Friday, June 26, 2009 0 reflections

Michael Jackson's death: The end of an era

So I am at the metro station today and a gleaming LCD display shows something in Danish. It has Michael Jackson’s photograph on it and I immediately assume ‘Whacko Jacko’ is making a trip to Copenhagen thanks to my serious limitations with the Danish language. I then come into work, as always, and go to Times of India to see what chaos is breaking loose in my blessed nation when, it hits me like a ton of bricks – Michael Jackson is dead. I immediately find myself saying, despite never having been a hardcore fan of the big MJ – ‘O shoot! Damn….!’ I then spend the next few minutes reading the article and letting this absolute surprise sink into me. There is something about this news that just doesn't fit. Michael Jackson is not supposed to die. I am not sure why, but it just doesn't fit.

I guess it is with this unnerving stab of unprecedented wonder that the entire world (or at least most part of it) will react to the sudden exit of Michael. As a teen I still remember going crazy about the bass heavy beats of his ‘Thriller’, ‘Bad’, ‘Dangerous’ albums that somehow seemed to ooze with the ache of a human being who genuinely cared for others. Like him or hate him you could never ignore him – a cliché that has been oft used with over hyped and ridiculously revered B-City demi-Gods. But sadly, not one of them had either the magnetic appeal or the worldwide recognition like Michael did. If not for anything else, he will definitely be missed for being that one singular idol who, despite the variations of his life in the last decade, was always making news for all sorts of reasons. I am sure there are millions still out there who admired him and stood by him in times when he was accused of a dozen heinous crimes. Good, bad and ugly – Michael had seen them all.

There was a certain sense of being surreal that he always pulled off with aplomb. A factor that inspired various dancing styles (like the moonwalk), a dozen flashy attires and even the crotch grabbing frenzy that became synonymous with being able to dance like him. Our own local celebs like Prabhudeva and even Govinda for that matter were often compared, albeit quite unfairly, with Michael since that was the sort of benchmark he had created for himself. I say unfairly since I have always believed that any form of art is truly subjective. Each one has its own flair, its own charisma and its own worth. A fact that we Indians rarely acknowledge.

But then that is that. After half a century of what is easily one of the most eventful lives of our times, the King is dead. An era of what was possibly a historic time for music in humankind's existence, is now over. The man who was possibly the most favored piñata of the media who never missed a chance to bash him up till he was shivering with pain, is now going to be once again their feed for one last time. But all I hope now is that even in this untimely departure the King has taken, there is still some sense of respect that is given to his life and his achievements. One cannot weigh Michael against the scandals because rarely has there been a celeb who hasn’t been involved in anything outrageous. Heck, isn’t that why they are called that? But even so, I think its time to turn our backs to the stage, grab our groins and sweep back in the moon walk one last time saying ‘Michael, you will be missed you crazy freak.’

I am reminded of a popular joke we used to have in school that even after a nuclear holocaust the only two things that would survive would be a cockroach and Michael. I guess the roach won.

Rest in peace Mike.

One of my all time MJ favorites - JAM!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009 0 reflections

How did BNP sir become a partisan to a global scare?

For long I had resisted the temptation to pen this but given the exuberant spate of tabloid spills about the topic, I just had to get it in black & white. But before I spell forth my rather irrelevant musing, I am reminded of that beloved old chap who taught us English back in my days of ironed uniforms, nervous dictations and Parachute oiled hairdos. (On an equally amusing side note: I still don’t get why a coconut hair oil brand would be labeled ‘Parachute’ when it has nothing to do with either the tree or the hair! Is the company telling us that this oil is the ‘life saver’ for hair like a parachute is for life? Or is it that the gaudy brilliance of the oil will ensure our hairdo remains intact even if we jump off a plane with a parachute on? I can’t help but think that if that indeed be the case, our hairstyle will be the last thing we would care about. Ah well, moving on.) We used to call him ‘BNP sir’ for as long as I can remember without realizing the man actually had a nice elongated name which I now forget. I am tempted to say probably BN Padmanabhan but well, I am sure I am miserably uncertain there as well.

Anyway, the only reason even today, after close to two decades, I still remember BNP is because of his colorfully verbose feedbacks to the versions of Caesar or Macbeth we used to religiously hand in on a regular basis. His devoted South Indian upbringing, while palpable with the prominent red exclamation mark on his forehead, had somehow made it impossible for him not to call a student everything he wouldn’t eat – monkey, dog, donkey, swine (this being his favorite!) etc. It was common knowledge that if someone got stuck with one of these titles, then it was obvious that BNP was close to ripping off the author’s head that had inadvertently unleashed such monstrosity upon the world of words. My years of elementary education of Shakespeare were thus spent understanding that the word ‘swine’ was possibly the worse thing one human being could call the other. Needless to say, life later on taught me otherwise. So, reader, this was about BNP for now. I will catch up with our old mate a little while later.

Now let us return from this minor detour on to how BNP became an unsuspecting partisan to a theory I have. For years now there has been a curious pattern I have noticed emerge every time we have disrespected prominent members of the animal, bird and insect world. Among them, primarily, is the mosquito. We not only are hell bent on wiping off its blood sucking race but also use the revered insect in songs that demean other members of our diversely personified species. Much like that B-City song which claimed that one such pest could make you a eunuch. Not the best metaphor in my books but nevertheless a rendition that caught our fancy temporarily. So, to make things equal, these little pests that had been murdered generously since the beginning of time got their vengeance in a dozen different ways. Malaria, dengue, yellow fever et al. Then we moved on and began smashing off Lord Ganesha’s much adored disciple – the mouse (do read up about Lord Kroncha to know why exactly the elephant headed one ended up with such an unlikely escort). Just the mere hint of one of these in our homes and we are standing on table tops poised to remove this troublemaker while acknowledging that the God he serves so humbly, according to our own admittance, is a trouble healer. This probably could classify as the height of divine irony. So, after a million unplanned deaths, the little fellows brought with them plague, rat bite fever, meningitis et al. Again, ailments that wiped off almost half of Europe! Our next target to ensure our superiority over the races continued was the meekly moving cow. We prayed to it, slaughtered it, decorated it, milked it till it fell off its feet, used it in verbal abuse for the feminine kind and even drank its liquid refuse in hopes to cleanse our sins. It returned with a vengeance to kill off its own kind as the mad cow disease and sent shivers down every cow eater’s arrogant spine. We were not done yet: we then targeted the next best thing to roasted beef – spicy chicken. Everything from labeling cowardice with its name to brazenly chomping on its delicious legs and devouring its unborn on our steaming omelettes took place (and continues to!) with unrelenting aplomb. But then how long could the scary-easy flightless creature take it? An equally delicious stab of avian flu peppered itself across the planet leaving millions of defenseless birds out of our kitchens for good. Again, disrespect reigned supreme as the arrogance of humans continued to loom large.

And then we come back to feedback friendly BNP. After this havoc of a decade, I am reminded of his one choice word that is now making front page news – ‘Swine’. His five years of (at least containing my blessed attendance) inexorable fuming with every kid who ever denied him the pleasure of appreciating the bard’s genius, seems to be hole punching the globe bit by bit each passing sun. ‘This is ridiculous work I say! Lazy old swine! How about paying more attention in the classroom!’ he would scream into our dumbfounded faces that shivered from under an intact mop of oily organization. And so, millions more like him I am sure, have forever disregarded and given this animal the least possible benefit in the history of mankind. For that, here it is now. Back with the complete weapon to demand retribution. With each newspaper reading I see the number of Swine Flu patients rising steadily in every part of the world. While the other members of the non human clan either attacked us directly or one another, the swine family has decided to let us get infected without their presence at all. Sort of like the ape origin based HIV that still continues to loom large on the planet.

Another carefully plotted revenge drama. Another redemption sought by means best left to rather drastic seeming theories like this one! Hence, the next time you call someone an ass, watch it. Who knows what sort of reprisal our silent slaves are planning! And also, don’t forget to blame folks like BNP for the subtle little role they played in disrespecting another life form without any provocation from it. Considering how we are always reminded to give guru dakshina, I am sure he can use a little consignment of our “thank you” notes in return to his contribution to this epidemic. Of course, if he is still alive, that is. Thanks a lot, BNP sir!

Phew. Alright, I am done.

Saturday, June 20, 2009 3 reflections

[Father's Day] - About a not so 'Mahatma' Gandhi

Father's Day - yet another day we have come to appreciate thanks to the West. Now, sure, it is only natural that we celebrate this day honoring the many achievements and feats of our adoring fathers. The ones who cleaned our behinds as an infant and our mess as teens. The ones who treated us with a strict hand while becoming our friends once our footwear sizes became the same. Our good old daddies.

But then, much like I had done on Mother's Day (where I had penned a piece on the eldest Kaunteya) I couldn't help think of those who didn't exactly get it the way they'd have expected on Father's Day too. While most of them had issues that went beyond anything that could be controlled, there were those who never could step out of their father's large looming shadows. One such character of tragic irony, is Harilal Gandhi - the first son of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. After doing some research on both Harilal and our esteemed Mahatma I decided to pen something that would bring these two controversial figures together. The scene depicted here is in the final moments of Harilal as he lies dying from a liver disease. Harilal died just a few months after Gandhi's assasination and this piece - 'O father where art thou?' - is an attempt to look at what might have possibly been his final moments like.

I hope you enjoy reading it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009 2 reflections

The asexual tongue fight

As melancholic as this seems, I can’t help revisiting it ever so often. Maybe it is because I keep encountering that O so blessed crowd who keep lashing out their strained idioms peppered with the twists and twangs of words they learnt either sitting behind a desk somewhere or from another tongue that ethnically owns it. I am not quite certain. But nevertheless, its consistent recurrence in my multi layered life, which in the past has had me wondering in awe, now makes me guffaw in disbelief. Tch tch!

So here it is then without further ado: All those who think they can use a forged intonation and get away with it – you are miserably misguided. And the worst of them are that pristine clan I belong to – desis. But before I begin pointing out why this ill mannered barrage of attempts vexes my thinking muscles, let me identify the symptoms. So you have this O so à la mode desi gent or lady: Hip in the purest form of its usage implying a well honed sense of dressing and a very well trained eye to catch the faintest glimpse of anything alien. The moment you attempt to strike a conversation with them (and trust me, dear muse, it isn’t easy to get them started but O then it is impossible to get them to stop...) you usually get the cold shoulder. Reason? Your angrezi is still laced with the strong curry-like essence of your desi roots. Instance: Punjabis speak English like Punjabi. Bengalis speak English like Bengali…you get the drift. Given the brazen abundance of dialects our country has, it is little wonder then that mastering the language of our previous masters (yeah yeah, I had planned that one) comes with its authentic shade of home-grown exuberance too. These are the folks I admire the most. The yeest aar wayst butt maai Emgleesh eez daa besst! kind. People who are unafraid to belt out their well timed wunderrfull or staap or draamaa or whaat yaar and of course, the more popular camaan mann. No Sir. We are the kind who doesn’t care where your tongue is from but your ear has to record and decipher whatever sounds our tongues are spewing forth. Get busy! These are the people who have my eternal respect for their timeless adherence to their ancestry regardless of how many eons they might have spent away from it. Salaam!

But then there are the rebels. The laat sahibs without the necessary training. Their aggresive need to blend into the new culture is so fierce that they stick out like a sore thumb the moment they open their mouths. The ones I could call the so-glad-to-be-the-NRI-that-I-still-think-having-an-accent-makes-sense kind. The ones who will ensure that irrespective of their current destination, their English is always either A for American or B for British. Either they are mauling their tongues with their O my! That’s not so great now is it! Or ensuring that their r’s always have the prototypical rrrr drag that American English is unique for. This is not a problem. So far nothing here coaxes me to roll my eyes and say 'Give it up guys. I know you were not born here. Quit the act. It is just pathetic.'

What does get to me though is how they, accidentally or instinctively of course, stuff in classic desi sounding words into their sentences while speaking fast enough to avoid their audience from picking it up! Clever, eh! Like for instance: You know! It was the best cay-bin we could have wanted inside that cruise boat! Aha! Cay-bin? Not only is the sentence arguably askew in its grammar but what is with the random annunciation of the word cabin! Initially I used to always wonder about these bizarre seeming instances during my spring days overseas and during my colorful conversations with these since-I-have-been-overseas-for-two-years-hence-my-accent types. But with time I realized just how hopelessly clueless and eternally shallow these people really were. The façade of trying to tell me with their tongue that they ‘no longer could speak Indian English’ was over. Too old.

It was after such horrifying revelations, that I slowly walked away from such phony stereotypes who not only would make a mockery of their own good self but also of the clan they represented. I could almost hear the Caucasian natives giggling in solitude about the miscued attempt at the ‘accent exchange program’ these guys had going on. Recently I have, unfortunately, resumed my run-ins with this blessed crowd and so I had to find a way to tell them ‘Fine! I get it. You are still one of those moronic NRIs who will never master the local tongue that feeds you but will always Americanize your English punctuating it with cay-bins and marrrketts and that one word I loathe the most – my darling hubbeee. Yuck. Stop it please. I beg of you.

The only moment in memory I have of this rant of mine backfiring was when a Middle Eastern-American woman (meaning an immigrant who, wanting to get the hell out of her awful nation, somehow got hitched with a Yank and fled it years ago only to go back there from time to time to show off her borrowed accents and furrowed accessories) complimented me on my English with her own eerie version of the language. She thought I was educated in Britain thanks to my pronunciation while I, admittedly a tad flattered, confessed that India had indeed been the source of my wunderfull English.

Sigh. So much for the asexuality factor of this tongue fight. What say man? Sad no yaa?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009 0 reflections

Want justice in India? Get raped by a celeb.

Hypocrisy and India are like illegitimate children sprung from an awkward consummation between two diabolic parasites. The moment the sub-continent got cut at its umbilical cord in ‘47, so did the sense of everything else that once made any sort of sense. Among them, was our understanding of who gets noticed and why. Even if it means in a context as grotesque as violating a woman’s honor. This, from a land that can’t stop going blue in the face with incessant browbeating about it being that cultural nest where ‘woman is God’. Bah! What a load of steaming fresh horse dung!

Take the lackluster (pun intended!) fate that a certain ‘Shiney’ B-City chap is currently going through. No sooner had the victim of his wile libido (or so we are told!) sniffed her way into the police station with her tears emerging from behind moist lashes laced with atomic hints of a certain famous film wallah’s climactic essence, the entire nation was rubbed in the face with unprepared seeming nervous correspondents standing in front of garishly audacious bungalows screaming speculations into their microphones. Amid this horrid cacophony laced with the humdrum of loud human emotions was buried that O-too-obvious query – Why? For the sake of all that is good and pure…why?

Why was it that a crime that the country has witnessed since time immemorial was suddenly being shouted into deafening loudspeakers just because a known face was involved? Why is this victim more important than those tens of thousands of nameless faceless and, now, honor-less (some lifeless!) girls who lost the toes on their feet to the frostbite that ate into them by the administration’s frozen attitudes? Is it not shameful that such a heinous crime becomes front page news just because it has a known name attached to it like an unwanted finger? This – right here – is where India can never claim to be a ‘developed nation’. A classic case of misplaced ideologies sits bare like the shame of that unfortunate woman right here. This moment, this sentence. A point in time where the governing bodies burp out regulations to the commoners who go to hell and back while feeding fresh strawberries to the ‘alleged famous’ while telling the world – ‘O but they are being treated like the rest! Like common people!’

Are they? If they were then why is this rape incident major news? Should it also not have disappeared in that minuscule five line small print in the seventh page of that unknown daily with minimal readership? If they were then should not the reporters make this a spicy Page 3 item and brush it off as just another part of their hedonistic lives where they get to play the divine role of choosing what is worth our ears and what is not? If they were then shouldn’t this ‘Shiney’ chap be roaming around trying to find a good lawyer to fight for him so that he doesn’t get his derriere rammed into in the darkness of the rat infested prison cells haunted by the memories darker than the night? Given the coverage he has received in the last 48 hours, it is suffice to say – there is nothing ‘common’ about it. Never has been. Never will be.

It is in this deep seeded double standard that the difference between the India that is and the India that the world is being told about stands naked like a wailing orphan next to a canine friendly garbage mound. The stink it raises here is far too obvious to our trained nostrils. It is here that we frown, nod our heads disbelievingly and say ‘BS! Had this fellow not been a poster boy for so long then none of this would have even reached the ear of his own neighbor. Let alone the entire nation.’

I really don’t care what happens in this case. At the risk of being portrayed as someone who doesn’t care for a girl’s honor (Shame! Blasphemy!) my real concern is with the extremely skewed context behind this mess. Is the girl telling the truth? Did he really do it? Or is he the victim of some bizarre ploy and getting pounded meaninglessly amid two dozen photographers trying to take a picture of his innocent eyes? Or is this all a disgusting set up to get him into the public eye just before the release of his next B-City venture? I don’t give a damn. My trouble is that I suddenly feel shortchanged that I belong to a country where being raped by a celebrity is the only way to get anything remote to ‘justice’.


Sunday, June 14, 2009 0 reflections

A word to the Indian Cricket 'fan'

Alright. So the Indian bid to retain their ‘World Championship’ of the T20 Cricket cup is over. I, for one, actually am not too bothered by it since I had somehow seen it coming. Maybe it was the ridiculously inhumane and robotic schedule that money mongers like Modi Inc. made for our youngsters to slave their bottoms off at the IPL. Or maybe that we, the cricket crazy janta, have somehow managed to replace our cricketers of flesh and bones to be metamorphosed into mere sources for our perverse and rabid entertainment. Something to scream and cuss at with our own beer bellies hanging loose over crowded plates of buttered tandoori chicken while carelessly passing judgments on everyone. Either way my premonition has come true. The Indian cricket team, thanks to either overworked schedules or over-hyped media frenzy, has rightfully gotten out of this rat race.

The one thing which does bother me, though, is this. Now, I have had my share of globe trotting and sure, I have taken in my share of sports around the world. But nowhere have I seen the kind of extremist emotion towards a sport like we do in India. If the team wins, they have the best combination of batsmen and bowlers going to bat and bowl at the right times and heck, we will even applaud the fellow who takes an easy catch as the 12th man. Huzzah! All is well with our lives as we go around patting each other on the back and claiming to be number one. But if, O for the love of all that is Holy and Divine, if…that same team with the same batting and bowling order happens to lose a game – well well well. We just about cuss their entire family tree without a single shred of remorse in those very eyes that cried tears of joy on their victory.

Now with the boon that the Internet has transformed into, we have found a way to let it fly. Back in the days when there was no source for us to vent out our anger, we used to choose our friends, colleagues and other people in our radius to blow off the steam. But no…India is too clever now. Now we go out of our way to hide behind pseudo-names and throw large bricks of filthy lingo towards the same set of humans who we had given the demi-God status not less than a week ago with garlands of flower around their posters. The only difference is the same garland has been strewn with slippers and boot polish.

What does this say about us? Does it mean that we are so hopelessly inconsistent with our definition of ‘team support’ that the words we choose to express ourselves with keeps shifting from ‘Hail thy Holy name blessed one!’ to ‘To hell with thy mother and every other seed born from her unholy nether region!’? Does it not bother us that the levels to which we will ‘express’ our anger goes beyond human decency? If so, then how can we call this ‘team support’? Shouldn’t a real fan be someone who appreciates the game, applauds the spirit of it, accepts the team’s short comings and wishes them the best for the next attempt? Shouldn’t a genuine follower be someone who understands the kind of pressure those 11 odd boys would be under as millions of eyes stare fixedly at their every move – judging them, labeling them, criticizing them, cussing them and worse, disrespecting their every effort? Shouldn’t a real enthusiast of the team and game find the character to shrug off the defeat and say ‘Ah well. There is always tomorrow’ and move on while trying to see what went wrong and how it can be addressed? How can we possibly sit at our computer screens and decide who should have gone at 1 down or 4 down when we haven’t played even a single International game ourselves? Is just spending some time of our otherwise mundane life to watch the game enough to give us the right to spit shamelessly at these boys who are out there representing – well, US! Is that what democracy really means? To be given the freedom to treat our sportsmen like Gods one day and garbage the next? I don’t know what the answer is, but it just seems wrong. It seems radically askew a theory that just doesn’t fit into the scheme of things that India is so jingoistic about all the time.

I was reading somewhere on a blog that the reason why cricket has become such a big deal in India is because of its escapist relief giving mechanism that allows a hungry, frustrated, tired, vain, disgusted and absolutely hopeless individual to find some momentary respite in his/her life. Sometimes I feel that is still the gloomy truth. That there still exists that vein in our country that looks for cricket (and trust me, no other sport has this level of allure in India) as a medicine to heal its many many wounds by subjecting those 11 men to the acid test out of which they either come out unscathed or as charred carcasses.

There was a time when, as a youngster, I always wondered how cool it would be to be a part of the Indian cricket team. Ah! The glory! But after having read the many colorful abuses of ‘fans’ on several message boards and blogs with their own shade of cut throat criticism, I find myself throwing myself at God thanking Him that He didn’t give me the chance to be anywhere near that hell hole. A spot of unabridged monstrosity that is such a rollercoaster ride that I genuinely salute those brave boys who go out there day in day out and sweat off their skin to keep us happy. To keep us proud and smiling. To be one of those few Indians who actually managed to do something more than just hurl abuses at one another while wiping off chicken grease from their wrinkled shirts. In that minute essence of their presence and in that small spot light of courage – I salute their spirit. It is there, that winning and losing loses definition. It is there, that a team supporter goes beyond just shouting at sixes and spitting at run outs and becomes a constant source of energy from where the boys can find rejuvenation the next time they enter the battlefield. It is then, only then, can Indian teams of every sport find a reason to perform better each time.

Until then, let the verse party continue.

Saturday, June 13, 2009 0 reflections

Like son, like father?

Here is something new! I still remember the day when dad had called me up at midnight and told me I had been featured in the Deccan Herald for O boy! I was so happy that day just to note the joy and pride that was spilling out of dad's voice. Today, I get to share something similar.

Not much of a writer per say, my dad, still always has a way with words. As a matter of fact he is so prolific (thanks to the 35 years in central government and the countless episodes ranging from the tastefully hilarious to the deeply disturbing) that I have always contemplated writing a book on him. I even discussed it with him and who knows, God willing, it will come true some day. Nevertheless, he managed to follow his son's steps (Honor is mine! Indeed!) and got published in the daily! Here is a clipping from the Deccan Herald dated July 11, 2009,Pg 10 where his response to the recent spate of attacks on young Indians in Australia was published. A proud moment for me when my father's word is in print! Way to go dad! :-)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009 0 reflections

Good grief!

My suspicions of this dark yet inevitable moment had finally come true. All those sporadic seeming instances of winking back I had received over the months had now culminated into one lethal, ill-timed of course, concoction that was determined to cajole the one thing I hold dearer than life itself – my cozy routine. Ah! The pain! From the shackles of silence comes that euphoric chant rising itself to horizons new and showers down several generous drops of sharp, needle-like, moments of absolute misery.

But let me start from the beginning. It all started a few months ago, when the initial signs occurred. Right from the moment I had suspected a possible battery problem to the moment I actually saw my laptop’s monitor finally blink itself to blackened death – I had always known I would be caught on the wrong foot. And so settling down in an exuberant anticipation of a much awaited four day weekend, the zeal of idling away my time browsing absolutely meaningless junk on the Net was just so tempting! Funny videos! Chat! StickCricket! Email! But then, somewhere between the hours of 11 and 12 on Happy Day Number One – poof! Initially I felt that the laptop had gone into ‘hibernation’ (I am always amused at how we humans have successfully transformed our lives to start thinking of a computer as just another organ vital for our petrified existence) and tried tapping meaninglessly on the fading mouse pad. Nothing. No light. No more winks. The much looked forward to odyssey of getting on that ship to ‘Nothingness’ for four glorious days had suddenly found death – an abrupt and unceremonious one at that. A death that, like any other, needed to be dealt with appropriately. And so – I underwent the five classic stages of such grieving – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and of course, acceptance.

Denial was the easiest. As I rapidly packed the laptop back into the case and my steps earnestly got into eager-to-please slippers, I was sure that the local Tech Shop-wallah will definitely say something like ‘O! Just a case of burnt out backlight! Leave it with us and you can pick it up in a few hours.’ Ah yes. The beautifully composed orchestra that was playing my favorite tune already in my head – ‘Your laptop is going to be fine. Everything is A-OK. Just a few hours and your life will be back on track!’ But no. Not only was I told that they did not service adhoc laptops not bought from their store (mine was bought Back Home in the summer of 2006) but they also mentioned that this sort of work would take at least a week. Bah! I spat at their ridiculousness and headed off to the other Tech Shop I knew was sure to bail me out of this quicksand I had inadvertently walked into. Nothing there. The store was closed. Long weekends for business too? Shameful! Shameful!

Anger followed. I was mad. Very mad. ‘F#%K THIS!’ I found my lungs croaking out. ‘This dumb stupid F#$* had to die on me NOW! Just at the start of this sunny, delicious and decadently laid out array of free time! Noooo….!’ I stormed back to my apartment steaming in fury. That phase lasted about an hour. Well alright. Maybe two. Few more switches were turned on as I panicked and tried to coax the screen back to life. Breathe damn it! Breathe!

Humph. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Just the iterative scheme of helpless black outs.

‘Alright God’, I said finally giving up. ‘I’ll tell you what we’ll do here. Since this unexpected curse has been cast upon me, why don’t you make my weekend even brighter and sunnier, so that I just forget about this f—king piece of s—t that died on me…’ and some such. A prayer was uttered and a blessing was requested. Bargaining had taken place without so much as a whisper.

After a solid four hours – it finally began. A viciously depressing wave of helplessness. A sense of immense loss and vicious disconnection. A sense of being alone on an island like that fellow on ‘Cast Away’ without even a freakin’ basketball for company!

I sat watching some God forsaken television show for a good thirty two minutes. Yuck! It was so bad I had to unplug the power cable of the tube just to avoid encountering any more flavors of its ghastliness. I tried flipping through an old copy of a colorful ‘Jughead Double Digest’. Ho-hum! Well…the same gibes by that crowned goon with his arms loaded with hamburgers and other equally gluttonous gastronomy. I tried drowning myself with Rushdie. Gawd! Do I hate myself? Why on Earth would I subject myself to Rushdie to kill time? Reading him will only make me more confused about what I was doing to begin with! (Well, of course, cynicism aside, I must admit that he has written some bearable work.) Yet – depression continued. I slept a lot more than I normally do. At times it was weird to have had a deep slumber between 4:22PM and 4:37PM. I began to wonder if even time had started playing games with me! All this on Happy Day Number One – 3 more days to go!

And then came the final inevitable stage. I made up a routine of long well cooked meals, some well placed siestas, a strict regime of reading Rushdie after all (well, yes. I had only one novel I hadn’t read yet and that was ‘The Moor’s Last Sigh’) for about an hour, some chosen tele-watching and yes – a walk to the metro station and back. Slowly, but surely, I tiptoed my way patiently until Tuesday.


First thing Tuesday morning I ran to my colleague’s busy feet and explained my hapless scenario and the ordeal of a computer/Internet/life-less existence for the past four days. Thanks to his generosity I am now able to document this grief-laced past using an external monitor. Sure, it’s slightly uncomfortable to type on the laptop and watch my words on a bigger, much bigger, monitor but hey – it finally brought me back my nothingness right? Cheers to that!


Saturday, June 06, 2009 0 reflections

A book about 'Sharam'

The controversy surrounding the reign and relationship of late Prime Minister of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his Commander-In-Chief at the time, Zia-Ul Haq has captured the imagination of the world for a long long time. I had heard vague stories about this conflict as a boy but had never really understood what had ensued before and after the successful coup that Zia undertook, overthrowing Bhutto and becoming the President of Pakistan himself. This was one of the primary points of attraction that led me to read Salman Rushdie’s book, aptly titled, ‘Shame’.

Released in 1983, ‘Shame’ revolves around the lives of similar characters with very identical stories with a good amount of ‘RR’ – Rusdhie Realism – thrown in. The book opens with the life of Omar Khayyam, a boy borne to three sisters who live in a fortress like mansion in Nishapur (interestingly the same place the actual poet Umar Khayyam was born) somewhere on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The sisters have locked themselves away from the world and use a contraption known as ‘The Dumb Waiter’ to correspond with the planet outside for their daily needs – rice, vegetables et al. Growing up in a sequestered wall-fort like this one, Omar is fed with the strong sense of void and a bizarre sense of issues (including vertigo and lack of self confidence) by the 3 sisters – Chunni, Munni and Bunny – out of which no one knows who the real mother is. Despite the boundaries that confine this Mowgli of a fellow, he continues feeding himself all the literature, arts and science he can find in books lying around the dusty closets. He masters several languages and becomes a self-taught scholar but he knows, he just knows, that he will become an anthill if he continues to stay with his mothers. With great effort he finally retaliates and tells them he needs to get out, much to their shock and surprise.

"Horrified maternal gasps. Six hands fly to three heads and take up hear-no-see-no-speak-no-evil positions."

They reluctantly let him go out and attend school from where he moves on to pursue medicine and becomes an immunologist. It is when he reaches Karachi, that he befriends the playboy millionaire Iskander Harappa (Isky – Bhutto) who is married to Rani Humayun. Also in this mix is General ‘Old Razor Guts’ – Raja Hyder (Zia) is an army hero who is married to Bilquis Kemal. After a shocking stillbirth (where the baby is strangulated by the umbilical cord), Bilquis bears two daughters – Sufia Zinobia Hyder (also called ‘Shame’) and Naveed Hyder (also called ‘Good News’)

The theme of shame continues as Sufia suffers a brain fever as a child and is clinically labeled as mentally challenged. She, as it turns out, thus becomes the receiving pot of all the shamefulness and shamelessness that the family has to offer, absorbing all of it within her until that sleeping subconscious of Sufia becomes an uncontrollable beast that rips off heads of turkeys and attacks Naveed’s groom on her wedding day. To keep a check on her behavior, Raza takes Omar’s help who ends up falling in love with this woman with a child’s brain.

Elsewhere, an awakening is taking place. On his 40th birthday Isky decides to put past him the flamboyancy of his money throwing years and follows his call for the nation. He forms the ‘Popular Front’ (as in PPP) and is idolized by his daughter Arjumound Harappa (also called ‘Virgin Ironpants’ given her obstinate will to reject men forever).

The story then follows a similar pattern based on actual events. Isky becomes the Prime Minister of the nation and does everything possible to ensure that the diplomats, the ambassadors, the other attaches are kept under his strong thumb. An approach some see as being down right dictatorial. It is in such headiness that Isky promotes Raza as the CIC despite the fact that Raza has several seniors above him. Given Raza’s non-political demeanor, Isky’s calculation is that he will have nothing to worry about. And this is where, as we have seen, Isky goes horribly wrong. Plagued with the fathering of ‘Shame’ in his own house, Raza starts getting annoyed at the way Isky goes about handling the system. Isky’s rude obnoxious attitude and a mouth that can spew out several foul creatures at once soon starts getting on Raza’s army honed nerves. It is then, that he decides to impose Martial Law in the country by leading a coup against Isky. Isky is arrested on the charges of murdering his brother’s son (Little Mir) and is thrown into the most hideous prison cells in the world and tortured in ways unimaginable. After 2 years of this, Isky is sentenced to death by hanging although as it turns out, Rani Humayun and Arjumound do not see rope marks on his neck when they examine the body. It is revealed that one of the army generals had shot Isky in the heart thanks to Isky’s belligerent and never-say-die mind-set. A move that then heralds the beginning of a Pakistan that is headed by the base mantra of faith as Sufia prepares to finally be taken over by the Beast completely.

‘Shame’ documents a lot of facts with Rushdie’s usual tonic of magic realism. Everything from Sufia’s drastic transformation from being the blushing child-in-a-woman to the ghastly beast with yellow fire in the eyes is portrayed with chilling descriptions. At one point I actually thought of Sufia herself as being a representation of the country. Born normal – attacked by an infliction – left with an adult body but an immature brain – now looked at with suspicion and fear. A beast within a child’s soul. It was in this metaphorical tribute that I found ‘Shame’ most successful at.

What this also did, for my own sake of historical know-how, is forced me to read up whatever there is to know about the Bhutt0-Zia reign. It was interesting to see the palpating synergy Bhutto had in his speeches (videos on YouTube) and the calm composed almost regressive approach that Zia shows in footage. I sometimes found myself wondering, what indeed would have happened had Bhutto not promoted Zia up the order? Would Pakistan become a very different country from what it is now? Or was Bhutto’s approach to things so predictably askew that his downfall was only a matter of time to which Zia became a reason? I guess we will never know.

‘Shame’ is a must read for those who want to know about that critical phase which proved to be the maker/breaker of the country’s future.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009 0 reflections

Slice of Life :: Changing Lanes

Through the breezy high noon din, the kind he was now well acquainted with, came the melancholic feeling of hope. Carrying the various hues, the aroma and other vignettes of assorted memories, he got into the metallic snake that had hissed itself to an indolent stop. The capsule he had chosen was inhabited by just one other passenger, he noted. A young petite blonde in a red sweater with downcast eyes; the kind you’d have a hard time distinguishing if there was a book on her person, or a cellular device or, worse – maybe she was asleep! Eyes and their tricks, he thought to himself as he settled down facing her, several rows away, with giant cushion seats enveloping everything else except her face.

Soon the snake yawned out of its momentary respite and caught pace, pushing itself past the complacent traffic that followed its rails. It flew past metal poles, cheap graffiti by ambitious vandals and several meadows of lush greens mixed with majestic browns. In his mind’s eye, he could still see the girl. Sitting with her eyelids covering the mysticism that probably were resident behind their alluring shades.

And then just like that - his mind began to go astray. Like a lovesick Koel calling out to its non-existent mate. Koo! Koo! In the flickering shadows of light and lighter, he could see her immaculate beauty now. That slender neck, positioned aesthetically over her tender shoulders. That slightly pointed nose that held a subtle yet distinctive ear-ring on one of its sides. Those locks! O the magical spells they bound him by. The way they entwined against one another, forming gorgeously silky coils that seemed to catch the bouncing rays of the sun and ooze them slowly all across the isolated bogie’s emptiness. A haven, he reflected, that was capturing both their souls within its emotionless cocoon-like umbrella. O, a time that is truly to be treasured, he observed allowing himself to desire her.

He noted he was in the ‘Quiet Zone’ yet his heart was making a dozen noises. Melodies of sorts that could only be heard by the instrument of his silent eyes. Tunes, he hoped, he could give that feminine divinity who sat a few rows away from him, taunting him into restlessness with nothing more than just her anonymity. Rhythms came to his lips that were being manufactured with each passing second from the lyrical radiations of her glowing face. ‘O lovely creature’, he said to himself with his pathetically laced adherence to the reality of needs. ‘What shall I name thee?’ he continued imagining her splendor in his arms. Holding him. Loving him back.

The metallic gear driven adder, now shifting lanes with its thud and crackle, approached its next provisional halt. A feminine robotic voice crooned the name of the stop over the audio equipment that pierced its way even into the ‘Quiet Zone’. And on hearing this – she finally opened her eyes.

For a moment the ambiance was filled with the euphoria of her grace. That sluggish unhurriedness with which she picked up her handbag. That languid enchantment with which she got up to leave and that…

He looked away suddenly. Looked at his watch nervously. 02:49PM. Looked away once more and resisted all temptations to subdue the unforeseen flair of his carnal desires this chance encounter had brought upon him. From the corner of his eye, he saw that flawless allure of his fleeting ambition disembark with an extremely loaded stomach that would get a physician’s touch anytime soon.

And just like that – it was all over. Until, of course, another one walked in and sat right across him. This time, though, he continued looking away.


Tuesday, June 02, 2009 0 reflections

'Moor' than required?

True. I have read quite a bit of Rushdie. In fact from everything he has written I have probably read more than 50% of it. And yes. I have immensely enjoyed the whimsical liberties he takes with his audience – be it in prose or in the stitching together of a scene that – and this has to be said: sometimes turns out less surprising than what you’d have probably expected from him. True: I know I am not reading a spy novel, but still. A dash of tangy twist never hurt anyone, Sir. Also true: Rushdie isn’t the greatest when it comes to unexpected turns like some of the other authors (well, the classics being O Henry and the like) I have come across. But if ever there was an author who could pen down words you’d have never heard of – Rushdie is your man. If not for nothing else, I sincerely urge you to pick up a Rushdie just for the sheer headiness with which he makes one entire paragraph get to print without using a single full stop. A habit I find myself getting used to these days. A dangerous habit, I must confess.

With that little bit about SR, we come to his work ‘The Moor’s Last Sigh’. This book was originally released in ’95 and took me over a decade to get around to reading it because well, it just did. One of the reasons I am currently catching up with the backlog of Rushdie’s work may have been a result of the exuberant egging on that ‘The Enchantress of Florence’ gave me with its unique combination of simple to understand Moguls and impossible to remember Italiano references!. Since then, I have not only re-read ‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’ but also I am currently reading his take on Pak and its historical journey post-Independence - ‘Shame’, which I must admit is good reading. You can expect a review on that shortly too. I also intend to re-read ‘Midnight’s Children’ since well, I need the rush of high voltage vocabulary from the mouth of Sinai once more!

‘The Moor’s Last Sigh’ is segmented into 4 parts – ‘A house divided’, ‘Malabar Masala’, ‘Bombay Central’ and, like having a song with the title track in a music album, ‘The Moor’s Last Sigh’. The plot follows the family line of one Moraes Zogoiby also known as ‘Moor’. He is the fourth and final child of Abraham Zogoiby and Aurora da Gama, whose roots are seeded in the Christian/Jew existent region of good old coconut oiled fish-curry laced Cochin in God’s own country. They are basically a spicy family – literally, since they deal with all sorts of condiments. From cardamom to clove. From whole pepper to cumin. They’ve got it all. And the spice that runs in their blood – O brother. One look at every woman in their family and you will know who runs the ship! Right from white haired Epifania (Moor’s Gread Grand Mummy!), through to her daughter Isabella Souza and then to her tough nut of a daughter Aurora da Gama. Each of these women contain a specific din of confidence and power that, it sometimes seems, is embedded by their hereditary allegiance to all the spices!

Moor is a man with a bizarre disability – he is aging twice as fast as he should. Meaning, if he is 5 years old, his body resembles that of a 10 year old boy. So by the time he is 20, he looks like he is 40…and so on. Or as SR puts it his age is ‘2x’ – you get the point. Needless to say this leads to several interesting subplots with his anatomy and the fact that at some point he looks as old as his own mother. The base for the title comes from the tale of Boabdil (I had to look this fellow up after reading this book), who was apparently the last king of Granada. Aurora, Moor’s mother, is a gifted painter and a very serious influence in the way Moor grows up in a house with 3 elder sisters – Ini, Meeni, Myna…well, of course, and then Moor. Each of the girls meet a fate that, to put it blandly, isn’t the most ideal. Each one of them is a victim of the choices they make, much like the rest of us I suppose.

The book, through its 4 major chapters, traces the origins of the Zogoibys right from the shores of Cochin all the way to the hedonistic cocaine hub called Bombay (this is a story set in the 60s – 80s Bombay so the word ‘Mumbai’ hadn’t quite stuck yet) and then ends in a quiet little pocket of Spain called Benengeli, where Moor eventually meets his fate and takes stock of his life thus far. Moor’s journey is peppered (pun intended!) with some very strong female influences – his mother Aurora, his sisters, his first love and sex partner (his tutor Dilly Hormuz), and the maniacal crazed she ‘thing’ called Uma who seeds, successfully, the fruit of mistrust in Moor which essentially tears the family apart. Hmm…where have I heard that before? As I said, if Rushdie’s books were stripped off of all the verbal gloss, you’d find a pretty straight forward tale almost every time. That’s the one thing I’ve always felt was Rushdie’s most painful Achilles Heel.

The one thing I noticed right away about Moor’s narrator-like approach to the tale was how similar it was to ‘Midnight’s Children’ where Saleem Sinai does the same by recalling his grandparents from Kashmir and then on towards himself. But unlike Saleem’s tale, there is no major progressive connection to the nation’s story in ‘The Moor’s Last Sigh’. Rushdie is famous for this ‘magic realism’ approach which very easily blends magical contexts into a realistic scenario. Even here, that takes place almost in every page. As the reader follows the roots of Moor and how he came about to exist, we start noticing patterns of the divine, the supernatural, the inexplicable and the prophetic, all stitched into the same fabric that Moor’s reality is shown as being set against. What with his fast slipping age-disability factor (actually I never saw that aspect as a disability at all!) and the constant feminine shadows under whom Moor continues to discover his past, present and future, SR very daftly combines the themes of an India still yawning from its Independence and the dizziness with which Bombay was finally getting the unique definition we all are so proud of today. Right from its ‘Ganapati bappa maurya’ to its reverence to Bollywood with strong inclusions of Nargis (yes! From Mother India!) and her, the then beau, Dutt Sr., SR captures it all in his unique flair.

Alright: things I didn’t find too exciting – the routine deaths. There came a time when I wasn’t sure if I was reading Rushdie or G.D.Roberts’ ‘Shantaram’! What with the, almost, intense underlining of the mafia world in Bombay and its role in Moor’s life, I somehow felt at one point that the story was definitely inspired by a lot of Bollywood masala. Also, the generous injection of sex that always seems to find its way in Rushdie’s books (well maybe with the exception of ‘Haroun…’, I think…) and leaves you feeling a tad surprised at its occurance. Moor, despite his age related disability and a seriously deformed hand (of course which he uses to knock down tough blokes in rings once, and then makes a career of it) seems to be getting regular bedroom action with what one can only imagine are ‘too easy’ girls! Somewhere there, right there, I felt a tad shortchanged with Moor’s characterization given its shockingly ironic reality.

Ah well: ‘The Moor’s Last Sigh’, despite everything else, still makes for complex reading just like any other SR book. If you are looking for an appetite that needs catering in the form of Herculean metaphorical references dished out with a mélange of word soups and whimsically placed scenes, then this book is a good one. Some of his sentences, seriously, just go on and on! For a humble and ‘A-B-A-C’ reader like me it becomes a tad too hard to grasp what it was I just read. But then, as I always say, with SR, the struggle is the glory.

So here is to another struggle and another glory. A little less ‘Bollywood action’ next time, Sir? Maybe, just maybe, a few shorter sentences? And something genuinely subtle and thought provoking, albeit, with your usual dash of ‘magic realism’? Yes? Please? Pretty please? OK then. Thanks.