Monday, December 08, 2008

Another unnecessary post on another unnecessary attack

Well, I don't really need to write anything about 26/11. Much of what we are all feeling as a nation has already been captured by the media, various columnists, conscious citizens et all. I am yet again saddened, shocked and numbed by the events that unfolded over those three fateful days. But not so much at the loss of life and the general destruction. No sir. Let me not kid myself. As someone from this violent generation of extremism and religious fundamentalism (and that includes all religions), I am more than used to seeing gory pictures of death and violence on sensationalist national television and reading more of the same in the headlines of news hungry newspapers. No...this is not what I am really upset about. What got my goat was the fact it takes us an attack on 2 five star hotels, 6o hours of soap operatic carnage and 180 deaths to get us to react the way we did. If there would have been a routine blast (routine blast??!?) in say, a remote part of a tier 2 town, then all we would have done is shake our heads, sigh and change channels with a wise ass comment about how that's all we see on television these days. Now that the attacks have been on a scale and range that have shaken us, we are reacting differently and with purpose (hopefully). Things hurt when they hit closer to home I guess...the middle class/upper middle class is used to visiting the places that were hit in Mumbai and hence the fear and helplessness. India has been hit by more than a thousand terrorist attacks since 2004, killing thousands of people, but such a reaction was not deemed worthy on any of the earlier occasions. What happened then? Were those lives not as important as the ones lost in the 26/11 carnage? Apparently not.
As a nation we need to reflect on how insensitive we have become and how a certain insularity has crept in...It can therefore almost be inferred that there is no value accorded to human life in this country. Oh sorry, its worse than that...the higher up you are in the human food chain, the more value your life has. We are happy to shut up and turn a blind eye and even continue happily with the IPL when a blasts kills innocents in Jaipur, but will make a hue and cry when an iconic hotel is turned into a battle zone and the people who are killed this time are rich and famous. I'd rather we not care about anybody at all... at least its fair.
I weep not for the many who died or who were injured, I weep for their fellow countrymen who have forgotten how to feel.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

And one last thing, lads, before I leave...

My favourite Sourav moment isn't his shirt waving at Lord's, his magnificent century on Test debut or even his triumphant Australia tour in 2003-04. It is in fact an advertisement he did while he was out of the Indian Team, in support of Rahul Dravid's World Cup team. It went like this, "Hi, My name is Sourav Ganguly. I hope you haven't forgotten me. Whatever happened, why it happened I don’t know. I am practicing hard to come back into the team.Who knows I might get another chance to swirl my shirt in the air! In the field or outside the field, I wont keep quiet. For every match of India I am going to cheer them like this and so should you… my team will feel good.You will listen to your ‘Dada’ right?” For me that summed up Ganguly. It takes immense courage to acknowledge that you've been been dropped and might never make it back to the team. It takes even more courage parade naked emotions on national TV. But emotions have been Ganguly's forte. As a player and a captain, he always wore his heart on his sleeve. Not many warmed up the man when he broke into the national side after his brilliant debut at Lord's in 1996. He had his own way, was an aristocrat and didn't care much for authority. These qualities, in the sycophancy -driven BCCI setup are almost sure to finish off your career, but the man managed to come out playing over a 100 tests and 300 ODIs. Oh, and he turned out to be the country's most successful captain as well.
Sourav has had many highlights throughout his illustrious career. But I saw him come into his own during the captaincy phase. Under him, India weren't the same team of old...happy to go quietly into the night. There was a steely resolve to fight, to believe, to give back as good as given. Building a new team and throwing his weight behind youngsters like Sehwag, Harbhajan, Yuvraj and Kaif, he instilled an entirely new character into a team of talented but generally directionless youngsters. The BCCI can thank him for the the team they see now. You could always count on him to put up a fight, against the system, against the defeatist baggage of earlier Indian teams and even against the mighty and unflappable Australians. Steven Waugh will always remember him as the man who spoilt his party. Love him or hate him, but you couldn't ignore Boycott's Prince of Kolkata. He will be remembered with much more respect than he has been accorded of late, sure to be classed among India's best captains ever along with Tiger Pataudi and Ravi Shastri. When all seemed lost there was always Sourav and his team who gave us something something to cheer about. The legendary scraps with the Aussies, the Natwest trophy finals, the one man show at the Sahara Cup in Canada and the dream run in the World Cup in South Africa. India was back on the cricketing map and a force to contend with. No longer the tigers at home and the mice abroad. All this and a team for the future.
Indian cricket and I will miss the left handed captain courageous, Kolkata's favourite son, and the once 'God of the offside'. So long, Sourav. And thanks for the memories.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Book Review: The White Tiger

Much hyped, Aravind Adiga’s debut novel, The White Tiger was something I was waiting to read for a while now. While the book's recent short listing for the Man Booker prize came as a bit of a surprise to me, it is indeed engaging and insightful in many respects.
The book tells the tale of the rags to riches story of Balram Halwai, the son of a rickshaw puller from a remote village in India (which Adiga christen’s ‘The Darkness’) and his subsequent meteorical rise to dot com millionaire. Halwai’s path to riches is far from clean. There are compromises and unscrupulous deals along the way, and Halwai does not even mind spilling a little blood to get to where he wants to be. The book raises many issues… the inequality of incomes and lifestyles, religious tensions, the corruption in the system and the fact that success in today’s India can never be achieved with hard work and diligence alone. Adiga is clearly angry, and Halwai, narrating his story in letter format to China’s premier (no less!) becomes his mouthpiece. Life in rural India is described in all its blood, deprivation and stench. The anger is even more evident in Halwai’s narration of his ex-employers’ family’s treatment of him and other servants in the big bad city of Delhi. The chasm between rich and poor in India is highlighted as it should be. The funny thing is, even as you start to realize and know that Halwai is far from being the clean poster boy of small town success stories, and is in fact willing to go to any length to achieve his goals, you somehow still root for him. And that is the beauty of Adiga’s writing. It’s the angry young man/ anti-hero circa 2008. The narrative also alludes to popular real life issues that have occurred in India over the last few years, such as the BMW hit and run case, the many bribery cases in politics etc.
The book raises many uncomfortable questions about modern India, and does so unflinchingly, relentlessly and unapologetically.
I’ll be watching out for the follow-up.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Raj Kumar Gupta's first effort as director is commendable. Aamir, though repetitive in both message and plot device, leaves an impact which few films this year have had. A clear example of how the end result is more than the sum of its parts.

Aamir tells the tale of muslim doctor, who returns to India, after years in the UK, only to find his family kidnapped by muslim fundamentalists who wish to use him for their nefarious designs on the larger populace. This leads the helpless doctor on to a race against time, running from pillar to post trying to do their bidding. Mumbai here is showcased in all its grit, grime and dirty underbelly. And what an effect it has on the senses! You feel Aamir's pain and frustration at every step along the way. At the outset, when he has to get somewhere in quick time and he runs into a traffic jam, you just can't help but smile wryly at the daily realities of urban life. Along the way, he sees a Mumbai faced by millions of common people, a Mumbai which is harsh and brutal, far removed from his world. The film could have done with more such examples of this brutality, but chooses not to for some reason, and loses out on impact in the process. It tends to focus more on the protagonist's pain and his minute by minute nightmare instead.

Towards the end, he is faced with the decision of his life, whether to stay true to his heart, or selfishly save his family, at the cost of hundreds of lives. He finally finds his peace and smiles for the first time in the film, right in the last scene of the film.

The film unfolds quickly and but slows down in the second half of the proceedings and that is a cause of complaint. A tighter lead up to the finish could have served the film better. Also, the conversations between the kidnapper and Aamir, about being muslim in today's India, are a bit tedious and has been done to death in earlier films.

But whatever said and done, the film keeps you engrossed and you feel for the protagonist every step of the way. The direction is very good and is setting augments proceeds considerably. Cinematography is simply quite stunning. The film uses people on the street quite brilliantly and city comes alive through these folks. Rajeev Khandelwal does a commendable job in his first outing and film rests on his able shoulders throughout its 2 hour duration.

A word on the music. Amit Trivedi's score is simply one of the best soundtracks of the year. Each song grips you sonically, and helps the visual on the screen become a emotional experience. Watch out for the great hooks on 'Chakkar ghumiyo', 'Ek Lau' and 'Haara'. But save up for the gem of a tune, 'Ha Raham karna Aye Khuda'. 2 thumbs up! Great stuff!

Highly recommended.



Monday, May 05, 2008

Trivia - Cinema's funny circles

Two of my (and most peoples, for that matter) favourite Utpal Dutt Films are Hrishikesh Mukherjee's 'Golmal' and Ray's 'Agantuk' (The Stranger).
The first film really put Dutt on the comedy map in a big way and remained his most memorable commercial performance till date. The latter is certainly his last great one. Now sample this -

1979 - Golmal
(Interview scene- loosely edited and translated in English)
Dutt - What can you tell me about Pele?
Palekar - He was a great man, sir! His book 'The per capita income of the backward tribes of Maharashtra is fantastic!
Dutt - Who are you talking about?
Palekar - Prof. Rele, the famous economist of course!
Dutt - No! No! I am talking about Pele, the Black Pearl! The famous football player from Brazil! Don't you know?
Palekar - Apologies sir. My knowledge of football is limited. Father used to say that youth was for hard work, studies and making someone of yourself. One could indulge in life's hobbies after settling down.

1991 - Agantuk(The Stranger)
(Interview scene over tea- loosely edited and translated in English)
Ghosh - you say you have returned to India after 35 years. Where are you returning from?
Dutt - Brazil
Ghosh - Ah! Brazil! What are you saying?
Dutt - Why?
Ghosh - Football, of course! Pele!
Dutt - Who?
Ghosh - Black Pearl Pele, the famous football player! He would score bicycle kick goals!
Dutt - Sorry sir. My knowledge of football is strictly limited to East Bengal and Mohun Bagan!


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Songs of a lifetime - 9

"Amar Janla" (My window)

A song in Bengali, by Anjan Dutta. It talks of 'The windows of our minds'. We all have our windows through which we look at the world. He urges us to stop looking at the world through windows of caste, creed and religion. Keeping our minds open to everything and everyone serves us much better in today's globalised world, where hate and mistrust are common enemies. Boundaries may well exist on maps, but Dutta urges us not to replicate them in our minds, in our outlook, in our sensibilites. A simple acoustic number, it sources its setting and inspiration firmly from middle class, urban Kolkata, but is decidedly universal in message.

"Amar janla diye,
Amar janla diye ektu khani akash dekha jai
Ektu borsha ektu grissho ektu khani sheet
Shei ektu khani choukho chobi akre dhore rakhi
Amar janla diye amar prithibi

Shei prithibi te bikeler rong hemonte holud
Shei prithibi te pasher barir kanna shona jai
Prithibita boroi choto amar janalai
Amar janla diye amar prithibi.

Shei prithibi tei bachbo bolei juddho kori roj
Ektu khani bachar jonno hajar aposh
Shei prithibir naam Kolkata ki Bharot jani na
Tumi tomar prithibir naam ta jano ki?

Tumi bolbe amar,
Tumi bolbo amar Beniyapukur tomar Behala
Tumi gondi kete dekhiye debe poshchim bangla
Hoito Kerela'r akash ar ektu beshi neel
Tobu sheta'o ki noi amar prithibi?

Amar janla diye jaina dekha Islamabaad
Shudhu dekhi roj ami amar pasher barir chaad
Ekta holde shari shukochche aaj moja'r rong ta neel
Aaj prithibi ta boroi rongin

Keu janla khule Alabamae bangla gan gai
Keu porche Koran boshe tar Japani janlai
Tumi hisheb kore bolte paro Paris er shomoy
Kintu kar janlai ke ki dekhe hisheb kora jai ki bolo

Moner janla ache,
Moner janla diye tumi beriye porte paro
Mexico te boshe bajano jai guitar
Kothai tumi tanbe bolo desher shimarekha
Amar janla diye gota prithibi.

Tai janla amar mane na aaj dhormer bibhedh
Janla jatiyotabaad er porowa kore na
Janla amar purb na poshchim er dike khola
Janla shey to nijei jane na

Janla amar shokal belai shonai bhoirobi
Aar shondhe belai shonai(shudhu) Johny Coltrane
Gaan er shure reshareshi deshadeshi nei
Amar gaan er janla gota prithibi."

PS - Heres a link to the song being performed by Kolkata lad Ankan Basu on Youtube:


Thursday, March 06, 2008

Civilised Man

Found this in an old rotten notebook in my Calcutta home during my visit there last year. Written in the year 2000, it was intended as a dig at corporate life in general... I had just joined work and didn't really enjoy the culture there. There could also have been something specific that had happened, but its too far back to remember...Originally written as a song, it found no takers when I showed it around to some of the bands which performed at a city it ended up as poem. So there... Anyone interested in picking it up? I'll halve my royalties rate, I swear...:-)

Morning comes and so do I,
Dressed in a three piece, hat and tie,
Looking better than anybody else can,
Because me, I am a civilised man.

At work, I set fires all around,
Poison ears till I get people to frown,
Can't let them promote him above the ceiling fan,
Because me, I am a civilised man.

United we stand, unbound we crack,
You squeal on me and I'll stab you in the back,
Dollars in the bank fuels this caravan,
Because me, I am a civilised man.

I wear the mask so you won't see,
The other thing that lives inside of me,
Deception seems to be my only plan,
Because me, I am a civilised man.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Langkawi - Feb'08

Langkawi - A fine getaway. Not as commercial as some of the other beach towns. A great place to chill out in for a few days away from the hustle-bustle. Highly recommended! A few pics.


Monday, February 18, 2008

New Sights, New Soul? - Counterpoint

Well, yeah... 2 sides to a coin and all that. Did get a few responses to the last post and it set off another train of thought. The fact that the last post was written with more than just a touch (in fact, with generous dollops!) of sentimentality cannot be denied. It was also written from NRI perspective (there, I said it) is also tue. The counterpoint being, that those who live outside the city or country love to return to familiar territory. Missing the 'good old days' is just a rant these days and should not go into being fodder for an anti-development campaign. True, there will be shedding of some of the old characterisitics of a place, as it evolves into something new and different, and that is but natural. From some of the angry responses I got, I weed out a few arguements. One said, NRIs love to come back to the place they once left behind... if they see change, they can't take it and start writing silly pieces on their blogs in protest of the changing 'soul' of the city and all. Another was that its about time that Calcutta took off in the right direction (the current development drive) after decades of neglect and disrepair, and there is nothing to be ashamed or apologetic about it. If people have the money to go to Bangkok instead of going to the Book fair, then its their right to do so and we cannot be in a position to comment. How many people 20 years ago could afford to do so? So now if there is properity, why rail against it, under the garb of sentimentality? There is merit to these arguments... we go ga-ga over the malls in London or Singapore, but claim that all the new malls in Calcutta are a scourge for the city's infrastructure and youth. The young generation will be the I-pod and PS3 generation, just like we were the Amar Chitra Katha and the gali-cricket one. So what? Why the double standards?
The drift of things is thus.. poeple living away from the action tend to have a city caught in time in their heads and refuse to let go. This leads to an altogether irrational view of things, where one set of rules seem alright in the country of residence (mainly developed countries), and different set of rules tend to apply to the land they left behind. Nostalgia can never be reason enough. In my defence, the post was intended as a call to keep alive the cultural soul of a city caught head first in the battle between old and new. Nothing more. But still, the counterpoint does beg attention. There are sacrifices to be made to gain something. All I ask... is the soul too big a price to pay?

Below is reproduced a witty piece from the Times of India, written by C Rajaghatta. It bears some relevance to the topic under discussion.

"It’s all over for the NRIs, folks; long live the RNIs! If you are not familiar with the latter acronym, better get up to speed, because it could apply to you. It stands for Resident Non-Indians, a term manufactured by the now deposed and embittered NRIs to describe those they say are residents of India only in name, but who don’t show the slightest sign of being Indian — which to nostalgia-stricken NRIs means listening to Mohd Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar of circa 1970 while driving to work on the Beltway; not the Bollywood Rap the RNI types are soaking up while stuck in traffic jams in India.
The tidings about the demise of the NRI cachet and the rise of the RNI legend was brought recently to America, the largest hangout for NRIs, by a crestfallen member of the long-hyped tribe. He had returned from India rather shell-shocked. It’s not just that the dollar had sunk below Rs 40 and touts at Taj Mahal were using greenbacks to blow their kids’ noses, he sniffed; it was the way he was treated at home. When he sat down for breakfast expecting to be served pohua and idli, he was fed Post’s Banana Nut Crunch. Olive oil had replaced asli ghee in the making of parathas. When they went out to dinner — Tex-Mex, no less — friends whipped out their wallets faster than Clint Eastwood drew his six-shooter in For a Few Dollars More, and didn’t allow him to pay. His Amex card returned to the US unmolested.
There’s just no respect anymore for NRIs, he moaned. What happened to the good old days when nephews and nieces begged him for Levi’s and Nikes, for Chanel No 1 and Poison? Why, as recently as a couple of years ago, snotty little brats were pleading with him for playstations and iPods. But now all these were available in India, as were the latest laptops and cellphones. Having gone from Non-Returning Indian to a Non-Resident Indian, he had now been demoted to Not Required Indian.
So, here’s the scoop. Apparently, our bharat mahaan is rolling in so much lolly, and such is the attention being lavished on it by the world, that NRIs are being told to take their depreciating dollar and dafa ho jao. Dirhams and euros are still okay, but the dollar is definitely in the doghouse. Heck, even the Taj — the hotel, not the monument — is reportedly telling folks they would rather be paid in pesos. People, it’s Pox Americana time, and the American NRI is bearing the brunt. As a long-suffering itinerant who straddles the world of NRIs, RNIs, IRNs etc, i can attest to the hardship the poor NRI is going through with my $0.02 of insight, the equivalent naya paisa being too unaffordable. It’s a terrible chore these days to shop in the US for the family in India. For one, there is hardly anything that is ‘Made in USA’; and what is available is already outdated in India. The horrible moment of truth laughed me in the face when i handed out a nice T-shirt i had bought for a brat, only to be thanked with "Chee! It’s Made-in-Bangladesh." The sneakers, it turned out, were made in Thailand, and the baseball cap in Vietnam. The nadir came when the gang espied my cellphone, a model that was apparently discarded in India in the 20th century.
So, where does that leave the NRI? Word is that they are pressing for a change in nomenclature. They’d now like to be known as INRs — Indian Non-Residents."


Sunday, January 20, 2008

New sights, new soul?

Well, the annual trip to Calcutta is done and dusted. And while any trip home is always too short, this one was a bit different. Till last year, I still could evidence the romanticism of the city of old. Its values, its middle-class vibe and laid back soul was easy to seek out and see. However, this time around, the difference was palpable. I'll tell you what I mean in a minute. The fact that I was on a schedule from hell didn't help either. Hardly had any time to wander the narrow 'para' streets to really feel at home...
Well, the city seemed to be on the move. No doubts about that at all. There is new found sense of purpose. Clean things up, get rich, development and infrastructure seem to be the new buzz words. I hardly saw a road or a lane where some establishment, luxury condominium, or shopping mall isn't coming up. This of course is stressing the limited infrastructure immensely. However that's something that is a natural outcome of exponential growth. Buying a house was such a big deal a while ago. Today, most are able to purchase a flat with relative ease. I saw smiling faces from billboards saying how easy it was to purchase a property. Loans from banks, easy installments, all the modern day comforts and luxury, superb location etc. A boom seemed to be underway. This was already happening for the last couple of years, but it was only now that I saw the effects of this new found prosperity. All the young people go about from one pub to another, talking excitedly on the latest cell phone, Mp3 players stuck into their ears. All everyone talks about is buying property, some gloating over how they made a killing by buying a flat at a prime location a year ago, purchasing the hottest labels of clothing from the millions of new malls that are coming up in every nook and corner. A wholly new attitude was on display and money and prosperity seem to be the new ideals. New restaurants, glitzy streets and a buzzing nightlife all give evidence of this new growth story.
While I am happy for the city and this should come as a welcome change to Calcutta, I somehow felt a few pangs of loss. Its the same feeling you get when you realise your best friend, who you've just met after a longish gap, has changed somehow and doesn't value your friendship as much anymore. You're happy at your friend's new found wealth, but you want to share the same good times as you did before...without the cellphone ringing all the time, without having to go shopping with him to Guess, Mango, Spencer's and M&S. Just you and him, together, by the riverside on a winter afternoon, sipping a hot cup of chai, discussing something more than which new cellphone or car to buy. I want to be able to walk through the city lanes, see children play sports on the streets, instead of being glued to their Play Stations. I want to see the fast disappearing 'para club' still thriving. I wish to see people take a break from their running about and cell phones and actually take interest in other people. I want to see the new buildings glitter and glow in all their neon glory, but I still want to see a family taking the children out to the book fair, instead of a hurried 2 night 3 day trip to Bangkok. I want to see children at the various community libraries, not at video game parlours and malls.
Perhaps this incident will explain what I mean, best. On the 24th of December, Xmas eve, I was at the Saturday Club with the wife and some cousins. The atmosphere was jovial and upbeat with live music and dancers from some troupe, swinging to all the latest dance floor hits. When the clock struck 12, I expected at least one Xmas carol if not anything else. But nothing of the sort happened. Instead Daler Mehendi's 'Hayo rabba' blared through the speakers, sung by the Anglo-Indian singer, hired for the night (tell me about the IRONY No one really stopped to say Merry Xmas or the like. On top of that, there were pesky waiters who demanded tips at any given opportunity. I looked around to see just one Xmas tree, almost covered by huge sponsor hoardings and adverts from alcohol companies. This was an excuse to party, not a Christmas celebration. The only cheer and good spirit was from the Scotch whisky which flowed non stop. As we left the club, feeling let down, we noticed a man in a torn suit outside the gate, paying the saxophone. 'Jingle bells, Jingle bells...'. All we could do was smile at each other and put a brand new Rs. 50 note into his hat which lay in front of him. There were hardly any people on the road (which is unheard of in Calcutta during Xmas) and he seemed to be the only thing that night that reminded us of the festive Christmas spirit. A poor, cold and drunk saxophone player. This was what was left of the old Calcutta. This from a city which had such a large Anglo Indian and Christian community and where Xmas was perhaps the second festival of the city after the Durga Puja. No more plum cakes from Nahoum's for you son, its going to be disco music and pub hopping this time. Father Xmas? Haha, still living in the made up dreamworld huh? Wake up and smell the money. Now he visits only those who have nothing better to do. The 'have nots' or the 'out' crowd. I guess definitions of good cheer and festive spirit have changed. Sigh.
The government may have a role to play here. It must look to keep the cultural scene alive and kicking. Is one connection that cannot be lost. Reinvention of the city's past and the rehabilitation of the quickly degenerating cultural edifices and hubs would help immensely. Going to see the gorgeous, but largely unknown, 'Marble Palace' has to be seen as 'fashionable' again. Currently all I saw was hoards of young people, rushing from one place to another, looking to quickly improve their lot and get rich. Calcutta of old, at least in terms of values, is perhaps getting left behind in this frenzied rush. I would hate see this happen. I'm sure all Calcuttans would. I pride the city's soul more than anything else. I like the body beautiful, but I'm afraid Faust might have just made his deal again.

PS - All was perhaps not lost. I did get the opportunity to see Ravi Shankar and his daughter Anoushka perform at the Calcutta Club. It was a great evening to cherish and remember, with the ailing maestro improvising brilliantly through the various raagas. He had the crowd enthralled all throughout his 2 hour performance. I'm glad I went. Something to tell the grandchildren about.