Wednesday, March 30, 2005


The bright spot in the morning ... a letter from a Bihar bureaucrat that ends with "The inconvenience caused is being regretted".

Fascinating. I can almost see the huddle of Bihari babus intensely conjoined in the process of regret. Afterwards, they will send us Completion Certificates in triplicate.

And perhaps a bill as well. For "contingent expenses".

Monday, March 28, 2005

The Emperor's attire

Is it just me (I !!), or are there other people in this world who think that R.K. Narayan is actually a very pedestrian writer? Three issues here.

If a man publishes books (as distinct from topical articles) in English, perhaps he should write English and not an Indian dialect? The great R.K.'s work is full of the very warts that I abhor - "am wanting", "was in the habit", passive voice. This might seem to be quibbling, but his language seldom rises above that of a competent clerk.

You there by the window ... I know what you're going to say. Style over substance? The man is a writer. I assume he has something to say, but then, so does my grocer. A writer is a craftsman. Or should be. Would you pay a carpenter for a botched-up cabinet on the grounds that his design was wonderful on paper? Ergo, if a man has a bushel-full of great ideas but lacks the ability or the effort to express them fluently, is he still worthy of praise?

One of my favourite themes, in keeping with my belief in the free market - a writer does not pay the reader, it's the other way around. Therefore it behooves the writer to work hard to retain the reader's interest. (This holds equally true for films, for music, for any form of creative art. I'd rather read Bill Bryson than Marcel Proust, rather watch "Notting Hill" than "The Others".) I'd say that RKN doesn't make the cut on this count. He is not a very good story-teller.

On the other hand, his books sell. Therefore he is a successful writer. But not, in my opinion, a good one. His acclaim may be the outcome of a good marketing machine. Or there may be hordes of retire civil servants and Southern gentlemen who buy his books because they feel comfortable and nostalgic. And are reassured that the English they use is acceptable, even good!

Point to ponder (thank you for the 50-year cliche, RD) - if one were to accept my premises, Dan Brown is a better writer than RKN. Hmmm. Back to the drawing board, fellas.

Friday, March 25, 2005


I am such an Utter Failure. As further corroborated by this test.

It is Fashionable to be a little dysfunctional. It's Cool. It's So Totally Happening to have mood swings.

And where do I end up? Take a look ...

Paranoid: Low
Schizoid: Low
Schizotypal: Moderate
Antisocial: Low
Borderline: Low
Histrionic: Low
Narcissistic: Moderate
Avoidant: Low
Dependent: Low
Obsessive-Compulsive: Low

Completely Kaspar Milquetoast. I shall have to go out and ravish a few maidens, not to mention spread pillage and rapine. Just to overcome the severe feelings of inadequacy engendered by this assessment.

Hand me down my ski-mask and corkscrew knife, will you?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Rainy Day People

As distinct from Rainy Day Women, Zimmerman's better-known treatise with a blues harp. THIS one is Gordon Lightfoot and quite ideal for a darkling afternoon with the rain chasing the mud off the tired windows, the sky replaced by bands of cloud in blue and grey and wind-blown patterns on the wet roads chasing the cars that leave a double-wake.

What do I do for a living? Nights and days like this make me wonder and regret. Why do I sit and shuffle papers when I should be cursing the weather from the after-deck of a tramp steamer stuck in the exact centre of the sky and the Pacific, somewhere off Cape Horn ...

What DID I do today? I claimed a vast amount of money from the Gorment. For which I had to sign my name on 19 different sheets of paper. I counted.

Followed my personal principle of NOT writing bureaucratese in files. Repented when one file came back to me and I read my note from earlier in the day; had been rather too harsh and caustic about a good man's lack of initiative. Made amends, I hope.

Come to think of it, if files from the late 20th century are ever dug up for research, the unfortunate researcher will probably end up walking around like a zombie and bumping into things. Files are for record. A bureau keeps records, hence the Weberian "bureaucrat". Would I want to place on record for posterity or its spavinned cousin that I could never bestir myself to write simple straightforward comments or directives? That I used the linguistic equivalent of a Word template to record what I thought?
Mem: now that you're the boss, write what you bloody well feel. And you CAN say sorry even in file.

But the weather, the weather. Weather to seduce me from the air-conditioned sterility of my room, weather to yearn in as the lights come on and glisten on the walls roads cars rickshaws drainpipes lovers ... Weather to exult in, to shout aloud to the streaming skies, weather to make one throw one's arms wide and breathe the just-remembered scents of childhood. Weather in which to make long languid love on cotton sheets and lie in the half-dark afterwards. To stand on a high balcony amid the rain-fat breezes and look for miles across the washed-clean city.

Lines from The Bearded God ... "brishti nesha bhora shondhya bela / kone Balaram-er aami chela / Aamaar shwopno ghirey naache maataal jutey, joto maataal jutey ..."
(I'm not sure how Balaram comes into this, since his "chelas" were the two plough-bullocks .. our first Nobel Laureate had fantasies about being a bullock?! Jeepers!)
But these lines ... "here, in this rain-raptured twilight / I am a mad savant's acolyte / while drunkards dance in circles through my dreams" .. bring back memories of the courtyard in my mamarbaari when the rain pelted against the tiled verandah and we needed umbrellas to dash across at dinner-time.

"Dance in circles"? An echo dredged from my subconscious, surely, since I started this post with Zimmerman ... all together, now ...

"Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free / silhouetted by the sea / circled by the circus sands / with all memory and fate / driven deep beneath the waves ..."

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Piscine ponderings

Morning. Not early morning, not the time when the body creeps reluctantly towards the day, not light-breaking crow-waking tree-shaping dawn. But the time when tea is brewed and road-side flower-vendors importune walkers, when conservancy trucks clear their throats hesitantly and judder forth, when the lights strung above the fish-market begin to pale in the sun.

Buying fish. The essence of the morning round for the good Bangali householder. If one image, one metaphor were to sum up
grihasti for the Bong, it is this. Little bag in hand - usually plastic yarn, distinctly mildewed and with an odour that leaves no doubt as to the usual contents – most likely dressed in flapping crumpled wide-legged pyjamas and a shirt, rubber “Hawaii” sandals flip-flopping, the man of the household shuffles between lines of vendors perched on the long platform, peering suspiciously at the beady-eyed glistening wares and occasionally asking the price in a tone of deepest disgust.

Stone chips crunch underfoot as I approach the market. There’s a new “mall” coming up here now, to replace the sprawling muddy chaotic bazaar that I grew up with. My grandfather’s house is on the next road up, and over the years the bazaar has spilt its banks every morning until it laps at our front door and little trickles now run even farther up-shore.

I remember the huge black Brahmi bull that used to stand in the vat at the corner of the road, blinking as flies buzzed around his nose, occasionally putting his head down to sample some exceptionally choice piece plantain leaf. After the bazaar had packed up for the day, he would lurch down our road through the mess of leaves and peel, snorting at anything that crossed his path and pausing only to scratch his hump against the occasional parked vehicle. Mr. Gupta across the road eventually stopped replacing the wing-mirrors on his Maruti.

Now, as I enter the little alleyway into the fish-market, there’s the thump-pause-swing-thump of a man breaking ice in a plastic tub. Little flakes of fishy ice fly onto the clothes of shoppers who remain either unaware or oblivious. I sidle past, determined to shower at the first opportunity.

A chorus of blandishments rises from the fishmongers, excited by the sight of the first lot of customers. Mostly wasted on me, because I can’t even identify most of the more common kinds of fish. I am relegated to third-class citizen status the moment I ask about the difference between
paarshey and bacha. I haven’t figured it out in 30-odd years, so I wonder why I even bother to try now.

Some of the vendors, of course, welcome my ignorance. The fatted calf, they must be thinking as I approach. My shorts and tee are not the attire of the serious fish-fiend. And I hesitate to actually touch the wares … eewww, to prod and part flesh that looks quite so mucoid round the gills. As a middle-aged man beside me leans over to prod the flanks of a vast scaly thing, I am reminded of W.C. Fields’ reason for refusing to drink water – “Fish fuck in it!”

I begin to think
he had a point there.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Buck's fizz? I DON'T think!

Bloody awful day. Had to sit in office even though I have passes to the Test. Now I'm home and I can't change into my disreputable but divinely comfortable singlet and shorts because we Expect Visitors.

Tendulkar batted in vintage form and my friends messaged from the Clubhouse.

Then Steve Bloody Bucknor gave him out caught behind when Amit Verma categorically stated that he could "see daylight between bat and ball from the Press Box".

Now to make matters unbearable, Amit has NOT ranted against the Ageing Nestor on Cricinfo or India Uncut. Hang political correctness, maaan! KILL 'IM! (think Sabina Park and Holding running in to bowl to some shivering Pommie ...)

Just checked Cricinfo again. Samiuddin and Vasu have presented the Bucknor Angle. Not, however, in language strong enough to salve our agony. I empathise with Shylock ... my pound of flesh!

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Sharks, little fish and an Anglophile

This really hurts. It really really hurts.

Not only does "a certain media group" dump upon a good blogger, they do it with a legal notice that has umpteen grammatical errors.

I shan't get into the ethics of the matter. That part is clear to any right-minded person.

Or the practicalities. A colleague of mine got into very messy divorce proceedings and was totally sodomised by the fact that his father-in-law filed cases against him in 14 (FOURTEEN!) different towns all over North India. He eventually won - he wooed his wife back!
That bit about "a certain big shot" with "a certain media group" filing a case in Shillong against a Delhi resident sends a shiver of recognition down my spine. I know, because I have been summoned to Chandigarh as a witness in a no-hoper election petition.
I live in Calcutta (and I don't know where Kolkata is. Or Kawlkata, as every confused TV anchor insists on calling it.)

Now about the grammatical stuff. The "certain media group" has enormous resources. In fact, the "certain blogger" roused their ire when he spoofed a meeting that purportedly discussed raising revenue by selling editorial space.
With so much money at their disposal, why could the group not hire a lawyer or legal firm who take pains to write correct English?! This is a media group, mind you. Publishing in English. And they vent their spleen in the legal equivalent of pidgin? O Tempora, O Mores!

I am an Anglophile. Quite unashamedly so. My reasoning, however, extends to other languages. If you want to use the language, use it correctly. Example - Amitabh Bacchan (rather than Atal Behari) speaking in Allahabadi Hindi. Wonderful, sonorous, mellifluent, because he does not use a single word of that most mellifluous language, Urdu.
On the same lines, if you can't pronounce my city's name - it's Kole-kah-thah, the last "th" as in "thought" - say "Calcutta". For my generation, it's still Cal, not Kol.

Some aspects of my
jihad . ..

"Enclosed herewith". Why? WHY, after I cut it out in THICK RED ink, must my colleagues put up letters with this phrase? Tautology. Not that I'd use the word in office, because "repetition" would suffice. More on this later.

"Comprises of". "Comprise" and "comprises" are transitive verbs, hence no "of" (in this context, ***k "of"!). My thanks to my racey friend, who looked up the OED and informed me that "comprises" may be used with an "of" after it; the other forms of the verb may not be so used.

And "whoM". Get this clear ... "whoMMMMMMMMM" did you hear it from? "WhoMMMMMM" are you going to meet?
Try John Donne in Ameri-bloody-can ... "For WHO the bell tolls"? I DON'T think.
I was very disappointed to find a "who" on Jai Arjun's blog. Perhaps it was a typo ...

And what is wrong with short sentences? I'm not a huge fan of Papa's, but rather Hemingway than Henry James. (Was it Eliot who defined a monologue as "a dialogue with Henry James"? Enlightenment sought here.)

And yes, PARAGRAPHS! Break it up, there's only one Wodehouse born every 200 years!

So ... The team comprises four members, to whom you should send the cheques. The addresses are enclosed.

Here endeth ...

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Grouse time ... does Blogger listen?

Why does the nav bar vanish when I view my blog?

*time to choose a persona here ... ultra-cool superior type who is 'just asking' or spoilt 20-something with attitude who wants the world and his template improved NOW? Haven't been 20-something for many years now. On the other hand it's an effort to be ultra-cool and superior ... Damn all decisions!*

Why can't I go straight from viewing my blog to editing it?

What do I do if I want to edit or delete a post? *This shows that I Do Not Learn. Or that I have a tiny streak of Type A. Whatinell am I doing posting again when I don't know how to edit it?*

WHERE is the Blogroll thingy? Over the last three days I've found a half-dozen blogs I'd want to read regularly (thank you, Amit Verma and Samit Basu) and there's no way I'm going to load them on my Favourites menu. Hmmm ... Now wasn't there something on India Uncut .... ?

WHY can't one just set the blog clock to the correct time and forget about it?

IS this a more crummy set-up than rediffblogs? Ummm ... at the risk of gushing (effusions, the eff being the operative part), the blogs here are a whole lot better than the semi-literate unimaginative majority that go on the Sizzling Blogs list on Rediff. On the other hand, considering the route I took here, I must have been browsing the 98 percentile group.

Conclusion - have found persona. Lazy spoilt tech-challenged whingeing wimp.

Question - who did the sample templates for Blogger? The igpay atinlay bit suggests some Yank. How many Brits or Indians do pig Latin? (Digression .. yes this is a genuine digression ... introduction to pig Latin was "oorday ightray astfay" in a Mandrake and Lothar exchange. There are entire generations out there who have never read a Mandrake or Phantom comic. Come back, Lee Falk, say it isn't so!)
On the other hand, the recurrence of wankeing in pig German is totally Brit. Including the 'e' as camouflage (oh, verreh effective, old chap).
Would some well-informed blogger enlighten me?

Ho hum

I empathise with Debraj Sahay. I can't remember ANYthing for more than about 30 seconds. Premature senile bloody dementia, or the full-blown Alz thing? Another thing I can't remember - which is the disease smokers don't get, Alzheimer's or Parkinson's?

Digression - if he is Sahay, why is his name not spelt DeVraj? Why the Bappi-da version?

Further digression - for Wakaw, whose blog I have bookmarked until I learn how to blogroll - the Bappi-da thingy on Mirchi is Mir. Mir Afsar Ali, and very good he is too. Check out his "three octaves of the Deols".

Reflection - these aren't digressions. There IS nothing to digress from. Desultory, remember? But then of course I don't. Remember, that is. Ger-ponga! (as developed by the Akhond)

Grouse for the day - why is it that NONE of these literate articulate entertaining provocative young people have read Terry Pratchett? What is wrong with the book-stores in this country? Or am I alone in thinking that he is more literate, hard-working, entertaining and downright guffaw-generating funny than Douglas Adams?
Mem: Easy there, you'll run out of adjectives. Not to mention read like a Guardian rant.