Monday, December 13, 2010

An ode to the Lal

It was probably not a coincidence that around the end of October, a couple of weeks before Professor Purushottam Lal passed away, I entered a bookshop in the Bangalore International airport and picked up a collection of short stories compiled by Khushwant Singh. In it was a half-fable-like, half-spoofy, wholly childlike story by the professor. I could spare the five minutes needed to read it. I smiled all through and remembered sitting in the great man's legendary study and listening to him talk about literature.
It was 2004. Having quit IT a year ago, I had managed to wrap up a half-baked novel and a collection of short stories that, I was certain, would send tremors through the publishing world. I called this collection Wiser After. Unfortunately, nobody in Delhi shared my optimism for this work. And then someone told me about Writers' Workshop. I found out the details and mailed my manuscript to WW. I didn't know that the name I wrote on the envelope (Prof P Lal) was an institution in Kolkata and, therefore, the address (162/92, Lake Gardens) was a landmark.
Less than a week later, my phone rang. On the other end was the professor himself. He introduced himself and raved about Wiser After.
'Such wonderful ideas. So sparkling. So fresh!'
That did it. Within a week, I was in Kolkata, the only Indian city that values writers more than software professionals. In fact, a family of Ghoshes in Tollygunge agreed to have me as a paying guest for a month despite not knowing me. 'Only because you're a writer,' Mr Ghosh told me, wagging his forefinger. I stayed the month because I surmised that it'd take me that much time to polish my manuscript under Prof Lal's guidance.
In the very first meeting, the professor plainly detailed out the vanity publishing model he operated. I'd have to pay for publishing the books. Production costs were high, thanks to a traditional method of printing the books and the Sambhalpuri sari cloth that was used as a cover. I didn't mind it one bit. I was certain that Simon & Schuster, Picador, Doubleday or some equally big publisher would want to acquire the rights of Wiser After.
In the meanwhile, in addition to making modifications to my stories, I visited Prof Lal, at least thrice a week, and soaked in the stimulating environment of his study. I heard him give anecdotal references to great names.
1) For instance, a young Vikram Seth had sat in that very study and discussed his seminal book of poems titled Mappings. He had reportedly even lamented the fact that no publisher seemed interested in publishing his work. Indeed, not just Seth, but other big names such as Kamala Das, Jayanta Mahapatra etc had begun their writing careers with Writers' Workshop.
2) Shashi Deshpande, Ruskin Bond, Nissim Ezekiel, Jatin Das, Siddharth Kak, Jug Suraiya, Sasthi Bratha, A. K. Ramanujam, Pritish Nandy etc have been published by WW. All accounted for, WW must have given a jump-start to at least 3000 new writers and poets, considering that it has published at least 3500 titles.
3) At least two Nobel laureates - Pearl S Buck and Gunter Grass - had visited that same study. Other notable visitors included R. K. Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand, Nirad Choudhuri and many others that the professor must have failed to mention.

The professor also spoke about other things.
a) He was always willing to talk about a mammoth project he had undertaken along with Nandini Nopany. What was this project about? An attempt to transcreate (not translate, mind you; the professor despised this word) the Mahabharata shloka-by-shloka. The work was being brought out one fascicule at a time. And by the time I arrived in Kolkata, he was transcreating the preparations for the Kurukshetra war. All the Sundays I was in Kolkata, I made it a point to attend his public reading of the transcreations at the Sanskriti Sagar Library in Ballygunge. A faithful audience awoke early enough each Sunday to hear him read and annotate his work.
b) On two separate occasions, he mentioned that he was conferred the Padma Shree not because he was a teacher-poet-transcreator-publisher-calligrapher of substance but because an influential woman - the daughter of a well-known freedom fighter - was infatuated by him.
She had good reason to be. The lanky Purushottam Lal must have been a sight to behold in his youth. His unmistakable Punjabi looks would have stood out in the Bengali landscape that was his home. You will read obituaries written by students who were mesmerized by his voice and passion, his ability to conjure metaphors at will and his in-depth knowledge of English poetry. My own most vivid visual memory of him: his fingers. Bony, long, slender and expressive. They pivoted his hands and his emotions. They flipped forward to make a point. They seemed to be crafting ideas into paper boats and prodding them to assume the right shape.

More than anything, the professor told me not to lose heart. To always pursue this difficult life of stringing words together to make a story.
I returned to Bangalore, sold Wiser After to many gullible and kind-hearted friends, friends of friends and acquaintances and somehow managed to break even. By the end of 2004, I realized how inept Wiser After really was. The ideas were still promising, but my execution of those ideas had been terribly clumsy. I had gone ahead with publishing it only because I desperately wanted to see my name in print. By mid-2005, I couldn't pick up the book without wincing. It was a lifelong lesson in humility. Never again would I love my own words so much that I'd miss noticing their glaring flaws.

Another, equally important, lesson stayed. This lesson was derived from the gushing words of encouragement Prof Lal gave me. They - those words - told me that some day in the future, more people would spot the talent languishing underneath my current lack of skills. All I had to do was to keep writing, whip myself daily, awake to the scars of yesterday and go on. Because if I do it for enough number of years, I'll whip myself less and write more.
Today, I feel as if I'm standing on the cusp of a new beginning. And this day probably would not have been possible had I not met Prof P Lal. Thank you, sir. For what it is worth, you made a mark in my life.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The murky compulsions of Indian media

I have a theory. A rather speculative one. Haven't been able to shake it off, so here goes.
Imagine yourself as a 20-something journalist in New Delhi in the early 90s. Life's a constant adrenalin rush. There's a story breaking every day (the 90s belong to a slower era). You're positioned inches away from the epicentre of it all. And slowly, but surely, news goes electronic. Not many of your colleagues have the face or the confidence to be in front of a camera. You have both, so it's time to shine.
Once you've got the basics right, it's time to formulate a lasting ideology. How do you read the landscape? Well, the Babri Masjid has come down, so you certainly know which party you do NOT like. So that's the BJP out of the way. Your journalistic instincts are sufficiently honed to warn you about the Janata Dal - it's a ragtag aggregation of questionable characters, never meant to last. As for the regional parties, well, you find yourself pondering over the promises offered by Mamta Banerjee, Karunanidhi, Jayaalalithaa, Laloo Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Bal Thackarey, Deve Gowda, Sharad Pawar, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, Shibu Soren et al (some of these currently belong to the JD). This is a pantheon that inspires despair.
That leaves the Left - whom you're willing to romance from the sidelines, thanks to your Left-leaning alma mater - and the Congress. Yes, the Congress. Finally, here's a party that has survived and will continue to survive. Besides, the dynamic duo of Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh are ushering in sweeping reforms. The tide is changing. Businesses are ready with a palette of bright colours. India is getting a makeover. All's well.
In a manner of speaking. Because, frankly, if the debate is reduced to "Secularism versus Capitalism," then there must be only one clear winner. As a journalist, you decide that you must try and understand the rhetoric and pragmatism offered by this "sole national, secular party." In order to believe in this phrase, you blank out the pogram conducted against the Sikhs following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. You were too young then and that Sikhening thing happened ages ago. No point holding on to old grudges. You'll still fire salvos at the Congress - after all you're young and idealistic - but you see it as a mild favourite.
So you go easy on Bofors and play up the Srikrishna Commission report. No harm done. You have the best interests of the nation in mind.
And so it begins. A tilt. A wee bit of tilt. Is there a quid pro quo involved? Not at all. Just a thumping tricolour inside your chest, goading you to do the right thing.

If you've been a journalist for even one day - if you have ever filed a single story - you will know what it takes to bury your own emotions and file a factual report of events. Quite often, it's like arbitrating against your firstborn, in favour of the neighbour's scamp. You must confront yourself, steel your mind, and speak the truth. Well, let's not go as far as the truth. You must at least tell the world what seems to have happened. But these are testing times. The world and India are changing. The country deserves better than the truth. So you must make up your own mind (and the news) as you go along. You are, after all, the barometer of the 90s and the new millennia. Let's keep this in mind and continue our theory.

Midway into the 90s, the worst case scenario comes true. The Congress is vanquished in the polls. The JD assumes power. Over the next three years, 4 JD Prime Ministers attempt to hold the steering wheel. Needless to say, each of them give India a bumpy ride and crash into the shoulder.
Then you see the REAL worst case scenario unfolding. The BJP comes to power. The corridors of South Block lose their allure. But you're a seasoned journalist by now and you will do what it takes to sniff out news and offer it to your growing audience. Mercifully, a war comes to your rescue. The sight of a uniform gives you orgiastic pleasure, so you have a field day covering the perils and romance of a conflict. For the first time ever, your countrymen get a feel of the trenches. Thanks to you. You're now an overnight sensation. Everything you've done before pales in comparison. You realise that you've redefined the news capsule merely by highlighting the drama behind dramatic moments. You've stumbled upon the magic formula. People don't want staid news. They want an exciting commentary on current affairs. A choreographed chronicle that offers a peep behind iron curtains. Generations of newspeople will be inspired by your model. In fact, those generations are already crawling out of the woodwork. The media is growing like never before. Money is pouring in. Choices are being offered to viewers and readers.
You spend the next few years consolidating, understanding unfamiliar market forces. In between, the BJP government at the centre keeps you entertained with scams and comedy. And when Ahmedabad happens, you feel justifiably disgusted. Ahmedabad was intolerable, just as New Delhi in 1984 was. Yet, you now throw your weight firmly behind the Congress.
You're also experiencing changes in your personal life. You can now afford a couple of penthouses in prestigious Delhi pincodes. You travel business class (if not in the Prime Minister's entourage). You've made it. Moneyed pleasures are cloying. You feel a vague urge to unearth newer dimensions to success.
In this backdrop, the national elections deliver the best possible verdict. The BJP is defeated and the Congress comes back to power. It's time for over-the-top celebrations. Fellow journalists, select businesses and sundry actors of the capital are popping open the champagne. You feel compelled to join in the revelry, never mind that the nation will interpret your beaming face. What's not to celebrate? Finally, here's a party worth worshipping. It's headed by a queen who refuses the crown, has been galvanised by a prince with an alleged Midas touch and the new government will now be headed by the most trustworthy Indian (only the final part of this statement is true, you know that, but what the hell!).
From now on, you can enjoy unlimited insider scoops. You yourself are an insider. You haven't noticed it, but over the years, the anti-fascist content of your reports have decidedly become pro-Congress. Your slide in position has been glacial - an imperciptible movement in slow-motion - but those who now matter have noticed it. You no longer allow people with opposing opinions to have their say in your shows. You will be rewarded. With high civilian honours, plenty of political gossip and incessant opportunities to interview the Who's Who. Your channel will certainly air its share of Exclusive News. Again, thanks to you. By now, your idealism doesn't recognise you (it languishes in fusty memorabilia in your closet where, without your knowledge, skeletons have crept in).
What you've also conveniently forgotten is that two disparate demons were challenging India in the 90s. The fascism of the religious right was just one of them. The other, equally lethal demon, was the market fundamentalism of the financial right. That's right. Ultra-capitalism. The theory that markets will self-regulate and the government must exercise no control whatsoever over businesses. Do you know why you blocked out this development? The fact that your own financial success depended on it. Your media house relies on these businesses to thrive. Over the years, you've been part of your media house's think-tank and you've accepted that some targets are never meant to be shot at. Sure, you can aim at and bring down any political lightweight at any time. That's always fun. You can't be touched while doing so. But the businesses - they're now sacred. They must not be touched because, well, the tricolour is still thumping inside your chest. Good things are being done to India by these businesses. If they need to cut corners in the process, then you must understand. You now have the maturity to understand.
That's why, when the Congress won itself another election and alliance partners proved to be a pain in the proverbial butt, you decided that there was no harm in playing the middle fiddle. For one, you were helping the "sole national, secular party" meet a crucial objective. For another, you were helping businesses take India to the next level.
How you wish you knew your conversations were being recorded! You wouldn't have sounded like confiding a crush to a high-school friend. You'd have invented a code worthy of an espionage thriller, so that the middle fiddle sounded like the middle ground. Yes, the middle ground. The spot you were obliged to occupy as a journalist.

Journalism is a difficult profession. Of all the professional roles I've played in my life, being a journalist has been the most difficult. And the only way to hold on to your sanity - and pursue the, shall we say, truth - is to operate on the premise that every belief you hold MIGHT be wrong. The news is never about you, your convictions, your take on life. It's about facts. If you have the heart of a humanitarian and the mind of a robot, there's an outside chance that you will be a good journalist. Unfortunately, few in the Indian media currently fit the bill.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fiction proliferates in the internet era

I found this comment on a rediff story titled "India is trying to underplay Obama's visit".

CIA sponsors all terrorism in the world
CIA built and nurtured ISI
CIA started Afghan opium tarde in the 80's
Bill Clinton increased the opium trade in the 90's
Thus ISI and Pakistan became close to USA
Since ISI monitors and controls the opium trade
But taliban wiped out the entire opium crop in 2000
That led to the worldwide stock market crash
Since opium generates trillions of dollars for Wall Street
After Bush staged 9/11 and invaded Afghanistan opium production increased from zero to 8000 tonnes per annum
Stock markets flourished. India was happy. Manmohan committed troops to Afghanistan, because he too must be getting a share of the opium revenue.
But in 2008 & 2009 opium production fell by 50%
US banks had a massive liquidity crisis
India and China were not affected because opium money is laundered through multinational banks
Then US & India staged 26/11
It allowed US to execute unilateral strikes against taliban operating within Pakistan
It created fear and terror in India, and Manmohan & Co could purchase arms from US, and pocket crores through paybacks.
The deception continues....

I thought my thriller was shaping up well. And here this guy upstaged my plot with a few deft strokes of his psychedelic mind.
Sigh. Should I even bother writing my masterpiece now??

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The dynamics of writing

In the thick of writing the so-called masterpiece, things happen. Small things to the observer, but they could be huge issues for the writer. Issues accorded a shallow burial. Or maybe they're just issues that remain on the surface while the writer pretends that they're invisible. The hide-and-seek game doesn't work. Sooner than later, the writer must confront them. And accept that the real world he lives in is a tad more real than the world of his novel.
What does the writer then do? He has no answers. The varied tools he has at his disposal - language, vocabulary, plot, situations, nuances of situations, the ethereal consciousness of his characters.... all these are incapable of helping him tackle the reality of his life. So what does he do? Maybe he drowns in his own sorrow. Or maybe, just maybe, he hopes that his favourite songs and tipples pull him out of his real-world situations. Heck, they might even offer him the breathing space that's required between the appearance of the problem and the solution.
Just a thought.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A tale of five batsmen

Once upon a time in Heaven, God was personally conducting interviews in the Cricket Desk of the Ministry of Soul Recycling. He sat on his throne and asked for the souls to approach him one at a time.
'What do you want to be in this birth?' God asked the first soul.
'I want to be the most productive cricketer of all times.'
'What will you do with this gift?'
'I will score centuries. I will make a mountain of runs. Every record in the game will belong to me.'
'So be it. You shall be born in the Tendulkar family in Mumbai. With this gift, I also give you a curse. Your prowess will be useless in moments that matter the most. Who's next?'
The second soul approached, bowed and said:
'What you are to the world, I want to be in the cricket field.'
'Fool! You dare compete with me? I can punish you by making you a football player. In India, mind you, not Europe or Latin America. But since you spoke your mind, I shall grant half your wish. You shall rule the off side. Your cover drives will be elegant and impossible. But the short-pitched ball will remind you of my wrath. You'll be a leader like me, but your leadership will also bring you unimaginable pressures. Now go. Be born in the Ganguly household in Kolkata! Next!!'
The third soul came and stood timidly in front of God.
'A shy one, are you? Are you aware that you can't ask for gifts I've already given away?'
'I am. Let me also be aware of the state of the game at all times. Let me have the ability to stay at the crease. I want to be the immovable object.'
'Interesting. What will you do with this ability?'
'I will do more than you intended me to.'
'I'd like to see that happen. I grant you your wish. But I will also restrict your array of strokes. You'll labour even when others sizzle. You'll play second fiddle to perfection, even when you deserve the top spot. Go now, to Indore and take birth in the Dravid household. Next!!'
'You're a bit of a terror, aren't you?' the fourth soul asked.
'And you, young thing, are outspoken. I like that. What do you want?'
'I want my eyes and my hands to be become one holistic magic organ. They must always be in sync.'
'And your goal?'
'I will be the most feared batsman in the world. I will play the most memorable innings in the history of the game. My shots will be audacious, my attitude even more so.'
'Yes. Yes, of course! But your curse is that your eyes and hands will decouple from your brain at inopportune times. No bowler will ever dismiss you. Your brain will assign that task to itself. It's only fit that you be born a Jat. Go to Delhi and be a Sehwag. Next!! Who's next? I don't see anybody.'
'That's because I'm prostrating before you, my Lord.'
Pleased by this soul, God rose from his throne and came up to him.
'Tell me, my child, what can I give you? The others have taken the most glorious gifts in the game. Can you think of something that can still make you special?'
'I want to win games for my country. More games than anybody ever has. I want to deliver when the chips are down.'
'Ah! My child. I see that the others have missed asking for the most special gift of all. It's yours. I shall add to it. You shall wield your bat like a magic wand. You shall thus mesmerize your opposition. You will look clumsy and be graceful. Your wrists shall make the Australians weep. Your morality will be a shining example to others. And you shall display all those gifts with a humble and steely mind.'
'Lord, what's my curse?' the soul asked.
'I'm afraid, my child, that no matter how well you perform, people will forget you exist. You'll spend your life proving yourself again and again.'
'That doesn't sound so bad.'
'It isn't. Because I shall be watching. And I will remember every magic act you perform on the field. Now go to Hyderabad. Assume the longest name in the game. You will hereafter be called Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman. And since people will not be able to remember that, they will call you Laxman. Except when you dazzle. They will then remember you to be Very Very Special Laxman.'

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Parenting for the corrupt bureaucrat

The other day, someone suggested to me that corruption be legalised and why not? We could do away with the whole charade and honesty itself could be redefined, ahem, more honestly.
Of course, there’s a roadblock: the Constitution. Written by idealists and, worse, people who were sticklers for rules, it allows no elbow room for such pragmatic manoeuvres. So what does the poor rich corrupt bureaucrat do in the meanwhile? Ignore the pressing needs of his family to uphold a piece of legislation? Of course not. A babu has to do what a babu has to do. He has to busily seek loopholes, profit-points, deals and that odd crevice under the table. In that order. And he manages this with admirable ingenuity. He smells a leverage two mornings before it wafts in, he covers his tracks better than a guerrilla warrior, and he slips his gains under the carpet and makes it reappear as benami or wife-nami real-estate in his mofussil hometown. No fuss. He needs no coaching here.
Unfortunately, he finds parenting a stiffer challenge – children are exposed to all kinds of nonsense even in this day and age. They might learn old-fashioned values in their old-fashioned schools; they might befriend children from upright families; they might occasionally read past the fifteen Page Threes; and who knows what impact angst-ridden Bollywood movies, even B-grade ones, might have on a child’s psyche?
It’s a jungle out there and the babu has to guard his fiefdom from these nefarious influences. Thankfully, help – a proven model – is not only within reach, but it can also be implemented right from the day the little babu-ess is born.

Age 0-12

Dear babu, you’ve just heard the good news in the waiting room of the Maternity Home. Congratulations! You’re a Papa. Tip that toothy nurse a large Gandhi, thank your wife for a job well done and now: beam at your child. She might resemble a bundle of innocence, but you mustn’t wait any longer. Now’s the right time to introduce her to your worldview. Pamper her well. She’s too young and too late for a monogrammed chamberpot, but you can buy her other things. Diapers softer than moss, enough toys to shame the North Pole workshop and perhaps a naming ceremony your locality will remember for a long time. Record your efforts for posterity. She’ll appreciate your love soon enough. She will because you’re already getting her addicted to moneyed pleasures.
That’s the crux. There’re some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s Brasht Babu. You. Her Papa.
Teach her this crucial lesson. Everyday, every waking hour. If you’ve done a good job, you’ll ensure that by the age of two, she can’t sleep in a non-a/c room. By the time she turns four, she believes that trains are quaint contraptions that toot while ferrying other people. Bear in mind that this is also the ripe age for a different kind of lesson: how should one treat one’s parent? Show her by example. Hire a fulltime nurse to take care of your ailing father. Chat obsequiously with him in your daughter’s presence. Agree with everything he says. Get your wife to ask you: ‘Why didn’t you correct him when he said that?’ Your reply: ‘He’s my father. It’s not for me to correct him.’
You might have to repeat this drill many times in the next few years. Some children are naturally rebellious, so the message might take time to sink in. But eventually, your daughter will be thrilled by the sobering beauty of this lesson. Her father isn’t just an able administrator and a respected man of society, but also a simple and noble man. Of course, your daughter will hear this very sentiment expressed incessantly by your subordinates, especially in those deliberately dull parties at the clubhouse where the men talk shop, the women pretend to be interested in social service and the children smile and whisper monosyllables, but none as sweetly as your little angel.
It might be smooth sailing from now on. Or maybe not.

Age 13-17

Teenage might upset your well-laid plans.
Let’s say that your daughter is going through a torrid phase. On many topics, she now trusts her friends more than you. She’s also spotted a few chinks in your reasoning. Your best defence is to lie low and maintain the usual serene demeanour. The storm will pass. Meanwhile, find innovative ways to impart the by-now familiar lessons. Throw in a story or two about vulture-like peers badmouthing you because they perceive you as a threat. It also won’t hurt to become a Lion or Rotarian. Better still, contribute a fortnight’s salary for a good cause – in your daughter’s name, of course. And if possible, write an intelligent article titled, say, RTI: Tool or Weapon? Overall, let your daughter see that you’re a good man doing a good job under adverse conditions.
But let’s not dismiss the extreme scenario. Perhaps you goofed up somewhere down the line. Perhaps your daughter feels forced to confront an age-old dilemma: should she choose earthy institutional values over airy human values? What’s her take? Family or society? She has a sneaking suspicion that you’ve made it an issue of one or the other. It might prompt her to ask the dreaded question: ‘Papa, are you clean?’ Look deep into her eyes before you answer: ‘Sweetheart, I’ve done nothing to be ashamed of.’ It’s true, isn’t it? You accepted that the systemic beast was untameable. You decided against being a pretentious crusader. You blended in. Was that such a bad thing? Of course not. You needn’t be ashamed of your humility and level-headedness; they form the backbone of your strong character.
And now your daughter sees this as well. She hugs you and apologises for crossing the line. Just a few doubts linger in her mind. Dispel them by casually suggesting that she attempt an alternate lifestyle for a while. She’ll jump to it – teens are suckers for experimentation. So go ahead, slash her allowance. Ask her to take the city bus instead of the sarkari car to her junior college. Grind your teeth and try not to think about the lewd eveteaser and his groping hands. Find other privileges to slash. Give her a scaled-down model of mobile phone, discontinue her shopping allowance, let her next birthday cake weigh less than 10 kgs etcetera, etcetera. If you’re willing to travel the distance, buy her seventeenth birthday dress from a Bargain Basement outlet. By now, you’ll surely notice tears forming in the corners of her eyes. It’s time for the experiment to end. So offer her a re-entry into her old way of life.
Your daughter will reclaim her privileges – which had seemed to cloy around the edges – with joyous abandon. She’ll also reinstate you on her pedestal. She now appreciates, fully appreciates, your untiring efforts to create a likeable world for her.

Age 18-24

Now that you’re her hero again, she’ll approach you for some serious career counselling. Her heart says Fashion Designing, but her mind screams Environmental Engineering. Could you help her resolve this tussle between teen heart and teen mind? Ah-hah! Time to unleash your philosophical arsenal. Talk abstract. What’s heart? What’s mind? In keeping with your increasingly intense religiosity, you must quote liberally from religious text – they’re so wonderfully open to interpretation – and you must also shift focus from the fact that you understand neither fashion nor the environment, except that both seem to be going downhill. But you do have a fair idea of the market risks associated with both fields. That’s where you should focus. By the end of the discussion, you must convey, in a palatable form, the distilled wisdom of your life:
Follow the money trail; both imagination and a conscience make life unbearable.
That done, trust her to make the right choice. The third choice, the one you had subtly pointed out during the conversation.

Age 25 onwards

Your daughter has been fending for herself for the past few years. She's doing well. A chip off the old block. She regularly brings you gifts. Kashmiri sweaters, Swiss watches, French perfumes – things that wrap together opulence, worldview and love. But one day, she tells you that she has a different kind of gift in mind. She’s chosen her life partner, and won’t he, her beloved Papa, meet the lucky guy and his family? Your heart flutters a little. You reach for the blood pressure pill. This is big news. Someone whom you haven’t influenced would now influence your daughter. Who was this man? How did he perceive the world? Has Life planned a last-minute complication for you?
You put up a brave front and proceed to meet this man’s family, wearing gentlemanly clothes and the haughtiness that’s now second nature to you. You smile for your daughter as the destination inches closer. There it is. The bungalow of her prospective in-laws. But hold on! A distinguished nameplate adorns the gateway. The CISF jawan at the gate salutes you. You drive past him and then a homely Ambassador with a red light on the roof. You alight and shake hands warmly with the prospective groom’s father. ‘Birds of a feather,’ someone says. That someone is the neighbourhood sycophant, a mirror image of the ones grovelling at your doorstep. You beam. All’s well. The reverence in the prospective groom’s face is proof enough.
You taught your daughter well. You’ll never lose her. In untold ways, she has become you. Congratulations!

P.S: My sincere apologies to the honest bureaucrats. Are all five of you reading this?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ramadan in Sharjah

From five storeys above the ground, I grip my laptop and watch an unfamiliar, sand-dusted city that has turned into a midmorning mirage. The shimmer of the desert has blended with the shimmer of the Arabian Sea in the distance. The traffic appears liquid, the palm trees sappy. A couple of poorly-dressed South Asian construction workers wade through steaming asphalt on oozy legs. On the other side of the road is a mosque with a flat dome and jagged minarets. I illogically lean forward in my air-conditioned soundproof office and listen for the call of the muezzin, hoping that piety will cure me of the overwhelming and untimely desire I feel. But all I hear are international office sounds. Tap-tap, ring-ring, clickety-click.
I stare woefully at my laptop screen and find it dissolving, succumbing to the mirage. Not good. It’s not only my first day in Sharjah, but also my first day in a prestigious project for a new client. I already know that the deadline is tight as curds. To get into the rhythm, I must have coffee. I recall the words of a veteran immigrant to the Emirates:
‘Have coffee, have a feast, by all means. Just don’t let an Emirati see you having it.’
So be it. I rise, button up my blazer and hunt for the pantry. I find it deserted, although the mess tells me that this world, too, is full of sinners like me. No time to waste. I rummage through the drawers for a cup and come up empty-handed. The animal in me considers making a cup out of my palm. Fortunately, a voice behind me says:
‘You’re probably looking for this.’ I turn and stare at a youngish man holding an array of Styrofoam cups and stirrers like it was a prize trophy. He shuts the door behind him and continues: ‘Cups are difficult to find. Especially during Ramadan.’
‘Yeah-yeah,’ I say, almost snatching a cup from his hands. In the next ten minutes, I slurp through a gallon of hot coffee. Having done that, I pop a mint into my mouth and exit the pantry. My face exudes serenity. My jaws don’t move – the mint must take care of itself.
Later in the evening, hours after the Moslems have left to break their fast, I leave the office and am greeted by a different Sharjah. The sand has settled. The heat has gone to bed. And the roads are packed with traffic and people – South Asian, Filipino, Caucasian and also the occasional kandoura-wearing Emirati. The air is singed with the aroma of fresh food. I head for the nearest shawarma stall and buy one from the Pakistani man running it.
‘Ramadan Kareem,’ we tell each other.
Underneath the open sky, in the reflected glare of blinding-white neon lights, I chomp hard into my shawarma and feel like a new person. Because if you’re in the Emirates during Ramadan, you will celebrate the breaking of the fast, no matter what your faith is.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

There are things I don't tell myself unless I'm piss drunk. Like I am now.
At such times, it becomes easier to think of her. The love of my life. She's five years old. Well, she will be soon.
I normally write these sordid pieces in a secretive drunken diary. I'm vaguely aware that I'm facing a blogspot editor now. Doesn't matter, does it? Certainly doesn't. It could be unrequited love at this point in time. But surely, surely, there's something called the genetic pull? Surely requited love is around the corner? I've been living my life on that assumption. I work the kind of hours that would put the President of the You-Nighted-States to shame. I don't normally think of her. Not even when my PC boots and I see her propped on my shoulder on my desktop. I quickly launch an application and enter my day. But lately, I'm beginning to think about the other side. The person responsible for the chasm. The person who feels so indignant that she's convinced herself she's Lady Liberty, dispensing justice with her swathe-creating scales.
Damn her for playing Goddess. She has no right. And one day, the love of my life will understand this too.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Against impossible odds. Again.

Wow! Second time in a row, India began the series in the trenches and somehow managed to summit.
The last time was against South Africa in India. Till the last match in Kolkata, we appeared anything but the #1 Test team in the world. We dithered, grunted, moped and surrendered to the Proteas who have always managed to hold their own in the subcontinent. And then, Harbhajan came to the party - as he does once every three years.

And if the home series against SA put us in a desperate corner, the away series against the Lankans seemed like the twilight zone for our #1 status. Most of our frontline bowlers were already injured. Others joined their ranks midway through the series. On top of that, Yuvraj and Gambhir succumbed to untimely injuries and Dravid looked about as composed as a virgin on a lust-bed.
So the third test became a contest between an "India A" team and a Lankan side that seemed to have shrugged off Murali's absence with minimum fuss. Before the Test began, I told myself that we had an outside chance if we won the toss and batted first. Dhoni, of course, lost his third toss in a row and the Lankans piled up a great total. I, for one, plastered my shattered dreams and sobbed myself to sleep at the end of Day 2. And then Viru, Laxman, Raina, Mithun and Mishra showed us that the team batting second can take a meagre lead against a superior bowling outfit. The only major blemish from that point was that we allowed Mendis to make amends with the bat, for his carrom balls weren't "striking" home.
In both innings, Laxman handled his wand with typical deftness and flourish. Has any batsman in the history of the game been more mesmerizing when on song? (Let's not mar this wonderful day by mentioning how inept he looks on other days... oops! Too late!!)
Anyway, I get this warm feeling whenever Laxman and Dravid do well. Because even unsung heroes deserve the occasional ode. Which, incidentally, sounds sweeter when it proclaims a reversal of fortunes. How else can we describe this series? The Indian team did not even show up for the first seven days of the series. Before the fifteenth day ended, we had leveled the conflict, shared the honours and somehow managed to cling on to the coveted #1 ranking.
Well, let's say that two consecutive occurences is a trend. And let's hope it's here to stay.

P.S: Have we found a reliable middle-order bat in Raina? Only time can tell. Also, I'm excited about Cheteshwar Poojara, but could we please give a dignified farewell to Dravid before he's ushered in?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

India's intellectual Goliath is no more

K Balagopal died on October 8, 2009. And I heard about it today, 10 months after the event. What a shame! What have I been doing with my time? Rather unimportant things, surely. How else can I explain the fact that I did not catch the most significant Indian event of 2009? Those who have never known Balagopal would dismiss that statement as a hyperbole. Those who knew him would see it as an understatement.

That's Balagopal for you. In many ways, he was the country's best kept secret. A man whose intellectual clarity mesmerized people and turned them into thinkers. Yes, thinkers. I myself spent my childhood and youth under the illusion that I was capable of thought. And then I met Balagopal.
Here was a man who stood on a platform of unquestionable ethics and shone a torch of pure logic into the dark crevices of Indian society. Throughout his life, he ensured that his torch burned brightly and incessantly, illuminating the unfathomable for lesser beings. You will find this exact description in every eulogy written on the great man. Well, how could everybody who sought him return with the same impression? Maybe because he was that consistent. Why stop there? In a world where the rules changed everyday, I'd say that he was the rare constant. After all, the cold vein of truth does not bend with age. It remains what it is - an echo that resonates deep within our hearts. When I listen carefully, that echo sounds like Balagopal's rapid speech.

A rare constant

Just because he was a "constant man" does not mean that he was fixated with an ideology he formulated ages ago. I'd say that Balagopal remained constant because his truth became broader and shaper. When the Emergency happened, he shifted his paradigm of thinking to make sense of it. A little later, when the Maoists galvanized Karimnagar and Warangal to initiate mass movements, he found his romance with Marxism gaining strength. Next, when confronted by stark examples of atrocities on Dalits, he felt compelled to widen his activities. Of course, he never doubted that Dalit oppression was an infringement of Human Rights - he just decided to do more about it.

A centrist, hence a humanist

I met and interacted with Balagopal for 18 months between early 2007 and mid 2008. I was then researching for my historical novel on the Naxalite movement (the as-yet unpublished Red Curry). Quite naturally, I traveled widely across Andhra Pradesh over a period of 12 months. I first based myself out of Vishakapatnam to find out as much as I could about the developments in Srikakulam in the late 60s and early 70s. After that, I went to Hyderabad. By now, I had already sensed the intellectual power of Balagopal (through descriptions provided by his fellow Human Rights activists, journalists, police officers, Naxalite sympathisers and sundry detractors). I was eager to experience the power myself. Moreover, I was quite disappointed not to have met a single centrist in the entire landscape. Almost everybody I met had a penchant to simplify the debate, turn it into binary evaluations. This was true even for some well-known "Left-leaning intellectuals" who inevitably revealed viewpoints dotted with personal prejudices and ignorance of the chronology of events. (The only exception to this, other than Balagopal, was fellow writer Mohan Ramamoorthy - more about him later.)
But Balagopal was something else altogether. Within minutes of beginning my interview with him, my brain was struggling to expand at the rate of knots, so that it could absorb everything the man was saying.
I had finally found my centrist, one who had seen each planet, comet and asteroid in this terrifying galaxy fall into place. A man who could recall minor details at will and map them into trends and issues. As an erstwhile mathematician, Balagopal could take the binary views offered by others and divide them into, shall we say, quark numbers. I kept pitching long, rambling questions at him to throw him off the track. Each time, he put me in my place by identifying the nub of the matter. 'Let's do away with the superfluous and the incidental,' he seemed to be saying. 'What's the core issue here? Let's talk about that.'
So we did.
Over two evenings, he transformed the million facts I had at my disposal into lucid logic. I had finally - dare I say it? - understood the Naxalite movement. As much as my puny brain could, anyway.

A rarer moral courage

Despite his dazzling intellect, what impressed me even more was his moral courage. Here was a man who knew that in this "ding-dong battle" (his own words) between the state and the Naxalites, he was destined to play the referee. Not the easiest job in the world, is it? It meant that, every weekend, he was off to some inaccessible part of the country to investigate transgressions made by one side or the other - be it fake encounters conducted by the cops or summary executions orchestrated by the Naxalites. The only certainty in this bleak politics was that Balagopal would be on Ground Zero at the earliest, peeling layers of lies off the official version.

I myself had the good fortune to witness Balagopal in one of his fact finding missions. It was January 2008. A Naxalite had been killed by the Greyhounds in an obscure village 40 km outside the town of Jangaon. I spent the day with him and his team and experienced the frustration that comes easily when one is in the middle of a seemingly impossible task. Balagopal, however, appeared unruffled. Once the team had identified the lies in the cop's description of the encounter, we met the family of the slain man, a few villagers and finally went to a tea stall where, upon getting the news of Balagopal's arrival, many vernacular journalists had gathered. Balagopal addressed them in a few words, gave his interpretation of the events, after which, we returned to civilization. On the way back, I remember asking him where the news would be featured. He replied: 'If we're lucky, maybe a 1-inch column on the bottom of Page 7.' Perhaps on a slow news day, the news would be elevated to the top of the page.
Back at the Jangaon bus stand, we lunched together and I said goodbye. I left for a 3-week spell in Warangal while he returned to Hyderabad. It was the last I saw of the genius. I called him a couple of times after that, chiefly to know what he thought of my manuscript. 'I think it's good,' he replied. I don't want to know if he was being polite (perhaps not. Not him!). All I know is that those words mean more to me than a mention in the NYT bestseller list.
I still cannot understand why he gave people like me so much of his time. After all, I was not the only one descending upon him with a busload of ignorance. It occurs to me now that he must have given me his interview on autopilot. If I could do that interview all over again, I'd think of cleverer questions. At least one of which would stretch his brain. Wishful thinking, I know.

Sleep long and well, dear sir. Everybody you've met will miss you.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tyranny of the larks

Imagine a winged world wherein only two species have survived. The larks and the owls. The larks rise with the sun. The owls, on the other hand, soar after the sun sets. Stop imagining. There’s no need to imagine. I’m not talking about a distant universe. I’m talking about us. More specifically, I’m alluding to the unbridgeable divide between the early risers and the late sleepers.
It’s a divide alright, perhaps the most important one amongst homo sapiens barring the gender divide. Because a few thousand years from now, when caste has been abolished, religion made irrelevant, the skin tones rendered an even beige and national boundaries erased, the lark will still sneer at the owl and say:
‘Aren’t you a lazy bum?’
To which, the owl will offer a half-owlish, half-sheepish, wholly apologetic grin and flutter away into a dark corner.
This exchange between the owl and lark has been one of the defining themes of my life. For I’m an owl. I’ve been one for as long as I can remember. In fact, I vividly remember my first day at secondary school. Having enjoyed the luxury of attending an afternoon primary school, I was now being given the opportunity to “be an adult.” Which meant I’d have to wake up at 5 am, take a cold bath, gobble a breakfast and hop off to school, pretending to be happy.
‘You’ll get used to it soon enough,’ my mother told me.
I never did. For the next six years, I woke up surly and sleepwalked through the morning routine. At school, I acquired a crucial survival skill. I learnt to appear attentive, although it was obvious to me that my brain refused to wake up before 10 am, no matter how long my body has been limbering along. Once past that threshold hour, I’d acquire the magical ability to comprehend the blackboard. I’d realize that my teachers weren’t speaking Swahili after all.
‘But you’re missing more than half the lessons,’ my mother worried. She began playing Suprabatham and Bhaja Govindam for me in the mornings. ‘That’ll perk you up.’ I tried telling her that the great M. S. Subbalakshmi’s voice sounded platinum to me only in the evenings. In the mornings, however, I couldn’t differentiate between her melody and a catfight. ‘Never mind. I’m sure it will help,’ she concluded, raising the volume. Now, that’s totally acceptable in our country. You can blare a devotional song from a loudspeaker at 4 am and everybody will take it in their stride. Try listening to an Eminem song on your stereo at midnight and the chances are that your neighbour will pay you an angry visit.
It seemed a little unfair that society was based on such hypocritical practices. I often tried to plead my case, especially to those oldies in the family who liked to kick me awake at 7 am during my summer vacations. All I received in return were sermons camouflaged as lessons:
‘Asuras lurk in the nights,’ an especially orthodox granduncle informed me once. ‘You look like an asura, I concede that. But you don’t have to behave like one.’
‘If you don’t learn to obey nature’s laws, you’ll never amount to anything,’ a grandfather added.
‘It has been scientifically proven,’ an uncle – US-returned and all that – said, ‘that the human brain works best in the mornings. Haven’t you heard the Chinese proverb that one must finish half the day’s work by 9 am?’
I nevertheless begged to differ. Experience taught me that waking up at 4 am to study for the exams meant that I’d languish at the bottom of the class. So I began studying till 4 am and did well. An idea began forming in my mind. Perhaps there were others like me. People who were journalists, security guards, truck drivers and the like. Heck, even the milkman relied on someone who drove a van through the night. Upon reaching this conclusion, I began asserting my Owl Rights (since Human Rights apply only to humans and I wasn’t one). I even rebelled when necessary. By the time I began employment, I had acquired the joyous habit of sleeping well past midnight.
The working world partially brought me back to reality. Like school, office began early. Unlike school, it kept me chained way past midnight. This was no longer a battle between birds. It was a battle to overtake fatigue and retain sanity. But even in this overcharged atmosphere, I quickly learnt to tell the larks and the owls apart. The larks insisted on having the heaviest discussions first thing in the morning. The owls, as usual, didn’t have a say in the matter. This discovery worried me. I had zombied through 12 years of morning classes, confident in my ability to teach myself later, preferably a few days before the exams began. But that sort of thinking doesn’t work in the corporate world. One must make lucid decisions all the time. For which one must be lucid. So I learnt to listen intently during the morning meetings. I made detailed notes of everything that was said – the parrot part of my owlish brain worked alright in the mornings – and reprocessed them post noon. My bosses realized that my most productive inputs arrived after lunch. They began making allowances for my “disability.” As a happy corollary, I realized that I was at my singing best in the evenings, around the time the larks were ready to throw in the towel. The time zone, too, worked in my favour. I did well during the conference calls with American clients. When I moved to the US, my offshore team called me during my nights, when I could resolve all their problems without batting an eyelid. Of course, they continued to call me in the mornings, but with the understanding that my half-coherent replies would crystallize into complete solutions by the time they returned to work the next day.
Today, as a writer, I find that my stories seep into my bones after the sun sets. And even now, I work extensively with corporate clients who insist on calling me as soon as they reach their workstations in the morning. I’d have gone to asleep around 7 am, but I’m duty-bound to pick up calls starting 9 am – after all, won’t any self-respecting professional be up by then? And having picked up the call, I practice my latest art – the art of having a plausible conversation on autopilot. The content in these conversations “dawn” on me hours later, while I brush my teeth.

So there it is. I live in a world where I feel like a hapless minority. I don’t accept this world’s clock, but I must accept every other rule it imposes – rules regarding decorum, timelines, meeting hours etc. And despite my glaring disability, I've never missed my deadlines and meetings because I overslept. Oftentimes, I don’t sleep in order to attend an early morning meeting. My body runs on an owlish clock, but I force it to wear larky apparel at least once a week. Does it take a toll on my body? It must. Not because my body is deprived of sunlight or is playing host to demonic elements. My body suffers simply because I don’t give it sufficient rest. Because I’m dancing simultaneously to two rhythms – mine and the world’s. Because I don’t live in a progressive Scandinavian country which allows owls to begin work at a later hour.
As a result, I accept that friends will message me at 6 am, just as I’m drifting off to sleep. My bank will run early-morning batch jobs and thus send me an SMS at 7 am reminding me that I used my debit card last evening. School-going children of neighbours – fellow owls, I think – will create a ruckus and break my sleep. Telemarketers and travelling salesmen will wonder why I’m angry about nothing. And, finally, when I enjoy Bhaja Govindam at 9 pm, I will be called a weirdo.
And as we know, the majority is always right.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The politics of disappointment

An adaptation is a double-edged sword. If executed well, it harnesses the power of the original tale in a refreshing new context. And if executed badly, it mars the tale beyond redemption.
So what happenes when a single narrative is a contextual juxtaposition of two tales as potent as the Mahabharata and Godfather? You get Rajneeti. A mishmash of violence, sex and political intrigue that's loud without being convincing.

The film begins well and wastes no time in introducing the mirror characters from the greatest epic of all time. Surya bhagwan (Naseeruddin Shah) doesn't need a powerful chant to experience a moment of amorous weakness; the shamed man has no option but to disappear forever, leaving a dark void behind. The corollary: Kunti (Nikhila Trikha) bears an illegitimate son, Karna (Ajay Devgan). Keeping to the ancient script, Karna is abandoned in a boat in a river. Kunti is aided in this effort by her brother Shakuni (Nana Patekar). Yes, Shakuni is on the depleted Pandav camp this time. He's also multi-faceted. He transforms himself into Krishna during the climax and otherwise acts as Bhishma in the political clan, but let's not jump the gun.
Karna is destined to procure a Dalit identity, even though he belongs to the most powerful political family of the land. Which land? Well, it's not Hastinapur or Indraprastha. It's a divided Patilaputra.
Cut forward twenty-five years (perhaps fifty, considering how swollen Devgan looks), and Kunti is the proud mother of two sons - Sonny and Michael Corleone, both perfect replicas of Mario Puzo's creations. Sonny is played by Arjun Rampal and Michael by Ranbir Kapoor. The former promises to diversify and become a good actor in the near future. The latter performs well in a couple of emotive scenes. For the rest, he's as deadpan as the script expects him to be.
Oh, we forgot all about the Kauravs, didn't we? Let's get to them. I mean, him. There's Duryodhan (Manoj Bajpai), aided ably by Karna. Dhirdharashtra acquires his physical disability late in life, on time to trigger a power struggle between Sonny Corleone and Duryodhan. Unconcerned by all this, Michael would have returned to America and presented his thesis on "subtextual violence in 19th century Victorian poetry", except that Pandu is assassinated by Karna (or someone acting on his behalf). Michael must now fulfil his destiny. He must overnight become a vampire in a butcher's shop. From now on, no machination will be beyond him. No local Patna brain will be able to outsmart him. He will destroy everything in his path. He will also make a convenient sacrifice - the Panchali (Katrina Kaif) who loves him passionately and unconditionally will suddenly find herself marrying the senior Corleone.
No need for alarm. Panchali will not practice polyandry. And her feminine mind is flexible enough to see the shimmering soul crouching behind Sonny's mass-murdering exterior. She will copulate with him, efficiently (once from the look of it) and give the wonderfully bloodthirsty family the next generation politician. Much required, that, because Sonny Corleone and Kate (played by Sarah Thompson) will perish together in a car explosion. Mercifully, this does not instigate a romantic liaison between Panchali and Michael. Unmercifully, this means that Panchali will now occcupy the political centrestage because, well, Indian political berths must be inherited by family members and we can't assume otherwise even in fiction.
The Corleones emerge victorious in the election and the Kauravs are shot dead without compunction.
Had enough? I did. After Gangaajal and Apharan (not to mention the serenely executed Hip Hip Hurray from the 80s), one expects so much more from Prakash Jha. More so because of the talent he had at his disposal (except, of course, for the ravishing Kaif who manages half an expression more than usual, allowing her to demonstrate a grand total of one and a half expressions).
Devgan is so underused that one is tempted to see his role as a Special Appearance. Manoj Bajpai plays a narrow character and is thus wasted. Naseeruddin Shah doesn't return even to provide a proverbial twist in the tale. Nana Patekar has been given the most complex character of the lot and he does justice to it. But given the flawed screenplay, even he can do nothing but look aghast when Kunti tells Karna that he's her "jyest putra!" The performances of the Corleones, I've already mentioned.
But most of all, Rajneeti does not enliven the landscape it is set in. And with the screenplay remaining uniformly high-pitched, there just isn't sufficient space for subtlety, layered characterization and dialect-heavy dialogues - Jha's strengths. Moreover:
1) The whole saga is supposed to happen during one election campaign, within a matter of weeks. Jha does himself a disservice here. The Mahabharata takes place over a century (from Shantanu to Parikrit). The Godfather consumes half as much time. There's sufficient time for characters to develop, change and change some more. But how does one justify Panchali's penchant to reinvent at the drop of a hat? She's a bubbly, spoilt, independent, lovey-dovey gal to begin with. She then succumbs to parental pressure to marry the wrong man, fall in love with him, mourn his loss, then assume political leadership. All this happens in weeks? Really?
Why couldn't Jha have envisaged this over four election campaigns, with the pendulum swinging either way, with the clan perishing in small doses and each character adjusting anew to the situation? Everything in the plot could have fit in neatly then.
2) Why does the top brass of the biggest political family feel compelled to participate in gun fights? I was given the impression that Bihar is full of trigger-happy henchmen. These filmy turns in an otherwise realistic depiction (the glamour notwithstanding) stick out like a sore asses.

Final verdict: even a flawed Jha movie is better than a template-driven Rahul/Raj candy romance. Go see it without expectations. Better still, buy the DVD. That way, you can pause, have a hearty laugh once in a while and see some more.

P.S: On a personal aside, I stepped into a theatre after a gap of six years. I must say that multiplexes built inside malls are such logistical disasters that I'd sooner sit on an electric chair. On the plus side, the audience reacts incongrously and that allows one a seat-shaking snigger.
P.P.S: If you're looking for a decent adaptation of the Mahabharata, read Tharoor's The Great Indian Novel.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A doomsday prediction comes true

A dark day. I feel the bile creeping up my throat. I feel like crying out, "We told you so. WE TOLD YOU SO!" Who's responsible? Decide for yourself.

Here are excerpts from the cover story I wrote (along with Mahesh Nayak and Vikas Kumar K. C.) for Mangalore Today (Oct/Nov 1998 issue). I remember this issue very clearly because of a tough deadline. I wrote the story through the night and finished it by dawn. By dusk the same day, the magazine had been put to bed. I remember this story also because of a controversial remark made by the then Senior Airports Officer in charge of the Mangalore aiport. He had said, "If an international airport is not set up here, I see no future for this airport. It might as well close down." I asked him thrice if I could quote him. Yes, he replied on each occasion. He was suspended for making that statement.

Anyway, here are the excerpts:

With a table-top runway of just around 5300 ft, the sheer drops on either sides, it is acknowledged to be the second most hazardous airport in the country after the one at Port Blair. The only consolation is that when the aircraft reaches the edge of the cliff, it really takes off, unlike the scientist-aviators before the Wright brothers. At least they have been unfailingly doing so, thanks to the expert pilots whom the airline companies specially depute for the Mangalore-bound flights.
"According to international conventions, Boeings should not be allowed to land at [the old airstrip of the] Bajpe airport" - quote by Yashwant Kamath.
The existing runway strip is only 5300 ft long, has got a slope of five degrees and is unsuited for use by bigger aircraft like the A-320s.
Indeed, the limitations posed by the table-top runway will prove to be major hurdle [in the operation of international flights]. There may not be many takers for this potentially hazardous task. Even for domestic flights, due to the short length of the runway, the aircraft weight has to be carefully monitored, and the ratio between the number of passengers, weight of cargo and the weight of fuel have to be precisely balanced, failing which the aircraft will not get the necessary lift within the available runway space. Often, the number of passengers has to be limited to 80% of the capacity or eve lesser.
The site where the Avro carrying the then minister Veerappa Moily almost had a peek down the cliff edge. Fortunately, the only mishap so far.

I've not exactly been tuned to the happenings since this story broke. I do remember that 208 families had to be evacuated to create the new airstrip. They fought long and hard to hold on to their land, but apparently lost.
What amazes me is that today, the TV channels showed the aircraft that tumbled as having used the old airstrip. If this is true, then it's the worst kind of irresponsible behaviour possible. An airstrip that was unsafe for even domestic flights can be employed for international flights only by the most irresponsible people on the planet.
I'm going to find out what happened to the new aistrip. But felt like getting this out at the soonest. Watch out for more updates.

Alright, more updates.
The new runway was used. Thank God for that. This doesn't mean that this runway is long and comfortable enough. It's only longer than the old one and gives the international pilots a tad more legroom, as it were.
And there are questions to be raised about planning as regards the new runway. A few more relevant excerpts from the 1998 cover story:

They [a committee formed by civilians] also accuse the AAI of several serious violations of the norms as prescribed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) of which India is a member:
1) The geography will allow a runway width of only 200 m instead of the statutory 300 m.
2) It will lie within four-km aerial length of the corporation garbage dumping ground, instead of the prescribed 10 km. This means the risk of bird hits is high.
3) The proposed Indo-Rama polymers plant at Kenjar will fall within range, violating airline regulations.

The committe instead suggests that the airport will be better served if it takes the expansion along the other side at Sunkadakatte where, he says, a 12000 ft stretch will be available. "But the land is dotted with concrete buidings occupied by the rich. A minister's (B. A. Moideen's) house also comes in the way," he [Fr. Ronald D'Souza] added cynically.

Remember that this report was filed in 1998. The new runway became operational in 2006. In this duration, one hopes that the concerns raised above were addressed and the alternative location of the new runway considered. Thankfully, my journalist friends are on Ground Zero, covering the event. And we now have a few pointed questions to ask.

And one more question begs itself: the new International airport was a fresh start. A new airstrip, a new terminal. Everything was built from scratch. That being the case, why was an alternative location not considered? Why Bajpe? Why not Padubidri, as proposed by many? Padubidri has a more docile terrain and would have been more cost-effective as well.
Because the Bajpe location was never meant for civilian landings. It was merely a convenient landing spot for the military and government aircraft during the British rule, used mainly for refuelling the aircraft as they flew between Cochin and Bombay.

Having said that, it's a little too late to make a fresh start now, at least for the hapless victims.
Answers. Need some answers.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Capital punishment? WTF?

So Kasab will hang.
Many have rejoiced on TV. I suppose many more are rejoicing in the real world too. Leads one to tricky interpretations, doesn't it? Is it ethical to dance at the prospect of a body swinging in mid-air? Can such a desire be termed gruesome, even bloodthirsty? I won't attempt to answer those questions. The Hawk versus Dove debate will perish only when we do. So let that be.
Instead, let me puff my chest with pride today. Because today, I learnt that only two people have been hanged in India since 1995. Many more have been sentenced to death, but their fates hang in limbo at the moment. And, believe it or not, a city like Mumbai does not even employ a hangman anymore.
Now, why should I feel pride at this statistic? Because we, as a society, could so easily have swung to the other extreme and hung people around every corner. After all, we're being attacked from all sides, even as we accumulate internal enemies by the thousands. There's every temptation to resort to violent measures. Restraint is a huge luxury right now. And we've chosen this luxury. Against all odds.
Of course, this doesn't translate to the generic conclusion that our laws are humane and progressive. They're not. Many of our laws are shocking and atrocious. Also, a lot of our affirmative actions do not take recent social developments into account (the misuse of 498a is a strong case in point). Add to this the telling fact that the powerful and rich can use unscrupulous but brilliant lawyers to go scot free even as the underprivileged spend eternities behind bars for lesser crimes, we get a true picture of what's wrong with our judicial system. We have a long way to go before we can state, with greater pride, that every human in India is deemed equal by the law. Crusades - long-drawn and impassioned - are required to bring about this change.
But today, I want to say with pride that we theoretically believe in nonviolence. We've instinctively learnt that societies that dole out capital punishment by the tons host more crime and hatred, not less. We will not become Texas.
And, therefore, we can yet aspire to become a "rarest of rare" society. :)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Run for the Nightingales Medical Trust

The Nightingales Medical Trust is asking you to run for them in this year's Sunfeast Marathon. I've personally seen the work done by this NGO and have no doubts whatsoever that they have the best of intentions and make a great impact at the grassroots.
I hope you'll run for them and help address a gaping hole in Indian society - the care of the elderly, especially those suffering from Dementia.

Since you may find it difficult to read the text in the accompanying poster, I'm affixing it below:

You’ve experienced the frustration that comes from misplacing your keys. An Alzheimer’s patient experiences the same feeling every moment of his life. Except that he has misplaced his whole life. His memories, true personality, skills and even his ability to display affection become locked in the dark recesses of his brain.
This could happen to any of us. Incidences of Alzheimer’s are not restricted to people of a particular gender, social strata, profession, ethnicity or dietary habits. Recent studies reveal that a whopping 3.2 million people in India live with Alzheimer’s today. And we’re still trying to figure out how many more remain undiagnosed.
We at Nightingales Medical Trust remain committed to addressing the issues stemming from Alzheimer’s. Our activities include:
• Medical care of patients through our Day Care centers and home visits. This cycle begins with the preliminary assessment and extends till palliative care.
• In-depth and sustained counseling of family members so that they can cope with their loved ones.
• Professional training of caregivers.
• Running a Helpline for Elders and Dementia patients.
• Conducting frequent workshops and support group meetings to spread awareness and hope.
• We’re also inaugurating our very own Nightingales Centre for Ageing and Alzheimer’s, a 70-bed facility in Bangalore, on 24 April 2010. This will be the first center of its kind in India.
Some of these activities require only the belief, love and patience of our staff and volunteers. Others require money as well. Right now, we’re seeking funds for a Mobile Memory Clinic that will cover the whole of Bangalore city plus a major part of the Bangalore Rural District. The clinic will facilitate the early detection, intervention and rehabilitation of Alzheimer’s patients, which in turn will lead to comprehensive and timely care.
Will you help us? Come, use your legs and heart to telling effect. Run with us in the Sunfeast Marathon as an iCare participant and make that crucial difference.
For more details, click here

If you're more ambitious, you could run as a Care Champion. And if you're in an influential position in your organization, then you could encourage it to participate in the Corporate Care program.
All details about the marathon are available here.
All details about Nightingales are available here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Revisiting my past

Am off to Trichy tomorrow for a bit. Used to visit the town every summer vacation while I was in school. But ever since my maternal grandfather moved out, I've had no occasion to visit Trichy. The last visit was in 1990, I think.
So after a gap of twenty years, I'll be revisiting my birthplace and seeing it with new eyes. Of course, the place itself has changed drastically. It's a veritable 2nd tier city now, with highrises and whatnot.
Should be interesting, more so because I just might end up making a long-due investment.
Ciao, folks. Catch you next week.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A new era in cricket statistics?

This post is a few years delayed. Why? Because the suggestions I mention here are so self-evident that I assumed they would be incorporated by the statisticians serving the game sooner than later. Well, it hasn't happened so far, so here goes.
I think it's high time we measure the following in our players:

1) Weighted Batting Index
This will be the product of a batsman's average and his Strike Rate per ball.

WBI = Average * (Strike Rate/100)

In the era of T20, the WBI is a better indicator of a batsman's performance as compared to the Average. Let's compare two players using the WBI.
Sachin Tendulkar's average in ODIs is 45.12 and his Strike Rate is a healthy (considering the era he debuted in) 86.26.
Virender Sehwag's average in ODIs is 34.25 and his Strike Rate is an awesome 103.51.
Comparing the averages, Sehwag performs at 75.9% of Sachin's benchmark. But comparing the WBI gives a different picture altogether.
Sachin's WBI is 38.9.
Sehwag's WBI is 35.45.
This means that Sehwag actually performs at 91% of Sachin's benchmark. Now that's a very different picture, isn't it?

In summary, the WBI incorporates two parameters of batting - consistency and aggression - to arrive at a new measure of prowess.

2) The Weighted Bowling Index
Exactly the same concept as the WBI, except that this combines Average and Run Rate per ball.

WBoI = Average * Run Rate/6

As an easy corollary, the WBoI incorporates two parameters of bowling - wicket-taking ability and thrift - to arrive at a new measure of prowess.
I daresay that the WBoI will show that we've not given sufficient due to many thrifty bowlers.

3) The All Rounder Index
I've never understood why the two aspects of an all-rounder's game have never been combined together to create an All Rounder Index.

ARI = (Weighted Batting Index) * (1/Weighted Bowling Index)

Self-explanatory, right? An all-rounder, by definition, is one who can claim his place in the team either as a batsman or a bowler (I'm excluding wicket-keeper all-rounders here). So someone who has a reputation as an all-rounder but consistently underperforms in either batting or bowling will be revealed in his true colours. Similarly, an all-rounder who's just good in both aspects will be shown as "better than good" overall.

4) Safe Hands Index

Just when will we start collecting metrics on dropped catches? Why hasn't this been done so far? Is it sufficient to say that a Test player has, over twelve years of slip fielding, taken 130 catches? What about the 45 catches he dropped in the process?
The SHI is a simple percentage formula.

SHI = (1 - (Catches Dropped/Catches Taken))*100
An SHI of 65 means that his hands are safe 65% of the time.

I have more ideas, but I guess this should suffice for now.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

That wispy connection

The past 4 days have been great. First, Vanilla Desires happened. And this morning, we inaugurated our new office off Double Road. Scalers & Victors Innovations Pvt Ltd will now operate out of this 16-seater, right on the fringe of downtown Bangalore. Not having slept last night, I returned home from the pooja feeling dog tired and found an unopened package awaiting me. I knew what it was even before I hurriedly tore it open.
When I did, out tumbled two copies of Chicken Soup for the Indian Spiritual Soul. Every contributor gets two copies gratis and my essay That Wispy Connection had made it into the book. The book has eight sections and my essay is in the eighth section titled "A Matter of Perspective". Well-known names whose essays feature in this section include Arun Shourie, Anita Nair, Shashi Tharoor, William Dalrymple and Resul Pookutty. Of course, other illustrious names like APJ Abdul Kalam, Kiran Bedi, Mother Teresa, K. R. Usha, Jaswant Singh, Rabindranath Tagore, Saeed Mirza, Sudha Murthy, Dr Sonal Mansingh and the Dalai Lama also feature in the book.
What an honour! Somebody please wipe this Cheshire cat grin off my face.

I only wish I could have called Risha and given her the news, even though she wouldn't have understood a thing. One day, a few years from now, I hope she feels proud of me.

P.S: You can view the book here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Vanilla Desires

There's usually a story behind every story. My short story Vanilla Desires has one too. A very filmy one.
As 2008 was coming to an end, I was acutely aware that the Unisun-Reliance Timeout short story contest deadline was midnight on the last day of the year. I kept slogging away at my non-writing work even as I promised myself that I will reserve the last week - from Christmas to New Year's Eve - for the short story that I would write for the contest. And sure enough, I finished my chores on the 23rd and went to bed contemplating the opening gambit for Vanilla Desires. On the morning of the 24th, I was awakened by a phone call from Chennai. My brother-in-law had met with an accident. Multiple injuries to his skull. He was in the ICU.
My mother and I packed for ourselves and my incapacitated father and the three of us rushed to Chennai. We reached late at night, despite hiring a car, and found that the situation was dire. The doctors were speaking only in cliches. 50-50 chance, God's watching and all that. My sister looked ashen yet brave. The moment felt surreal, funereal. I looked at my 8-year-old niece and 3-year-old nephew and saw their futures disappearing in a mist. It took me a moment to realize that my eyes had welled up.
'Not this,' I muttered, conversing directly with God after ages. 'Everything else is screwed up. My sister's life is the one bright spot left in the family. Don't screw this. Not this, goddamn you!'
Thankfully, I did not have the luxury to become hysterical. There were things to do. Medicines to buy, doctors to consult. And someone had to stay outside the ICU through the night in case something was needed. I, being a creature of the night, was ideally suited to play the role.
So Christmas Eve, a little after midnight, I sat on the landing of the staircase leading up to the ICU and wrote the first sentence of Vanilla Desires. It ran like this:
As she caressed the utensils with soap, Sanaa gazed out of her kitchen window, inviting the afternoon breeze inside with her eyes.
It seemed as good a beginning as any, so I continued writing. I wrote around half the story that night. My subconscious already knew the characters and the story inside out, but it refused to divulge these secrets to my conscious mind.
'You'll know soon enough,' my subconscious said haughtily.
'But,' my conscious mind protested, 'you must keep me in the know. Because we must write something optimistic. We must reaffirm life. There's too little good news out in the world.'
'That really isn't my problem,' my subconscious replied, switching off for the night.
I sat there on the landing till dawn unraveled its day's plans for the city. Soon, my sister returned to the hospital and I went to her home to sleep. A couple of hours later, I was woken up. One of the consulting doctors felt that my brother-in-law must be shifted to Malar Hospital, the best in the city for such cases. So we arranged for an ambulance, waited in suspense for it to arrive and eventually managed the transfer to a bigger, better-equipped ICU.
So it came to pass that on Christmas night, I was sitting outside a different ICU with the same story on my hands. Again, a little after midnight, I resumed writing Vanilla Desires. By 3 am, I was done. I reread it, felt good enough about it and closed my notebook. I think I slept till a janitor rudely awoke me.
The next two days were crucial. CAT scans were performed, even more doctors were consulted. By the 27th, the doctors were willing to offer more hope. He would live, he might even become completely normal again.
So I went to a cyber cafe and typed out the story. I sent it to a select group of long-suffering friends who have always, always, given feedback on my writing. On 31 Dec 2008, I returned to the cyber cafe, corrected a couple of typos and submitted the story, as usual, in the twelfth hour. I then went to T Nagar to get drunk in multiple bars in the company of total strangers.
2009 came with the good news that my brother-in-law's chances of complete recovery were quite high. A month later, I was in Singapore, attending the Asia Journalism Fellowship. The wonderful excitement of the program made me forget all about Chennai and Vanilla Desires. During my first long weekend in Singapore, I went to visit a dear friend in Penang, and while at his home, as I was admiring the view of the bridge from mainland Malaysia into Penang, I saw an email pop into my inbox informing me that Vanilla Desires had been shortlisted in the contest. A while later, I was informed that it had won the first prize.

After a long wait, on 6 March 2010, Unisun launched Vanilla Desires and other stories in the Reliance Timeout outlet on Cunningham Road. It was worth the wait. The book has some wonderful stories by promising new authors and showcases the world-class production and design capabilities of Unisun. The launch event also allowed me to forget my life for a happy couple of hours. I sat in the company of fellow writers, talking literature; we flitted from one literary topic to another like greedy sparrows wanting to empty the granary.

Incidentally, this year's contest deadline is 31 March and I have the vague outlines of a story forming in my mind. I hope the story delivers itself soon enough because, as always, time is running out.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Lash, the human tongue

Many headlines this week seem to be bound together by a common theme: what is tolerance?

The first story is that an article written by Taslima Nasrin years ago was translated by a Kannada daily, reading which Muslims in Shimoga and other places in Karnataka turned violent and clashed with cops and Hindus. Lives were lost. In case you haven't read Madam Taslima's article, here it is.
The second story is that of M. F. Hussain accepting Qatari citizenship because he was hounded out of the country by Hindu fundamentalists who opposed his depiction of "Bharathmata" in the nude. This issue, too, is years old. The painting came up for auction more than four years ago and looks like this.
The reason I've provided these links is because our mainstream media believes in talking endlessly about such controversies without showing us what the fuss is all about.

Anyway, the easy parallel between both stories is that two people belonging to creative professions offered viewpoints that supposedly hurt the religious sentiments of Indians. Indian Muslims in the first instance and Indian Hindus in the second. In both cases, the hurt public believed that burning, shrieking, hurling stones and issuing threats were excellent ideas and would certainly bring the artists to their knees.
They, of course, had alternatives:
1) Ignore the works
Indifference is more resounding than a slap and more scalding than fire. An artist fears nothing more.
2) Ask for an explanation
If the anguish by the works was so deep that it needed a response, then can one not demand an explanation from the artist? Are our Gods so weak that we cannot use their wisdom to counter the viewpoint of a mortal artist, assuming that the artist indeed was dreadfully wrong?
For better or for worse, the Constitution is the only holy book in a democracy. We know who wrote it, when and why. And the best part: it's subject to change. We can always reassess this holy book and align it as per the changes occuring in society. Religious books, on the other hand, offer metaphors that define a past era. That they are often profoundly valid in our time is a tribute to writers and visionaries burned and buried long ago.

Extrapolating, I cannot but wonder: can it be ethical or even legal to ban an artist's work? How does one justify that in a democracy? Why can't even rabidly vulgar works be brought out and examined for what they are? Is this because we're a developing country with unenviable literacy rates? Is tolerance a matter of education? If so, how did Gandhiji manage to acquire our Independence by selling his vision to the illiterate millions of India? Aren't we typically smug by suggesting that intellectual debate requires refinement as we understand this word?

I really cannot fathom these expanding fringes in our society, but I wouldn't mind their existence in the very least if they were just rabble-rousing tongue lashers. If only they shunned the easy short-cut: violence. These people probably underestimate the power of the human tongue. It's not just a festering ground for germs and a sensuous barometer of the kiss. It's also a potent weapon. Haven't we all slayed with our tongues? Haven't our dear ones, especially, felt its venomous darts? Perhaps we can argue that the tongue doesn't work half as well when used to lash strangers. Ah! The proper practitioner of this banal - yet dark - art can reduce even strangers to tears. Bertrand Russell and, more recently, Simon Cowell come to mind.

And speaking of lashing tongues, I'd like to ask anybody who'd care to listen: just why is it so unacceptable to criticize Sachin Tendulkar? I think now is the best time to ask this question - when he has made the transition from immortal to divine. I particularly want to ask those former captains of Indian cricket (Mumbaikars, most of them) why they felt it so necessary to crucify Sanjay Manjrekar for making unflattering remarks about Sachin? Again: are our Gods so weak?
Reminds me of 1989. I and my then best friend Stephen Pinto used to sit on our building terrace and discuss Sachin deep into the evening. Any nitwit who has held a cricket bat in his hand could immediately see that the 16-year-old Sachin was a phenomenon like no other. Stevie and I were convinced much before the Indian think-tank that Sachin must open in ODIs. We were also always critical of Sachin. Simply because Gods must save the universe every single day. Because the man who was born Spiderman cannot have the weaknesses of Peter Parker. Sorry, that's how it is. It's cruel, yes, but true nonetheless for puny humans like us. We expected Sachin to play the 1997 Sharjah sandstorm innings every time he went in to bat. And for so many years in between, Sachin heaped the numbers without leaving a lasting impression in my mind. I daresay Stevie would agree.
That changed in March 2008 when he won us the Triseries Down Under. We didn't even have to play the third of the best-of-three finals. Since then, Sachin has been playing the way he was designed to. He's consistently winning us matches and, in the process, pointing us to the gap between him and a Ponting or a Lara. The God himself is putting finishing touches to the temple we're erecting for him in our minds. That's how it should be. And if experts believe that the extraordinarily few criticisms have spurred Sachin to greater heights, then there's all the more reason to lash our tongues.
I think Gods do welcome a little challenge thrown at them by mortals. So Sachin: do you think you have enough gas left in the tank to lift the World Cup? Really? Show me.

Friday, February 19, 2010

We won despite the stupidity

What a day! If you're a diehard cricket fan, you would have spent it like me. On the edge of your seat - perhaps your cubicle seat. Me? My work allows me to lounge on the edge of my couch :)
Anyway, it was a great day. After the pasting we received in Nagpur, I was certain that we would hand South Africa the #1 ranking on a platter. We just couldn't win without Dravid and Laxman, could we? Then came the news that Laxman would play. I breathed a little.
By the end of Day 1 at the Eden Gardens, we had engineered a batting collapse and clawed back into contention. Then four centuries by the four most experienced batsmen in the side ensured that we were firmly on the driver's seat. Sehwag set the tone. And when he does that, the opposition bowlers lose the will to live. Which, in turn, makes it easier for the batsmen who follow. But that takes nothing away from Laxman and Dhoni. They could have fallen cheaply and embarassingly like Badrinath. Instead, they stuck it out and gave us a large enough lead to press for an innings defeat.
We know what happened over the next two days. Harbhajan lived up to his billing - he does this once in a while while at other times looks like the most overrated cricketer in the world. Mishra too spun a few good ones. Ishant showed grit. And we managed to win despite the absence of our pace spearhead on Day 5.
En route, Hashim Amla made our bowlers shed blood-red tears. Talk about being on a royal purple patch!

But despite our heartwarming performance, I feel annoyed at the BCCI. More specifically, at the way they choose the venues for our beloved sport. Surely these folks have been given rudimentary lessons in subcontinental geography? Surely they know our climate patterns (considering that the incumbent President is also the Union Agriculture Minister)? And surely they know that we have one time zone for the whole country and therefore the light fades a lot earlier in our eastern cities?
Apparently not. There is a rotation policy in place for venues. And the BCCI sticks to it. Well, in a manner of speaking.
Nagpur has its very own "special rotation policy". Sometimes the first match of the series is played in the Jamtha stadium, sometimes the last and sometimes a match in the middle is played there. That's probably because a certain politician-cum-cricket administrator wants to ensure that the people of Viderbha remember him at all times. How else can one explain the fact that since November 2008, Nagpur has hosted two Test matches, two ODIs and one T20 match? You haven't heard a peep about this from any of our prominent experts, have you? Well, we'll let it pass. We'll assume that the visiting cricketers insist on playing in regions that grow oranges. And therefore Nagpur must figure in every series (and it has except for the India-Eng series in 2008).
But let's look at some other interesting choices of venue:

1) The first Test between India and England in 2008
The chosen venue was Chennai. The dates: December 11-15. Even a crackling dry city like Chennai expects rainfall in December. I remember my 7th standard geography teacher mentioning something about the North-East monsoon. This, if memory serves me right, affects the eastern parts of the country and is particularly active in the south-eastern coastal cities between October and December.
And guess what: the Met department issued a cyclone warning on Dec 9th, denying the visiting team sufficient net practice on the ground. It was a small miracle that the Test was played out fully and there was a result: a brilliant batting display in the 4th innings, especially by Sachin, ensured an Indian victory.
This brilliance, mind you, almost didn't happen. Chennai in December indeed!

2) The second Test of the same series
The chosen venue was Mohali. The dates: December 19-23. Peak winter in North India. A few score miles east, the Delhi airport would have been foggy enough to halt flights. Mohali would have been marginally better. Marginally. Luckily, only 18 overs were lost to bad light and that happened on Day 1. The match was a dull draw. It would have been duller had bad light intervened each day, as it did in Kolkata in four out of the past five days.

3) The first Test between India and Australia in 2008
The chosen venue was Bangalore. The dates: October 9-13. Well. Tough one. September is statistically the rainiest month in Bangalore. October is not far behind. Bangalore receives rainfall from both the South-West and the North-East. It also receives pre-summer showers, post-winter showers and pre-monsoon showers. In all, it receives a fifth of the rainfall the other side of the Sahyadri range receives. But, well, the point is, the light fades fast and it could rain at any time of the year. If I must schedule a Test match in Bangalore (and I don't see why I must, since we have such a poor track record there!), I'd do it in February-March. Other months, we're better off playing elsewhere.
And guess what happened in this particular game? Sachin and Laxman plodded through Day 5 and gave us a draw. Bad light halted play, just as I had predicted on my city column in the New Indian Express, which appeared on the morning of Day 5. Vindicated :)

These are just three stark examples from recent Test matches. If I start scanning the ODI venues, I'd find more such issues.
So to the head honchos of the BCCI, I'd offer the following thumb rules:
1) Play our summer matches on our eastern front. A city like Guwahati hosting, say a day ODI in November, is a bad, bad idea. Let Guwahati, Kolkata, Cuttack, Ranchi and Vizag get matches between March-August.
2) Play our peak winter matches in the western and south-western cities such as Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Baroda, Kochi, Panjim etc.
3) Avoid peak winter games north and east of Bhopal.
4) Pay heed to the monsoon. If you schedule a match in Mumbai in July, you're making a mockery of the sport and showing disrespect to its fans.
5) If you want to ignore the single time zone factor, convince the ICC to allow the use of floodlights in Test matches. The white apparels will not get tainted by artificial light. No, they won't.

Overall, it was a miracle that we won today at the Eden Gardens, given that we lost two-thirds of Day 4 to bad weather. Had Morkel survived another 4 overs, we'd have been cursing the weather Gods instead of cursing the decision-makers.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mrs Craddock was nice

Keeping me company these past couple of weeks was one of William Somerset Maugham's lesser known novels - Mrs Craddock.
If you are a keen reader of Maugham, you'll realize by the third page that this is an early work of a writer still seeking his artistic voice. It's more verbose and stylistically less accomplished. It uses unpalatable writing techniques to offer insights into the human psyche - Maugham's biggest strength in later years.
But it's still the work of a master. Because by Page 30, the characters have gripped you and you feel compelled to read through the placid plot.
I especially loved this quote in chapter 30: "I've learned by long experience that people generally keep their vices to themselves, but insist on throwing their virtues in your face."
Now how true is that? The racuous crusaders of today - me included - can benefit from mulling over these words. And doesn't the true angel seal her lips to brighten her halo?

P.S: For those of my dear readers who haven't read Maugham, I have a question: do you think breathing is synonymous with living? It isn't. And you haven't lived till you've read The Moon and Sixpence. Read it to be inspired. And to know that Howard Roark - Ayn Rand's unforgettable character from the novel The Fountainhead - had a predecessor. His name was Charles Strickland.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

To all my guardian angels

Writing this from a cyber cafe in Bhubaneswar. It's going to be a sentimental post, so if you aren't in the mood, read no further.
The last 30 months of my life have been as pleasant as the dentist's drill for reasons that most of you are well aware of. And yet I found the past fortnight to be particularly jarring on the nerves. As if the dentist's drill smelled of the last patient's puke, resembled a jackhammer, was sluiced with infected blood and had been hooked to a Dolby system.
In other words, I've been dealing with a nightmarish legal matter, a matter that enunciates the massive failure of another person and I. At the end of this legal battle, neither of us will emerge winners. But I must fight this battle for the sake of someone more precious than I.
Wow! I never thought I'll dare blog about this, even in a cryptic way. But hold on. This blog post, at least, gets happier.
So here I am, in Bhubaneswar, after a fortnight that offered the following:
1) Weeks of creative client work squeezed into days
2) Brief time capsules to heal the unfinished-ness of my novella
3) Long days of travel &
4) Last but not the least: legal jaw-jaw, sleepless nights & deadlines that only I cared about.

And just when I was wrapping up the humongous legal document, a day before it had to be filed in court, I lost my wallet. Just like that. It contained replaceable items like my ATM/Debit cards, PAN card, a respectable stash of dough and visiting cards. It also contained a few irreplaceable personal effects:
1) A happy photograph
2) A lovely hand-written letter that did much to nullify the pain of the legal matter
3) A one-dollar bus ticket that, in Milwaukee, would have taken me from Juneau Ave to the city library on Wisconsin & 9th.
4) A recipe that contained the secrets of my mother's world-famous sambhar

Anyway, you could imagine my plight. I would have had no option but to beg outside Bhubaneswar station to pay for the legal paper and the printing charges and the notary's fee. Thankfully, I was not alone. I was a welcome guest at the Malu household.
I've known Chandan Malu since 1997. His wife Swati is fast becoming an equally good friend of mine - just as sweet and dependable.
Swati, as flustered as me, helped me search for the wallet. We soon gave it up as a lost cause, and she called Chandan and gave him the news. Chandan, who had much work pending in the office, swiped out without another thought, rushed to the nearest ATM, withdrew some money, arrived home, searched for the wallet himself, then escorted me to the lawyer's house - on the other side of the city. He sat patiently as I indulged in the by-now familiar legal jaw-jaw. We then went searching for a printer who had the ability and the desire to patiently take printouts on legal paper. We finally found one, finished the mind-numbing chore and left in his car only to discover that some of the pages had to be reprinted. Without a word, he turned the car, back towards the printer. This time, we finished that task well and then went for a late biryani dinner. Despite being dog-tired, he then drove me to the police station to file a complaint about the missing wallet (I needed this to travel back on Indian Railways using my e-Ticket.) He then drove to another ATM to withdraw sufficient money for my use. We reached home where Swati was anxiously awaiting our return. She wouldn't rest till the Debit cards were blocked. Chandan sat through the whole thing, as I called a million numbers to get the cards blocked.
The next morning, as I left for the ordeal, there wasn't sufficient time for Swati to give me breakfast. So she found a packet of sliced cake - which I consumed on the court premises, while waiting for my tardy lawyer.
Ever since, they have been calling and ensuring that I'm doing well.
And this is not the first time that the Malus have showered their love and hospitality on me. Whenever I come to Bhubaneswar, they open their doors with a smile. I don't know what I've done to deserve friends like them.

Today, I think back about those million instances when my friends cared more than enough to help me out of a tight spot. I counted and am now certain that I have at least 34 such friends, accumulated over the years. And guess what: the list keeps growing longer! I must be doing something right in my life.

To all my dear guardian angels out there - thanks for being such beautiful people and such great friends. You are the reason the dentist's drill looks squeaky clean and smells minty fresh. Life will extract its pain. Meanwhile, there's reason to smile.