Monday, December 22, 2008

Another year does pass

What is age to a bunch of bits and bytes? Does a byte grow wrinkled? How can age tell on a digital sheaf of papers? But still, its going to be one more year of this blog and perhaps the most uneventful one.
I just spent some time going over the posts I have written since this blog was created and couldn't help smile at the fleeting memory of days that surrounded certain posts. Most of my posts have nothing to do with real life and I try to mask one with the other (which indirectly might hint at real life). I had once enjoyed a great relationship with excellent bloggers who have (nearly) all got married and found better things to entertain themselves. I really miss them. Few of them still write but seem to have lost what it was that kept us all happily together. Though I am in touch with a lot of them (and just today I got to chat with the effervescent inspiration that got this blog rolling) it doesn't quite feel the same. Somehow things are dying and I realise that the same is happening to this blog (although for different reasons)
It was customary for me to collect my favourite posts of a year around this time and put together a post like this. I have no interest in doing that now. This year has disappointed me in many ways. Too much of war and strife. I had controversial posts and funny ones, some sonnets and many opinionated posts but not one Zen Koan. That is what I realised when I went through my posts (though there are a few in drafts). 2008 has been a bad year because it didn't nourish me enough to write a Zen Koan or another 18 verses or a God-Devil post. I believe I was in my happiest high whenever I wrote one of them. By their absence they revealed something to me; and the pointlessness of having a post summarising the year. The year was bad - summary over.
But I've had a chance to hone some skills of mine. I have written a play (which I shall put up online some day). I have had the chance to review and ponder over some severe divides. Though a skill has developed the blog has suffered.
I shant write anymore this year. 
Take care.
Happy New Year.


Friday, December 12, 2008


"Perhaps you don't understand."
He was leaning forward, his right hand trembling in its hold on the chair's armrest. I watched the frayed hair on his opisthenar trap sunlight and glow a terrible yellow and as his hand quivered the shredded flame danced with him. He was sweating but seemed unaware of fire and wetness on his body. His shadow alone seemed to recognise his greatness and drew him across the stretch of the room nearly touching my toes where I sat watching him. Ms. Dunkin would be back soon and she wanted me to keep an eye on the "ol' fella lest he jump off the window and make a mess". She had pork chops to buy and letters to drop. I had the same length of time with an option of walking Toby around the block and no reward or watching Mr. Dunkin and get some cookies at the end of it.

Keeping company
"You view the world differently, Chuck, and that is not how it should be?"

He paused and shook his head, his chin dragged back and forth in the pursing of his lips which stopped only when he slept without a dream. Chuck was always there, even when Mr. Dunkin woke up screaming one night and awarded Colleen the understandable right to run away from home (how can I live with this mad man?) and marry a linesman at the railway up at Kilkenny. Heard she ran away from there for a man who kept accounts at some bank. Ma had said one night, "Some people run, and some people run." I thought she had had too much of the whiskey. But she had grated the potatoes fine after that, so maybe it was one of those adult things for which I am never the right age.

"Daft, you bugger. And you think that he even cares about this?"

He lifted his hand off the armrest and let it linger in the air for a while. It floated like when I was in the swimming pool and then returned slowly, setting his hand ablaze in the morning sun. I looked around to make sure that this was the same Chuck and that there wasn't really someone else whom I had missed noticing. It was the same and I hugged my knees close to me. Mr. Dunkin's shadow moved like a grey wave towards my toes and I lifted them off the floor to the seat of the stool. I wish Ms. Dunkin returned soon.

"He wants you dead."

I couldn't help cough and did try my best to keep it to a splutter lest I disturb the conversation. Somehow that worked counter-purpose and I ended up coughing in a stream.

"Who is that? Eric? Colleen?", he paused before continuing, "She will come here some day, Chuck. There is a lot to settle. Who's there?"

"It's me Cormac."

Mr. Dunkin stared through me at my shadow on the wall.

"Get out of here Sam. How many times do I tell you I don't want to have anything to do with your bloody hands. You murdered her, you bury her and you wash your hands."

Was he talking about Sam, the butcher, whose wife died of pneumonia last fall? The only other Sams I knew either didn't have wives or had wives who were alive and murderous themselves.

"I am sorry, I'll leave right away."

I watched his whitened eyes peer deep to ensure that I had left. I knew this routine well to not be bothered but it was not always Sam or bloody hands. Last time it was O'Neill, the banker, who had stashed half a million pounds and earlier it was Shauna - but that was before my voice broke - and how her child was still alive in Dublin. It was funny how I was never the same to him but Chuck was. Chuck the air.

I continued sitting there while he turned to face Chuck.

"I hate Sam. Wonder what he's doing here? Selling ham to my wife?"

And he started laughing slowly, then in a roll he began whooping and convulsing. Between each strained inhalation I heard a laugh which didn't sound like Mr. Dunkin but echoes weren't uncommon out here. He fell off the chair and I rose to help him. Suddenly with no aide Mr. Dunkin reversed his fall and was on his chair again. I felt the hair pull at the skin of my nape.

"Thanks Chuck. Being too much of a bother, eh?"

I didn't let my heart beat lest someone heard it and did things I couldn't imagine. The air around me grew louder and every ray of sun bounced heavily on the wooden floor. The late morning heat fluttered scalding sheets which pushed against my open skin. For some reason I knew it was Chuck.

"What? You can't kill him. You need him. I need him. I need him, damn it."

Mr. Dunkin screamed but somehow his words didn't carry the force of terror. They became visible rivulets flowing from his mouth in blue-grey sounds around my legs and down the attic, dripping through the cracks on the panels onto the lives of others. Mr. Dunkin turned to look at me with pale orbs ensconced in paler ones. That was the colour of fear, of death. Then I saw him, leaning over Mr. Dunkin with his hands carefully rising up from the flames of Mr. Dunkin's hands. They caressed him till they reached his throat.

"No, no. No, Chuck. Run Cormac, run. Run."

That was the first time I heard Mr. Dunkin mouth my name and though he shouted it out it didn't feel like mine as it glided over the tired cerulean waters of all sound. I watched it stuck between my ankles and then straightened as it flowed into a darkness that once was the entrance to this attic. I stood there and watched the blue and grey and yellow warmth climb my being and I watched Chuck take form as he throttled Mr. Dunkin. The blue became his eyes while the yellow paled to his complexion. The red torched his hair and his clothes were the finest grey which shone like a snake on a rock.

"Cormac! Wake up!"

I suddenly realised that the throbbing was due to my being pushed off my stool. All I could see was her heels growing into fat ankles and a pair of hairy shins.

"Nice future ahead for you, Cormac. Sleeping on the job already!"

She dropped the paper bag of cookies by my side and walked over to where Mr. Dunkin was sitting. I picked up the bag and walked to the ladder that led me away from the attic. I passed the pile of pork chops on the kitchen counter when I heard a scream from the attic. I opened the door and walked out.

"And do you know that she pilfed an extra half pound when Bain was not looking? She has always been doing that. She asks him about some meat at the bottom level and then shoves in another chunk. Why do you think she goes to him every time she needs pork chops or ham?"

Chuck always knew what others were doing.

Happy Karthikai Deepam

Let there be light...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


There is nothing
Which doesn't remind me of you.
The walk
People-filled agoras
A night passed without a "good-night".

I never wished to thinkDesultory drift
Of walking the journey
Without you.
Our steps drumming the earth
Gave rhythm for my heart.

We don't speak
We don't hold hands
We don't argue
We don't live the truth
Of two hearts alloyed as one.

Last night, I walked back
And could hear your voice
Chatter in the silence of this world
Tell me things I knew you would
Ask me things I hoped you didn't
Laugh and tease and nearly get me
Run over by a car.

Last night I knew
That incompleteness
Is not the lack of completeness
It is the rightness
Of flame with wick
Though both are complete,
It is the beauty of a void
Which lets me want you.

Menakaa - Vasanth Kannabiran and Rajeswari Sainath

Vaishnavi, Rajeswari and (I think) Nainitha

I had the pleasure of attending a dance ballet at the Music Academy. A very kind friend gave me the invites to this event and I was quite impressed with the crowd that attended this. As in most art circles, there were the bohemian few but a lot were the well composed and elegant kinds that educe a quiet respect by their presence. I wasn't armed with my camera so the pic here is courtesy The Hindu of an earlier performance.
Menakaa was conceived and written by Vasanth Kannabiran. When Roshni Goswami summarised the performance as "bringing together radical feminism and aesthetics", I had to agree with her. Vasanth (she founded Asmita) has attempted to re-interpret an old tale, but the mark of a re-interpretation is usually cleverness and a convincing argument. In that Vasanth has failed. She has taken the story of Vishwamitra and Menaka down to Bharata and his adopted son and converted it into an accusation against men. There is nothing clever in this. One can always take a story and turn it around to make the other person the culprit. One could make Duryodhana look innocent or Chanakya a bigot but there is hardly any creativity in there especially if not developed properly. To be able to tell a tale of how Duryodhana and Draupadi team together to destroy Hastinaputra might be something different and untold (and perhaps it never happened). If one doesn't wish to fictionalise a legend then one has to be clever in re-interpreting the tale. Vasanth fails here.
She has taken the tale of Vishwamitra and portrayed Menaka as not being a seductress. That is fine if she could have explained why then did Menaka come down to earth on Indra's bidding and dance around Vishwamitra. That was missing. Then Menaka blames Vishwamitra for being a typical male in "planting his seed in her womb and running away". That is quite possibly a familiar case but how then does she explain Menaka delivering Shakuntala and rushing off to the heavens to continue with her dance and courtesan duties? She doesn't. If Vishwamitra identified his purpose of becoming Brahmarishi (which he did) and hence returned to his penance (and not other hedonistic pursuits) how is that vile when compared to Menaka delivering Shakuntala, leaving her in the forests and returning to Devaloka (world of Devas)? Vasanth doesn't bother to explain and probably expects the audience to cast angry glares at Vishwamitra thereafter. Vishwamitra set out to achieve something, was interrupted and then resumed. Perhaps he was violent in between and that portion cannot be questioned in an interpretation. Vasanth's point of a man's anger in being proved petty and human enough to be incapable of aspirations as high as Brahmarishi are convincing and appear plausible. The take that Vishwamitra was ashamed of himself for falling prey to the call of this world when he had set his eyes on something else, hence, mutated that embarassment into a violent rape of Menaka could be well made and accepted, but the rest of it fell short of a cogent reasoning. Vasanth was more keen on establishing all men as perpetrators of violence and all the women (who participated in it) as being entirely innocent or justified. That would have been welcome if there was a convincing argument woven out of history.
Another point that Menaka makes is that she decided to bear the child (Shakuntala) because she thought that the child - a confluence of Vishwamitra's prowess and intellect and her beauty and charm - would be a wonderful son who could rule this earth. But when a girl was born she left to the heavens. That is a take I couldn't understand in the telling of a feminist tale. I thought Menaka would have taken care of her or left her in the hands of powerful teachers to raise her to become the ruler of the earth. Not quite the plan Menaka had in her mind.
Then Vasanth goes on to create the case of pure innocence and desertion of Shakuntala. Menaka claims that Durvasa's curse had nothing to do with Dushyant forgetting. He simply didn't want to have anything to do with a woman he had deflowered and enjoyed, which is possible and acceptable as an interpretation if she could explain why Dushyant saw the ring, regained his memory and returned to collect both Shakuntala and her child. Dushyant had no problems of heirs. He could have well married a few hundred princesses and had a few dozen children. Why return to Shanuktala and take her back with him to his palace? This has not been explained and hence the whole interpretation appears shallow.
Going by records, Bharatadesha has seen many illegitimate children and rulers so that is not news. But an attempt at re-interpreting things is welcome as long as there is a lot of creativity or sound basis (like I am told about Girish Karnad's Tipu Sultan) and convincing argument. Menaka fails in that. Hence, this play is as Ms. Goswami notes radical feminism and not the educating and transforming feminism that I respect and enjoy.
The dance choreography was fine though faulty in many places. The faults fell in the category of coordination and suitable bhavas. The layas were honoured well though the transitions were often blurred or fumbled. When there were more than two artists on stage coordination was an issue and this was starkly visible. When the sutradharini, Nainitha started out explaining the prayer to Saraswati, her gestures were not matched with the ideas/words being explained. Similar gestures were made for two unrelated ideas and Nainitha cannot be blamed for it! Nainitha was one of the gems of the evening (though she has to be more conscious of her foot work). Perhaps Rajeswari should have donned the role of a Sutradharini and let Nainitha take over as Menakaa (from sheer consideration for age and the ability to execute vigourous steps and sensuous ones too), but perhaps it is not protocol to have the teacher do a lesser role. The fillers between two pieces of music were also not gripping enough. A filler, once it feels like a filler, has failed in its purpose.
Rajeswari was good and her expressions and timing were appropriate. I was forewarned that I should not expect the usual flexibility of dancers in her and I realised why that notion was formed. She told the tale well and held the audience attention till the very end. I think she has to get her students to focus on foot work which is given lesser attention.
Nainitha as the sutradharini was very good in her crisp execution of steps though the flaws in choreography did do some damage. Her foot work was dragged - literally and figuratively - but her mudras were beautifully drawn out. Her expressions were appropriate and didn't give into exaggerration that one often sees in dancers. She too failed to coordinate well when there were more than 2 dancers on stage.
Vaishnavi Sainath was Shakuntala. Elegant and voluptuous, she carried off the scenes of the shy nubile very well although her initial display of wantonness was rather fudged. I might be wrong but her knees seemed to not cooperate well with her which might also explain her reluctance to go into the arai-mandi stance while performing some of the pieces. She must pay attention to her weight if she wishes to perform various roles demanding a more malleable form. Her bhava was fine though not entirely well pronounced.
The rest of the dancers were clearly amateurs and have a long way to go before grabbing audience attention. These three dancers stole the limelight and the points I raise before do not tell on their talent or capability as a dancer.
In spite of all this, I enjoyed the evening and simply couldn't take my eyes off the stage. Before the performance started I saw the world of Music Academy as I had heard of from my parents and grandparents. It was indeed interesting to watch patrons of arts and itching-to-be-celebrities interact with each other. I had but Le Clezio giving me company though beside me was this artist who seems to be quite famous (she did state that she plays - something which she didn't mention - for nearly all the artists though not for dance) whom I didn't recognise or disturb.

Back To Old Days

That was a pleasure...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Rebuild India Plan

Of the many initiatives that have come up recently in the wake of the Bombay attacks, I find this site doing a good job. They have a questionnaire which seeks to gather information and opinion. They also seem to have a plan of action which reassures that not everyone is clueless enough to just have candle parties and beach side congregations. Please go visit them and offer your opinion.
With this post, I am done with talking about terrorism and what can be done. I pray to God that I do not have to write about this anymore. Here are the posts that touch this topic:

Monday, December 08, 2008

Simple words, please

I call it the policy of "convincing a kid". I do that when I rehearse my presentations. I imagine an audience of 8-9 year olds and imagine the possible questions that they might have and how I would explain it to them. Then I would imagine experts ask questions and suddenly turn into kids forcing me to explain in their language.
When trying to understand literature, I tried the same policy and I was called old-fashioned. I have explained here what I mean by good writing and in other places too. Post-modernists use fantastic and intangible terms to explain literature with quaint phrases like "stream-of-subversiveness" or "disaffiliation". I felt the same way about the complicated world of diets (and the French are delightful in their gastronomic ways).
When I read Liar's Poker, I kept wondering why do these people use such complicated ideas for doing something basic and concluded that I was basically incompetent to comprehend the world of finance and economics (I still think so). Then I would read Buffet and feel a little reassured. He never spoke in terms of "credit-default swaps" or C.O.Ds. That made him very approachable and very rich too.
Now I finally read someone who voices my thoughts in a place which lends it credibility. Please read this. You might also want to read Lewis' piece out here. He seems to have come one full, long, stretched circle. I have been wanting to share these links for a long time but terrorism has occupied my mind.
You might want to watch this (2 hours in length) to watch how complicated thoughts, the world of terrorism and finance are so tied together. Don't believe all of it. Just enjoy it and decide to dig deeper into things. And most importantly, trust simple words, please. Anything that requires a lot of hand-waving usually has something fishy in it.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Bombarding Thoughts

Will we ever know what really happened?
The past couple of weeks have served me excessive discussions about terrorism, Islamic-terrorism, secular notions, politics and a lot more. I feel sad that this blog has seen more exploratory and social posts when what I should be doing is sticking to my old ways of writing poems, stories and koans. I hope this blog doesn't shrug too much.

The first email I received was about Gnani Sankaran's article. I came down on it very strongly because he seems to have given into an emotional reaction which was uncalled for. This whole approach of calling those who visit the Taj as "the Mafiosi of Mumbai forever financing the glitterati of Bollywood (and also the terrorists) , Political brokers and industrialists" and as "swindlers" is too rash and typical enough to be ignored. The worst flaw in his development of his argument starts when he says that the Taj is not a representation of the "Aam Aadmi" and it is the CST which is the icon of India/Mumbai. He then says that "It is precisely because Taj is the icon of power and not people, that the terrorists chose to strike." and then fails to explain how the maximum deaths happened at CST if the Taj was chosen by the terrorists. If he admits that the Taj was the chosen spot then why does he want the media to cover CST when the action out there was wrapped up pretty quickly and the hostage situation was mostly happening at the Taj? The whole anti-rich tone was sad and factious. We don't need more divisions being created now. Nobody takes the media seriously what with their stupid interviews and screaming.

He then suggests that the media studios should pool their resources if they expect different party leaders to travel together and show solidarity. The parties and their leaders are not supposed to be commercial entities (at least in principle) and are supposed to "serve" the people. The media houses are here for business and not for humanitarian purposes. What am I missing here? They will do anything to get more business and hence, money. Why else would you have commercial breaks between live telecasts of whatever was happening? I am sure those slots must have come very very highly priced. Even the businesses which were running their commercials did not take that slot to express a prayer for the people trapped in the Taj or elsewhere! They were using the slot to further their business opportunities. But this is not the motivation for party leaders, I hope. At this point they should be together and not as rival parties. The govt. and opposition are primarily instruments to ensure that the best is realised for the country. The opposition is designed to keep a check on the ruling party which in turn does all that it can in order to give the public the confidence in their ability to rule the country's policies. At the time of crisis, there is only one course of action and hence, they need to be together. That doesn't mean that all businesses need to do that. He blames the media for not carrying photos of the unidentified people. Well, the newspapers didn't do that too, so shouldn't we line them all up and teach them a lesson or two?

Finally, he assumes that the commandos were at Ratan Tata's disposal! I am not sure where he got that idea. They seemed to be more at the terrorist's disposal!!

He ends the litany with some valid questions about the effective handling of the situation by the commandos and NSG (please refer to similar points raised in my previous post). While the country mourns Sandeep Unnikrishnan's death (I feel sorry for his family) it was not the wisest move to make by announcing “Do not come up, I will handle them.” If he really said that then I hope we realise that this is not Rambo VI. What was required was planned team work to tackle the terrorists and not a one-man-army show. I think that is where the mistake was. He should have assessed the situation, retreated, discussed and agreed on a course of action and then moved on further. What if the terrorists panicked and killed hostages on seeing the army attack them? Was this the wisest move to make? It probably seems like a brave move, but in the light of the situation I don't think it was responsible. Unfortunately, it was also futile because he was injured before he could take down even one terrorist. If he was the only man in the building in a position to take the terrorists down, he should have still passed on some communication to the outside world and then tried to tackle them if there was no other way out (watch Die Hard part I to get an idea). I feel so silly having to quote Hollywood movies here, but to be honest what they show on screen is the closest to a responsible and informed approach to such situations.

The next email I received was the response of a Dev Sukumar to a Mr. Mani (whom we shall assume to be an anti-Islamist as Dev paints him to be). You can find the email in this post. Dev has raised a very cogent argument against this Mr. Mani and I am glad to read something like this after a very long time spent in reading blurts and frothing. He mentions a Belthur temple and I could find no reference to that on the net. I need to run to a library to be able to find evidence of the same or visit that temple premises. Let us assume that what he quotes is true. About Badami burning for 9 months, I simply don't believe there is anything in any city, modern or ancient, that can sustain 9 months of fire. So I'll discard that as a myth.
He raises a point that temple desecration existed before Muslim invasion when Shaivite camps destroyed Vaishnavite temples (and vice versa). I am still to verify these claims (and Dasavatharam is not sufficient evidence!). If we assume this to be true, it forms the basis for his point about temple desecration being "political policy, not a religious one". The Muslim invaders and rulers didn't do it as a political policy but as a religious one and hence the difference. I hope this is realised. It was against their religion to have an idol and it was also considered sanctioned by their scriptures (and here is where debates rage) to destroy entities of other religions because they are kafirs.
Dev then raises a point about Wahhabis. That is irrelevant because the invaders were not Wahhabis nor did they destroy any mosques in India. Hence, from an Indian perspective the actions of the Muslim invaders and rulers was not uniform or impartial. Secondly, what the Wahhabis did is hardly known to the outside world and was condemned by the Muslims too. They actually attacked the Wahhabis and destroyed them. Here rise two points: 1. Shouldn't, then, the likes of Mr. Mani be justified in taking an anti-Islam stand? 2. Would the Muslims of the Middle East be pliant and submissive if, say, some Hindu or Buddhist tribe attacked and even scratched the walls of any of their mosques? Answer to 1: No. Answer to 2: Definitely no.
Since it was their own faith they tolerated it till they couldn't accept it any more. Similarly the Cholas and Pallavas and all others tolerated the desecration of temples because they considered it internal and they only saw one temple being replaced by another of the same religion though not of their belief. After a point, this was simply not tolerated and was stopped. Undoubtedly, intra-religious conflicts happen and go on even today but that is not restricted to Hinduism. There are several sub-sects and heirarchies in Islam too, the most notable being the Shia-Sunni rift.
So I think Dev's point that non-Muslim-Indians think that it was the Muslims who first desecrated the temples is wrong, is probably wrong because they were the first outsiders to do it and attempt replacing Hinduism with something non-Hindu. Alexander didn't. He entered here, attacked and when he left, the people who stayed behind accepted and adopted the ways of this country. The Parsis who came in, did the same. There is a difference that one must note and accept. No one can question the contribution that Muslims have made to Indian heritage, but that does not deny what they took away. Aurangzeb had done enough damage and the farmans that he had issued for some temples also exist. One doesn't counterweigh the other. If I kill someone and then adopt a homeless child, my murder is not pardoned. That also doesn't make me a heartless man! One needs to view them separately.

Then he raises valid points (IMO). Does it make sense to quote history to justify present stupidity? No. Does it make sense to talk about the caste system of yesteryears and hence justify a reservation system which is not based on merit but on caste differences? (Dev doesn't raise this) Yes. That I do not understand! Ig think both are stupid and politically motivated. Let me not go into the reservation system. Dev then questions how India cannot accept a group of people who have been here for 1200 years! Aren't they Indian enough? But of course they are. Should we treat them as lesser Indian? Definitely not.

But there are other points that cloud the common mind. Not so long ago, it was the Muslims who asked for a separate state (in Bengal as well as Pakistan). There were many of them who didn't believe in India. There were many who did and they stayed behind. Point is, patriotism is a hazy line and in nearly all other instances, people only see people on either side as Muslim and hence, see them as common and hence imagine that the Muslims in India are first Muslims and then Indian and hence, whenever Islam will call for their loyalty, they are likely to take sides even if it is against India. Unfortunately, not every Muslim thinks that way (which is what I think the non-Muslim-Indians should realise and accommodate) but not every Muslim is willing to pledge that they hold India over and above their religion. Questions they may ask include: Why should we do that? Do you ask that of a Hindu? for which responses include that in the wake of Islamic terrorism it is expected that followers of Islam who love their country should make it clear as to where their loyalty lies. If there was a spate of Hindu-terrorism, I am sure the same will be expected of Hindus. Several Hindus outrightly deny any allegiance with the RSS and the Sangha and say that India is more important to them.

I think Mr. Mani's statement about "all terrorists being Muslims" is the most stupid one and I am glad Dev handles it well. All terrorists are irrational. Period. But Dev's argument about Karkare's patriotism being demonstrated because he died of a bullet from an Islamic-terrorist is silly. He was a sitting duck and it could have well been any of the victims at CST. Are you, Dev, going to call their patriotism as unquestionable? Karkare was surely a very good officer and very responsible, but his death doesn't reveal that as much as the origin of the bullet doesn't reveal his patriotism. Hindus can be terrorists too. Basically anyone is eligible for it because there are no exams and courses to take!! :-D Damn, think of it if they needed to appear for the IIT-JEE or the GMAT before being eligible!

Dev wraps his piece well. He says nothing new that an educated and aware citizen won't. What I really liked was his attempt at building an argument against Hindu-fanatics. I think we need such arguments (though more logically and credibly developed ones). Islam didn't give us a new cuisine but cultures did. Hinduism hasn't given us the Andhra, Gujarati and Rajasthani cuisines. And I do not understand what Dev meant by unified Hinduism. We need arguments to put anti-Islamic fanatics in their place and pull them out of their notions of innocence.No, Sir, you are not innocent and very capable of terrorist activities. Whether you do or not is in your hands. Please read Dev's article because he gives a fitting reply to irresponsibly stupid folks like Mr. Mani.

I happened to meet some fine ladies at a recent gathering of people to show solidarity against the terrorist attacks in Bombay. Boy! The gathering was such a sham and I will write more about it later. These ladies believed in Islam and consider themselves as Indian as anyone else. I could feel the frustration in their voice in having to explain themselves to everyone. People did keep noticing them and speaking in hushed tones about "even they have come". Personally, I found it sad that things have come to this. I was brought up in a predominantly Muslim area in Bombay and had my best relationships with them. They were and are amazing people. I loved my time in Lucknow and even today enjoy going to Lad Bazaar in Hyderabad just to talk to them. It is difficult to place the blame on anything other than insecurity (both, for Muslims and non-Muslims). Muslims wish to stick to their identity (visual cues included) and feel justified in not having blended. Non-Muslims feel that since they haven't blended they are not as Indian as the others are with their variety of identities. By wearing a burkha, for instance, they make a statement about their allegiance to Islam but there is no statement about their patriotism. Technically, no non-Muslim carries such a statement but no non-Muslim has anything like a fatwa issued against Vande Mataram either. Perhaps if there was a song (in Urdu?) that the Muslim patriots had written during the Independence struggle and had used it very vocally in their fight against the Empire, then we could include that as well. The song itself is pointless now given that it was constructed then with the claim of mobilising Indians against the British. Job done. Let's sing something else. What the political parties are doing is ridiculous. To refuse to sing portions of it or the entire bit is fine, but issuing a fatwa is equally ridiculous. If a fatwa must be issued it should be against Islamic-terrorists. Why has that not been done yet? No one asked those Muslims to align their faith with the song. Why then make an issue of it? If there be a song which creates a sense of unity and patriotism then why not join in? With such fatwas/statements being made, non-Muslims take the easy way out by treating Muslims with suspicion. Justifying the forcing of that song on all Indians because Muslim-countries the world over force their views on whoever enters their country is stupid. If you don't like it, don't go there. They don't call themselves secular or broad-minded. They call themselves an Islamic state and will only allow Islam in there. If you want to call India a secular state then create your own laws and not play tit-for-tat with Islamic states. Democracy doesn't measure its effectiveness by comparing itself to a dictatorship so why should a secular state do something like that. The real route to take would be to investigate each and everything as a separate entity and form laws and policies which govern all irrespective of relgious beliefs. But that is way too complex and cumbersome for the common man who is lazy enough not to investigate but eager to also have an opinion. Hence, prejudices develop. But that is not restricted to non-Muslims. Prejudices flourish where any man treads. Hence, my prayer that the world be filled with cats and dogs and fishes and birds and maybe an occasional spider or two! :-)

It is this whole issue of Islam versus Islam that creates a confusion. The Islamic-terrorists quote the Quran and the Muslim-Indians quote the Quran to show why the terrorists aren't really representatives of Islam. Being a minority in this country, their only protection from people attacking them based on religious grounds appears to be these terrorists. The terrorists have more money and if the Muslim-Indians rise against Islamic-terrorists they will be butchered by the terrorists and left unprotected by the non-Muslims. So they are caught between Muslims who are willing to protect them albeit in a violent manner and between Indians who view them with suspicion and hesitate to come forward to help them. Unfortunately, this minority in India's minority consider themselves both Indian and Muslim which I think is not too much to ask for.

Added to this confusion is the whole human game of stupidity versus stupidity. Everyone seems to be more interested in establishing themselves as more stupid and quote religion, history and what not. Ladies and gentlemen, the past is over (hence, past) and religion is a matter of personal choice. Let's leave them alone. Let us look at facts of the present and figure out what we should do.

I believe that people can only be respected and approached on an individual basis (as in, I can love a person and hate another though both are Hindu or Muslim, Communist or Capitalist, Italian or Japanese). Till that is realised the Muslims in India are in an unfortunate position of having to explain more than what is required and the non-Muslims are in a position which calls for intelligence and broad-mindedness. I will never call for patriotism because I consider it another stupid invention of the insecure human mind. I think everyone should be willing to work towards understanding the facts and issues without resorting to bias the views of people around them. If a Hindu intellectual finds evidence that Hindu-terrorists caused a problem, then it is vital that s/he bring it out and educate people to tackle that problem head on rather than attack Hinduism. So be it with a Muslim and Islamic-terrorists. The day when truth is considered more vital and important over and above any religion or country, that day will see all of us united in the most powerful bond. That is what we need to work towards. That is what we need to address now. I do not see any other way out. I see several Indian-Muslims doing a good job of educating others on this decent blog

Finally, let me leave you with this interesting video:

Don't react. Think.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mumbai Meri Jaan

I have tried hard to stay away from writing about this incident but I don't think I can do so any longer. If there has been any city I have loved, it has been Bombay and it was near the Taj that I had my first felicitation party. It was also the first time I had entered a ladies powder room in a rush of boyish emergency (I was 9 then). Bombay only brings a smile to my face and the recent incidents have tried hard to wipe that away. 
Bombay has faced terrorist attacks at the Taj, Oberoi (Trident and Hilton) and at other places. It was not the first time that this has happened but the first question was "Why the Taj?" A place which has become synonymous with Bombay's coastline couldn't have done harm to anyone. We were disgusted to watch the events unfold and hurriedly called all whom we knew in Bombay. A friend of mine works at the Hilton and escaped unhurt. Thank god.
My mother and I were discussing how this could come to an end. I said that either we reach a state of paranoia where every single individual in any city is thoroughly frisked and everyone is treated as a potential terrorist (why is that so scary? They do it at airports, don't they!?) or we realise that till the human race exhausts itself of people to kill nothing much can be done. Naive? Yes and helpless too. That was Bombay suffering out there.
I am glad that the armed forces (NSG, police, commandoes, et al) did a decent job of bringing things to an end. I am glad that the media covered a lot of what was happening providing relief to many anxious souls across India. I salute all those who laid their lives down in the line of duty. 
What follows is not something to taint whatever right was done or sully the appropriate contributions of those who participated in the operations. What follows is an examination (to the best of my abilities) of how wrong certain things still are.

I think Rajdeep Sardesai should be hanged till death. He is the most lecherous and stupid reporter I have ever seen. All that he is interested in is sensationalism and is desperate to sound very clever and sharp. He is neither. I watched him gather input from two reporters and couldn't believe the irresponsibility with which he extrapolated it to conclusions with the least concern for what the effect would be on public. I was happy to hear that news channels were taken off the air in south Bombay. I can only imagine the panic his words would have unleashed. Here is a paraphrasing of what I saw and heard:

RS: We have reports coming in from our correspondent in CST station which as many know was called Victoria Terminus and was renamed by the Shiv Sena government (like that matters now). Rohit, what can you tell us about the situation there.
Rohit: There has been some indiscriminate shooting happening in the CST station and some exchange of fire. The police
RS: Terrorists are taking over the station, Rohit? Please confirm this for me. Can you see the terrorists? How many do you think there are? Are these the same people who were in Taj? How many people have been killed?
Rohit: I am not sure whether they are still there. I think they boarded a car and ran away. (What? As in, you just said... never mind)
RS: They have fled is it? Since that exit is on that side it is quite likely these are the same people who are holed up in the GH and we have Prachi reporting from there. Prachi, can you tell me what is happening at the GH? Have the terrorists been opening fire at the people. We know it is a sensitive area and a soft target (of course, we have to throw in jargon now).
Prachi: There have been rumours of shooting here, Rajdeep and I just saw 3 persons being brought out of the hospital with their arms raised up in the air.
Rajdeep: 3 persons have been apprehended. This is the latest news that we are getting from our correspondent at the GH which is about 2 Km from CST (then how on earth did you assume that those who had fled were already at GH firing away!?). There seems to have been indiscriminate firing and 3 persons have been apprehended by the Mumbai police. Can you confirm that there was firing (but you just confirmed it to the world. Why check again?)
Prachi: I don't know, Rajdeep but shopkeepers around here have downed their shutters and say that they heard shooting.

I could go on about how he simply rushed to conclusions and kept feeding the country/world with rumours. Rohit (or that is what I recall his name to be) soon (within a span of 5 minutes) came back saying that shooting was only happening on platforms 14 and 15 and then went on to say that there was no shooting because the railway police confirmed that there was no shooting. 
Why don't the news channels simply wait and get concrete information before broadcasting it? I still remember days when news was broadcast only at 19:30 and then again at 21:30. There used to be a running ticker for "flash" news. Granted we can't have enough of news happening all around the world, but shouldn't there be some accountability here? Stupid ass Rajdeep goes on building his stories and acts as if he is prophet of all news. He has absolutely no consideration for the effect it will have on all the people who listen to him.
Other channels are no better. They kept roping in unrelated people and asked for their comments before cutting them off halfway for a commercial break or to show some recorded clipping or to ask someone else some other question. Some intelligent people like Mr. Benegal offered sensible suggestions but most others were busy trying to say something profound and floundered. Can we just have the news minus the drama? Why all this jargon like "War on Mumbai" and marketing phrases? It is a terrorist attack. Period.
Media nowadays treats news with savage deliberation unearthing hypothesis, monstrosities and being quite unflinching in displaying the vulgar details like a clinical coroner. Recently, I read this and realised that Indian media is doing nothing more than aping the West in their baseness. So wrapped up are they in the ways of the West that the only way they can describe this incident is in terms of 9/11. They call it "India's 9/11"!! Very original.
Business channels were worse. While people were concerned about lives, they were asking industry and business heads about the impact that this incident will have on the pharmaceuticals and IT sectors. Like it matters now! They kept calling people asking them whether it will mean lesser foreign investments and whether there was any hope of a gloomy future.

Military Inefficiency:
My one thought throughout was if Rambo could do it, why are these people blubbering around like kindergarten cops? I know that is being rather naive, but watching how SWAT teams function (and not just in movies but also on Discovery) and how the Navy Seals go about their mission, I found the NSG and commandoes very very amateurish. I am not an authority on military demarche but I sure can spot fumbling when I see it. Here are points that I gathered:

  • Israeli experts say that commandos acted prematurely
  • Commando spokesperson said that they did not know the layout of the Taj and hence, were quite helpless.
  • Commandos were shown on TV shooting blindly into open windows (what if there were hostages in there?)
  • Commandos blame delay in transport
  • It was funny seeing soldiers wear camouflage and leaves in their helmets. As in, you are going to the Taj not the Sunderbhans!
  • One soldier opened fire into an open window and then turned around calmly and walked over to talk to a commando. He was so open to the terrorists (if any) that he was a sitting duck! Very unprofessional.
So here is how I would have proceeded. We hear of the terrorist attack. I call up the team to assemble within 30 minutes. I call up the Taj group and demand the hotel plan documents and all interior design documents that they have. I want to know the layout of chutes, laundry passages, air ducts, the material used for construction and about all the electronics used. I want this information in the next 30 minutes. After assembling the troops and with the necessary documents in place (let's assume that 30 minutes was too aggressive and it actually takes 60 minutes) we work out how we can enter the Taj in batches or individuals so that we escape notice. Can we use the underground drains? What about supply entry points? Media will have to be cleared from the place so that we don't alert the terrorists. Then I use infrared to get a fair idea of the movement in the building and toss in noise sensors (if there is such a technology else, simple mobile phones with the connection made to receivers. Frankly, if the intelligence doesn't have such devices I really think they should be out of business) to get whatever information I can about movement within the building. Tossing in sensors is not difficult and can be achieved quite easily (I can send in an illustration of this procedure). Having put in electronic "bugs" at strategic locations I start gathering intelligence (I was rather happy to see the Israelis suggest something similar). I will give this operation about 3-4 hours to achieve. I will also call for translators to help us with any conversation that is picked up. With information roughly in place about where the terrorists might be we start taking positions, slowly moving out people who can escape as well as people who might become potential hostages if not evacuated immediately. Elevator ducts will be manned at each level to take the terrorists by surprise in case they move to that level and are not on guard (like when running down the corridor or down a flight of stairs). A simple formation will be achieved whereby the terrorists are made to feel that the armed forces are approaching from a particular direction while the forces will actually be occupying every single available hiding place in the building and are, effectively, all around the terrorists. I wish I could show you this as the 3D model that one can construct of this arrangement. In the worst case, 10 hours and we should be all over and around the terrorists. 72 hours? What on earth am I missing?
When the commando major said that he didn't have the layout of the hotel and the staff too were not familiar with a particular floor, I was shocked. He went on to say that the terrorists seemed to know the floor layout very well and hence they (the commandos) simply were left with no choice but to follow them and their firing. But of course, the terrorists would know the layout. They are serious about the job they want to do unlike the armed forces. Foolish bravery is not what we need. It is like the story I had read back in school about a real soldier's opinion of a general's "bravery" in rushing headlong into the enemy formation. 
The latest news is that the NSG are blaming the state govt. for delaying the transport and other operational glitches. We are pretty good at that!

Honestly, when will they grow up? One bunch of people wear bangles and keep throwing twigs at Pakistan without having the guts to gather sufficient information and if found guilty, whip their arse. Another set of politicians blame Pakistan for every single problem that might not have even occurred yet. Parties blame each other and make election slogans out of the mishap. There is no shame left in these mongrels. Advani is the lowest scum that there can be. Instead of focusing on contributing his entire force to the resolution of this problem he acts like a spoilt brat. Manmohan Singh is too soft to be a leader of a country facing terrorist attacks. He could do well leading a monastery or something like that. The Maharashtra govt. is pathetic with one minister saying that "incidents like these keep happening so there is nothing much one can do". If I were to agree with him, then the first thing we should see happen is the dissolution of all security service personnel employed to protect ministers and politicians. Death of politicians will also become incidents that will keep happening and not an Indian will complain about it. I would love to see Raj Thakeray come out and say that he will only allow the sons of the soil to rescue the hostages and capture the terrorists.

I think it is best for us to realise that we can never do away with terrorism. The more we find ways to suppress it, the more creative they are going to get (9/11 was creative). In a country as populated as India with Indians providing enough reasons for any silly person to flare up, it is impossible to keep everyone under check. With a rather shabby border and coastline security, I will not be amazed if they send in one terrorist a day for ever 10 miles of coastline and soon have an army inside India: all going undetected. We are plain reactionary. We tend to forget pretty soon. We don't care enough (because it didn't harm us directly). With so much to bother an average Indian I am not surprised if he is not sensitive to such problems. I'd rather have a few intelligent people solve a problem then the entire band of Indians (that's over a billion voices) wanting to solve it. I think we should gird up our loins and kick some buttocks if we truly care or just sit back and add one more way in which an Indian can die (and in black-cynicism hope that the population reduces). Make a joke of it and tease a boy in school for not having any relative killed in a bomb blast. Make him feel bad! 
Frankly, I think we should shut up for a while, figure out what we need, have a single (set of) mind govern India (some speaker suggested an emergency), get our infrastructure in place (and not be shabby by suddenly protecting all hotels and then when a bomb goes off in a supermarket, protect all supermarkets!), send out a clear message that if any country is found to encourage terrorism in India we will eradicate them from the face of this earth and be on alert till we are sure we have eliminated them all or forever, whichever happens earlier. It is not just against terrorism. It is about conscious living.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A handful of rightness

I am truly blessed. I am surrounded by people who ask me the most remarkable questions. So much so that I consider myself the quicksand of human substance. 

Recently, my mother asked me, "Tell me E, why on earth do you want to hold on to your traditional practices at the cost of a common life?"
A well-read friend of mine asked me, "Tell me E, what on earth is the point of talking about great books and not about the ones that are recently published?"
Someone near asked me, "Tell me E, what are you going to do with all the honesty in the world? What use is honesty?"
Another friend of mine asked me, "Tell me E, what use is it to fight for truth at the cost of relationships and security?"

Each one of them stumped me and left me smiling. There are a million reasons and justifications for doing the wrong, only one reason for doing the right, and that is rightness itself. Let me start with books (I hold them dearest save food).

Reading is a favour done only to oneself. I owe no author anything. I do not owe any publisher anything. Can you then explain to me why there are tonnes of reviews about horrible books? Why should I write about books that I will not read and do not advise anyone to read? Because the editor asks me to? It is like eating all the crap doled out at various street corners (though some street food can beat all those nose-in-the-clouds chefs). So, if I had to talk to someone about reading and what book to take along for the trip, why on earth would I spend an hour on Swati Kaushal? Just because she had the time and energy and tenacity to write a couple of books (oh! please don't read them)? Undoubtedly, readers would like to know whether a recent book is good or not. I understand that need too, but wouldn't it suffice to have a column listing all the books one should avoid (then comes the question - how does one decide that?)? I believe that it is enough to discuss and talk about the great books as that will lead to a more cultured society, but then what about perspective? Gaining perspective cannot be a redeeming factor of any tome. Hence, the call for rightness. 

A book is worth reading if it is right. To read a book because it is popular and gets you into inner/upper circles is rather sad. To accommodate books because they are "bold" or "hard-hitting" or "angry" is ridiculous as long as they are not right (e.g. White Tiger). If a book is not beautiful, if it doesn't invoke in you feelings and passions, if it doesn't amaze you with the language employed, if it doesn't tell a tale that you enjoy reading, if it doesn't make you return to it (after any number of years), if it doesn't make you feel satisfied in gifting it to someone you care about, then that is not a book one needs to discuss. 

I recently had a wonderful conversation with the proprietor of an amazing bookstore in Chennai. I was talking to her about good books and we went on into the evening tossing titles and authors at each other. She told me that every year she would read Pride and Prejudice only to find something new in it. She was surprised that someone of my age (but I thought I was ancient!) read the kind of books that I do. But she was also sad that I had a stand against books published recently (though I don't have such a stand). She was trying to convince me that the White Tiger is not a bad book. She used the same words to describe it. She admonished me for being so hard on that book. I asked her one simple question: "Ma'am, would you read this book again?" She realised what I was heading for and smiled; "No". I find it rude to say "Touche' " to a fine lady. One does not have the time to read all the good books that have been written. Why waste time on the ones that need to be shunned? Why give up rightness for popular correctness?

The question of my traditional practices and/or my religious beliefs have annoyed/amazed many people around me. I am in the midst of a heated (at least from one side) debate about religiosity and Hindutva. I do not even wish to recognise the Hindutva that some people in India claim today. That was never Hindutva originally. The Hindutva that was true and right existed before journalism and the media re-defined it to what it is now. To give up one's beliefs is quite a simple and easy job to do. It is like giving up faith in human decency. One can easily do so, but why? Every individual is entitled to observe whatever brings him peace and calm. Buddha went off into the woods and that brought him peace and calm (not to mention fame). Should one reprimand him for that? Chaitanya was completely absorbed in Krishna. Would it make sense to call him a fanatic and chide him for that? Would it make sense to employ rational arguments to prove him wrong? Does it make any sense telling him that the world existed even before Krishna was born and hence He is not the Supreme Godhead!? More importantly, why should he care about what you believe in? The privilege to have a path to peace is not restricted to Buddha and Chaitanya. Every human being has a right to it and in observing that there is rightness. Those who find it convenient to drop this path are basically disrespecting the soul's urge. If a path is not a soul's urge but has only been imposed on one, then it might be fair to drop it, but if in not dropping my soul's urge I am losing out on a "common" life, then so be it. It is a choice between rightness and convenience.

Honesty is something similar. I care about honesty and dislike times when I have to employ lies in order to establish rightness. Unlike Krishna, I do not justify those instances. They are wrong. Period. I have lied in my younger days in order to escape punishment too but I am not ashamed of those days. Then ignorance largely ruled my being. There is only one reason to be honest, because that is the Truth, that is rightness. There are myriad reasons to lie and all of them convincingly more convenient. There is no use of honesty beyond the establishment of an environment where people can live with genuine respect and faith in each other. If that is not important, then people can continue living as they do now. I care about that. To me an environment is right when there is honesty in every action and gesture, when the need to protect the petty self is not more vital than the protection of rightness, when people regard each other with trust and faith, when people can eat a morsel of food without the feeling of being cheated, when a person's words mean what he actually wants to say (how horrid it is when having to deal with people who say one thing to your face but mean something entirely different and go on to do something totally different from either of them), when the cycle of life feels right and calming. Honesty is vital for this to come into existence. 

I find this sort of an environment in rural areas. Over the recent trip I had enjoyed (more of it later) I got to meet some extremely honest people. It felt so movingly right and simple to bare oneself to them and speak one's mind. More than the photos I shot, more than the purchases I made, more than the sights I saw, more than anything I was filled with my interaction with such people. A simple gesture from a guide who after having taken us around accepts only the amount he had requested for (without mumbling about the increase in prices and how another tenner would be appreciated), the honesty of people along the river, the honesty of some people I met while crossing a bridge over the Ganga, the honesty of the waiter at a restaurant in Sarnath and many more touched me. I met others with whom I could speak effortlessly. When I was asked to buy a Thanka painting, I was at ease to give him the real reason as to why I would not buy. I did meet some knaves too, but that is simply inevitable!

Fighting for truth is nothing more than the organic reaction to a violation of rightness. Some people find it convenient not to raise one's voice if the violation doesn't affect them. Some people (including myself) avoid fighting for everything (honestly, I am not interested in gay rights and the like. I respect them, but have no interest in fighting for them as a class). That is not because there is a greater or better right but because it is simply impossible to commit oneself to every single issue on earth. So I pick some. Relationships that are in trouble due to my defending truth are relationships best not had. It is like befriending a snake; you never know when it will feel threatened and strike you. Of course, I mean a poisonous snake! So be it with sources of security. The more one shuns facing wrongness the more one is going to be pushed into a corner till one reaches a point where one has nowhere to run. 

There is no banausic purpose for any of these choices. There is nothing to gain from these. There is no accolade that will await the follower. There is no greatness that one can aspire for. There is no profitable reason why one should do all of the above. The questions asked are not invalid or inappropriate. They only reveal that rightness will always be questioned. Rightness will always be dropped for ease of living and better gains. Rightness will always be denied a place in the midst of human beings because rightness doesn't protect one from the bitter winters nor bring food to the plate, doesn't make one popular nor loved. Rightness is a demand for living life separated from society. Rightness is a call to live life in oneself. 
All the questions above have only one answer. Silence.

Why grow so tall if all you shall get is bitter frost?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Touring Around

Some of the pictures that I shot over a recent tour. Honestly, I am exhausted sifting through the 1250+ images from the trip. I hope to (soon) write more about this adventure. For now, I hope you like these pictures...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I was away

That's me there...
I have a lot more pictures to share. Watch this blog for more...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

RIP: Michael Crichton

His books I had enjoyed both for the sci-fi bend that he lent to them as well as for taking on perspectives that were not that common. Last night, he succumbed to cancer.

Secular, aren't we!

Please read this

I am not sure the article says anything about a communal clash or inter-tribe clash or the "typical" ones between forward caste and backward castes of India. Then what I don't understand is the title "Dalit youth killed in police firing near Uthapuram". Would the killing have been ok if he wasn't Dalit? Had he been an Iyer boy, would the title be "Iyer youth killed in police firing near Uthapuram"? I doubt it. I don't understand why the media presents news in such a lopsided manner. Such pieces will go unnoticed and stupid Indians would even sympathise with the whole Dalit community and some go one step further to condemn the forward castes. I don't think the caste matters in this news piece, so why did The Hindu have to state it thus!? I think being secular is basically bashing all those castes and communities (often with innuendoes) who are not represented in majority and who will have to pay for what someone else did (or not). Now I am convinced that I should return to my state of not reading the newspaper!! :-D

Monday, November 03, 2008

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Figuring out India in a teacup

Cha-do: The way of tea
Alliance Francaise de Madras made my evening today. There was a tea tasting, appreciation and awareness enhancing session directed by the management and experts associated with AvonGrove Tea. It was highly coincidental to find such an event scheduled the day after I was seriously pondering over the state of fine tea drinking in Madras. Lest you assume that I am a connoisseur of fine tea, let me rest all such eyebrow-raising notions. I enjoy drinking tea (without milk. Somehow the combination of tea and milk jars on my tongue) and own a special stoneware tea set which I employ for the ceremony of brewing and drinking my favourite teas, although it has been a while since I did that. Before I get to the interesting part of the evening, let me describe what lead to this rendezvous and tea tasting event itself.

It was just yesterday when I seriously thought of purchasing fine tea leaves (CTC is simply not to my taste) and blending them to various flavours. I had some ideas of various blends and even checked with my mother for the local Tamil names of some of the flowers that I would need to buy. All I needed was a tea leaf supplier. I needed the Chinese variety and preferably the green ones as I felt that that would help serve as a good base for my recipes. Oolong was also acceptable. Something about black tea made me feel that it was best left alone without blending other things in it. I shall share the recipes once I have them winning the approval of some of my friends.

Today I woke up to read an advt. about an event at the AF for tasting tea. They also announced the formation of a club which would engage in tasting various families of foods and beverages (I am told that cheese, wines and chocolates are on the cards). There is something about such promises that tickles me into believing them! I have often believed that the best work is done at the expense of individual energy. Many a time I have found groups withering to a pair or two of persons with a genuine interest in wanting to keep the leitmotiv of the group going true and strong, but suffering death by natural causes. Undoubtedly, once I went there, my hopes were raised (Mr. C seems to be quite a capable person). I was attracted more to the opportunity to taste tea as well as connect with some folks in the tea-world to better understand the prospect of starting and running a tea club and (inshallah) a tea bar in Madras (please don't insist on my calling it Chennai). I needed to understand the dynamics of the entire process as well as get a feel of how Madras responds to fine tea drinking.

I reached there when only a handful of ladies (can they ever be just a handful!?) had assembled to discuss someone and some things which I ignored with a clueless smile. They knew me not and such smiles work well in the midst of such an audience which is more than eager to ignore the newcomer. One thing that pleased my heart was the pleasant tone and the ladies carried themselves rather finely.
After some amateurish attempt at arranging the tea leaves (CTC was also up for presentation) and crockery, we were assured that things would commence in a manner which all of us looked forward to. I received, by a delightful stroke of luck, a suggestion to sit next to a fine lady whom I shall call GD. She turned out to be someone everyone seemed to know but that was irrelevant when juxtaposed with the effortlessness with which she spoke on a few topics with me. I have always been weak-kneed (or, as the Americans brashly say, sucker) for good conversation and she provided me a good amount, thank you.

Anand Kanoria brought a good measure of his enthusiasm to the presentation and occasionally took assistance from Amber Subba (garden manager) and Mr. Kidwai (of Carritt Moran & Co., I think). I would have preferred that he had prepared the presentation better rather than flip every slide with a "I won't be going into the details of this, but feel free to ask me questions". I felt that it was slightly rushed perhaps due to the delay that was already introduced or due to an undercurrent of low expectation from the audience to find anything of interest in those slides. For those who are interested in the process of tea manufacturing and Darjeeling Tea per se, I have the following references to offer:

I was definitely interested in the tea manufacturing process though I was aware of most of the steps that are involved. I was introduced to tea manufacturing when I was about 8 years old and shooting arrows in the misty slopes of Darjeeling. I remember buying and reading Hulk then. Most kids back then thought that green skinned superheroes were silly and nothing could beat Chacha Chaudhary and Sabu, or Phantom or Bahadur. I can safely laugh at all of them now!

I would have enjoyed it more had Anand and Mr. Kidwai provided more details. I was interested in knowing how the garden manager knew that the time was right or soon will be right for plucking (it seems, that the Autumnal could be figured out by the slightly xanthous tint of the fish-leaves (I think that is what they call the typical representation of tea leaves that one sees - 2 tender leaves with a bud in between)) and in other technical details of the manufacturing process. Polyphenols and enzymatic reactions could wait, though there was surely a lot to understand in the manufacturing process itself (and ponder over what could be done at various stages to produce something neo-tea-like. As in, consider the option of introducing Jasmine in the firing stage. How would the quality of tea change?). That didn't happen and we proceeded to tasting tea. Mr. Kidwai (and he has quite a sweet smile) let us enjoy the tea while he explained the various adjectives one could use when describing tea. "Malty" would be when your tea tasted like Bournvita! and "moldy" when you really are tasting something you shouldn't!

Mr. Kidwai gave us some statistics about the tea manufacturing process, the proportion of Darjeeling tea to CTC to orthodox tea and some more. It all went on well till a few of us gathered to discuss the state of fine dining (eating and/or drinking) in Madras. M of Maison des Gourmets felt that Madras was the last place one should even consider experimenting with (in the context of food). I wasn't surprised to find myself agree with him. Nevertheless, I soon saw where we were making a mistake.

People from Madras consider eating a chore and it would be next to impossible to convince them that something like fine dining is legitimate. For some reason I understand their confusion around why one should pay 650 for a dinner of kebabs (as was recently organised at the Pergola) when one could get good kebabs and grills at BBQ-Nation for less, and more kebabs at another joint for still less and eventually for nearly nothing when one can prepare them at home (these are times I regret being able to cook my own dinners. Folks use that as an excuse to dissuade me from going out)! I agree with the kebab case as the spread was nothing worth dying for, but there are places which provide food that is rare and very creative. And that is what brings me to my theory of food and fine dining in India. All from the leaves in the cup!

In India, we now eat to get on with our day. We eat to be able to honestly tick it off our list of activities for the day. I have seen zealous friends prepare a to-do list for a day and elaborately plan every task on that sheet but summarise all of eating in one of two words: "Lunch" or "Dinner". Coffee and tea are considered less confusing than "break". I am sure that this is the case with a lot of places in the world (perhaps not Europe!). As long as eating is a chore, fine dining is an extravagance. 

But that was not how it was in India. Lucknow, for example, was known for being very learned in the biryani and kebabs that it produced. The people on the street who prepared food over large pans knew how to make mutton melt in your mouth (mutton never enters my mouth and hence, it has to be your mouth where all the melting will happen). Another gent I met in the evening recalls a person in Lucknow who could tell from the taste of curd as to how long it had been since it was set and where the milk came from (as in, cow or buffalo and not Ahmad's cows or Makhrand's buffaloes). People in Madras were very particular about the coffee that they drank (my mom's coffee was quite in demand) until Bru came along and made coffee drinking a chore, or as another seller puts it "Sip, lick, ummm". Even today many of my relatives will only have filter coffee and that too P-berry (or is it Peaberry?). We would have avial made in coconut oil and folks in Kerala cannot imagine chips made in any other oil. My mother never made vadai in Canola oil or the other "tchah!" varieties. I never allowed one-meal old morkozhambu anywhere near my plate. The quality of jaggery mattered a lot for the "paagu" (something like a treacle) that was made at home. Some folks even insisted on using water drawn from a well for their cooking. All these are examples of discerning gourmands in recent years. Several decades ago, we had tonnes of examples where every facet of a meal was carefully prepared.

What is it that went wrong, then? My bet is on the nuclearisation of families and accepting anything to sustain the driving ambitions of India Rising. We were raised to believe that being particular about anything other than our studies was wasteful and unacceptable. Food was meant to be eaten and quick! so that we could get on with our studies or extra-curricular activities. There was this one story which is etched deep in my mind. In a gurukula, a very earnest student was fed food without salt (I like my pongal that way). He never complained as he was always studying and never noticed this. One day, after several years, he suddenly stopped eating and exclaimed, "This dish has no salt." His master informed him that it was time for him to leave as his education was over and he no longer considered it the most important thing. That story always rang loud in my mind if I ever had to complain about the quality of food (I still did). There was of course the daily story that had a similar effect - with most of India not having enough to even eat for one meal, the very thought of fine dining was flayed with the guilt-whip cracking near us. Thus, the need to understand, appreciate and be creative about food was considered something that a housewife with lots of time at her disposal should do. It would be better if she could do that and help the kids with their homework. Or better still, just make something for dinner and help the kids with their homework. In middle class families with only one earning member, eating out (for a family of four) was something that could be done subject to budgetary constraints.

What India and Madras need is a gradual and carefully planned education about the goodness of eating well and fine dining. Why eat the same Dal Makhani on every outing when you could try some nice red bean couscous with bell peppers maybe at one third the periodicity? I think people need to be convinced to slow down, savour good food and be lured into consuming foods which bring out the best in whatever has gone into making them. Not that Dal Makhani is bad, but do you know how it really should be? Do you know what really makes it snappy? Is that topping of cream, merely design? What kind of beans, introduced in which order make the dish better (e.g. Urad too early can ruin the taste by bringing in the slime factor)? Do you think that once a person is made aware of this, and is then fed the perfect Dal Makhani, s/he would want to return to Pappu Dhaba's Dal Makhani? We are raising standards here, but that is the only way to go forward.

South India has been very exacting about dance and music. The tradition and schools of dance helped ensure that the strictest standards were adhered to. We have schools of sculpture and architecture but no institution of fine food. Ayurveda treats food as a medicine and Vatsyayana treats it as a decorative element in foreplay or part of the duties as a member of the family. Food doesn't seem to be treated as a wonderful uncut gem which one can polish and split into a beautiful ornament of satisfying beauty. Good food is at once orgasmic and Zen-like. Preparing it is verily meditation. Blessed are those who have experienced all of this.

Fine dining is an end to a very long and patient wait for people to realise the truth often achieved by exposing themselves, repeatedly, to whatever represents that truth. It cannot be wished into a society nor can it be forced. The worst thing to do is to introduce it at a very heavy price and then wonder why people lack taste and class. Why would I care for a Bose speaker if all I want to do is to listen to a T-Series tape while I sing along? Make me care, and I will walk your path.

I think it is wrong to assume that India does not have the taste or class to accommodate Darjeeling tea or chaji (Japanese tea ceremonies). I have personally, one person at a time, converted alu-jeera lovers to appreciate delicacies made of corn and mushroom (while making them realise why that alu-jeera was not good - hint: too much turmeric) with a dash of rosemary. It is a matter of evolving taste, and rushing it up can be detrimental to the very core of fine dining. The slightest financial setback will convince people that the first thing to cut out is this pointless eating that people call "fine dining". It needs to seep into the fibres of human hunger and not be merely an alternative. I think it is possible, but requires an extremely creative soul with tremendous amounts of patience. And in India, pricing it right helps.

It was, in summary, a very splendid way to spend an evening. I met a couple of nice people from the US consulate. It was entertaining and fit well into my oft-conceived but hardly-ever-realised notion of how an evening should be spent. Wonderfully delightful conversations (thank you Ms. GD), discussions about food, markets and tastes (thank you M and PS), fine tea, talk about fine tea and work life (I envy BD for having a job which takes him to different places like Romania and now India for short spaces of 2-3 years) and learning more about the world of tea and tea manufacturing (thank you Anand, Mr. Kidwai and Subba). Frankly, one of the best evening I have had in a very long time. Thank you Mr. C of AF for organising this.

Friday, October 31, 2008

In my world of stories

A story for you... a story for me
It was just over a year when I wrote about my boyish pleasure of arranging my books and stepping back after placing each book in its right - well, maybe it should go there... or perhaps there... now, it does look fine - place and cupping my hands in glee. I am mighty ashamed of the way I behaved then, lusting for more books to appear from the cartons, pretending that I had a few more books stashed away somewhere else, chiding myself for having so many books and not having read them all - in short, taking turns to act like a reprimanding mother and prancing child. It seemed like yesterday because I had re-arranged my books once again before I brought them all back to Madras. With several overflowing cartons of books now, I am sure I have twice as many books as I had when I last wrote about my stash. May my coffers overflow!! 

But this time I do not intend writing about the authors I have or the books I think everyone should read. I do not wish to talk about the exciting job of creating categories and figuring out which book belongs to which category (would Bend Sinister be a favourite or a fiction piece or a classic? Should Harold Bloom come under classics or general? By the way, how did I define classic?). It is not because I have already done that before, but because I realised an ulterior motive of mine behind collecting so many books. I shamelessly faced this truth a few years ago when I watched Sabrina (the Harrison Ford version) and today when I read Orhan Pamuk

Sabrina's (Julia Ormond) father (John Wood) made some statement (and I am unable to find the script of the movie) about how much he loved reading and hence, took the job of a chauffeur. I am not sure if I will allow myself to be quoted on that. That day, I thought that was the most romantic dialogue I had heard in a very long time. People thought the movie was a romantic one for totally different reasons!

Today, Pamuk made me realise one of the reasons why I hand pick my books and build this tremendously large collection of books (I am sure there are larger collections, but this is considered large in the clique of nomads). There are several reasons, but this one was lurking in the shadows for a while and I was startled to see this midget of a reason, brightly clothed and still hopeful of fruition. 

I always wanted to have a son (but now I have shifted loyalties) whom I could seat on my knee and read to. I always dreamed of long houred scenes where I would read to him, wonder aloud at the choice of words, imagine conversations with the author to gain entrance into his thoughts as to why he said this and not that and why his characters did this and not that, enact scenes with my son and eventually play games where we quote dialogues and pray hard that the other person doesn't guess the name of the character and story (well, chocolates are better won than given and shared in the sympathy of family!). I would imagine scenes like this:

Him: Appa, what is a corolla?

I: Well, it's often just another name for all the petals of a flower. Of course, if the outer and inner petals differed in colour then then I think the corolla might refer only to the inner whorl. Not sure.

Him: So it is entirely a botany term?

I: Nothing is entirely one thing, sweetheart.

Him: But where else can you use this?

I: Toyota Corolla!

Him: Dad! But now that you mention it, why did they name their car that?

I: Brightly coloured and made to attract the observer, perhaps. Maybe something to do with being aware and mindful of Nature.

Him: So there is one more use to it.

I: A lot more, I am sure.

Him: Like?

I: You could use corolla to signify clustering and crowding of like-minded people over a singular point of view.

Him: Hmmm. Nice.

I: You could use corolla to describe something furbelowed. Remember we discussed furbelow?

Him: furbelow as in fur below as in furs and decorations...

I: As in?

Him: Pleated or gathered garment.

I: Good. Now let me read some thing. Get me that book from the 2nd shelf. Yes, that one. Thank you. Sit down and close your eyes. I will read once and...

Him: I have to familiarise myself with the words. Then you will read once more and I will see the scenes dance before me. I know the routine, appa.

I: Routine!? You call it a routine!?

Him: Not in a disrespectful way! 

I: Be careful, boy. You seem to be slipping! :-D Now listen:

His sentimental education now went on fast. Next morning, he happened to catch sight of her washing her face and arms over an old-fashioned basin on a rococo stand, her hair knotted on the top of her head, her nightgown twisted around her waist like a clumsy corolla out of which issued her slim back, rib-shaded on the near side. A fat snake of porcelain curled around the basin, and as both the reptile and he stopped to watch Eve and the soft woggle of her bud-breasts in profile,  a big mulberry-colored cake of soap slithered out of her hand, and her black-socked foot hooked the door shut with a bang which was more the echo of the soap’s crashing against the marble board than a sign of pudic displeasure.

Him: Nice.

I: Listen to how he suggests a casual demeanour by saying....

And we'd go on and on about that one paragraph, pausing not for the hurried urgencies of practical life where hours run into one another demanding five dozen minutes' worth of distance run and no second spared for the panting heart. Oh! how we pant while life goes by waiting not to admire the outline of dust on a cover which reveals a smaller book's shadow when they were all stacked one on another! How it takes more time to pick the smaller tome, in order to ensure that clean skin, untouched by wafting dirt, a clean rectangle surrounded by evenly powder brown track! Ever noticed that the inner rectangle is usually not parallel to the outer boundaries of the larger book? An accidental design which one can miss while one stops not to pant.

My dad loved literature, or so I believed. Something in some of his statements made me think he loved Shakespeare. I tried reading the Bard and found him stupid. I never voiced my opinion and hence, my father knew nothing about my judgement of the great one! He loved P G Wodehouse too and had this beautifully decorated Omnibus with a multicoloured Rolls Royce on the covers. I don't know where it is now. I imagine my love for words is a weaving together of all the disorganised genes of my father because he never revealed a unified love for the written word. There were sporadic bursts of interest and occasionally (or so I believe) a passionate outburst about the beauty of English as it was and probably should have been. I collected these peels that were tossed around to compose my memory of my father as a lover of letters. But he never had a library (unlike Pamuk's father, but my father was witty!) and he never really (vocally) encouraged reading let alone writing. My father would have been extremely surprised today if someone told him that his son writes! But in his own way, he let us know and realise that literature had to be treasured and nurtured like life itself, for life is a story that is written, though, yet unread.

Maybe the Western concept of reading bedtime tales (which I read about in one of the many books of my childhood) had bubbled in me a little want to connect to people through the beauty that other people created as a festoon of words. Maybe it was the chance of sharing perspectives arising out of the same collection of symbols and string of such collections over beautiful pages. Maybe it was simply the sound of words cascading in voices that we love to hear drive us into a world of dreams and possibilities. Maybe it was just the story itself made real because someone you trust tells you so. Maybe it was just excuse for creating another bond.

My books have multiplied into hundreds now though my hopes dwindle. Books read are promises to give a young ear. Books unread are promises for a journey together. Books are the extensions of my hands which reach out to young shoulders. Books are my way of giving what I wanted to give myself.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


I really think I should stop writing these posts about the world and things that they and their wives throw at us often. I hence, do not buy the newspaper (though there are several reasons why that is a stupid thing to do) and rarely, if ever, watch the TV for channels dealing with news and gossip (Discovery T&L and Cartoon Network win!!).
Last evening due to some inter-galactic conspiracy, I lingered too long on BBC. I was saddened by the forest fires in Southern California and was reminded of Pico Iyer (hope he is fine) and watched an advt. about some rugged man use his amphibian to pelican a lot of water to put out some fire in the woods - and this proves that the watch he wears is damn good!! While watching all this, a rather bald man came up on screen to inform me about the result of the latest survey and study about prosperous nations and their ranking. That got me interested. He elaborated on how prosperity is not merely an economic measure but also a measure of well-being and the environs and facilities to nurture and further prosperity. Hence, Australia which was on top was economically good and also supported the furthering of prosperity of her citizens and residents. The whole list was not read out and hence I decided to check the details.
If you want the entire list of the 2008 Legatum Prosperity Index, go here:
This whole intention of creating such a list seems fine. It helps some people feel proud, some people feel motivated and some people write blogposts. But the latter guys are the best!! ;-) They aren't lost in the result but the truth therein. I am just plain lost!! :-D
I can understand a lot of the countries being over and above India, but Slovenia? Slovakia? Costa Rica? Tunisia? Kazakhstan? Peru? Belize (ever heard of it)? SRI LANKA? Hence, I started my search about these countries.
Well, I just read about Costa Rica and now my question is, how did Japan go above Costa Rica? India deserves to be levels below Costa Rica! Seems like a really wonderful and intelligent place. It gets all my votes for not having a military.
But Belize hardly seems to be a place that deserves to be above India. Tunisia appears to be a small developing country but has done a very good job of growing into an intelligent country. In summary, I agreed with some but found no data to agree with the verdict on the rest. Most of these countries are smaller than a state in India (and hence, I feel, it is easier to manage such places which are geographically well contained and sparsely populated).
Whatever be the disagreements, I realised that India has a long way to go. Stinking politics, religious quarrels, sickening corruption, dismal state of basic human amenities and blindness form the roots of what keeps India way down on that list.
There also was a personal prosperity questionnaire which I decided to take in order to better understand the reasoning behind this survey. Here is how the results looked (you might have to click on the image for some details):

Well, I am not sure how my being male automatically is a dampner on my prosperity, unless the survey thinks that being a man you are most liable to be spending a lot (because girls/wives/mothers/sisters need not pamper you) and maybe losing a lot (hair included)!!! Similarly, how does my living few kilometers near a main road make me automatically eligible for loss!? The fact that I commute to work is bad too (tchee tchee! Whole of Bangalore is non-prosperous). That I consider work important is bad!! What takes the cake, baker and all is the fact that I am young (< 34 years. I can't help it if they consider me young without even meeting me!!) and that is detrimental to my prosperity!! What's the point talking about prosperity when I am 80!?
Suddenly, I am not too sure I should take the results of the survey seriously!