Sunday, July 31, 2005

Rain song

Morning glistens on the monsoon roads. The air is a flapping curtain, damp and faintly stale, rent by little swirls of coolness that carry green smells.

The rain breeds moss on walls and unruly greenery on road dividers. It scrabbles holes in roads and leaves stains on the sides of houses. It breeds nostalgia.

Returning from a visit to the doctor, I find myself on a tour of my youth. Tyres susurrate, a bedraggled vendor raises a persistent yodel. Seasons past well up in memory.

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

Jodhpur Park. A long trek from the bus stop to her friend’s house, the fan soughing like the distant sea as I disappeared into the bathroom to wash my face. Frosted green khus sharbat (Rasna ready-pack? Or did that come later?), a shelf promising delight, the comfortable background noise of the girls talking, a conversation not demanding more than the occasional smile and grunt while I ploughed through a book. The collar-chafing armpit-slicking heat outside heightened the cool of the room, the awareness of comfort perhaps more deliciously pleasurable than the physical sensation itself.

Then the darkening of the day, sullen mutterings on the horizon, a distant turmoil from the shanties on the southern shore of the Dhakuria Lakes. The scent of rain would invade the room well before the first fat drops battered the window glass. A sense of expectation, building and building, until the first flash of lightning followed by the deep elephantine roll of thunder brought release.

As the memory plays itself out and the rain streaks past the windows, we pass the spot where, 20 years ago, we stopped for phuchkas. Now it is a garbage dump.

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

Other days of rain more sedate, even wistful. A verandah in Salt Lake, a Turner-scape with houses scattered among the waving green, breathing great lungfuls of pine trees sodden flowers wet earth grass and the faintly sour smell of iron window-grilles with coy rain-drops trembling on the edge.
That first year in Salt Lake was lonely, with afternoons spent on the verandah ledge, feeling the smooth black mosaic (too hot to lie upon during the heat of May but cool and welcoming in late June), musing on the diminution by perspective of the line of fir trees that made up the ‘Green Verge’.

The rains were even lonelier, long summer vacation mornings where the whisper of rain accentuated the silence broken at long intervals by the passing of a bus. The sound of a slamming door followed by the ‘ting’ of the conductor’s bell, carrying clearly over the acres of swaying grass that raked at my legs when I tried to walk through it. Sometimes the radio would be turned up loud in the nearest neighbours’ house a hundred yeards away, if I was lucky Vividh Bharati would be playing Kishore Kumar, the music slightly tinny and tremulous because of the distance and the vintage of the “transistor”.
And somehow the silence would be audible around the edges of the song.

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

Purno Das Road. Always associated in my memory with summer afternoons that thrummed with empty trams passing Triangular Park, as I walked down to the stretch between Gariahat and Gol Park to browse the book-stalls. That was where I first discovered pornography, but it was also where I picked up the spare descriptive prose of Louis L’Amour enthusing about his ‘country’, where I found Maugham and MacLean behind piles of medical text-books, where I picked up a quaint little gem called ‘Love on a Branch Line’ along with (God knows why) a slim volume by Epictetus.

The book-stalls no longer await me at the end, they vanished ten years ago and now a fly-over has planted its foot where they beckoned by the light of gas lanterns spiced with the smells of tele bhaja*. Purno Das Road used to have a succession of three-storeyed houses with curving fronts, round-shouldered cousins of the more spacious bungalows on Lake View Road. The few that survive now seem to huddle together in the drizzle, waiting for the hammer and the ‘dozer that will finish them before the pile-drivers beat the ground for the apartment blocks to come.

I turn away and look back up Southern Avenue at the house opposite the Ramkrishna Mission, the house I’ve always wanted to own, white and remote behind ten-foot walls and serene in the knowledge of wealth.

On the same corner, just across the lane, is a lime-green house with an awning on the terrace. D lived there, a tear-away even in Class V, D who took me up on the terrace to show me how he could shoot crows with his Brno .22, who fought bitterly with me because I teased him about the cute girl in the TT coaching camp and then put his arm round my shoulder while he cheeked Zal the instructor. He was only 11 at the time, I was 10. D who – as I heard when I came back from training in Mussoorie – put another of his father’s guns to his head one rainy night in 1988, all because of another girl.

Too much death and change on this corner. I look away as the car passes Mouchak and turns into the tangle between Gol Park and Cornfield Road.

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

A web of little alleys run like capillaries off Fern Road. Unchanged in 30 years, I think. The front verandahs hemmed in with fanciful grilles, a glimpse of mosaic floors in lozenge patterns, lines of school uniforms on sagging lines this Sunday morning. Smells of cooking, the hiss of vegetables released into a hot korai*2 as we pass a kitchen window, paanch phoron and kaalo jeere*3 warring in our nostrils, a steady roll of noise translated by memory into the rhythm of a grinding stone.

A grey moustache at the corner of a lane, peering towards the distant back gate of Gariahat Market. The hand behind his back must hold a little bag of rayon twine for the fish he will buy within the next hour. A face that woke late this morning, scratching luxuriously at a tattered genji*4, then sat up in bed with a pillow on his lap, drawing satisfaction from the first noisy sip at his cup of tea before peering out of the window and shouting to the kitchen, “Din taa meghla ache, bujhle. Boli khichuri chapao, dekhi byata Jodu’r kachhe aaj ilish thhaakbe nishchoi*5”.*

A drizzle sweeps out of the sun, leaving diagonal streaks on the houses and wetting the little metal plates set into the walls with the names of the lanes. Narrow cement-paved corridors lead in from the road, down the sides of houses where straight-barred louvred windows open into rooms with the remains of breakfast and empty tea-cups on scattered tables, perhaps even on bookshelves.

An advertisement for a “BBC spoken English course” glares in garish maroon from the wall of a garage. A corner has come loose and sags with the weight of the rain. A cat appears in the crack of the garage door, arches its back and closes its eyes, then disappears again. We pass on.

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

Ekdalia Road yawns in the morning rain as we turn left. Two gates down is the B--s’ family temple. We’ve been there at least one evening during Durga Puja, every year since 1983 except for the two years when I was in exile. Even then, she came and lolled on S’ mother’s bed to be pampered till the clash of cymbals in the temple forecourt announced the start of Shondhi Pujo*6.

It used to be a sprawling red-brick mansion, half the rooms locked and two cousins living in what used to be the servants’ quarters over the garages. My other friend on Ekdalia Road has an uncle who told me, in a voice of hushed awe, “Even in the ‘70s, there used to be 22 cars parked in that courtyard. Foreign cars, all of them, the B--s never drove desi cars as long as their money lasted.” And of course there was S’ uncle who periodically vanished into the Sundarbans when his debts piled up, but he deserves a story of his own.

Now the red mansion is gone and strangers live in the block of white apartments that has taken its place. And S’ mother, who pampered us even as she scolded us, died ten years ago.

The other house I used to visit on Ekdalia Road, cool smooth floors and a gracious drawing room looking out on the Puja pandal of Ekdalia Evergreen Club, is gone as well. Except that in its place there is still the grey and brick ugliness of an apartment block under construction.

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

Ballygunge Place. More cars, a lone rickshaw clattering down the road with the occasional flat sound of the finger-bell to warn the stray umbrellas turned up against the steady drizzle. Two young faces peer out above the polythene sheet that screens the rickshaw seat. Whither on a Sunday morning? The tyranny of tuitions? Music class, where a harmonium will underline the tremulous offerings of Robindro Shongeet from a faded diva?

And occasional glimpses of the lanes that have always made this para*7 magic for me, from the days when I walked these streets on summer afternoons and winter evenings, when I sought to exorcise the loneliness of teenage angst with solitary fantasies and pretentious poetry.

Now, I roll down the window to catch the lanes as we pass their mouths, lanes that hold together hamlets of community in the flow of the city’s life; lanes where still, as siestas fade, young men stand under windows and call each other out with the assured intimacy of boys who have grown up together. Lanes that lead to wrought-iron gates and stuccoed walls, then vanish round a corner with a backward glance that tempts me to follow …

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

The Bypass then, gritty as the rains break it down, and I have left behind the Sunday mornings of my past, headed towards another temporary exile leavened by a Very Small Smile. The skies clear as we pass the Shonar Bangla. Which is a good thing: the rains breed nostalgia, a fungus of the memory. The sun clears the mind.

Yet memories lurk in the shadowed corners of the day.

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

(Now for the truly pretentious bit - a glossary!)

* - vegetable fritters fried in (preferrably unidentifiable) oil. Literally, "oil-fried"; a taste bonanza paid for in heartburn and acidity
*2 - something like a wok, though usually smaller
*3 - spices. 'Nuff said
*4 - Undervest. Since you asked ...
*5 - (transliterated) Looks like rain; put on some khichuri (a savoury mess of rice and lentils with spices) while I go get some ilish (a distant cousin of the shad)
*6 - I'm not too strong on ritual. Call it a major bonding exercise and leave it at that
*7 - neighbourhood, but with a very strong underlying sense of community more than the physical proximity

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

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Taking Stock

When I segued from student to working man, I weighed much less. Much water has flowed under the bridge, much avoirdupois accumulated on the frame.

All those years ago, I could bench-press my current weight. Now, I can barely bench-press what-used-to-be-my-weight then.
My body bothers me.

On the other hand, I have achieved what I used to consider one of the marks of 'coolth', back when I was in college. I know all the suits in all the watering holes in town, most by their first names. (Not just the ones who wear those brass name-tabs, gerrit?) And I'm now confident enough to send back a dish if I don't like it. Ohhhh, sexy!!
Back then, I very definitely was not part of the gang that frequented the only disc in town. At the Oberoi. It was called the Pink Elephant, and after our college celebrated its quasquicentennial (look it up), an Old Boy threw a party for us at the Pink. I think it took a week to get rid of the smell of teenage puke. Free booze for 19-yr.-olds, the man was mad.
The only other time I entered the Oberoi (“back then”) was when I was walking down Chowringhee to catch a bus, and suddenly I just had to go. Lovely marbled restroom, oh joy, but half a mile down a slippery-floored corridor. Try that some time when your innards are making like Krakatoa before it blew.

When I was 18 I tried to write poetry. Occasionally I even wrote something that could pass as poetry.
These days I post on a blog. Sometimes, on two blogs. Or even three. But I haven’t written any poetry in years.

I think I was about 22 before I learnt to shut up.
I still have to remind myself, now and again. But I’m getting better.

I was 15 years old when I first heard “Scarborough Fair / Canticle”, “Bridge over Troubled Water” and “For Emily, Wherever I may Find Her”. Also “Patterns” and “Cloudy” and the “59th Street Bridge Song”. (My first time in New York, my friend thought I’d lost it when I insisted we make a detour to see that bridge. Great guy, but he used to like ABBA. I mean, a grown man who hummed “Fernando”?)
Then I fell in love with Kishore Kumar. And found R.D. Burman, Floyd, Tull, Al Stewart, Led Zep, Tom Lehrer. The amazing voices of Billy Joel and Shubha Mudgal. Along the way I sampled Silk Route, Traci Chapman, even Lucky Ali (yes, I DO like the Hrithik number).
One amazing night at IIT Delhi started with Shiv Kumar Sharma and went on to Amjad Ali Khan. Hari Prasad Chaurasia summoned dawn with Bhairavi and I’d discovered something. Years later, thanks to SPICMACAY and Prof. Qureishi, I sat in a small room and heard Shruti Shirolikar and once Zakir Hussain.
But …
… when I hear THOSE two sing their songs again, I’m still 15 years old.

I first went to Shiraz (“Golden Restaurant” … w.t.f. is golden about Shiraz anyway? Perhaps their biryani), at the corner of Park Street and Lower Circular Road, back in 1982. Thanks to J. No wonder he was my best friend. That was when a hundred bucks was still a Big Deal. One time J and I won that much in some college fest and blew it all at Shiraz. Ran up a tab of over 90 bucks and left the rest for tips.
To put that in perspective, the average human being would have found it difficult to finish a plate of biryani and a side order of rezala for twelve rupees. The first time I took my wife out (that same year and no, she was not my wife then), it was to Shiraz. We had 5 bucks apiece and bullied another 5 out of Rajesh S with some obscure reasoning. We sat downstairs where it was cheaper, we paid our money and we ate our meal. We were full, we were happy.
The last time we went to Shiraz was … well, last week, actually. They still make the world’s best biryani (though the Bengal Club is a legitimate contender). And the most amazing tandoori roti. The bill was a ridiculous amount, perhaps barely enough for a soup and dessert at Churchill on Colaba. Some things don’t change. Mmm mmm mmmm. And in case the point isn’t clear enough, MMMMMMMMMM!!!!

I wonder which year I learnt to say Hullo to a woman’s eyes instead of her chest. I do know it must have been some years after I was 16.
But I’m proud to say it’s been several years (decades, even?) since I greeted even the hottest woman with my eyes directed a few inches below her clavicles. Even on that memorable occasion on the Long Island Railroad four years ago when, for more than an hour, I half believed that bald is sexy. Somewhere in a finer and better world where true heroism is recognised and feted, I’m right up there with Sir Galahad. Or Bedivere at the very least.
(Ummm … I must confess I still do lech at times, but my priorities are different now. Brains and a sense of humour certainly, but also eyes, hands and voice. Most definitely eyes, hands, voice.)

(Which reminds me of a comment about Bongs ... "You guys are unique. Look at your most common term of abuse - I mean, how terrible can it be that I slept with a moron?!")

I used to try to help people. A lot of it was due to Enid Blyton and Richmal Crompton and all that rot about one good deed a day. (Do kids these days even know about William and the Outlaws?) My good intentions were rarely appreciated, even on the rare occasions when I didn’t goof up big time. I did donate blood several times in college, though.
I really am better at helping people these days. Or so they tell me. Double difference there. Not bad.

Back then, I never had much money, but I don’t recall ever wanting much money either. Just didn’t think about it, I guess.
These days, I do want money. A fair amount. Still don’t have much. That hasn’t changed.

There was this picnic when I was in my first year in college. Half the people who went had only one condition – I shouldn’t be part of the scene. Major popularity.
I’m still told that I’m obnoxious. But it’s usually said with a smile. At least, I think it’s said with a smile.

I was tagged on that book meme that went around. Never did respond. How does one list 5 books? Or even 10?
What was the first book I read? I really don’t remember. The last was (a minor embarrassment) The Half-Blood Prince. Finished last night at 9 p.m.
That feeling when one has a new book to read. “The keen thrill of anticipation that surpasses every possible emotion … love ambition sex music food success, nothing can compare.” Something that hasn’t changed. Thank God.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

All around #2

Call centre operatives have a tough time. Or so I was told when I visited Bangalore this last week.

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

“Sir, I’m calling from S~ C~ Bank, Sir, we have a very special scheme to offer you, Sir, Sir, Sir, you see, Sir, we can give you a personal loan of one and a half lakh rupees, Sir …”

“What’s your name?”

“Sir, my name is, I mean I’m calling from S~ C~ Bank, Sir ..”

“What’s your name? When were you trained?”

“Sir, I don’t understand, Sir, are you interested in a free personal loan …”

“When you were trained, didn’t they teach you that you should first ask the client whether it’s a good time to talk?!”

“Sir, I’m sorry Sir, do you already hold a S~ C~ credit card, Sir?”

“Did you check your data-base before calling me?”

“Sir yes Sir …”

“Will you please check what it says in the box for ‘Occupation’?”

“Sir, of course Sir, Sir it says …” SILENCE “Sir I’m sorry Sir!” Disconnection, busy tone.

She had called the Country Manager, Marketing for S~ C~ Bank.

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

Another call, this one the stuff of legend.

“Sir, I’m calling from S~ C~ Bank, Sir, I am happy to inform you that you have been cleared for a personal loan yadda yadda ..”

The hapless recipient of this call is a perfect gentleman. He refused once, politely. He refused twice, politely. He refused thrice and said he had to hang up.

The call centre operative was polite, persistent. He hung on. He dangled bait of charge limits, further loans, credit points.

Eventually the client asked, “Do you use the A~ data-base? Is that how you got my number?”

“Sir, we’re not authorized to give out those details, Mr. Azeem, Sir, but if you would please sign on ..”

“Young man, Azim is my first name. My full name is Azim Premji and I really do not need a personal loan. Thank you.”

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

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Good evening

Three vodkas with tonic, large. Two Laphroaig, very large. One glass filled with Peach Schnapps, vodka and Bacardi, quite foolhardy.

Three hours’ sleep, thanks to Very Small Person coming awake at 6 a.m.

But a long long evening from 20 years ago, in-jokes and expletives, the warmth that comes from laughing with friends (though the Laphroaig played its part) and adda.

Condoms in the Jampot summer. The divide between the finance wing and the rest of the organization. Torch-light on crocodile eyes. Whether Michelangelo was the Maradona of the Sistine Chapel team. And no, no blog-talk.

Learning curve …

Check qualifications before delegation. As B learnt in the course of a tag-team wooing. The friendly lady bestowed her favours upon A.H. in the back seat of a Fiat (yes, a Fiat, A.H. is a small man) tooling down the Strand Road and round the Maidan, late one rainy night in the ‘80s. Came B’s turn to pleasure the lady and A took the wheel.
Except that A had never learnt to drive. “Boss, coming together is f**ing impossible when a f***ing maniac is driving your Pop’s car on the f***ing Hastings Road divider!”

Familiarise with the job responsibilities. “My first fricking visit after we were married, he should have carried me over the threshold for Chrissake, and what do I find? His flat-mate opens the door wrapped in a gamchha and there’s a f**king ant-hill in the middle of the bathroom!” Sheepish explanation – “We each cleaned our own rooms, we’d be damned if we’d clean the common area”. Hence a mushroom growing out of the kitchen counter, in addition to the ant-hill in the bathroom.

Check out the immediate environment. “Look f***er, don’t get any ideas about midnight swims when you visit us, OK? First time I thought I’d take a dip after dinner, I went down by torch-light. Good thing I shone the torch on the water after I’d shucked the towel …. Maaaan, there were EYES everywhere! Crocs, man, effin’ great hungry crocs!” “Right, and you’d taken my sons in there with you that morning, you jerk! You know we ran the video later and there was a croc IN the water when they were swimming!” Sheeshh (this was their holiday up in the Amazon basin).

Develop client-specific solutions. “Boss, when she gets mad I just split. I come back after a few hours and she’s usually cooled off. Otherwise she might swing at me with a bottle. A full bottle.” (To do the speaker justice, he’s not a physical coward. He was just pained at the thought of his beloved malt going waste). “Me, I have it easy. All I have to do when she’s mad is to scratch her back. It’s hard for her to stay angry when she’s saying ‘A little to the left .. no, up a bit.’”

Internalise your professional role. "Before I became CFO I was ***da. Then suddenly I was this pariah, man - EVERYbody hates the Finance guys! After a while I decided I just didn't give a big rat's ass - remember Battle Cry? - and if they expected me to be an a**hole, dammit I'd be an a**hole. Grown out of that now." "Yes, except at home, darling." Glance round, silence, long swig.

Make adjustments for local conditions (Jamshedpur, circa 1990). “No ACs, no coolers, we were on the top floor, we’d pour water on the floor and try to go to sleep before it dried. You know the gochi?! Condoms frickin’ MELT in 45 degree heat, why do you think J was born so early!?”

Get the right perspective. Remember the Phantom’s Great Treasure Cave and Minor (or was it Lesser?) Treasure Cave? The Vatican Museum drew the analogy. Incredibly valuable stuff (five-foot Dresden china doll-house, a portrait of a dead Pope done entirely in semi-precious stones) lying in the corridor, the locked cabinets are for manuscripts and maps and signed artworks. Some of the greatest treasures are right up there – check out this ceiling.

About the perspective. Are the Caravaggio and Botticelli paintings in the Sistine Chapel of lesser value than Michelangelo’s work? This might be a tough question for an art expert, but for a layman like me it's a no-brainer. Signor Buanorotti was the Renaissance art world’s equivalent of the Tiger Woods of 2001. The house concurred. We moved to the next item on the agenda. (If my memory serves me right, it was “What are you guys, f***in’ siphons? Who finishes a litre of Laphroaig in two f***in’ hours?”)

Work within your limitations. Translation: if you must go overboard with the booze, carry Aspirin and drink lots of water.

Oh well, I’ve had the weekend to recover.

Friday, July 15, 2005

All around

In The Telegraph today – “It's confirmed: It’s unsafe to drive and talk on phone”. I can imagine how it takes rocket science to work that out.

It's confirmed. The world is full of stupid people. Really REALLY stoopid people. Manoj Night Shyamalan, re-make The Sixth Sense. That line should be “I see stupid people.” (The down-side is that most days I wake up like Bruce Willis and realise that I’m one of them.)

The Andhra Government paid 11 khokhas to get Volswagen to invest in their state. Then it turns out they paid it to a fraud.

Further proof – the Salman Khan tapes. Everyone who knows him agrees that this guy has a heart of gold to go with his pecs of granite. Sadly enough, his brain seems to be made of the same stuff. (Granite, not gold.)

Which brings to mind a conversation in the gym some years ago. This unfairly gifted dude (handsome as the young Mithun Chakraborty, great bod, graduated from Yale, scholarship to Harvard) said that only a retard would drop the bar after a military press, I pointed out that some people might actually do it. His response was classic – “That’s what we call PEOPLE, right? Ree-tards!”

Terrible attitude. Egoistic. Snobbish. Disgusting. It doesn't even make us happy.

Who cares... I love it!

Monday, July 11, 2005


Two of the blogs I read have reviewed 'The Historian'. Apparently it's all about Vlad Tepes (or Tepys), famous for winning several polls for most charming person in the Dark Ages. I must borrow a copy soon.

The most chilling story I read about the good Count - also known as Dracula or Dragul from the family's obsession with dragons, such charming pets - was about his grave.

In Transylvania, north-west of Bucharest, lies the region of Wallachia.
In Wallachia there is a lake called Snagov.
In the lake there is an island.
On the island there is a monastery.
In the monastery there is a grave.

A single grave, where they buried the man who had the monastery built.
A man called Vlad Tepes.

Some years ago the grave was opened.

It was empty except for some animal bones.
Dracula walks.

Naaah ...

Well, I thought I'd post. I even knew what I wanted to post about. Then it turned out I didn't really want to post.

The feeling is akin to the internal rumblings after a lobster thermidor dinner. One knows there will be turbulence, one just isn't sure when.

Sadly enough, the product is rather similar at times. Or so my friend says.
Right. No chicken in white sauce for you, young lady. Whenever I next feel inclined to cook it up. So there.

It feels good to be vindictive sometimes. And lazy.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Rambling rant

London's not burning. We have to wait and see whether the Brits go the same road as the Americans – first wake up in utter disbelief that anybody could actually hate them this much, then react in ways that make more people hate them more intensely. I think it's unlikely.

The Brits, especially London and Londoners, have been through too much. From all accounts, they're taking this in their stride. Brit stoicism, stiff upper lip, nasty-business-what, would-you-please-pass-the-marmalade beastly-weather-we're-having. I love them for it.

I've admitted it before. I'm an Anglophile. It's not a conscious, rational decision, it's just that when my generation were growing up, the Brits won the information war for our hearts and minds. They didn't need MTV or i-Pods. Their shock trooper was Enid Blyton, with an intensive barrage of idyllic English summers and a relentless fusillade of food descriptions. Later in the campaign, 1500 years worth of heavy armour from Chaucer to Kingsley Amis, marshalled by the Children’s Division of the British Council Library, simply rolled over my consciousness. (Maggie Thatcher shut down the Children's Section, may she bubble at the mouth with Mad Cow Disease!)

In 2001 I saw for the first time the little streams and rolling meadows, the hayricks and horizon-blued woods of England. If it had been damp dripping October, I might have escaped from the spell. Instead, it was a glorious August, the finest weather in 30 years. I was lost. Two months later the Shenandoah Valley wooed me with the blazing colours of fall, but it was too late, too loud, too long.

But I digress ... My last post evoked some visceral responses. I need to respond to some of them here.

Jai said Indians cannot aspire to any moral superiority in this regard. I agree. Indian politicians, and as a result the Indian Government, can be sickeningly hypocritical. The best option is to call it like it is, whether it's an Indian or an American saying things that are patently untrue and insincere.

This means that if Bush says
(a) he's fighting terrorists
(b) he's going after Osama bin Laden
(c) Eye-rack are helping bin Laden by stocking WMD

and later it transpires that
(i) he's fighting terrorists only as long as they're not in Pakistan
(ii) he's realised he can't get Osama so he has to choose a sitting target and
(iii) WMD can’t have been the reason for bombing Eye-rack because everybody knew they were never there

then he is a liar.

Unfortunately, he's also the President of the most powerful nation in the world.
Which is why I call him a bully.

Fingeek, wisely enough, cautions that India gains nothing by "standing up to the bully". True. Much better to make money out of them while we can. He points out that many Iraqis were happy to be rid of Saddam. I agree. There are, however, three points one should not forget.

First, the invasion had nothing to do with the events of 9/11, with the excesses of Saddam and Uday or even with any perceived threat to the USA. There were no WMD in Iraq. Saddam did not plan or execute the events of 9/11. There were regions on earth that were even worse off than Iraq - Rwanda, Afghanistan, East Timor, Chechnya.

The US invaded Iraq for the strategic ends of Bush & Co. These included the creation of a rallying point so that at least some of the electorate would not realise the pathetic truth – that Bush is a lousy leader and a hopeless administrator. What the US definitely did NOT do was to invade Iraq for the well-being of Iraqis.

Second, who made the US the arbiter of other nations' destinies? Today they invade Iraq and we exult because a repressive dictator has been toppled. Except for the Middle East, the rest of the world consoles itself. Saddam had it coming, maybe they’ll bring down the price of oil, it’s only a slab of desert in the middle of nowhere, it’s not as if they’re bombing a REAL country.
Well, wake up, world. For a large portion of the US electorate, anywhere outside the 50 mainland states is “somewhere out there”. Some of them don’t even know the capital of the next-state-but-one. If tomorrow Pulao Hariyali (what else should one call a Bush-Rice combo?) decide to roll into Liechtenstein, Paramaribo, Ulan Bator, who’s going to stop them? Where do we stop them? Marseilles? Milton Keynes? Remember Donne – “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee”.

Third - and this one is addressed to Ozymandiaz – I have criticized the US government’s policies and actions. I do not regard Americans as evil, notwithstanding my comments in this very post (based on personal experience) about their vast insularity. I do not regard them as uniformly stupid, in spite of the pretzel story and more like it. I have friends in the US, I have friends who are now US citizens. My graduate guide in the USA was one of the most intelligent and open-minded individuals I have ever met, not to mention an extremely kind and sensitive person. I used the term “redneck” to represent a type. The British yob, the Indian bigot, the Euro Nazi – these are all types based upon real people. We should not (and I do not) assume that entire populations are composed exclusively of these types.

The invasion of Iraq was an act of the US government, not an action by the people of the USA. It has led to a very obvious and perhaps potentially damaging schism in the body civic. At the same time, it has brought to light some of the best features of the American polity.
The American media have focused public attention on the excesses of Abu Ghraib, on the meaningless deaths of soldiers of at least 6 nationalities, on the awarding of contracts without tenders, the slaughter of civilians by hopped-up undertrained soldiers, the shameless profiteering by the most powerful politicians in the US. Americans have faced up to an increasingly repressive establishment and voiced their concern over the direction in which their democracy is headed.

Sadly enough, even after these stories broke in the media ,the US saw fit to re-elect George Herbert Walker Bush III with his Cheney and Rice combo. Fox TV and USA Today won over the voices of reason.

Well, the Brits are not significantly wiser. They re-elected Blair, a man who sent their sons to die in Iraq over a lie.

I still hope, however, that Britain will not react the way the US did. I hope that none of my friends who have spent the best years of their lives in that “green and pleasant land” will wake to a midnight knock, or spend days in prison because a booking clerk couldn’t make out what they said. I believe that the days when this man was defended and lionised cannot come back.

One of the differences I perceive is that humour is an industry in the USA. In Britain, I suspect, it’s more low-key, more a tradition of self-deprecation. Sixty years ago, the most appealing face of Britain was a creased bulldog visage with a cigar. Today, it may be people like this.

Laugh at your enemies. It’s difficult for them to be terrifying when they’re being laughed at. And the absence of terror goes a long way towards defeating terrorists.
In any case, it's not healthy to go for very long without a belly laugh. So go read some other blog now.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Bully

Must read. Two posts, here and here that sum up the issue of Bush and red-neck USA and Eye-rack.

Why do we bother about the USA? Because today it's Iraq, next month it's Iran. Who's to say that in 2012, it won't be India? Will somebody face up to the bully?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Loos Talk

The Arabs call it (or so I’m told) “the-room-where-everyone-goes”. In their case, it doesn’t make sense. I mean, why would nomadic tribes, with several thousand square kilometres of awe-inspiring desert to poop in, start building privies in the first place? (Not to mention the water issues .. yecchhh) Perhaps they used Port-a-Potties? So much for
Rudolf Valentino!

* Time out for short film …

Arab caravan lurches over the horizon, shadows black under the desert sun … camera moves in slowly … craggy features, far-seeing eyes crinkled against the sun… aforesaid far-seeing eyes light up as a speck appears afar and draws closer … much pointing and gesticulation and … TA-DAA-DA-DAAA, T.E. Lawrence emerges heroically over the dunes, motorcycle and sidecar heading a plume of dust .. but wait, wait, that’s too TALL to be a side-car, that’s too BIG, it’s .. it’s a … PORT-A-POTTY!

General hubbub, Arabs leap off camels and race each other towards it, groping in their robes for the equivalent of 25 Eurocents. OST from David Lean film builds towards a crescendo. Peter O’ Toole tries to look heroic and magnanimous even though he really looks as if he Needs to Go.

Meanwhile, Omar Sharif has shot the three men who got there ahead of him and is the first one into the Port-a-Potty. Exultant yells and other less polite noises emerge.
Camels look at each other with Very Camel Expressions … they reach a consensus and (all together now!) demonstrate in unison why they Do Not Need to Go in That Thing. The desert reeks ...*

Overcome with emotion at the grandeur of the spectacle, one takes a Short Break from Blogging …

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

The Arabian Desert is still a whole lot better than the Indian Highway. Miles and miles of super-smooth six-lane asphalt, and what does one have when one needs some relief? Hello, George! (Some of the snazzier stretches of highway these days - now do NOT say ‘Bombay – Pune’, because it’s just Not True - actually have Rest Stops. Oh joy.)

Back in the dark ages (like even July last year, actually), the Comfort Stop was one of the great issues in the Battle of the Sexes, at least in India. Men had it comparatively easy, even though it takes a little time to work out the issues of protocol (Does one tell a chauffeur to pull over at the next big tree? If he needs to go as well, does one look for a site with multiple waterable poles or does one assume he will wait his turn? When he gets back, how does one stop worrying about whether he washed his hands?)

(Speaking of last July - Cuffe Parade to Lokhandwala took all of four hours. Four of us in the car, with a 4-year-old. By the time we got there, our social graces were reduced to "Pleased-to-meet-you where's-the-bathroom?" The valiant child deserves a better balladeer than Ms. Hemans.)

When there are Wimmin in the car, confusion is worse compounded. There is the Woman who will Not Go but will make you feel like a Slug because you are a Male and Unfairly Endowed. There is the Woman who will Fidget until you stop at every second shop and ask (usually in a guilty mumble, as if you’re asking about smutty pictures) whether there is a loo available. There is the Woman who will Make Do with Adequate Shrubbery but You-Have-To-Stand-Guard, even if this is the only scrub between Jodhpur and Jaisalmer and it’s 9 at night in December. There is even the Woman who Doesn’t Give a Damn and will Go Anywhere, short of letting fly out of the window.

The dice are loaded unfairly against women in this respect. I sympathise. Sometimes, after a few beers, I even empathise. What I refuse to do any more is Stand Guard. I cannot, however, escape the Awful Responsibility of Scouting for Suitable Shrubs.

A piece of advice for young people who are still undecided on career choices: don’t even dream of being a Shrub Spotter. There’s no future in it. One is always caught in the middle, between the Person at the Wheel who shouts because it’s too late to stop at that particular shrub and the Woman who Can’t Hold It In Any More (as in, WHY can’t you tell us a little earlier?!?! Yes, like I’m Superman and I have a special GPRS to locate suitable cover from 10 miles away!)

A further piece of advice – when she says she wants another Coke, dissuade her. You know why.

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

Friday, July 01, 2005


Hemangini of the Hindu has an inspiring post. Inspiring because it shows that outrage, courage and persistence can pay. Sickening because of what the story reveals about us.

1 - That touching up a woman is considered a minor offence. Boys will be boys etc. Right. So Mr. Concerned-about-poor-Bihari-boy's-career, just ask your wife to step this way so we can all grope her up. We'll apologise nicely afterwards. Even call her "Ma".

2 - What were the WOMEN in that coach doing? Why didn't THEY offer some support to Hemangini? Were they just too timid? Did they not want to get involved? (John Donne is done for, nobody gives a damn any more) Or have they been indoctrinated too deeply in the unspoken male myth, that women only get what they "ask for", she must have done SOMEthing, why else would he touch HER? (Maybe because she is comparatively young, attractive, or just plain bloody NEARER to be touched, did you ever think of that, my worthy dames?!)

3 - That the law is an ass, because it makes a shocked and outraged woman wait for four HOURS to make copies in triplicate of the FIR. I have had first-hand experience of the FIR trauma and it should be short-circuited for cases like this.

4 - That it was always possible that if she had not been a journalist, that too a journalist from The Hindu, she may not have received the same response. That she could protest and give the slime what he deserved because she is educated, independent, articulate, English-speaking ... Empowered. Even that may not be enough, as Ketaki's comment on the same post shows.

5 - That a slime like this Sanjeev Kumar thinks that he can abjure all responsibility for his actions. So it ruins your life, scumbag? Guess what, we're HAPPY about it, you should be grateful you still HAVE a life. If you'd done it to Pappu Yadav's daughter, you'd be compost by now. Try telling HIM that you hadn't thought of the consequences.

5 - That even now, given that Hemangini is based in Delhi and won't come down to Chennai for the trial, the man may walk free if he posts bail. And then?

There is a lesson here, though. And hope. Sometimes protesting loudly enough does work. More power to you, Hemangini, very well done.

An interesting side-light from Jo, in a comment on this post. A guy who's feeling up a woman has the guts to step forward and take the rap, so the wrong guy doesn't get beaten up. Hmmm.
But say what, they should throw the book at him anyway. What's the use of his owning up if that's enough to get him off the hook?

Desultory patter

A first. Epochal. A-mej-jing. This is the first time ever I've posted from the car. *slight orgasmic tremor at the sheer tech-coolness of it all*

Maybe I should go a step further and upload a picture.
Oooooohhhh ... *much lip-twisting, finger-pointing-in-arbit-directions, crotch-grabbing and pelvic gyrations*

Ummm ... I give up. Google offers no pics of bald old rock-and-roll types, with or without sneer a
nd crotch-grab.

But this is still terminally cool. *purses lips and howls like happy (overweight) grizzled timber wolf*