Monday, July 31, 2006

Me reading at Caferati readmeet at Chembur
This me reading from Penguin’s “India Smiles” collection of short stories. “India Smiles” started as a global short story contest for humorous fiction organized by Sulekha. The contest received five thousand entries and my short story “Flirting in Short Messages” was one among the twenty-eight that were published.

Picture shows me reading my above story from “India Smiles” at Caferati’s second anniversary meet at Chembur, the suburb of Bombay where I spent my childhood. The other picture shows a view of the gathering. Visit my website for more of my writing.
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Friday, July 28, 2006

The gorier the better? Is it?

“The horrors no sooner settle into a corner of my mind when a whole new set begins,” doesn’t seem like a nice quote to begin a blog post. But these words of a fellow member of an online forum - Kristin Williams - reflect the reality we all are grappling with.

No sooner has an atrocity or terrorist act against a people been perpetrated than something erupts elsewhere. Bosnia-Herzegovina, Afganistan, Kuwait, Iraq, India, Sri Lanka, and then back to Beirut, I may have got the sequence wrong, sorry. Or, is it that ever since CNN brought the Kuwait and Iraq wars to the drawing rooms has there been a groundswell of humane feelings towards the sufferers of atrocity, sort, of armchair sympathizing? Now we can see real John Rambos and in action!

The problem with live coverage on television is that it is so expensive and so gory. And channels, I think, make an attempt to show the darker side of riots, wars, and terror acts. The gorier, the better, they think. But, I guess, they are achieving the opposite judging by Kristin’s words.
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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Why I am against the nuclear deal with the US

So the US congress has passed the bill to supply nuclear fuel to India. Now why am I cribbing against nuclear energy though it is supposed to be clean, efficient, and the only answer to India’s power woes?


Excerpted from a Reuters release:


“The U.S. House of Representatives gave overwhelming initial approval on Wednesday to a landmark civilian nuclear cooperation accord with India. The approval vote was 359-68 after lawmakers rejected amendments that aimed to put limits on India's nuclear weapons program and were proposed by critics concerned the deal would harm nonproliferation goals. Lawmakers also rejected an effort to defer action until India did more to back U.S. efforts to contain Iran.”


Firstly, those who vote for nuclear power do not know physics. The problem is nuclear waste disposal. Nuclear wastes dumped into the sea have to remain there hundreds of years for it to be free of radiation. No, I won’t be alive then, but may be my grand child’s grandchild might be alive and may be victim to nuclear radiation and the ailments that go with it. In such matters we selfishly think about ourselves and not our children.


On the face of it US has marketed its uranium and made some much-needed money. But the truth is nuclear waste disposal in India is woefully lacking, as pointed out in this article. Excerpt:


“India has also recently suffered a breakdown in its nuclear waste management. Between 1993 and 1995, India suffered 124 "hazardous incidents" at nuclear units. Although none has reached the proportions of the Soviet Union's Chernobyl, a leak at the Tarapur plant near Bombay went undetected for nearly two months in 1995. The leak was determined to have been insignificant, but the nuclear plant was shut down. In addition, the World Watch Institute reported in 1992 that India's record of nuclear reactors was among the worst in the world. The Institute reported India's reactors run only forty per cent of the time and produce merely two per cent of the energy needs despite billions of dollars invested in them.”


Now, with the above record of safety in Indian nuclear reactors, would your grandchild be safe? Radiation can be a silent killer and I do not wish to go into the diseases it can cause, which are too gruesome to mention here. We are a nation that finds ways of flouting the law in innovative ways, can we be trusted with more nuclear fuels? And I am not even mentioning the danger of an arms race with Pakistan.
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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"India Smiles" is just out from Penguin India!

My story "Flirting in Short Messages" features in this book published by Penguin.


Penguin has just published "India Smiles" the result of the "India Smiles" global short story contest run by Sulekha. Out of the thousands of entries received sixty were short-listed and this volume contains the top twenty six stories that made it right to the top. My short story "Flirting in Short Messages" is one of them. So, nose thumbs to my critics who say "Johnwriter can't write" and "John P Matthew can't write." It's not too late to eat your words! Watch this space or my website for more.

The book is in stores and costs Rs 195 only. Please, please, buy, buy, buy, buy, so as to avoid potential starvation by this starving blogger, sorry, writer!
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Johnwriter's Raves & Rants!: Trapped child is channel's darling!

Trapped child is channel's darling! Sorry the newslink I posted below doesn't work. Try this link instead. Video courtesy BBC.

Trapped child is channel's darling!

The wife says, “Why this big fuss about a child trapped in a borewell for forty-nine hours? Why this twenty-four hour coverage on television and newspapers when children are begging on the streets, working non-stop in virtual imprisonment?”


I scratch my head and turn back to those screaming headlines. “May be because his name is Prince, may be, he is related to some big shot. May be that day the channel didn’t have anything better to show. So they were caught up in a race to show more and more about a trivial affair that should have found a mention on the back page of some daily,” I mumble. I don’t have an answer.


All the above reasons are plausible. News channels are known to exploit feats by children. Sometime back I had written about a channel’s obsessive coverage of a child who liked to drink every evening in front of his obliging parents.


And today the answer stares me right in the face in newspaper headlines. Seems the bookies had bet Rs 150 crores ( Rs 1500 million) on whether the child would survive or not. So that was the reason. Money was involved, lots of it, and big money! I read news like this and grow more and more cynical.
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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Dan launches blog: Writers Against Terrorism (((applause)))

Stumbled on this quote by accident: “For us Africans, literature must serve a purpose: to expose, embarrass, and fight corruption and authoritarianism... .It is understandable why the African artist is utilitarian,” written by African writer Ama Ata Aidoo. Methinks even in India writing must serve a social and utilitarian purpose. We writers must stop being woolly headed as most of us are. That's why I have great admiration for Arundhati Roy. Her sort of commitment is rare, at least among writers.

Somehow, in some consonance with this noble sentiment, friend, writer, actor, and poet, Dan Hussein has started a collaborative blog “Writers Against Terrorism.” Atta boy, Dan, you deserve applause for this one. Here's one more feather in your cap. Here’s Dan's poetry blog.
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Monday, July 24, 2006

Oh Jerusalem!

I get these rather sickening emails stating that the Hebzolla killed two Israeli soldier and they declared war on Lebanon. And terrorists killed two hundred innocent civilians in Bombay and the government is doing nothing.

Well, India isn’t Israel though the first letters are identical. Israel has a strong lobby working unceasingly in the US garnering support from politicians in power, and from the public. I had read about the creation of Israel in Larry Collins’s and Dominique Lapierre’s “Oh Jerusalem” and remember reading the way the Israelis, when pushed to a corner went ahead and garnered support for their cause.

It was, I think, Golda Meir who went to the US and warned the affluent Jewish citizens of that country about the critical state their homeland was in. She was rather curt and pointed in her warning. “Give us help, or you forget about ever coming back to your motherland,” she is supposed to have said.

Know any Indian who could do that in the US of A? I am told that Indians constitute the highest earning minority group in the US. Anybody who can tap into their support, the way Golda Meir did?
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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Rainy day blues!

Every time it rains I write something nostalgic about the rain. But here’s a poem I wrote which is rather dark and somber, coming as it does after the bomb blasts. Also blogspot block has been withdrawn, after noisy protests by bloggers.

Just now I chatted with a friend who, according to the message on her Google Talk messaging system is “In a bad mood.”

I asked why.

She says, “Not in the mood to go into it right now.”

I say, “Tell me when you are in a good mood.”

She says, “Yes, I will.”

But then who remembers when one is in a good mood, what the “bad mood” phase was all about. Moods and phases are, I guess, temporary, to be mulled over, and dismissed as such. Just know this: it soon passes. Then you wonder what all the fuss was about. Really.

The hills around New Bombay, especially around Belapur (where I stay) are green. Nothing to inspire me to write poetry about, but it feels nice to see a carpet of green all around.
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Friday, July 21, 2006

Blogging is back in business, after a spell of clogging!

Blogspot is back! I guess my following email to Prime Minister Manmohanji worked. Thank you Prime Minister Manmohanji. A lot of people would claim credit for this, but, yes, we stood as one, though bloggers as such are an unruly lot.

But, oh, it had to happen when I was ramping up the visits to my blog, which was hovering around twenty to twenty-five a day has plummeted to eight to twelve per day. No worry! Will catch up soon.

How I rue that I hadn’t put a counter on my blog earlier, though I started blogging as early as August 2003 (Come to think of it I will be completing three years of blogging on August 23). Happy third anniversary!
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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Blogs in India, including this blog are blocked, still here I am, blogging!

I find that the Indian authorities have blocked my blog, and the blogs of several bloggers on blogspot.com. The rationale for the move is that terrorists are operating their information networks through blogs. Come on, be real, and understand the technology of blogs and blogging. The onus is on the government to find out the offending blogs run by terrorists and block them selectively, not ban blogs per se.

However the government has put a blanket ban on all bloggers and their blogs across India. For the entire day, yesterday, I was going through fits of trembling and withdrawal symptoms, not knowing what had become of my lovingly nurtured literary blog and the various features like “Johnwriter’s Literary Show,” links to various discussion, links to blogs of fellow writers, etc., on which I have spent hours.

This move by the government is similar to what China has done. Chinese authorities have blocked all forms of blogs and blogging is not encouraged, which is understandable for a repressive regime that doesn’t guarantee freedom of expression. Remember Tianamen? Which makes me wonder if India is a democracy in the first place, where citizens are assured of their right to freedom of expression.

QUOTE

Dear Hon. Prime Minister Manmohanji,

I am writing this mail to test whether you are techno-savvy considering that you have websites, email, and e-governance put up, so as to disseminate information. I want to check if the government intends to benefit the public with these expenses and if it is committed to the mission of bringing e-governance to the people.

After the recent Bombay blasts, there was confusion all around. A few blogs (web logs, also called grassroot citizen’s journalism) did great service to the public by putting up telephone numbers of the authorities to be contacted, information about aid to be reached, blood to be donated, names of the injured and dead, etc. The name of one such blog is http://mumbaihelp.blogspot.com, which gave information like the lists of injured and dead even before the newspapers and televisions could do so. This is because disseminating such information (through a blog) is very easy and the information is online within seconds.

For all this free service run by the public-spirited citizens what reward did they get? The government blocked all blogs on www.blogspot.com (this is a free platform for bloggers owned by Google) on the pretext that extremists were coordinating activities through such blogs.

The stupidity of this move is evident from the fact that though this popular means of building public opinion has been muzzled (this is a popular way of promoting, art, literature, good writing, etc. and there are celebrity bloggers who have tremendous influence over followers of their areas of excellence) anyone can easily write on their blogs using alternative means and even read what is written using alternative means of accessing these blogs.

I am sending a copy of this email to the minister for IT requesting him to give instructions to authorities concerned to withdraw this draconian rule immediately and allow citizens to exercise their right to free speech which is guaranteed by the constitution.

I would request an immediate acknowledgement to this email failing which I, as a citizen, would assume that the government isn’t serious about its mission of e-governance.

Regards

John P Matthew

UNQUOTE
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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Spirit of Mumbai – Where is it?

Admittedly, I have sung paeans to the spirit of Mumbai with several other worthy writers and, um, intellectuals. See the posts below. Now, Durba Dhyani, friend, colleague, ex-radio-jockey, writer has sent me an email titled “The Spirit of Mumbai - Where is it?” I think she has a point.

“Whenever tragedy strikes the city, the media goes into overdrive, saluting the 'spirit of Mumbai.' Frankly, I am confused, and slightly nauseated. Why exactly are we doing a 'Salaam Mumbai'? Is it because the city has an unbelievable capacity to take shit? Or because it has the miraculous ability to bounce back in 15 minutes, no matter what?

“People attend offices and schools the very next day. Train services resume as normal. Traffic on the streets is almost like any other day. The debris is cleared, the city dusts itself and carries on as if nothing has happened.

“Is that the spirit of Mumbai? Or rather the lack of it? To me, it is uncanny and deeply disturbing. There is something intrinsically wrong with a city that has no time stop and mourn. If everything always continues like clockwork, perhaps the people too have become nothing more than machine parts - dehumanized.

“If this tragedy is the scale of 9/11, where are the candlelit vigils, the stormy protests, the cries for justice? America's reaction - the subsequent attack on Iraq, may be unjustified and dastardly, but is it any worse than no reaction at all? The lives of hundreds of ordinary commuters, blown up on their way back home from a hard day's work - is that not a big enough reason for an outcry? Perhaps the terrorist's cause is worthier?

“When it comes to seats in colleges, or rising prices, we are up in arms. How about doing the same for humanity, for a change? The city, to me, seems to show as much spirit as a woman who continues to remain in an abusive relationship. Her spirit has taken so much battering over the years that the will to break free itself has diminished.

“Or have I become so much of a cynic that I fail to notice the turbulence beneath the deathly calm? Is there grief and anger simmering below the surface, which will one day make her turn on her tormentor, in a fight to the finish? Does this machinery indeed have a spirit - a flickering flame slowly turning into a raging fire? I sure hope so, for else, the city is truly dead.”

Well written, well expressed, Durba. I am ashamed, that I didn’t consider this point of view while singing those paeans. Thanks Durba!
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Famous Poets and Poems

I have been included as a “contemporary poet” in the website Famous Poets and Poems. No, honestly, I didn’t promote myself, nor, bribe them. Diana Collins contacted me and I sent them the poetry page of my website. And, lo and behold, I am featured as a contemporary poet!

Imagine appearing on their pages alongside names like Langston Hughes, Shel Silverstein, William Wordsworth, and Allen Ginsberg!
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Friday, July 14, 2006

Something for artists to drool over!

Fellow ryzer Ajay Mahajan has launched his creative hub artizensworld for creative people that integrates, you won’t believe this, more than forty art forms into a unified platform. But do believe this: they have covered art, craft, writing, performing arts, ceramics, glass, sculpture, handicrafts.

The design is catchy, the copy is crisp, the features, are, well, what a creative person would drool over. If you are a creative person, in any branch of the arts you should visit this site.

You can register in various types of membership and benefit from reviews of your work by Art Gurus or let Mentors take you under their wings.

I am registering right away. As a wannabe writer, sketcher, some time painter (remember, I ranked sixth in a government art examination, and all that) this is something I have been waiting for quite a long time.
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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Bombay, Mumbai, whatever, traumatized!

What was shocking about yesterday's bomb explosions in trains in Bombay was that the authorities showed their apathy again. I thought they would have improved after the series blasts that occurred in 1992. A pitiable sight on television yesterday was members of the public carrying the injured in bedsheets to private vehicles. I thought they must have set up an emergency disaster handling system by now.

But no, the police commissioner said it occurred in a train, so, he was helpless and the onus was with the railways. The railways, ill-equipped as they are must have passed the buck right back. So when these uniformed gentlemen were playing a merry game of passing the parcel, it was the public that came to the help of the injured. Where were the local politicians, representatives of the people? Were they representatives only in name?

Meanwhile private organizations and individuals are doing all they can to help. Peter Griffin runs the mumbaihelp blog that gives names of dead/injured and also helpful telephone numbers and places to be contacted for blood donations/bloodbanks. You can see a list of the injured here.
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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bombs go off in Bombay!

I am writing this directly on to my blog, so please do not nit pick a few spelling errors here and there. Ahem. Bombs went off at five places in Bombay just a few hours ago. Many are dead. My brother-in-law was in one of the trains. Luckily, he was in the first class compartment in the rear, while the first class compartment in the front got blown away. He said he saw it happen. The bodies, the confusion, according to him was terrible.

Wonder why all these have to happen to a peaceful city where people worshipped success and money more than anything else. Last week saw unprecedented floods due to a heavy deluge and most parts of the city was under water. Then came a riot where many shops and vehicles were vandalized. Now this! Is there an end to religious bigotry and fundamentalism? These questions cannot be answered by me, there aren't any easy answers. Meanwhile all we can do is pray for the families of those affected.

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"Chuddy" is official!

A friend tells me that “chuddy” is official now. The Indian word for underwear has been accepted by the venerable Oxford English Dictionary, much to the chagrin of English purists of the old empire, and its doughty hangers-on.

Come to think of it, a “chuddy” is a “chuddy” in most Indian languages. In Malayalam it has been corrupted to “chatti” but the meaning still remains the same. Ditto in Hindi, Marathi, and, for that matter, most Indian languages I know.

So, hey, we can now make fun of the pot-bellied man in the striped or checked “chuddy” without breaking the rules of propah English.  Um, sorry, “propah” isn’t proper English yet. But do have patience.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

2006 World cup_Zidane

Zinedine Zidane is still my favorite even though this happened! Can you blame him after what happened? He was clearly provoked.

I am back!

Am back from a cruise on the backwaters of Kerala, quite near my village in Kerala. This experience will hopefully be distilled into a chapter on the backwaters for my travelogue on Kerala. Go here if it interests you. It wasn’t raining in Kerala, at least, not as much as in Bombay, which I hear was flooded. The channels kept flashing news about another deluge such as the one Bombay went through on July 26 last year. But the extent of damage wasn’t as  much as I gather from friends, who kept in touch through blogs and threaded mails, which I read with avid interest. The spirit of Bombay is unbelievable even in such emergencies.


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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Johnwriter’s Literary Show!

Now for some back thumping! By my good old self, of course! I have added audio files to my blog. You can click and listen to writers speak about their books, promote them, read them, whatever it takes to foster the literary spirit.

So click on the links below “Johnwriter’s Literary Show” on the right hand links capsule of my blog. For a start I have Amitav Ghosh speaking about his new novel “The Hungry Tide.” This audio is courtesy Christopher Lydon.

I am off to Kerala for another visit, personal as well as writing. Hope to cover the backwater experience for my forthcoming travelogue on Kerala called “To God’s Own Country.” A friend operates a service from Alleppy to Kottayam. I have persuaded him to offer me a discount. So I wouldn’t be posting on this space for about a week.

But do come back and check for random postings from Kerala, from a “kettuvallom” house boat somewhere on the Vembanad Lake.
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