Monday, August 29, 2005

C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre!

Back in the Dark Ages before Channel Nine and stump-vision, Western Australia had a bad day at the office. Their captain, leading the team onto the field
to defend the awe-inspiring target of 83, said something on the lines of "Let's try and get as many wickets as possible". Upon which his young tearaway fast bowler glared at him and asked "What's wrong with f***ing winning?"
His name, of course, was Dennis Keith Lillee. He took 8 wickets that day. Western Australia won.

The Aussies.
You can hate them, you can bay for their blood, but by God you can't write them off.

Today, when Farmer Giles finally tapped that last ball through mid-wicket and Vaughan did a Saurav Ganguly leap, I actually felt sorry for the Aussies. For Warne, for Lee. Amazingly enough, even for Ponting.
Here is a team of heroes who are perilously close to their sell-by date, a team that's been written off even though they swept the first match of the series, a bunch of all-but-has-beens who were supposed to lie down and die, and they came so close to pulling off the impossible.

Louis L'Amour had this story about a Clinch Mountain Sackett who, every Saturday night, went over into town to fight the only man bigger than him. Every Saturday night, week after week, this man would whup him good. And every Saturday night, week after week, the Sackett would be back for more.
Till the other man just got so tired of the whole damn boiling, he upped and he packed his saddlebags and he rode out of town. That Sackett, you see, he didn't know he was losing, he just kept coming.

The Aussie teams over the last two decades (at least after that wuss Kim Hughes) have had this magnificent stupidity. They have never known when they were beaten.
Today, whenever the camera closed in on Hollywood or on Ponting, their eyes were measuring, probing, seeking. They were not the eyes of men on the brink of defeat. They were the eyes of men who were thinking 'This can be done, now here's how we do it ..."

Think about it. When all the openers had to do was play out the overs today, when any runs on the board would have been a bonus, when the Poms had more than five sessions of play to get 129 runs, Brett Lee kept steaming in. Until he knocked over that first wicket. And then another ...
Even before that, this overweight, philandering, self-indulgent bozo with the Popeye forearms had come on to bowl. And taken a wicket with his first ball.. A wicket-maiden, yet. Ohhhh, fanciful script.
Wait. First ball of his second over, he takes another wicket. Naaahh, nobody would believe that.

Welcome back to the arena, boys.
You want a piece of us? Come get it.
If I ever do become a hard-bitten son-of-a-bitch, mate, THIS is the kind of sumbitch I want to be.)

In Richard Adams' Watership Down, there's a rabbit called General Woundwort who unexpectedly comes across a dog. As the other rabbits scatter, Woundwort can be heard screaming "Come back, you fools, dogs can be beaten!"
It can be done. Hell, we've SEEN a rabbit beat a dog, one glorious afternoon at the Eden Gardens just over four years ago. It can be done, if only you believe.
The greatness of this Aussie team is that they always believe. And for a couple of hours today, they made us all, every last Aussie-bashing exulting man-jack of us, quiten down and wonder...
When you've suddenly been knocked on your back at 57 for 4, 129 looks like a bloody high hill to climb.
They made us all believe.

This Aussie team may be in decline, but Dylan Thomas would have recognised their spirit.
"Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light!"

We can hate them, we can exult in their come-uppance, but by God we can't write them off.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Rough-hew them how we will ...

"And then my heart with pleasure fills / And dances with the daffodils!"

The Old Sheep of the Lakes has written SOME good stuff, but this was definitely not it. Trite, turgid, unimaginative.
Hence appropriate for the subject matter here, which is (mostly) a Certain Publication that has been described as TOI-late Paper.

Gather round, boys and girls, and let me tell you a pointless little story. Which is very appropriate, because it's all about a bunch of
clueless little people.
Or at least one clueless little person.

I ask you - why would any journo do a general story on blogging now? Why, two months after Nilanjana Roy's piece in The Telegraph on Calcutta bloggers (which SHE said was 'hurriedly done') would somebody do a story on " aaah .. hrrrmm .. well, just bloggers, you know. In Calcutta"? Why would you cold-call a blogger and ask for his / her VIEWS on blogging?
What the f**k does anybody care about my views anyway, unless I can express them in writing and make them interesting? Why in fifteen different kinds of fornication would you talk to me about bloggers, without reading their blogs?!

In all fairness, he was a sweet kid. Sounded about eighteen (i.e. a couple of years older than The Duck), faintly apprehensive, a little unsure. My instinctive reaction was to say "No, thank you" and hang up but then he mentioned that he had been referred to me by a friend (Pandit-jee, actually). Noblesse oblige. I held my fire and played the (long-suffering) perfect gentleman to the hilt.

What topics do you write on?
Ummm ... nothing in particular.

So do you generally write about social issues?
Not quite (as Goldie Hawn memorably said in Protocol when the awld bitch knocked on the loo door and asked if she was coming)

No, hardly ever.

So ... what do you write about? (Aaarrgghh .. get ON with it, infant!)
This and that, whatever comes to mind. Very often, a post on somebody else's blog inspires a response.
(Mental note - this question might come up again in the future, so I should work on some posts about (a) kinky sex (b) how to make money quickly ... yes, Mark's Fender and "the chicks for free" (c) decay in the social fabric (d) something involving Alicia Silverstone, a feather and a half-pound of melted chocolate)

The questions were a trifle halting, so I mentioned the bloggers' meet last Sunday. I slightly inflated the attendance figure from nine. Lo and behold, today he writes that "only 10 or 12 people turned up". As Kamu Mukherjee said in Shona'r Kella, "Take Indian porridge!"

Poor chap. He's probably been told that blogs are "cool" now. He had 10 column-inches to fill in 4 hours. Perhaps he doesn't have a Net connection, just a phone. He finds some leads, calls up some people and voila, he has a story on blogs. Good work, kid.

I only wish he'd write in English instead of translating from Bangla. This would rule out solecisms like "writes in the name of", obviously a literal take on "omuk naame lekhe". 'Goes by the name'? 'Uses the pseudonym'? Even 'writes as'? Nope, those wouldn't connect to his readership.

I really should shut up about TOI-late English. I was once disarmingly frank with one of their queen bees. My view was that if they can't find reporters who can write English, they should at least recruit some literate sub-editors instead of leaving the job to satta* pencillers. They've had a ban on me ever since.
A trifle ironic, then, that this young man now seeks my views; my request for anonymity should reduce the number of cuts in his copy.

And now, not only do I waste my time reading what he wrote, I waste more time writing about his writing. So who's the stoopid one here?
Coffee, I need lots of coffee.

* - satta is the numbers racket.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

No contest?

Shoe Fiend came up with the idea of replacing her husband with a favourite book. Surprisingly, there IS another point of view. (Yes, I KNOW this is quite shameless self-advertisement. Now sneck up and go read it.)

So where's your bookmark, eh?

[Update: OK, I goofed, but both links should work now.]

... it tolls for thee

ElektrikBlues aka Dark Ale wags a finger at everybody in Bangladesh. Most of it is equally applicable to us on this side of the border. In fact it is, in its own way, a users’ guide to democracy.

(EB needs to watch out, his carefully constructed façade of being a good-time guy is slipping)

Monday, August 22, 2005

Music, when soft voices die ...

Late Sunday evening, after one round of adda at a bloggers’ meet in Crossword, I was slumped in a bean-bag with a tube of Pringles on my most prominent curve. And a vodka-with-bitters at my elbow.

The Correspondent was on his third whiskey, the Ad-man sipped a rum-and-coke and the Host a.k.a Pandit-jee (as distinct from Ustad-jee) scratched his chest in debauched fashion as he slurped at something-with-Bacardi.

The conversation was purple.
The Correspondent’s most commonly used forms of address for his colleagues are (depending upon the sex of his interlocutor) the Bangla equivalents of putain and hijo de puta (Thanks to my Colombian friend L, I know the cool way to pronounce the latter - hiyepooootah. There, now we all know. All together now … ).
Pandit-jee has been known to strip to the altogether in a hotel room (MY hotel room, as a matter of fact) and stroll over to the (floor-length) window to “look down the cleavage of the signoras".
The Ad-man is Rather Proper but tends to outline quite alarming film scenarios, such as a post-colonial take on the Story of the Milkman and the Benevolent Boudi*.

It’s sad when you laugh and half an ounce of vodka and lime goes down your nose to meet half a Pringle lurking in your throat.

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

Pandit A** is a reputed classical musician held in wide regard. (OUR Pandit-jee [or Pj] is also a supremely talented and dedicated musician held in wide regard, but is much more famous for (a) being photographed with various women while wearing very tight striped trousers and (b) starring in a much-hyped film [produced by Ad-Man and Partner] on adultery.)

Pandit A* (or PA) has a heart of gold. He also has a wig. And very little English.

The second attribute caused some alarm and despondency among his friends when, during one very spirited tabla vaadana*1 on national television, it came adrift, rotated sideways so the parting ran from left to right, and lollopped with every jerk of his head.

After one bravura performance in the backwoods, PA had retired to sleep the sleep of the just in his room, which he was sharing with another senior musician. Who in the wee hours, went to the loo without his glasses, did what he had to do and reached up to flush. This was one of those old metal cisterns with a chain hanging down. The gentleman glanced up and had a blurred impression of a head reposing on the top of the cistern.
The “guest-house” was roused by his screams as he rushed out with the cord of his pyjamas woefully entangled with his poithey*2.

PA, shaken awake from his slumber, was most indignant that there should be such a fuss over his wig. Which he had lovingly washed with Surf Excel and put up to dry, draped over a plastic mug placed on the spot nearest the exhaust fan.


PA had a very dear Japanese disciple. So when he passed through Tokyo, he called her from the airport.

Whereupon his associate in Calcutta received an international call from a distraught M**ko, weeping buckets because her much-loved and respected Guruji had said he “wanted to sleep with her”. Fortunately, PA’s secretary had activated international roaming on his cell-phone, which made the following conversation (mostly translated from Bangla) possible.

Associate: A, have you gone mad?
PA: Ainh?
Associate: Have you forsaken all morality? Didn’t you even think of (A’s wife)?
PA: (louder now) Ainh?!
Associate: How could you bring yourself to SAY this? You are her GURU, for pity’s sake! This is practically incest!
PA: (loud enough to drown out the PA system, and causing heads to turn) Incest?!!?! AINH?!?!
Associate: Even if you have no shame, have you no prudence whatsoever?! Do you realise you could be arrested for sexual harassment?
PA: (in high dudgeon) What nonsense is this? What are you talking about etc. etc. (while, presumably, interested bystanders were calling up Japanese manga artists on their cell-phones and aforesaid manga artists were boarding Bullet Trains towards Narita from all parts of Honshu)
Associate: M** just called me! Can you deny that you suggested that she have sex with you?!
PA: (speechless)
Associate: What have you to say for yourself? This is shameful, disgraceful (add clichés to taste)
PA: WHAT did she tell you? Ainh?
Associate: (In English now) She said you called up and said you want to sleep with her!
PA: Of course I did! What is this nonsense about sex?!
Associate: You admit it! You said you want to sleep with her!
PA: (purple with rage now, as related by his accompanist) OF COURSE I said I want to sleep with her! My flight is delayed, I can’t afford a hotel, is it too much to ask to catch up on my sleep at M**’s apartment?!?!

Ze English, she ees too … discret? Timide? Non, c'est hypocrite!

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

After midnight … Pj’s son needed a feed, so his (infinitely) better and purer-minded half was out of the room. Which, of course, was the opportunity for Ad-Man and Pj to “talk shop” with the Servant of All the World.

Pj: You’re a land shark now. Give us some land, *&%#”
J.A.P.: What would you do with land? Shoot another failed pondy?
A-M: Naaah, we have an idea for a fail-safe venture.
Pj: (nodding sagely) Ab-so-loot-ly guaranteed. We’ll give you a cut.
A-M (hurriedly) In kind, only in kind.
Pj: (with an air of earnest inquiry) You know what we mean, don’t you? Cut. C-U-T.
J.A.P.: Keu deye naa je.*3
Pj: Poor lad. Don’t worry, we’ll offer you a cut. (Voice building to theatrical crescendo) Two cuts. Twenty cuts!

(while the Correspondent smiled to himself and to his sixth whiskey...)

A-M: Seriously, you want enterprise, employment, success stories … guaranteed, boss, guaranteed.
Pj: (sonorously, in the manner of a High Priest announcing a Visitation) Service unit khulbo*4
A-M: Super-luxury.
Pj: Seven-star.

A-M: High-tech
Pj: Best in class
A-M: Six Sigma
Pj: We'll be Equal Ops employers, see? Babes, men, whatever.
A-M: Polthury ... porryl .. damn, POL-YUR-ETHANE dolls.
Pj: Donkeys, maybe. Animal rights and all that, why shouldn't they have their chance?
A-M: Even things from La M*t*n*. Ummm .. no, on second thoughts, we should draw the line SOMEwhere.. (dodges chicken bone thrown by Pj, proud alumnus)
Pj: Touch screens, holograms. Total right-click funda.
A-M: e-commerce model, right.
Pj: I’m telling you, it’ll be totally Net-savvy. First of its kind in India – tore toh Net holei holo, taai naa?*5
A-M: Major quality control, boss. We’ll get it under that Singapore CECA thing you mentioned, common standards.

Pj: Yes, EOU naa ki boley*6? Export Oriented Unit, that’s it.

Correspondent: (rousing himself from his reverie) But for Net bookings and payments …credit cards, credit cards, only credit cards accepted! No cash. Bhalo strategy, bujhli*7, we can get Visa and Mastercard to out-bid each other for the sponsorship.

J.A.P.: (as the dawn of a horrible suspicion glimmers over the horizon) WHAT is this super-hi-tech service enterprise?!
Pj: Brothel khulbo, boss. Tip-top, world-class, state-of-the-art ... brothel.

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

At least Shudhakor*8 lived up to his name. The parathas and kosha mangsho*9 were superlative. Best in class. Perhaps even Six Sigma.

**** ****

"The Key"

* - Boudi - Elder brother's wife. Colloquially, a young matron.
*1 - tabla vaadana - percussion recital
*2 - poithey - Brahmin's sacred thread, worn looped over the left shoulder and round the right side of the waist
*3 - Keu deye naa je - Nobody offers me (.. bribes, that is. Sagnik, now you know why I'm not rich)
*4 - khulbo - will open
*5 - tore toh Net holei holo, taai naa - all you need is the Internet angle, innit?
*6 - naa ki boley - whatchamacallit
*7 - Bhalo strategy, bujhli - Good strategy, gerrit?
*8 - Shudhakor - name, from Shudha = nectar / ambrosia, with karigar or artisan
*9 - kosha mangsho - a rich, spicy mutton curry, or, Shudhakor's shudha

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

NB: Learning from Bloggers' Meet - there's a sign on the inside of the loo door at Crossword. So when you're walking out with a sigh of relief, you learn that "This store is under electronic surveillance". Yipes.

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

Friday, August 19, 2005

Stocking, no garter belt

Christmas is just around the corner. In September this year. Or, as Plum so succinctly quoted, “Of all the mad New Year ’twill be the maddest merriest day / for I’m to be Queen of the May, Mother, I’m to be Queen of the May”.

And I shall have SUCH a lovely white gown, you know, three quarters, with the cleavage a leetle daring …

What do you mean, I don’t have the figure for it? I shall have 8x zoom, Ms. Smarty-Pants, 8 eight EIGHT X zoom.

That’s a 35-280 Nikkor , so put it in your pipe and smoke it. And a further 4x digital zoom. I hope you bloody well choke.

And EIGHT mega-pixel resolution. Yes, I said EIGHT.

And the next time I go to Kanha and see a tiger, I shall not have to face the trauma of rejection because the tiger didn’t come up and give me a three-quarter view (facing over there Sir, to the left Sir, into the sunset, a leetle more, just a tad, no? NO? Come on, Sir, just a second, ummm, that’s MY leg, hallo, I said that’s my leg please put it down, this is most improper would somebody please make him bring it back?)

No, I shall Survey the Tiger From Afar and the guide will say "Kaafi door pe hai, Saab*" and I shall Wither Him with My Scorn (the guide not the tiger, a withered tiger doesn’t make for good photographs unless you work for Outlook) and I shall slowly raise my Camera With the 280 Zoom and I shall Zap That Tiger with a close-up.

And then I shall sell the pics to the News of the World for mega-bucks because my awesome zoom will have captured Intimate Details, like The Tiger caught snogging a contestant on Big Brother, you know the one I mean, Saskia with the big … ahhh-hrrrmm, the lady with the big smile, I meant, only this time it should be the Smile on the Face of the Tiger, now where was I?



Ah yes, the camera. Screw the reviews (yes I said s-c-r-e-w), I don’t much care if the shot-to-shot delay is a little long, I’m not built for speed myself.

And perhaps this year I shall finally roust out C** one winter morning and go shoot a photo-essay on Cal. Or just do a Day in the Life of a Small Person and put it on my desktop.
A ½ GB memory stick takes a lot of pictures …

Mmmm hmmm hmmm. 12 days to go.

I just shook out my stocking, Santa, now stop leching and fill it up!

**** ****

* (for Jay, my overseas reader .. errmm, hopefully, Dawn and Dan as well) - "It's a long way off, sir".

**** ****

Friday, August 12, 2005

A walk in the clouds

Makaibari, Castleton, Windsor. The names my father used to look for when he went to Subodh Brothers to Blend His Tea. Green acres rolling away from the Pankhabari Road as we strain up towards Kurseong.

First the little groups of women, baskets on their backs hanging from the straps across their foreheads, faces still in early-morning pouts, sometimes a man in a cloth cap and wellingtons striding along with them. Farther uphill, the clouds melt into rain and the umbrellas blossom, all colours, a rayon bouquet still visible when I peer back downhill after three bends in the road and another hundred feet of height.

A head in a helmet appears in a gully to the right of the road, pushing a scooter up a fissure in the earth so narrow a man might have difficulty walking along it. Crowded vehicles pass us, going downhill with men standing on the foot-board holding umbrellas (why not wear ponchos and leave both hands free?). A young buck strolls through the rain with his hands in his pockets and a jungle hat dripping onto his shoulders.

A dry spell, and there is one woman actually among the tea bushes, facing away from the road as her hand comes over her shoulder to toss a fragment into the basket. I can hear Mrs. D'Souza from Class V, "The bay-est tay is frowm two lee-eaves aynd a buddd". Which is the symbol of the Goodricke Group that owns Castleton, a symbol plastered across the wall of a shop selling organic teas at yet another bend.

Once in a while, a battered jeep rests where a watercourse crosses the road, men tinkering under the hoods or doing mysterious things with jerry-cans. Raju says they're filching fuel, but when did petrol start flowing down the Darjeeling foot-hills?

Down in the valley the clouds are flocking, merging, rising. Outriders drift up in flanking columns and more drops blur the windscreen. The expanse of tea bushes gives way to the first poor buildings, shaggy dogs appear with their tails plumed behind them like cockerels, women squat at roadside hydrants washing their children.

As we turn off Pankhabari onto Hill Cart Road, the bazaar closes around us. Lines of people shelter under dripping eaves. A carefree urchin skips along the sleepers of the narrow gauge track."A Train Runs Through It"?. Is there any other place in the world where a train chuffs through a market-place twice a day? I don't think there is, at least in India. The Shimla line is well segregated from the road and the Matheran and Ooty lines do not run through towns.

In the town, the road is lined by houses with pointy roofs and those strange wooden rolling pins sticking up from the front gable. What purpose do they serve? The occasional shabby concrete structure sulks between them like a wannabe gangsta in high school, sullen in the knowledge of its own lack of grace. Away from the road
cross-timbered cottages, the relics of long-gone Scots and Midlanders, sit in their little patches of garden. Cochrane Place, Belle Vue, McCready's, names from a century not quite forgotten in the haunted evenings when wooden floors creak in empty rooms.

Children. School uniforms, sweaters, ties, pleated skirts, scuffed shoes straggling together, their movement oddly reminiscent of the clouds down in the valley. The same hesitant flowing together, then the thickening of the stream, a few loners drifting off to the side (to kick a stone or pass the time with a friendly dog) then rushing precipitately back into the flow.


We find the place where I'm supposed to meet the local officers. I've seen this house before. In Darjeeling, in Shimla, in Mussoorie, in Shillong. Tired old boards covered with tatty matting, the smell of frying fish emerging from a soot-blackened kitchen, a huge dining table scarred along its length, one room marked 'VIP' because it has an overstuffed sofa in the most hideous print. Nice curtains, though, that part to give a glimpse of the valley.
And strangely enough, a bidet in the bathroom. I try to picture a Chief Engineer using the facility and hurriedly desist; that road should only be followed after suitable fortification and in the right company.

The connectivity is amazing. The link is zipping faster than in Cal. Some justification, then, for the unsightly pox of boards bearing the service provider's green and blue logo. I check mail over a leisurely cup of tea - Darjeeling tea! - served in graceful china that seems quite out of place.


Half an hour later I'm cursing my smooth city-slicker shoes. The path uphill is like a barely tamed watercourse, rocks and worn bricks biting at my soles and threatening my overburdened ankles. My companions make their way up in leisurely fashion, no doubt sniggering at this mad plainsman who's wasting his breath. I already dread the journey back down with back and legs braced against a slip while I hold my upper body loose for balance. At least I shan't be carrying a pack

It's all worth it when I emerge at the top of the slope. A broken-down old house dreams serenely over the view. Correction, the views. Plural.

To the south, newly glazed picture windows frame the clouded valley, the sudden green where sunlight splashes through the greyness, the writhing white ribbons of water-courses, a line of firs in silhouette on a razorback ridge across the valley, houses like white specks on the far slopes, the hill falling away beneath the patio in a tumble of rocks and greenery.

To the north, a verandah looks across a half acre of lawn to the hillside where clumps of fern and bamboos climb up to the edge of a stand of dhupia pines. Beautiful trees, these pines, standing slim and straight as the young Nutan, then spreading into shadowed foliage sixty feet up, foliage of such a dark green that it looks black even with the sun on it.
Between the trees, a rain-fed waterfall raises a muted roar, passing from view behind yet another bank to re-appear on the other side of the road below.
A breeze just this side of chilly takes the edge off the flashes of sun that come and go, growing and fading
between the cloud shadows ...

If the flight is on time, the afternoon will see me back in my usual orbits. Cash flows, negotiations, bid design, strategizing, the bottom line. The usual rubbish.

To hell with my watch.

I find my pipe and matches in my pocket (pockets justify trousers, otherwise we should all have dressed like Chidambaram), lean back against one decrepit pillar of the porch and wriggle my shoulder-blades to settle well in. The first luxurious exhalation floats out from under the eaves of the balcony towards the pines.

Life can be very good.


Country roads

A day washed in drifting grey and ringed by the green of rice-fields. Roads that small into the distance between rows of tall hairy trees. A sunset that glints between cloud strata, through a windscreen starred in one corner.

In Cooch Behar, a high-ceilinged room with a huge fretworked mahogany bedstead. And memories spread over four decades now. Of the caretaker Ketu with his halo of unruly white hair like the painter Paritosh Sen, his cooking that wrung approbation from even my mother and his stories of the high and the mighty on their (infrequent) visits to this most distant of Bengal's "district towns".
Of sitting in the shadow of the verandah on a late summer day, trying to sketch the garden as glimpsed through one of the brick arches, and my increasing irritation with the way the shadows kept moving because I was too slow to keep up.

Of the matching mahogany bedstead in the other room, at the other end of the upstairs balcony, and how I sprained my back because I tried to pull it under the ceiling fan. While somebody was sitting on it.

Of a more recent evening in the wood-panelled gallery of the local Bungalow, with more rum than I had intended to consume and C** sprawling on the sofa in shorts (hot pants I called them, the beginning of a paunch visible above his long muscular high-jumper's legs that had stirred the lust of more than one woman at the Academy), alternately wagging his finger at me and chuckling, as we talked the night away.


The contrast of Siliguri in the evening. A detritus of shops and hotels and buses and wires, a large suite with no soul and the long evening alone, where a dinner from Kalpataru became something to look forward to, a peg to hang the evening on. (A word to the wise - the best Bangali food in this part of the world).


Moments in between. A beep from my cell phone as the Scorpio skims a bend on NH31; a message from Grameen Phone welcoming me to Bangladesh, their network closer at that point than any of the Indian providers. A row of iron posts across a far field, the barbed wire invisible at that distance: the border.

Place-names that are stories in themselves. Falakata ("cut to ribbons") and Mathabhanga (Head-breaker), from the skirmishes and squabbles of the 18th and 19th centuries. And most endearing among Bengal's place-names, Raja-bhaath-khaowa ("where kings ate rice together"), from the meeting that signalled a truce in the senseless warring.

And sudden in the gloaming, a signboard in a place called Harhbhanga (Bone-breaker) - Harhbhanga Chikitsha Kendro. Bone-breaker Medical Centre.


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

What's the bloody use?

I was tapping away, in the midst of a reverie on the pleasures of anthologies, when the papers came in.

If this is what we have after 21 years, what IS the bloody use of our polity?
I think the Sold Lady of Bori Bunder has the right attitude; there, it's not even the lead story, but comes after some nattering about the match today.

Who cares about somebody's father burnt alive 21 years ago?

My daughter tottered over and kissed my knee. And I wondered what she would do if - say in 2019 - she saw me being burnt alive by some political hoodlum. And the man who did it grinned at her in 2040.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Says it all. Or just about

For some time past I'd been ruminating a rumination on "why blogs". Fortunately for my 11 distinct readers, that will not come to pass.

As an exploration of personality, the voice of the blog world is a voice much closer to Bukowski than to Eliot, much closer to Kerouac than to Woolf.

demonstrates the superiority of an educated mind. In a voice, one imagines, quite level and perhaps faintly clipped, with the occasional pause for a drag on a cigarette.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

A poet and a one-man band?

Sadly enough, the poet had left the building and a hustler had taken up position. Hence ads for lubricants, paints, calcium tabs. Bloody awful "in-film" stuff.

But the one-man band more than made up for everything.


Two decades ago, Tinnu Anand crafted the Man's come-back vehicle, Shahenshah, making full use of the biggest resource at his disposal. To wit, the Man himself. Low-angle shots, lighting, taali bajao lines (Rishtey mein toh tumhaare baap lagte hain .. .. I loved that!), the works.

Here, in Viruddh, the Man has no resonant lines. He is not a super-hero. He shuffles where once he strode. (Mallika Sherawat would be SO disappointed. And has anybody else noticed how Amitabh's walk in Trishul, Deewaar, Don, even Silsila, is copied from that bank-robbery sequence in Dirty Harry?)


Viruddh is a bad film. Somewhere in the muddle there was the skeleton of a good story. Mahesh Manjrekar just lacked the calibre to put flesh on the bones. Where the film could still have survived if sketched on a lower and more serious key, he pulls it down by trotting out some of the usual suspects.

National integration (or at least Mumbai integration), with a fine actor like Shivaji Satam wasted behind hideous false teeth and a dikra accent (Prem Chopra plays the obligatory Sardarji). The indulgent mother, with Sharmila’s sensible, self-reliant character suddenly hamming it up when her son calls from London. The villainous politician (why is it that Bollywood recognises only Chief Ministers and Home Ministers? Can anybody recall a Hindi film minister with some other portfolio?). The obligatory minority rep with the heart of gold (Sanjay Dutt looking particularly wooden in yet another re-hash of the persona he found with Vaastav). The firang girl who is won over by the Indian wooer’s “foynn krrakter".

The film is further marred by some truly awful in-film advertising. The script-writer must have run out of ideas, or these sequences may be the director’s protest against the producer’s money-grubbing. Either way, they are truly cringe-worthy and widen the holes in the film’s credibility. (To accommodate Western Union, the film has John A’s student character sending 15 grand a month to his old man in Mumbai. Some scholarship that must have been.)

This is all much of a muchness with the generally shoddy character development and the holes in the plot. Except for Sharmila as the wife (bar the aberration mentioned), none of the characters holds together as a credible person. Even the sea-change that Bachchan’s protagonist undergoes is hardly in keeping with his slightly weak character in the first half of the film.

It could have been a gripping exposition of the David-versus-Goliath theme, but like all too many Bollywood men in a hurry, Manjrekar wraps up the story with a simplistic and absolutely incredible denouement.


One must, however, give the man credit where his tactics have paid off. The banter between the ageing couple is well-written (and Sharmila almost measures up to Amitabh in this part). Sachin Khedekar is made to mouth some awfully pretentious lines in the opening sequence but finds his length later on and uses his silences with great assurance. The new girl, Anousha Dandekar, has to speak Hindi as if it is a foreign language and does a good job. Even John Abraham is credible.

Give the man credit for realising the potential of silence when Bachchan’s eyes fill the screen. For the spare sound design where a subdued whisper in that gravelly baritone walks up your spine.

Give him credit, above all, for being a shrewd product manager.

For two and a half hours, there's hardly a frame without the Man in it. And how he delivers. In a film with shoddily finished sets, poor continuity, botched make-up and unimaginative camera; with a supporting ensemble whom the script-writer and the director forget somewhere along the line; in a strange two-in-one product that changes mood and colour mid-way, the Man moves from sit-com to film noire with silken ease. The ease not just of a master but of a master craftsman who has never stopped learning his craft.

For two and a half hours, we watch Amitabh Bachchan plying his trade before the cameras. And for two and a half hours, he holds us in thrall.

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

Friday, August 05, 2005

On the outside, looking in ...

Knopfler as we walked in, followed by Floyd. 'Shine on you crazy diamond', no less. A perfect vodka with bitters, a surprisingly decent
hookah, good company.

As the evening wore on, the hipsters and linen shirts flocked to the dance floor. The music faded, to be replaced by random noise of the 'Woh lamhe' variety. (I must place on record, though, that I do like 'Kajra re'. I like anything that's associated with the Man).
A few of us sat around the hookah, sipped our second and third drinks, dug the host in his ribs and asked him to play some real music.

I wondered whether the yongsters were enjoying themselves.

The girl in the pink spaghetti straps and the white pants had walked in with us. Alone among the PYTs, she kept her handbag under her arm as she danced in determined fashion in the thick of the crowd. But was she dancing WITH anybody?
(How was it any business of mine anyway? Voyeur!)

A copy-writer waxed eloquent about Jagjit Singh and Kaagaz ki kashti. I reminded him that Messrs. Sampuran Singh and Madan Mohan had set nostalgia to music far more concisely in Dil dhoondta hai, three decades ago. He looked abashed.

I grow old.

A boy with a goatee - he's worked on our account - did the 'white man's overbite' as he two-stepped onto the floor. A nubile presence draped a braceletted arm round his waist; he patted her cheek and passed on. I applauded silently and wished I'd had half his panache at his age. (Come to think of it, he must be 25; perhaps I did.)

An unbuttoned blue shirt with a white bead necklace and sunken cheeks cut loose, threw half his drink at a loud girl. Three large silent young men converged on him and escorted him to the door. As he passed me, he jerked the glass he was still carrying. Some kind of alcohol splashed on my chinos before I could step away.
Briefly, I considered the option of rubbing his face on my (now wet) shoe, then decided against it. I haven't been in a fight in a public place since 1999. No good reason to spoil my record now.

Then at long last they played "Walk of Life". And of course we had to do the air guitar thing. It's a given.
If they play Knopfler and you don't know whether they'll play another, you play air guitar even though you'd rather do it to "Sultans of Swing" or "Telegraph Road".

Through it all, I was aware that I wasn't really part of this. The people on the dance floor are a different species from me. I don't dress that way, I don't drink what they're drinking, I listen to music that does not have the "F" word.
One on one, I very much like their company. En masse, they are a herd of beautiful young savages with a different genome story.

I grow old. Verily, I grow old.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

What the genie gave ...

I've sometimes wished I looked like a movie star.

Clint Eastwood, but I was born with the wrong genes.
Sean Connery? The sexy older man and all that.
Bruce Willis, at the very least?

Even Ashok Kumar, the persona before Hum Log happened and he became the shawl-draped object of Johnny Lever's mimicry (does anybody remember Jalwa?). He had pizzazz and he could crinkle his eyes sexily, and my father's been mistaken for him in a poor light.

The mirror tells me I now look like a movie star.

I look like Uma Devi.
Better known as Tun Tun.

The Solitary Reader

A grey day, rain bringing thoughts of death in Bombay.
Meetings ahead, morons a-waiting.

I wish ...