Friday, May 20, 2005


Summ pear-son frum Kaiii-rrlla haze a vendor-full ayyy-deuh awn-leh.

There are some who think this idea (or ayyy-deuh, or biz-niss maw-dll) can be replicated in other parts of the country. Their number includes my Blogger-in-the-Flesh who (like his hair) remains largely Uncut (yes, this is sheer envy speaking) and a correspondent with a wonderfully evocative name. (Digression - our friend in college, Jane Mary John, soon became Jane Meri Jaan. Her shyam-borno boyfriend, of course, was Tar-jane).
I would advise them to do a market survey first.

Because it really wouldn't work in Bengal, you know. We've got it down pat here, we don't need to outsource the event management, "our boys" can handle it well enough, thank you very much. They've been doing it for years, why should we give somebody else the chance to make a little on the side?

And even in the supposedly apolitical Pnnn-jaabb-uh, I came across the "rum and rally" idea three years ago. Only there they called it "pagg-uh hore lagg-uh", which (translated for those who don't understand this most melodious of all languages) means "a peg and a leg". Nothing to do with Long John Silver (Digression #2 - the original title idea for "Treasure Island" was "The Sea Cook"), but a Peg of Whiskey and a Leg of Chicken. Of the National Bird of the region, in fact. To wit, Tnn-doooree Chik-ken.

In the constituency where I'd been sent,
one candidate's election platform was a large trailer drawn by a Tata Safari. Loaded with CRATES of Solan whiskey and the charred remains of a poultry farm. His appetites were as large as his heart. For every sip he offered, he would take one himself; his day's canvassing ending only when he subsided into the trailer, snoring blissfully. At which point his nephew (on Safari with him, so to speak) would steer homewards. Steer a little erratically, since Said Nephew shared the family trait of appreciating the simple pleasures (or plai-years) of life.

Within the letter of the law, this school of campaigning amounted to soliciting for votes with promise of gain. Another candidate ventured to complain about these methods. The native Punjabi, however, has a large heart. The complainant was immediately rebuked and shushed by at least three other candidates, the largest of whom turned to me and said, with a dismissive wave of a huge hand, 'Wo koi nahin jee, bacche thod-di si jo pee pah lehnde so ki fark painda'.

Sadly enough, the devotee of Bacchus lost his deposit. Quite a pity. His career in the Assembly could have been of considerable interest.

(Digression #3 - I now have an Actual Post with Links to Other Posts. I am well on my way to becoming a Serious Blogger. Maybe even - be still, my beating heart! - a Libertarian Despite Being in Gormante. [And I thought that only the C-hollege Mafia could be so entirely patronising!] Oh frabjous day!)

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Kafka Moment #3

It’s been one of those phases when people want me to “speak”, on anything from industrial resurgence to ethics in advertising. (The latter gave me an opportunity to expound on the common occurrence of Googling for Angelina Jolie. Don’t ask.)

Doordarshan (India’s state-owned television channel - I explain merely for the benefit of the teeming millions of non-Indians who visit this site …) wanted me to make up the numbers for a “panel discussion”. On the prospects of the sponge iron industry in West Bengal. Riveting stuff. Should have the viewers welded to their seats. Chance to prove my metal. Yes, well, where was I?

In the cavernous innards of Doordarshan Kendra, Kolkata, actually. I had to negotiate my way through a series of half-hearted barriers. There was a gate wide enough for a carnival float to drive though, but of course it was shut. Entry was through a tiny gate off to one side, then into a hut that evoked déjà vu. I’d last seen it in “The Dirty Dozen”. Donald Sutherland hit his thumb with a hammer building it.

A large middle-aged lady who had more lipstick than good taste asked me why I was there. Beside her, an alarmingly frank gentleman who lacked two buttons on his shirt scratched his intimate regions with obvious enjoyment. Beside him, another man sat in the manner of Borneo’s “man of the jungle”, gravely contemplating his nether regions where his hands cradled his manhood. Neither of them displayed the slightest interest in the proceedings.

Having convinced the Lady with Lipstick that I was not an arsonist or a carrier of the plague, I filtered through to the main lobby. As I left Sutherland’s Folly, the Large Lump of Lipstick fished a smelly substance from beneath her table and bit into it. With a loud squishy champy sound. I held my breath and speeded my exit.

The lobby was dusty and large. Very large. At first glance it seemed to cover the better part of an acre. What with the dust and the distance, I had this vision of Peter O’ Toole and Omar Sharif, canteens held aloft and eyes crinkled, riding out of the far corner.

“Turn left”. Through a door-less frame, past a glass-and-plyboard enclosure where a step-ladder reached into a hole in the false ceiling, down a corridor with finger-prints on walls of indeterminate colour, “through the door we never opened / Into the rose-garden / ‘Quick’, said the bird …”

Corridors stretched to right and left, corridors filled with an echoing silence, with the smell of years of “Polli Kotha” and “Chiching Phaank” and timorous sarengi recitals and “High-Power Transmitters will now de-link for the News”, ominous with the threat of po-faced doctors holding forth on skin diseases or juvenile hysteria.

For some time I “wandered lonely as a cloud”. In that strange place, where dreams seeped into reality and no human voice intruded, I walked what seemed like miles, up one echoing dark expanse and down another. Mid-way down one stretch I had the feeling of being observed. A wary glance over my shoulder spied nothing, till I lifted my gaze and saw It, “perched above a shelf above a frame above a door”. No, not the Raven, but a bearded brown bust that regarded me gloomily.

In Bengal, the default option for bearded busts is Rabindranath. (Tay-gore, for the academically inclined) This one looked more like Alan Rickman about to ask for an aspirin. I passed on before it could clear its throat and broach the issue …Eventually, I wearied of my Long March and started to retrace my steps. Then came the Apparition.

Round a corner it came, with short rapid jerky steps reminiscent of the Egyptian Walk of the ‘80s. Brown trousers and a shirt of a violet hue so virulent as to be actually audible, blue-strapped “Hawaii” sandals that slapped on the dusty tiled floor. At the other end, thick-framed glasses perched on a nose like the Raven’s beak, Adam’s apple jerking convulsively from the strain of concentration. He looked not to right or left. I might have been a formless wraith for all the attention I got.

One arm swung vigorously at his side as he marched forth. The other was held up in a S-curve, ending in outstretched hand, palm upward. Balanced on the palm, saucer, one brown ugly. Balanced on the saucer, pantua (gulab jamun in the rest of India), three numbers …

Violet shirt and the slap-slap of Hawaii sandals receded into the gloom. With the pantua. I resumed my trek to the nearest outpost of civilisation.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Rum in Asians

"and the elements / So mixed in him " ... A man sits across from me in a meeting, exhibiting no less than three characteristics I detest.

Sneakers - cheap ribbed sneakers of a plastic-bucket blue - worn with formal trousers (how I would hate California!). Mouse-coloured trousers at that, guaranteed to deliver maximum puke value in combination with that blue.

A comb-over. Wispy, ineffectual, like clouds across a full moon, ending in a coy swirl of curls near the nape of his neck. And dyed to boot!

One of those vestigial moustaches that crawl across the upper lip like a thin tardy millipede or perhaps a smear of snot from a half-suppressed sneeze.

A fourth trait is evident the moment he opens his mouth - knows nothing himself yet believes that nobody else knows anything. As if he, greasy disastrous assortment of ugliness, is competent to judge.

On the wall just above his head is a picture of a sewage treatment plant. Two giant circular pits that process shit. How appropriate.

I have such a rewarding work environment.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Kafka Moment #2

She exuded sincerity and focus as we discussed a paper mill. Slickly groomed and accessorised from her Gucci glasses to her Choo footwear. Fashionably slim and business-like. Infrastructure, financials and coffee dealt with, she unbent so far as to take off her glasses and shake out her hair. And disclose the reasons for her tardy follow-up to her e-mail.

“Over the last two weeks I’ve spent half my working days in police stations …”

Eh? What could SHE have been accused of?! The left half of my brain swivelled in its orbit and clawed at air. It must have showed on my face. She hastened to explain.
“Oh, nothing against me! It’s all about my boutique …”

I know she also has a boutique. A lingerie boutique.

For which she has to visit police stations in Calcutta? My eyes widened, the camera zoomed in on my pupils and farther inwards … slow dissolve to the Duty Room in Bhowanipore P.S., Inspector Gobindo Nandan Guchait bridles a little as she holds out a lacy scrap of almost-nothing, frames it against his heaving chest and exclaims “It’s so YOU!”

Fast cut, series of jerky frames in grainy finish … S.I. Shubol Kormokar prances off to the Armoury to try on a blood-red thong, Detective Constable Deodhar Parshad Singh fastidiously steps out of his sandals and dhoti and into some high-support panty-hose, Boga the handy-man (“daily wage” worker, makes his living from tips) wistfully strokes a silken camisole …
The Krazy Kross-Dressers of the Kolkata Police?

The last shards of reason gave way and crashed into nothingness with the tinkle of breaking windows.

Epilogue. She was talking to me. I opened my eyes wide and tried to listen. “neighbours … encroachment … I filed a complaint … ” Reason stirred, shook its head, clambered groggily back onto its tottering seat.

The Ascent of Man

The USP for the Maruti Omni – the New, Improved Version – is that it has (gasps of awe) a cup-holder on the dashboard. Which speaks volumes about the level of technological innovation in the rest of the car. Bill Bryson, where are you?!


Travelling on business, a weekend in the foothills. Expectations of winding drives on hill roads, with the smell of the crouching forests. Morning in a wood-walled room, curtains parted for a glimpse of the river far below.

Instead of which ...

Reality check – coffee served by a surly personage, accompanied by salt. Salt?! (Reminiscent of the Injun in Leon Uris’ ‘Battle Cry’, “Whatcha want, Chief, eggs in your beer?!”)