Writer's Blog

Transient Thoughts

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Struggling with Amitav Ghosh

Maybe because I have picked tough, big novels that I have had trouble completing books these days (reading, of course :-).

David Copperfield is still unread. I don't even remember the last book I read fully. Was it "A tale of Two Cities" or was there another, smaller read?  A youtube addiction - mostly Steven Colbert, Seth Meyers and Trevor Noah - is partly to blame. An aspiring-author's-envy (my expression) could also be leading to this - a tearing urge to leave off reading anything interesting, and to yourself try and write something instead.

But the choice of novels could be a reason for sure. I can't imagine having so much trouble with Vikram Seth's  'A Suitable Boy' if I were to read it now, as I am having with Amitav Ghosh's 'River of Smoke' - I somehow manage to finish a 'Sea of Poppies' sometime in 2017.

There's just too much detail in Amitav Ghosh - it's like drinking juice concentrate when you were only interested in experimenting with a new juice flavor.  There's so much detail - the surroundings, the foods, the smells, the clothes, not to mention difficult local-language words, the historical figures - that it is difficult to sift out the story, the human element. And there in lies another problem I am having. I cannot figure out how much of the book is direct transcription from historical records and sources, and how much is Ghosh's own imagination. Ghosh also attempts to weave all his research into his story, which kind of leads to the whole story sounding like a perpetual coincidence.  Ghosh is also a habitual name dropper as far as historical figures go. An author often reflects his own personality to his characters. Of course a multi-faceted author should be able to break up his own personality into many characters, but what if in doing this, the characters themselves start merging into once another? I believe this happens with Ghosh.

Seth used a lot of references too - a lot of parliamentary records I think - but I don't remember being so utterly overwhelmed by details in 'A Suitable Boy'. I must read that book once more at a later point to make a comparison.

All my complaints aside, the Ibis books are certainly very enriching in terms of historical information, and helping create an image of Canton and India and Mauritius in the 19th century. This part of India's and World history are certainly not taught well enough in school. My visits to China, Singapore and Malaysia in the last couple of years combined - combined with these books certainly help me to understand South East Asia enough to think consciously of these countries. Perhaps India thinks about the West more since the West is what has troubled us?

However, while quite amusing, and with interesting enough characters - yet Ghosh's work has yet to provide me an intense literary or poetic vision, far from convulsions of literary ecstasy or moving me to tears.  Is that not a fair expectation from literature? Are Seth, Dickens and Marquez the exceptions rather than the rule?

So should I read Ghosh as a history book then? Why not actually write a historical non-fiction like Dalrymple?

For now my problem is I can't make out Ghosh as an author and a style. I'll give it some time, I suppose. But that's (one thing) holding up my reading list.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

God bless the Indian musical tradition

Got a pleasant surprise this morning. Was looking for Meenakshi Memudam on youtube - and found a rendition by T. M Krishna. Wonderfully fresh, precise, innovative and high quality. I though he was an old master, listening to him, but then found some videos on YouTube - it turns out they are a bunch of young musicians - dark hair on every head, shiny silk clothes - the singer, on the mridangam, the violin, and even the Ghatam!  A bit of the jamming element to it...The singer seems to be playing a football game with the mridangam and ghatam players, and romancing the violin playeress, and in another video the tanpura playeress seems quite smitten.  But... like I said, they perform like old masters. The Indian musical tradition continues... so heartening.

I am not putting in any links here. If you are interested just do a quick search for T. M. Krishna. Highly recommended: Meenakshi Memudam, Endharo Mahanubhavulu, Baro Krishnayya...

The Meenakshi Memudam rendition itself.... quite gripping... Speaks of Genius, the composer Dikshiktar's I mean...a compelling, all consuming talent, that devours the person so graced, to do nothing but that, at the cost of everything else. A super-tuned high-Q system, again I mean the composer. Is it just probability, or is it occasional divine intervention? How closely Indian music is tied to divinity - so much so that the practice of it is considered devotion to God.... a scared calling, well worth the sacrifice of materialistic pursuits,  maybe more than that...

Music maybe the best of human creations - with the exception of antibiotics perhaps.

Sunday, January 01, 2017


Naseeruddin Shah's well-dresssed, well-bearded upper body covered half the giant screen in the auditorium. In those early days, the regulations were lax enough to allow me to sit in the auditorium all by myself on a Saturday playing an entertainment CD - Gulzar's Mirza Ghailb TV serial. The gentle wind blowing on Naseeruddin Shah's face on screen had a minor equivalent for me from the AC vent.

Naseeruddin Shah's chest swelled, his face filled with a wistful glow. He sang full-lunged in Jagjit Singh's voice:

"Qaasid ke aate aate khat ek aur likh rakhoon,
Main Jaanata hoon woh joh likhenge jawaab mein"

This is the most winning sher in the ghazal, in my opinion. What is it about a good sher that so stirs the reader? Is it the beauty of construction, a feeling of serendipity, or some sudden joyous revelation that "saying it so" was also possible.  How much more so it must have been for the poet! For a true reader or listener, encountering a good sher is perhaps the moment when you give a hi-fi or a strong shake, or an aadaab to the poet himself across space-time? A sharing, in small measure of course, of the poet's original epiphany?

I have said before that a good sher can hold together an entire Ghazal - you'd want to sing or listen to the whole ghazal just for that one good sher. In this ghazal though, it is difficult to find an ordinary sher.  The maqta (the last sher of the Ghazal with the poet's name in it) and "mujh tak...." are priceless.

"Kab Se hain kya bataoon, jahaan e kharaab mein,
Shab haye hijr ko bhi rakhoon gar hisaab mein

Mujh tak kab unki bazm mein aata tha daur e jaam,
Saaki ne kuch mila na diya ho sharaab mein

Taa phir na intezaar mein, neend aaye umr bhar
Aane ka ahd kar gaye, aaye jo khwaab mein

"Ghalib chuti sharaab par abhi kabhi kabhi
Peeta hoon roz-e-abr-o-shab-e-mahataab mein"

Was Mirza Ghalib good looking? Most images I have seen show an ordinary, even grouchy old man - a face undeserving of the intellect, quite unmatchable to the wit in his poetry. Maybe he had a good set of teeth, a pleasant smile, and a warm charm that the artist (who made his portrait) could not translate to paper.

(To be continued ...)

Sunday, August 28, 2016

What are countries famous for?

I have become quite the world traveler recently. It came with the job, and started gradually about a couple of years ago. And only recently with multiple trips this year, has travel-aversion reduced a little, and I am realizing that this might have been something I wanted in the past.

Typing this from Seoul now. This trip had to straddle a weekend, and I went out touring this morning. Went to Seoul's royal palace, saw the change of gaurd ceremony and all. Read some history before hand - it appears Korea suffered quite a bit under Japanese occupation before the second world war. Also read Samsung means three-stars.

In the afternoon, having some time and solitude, I began to think. Among all the nations in the world, what is India's identity? What are the identities of the different nations? Can a country claim to be great? If a country's political leadership claim that they are the greatest, does it do good for the people, or make them smug or worse illusion-ed?

 I just could not shake this topic, and I wanted to come to a conclusion that India had some outstanding greatness that could top all countries. In the end, I concluded that each country has it's own claims to fame, and it is impossible to compare. Even the countries that are going through terrible times currently, hopefully are only negotiating their own dark ages.

For India, perhaps, the greatness lies in being the largest number of people held together by an ancient and continuing cultural tradition. And our diversity. For the US, it is technological and scientific innovation. For Europe, human well-being (one hopes). For Africa, a life closer to nature.

In the end, also googled, and found some interesting views:

https://iq-research.info/en/page/average-iq-by-country (I though India would do good here)

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Chain of Discoveries on a Wednesday evening

Of a whim, on my drive home, I played an old favorite on youtube:

Mera Kuch Saaman:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlvXDGJAMT0

At the end of this song, was a small snippet of this song that I had heard and loved before, but not listened carefully:

Jeehale-e-miskeen makun ba ranjish



Looking fro the lyrics, I discovered that this song by Gulzar borrows the first few words from the below masterpiece by Amir Khusro


Scrolling down, in the last link above, is a rendition by Ghulam Ali. Plus a little bit of his history in his own words. Turns out he is a student of Ustaad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. I didn't know!


Sunday, June 07, 2015

Na to Caravaan ki Talaash hai...

I don't know what took me so long to look for this quawwali on YouTube. I had seen the full version on TV long long ago with my mom, and then, for long, had lamented that I had only an abridged version on my audio cassette (now gathering dust somewhere). Not that I blamed the good folks at SaReGaMa - after all they had to fit some N gems on that small cassette - Barsaat Ki Raat on one side and Tajmahal on the other.

But yesterday, out of some sudden inspiration, I searched and easily found the video, and watched the song in full, for only the second time, after a long long time. Long live the information revolution!


How things live in a video recording. Probably each and every one associated in any which way with the creation of this video is dead and gone.

Subsequently, also found the other great Quawwalis of Barsaat Ki Raat. Again, a couple of pleasant surprises  in the form of shers not inlcuded in the audio cassette.

Nigaah-e-Naaz ke maaron ka haal kya hoga:

Pehchaanta hoon khoob tumhari nazar ko mai:

There's no end of things I can say about these great quawwalis. Will say only two things however. One: It would not be wrong to say that Sahir Ludhianwi has written the whole film, though he has only written the lyrics of the ghazals and quawwlis - since the story seems to be said through the songs. And second is this sher from one of the quawwalis:

Aayi hai unke chaand se chehare ko choom ke
Ji chahata hai choom loon apni nazar ko mai

The whole movie is also on YouTube, thankfully. Looking forward to watching it one of these days.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Shatranj Ke Khiladi

One of my favourite films, for a hundred different reasons. Had to read and share this link, even though I am supposed to be finishing some work.

Surprising to see that so much "jugaad" went into a film, that on screen looks so lavishly made!


Sunday, October 06, 2013

Na gavao navak-e-neem kash


Found the above translation and explanation of Faiz's "Na Gavao Navak-e-neem kash" that I am listening to to these days - sung by Farida Khanum (easily available on youtube). I am also copy-pasting the translation from the same link, in case the link becomes unavailable later. More commentary is available on the link. The translation is by Anis Zuberi, and the blog is by Raza Rumi. I don't know either Anis or Raza, but I hope they'll forgive my copy pasting in the larger interest of aficionados of Faiz and urdu poetry.

If you are leading a comfortable life, reading and listening to Faiz, with his leftist ideals, can be a bit of a strain on the conscience. However, this ghazal can also be read in a romantic light, and of course enjoyed for its rich poetic values alone. A bit like eating meat and not bothering about where it came from. My favourite is the third verse "Karo kaj jabeen pe....". Wah! Delicious.


Na ganvao navak-e-neem kash, dil-e-reza reza ganva dia
Jo bachay hain sang samet lo, tan-e-dagh dagh luta dia

Do not waste (your) half drawn arrow, (I have already) lost (broken pieces of my) heart.
Collect and save the left-over stones, (my) injured or wounded body is (already) wasted

Mere charagar ko naveed ho, saf-e-dushmana ko khabar karo
Woh jo qarz rakhtay thay jaan par, woh hisab aaj chuka dia

Let my health giver know, let the procession of foes know
He whose soul was indebted, has settled his dues today

Karo kaj jabeen pe sar-e-kafan, mere qatilon ko guman na ho
Ke ghuroor-e-ishq ka baankpan, pas-e-marg hum ne bhula dia

Keep the burial shroud atilt on (my) forehead, lest my assassin may have misgivings
(that) Pride of self-importance or arrogance of love, I forgot after death.

Udhar aik harf ki kushtni, yahan laakh uzr thaa guftni
Jo kaha toh sun ke ura dia, jo likha toh parh ke mita dia

On that side there was one word ‘kill’, on my side there were hundred thousand reasons (to explain why I behaved the way I did)
What (I) said (you) heard, not paid attention ; what (I) wrote (you) you read and erased

Jo rukay toh koh-e-garan thay hum, jo chalay toh jan se guzar gaye
Rah-e-yaar hum ne qadam qadam, tujhay yadgaar bana dia

(I am) mountain when I stop; (I am) beyond life when I walk
I have, (turned) every step on the path of the beloved into a memorial

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Rangashankara refresher

(A long post: it might be ok to skip a paragraph here and there.) 

At a loose end, since the wife and kid are out of town, I decided to go to Rangashankara. The play playing was Anabhigna Shakuntala, seemed interesting enough - though I didn't know what it meant, still don't, and would have preferred if it was the original Abhignana Shanakuntala.

Caught the bus for a change. A company part-sponsored Volvo pass has made the bus an attractive option. Especially if the destination is a few minutes off the ring road. Though I did wonder on the bus if I would get there on time. That's when past memories of Rangashankara came rushing back: the one or two shows missed by minutes thanks to traffic and bad planning; the one show just made on time, when someone was waiting and I had the tickets; stalking potential ticket sellers the few times when I landed up and found the show sold-out; first time hearing the shrill bell calling time as the lights dimmed; of celebrity spotting; and of course all of the times driving an hour or so, at least, through soul crunching, foot numbing traffic, short-cuts, detours and all.

As it happened, I got there well in time. As I turned the corner I realized once more that this was the only place in Bangalore I could call a favourite haunt. There seems to be a halo around the place. Entered, bought ticket, a Kannada play with no big shots, tickets were easy. Though I was glad to see from the posters that this was a full fledged production, a big cast, and full costumes, not one of your minimalistic productions, not that I have anything against the latter, except that I have found that full productions very rarely go wrong (except the one time I went to see Romeo and Juliet in Kannada, and found not a young pair, but an ugly Romeo and a paunchy Juliet) whereas the minimalistic stuff? 50-50 at best.

Got a tea. Took a look around. A great collage on the wall with wood and thermocol, showing the state of the nation: a hungry serpent devouring the aam admi, a bunch of people playing musical "chair", a crow with a Gandhi cap next to a pot, with Ruppee coins next to him, three large armless men, with black strips across the eyes, our impotent institutions? Some posters of workshops for kids. Rangashankara flourishes. 

In the corner, photographs of action from the Globe Theatre in London - the only must see place for me, from the balcony seat ofcourse, if I ever get to visit the UK. Reproductions of ads from the late 19th century for Shakespeare festivals. Rangashankara recently had a Shakespeare festival, which I unfortunately missed. Quotes from Shakespeare put up everywhere. 


I was lost in a Shakespeare reverie, what plays to read, and how best to get to London, when the play began, and I realized, hey, wait, this is about our own master playright, Kalidasa. I was reminded of arguments against calling Kalidasa the Shakespeare of India, saying ofcourse, Kalidasa lived earlier. But that was a wrong argument I thought. For wasn't Shakespeare much more prolific, and isn't his legacy to the living language much larger?

At that moment, the Nati entered, and in the true Kalidasa tradition, a simple invocation to Lord Shiva began, thrilling me from head to toe, even though I only partly understood it, jerking me out of all reveries quite into the play. This was the invocation (googled from a few remembered words, it seems a popular one):

Aangikam Bhuvanam Yasya,
Vachikam Sarvavangmayam,
Aaharyam Chandra Taraadi. 
Tam Namaha Satvikam Shivam

(He, Whose limbs are the world,
He, Whose songs and poetry are the essence of all language,
He, Whose costume is the moon and the stars,
We bow to Him, the Pure, Shivam)

The sense of oneness with nature, and all creation, indeed the whole universe, a humble acknowledgement of the divine hand working through him, the spirituality that pervades Kalidasa's work, is not to be found in Shakespeare's, and perhaps distinguishes the former from the latter.

Here's my favourite invocation from Kalidasa, from Raghuvamsam:

May the Parents of the Universe,
Parvati and the Supreme Lord,
Eternally conjoined as Word and Meaning,
Grant Fittest Utterance to my Thoughts.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

"3BHK flats @ xx lakhs, 3-side open, Vaastu complaint.." Well, don't advertise it!

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Ae jazba-e-dil gar main chahoon

On request from Naira Niazi, here's a translation, with some interpretation, of Ae jazba-e-dil... 

There are ghazals that you listen to because you like the poet or the singer. And  there are ghazals that you sort of bump into. In Gulzar's serial, Mirza Ghalib is shown as hearing Mir Taqi Mir's "Patta-patta boota-boota" for the first time from a faqir on the street - though I doubt it really happened that way. 

I bumped into Ae jazba-e-dil in the movie "In Custody", a Merchant Ivory film, where a portly Shashi Kapoor plays an ageing poet, Nur Shahajehanabadi, dominated, and in a way imprisoned, by the younger of his two wives. The younger wife, Imtiaz Begum, played by Shabana Azmi, is a popular ghazal singer, yearning to be known as a poet, who passes Nur's poetry as her own. Ae jazba-e-dil  appears as a pleasant surprise in the middle of the film, Imtiaz Begum singing to a sleazy audience. 

The original ghazal is by Behzad Lucknowi.


Ae jazba-e-dil, gar main chaahun, har cheez muqaabil aa jaae,
Manzil ke liye do gaam chalun, aur saamane manzil aa jaae.

Muqaabil = in front of, saamne; gaam = steps, kadam
How I wish, if I wanted, everything should be possible, 
I should walk but a few steps, and there my manzil should be!
Alternate (more correct, perhaps):
Oh passionate heart, if I wish everything will be possible,
I need walk but a few steps, and there my manzil will be!

Ae dil ki khalish chal yun hi sahi, chalta to hoon un ki mehfil main. 

Us waqt mujhay chonka dena jab rang pai mehfil aaaajaye.

Oh jealous heart, if you insist, I will go with you to her mehfil,

But when the revelry starts to hurt, do let me get up and away...
(The jealous heart, can't be at her mehfil, can't be away).

Ae rahabar-e-kaamil chalane ko tayyaar to huun par yaad rahe 

Us vaqt mujhe bhaTakaa denaa jab saamane manzil aa jaaye 

Rahbar = guide; Kaamil=accomplished. 
Oh you who guide the chosen few, I am ok to be led by you, 
But do let me go astray, when The Manzil is but a step away...

(A contrast within the same ghazal, between the first and the third shers . The words of one, perhaps, who reaches or wishes to reach (intermediate) manzils easily, who does not really care for the manzil, and who, whatsmore, wants to keep travelling, if possible.)

Haan yaad mujhay tum kar lena, awaz mujhay tum de lena,
Is rah-e-muhabbat mein koi darpaish jo mushkil aa jaye

Do think of me, remember me, shout out for me,
If you face troubles in this path of love, I'll be there for you...

Ab kyun dhoondoon vo chashm-e-karam, hone de sitam bala-e-sitam;
Main chaahta hoon ai jazba-e-gham, mushkil pas-e-mushkil aa jaaye.

Chashm-e-karam = kind eyes, chashm=eyes
Why should I look for kindness in your eyes, let there be tortures galore,
I am so used to my misery, I wish for troubles after troubles.


This below sher is not from the original ghazal but was added later, perhaps by popular singers of the ghazal. It appears in the version sung by Nayyara Noor:

Aata hai jo toofan, aane do, kashti ka khuda khud haafiz hai,
Mushkil to nahi in maujon mein, behata hua saahil aa jaae.

mauj= waves, saahil=shore

My boat is rocking in the storm, but God is looking after me,
Is it not possible that a new shore awaits amidst these waves?

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Regrets of a would-be physicist

Friday last, a senior physicist visited our company to talk about the Higgs Boson. It was a general talk, about how science's understanding of nature has been growing slowly, how physicists like to believe that all of nature would be based on a few, simple laws, the hunt after unifying theories, and the theoretical hypothesis behind the Higgs Boson. I don't think I understood enough to be able to converse intelligently about it. But my interest in physiscs was aroused enough to tell myself that if I were to get a million dollars I would quit my job and physics would be one of the subjects I would study, in addition to music. (I can't focus on one thing even while day-dreaming!). It seems like an interesting field. It must be magical to be able to deduce the existence of some particles - ultimate detective work - and then wait for other people to prove you right, not to mention pick up the Nobel prize. Videos of Stephen Hawking's students filling up entire green boards with complex equations for him to review, that I saw on TV sometime, were quite intimidating, and I am still scared of having to understand Maxwell's equations sometime though I am going to give it a shot one of these days. But according to the physicist who talked to us, apparently the quality-factor about physics theories is if you can explain them to seven-year-olds , which is encouraging for a lazy student. (I thought in Einstein's times it was five-year-olds, but I guess the poor blokes have cut themselves some slack recently).

My interest in Physics was last aroused about 10 years ago, when I found a two-volume Feynman's lectures in somebody's convenient collection.  I had started a daily post-lunch reading of a lecture a day. But I was a heavy luncher those days, and I don't think I even finished one lecture. That arousal was lost among other more uncontrollable ones.

I do a lot of introspection these days, so much so that there always seems to be a constant whirr in the back of my mind, with some introspection or other running in the background. Friday's talk also led to an introspection. I used to be curious person at one time, I mean one driven by curiosity. I remember having learnt calculus before it was taught in school, having learnt Boyle's and other gas laws from an encyclopedia, having finished the first few chapters of a history book before school began. But it was a kind of a spoon-fed curiosity. I was curious to learn what knowledge already existed, but I don't remember having new questions of my own. Could this second-had curiosity have blossomed into stuff physicists are made of, had my life not been subject to some other influences? I'll never know.

One of such influences was an acute self-conciousness that I developed through 11th and 12th class, when people started having opinions about me, and I started caring about these opinions. The second influence was porn, in college, which came soon after I had learnt to do unto myself. But the 'killer' influence was developing a strong aesthetic sense - of music, poetry, beauty...So overwhelmed was I by these influences that even while studying engineering, I was a reluctant knowledge seeker, seeking enough to do well in the exams, laying more emphasis on 'feeling' the world and the human condition rather than 'knowing' it. This attitude continued into my professional life too, unfortunately, perhaps led by the thought that I would be able to write a book some day, and only in the last few years have I succeeded in kindling in myself a real curiosity for my profession, though I am reasonably successful in what I do. On the other hand, I have explored the art world of my own quite a bit: Carnatic and Hindustani classsical music, Urdu poetry, Shakespeare, Van-Gogh. I realize now that given the amazing bandwidth of the brain, making a choice between the science and the art worlds is not a necessity.

On Friday, Physics seemed difficult but do-able. (After all, if you put an average physicist in one of our design-reviews I am sure he won't understand much.) Maybe if I had had a really good physics teacher my life might have been different.  Too late now, I will have to give Physics a pass for this lifetime.

Unless, I get that million dollars...

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Was that me?

It looks like I have become a new me, sometime during the last four-five years. Sudden aspects of my past life shock me. Was it me that did that? Why do I don't I do such stuff anymore or do I? Somehow the first 25 yrs of my life were a more consistent person I think.

Today morning woke up thinking about tennis. Maybe because of a slightly sore elbow gotten by playing tennis 2 weeks ago after maybe 5-6yrs. Or maybe because of the Woody Allen movie Match Point that I was watching yest. evening (Woody Allen: genius. I know its a well acknowledged fact, but I can't help saying it again). Then suddenly out of the blue came memories of cheering Steffi Graf against Monica Seles. And not feeling too bad when someone stabbed Seles so Graf could continue to be number 1. (B.t.w. if this makes you nostalgic, you should check out the 'Steffi will you marry me' video on youtube). Hardly watch any Tennis on TV these days...

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The squirrel

A bad one:
Thiruvalluvar had a pet squirrel after which he named his famous work. The name of the squirrel? Thiruquirrel.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Daag and his alliterations

I have always contended that Ghalib and Daag used entirely opposite methods. Ghalib creates beauty out of complexity; Daag out of simplicity. But Mir was a poet of simplicity too. So what is then the difference between Mir's and Daag's poetry. The answer, I think, is that Daag's poetry is almost totally free of that precious commodity, that as Munshiji says to Amitabh Bacchan in Sharaabi, actually makes a poet: 'dard' or angst.

Most poets are born out of discontentment, of restlessness, out of (existential) angst. A poet born out of contentment is rare I think. Daag was a happy poet - perhaps because he led a happy, comfortable and easy life - his step father was one of Zafar's sons - unlike Mir and Ghalib who were mostly poor or only occasionally well-to-do. Daag is a great exception that way - a poet who was happy, yet successful as a poet. He perhaps ought to be celebrated that much more - for discontent is a key tool for creativity - and Daag managed so well without it.

The absence of angst, angst which has more to do with the brain than with the heart, meant perhaps that Daag actually wrote from the heart. Which probably also explains why he used alliteration so often - it is the laziest of the figures of speech and requires (I think) the least mental machinations. The similes, the metaphors and of course the transferred epithets (think Faiz) they are for the intelligentsia. Give me the figure of speech (one can imagine Daag saying) of the masses, of humanity. It is alliteration again that betrays the joy in the Daag's heart even in shers where he is apparently complaining about his beloved.

Here are a couple of verses from the ghazal "Aafat ki shokiyan hain tumhari nigaah mein" that I think are perfect examples of Daag's alliterations, though you will find alliteration in at least one sher in most of his ghazals.

Aatii hai baat baat mujhe yaad baar baar,
Kehta hoon daud daud ke quasid se raah mein.

quasid: messenger.

I keep remembering more things I wanted to say to you,
I keep running to the messenger and adding to my message.

Woh dushmani se dekhate hain, dekhate to hain,
Main shaad hoon, ke hoon to, kisiki nigaah mein

shaad: happy, just like na-shaad: unhappy or morose.

It's ok if she looks at me, regards me, with anger,
I am happy that she is at least looking at me, that I am in her thoughts

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Ik Vaari Ik Sardaar Si

Bhai Niranjan Singh "Amreekawale" Ramakrishnan asked me if I would review his book "Bantaism - the philosophy of sardar jokes" on this blog. I accepted, perhaps a touch condescendingly, thinking I should give a hand to another budding writer. But only when the book arrived (in a cheerful red and yellow cover with a joyful sardar cartoon in the foreground of a red truck) did I realize that Niranjan is an established writer and an ex-runner of two software companies.

The book starts with a brief history of the sardar joke (it goes earlier than after the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, I learnt) and how it has changed over the years. Niranjan does point out that inspite of the sardar jokes, sardars are in general well regarded, and even looked at with deference and awe. But in addition, I think, some later sardar jokes might have been conceived in envy - envy at the sardar's physical prowess and bravery, at his appetite for tandoori chicken and drink, of his general joi-de-vivre. In an ironical conincidence, the very morning of the afternoon I received the book, I was watching an interview of the late Kartar Singh Duggal on DD Bharti - and being totally floored by his articulate, beautiful and pure English. (Also feeling a deep pity for the sheer incompetence of his interviewer - about it another day).

The book is a collection of sardar jokes - but each joke also looked at in a different light. Is there a philosophical insight hiding there? For example the joke where a sardar working as a lion in a zoo suddenly realizes that all the animals in the zoo are also sardars in animal constumes, brings home the point about our assumed roles at office. Niranjan points to the case of the call centre employees, Indians pretending to be Jane and John, but I think more subtle things happen too. A poet-at-heart crunching numbers in an investment bank for eg. And the other one, where a sardar who is sleeping too soundly to know that he has been given a shave and haircut, once awake, mistakes himself for another man, points perhaps the amount of care and interest we take in our outer appearance without investing enough time in how we are inside.

The first joke in the book, appearing in the introductory note, sets the tone for what is to follow: "Sardar, how do you know if a chick is a murgi or murga?" "Koi vaddi gal nahin, I'll feed it some rice, je khaooga ta murga e, je khaoogi ta murgi e" Though a philosophical discussion does not follow in the book in this case, had there been one it would have perhaps been of ardhanareshwar-ism, of yin and yang, of the balances of the sexes in a person...

The book made me reflect a whole deal about jokes in general. What are jokes? They are after all caricatures of human behavior, of life itself. And like all caricatures they perhaps accentuate the warts and the wrinkles, the weak chins and the ear hairs. And just like a politician might take his cartoon to his plastic surgeon and say, "see I want this this and this changed", so also jokes can prompt us to put ourselves in the Sardar's (say) shoes and think "Do I act like a Sardar sometimes?"

My favourite sardar joke actually involves a sardarni and a phrase 'mummyji hello' but I don't think I will find it in Niranjan's book and nor can I put it down here. Do ask around for it!

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Donkeys and Lions

The other day, at the entrance to the tech park where I work, I over-heard a guy talking over the phone, in an old-Bangalore accent, presumably cribbing to his friend or colleage about his (own) boss.

"A group of Donkeys led by a Lion will always win against a group of Lions led by a Donkey"

Rants against the boss are nothing new, and the phrase in itself is quite clever, but I found the Aesop-fable, panchatantra-tales like animallic analogy additionally funny - espeically when uttered in a tech park. Some employees there have probably seen neither donkey nor lion in their lifetimes.

Midnight In Paris

Got to see Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris, on a plane from Dubai to SF. Last time on an Emirates flight, it was Abida Parveen's main hosh mein hoon to ghazal, and this time it was Woody Allen's latest classic.
(Just before that I saw Mel Brookes' Smoking Saddles. But it was only very funny).

Well, with the kid and all, watching movies in theaters is a thing of the past. Thank God there's Emirates.

It's a very original script: a budding writer transported to the 20's Paris he so would have liked to live in. Surrounded by artists and writers he admires. Hemingway, Picasso, Matisse, Fitzgerald, Elliot, Dali. It was the kind of feeling I got when I saw familiar poets, Ghalib, Zafar, Zauq, Momin in Mirza Ghalib serial by Gulzar. But of course, Woody Allen has given this original twist of a non-scientific time travel, where at Midnight the movie's protagonist is suddenly transported to the 20s Paris society.

The central thought of the movie is that most of us think of an earlier time, not today, as an artistic golden age, and it is possible that people who we think lived in a golden age, ignored the great art happening around them and instead looked back with fondness on an even earlier time. Hmm. Does this happen a lot? Not in all cases I think - maybe 50-50, or normal probability. For. eg. Woody Allen himself is quite a celebrated filmmaker in his own time.

It was great to see how Picasso and Hemingway looked - I am assuming Woody Allen would have managed to create the respective authentic looks. It was also interesting to hear Hemingway saying that all writers are competitiors and he would hate any author's work - if it was bad, then because it was bad, and if good, out of envy. There have been times when I have liked something so much that I have not been able to read it further out of envy. Even on this trip, I was thinking of taking along Khushwant Singh's Delhi but felt that I could not re-read so well written a book.

Woody Allen is for me the best movie maker today. Midnight in Paris is so gripping, I could not stop watching even though it was the second movie on the trot, and I was feeling sleepy. Could not also resist writing about it immediately.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

The Old School

Thanks to an excellent channel called DD Bharati, which, in my opinion, is about 10x better than the DD National Channel,I have been regularly catching epsiodes from Shyam Benegal's 'Bharat Ek Khoj'. The serial has several things going for it: excellent direction from Benegal, Nehru's erudite, liberal and generous view of history, and great actors who went on to become celebrated character actors of Bollywood.

In today's episode alone, which was based on Raja Rao's Kanthapura (coincidentally my mom is reading the book now), I came across, I might even say bumped into, Irfan Khan as a wiry and evilish police constable, Shabana Azmi as a progressive village lady, Om Puri as the village Gowda, Pallavi Joshi, Shyam Benegal himself as a conservative Pandit, Ila Arun, and wonder of wonders, Piyush Mishra, the man who plays the TV channel owner, Majeed, in Tere Bin Laden - it took me quite a while to place him.

Om Puri is a regular, now playing Raja Raja Chola, now Babur, now Mohammed of Ghazni. Kulbhushan Kharbanda appears as Akbar in one episode, Sadashiv Amrapurkar plays Mahatma Phule in another. Irfan Khan appears often too. The other role of his I remember is as one of the associates of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan.

The routes the character actors of Indian cinema seem to be quite different from the ones taken by the 'stars' of Bollywood. Theatre, drama school, doing solid work in alternative cinema or in quality serials like Bharat Ek Khoj, the acting equivalent of making your bones...vs. a 'launch', in an often family sponsored, big budget big banner...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Avoid Waste

An email a colleague sent at work... My take on this (and I have been following this lately) is to always get any left over food in restaurants parceled. Take it home to eat it some other time, or give it to some needy people...

Germany is a highly industrialized country. It produces top brands like Benz, BMW, Siemens etc. The nuclear reactor pump is made in a small town in this country. In such a country, many will think its people lead a luxurious life. At least that was my impression before my study trip.

When I arrived at Hamburg, my colleagues who work in Hamburg arranged a welcome party for me in a restaurant. As we walked into the restaurant, we noticed that a lot of tables were empty. There was a table where a young couple was having their meal. There were only two dishes and two cans of beer on the table. I wondered if such simple meal could be romantic, and whether the girl will leave this stingy guy.

There were a few old ladies on another table. When a dish is served, the waiter would distribute the food for them, and they would finish every bit of the food on their plates.

We did not pay much attention to them, as we were looking forward to the dishes we ordered. As we were hungry, our local colleague ordered more food for us.

As the restaurant was quiet, the food came quite fast. Since there were other activities arranged for us, we did not spend much time dining. When we left, there was still about one third of unconsumed food on the table.

When we were leaving the restaurant, we heard someone calling us. We noticed the old ladies in the restaurant were talking about us to the restaurant owner. When they spoke to us in English, we understood that they were unhappy about us wasting so much food. We immediately felt that they were really being too busybody."We paid for our food, it is none of your business how much food we left behind," my colleague told the old ladies.

The old ladies were furious. One of them immediately took her hand phone out and made a call to someone. After a while, a man in uniform claimed to be an officer from the Social Security Organization arrived. Upon knowing what the dispute was, he issued us a 50 Mark fine. We all kept quiet. The local colleague took out a 50 Mark note and repeatedly apologized to the officer.


Our face turned red. We all agreed with him in our hearts. The mind set of people of this rich country put all of us to shame. WE REALLY NEED TO REFLECT ON THIS. We are from country which is not very rich in resources.
To save face, we order large quantity and also waste food when we give others a treat. THIS LESSON TAUGHT US A LESSON TO THINK SERIOUSLY ABOUT CHANGING OUR BAD HABITS.

My colleague photo copy the fine ticket and gave a copy to each of us as a souvenir. All of us kept it and pasted on our wall to remind us that we shall never be wasteful.

It is easier to criticize, but difficult to Improve!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Damn this contentment.
Oh for the madding passions,
Of a rabid dog.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


What will it turn to,
the yellow dress you'r wearing,
pretty one? red? green?

This, in half profile,
fills me up with dreamly sleep,
languid yawn of yours.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Me and Uncle Pai

Today I was going through some old manuscripts and correspondence from the days when I was an active writer of stories for children. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself smile and laugh at stuff I had myself written: I used to be good.

I found several letters, some of acceptance, some rejection slips, from the late editor of TINKLE and the creator of Amar Chitra Katha - Anant Pai or Uncle Pai. When Uncle Pai passed away in February this year, I was so busy with some stuff going on at work, that I might not have spent more than a minute in total thinking about it. Even when my mother commented about it over phone, I only said "yes, I read". Well, such is the pace of the rat race.

Anant Pai always manually signed his letters, and sometimes added a personal note. "I have been to TVM several times" he wrote on an acceptance letter, when I was in Trivandrum, "Next time I am in TVM I will get in touch with you." On another occasion rejecting a story called 'Big Bang' he wrote "Science fiction cannot ignore well known and established scientific fact." Accepting my last story, he said that my English was very good. A couple of years into work in Bangalore I was vaguely considering doing an internship at TINKLE in Mumbai. Never got around to doing it, but I did correspond with them, and even spoke to Uncle Pai over phone!

I am sure the great man had time and words for several several people, but I feel privileged to have 'known' him through his brief notes. It was a lot of fun growing up and learning to read and write with TINKLE. I am sure the magazine will be the poorer without his sensitive touch - but I hope not.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


She bit him harder now,
Drew a little blood,
They tossed about,
In the large bed,
Under the high macchar-dani ,
She giddy with instinctive passion,
He, in a dazed half-sleep,
Once almost crushing her with his weight...
At length he was awake fully,
And now he was after her,
And she suddenly elusive,
He turned on the light,
Peering, spectacle-deprived,
Till he found her,
Gently, he neared her from behind,
With his finger squished her red against the cotton netting,
And brought their tumultous affair to an end...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Good Life

This post was written on board an Emirates flight back from Rio de Janeiro (I have had the good fortune of trotting the globe a bit, these last two years), where I had three seats to myself, where the 'Hindu Non-veg' meal hit the right spot, where two Australian Shirazs made up for the lack of one French Merlot, listening to the Ghazal which I am about to write about, drunk to the last neuron - inventing an expression, not just on the two Shirazs if you are wondering, with a bit of Marquez influencing my style, so this post is not going to be very coherent.

The Good Life: something that the rich in Rio are definitely familiar with (by the way, did you know the Europeans discovered Rio in January, and actually thought that the bay was the mouth of a river, hence Rio de Janeiro - the river of January), and I hope the poor are too, though they might only get to express it through Samba and Footaball.

Maybe in my pleasantly drunk state, but I have been reconciling myself to the fact that I will never be a famous poet. But then again, that next rung of the Homo Sapien that can savour poetry, that can have their heart wrenched by Love In The Time of Cholera (which I again highly recommend to the reader), even if they are reading it a second time, and even if they have been married more than 3 yrs, and have a new son, that rung is as sparsely populated or even more so, as the 19th May flight from Sao Paolo to Dubai, going by the lack of web-pages that discuss a Faiz poem, expound on it, and not just print the lyrics… And I think I have some claim to this second rung.

(“This is a heart-wrenching tale” says Linus in a Peanuts strip, “don’t read it if you don’t want your heart wrenched”)

So the Ghazal that I heard the first time on an earlier Emirates flight, really liked the second time on the onward flight to Sao Paulo, and looked forward to listening a third time and to mugging it up on my return flight is the below fabulous poem by Hazrat Zaheen Shah. This Ghazal is more in the style of Daag the great exquisetly-simple poet of Delhi, different from the style of the scholarly poet of Delhi, Ghalib, who himself says of his poetry “Ghalib sareer-e-khama nava-e-sarosh hai, Ghalib the scratch of your pen is the sound of angels”. Hazrat Zaheen Shah like Daag is very much human and appeals in a focused effort to the heart, unlike Ghalib who pampers the heart and the brain together. Without further ado:

(By the way, the Ghazal was rendered by Abida, and she might have elevated to the next level, even a lesser Ghazal):

Main hosh mein hoon to tera hoon,
Deewana hoon to tera hoon.
Hoon raaz agar toh tera hoon,
Afsaana hoon to tera hoon….

(I am yours in whatever state I might be - sober or in a narcotic bekhudi-c state, if you don’t want to tell anyone, I am your big secret, and if you want to tell the world, I am your famous conquest-ic story…)

Barbaad kiya barbaad hua,
Aabaad kiya, abaad hua,
Veerana hoon toh tera hoon,
Kaashaana hoon toh tera hoon…

(The same idea again, but hinting that you have the keys to my future, you can make or destroy me, and I am ok with either option. I could't find out the meaning of Kaashaana. Help anyone?)

Tuh mere kaif ki duniya hai,
Tuh meri hasti ka aalam,
Paimana hoon toh tera hoon,
Maikhana hoon toh tera hoon….

(A hopeful verse probably, Just like you are my world of bliss, delight (Kaif), indeed, like you are the world in which I exist, I hope to be the instrument of your enjoyment (paimana) as well as the setting (maikhana))

Main hosh mein hoon…

Har zarra Zaheen ki hasti ka,
Tasveer hai teri sar-ta-paa,
Woh kaaba-e-dil dhaane waale,
Buth-khaana hoon to tera hoon…

(Every part of the poet (Zaheen Shah) is a mirror to his beloved from head to foot. Look at the ultimate muslim sacrifice in the second part of the verse: you can convert my kaaba of a dil into your place of idolatory – what more proof do you want that I am yours for anything, anything? Again I don't quite understand in what sense dhaane waale has been used. Comments welcome.)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Tees Maar Khan - delightfully irreverent

Irreverent. That word says a lot. Look here, I respect you, but I don’t revere you. So, while I may not insult you, I will sure as hell make plenty of jokes at you. Farah Khan gets bindaas irreverent in Tees Maar Khan as she pokes jokes galore at her Bollywood friends, at the Oscars, at the Khans of bollywood, at the patriotic movies of the 70s, and maybe at patriotism itself – look for the scene where someone says ‘leharao tiranga’ and to your pleasant shock a French tricolor is raised to the sky!

The plot (apparently borrowed from a Hollywood movie) revolves around Tabrez Mirza Khan or Tees Maar Khan (Akshay Kumar), a con-man of renown, who stages a train robbery using a town-full of villagers, an Oscar-hungry movie star (Akshaye Khanna), and Tabrez’s silly girl friend Anya (Katrina Kaif), convincing them all that they are in-fact acting in a movie.

The movie is full of in-jokes, and in-subtelities. At one point Akshay Kumar points to a couple of bony, frail villagers and asks the rest of his cast to develop six-packs like them – a joke at Shah-Rukh’s very bony frame in Farah Khan’s own Om Shanti Om. The star, Akshaye Khanna has a back problem like you-know-who. In the quawwali Aadaab Arz Hai, Akshay Kumar keeps trying to keep Sallu’s hands (Salman Khan in a guest appearance) off Katrina, saying something like, “yeh ab meri hai”. In another scene when Katrina says to Akshay “I love you” – he tells her, “Hey! Not in public!” In the song “Bade Dilwala” there’s a rhyming mention of Yusuf and Madhubala, and promptly Akshay draws a white feather into the scene – a tribute to the famous sequence from Mughal-e-Aazam. Akshay Kumar while pataoing Akshaye Khanna for his plan, pretends to be the Hollywood director Manoj Day Shyamalan – note not just the inversion of Night and Day, but also the classical Bollywood inversion Shyam and Ram! The bit I loved the most is when Katrina says suddenly in the movie-in-the-movie confusion ‘Off with his head’. It would be a fair bet to say Farah Khan’s three kids are reading ‘Alice in Wonderland’ right now. What these in-jokes do is that they create some sort of audience involvement – inviting the audience to create the movie experience along with the director.

Credit must go to Farah Khan for plenty of original thought, especially compared to what passes as comedy these days – I happened to watch a cliché-filled House Full on TV later in the evening. The opening sequence has a feotal Tees Maar Khan doing synchronous swimming routines in amniotic fluid, and later there’s the Siamese-twin-gangsters who use an extended earphone, from one twin’s left ear to the other twin’s right ear!

The music is also quite good. Katrina Kaif sizzles in Shiela Ki Jawani. Aadaab Arz Hai is quite a good quawwali, and Bade Dil Waala is full of witty lines. All three songs are superbly choreographed. Bollywood indeed is full of talent!

There are a few sore points – racist and coarse jokes on black complexioned people and gays. But I still would give Tees Maar Khan a four out of five. Go watch it for Farah Khan’s brand of eclectic humour.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Midnight's Children

The last time I tried reading Midnight's Children, I could only get to a hundred pages or so. I had been reading Garcia Marquez before that - One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Love in the Time of Cholera. and I found similarities in style that made Salman Rushdie a perhaps-unintentional plagiarist in my mind. Both Rushdie and Marquez have absurd, fantastical things happening to people in their books - like someone dying by a roof collapsing on their heads, or choking on an not un-seeded orange - perhpas a magnifying-glass pointer at the magic and absurdity in everyday life. Both use a non linear narrative - often saying 'Years later so-and-so remembered' etc, or referring to the future through pre-cognitive half-hints, Rushdie more so, which makes his book of continuous suspenses created and unveiled every few pages - a bit irritating at times. Some story lines are similar too - for e.g. one sister in love with one man, and then he suddenly falls in love with another sister, and the first sister lives a life of envy, waiting for her revenge.

This time around, though I still have not absolved Rushdie of possibly-unintentional plagiarism, I am still able to continue reading Midnight's Children - ofcourse lots of things are different too, and there is a lot of substance to the plot.

Friday, December 17, 2010


I have started out on twitter.
here goes

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Nitish Kumar Ki Jai: Clean hands and a good heart!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Go Rahul

Rahul Gandhi's charm is already much talked about. Here's some evidence of that.

Rahul Gandhi on Raj Thackeray

Charm by itself is probably not something to vote for. But Charm + intelligence + vision + dedication + a will to better the lives of his countrymen + a liberal outlook, well that's a good combo to vote for I think. (For now I am ignoring Rahul's recent publicity hogging over the Vedanta issue, which was a bit of a let down). Charm and charisma I am sure play a role in diplomacy too. Too bad Priyanka Gandhi is not too interested in politics.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Something Fishy

No offence, but I have lately noticed that Pakistani bureaucrats, diplomats, ministers etc. have a tendency to overuse (and sometimes abuse) English idiom.

Here's an example. The Pakistan High Commissioner to Britain commenting on Amir's removal from the emerging player of the year nominations. Notice especially the last sentence.

"After the shocking, arbitrary and high-handed suspension of the three Pakistani cricketers through the ICC's uncalled for action, nothing is coming to me as a surprise. Rather, my apprehensions that there is a rat in the whole affair are being strengthened. It is emerging as a fishy situation where pieces have now started falling in place to convince me that there is more than what meet the eyes," he said.

Listen/read carefully next time you come across a statement from Pakistan babudom.

Maybe it's their Hobby Horse or Achilles' heel or whatever.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Of late, my blog has had visitors from profiles of other 'Anant Kamath's. Thought I would clarify things a bit, and have added a few details about myself.

Writing the 'About Me' was a semi-wakeup-call. Though there are, or used to be, some other facets to my life, including Writing, I can't reasonably call myself anything but an analog circuits designer at the moment. But I would rather like, to also be able to call myself a Writer at least, if not a painter, a singing student, a runner, a footballer, and an amateur actor :-). Well, I will use the 'About Me' on the Left Hand Side (LHS, we used to all it in school maths), as a constant reminder to that.

Friday, July 30, 2010

If you like humour and if you know your impressionists:

Woody Allen's 'If the Impressionists had been dentists'

Amazing stuff.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Oh to laugh like this!

'Tere bin Laden' was a laugh riot. I don't know if Pakistan is really the way it is depicted. Maybe it's a Pakistan created for Indian consumption, just like 'Slumdog Millionaire' was an India created for the West. But even for a Pakistani watching the movie there are positives. Even if AK-47 carrying Mujahideen are shown waiting in travel agents' offices, looking for a way to get to the USA, the protagonist of the movie is shown reasonably shocked at being suggested a terror camp route to the States. And Noore the poultry farmer and Osama look-alike is both affronted and distressed at being included in a Jihadi video.

Hmm... Don't go by the above paragraph. The movie is a continuous laugh-fest from the beginning where a landing airplane sends a journalit's wig flying, to the end where an earnest ISI agent is admitted, screaming, to a mental asylum.

Nice to have a movie that gives you a closer, even if not very accurate, look at Pakistan. Seem to be a sober, restrained and grounded people. And the same can be said about the movie too, sober and restrained comedy - none of the over the top, artifi-exuberant and corny stuff that makes up funny Bollywood movies these days. The gaali-baazi too was kind of funny - where the gaali has to be given, and has to offend at one level, but at the same time not offend at another. Like "teri penanu...lassi pilaawan, teri maanu...dahi." Surprising sensibility, given the usual impression one has of Pakistan.

Five out of five, and two thumbs up!

PS: The movie kinda pre-empts in some respects a funny story I thought up while sipping beer at Chicago airport recently - about an ISI spy in the US. Hmm. Given the amount of writing I do these days, all my good ideas are going to get pre-empted anyway.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Ad agencies make strange bedfellows

This tea brand ad comes on TV these days with this slogan:
"Waagh-bakri chai, rishtey banae".

Waagh aur bakri ne bhi wohi chai pi hogi!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Whither Weather-whether?

The Met department has predicted a 98% normal monsoon. They are like the astrologer that exactly preadicts what you want to hear, and then predicts exactly that, so that you are in a good mood and don't not pay them. Last year, two months into a failed monsoon, and they were saying, "Wait, things may still turn around."

Well, no one really believes them. Au Contraire. Their predictions of a normal monsoon have dashed the last hopes of farmers. Already yagnas are underway, and classical singers are honing their 'Mia Malhar'. The opposition is rubbing its hands in glee, while the government is bribing people to change the prediction to 'dire drought or floods' to keep the public sentiment up.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ocean haiku

Lovest thou the sea?
But must thou make land thy home?
Island's an option.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Almost Idiotic

Well, if there is going to be an Amir Khan movie, I am going to watch it. What made me watch Three Idiots earlier was the the controversy. I guess publicity stunts do work. I had read reports about Chetan Bhagat crying foul on his blog, and had seen news reports of the press conference where Vinod Chopra said Shut Up. I believed Chetan Bhagat's version, and thought ok, Amir Khan has finally done something wrong, accusing Chetan Bhagat of 'seeking cheap publicity'. I went to the theatre expecting to find that Chetan Bhagat was right.

Very soon into the movie I was convinced that Chetan Bhagat's claim that the movie is 70% of the book was false. Maybe 10 to 20%. But of course these things are subjective.

The movie is funny. But full of cliches. Too much unbelievable melodrama. Too preachy. And much too senti and tearful. The pencil not pen in space one, I had read that ten years ago. The 'Chamatkar' replaced with 'Balatkar' stuff that seemed familiar too - was still badly done and overdone, if you ask me. And there were some more that I don't remember. The chest hair in the chappati was too unnecessarily gross.

Amir Khan belives he can do anything on screen these days - that his character can, that is. Ghajini was too fantastic. And in Three Idiots, he manages to conduct a succesful delivery - the power conveniently goes off so he can demonstrate his car battery inverter invention - and the soon to be mother temporarily stops having labour pains while the whole inverter-vaccum-cleaner setup is up. Uff!

Amir Khan does not look like a college goer. In Rang De Basanti, they made him a repeater who keeps flunking so he can stay in college where he's the star. In this one they decided to give up the pretence. Someone write some good 'old' roles for Amir!

Another thing, if Amir Khan cries on screen, it some how manages to get me all teary too. I was embarassedly in tears watching Taare Zameen Par - I watched it with my wife; I was married just two months or so then. In Three Idiots too the place where his two friends are settled in life thanks to him, and he goes boo-hoo, again made me cry. I don't think it is just the story upto the point that made me cry. I would like to think the film makers actually wanted to make me cry. And they put all their film-making skills, their understanding of audio and video and of human psychology, plus the knowledge that the audience have been sitting in the hall, watching their tedious movie, for close to an hour. They put all these things into making me cry. And I resent it. Amjad Khan as Wajid Ali Shah in Satyajit Ray's Shatranj Ke Khiladi says to his tearful minister that 'Sirf Shayari aur Mausiki ek Mard ki aankhon mein aansoo laa sakti hai' (And he adds, perhaps not indending the joke, 'Kya hua? Resident sahab ne koi apni Ghazal suna di kya?'). I agree with him. I very much resent it if anything more than the aesthetics of a movie make me cry.

It's surprising really. Amir Khan for all his talent and his years in the industry, has'nt still made as true a movie as DevD.

I could write more bad stuff about Three Idiots, but let me stop. The book was only ok-ok. The movie, inspite of its laughs, is worse.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Watch it for the 3D

There is a lot of India about 'Avatar'. The word Avatar ofcourse, and some of the cultural traits of the Na'vi - the spiritual chanting, the prayers etc. But more than that. The humans on Pandora are from a private business corporation backed by a state army out to do trade with the Na'vi - to get 'unobtainium' a substance not found on Earth... The earthlings making friends with the Na'vi and mixing with them, teaching them English etc... The 'tropical' forests of Pandora filled with strange vegetation, ferocious wild beasts, and tribes armed with poison-tipped arrows... All this seemed similar to the beginnings of British trade and rule in India.

'Avatar' scores a lot of points for the semi-novelty of the plot - the beginnings of human presence on other planet, the excellent special effects, the cinematography, and ofcourse, the 3D. But it disappoints in depth of the characters, the acting and the believability of the story, and the story-telling itself (Total Recall and the Terminator series immediately comes to the mind).

Oflate a lot of Bollywood seems to have crept into Hollywood - especially, sudden unlikely possibilities opening up by the power of prayer. And also starting with The Matrix, there have been too many oracle predicting too many TheOne-s. Our Science Fiction is certainly taking a few steps backwards. Or is that the direction our science is heading?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

More of Rafi and Ghalib...

Zikr us pari-vash ka aur phir bayaan apna

Bazeecha-e-atfal hai

Gazab kiya tere waade pe aitebaar kiya

Shauk har rang raqeeb

aey tazaware daane bisate hawaaey dil

Hai bas ke har ek unke ishaare mein nishaan aur Includes a bit of dialogue from the movie Mirza Ghalib.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Rafi and Ghalib: The original combo

On a summer's day more than 8 years ago, I was first properly introduced to Ghalib, through Ghazals in Rafi's voice that someone had stored on the computer I was working on. Now that I have re-discovered those awesome songs on youtube - I realize that I had forgotten how well Rafi had sung them. I am wondering if these are not the best sung Ghalib ghazals that I have ever listened to.

Perhaps what sets Rafi apart from all other talented singers is the humility, the humanity, the emotion he has packed into these Ghazals.

Anyway, here are the links:

Dard minnat-kash-e-dawa na hua
Muddat hui hai yaar ko mehmaan kiye hue
Nuktacheen hai gam-e-dil

Kitni rahat hai dil toot jaane ke baad

The Ghazal in the last link is not by Ghalib, but was one of the Ghazals on that comp. And it is very nice too.

In Muddat hui hai look for that sher made more famous by Gulzar: Ji dhoondata hai phir wahi phursat ke raat din, baithe rahe tassavur-e-jaana kiye hue.

In Nuktacheen hai gam-e-dil look for that immortal sher: Ishq par zor nahin hai yeh woh aatish Ghalib, jo lagaye na lage aur bujhaye na bane.


For, Dard minnat kash-e-dawa na hua , in the absence of any famous shers, I provide here my prose translation :-)

dard minnat_kashe-davaa na huaa
mai.n na achchaa huaa, buraa na huaa
[minnat_kashe-davaa=obliged to medicine]

"It's good that I did'nt get well, at least I am not indebted to the medicine!" Ghalib is consoling himself that it is good that his lady love is not 'alleviating his pain'.

kitane shiirii.n hai.n tere lab ke raqiib
gaaliyaa.N khaake bemazaa na huaa

"My love, the sweetness of your lips have taken the sting out of the galis that you are hurling at my rival!" Ghalib has convinced himself that his lady love and his rival are not on talking terms, and it is only her sweet lips that are diluting the effect of her harsh words to his rival.

kyaa vo namaruud kii Khudaaii thii
ba.ndagii me.n meraa bhalaa na huaa
[namarud=Nimrod=a king who used to say that he was God]

"My devotion (to God) has'nt done me much good. Was it that Namrud was right in calling only himself God?"

kuchch to pa.Dhiye ki log kahate hai.n
aaj 'Ghalib' Gazal_saraa na huaa

"Just read out something, anything, Ghalib, people are saying that you are not your usual poetic self today"

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The sequel to watch for

Vikram Seth is writing A Suitable Girl !. It is the first time I have been even a bit excited by the news of an upcoming sequel. But A Suitable Boy will be a tough act to match...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Mid Summer's Day Dream

Chapter 10

On the way out of the workshop, Chutti looked at his image in a window pane - shyly, self-consciously. One of the many things Chutti liked about workshop days was being in uniform. Khaki shirt and pant and leather shoes. Chutti thought he looked good in uniforms.

His hands and clothes were soiled with fine iron powder. His shirt was wet at the armpits and collar. His forehead was moist; he did not wipe it dry - he also liked his 'workman' look.

Chutti had spent the last two and half hours in 'filing' workshop, filing away at a rectangular piece of iron. The objective (of nearly half the course) was to reduce the the width of the piece to a certain smaller dimension, by (only) filing it. It was strange that such training should also contribute towards an engineering degree. It was hard work, the continuous to and fro movement of the arms, and one had to be careful and file straight, checking often, with a try-square, that the right angles were all still correct. But it was otherwise a no-brainer allowing the mind to drift here and there like a bird. Chutti loved these meditative two and half hours twice weekly.

The rest of his class had already dispersed, having set off on bicycles to different hostels. Chutti now got to his bicycle and started out, with a song in his heart, if not on his lips - feeling a bit like Devanand from some Hindi movie.

He circled the roudabout near the library, and just as he crossed the central lecture hall, as usual, he saw her at the head of a bunch of giggly girls, all his seniors. She looked pretty as usual, fresh, bright and cool - as if they were all at summer vacation on a hill station - not doing college in sultry Chennai. Chutti's workshop day routine was complete.

Chutti had been a reluctant participator in elocution contests while at school, participating only because his teachers expected him to. Something he had once tried from Shakespeare, came back to him now. For the first time there seemed to be more to the words than poetry.

What light is light, if Silvia be not seen?
What joy is joy, if Silvia be not by?
Unless it be to think that she is by
And feed upon the shadow of perfection
Except I be by Silvia in the night,
There is no music in the nightingale;
Unless I look on Silvia in the day,
There is no day for me to look upon;


Renee, for it was her, was ofcourse not unfamiliar with guys giving her the glad eye. But in Chutti's case her amusement was tinged with sympathy. "Poor kid," she might have thought "I am so out of his league".

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Jai Ho

"Poye Poye, Taamara poye " ("Oh it has gone, Oh it has gone, the lotus has gone").

I remember one holiday afternoon, in Trivandrum, suddenly hearing the above slogan chanting, sitting in the room of our home which faced the main street of P.T.P Nagar. It was the supporters of the CPI(M), I think, going by on a small truck, sarcastically mourning the big defeat of the BJP in some election.

Yesterday, as I watched the election results, the same slogan came to my mind. This was the first election I was keenly, even passionately, following. And the first election where I voted. And I am happy and relieved with the results. I hope this election has dealt a body blow (preferably a slap in the face) to the lotus party. Or at least to it's chief ideas and ways of working. Over the past few years, I have come to dislike most of it's leaders. However, I hope the party learns its lesson, ditches it's irrelevant ideologies and starts from scratch (of the head?) and finds out new ways of providing competition to the Congress. I don't wish that BJP should altogether go away. In some states - like Gujrat and Karnataka - they are probably better than the Congress in terms of administrative competence and leadership. I hope the BJP in those states sobers up and stops direct and indirect pro-Hindutva and anti-minorities activities. That is I hope the Gujrat government says sorry for Godhra, and speeds up compensation to the victims, and the karnataka government stops funding Hindu Matts out of a cash-starved budget (increasingly dependant on tax on booze) and I hope they hit groups like Ram Sene real hard on the head. I also hope the BJP never never dares do a Kandhamal once again. The last implying Mangalore quietens.

Why not BJP? Why Congress? I could see several reasons, and the rest of India apparently saw them too. First. Hindutva and anti-minorities. The ghosts of Gujrat - compensation granted by Central government over a year ago still not reaching Godhra victims. Then Kandhamal. Then Pilibhit. The Ram Sene in Bangalore. The threat of a Hindu Taliban. And not because BJP deep down believes in such strong fundamentalism (I think and hope), but only because they think they could continuously con the Indian people into the indulgence of chauvinism. I for one strongly believe that good governance and administrative provess a la Modi can never excuse exploitation and fascism. Don't we remember Hitler? Second, quality of leadership. Congress: sober, sincere, honest and obviously not greedy, qualified and experienced, plus plenty of leaders including young ones. BJP: Not so experienced, ambitious after power (look at Mr Advani), not so qualified, a few, old leaders. Third: How they behaved in the opposition. I don't remember much of the Congress as opposition five years ago, but I doubt they were as un-constructive and as coarse in their criticism of the government, as the BJP.

I belong to Bangalore North. And I voted for the Congress candidate Jaffer Sharief though I had doubts about his deserving to be MP again. Only because I wanted Congress to come back to power at the centre. Well Jaffer Sharief lost and still Congress is at the centre. So it is win despite a loss for my vote :-)

Other parties? When Mayawati came to power in UP, I was thrilled with her 'social engineering', her inclusive politics, her Dalit-empowerment. But she has since disappointed, fielding criminals, erecting her own statues (That reminds me, not very inappropriately, of something that Sheikh Saadi, a persian Sufi poet, is supposed to have said - It does not become a man to glorify himself, what pleasure does a woman get pressing her own boobs?), building palaces for herself out of government money, hiring/firing/transfering people she does'nt like. The revivial of Congress in UP is good news. AIADMK? Jayalalitha is supposed to be a good leader. But her flip-flop on LTTE was disappointing. Hope she learns her lesson. Lalu? Too bad. I hope he manages to continue in the cabinet. Nitish Kumar. Hope his good work in Bihar in the years that follow affords him the luxury of distancing himself from the BJP, like Naveen Patnaik has managed in Orissa. Deve Gowda? Good riddance. Kumaraswamy? Poor fellow. Did some good work as CM. Hope he makes a wiser come-back. DMK? Hope they shut up about LTTE, now that it is not required, and concentrate on governance. Anyway, they have good competition from Jayalalitha.

Overall. Quite a Jai Ho result.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Amber fluid, Amber fluid

A couple of weeks ago, some bee-hustlers (my expression) were invited to our apartment building to take care of some bee-hives. Though I did feel sorry for the bees, smoked out of their homes and lives, poor things, we bought about 3 kilos of honey from the bee-hustlers. Three kilos looked like a lot of honey to buy, but I have since disovered that honey is pretty heavy and three kilos is about one and half litres.

The honey is now sitting in a fine bottle which used to contain another precious amber fluid - Johnny Walker Black Label. My wife has not bothered removing all the labels from the bottle - some food for thought for visiting relatives who like honey with their dosas :-)

Poetic Injustice

Was watching Kaho Na Pyaar Hai for a bit today. There is this guy, the hotel manager, if I remember right, who is trying to quote Ghalib and gives up mid-way: 'Woh aaye ghar mein hamare ...something something ... are chaddo yaar'. Though it was reel-life and all that, I felt like saying 'Hey dude! How can you quote a Ghalib sher incomplete and not apologize? Not make an attempt to recollect it? Not say, 'Oh shit! I have forgotten it. I will look it up and complete it for you next time we meet'?

Adding salt to this wound were insipid lyrics of the songs that followed in the movie including 'Geet ghazal sab hue purane...etc'. Hmph!

Sunday, March 15, 2009


If I am not forgetting some other interesting film in the interim, and not counting full comedies, since these are mostly packed with jokes, and don't need nor contain a strong plot or 'deep' characterization, DevD for me is the best Hindi movie since Omkara. 'Luck by chance' also had a certain something, but that movie unfortunately was 'phony' in parts.

Two thumbs up to director Anurag Kashyap, as the film critic Rajiv Masand would say, for showing (or creating) an interesting facet of Delhi's dark side. The bar to which Chunni (a pimp in this version of Devdas) takes Dev when they first meet has a three-guy dance band. The point made, I suppose, is the audience in the bar is interested in the aesthetics, rather than the sexuality in the dance. This makes the audience self-indulgent (they are drinking and doing drugs) by choice rather than due to a weakness of character. Anyways, that's my interpretation. The dark side of Delhi, a world of alcohol, drugs and prostitutes, is not shown in a sordid light, but in a clean, colourful, Bohemian light. One certainly hopes it is so in reality.

I have always thought that one should be self-indulgent if one can afford it. There are some things to be said about a wasted youth. Especially if you stop wasting your youth while you still young. Like Dev does in this film. And especially if you have large family wealth to start life afresh with. Like Dev has in this film.

In the three hours or so, the passing of six-ten years is successfully conveyed. When towards the end, they show Dev sitting at a spot by a canal where he used to sit with Paro as a young adolescent, this 'much water has flown under the bridge' (there is a bridge near the canal, too, by the way) is hightened. But the fact that Dev is still young and can start a different phase of life afresh, is refreshing for a viewer like me, nearing thirty, who has the habit of thinking sometimes about how life has turned out since college, but still feeling young, fresh, optimistic and eager about new things to come, new things to do.

The film makes one feel happy to be alive. No computers, no offices figure in this movie. Sugarcane fields, marriage parties (with booze served) and lots of pubs and bars. A life richer and more varied than that in an IT city. I loved the scene where they show the closeup of a hen in a poultry farm, and then as they zoom out Dev and Paro are seen trying to start something in the far corner.

The music too is whacky and off the beaten track. Music by people who are serious about music but don't take it seriously. Emotional atyachaar is awesome.

Contrasting this film with Delhi-6, I could not stop myself giving negative points to the latter. While DevD shows a young, determined, willful Paro quarelling loudly with her father when he wants to get her married off to some guy, and then in her anger pumping at a borewell till it looked like it's handle would break, Delhi-6 shows the old sterotype of a tyrant father almost managing to get his daughther (who looks like a film star!) to a pot-bellied, baldish fellow.

Monday, March 02, 2009

For the love of fish

I am the big bear,
Wet, by the stream side,
Plucking salmon out of thin air,
Stashing them away in his great coat,
Preparing for winter peace again.

I am the first monkey,
That bit into a crunchy sardine,
And found his brain go suddenly tick-tick
And his tail shrink a bit.

I am the marlin,
Tempted by the fisherman's tuna.
I am the tuna,
Tempted by the fisherman's sardine.
I am the grinning shark,
Aftering shoals.

I am Anant,
And I love fish.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

One billion votes?

'One billion votes' is the slogan of the Jaago Re campaign. But are there one billion voters in India? I think not. Given that there are (only) 1.15 billion people in India, of which at least a third are below eighteen, the minimum age for voting.

Poetic license cannot be the excuse of 'One billion votes' - after all they are not making a poem, they are launching a sober, 'awareness' campaign. They end up sounding ignorant and shallow - atleast to me.

I had forgiven Jaago Re so far, though I was irritated everytime I heard/read their slogan, but now they have infected a popular news channel into naming their election show as 'One billion votes'.

Or am I missing something?


Ha ha

One joke that always gets a laugh out of me, however many times I tell it to people I know:

Railway track par hagane baithoge, to, haath se gaand dhone ki bajay, gaand se haath dho baithoge!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

This and That

A month ago, me and my wife went on a trip to Chennai. Why Chennai? Karthik had gotten married in Chennai, some fifteen days before, we had originally planned to attend his wedding and had then cancelled because of bad weather and office work - this was that trip, postponed; I really really wanted to make a train journey again after a long time; I wanted to show my wife my college; and I wanted to see Chola bronze work at the government museum, Chennai. We also made a one day trip to Mahabalipuram from Chennai.


The visit to the Museum was the highlight of the trip. Nerdy, no? No. The place has atleast some 100 bronze sculptures, of various sizes, from the Chola age. Well, if I have to go to a museum to see such artisitic wonders, I will. However, because of a kanjoos strain I inherit from my father, I did not opt to pay 200 extra bucks for photography, so I can't put pictures here. We have decided we will make a two day trip to Chennai sometime, just to take pictures in the Bronze gallery of the Government museum.

I will not attempt to describe the beauty, the grace, the inegenuity, the perfection of those figurines. It was a pleasant shock to learn that so much wealth from those 1000 year old times is still with us and in such a well preserved state - not counting the collections of other museums in the country.

The bronze gallery was like a jewellery shop of a kind.

This was the first collections of bronzes I have ever seen. The metallic medium has a definite advantage over stone, adding a 'steely' edge to the austere, holier-than-thou arrogance to the Godly sculptures.


Going by the Lonely Planet guide, we visited a section of Mahabalipuram I had never seen in my visits before - the Firang section. Restaurants, souvenier shops, massage centres, 'yoga' shops etc, mostly visited by firangs. We were the only Indian tourists on that street.

We ate at 'The Seaside Restaurant', where we were the only Indian customers. The fare was good - fresh snapper fish, curried and fried. Not expensive, compared to Bangalore prices, but then again the restaurant is right on the beach - so fish must be cheap there.

Don't know why Indian tourists don't go to this firang section - is it that they find it expensive, or is it that they are not welcomed, or is it that they don't know about it? We had, after all, come to know of the place only through the Lonely planet guide - written by (and for?) firangs. Still it was surprising to not find even 'anglecized' Indians there.

The beach too seemed to be segregated somewhat, with one side full of firangs, the other full of Indians. Strange.