Saturday, August 26, 2006


Nakedness, or the bare skin, is like the innocence of a child. A child, say three years old, is not at all aware of its actions, or the consequences of its actions. The actions can make him "Awww, so cute" or "What a brat!" -- depending on your interpretation of its behaviour.

The bare skin, similarly, can assume many forms. On the pages of Playboy, it becomes erotic. On the bathing ghats of Haridwar, it might assume a holy glow. On the operation table, it is as lifeless as a piece of cloth. In a Page-3 party, it stands for glamour. On a fly-infested pavement, it becomes synoymous with poverty and pity. In the bedroom, it blends into the rest of the wooden furniture -- at least eventually.

But there are occasions when bare skin can make your heart leap out. In most of these cases, however, the skin gets covered even before the brain could send appropriate signals down the spine. The accidental -- or incidental -- dropping of the pallu. The hitching up of the saree while the beauty on the opposite berth is blissfully asleep. The woman in skirt sitting carelessly cross-legged. And, in the 21st century, the peeping butt cleavage (there is one thing I still can't figure: why do these babes keep pulling their top down to cover the cleavage? Is that a way of saying, "Look, I don't intend showing it, but what to do, my jeans is so low." Sadly, all the women I fancy either wear long tops or jeans that aren't low-waisted).

Once upon a time I lived in a house where the opposite flat, a floor below mine, was occupied by a middle-aged couple. I don't know what they did during the day, but in the nights, they sat in front of the TV most of the time. Their window offered only a below-the-waist view. I had never noticed them for years till one evening I stood by my window, smoking a cigarette. I almost burnt myself when I noticed their window: the nightie hiked well above a plump, fair pair of thighs. The garment was so high that she could have been wearing just a panty. She kept crossing and uncrossing her legs, the cocktail of lights from the TV reflecting on her milky skin, and I didn't even realise when my cigarette had turned into a stick of ash which was ready to crumble and fall off any moment.

A man's mind works strangely. He may not be so much turned on by the sight of a woman in a bikini as he would be by the sight of a saree or a nightie hitching up to the bikini line. Even though the amount of skin on display is the same. I guess it is the principle of prohibition. When you are not supposed to watch something, but happen to watch it accidentally, the pleasure is doubled, perhaps trebled.

Soon I had an army of friends trooping in every evening, and my window would become a trench. Lights would be turned off and about half a dozen people would kneel and take positions. All respectable people -- fellow journalists, theatre artists, a doctor, a civil engineer. And all for just a glimpse of a pair of bare thighs. If the same woman were to be sitting naked in my room, most of these people probably would have excused themselves. That's the irony about nakedness.

The subject of nakedness came to my mind when I had a long chat, over MSN messenger, with a friend-cum-fellow blogger-cum-fellow journalist. I will call her 'T'. She was narrating a story about how she had once lost her clothes to the sea at the Kovalam beach. "I was almost hauled up for indecent exposure by this cop," she said. But I wondered, wearing a bikini in Kovalam did not amount to indecent exposure. That was when 'T' added, to my total horror: "I had taken the bikini off as well. I just like the feel of water, you see. I can even jump into sewer water as long as it is water."

Perhaps the sea was horny that afternoon, and it took her bikini away. And there she was, trying to use the waves as a curtain. But a Mallu cop had noticed her by now, and he started walking towards her ('T' is a Mallu as well). The two had an argument in Malayalam. The cop thundered: how could she! She thundered back: what could she do! "All this while, he kept looking at me in the eyes," she told me rather gleefully.

I asked her: "Did you not try to cover yourself -- at least with your hands?" Her reply shocked me again: "Every part of the body has a role to play. So what do I cover, and what do I leave out?" Anyway, to cut the story short, the cop quickly went off in search of her friends who had wandered off, and one of those friends lent her his shirt.

Once I got over the shock, I wondered: what am I doing in Chennai, writing silly essays and blogging? I should have been in the Kerala police, and I should have been the constable on duty at Kovalam that afternoon. Are you listening 'T'? I wonder whether I should be scandalised at having you as a friend. Or proud. Or simply glad.

Uncle Moon At 60

The Madras of today might be synonymous with technology, but in a quiet street in the city’s Ekkatuthangal area, a bunch of people are busy packaging the timeless, ‘once-upon-a-time’ era which has a king and a queen who go on to live happily ever after.

It’s the era our childhood belongs to, and when I say ‘our’, I mean you, me or anybody in the age group 18 to 80. Ask your grandfather if he has heard of Chandamama: chances are he would have even read it, if not read its stories out — to your father, that is.

For three generations of Indians, Chandamama and Childhood have gone hand in hand. Over the years, Superman and Spiderman might have elbowed out the valiant kings and princes in the imagination of pre-teen minds, but Chandamama manages to hold its fort as it approaches its 60th year.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Writing: A Personal Journey

The other day, a publisher, at my request, sent me the latest edition of The Economist Style Guide. It's a gem, but the cost is ridiculous (the previous edition was Rs 195, the new Rs 250), and can be found hidden away in the 'Reference' rack of any big bookstore -- if anyone cares to look for it, that is.

Over the years, the Economist Style Guide, like many of my books, has become more of a possession than reference/reading material. I rarely pull it off the shelf and bother to spend time with it. But when the latest edition arrived, I went through the pages randomly, more for the smell of the fresh ink that emanates from between every new book. For no particular reason, my eyes fell on an entry under 'U':

underprivileged Since a privilege is a special favour or advantage, it is by definition not something to which everyone is entitled. So 'underprivileged', by implying the right to privileges for all, is not just ugly jargon but also nonsense.

I panicked. Did I ever use the word in my copies? Did I ever use it in my blog? I could not recall, but I certainly had come across the word in copies that had been handed to me for editing and I never pointed it out. And how could I when I did not know myself? Shouldn't I be ashamed?

As a matter of fact, I should be. And I am. After all, it is the sense of shame that keeps me on the right track. I can announce the shame with a sense of pride because I know fellow journalists who would have said: "Big deal! It happens. Even the Economist makes mistakes." Or, worse, "Even I was wondering if we should say 'underprivileged'. But I had a headache that day so I let it pass." Or, even worse, "Of course there is a word called 'underprivileged'! I saw it the other day. Wait a second, where is the dictionary..."

It may work elsewhere, but in writing, you can't cheat, especially when something has been committed to print (or online, for that matter, assuming you don't have the option of re-editing). If a vigilant reader points out, you will have no option but to clean your vomit, unless you are shameless enough to retort: "You know what, I never wrote that. Those guys on the desk always muck around with my copy."

I don't know how good or bad a writer I am. If I am bad, there are reasons for it. I grew up in the Hindi heartland speaking no other language but Hindi (except for Bengali at home). Even though I wrote in English, my thoughts were processed in Hindi. As a result, I would find myself tongue-tied in the middle of 'English' conversations. This, in spite of the nuns making us clean the playground if we were caught speaking Hindi.

And if I seem to be having a way with words, that could be because I grew up with every single magazine that existed during the 70's and 80's. Many of them no longer exist -- Sunday, Onlooker, Mirror, Probe, Illustrated Weekly. Many of them still do: India Today, Society, Savvy, Cine Blitz, Stardust, Femina, Filmfare. The knowledge of sex and 'female-related matters' came primarily from women's magazines, Manorama and Grihashobha. Then there was the magazine that came only for me: Chandamama.

If you put the contents of all these magazines into a blender and turn the knob on, a 'Ganga Mail' type of blog is likely to flow out of the nozzle. That is what you find on this blog -- a bit of this, a bit of that. If someone has a good word, it warms my heart. If someone criticises it, well, never mind, there is always the next time.

But I would like to say a few things about critics, since I am on 'writing' trip. Very rarely, out here, is the criticism constructive. It is usually aimed at demolishing you. One criticism that my writing frequently draws -- from the same set of people -- is that it is too "flaky", "masala", "non-serious." For them, I don't do the serious kind of writing. For them, the benchmark is the editorial page of Hindu. But at the same time, they miss the facing, op-ed page, which is usually filled with serious yet breezy articles from Guardian or New York Times.

I hope my critics read this post, for I am going to explain to them a few things about writing, once and for all, pointwise:

1. There is nothing called "serious" or "non-serious" writing. A piece of writing can either be "readable" or "unreadable". Yes, there is a variety of writing that is called "pompous", the Hindu edit page type, where the writers talk at the reader instead of talking to the reader.

2. I am more obsessed with the craft than the content. Your content might be first class, but if your presentation is boring, if you constantly refer to the thesaurus to replace words like 'theft' with 'heist' just to sound self-important, if you start with a convoluted sentence just to show that your command over English is far superior than others, chances are nobody will read you beyond a sentence. But if you know the craft, you can make a story out of a thesis.

3. The fact that you read me in the first place is a victory. You read me because it requires no effort, and it requires no effort because I work hard at it. What takes you precisely 5 minutes to read often takes me 5 hours to write -- 3 of which go into the first three paras. If that shows what a poor writer I am, so be it.

4. Your criticism doesn't stick because every moment I am criticising myself. Every time I read stuff I had written two days ago, I hang my head in shame: "How could I?" But I can't delete what is already printed. And in the blog I don't delete old posts just out of respect for the labour I had put in.

5. If -- instead of criticising for the sake of criticising -- you take a scalpel and edit my copy, sharpen my sentences, I would acknowledge you as a true critic and not someone who doesn't like my face or is just jealous of me. (I am so tempted to put a 'wink' smiley here, but my posts are out of bound for smileys.)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Independence Day Thoughts

Woke up on the morning of Independence Day, wanting to laze around and go through the books I bought the evening before after spending a fortune:

1. Reporting, by David Remnick, the editor of New Yorker.

2. From Our Correspondent, a compilation of dispatches from BBC reporters.

3. Maximum City, by Suketu Mehta.

4. Sahara, a journey by Michael Palin.

5. The City of Falling Angels, an account of Venice by John Berendt.

6. Newsweek and Economist magazines.

But destiny seemed to have hatched a conspiracy at the stroke of midnight. When I woke up, my wife sprang a surprise on me. It was intended to be a pleasant surprise: she had bought tickets for KANK, that is Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna. Imagine being dragged out of home at 9.30 in the morning, that too on a holiday!

Served her right for inflicting the torture on me: while in all Hindi movies, married people who stray, as in people who commit adultery, meet with an horrible end; in KANK, an adulterous pair goes on to live happily ever after. So adultery has finally got the approval of Bollywood! Wow! I mean if Shah Rukh Khan can, why can't I? Are you listening, wifey dear? I know what you will say. You will say, "If Rani Mukherjee can, why can't I Mr Ghosh?"

Such warnings don't work for me. I mean I have always had people who keep saying: "You think you can do whatever you want to? What if your wife/girlfriend does the same?" My answer has been the same: If a woman wants to indulge in adultery, she will, irrespective of her partner's behaviour. Nothing on earth can stop her. So why lose sleep over it?

Back to KANK. I can understand people taking great pains to make such grand movies. But what I can't understand is people waiting for such movies to be released -- as if it's a huge event of national importance -- and wasting so much of time and space discussing it. My verdict on KANK:

1. Karan Johar has lost it. A father urging his daughter to run behind a train that is just moving out of the station and grab the hand of her lover is understandable; but a man asking his adulterous wife to rush to the station so that she can unite with her lover (Indian term is "paramour") is a bit too dramatic. Too too dramatic.

2. What was Amitabh Bachchan doing in the movie? Making an ass of himself?

3. I will remember the movie, if at all, only because of Rani Mukherjee. She looked gorgeous as she played out the emotions of an unhappily married woman who finds liberation in the arms of another man. She is just too good.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Three Enemies Who Ruined My Game

I have a fetish for nostalgia, but this column isn't inspired by it. If anything, it is driven by a sense of despair that grips you when a bunch of people conspire to ruin your happiness. It is like going to an old-world restaurant for years and years, and then one day the restaurant is pulled out and a shopping mall springs up in its place. Shoppers will come in hordes, but a handful of people will always mourn the restaurant. In the same way, I mourn cricket.

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Friday, August 11, 2006

Madras Day

The self-appointed custodians of Chennai's heritage and culture are a busy lot these days. The term 'self-important' is not meant to be sarcastic or derogatory here: I mean someone has to take it upon himself or herself to keep the identity of a city alive, especially when ministers/government officials are concerned about what they can extract from a city rather than what they can contribute. Oh yes, they do contribute -- in the form of hideous statues. Like our present chief minister Karunanidhi.

Karunanidhi is now an old man who has clearly lost his marbles. First he installed he statue of Sivaji Ganesan at the Marina, putting him on par with Gandhi. (Sixty years from now, the life-size cutouts of various Tamil heroes put up by vendors on the sands could dot the Marina as bronze statues). Then he said no tax (or very little tax) for movies with pure Tamil names. Then he drastically cut the registration fee for people changing their names into classical Tamil (wonder why he doesn't lead by example and drop his Sanskrit name). Tomorrow, he could promise a free colour TV for those changing their names into classical Tamil. If that happens, I have already thought of a name for myself: Sakthivel. I could sell the TV to stock my bar.

Oh no, that was a long digression. I was talking about how the custodians of Chennai are a busy lot these days. They are preparing very seriously for Chennai Day -- or is it Madras Day? -- which falls on August 20. I guess the celebrations have come a little too soon because only last year, they had celebrated 365 years of Madras. Celebrating 365 days is fine, but to celebrate 365 years? -- but then, you don't expect the custodians to wait for another 35 years, do you?

That reminds me, when Madras turns 400, I will be 70. Where will I be then? I wish I could know, but you certainly won't catch me speaking at a seminar in Taj Conemarra or Taj Coromandel reminiscing my years in Madras. I hate seminars, and also people who attend or speak at seminars. My job is to write, and if things go the way I want, I would have, by then, written the most exciting book on Chennai -- part-Naipaul, part-Theroux, part-Bill Bryson, part-Henry Miller. Till that happens, it would suffice to reproduce what I wrote last year, on the occasion of 365 years of Madras:

A city is no different from a human being. It wakes up at the crack of dawn, stretches lazily and sets about its chores. It works during the day, enjoys in the evening and retires to bed at night. It has its good qualities and its flaws, as well as its eccentricities. And like all humans, it also has a heart and a soul. And its moods.

Sometimes it behaves like a pampering mother and sometimes like a sulking wife. At times it gives you a cold stare like a stranger and at other times it embraces you like an old friend. Only that a city has an infinite lifespan. The people who live in it are incidental: they come and go. But the city goes on. Like Chennai.

The Chennai that we know was born in 1639 as a strip of beach three miles long and one mile wide — acquired from the governors of Poonamallee by two East India Company employees, Francis Day and Andrew Cogan. That makes the city 365 years old. During this period it contributed to the history of modern India in different capacities — as the seat of the British power in the South, as the capital of the entire South India, as the venue of some defining political movements and, of course, as the capital of Tamil Nadu.

But what has survived the political changes, and is still flourishing, is the culture — something that accords Chennai its unique place. Idli-sambar, Bharatanatyam, Carnatic music... these are things you can happily take out of Chennai, but you can never take Chennai out of them.

It’s also a city awash with colour: walls in the entire city are wrapped in posters while gigantic cinema billboards unseen anywhere else in the country tower over prominent junctions. And in the nights it’s not uncommon to pass by illuminated larger-than-life cutouts of gods and goddesses and also of politicians. It’s only here that politicians enjoy the status of gods.

Amidst all this Chennai exudes warmth — something rarely found in the other metros. Bombay is too busy while Delhi loves to show off — every Delhiite thinks he or she is a nephew or niece of the Prime Minister. Calcutta, on the other hand, is too snooty — it never tires of celebrating itself.

As the celebrated British journalist, the late James Cameron, wrote in An Indian Summer: “...I have a sort of trust in Madras... It is an agreeable, rather boring place; it is the sort of place I would be if I were a town.” The accompanying impressions celebrate not only Chennai’s birth anniversary but also the trust Cameron has talked about. But hang on, whose anniversary are we celebrating — Chennai’s or Madras’? Now, what’s in a name! Thayir saadham tastes as good as curd rice.

Should We Hire Dr Watson?

James Watson, the man who co-discovered DNA, whipped up a storm a few years ago when he said, at a guest lecture, that dark-skinned people had a stronger sex drive. “That’s why you have Latin lovers. You’ve never heard of an English lover. Only English Patient,” the Nobel Laureate said, expounding on his theory that exposure to sunlight enhanced sex drive.

Now, sunlight is abundant in India. Does that mean Indians... tut-tut, let’s not talk about that. We Indians discuss such things only when nobody is around. But there’s one question which we cannot escape, and one wonders whether it has anything to do with Watson’s theory: why is India so unsafe for women?

According to WHO, every 54 minutes one woman is raped in our country. The Centre for Development of Women’s Studies hikes the figure to 42 rapes a day. And in most cases — 85 percent, according to a study — the rapist is known to the victims. What’s wrong with our men?

Ours is one of the few countries where women — if they are alone — don’t like to venture out after dark, because that’s when evil creatures creep out of their dens. Where else is it commonplace for a woman to be dragged into a car and raped by a bunch of men and then thrown out?

Daytime is no better. You will find them outside girls’ schools, women’s colleges, at bus-stops, inside the buses. They ‘pass comments’, they heckle, they whistle, they pinch bottoms, they nudge. And who are they? Ah, there are so many ways of describing them — loafers, rowdies, roadside Romeos, eve-teasers... Where else in the world do you hear these words more often, or hear them at all?

‘Roadside Romeo’ and ‘eve-teasing’ seem to be purely indigenous expressions. You don’t find them in the dictionary. You don’t find any of the Western papers using them. And ‘eve-teasing’ is so common that we don’t even capitalise the ‘E’, even though Eve is a proper noun. Eve-teasing is such a menace that worried police commissioners set up women cops in plain clothes to nab offenders.

And then there are offenders who are above the law — the VIPs and the semi-VIPs — whose misdeeds occasionally creep out of the closet into the newspaper columns and create sensation.

But there are millions of other deeds that go unnoticed — deeds of men who would like to keep their wives and daughters under lock but who, the moment they step out of their homes, eye the women on the street, their secretaries or the seat next to that woman. Women, for them, are purely sex objects.

Does it have anything to do with Watson’s theory? The sunlight is abundant, but the societies are closed, so is the extra drive being channelised into leching, raping and eve-teasing? Worth researching. Should we hire Dr Watson?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Blog Orwell

It is every blogger's dream to get 30-40 comments for his/her posts. Quite a few manage that: if is a different matter that a quarter of them consist of the obligatory Thank You's. But attracting 100-plus comments for a personal diary-type post can only be a fantasy. But a desi blogger has achieved that with a one-word post!

Ony July 23, a Mumbai-based blogger called Dilip D'Souza wrote just one word, "Goodbye", and stopped blogging. Today, August 10, when I chanced upon his blog, I saw 130 comments for the post! The initial comments are of the type, "Hey, how can you do that? Please come back." But they soon spin out of control and erupt into a full-fledged debate -- on issues ranging from Gujarat riots to Kashmir! And the debate is still going on and the comment box has been completely taken over by the readers of that blog.

Must check out the spectacle -- it could be entertaining and -- who knows -- even informing. By the time I waded through to the 130th comment, I felt as if I was in a fish market or in the Lok Sabha. As for the blog, it has achieved what it could not when it was live -- somewhat like George Orwell.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Woman's Night Out

Forget No. 1, Here's 5-Point Something on Bloggers

If laughter is good for health, then yesterday was one of the healthiest days of my life. The entire day I rolled on the floor laughing as I read one post after the other on the recent controversy over who is Chennai's (or is it India's?) no. 1 blogger. The no. 1 position apparently belongs to a certain Mr Kiruba Shankar, and there are some people who are disputing this, saying that Mr Shankar's posts are usually inane and that he uses his blog for self-promotion and so on.

But then, no. 1 is no.1, no matter who decides the ranking -- be it Technorati or Blogstreet or whatever. And to be honest, people out to attack Mr Shankar with sharpened knives are also seeking self-promotion by attacking him. They seem to be jealous of the number of hits that Mr Kiruba Shankar's blog gets every day or every month.

But believe me guys, 99 percent of amateur Indian -- or Chennai-based -- bloggers are not even aware of Mr Shankar or his blog or the controversy that is raging in blogosphere about his undisputed ranking. They write their stuff and go to sleep: they are too happy if their friends have read their blog and left a comment. And it is the amateur blogger who rules because there is nothing called professional blogger: in fact the word 'blogger' (or even 'blog') will be underlined with red the moment you type it on Microsoft Word. I am not aware if the dictionaries have incorporated the word(s) yet, but the spellchecker certainly hasn't.

But I do see the point the detractors of Mr Shankar are trying to make. Probably what they mean to say is, the quality of the posts is one thing, and the quantity of traffic it attracts is quite another. In other words, how can someone writing crap be the no. 1 blogger? Personally speaking, I have hardly read Mr Shankar's blog to be able to comment on the quality of his posts, but considering the number of hits he gets, there must be something about the posts.

Something. Now that something has always baffled me -- someone who is not even a year into blogging. What is that something? Alas, I am still trying to figure that out. Had I figured that early enough, I guess I would have been at the centre of the debate, and not Mr Kiruba Shankar. Ok, I am not going to take names anymore. Unethical, you see. Instead, I would offer you my honest opinion about blogging and bloggers. Take it or leave it (better still, link it. I want traffic, you see). So here I am, listing my opinion -- in points:

1. No self-respecting blogger ever starts a blog thinking about the traffic. The instant publication/uploading of a post is satisfactory enough. If someone strays into the blog and leaves a comment, that's a bonus.

2. Human beings are greedy: they are not happy with just the bonus. Just like workers in a textile mill, they want more. So they go to other blogs, leave 'intelligent' comments, and come back to write 'intelligent' posts. But I respect them. I respect their labour.

3. Some human beings behave as if they are the owners of the textile mill: throw a bone to the workers, and they will hungrily pounce on it. But since these mill owners don't have brains, they borrow the brains from elsewhere. So cut-and-paste from newspapers, from websites, from New York Times (not to mention Guardian!). And there you have a pompous post, as if the words sprouted from their brains! Good show, pals.

4. Sad fact of life: these textile mill owners happen to be some of the most popular 'bloggers'.

5. The mill workers, meanwhile, toil on, guided by the principle of Bhagwad Gita: "You do your job, the reward is not for you to seek." So every evening they activate their grey cells and fork 500 words out of them. The reward occasionally comes in the form of a comment or two. Even if it doesn't, they keep writing. That's the real blogger for you.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

12-Point Something About Yoga

Going through the previous post, which I had written for my paper, I suddenly find myself meditating upon my four-year-long association with yoga. So many thoughts are crossing my mind -- some sacred, some not-so-sacred, some erotic, some mundane. I am sharing some of them with you, just like that:

1. My 'yogic' journey began in a posh gym in Chennai, where I paid a lot of money considering that the classes were only four days a week, one hour a day. For all practical purposes, it was like an aerobics class, where you merely followed the instructor for one hour without even knowing which asana you are doing. But I moved on after three months because I wanted to learn yoga properly. Why I lasted three months, well, two reasons for that: one, I rapidly lost weight and my fitness levels increased drastically; and two, there were plenty of women in the class. I was the only guy. Whenever I bent to touch my right toe, I could see half a dozen butts turned to the right. And when I turned left, another set of butts would be turned to the left. Too sad it lasted only three months: I could have easily squeezed in an hour everyday in that gym in spite of my pursuit of serious yoga. Anyway, you lose some, gain some!

2. I begin my yoga session only after 11 in the morning -- a horrible time, but then, my writing begins only after 11 in the night.

3. My most favourite poses are the sarvangasana (shoulderstand), urdhva dhanurasana (wheel) and bakasana/kakasana (crane/crow). A recent addition to the favourites list is supta virasana (supine hero's pose): it is supposed to prevent blocking of arteries and keep your sexual organs healthy.

4. The pose I hate to do the most is paschimottasana (seated forward bend), so much so that I skip it most of the time, as a result of which, I am yet to achieve it. My loss -- and what a loss!

5. The cigarette I look forward to smoking the most is the one I light up after the yoga session.

6. For the last three years, I have been disappearing from time to time -- a week here and a week there -- to hide in some yoga ashram or the other. No alcohol there: you are automatically drunk on asana practice and the adrenalin it produces. And no Pancham either: you are high on the chants. You need a break from even Pancham, after all.

7. Collective chanting has tremendous power. It boosts your energy and at the same time, brings down your stress levels. Jaya Ganesha, Jaya Ganesha, Jaya Ganesha Paahimaam, Shree Ganesha Shree Ganesha Shree Ganesha Rakshamaam: the energy this chant infuses -- when sung in unison by people of various nationalities, religions and accents -- is to be felt to be believed.

8. Most yoga ashrams have strict rules, such as men and women not wearing sleeveless tops or shorts. But when Westerners run these ashrams -- which is usually the case -- the strictness is usually reduced to tokenism. During my stay in one of the ashrams in Rishikesh, I would often run into a Western saadhvi (renunciate). A gorgeous woman she was, and as per the ashram rules, she wore a white saree. But what was most obvious about her attire was the sexy, lacy white bra, which showed through her white, transparent blouse.

9. And then there was this most capitvating woman I had ever seen in my life. I noticed her during dinner on the first day of my stay in an ashram in South India: she was giving 'reiki' to her food -- face serene, eyes shut and palms stretched on top of her plate, she seemed to be saying a silent prayer. Later I realised that she wore silence as a necklace -- whether during the yoga class, or during the tea break under the banyan tree, or during the meals. And it was the silence that made me seek her. "If only men knew how painful periods are," she said in a heavy Italian accent when I first made conversation with her. A couple of mornings later, she was right opposite me during the yoga class. She wore a white kurta and salwar. But underneath the kurta, there was nothing: everytime we came to the plank pose, I caught a glimpse of the Italian nipples. And we came to the plank pose half a dozen times. But then, that was that -- she left the ashram soon after, giving her postal address in Rome. She said she did not believe in e-mailing.

10. Italian nipples are no different from their Indian counterpart.

11. I have never fully followed the rules of the ashrams I have stayed in. They primarily prohibit four things: smoking, drinking, doing drugs and sex. Well, I have never been into drugs. As for alcohol, I can happily do without it in the presence of other stimuli. But I have smoked in all the ashrams I have stayed in. In some ashrams, I smoked in the toilet and flushed the cigarette butts in the commode. In some other ashrams, where my room has been away from the smelling distance of the caretakers, I have smoked as usual, stubbing the cigarette in disposable coffee cups. And there are two kinds of smokes most enjoyable. I have already mentioned the pleasure of the post-yoga smoke. The other is post-coitus smoke.

12. Coitus is a form of yoga, to tell you the truth, because sex is a combination of yoga postures. Usually, the woman is in savasana (corpse pose) or the pavanmukta asana (wind-relieving pose), while the man alternates between chaturanga dandasana (push-up pose), adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog) and urdhva mukha svanasana (upward facing dog). And for a man, it is sin to miss such a combination of asanas -- it stengthens every muscle of his, makes him flexible and gives him excellent cardio. That is why I never missed it, no matter which ashram I lived in or how strict it was about the conduct of its inmates.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Confessions Of An Aspiring Yogi

Eight years of living in Delhi had deprived this rice-eater of rice so much that when I came to Chennai and set up a kitchen for myself, I decided to pull out all the stops. Almost every dinner would be rice and boiled potatoes — steaming hot — with a spoonful of ghee, accompanied with some dal and boiled eggs. I hesitate to mention that the dinner was preceded by the sub-standard rum you get in Tamil Nadu.

Life went on like this for two whole years and then one morning when I woke up and looked in the mirror, I found Vijaykanth, the actor, staring back at me. I looked again: this time it was Mohan Lal’s face in the mirror. Many people — my mother included — would have seen it as a healthy sign, literally. But I alone knew how unhealthy I was.

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Aanewala Pal

Celebrating Kishore

Tomorrow, August 4, is Kishore Kumar's birthday. Here's a song from Gol Maal for all Kishore fans and fellow bloggers -- even those not into Hindi songs are bound to like it. Music: R.D. Burman (check out his signature trumpet!). Lyrics: Gulzar.

Here's also a toast to the good, old 70's! And this is one movie where Amol Palekar looks dashing.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

What If Kris Srikkanth Drank?

Last Saturday, I found myself in the ballroom of the Taj Coromandel, standing in one corner and sipping Teacher's whisky. For an Indian with modest income who needs a few drinks every evening to make his mind work, Teacher's can only be had at someone else's expense. At presently I was having it at the expense of Teacher's.

It was not the alcohol alone that had brought a recluse like me out of his den. It was also the sexy black invite sent out by Teacher's: it boasted of some big names -- Subir Raha (former ONGC chairman), Narain Karthikeyan and shooter Anjali Bhagwat, singer Sonu Nigam and ITC's Yogi Deveshwar. These people, the card announced, had won the Teacher's Award for Achievement and Excellence. So I presumed that these people would be collecting their awards that night -- what an opportunity to see and -- perhaps meet -- the best and bright in their fields.

But they weren't there. The evening turned out to be only a celebration of the spirit of Achievement and Excellence, and the mode of celebration was a tete-a-tete between actor Boman Irani and former cricketer Kris Srikkanth. By the time I found this out, I was already two drinks down, so it didn't really matter. And when Teacher's is flowing and an elaborate dinner is waiting, even Srikkanth can be tolerable. So I poured a large drink and walked into the hall, hoping to concentrate on the alcohol while Srikkanth did what he can do best: talking.

Talk he did, but this time he unpacked a bag of anecdotes, most relating to the 1983 World Cup. He had a lot of say, and after he had finished, he returned to his table to join his family and lit up a cigarette. I am not going to reproduce everything that he said, but I shall give you the highlights:

"Before the 1983 World Cup, Sunny (Sunil Gavaskar) called me and asked if I would like to come to America. He said I could bring my wife too. I was newly married. But I asked him what about the World Cup. He said we could stop over in London and play the World Cup. That time we did not take the World Cup seriously; the odds against our winning was 1000-1." (Probably what he also meant to say was: Gavaskar had lost his captaincy to Kapil Dev, so he gave a damn about India's chances in the tournament.)

"Kapil Dev, according to me, was a true leader and achiever. In the World Cup, our opening match was against West Indies. He called the team and told us, 'If we can beat the West Indies once, we can beat them again.' He said this with the true Punjabi aggression. It infused us with positive energy. And we beat the West Indies." (Probably what he also meant to say was: Sunny was an asshole, Kapil was a true captain).

"But in the match against Zimbabwe, we were 17 for 5. And then comes this man, Kapil Dev. Anybody else would have given up, but our man hit 175 not out." (Probably what he meant to say was: We were all assholes to get out so cheaply against even Zimbabwe! Kapil was our saviour).

"When Kapil came out to bat (in the same match), I was standing by a wall and watching the game. I was so nervous that I must have smoked 25 cigarettes. My wife, who was staying with relatives in London, had come to the stadium and she was now standing next to me. Once Kapil started hitting, the mood changed. P R Mansingh (the manager) was superstitious, he wanted each of us to stay wherever we were and not move. He thought our positions had brought good luck. So he would not allow me to move from the wall, even though I wanted to pee badly." (Mansingh was also present in that evening. He said he had subsequently asked Srikkanth's roommate, Roger Binny, to shift to his room, so that Srikkanth's wife could move in there.)

"I was so much out of form that I was dropped even from the Ranji team. One evening I was sitting with Laxman Sivaramakrishnan. I don't drink, but he was drinking, and he must have had five or six rounds of rum or whisky or whatever he was drinking. That's when I told him, 'Machaa, just wait, one day I will captain India! And I became the captain within a few years." (There is one thing I wonder about: What if Srikkanth wasn't a tetotaller? After a few drinks, would he have blabbered more? Or less?)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Where Do You Get Prostitutes in Madikeri? I Don't Know!

Looks like I am on the way to becoming another Henry Miller, provided Google can smell one's ideas. Three people were directed to my blog today when they Google-searched for the following:

"Stick to one woman";

"Where do we get prostitutes in Madikeri"; and

"Though my husband was in the room his boss asked me to remove my saree".

I hope these people found what they were searching for. As for becoming another Henry Miller, there is another reason for hope. We not only share the same zodiac sign but also the same birthday: 26 December.