Tuesday, September 26, 2006


No willed or ordained martyrdom awaits us.
Yet the end must seem the same, swift
with swords or stretched to common tedium:
laboured prize or relenting gift.
Only the silence sports a rarer idiom,
a canonical gloss that separates us.

You die as you live, in the bored channel
of your use, with neither royal favour,
nor fated fallout of its frown –
no subject for the engraver,
or hallowed mascot for a town.
Nor – least of all – a stained-glass panel.


Monday, September 25, 2006

The Amitava Kumar - Salman Rushdie Controversy

Read this article on Amitava Kumar's Blog. Can't say that I agree with him totally, being a die-hard fan of Rushdie. But, it now turns out that Rusdie has, some how, read Kumar's blog articles (some excerpts follow) and has threatened to cancel a lecture at Vassar College if he was introduced to the audience by Amitava. This may have the potential of blooming into a full-fledged literary controversy, me thinks.

"What Rushdie did was not exactly new in Indian writing in other languages or even in Indian drama, but its intensity and range was novel in the tradition of English writing that had been inaugurated by the likes of R.K. Narayan, Raja Rao, and Mulk Raj Anand. In a land allegedly in thrall to babu English, here was someone who was having fun with the English language. Reading him was a bit like coming across a giant ad for Amul butter on an Indian street—except that Rushdie was in command and kept doing it for five hundred pages."

"The trouble is that despite all his invention and exuberance Rushdie remains to a remarkable extent an academic writer. He is academic in that abstractions rule over his narratives. They determine the outlines of his characters, their faces, and their voices. Rushdie is also academic in the sense that his rebellions and his critiques are all securely progressive ones, advancing the causes that the intelligentsia, especially the left-liberal Western intelligentsia, holds close to its breast. This is not a bad thing, but it should qualify one's admiration for Rushdie's daring."

"There can be no doubt that the threats that Rushdie faced and also the book-burnings and other protests were shameful and unacceptable. But I do not for a moment support Norman Mailer's assessment (Norman Mailer wrote Rusdie after the Fatwa "Many of us begin writing with the inner temerity that if we keep searching for the most dangerous of our voices, why then, sooner or later we will outrage something very fundamental in the world, and our lives will be in danger. That is what I thought when I started out, and so have many others, but you, however, are the only one of us who gave proof that this intimation is not ungrounded."). I don't believe that Rushdie has even found his most dangerous voice. In fact, I don't believe that Rushdie's is the most dangerous voice writing today. His is no doubt a powerful voice; often, it has been an oppositional voice; but it is a voice of a celebrity promoting commendable causes; more seriously, in some fundamental way, it is the voice of a metaphorical outsider, and therefore incapable of revealing to ourselves, in an intimate way, our complicities, our contradictions, and our own inescapable horror. I don't deny that it is a voice that can engage and delight and of course annoy, and yet it is very important to make a distinction: what Rushdie writes can easily provoke, but it is rarely able to disturb."

Kumar's grouse seems to be that Rusdie is being used as a milestone in Indian English literature as when we say "he writes like Rushdie" and "he doesn't write like Rushdie." But Rusdie opened the gates to the flood (or is it a trickle?) that followed, didn't he? Admittedly Rusdie criticized and parodied Indian life for a western audience, but he did it with considerable charm and wit and even we tend to nod our heads and smile when we read what Kumar calls "academic" writing. Here's what Rushdie says about migration, as quoted by Kumar, "To migrate is certainly to lose language and home, to be defined by others, to become invisible or, even worse, a target; it is to experience deep changes and wrenches in the soul. But the migrant is not simply transformed by his act; he also transforms his new world. Migrants may well become mutants, but it is out of such hybridization that newness can emerge."

I have underlined "invisible" because in "Midnight's Children" he calls the people who live beyond posh Neapean Sea Road area in Bombay as "Invisible People," or the migrant people. This is something I can identify with as I am of second generation migrant stock, living as invisible people in an extended suburb of Bombay. Here's a poem I wrote in my blog about how indigenous people hate migrants.
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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Reality Show to Sell a Book? Quite possible!

Saw the James McGreevey interview with Larry King on CNN. Now, for those who came in late, James is the former governor of New Jersey who has made a public admission to having a homosexual affair and to having cheated on his wife, as a consequence of which he had to give up his office. He has also come up with a book on the affair titled "The Confession" and may, me thinks, have been desperate to get publicity for the book. The confession includes trysts in anonymous truck stops, crawling into bed with his wife after escapades with his boy friend, etc.

What I found unusual was the handsome McGreevey was squirming in his seat while answering King's pointed and, rather, blunt questions. Several times he fumbled for answers, and on occasions he seemed as if he wasn't telling the truth, at least, fudging some. Larry King asked him if he had sexual encounters before his marriage, and he said, "yes," the next question was, "was it pleasurable?" What does he mean by asking if a sexual encounter was pleasurable? Why would he go for an encounter if it wasn't pleasurable. Come, come, now, Larry King!

To make matters worse there were also interviews with his cheated wife, and his boyfriend (no, he says, life partner), whom he kissed on the show. Yes, kissed on the mouth! All through the interview I was conscious of a brave show being put up, all that was wrong with such displays became quite obvious. I mean, the reality television kind of programs showing people embarassed, crying, shouting, and kissing.

I felt that this was the movie trailer to goad people to buy the book in millions to delve into the secret life of the handsome governor. Also, who knows, movie rights, and may be, a movie role (seeing as to how handsome he is!). Oh, the pits to which people can descend!

I may be terribly old fashioned (my blog says so), not to talk of getting old, but couldn't these emotions be handled a bit more discreetly? All through the show the interlocutor Larry King had a cynical set to his mouth, and conducted the interview with great detachment, as is his wont. But all this drama to sell a book? If this genre of publishing is so desperate to sell their books, then why don't they call themselves "The Celebrity Business" and not publishing at all.
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Monday, September 18, 2006



Oh! Beirut,
Nameless, faceless,
Besieged, bombed,
Occupied by militias, armies,
It's unbelievable, once,
You were the Paris of the East.

Now you are rubble,
Bombed debris,
Lying in a mangled haze,
Your hospices filled with the dying,
Death still waits at your doorsteps,
After the Jordanians,
Syrians and Israelites have gone.

The Cedars of Lebanon are bereft,
Alleys are filled with twisted steel,
Your people are not given -
A chance to survive, make peace.
In you there are enemy streets,
Where children fear to walk,
Afraid of hidden gunmen.

Will you rise from this debris?
Rebuild your proud monuments,
And foliate your naked Cedars,
With the leaves of verdant summer,
In the shades of which women don't wail,
Of kidnappings, shootings, and ransoms,
And of crazed, fervent militias,
Of which they are no part.

Oh! Beirut, Oh! Beirut, I mourn you!

Beirut was once known as the Paris of the East. No more. Now, militaries of Israel, Syria and Jordan enter and leave it at their whim. Its streets are full of bombed buildings and its citizens live in fear of being killed. This is a poem to its brave inhabitants. "Cedars of Lebanon" is a reference to a passage in the Bible.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A Day in the Life of Me, Myself!

This is a scenario I wrote today, just common events from my life. I might use this in a short story or novel, in future. So do not discount its literary value. Ahem!

Today is Saturday and I am thinking of finishing some work. I thought it was romantic, working in my pajamas and round neck tee-shirt working when you feel like, that is, until this morning.

Then they had to spoil it all. My neighbor is getting his house re-constructed. Re-construction is a harmless word when he is breaking it down with sledge hammers, and most of the debris is falling on my house with thuds the equivalent of minor bomb explosions, or, earthquakes. The houses in Artist Village, are independent dacha-type houses, which were constructed by a government housing scheme, and are packed too close for comfort.

Now something like a war is going on with frequent unannounced masonry falling on my house. "Oh, God," I say and run out and shout at the workers, who, are, huh, workers. For some time the earthquakes stop. They do what they are told to do. And my neighbor is nowhere in sight. See, he has moved to safe environs already. Good!

And then they resume all over again. Then I again run out and shout. Then they commiserate. And this goes on for some time, till the power goes off. I sit fretting in the dark with the debris of my despondency falling over me, darkly maligning. No, I won't ask, "Why does this happen to me? How can I get my work done?" No, that would be taking it badly.

Then I go to get some bank work done. The day is sunny and hot and sweltering, and I put on my dark, "cooling" glasses. The bank is crowded, and there's another bank I have to visit nearby to finish my transaction – actually I am making a draft to pay my son's yearly college fees. The deposit in this bank isn't enough to cover the transaction. So I have to withdraw money from another bank account across the street and come back. I didn't know that I hadn't eaten and suddenly hunger pangs strike.

I walk into a South Indian restaurant and am served by a nondescript uniformed waiter who reels off a variety of dosas from memory. I decide to have a Masala Dosa, which, I think, would be filling. Then I turn around and there is a family of beggars, the type who appeal to your religiosity to make a living, sitting next to me and eating rather boisterously. Food is spooned into wide open jaws, and the mastication is done in between loud talking. I find this particularly nauseating, eat my dosa, and leave.

At the other bank, a sales spiel keeps me engrossed. They have a unit-linked plan that would give me a pension for life, provided I invest around Rs 1.5 million now. Imagine having that kind of liquid cash lying around, I smirk, while coolly watching the earnest salesman making his pitch. Then I say I will consider his offer, and leave.

Then I take a rickshaw to the other bank with all the money for my son's fees and a helpful girl who hardly glances at me makes the draft. That done, I decide to visit an old church acquaintance who is indisposed and has been ordered rest. He and I have worked in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and we talk about old times. I guess company would keep him engaged.

And then it begins to pour, and pour. "Thulavarsham," he says listening to the rolling thunder. "Yes," I say, "It is thulavarsham, the rain that falls around the month of "Thulam." We speak of human foibles, church politics, and a priest who isn't as holy as I had considered him. Who is?

On the journey back, I am totally drenched by the downpour and my umbrella offers no solace. The sunny afternoon has transformed into a dark, menacing, darkly forbidding rainy evening. There are gangs of youngsters, college kids, at the bus stop. They talk and laugh loudly, wearing their unwashed jeans that have these ugly pockets, bulging out at the most unimaginable of places. I am wearing cargo trousers, but, it has pockets at the logical locations on both sides. I notice that they all have long hair, and acne on their faces. I too have long hair!

End of scenario.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Booker Short List is Up!

The booker short list is up. Kiran Desai made it for "The Inheritance of Loss." Those who made it:

"The six books shortlisted by a panel of judges are: "In the Country of Men," Hisham Matar's semi-autobiographical first novel about childhood in Moammar Gadhafi's Libya; "The Secret River," Kate Grenville's tale of life in an Australian penal colony; "The Night Watch," British writer Sarah Waters' novel about characters whose fates intertwine during World War II; "The Inheritance of Loss," Indian writer Kiran Desai's cross-continental saga set in New York and India; "Carry Me Down," the story of an unusual boy, by Irish-Australian novelist M.J. Hyland; and "Mother's Milk," a portrait of a rich but dysfunctional family by English writer Edward St. Aubyn."

Those who didn't make it:

"Some of the biggest names on the 19-book longlist did not make the cut, including David Mitchell, whose "Black Swan Green" had been a favorite, and Australia's Peter Carey, a two-time Booker winner longlisted for "Theft: A Love Story." Andrew O'Hagan's "Be Near Me," another critical favorite, also was omitted."
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Sunday, September 03, 2006


“Your pressure’s fine,” the doctor says,
unwrapping the velcro. A ritual for a fever,
and I’m done. “How’s the sugar?” he grins –
an old joke, knowing I don’t much give a
damn one way or other. “Paying for my sins
Doc,” I smile back, “you know my ways!”

We go through this vaudeville, he and I,
each time some nuisance knocks me flat.
He writes his stuff, I do mine, both assured
in our certitudes, both aware of what we’re at.
It’s been long enough for us to be inured.
Well… at least it’s a harmless enough lie.


Saturday, September 02, 2006

Munnabhai MBBS (MMBBS) and Rang de Basanti (RDB) – Flawed Beyond Recompense

Both are, in a manner of speaking, super-duper hits. Both are targeted at the Indian youth and makes pretenses to be different cinema. Both have captured the imagination of the Indian youth who swear by the originality of both movies, not realizing that both movies are flawed beyond recompense, at least, to me, a minority of one.

RDB was shown on Independence Day, probably to incite patriotic feeling in citizens. Patriotism? Is killing your own father – as one of the protagonists does, although, the subject is a corrupt politician – patriotism? The message here is that murder is good and that would include parricide. Are we back in the dark ages? Amir Khan in a scene from the film is clearly shown giving money to a policeman to stay off a fight that his friends had started. The message here is that bribery is also very good and worth emulating.

In another scene which I found very objectionable, the character played by Amir Khan is shown standing on a high wall bending backwards and drinking beer, a hit song sequence, I guess. Drinking while bending backwards down into a precipitous pond is a juvenile and dangerous exercise for a youth, of that everyone is aware. But the movie is absolutely insouciant about the wrong images it is sending to the youth. Firstly, the impression created is that drinking is good, and drinking and doing risky things are even better.

What sort of message does this convey to the youth? I will summarize: Parricide is good, bribery is good, drinking and doing foolish stunts is good. How can such a movie not even be panned by critics who rave about its great qualities and even confer awards on it? How can a censor board – which has been constituted for this purpose – not object, at least, where the politician is shown as being bad and killed by his own son?

There are many more flaws in this supposedly youth cult film which I am not mentioning here. One of them is lewd remarks made to a white girl which she cannot understand. It is clear that there is sexual harassment involved. The movie left a bad taste in my mouth. Are our youth so cynical as to applaud all these bad qualities in themselves? The stereotype here is youth of the north somewhere around the Punjab. Do they behave so grossly, if so, what can the nation expect from these citizens? Peace or violence?

This is over the top, way too exaggerated, and made with a view to appeal to the baser instincts of viewers. Is it an ironic reflection of the state we are in that this movie is a huge hit?

Here's another flawed film that is a super box-office hit. Here the protagonists are Central Indians, most notably Bambaiya, and talk the language of the Bombay hoodlums. The character played by Sanjay Dutt is admitted to a medical degree college to train as a doctor. There is a shortage of bodies to be dissected and the hoodlum phones his sidekick to bring him a body from somewhere. The sidekick played by Harshad Warsi clobbers and kidnaps an oriental-looking man and brings him to the dissecting table.

Okay, okay, what went wrong here? Raju Hirani, in an interview said the film portrays some of the problems that MBBS students face during their training. Yes, there is a shortage of bodies in medical colleges, but, can it be solved by clobbering a foreign-looking oriental and bringing him to the laboratory in a sack? Again, what message are you sending across Raju Hirani?

Munnabhai doesn't know a single letter in the proverbial three "r's", even to spell or sign his own name and forces a doctor to impersonate him in the medical college entrance examination. And, surprise, surprise, he is admitted. He is doing all this to take revenge for some slight against his family's honor. Message: cheating in exams is good for your family honor.

The irony doesn't end there. Munnabhai becomes a doctor in the end. That means cheating, lying, impersonating, threatening teachers; all are accepted behavior in Indian medical colleges. Believe me when I say freaky messages are being conveyed here, messages full of bitterness, insubordination, deprivation, and the use of violence.

Would the people of India trust the medical fraternity after seeing such gross exaggerations of their profession? Why didn't they speak out? Is that again an indication of some malaise at the root of the medical system that extracts millions of rupees from students seeking admission into medical colleges?

And this film too is a box office hit. It raked in enough cash to encourage the director to make a sequel with the same theme. The sequel goes a bit further and hints that hoodlums should be treated on the level of national figures – with pictures of them printed on currency notes. What an insult to the nation's leadership! I can only say, what guts and gumption these directors exhibit to the public, and that when it comes to exaggerations Indian films recognize no boundaries.

As they say, "Whither, Indian Cinema?"
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