Tuesday, December 09, 2008

two worlds in one city

i remember when there was just the times of india, when it's moron-like obsession with the rich was beginning to grate on my nerves. after feeling like a shredded cabbage in pain for the longest time, i switched to the indian express which was kind of substantial but still a bit thin for my taste. i used to rant against newspapers at large. i still do, but now i have a choice - all papers have their problems, but at least the Hindustan Timeses and the Indian Expresses of the world offer deeper stories.

i never thought i'd find my peace with newspapers, but in the face of the annoying, grubby faces of arnav goswami, his lizard henchman (you know the thin, fair guy, i never seem to catch his name), barkha dutt and the like, print - whatever it says - seems a lot more comforting, inclusive and thoughtful.

and then you come across something like this; something that sorts of puts its finger exactly where your pulse is pounding, and you thank the good lord for newspapers.

though we watched the program with daft wanker simi garewal mentioned below and saw her saying all this, there was nothing we could do except stare open-mouthedly. and wonder why no one from the audience or panel jumped up and pulled her by her hair-sprayed bouffant till she shrieked. well, trust a paper to find the space to do so nicely, politely, crisply.

over to mukul kesavan, in an article for The Telegraph called: The Mumbai tragedy and the English language news media:

“Go to the Four Seasons and look down from the top floor at the slums around you. Do you know what flags you will see? Not the Congress’s, not the BJP’s, not the Shiv Sena’s. Pakistan! Pakistani flags fly high!... You know what I think? We should carpet-bomb Pakistan. That’s the only way we can give a clear message.”

Simi Garewal later apologized for this little outburst on the television show, We, the People. She said she had mistaken Muslim flags for Pakistani ones. She had a harder time explaining away her ‘carpet bombing’ prescription. She claimed that she had meant to suggest a covert attack like the below-the-radar missions Americans so often undertake in Pakistan’s borderlands. Carpet-bombing is hard to do discreetly, but we shouldn’t make too much of this because the point isn’t Simi Garewal and her gaffe: it’s the way the English language news media covered the Mumbai tragedy.

The idiom of the coverage of the terror attack on Mumbai was in part shaped by the need to say something, anything, in the face of horror and evil. The need to voice not just their own feelings but the need to be a proxy for the People, to anticipate and echo a public revulsion, seemed to overwhelm reporters and studio anchors...

...it's fantastically-written and there's more here.

kiran nagarkar also wrote about the skewedness of the reportage that he sensed sitting in germany, where none of the international media seemed worried about anything other than white people in big hotels. nowhere did he find figures or details about CST and the poor or middle class who were being felled there like flies. well, the world is obsessed with white people, just as we seem to be with our rich, beautiful and famous.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

is it just me?

am i really the only one grossed out by the media frenzy over the terror attacks? i get the feeling that the old and the breathless - the barkha dutts and the arnav goswamis and all the other little idiot tiddlywinks - really are getting their collective knickers in a twist simply to justify their fat salaries finally. it's mind-bendingly sad and gross and tacky and just somehow so immature.
so bad, in fact, that the govt's finally seemed to notice and has asked for them to stop repeating footage of the attacks aimlessly (today's hindustan times, front page and page 6). i expect the media to go a bit off-centre, to look under the obvious, to somehow be a bit liberal, a bit thoughful. but they've turned out to be real jokers and vultures this time, literally using this whole incident to up their precious trp's.
gouri was asked by some pakistani left-leaning friends as to why the indian media seemed to toe the govt. line so obsessively; why did there seem no independent thinking almost? she felt like replying - and rightly so - that the govt. didn't seem to have as much of 'line' as the media, which seemed to be playing judge and jury in this rather sensitive case.
friends who went to the rally at the gateway said that the only sad thing was the amount of anti-pak feeling and sloganeering. it was overwhelming to see the collection of so many people without an obvious political focus (though the rss types were there too), but with a deep underlying sense of sorrow, anger and disappointment; but it was also scary to see how top-of-mind war was.
this is totally a product of how the tv channels have swung it for us. they've made pakistan and its establishment out to be so evil that if you're watching tv for a lot of time, like many people are, it's easy to get swallowed by their jingoistic tirades. there is total anarchy - here as well as there. how would fighting a war between states help? i really don't know what the way out is, but i do know for sure that if there is a popular push for war, the tv channels are to blame.
here's something small by my favourite author amitav ghosh on the subject.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

he's coming, he's coming. oh darn. he's not...

some days back, these obscene posters were put up all over chembur. huge hoardings for the bhoomipujan of the chembur-sandhurst rd monorail link. they bore pix of manmohan singh, sonia, gurudas kamat AND a big shiny unbelievable long, whizzy and phallic-looking monorail train. each poster had a different monorail train from the other, depending on the ingenuity of the dtp guy and which country his photostock-cd came from. one was yellow, another was red, a third was white and blue. all had 'chembur' written on the train. one was morphed on to an actual flyover above the market - and the flyover was labelled 'chembur railway station'. yeah, right. the gandhi maidan had been cleaned, grilled and painted, roads around it freshly paved (three in all), the footpath blessed with paver blocks that actually fit.

and now, all that is over. without even a whisker of our dear pm's beard landing at the domestic airport. nearly all the posters have come down. luckily the roads and footpaths haven't been dug up yet in a fit of civic pique. what saddens me is the overall ad-hoc-ism and expeditiousness of our approach to everything. i think this marks and mars each of our institutions, our responses and our processes.

the pm is coming, so quick, patch up roads on his route. don't do anything about the bad roads all over chembur in general (forget about the rest of mumbai); the broken paver blocks that people trip on; the homeless slum dwellers struggling in mandala; the noxious dumping ground in deonar and the colonies next door; a simple thing like the rusted, broken play equipment in diamond garden and other public parks - and so much more. i'm only talking about a few of the issues in our part of chembur because it strikes me as funny how even in this tiny microcosmic area, the pm's visit-that-wasn't did not bring anything more some pots of paint, and repairs to three roads.

this ad-hoc band-aid type approach of ours is everywhere. amit's mns friend was telling him about the numerous people he saw dying at cst when he happened to be there that fatal night - the cop, a friend of his, who told him to stay inside the chowky and stepped out only to be shot instantly; the street child who took a bullet to his brain; the overworked cop who wrote 600 panchnamas in one night and got them photocopied at his own cost (i believe cops have to do this, only to be reimbursed - sort of - when they retire. no wonder they are easily bribed); of the rusty jammed revolvers our cops use (and we all know about the hockey-goalkeeper-type bullet-proof shields they are given, don't we?). his stories are profoundly moving. and i wonder if he sees the irony in all this. just last month the mns was holding the city to ransom - beating up people, killing them. it was interesting to watch an interview with Mr Zende, the vt station announcer who saved many lives. his hindi-speaking UP colleague was with him that night, and while zende spoke, he switched off the lights in time and helped the continued broadcast of messages. NOW do parties which polarize people - the mns and the shiv-sena-bjp - see how stupid and petty they are? will the bjp ever see how myopic it was and is? how religion, ethnicity, language - nothing in the end is more valuable than or matters more than human life? and how easy it is - when you're having a good time kicking someone small - for a larger boot to find you and kick your head in?

i doubt that would have been top-of-mind when advani, munde and modi zipped to their various assignations in mumbai on what, the day after the attacks? they stood outside the oberoi and the chhabad house looking like idiots and daft wankers, causing near-riots. but votes are all, right? and what about so-pretty-it-hurts rahul gandhi who spent the whole of thursday - 8 hours of the actual hostage crisis day - at some party where among other things, cricket was played? wow.

another example of our immaturity is the rash of vaguely unsettling sms's doing the rounds - the anti-raj thackeray ones specifically. i hate the thackerays as much as the next rational person. but that message had this weird, sinister quality to it - it was annoyingly petty where it could have been a lot more profound. as if the mumbai cops (marathi or otherwise) who fought valiantly to reduce the damage - some of who died doing it - didn't count; that somehow being 'sons of the soil', they were simply cannon-fodder. i mean how small is that. why must we - in our attempts to be witty - sink to the level of idiots?

though i've totally rationed my tv-viewing, i watched a bit of times now last night, and the channel's coverage had me shaken. another instance of how quickly and easily we resort to wrong-doing. they seem to have 'exclusive' coverage of kasav the terrorist's confession and some more 'exclusive' cctv footage of the cst shooting. tell me, did all of that come for free? no bribery happened to oil that footage, those words out of there? now isn't corrupting officals for the sake of trp's expeditious and wrong? doesn't it ease the way for the next set of bribers to come in? the tone of their reportage as well - i think arnav goswami is a self-righteous little prig, but that fair, gaunt guy they have? he sounds a 100% bigot, and simply way he spoke could bring up the communal pitch. he went on and on and on about 'madrassas spewing hate' so much that i wanted to ask him if he'd heard of the rss.

the whole of our terror porn - starting with our dear star-struck cm - frightens me. when the nsg guys were requesting tv channels not to show their strategies on air, these same self-righteous announcers didn't care to respond. and they kept showing stuff - never forgetting to add those magic words 'exclusively brought to you by your channel, ...' - in this breathless, semi-orgasmic way. it all shows me that between our daft politicians and our trp-hungry channels, we haven't a hope.

the few things that do give me hope are peoples' reactions, the anger of the bereaved. Mrs Karkare's refusal of modi's tainted bucks, for one, and Sandeep Unnikrishnan's father yelling at the kerala cm (i mean, it doesn't get more humiliating in malayalam than poda patti). it's that pitch of post-bereavement rage, when your loss is so huge that even the smallest thing will drive you to anger beyond despair - the white-hot fury when you feel that with everything gone, you have nothing left to lose. i know because i felt it 8 and a half months back.

there's no hope for us, really. not unless someone funnels some wisdom into our heads in small trickles.

or does an obama on us.

(ps: after i posted this, i read paro's piece, and i think it says a lot that i felt as well but couldn't articulate... please to read. also look at the first post - her friend's comments on what she feels is wrong with the media. very taut and again, manages to focus my anger the way i couldn't!)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Holy Cow - Shooting with Paul Merton in Junagadh

Last March I worked on the now-infamous British documentary series Paul Merton in India. The most talked-about, debated and hated/loved story in the show was Paul visiting Junagadh, a town in Saurashtra, Gujarat. Lots of Hindu groups and individuals in the UK found the story on Naga Sadhus at the Shivratri festival offensive and insulting to the Hindu faith. Read the comments here on the Telegraph site and here on the Hindu Voice site.
Lots of Desis in the UK, stuck in the typical NRI time-warp, felt any mention of a Shivling and penis in the same sentence was insulting to the Hindu faith. As one of the production coordinators on the shoot, I took the crew to Junagadh to meet the crazy Naga Sadhus.

I know about Junagadh because I was born there and grew up there. I had seen the Shivratri fair and the antics of the Naga Sadhus since childhood and saw nothing particularly odd or bizarre about them. These were a group of men who had discarded everything including clothes and if they could pull trucks with their dicks, it just meant that Hinduism was too big or too huge for us to comprehend and this was just one of its manifestations - however bizarre.
It was a revelation filming the Shivratri festival, the sadhus and the millions of devotees who came from villages all around Junagadh. The devotees' reverence and faith for this crazy lot of Sadhus was amazing - it was there for everyone to see. Often we'd find a poor farmer or a bank official in a Safari suit sitting amicably with a stark naked sadhu and sharing a chillum - knowing that his faith allowed him this minor digression and the sky would not open up if they enjoyed a couple of heady drags. There were strange sights all around, and that the religion and society had space within them for this extreme-ness was exciting in itself.

Oneof the Sadhus was dressed like Merlin - with a pointy hat, dark glasses and purple hair - rightout of Hogwarts School, and a female Sadhvi walked around wearing a pink hat and nothing else. One of the disciples of the Sadhus we were sitting with said very proudly, "Maharaj can perform 501 tricks with his ling (penis)!".

None of the villagers or even the very respectable middle-class Hindu Gujjus found any of this strange - nobody's faith was threatened and nobody raised an eyebrow. Well, nobody except the devout in their plush sitting rooms in Leicester and Southall.

Naga Sadhus and Akharas are extreme forms of the Hindu faith - they are strange, bizarre and outlandish - like many other things in India and we were just there filming it. India is a fascinating mix of cultures, religions and no film can do complete justice to its huge store of bizarre and strange stories. It might embarrass us, but it's all unmissably there.

An Indian from the UK I bumped into at a hotel recently told me that she thought the Paul Merton show made fun of India. Well Ma'am, slimy, cunning Westerners did not put all those nutty things there - they have been among us ages and will continue being here forever - or at least I hope so!

While we can live happily amongst the squalid and the bizarre, there is a strange coyness about showing any of it, especially among fatcat NRIs who have happily abandoned all of it to live in the sanitised West, and are suddenly very protective about the image of 'their' land and religion. Yes, the Tatas have bought Jaguar, and we are a booming economy, but that doesn't stop your average Naga sadhu from enjoying his occasional chillum. Bum Bhole!
- Amit (for a change!)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The rest is silence

I'm not sure about this, but I suspect I'll never write a book because everything I want to say has been said already by two gentlemen: Berkeley Breathed in his Bloom County books, and Garry Trudeau in Doonesbury. Of the two, I enjoy Trudeau in his current form, and I LOVED Breathed in his '80s, '90s form. Of late, Breathed's comp-coloured extravaganzas somehow lack bite. I think a great comic artist-writer is a sort of oracle, spotting trends, and being able to see the pitfalls and blunders we are heading for. That was what I loved the early Breathed for. Now, only Trudeau sems to be doing it. Here he is on the elections - is he cool, or what??

PS: As i clicked publish post, news came that the O-man has won. Amazing and truly wonderful, but really given the royal republican mess made by GBW (who Trudeau symbolizes using a battered Roman-legionary-type helmet), was there any doubt? I mean, I was scared and had doubts that McCain would win - nothing against him specifically, but because it would mean an endorsement of everything gross that the republicans stand for. In true oracular style, Guru Trudeau at least had no doubts.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cracked pots?

N's school has a good rule. No chips, biscuits, cookies in the tiffin box, except on Friday, which is 'favourite food day'. To N, it's 'junk food day' and she loves planning what will go into her dabba. I have slimily convinced her that nuts, banana chips and nankhatais are junk food, which they are of course, but compared to the Bytes and the Kellogg's Chocos and Lays chips, almost perhaps of a lesser sort. Every once in a long while, she gets a few monstrously sweet treats like Chocos and Lays. So if she grows up into a snack-guzzling, cola-swigging teen, we know who to blame for having let her have a deprived childhood, right?

Packing the daily tiffin-box - how to make it fun and healthy and mess-free; how to fit it all into a small oval steel dabba; how to whip it up toot sweet - these are Big Issues that trouble me. I do my darndest, but this, I thought, was bordering on the surreal - Japanese style. The Bento box is, according to wiki, 'a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine. A traditional bento consists of rice, fish or meat, and one or more pickled or cooked vegetables as a side dish. Containers range from disposable mass produced to hand crafted lacquerware.'

I'm cracked alright, but not as touched, thank god, as the moms who go to these seemingly endless lengths. Fun to see but must be such a pressure to pack the frickin' thing and then take photo, cries of jaldi, jaldi, school bus chali jayegi ringing out (in Jaapani bhasha, of course) in the background. Nice, but I cannot see it happening in the Nair-Vachharajani household.

Meanwhile, I religiously - and shamelessly - go to the Bento Anarchy (hahahaha!) page every few days. Worry about the food colours they seem to use so merrily, and the plastic dabbas; and ogle at the impossibly clever cookie cutters they seem to have. Food porn for me.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Olive Riddley troubles

One of the annoying things about working on something for children to read or to see is that it makes you frighteningly conscious about the future. We are working on a children’s book on India – researching, writing and illustrating it. While it pays so little it’s not funny, what we’ve gained in terms of knowledge and sheer awareness of this large and complex country is awesome. Researching for pictures and textual information means going through a set process: mild curiosity to begin with, and then as we read more and more, awe, shock, delight, wonder, and sometimes, anger and dismay.

Take the case of the highly endangered Olive Ridley turtles which come every winter to nest on the beaches of Gahirmatha, Devi and Rushikulya in Orissa (illustration by Amit for the book). Following an unerring instinct, they come from faraway Sri Lanka and even Australia. They come all along the coast – to Orissa, parts of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Khambat and Kerala.

Though numerous eggs are laid every winter by the Olive Ridleys, only one in a thousand hatchlings survives. Trawler nets, pollution and poaching kill many of the turtles, the eggs and the hatchlings. Once hatched, the baby turtles rush to the sea using stars, the sea’s luminescence and moonlight to help them navigate. Reaching the sea is absolutely crucial, and thanks to road lights, they often blunder in the wrong direction. Activists and villagers manage to turn them the right way sometimes.

To add to the mind-boggling dangers they face, a new menace has been approved by the state govt. – the Dhamra port at Gahirmatha beach, 15 kms from the nesting ground of these small sea turtles), gravely endangering an already fragile population. Though owned by the state, it is to be built by the Tatas, who frankly, should know better by now, I think. Apart from the many different kinds of ecological damage the Dhamra port will do, it will have artificial lights which will mislead the baby turtles much more than mere road lights. The port will also seriously harm the livelihood of fishing communities there. For specifics on all the kinds of ecological and human damage, read this.

While creating something for children to read, for the future to see, one realizes – with great shame – what it is that we are doing to the world. How foolishly we are squandering its few remaining treasures, instead of proudly protecting them. I think the world over, a place like this would be preserved, as a sign of human restraint and wisdom. It shames us to sense that only in India, perhaps, would we be ignorant and greedy enough to willfully destroy something so timeless and wonderful.

The Tatas – for all their bad record at Singur – are signatories to the U.N.’s Global Compact for Corporate Responsibility. Tata Steel, for one, is pledged to something called the Precautionary Principle, which, according to Wikipedia, is ‘a moral and political principle which states that if an action or policy might cause severe or irreversible harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of a scientific consensus that harm would not ensue, the burden of proof falls on those who would advocate taking the action. But in some legal systems, as the European Union Law, the precautionary principle is also a general principle of law. This means that it is compulsory. The principle aims to provide guidance for protecting public health and the environment in the face of uncertain risks, stating that the absence of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason to postpone measures where there is a risk of serious or irreversible harm to public health or the environment.’

So while the 'developed' world sees protecting the environment and rights of the poor as a sign of progress, only in India, peculiarly, do we see both of the above as signs of weakness and stagnation.

If this disturbs you as much as it did us, go here and add your voice to those of activists and environmentalists from the world over. It may not seem like much, but there's no point not trying, no?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Technosqueak meets her nemesis

Though I use comps all the time, I am a certified, card-carrying techno-duh, a techno-phobe, a techno-squeaky-scaredy-cat. A friend once observed that I will learn just as much tech as I need to get by, no more. Over the years, I've been both proud and ashamed of this. But always, always I've been hopeful of one thing - that my daughter will be like me: wiling to learn, able to, but not, like, champing at the bit to get at a comp, dreaming of macs, willing to spend hours figuring out comps, etc., like her dad. I'm terrified of exposing kids to tech too early, because we all know, don't we, where that goes? Addiction to gaming, refusing to write on paper, whatnot. I've seen kids as young three years figuring out games on cel phones (and playing them obsessively). It freaks me out.
Amit was saying something the other day about the level of tech knowledge of the youngest members of society being indicative of the tech awareness of that society. I got an insight into that recently. To get to our house you have to climb interminable stairs. It fatigues everyone, esp n with her small legs, and no one ever carries her up. As she climbs the stairs holding the shiny metal handrail, she says with a smile: See, I'm loading, amma, slowly, slowly. While going down to school every morning, she says, See, I'm downloading.
Who's to blame for this? Me of course. Trying to distract her by showing her the Dora website on the laptop, and when she says, Where's Dora?, telling her to look at the bar sliding up slowly, slowly because it's loading.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Through a fishbowl, darkly

What do you do with an empty fishbowl? What, for that matter, do you do with a hole in your life that measures about 6 feet? Nothing in the case of the latter except avoid looking at old photos like they were a portal into a spiral of tears, guilt, more tears and depression.
For the former, you make a plan to grow something else in it. A terrarium maybe, which could be assembled at the local nursery. We had gifted Siya one - where the nursery owner promised to make it in front of her (I am ever the educative auntie)- and being slightly fey, she handed them a care sheet that suggested they find a name for their terrarium - like say Terrarium Bob. And where are we, I asked? In New Texas?
When ours came home, we kept joking and calling it Bob, till n declared that no, not Bob, but Tinkle. Terrarium Tinkle. I love the sight of a terrarium, and had many ambitions to make one on my own in a large, broad bottle used to transport acid; make it the old-fashioned way, with self-crafted tools (basically, spoons, forks tied to a strongish stick); putting in layer after layer of mud / compost with care, and planting low-growing plants in it. But apart from lack of enthusiasm, I see myself as a bit of a Typhoid Mary just now - one who shouldn't be allowed near delicate things that might need nurturing.
So here's our terrarium, nothing as handsome as my acid-bottle-dream, but still, a good thing to do with an empty fishbowl, no?

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Girl with the Camera...

…shoots a favourite subject: Sangita Maushi, our sweet, diligent cook. They really have a great rapport, and after the first pic she clicked of us, n wanted the second to be of Sangita, since, I think, the grandma wasn’t around. What with one thing and another, Marathi is n’s second language, English being her first (please don’t even ask about Malayalam and Gujarati – we had wanted her to speak fluently in those two first – or at least Malayalam for now – but we were told to put a sock in it till she was four by People Who Know).

Since mom and me speak Marathi ranging from extremely well (mom) to passably (me), we’re most thrilled. N has learned many Marathi songs from mom and another maid, Kalpana. Sangita, apart from making the world’s thinnest chapattis and its dullest dals, is a great purveyor of Marathi songs. I’ve forgotten many, but, deviyon aur sajjano, paish karte hai, what I remember of the Marathi hums which n hums (all errors in transcription, translation and lyrics are mine):

They range from the sweet –

Ye, ye ga sari, majhe matke bhari,

Sar aali dhaavoon,

Matke gele vaahoon!

Come, come, waves, fill my pots,

The wave came rushing,

And my pots went off!

To the cute –

Naach ga guma, Kashi mee naachu?

Ya gaavcha, tyaa gaavcha,

Aala nahi maali, ani mala nahi veni.

Naach ga…

Aala nahi shimpi, ani mala nahi choli.

(from Kalpana)

Dance little girl! How will I dance?

This village’s, that village’s

Gardener hasn’t come, and I don’t have a flower-garland.

Dance little girl! How will I dance?

This village’s, that village’s

Tailor hasn’t come, and I don’t have a blouse.

To the cloying –

Pusa dole rumaalane,

Radathe kashaala,

Shaleth jani N, chukena kunala

Kelisarkhi wadavili, jai sarkhi phulavili,

Aai bole n majhi, shalela geli.

Wipe your tears with your kerchief,

Why do you weep?

N goes to school, never harms a soul,

She’s grown like a banana plant,

Blossomed like a jai flower,

Mom says my N, she’s gone to school.

To the obscene –

Aalyacha mala madhe kon ga ubhi?

Vaangi todathe mee, raavaji, raa-va-ji,

Haath naka laavu, bagheen konitari!

Who’s there in the vegetable garden?

It’s just me, sir, just plucking a few brinjals.

Please don’t touch me, someone will see!

(A highly feudal song, sung in the original with an erotic, false sort of coyness… Positively EWWW when your 3.5 yr old sings it.)

To the bawdy –

Ye, ye ga pahune, Sakkuche mehune,

Sakku la baghoon hastoy ga,

Kaay tari ghotala distoy ga!

(This is an Omana-ammu rendition of the Dada Kondke classic.)

Come, come dear guest,

He’s Sakku’s brother-in-law,

Look how he’s smiling at Sakku,

It looks like something’s up!

And the hilarious:

Ambyachi ddhalki var baslaay mor,

Navryacha bapoos kaute-chor!

Ambyacha dhalki halveelli,

Navryana navrili palvili.

There’s a peacock on a mango-branch,

The groom’s dad is an egg-thief!

The mango-branch was given a shake,

And the groom ran off with the bride!

There’s also the odd ethnographical one –

Dokevari paati maura chi,

Kaay kolin chaalli bajari.

Yevda vata laavlay mota,

Aavar ye ga maushi, aavar ye.

On my head is a basket of fish,

I’m a Kolin setting off to the market,

Look at this large array, Auntie,

Come, come and finish it off!

The maniacally religious –

Hey Bhole Shankara,

Aavad tula belachi, aavad tula belachi,

Belacha paanaachi!

Oh Bhole Shankara,

You love the bela flower, you love the bela flower,

And even the bela’s leaves!

And this one which makes me cry – for obvious reasons – even as I type and translate it -

Sonya cha thati, ugalleli jyothi,

Ovalhathe bhau raja, yevda bahinichi vedi maya,

Gaadi ghunghurati, majhya maherachi,

Ovalhathe bhau raja, yevda bahinichi vedi maya,

A plate of gold, and a circling lamp,

I’m doing an arati for my prince of a brother, for that’s how much I’m devoted to him.

The tinkling bells of the cart from my mother’s village,

I’m doing an arati for my prince of a brother, for that’s how much I’m devoted to him.

(I’ve kept the translation bare on purpose – didn’t want to rhyme and poeticize unnecessarily – because I wanted to keep the Marathi meaning untouched.)

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Revenge of the Nerds - Part 2

One of the best books I've read in the longest time is Robin David's City of Fear. If the crappy books I got sent to review were any indication, I was sure that City... would be very well received indeed. The book was released and got like maybe 3 reviews in print and some more online. And that was it. No buzz, nothing. Apparently, the publishers were a bit nervous that Modi would get mad, really mad, and decided to keep things a bit low key.

In the nicest bit of news I've heard so far this year (and 2008 has been terrible, miserable, horrible for me and my family), The Indian Express informed us that City of Fear has been nominated for the Crossword Book Awards in the non-fiction category, with, hold your collective breaths, the likes of Ramchandra Guha and William Dalrymple. So whether the book finally manages to win or not, I think Robin's courage and the conviction and strength of his writing have already won. Proving finally that in some quarters at least, it's what you know and how you write that count, and not the buzz and weird publicity that you manage to generate...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Of cousins, kids and the big Bang book

My cousin Rekha's visits from Canada always, always means one thing - the most delightful, surprising picture books. And not in ones and twos, mind you, but in bags - plastic bags, glossy, shiny, truly phoren ones that are strong and can bear the 5-odd kilos of picture books she stuffs them with. There are always three or four such bags, chosen and filled with great care by her, and while n studies the chocolates and the art stuff or the toys, Amit and I go into a huddle over the books. Juggling two jobs and a family, she still manages to scour her city for the nicest old (some from the '50s, '60s and '70s too) and new picture books. She always manages to strike a balance between the parents' greed and the child's needs - so they are the sweeter books which will appeal to n, and the darker, older, more esoteric ones that she feels Amit will like, or I will.
One of the books she got us this time was this beautifully painted book called The Grey lady and the Strawberry Snatcher by Molly Bang. I took one look at it and clearly classified it as one of the darker books - certainly not for the resident rabbit. N's favourites just now - to an obsessive degree - are The Berenstein Bears who are sweet enough, and intelligent too, but after a while, their American-style clean living just gets to you. Unlike before, she refuses to experiment with genres. Normal, I guess. So I didn't even bother trying to show it to her and put it away, till, one meal-time, in a defiant sort of mood, I took it out and showed it to her.
The book was a surprise to both of us. For one, it didn't have words - any words. Then, one of the two main characters was an old, mysteriously-named 'Grey Lady', who appeared in tones of a dull, light brown. The other was a thin, sinister-looking fellow - all gangly-limbed and a startling shade of blue. He wore a bright yellow-and-red shawl and a purple hat, and slunk around the book, sometimes looking casual, sometimes evil, sometimes clever, sometimes determined, relentless, and finally, just hysterically happy.
I thought n would be scared of the images, of the snatcher's furtiveness; of the sliver of shiny danger that runs through the book. But she was intrigued by the story, rivetted by the old woman's courage and the snatcher's determination. And, most of all, by the artist's clever, bright pictures and the swift-though-wordless pace at which things move.

There is a wonderful urgency to the story. It starts sweetly enough. An old lady goes to a shop to buy strawberries. On her way out, the Snatcher sees her. He follows her, making many a dive and grab for the basket of berries. Magically - with a lot artist ex machina - she manages to stay safe, often missing his gnarly blue-fingered, red-tipped hands by a hair's breadth. She dashes into buses, hides in a swamp, climbs a tree, swings from a vine, and then, just as the toothily grinning Snatcher almost reaches her (also by vine), she disappears into a light-brown-coloured page, leaving the Snatcher puzzled and a bit defeated. Till you turn over and see that he has spotted the most delightfully detailed mulberry bush, and eating a few berries, looks blissful, content. So happy, that his hair stands up on end in a stunning orange-coloured afro. The Grey Lady is home safe, and her family - including the pets and sundry babies - are all delightedly biting into the berries.
What I thought would freak n out was the complexity of the detail and the slightly scary tone of the illustrations - much like in Tuesday. As with Tuesday, she liked it unexpectedly, she didn't get scared of it, and every time we open it, there's a new detail to be seen. Like there is an exotically dressed lady who rolls into frame on a red skateboard, holding a pail of eels. As the old lady dashes into a bus that is in the extreme right edge of the spread, the Snatcher bangs into the eel woman. Something that is only suggested by the eels flying all over the place on the next page. The Grey Lady disembarks from the bus at her stop and you see that the Snatcher is waiting for her there. How did he get there so fast? You realize only on the fifth reading that the Snatcher has snatched the eel lady's red skateboard. Then, after many, many readings you spot something magical and strange: the tiny mushrooms that sprout in the Snatcher's footsteps.

Also, somehow, Bang's narrative on each page is multi-dimensional. In one pic, for instance, you have the Snatcher peering out and spotting the Grey Lady, and him following her, all casual-like. The visual is separated by a door there, and I thought it would be confusing for n that there are two parts of a narrative phrase here, and not two sets of different characters.
But intuitively, she got it. That's not surprising; kids these days are visually sophisticated. I googled Molly Bang and found this. Read it because it tells you about the sheer cussedness of people, how they refuse to consider that kids can like things that are slightly off-centre too. When it comes to children and what they should read or watch on tv, everyone is an expert. And everyone usually gets it wrong as well (of course, this is more apparent on tv than in the world of books).
Getting published can be tough, uphill work. Often creativity seems like only a tenth of the process. The bigger, tougher part is sheer dogged determination you need to - like Bang - keep on submitting, re-working, re-thinking and then submitting again.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Because I can't bear to write...

...here's another photo post. N and her father discovered a train of ants in our jade plant. So this delicious-looking soap solution was made (using the tandurusti ki raksha karne wala Lifebuoy) to pour on the plants. Ironically, the jade's leaves were ruthlessly plucked by n and shucked into the solution, making it a lovely Zen-like discovery of a morning for me. When you're feeling as low as I am, even small things give pause for thought.

N, meanwhile, has been feeling triumphantly evil over her 'cruelty' and has cast herself in the role of a witch. She keeps humming to herself as she sprays the plants: 'Sprinkle, sprinkle, sprinkle / I'm here to pour Lifebuoy water on you...' Struck by the lurid strawberriness of the potion, she rushed and got a sticker of a strawberry and stuck it on the outside of the plastic container so that, she said excitedly, 'the ants will see it and think it's a tasty strawberry milkshake, and then they'll drink it!' I could almost hear the mean 'muwahahaha' laugh in her voice.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

In Manori...

...Man meets hammock,

Child meets bullock cart.

Crab colonies on the beach - less fragile, it strikes me, than human life.

N's first drawing ever - inspired by the softness of the sand, and framed by a fatherly toe. In case you're wondering, it's a flower with a leaf. Wonder if any of the aforementioned colonies were sacrificed while creating this.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Tag! I'm it.

I've had a dull sort of day. Finished off two bits of work yesterday, and thought I'd give myself a rest. Spent the day feeling d-u-l-l. Read other people's blogs and loved the way the write, and felt like I shouldn't be writing at all, since I can be neither brief nor clever. Then found this and it cheered me up mariginally - in the way pop quizzes in magazines used to when I was younger. So here goes.

A -Available?
In my dreams.

B-Best friend:
Umm. Am a Hard Kaur these days, and not thinking 'bast frands' at all.

C-Cake or Pie?
Actually, paal payasam, pressure-cooked till it's light pink.

D-Drink of choice:
Can't believe I'm saying this: Peach Iced Tea

E-Essential thing used everyday:
Chashma and cushion!

F-Favourite colour:
Turquoise maybe, or red, or sea-green.

G-Gummi bears or worms:
Worms, any day. I hate GBs.


Comics - like Bloom County, Doonesbury, Asterix and Tintin

J-January or February:
January. It has so many possibilities.

K-Kids and names:
One. N.

Short, painful, brutish. But with some lovely moments, of course.

M-Marriage date:
Dec 8

N-Number of siblings:

O-Oranges or apples:


Mars needs Moms!

R-Reason to smile:
N. She makes me grin, giggle, groan.


T-Tag three people:
Can't. Practically all the other bloggers I know have had this done to them. Will tag just one, and hope Paro doesn't mind it.

U-Unknown fact about me:
Better let it stay that way, no?

V-Vegetable you do not like:

W-Worst habit:

Talking on the phone. Incessantly. Being able to not work even when there is a lot to do.

X-x-rays you have had:


Y-Your favorite food:
Oh god, where do I start. I LUHVE food. Dahi batata puris and chicken biryani are the stuff I dream about.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Gourami also rises

I’ve always, always longed for a fish tank. Or maybe just one bowl, round, perfect, like a bubble with a golden blob of a fish bobbing in it. Growing up there was no question of it, of course, people at home wouldn’t hear of it. Then, with Amit, there were these prolonged discussions when he’d say, “I’ve had a fish tank, and the fish keep dying, and you’ll feel sad…” Hahaha, I’d laugh out loud, my head thrown back evilly, and say that I see fish only as food, not as friends at all, so no one’s going to catch me feeling really sad about a dead fish. Which, for some reason, instead of reassuring him, only made him blanch.

Time passed and n happened, and we got given a betta fish in a tiny fishbowl by Priya. She had researched the fish carefully: it was a native of the paddy fields of Laos, and was a loner (not for nothing was it a.k.a the Cambodian Fighter), and breathed air from the surface. So a.) it liked small spaces, and b.) didn’t need an oxygen pump. Most importantly, it didn’t like or need company.

Two days after the betta – who n named variously: ‘black-and-white’, ‘spotty’ and ‘swimmy’ – came home, we googled it and found that you should change the water every two or three days to prevent toxicity. With great care and dexterity we transferred it from small bowl to large bowl via a tea cup and an old sieve and it never once popped out and writhed as we were told fish do when you change the water. Yes, well, that done (we nearly sprained out pecs patting ourselves on our backs), we set out for some photo session at n’s school.

Back home an hour later, I looked at the fish, thought there was something odd about it, peered closer and saw that it was belly-up. Of course. The net doesn’t warn you about the chlorine in Mumbai’s water and how you need to pour in a de-chlorinating fluid before you blithely change the fish’s immediate environment.

Calmly I called Amit, who was first sad, then bitter, then devastated – when he heard of the chlorine thingy. That evening he flushed it away mournfully, as I patted his back. For days he lectured us about the pitfalls of having a fish at home; and how he wasn’t worried about himself, but see how it was upsetting ‘everyone’. N registered it in passing, but, typically of someone her age, I think, discussed it only days later when I was asked, ‘Why Swimmy died, amma?’ Before I could think of a suitably deep and yet simple answer, she said, ‘Now Swimmy dead no, so you must get me a pet rabbit.’

Now the grandma has taken it on herself to get a new fish and make it survive, or else. So today – despite parental disapproval – a Golden Gourami has come home. With blue pebbles for company and a packet of dried Red-Sea worms, and a bottle of de-chlorinating fluid. He / she is from the Laotian paddy fields (where there must be no fish left at all), a cousin of our old friend the betta. We are still not sure of the aggression levels (some sites say Gouramis love company; others say they just love to eat company), so the poor sod just has us and the pebbles to look at.

He / she is a stunner, though. Gold and with black stripes and spots, and with a lovely pair of long, thin whiskers… Fingers crossed that this one doesn’t end down the loo as well!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Kapkapi - The Shivers

I hate the cold. I’m from the coast originally and have lived in Bombay all my life, and I’ve realized now, through this oddly cold winter, that I like my weather muggy, hot and squelchy. I love the normal Bombay winter because it is merely a state of non-heat; one where the mercury drops to say, 27, and we’re all like, ooh, there’s a nip in the air, do you feel it? Lovely, no? Delhiites and other Northerners look at you, one eyebrow raised, and say, call this a winter? You should see the ball-breakers we have back home.

No thank you, I say, keep your winter snobbery. It’s warm weather for me (regardless of how much I crib in summer). It’s so cold this year that - unusually for this city - you don’t need to turn on the fan ever. And if you do, it’s only to keep away the mosquitoes. It's so cold that you got out in the evening for a walk, the wind blows, and leaves a welter of angry goose pimples on your skin. Forget nippy, it’s like the air has grown a million sharp little teeth with which it bites into you. I’ve seen people shivering and huddling around makeshift fires all over Chembur, fergodssake, and I cannot tell you how unlikely a sight that is.

I do not like the strange sense of stasis that this cold brings: the reluctance to put my feet on the chilly floor, the numbing cold of the water that flows out of taps, the fact that we don’t have the woollies or the mindset needed to take this weather on the chin. I don’t like it being so dry that my skin stretches after a bath simply because it’s too darn cold to cream up before you cover up. I hate the thought that if we find it hard to cope living in our warm flats, how horrendous it must be for street people, and even for the average, very poor Bombay-ite who doesn’t have the money to buy warm clothes.

I wouldn’t want to agree with any of the Thackerays on anything, but when young Raj Thackeray calls Vilasrao Deshmukh Khallas-rao (khallas means the end, destruction), I find myself pausing to think. Apart from selling off all available open spaces to the builder’s lobby, the man has other fine points. One of them is a blind-spot towards the very poor – evident in his cruel, totalitarian slum-demolition drives. You’d think any right-thinking government would start some donation drives of warm things, or maybe give away blankets to the poor. Some way to help people who have always lived in a balmy city to deal with the cold, right? Nothing short of a cold wave and people dying would wake this one up.

The bitter cold puzzles n too. She asked me, “Why this winter not going away, amma?” Why, indeed. It reminded me of my friend Gouri Patwardhan’s film on seasons. It had a small animated traditional story – an Eskimo myth about the rotation of seasons – called Kapkapi. One year, Old Man Winter refuses to leave the earth. People shiver and huddle together, because the trees and plants have shrivelled up and died, and they have run out of food and firewood. There’s frost and ice everywhere.

Finally they pray to the Sun and he comes down. “Go away!” he says to Old Man Winter, which just makes the short, bearded, dark-eyed fellow angrier, more determined to stay. Grim, sullen, he waves a fat palm at the sun dismissively. The sun blows at him, a warm, yellow-orange breath that makes him shrink till he finally sits on a white owl and flies off.

I love this little sequence because Gouri’s rounded figures and lovely colours are so delightful. In the climax, the ice on a pond cracks, the water gleams through and then morphs into colourful birds. It’s breath-taking. Done in pre-comp days, the entirely cel animation has a lovely, uncluttered feel to it. The vo, because it was recorded back in them days, is dire. But watch it a couple of times, and you begin to enjoy the animation and forget the sepulchral narration. Weather like this really makes me think of those shivering people and how they must have longed for the balmy touch of spring. Wish I could find an image and put it here, but hard luck on that one. Might rig up something in the future though, so watch this space.

Any winter food favourites? Mine is the lovely sweet potato snack outside CP in Delhi And of course Sindhi Camp’s artery-hardening fried pakwans.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Brown-paper packages...

I once raised a storm when I was 8. I was a bit of a dimbulb, loser type of kid, and had banded up with three nice, equally low-wattage girls in class. One was called Lorraine, the other was a tam-brahm called Savitha, and I am sure there was a third, only I can't right now recall her name or face. Our school had a wonderful demographic - there were the few very rich, and then there was everyone else. Both Lorraine and Savitha came from homes that were slightly disadvantaged and frugally middle-class respectively. At school, we only gave out sweets for birthdays, and with my ‘group’ there were no birthday parties or sweets or anything, till one day I was told at home that it was my birthday next week.

No one at home was really saying anything about any party, and I had had one the previous year, so in my slightly duh way, I decided to take matters into my own hands and invite S and L over, and maybe, well, shoot the breeze a bit? Eat some cake, perhaps? You know, just hang out some? Thursdays were our weekly off, and I asked them to come over, at, say, six pm? Comes Thursday morn, and just as mom was setting out to office, I remembered the party. I mentioned it to her, casual like, and the house imploded around me. My mom was / is one of the chilled-out-est people on earth, but even she completely freaked. Cousins were sent out to get cake and who knows what else, while I just sat back, frankly a bit dazed by the yelling and the scurrying. That evening when all of my three guests – S, L and S’s brother came – it was a bit of an anti-climax. I think the family were expecting droves and were a bit startled to see the rag-tag company which walked in. After that, the memory grows duller – I remember everyone looking a bit
embarrassed, and that’s it. My memory spikes again at one point – S had got me a tiny paperback of Birbal the Wise. It was from a popular, cheap imprint of them days, but I can’t remember the publisher’s name. I studied it for days and weeks later, turning it around and marveling at its small, rectangular perfection. It was the only gift from a fairly disastrous birthday party (I still didn’t know what I had done so bad), and I was soooo delighted, so grateful.

Why I remembered this is because N walked in from school today loaded – as usual – with a bag of 'return gifts'. For some reason, in her school, every child hands out these bags full of amazingly crappy, expensive,
prodigiously over-packaged stuff. Today, for example, she came in with a toy gun, a mask, a monginis three-cake set called 'stripe tease', two toffees – all tossed into a plastic bag. Costing – at the very least – 40/- per head, and there are 52 kids in class. Do the math. And this is one of the smaller return gift packs. There are days when she gets bigger things, and more of them – cups, sun visors with dark-glasses built in, imitation patent leather back-packs, tetra packs of drinks, lays, perks, and more strange Chinese chocolates. And they are all, without fail, looked at for two minutes and then forgotten.

There’s very little thrill left in gift-receiving or giving any more, because it’s all a matter of going to Crawford Mkt and picking up the cheapest lot of Chinese stuff, bunging it all into a plastic bag from the next shop, and handing it out in class. We were traumatized by the loot bags that came in initially – they were all so expensive, so environmentally unsound and so gross somehow (I mean, those chocolates and weirdly coloured candies? They are so strange-tasting, so acidic somehow, that I’d fear for the health of any kid who ate them. And let's not even go to the Lays and the tetra pack drinks.) One child even had an event-managed bash in school which had a ventriloquist, a magician and a massive loot bag. How great was it? When we went in to pick her up, n was among the 40-odd kids sobbing and shrieking in hysterical fear. The ventriloquist’s jokes were loud – as in decibel-levels – and went right above the kids’ heads. The magician was the scariest I’ve ever seen.

When we went in to hand out toffees and a couple of books at n’s birthday the next week, one child heard the words ‘happy birthday’ and burst out sobbing. Looking back, I feel we really didn’t have to, but just then, we were anxious – would n have registered everyone else’s celebrations and would she feel bad? So we did something small and kept it plastic-and-crap free – I hope!

Where I’m going with all this is really nowhere great. Just felt a bit chagrined by the way n casts aside each loot bag after the initial excitement; at how the mere fact of receiving isn't a novel experience any more. I remembered how I gazed at that book for months later. And something else just struck me. That impromptu birthday bash had my cousin’s new fiancĂ© who was visiting in the middle of all the confusion shocked. When he was growing up, there were shortages everywhere, and parents expected older kids to stand in ration-shop queues and lug back bags of rice and dal. Understandably, my cool cheek must have startledand who knows saddened him. But he used to grin and predict in a mock-dire voice that my next party would be my own wedding bash which I’d organize and plan myself.

Each generation has something to be distressed and shocked about in the next, I guess…