Monday, July 28, 2014

Today's Maid: a Case of Reverse Exploitation

This is something I am writing with great reluctance. Cases of people abusing/overworking their maids are many. But our maid has been abusing us and taking advantage of our, well, erm, good nature. Today, we live in a smart world: a world without principles, loyalties, old-world bon homie. Therefore the concept of the household maid who comes, talks politely, does work, and leaves is no longer applicable. Or, so we feel.

We pay her the prevailing rate for sweeping and swabbing (floor only) and a bonus on festivals. The beginning, a few years ago, was encouraging. Then, insidiously, from coming every day she started coming every second day. We said okay because every time there was a valid excuse. Then it became every third day. The work also started deteriorating. She wouldn't sweep or swab the balcony and only passes the wipe perfunctorily over the floor. Some room she doesn't sweep, only swabs, assuming it will take care of the dust and fallen hair. (We are people in our fifties and a lot of shedding happens.) The whole job hardly takes ten minutes and she is out of the door after that.

Then, horror of horrors, she started coming once a week. The stories were the same: fever, chills, cough, back pain, and long wait at the local doctor's clinic. We realise we were being exploited. Cheated. In a month she comes only four times and takes full pay. Imagine!

We hold consultations - wife and I - about what to do. She is an old hand, and, being sentimentally attached, we don't want to be rude and ask her to leave. God forbid who comes as replacement. Stories abound about maids stealing gold, giving information about valuables to boyfriends, even killing house owners.

We are not decided about the exploiting maid, well, not so far. But she will have to go for the way she has been taking advantage of our leniency. And, before the once in a week visit becomes once in a month visit. Nice no? Go to place of work once a month and pick up your salary. Anyone said not done? I didn't know exploitation happens both way. Duh!

Monday, July 07, 2014

Some Progress! A Brief Note on the Magazines of the Seventies and Eighties.

There's some progress on the novel's side, at last. I am to glad to tell you that the painful sub-editing, copy editing (call it what you will) has finally reached the half-way mark. It has been slow progress because I could do hardly four pages a day, that too, not on all days. Some days, football came in the way. Yes, football. Other days, a lot of things: sundry maintenance work at home (e.g. protecting against the rain), poetry submissions (that don't bear fruit), Sangam House submission (a mystery), a short story submission to New Yorker (which they said would automatically not qualify for a reply). So that's understandable. With so many submission they must be tired. There are so many people writing, especially short stories, and all the markets have died out.

I remember those days - Illustrated Weekly, Youth Times, Mirror, Imprint, Eves Weekly, Sunday, Sunday Review, Debonair, Beautiful - all had space for short stories. Among the crop of magazines at that time I think Caravan and Frontline survive. The rest have been wiped out. Illustrated weekly and Youth Times had two pages for poems (Debonair too)! My God! Those were golden days for poetry and short fiction. Adil Jussawala's learned articles in Debonair were looked forward to. The late Santan Rodrigues' poems were read and appreciated. Salim Peeradina used to run poetry appreciation classes in St. Xaviers college. Kamla Das used to conduct poetry soirees at her residence in Bombay. None of these events or magazines exist today. I would send out short stories and poems to all these publications and keep a watch if they appeared, while waiting in the barber shop. Yes, barber shops then had quite a few of those magazines in their racks. Some of them were published. But, then I was a poor documenter of my successes. All of them got lost in the various movings I have done.

Today these magazines have been gobbled up by bigger media. The big newspapers shut down their smaller magazines, as they made no profit. These magazines were the hotbed of intellectual discourse in those days. People actually wrote letters to editors, bereting them for bad issues, congratulating them for good issues.

Where are those magazines? Where are those heated discussions? Football, anyone?

Saturday, July 05, 2014

The World's Most Expensive Home Needs Plastic-sheet Protection

Look at the building on top, which is the home of India's richest man, built at a cost of roughly $ 1 billion. It's also the costliest house ever built. The house boasts of two floors for parking cars, two floors for guests, and one floor for a gymnasium and sauna.

And, then, look at the picture below. It is a picture of a slum where there is no water, no electricity and people shit in the open space around it. To make things worse, it gets flooded in the rains.

These days it is raining in Bombay, India's richest city, and the richest man has to protect his house with the same plastic sheet as the poor man. (See the blue plastic sheets on both buildings.) Perhaps, the rich man's architects have bungled, they didn't think that glass if not properly fixed would leak. So now they have had to fix the humble plastic sheet used by slum-dwellers on their wonderful architecture stretching into the sky.

What is obvious from the picture below is that our urban city planners and architects have also bungled. A one-bedroom flat in the city costs around Rs 1 Cr ($ 166 thousand). If a man buys a flat he is a slave to his employer for ever. (I was one of such employees.) If you can't buy a flat, you can live in one of the huts seen below.

The rich man I mentioned is the chairman of the biggest corporation in India. All his employees are required to work six days a week and, sometimes, more. He doesn't believe in charity. His hospitals and schools are the most expensive ones in the city.

The problem is seeing a corporate captain behaving thus, the lesser bosses have also started imitating him. Thus most of the offices of the corporation work six days a week giving employees neither free time for hobbies or for their children. The belief is that if you have political patronage you can do anything in India. Nobody can touch you. India is like a tinpot African regime (sorry Africa!) not a genuine democracy in the hands of these people.

Need I say more?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

On Reading Jeet Thayil's Novel "Narcopolis"

After a long time spent in prevaricating, I have gotten down to reading Jeet Thayil's Narcopolis. No, this isn't a case of hero-worship (Jeet is actually younger than me) for a person from my community, but a frank appreciation of a novel which is set in my urbs prima, Bombay. I know Jeet Thayil as an essayer of fine prose and poetry, and even our native places in Kerala aren't far from each other.

Narcopolis is a many-layered piece about a man castrated to be a eunuch. I guess this is a system that is prevalent in India, only in India, that is. Here we have the eunuchs come to our home and if the child is born with inadequate sexual organs he is castrated to be an eunuch. A eunuch thus castrated can only become a beggar or a sex slave. Nothing could be sadder than a story of an eunuch (nowadays called transgender) in the class- and community-conscious Indian society. The transgender Dimple also works in an opium den set in the seventies when Thayil came of age and what is interesting is his re-creation of those days.

Through his exquisitely crafted prose – having the ring of poetry – Thayil recreates an era that has been forgotten. Those days in Bombay opium was easily available. There was marijuana in every street corner; there were the dons of Dongri who managed the narcotics business with diligence. Today the dons are on the run and drugs aren't easily available. The opium dens of those days have closed down; the curtains have come down on an era of hedonistic excesses. Commissioner JRF Ribeiro the supercop and his brave men have seen to that.

The author moves easily across boundaries and time lines as is seen from Lee's – a top-ranking Chinese official – story. Lee is marking his days in Bombay and is Dimple's customer. Dimple is employed by Rashid in his opium den and Thayil reels out a stream of slang terms which stands for the use and abuse of the narcotic. Rashid is a man damaged by the profession and indulges in excesses of sex and gluttony. He seems like a man beyond redemption.

And, of course, there is the six-page opening sentence which as Thayil says "is a good sentence." I find nothing wrong in that since Joyce has a page full of outdated degrees and qualifications in Ulysses.

The famous Malayalam writer MT Vasudevan Nair has said that every novel puts across a novel concept, a novel idea, something for the society to ruminate on. I can't fish out the original Malayalam words, but he said as much. True Thayil has presented the unrecorded past of Bombay as a novel idea of which we may be unaware, but in which surely have played a part.

My only complaint with Narcopolis is that it ends too soon. I would have liked to see some more resolution and closures. I would have liked to read more about Dimple's life and about Ramesh, Rumi, as he is called. He has some interesting quotes ascribed to him: "This chooth country, this cunt country, how the fuck are you supposed to live here without drugs?" But then a novel has to end somewhere doesn't it?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Rant: Why Indian Writing in English Has Failed to Evolve


In this Video I expound (rather pompously, rantingly, I might add) on why I think Indian Writing in English has failed to evolve. Do have a look and please, please, comment.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

A Fight in Train, Mollywood Styleu!

It's strange how I meet these types in trains. While I have written about some of these types who - I thought - existed only in movies and stale comedy shows, this time it was downright hilarious. On my recent trip to Kerala, I mean. It was something out of a Mollywood movie.

There was this army office who got into the Durondo to Ernakulam with a quarter of whisky, or more, in him. And next to him there was this officerly man with his wife and daughter. After dinner wifey - mine - and I lay down to sleep, as did the others. The inebriated officer was supposedly sleeping on the lower berth opposite mine. There is a passage and next to that are the two seats of the officerly man, now occupied by his dowdy-looking wife. Her husband lay down on the berth opposite mine, which was above the army officer's. 

This officer, being sloshed, was writhing a lot, the whisky churning inside him. In the night the woman sat up and alleged that he had touched her. The husband came down, caught the army officer and slapped him. They were tight slaps administered dexterously, as if by the police. Then, I still don't believe it, nor would you, he unbuckled his belt to beat his adversary who was threatening to call the police.

The coach attendant came hearing the commotion and offered to call the ticket checker. This rather authoritarian man checked tickets and asked for identification. The army officer turned to be a captain and the officerly man turned out to be an officer, a big shot, in the Intelligence Bureau (IB). The ticket checker didn't know what to do with two government officers and said that they would have to get down at the next station if he complained to the control room.

The IB officer then sensed the situation would get ugly if he and family were stranded in some godforsaken station in the Konkan and said he was sorry. The army officer, too, sensing that the situation had gotten out of hand, offered to move to another berth. The man sleeping in the berth above mine offered to take the vacated berth below. 

Now both government officers were in opposite bunkers near the roof. I thought again a war of words would ensue with fistcuffs being the final resort. I steeled myself for this assault.

Hm, nothing like that happened. Apparently both realised they were employees of the state and started exchanging hesitant pleasantries, which then escalated to a camaraderie which I have not even seen in childhood friends. 

Happy ending? No, there is an unsettling ending to this saga. The newly made friendship resulted in chatter throughout the night while the rest of us - including wifey - spent a restless night turning hither and thither on our narrow beds. 

No sleep was had by anyone of us in the coupe. More of these travel anecdotes later, friends, keep reading....

Friday, May 30, 2014

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A New Government; a New Dispensation

So the democratic process electing a new parliament has ground to a halt. The process of determining the next government will soon begin. But have you thought of how distanced we, the people, are from the governing process? True, right to information has unearthed a lot of things. On the whole, looking at it from an academic distance, what do we see? The politicians need us only for electing them. After that, it's pretty much their own turf, they can decide what they want to do. 

A government run by proxy is the worst form of government. I hear the congress was run by it's president than the prime minister. Also, there is talk of the cabinet of the potential future prime minister being decided by the RSS. Do we need such governments run by proxies? Such governments have their risks: decisions are not made at appropriate time, often wrong decisions are meted out. There is also the monster of some favourite influencing the decision. 

Ah, ahem, now comes the question of diplomacy and projecting our leader to the world. How will Modi - a small-time businessman - appear in the company of Obama and Cameroon? Can he speak English with sophistication? Whatever I have heard him speak appears shallow, uninspiring. What will be his sartorial preferences? How will be conduct himself in world fora? 

You need all that to be a leader of a nation, and much more. Empty rhetoric will not compensate for realpolitik. 

Hm, all we can do is wait and watch.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Jackfruit Tree I Planted... and Why Jackfruits Are So Important to Mallus!

Sometime in my childhood, I wanted to be a farmer and would go around our property in Kerala with a hoe and plant trees and look after a cow that was gifted to me by my mother. And then I had planted this jackfruit (it's also called breadfruit in some cultures) tree in our property. Actually, I took a plant that had germinated from under a jackfruit tree and re-planted it, and then watered it. The tree did very well and grew. Today that tree has sprouted many branches and my brother Joseph John sent me this photo, which shows, well, a lot of fruits. 

Erm, what I am waffling, eh, proceeding to announce here is the joy of seeing something bear fruit. This does warm the cockles because other endeavours of mine are forever languishing: a novel, a collection of short stories, a book on Kerala. Well, they are taking their time, while the jackfruit tree has spread its wings in many directions. Secretly, in my heart, what I am wishing is: why hasn't my other projects taken off? Where am I going wrong? Of course, health issues and medical system have taken a toll, but do I give up so soon, without closure? I don't know. 

I need to... need to.... Okay I will leave it at that.

In Kerala a jackfruit is put to different uses (as every Malayali knows), as I said to Facebook friend and guitarist Lindsay Legane:

We eat it as a fruit
We make a sauted delicacy of its seeds
We fry it in coconut oil
We steam it 
We make a curry out of it
We eat it raw
So on and so forth....

Well, so many We's in the above for my liking. I will let it stand. That's because we Mallus are an egotistic people when it comes to our fruits and our eats. He... he...!

So, people, never ask a Mallu if he misses jackfruit. He may well double up his lungi into an improvised short pant and prepare to climb a jackfruit tree. And sure as hell he won't come down for hours until he finishes his "chakka" on the "plavu."

Here's the Wikipedia article on Jackfruit, if it interests you.