. Whenever he speaks he will bring out the medical condition in which people he knew died, along with descriptions in gruesome detail. Imagine him visiting me in hospital. I would have a tough time handling him. I suspect I would collapse. In hospital a patient is thinking of his recover and along comes this tyke, this moron, who talk so casually about medical condition and death.

So I said no visitors, please. A hospital is not the best time to meet me. Drop in at home; we will have a coffee and a chat. I am unshaven and have not slept for six days, what would they think? They will pronounce the end of the road for me.

I thought I had a lot of fight left in me. I still do. I used to play football and was in the college team. Though – smarting from hurt pride – as an extra, sitting on the bench.

After coming home and seeing the manuscript my heart melted. I said to myself I can't let this go just yet. I love this story. I have spent six years of my life on it. Some publisher will surely see it for its quality and publish it.

So I switch off the television at 10 p.m. and say our family prayer and I am in bed by 10.30 p.m. or, at the most, 11 p.m. I am up at 5 a.m. and working, sipping on hot green tea. Hope to give you the good news that the final copyediting is over and done.