Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Afterwards, the history books quietly tapered
references to it to paragraph mentions or less –
though an eminent name had once laboured
two decades over a work of crushing dryness,
a commissioned job that suffered from an excess
of statistic. But he was much favoured.

The later chroniclers, however, didn’t err
in their parsimony: they merely mapped
words on to public memory, as it were.
The frugality was no more than apt
for an empire’s demise while it napped,
and its foes made the most of its slumber.

Yet there were portents long before the fated
dismemberment. Sadly, the few who saw them
went unheard, unheeded; their voices grated
against the stern chorus of the anthem,
the lumpen Gloria they couldn’t stem.
Hubris soared. Patiently, nemesis waited.

The enemy cared little. With no past
nor glory to weigh it down, it went
openly about, colours nailed to the mast,
unwavering of intent;
while from afar rattled Neros sent
vain shibboleths to the outclassed.

In the end the Cassandras were proved right,
if only Pyrrhically. All the doom
foretold came to pass, as the final blight
descended in crepuscular gloom,
and sombre conclaves met to decide whom
to blame for the dominion’s shambled plight.

Little left now, little worthy of recall.
A few toothless proconsuls survive,
with bleached memories, versions of the fall:
blind to the last, they still connive
at lies they keep doggedly alive.
An aqueduct mocks; elsewhere a derelict wall.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Cultural Awards? It's All a Cultural Thing, Isn't It?

Cultural awards? makes me think. A post I had made on a literary network made me gloat a bit. What isn't cultural these days. We are swamped by cultural shows, dance shows, award shows, all these have the same set of beautiful culture-vulture people smiling for the crowds, that's us, the receipients of culture.

A newspapers (I think the Guardian) called the Booker Award as a cultural award. If a certain author wins the award several times over the years, it mean the award is cultural. It's so natural. When the judges sit to confer an award, they say, "Oh, so and so is excellent in this novel. The also rans lack the touch of this genius, besides it is safe and politically correct." The publishing industry minders, the leeches who live sucking blood from the system are also happy as it helps with sales. The many deserving writers, who should have won an award, or been given a break in writing, don't get a foot in the door. The ones who are queueing after them, well, forget them.

Likewise if an actor, say Shahrukh Khan win the Filmfare Best Actor award five times, then it is more a cultural award. It shows the "industry" is in awe of him, his dimples, his acting prowess, his promotional skills. Those four awards out of five could have gone to more deserving debutants. But, no, it's a cultural thing, isn't it? We have a lot of talented actors who aren't recognized. Arjun Ramphal for one. I have admired his skills for long, and he manages to hold on, but never wins an, erm, cultural award. Is it that he is a bit reluctant to cultivate the culture vultures?

This fame business, methinks, works like a conveyor belt. If the top ones don't fall from the belt the smaller ones do. If the top ones don't gracefull exit the small ones don't make an entry. So the ones on the top make every effort to stay on top, or, sort of jam the movement of the belt, and that's a cultural thing. Merit gets side tracked for popularity and visibility.

The same thing happens I guess in matters literary. Poor writers (such as the humble me) have been trying in vain to get established writers to recommend their (our) work. This is established practice. Where would RK Narayan be without Graham Greene? Where would Arundhati Roy be without Pankaj Mishra? But, no, how could they? What would people think? How can they recommend a writer who may be a dud or a future competitor when they themselves are so desperately sucking up to the system? Make it a leeetle difficult for them, or, better ignore them, they would naturally fall off the conveyor belt soon.

Ranjit Bolt, a translator of classical European theatre who lives in the UK gives another jolt to the Booker as culture discussion by the statement that being brown helps to win the Booker. More the reason to believe that the Booker is indeed a culture award. Political correctness would have it that the awards go to the previously oppressed classes, incarcerated in their color, wanting desperately to come out. But Bolt forgets that one must be brown and female to win culture awards. Aw, look at Arundhati, Jhumpa and, now, Kiran. What flawless skin, what smiles, what teeth. But that is the cribbing of an unpublished, grumpy author.

If culture is what awards are all about society is also not far behind. Kalimpong has raised the flag of revolt claiming that it has been wrongly represented by Kiran, and likewise Brick Lane. Who says novels are for woolly headed nerds? Shows that people do take novels seriously. But the culture-vultures of the genteel literary world meet in discreet eating houses in New York and New Delhi and exchange notes on who is "cool" and who is not. What styles could likely win culture awards and what styles are most likely not.

These self-appointed guardians of culture can be seen everywhere. At award shows, art shows, movie shows baring their fangs (sorry, teeth). Visibility is what they are after. And the media, ever in awe of the Page 3 culture is only too willing to oblige. Culture rules, long live culture!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Do You Believe It?

“Three in one, three in one. Three movies for the price of one.”

He looks tired, his hair has not been dyed for a long time, white strands show under the black color that has been washed away. His voice grates. The evening is hot. The junction is clamoring with vehicles.

Pakya spits, drinks the glass of water in the smudged tumbler, gargles. Sweat beads, and drips inside his shirt.

“Which picture?”

“Loot Gayee Laila, Don, and Unkahee Chahat.”


“It’s a hit. Laila’s honor has been looted. Genuine movie, what acting, just like real.”

“How much?” Pakya asked.

“Rupees fifteen for three movies, aree, baap, no sisterfucking theater will show you three movies. This Javed Kanya guarantees.”

There’s a poster of Amitabh Bachhan and Zeenat Aman, stars of Don, and a lurid poster of Loot Gayee Laila. Laila shows a lot of smooth, chubby thighs, and a heavy bosom. It is dark and Pakya can’t see too well. The tea stall is clamoring with people sipping tea. A stove hisses below a steaming vessel, the stall-owner adds to the cacophony by banging his ladle loudly on it.

Should he go in? The so-called theatre is in a slum, there is a dark room that opens through what can be called a door, some seedy looking characters lounge near the door, suspiciously looking like murderers or rapists or both.

Pakya takes the glass of tea and sips it, downing it with the slow deliberation that wants to make the sweetness last.

The night is young and Pakya badly wants something to happen. That would include a visit to the dance bar, which is expensive, or this dingy, ugly little room in a slum that shows X-rated movies for Rs fifteen on a big LCD screen.

But he doesn’t like the look of Javed Kanya, who is dressed in white shirt and trousers, which were white once. That was long ago. Now it is a shade of brown. He is one-eyed, he squints. His long-sleeved shirt isn’t buttoned. The shirt front is open and the sleeves flaps about as he moves. His mouth is masticating betel nut, and when he speak the red juice runs down the corners of his mouth.

“Don, we are showing the old Don, starring Amitabh Bachhan, not the new Don, starring Sharukh Khan, baap,” he wipes his mouth with his hand, and afterwards scoops his private parts with the same hands and kneads them, balls and all. He shifts his hands and legs around a lot, in a sort of filmy style.

“What’s the difference between that Don and this Don?” Pakya asks.

“Old Don, Amitabh Bachhan, new Don, Sharukh Khan. What is Amitabh? What is Sharukh?” He ends his sentence with a derogatory lowering of his jaw.


Pakya looks at the inviting posters and imagines the bliss of seeing it all. At least the mystery of Laila’s taut thighs and bosom would be solved when he sees her on screen. Pakya drools. The sensation of lust passes down his head to his toes, pausing at his crotch. He craves some entertainment, the crasser the better. His works in an automobile spare parts shop doesn’t offer him any satisfaction. He is constantly fetching parts for his corpulent boss who sits, and sits the whole day smoking, and ordering him around. The work frustrates him so much that he needs to escape every evening.

“Make up your mind fast, fast. What? Or, you won’t even get a ticket for Rupees Thirty. This Don is the best movie every produced. I can dare anyone to contradict me. Even our real-life Don grew up on this movie.”

“Which real-life Don?”

“Arree, what Don, you don’t know. He grew up here. Have you ever heard of Chota Chetan?”

“Arre, that Don? Who doesn’t? What, you know him?” Pakya is amazed. Chota Chetan is the country most wanted man.

“Know him? We played cricket together, he and I. We sold tickets in black market together. We were close buddies once.”

“And you?”

“Fate. He makes movies now. He controls a criminal empire. I am still a hustler of movie tickets. He sits abroad, I am here.”

So sad. But he could be lying.

“I don’t believe you.”

“Believe it or not, it’s your choice. Tell me do you want tickets, kali fokat, don’t be too smart, what?”

He turns away to hustle some more.

“Hey Kanya, I will buy your ticket, huhn? But tell me your story. I mean, your story and Chota Chetan’s,” Pakya beckons.


Pakya hands him the money. Kanya wets his fingers with spit, tears a ticket and gives it. There’s a long time for the show to start. The evening is getting warmer. It must be hot inside the theatre.

“Then listen. First buy me half a glass of cutting tea.”

Pakya looks at his face, a million finely etched wrinkles crowd it like spider webs. He has only a few teeth left in his mouth, his speech is rough, disjointed.

“He and I were friends,” he says blowing into his tea, “why, we are friends even now. If he came here we would have a drink. He is from these parts, we grew up together, played cricket together.”

“Really?” Pakya is incredulous. His mouth hangs open. He had only read about Chota Chetan’s exploits from newspapers and television channels. That this ruin of a man knows, or knew, the real Don, the real real Don, not the Don of the films, fascinates him.

“Yes. And we sold tickets of the old movie Don together at the local theatre.”

“What does he look like?”

Javed Kanya tries to remember, but his memory isn’t that sharp. He wipes his mouth with his sleeve and leaves a long stain on it.

“Short, long hair just like you. He always used to toss it off his eyes. And yes he used to walk very fast, his rubber slippers flopping after him.”

“How did he become so big a Don and you are left in this dump?” Pakya asks motioning towards the dilapidated theatre made of tin sheets. Some Hindi music plays inside. It seems odd, but life can be odd.

“I can make a picture with that story. Tell you a secret? Chota Chetan was inspired by this movie Don, the old Amitabh Bachhan movie, I mean.”

“How? You mean the movie Don created a Don in real life? You mean he became a gangster because of this movie? Tell me how.” Pakya asks incredulously, his jaws dropping further.

“Listen, words have power, they are sharper than any knife, can penetrate you more than any bullet. Javed Kanya knows.”

“You think I am a chootiya, a fool to believe you?”

“Abey, don’t call me Chootiya, what?”

Then Pakya remembers he is a friend of the real Don, and shuts himself up and listens.

“Those days… what a life we had. We were only small children, innocent of the ways of the world. We thought selling tickets in black was fun. Chota Cheta was a youngster like you. We did it for want of something to do. Just like that. It would fetch some money to buy clothes, a bike, and we could see movies for free.”

He is silent for a long time. The clamor of traffic around the junction is getting louder. More people are anxiously gathering around the theatre. Javed Kanya seems too engrossed in his story to care.

“We used to sit in the back rows and whistle and clap as Amitabh came on screen. Chetan would be too engrossed in the movie. His eyes would light up, he would jump on his seat, clap, whistle, and throw money at his hero. He was a bit too involved. Remember I told you words have power. ”

Finally, Kanya drank what was left of the tea and spat on the road.

“You know this dialogue, ‘Don ko pakadna mushkil hi nahi namumkin hai’? To catch the Don is not only difficult, it is impossible.”

“Yes. That’s my favorite dialogue.”

“His favorite dialogue too. Those words… that snatch of movie dialog… they have such power… it was written by fire in his soul. He has been on the run for so long and believes nobody can catch him, not his enemies, not the police. I doubt if they ever will. I know him.”

“Aree, your mother’s! What are you talking?”

“Yes. Only he believed in those words so strongly, so strongly, they have tried everything, the police, his enemies, the Interpol, the spy rings, they still can’t arrest him.”

“What? I can’t believe it. A mere dialog of a movie can’t turn a middle-class boy into one of the country’s biggest criminals.”

“Believe it or not, it’s up to you. But this is his story. He believed. I didn’t believe in anything. That’s why I am here, and he is where he is. Now I have to go, got to sell more tickets.”

He ambled away, a broken, decrepit aging man, his hair like wisps of candy floss.


After the movie Pakya looked around for Javed Kanya. He was there lolling against the makeshift table that had a cash box and a bossy-looking man sitting in a plastic chair.

“Do you believe me now?” Kanya asked.

“No, I still can’t,” Pakya says shaking his head. He could never believe that a mere movie - floating pictures and dialogues on a screen - can create a real life criminal as powerful as Chota Chetan.

But who knows? He is one of the disbelievers like Javed Kanya here who don’t believe in anything, and drift aimlessly as a leaf in the monsoon wind.

“Disbelief cannot alter the truth,” Kanya says wistfully. The night is hot as Pakya walks home. He fervently hopes he isn’t inspired too much by the movie to become a criminal.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


“The only person KVK doesn’t know is himself probably.”

- Colleague at work to others, in response to an apropos remark of mine.


He’s profoundly unaware of what he’s said.
He’s part of what I call canaille, not my kind;
I indulge his inane jokes and grin
inanely back, hiding distaste behind
a forbearance wearing tiresomely thin.
But this once I widen my eyes instead,

stopped short by the remark’s unwitting truth:
“Out of the mouths of babes” – the image
sits grotesquely with his frame,
and is quickly discarded as sacrilege.
Still, wondering whence his wisdom came
(for the chap is nothing if not uncouth),

I essay a tentative bow, an awkward nod
at humility. Uncondescending, I pat his back,
smiling more at circumstance than at him,
while he, confused, senses a different tack,
mumbles a thanks, ascribes no doubt to whim
this strange indulgence (distinctly odd),

and moves on to wonted worlds where he’s
at home. Alone again, I take two drags, flick
the butt in an arc, missing the bin…Damn.
Somehow never quite learnt that trick –
as indeed many another, making me what I am,
whatever that may be or is.