Sunday, July 30, 2006

Random Thought: Home Is Where Heart Is

The older you grow, the more your mind returns to the lost years of childhood. And the farther you go from the place you grew up in, and the longer you stay away, the more your heart yearns to return. The return might not be feasible or practical in reality, but the yearning is always there: Someday, I shall go back...

I am not saying this out of experience because I have never lived outside India long enough to crave for the sights and sounds and smells of my city -- even the traffic smoke and the noise. That way, India has unique sights, sounds and smells -- you can never mistake it for another country. Surfing channels, when you come across a Hindi or Tamil movie, you can instantly tell -- from the look of the screen -- whether it is from the 70's/80's or the present day. Similarly, if you catch a glimpse of India on a BBC documentary, you will never for a moment confuse it with Brazil or Pakistan even though the people look alike. That's the magic of India.

Anyway, back to the yearning. You can see it all over blogosphere. People living abroad -- in the US, in the UK, in the Southeast -- for months, for years, for decades, for generations, and yet in their private, non-working moments they are like the poet pining for his love. They are the people who, I think, love India with their heart and not their lips. And they do so because you can truly appreciate the value of something once you are away from it. That is why they get more agitated -- and active -- every time something hits India. People who aroused public opinion online in the aftermath of the Mumbai blasts were people living abroad. Indians living here, on the other hand, do nothing but to whine and blame 'the government' for every single thing except, maybe, erectile dysfunction.

It is heartening to see the interest NRI bloggers show in their roots: looked at from their eyes, India is not a bad country at all. And it isn't, believe me. But what is most heartening is to see the writings of Tamil NRI bloggers: it is as if they were never away. They are the electrons; while Madras is the nucleus. The electron always wants to merge with the nucleus and that's why it keeps rotating around the nucleus. And so the Tamilian, even if 13 hours away in time zone, keeps hovering around Madras. Culture is the invisible umbilical cord that is never snapped.

One doesn't have to cross oceans to feel the pull of the nucleus. I grew up by the Ganges in Kanpur, where I spent the initial 23 years of my life. In those 23 years, I must have been to the Ganga (as the river is popularly known) not even 23 times! -- even though the river flows just two kilometres away from my house. But now, sitting in Madras, I hear the call of the Ganga time and again. That's where I belong to, and I shall go there again, and again.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

'Dangers of Blocked Ejaculation'

Once in a while, when I am screen sucking (that is sitting in front of the computer aimlessly), I go to the Statcounter to check the visitor activity on my blog. While most of the referring URLs are known to me, quite a few visitors are directed to my blog through random Google searches. The searches are usually of this type: 'Chennai + bars', 'Prostitutes in Chennai', 'Women with big breasts', 'Massage parlours in Delhi' and so on.

Today two people were directed to my blog after they Google-searched for the following:

'Jyothika with others in bed'; and

'The dangers of blocked ejaculation.'

Monday, July 24, 2006

Prachi

"Achchha tell me, should I grow my hair?

"Tell na, stop reading that paper! Look at me and tell me. Should I grow my hair?

"Ufff, I am sick of your answers, 'Yes', 'Hmmm', 'Fine'. Do you ever have an opinion? Now stop reading that paper, will you?

"Ok, tell me why I should not grow my hair? Give me one good reason. No, no, no, you are not touching me. First answer my question. And by the way, mister, you are not supposed to touch me. That was the deal!

"And don't you ever cut your nails?! Chhee! You don't even trim your moustache. Look at yourself in the mirror. You think you look very handsome? You look like Veerappan! There you go again! I told you no touching. Keep your promise like a gentleman.

"Give me also a fag, na. You know when did I last smoke? That night we went to Ghungroo. Light it for me, na. I can never light under a fan.

"Stupid, I asked you to light my cigarette and not to hold my hand. Besharam! -- shameless. Can't keep your hands off. Ya ya, don't flatter me now, I know my hands are soft and sexy. By the way, I like your hands. Big and manly. Will it hurt if I pull this hair?

"Ha, ha, ha, ha... That was your punishment for touching Prachi. What kind of a man are you? -- screaming just because I pulled a hair. OK, what do you want for dinner? Kuchh order karen? Or shall I cook? Hey mister, how about you cooking for a change?

"No, no, you are going to cook tonight. Or else you are going back hungry... What? Are you crazy? No way, you are not staying back! No, no, no, you are not staying back.

"Hey mister, don't mess around with Prachi... Keep your hand away.

"Nooooo, you are not going there. You are not going anywhere. That tickles, stupid. No, you are not going there... Be a good boy and go to the kitchen. Ok, you read the papers and I will cook. No, no, you are not going there... Ok, ok, put on the FM na, they must be playing Hindi songs now...

"God, I am listening to this song maybe after 10 years! Is that Asha or Lata? Hey mister, now don't take advantage of the song and start doing that to me. Told you, you are not going anywhere near there... Please na! If you promise to be a good boy I will give you a hug, thheek hai? But please keep your hands away. And what about dinner?

"I am feeling a little hungry... oh my God, it is 5.45! Hey mister, will you at least make some breakfast? I don't think there is bread. Will you get it when the shop opens? No, actually, I will send the watchman. You stay here, with me...

"What! Are you mad? No, you are not going to office today... Boss? To hell with him. Tell him you have fever. Or else I am going to show him these love bites and he will get a fever. What would you prefer, Mr Veerappan?"

Got a Light?

Multitasking in the washroom. Priceless!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Men And Sex

Men who treat women with great respect, men who recognise talents in women, men who acknowledge the minds of women rather than their curves -- they are men who can never stick to one woman. It is impossible for them to wake up with the same woman every morning and come back to her every evening -- day after day, year after year -- without a secret afternoon here or a clandestine night there.
S, my closest friend, keeps saying: "I think you suffer from some disease. How can someone be so obsessed with sex?!" He said that to me even last night. Maybe he doesn't want to acknowledge that everyone -- and that includes him as well -- is obsessed with sex. According to me, there are only two things that move the world -- fear and sex. The fear is about survival, about doing well in life, about doing better than others, about being comfortable in old age, and so on. And amid these fears, there is the perpetual need for physical gratification, and that's where sex comes in.

If there was no fear, human beings would be sitting at home, doing nothing. And if there were no sexual urges, they would still be sitting home, doing nothing. But fear stalks us every moment, and the sexual urge grips us every other moment.

Right now I am talking as a man. I do not know what women will have to say about it. Most women I know say sex is not a priority. But then.

Now coming to my point that men who look beyond the breasts by going across the rib-cage and peeping into the mind are the men who can't stick to one woman. During my childhood in Kanpur, I have seen plenty of tongas or tangas -- horse-driven carts. I have never travelled in them, but I always noticed the horse -- he would have leather flaps on the sides of his eyes. The idea is to let the horse focus straight on the road and not get distracted by anything on the sides.

An average man, who does not seek much from life, dons these flaps the moment he get into a steady relationship -- marriage or otherwise. But a thinking man, while focusing ahead, also wants to know what's going on on the sides. On his front is Mrs Wife or Ms Girlfriend -- people he takes for granted; but the temptresses are on the sides. It would be a sin to miss them. There is Ms A, who is into your kind of music. There is Ms B, who punctures your ego by picking holes in your writing. Then Ms C, with a piercing gaze and a pointed nose and so aloof that you badly want to reach out to her. And of course, the Ms D -- the moment you see her you feel you have known her for ages and you even tell her so. Ms E, who turns you on because she is intelligent and has got the best butt in town... There are only 26 letters in the English alphabet, but that should be a sufficient number for a thinking man.

What is, then, the difference between a thinking man and a truck driver who stops by the brothel every night? There is a huge difference. The truck driver's quest for sex ends with ejaculation, whereas the thinking man can have multiple orgasms even without actual intercourse.

I don't know what spurred me to write this. Is it because I am happy that the blogs are unblocked? Or is it because I happened to read the following article in London's Telegraph?


Brilliant men always betray their wives

Einstein's affairs should surprise no one, says Desmond Morris. It is all in the genius's genes

So Albert Einstein did not, after all, spend all his waking hours chalking up complex symbols on a blackboard. According to letters newly released this week, he devoted quite a bit of it to chasing the ladies. And with considerable success.

To many, the idea of Einstein having 10 mistresses does not fit the classical image of the great, remote genius. Why was he wasting his valuable time with the exhausting business of conducting a string of illicit affairs - affairs that would cause havoc with his family life, damaging especially his relationship with his sons?

The answer is that he, like many other intensely creative men, was over-endowed with one of the human male's most characteristic qualities: the joy of risk-taking.
Every creative act, every new formula, every ground-breaking innovation, is an act of rebellion that may - if successful - destroy an old, existing concept. So every time a brilliant mind sees a new possibility, it is faced with a moment of supreme risk-taking.

The new formula, the new invention, may not work. It may turn out to be a disaster. But the man of genius - such as Einstein - has the courage to plough ahead, despite the dangers, both on and off the intellectual field.

Not that Einstein is by any means an isolated instance. Indeed, far from being the exception he is closer to the norm where great men and sex are concerned.
During a presidential visit to Britain, John F. Kennedy once shocked an elderly Harold Macmillan when he complained to him that if he didn't have sex with a woman every day he suffered from severe headaches.

Kennedy was insatiable and impatient. He was reported to make love with one eye on the clock and to be through with a girl as soon as he had had sex with her in three different ways. If possible, he preferred two girls at once and seduced almost every young woman he met, from starlets to socialites, secretaries to stewardesses. Oh yes, and not forgetting strippers.
But then the compulsion in dominant males to take the highest of risks - a compulsion that seems to be innate - is one that dates back to prehistoric times.

Our arboreal relatives, the monkeys, simply fled up into the high branches when danger threatened and, while feeding, all they had to confront was a fruit or a berry. But when our early ancestors came down to live on the ground, they had to give up scampering aloft to escape and also had to face dangerous competitors and prey when turning to meat-eating as a new way of life.

To become successful hunters required a new personality trait - bravery. If the primeval hunters were to survive as carnivores they had to be courageous and take serious risks. The females of the tribe were too important to expose to these dangers - their vital reproductive role ruled them out. But the males were expendable. If, inevitably, a few of them were killed, the others could easily maintain the reproductive rate of the still very small tribes. So it was the males who evolved into the pack-hunters who would become genetically programmed as risk-takers and whose job it was to bring home the bacon.

Today, going to the office or the factory, or working on the farm - the modern equivalents of the ancient hunt - are far less hazardous, but the deeply ingrained urge to take risks still remains. Proof of this comes from the fact that men today are much more accident-prone than women. Throughout life women are less likely than men to die of a violent accident. By the age of 30, males are 15 times more likely to die of an accident than females.

For special males - the most adventurous ones - there are two choices. Either they can engage in risk-taking of the physical kind - join the SAS, get launched into space, or trek to the South Pole -or they can explore new ideas, create new art forms or invent new technologies and thereby change the way we all live.

Men with brilliant minds, whose creativity brings them enormous success, sometimes find themselves in a curious situation. They are so highly rewarded by society for their achievements that they are unable to limit their curiosity to new problems in their special fields. It starts to spill over into other areas.

Novel sexual experiences, for instance, suddenly seem irresistible. It is not the mating act itself that is so important - that varies very little. It is the thrill of the chase and the excitement of a new conquest that drives them on. Once the conquest has been made, the novelty of the affair soon wears off and another chase is begun. Each illicit episode involves stealth and secrecy, tactics and strategy, and the terrifying risk of discovery, making it the perfect metaphor for the primeval hunt.

Aiding and abetting these erotic adventures is the fact that the fame, power and wealth that these especially brilliant men have received as rewards for their achievements make them very attractive figures to the opposite sex. They may have a face like an angry hippopotamus but, thanks to their high status, they somehow manage to ooze sex appeal, much to the disbelief and dismay of the handsome failures who carry out menial tasks for them.

The great philosopher Bertrand Russell, who for all his undeniable intellectual brilliance could never have bedded a woman on looks alone, was described as suffering from ''galloping satyriasis". He claimed he could not see a sexual partner as sexually attractive for more than a few years, after which he had to make a new conquest.

He had affairs with a long line of women, a few of whom he later married. They included a young secretary, an MP's wife, the daughter of a Chicago surgeon, a researcher, an actress, a suffragette, several teachers, the wife of a Cambridge lecturer and his children's governess.
His private life was described by one biographer as ''a chaos of serious affairs, secret trysts and emotional tightrope acts that constantly threatened... ruinous scandal''. This was risk-taking of the highest order.

Picasso was also a sexual glutton, described by a friend as being obsessed with sex. There was a long procession of women in and out of his life: Fernande and Eva, Olga and Marie-Therese, Dora and Fran├žoise, Alice and Jacqueline, and many more. He was quoted as saying: ''There's nothing so similar to one poodle dog as another poodle dog, and that goes for women, too.''
Similarly, his great friend, Gauguin, abandoned his family and moved to Tahiti where he was able to indulge in his passion for sexual adventures by welcoming a different local girl into his hut each night. Sometimes, he had as many as three in one night. And he continued his sexual odyssey even after his body was visibly disintegrating from the syphilis that killed him.

That genius of the cinema, Charlie Chaplin, was an even more active sex addict, capable, he said, of ''six bouts a night''. Whenever he was bored he would set about seducing a girl. He had four wives (three of them teenagers) and an endless procession of mistresses, some of them alarmingly young. His greatest thrill was the prospect of deflowering a virgin. When one of his virgins became pregnant at 16 he was forced to marry her. That marriage lasted only two years, during which time he enjoyed the company of five mistresses.
As a young man he visited brothels, but later was attracted to talented and important women and managed to seduce a cousin of Winston Churchill's, the daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill, actresses Paulette Goddard, Mabel Normand and Pola Negri, and William Hearst's girl-friend Marion Davies. However, his sexual risk-taking eventually led to his downfall and he was driven out of America as a ''debaucher'', his legacy forever tarnished.

But then men with great talent or power, from Elvis Presley to Bill Clinton, Toulouse-Lautrec to John Prescott, will, it seems, more often than not put their careers or family lives in jeopardy in order to satisfy the primeval hunter's thrill. It is, sadly, simply a by-product of the human exploratory urge, and one of the prices we - and wives the world over - have to pay for being the most innovative species on the planet.
(Desmond Morris is author of 'Watching - Encounters with Humans and other Animals' )

Friday, July 21, 2006

Masala Media Goofs Up -- Big Time!

A boy and girl from Chennai get married last Christmas. It's a fairytale wedding, after which they e-mail some wedding pictures to their friends in India as well as abroad. A few months later, the nightmare: their picture is splashed by Tehelka, which identifies them as 'Dawood's daughter and Miandad's son'. Mumbai Mirror did the same last morning, and today, Times in Hyderabad has followed suit!

It's not just a goof-up. It is -- as some not-so-polite editors would call it -- a fuck up!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Life After Blockspot.com

Imagine this situation: a bunch of terrorists, after lobbing grenades on the motorcade of a VIP, take shelter in a multi-storey apartment. There are some 50 houses in the block, and over 200 people live there, and the terrorists are hiding somewhere among them. What do the security forces do? Their reaction would depend on how well-trained they are, but there is one thing they will certainly try to do: flush out the terrorists with minimum civilian casualties. And there is one thing they will certainly not do: blow up the whole building in order to kill a handful of terrorists.


But that’s how mindless the department of telecommunications – the government, in short – has been. In order to restrict a handful of ‘hate’ blogs, it has blocked all blogs under the Google-owned Blogspot, Typepad and Geocities. According to website of Business Standard newspaper: “(The Government) has asked Internet Service Providers to shut down some 20 'objectionable' websites and blogs. The order was received by the legal departments in some ISPs. The notice is believed to have gone out on Friday last week. The DoT is of the opinion that some of these sites were being used by banned organisations to transmit messages to their colleagues.”

It further said – and that’s the most noteworthy bit: “The sites that were asked to be blocked include hindunity.org and exposingtheleft.blogspot.com.” So could the move be political? The definition of “national interest”, after all, depends upon the ideology of the party in power. In hardcore communist regimes, a casual remark against the ideology can be branded as anti-national and become punishable. In fact, such regimes leave no scope for remarks or comments.

Remarks and comments indicate that you have a working mind, and in such regimes, your mind should work in no way other than prescribed by the authorities. That is why even a giant like Google had to kneel before the Chinese authorities to filter the search engine. And also in China, in certain provinces, internet users are greeted by online images of two cartoon-cops – they pop up just to remind you that they are watching.

Are we on the way to becoming another China? Now that might amount to stretching the paranoia a bit too far, because Indians have overthrown the mightiest of political parties and forces the moment they got onto the people’s nerves. They gave Indira Gandhi a taste of defeat just when she thought she was invincible. Vidya Charan Shukla, Indira Gandhi’s information and broadcasting minister, audaciously sought to gag the press during the Emergency. Since then, the same V C Shukla has been begging for media’s attention but no one has really cared. Rajiv Gandhi sought to bring a Defamation Bill but eventually had to make peace with the media.

These politicians never succeeded because Indians are fiercely protective about their freedom and freedom of expression. The two go hand in hand. What is the point in being a free citizen if you can’t speak your mind? OK, some lunatic might misuse this freedom to shower abuses on another religion – but you cannot use this exception to clamp down on the freedom of speech of the public in general.

But what I still can’t figure is that if the government wanted to shut down certain websites and blogsites, why should all the bloggers be made to suffer? Doesn’t the department of telecommunications have enough expertise to single out the blacklisted blogs and shut them, instead of blocking the entire blogdom? Or is it the typical babu mentality, where a bureaucrat (who has perhaps never even used his computer keyboard) receives orders to block certain blogs, and the bureaucrat, not willing to take chances, issues orders to block all blogs.

Unless you are a serious blogger yourself or are familiar with blogging, you wouldn’t even realise how frustrating it is. It has been two days now and I have not been able to open my own blog! Yes, my own blog, which contains all my creative and sentimental outpourings over the past one year. All these months I worked hard on it – giving it a certain look, a certain character, a certain shape. And then one fine morning I am not able to access it!

Imagine the plight of the people who have been blogging for years now and who have carved out an identity for themselves as blogger-journalists. Such bloggers are usually honest and well-meaning – and often they are the true conscience-keepers of the nation. I realised their usefulness during the recent Mumbai blasts, when several popular blogsites quickly combined blasts-related news and first-hand accounts and amateur videos to provide first-class coverage of the tragedy. Newspapers could not have provided such comprehensive coverage because they cannot update by the hour; and TV channels, even though they update every hour, are too engrossed in their own ‘exclusivity.’

What is worse is that the blogs blocked in India are accessible abroad. In other words, a friend can see my blog, www.bytheganges.blogspot.com, in the United States, but the creator of the blog, that is me, cannot access his own blog in India. And I know it is accessible in the US, or elsewhere abroad, because I get notified, on my email, every time someone posts a comment on my blog. What a farcical situation! Meanwhile, the intelligent Indian blogger has found a way out: while I am still writing this, my friend Paresh writes me an email saying “Try clicking on “www.pkblogs.com/bytheganges”. And lo behold, my blog is opening up on the computer screen. I am thumbing my nose at you, Mr Government!

But why this backdoor entry? I love my blog and I don’t write anything anti-national there. I better get direct access to it sooner than later. Or else it would be the beginning of a long fight, where I would be joining fellow bloggers against the gagging of freedom of expression. But I still hope that by Sunday (I am writing this column on Wednesday), the blocking of blogs would have passed off as a bad dream and bloggers, including me, would have returned to work.

If You Don't See Me Here...

The department of telecommunications -- the government, in short -- seems to have ordered internet service providers to block Blogpost and a few other blog hosts. The move is supposedly aimed at clamping hate sites and possibly preventing potential terrorists to use the blog as a medium of communication -- this is what I gather from whatever little I've read so far: there is no official explanation.

I am in a funny situation: while I can access my blog -- or any other Blogspot address -- from the office, I am unable to open it from home, where I do most of my blogging. Tomorrow, if the ISP at my office also decides to block Blogspot, then I would completely lose control over my blog. I don't know how long this is going to last -- or is it that I won't be able to see On The Ganga Mail page again? At the moment I feel like a father whose son has been picked up for interrogation by the police -- as it often happens in Kashmir and in the Northeast -- and who does not know if he will ever see the son again. I better retrieve my posts while I can still do it and save them in a file; and name the file as "When I stood By the Ganges."

People in India are unlikely to read this post, but those abroad -- I mean those who have been reading me -- could you please drop a line on my e-mail so that I can store your IDs?




Thursday, July 13, 2006

Target the Real Terrorists

I had always treated the blog as an outlet for my drunken or sentimental ramblings: a stray thought crosses your mind and you develop it into a 500- or a 1000-word post, depending on how strongly you feel about a subject. Since I am a professional journalist, I keep hardcore journalism out of my blog because I reserve that for my paper. For me, the blog is a personal space where I can write stuff that I can't write for the paper.

But the fact that blogs can be a powerful -- and a parallel -- means of journalism hit me only after the recent Mumbai blasts. A newspaper can come out only the next morning, while our nascent news channels -- even though they update themselves on an hourly basis -- have their own 'exclusivity' to tom-tom about. But the blogger is honest -- he is the layman who has been in the middle of it: he has no axe to grind, he has nothing to hide, he has nothing to tom-tom. That is why you could find the best coverage of the Mumbai blasts in blogdom -- I feel sorry for people who missed out on it because of their ignorance about blogs.

Within hours of the blasts, Neha Viswanathan put together various bloggers' accounts of the tragedy -- a challenging task indeed; while another blogger, Bongopondit, exposed the hollowness of the New York Times correspondent's reportage of the blasts. Sites like Desipundit and Ultrabrown also put together several first-hand accounts of the carnage.

I too wrote a post which, fortunately, was cited by a few of these well-known bloggers/blogsites. But the unfortunate part is that not many readers agreed with my point of view that terrorism is a menace that can be fought not by force but only by looking into the cause that turns a human being into a terrorist. A couple of them expressed their disagreement in their comments to my post, a few people emailed me to say that they did not agree with me, and some condemned me over telephone. But I still hold to my view: No one is born a terrorist. That does not mean I support terrorism: bloody hell, the woman I married barely two months ago could have been one of the victims -- she happened to be in Bombay that evening.

The point is, when a state or a superpower perpetrates terrorism, no one notices it. The United States has perpetrated terrorism and violence in every conceivable corner of the world, but no one talks about its murderous ways. It supplied weapons to Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war, but today it is all set to get Saddam executed after a totally meaningless war: nobody has found the weapons of mass destruction. So who accounts for the lives of innocent Iraqis killed in the war? Saddam is facing a trial, but will anyone ever try George Bush for killing hundreds of people in a name of deadly weapons that were never found? So does killing of human beings amount to terrorism only when the killing is ordered/plotted by Muslims?

Today, Indians are condemning terrorism and calling for retaliatory action against the terrorists. BJP leader L K Advani has called for stringent anti-terrorism laws. But they are forgetting one basic thing: the terrorist is not a recognisable criminal like the legendary Gabbar Singh or the other dacoits they show in the Hindi movies. In the movies, you kill the dacoit and you kill his menace. But the terrorist is an unknown face: he could even be your neighbour. And most committed terrorists are often suicide bombers: they are people who kill themselves to kill others. Do you think even the strictest of anti-terrorism laws will deter them? An anti-terrorism law can only make lives miserable of people who are booked under mere suspicion. And it doesn't take much to be under the needle of suspicion: you only have to be a Muslim who happens to have dowloaded Google Earth just to see how the satellite images of your country look like.

And even in cases where acts of terrorism have had a definite face, nothing has been -- or could have been -- done to bring the perpretators to book. Dawood Ibrahim is said to be the mastermind of the 1993 Mumbai blasts, but he continues to be part of folklore. The LTTE killed Rajiv Gandhi, but Prabhakaran is now talking politics with India. And the DMK, which was sympathetic to the LTTE's cause -- the same sympathy which led to the Gujral government being pulled by the Congress in 1997 -- is today a very close ally of Rajiv's widow Sonia. Prabhakaran, by the way, was promoted by Rajiv Gandhi at one point; just as Bhindranwale, the mastermind of terrorism in Punjab, was promoted by Indira Gandhi to take on the Akali Dal. Indira Gandhi had to pay with her life.

End of the day, it all boils down to petty politics and politicians and their egos and ambitions and their insecurities. Politicians are the real face of terrorism. The terrorist who actually kills is a poor, faceless man, and the man who gets killed is also faceless and poor. They only end up being part of statistics. In a few days from now, after the public anger has fully subsided, Tuesday's blasts in Mumbai will silently become part of a continuing chronology. Life will go on.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Lessons From Bleeding Bombay

I have never been to Bombay. I have been there only once, to attend the launch of a Yana Gupta calendar, but since the stay lasted exactly 24 hours, I don't count it as a stay. Still in those 24 hours, I packed in as much as I could.

Immediately after I landed in the afternoon, I went to the Juhu Chowpatty. I instantly recognised it! -- so many memorable songs have been shot there, including Humko tumse ho gaya hai pyaar kya karen (Amar Akbar Anthony) and Koi ladki mujhe kal raat sapne mein mili thhi (Seeta Aur Geeta). The night was calendar launch -- the kind of party you see in movies.

The next morning I wanted to visit a friend in Cuffe Parade. My hotel was in Juhu. He told me that the most convenient thing to do would be to take a autorickshaw to the Bandra station and take a local train. I went to the Bandra station, bought a Rs 7 ticket and waited for the train. The train arrived. It was so packed that I did not have the nerve to get in: I mean it was physically impossible to get in! I sadly walked away: the images of Amol Palekar and Tina Munim romancing in Baaton Baaton Mein kept flashing in my mind. The train to me was like a long-lost girlfriend who I could recognise instantly but she had disappeared even before I could call out her name.

Outside the Bandra station, I walked up to a man who I had known for 25 years -- the good, old Bombay taxiwallah! Dozens of heroes -- and dozens of times -- have sought his help to chase the heroine or the villain or to simply go to work. He put the metre down and we set off. On the way, we crossed a stretch which I had known for -- once again -- 25 years! The Marine Drive.

That's the thing about Bombay: you don't have to go to the city to see it. Those into Hindi movies have grown up in it without even setting foot on it. That's why it hurts even a Bihari or a Bengali when tragedy strikes far-off Bombay. It is the surrogate hometown of every Hindi movie-watcher.

God knows how many Amol Palekars and Tina Munims must have been travelling on the local trains, engaged in homeward journey romance, when the blasts ripped through them this evening. While I write this, the toll is 135. It is bound to go up.

The dead died an undignified and cruel death. The families are mourning them. The wounded are lying in hospitals in bloodied clothes. And the rest of the country is watching in shock. The word 'shock' is actually an exaggeration here: it should be reserved only for people who are directly linked to the tragedy -- parents whose son is still missing, wife who lost her husband, and so on. A tragedy, no matter how morbid, never chills your bone till you are actually connected to it.

As I watched the news of the blasts on TV, my heart went out to people living in far-flung areas of India who have a relative or relatives in Bombay. Phone-lines are jammed: there is no way they can get to know if their people are safe. So they are posting messages on TV channels, saying things like: "Vishal, are you OK? Please call me at 98-whatever. We are worried." The anxiety would make relatives die a hundred deaths before they can establish contact with their near and dear ones in Bombay. And there are bound to be hundreds of people who won't be forunate enough to say: "Ah, I have finally got through to him (or her)!" They might have to search through mangled bodies. What a disturbing thought!

But what was more disturbing to me, as I sat watching TV, was the fact that these channels, while flashing messages of anxious relatives, were also hosting gasbags who connected the blasts to possible derailment of Indo-Pak ties and held forth on how India should eliminate terrorism (and terrorists) and so on. I don't know whether to blame the channels or the gasbags who, unfortunately, belong to my fraternity.

Bombaywallah's don't need lecturing, they need assurance. Maybe they don't need the assurance as well, for the city is known to bounce back after every tragedy. But I find it in bad taste to give the blasts a political or a foreign affairs angle. If anyone needs lecturing, it is the police, which failed to react swiftly to the blasts. It was left to Bombaywallahs to cart fellow citizens to the hospitals: and they did that with great efficiency.

Now there is bound to be a great deal of talk on terrorism. The Bombay blasts will merely become a part of chronology. But does anybody really care to look at what actually precipitates terrorism? Nobody is a born terrorist. And one man's terrorist can be another man's freedom fighter. Every terrorist has a cause, and unless you look into the cause, you cannot finish terrorism. If you kill one terrorist, seven other will be born. That is why West Asia will never be peaceful. India too will never be 100 percent peaceful unless Kashmiris are allowed their dignity and a say in deciding their own future.

For that matter, America is never ever going to feel safe again: in the name of fighting terrorism the superpower carried out the worst kind of terrorism, as a result of which the son of every Iraqi killed by US planes must have pledged to take revenge someday. And they will succeed someday because of one simple reason: the US soldier indulges in the act of terrorism merely on the orders of the politician -- he values his own life at the same time, while the potential terrorist is guided either by passion or deep sense of personal revenge and does not care about giving up his life. And once you stop caring whether you live or die, you can do anything. Any damn thing.Why, 9/11 is an example: a bunch of determined men crushed both the balls of America, the economic superpower.

India should learn from 9/11 before it loses too many people. Nothing, after all, is worth bloodied bodies.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Why Cricket is Better Than Football

So tonight you will know which country wins the World Cup, and tomorrow, the fever that had gripped India for the past one month will disappear for the next four years.

But as I sit down to write this column, which is six days before the D-day, the fun had already gone out of the tournament: can you imagine a World Cup final without the spirit of Brazil or the temperament of Argentina?

Two European teams clashing in the final is rather a tame affair — it is like two teams from the neighbourhood playing soccer in the local park. That’s why I prefer cricket, because a cricket match becomes interesting — and fierce — when two neighbours play.

But then, I know you hate cricket and you are probably more familiar with Manchester United that Lancashire. By ‘you’, I mean readers who not only love football but also hate cricket, and it is to them I am presenting my case.

Cricket, its critics always say, is a game of chance. One moment you hit a six, and the next moment you are out. Cricket, they might love to quote George Bernard Shaw, “is a game played by 22 fools and followed by 22,000 fools.” But for me, it is a far more pleasant sight to watch two men chasing a small ball than two men trying to wrest control of a much bigger ball. The former act is gentlemanly, while the latter is roguish. If I were a woman — especially an Indian woman — I would fall for a ball-chaser than a ball-grabber.

Moreover, the dramatist’s namesake, George Orwell, has referred to football as a sport that is “bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.”

Orwell said this in his 1945 essay, “The Sporting Spirit”. Not that he was particularly lenient towards cricket. Said he: “Even a leisurely game like cricket, demanding grace rather than strength, can cause much ill-will, as we saw in the controversy over body-line bowling and over the rough tactics of the Australian team that visited England in 1921. Football, a game in which everyone gets hurt and every nation has its own style of play which seems unfair to foreigners, is far worse. Worst of all is boxing. One of the most horrible sights in the world is a fight between white and coloured boxers before a mixed audience.”

But at least he acknowledged the grace of cricket. That is why I love cricket. Did I hear you saying that it is just a game of chance? I was coming to that. True, cricket can be a game of chance. Imagine a bowler coming in to bat when his team is 295 for nine and the target is 300. And he is facing the last bowl of the last over. He blindly swings the bat without even seeing the ball and in the process hits a six. His team has won! Alternatively, he could have been clean bowled and his team would have lost. That's a matter of chance. But it is certainly not a matter of chance that his team could put together a total of 295.

If you still insist that cricket is a game of chance, then what is penalty shoot-out in football? Two teams, as in 22 men, kick a ball around for nearly two hours, and still no goal is scored. Victory is, finally, decided by the ability of their respective goalkeepers to stop the ball, kicked by a member of the opposing team from only a few yards away, from reaching the goal. The predicament of the goalkeeper, in such a nail-biting moment, is no different from that of the no. 10 batsman coming out to face the last ball of the match. It's a do or die situation for them.

But such a do-or-die situation is more frustrating in football, because the penalty shoot-out happens only after the two teams have settled the match between themselves — 0-0, 1-1, 2-2 and so on — in front of millions of spectators. But since there can be only one winner, the penalty shootout brings about an artificial result on the basis of five kicks each.

Can it get more frustrating? Ask the Argentinian team, which was kicked out of the tournament even though it was eyeball to eyeball with the Germans. Ask David Beckham, whose years of stardom climaxed into a disgraceful exit as the England captain after his team lost to Portugal on the basis of penalty shootout. In short, the penalty shootout makes you the loser even when you have not lost a match. It reduces a fiercely-fought match into a game of chance.

That's why I prefer cricket. In any case, football matches are awfully short: they get over even before you can finish your drink or popcorn. Cricket matches, on the other hand, suit the lazy Indian temperament. They are like family picnic: you take it easy the whole day but still manage to do your own thing in between overs.

(The column was written for Sunday morning.)

God

There are times when you feel pushed to the wall: and then you look at the picture on the wall. Shiva, the God, smiling down at you. At least he hasn't ditched you, you think. And you feel better. But think a little harder and you wonder -- isn't that just a picture frame? In the end you are left with your own devices to pick up the pieces and fix your life.

Yet, the smiling, serene face in the picture gives you a moment of hope. Why? Maybe because there are moments when you want to stop thinking, switch off the valves of rationality in your brain, and just surrender yourself to an unknown force; and the force has to be unknown, unseen because only then you can expect a miracle. You can't expect miracles from living beings, unless they are a David Blaine or our own P C Sorcar.

The question is, does such a force really exist? Or is it a creation of man? Does God really exist, or is he only a creation of man?I am seeking the answer to these questions. Maybe I know the answer, but I am scared to acknowledge it: who knows how many times I might need to surrender blindly to that unseen force. But some related questions keep haunting me:

1. When someone dies in an accident, they say "It's God's will." And if you survive an accident, they say, "It's God's grace." Isn't the name of God used a mere tool of convenience?

2. They say God is one, then why so many Gods?

3. They say God helps those who help themselves. So why should people who help themselves pray to God?

4. Even if you believe in God, then why, say, the picture of Lord Venkateswara hanging on the wall at your home, doesn't suffice? Why do you keep making endless trips to Tirupati? Do you have more faith in the idol of Venkateswara at Tirupati than in the picture of Venkateswara at your home?

5. By the same logic, why do people go to temples when they have so many pictures of various God and Goddesses at their homes? Is there a difference between the two? Or is it that Gods living in temples have more power to grant wishes than Gods adorning the walls of a home?

6. Why do people fight and kill each other in the name of God? Shouldn't they be loving each other? Why is it always, 'Your God-My God'?

It is all a matter of faith, you might say. And what is faith? Faith does not come out of vacuum: man creates it, he is not born with it. And once you have faith, you are not supposed to ask questions. I guess that is why I would never find convincing answer to these questions. Not because they don't have answers, but because they are not supposed to be answered.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Goodbye, Senthil

Last night, by sheer default, I found myself accorded with a distinction which, in hindsight, could be an envious one: I happened to bring out the final issue of the Chennai edition of the Express from its Express Estates office on Mount Road, where it had been housed for the past 60 years.

This morning the paper shifted to the western suburb of Ambattur -- to a swank, state-of-the-art office spread across five acres. A chapter was over, not only in the life of the paper, but also the hundreds who work there -- especially those who have spent their lifetime working at the historical Express Estates office.

Change is inevitable, but hope always keeps fighting a losing battle with the inevitability. Express Estates was my third home -- the second home being the Landmark bookshop in Spencer Plaza right across the road. Whenever I got bored in the office, I would hop across to Spencer Plaza and either browse books or window-shop. I would even buy my grocery from there. And when I had to meet a girlfriend, I would simply tell her: "Come to Spencer Plaza."

If Spencer Plaza was a five-minute walk from Express Estates, everything else that really mattered in Chennai was also either a five-minute drive away or barely five kilometres away. Everything! And for five whole years I enjoyed the cosiness and the quickness of the digit 'five'. And then hope lost the battle.

By the time I okayed the front page on Saturday, which was at about one in the night, the engineers were preparing to take away the last of the computers. From the pin-up board behind my chair, I pulled down papers that were hanging there for almost five years -- a caricature of Somerset Maugham (the printer had recorded the date as 21 March 2001); a scanned picture of Satyajit Ray and Kishore Kumar recording a song for Charulata; principles of writing extracted from George Orwell's essay, Politics and the English language; the Christian Science Monitor's guidelines on how to write a story; and a set of caricatures depicting the drunkard side of Hemingway.

I did not say goodbye to anyone because everyone had a goodbye to say. But on the way out, I did say bye to Senthil, the 60-something dark, bald, short man who sold tea just outside the Express Estates. If you went by convention, Senthil was ugliness personified; but if you went by principles, Senthil was an angel. He never compromised on two things -- the quality of his tea and his time. Sharp at five in the evening, he would shut off his kerosene stove. After which he would pick up a broom and go about cleaning his place. Finally, he would clear his table of the stove and the various jars containing biscuits and toffees. By eight or so, he would be fast asleep on the bare table, bare-bodied.

Senthil was fast asleep when I woke him up to say bye. He rubbed his eyes, gave a sad and silent smile, and shook my hand. A chapter in his life was also over.

I must have resembled last night's Senthil this morning when a colleague woke me up to remind about the inauguration of the new office. "I'll be there in an hour to pick you up. Be ready by then. I don't want to be there when everything is over."

The new office is posh: it is straight out of Hollywood movies. Leaning back on my new chair, I almost felt like Michael Douglas. And then the celebratory lunch. But all the while, Mount Road beckoned us. So soon after lunch, the colleague and I found ourselves driving back to Mount Road.

Express Estates was now out of bounds, but not Spencer Plaza. At the Landmark bookshop there, I picked up Frank McCourt's Teacher Man. Just for Rs 190, under a special offer. I had bought his Angela's Ashes but never finished it because I found the book grim. On the other hand, I had devoured every word of its sequel, 'Tis. The latest book, Teacher Man, seems to be completing his autobiographical trilogy: it is about McCourt's transformation from a teacher into a writer -- at the age of 66!

For a 35-year-old still seeking to be a writer, nothing else could have come in more handy. The Sunday was sad. But, thanks to McCourt, the day was made.