Thursday, June 30, 2011

Organisation Charts of Major IT Companies

This is what organisation charts of major IT companies look like, according to Jay Yarrow. Funny, isn't it? The one that induced chortles is Google and Microsoft. Just how can those behemoths survive with charts like that? Looks to me like house of cards. Also very tenuous. I wonder whether the entire tech bubble will go bust one day. Hm. That's pessimist me speaking.

Educate, enlighten me, please, please, please!

Do You Understand These Acronyms?

Heard this one-sided conversation today in a crowded compartment: "You patch me, we will catch again in office and we will touch base." Guess he is a poet by his talk, rhyming words: patch, catch and touch. What is he meaning to say?

By the by, we are using acronyms like mad. Modern world will be totally unrecognisable to a 19th century visitor, methinks. What is PFA? It's "please find attached." What is FYI? It's "for your information." Do we have to go to all those lengths. I wonder why (IWW).

ROFLAMAO is commonly used. It means "rolling on the floor laughing my ass off." Really? Are you doing that when you write that acronym? Hardly. You would be sitting stooped and smirking like a computer-addicted, keyboard junkie. If we roll on the floor, all our kilos would complain, I am sure.

Come on, let's be clear, let's be simple, there used to be a time when people stopped and smelled the roses. Now we find plastic roses probably smeared with deodorant. **Gross**

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Caine Prize for African Writing 2011

Just received The Caine Prize for African Writing 2011 anthology by mail. Thanks! Treat this post as an acknowledgment. I have received the last edition and it was such a treat to read. I hope this is an equally wonderful volume as the last.

There's such vividness and wondrous rootedness to the locality in African writing which is, however, lacking in the writing of my peers in India. Things come out in all earnest and rawness. After all, most of our literature is generated by the western educated (preferable non-resident) Indian. A Cambridge or Harvard education seems to be a sine qua non. Oh, you should hear the uppity accents in writer meets and writer soirees. True British, or "Friends-ish (the sitcom, I mean.)." I have written about this before, but nobody seems to care. Is it lack of talent, or our education system which is to blame? The other day I saw a man in train reading a Chetan Bhagat novel with his fingers pointing to the line he was reading. I guess he is a new convert to reading and he is starting with someone he can understand. This I like. My son also reads Chetan Bhagat and thinks he is a great writer. Hm. I don't think he can digest Salman Rushdie, or Amitav Ghosh.

I have tried to write with local themes and local speech - nothing great according to my son - but the results have been, at best, lukewarm.

Look forward to gorging on the stories in the present Caine Prize volume titled "To See the Mountain".

Monday, June 27, 2011

Interview with Author Zadie Smith

An interview with author Zadie Smith appears here on literateur.com. She is one of the leading contemporary voices in literature at the age of 35. Here's an excerpt for those interested in this writer:

I think I'm a control freak by nature, but one of the things I look for in other people's writing is the ability to confer freedom. That's what I want to be able to do myself. I like a writer who doesn't have to be in total control of how their readers react. More mystery, less explanation. All I can say is I'm working on it. But it's so hard! I really feel I'm just at the base of a huge mountain called 'learning how to write'. I'm still only 35. Learning to write is a task that takes up your whole life.

Must say being a control freak is a good thing for writers. Or, is it? 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Invited to Speak at Tedx Rourkela

Another Sunday, another day of rest. I went for my morning round of badminton only to realise that my friends had finished their quota for the day and were homeward bound. Gah! To think I was looking for a longer round of play today, being a holiday and all. Just a random thought: how many people neglect to do what they should be doing thinking it will happen, somehow or the other? I am one of them as I am sure are a lot of you.

With this in view, I accepted an invitation to speak at TEDx Rourkela. It's always a pleasure to be invited to speak at a Tedx event. You get to learn a lot. But Rourkela seemed a bit intimidating. I booked my train tickets online and lo and behold I am ready to go. Got to prepare on the topic of "Energise your Thought." A very tough subject to handle, but I am sure I can talk a lot on that. Actually, it isn't about talking a lot as talking something meaningful. I was actually energizing my thoughts about sharing my experiences with young people. My profile on their site is here.

Here's a quote I found from Lao Tzu:

Energizing  thoughts:

"Be careful what you water your dreams with.

Water them with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dreams.

Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success"

If only we could water our dreams with optimism and solutions instead of worry and fear. My fears aren't what it used to be. I used to be a coward. I have now gotten rid of my fears and can perform better than I used to. I guess for performing one needs to concentrate and be prepared and not be afraid. 

Anyway, I have spoken in public and am a trained public speaker, which gives me confidence. So over the coming weeks I will be writing my presentation and rehearsing it before my wife. Alas, she is the only audience on whom I can inflict my creative spiel. I am thankful to her for the various improvements she has suggested in my previous appearances before audiences. Hope she does this time around too.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Sunil K. Poolani, Rest in Peace - an Obituary

I knew Sunil K. Poolani. He was a friend who had turned, sort of, adversary, due to circumstances beyond my control. It was sad to learn from Facebook that he was no more. So this is a sort of obituary as I didn't have any ill will towards him, no major ones. I wished him well, though from what I know of his life he led a stormy life. He would openly submit to dislike and be disliked by people. He once said, to effect, "I either love a person or hate him/her, no in between." I guess I was first the former and then the latter. I am the sort who wouldn't wish death on my worst enemy. I liked him for what he was: creative, hard working, a bit of a bad boy in his personal life. I liked his rebelliousness which reflected in his dealings with people and his writings. If a book is shit, he would call it shit, and would not find a way to nomenclature shit as "a lump of brown solid emitting a strong smell." That was it.

It all started when Sunil and I became members of a group called "Quill Writers," back in the nineties. It was started by writer Somi Ghosh and had as members: Sunil Nair, Merril Diniz, Sunil Poolani and self, among others. Of course, Somi Ghosh was sort of moderator and creator. We met a few times and kept in touch through a common mailing group. The group died a natural death when people moved and became interested in other things. It was then Sunil wrote a sort of pamphlet called, "The Rape of News," which was about the selling of space for news by newspapers. I contributed an article in this publication. The book was an immense success and sold in tens of thousands.
Sunil Poolani, rebel, writer, vanity publisher , he wanted to create history in the Indian publishing industry. But the end  was indeed sad. His addictions put paid to his dreams.

Sunil offered me a job in the online news channel he was working for. I accepted. He was my boss, sort of. We worked together and drank together, in those days when I still drank. (Nowadays I don't.) Later I realised he had a drinking problem. As our friendship blossomed, we shared a lot of information about each other and about our writing. He told me the story of his life. He was involved in the Naxal movement in Kerala, and did his masters in Malayalam literature. He had participated in bandhs and public demonstrations. (One of the writers he had to study in his masters program was my great-uncle and poet Mahakavi Puthencavu Mathan Tharakan.)

I showed him a few of my short stories and poems and told him about my novel, "The Love Song of Luke Varkey," which I was writing then. He was not satisfied with them and frankly told me about my drawbacks as a writer. I accepted it as constructive criticism, which was okay by me. As such, I was in a stage when any feedback was welcome and I was eager to improve and make progress. I had neglected my writing for some time and, I feel, I had regressed in whatever little talent I had nurtured.

It was then that he started his own publishing company – Frog Books. I happily bought his books and attended the launches, but felt that somehow vanity publishing didn't become him. It didn't have a future as the publisher would bring out a book and then would forget about it. I told him he should have struck out as an independent publisher who didn't charge his authors. Some of his authors showed their dissatisfaction and he was upset. I thought that profits can be made even if a publisher didn't charge his authors. I was, quite selfishly, I guess, trying to get him interested in my novel. Also since he was against paid news in newspapers, I didn't understand why he would want to charge his authors for publishing their books. Both smacked to me of a lack of ethics.

Then I wrote a feature for the online channel prior to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). I felt that consensus on global warming had to be reached immediately to stop the inexorable march of global warming. Therefore I wrote a detailed article intending it to be published. My intention was to deal with it in several inter-linked articles within the feature as the internet didn't have the constraint of space. However, to my chagrin, Sunil refused to publish my article. I don't know what had gone wrong in our relationship. (In the close-knit world of Indian publishing, many a times, personal relationships override professional relationships.) I made several changes to the article as suggested by him, but he still adamantly refused to publish my article. I resigned in frustration.
After we parted ways, I used to keep in touch with him through Facebook and emails. I attended some of his book launches and bought his books. I felt, quite frankly, that they had low production values – cheap paper, dense text, bad covers – though the editing was of a high quality and order.

Then there came a measure of success in his business. He had rented an office and also had bought a flat, so I heard. He had also got divorced. It was then I tasted the bitterness of rejection as my novel "The Love Song of Luke Varkey" was rejected by all agents and publishers I had approached. Harper Collins which had shown interest also didn't respond after one year.

The distance grew. I used to see pictures of him on Facebook in which he would appear as an aloof individual. I didn't know the reasons. But I learnt from common friends that the drinking problem had got worse. Then came the news that he had suffered a heart attack. He died in his sleep, his brother was with him, so it appeared. No obituary appeared, the press for which he worked didn't report his death; nobody reacted except stray people on Facebook showing shock at the sudden demise of someone they knew.

As a writer and editor he was meticulous and dedicated. He had a racy and conversational style. He shared a lasting relationship with the late Malayalam writer and cartoonist O.V.Vijayan when he lived in Delhi. They would meet often. After Vijayan's death he wrote a touching obituary, something which I am aiming – rather ambitiously – with this. He hasn't left behind a big oeuvre of work except for the books he edited for Frog Books. Samples of his writing appear on his company blog: Frog Books. He had shown me a short story, a rather gruesome one, which he said was from an actual event in his life. I don't wish to reveal the contents, which could paint an adverse picture of him. He lived such a life, unpredictable, unrepentant, on the edge of social acceptability and propriety.

He was an atheist and a staunch leftist. He was very strong in his convictions and I found his strong opinions rather scary sometimes. For all the times we spent together, for the many occasions we drank together, for the vibes we shared during our working together, I would remember him as one who wouldn't compromise much on his set beliefs. Such people live very lonely lives. Many were the friendships he broke, unable to bring himself to be nice and non-committal when he didn't agree with something. In his book reviews he didn't hesitate to be nasty to writers if he didn't like their style. Perhaps, in these standardized times, when we seek to build a forced sort of consensus, or else, skirt issues when we do not agree with it, he – in fact people like him – are rare.

Though he didn't believe in an afterlife, may Sunil K. Poolani rest in peace!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Thought at Random, Wistfully Nostalgic

Short take today. Random thoughts written in haste. Guess, you can make out. My head is really hitting the keyboard and the hands refuse to co-operate. It could be that the tip of the nose did the writing judging by the style and syntax. Anyways, joking, only, no? Tired-shired, is so much becoming no? Had to release five ads to five publications today and it was totally energy sapping, what with the agency being new and all that. True, I don't like discussing working life here, but it gets in through the cracks, what to do. But I like the work, coming as I do from a publishing background. 

Decided I would write the obituary for Sunil K. Poolani who died recently. He was a friend and former colleague. It will appear here tomorrow. Wrote it, then edited it, and then edited it again. Though we had our differences, he didn't have to die. I wouldn't wish death on anyone. Brings one to the question of death. Death makes even the toughest man quiver like jelly. 

A man I had known for some time died when he was told he had a kidney condition. People die for the wrong reasons, unable to bear the burden of life. But if you take life as light as a flower bud, flowing with it and not disturbing the turbulence, then life can be one hell of an interesting place. I searched for a poem and here's what I found:

There are some flower's so sweet and pure, 
Flower's which we should all adore.
So sweet and strong they stand alone
So graceful have these flower's grown.

Hm. Must say it has some hidden meaning somewhere. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Non-fiction Book Civilization: the West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson

In Civilization: the West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson, the author argues that the West succeeded because it had certain killer application (as in killer apps, commonly referred to by programming geeks). These are:

  1. Firstly, competition that gave the West a major military and technical advantage
  2. Secondly, science, almost completely Euro-centred from Copernicus to Newton
  3. Thirdly, safety of property, which he argues was the basis of the American Revolution
  4. Medicine, the fourth, was beneficial to the West but also to its colonies
  5. The fifth, consumer society, which is vital because workers were also consumers who would themselves provide the demand for the output of the Industrial Revolution
  6. Ferguson's sixth and last "killer application" is Protestant work ethics.
So, what Indian and the rest of the world didn't have was competition, property, and Protestant work ethics. Why this blogger thinks thusly is because medicine and science benefited entire humanity. What about religion? Was it not one of the reasons the West thought they were superior than the rest?

Ferguson leaves many questions unanswered. Would like to take a look at the book though.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Man Who Has Licence to Turn Down Steve Jobs' Offer

This is a classic. Look at his style, his verve, his dynamism that had women swooning in the aisles (of theatres I mean). Look at the classic style of the letterhead. Sean Connery is known to be the best James Bond that ever was. And he had no need for Steve Jobs' apple gizmos, though he loved Quartermaster's (Mr. Q in short) gadgets very much. And he had a certain thing for Ms. Moneypenny, but not for the filthy lucre (see picture).

When Indian stars are mooching and scrounging for endorsement deals here's a classy actor turning down, hold your breath, Steve Jobs himself. I just can't believe it. Even Steve Jobs has to face rejection. What a nice thought!

Going Native: Gandhi’s Relationship with Western Women by Thomas Weber

Gandhi is the topic of the season going by another book on him: Going Native: Gandhi's Relationship with Western Women by Thomas Weber. It is self explanatory and came to me via this book review in Outlook.


Excerpt from the review by Tridip Suhrud:


Thomas Weber is one of those rare scholars who wrote the most authoritative account of the Dandi March, gave a history of the Shanti Sena and studied the impact of Gandhian ideals in movements such as Chipko. This enabled him to understand the people around Gandhi who influenced him and were in turn influenced by him—Gandhi both as a disciple and a mentor.

What Airplanes of the Future Would Look Like

Considering as one is afraid of ones mortality, Airbus' announcement of what its plane would look like in 2050 is of no concern. At least, to this blogger. Who bothers to live to be 90 or even fly an Airbus at that age? But one needs to keep others informed, so this post. Well, hm.

Well, so this is only of academic interest, could be, for the interest of posterity. But Airbus adds a rider which states, ""Such technologies are already being developed and, while they may not be seen in the exact same manner as in the Airbus Concept Plane and Cabin, some of them could feature in future Airbus aircraft programmes".

Hm, well, sort of, kind of, what will the world be then, I don't know. Would global warming have wiped off the ozone layer, I don't know. Would intelligent life be a possibility on earth, I don't know. That's a lot of "I don't knows."

Picture and link courtesy: The Economist.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Stone for Kaspa and Fiona

This for Kaspa and Fiona through Christian D'Mello.

A Small Stone for Kaspa and Fiona (about marriage)

It's nice to be married
It's nice over the threshold to be carried
Share the joys and the pains
Share equally what life contains.

They are both on a mission to help the world connect with the world through writing. They are also getting married on Saturday the 18th of June.

For their fantasy wedding present, they are asking people across the world to write them a 'small stone' and post it on their blogs or on Facebook or Twitter.

A small stone is a short piece of observational writing – simply pay attention to something properly and then write it down. Find out more about small stones here.

If you're willing to help, we'd love you to do things:

1) Re-post this blog on your own blog any time before June the 18th and give your readers a chance to hear about what we're doing. You can simply copy and paste the text, or you can find the html here.

2) Write us a small stone on our wedding day whilst we're saying our vows and eating cake, post it on your blog, and send it to us.

You can find out more about our project at our website, Wedding Small Stones, and you can also read our blog at A River of Stones.

We also have a July challenge coming soon, when we'll be challenging you to notice one thing every day during July and write it down.

Thank you for listening, and we hope we'll be returning from our honeymoon to an inbox crammed with small stones, including yours.

Kaspa & Fiona 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Exclusive Interview: Manjul Bajaj Author of “Come before Evening Falls”

How and when did you realise you wanted to be a writer? How did it all start for you?

I started writing when I was about 5-6 years old and wrote through my school and college years – writing was an integral part of my growing up years – poems that got pasted on the school board, essays that were praised by the teachers, the odd competition or two won in the local newspapers... editing the school and college magazines... that kind of thing. Then it sort of fell by the wayside, as I started first, my working life and then a family. The decision to become a writer came much later... one morning I woke up to the sobering realization that I was about to turn forty and I hadn't even begun to be the writer that some part of me had always assumed I would be.


How did your first novel come about? Are you satisfied with its performance? Every author feels his/her work could have been better. Do you have that feeling?

It grew out of a short story I was working on. My short story collection (which comes out sometime next year) is a bit of a Kashmir to Kanyakumari affair in the sense that the stories are all set in the different parts of the country that I've worked in, or lived in, or visited. This was one of the stories and I felt the plot was powerful enough to merit a longer treatment, thus the novel happened.

About being satisfied with its performance, I really don't know the answer. I'm happy that many readers have got back to me with words of praise and that it got short-listed for The Hindu Best Fiction prize... but apart from that I don't really know how it's done relative to say other books published in the same year. I'm just hoping that it will be around for a while and readers will come to it as and when they are meant to.


"Come, Before Evening Falls" is a novel about a long time ago. How did you discover what life was like then?

Well, it's set about 100 years ago. It isn't that long ago – the history of that period is quite well documented in terms of the independence movement and the socio-religious reform movements that were taking place then. In a way the area and people I was writing about – rural Haryana and the Jat community – were a bit more of a challenge but I drew on some excellent research papers by historians and sociologists in addition to drawing upon my own experiences. Also in some ways the essential rhythm, pattern and pace of life in villages in India hasn't changed all that much.


Did winning the "India Smiles" short story contest help in any way?

If you mean in any practical sort of way like a book contract then the answer is No.  But, it got me off to an auspicious start and I took it as a sign that I was right in my decision to start writing again after a hiatus of about fifteen years. And the Sulekha folks set up a blog for all the contestants and I continue to post my pieces there, every now and then, till today.  It gave me a platform at a time when I needed one and I was happy to use it.


Any advice for writers struggling with unpublished works and a lot of hope? Such as yours truly!

Well the stock answer to this question is persist, persevere, believe in yourself and JK Rowling got rejected x number of times... but I'm not going to say it... in the absence of an affirmation from a publisher and readers how are any of us to really to know which of us should persist and which one would be better off feeding the pigeons instead? My advice instead is to have a relationship with your writing that is independent of worldly measures of success like publishing, sales, reviews and honours. This couplet by Amir Khusrau sums up how I think any writer should approach their work:  


"Khusrau, baazi prem ki mein kheli pi ke sangh,
Jeet gayi toh piya morre, haari toh pi ke sangh"


The bottomline is that if you love writing, whether you succeed or fail, you've spent your life doing what you loved.


You have said instead of writing what you know you write about writing what you want to know. Is there a risk in doing that? You know, sometimes research is difficult and material isn't available.

It wasn't meant as a blanket prescription for all writers. Some people manage to make very compelling literature out of their own lives – it's just that I'm not one of them. Writing for me is an adventure, a means of exploring my world, arriving at new insights. It's the way I'm structured – I find other lives, other places, other situations endlessly fascinating. To remain stuck inside the limits of what I already know seem like an awful deprivation to me.


How do you match family and writing? What's your most convenient time to write?

I write Mondays to Fridays, 9 am to about 2pm, longer and on weekends if something really exciting is happening in my story. I don't think family and writing go very well together. You have to carve out your writing time and space and say it loudly and clearly to all concerned till they get it – This matters to me, so don't mess with me on this. I am continually surprised by the innocence of many beginners – they seem to assume that all of their lives will continue to happen as is and they'll also manage to write that breakthrough novel. In truth, something has got to give... in my case I gave up the things that I felt I could do without to make that space for writing... I don't watch TV, talk to friends on the phone, or socialize much. Also, my parenting style is very hands off... I'm not as continuously involved in the minutiae of my children's lives as today's yummy mummy standards seem to decree.


Is there a fixed quota, as in 1000 words a day or something?

I rely quite a bit on word counts to keep me on course. It varies greatly along the way though... I break myself in slowly with something very easy like 200 words a day and keep stepping the required word count up as the work gathers momentum. At peak productivity it's about a 1000-1200 words a day.


Do you blog? What's your blog's name?

I blog only sporadically. I have a blog which goes by my name on the Sulekha site (http://manjul-bajaj.sulekha.com/blog/posts.htm). Then there is another called Kalamdawaat (http://manjulbajaj.blogspot.com/ ) where I post my poetry in Hindustani and Eh Mera Geet where I post my English transcreations of Shiv Batalvi's Punjabi poetry (http://ehmerageet.blogspot.com/ ), and a separate blog for Come, Before Evening Falls (http://comebeforeeveningfalls.blogspot.com/ ). I also have a poetry channel on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/ManjulBajaj ).


How do you write? Pen on paper or laptop?

Mostly laptop. Pen on paper when I'm stuck and need to doodle my way inside a piece.


What's your frank assessment of the Indian literary scene?

In my more dour moments I tend to think that there are more of us writers around in India than readers. But objectively speaking the Indian literary scene is in very fine fettle and we've come a long way in the last twenty or so years – there are more publishers, more imprints, more book stores and chains, more genres and some very fine writing coming out of the Indian sub-continent as a whole. I try to keep abreast of current writing from the region and every year there are at least 2-3 books which make one go 'Wow'. Of course, there's a lot of really tacky stuff being published too but if there are readers for it then how can you argue with that – you can't dictate tastes and really there is space and scope enough here for many different kinds of writing to grow side by side.


What is your greatest strength as a writer?

The fact that I'm a bit foolhardy and free spirited. I go pretty much where I want to, do whatever I feel like doing with my writing... as a result over the years you can expect a certain range and versatility from my work – it's unlikely to be very repetitive. That apart I strive for clarity of thought and language that is lucid but I don't think I can claim those as my strengths, just the underlying principles... some readers take to it, others prefer complexity.


Did online literary groups help in the writing process?

Yes, they are a wonderful place to test out your writing voice, experiment with new styles, get feedback when you're starting out. You just have to use them with a certain degree of discernment... make sure you don't get stuck in a cyber-ghetto of sorts. Many people get so complacent inside of the writing forums they are part of that they forget that there's a larger world out there with far more exacting standards.


Anything else you would like to say?

I think it's very important to have at least a couple of close, real life writer friends. People who like both you and your writing and vice versa, who you can trust absolutely to give you honest feedback, who'll hold your hand through writer-ly neurosis and despair, kick you in the butt if you're getting too bloody minded or complacent, and celebrate with you any success that you might have, and whom you'll do the same for unreservedly. It makes the writing life that much easier and safeguards you from the danger of taking everything that happens to you too personally... mostly its par for the course stuff.


Thanks John and best of luck with your own writing.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Conversation in a Crowded Train

I am like an inflated balloon squeezed from all sides as I emerge from the train. When I am outside I am also smelling like a skunk from all the sweat of the others. Or, a musk deer in mating season. Obviously. The situation was that bad. Some train was cancelled, some were delayed and in the morning melee I didn't notice anything and barged into the first train that came along. Tough luck!

The situation was so bad - imagine being squeezed by well fed bodies (parathas and idlis and dosas) from all sides - that I was standing on my toes all through the one hour of the commute. I didn't know where my limbs were, my sandals were trodden by seemingly iron-clad shoes. Then I took out Issac Bashevis Singer's novel "Scum" and began reading about an ageing man looking to rejuvenate himself. Appropriate! A neighbour noticed this and asked where I got my books.

"American Centre Library."

"You mean that building with the policemen with AK-47 guns and blue-wearing private security men? I thought that was some high-security American embassy, and stuff. Is knowledge such a security threat? What are the charges?"

"I don't know if knowledge is a security threat. They perceive it that way these days. Rupees four hundred a year to borrow books. They have internet, videos, CDs, all sorts of information. It's a storehouse of information and records, but poorly used."

"You mean information is that cheap? I love reading and didn't know books and knowledge were available for reading so cheaply."

"Yes, you can operate your wi-fi and surf the Internet for free."

"I am amazed. With information so widely available and cheap why are we so badly informed?"

"Because we are fatigued by the propaganda that goes with the information. The subliminal invitation to try out something and spend money on it. We like to be influenced by the high-octane sales spiel of the media."

"I find I am spending on unwanted gadgets like mobile phones and not spending enough on books that give information."

"Yes. We are all prey to business and commercial interests. We don't value information and enlightenment as we used to."

"It's a pity isn't it? We would buy a mass-manufactured gadget but not a book."

"Because a gadget increases our brand value, just by being associated with it, a brand - Sony, Nokia, Samsung. The rise of branding has on the other hand seen the decline of perceived beauty in literature and performing arts. Whereas, popular entertainment were adaptation of literary works in the past literature is now created for shows and movies exclusively. These works are garnished and a hype generated to make profits and then it sinks into the pit of past attempts at entertainment. Nothing is of lasting value anymore."

I don't know if the conversation led anywhere. Was it germane talk, or, was it idle talk? By the time the crowd had thinned and there was more room around us. I took a good look at the youth: earnest eyes, stubble, casual dressing: youth hungering for knowledge and information and wished there were more like him. All we have these days are young people craving for more gadgets in which they can watch films and music videos.

Hm.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Book on the North Atlantic Corridor of the Second World War

An interesting read - for me at least - is How a Small Band of Allied Sailors Defeated the U-boats and Won the Battle of the Atlantic By Ed Offley as it deals with the Second World War a pet subject.

It is amazing how the Second World War which has a lot of significance for Indians - my uncle died in the South-East-Asian corridor (he was secretly in Subhash Chandra Bose's INA) - is ignored by us all. We all are to blame.What happened to the many Indians who died fighting for the British Empire. What happened to the Indian National Army (INA). We are a people without a curiosity and obsession with the past.

At least, the above account by Ed Offley is worth looking forward to:

By the war's end, Germany had sent 830 U-boats into the battle, 2,653 Allied merchant vessels and 175 warships had been sunk, and more than 71,000 civilian crewmen and naval gunners had been killed, most of these losses coming in the North Atlantic. The German submariners fared much worse, with 717 of the U-boats sunk or wrecked, a 70 percent fatality rate, and almost half the 11,510 surviving crewmen in Allied prison camps.

"Slut Walk" the Walk of the Promiscuous?

At last some clarity from the fairer sex about the "Slut Walk" they are so keen about. The writer is Vinita Dawra Nangia and she writes this article in Times of India.

To go around with tee-shirts claiming to be "Slut" is not becoming of Indian womanhood. Indian women have made progress in all sphere and have stood in for men in times of need and crisis. So, why this imitiation of a few women who want to call themselves, "Sluts" and thereby degrade themselves? They probably don't realise the meaning of the word. A search for its definition returns this on Google, "Slut or slattern is a pejorative term meaning an individual who is sexually promiscuous." So how can a woman who isn't promiscuous label herself as a "slut?" So do we title this walk as that of women who are promiscuous?

Feminism is okay by me. Women need to emerge from the dark ages into one of enlightenment and participation. I have worked and am working for some wonderful women bosses who don't lose their cool like men do. (Imagine, on the other hand, I have worked with so-called successful men who were absolute paranoid nervous wrecks and bigot. One used to count the number of switches on the office switchboard everyday and also get mad if the peon didn't wash his cup properly. Imagine, imagine!) I guess a Mamta Banerji, Jayalalitha, Sheila Dixit and an Indira Nooyi among others of the progressive women who are changing the paradigm in India wouldn't associate in any way with being called a slattern. So why should Indian women label themselves as such in a walk that is being planned in Delhi?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Singer's Dream Gone Sour - From Singer to Security Guard

He is the quintessential security guard you meet at every office these days. You know, the hunkering tall types with bloodshot eyes and hefty build. He wears a uniform with an epaulet and a large badge on the sleeve of his shirt embroidered with "Target Security" or some such name. He wears a broad belt inserted through button down belt holders. The cloth is of cotton of a very tough quality. He is an impressive sight, young, with a glow in his eyes. Though at first sight you would stereo-cast him as the typical north Indian security guy with the basic education and skills of a person from the mofussil, if you come to know him better you will find that his is a dream that has gone sour. What's his dream? To be a singer. He is a budding singer and he is from Orissa.

When I ask him what he sings he says Oriya songs.

"Where did you sing it?"

"I sang it in Orissa for a music video, an Odiya music video."

"Oh, then you must have been paid a lot of money, eh? Music video players are paid well."

"No. sir."

"Why? Singers like Sonu, Adnan, what's that short guy's name? I forget. They are well paid no?"

"No sir. I was not paid at all."

"What? You mean you were not paid a single paise for singing and dancing in the music video?"

"No sir."

"Then why did you do it?"

"Because they said the music video will make me famous. They gave me a CD of video and said I can be a singer in Bombay."

"Really?"

"In fact, they took money to put me in their music video. Rs 5000."

"What? So that's why you came here."

"Yes. I came here, I had to make that money I had lost. But in Bombay nobody makes Odiya music videos."

"So that's why you became a security guard and work 12 hours a day?"

"Yes, sir. No other jobs were available."

That's another one of the con jobs being perpetrated in the name of entertainment in our country. I felt pity for him because he keeps pestering me for small loans all the time. I tell him I am in need of loans myself.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Isn't Fasting "Attempted Suicide"?

Nothing to write today. Just a feeling of dullness, the hands don't work at the speed it is used to. I don't know. I am doing well for my age and stage, but the inevitability of age cannot be ruled out though I play badminton quite well (given that my partners are all bad). Hm. So a short post today.

There should be some control over the fasting that is happening around this country. Everybody goes on strike. Isn't fasting a sort of "attempted suicide"? And "attempted suicide" is a crime right? So why not book them for a crime? It's a shame that leaders and icons of a democratic society should resort to fast unto death to have their demands met. Is there no alternative? Isn't there nothing like consensus building on our mass media that beams absolute rubbish into the one billion homes? Isn't there anyone out there who could speak out for the masses without masquerading their black deeds in masks of self-righteousness?

I don't know. Frankly I don't.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Rains Are Here!

The rains are here again. It's time to unfold/buy new umbrellas, raincoats/wind cheaters, bring out the musty old longer-version brolly (if you prefer that accessory), or, hibernate in bed with a cup of hot coffee or cocoa, whatever. This year the rain is here with a vengeance. It is beating a sedate drumroll on my windowpane today. Oh, those were the days I used to play in the water while on the way to school in the suburb of Chembur. Several things are undone in my personal and professional life. Life didn't take the course I assumed it would. It caught me with a jab into my solar plexus, and it really, really hurts. I take a vow to keep my cool this rain, as I do every year. Bombay is hell on earth during rains. Now, don't give me that bull about "Barson re megha" and all that. 

Here are my favourite complaints about the rain. This is by no means exhaustive and is subject to your ad libbing, dear reader.

Trains
When it rains, trains go to for a hike. Yesterday I spent around four hours in the train, and today, it was worse. Guess railways weren't meant to keep up with this sudden shower from the heavens. Oh! time tables are for fools. We can always explain that a cable broke or a rail got fractured.

Sweepers
Sweeper take a break from their busy schedule (which is to say they do even less than they used to do before, which was nothing). They have a few pegs of the local brew and go into hibernation when the frogs come out of hibernation, methinks. What else explains the mountains of garbage everywhere, the plastic, the paper, the fruit peels, the waste, waste, waste....

Cops
Cops also go on vacation to nearby hill stations I guess. What else explains the hawkers who have besieged the underpass at V.T.? They are not to be seen anywhere.

Rickshaws
As with cops, with rickshaw drivers too. It's their favorite time of the year. You pay a hefty fine with the fare or, "Jaon rasta pakdo. Nahin jayega kidhar. Hamari marzi."

More to come....

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Chinese Classical Poetic Form "Shi" in English

Here's what friend and fellow poet David Raphael Israel calls a Boomerang Poem, named "Signs and Clues." The poem appears on his blog.

According to him a Boomerang Poem (a genre of his own invention) is:

"English Shi" (on my blog), because it follows certain other conventions of Shi [classical Chinese poem, which can most typically be in 8 lines, with 5 characters (or in English, 5 stresses) per line]. Most crucial is that the 2 middle couplets (if the poem is construed as being comprised of 4 couplets) both demonstrate what we call (in Chinese poetics) "grammatical parallelism." In the Boomerang Poem form, I've not always kept to that latter -- but all in all, it carries the poem much farther when one's able to do it.

David is an American who studied Chinese, classical Chinese, he says. He also studied the Gazal and wrote a few Gazals in English. Not surprising, since I know of poets who write Gazals in Marathi. He works for a living in Beverley HIlls. Now, can you imagine that? Heard of movies like "Down and Out in Beverley Hills," "Beverley Hills Cops," eh? Dude, I would give anything to know what it's like.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

"Mon-ey Dinesha" and "Entha Oru Ksheenam"

It's called a meme (An element of a culture or behavior that may be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, esp. imitation. Memes spread like wildfire on the internet.). It spreads quickly. It is like the plague. Kerala abounds in such memes.It spread through movies, media and the Internet. My native state is a repository of such memes.

One such was "Mon-ey Dinesha". "Mon-ey Dinesha" is a piece of dialogue from a Mohan Lal movie. And that year when I went to Kerala the entire population was saying to each other, "Mon-ey Dinesha." People address me as Dinesha and I say, mercifully, my parents haven't baptised me with that name. I didn't know it then. How was I to know? But I know now after seeing the movie and Mohan Lal's declamatory dialogue delivery. Oh, what power in each syllable, what resonance in each word.

This time when I went to Kerala my aunt said "Entha oru Ksheenam?" "Why are you looking so weak?" This is from a woman who is in her seventies and is frail and doddering. At least, I am not shaking with palsy. One learns. Then when I was in my brother's house a neighbour said the same thing, "Entha oru ksheenam?" I don't know from which movie this is taken. I will learn. One always learns. People like to tease, especially in Kerala. That's what is distinctive about Malayalis.

"Mon-ey Dinesha."

Monday, June 06, 2011

India as a Destination for Third World Labour

Work at home is progressing slowly, very slowly, I must say. The work was supposed to finish before rains, but deadlines have been missed. The digging goes on without any stop. Woke up in the morning to see a huge trench in front of house. Just when they had finished filling the trenches made a month ago. Dank!

My contractor is a Sri Lankan from Negombo. Now, Negombo and I have a connection. Negombo or the clear skies, the swaying palms, the golden beaches. On my way to work for a British multinational in Jeddah I lived a few days in Hotel Golden Sands in Negombo and loved the place. My plans to go back have not materialised, at least, so far.

"I lived there, I have done work, no, there, only. Close-close, is my house, no, just a few minutes. My people, all rich, well settled, foreign, Dubai, all places, they send me money. Brother-in-law, no, he sent me 2 lakh rupees, tell, go back to Sri Lanka, I don't go. I spend money here, I love it here, in India, beautiful country." The man who left Sri Lanka 25 years ago says. Problem is he loves India and I love Sri Lanka. And the workers he employ are Bangla Deshi. In fact by being an IT superpower and all, we have become the third world's preferred location for emigration. So there are Sri Lankans, Bangla Deshis, Nepalis, even Brazilians in New Bombay where I live. I don't mean any offense to these nations, but we are globalising gradually and people are migrating. Work-wise, they are better, too, in many ways. They are more disciplined and their work ethics is much better.

Combine this to their readyness to accept less than the official rate, they make excellent workers. My thought, not necessary that you, dear reader, should agree. Is this a world phenomena or is it a case in isolation?

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Old Indian Photographs

Are you interested in vintage photographs you will never find in any book, archive, or museum. Here's a wonderful site that provides miles and miles of them.

I was mesmerised by the pictures - in black and white - and could go back in time to that age when an unfree nation was seeking freedom and a people was just waking from a long sleep of oppression.

I still wonder about that age. What held the people together, what went on in their minds, what did they dream about for themselves? Surely USA which is the dream of most Indians was the Wild West in those days. Did we have a view of ourselves, of what we are now? Could they even think what a new nation they would be sire-ing. So what? Anyone?

Friday, June 03, 2011

Guardian's "The Naipaul Test". I Scored 6/10 Meaning 60 Per Cent!

Guardian has put up the Naipaul Test here. The idea is to identify whether the writer of a passage is male or female on excerpts from famous male/female authors. If you answer right on all, well, you are rightly and truly Naipaul-ean.

If not, better brush up on your Naipaul quotient. Get back on the books gathering dust in your library shelf.

I scored 6 on 10. Hm. And, I thought I was well read. Grumble, Grumble!

Things that Upset and Irritate and Sir Vidya's Pronouncements

Despondent thoughts. I am sorry for the absence of posts for the past few days. Reason: madly busy after coming back from Kerala, to be hit with the realisation that two key people in the team are scooting - for better pastures, what else? - and the whole load is to be on me. So my days are filled with angst and anomie (personal state of isolation and anxiety resulting from a lack of social control and regulation), with too many things happening at the same time.

Like what? Like: some repair works on the home (a must before rains) have been delayed by the contractor, editing of novel not going as desired, some petty social networking issues bugging me, some architecture students walked up to my house and wanted my opinion on Artist Village (this was elevating, but the fact that I can be traced from a blog post is somewhat a revelation), somebody phoned me based on my social networking information on Facebook, so was in a dither whether my information is so transparent. The last one is indeed upsetting because this person is not a friend on Facebook. The how? what? of it is to be investigated.

Issues, issues, issues, is what Dhansukhbhai Jethalal Shah, my portly billionaire friend who lives in a six-storey mansion on Malabar Hill says.

Seems Nobel Laureate V.S.Naipaul has stirred a hornet's nest with his comment reported in the Hindu "I don't think so…I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me."

Now, I don't know what prompted the comment. I think Sir Vidya is a great writer given to great thoughts, which may err on the side of controversial pronouncements now and then. That's why I don't agree with him now and then. But Anthonybhai disagrees. He says Sir Vidya is growing old and it is showing. I say "Shut up, Anthony, nothing of that sort."