Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Feet of Clay



The problem with being a martyr is that it doesn't leave much room for compromise. So he went and sucked up to Big Daddy Shady Power. And was shooed back into the team. Goodbye, Almost Hero.


As Kapil Dev said, "Batting karke dikha naa, bheekh kyon mangta hai?!" Loosely translated - when you have a bat to do your talking, why pick up a begging bowl?

**** ****

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Getting it out of the way



It has to happen at some point of time - the "why do we blog" post. I'll leave it to Vikram Chandra ...


"Blogs are a revisualisation of the classical diary form. What you’re writing is a diary, but you’re doing it in an instantly accessible format. The audience is conceivably global. What it also indicates is that we are starting to think about about the self much more. Blogs reiterate the notion that the self exists in the public eye, one of the central thrusts of the 21st century. But blogs cannot satisfy the human mind’s hunger for narrative and plot.... Traditional narratives will always be important."

Interview in the Indian Express, discovered through Uma.


This, of course, does not cover MY motivation. I'm only in it for the money. Google Ad Sense doesn't cut it, so those of you who have had kind words for me, could you get off your collective .. umm, sofas and find somebody who'll give me a 9-figure contract? In US$, thank you very much. (OK, say 7 figures. WITH the decimal and the cents ....) Hmmm?

**** ****

"I'm tired of Love, I'm still more tired of Rhyme
But Money gives me pleasure every time!"
(Hillaire Belloc)


**** ****



Monday, December 19, 2005

In a city by the sea

In a strange city lying alone

Far down within the dim West …

… when the sea-winds take the city in their arms,

And cool the loud streets that kept their dust noon and afternoon.


Dawn comes late in this city. After two cups of coffee and a cigarette, still propped up on a pile of pillows with a blanket over my knees, I look out of the window every two minutes. Still dark, though it must be full morning in my home on the other side of the country. A cruise steamer, lit up like a party, lies at anchor half-way to the island. Off to the right the Radio Club looks forlorn; to match the mood, the tiles should have gleamed with rain under that single harsh light. The sea is dark, peaceful after the clutter of boats that swayed upon it last night. Four boys sit on the sea-wall. They were there at 3 a.m., when I drifted awake and leaned out of the window for a while.

I love this view. I come over to the window every now and then just to revel in it, like a child reaching into his bag to stroke a new toy. I need to take it in in lungfuls, in wide-eyed deep-breathing gulps. I’ve seen it a hundred times before, but on this trip I’ve claimed it for my own. All because I have a room with three windows looking out on it. And no camera.

The light has changed. The street-lights seem to wane. Dawn washes the horizon, inverts the light. The sea turns silver; the bobbing boats re-appear, dark dancers on the morning tide.

The strand below is now crowded with morning walkers. A mother and daughter in Ts and stretch capris. An old couple, the lady laboriously swaying from one foot to the other, her husband grumpy-faced but extending a solicitous hand to help her onto the cobbled kerb. Mr. Money-bags, gold chain glinting, the legs of his loose Bermudas flapping below the overhang of his gut. A chic young thing, beautifully shaped and turned out in designer gym-wear, but ruining the effect with her ungainly walk; perhaps her shoes look good but don’t fit her.

And now, walking across my field of vision from left to right, a figure from the Satyajit Ray stories of my childhood. Bright eyes that dart all around beneath beetling brows, a wide rubbery mouth that can be creased in laughter one moment and twisted in invective the next, hair neatly oiled and parted, a half-sleeved shirt buttoned to the collar and stick-thin legs emerging from short baggy shorts. The walk, too, stirs distant memories: a shuffle with a faint lurch that yet aspires to respectability.

My memory for the day? Time to check out. I turn away from the window.

****


The city in the morning is different. More tranquil, or at least less frenetic. The light itself slows us down, strokes us to peace. The taxi rasps through the morning calm, slipping through the dappled light, passing under the trees that line the streets of the city’s southern end. The curlicued spiral stairs of the High Court, the self-righteous pile of the Cowasjee Public Hall, the Corporation Building opposite the beautiful station that has been re-named so imaginatively. Along the way, “Smart & Hollywood Tailors”. Indeed.

The smells of the city are more distinct in the morning air. Anda bhurji near Churchgate. Fish as we cross VT. For some reason, one stretch near Pedder Road smells like an old railway carriage, chlorine and coal smoke and a whiff of staleness. I find no smell of the sea, not on the sea-front as we start, not at Haji Ali, nowhere. The city has leached the smell from the air and substituted its own.

The fly-overs take us past windows that open into other people’s lives. A bleary face, toothbrush protruding from foaming mouth as he reaches out of a window to retrieve a pair of trousers from the clothesline. The corner of a dresser and a small table with a woman’s feet propped up on it; the angle suggests a newspaper and a cup of something hot. A neon light above a dining table, straight-backed chairs, a jug. Windows with plants, with clotheslines, with faces, blank panes, newspapers. Windows like hooded eyes and windows that wink with the morning sun.

Hoardings. Cell-phones serials cereals shares loans homes boutiques. Everywhere. Covering buildings that are certainly too graceful to be thus defaced. But bright. And on every bus-stop, a new advertising idea from Everybody’s Favourite Newspaper.

Bus-stops. Crowded, mostly with children in uniform carrying bags that seem far too large for them. Shivaji Park and clusters of young cricketers in earnest whites.

Somewhere past King’s Circle, the sordid side of the city. Poor men in rags squat by the roadside. One man in singlet and lungi fastidiously washes his feet as he loops his sacred thread over one ear. Garbage is everywhere, mostly polythene bags that flutter in the putrid air, like the fingers of corpses underwater. Metal letters down the side of a tired building spell out “Jay Markandey_”. The last “a” has been covered by the corrugated tin roofing of a shop protruding from the ground floor.

On previous visits, the city for me has been friends and evenings, strolls down Colaba ending with dessert at Churchill, haggling over a brass sextant in a lane behind the Taj, long lunches at Moshe’s, afternoons fading into evenings in a Bandra flat where the wind comes in over the rocks the lovers the sea-wall to set the wind-chimes madly ringing. This time I was alone. And the city is different, distant, on the other side of a screen. Softer, not so brassy, but behind a window-pane.

She appears somewhere near Dadar, the spirit of the city as I see it this morning. White hair neatly tied in a bun, large bindi dead-centre on her forehead, bangles a-jangle on her wrists as she imperiously slows us down with an up-flung arm. Comfortably plump and swathed in a green sari tied ghati fashion. Rolling along with a serene expression that is still somehow alert. And yes, she has flowers in her hair.

**** ****


8 o’clock as we turn towards Santa Cruz and a stadium comes into view. The cabbie – bald with a white fringe and a white moustache, worldly-wise but garrulous – laughs and shakes his head. It’s not a stadium, it’s the Centaur Hotel that the Sahara Group have taken over. They’ve been renovating it for some time now. Yes, everybody thinks it’s a stadium. Pata nahni, saab – how do we know what they have in mind? But they have a lot of money.

Airports. Not so long ago the departure area was an elongated cavern; one had to wheel one’s luggage for miles to reach the crowded security gates. In the new improved version, there are two gates to the security check. In front of one, a shapely (though undernourished by my generous standards) young lady in green and black greets three passengers on Go-Air. At the other gate, a line of 40-odd IA passengers shuffles forward wearing morose early-morning expressions. Why do I even expect these things to make sense?

We take off after a further two-hour delay. Grouse – when a flight from Calcutta is delayed, I get at least two text messages and a phone call informing me of the delay. Here, nobody bothered. I only got to know because I called the airport at a quarter past five in the morning. This city owes me two hour’s sleep. On the other hand, they did give me my favourite seat. And waking up early gave me that magic hour by the window.

The plane rises and wheels towards the east. I peer out of the porthole. Through the haze of the December sun, the line of surf gleams like a sari border. Towers stand like Lego blocks amongst the gritty indistinct sprawl of the slums. The plane’s shadow slips over silvered pools of industrial waste, out over the straggling greenery of the city’s edge, across a highway dusty from this height. I can’t see the city’s life from here, but it pulses in my memory, in my mind’s picture of this city by the sea.

As I lean back and close my eyes, the pictures run into one another. This morning has been different - the city at home, before it put on its work-day face. Still in slippers and sleepy-eyed before it gets down and hustles. The edges not so sharp, the mood softer, more intimate. Yet disclosures rather than conversation. Next time we meet, we might both let down our guard a little more. A seduction waiting to happen.


**** ****

Friday, December 16, 2005

Howl


End of another day. End of a bloody awful day that can only be described with the f*** word and its imaginative variations. A day that can only be retrieved in the company of friends. Of old friends. With coffee and smokes and a drink. Or two. And foul-mouthed conversations where we describe in minute graphic detail the genealogies, birth processes, anatomical peculiarities and horrible fates of certain humanoids (or at least I do some describing). Perhaps, to make it quite perfect, a late-night wander around that skein of roads by the Lakes, passing around a cigarette among three or four of us, with some good-natured invective when one of us hangs on to it too long.

Instead of which, I have to get inside a fresh shirt. AND a tie AND a jacket. And go grin and mouth inane pleasantries at THREE Oedipal (do I need to translate that?) do-s. Oh death where is thy sting!


So this is NOT a good time to pump up the volume on “Black Dog”. Robert Plant sings as if a bradawl is being inserted into his rectum, but he manages to make it sound like good clean cathartic (emetic?) fun. (And on my new Bose speakers – yes yes yes observe me gloat! – I can hear every frickin’ note as John Paul and Jimmy P let it rip).

Because great rock is anarchy. It’s about telling the world to “go f*** yourself”. It’s about not giving a big rat’s ass. Because it makes me want to pull open the door to my office and throw things at the morons outside. With a Billy Idol sneer and a wolf howl and a back-arching pelvic-thrusting head-banging riff on air guitar.

And I can’t DO that tonight. Somebody put me out of my misery

**** ****

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Not with a bang but a whimper?

Some time in 2007 fifteen Indians will battle in Barbados. In Jamaica, Treenidahd, Georgetown. A quarter of a billion Indians – those who have enough to eat and access to television – will follow their fortunes. Win or lose, the team will carry the emotions of India. It has been evident for some time now that one man, rather more prone to emotion than most, will be reduced to viewing the battles rather than taking the field.

Three months ago he was a leader. Today he has been reduced to a bystander. Fair enough. A vulnerable leader can be a disaster; an unreliable comrade is a liability at the very least. But did he have to be cast aside like this? Was it fair to give him this grudging opportunity, then push him out after he gritted his teeth and fought in the ranks?

Sambit Bal sums it up rather well. The end has been in sight for some time now. This cold-eyed pragmatism may be for the best (though I’m fairly sure it was prompted by the fact that one of the decision-makers was born out of wedlock). But for the first time since this act of the drama unfolded, I felt sad for the man. The “God of the off-side” has been reduced to a journeyman with rare flashes of brilliance. This diminution of his abilities, paradoxically, raises him in my regard. He is now an honest trier, and I respect the craftsman more than the genius. How it must hurt to be shown the door when he has done his best within his waning abilities.

In the Kotla Test, our demi-god reached a milestone; our best bowler proved again that star quality is not germane to great performances; the younger ‘Prince’ showed promise that he has come of age. The ageing Prince has been known for flamboyance. Now that the magic is gone, it is not enough for him to be workmanlike. If he cannot bedazzle, he must step out of the limelight. 79 runs in two innings was not enough, no matter that he buckled down and fought well when occupancy of the crease was important. Younger players can have the luxury of one more innings to fulfill their promise. For a 32-year-old every innings is a final act, with the pack of young alphas nipping at his heels. 79 was not enough, not in two innings, not when he was in the cross-hairs every step of the way. He had to go.

****

He was guilty. Of complacency. Of over-playing his hand. Of talking out of turn. Especially when his bat was not talking for him. He paid the price. Fair enough. He became an object lesson that nothing can be taken for granted. Above all, he was guilty of ignoring Bradman’s dictum: “Leave when they’re still asking ‘Why’, before they start asking ‘Why not’”. But one can still be grieved at the manner of his passing.

This is the man who is ‘fallible against pace’. Yet this is the man who could stride down the pitch and swing Andy Caddick’s waist-high full-toss over the ropes. This is the man who hit ten sixes in a one-day innings (an innings where, but for a captain who kept him from the strike for 14 balls when his strike-rate was over 160, he might have made the first limited-overs double-century). The eyes must have dimmed, the reactions slowed. Has the grit, the determination, the fighting spirit faded too? If this last Test was any indication, no.

Perhaps his finest shot as captain was off the field. When India were struggling against England at home and Steve Waugh expressed doubts about the team’s abilities, this was the first Indian with the guts to say “Steve Waugh should shut up and think about Australia”. Well played, Captain of India!

The team he has been evicted from is the team he built. He has to make room in the middle-order for a man he backed over five years. Last year, a friend of mine who travels with the team told me that if Dada asks any of the young bloods to jump off the tenth floor, they wouldn’t even ask ‘why’ on the way down. This was the loyalty he inspired. This, hopefully, will be his legacy. A team united, a team with stomach, a team that (on most days) fights to the last ball. This is, after all, essentially the same team that he once led to almost the top of the world. It would be too much to expect that they will remember him in future victories, but once the dust has settled, he should be remembered as one of the men who made the victories possible.

He will keep fighting, but the odds against him seem too high. Now that he is no longer the God of the off-side, it is best for him to leave before he has to hear the words with which Cromwell dismissed the Long Parliament. Best not only for the man but for his memory. Even as I write this, a telephone poll shows that 80% believe he should still be in the team. Perhaps he is - albeit against his will - leaving when people are still asking “why”.


**** ****

Monday, December 05, 2005

Selling out

I have been corrupted. Indoctrinated. Frickin’ broken in.

I’ve become SUCH a stuffed shirt. A bloody boring proper arse. Next thing I know, I shall sip my tea with my pinky finger outstretched. Wear lace-up shoes to office. Look the other way and KEEP MY MOUTH SHUT when somebody’s being picked on. The beginning of the end.

And this winter could have been quite interesting, too. Garn.

****

Sunday has been a respite from the weekend. Started Thursday, if you like. At least the socialising. A wine-tasting thingummy. All these very propah ladies and gentles, perfumed and gelled, every man-jack there in a jacket and tie except for your’s truly with no tie and his (urrrkkk) chest hair peeping out (as revealed to horrified gaze during trip to loo; decided to let it be and pretend it was a style statement rather than an errant button, at least it’s not grey yet, now that is revolting unless you’re Sean Connery or at least Omar Sharif).

The sommelier was young, tall, aquiline, French. If he’d had a tad more attitude, I swear some of those women would have dragged him under the table then and there. As it was, a couple of them were openly salivating over him. I eyed his tie, the women eyed all of him, the men eyed some of the women. It’s nice when people take the trouble to dress up and look their best. I don’t bother because there’s just so much you can do for a lost cause, but I appreciate it in others. I noticed that one lady (while otherwise no more than “a sampan, or a small gunboat at best”) had very interesting dimples in her shoulders.

Question: WHY do women spend hours in the gym, splurge loads on designer trouser-suits that are at least a half-size too small and then ruin the entire effect with poor lingerie?! You know what I’m talking about here. Ruck lines. The pits. I mean, when was the last time you saw a man with his briefs showing through his trousers?

All through dinner my neighbour conversed animatedly about children and self-realisation and her philosophy of life. And I manfully kept my end up even though every time we made eye contact, what I was really thinking was “IS she wearing false eyelashes?” (And is that all that’s false about her or …)

Opposite me sat a twerp. In a dress shirt and a bow tie, yet. The most overdressed in proximity to the most under-dressed, but this guy was such an utter prat. All through dinner he twittered on about “the most amazing” paintings and about his wondrous palate (no, not palette). I held my peace and professed ignorance of the finer points of single malts. So he told me that Laphroaig is “not really peaty, you see, now for that you need an Ardbeg”. What I needed was an Aspirin. And a respite. Sod off, you f***-wit, this is a wine tasting.

He delicately hinted that he was an expert on Western classical music. And on jazz. Then Carlton Kito played “A kiss to build a dream on” (as made famous by Shantanu Moitra) and Mr. Prat, who had been swaying in time to “Windmills of my mind”, sniffed loudly and said “Oh, I do stay clear of the native stuff.” (this from a man who looks like Paul Robeson compressed lengthwise!) The bad taste in my mouth was not due to “ze tanneek, wot yu zay, yaftertysse in ze Pinot Noir”. I am now a mellow old man; I didn’t throw my Chinkara Cabernet in his face. But when he thereafter lit up a Cohiba, I did suggest that he was stuffing it in the wrong end. Arse!

****

Friday was much nicer. There is now a definite nip in the air, at least after midnight. A jacket is comfortable. And so convenient – phone, pipe, lighter, card-case, pen, spare handkerchief, earphones, keys, odd slips of paper, everything fits in five pockets. Quite liberating not to bulge from every pocket of my trousers (this is the cue for comments on my less-than-svelte profile, yes-I-know-now-stfu).

But what is it with women and pockets? I mean, you can put the most practical woman in a trouser-suit, what the hell, you can put her in cargoes, but she’ll still stuff everything into her purse. OK, forget the trouser-pockets. On the basis of recent observations, I appreciate that there is barely room enough for the woman inside her trousers, let alone a single Polo mint in excess. What about the jacket pockets, eh?

Why in the name of Offler the Crocodile God does a woman say (FIVE times in the course of an evening) “Where’s my phone?” And then proceed to rummage through her purse, look under cushions, borrow a phone to call up her own number, panic that she left it at the last place she went to - and then find it in her purse after all? Under a lipstick case, three months’ credit card slips, five pens - of which one-and-a-half work, the half being used to punch holes in filed papers – a little phone book, a tube of hand cream, pressed flowers saved from the last anniversary, two photographs of niece and nephew and two more of offspring, a comb AND one of those collapsing brushes (OK, so I may be insensitive re: hair!), a bundle of other peoples’ visiting cards, Disprin, another little notebook, a tiny smaller purse where she keeps her face-maintenance kit ... You know what I mean, it’s like one of those magicians producing a hundred and seventy-nine rabbits from a Size 4 hat.

It’s a law of nature: the phone will emerge only after she’s dumped half this truck-load on the nearest sofa and the other half in the hands of the nearest man. WHY can’t she just PUT IT IN HER POCKET?

****

The roof-top party was also a lesson in sorting the packaging. Men ranged from the bibulous overweight uncles in their voluminous jackets and coloured shirts (Jehoshophath! Why does that sound familiar?!) to the wanna-bes who are on the mailing lists of designers (or perhaps their wives are). Also Surds. Cut-Surds. A well-tied turban looks so good, a beard would actually be an improvement on most middle-aged men. Then why this fixation with particoloured stubble (think Vikram Chatwal) and gelled wisps brushed down over an expanding forehead? Taken in conjunction with the collarless cashmere T and the fashionably casual jacket, the ensemble just screams “Owe-e-e-! Pappe-e-e-e!”

Let’s not even get into the Victor Mature syndrome. Know that one? I believe it was Peter Ustinov who panned “Samson and Delilah” (Victor Mature, Deborah Kerr) with the memorable line that it was “the only film in (his) experience where the hero’s bust (was) more magnificent than the heroine’s”. Even where the chest in question has been toned and firmed and shaped, the owner is apt to carry his arms out to the sides to show how large his lats have grown. And walk as if he has hydroscele. Simians with Swollen Swonicles. Sometimes I feel like throwing peanuts at them.

****

Saturday night our host was a restaurateur. And the food sucked. Yes I’m a pig, but who wouldn’t be disappointed if they were looking forward to a gourmet meal and were then fobbed off with cold biriyani and chicken grease? And the evening consisted of sundry fat men in long striped Fab India kurtas singing Bangla folk songs (for TWO HOURS, all with the same beat on the dholok), swinging their fat hips while they placed their archly cocked wrists atop their heads. And loud women in tight salwars who wore too much lipstick and clinked spoons against glasses while they shrieked with laughter. Bats with baby faces in the violet light/ Whistled and beat their wings ..

Fortunately for my sanity, one of my favourite teachers from college was there. A nice thing about growing old is that I meet these people who used to strike the fear of God into me, and they are actually nice to me. We laughed about how brattish I used to be and we talked about cabbages and kings. She used to be this very formidable, aloof person, albeit with a twinkle in her eye when she turfed me out of class; Saturday night she was not only great fun to talk to but also complimentary (though she did gang up with my wife against me). I suspect if she hadn’t been there, I would have been ripe for getting into a fight.

Which brings me to the original theory. Three nights and several parties, so many weirdos and pretentious sods, and I was so damn urbane. Forget about arguments, slanging matches, fights, I was bloody smooth. Non-controversial. Don’t-rock-the-boat.

Damn. I’ve become frickin’ civilized. I’ve sold out.

**** **** ****

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Listen up, Curlilocks!



Tarred with the same brush ...

Righth, ferry gooth, as Father Huart would say through his smile before he suspended somebody.

This is what India’s Instapundit has to say: “The government … couldn't care less about the bottomline. After all, we pay the bills.” Yeah right! (And there should have been a hyphen in ‘bottom-line’. Truly. Ask Lynne.)

Generalisations hurt. Granted that a generalisation refers to the majority of the subject-group, the minority who don’t fit the description are bound to take offence. There is a rueful acceptance that the criticism of the majority may be warranted; there is also pique at being tarred with the same brush. It can be a disincentive, too. There are days when the minority will think it doesn’t really make a difference anyway, since they will still be clubbed with the supposedly non-performing majority. Why bother to produce results when you’re regarded as no better than the lowest common denominator?

The “couldn’t-care-less” assumption may be misplaced even with regard to the Railways. By all accounts, He of the Silver Semi-Tonsure has actually taken some hard decisions that make good business sense. It’s been more than a year since his khullar idea and he seems to have moved on (just as he has moved on from “Hema Malini’s cheeks”, a quote that sticks with him though he said it ten years ago and more). India Today ran a story some months ago on the re-organisation of the Indian Railways and the emphasis on profitability. Their archives are only available to subscribers, so I can’t post the link here, but I’m sure some people will remember it. Worth a second look.

I do not hold a brief for either the Indian Railways or the Minister. I do, however, take issue with the general trashing of everything associated with government. Take this assumption that government organisations are not concerned with profits. For over four years, I worked in a Government-owned company that should be an example for turnaround wannabes. This is a company that lost money for almost 30 years. In five years from the mid-90s, a new combination at the top took it (with apologies to Neil Young) “out of the red and into the black”.

In the last three fiscals, this company’s turnover under a new MD and Chairman has further grown from 70 crore to 160 crore; PBT over the same period has been 42 crore. The bottom-line hasn’t done too badly, even after the customary cover under Sec 80[1(A)]. Business this year should grow even further. No pink slips, no pumping up revenues through sale of capital assets, just hard-nosed focus on building profit centres and cutting debt. And NPAs have been cut from 57% to 32%. Still a long way from ICICI’s claim of 2%, but a pretty steep improvement when one takes into account the legacy of 30 years.

As luck would have it, I now work with another Government body that has – surprise! – not made profits for (wait for it!) 30 years. Yes, déjà vu and all that, but I’d like to think that I can apply some learning from the last assignment. We’ve gone out on a limb and said we’ll increase the top-line five-fold (which I think is a braver target than bottom-line growth alone). There will be criticism when it’s not achieved, but it’s a target set only to expand the vision. Niall Fitzgerald, Chairman of Reuters, said in a recent interview that he’s happier with a man who sets his sights on 500 and achieves 400, than with a man who sets a target of 120 and “over-achieves” to 140. Insh’allah, we should achieve 300% top-line. And survive the barracking from well-meaning critics.

The point I’m trying to make (apart from blowing our own trumpet for a bit) is that these examples are now the rule rather than the exception. Even in my State, which is only just emerging from the common perception that it is ideologically mired in the ’50s, there are government bodies that have a two-word vision statement and the carte blanche to work on it. Profit + Quality. Makes sense? Only if you believe it, of course. And believe IN it.

**** ****

Believing in it …

So all government bodies are not run on lines acceptable to libertarians. Not all private concerns meet those criteria either. Think of the number of partnership firms and even listed companies that fudge the bottom line, transfer assets to sister concerns for pittances, lack transparency in their accounts and are run by and for coteries. Hell, think of the number of bodies in the public view that fit the same description. Do I need to spell out B – C – C – I, O Thou of the Uncut Locks?

The key difference, of course, is that every tax-payer is a share-holder in the public sector and therefore entitled to criticise and to demand change. Our forefathers fought for independence on the grounds of self-rule. Would that the salt tax had been a key issue and not a symbol. Would that we had had a Patrick Henry to instill a sense of proprietary pride in the state. “No taxation without representation” has made the majority of the population in the USA co-owners of the state; “I’m a tax-paying citizen” is a statement of proud ownership. Two hundred years of foreign rule, on the other hand, may have made the Indian tax-evader first a nationalist and then a loveable rapscallion rather than a traitor to the common cause.

The saddest part is when the existence of evaders is used to justify further evasion – “He’s doing it, so why shouldn’t I?” Playground logic. Applicable across the board whether we’re talking about littering or power theft or tax evasion. Think about it. Every time you throw that cigarette packet or gum wrapper or tissue on the street, every time you jump that red light, every time you look the other way when your neighbour runs a line from the street lamp to power his Diwali lights, you’re actually running counter to a set of rules that goes all the way down to a foundation called the Constitution of India.

Extreme reasoning? Perhaps, but how else does one get it across that we’re all in this together? That we work according to laws made by people WE elect. That we can’t expect the government alone to enforce simple rules that we should all live by. Like cleanliness. And orderliness. And paying one’s dues. That we all own the government, so if it doesn’t work, then we’re all responsible to some extent. Another extreme example – if you think the vast majority of politicians are crooks, would you take the trouble to run for public office yourself? Fish or cut bait, my moralising friends.

**** ****

Why won't you lurrvve me ...

There are countries where corruption is practically unknown. These would also be countries where the crime rate is low, where there is a high level of public ownership of the state and its facilities, where orderliness is high. This does not necessarily mean a low level of individual expression, it just means that such expression occurs within the framework envisaged by law. The Scandinavian countries largely fit this bill.

There are also countries where public order is preserved by force. Think China. Think Singapore. It’s a trade-off. Would you rather sacrifice some of your freedoms for a more ordered life? I wouldn’t. Come to think of it, they’re not doing too good on the corruption count either. And some of them don’t even publish accounts, so how do we know whether they’re really profitable? Who’s going to ask, anyway, when it could mean the midnight knock?

Yes, we need to point out the errors made by government. Yes, we need to make known, as widely as possible, where public money is going and whom it benefits. Yes, we need to call a spade a bloody shovel. That’s where Amit Uncut and his ilk are performing a public service, more power to their keyboards. Let us also be thankful that in our country, for the most part, they do not need to worry about their futures if they criticise the powers-that-be (did anyone say “Tarun Tejpal”?)

On the other hand, when Nochiketa sings in Bangla about the shorkaari kormochari and my friends snigger about it, it doesn’t seem to make sense to get into office on time. When every other film depicts the police as corrupt, does it make the average policeman more determined to prove his honesty or does he happily relax into the mould we’ve created for him? Think it over.

The best piece of legislation I’ve heard about in recent times is one regarding prostitution – the client will finally be held culpable for prostitution and soliciting. Think it over – who are the clients responsible for government inefficiency? The man who cribs about it in the evening over a single malt will be found next morning in the corridors of power, entering some room with an ingratiating grin. And an oblong gift-wrapped package in a paper bag. Think it over.

(There is a certain type of civil servant who wears his honesty on his sleeve. I detest this creature. Honesty is not an optional extra. It’s a given. At the same time, I do not like it when some rotten apples make the whole barrel stink. Or when I am willy-nilly dumped into the same stinking barrel when it comes to sorting and labelling.)

So, to take it from the top, not all of government sucks. A lot of it does suck, and needs to be told it sucks. It’s not very smart, however, to say that all of it sucks. You make the parts that do NOT suck that much sadder and less proud. Finally, before telling them that they all suck (or even WHILE telling them) it might make sense to check whether we / you do the same things. Is honesty a matter of degree? You decide.

Good my lords (and lords you are, for I am paid by you to be your servant), do not assume that all your servants are malingerers or thieves. “He who steals my purse steals trash” etc., so my lords and ladies, if you clothe me in the same knave’s livery, what do you leave me with? Not my pride, not my reputation, nor yet with much of my good intentions.

Think it over.

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Friday, November 18, 2005

Images from a big country (thank you, Bill Bryson)





Seven airlines I'd never heard of. Fleets and volumes I couldn't believe.
Yet again, I am humbled by my ignorance.





A visual parable?




Glimpsed in passing





Col. Sanders has joined the PLA?





... and what is this? (Shall think of something nice for the first correct, precise answer)


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Thursday, November 17, 2005

A day in the life (OR, watch out, Kubla Khan)





And she's riding a stairway to Heaven ...







How can I concentrate on a meeting with views like this from the windows?









From Victoria's Peak at twilight





Stepping out




Murphy's. A chamber-pot on the mantel?!



1 a.m., and they're leaving when I walk in





From Acqua, twenty-something floors above the harbour





Epilogue:

“Is this a non-smoking room?”

“Sir?”

“I asked, is - - this - - a - - non - - smoking - - room? A room where one should not smoke?”

“Yes Sir, you have a probRem, Sir?”

“Not exactly, I just want to know whether one can smoke in this room”

“Sir, it iss a ron-smocking froor, Sir. You have probRem, Sir? We send up rrum-freshener”

“No, I just want to smoke in this room!”

“Right, Sir, then we send up ash-tray”

Welcome to Hong Kong.



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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Tuesday morning, 6 a.m.



... from the pale downtrodden

And the words that they say that we won't understand.

Don't pretend that what's happening
Is just a case of others suffering
Or you'll find that you're joining in
The turning away.


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Friday, October 21, 2005

... killed the cat, I know. BUT ...



This is not very politic ("cautious and meticulous", nor "full of high sentence", mayhap "a bit obtuse"). But I am very curious.


WHO in Brazil reads my blog? iBest service provider. If you drop by again, please be kind enough to illuminate.
Also, Belgian Catholic University? (Do I have the translation correct?)
Malaysia? Friend of Jay's?
And Nigeria ... Nigeria? S* won't even move there till November, I would have understood if it were he.

The key-word search is even more disorienting. For a while, the leader was pantua. Which was OK (though I prefer malpoa), until a really raw phrase displaced it.
Right now, 'Giuditta Scorcelletti' is up there. Nice to know she has some following, I really liked her voice.
The Ponytail is high on every search list, so I can understand that one.
But 'boudi stories'? Ye Gods and little fishes.

The really wacky ones are:
- 'khus sharbat'. Eh?
- 'Insead PhD' - leads to some exasperated browsers, I daresay.
- 'S.P. Zariwala' - Who?

And of course - 'dodges chicken'. Mental picture of large enraged fowl striding towards a portly figure that jinks at high speed. Heh.

(Yes, I'm ill, bored AND sick of 'comparative investment figures' and 'core competence'. Or as my blasted colleagues would insist, 'core competencIES'. Morons.)

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Quite Sethled

Two consecutive evenings of stimulation.

Intellectual stimulation, of course. What other kind do we Bongs know? (As I’ve mentioned earlier, we define a loser as ‘one who copulates with a moron’.)

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Went to a book launch Monday evening. Awfully thick book, but a diminutive man. Turned out, however, that both were not only immensely likable but also rather impressive. Self-deprecating humour, yet firm and assertive when required.

The man knows at least four languages (Hindi, English, Chinese, German). Speaks German with that accent. Cleared his A levels in German with just six months of preparation. Mentioned translating something from Hebrew.

Read pure math before he went up to Oxford. Because he ‘enjoyed it more than applied math’. Quite.

Two degrees in Economics ("both from good universities", as he mentioned in a recent interview. Didn't know he went to school with Amitav G)

Bisexual, which seems pragmatic. As Woody Allen pointed out, it doubles the chances of getting some on a Friday night.

Speaks fluently, lucidly, articulating clearly. In complete, grammatically impeccable sentences. A rare quality even among writers and politicians, who live off their words. (In my experience, lawyers don’t even come within hailing distance)

Very evidently at ease in his own skin. Another rare quality. (I wondered how he could be at ease in that Nehru veskit; he took it off after the photo-shoot.)

I had assumed that he had formal training in Western classical music; I asked him about it and it turned out he learnt khayal in his school-days. Later started singing Schubert lieder as a means to relieve stress. The apparent insider angle in An Equal Music was just research. Academic rigour makes me despair.

I give up. I shan't ever bother to write anything, I can never be a hundredth as good.



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Sunday had brought its own dose of despair. I’d been telling myself I’m not quite middle-aged yet. Yeah right. The next-oldest blogger present was ten years younger than me. I was nearly thrice as old as the youngest in evidence. The matter was gracefully settled when I was dubbed ‘Kaku’ (Uncle). Hmmm.


All very intellectually stimulating, however. Food for thought and all that.




Inspiring variety of interests (also mentioned here, here and here). Like RSS. The feed, not the (a)political organisation. (I don’t think I could have survived khaki shorts in Flury’s.)

A surprisingly mature level of intellectual give-and-take.

Eclectic topics. Like fish in chocolate sauce.

Meditative moments. .(I suspect he practises that look. Only he did it better in his profile pic.) The presence of a literate (and literary, though not famous for it yet) celebrity. Some, of course, beg the question. Some seek to be self-effacing.

And some succeed only too well.





We even had a suitably admiring audience. Or perhaps ‘bemused’ would be more accurate. Note the expression.


A very productive meeting. We drafted a document to address what we considered the most important concerns of the blogosphere. (For serious researchers, a right-click should provide magnification ...)


Like all good things ...
but this almost came to an end under the wheels of a Calcutta yellow cab.

Until we conceded that this, too, must pass. The cab. Not blogging.


Last word - a venerable colleague started to tell me about the new phenomenon of 'blogging'. I nodded and mentioned weblogs; he contradicted me and went on to a detailed exposition. I realised, to my horror, that he had confused blogging with 'dogging'. Then I pondered on which of the two seems more exciting.

I feel yet more inadequate

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Kobe je ele Maa, kobe Maa gele...


Oshtomi'r shokaal, Mashi'r bari'r Pujo

The second day of Pujo; in an aunt's house. I hadn't been there in 20 years. The experience was faintly Proustian. Old polished floors, dark looming rooms, louvred windows. A paved yard outside, with a patch of earth where old trees hunkered over flower bushes. The coolness under a fan that ticked and groaned. The smell of old thick faintly damp walls, ghee (clarified butter) burning in the lamps, chopped fruits and khichuri in the proshad (votive offering).

And the subdued hubbub of a hundred people or more, wandering round the old house,
sitting in the yard ( ...playing games with the faces).
Occasional shouts to "bring the fritters, what ARE you doing!" or "Rice, more rice here!"
as the family served lunch to the visitors on long trestle tables under a cotton awning.









This is one Pujo we have visited every year for more than 20 years. The old red house has given way to two blocks of flats in pristine white, but the Shib mondir in the corner and the thakur dalan (the verandah where the image is installed) remain unchanged. The Pujo evenings still pass in adda and tea from little earthen cups. I can now, however, light my pipe in the presence of the elders; another generation now slips away to the corner behind the Shiva temple to light up.
Shondhi Pujo'r por, thakur dalan-e adda.

I'll miss Kali Pujo there this year. Midnight pujo and a feast afterwards. That strange Bangali phenomenon - non-vegetarian food, goat mutton in fact, but cooked 'the vegetarian way' without onions or garlic.








Just up the road from my friend's place, Ekdalia Evergreen, one of the largest 'community' Pujos. A fairground atmosphere rather than a religious occasion. I'm always awed by the crowds. Not just from Calcutta, but from Noihati, Bongaon, Diamond Harbour, even from as far away as Purulia.
Keeping their annual promise to themselves.






Oshtomi'r bhog.
As a friend put it, 'I meet you twice a year - once here and again in January at our cricket match"








Park Circus. Nice details. Reproductions of old pot paintings high up on the walls. I liked the cool white look.




This year some abstruse astronomical calculations led to a 3-day Pujo instead of the usual 4 days. Nobomi and Doshomi were both on Wednesday.


Durga Bari in Ballygunge. I used to go there every Pujo till 1987. This was the first time since then.
I felt so OLD.
Also very avuncular and nostalgic at the sight of the milling multitude.
. While the aunties jostle for their shnidoor khela.




All over now.
I never go for the bhashaan
(immersion of the idol). Very depressing, such a finite ending to the annual magic. Instead, I sit near the window and listen to the immersion processions shouting as they pass.

The Bangali equivalent of "Next year in Jerusalem".
A communal promise.
"Aashchhe bochhor abaar hobey"


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The few years that I've been away from Calcutta during Pujo,
I've sought vicarious fulfillment through others' descriptions and images.
Does this effort strike a similar chord?
Comments invited.

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