Saturday, August 30, 2008

Spell gone awry

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie.

Another vintage novel from Salman Rushdie, written in his unmistakable style. His style has changed over the years, and his last novel Shalimar the Clown, and this one, are definitely in another genre than his earlier books. The narrative style is easier, although the pen is not blunted in any way.

The novel attempts to bring together two different cultures- European and Mughal India in a grand scenario set during Akbar’s time. The European angle definitely overshadows the Mughals, and I thought getting Mughal Emperors in the story line was superfluous. The book stands alone on the Florence tale quite well.

This book is different than the others if only because the protagonist is a woman. The author tries his best to submerge her in the overwhelming personage of kings, emperors, dukes and shahs, but she shines through the veils. It is also the most sexually provocative book of the lot. I think, Salman Rusdie won the worst sex writing award for an earlier novel, but this one is seductive. The love scenes are uninhibited and delicately crafted.

The writing looks cathartic and reflects the end of the author’s marriage. As he admitted in an interview, she ditched him and he had to write to keep his sanity. An outpouring of emotions and a sense of loss is apparent at many places in the book. It is Salman’s most personal and emotional book yet.

The question remains: Is this book strong enough a contender for the Booker.? Without reading any of the others, I would hesitate to make the call. I have doubts though. The book is good, but it is too close to the author’s heart, and maybe that does not make it great.

Odds and Ends

The crossing at the domestic airport really looks busy nowadays. The other day a plane flew overhead, almost touching the car as it landed, while I could see the new Metro taking shape in the distance. All forms of land transport in one shot, would make educating children that much easier. A field trip to the airport would be value for money.

Delhi Chronicles

Cycling Delhi

While rummaging through some old stuff, I stumbled upon a bag which was picked when rambling through Piccadilly Circus. Not that it is a fancy or expensive bag. It was handed out to passers by the London Transport who was espousing the cause of cycling. At that time it looked cool, but after some years in the rubbish heap, it did not look so great. The Cycling London logo still caught my attention. London has this special lane for cycles, and although it is not very broad, it gives enough room for a safe commute. Given London’s high cost of living, it makes sense to use the cycle. What London Transport does to sell the concept of cycling, comes naturally to Delhi-wallahs’s. One can see hordes of cyclists from poorer areas going to work in the morning, and as one passes in a car one does bemoan the traffic problems these can cause. Most of them seek a quiet lane where they do not hinder anybody, which is more for their safety than anything else. The moot point is - why can’t we make a dedicated lane for the cyclists which will take them safely to work, and back? I am sure it will be much easier than implementing the bus corridor, which seems to have left much egg on the politician’s face. The people who use the cycle do not have much of a clout within the corridors of power though.

And what happens if all these people get to buy the Nano, and then take it for a spin? It will be disastrous for the Delhi roads. It is in everybody’s interest that cycling is encouraged as much as possible. If making the roads safer for cyclists can help, we need to do that.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Paisa Vasool

My wife and kids dragged me to this movie – “Singh is Kinng” ( Why the double n? Something akin to the ‘K’ factor ?) which after much humming and hawing, I acquiesced to go to. A quick google led me to “Book my”, where I could conveniently book my tickets, and the website allowed me to choose my seat. I promptly picked the bulkhead seats, with lots of leg room, and more importantly, adequate space for my five year old to wander around when she gets restless. There was an extra charge of Rs. 15 per ticket, but it is worth it. There is even a separate counter for people with online receipts, so you can turn up at the hall with minutes to spare.

The movie was tepid at best, but the Bollywood stuff was good “time pass”. Of course, I ended up spending as much on the popcorn and drinks as I had on the tickets. On the whole, a satisfactory experience.

I was surprised at the crowds this kind of movie attracted. There were aunties and uncles with the whole “jing bang” in tow. The shop keeper next to me attended to various urgent calls for help on his cell; but only during the interval, bless him. His catch all solution to every problem seemed to be to “take the bloody car out and park it”. Although I did not hear the much sought after applause on a hit dialogue, the general mirth amongst the good folks showed they were having a rocking time. I guess this movie would be considered a ‘hit’ in Bollywood lingo.

The storyline was that of a village buffoon ( Akshay Kumar), who is manipulated into going to Australia via Egypt. He meets his lady love in Egypt ( Katrina Kaif), a few compulsory item numbers follow, and then onwards to Australia. The protagonist then meets up and substitutes a Don from his village, who seems to have been paralysed at the moment. The good man then starts on his mission of reforming the gang, and sucking up to his lady love’s mother (surprise!) who seems to have fallen on hard times. A few convoluted scenes later, and the bad folks have got their just deserts, the hero is hooked up to the right gal, the Don makes a miraculous recovery, and the whole reformed gang ends up making the trip back home to their village. The credits roll in along with Snoop dog singing the title song. The first version of the song was choreographed well, definitely foot tapping, and got the adrenaline pumping. Javed Jaffery’s role(s) was mishandled, and one couldn’t help but wonder at the point of it all. The final scene, an obvious attempt to make the crowds roll in the aisles with laughter, was a damp squib. Akshay was good, his wadrobe impressive, while Katrina seems to have passed muster as an arm candy and hit item girl. All in all, paisa vasool.

Odds and Ends

Somebody actually compared the WWF wrestling mania to Shakespeare’s plays, and pointed out the similarities between the times and the need of the hour.

I mention this without comment.

Delhi Chronicles

Adieu…. Till next year

The mango season is almost on its last legs, and I am lamenting the end already. It was hell of a ride; Chausa, langra, dushheri and alphonso all contributing in equal measure to the pleasure of the sweetness. The sweet tooth is more than satisfied by the king of fruits. In fact, the fruit can send one into raptures, as the taste rolls on the toungue easily. Not an easy fruit to eat though; there is no sterile way of eating this fruit. I have tried peeling it, and then cutting it into small pieces to be consumed by a fork, which kept the fingers clean, but left a feeling that you have missed something. Eating it whole, sucking it actually, seemed too primitive. Slicing it seems to have worked for me.

My wife once worked for a company which had an annual mango festival. Mangoes were on the house, the only rule being- only hands! An ultimate temptation fight between the devil and the deep blue sea. Do I go right in for the succulence, and risk looking a savage, which could be career limiting. Or do I pretend I do not care for the mango, and retain my dignity- but it is mighty difficult to resist the call of the yellow fruit.

The mangoes appearance changes over the season. Starting in May with a greenish tinge, the Chausa takes time to ripen. It promises great things ahead, and though one complains about the early mangoes not being sweet enough, one knows of great things to come. The Chausa becomes sweeter, and then the yellow dussheri kicks in with mouth watering taste. Other expensive mangoes like alphonso add to the variety. The Langra ends the season with a regretful finale.

Here is hoping for more of this next year.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


While reading the Chapter “ Town and Country” in Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris, the impact of cuss words did impinge on my sensibilities. Although, we are used to the BC/MC kind of language at college, a major rehabilitation needs to take place when one joins the corporate world. Suddenly, the search for the political correct word assumes huge importance. A wrongly used phrase can bring opprobrium on oneself. My favorite politically correct phrase is “ significant other”; as in, You and your significant other are invited to evening cocktails. This eliminates any discrimination of gender, preferences and marital state. “Happy Holidays” at Christmas time or when Diwali and Id coincide is another opportunistic phrase used to pussyfoot around the religious space.

BBC Entertainment channel which sometimes airs the show “ Live at Apollo” does have at least one loyal viewer. Partly because I lived for some time near Hammersmith, the home of Apollo theatre, but also, this is one show which has some adult humor. The comedy stand up shows on the Indian channels, barring a few original comedians, are just too tame for me. BBC also tailored the show to “beep” out any profanities, which does compromise the show a wee bit.

This reminds me of a head of a company I used to work for. A person of Indian origin, settled in UK, used to liberally sprinkle his talk with the four letter word. Apparently this is the normal talk for London, although I did not hear anyone using the word ( as frequently) in the office when I was working there. I think he used the shock words to make himself more Brit than the Brits. When apprised of the fact that Indian sensibilities do not appreciate his colorful language, and, instead, find it offensive, he showed surprise, and vowed to become a better person. His vocabulary did change after that, although one could see THE word lurking at the tip of his tongue.

Bill Maher, the American talk show host, is much more expressive with his language. He does use the four letter word, with some convoluted variations, and for some interesting people; or makes them interesting by prefacing or suffixing them with some astute observations . His blog makes an riveting, though controversial read.

It may be time that we allow ourselves a little more liberty in using the cuss words in public. Adult humour and comments can be scheduled in the late night hours on TV, although knowing the kids, this does not stop them from keeping awake till the wee hours. The Indians need some risque humour to spice up their life, without feeling offended at every casual utterance.

Odds and Ends

Some acronyms used by the Delhi-wallah

CP: Connaught Place or Rajiv Chowk
Willington Hopsital: Maulana Azad Hospital
South X1 - South Extension Part I
South X2- South Extension Part II
GK1- Greater Kailash Part 1
GK2- Fgure it out!
Malls: Gurgaon; As in We are going to the Malls
NOIDA: New Okhla Industrial Development Authority. A misnomer as half of Delhi actually resides in the "Industrial Area"
NCR: Delhi to Jaipur, Agra and Chandigarh and everything in between.
C Sec: C Section or Central Secretariat, depending on whether you are a doctor or not.
DC ( as in District of Colombia): Janakpuri District Centre

Delhi Chronicles

Hole in the ground

Delhi seems to have the best roads in India, but that is not saying much. The heavy rains last week wrecked havoc on the Delhi roads, with potholes threatening to make them a minefield. The water logging (actually flooding) at critical points on major roads backed up the traffic for hours on Thursday, 14 August. Here are some timings people known to me took for travel:

Faridabad to West Delhi: 4 Hours

West Delhi to Pansheel: 2 Hours

Back to West Delhi: 2 hours

Gurgaon to Noida: Are you kidding?

Gurgaon to West Delhi: Forget it. Go back to office and sleep in.

The Delhi government has instituted an enquiry into this mess, to be completed speedily, and we are looking with anticipation to the findings. No doubt the responsible person or 'party' , as such anonymous people are known in Delhi, will be brought to light, and punished for their inaction , or action ( like taking bribes from the contractor). It will be a long and thorough investigation, with many witnesses, and files ensconced in their shelves brought out to the eagle eyed committee members. After many deadline extensions, a thousand page report with innumerable Annexures will be finally revealed to the public, and the guilty will be given their dues, but only after they have challenged the report with the 'competent authority', which may take a few years. In this long drawn process a few relevant files may go missing or a few key witnesses may die, but fear not Denizens of Delhi. Justice will ultimately prevail.

In the meantime, do get that car repaired for the next monsoon cross country rally from CP to South X1.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Tough as Silicon

( I was advised – read told- to write a review for this show by the Home Office)

Our very own Rakhee Sawant has her own show. And it is stunningly bold, refreshingly in your face talk show, with a female host for a change. Rakhee’s boldness always did extend to her dresses, which she has retained, and added on a confidence which belies her unsophisticated nature. Getting Aamir Khan, a notoriously reclusive actor, on her show was a victory of sorts. Her questions were uncomfortably ingenuous and Aamir was wriggling. Rakhee apparently preferred Aamir’s first wife to his second, and had no qualms saying it. Way to go girl!

Rakhee’s sense of timing did her good in the reality show “Big Brother”, and her career as a female comedian seemed to be on track. But she abandoned that road to go back to her item girl ways in a reality dance show, which she had to walk out of. One wonders what has happened to the police case which she registered claiming criminal conspiracy. Or what happened to her charges of sexual harassment when another two bit pop star kissed her “on the LIPS”. Does it make a difference if your lips are harassed instead of some other body part? From what I remember of that drama, it did matter to Rakhee. Anyway, here is wishing her the best in her new career, and may her assisted looks never fade.

Odds and Ends

Searching at for “You are Here”, the book by The Compulsive Confessor, threw up some interesting titles:

a) You are great
b) You are the answer
c) Where are you now
d) Where to get from where you are to where you want to be
e) Who are you?
f) Remember who you are
g) Who do you think you are?
h) Wish you were here
i) Wish you weren’t here

The book was out of print at the website.

Delhi Chronicles

In Harm’s Way

The Delhi-wallahas are notorious as drivers, and more so as violent dysfunctional citizens. One cannot be sure that the guy in the next car, hunched over the steering wheel, is a harmless person going to work. The odds that he is a gun-toting psychopath, given to sudden fits of rage, are not negligible. Incidents of road rage from, otherwise mild mannered men, is on the rise. One keeps on reading about people killed in minor altercations involving something as small as a fender bender. The streets of Delhi are bursting with people who combust spontaneously at the slightest provocation, and pull out a gun or a knife. Sometimes the innocent bystander becomes the casuality, as the bullet finds an unintended target. The number of these are not home grown miscreants. Looks like the criminals from the neighbouring states spend an inordinate time in Delhi, plotting crimes of violence, and whenever they get involved in a road incident, they instinctively pull out a weapon. Even good natured people seem to be affected by this. A collegue, protesting when his car was touched from behind while waiting to pick up his kids, was attacked viscously and pummelled to the ground. Fortunately, the attacker, presumably another parent, did not carry a weapon. One wonders if the school is right for the kids. Maybe it is. The art of street survival may be an unintended benefit of the schooling.

A word of advice for all drivers in Delhi: No arguing on the streets of Delhi. Go home, and claim that insurance.

Seen written on a blue line bus: Jat in Tension.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Strains of India

The Teacher by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

This short story appeared in the New Yorker recently, and caught my eye. Not only because Ruth is from New Delhi; she lived next door to my aunt on Flag Staff road. As kids we viewed that house with a bit of awe, which was reinforced when, as teenagers, we saw the movie, A Room with a View.

The story is tightly woven around, unpredictably, a person of Indian origin, an enigmatic Dr. Chacko. He seems to epitomise the multifaceted gurus who haunt the western world with promises of spiritual up-liftment, and to a middle class Indian mind is a well known evil. Some of what he and his disciples do and say in the story is unsprising; over reacting to the preaching, an illusion of attaining moksha, and congregations which are covertly money spinners. The interaction with the narrator is complicated though. She provides a place for Chacko to stay, while his dedicated followers provide the breakfast. The relationship with the narrator gets quite intricate, and one keeps on waiting for a misdemeanour to occur. It occurs, but unexpectedly is one which is classified under section 420 of the Indian penal code. Looks like Ruth has been unable to shrug off her stay in India.

There are shades of prurience in some passages, with a tinge of D.H. Lawrence as one reads:

During these warm months, my evening walks sometimes took me as far as the waterfall at the edge of my property. The precipitous climb to the rock from which it fell was no longer easy for me, but I enjoyed the solitude there, the moss-covered stones, the trees bending toward the arc of the water. One day I saw a figure within that arc, sheathed in its iridescence and turning in its spray: it was Dr. Chacko, naked and singing as he soaped himself. His towel and a pair of rubber flip-flops lay on a rocky edge far enough away not to get away.

The development of the relationship with the narrator takes on layers of development which slowly unpeel at a leisurely pace. Ruth’s sensitivity to this aspect is well recognised, and was evident in A Room with a View and Heat and Dust. Although one is left a bit bewildered at the end. What exactly did Dr. Chacko leave behind in his legacy?

Odds and Ends

The Man Booker long list was unveiled this week, and notable authors from the sub-continent are highlighted below:

Aravind Adiga : The White Tiger
Gaynor Arnold : Girl in a Blue Dress
Sebastian Barry : The Secret Scripture
John Berger : From A to X
Michelle de Kretser : The Lost Dog
Amitav Ghosh: Sea of Poppies
Linda Grant : The Clothes on Their Backs
Mohammed Hanif: A Case of Exploding Mangoes
Philip Hensher: The Northern Clemency
Joseph O’Neil: Netherland
Salman Rushdie: The Enchantress of Florence
Tom Rob Smith: Child 44
Steve Toltz: A Fraction of the Whole

One of the judges is Hardeep Singh Kohli, a very English name, a TV and Radio broadcaster.

Delhi Chronicles

It’s yesterday once again

I was stuck in the car yesterday, negotiating a tiresome traffic jam, and had to listen to my driver’s favourite program, the cricket commentary,. The English commentator was salivating and slurping after each ball, and it was painful to listen in. Which reminded me of my school days, when listening to commentary on a hand held radio, while standing on the DTC bus footboard and leaning out to feel the breeze in your 70’s style Rajesh Khanna hair style was the in thing to do. The question “Bhaisahib score kya hai” – “What is the score” ( Bhaisahib is untranslatable, only a Delhi-wallah can capture the essence of this form of address) casually flung at anybody with the contraption stuck to his ear invariably got a reply. The tone of the reply told you the state of the match. An excited reply was rare, and a languid answer was what one got most of the time. Those were the times of the full full five days of test cricket, with a rest day thrown in. India’s score lines were invariably less than today’s T20 matches. The TV sets were rare, and that too in black and white. In fact, the TV commentators were so popular that Dad used to lower the volume on the TV, and the voice over came from the radio, strategically placed on top of the TV. Looking back, this probably gives the best bang for your buck, as we had to pay for the TV and the Radio license! The sight of the giant Tony Grieg standing menacingly close to the batsman still sends shivers down the backs of many old timers.

Aside: Britons still have to pay for a TV license. You poor sods!