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Thursday, September 22, 2005


It is eight o’ clock at 52, Donnay Road, Preston, the sun’s streaming in through the crevice in the wall that has never quite been repaired. The radio is softly playing the closing bars of a popular 60’s number. A scene of simple domestic bliss unfolds.

Enter The Fred ( Ed—A nodding salutation to the exploits of That Man from Basel ).Freshly showered, shaved and laundered

The Fred :Here, Rachel, where’s ma cardigan, pet ? Gotcha a terribly important meetin’ today, wid me aye-gent, tha knows. Hey, Holly, (smiles to his daughetr in her cradle)
how’s the morning treating you, my precious ?
Rachel: Andy, where do ya have to go today ? I had planned summat’ , tha know. We need ta move into a bigger home-this can get cawd in the winter, there’s no room to swing a cat in here,and……

The Fred : Be reight, lass . Thissen always frettin’—the childer come, nowt’s the matter, we take care. Anyway, the little ‘un isn’t xpected till March.

The telephone rings. The Fred, prudently has no mobile-his fingers are too large to hit the buttons.

(Voice on the other side ) Hi, Fred. It’s me, Jamie. When are you coming over ? A small matter has come up.

The Fred : Hi, Jamie. Tha allus’ saying that. What’s up now ?

James Ashgarn: The biography is fine, Fred—except that it lacks a little something. We need to spruce it up pronto. Need your help. Come in soon.

The Fred bids goodbye to R & H, drives up in his Porsche and pulls up near his lit agent Ashgarn’s office. Waddles in, they greet each other and are seated .

James Ashgarn: As I was saying, the stories have come out well—artistic capturing of your, ahem, beverage-friendly days, those meaningful pub proms and more than enough of your recent successes. Trouble is, the part between your overweight fat stooge avatar and your current God-like status is rather thin.

The Fred: Aye, that’s true. Trouble is, Ah cannot missen remember much of those, They called me pudgy then. ( stares vacantly into space ). Ah cannot even r’ber what ‘appen’d the last week, we chugged a fair bit , tha know ( smiles modestly)

James Ashgarn: I know, I know. Maybe what we could do is run through the negatives, pictures and photographs we have of the past series and then… shall we ?
( The Fred nods assent, and they crawl in on bended knee to the dark room in the basement)

( Now the Gentle Reader will know that this mise-en-scene is eerily similar to a similar scrape in a film called Leave it alone now, Partner )

The Fred: Oof, what bit me ? Dark in here—let’s get outcha here quick ( like most giants, is scared of furry rodents )
James Ashgarn: Okay, what do we have here. These are photos of the South Africa series—anything that you can throw light on ?

The Fred : Tha is right, we need more light in this friggin’ place. Oh, that series, nowt much—a few bars, an’ dancin’, tha know—that sorta thing.

James Ashgarn: I guess we’ll have to get material on your overseas tours then. What about New Zealand ? ( The Fred shakes his ample head—Too damn cawd, by golly.). India ?

The Fred: Could av’ summat there—land of snakes, Taj Mahal, elephants ( James is getting impatient—never let this chump begin on his General Knowledge expositions ). (Reaches for the photos) Lemme av’ a look—nowt Chandigarh, Calcutta, Bangalore—nice pubs,!), Nah ! What’s this ? Me picking up summat’ from the ground in Delhi.

James Ashgarn : Nowt much, I mean, nothing much—can you think of anything ? A-n-y thing ?

( The Fred squirms—Thinking’s always a rum task, an’ this bloke not back'ard at comin' for'ard. ) What about… ? Nah, cannot say that.

James Ashgarn : ( quick as a Geraint Jones missed chance ) It’s fine, tell me . Go on.

(The Fred is now noticeably uncomfortable—shifts his girth):What me was thinkin’ was –can we say that pellet me pickin’ up and lookin’ at the mob behind is a bullet. Ah mean, like, a real bullet ? Like guns, rifles an’ stuff ? ( looks away )

James Ashgarn: Why didn’t you say anything then ?
The Fred: Ow, it was nowt—didn’t hurt much !

James Ashgarn: Hey, we hit it –WE HIT IT ! What a story ! Gentle giant shot at by enemy crowd, picks up bullet, rubs arm and continues. A real hero ! That’d be summat’ –I mean, something !

The Fred: Tha thinks so ? Great ! Ah’ll take your leave then—the missus’ xpectin’ me.. Ah know tha will take care of this. Ta, Gaffer !
( leaves a relieved man)


Wednesday, September 14, 2005


This collection of six short stories from the famed mandarin Gao Xingjian was my first step in exploring works I had studiedly ignored claiming racial or social distance.
Each story is suffused with a mellowed narration of disjointed experiences, placed in a setting that only incompletely captures the moment in its entirety, leaving the vertiginous description to the reader’s imagination.

The Temple” begins with a cavorting couple on a honeymoon, and their chancing upon a decrepit temple by hillside. The duo grow increasingly restive as the tone of the tale turns sombre and bleak against a backdrop of longing, loss and lament ”The Cramp” is a Dahl-ian caper of a young male swimmer who is on the verge of drowning, and escapes after a near-death experience. “ The Park” has two anonymous acquaintances who speak hauntingly of the past seated in a lonely park even as someone audibly weeps nearby. “The Accident” chronicles a road accident where a man with a baby on a cycle drives into a bus, and is killed instantly. The police arrive, the blood is washed away and life continues.
The title story is a moving revisiting of a neighbourhood that has changed beyond recognition and of a way of life that time has passed by.

All the stories are rather narrow in breadth and sweep, deliberately so and refrain from blandishments and aggrandizement. While there are understandable limitations upon this form, Gao is able to unearth evocativeness and a wistful sense at a fading memory, without lapsing into tawdry sentiment.
I would still think that I need to read more of the author to be able to do justice of his celebrated craft.

A 6.5 on 10 ! If I am to err, may it be on the conservative side.


For a long time, I believed that tinseltown was the last refuge of a scoundrel, the Varanasi of the dregs of society, and so on. Shashi Tharoor was cine-obsessed enough to make the backwaters of Bollywood as the setting for this novel. His protagonist is Ashok Banjara, a thinly disguised Big B take off, with the attendant trophy/doormat wife, doomed affair, estranged sibling relations and thwarted political ambition.

Ashok overcomes a painfully slow start in films, inches his way up the rank and file using his Government minister father’s influences till he inexplicably emerges as Numero Uno. His salacious overtures are frowned at, admonished and then ignored by his wife who gives up a blossoming career to set up home for the Demi-God. Matters get increasingly convoluted as a weary father, sneering brother and a friendless existence take their toll.

The plot, form, structure and characters are well-etched out, the argot is spot-on, the customary parody, wit and satire are firmly in place and even the narration is presented in the style of a formula film. So far, so good !

But one can never get away from the supercilious pen that creates all this, the underlying cynical confidence and the arch arrogance that hovers over the expansive threads of make-believe that Tharoor weaves. His message is garbled, overdrawn and labyrinthine and he sacrifices process for content, not for the first time.

I think the long years spent away from India, strutting and preening, spouting bilge to an adoring public have finally got to him.

A 6.5 on 10 !


My bibliophilic friends have for long derided me for having escaped this Hermann Hesse book. Siddhartha, is a learned Brahman’s son—intelligent and handsome, who musters up the wisdom to relinquish all and become a samana, a wandering ascetic along with his bosom pal, Govinda. They meet the Buddha one day—Govinda decided to join His flock,and Siddhartha mopes, having realized the futility of his ideals.
He returns to the material world—embraces the pragmatism of a businessman who teaches him profits and accounts, and the pleasure of a courtesan. Midway through this unfamiliar life, he disgustedly discards a mindless hedonism and resiles to pursue a ferryman’s trade, hoping to learn from the river. His son, through the courtesan returns as does his old friend Govinda. They let the son go at the ferryman’s behest to charter his own path and the Wise One remains, by the river, ruminating, observing, learning, seeking.

Hesse intends to reduce the precepts of what his protagonist refutes, jettisons, absorbs and internalizes to a minimalist quantum of comprehensible material, stripping away the pointless layers of mysticism and intrigue. In that, he succeeds. The messages of one having to seek out his own truth from within, and that Wisdom cannot be passed on to another are expressed with lucidity and clarity.

Sadly, the central theme of the book is reflected in the directed but shallow journey through the discursive events of Siddhartha’s life. While his angst and confusion are visible, his passage from one stage to another manifest; the protagonist’s floundering search for meaning and understanding envelops Hesse too, and his writing never really lifts itself beyond a cursory walking on the waters of the Self and Truth.
He touches many aspects and settles on none. Even his depiction of Siddhartha’s quest and turmoil is strained and constricted and he is more comfortable deploring the foibles of human life and conditions rather than demonstrating it for the reader. An over-simplification, then with the imminent likelihood of the literary tourist avidly singing laudatory paeans to the delights of Simla, while the glorious distant Himalayas stand aloof and smile in the snow.

A 7 on 10 !


Monday, September 12, 2005


The Bard wrote –If music be the food of love…
( Ed—We’d need a low-cal diet !)

One of the few grouses I harbour into adult life is that I’ve never really quite learnt music. True, ‘twas a virtuoso performance that blotted my near-perfect marksheet of Class 10 ( I ended up doing a Bade Ghulam Ali Khan on a Babul Supriyo number, metaphorically ( Ed—And acoustically too, perhaps !), and paid a heavy price ). This compounded with growing up in a family that appreciates and values those notes has instilled a reverence for music and musicians that is conspicuous by the absence of such reverence in other spheres.

Over the years I have managed to piece through a compilation which reflects my tastes, and I am reasonably at ease with most forms. However, the veneration, the distance has remained. So it is with some consternation that I now find the corporate world acquiescent towards public performances with a nonchalance that borders on either ignorance or disdain.

I have been witness to a very good violin classical quintet in Calcutta, a jaunty mellifluous band singing pop in Agra, eclectic instrumental spreads in Bombay, contemplative ghazals in Delhi and flute recitals and bharatnatyam performances in madras. Now, other than the rock ballads , these are a platter of music that I find enjoyable and relaxing. And yet, I recall quivering with disquietude and trepidation in most instances.

What I find disturbing is that these skilled musicians should consider it worth their métier to give off their best to a posse of people who couldn’t be more insouciant, a corpulent assemblage ( Ed- A discerning observation !) of ( willfully ?) dulled perceptions, a clump of febrile societal instincts to make merry and as a skein, deadened to the sensibilities of music of any presentment or provenance.
And it is serious music that these artists purvey !

I have never had occasion to query if Rafi, Jagjit, Christopher Martin-Jenkins or Terry Gross have felt aggrieved or outraged as they have played on in my home, unmindful of my less-than-total absorption in their fare, but I feel uncomfortably humble to be part of the audience on such occasions, benumbed with the thought that perhaps every listener or viewer is paying money, but not attention.

Father McKenzie, writing the words
of a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near
Look at him working, darning his socks in the night
when there's nobody there
What does he care....


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