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Saturday, July 30, 2005


There is an opportunity in every problem—thus spake the wise owls. I concur, with the caveat that one must avoid problems to the extent possible, and on the whole follow the hallowed precepts of the Alcoholics Anonymous. One cannot castigate anyone for losing it in the heat, or in this case, moisture of the moment, if you will. Calamities also accord you a crack at discovering a lil’ more of yourself.

Terrible tragedy to begin with; while Mumbai’s enervated and teetering infrastructure collapsed predictably causing considerable physical ardour to most, the mindless canards and the Bombay High platform disaster meant deaths. Many colleagues and relatives of mine have had property losses to report but I have always held that Life in itself has its compensations.

No Cable meant an over-dependence on FM Radio, provided there was electricity to begin with , which was not always the case. I thought some stations did a swell job in bolstering the flagging morales of overwrought citizens, relaying priceless information to anxious families and reporting on the state of roads throughout the city. Not bad at all, for a medium that has been known for being facetious and flippant.

The rest of the media—news channels, newspapers were all over the place, figuratively—must be the worst performance collectively. I think their callousness and insensitivity left much to be desired, and I hope that these dolts are brought to book.
The telephone systems—landline and mobile reeled and died out, and I can recall only two service providers who kept up any semblance of coping under duress. Attaboy ! but the rest should have hung themselves by now. Abysmal !

I am not sure I can blame the authorities very much, there was no sign of wilful indifference or inefficiency. Yes, every feel-good tale is replete with real life Don Quixotes who fed strangers with comestibles, brought succour, warmth and energy, gave lifts , and even provided direction to ignorant passers-by to great personal discomfort to themselves. Yet I can safely aver that this patting ourselves on the back, as is the wont of the Mumbaikar, is a tad overblown and needlessly dismissive of the authorities.

My own saga was devoid of water-logging at any stage. As I had about half a dozen colleagues spend the night at my place, my budding host skills were called upon rather unexpectedly. It is all the more disturbing when another is recounting a tale of woe and you can only respond with low-decibel grunts, squeaks and barks of assent.

This episode helped me reflect on some striking truths about myself—I can make tea for seven in a vessel that was intended only for about four without spilling, I cannot sleep with the radio on ( Ed—That’s because you crane your ear to try and identify the song played, then try and sing along too !) , and finally I can look for hours outside my window at cascading rain and still not come up with anything profound.

Lagi aaj saawan ki phir woh jhadi hai
Wahi aag seene mein phir jal padi hai....


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

( C ) ADS !

Standing proud in the foggy firmament of Indian advertising are two “tech” worthies who’ve had me frothing at the mouth. I have always presumed that mass media is meant to cater to the lowest common denominator of human comprehension—some hit the netherworld without batting an eyelid. In the bargain, most end up as smarmy inducements and peddle easy access to coveted things—the audience suspends belief and credulity momentarily. So other than convenience and novelty, most ads don’t say very much and what they say, they say badly. Anyway, I digress…

The first ad is that of an IT behemoth, seen as a pachyderm in its responsiveness but blessed with colossal reach and bench strength and until recently my pick among the other software majors who blink, bluff or blunder their way to “success”. The media byte unabashedly proclaims that joining the giant will ensure that an employee gets to go abroad very soon—at least boarding a flight that is destined for Heathrow, de Gaulle. JFK etc. The point is punctuated by a very poor simulation of an airline announcer in pathetic parodies of European accents, imploring the said employees to board. And that’s the message in its entirety, pretty much !

The second is of hitherto unheard IT company ( it has a numeral in its name ) that has a fresh-cheeked college geek who is peremptorily handled with impunity by an accented wraith of a salesman till the time the former discloses the fact that he works with this firm, after which the salesman becomes overbearingly obsequious and invites the shopper to look at far more expensive merchandise. Irritatingly , though that is not the cause of my ire, situations in both ads depict the salesman in flagitious intonations representing the worst forms of stereotyping known in India.

While I will not gainsay the childlike simplicity of approach in both ads, I find them insidious, vile, revolting and tasteless. One didn’t expect the IT major to stoop to these depths to attract “talent”. The assumptions made are many, baseless but directed at an impressionable majority who might yet cling to the greener pastures theory ( which of course, equines and bovines should unwaveringly follow ) .

The second is where all claims to quality of work, learning, job satisfaction and other prehistoric homilies are gaily jettisoned and a dil se tug at the heartstrings by an unequivocal reference to the moolah is made. The ad goes on to assure that one will get rich very very quickly…

But maybe the ads only mirror the employment proposition that the companies themselves want to make. And maybe what I consider poor execution is actually brilliant , with just my view diametrically opposite theirs.

It’s a much deeper problem then. Hmmm…

Stop Press: Rowling has killed off that poor ol’ donkey Eeyore


Thursday, July 14, 2005


There is this world famous lady who has even played the violin in one of her films. Her name is Celina Jaitley and as stated earlier, I haven’t the foggiest idea who she is or what she looks like.

My sister and I were watching some 300 channels together before settling on the cerebral charms of Scooby Doo when we came across this article on the above-mentioned lady.
I take the liberty of adding a few of my emboldened comments to this obviously smitten journo’s well-researched piece below--

I own about 5,000 books ( Sure !) , but my tryst with reading obviously began with one ( Poetic, practical and pedantic—wow a rollicking start !) . My father, who is the Indian Army ( Huh ! ! OK, like George Bush is the USA, Laloo Prasad is the law etc ) , went on temporary duty and returned with a present for me — a General Knowledge Bank book. I was too young to read, so he would read it aloud. ( It is usually the other way around—Temporary duty is where no grass grows etc ) ( Hitherto, I had heard only heard of a Children’s Knowledge Bank , I guess I was in the dark ) It opened up a whole new world for me — I understood how dreams occur, why glowworms glow, etc.( Yeah, right, the epiphany of Life, in short, 42 ) There’s been no turning back. I was always seen with a book (I guess this is the line where my sister doubled up mirth, in fact if books had lives, they’d say, I was seen with Celina Jaitley !) ) , and I’ve always preferred books as birthday gifts. I read in the make-up van, while travelling, etc.( Will take your word for it ) My parents and grandparents have played an important role in inculcating the habit; my father owns about 2,000 to 3,000 books and I’ve inherited several from my grandfather. ( I guess that means over 7000-8000 already, and counting ) Enid Blyton books were gifts from my grandparents; I’d spend long hours indulging in fantasy and adventure. I must tell you, though, that I didn’t enjoy reading school textbooks. I preferred flipping through Tell Me Why and other encyclopedias. That’s what books represent — entertainment and information. ( I’m speechless , the urge to show one’s epistemological proclivities are shamelessly manifest ) Books make excellent life partners, providing you with experiences and knowledge that no one can ever take away from you. ( Life partners ? I’ve heard marriages to trees, frogs but books –Like, here, Mrs Sharma, meet my better half, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch ) There are very few books that I don’t enjoy. I read books by Sidney Sheldon as easily as, say, Mein Kamph by Adolf Hitler.( No comment ! I haven’t read either ) Even a Mills and Boon has something to offer, but I dislike graphic books, like the kind Jackie Collins writes. I find them violent, offensive and demeaning towards women. I’m also not a Potter fan; I think I’m too old to read Harry Potter! ( Even a Mills & Boon—how condescending ! I once thought that was the rites of passage for every adolescent—it’s her opinion after all but I guess M & B would be the worst perpetrators of the archetypal dependent, capricious, vulnerable women ) I understand that reading is an expensive habit because books are an expensive buy (if only they’d be subsidised!). I also understand that that there’s no room in Mumbai homes to house books. ( How understanding—subsidised by whom ? ) But I’d still encourage people to read, to visit libraries. There are so many residential societies in Mumbai, and everyone wants to build a gym. (Why can’t they build libraries as well? ( To lower your cholesterol, reading the da Vinci Code advised ) I’m building one currently. ( Way to go, my beaver girtl ) For me, it’s a dream come true, because keeping a well-stocked library inside the home is a tradition in our family ( But you already have 5000 books, so what’s the point ? ) …I’ll be devastated if my children don’t turn out to be ardent readers!” ( I only wish the inherit your reading genes, Miss –All the Best !)

What ? The session’s over ? But you haven’t shown me with Catcher in the Rye yet ! ( pout pout ) Done ? OK, fine, good !
Wait a minute till I run along and bring in the Discovery of India too ! And then, you can click me with a Rushdie book ?


I had the fortune of bumping into one Mr. Om Puri, head-first in Chennai, of all places last week. I am not really part of the Page 456 set-up so with my customary eloquence, I stood gawking and gaping for a long time before I registered at long last, that I was in the presence of stardom. A good thing too, because I was told, belatedly, that I had brushed past wispy PYTs in the Park earlier, who were in fact Bollywood tinsel queens. And I remember greeting Carlos Moya too one evening before, as most before him, magic wore off and he lost the next day.
Coming back to the original Grumpy Young Man of Indian cinema, he was a little more pallid than I had thought. The voice was nowhere near the manly pitch I had expected –I can hazard that it was the voice of one who had had one too many.
And it was only nine in the morning !

Ploughed through an article written at leisure by Suketu Mehta. He fully lived to my stereotype of the modern Indian confused in the USA—he writes “ We Indians”, changes course midway and then “ We Americans” and then reverses again to “hum Hindustani “ before bemoaning the abysmal academic standards of US education in comparison to India.

Devoid of content, logic, passion or reason ! And they say he's a good read .


Wednesday, July 06, 2005


My first crosswording of Orhan Pamuk coincided with it being his maiden venture too—so a propitious beginning !
The only other Turk I knew, at a safe distance was Naim Suleymanoglu !

As provenance goes, “The White Castle" is a recounting of a manuscript found by Faruk Darvinoglu in 1982 in archives of the Turkish Minster’s office. It’s the tale of a Venetian yourh, plump on intellect and awareness, who while sailing from Venice to Naples sometime in the seventeenth century is waylaid and captured by Turkish boors, carted to Istanbul where his facial likeness Hoja arrogates him speedily. Hoja, a confidante of the intelligentsia, Pashas and Sultans, is desirous of devouring and digesting all that he can about Western mores; its literature , its technological prowess and progress. His inquizitive and abrasive nature eschews boundaries, inhibition and formality as his avarice for knowledge’s sake takes over.

As times goes by, Hoja and the unnamed narrator realize that they are kindred souls, they feed off one another and though the relationship is officially is one of a master and slave, they soon transgress that and grow intimate. The years wear on as they discover science, logic and art through argument and hypotheses The youthful Sultan harbours the thought that it is the Venetian narrator whose ideas Hoja propounds as his own before finally on the brink of war, they appear to swap identities as Hoja moves away to Italy and the narrator stays on as Hoja, even as the Sultan chides and derides him for inveigling all, hiding that his ideas are actually those of the Venetian.

As with Sealy, the plot is just the even ground on which the superstructure of Pamuk’s literary opulence rests. It plays the synthesis and dichotomy of Western and Eastern schools of thought over and over again; delves into issues of identity, personal nature and character directly and also faintly probes for epistemology. The characters are seen to go through many shades of beliefs, suppositions and demeanours, not all of which originates in their cultural heritage.

I thought the book could have been deeper in its examination of the roots of Western streams of thought and not totally ignored religion. The writing remains picturesque, fluid ,segued and sufficiently obscurantist for this to be called a post-modern work.

A 7.5 on 10 !

Again, a first time crosswording—this time of Italo Calvino.

An interesting mise en scene—Calvino has written three pieces on three of the five senses; taste, hearing and smell. This seemed rather expansive and adventurous till I read what he’d penned—he died before he could complete the other two senses and the world will not know what it missed.

“Under the Jaguar Sun” describes the sensory yearnings of a married couple who visit Oaxaca, Mexico and swim in the cesspools of spice and savoury delights in the form of the fiery local cuisine. This deals with taste as the primordial genesis of human relationships culminating in a form of cannibalism, necessitated to completely comprehend the thoughts, emotions and swings of another. The couple become sensually enmeshed with subtle flavours and sensations even as they merge with the local architecture and motifs.

“A King Listens” is from a lonesome monarch’s viewpoint, as he sits on his throne, silent and alone as a world sets itself and moves around him. The ruler is distanced from a multitude of subjects, who swing from being seditious to gullible and unobtrusive, and his hearing is his sole weapon and defense against all diabolic canards, armed rebellion and mute opponents.

The third story chronicles three disparate beings—a French dilettante, a drug-crazed musician and a hominid just discovering walking on tow limbs, all enamoured of an unknown and unseen woman , attracted by her scent.

While each story makes riveting reading, albeit a tad contrived in the frenetic pursuit of storylines with unusual leitmotifs, I felt that his class was subsumed and diluted, purposefully so, as he strove to weave magic out of material that most writers would devoutly conceal or camouflage amidst hay heaps of verbiage and allusive affectations.

A 7 on 10 !


Indian writing is a universe that houses a multi-world plethora of genres, styles and sensibilities. If one were to narrow down to fiction, even then the array is bewildering and probably, each author is reasonably drunk with nutritive certitude about his/her own distinctive signature tune—otherwise we might have seen more experimentation. And then again, one does quiver with guilty trepidation at the ever-so-oft Phoenix-like rise of regional powerhouses, who will be incessantly lauded for works which might be far off their best, but which the English-speaking dregs of reviewers have laid eyes upon. I am glad that I read one I Allan Sealy book every year—Hero, The Everest Hotel before this.

A terse regurgitation of the plot – Lev, a retrenched scientist from St Petersburg, eking out a penurious livelihood as a chauffeur, comes to Delhi in search of meaningful work; loses his briefcase with attendant documents, falls in love with Maya, a fiercely independent puppeteer; meets Laiq, a mercurial barber and mystic, and Morgan, Maya’s newsreader friend. Lev’s past as a maven biological weapons specialist catches up with him which extracts a stiff price.

That said, a Sealy book uses the plot as the merest narrative abetment—his writing is textured, measured, imaginative and reflective. This is a love story with all its post-modern paraphernalia; intelligent and introspective protagonists, trapped and buffeted by Fate and Individuality alike. Lev, the middle-aged Russian scientist, is prosaically laconic, studious and sombre and is the epitome of a clever being forced to resile to a life of bureaucratic bumbling, which languidly snatches away his inteliigence, ambition and finally hope. He talks less and perhaps thinks even less—his wife and son in St Petersburg form a hazy but omnipresent backdrop to his desultory travails in India.

Maya, of course a literary heroine is an illusionist. Her gauche puppets wait in her closet, wait for a chance to perform, articulate and entertain. She lives away from her influential Police Commissioner father and embodies a single woman against the grain—so refreshing to have a lead character be insightful and perspicacious without being trapped in the Western image of the Single Woman. The imagery in the puppets waiting their turn while the characters themselves having their strings pulled unceremoniously by circumstances and abstruse Governments is significant.

Laiq’s a well-etched person too, one of the old school mesmerized by intrigue, progress and yet schooled in reality and pragmatism. Morgan, the vain newsreader is in love with Maya but is increasingly distanced by his own effete nature and passiveness. An enchanting portrayal too of Old Delhi-- its streets, sweetmeats and sordid skirmishes.

This story of intertwined elements chronicles Sealy’s sweeping eye for the picayune as he leaves much unsaid and understated. His prose has a light touch, flavour and relies on almost circumlocutory recital. A marked departure from all those who try too hard—what we have here is a perfectionist and a traveller.
An 8 on 10 !


Monday, July 04, 2005


Some time ago, Nida Fazli, an outstanding poet and reluctant lyricist, accused his peer Sameer of lifting one line verbatim from one of his earlier compositions. Nothing wrong with that, perfectly fine to have a senior poet not amused by his work filched by another.

The trouble is—How does one go about proving this ? The words themselves are not shrouded in mystery, being rather commonplace and trite. Thoughts, such fleeting creatures do not lend themselves to capture and powers of expression can be duplicated. Is it possible that Sameer may have managed pen that controversial line on his own ?

As some say, if there were a vast number of monkeys typing randomly on keyboards, they would between them manage to replicate every work of Shakespeare.
Statistically !


The bigger they are, the harder they fall!!

The media of Corporate India , though less prone to paeans of personal grandiloquence than the Continent or Europe , has also prided itself on anointing certain individuals who are deemed Super Achievers—endowed with the Midas touch, imbued with fountains of insight and skill, and with savvy and gumption to turn around companies teetering on the brink of disaster without fuss. The more-knowledgeable ones have always averred that success in business is founded on teamwork, application and needs more than a slice of luck to get by. Yet persistence with assigning arbitrary greatness will mean that ever now and then, somebody comes unstuck. My guess is that this happens because the media in its sagacity feels that nobody would want to read about insipid plodders, dreary journeymen and assiduous antlike accumulators.

It was only a matter of time before the plug was pulled on Rajeev Karwal, the MD & CEO of the troubled Electrolux Kelvinator Ltd (EKL) last week.. The beleagured Electrolux Kelvinator had been battling losses for some time now and it is rumoured that it will be soon sold to the Videocon Dhoot Group. The owners of the renowned Kelvinator brand have taken a pounding from the likes of Samsung and LG, and fared only passably well in its other categories of microwave owens and Acs.

He of course had notched up notice-worthy successes in his stints with Philips, LG, Surya Roshni and Mirc Electronics. He had won flowery encomiums throughout his career and was hailed as a marketing genius, a business wizard and a turnaround specialist.
And yet he failed….

Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair!
No thing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that Colossal Wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.


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