Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hiatus



People should know better than to delete their blogs when they go away.

Everybody wants to come back SOME time.

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Plum Pie


"Blithe Spirits", the Calcutta chapter of the Wodehouse Wonderbar, holds its monthly meeting tomorrow.

Apparently they've been planning stuff but haven't got down to action. Some Wodehouse enthusiasts required to chip in and Do Things. Rupert Baxter and Ronald Eustace rather than Bertie, Uncle Fred rather than Lord Em. Get the drift? Please do come. Should be fun.

Flat 504, 4/2 Middleton Street, at half past eleven. That's 11:30 a.m. for the precision prissies. Don't turn up too early but on the other hand, do try to get there by 12 noon, please.

UPDATE - The meeting was fun. We have also Taken Decisions. A Humour Quiz in December, in Crossword (thank you, Mr. Sidharth Pansari), one of the QMs to be Monsieur Tintin. Followed, the next evening, by a reading of Plum's work and an interactive session. The Blithe Spirits need some energetic members. Roll up, roll up ...

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Arrested motion


My heroine of the week is Bina Ramani [1]. I have little idea why it is necessary to arrest a witness who is not charged as an accessory after the fact, but I totally love the idea of her staying cool with Chanel in the lock-up. Can we extend this to other areas of public life? Air fresheners in buses? Autos? The press room in Writers Buildings on any afternoon when the Assembly is not in session?

I’ve often wondered what would be the toughest part about being arrested. Given pen and paper, I think I could survive the other tribulations (except being beaten up, I never could get to accept that even though it happened often enough since Cls. 4, when I cheeked one of the Chinese seniors from technical school and got my glasses slapped half-way across the badminton court). You know what would give me grief? The loos. There is no way I can be happy if I have to use a dirty loo. Given the parsimonious outlook of jail administrators, it is a given that the loos won’t be clean. I hope I never get arrested.

[1] Link will follow when the Telegraph site is up again.

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Shellshocked

Disappointment yesterday evening. Lokkhoner Shoktishel at the Gyan Manch, a Sukumar Ray classic that I last saw performed almost 30 years ago. I remember it as side-splittingly hilarious. But then one was more easily amused at that age. In any case, it’s the kind of script that, if read well, can be played for a barrel of laughs. This time round, I thought there was just too much tweaking, it was just too referential and “I’m-so-khoo”. This play lies in the spoken lines and unfortunately some of the players were indistinct. Can’t afford to ignore the basics. Overall, “disappoooointmeeeent!” (whips out pistol and fires two shots into safe … how many of the Beavis and Butthead generation have seen “A Fish called Wanda”? Sublime Pythonisms.)

BUT but but .. having been rather nasty, I must say that SOME people impressed, including someone who (I'd hitherto thought) is too young to carry off a Little Black Dress. Another known face [2] lurked backstage but was cheered the most during the curtain call. The director did a rubber-jointed cameo in the first scene. This affected his voice projection but impressed the shit out of me, especially the bit where he stayed upside down for the longest while and Ram [1] addressed his upthrust posterior. Oh, and Hanuman (Ritam?) totally rocked in Circuit Warsi mode. That’s an idea .. how about Munnabhai meets the Mahabharat? (Or the Ramayana, as the case may be, but that’s not so alliterative).

Incidentally, we arrived far too early for the show and had to hang around (and perspire gently) in the lobby for a bit. Then we found the hall door open and drifted in to enjoy the air-con. Lo and behold, there was a rehearsal in progress. With show-time a mere half-hour away? I know the feeling. Before enlightenment (i.e., giving up all hope of academic excellence), I too used to have these last-moment mugga (= swot) sessions before term exams, as we walked up from the assembly hall to class. So there we were, enjoying the cliquey feeling of actually being in on the last rehearsal, occasionally waving back (nonchalantly) at certain theatre people who (incredulously) espied us in the seats (the hall lights were up). Until a suave young gentleman all in black came and threw us out into the sweaty wilderness again. I was most impressed by his persistence and panache. A pleasure being chucked out by you, Bikram (I think). We must do it again some time.

[1] The portrayal of Ram as an effete poseur was one of the things that appealed to me. I mean, how fake does a guy have to be before he ditches a wife who stuck with him through 14 years of shitty married life in the jungle, with a brother-in-law tagging along to put paid to their privacy, sundry vamps chasing after her husband and she doesn't know whether he's getting some on the side when he claims to be out slaying demons - and all for the sake of public opinion?
Besides, if Sita had to prove that she hadn't been romping with Ravana, what about Surpanakha, eh? What had Ram done anyway that made her so nuts about him? Double standards. And don't even get me started about
Krishna!

[2] Damn, the child has shifted her blog and I can't find it. I know it's called "Opaline" now.

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Morons in the morning



Every day in every way the morons score higher and higher. This morning I waited outside the gym for half an hour. Because the guy who has the keys hadn’t turned up. Mind you, this is a franchise of a multi-national thingummy, with the flags of umpteen countries painted around its logo. At least four trainers hung around in their street clothes and made apologetic noises – but no guarantee that they’ll have the sense to keep a duplicate set of keys with the building security. Why didn’t they do that in the first place anyway? Because they’re morons, of course. And I’m another for bothering to ask.

It’s not very nice to drag myself out of bed at half five just so I can wake up enough to hit the gym at half six. It’s even worse when my morning outing resembles Wodehouse’s robbers who pull on their stocking masks and run up the steps of the bank, only to be foiled by a sign that says “Closed on Wednesdays and Sundays” (“… and all the tedious planning to do over again”) Especially when I need the elliptical trainer to exorcise the guilt from pasta prima vera for dinner
[1]. So much for my low-carb diet. Stay fat, sucker!

Just so I had something to do, the lid came off my sipper inside my gym bag, soaking not only my clothes but also the newspaper. How do you dry a newspaper? Yeah right, put it in the oven on low. (I must try that some time … what would happen if I microwaved the morning papers? There’s this urban legend about the old biddy who gave her cat a bath and then put it in the microwave to dry out. It exploded. Eeewwww. I’ve come close – I once washed a pair of almost-new Nike running shoes and put them to dry in the OTG. And forgot about them.
Moron myself.)

So – drying newspapers? One irons them, of course. In the
St. James Hotel in London, it used to be standard practice to iron the newspapers before delivering them to the rooms. Do people still care about these tactile enhancements of pleasure? Apparently they used to iron currency notes as well before they were placed with the cashier.

[1] which tastes even better when doggy-bagged and eaten at breakfast, doused in herb-infused olive oil and more melted cheese


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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Over the telegraph



Earlier, every colliery used to have one of the office watchmen on the Board of Directors. This
durwan was very important. In those days, every time there was an accident in a mine, the Board of Directors was held responsible. So guess who was marched off to jail if the court ordered that a director should be arrested?
The collieries have been around for over a century. Now the CMD of the company that runs the Bhatdih mine says the accident was an eye-opener. Long nap so far.
And no directors have been arrested. Leck-kee durwans, no?

Malegaon sees a sad deterioration in servility. I cannot begin to imagine the grief of these parents. I'd say they were quite restrained. Pity.


Rudrangshu Mukherjee seems to agree with Raj Kumar Hirani. Coming soon (perhaps), a review of Lage Raho Munnabhai. Spoiler - I loved it!

And oh, an expat experiences the realities of indeterminate gender. Perhaps if he hadn't been a Glaswegian, he would have havered on about cultural epiphanies or tolerance. Since he is a Scot, he tells it like it is. Carry on, McDougall.

Mike Selvey quotes Betjeman, then ponders on an anachronism. Lovely lines, too ... "I composed those lines when a summer wind/Was blowing the elm leaves dry". I have a soft spot for the never-never land of the "idyllic English summer" (well yes, I am an Anglophile - tough luck, old fruit) . Apart from Betjeman, there are bits of Larkin, MacNeice, Housman, even the elegiac Brooke, that send me dreaming. Don't tell me that landscape never existed. I've even seen one of those summers, back in 2001 during the Big Dry. (The train lines warped in the heat because the Brits hadn't left expansion gaps. "Silly twits / those Brits.")
I suspect Falstaff, Veena, the Black Mamba (singly and collectively) and Neha would disapprove of my retro preferences. Sod them.

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The reading, where eet eej?


Where do you do your reading? Propped up on a pile of pillows in the dark, the lamp focused just off the page so you don’t get blinded by the light bounce? In an armchair, feet up on the table, with a glass or a bowl of munchies close to hand? Or on the pot, locked in from the world and undisturbed (until a Small Person starts banging on the door and asking, “Papa, WHAT are you doing”[1])?

Different locations, different reading. Different times of day. One of the nicest feelings in the world is to wake up in the dark before dawn because I’m excited about a book. To light the lamp (and keep it shaded so I don’t wake up Certain Other People) and lie back against the pillows, turning the pages till first light filters through the curtains and the Resident Moron is kind enough to bring me my coffee. Such a thrill.

Somehow it’s more satisfying to start the day with a long read than to end it in bed with a book. Bedtime is our own time, after all. We’re supposed to read ourselves to sleep. Of course, I love that too. It’s a wrench when I realise that sleep cannot be denied any longer and I have to put the bookmark in, put the book away and switch off the light. The morning read, however, is pure indulgence. A hint of sin … avoiding the morning run, the gym, the planning of work for the day, all for the love affair with the printed word. Blissful. Last night and this morning it was Terry Pratchett, The Night Watch. These days, Sam Vimes is definitely who I want to be. (I flatter myself that we have little bits in common. No, I do not wear a helmet or smoke panatellas. Or elbow people in the nose. At least, not any more.)

The next stop is the Undisturbed (well, almost) Read. I do not subscribe to The Economist or the EPW, all I read is India Today and Outlook. (Those nauseating supplements on the world’s most expensive watches and what the designers eat for brunch? The Very Small Person reads those. When she really learns to read, I shall throw them off the balcony.) And oh, another retro publication. TIME magazine. Standard reading On the Pot.

The Throne has its own unique pleasures. In terms of reading, that is. But reading on the pot is like canap├ęs. Bite-sized pieces. A novel or a treatise does not belong in The Room where Everybody Goes. Magazines are ideal. Articles fit into mouthfuls of time. Or languid books, books of rambles and anecdotes and musing and little bits of sniping. Currently, Auberon Waugh’s Way of the World and Peter Mayle’s Encore Provence.

An important question – are newspapers best savoured on the pot? Personally, I’d say no. The morning papers are best savoured lying in bed, the curtains opened so the morning light pours in, the supplements spread out around the coffee tray. The Throne is for “some few to be tasted”.

And where does one read books that require a little more application? My place is in my study, sprawled in my treadle chair (my feet up on my rocking footstool, such delight), perhaps with my pipe beside me for the tactile pleasure when I clean it and go back over something that needs thinking through. Rarely do I read novels there (one exception being Kostova’s The Historian, read through one long Saturday when I was alone at home). Right now? The Argumentative Indian. Heavy stuff. Our good doctor is, after all, an academic. The donnish style is rarely transmuted into the story-telling lucidity of John Ronald Ruel or Feynman.

One last refuge of pleasure. Some afternoons in office, when I’m fed up of meetings and negotiations and union demands, I switch on the “Busy” light, reach back over my left shoulder for something from the bookshelf and bid the world goodbye for a while. A book that I wouldn’t make time for otherwise (The Mammaries of the Welfare State, such a poor encore after English, August) or again, something I can dip into and mull over. (Bill Bryson’s The Mother Tongue, a delight when taken in small doses).

There is, of course, one more kind of reading that has increasingly eaten into my time. To the extent that I consciously limit it to twice a week.

Bloglines.

Oh well.


[1] In my college days, my room was up on the terrace. The bathroom had the Pot with the Smallest Hole in the World. When I was enthroned, my great-aunt (rest her soul) would come up to water her roses and INVARIABLY ask through the door “What are you doing in there?” Excuse me? What the hell do you think I’m doing in here? Building a robot? Negotiating peace in the Middle East? But people WILL ask. Gah!

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Monday, September 04, 2006

Gah!


First, the Great Bong tags me for a picture. Is he blind? No, he just doesn't read my blog. Gah! If you want titillation, Arnab ...



And this one's so you eat your heart out ...

(the outfit that Princess Leia was "forced" to wear when held prisoner by Jabba. Forced? Does that dude look like he can force an umbrella on a mocktail?)


Then I find Karthik has one of his virtual blog-meets and I. Have. A. NON-SPEAKING. Appearance. DOUBLE GAH!
I am neglected. Forlorn. I shall do the Keats thingy[1]. Like NOW.


Normal service may be resumed soon.

Or not.

[1] -
drink, and leave the world unseen, / And with thee fade away into the forest dim

[2] - a footnote! A real live footnote! Ho there, Falstaff!


Monday, August 28, 2006

Corporate Strategy #583 - the Bullshit Bingo



This fairly comprehensive post reminded me of a minor skirmish with the corporate world.

We'd signed on McKinsey & Co. for a study of two sectors in the state. What they would call a major engagement - a team of six Bright Young Things working full-time out of our office for over a year, with a visiting Associate or Headless Honcho or Local Ringmeister or whatever they call it. Even an unsmiling Junior Partner who dropped by once in a while and "set up meetings" all over the place. Barrel-loads of corporate energy. All in all, a pleasant and productive experience working with sharp hard-working young people.

By the end of the first week I'd got used to e-mails and early morning phone calls that "set up team meetings". From my point of view (i.e., "where I was coming from"), this was Weirdissimus Grandoso. They were on the first floor, I was on the third. All they had to do was walk up and talk over a cup of coffee. (And chocolate biscuits. Parle "Hide & Seek". Very nice, except that three of the six were on the Atkins' Diet.) Just another aspect of their "professionalism".

I could not get used to their B-school jargon. For examples, check out Corporate Whore's post.
If they couldn't tell me what they meant in simple English, or Hindi or Bangla, if they had to invent a whole new language for it, the chances were very high that they didn't know what they wanted to say.

I told them so. They smiled in pitying fashion, as who should say, "These Gorment babus, educating them is half our job!"

Week Two. Team meeting set up in my room. I armed myself with strong ammunition. A sheet of paper with a 5x5 grid of large squares.
Explanation - this is the "Bullshit Bingo".* Every time they used one of their B-school catch-phrases - incentivise, leverage, take it out of the loop, closure, apples to apples - I would write it down in one of the squares. Position depended on who used the term; if it was somebody on my right, I filled in a right-hand square and so on.
They were mystified.
Until I explained.
As soon as I had filled five squares in a row in any direction - vertically, horizontally or diagonally - I would say "Bullshit! This meeting's over!"

That was a very brief meeting. It took them a week to manage their bruised egos and come back to me. But it worked. From then on, we spoke plain English.

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* - Link courtesy Dhoomketu


Sunday



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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Epiphany



Discovered the significance of "French military defeat", "liar" and (above all) "asshole" as divined by the "I'm feeling lucky" button on Google.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Don't cry, baby, don't cry

There was a time when I was sixteen and my creative juices overflowed like nobody’s business
Which led to a high turnover in hankies, not to mention a certain dizziness
But more than groaning, more than spots, more than the tendency to turn red and make small yipping noises when my wife-to-be wore her corduroy pants,
More than the inability to actually appreciate anything other than doggerel such as Ogden Nash writing about the inner angst of industrious ants,
More than just about anything else, this embarrassing
Excess of hormonal productivity led to my harassing
Certain unfortunate classmates with poetry. Or what I called poetry because
I didn’t care to admit that as a poet I was a total loss.

Because I tried to Use Big Words and I tried to Sound Profound
Neither of which makes much sense when one is the most superficial sod around.
And I tried to be clever and I tried to be witty
And other stupid people encouraged me, more’s the pity.
So I spent five years or so doing very stupid things like entering for competitions in creative writing
When I should have been busy with healthy uncomplicated male things, like hitting a ball or scratching myself in public or just fighting.
This had several side-effects, all of them unfortunate.
Where I should have been comparatively carefree and occasionally (in my pleadings with ladies, for example) importunate,
I ended up with intellectual ambitions and an air of being constipatedly superior
Which did nobody any good and gave me the general demeanour of a sat-upon posterior

As time wore on I realised that I would never be a Nobel Prize contender
In fact I could not even aspire to be an Asian-Age-short-story-competition pretender
So, albeit reluctantly, I stopped mass-producing merde and switched to more productive things
Like exams, passing and job, getting (one may “pliss excoos” this lapse into rhyme-scheme, for the purpose of, words-backwards-putting)
For years thereafter I was this nice dull file-pusher and my life was comparatively placid.
Then I discovered the Internet and it was like a large injection of formic acid.
Quite apart from Google searches for … well, never mind,
And the subsequent subconscious guilt pangs and fears of going blind,
This business of surfing when I should have been working did not augur
Well. Ere long, literary longings re-surfaced and I became a blogger.

For two years now I have churned out post after post
And though I am nowhere near as prolific as most,
At least I don’t write my posts in SMS-ese or describe in detail my last trip through Sion-Koliwada
Or spend 2000 words describing the love-life of my puppies and finish the post with “yadda yadda”.
I am aware that my blog lacks the cachet of being erudite in any way or even faintly libertarian
I don’t link to The New Yorker. I don’t party at TC. I don’t have a PhD thesis. I’m far from being Uncut, in fact I’m more of a “no-hair-ian”.
I can’t hand out tips on picking up women, I’m not an erudite economist with comic-book panache,
I don’t know where I can pick up good weed, let alone post about sharing my stash.
I last read a book some years ago and I have no idea of the Booker short-list
I know little or nothing about world cinema though I do know that Hitchcock did not make “The Shootist”
In fact I can’t even hold forth on the filmography of Mithun Chakraborty so I am definitely not a cineaste
I don’t surf the Net enough to find weird or learned articles and even if I did I couldn’t make witty comments about them, all I can aspire to is cut-paste
I don’t have a secret identity as a call-girl, nor am I a leading literary critic
I can’t be a youthful investigative curry because when I make allegations I can’t make them stick.

I freely admit that my blog isn’t the biggest thing since Desibaba, it can’t even claim a wardrobe malfunction
But even so, it’s my blog and I love it even if it’s ugly and cross-eyed and I don’t want it to suffer from feelings of rejection
So when I find that it has not been shortlisted for the Best Indian Blog by the Asian Blog Awards I feel like a father whose child has been left out of the cast for the school play
And my first reaction is emotional and I mutter dark threats about suing them and making them pay.
After all with only a couple of million blogs from
India they could well have emulated the Pharakgandh Screen and Telly Awards and created award categories to accommodate everyone
They should understand that this whole elitist approach of shortlisting less than a dozen blogs is Just Not Done.
Therefore I shall console my blog with the inalienable truth that we have known all along,
To wit, that it is the Best Blog ever written by this Sad Old Bong.


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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Stupidity ...

... and Darrell Hair is not the only man guilty of it. He was just the first one, last Sunday, to set Stupid-Ball rolling (a Hair-ball, perhaps).

As a mere 784 different columnists and TV analysts have pointed out, there were 26 cameras covering that match and not one of them captured any footage that might suggest that the fielding team had tampered with the ball. Yet Doctrove suspected that the ball had been tampered with. Talked to Big Brother Darrell. And cricket had a bad hair day.

Consider Darrell’s options. He has a walkie-talkie which he can use to communicate with two other umpires AND the match referee. Does he call for back-up? For a second opinion? We don’t know, since they won’t say, but the evidence of the cameras suggests that he did not. Stupidity 1, Common Sense 0.

Does he talk to Inzamam and show him the ball’s surface, or ask him what caused the wear that might be considered suspicious. He does not. (This we know).

Does he walk over to the boundary, ringed with ad hoardings and concrete gutters, to check whether those might have scuffed the ball? He does not. Stupidity keeps scoring.

No, our man takes his decision alone and awards 5 runs to the Brits on grounds of ball-tampering. Mind you, he had not till that point seen fit to inform the captain of the fielding team that he considered them to be cheats and was taking action accordingly. It was only when Inzy shambled over and asked, that he was told what was going on. Stupidity, by this time, is so far ahead of the field that one would have thought it didn’t need any further help.

But wait. It gets better. Or worse, depending on how you look at it.

Our large sloth-bear of a Paki captain is rather like a road-roller on a downhill slope. It takes some time to build up speed, but after that it takes a lot of stopping. Inzy boiled until the tea-break, then fumed and decided to protest. Protest? I suspect the Pak team decided that enough was enough and they didn’t want to play any more. Rather like Gavaskar on that day in Melbourne in 1981, except that Pakistan didn’t have a Durrani on the spot to sort things out. By the time sanity – or conventional wisdom – returned, the umpires had been out to the middle, the fielding team had not turned up, the bails had been removed and the match had been forfeited.

I don’t see anything wrong with that. It’s the rules, stupid. The rule-book does not say that the umpires have to come and cajole you to play. The Pak team took a decision. The team management should either have sent them out on the field immediately after tea, so that they did not forfeit the match, or they should have stuck by their guns and refused to take the field at all. By reversing their decision (which is what seems to have happened, Inzy’s story of “registering a protest through delay” is not very credible, nobody can be that stupid), they have lost some of the moral high ground. Pity. One would have expected better of the great Zed.

Oh, it gets even messier. Shahid Afridi – not exactly Mensa material even on a cricket field – goes on camera with revelations of how ball-tampering happens and how he believes that reverse swing is not possible without some tampering. Ye gods and little fishes!

But actually really truly deeply, the original stupidity can be traced to the ICC. This is a man who is regarded as racist or at the very least unfair to teams “of colour”. Was there no other umpire they could have appointed for this series? Or did they just want to prove that it’s their bailiwick and they can do what they damn well please? They may find themselves proven wrong. If Pakistan pull out alleging racism, India cannot afford to be seen siding with the likes of Speed and Hair. Things could get a lot worse before they start getting better.

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And oh, since we were talking about pig-headedness … The good news is that just about anybody can be a performing artist. Given sufficient strength in the trapezoids, erector spinnae and glutes, this is a surefire way to bring home the bacon. But wait, what if the single paying customer falls sick?

Perhaps they could offer to perform at the Oval for the fifth-day spectators.


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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Fevered outpourings on a Sunday morning

Did the Government really give in to public opinion? Was Anna Hazare’s fast-unto-death the reason for the change of stance on the Right to Information Act, or was it just happenstance? We would like to think that the pressure of public opinion caused the change, but since I am a cynical old cuss, I have my doubts. In any case, all that the Government has said so far is that they will not push through the amendments without placing them for debate in the House. My fingers are still crossed.

Dilip D’Souza was the first to ask me what I thought about the proposed amendment to the RTI Act. The Government had apparently proposed that notings in files should not be revealed to the inquiring public. This was of course a Humphreyan master-stroke. I can just picture Nigel Hawthorne, eyebrows aquiver with indignation, explaining to Derek Fowlds that his views on transparency were “far from sound”, that revealing the origin of government decisions would herald the end of civilization as he knew it.

I, of course, have no views in the matter. As my friends and colleagues will testify (not!), I am totally faceless, colourless and void of opinions. If, however, I were so indiscreet as to venture an opinion, I might actually chortle with glee now that the proposed amendments have been put on hold. We have always been taught to write “speaking notes” (don’t ask me, it’s one of those phrases, probably a variation of the legal “speaking order”) that clearly explain the reasons for decisions. A lot of us still do that. In other words, what we write in file is meant to stand up to scrutiny. So how does it matter if the general public can see it? In my ‘umble opinion, the only ones who should feel insecure about this provision are the slack, the lazy and the ambiguous. Which would be a good thing, because then we have greater accountability and differentiation. But I’m preaching to the converted, Dilip …

One last thought on this issue. Our Course Director at Mussoorie, a Gujarat cadre officer with a sharp tongue and a firm backbone, held that we in the civil services are paid our salaries (such as they are) for one essential reason – to take the responsibility. To carry the can. To stop the buck. The RTI Act is merely an extension of that reasoning.

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Perhaps we should extend the provisions of the Act to the press. Make it obligatory for them to write sense. What does this – the first sentence in the Times of India today, lead storymean … “The invisible hand that pulls the levers of government has moved once again, preventing a proposed amendment to the Right to Information Act to keep file notings out of the public domain and emasculating the core transparency that was needed.

Forget the horrible mixed metaphor (emasculating transparency?). Excuse the confused jargon (“core competence” morphs into “core transparency”). Overlook the clumsy attempt to punch three sentences into one. (Strunk & White, Strunk & White .. Keep It Short!). They actually lost track of the relation between the subject and the conditional clause, changed “that would have emasculated” to “and emasculating” and thus totally reversed the meaning. As it now stands, the sentence means that the government’s present decision emasculates the Act

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In Mahim and Dadar, thousands rush to drink sewage. The Mithi Creek turns meetha (sweet). Next stop, Surat. Every day in every way the world corroborates my theory that 98% of the human race are morons.

Meanwhile, Barkha Dutt interviews Karan Johar and Shah Rukh Khan on weighty issues such as infidelity. No, not in their own beautiful relationship (good shot, Joy Orzoon), which has given us hour upon hour of wholesome cinematic rubbish that’s all about boring your family. They’re talking about marital infidelity. By the same reasoning, Anthony Quinn was an explosives expert and Russell Crowe a math wizard.

I must confess I’m not immune to a little infidelity myself. Despite my oft-declared devotion to Mallika Sarabai (NOT Sherawat!) and Salma Hayek, I have on occasion gazed long and lasciviously on Yana Gupta (in the manner of a Colonel Blimp who harrumphs “Fine young filly, eh?”). I am in fact undecided as to whether I should resent Vijay Mallya or Aftab Shivdasani more. At this moment, however, I am totally in love with another. Or rather, in leurrve. Vith Leo-leh Kwotty, Quayne ev Hay-urds, who iz zimbly veunderflll. Vott a vumman, no? I believe Channel V will soon release a “Best of Lola Kutty” package. Ay ken hay-urdlee vayte.

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Friday, August 18, 2006

Surf's up

Aching with a stupid fever, shying away from my study where my helpful colleagues (I so lurrvve them – sods!) have dumped a truckload of files, what can I do while I loll in bed like a particularly repulsive beached whale?

Surf, of course.

To find that life gets bleaker. Especially if you want to surf in the air. I can just imagine my more obsessive blogger friends weeping great hot tears up in the clouds. Wait, acid rain?

In other news, it is confirmed that the Aussies are crazy. And that Crocodile Dundee was a merman.

For those of us who keenly analyse the media, HT Online has a regular page of grave import. Poor things, they all look sad and malnourished.

But in the best find of the week, a couple of JUDE-eans share their linguistic ecstasy with the cyber-world. Hum je ki bhaabe bujhaayega era kitnaa mohot karjyo kora hai, jisko bolta hai shokh kaa praan Gorh ka math bon gaya.


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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Devouring Faith

The western reaches of our country have been slightly damp over these last few weeks. This has earned the ire of our most popular Chief Minister who, as we all know (or should know), firmly believes in dry days. When reports last came in by messenger dolphin, he was busy being ignorant of an outpouring of popular sentiment that would set upon the South-Western Monsoon with burning tyres, Molotov cocktails and other assorted instruments of peaceful protest. The implementation of this non-plan has been slightly delayed while a group of concerned pseudo-intelligentsia search for a bakery in the clouds – bakeries being, as recent history has shown, the natural haunts of that virulently anti-national species, the pseudo-secularist.

Our Man of the Moment is not, however, idle during this waiting period. We are informed that he has served an ultimatum to the Govt. of India with regard to the structure hitherto known as the Taj Mahal. They are to publish the real history of the edifice and make known to the world at large that it was originally the tomb of Samudragupta (a seafarer and explorer of true India, known in his day for the discovery of the Black Sea which he named Kala Pani. When this water-body later migrated to the immediate west of the Indian sub-continent, probably due to a conspiracy among some anti-national forces, he was among the first to call for its excommunication from the Hindu pantheon). The structure will thereafter be known as Samudra Samsara Samadhi Samugam or ssss, an onomatoepic approximation of what the popular Chief Minister would like to do Bipan Chandra. Alternatively, the Govt. must allow it to be torn brick from brick by a group of altruistic volunteers who will not accept even their train fare from places as remote as Azamgarh, Balliya and Rae Bareilly.

While He has given the Govt. reasonable time to choose either of these eminently reasonable options, they must in any case immediately start painting it saffron.

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In Delhi, meanwhile, the Bearded One has convened an emergency meeting of the National Security Council to debate the demand of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. This sect has garnered adherents worldwide over the last two years and now demand for their Godhead runway space on Rajpath when S/He comes in to land on 1st April. In a reasoned letter to the Prime Minister, they have pointed out that this is hardly an unreasonable request considering the fact that “a certain minority” are allowed to pray on public thoroughfares throughout the country at least twice a year, as also to play their calls to prayer over loudspeakers at about twice the permitted decibel level. (The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster [or CFSM] is not at this point of time interested in other minutiae such as the right to marry several times [holding that the act is its own punishment] but are examining with interest the minority arrangements for divorce.)

The CSFM have informed the PMO that the landing arrangements are essential because on that date the Great FSM will reveal to true believers the nature of its landing gear, which may provide answers to theological mysteries like the Sex of the Great Monster and also Whether Meatballs are to be Soaked in Sauce or Added Dry. In the event that the Indian Government does not grant this reasonable request, they state, they fear that their God may release 570 billion gallons of meat sauce on South Block and also emit an enormous low-frequency sound while overflying Delhi. (The closest approximation of this sound in human experience is the Honourable Speaker calling for order on a Bad Day in Parliament. Multiplied to divine levels, it is likely to cause severe structural damage).

The meeting of the NSC will be held as soon as the PMO kitchen staff have perfected a working model of the Flying Spaghetti Monster complete with landing gear. This may take a few weeks as Many Bunker Fryer has opined that vegetarians cannot analyse this threat through soya-bean mock-ups and the post of Director NSA must henceforth be reserved for Punjabis or Nagas. Toilyo Byanjan Gas Banshee and Probe Bookerjee have thereafter filed a joint PIL alleging discrimination against fish-eating ethnic groups.

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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Each to each ... [1]

“Why did you not tell me you are beautiful?” [2]

A hotel room high above the golf course. The picture window looks out over miles of treetops to a semi-circle of horizon. West by north-west, the eye travels from the bulk of the Meridien to the concrete outcrops around Connaught Place. In between, the domes of Rashtrapati Bhavan and the North Block muse serenely into the sky. Nearer me, a huge squared block of masonry, unrecognisable at first, suddenly comes into focus as India Gate in profile. On every side shades of green flow towards the horizon with barely a house-top breaking the surface. Far away to my right, the Purana Qila hunches its battered shoulders against the skyline. Two dazzling white domes break free of the concrete swarm somewhere beyond the railway station. Right in front of my window, a willow flirts with the breeze, swaying, changing colour in rippling sheets. And overarching all, a sky-full of monsoon greys and washed blue, highlighted by the occasional shaft of cloud-fallen light.

This is Delhi?!

The vista changed with the light, from the flat sharp lines of morning through the shadowed contrasts of high noon to the long soft gold of a summer evening. I hated having to leave that room. And driving from one meeting to another, I really looked at the wide leafy avenues of Lutyens’ city. Over the walls and the bamboo fences, through the screens of foliage, up above the flat roofs and the dish antennae to the cloud-washed blue of August. Dammit, this city is beautiful in parts.

Of course, only in parts. If one overlooks the eczema of rubbish heaps along the Yamuna, the rubble, the peeling houses, the hungry dogs, the scattered pipes when one leaves the Avenues of the Little Tin Gods.

But I didn’t mean to bitch about Delhi, I meant to pay it fulsome compliments.

Perhaps I’m a little jealous on behalf of my beloved Calcutta. I’ve never really thought about whether she’s beautiful, she’s just been more fun than any other place I know. Like a favourite aunt, or that friend who’s so vivacious that you never stop to think whether she’s actually hot. Now when I consider it dispassionately, I know that my city won’t make it on looks alone, not even if one considers only the prettier neighbourhoods. Not even the narrow sunlit lanes on a winter morning, or the lights across the Maidan as I drive home across the new Hooghly Bridge.. Delhi can take each of these and trump it with another vista far more stunning. And Bombay can afford to flash its Necklace and look away in quiet triumph.

Well, so what? I still wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Or would I? The Better Half loved London. Said it’s like Calcutta all spruced and polished (this was one September, after the litter of the tourist season had been cleared up and the corners de-pissed). I loved Paris – like Catherine Deneuve, utterly irresistible, very gracious, but always a hint of coolness that says “After all, I am the world’s most desirable!” We both loved New York … a feisty broth of a city that’s somewhere between Bangaal fishwife, Irish colleen, Polish tramp and cold-eyed Dutch burgher, but somehow greater than the sum of all these parts. But would we live there? London, just maybe. None of the others, and certainly not in the arms of that archetypal whore-with-a-heart-of-gold who husks her seduction by the Arabian Sea.

But we were in Delhi … I came back to my room late in the evening and I …. well, sat by the window and watched the cars roll by (I do quote that song far too often. Whattodo, universally applicable line). Soft darkness lay in layers beyond the circle of the hotel lights, beyond the dazzling blue of the swimming pool and the muted lamps in the driveway. Far away the office blocks glimmered a little forbiddingly, like a space-port of the Sith Lords. A streak of light lay across the southern horizon - perhaps the airport, perhaps just another urban village. Lights winked through the trees below as traffic crowded the roads well after midnight. This city sleeps late.

There’s a special loneliness about a hotel room, part empty bed and silent phone, part impersonal luxury that you know will belong to someone else once you step out of the door. Especially when you wake from fitful sleep in the middle of the night and debate whether it’s too late to call a friend. The room is a surreal film-set in the half-light of the night-lamp, an alien environment that has suddenly invaded your space. I gave up on sleep and sat by my picture-window with a large mug of coffee and a packet of cigarettes. Musing. Upon the stories in that dark half-circle spread out on view below, that surprising face of beauty on a city that I have long disliked.

Who would have thought Delhi could be so beautiful?!


[1] - Far from felicitous, not only because it's from one of Kipling's stiffer efforts but also because it's titled "To the City of Bombay"


[2]
- An Academic Friend dismissed “A Florentine Tragedy” as an “awful Jacobean pastiche”. I was most awf'ly impressed, but I still like those last two lines.


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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Instead of a siesta


Sunday afternoon, I’m home listening to one and a half people sleeping when I could have been at an Enthralling Quiz run by a Truly Erudite Quizzer, said quiz to be held in the manse of a Nice Lady who will Provide Refreshments (and Much Nattering). I am desolate at the Loss, until I Pause to Reflect and realise that I would have Known Nothing at the Quiz, thus shattering the remnants of my Reputation as an Elder Statesman in Calcutta Quizzing (thank you very much for pointing out that it’s “all in my mind”, I am not entirely insensitive to irony). Said reputation is already much battered because (a) I haven’t actually won a quiz since about May last year and (b) Do’B was short of smart lines at the last quiz and chose to dwell on how a certain “senior Government officer enjoyed his quizzing like a Cls. XI college student” (a species that exists only in my alma mater, where Cls. XI and XII are part of the college). That has rankled, though I am slightly mollified by his hat-tip (in his column in the Telegraph today).

Another deep dark reason for my not being utterly desolate is that I don’t want any more murukkus, thank you very much. (The Nice Lady tends to Overdo the Murukku Angle). Yesterday, on “Indian” (they had to rename themselves after a Kamalahaasan movie?!) I had the worst damn murukkus I have ever had in my entire life. For the three readers of my blog who have never been to India, a murukku is a snack thingy, spiced chick-pea flour forced through a nozzle and fried in sticks or spirals. For some strange reason, murukkus are always spiky, like sea-horses. Maybe there’s a market for them in the West? Spicy Spikys? Shaped like sea-horses … if you eat an entire collection you get to incubate your wife’s eggs?

Anyway, the point about murukkus is that they’re spicy, they’re fried and they’re crisp. The average male will eat camel turds if they’re cooked that way, so you can guess how bad the in-flight murukkus must have been if I didn’t eat even ONE. In fact, the entire meal was almost the worst airborne culinary experience I have ever had. Not quite the worst – I was once served greenish chunks of meat on Aeroflot, was so hungry I actually ate half of one chunk before the gag reflex took over, and spent my entire first day in Moscow sick in bed.

So this meal had – Item, three pieces of chicken kebab, dried to sofa-stuffing by 29 re-heats and about as succulent as a feather-duster; Item, one small faux baguette, sliced lengthwise and stuffed with curried cottage cheese that had gone sour; Item, one unidentified round fried object that could have been a potato roesti or, on the other hand, the product of some ruminant’s alimentary tract; Item, something that was probably meant to be a shammi kebab but had morphed into something from The X-Files, if the cabin lights had gone off I’m sure it would have glowed radioactive green. I was reduced to wolfing down the shahi tukra. When even fried bread in condensed milk seems good, one has had an unique meal.

And oh – murukkus. Three of them, lurking next to the loaf like lethargic vipers. I could smell their menace. Retreat seemed the best option. I retreated.

The real WTF moment came earlier. In the terminal. After check-in, I turned left as usual. Delhi airport’s layout is closest to our rural ideals. If you want to commune with nature, you go for a walk. A long walk. On either end of the concourse, somewhere over the horizon from check-in, there are washrooms. You take a deep breath, set your critical internal muscles to “HOLD IT!” and start the Long March.

Only to come up in front of a sign that says “The washrooms are freshening up. Together, we’ll make it happen”. WTF?! Are you inviting me to be part of a process that will culminate in a large inanimate AREA taking a leak? Compared to this, Kafka was stone cold sober all his life! The next sign is a little more comprehensible – “Toilets are under renovation. The inconvenience caused is regretted”. Yes, fine, but do you regret it enough to make alternative arrangements? How much would you regret it if three thousand passengers a day watered your plants, eh?!

I was a blur as I whizzed through security. Surely nobody could be daft enough to renovate all the loos at the same time? Sharp left, walk fast, there at the end aarrgghhhhh! They CAN be daft enough! NEVER underestimate moronicity!

I eventually found ONE functional loo, next to the door where they take passengers out (to identify their baggage, but am I the only one who cringes in expectation of a blank wall and a line of muskets?).

And there was not a single weirdo in sight. Did my last Delhi airport post offend them? Scare them off? Ah well ...


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And all of Sunday we’ve been treated to continuous updates about a boy in a well. Poor kid fell in there on Friday and all the king’s soldiers and all the king’s men haven’t been able to get him out yet. But wait – the Chief Minister is on the spot, “Madam” has called, people all over the country are praying for him, spending money on offerings, throwing birthday parties for Prince.

There was an episode of “Yes Prime Minister”, the dog Benjy lost in the minefield on Salisbury Plain – does anybody remember that one? So yes, the politicos can’t afford to pass up this one, they need the situation, the bytes, the eyeballs. But the general public? Why do they have to come on in whiteface and cherry noses? Of course the TV channels go interactive. They invite calls. Text messages for Prince yield profundities like “They should get him out of the tunnel soon” and “You are the Prince of India”. And in all the coverage, nobody came up with the reason why they couldn’t just swing a crane down there and pick him up.

Some years ago, typically, this would have been a story in the left-hand column on the fifth page of the local papers. We’d never have seen it on the telly, let alone for hours on end (CNN-IBN held out for a while but eventually joined in the madness). Would we have missed much? On the other hand, if it hadn’t been for the media attention, the army probably wouldn’t have been called in, the rescue attempts wouldn’t have been so systematic.

Score one for the media, they probably helped save a life here. Now if only the world's morons would put their money in the right place instead of spending it on garlands and ghee.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

All of me

The Aged Gabbler has been Informed by a Wise Infant that he (the Gabbler) is, in fact, a Multitude. Or at least that there is More than One of Him. Since said Aged Person was not Fully Aware of This State of Being, much Confusion has been Caused.

One has not so far been Familiar with the Schizoid State. One has Read, however, that in such Cases the Left Hand Knoweth Not what the Right Hand Doth. This might Explain the Dodderer’s Lack of Awareness of this Other Self. (It might also Lead to Complications during the Daily Ablutions, but one shall not Dwell on That Here.) The Lack of Awareness may also be due to Simple Senile Dementia. This Angle is now Being Explored by Those Better Qualified to Comment.

The Oldest Member is also Gratified. First, that Clever Children think him capable of Imagination and Dissimulation. Further, that he can be associated with a Persona that is Energetic. Innovative, even. Of course, such Energy and Innovation are Admirable in an apparently Younger Persona; if these qualities were evident in the Senile Haverer, he would be dubbed a Randy Old Goat. Regardless of this Minor Difference, the Oldest Member is Quite Chuffed.

Furthermore, the Wise Infant and Her Correspondents claim to have Linked the Second Persona on the basis of his Writing Style, which is reportedly Very Similar to the Aged Person’s, only Much More Colourful. Your Correspondent is Positively Elated at the Thought that he may have, nay, HAS, a Distinct Style. This is Praise Indeed.

Having Considered the Matter in its Entirety, therefore, the Oldest Member has Decided not to Dispute the Findings. In sum, to Sit Tight. He is Keenly Aware that the Second Persona may have the Strongest Objections to Being Linked with a Senile Old Coot. Should such Objections be Stated and Vociferously So, the Old Gaffer’s defence (mumbled through a Toothless Gummy Grin) will be that, in More Ways than One, It Wasn’t Me!


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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Happens

In the middle of all the sadness and anger, a story that might seem pointless.

Arindam is an officer in the C***, a para-military force, presently posted in Aizawl. Last year he married Tuhin Babu’s daughter. This tangentially concerns me, because Tuhin Babu was my secretary when I was in P District and I hold him in high regard. A fine, earnest, good man of the old school. He asked to be transferred out of the DM’s office after I left, now he puts in his 9 to 5 and gets home comparatively early. When I went to P in May, he took me home and his bright-eyed wife served me a superb lunch in a spick-and-span room thick with the scent of incense sticks. Afterwards, we walked in his tiny walled garden and he plucked fragrant limes for me to carry home to Calcutta.

Monday afternoon I got a call from Tuhin Babu. Upset, barely holding back tears. He was in Aizawl. His daughter and son-in-law had quarrelled over some trivial issue the previous Monday night. On Tuesday, Arindam came home in the afternoon to find his wife sulking in bed and no lunch. He went back to work. Driving home in the evening, he asked his chauffeur to drop him off at the airport. And vanished.

From Tuhin Babu and his daughter Indira, over a phone line that faded and crackled, I pieced together a picture of an unusual man. Sensitive, moody but considerate. A man who couldn’t get through the work-day without talking to his wife, yet struck her when his patience ran out. Who, after he drew money to buy an air ticket to Calcutta, remembered to leave three thousand rupees under his wife’s clothes in the cupboard before he walked out.

For three days, Tuhin Babu and I phoned everywhere. Bank. Home. Friends. Police. Colleagues.

My friend who heads the detective department in Calcutta said such disappearing acts can usually be traced to any of four causes – depression, another woman, debt or some scheme with friends. We asked around. By all accounts, he had not been in touch with his childhood sweetheart for many years. He was not in debt. He was not close to any of his colleagues. A reclusive but soft-spoken and gentle man. Depression? It might fit, but this scenario made him less predictable.

Arindam does not have a cell phone, which might have made things easier. The bank inquiries paid off. His ATM card had been used for withdrawals at Calcutta Airport. Then, two days later, on Dadabhai Naoroji Road in Bombay. Why Bombay? Nobody had an answer. Arindam’s commanding officer cajoled the local police to send a team to Bombay or at least to mail his picture and description there. I called up favours with colleagues out there. Then 11th July happened and we realised that the Bombay police have their hands too full to devote much time to this case. Besides, what if he was on one of those trains? Hopes fell. Until the bank manager called and said there had been another withdrawal from the same ATM in Bombay, on 12th July. But we were no closer to finding him.

Today, Tuhin Babu called me from Calcutta Airport on his way back to P. He wept. I felt awful. He said his daughter didn’t want to come into the city because she would have to talk to people. They went straight to the station.

Ten minutes ago, Tuhin Babu called from a phone booth at the station. I cold practically see his beaming face over the phone. “Sir, Arindam has been found. My daughter saw him at the station, about to board a train for the North-East. I bought her a ticket, they’re together now, on a train home to Aizawl.”

Fairy-tale ending. Nice.

So far.


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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Running ahead of the story

The mystery is solved.

What Matterazzi asked Zidane was ...

Hum ChlorMint kyon khaate hain?!


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Damn damn DAMN

Srinagar in the morning, Bombay in the evening.

Remember my firm conviction that the world is full of morons? Have to amend that a bit. Some of those morons are evil bastards who should be eliminated. No “understanding”, no counselling, no analysis. If you are sick enough to maim and kill unsuspecting people who never did you any harm, you should be removed. Like a cancer.

And some of those supposed morons are also people who give their labour, their bedsheets, their homes to help the dead and injured. And some are people like Griff and the Guys at Mumbai Help – check out http://mumbaihelp.blogspot.com/ for updates and http://groups.google.com/group/BombayHelp to monitor comments.

Just one thing. Unless you’re my one surviving grandparent, don’t talk to me about God for a while, OK? Or I might just drop-kick your head up your arse.


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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The name is Bond ...

... or, walking to Landour (and back)















Looking back from Kulri
















A shared burden


















Landour Bazaar. Reminiscent of Benaras?













Toothpaste and milk? "We provide the complete morning ..."












The sun creeping in. Nice?
















A WTF moment















I huffed up the last few steps of the footpath and asked about “Bond Saheb ka ghar” from a man sitting in the sun. He grinned and pointed. “Up there, on the second floor”. Eh? I had expected a little cottage with a garden, not an apartment in a little crumbling house. I actually blurted out “Bas, this is it?!”

A ramrod-straight, tweed-clad, grey-whiskered Sikh gent who was passing took offence and rebuked me. “He is a very good man. Great men are simple.” I tried to explain that I had read about Mr. Bond’s garden gate. The gentleman’s ire subsided. He explained that the “garden gate” was actually a wicket leading from the first-floor landing to the second floor. I nodded sagely. And passed on to gaze reverently upon The Man’s window for a while.

Later, my friend asked me why I didn’t just ring the bell. Some people have NO sense. Who would like to have their morning disrupted by some stranger with a camera (and, truth to tell, a thirst. I’ve read somewhere that Mr. Bond likes his beer)? But it would have been nice to see his Yoda-like visage.












Mr. Bond's house

His window (love the flowers behind glass,
there's a DH Lawrence poem like that)
























His neighbourhood

























And his view.











From a little way down that road, I could see Katesar "Castle" and its temple on the hill behind the Academy. Even the red roof of the monstrous new auditorium sticks its shoulder out from behind the ridge, like an elephant trying to hide behind a palm tree. I felt strangely happy at the fact that it could be seen from the corner of Mr. Bond's road.
I also felt very stupid that I had never made the pilgrimage when I lived in Mussoorie. Oh well, better late ....

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