Wednesday, June 29, 2005
I had formed an opinion that Coimbatore ( the monicker Kovai had battled long and hard for suzerainty before bowing to the longer version ) was a sweltering furnace of a town, where the skin would crawl and sweat would pour. Happily, I think I mixed it up with Madurai. The city I visited was marvellous, wind-swept, leafy and clean. The weather did remind of my early schooling in Pune where I’d wait for the drizzles to get carried away by the wind, and then the wind to yield to the drizzle, and so on while I struggled to concentrate on Kutchu and his glasses/wife/pet…
The second largest city of Tamil Nadu has over fourteen lakh folks who amuse themselves in a variety of vocations—regular private and public sector jobs, running textile mills, a happy variety of businesses and labourers. I felt that the city has to come to grips with its ineluctable wealth—a high per capita income coupled with minimal distractions like malls, cineplexes ensures that moderation and abstinence rule. I found it unassuming and laidback and I’ve always found that attractive. I also divined a certain forbearance and rectitude in comportment and language, which I was, and am, not terribly familiar with.
I don’t ever remember speaking that much Tamil as I did in those three days. I could feel my linguistic skills improving as I conversed easily , but somewhere the lack of a formal education jarred. It was an elevating experience as I was forced to resort to Plain-Speak, my knowledge of idioms, proverbs, allegories and truisms is painfully constrained, and I was loath to ignobly trip over these in an attempt to be poetic. So, I did not have any trouble with the language, but I am sure the natives did.
Business took me to the principalities of Avinashi Road and Trichy Road. These run parallel and constitute the best commercial instincts of the city, abounding with shops and groceries that generate alarmingly high revenues. I also spent time in the R G Street wholesale market, which had huge stockpiles of banana peels, commodities and condiments. This was a distinct olfactory memory as once again traders all over India climb even higher in my esteem.
Some interesting experiences too—visited a Police Commissioner’s Office, two sprawling mills, a call center ( a first time ) , the colossal and grand PSG Hospital, the Stock Exchange ( another first I think ).
On the culinary side, I dined and dined well—places like Annapoorna, People’s Park and Narayan’s serve deliclous South Indian stuff—quick service and quality assure hungry hordes. For me , Geetha Café was an unforgettable occasion and I know exactly how the venerable Vajpayee would have felt in keeping a recalcitrant multitude in harness as I relived the agony of a meal served on plantain leaves. This peculiar dining arrangement had laid me low earlier and my best efforts at restoring normalcy failed as the sambhar, the rasam and the mor kozhambu headed purposefully in different directions. My colleague simpered, I writhed and Life wore on. I also found that the curd rice and the vivid red beetroot curry were literally unfathomable, beyond arm’s reach.
Coimbatore’s future appears secure – fourteen thousand engineers hit the job market each year. Software biggies like Cognizant and Infosys have reportedly booked vast tracts of real estate and plan to get the show on the road as early as 2006. I’m sure that will engender the usual glazed cockiness and torpid arrogance soon—so too supermarkets, theatres and other avenues of spending money and time. That does seem to be the hallmark of a modern Indian city these days.
September 22, 2053
Feared fast bowler of the noughties, Shane Bond passed away in his sleep at his home in Christchurch yesterday. He was 78.
Bond only played 10 Tests and 27 LOIs between November 2001 and May 2003 ( He had retired by the time the popular format of the Ten10 Tournaments –each player bowling one ball each at an identified batsman and the team with the higher total after ten balls wins ).
In his short career, he was the fastest bowler around with a clean action as his peers Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar were renowned chuckers ( a practice that was officially approved by the ICC in 2013) .
He rose to prominence as a genuine quickie in the 2002 VB Triangular series in Australia featuring South Africa striking early repeatedly ( his rivals were merely quirks ). His wicket-taking ability ensured that Australia did not qualify for the Best-of-Three Finals which ultimately cost Steve Waugh his LOI captaincy and place in the Aussie side, recently revealed by the octogenarian elder Waugh. He also picked up a five-wicket haul against arch rival Australia in the 2003 World Cup.
He also played briefly for Warwickshire, an English county that played cricket in the times gone by.
Bond never recovered from stress fractures sustained early in his career. He had been decorated with the Erwin McSweeney Badge of Honour ,a coveted award bestowed by the Christchurch Royal Police Force from which he retired as Sergeant in 2028.
He is survived by wife Cynthia & daughter Dorothy.
Saturday, June 25, 2005
Githa Hariharan’s first book The Thousand Faces of Night won a Commonwealth Prize for Best Fiction by a newcomer. In Times of Siege is one of the more serious and scholastic fictional accounts one can find.
Shiv Murthy, a History Professor in his fifties is asked by a twenty-four year old girl, Meena, for whom he is the local guardian in New Delhi, to let her stay on in his house till the time her cast is off ( she has fractured a knee in an accident ). Shiv’s wife is away visiting their daughter in the States & Meena deems it fit not to inform her own parents of the arrangement.
Shiv slips into a hitherto unknown garb of domestic provider & Meena fights ennui aided by Shiv’s ministrations and her circle of friends.
This quietude is disturbed irrevocably when a piece Shiv had written about Basava-a twelfth century Kannada poet, is arrogated by a group of self styled Hindu history henchmen as being seditious and incendiary, as it talks about his spiels and skirmishes against the caste system. The honourable s.s.H.h.h.of course want the contents purged and quickly settle into a familiar hate mail-violent protest-direct action mode and force the reticent Professor to take leave. His department colleagues react mostly in his favour, yet he finds himself comforted more by the youthful zeal of Meena and her politically active friends as they rally around him with renewed energy and chutzpah. The book thus explores the inextricability of ideology and practice, the intertwining of personal and professional lives and captures a time of intense scrutiny and duress.
I found the book wistful, economically worded, devoid of flourish and fanfare and able to articulate the futility of historical revisionism and gunpoint compilations of history. There is a distinct passiveness in Shiv—a la Murakami, I am told, which is artfully blended with Meena’s energy and zest. The predicaments and conundrums are crafted with subtlety and finesse, and the gauche physicality of an unlikely relationship is realistic too.
I imagine that the book can be read as a parable-- the overt lack of restraint from a physically superior entity, minatory in its propensity to control and covet, and the gradual courage in the oppressed who scurry to protect their threatened spaces. Post 9/11, surely .
A 7.5 on 10 !
RAVAN AND EDDIE
I lingered long after I read this book in order not to overreact. I would dearly loved to like this book- after all, it satisfies a lot of aspects I’d been craving for –it was not from the St Stephen’s School of Literature, a true blooded Mumbaikar, no literary legerdemain, an Indian whose Indianness was beyond reproach.
This Kiran Nagarkar book ( he won the Sahitya Akademi for Cuckold ) is about Ravan, a Maharashtrian Hindu born to a good for nothing retrenched father and a unwittingly beauteous mother Parvati, and Eddie Coutinho, born to a Roman Catholic family, who live in the same PWD chawl in Mumbai. Their lives are painfully interwoven even though they inhabit separate worlds as they meander through eventful childhoods, weather familial storms and live in the moment. Ravan sleepwalks through black magic, a live-in mistress shamelessly taken by his father and his resilient mother as she desperately tries to cope. Eddie , for his part, turns a resolute chaddiwallah, and fights off a naughty sister.
“There are only two kinds of people in the world. Those who have English and those who don’t. Those who have English are the haves, and those who don’t, are the have nots.” This line probably is a piece de resistance from the book, and my guess is that Nagarkar took it literally.
Make no mistake, the imagery is vivid and colourful, the black humour wicked and ironic, the detailing is evocative, visual and descriptive, the innuendo delicious and veiled, and he reveals a lived-in mastery of a dazzling array of school and domestic lives, ragging, subterfuge, adultery, teenage angst, class prejudice, sibling scrapes and regimentation. He effortlessly recaptures the ambience that his myriad characters inhabit, the air that they breathe and even the buzzing-bee thoughtlets in their overclouded and heavy heads. His language is wicked, wry and direct, his plot is compelling and engaging.
So what went wrong ?
My take is that I may have liked it if I had been a decade younger. The more perfunctory of perusals would bare a fervid attempt to portray dichotomy and distance—he perhaps goes overboard in swinging Tarzan-like from one world to another, unctuous in his rush in inveigling the reader to appreciate his repertoire.
Richness for detail is overblown and though practical, dustracting.
His uninhibited use of sexual longings and leanings has come in for praise—I found the prose no better than what you will find in a lubricious novella, those which are published for a discerning audience, and which are not bashful in using terribly contrived phraseology. Apparently, his directness and lack of reserve are his strengths and he plays to those throughout.
Societal demands turning turtle are no more than what folks like Vijay Tendulkar had suggested eons ago in plays like Sakharam Binder. Attempts to be egregious and over-the-top are actually effete and detract from the storyline.
Maybe, if he had proferred me a skimmed-milk version of the book, I may have given it a Thumbs-Up. Instead, I got a Condensed quaff.
A 6.0 on 10 ! ( will be back for Cuckold though ! )
Thanks to those who tagged me but no thanks, no Meme for me, Saheb.
I find the concept sacrilegious and scary--I am a humble farmer....
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Only my second Sri Lankan novel, after Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost. It spans the tempestuous spats between two antagonistic neighbouring business families, and those memories recounted by the author much much later when all the shenanigans are behind him, in London
The progonist, Chip remembers his friend Prins Ducals, and his escapades with fondness. He also muses ponderously over the past where Prins’ mother Pearl struggles to explain and understand the death of her husband Jason at the hands of their arch rivals-the avaricious Vatunas whose ambition is fuelled by an inherent vanity and a deceit that is blindingly simple. The author, Romesh Gunesekera longingly unsheathes the coils of memory through an abstract narrative and weaves intrigue, despair, pride and a gradual fading of identities into the bulwark of the plot.
Another non-linear author, a welcome departure from the staccato bursts of most other post-modern literary essays. The author keeps a studied distance from the political overtones that underpin most socio-economic upheavals and keeps an unwavering attention on characterization—hence eschews dramatic elements, ornate prose and metaphors in favour of a languid tale whose unexplained parts segue into one another unobtrusively.
A 7 on 10 !
IN A FREE STATE
I get the eerie feeling that I am revisiting many spurned authors in my dotage, V S Naipaul being one of them. This book has a natty feel about it, comprising two travelogues that read like the epilogue and prologue, two short stories and the eponymous long story. This book won the Booker in 1971.
One out of Many—is a short story of a penurious domestic helper, Santosh, who has made the journey from Bombay to Washington to accompany his employer, a reticent diplomat. He is allured yet untouched by the mysteries and inexplicable cadences of American life, and he continually marvels at his inability to relate to all that he sees around him. Wrought with self-pity, he runs away from his master to find a new restauranteur boss , on whose encouragement, he marries a hubshi black and lives on, glibly oblivious to his own family back home in India.
This story raises many disturbing issues—acclimatization and assimilation of an alien land, personal identity and beliefs and their transience, couched in the Native Speak to the domestic helper as he is cozened into accepting a world that he abhors.
Tell me who to kill is a lacerating tragedy and tells the tale of a West Indian who through squalor, indifference and bathos, moves to London with unhappy consequences. All the tantalizing facets of genteel poverty are agonizingly revealed, swept in the author’s self-conscious prose. The fatuous endeavours to keep a life afloat, fervidly meaning to keep a sibling on the straight and narrow, amidst colluding fortunes is narrated particularly well. The slow rise of an bitterness at one’s own lack of success, and an insistent urge to a brother imploring him to make something of his career.
In a Free State–the novella itself is a letdown, dealing with the capers of two Europeans as they move desultorily in a war-torn and politically instable African nation. Bobby and Linda, the protagonists indifferent to one another, yet alert and chary of the perils of the African bush, travel across the hinterland where they are stalked, shot at and threatened repeatedly. The prose is economical and sombre, minutely detailing the undercurrents of fear and despair in Uganda, and told with a somewhat Western sensibility .
I found the short stories superbly written, bathed in inviting wit and irony, by a man, who perhaps inculpably, has borne my ire many times. The travails of immigrants are captured realistically.Yet there is a decadence, a cocking a snook at India, which brings out the worst in me.
A 7.5 on 10 ! ( despite a wan central central story )
PS—I have not, have not , have not heard a worse troika of film scores than the recently released soundtracks of Kaal, Bunty aur Babli and Paineeta.
Kaal sounds like Salim-Sulaiman are hellbent on composing raunchy, inane and senseless numbers for the likes of the world famous Lara Dutta ( pun intended) .
Bunty aur Babli—Shankar EL & Gulzar came up with this –How ?
Parineeta—a pretentious apology of 60’s music , for an era that is aurally challenged.
Thursday, June 16, 2005
I am sure that there will be spots in India now where icy gusts cause one to pull on one’s muffler tighter, where windy draughts catch one unprepared, and where on can marvel at the snowy spectacle of Mother Nature. I am sorry to state that Nagpur was not one of these spots.
Not the rollicking start hoped for—typed in the wrong PIN on the ATM machine thrice and was debarred from withdrawing dough temporarily. Had to plough gingerly—and frugality and forbearance were the watchwords.
This epitome of Central India is a towering figure among the minions of these parts, and though geographically part of Maharashtra, comports itself more as if it were in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh. It had served as the capital of the formerly existing Central Provinces & even MP once. Many business houses use Nagpur as the base to monitor large parts of MP and Chattisgarh and its 24 lakh populace strive to make it among other things—the Orange City , the Winter Legislative capital and a forgotten bastion of a withered statehood movement
To be fair, it’s not much fun working outdoors in 45 C—a different kind of heat, not quite the humidity of Madras or Bombay, not quite the intensity of sun shards of Hyderabad, and not the manic murderous swelter of Delhi; but a benignly increasing temperature that is even capable of being ignored, albeit with near fatal results.
I was taken with the quality of the roads—wide, bereft of potholes and speedbreakers,; and the omnipresent greenery-leafy outgrowths and lush brambles line most terrain. I was told by sources that this pather panchali was hummed admirably by the Congress Government over the last three years. In fact, at no time did I feel that it was reeling under a space crunch, and I breathed easily.
Well, there are aberrations and significant ones at that, water is scarce although I did not come across water wars. This causes enterprising tykes to flood the city with water sachets- utilities that are used by princes and paupers alike ( Rs. 2, 300 ml, Bhartia is the bloke—for those into such). I was told that Nagpur had the most number of millionaires in India, but I did not run into any of them They are reticent and unassuming chaps, in these parts. Education is a problem area with most folks “migrating” to bigger and better cities—there are over twenty colleges and scores of schools but none really stand out. A sizeable number is employed with Public owned organization where I fear ennui might trump enthusiasm.
Trade is broadly divided into East & West Nagpur—parted by a sleek bridge. Of West Nagpur, I marched down Wardha Road, an elegant stretch smelling faintly of genteel wealth; visited Deonagar & Dhantoli, found Dharampet to be an upcoming yuppie kinda place, and also briefly saw Sadar and Chavni—those ubiquitous names that encompass so many lives and tales in Central India. I could not find the time to visit the Itwari wholesale market, putatively one that made Bombay feel capacious but did hot the Dawakhana, deemed the second largest medicine market in Asia. Ramdas Nagar was given a heave-ho and Mominpura gave me the creeps as once again I can only agonize over the insularity that we seem to be perpetrating and tacitly promulgating, well into the 21st century.
As it was too hot to notice pulchritude, I close with a remembered fondness at the Marwari meal at Haldiram’s where of course they are based. The restaurant was called Thath-Baath and seemed to me ,an oasis in a desert. After a strenuous session at work, I found it easy to forgive myself the indulgence of eating half a dozen bajra rotis marinated in desi ghee and eaten with jaggery, other assorted vegetable preparations and dals, and topped off with nine tall glasses of buttermilk ( The bearer gave me a grudging look of admiration at my bibulations and even refilled the glass after the bills had been settled ) . I think much better after meals. Culinary bliss !
Plan to do this again in winter !
Monday, June 13, 2005
I was pleasantly surprised to be informed that my room was on the banks of the river Sabarmati, on the border between Old and New Ahmedabad. On eagerly drawing my curtains, I found a large tract of undulating land where the odd buffalo reposed restfully, boys played a merry game of cricket and flew a gay kite. Not a drop of water, nor any drop to drink in the midst of a protracted summer. Maybe the toiling denizens of Ahmedabad had taken the fact that it was a dry state literally
I was caught on the wrong foot more than once as I misread one road-sign after another—lulled by the seeming verisimilitude the language bore to Hindi. A-ha, I though, what a luxury-no need to add the “danda”—so much more time freed up. As it transpires, the differences are manifold—with a “ sha” letter turning out to be an “a”. Yet, an easy thing to do so and could have managed if needed to.
The residents speak Gujarati rather hurriedly , beyond my comprehension usually, It is a quaint accent that imbues their spoken English, which is endearing at times. I was quite amused to see the retailer, my colleague, the dealer salesman and a shopper all ebulliently hum the Spears anthem “ I’m not that innocent” in collective cacophony and with the quirky accent. I also learn that many natives do not like to speak in a language other than their own, and that has retarded their progress somewhat. They are deemed chauvinistic and inward-looking and though very enterprising—almost every family has someone abroad, or in business—they don’t appear to have an appreciation of the nation in any sense other than pecuniary dynamics. This reticence has accorded them an image of a community indifferent to and undeterred by the goings-on in India—some have even unkindly pointed the fact that not many join the Armed Forces, long construed as a sure sign of valour and patriotism. The rationale of eschewing English has been reviewed over the past decade, which has coincided with a marked improvement in the rise of schooling.
The city is chockful of lofty ambitions, purpose and effluvia—perhaps the most polluted capital in India—per cc of particulate matter, and this is inspite of stable roads and adequate town planning. Traffic is pertinacious and unrelenting, the drivers impatient to get ahead. I visited places on the wrongly-named Satellite Road, Ankur which I know quite well now, Ashram, Circuit Road, Relief Road, Lal Darwaza and Shahpur and Jamalpur closer to Old Ahmedabad.
Supermarkets and malls are quite attractive to those with an eye of what’s on offer for free, and hence they get a sizeable slice of citizenry at all times. On the whole, the place is cheaper than Mumbai which is not saying much. I was puzzled to find that Ahmedabad is considerably more populated than Pune, a bustling 55 lakhs including Gandhinagar, which has not quite lived up to the promise of a propitious start. There are over ten cineplexes and frequented by an increasingly upmarket and aspiring young crowd.
I found the city extremely divisive—never have I found the geographical demarcation between the two largest communities so pronounced, and it is a considered opinion that Old Ahmedabad is Trouble, and the pot of communal tension boils dangerously. However, this division had not spread to business, expectedly, and I talked to many Khoja muslim traders, who professed to be a more accepting, tolerant and generous subset. Certainly they were munificently charitable with their jamaat khanas
A sumptuous Gujarati thali, rounded off with aamras—not for the calorie conscious. No complaints –no regrets, just dreamy bliss.
As a parting shot, a nod to the unmistakable pulchritude of the land, Loads of them on two-wheelers and living it up. A pity to learn that most do not join the workforce in any capacity. I also belatedly realized that a favoured Bollywood actress actually looked Gujarati—her visage was longingly plastered all over town, and the product is doing well too.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
I’ve always been one of those strong and silent types—well, almost, save the silent part. Most objects—corporeal or otherwise, on bumping into me, rebound with an unexpected celerity. I have the unhappy penchant to speak my mind, and that yoked to the even unhappier penchant for being an insensitive cad, has only exacerbated my predicament over the years.
I strive to aright this entire system loaded against me by using the facilities available at my disposal. Intelligence, alas, was never one of them ! I get compelled, eventually, to use my fist and that yields succour for the nonce, before I fall back on the reliable folly of my ways.
One evening I was blamelessly awaiting my turn in a queue at one of these malls I briefly stepped out to pinch the cheek of a bonny infant, who although ensconced in the safety of a shopping cart, was assuredly not part of a Get One free scheme. This was to the general merriment of all--the baby beamed, the proud mother grinned and even the father, loaded with his monthly paraphernalia managed a wry smile. On getting back into the queue, I found a snickering youth, who had been behind me, now ahead in the battlelines of Life along with his snickering friend. At first I though this was a mild error on his part and he would cede to the army of righteous lawfulness and get back to position.
But such are the vicissitudes of Life—he unashamedly stood his ground, and my countenance, which was till then filled with the milk of human kindness, curdled. I threw the errant duo meaningful glances, and was returned by baleful glares. Realizing the rampant recidivism of Gen Next, I manfully conquered an urge to let matters lie and took action --by stepping forward in the queue and executing the shoulder push of my dreams—natural, effortless, compact and effective, as the bloke almost keeled over. What expression he wore when he got up cannot be recounted as I had returned to pinch the other cheek of the aforesaid bonny infant. Now the roles were reversed, the baleful glares were now my prerogative and the other party was turgid with impotent rage and righteous indignation.
I am innocent, My Lord….
The following day, on a bus that purportedly traverses the longest route in Mumbai, I unexpectedly got a seat early and was on the verge of nodding off when I espied a commuter who met with my chauvinist ideals of gallantry (as opposed to chivalrous) , a middle-aged lady, evidently tired.. Even as I got up to let her have my place, another opportunistic commuter, a la Butragueno, pounced, and was halfway to perching himself, till I managed to ward the threat off, getting my left hand in the way, blocking him off and bearing his not-inconsiderable weight, till the seat was restored to its rightful occupant.
Not bad---I had ensured Justice….with my bare hands, twice over.
Friday, June 03, 2005
THE PERFORMING FLEA CONTEST
The Scripps/National Geographic gang holds an annual jamboree, much on the lines of the Camel Fair at Pushkar, elephant race near Guruvayoor, or the donkey parade at Vautha. Of course, since America appears to have less feathered and furred friends than India ( Ed: But, more animal instincts !) , they use preternatural and precocious brats instead.
Unlike our f.and f. f., who are prodded and cajoled into putting their best feet forward (sic)only on D-Day, these pestilential kids-,professed nerds, are painfully aware of expectations upon their slumped shoulders throughout the year, and strain every sinew to win the coveted Bee contest ( Ed-where those who lose are peremptorily asked to buzz off !). Dictionaries, verbal Vernier Calipers, wordy treadmills form the diverse arsenal that these children employ for training. They are also helped by local and mofussil pageants, which accord further opportunities to hone their skills (sic).
Children of PIOs tend to do well in these events, aided by insufferable parents who endeavour to shape their own thwarted dreams by foisting laundry loads of ambition on their progeny, who acquire an eerie verisimilitude to the star attractions of Vautha. Expectedly, most of these children wear ponderous glasses, a sulky mien, a podgy appearance and live their lives vicariously.
Why the media madmen of India behave as if they have a bee in their bonnets, on encountering these “successes” abroad is beyond me. I refuse to believe that there is anybody who can be an Indian American; either one is Indian, or one is American. I find it difficult to bask in any reflected glory “earned” by those who have willfully chosen to live elsewhere.
So Anurag, Samir, Aliya and all you drones, Scat or I’ll sting you !
Bhanvara badaa naadaan hai
Bagiyan ka mehmaan hai
Phir bhi jaane naa jaane naa jaane naa….