Saturday, February 27, 2010

Porn Politics

Wasn't it just the other day when a magazine called Debonair sold openly on the stands, with all those curvaceous, home-grown beauties posing for the centrefold? Debonair was a literotica magazine: it not only served you some of the most delectable pair of Indian tits but also some of the finest prose and verse published by any Indian magazine at the time.

I was too young when Debonair was at its peak, edited by some of the finest minds in the country, but I resolutely caught up with the past issues on the pavements of Daryaganj in Delhi and Parade in Kanpur. Of course you looked at the girls first, and once you were done with them, you proceeded to devour the remaining content. Sometime in the early 1990's, when I had just entered journalism, an enterprising young man from Allahabad came out with a similar magazine, Fantasy. It was a bit bolder than Debonair when it came to centrespeads, but it also had a lot of stuff worth reading. The success of Fantasy inspired the publication of about a dozen such magazines, but they were all crudely produced and had crude models striking crude poses.

I doubt if any of them exists today. It doesn't matter, for porn has gone online. But as far as my knowledge goes, Debonair still comes out. But buying it today is a waste of money. I bought one as recently as two years ago from a railway station in Kerala (I can't recall which, perhaps Shoranur), and discovered that Cosmopolitan is bolder.

The point is: these magazines existed till about a decade and a half ago. They did not eat into Indian culture. They did not erode the morals of a traditional Hindu family. Life just went on, just the way it goes on today. In fact, Atal Behari Vajpayee was an avid reader of Debonair, though he kept it under his pillow.

The point is: today, can you walk into a bookshop and find an Indian magazine that features nude Indian women? More importantly, does any publisher have the courage to bring out a magazine that features nude Indian women? The answer is a resounding 'no'. Which publisher would risk his office being stoned or set on fire by the so-called upholders of Indian culture?

The point is: what really went wrong in the past 15 years? As a teenager, I saw Debonair being sold freely on the stands, but as a man who is now almost 40, I would be horrified to find such a magazine being sold over the counter. Horrified, because the publisher would only be courting trouble and inviting violence. So what really went wrong?

It is just that we have gone back in time, thanks to a few hundred thousand men who decided that we have not imbibed enough culture from our mothers' milk and that we need to be fed with the powdered version of Indian culture so that it runs in our veins. It was the rise of the culture vultures that marked the decline of the Indian society. The villain is the BJP, led by L.K. Advani. Had he not set out on the rath yatra way back in 1990 to garner support for the construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya, Debonair might have been carrying Indian nudes even today. But his Hindutva endeavour encouraged every jobless Tom, Dick and Harry to become a custodian of the Hindu culture.

The BJP and the various Hindutva forces should never forget that the BJP came to power at the Centre only because Atal Behari Vajpayee, a much-loved moderate leader and a reader of Debonair, was projected as their prime ministerial candidate. In the 2009 general elections, the public outright rejected the BJP's 'Advani for PM' campaign. Advani, at best, served as a vote-gatherer for Vajpayee. Who should know this better than me -- a silent reporter who covered the BJP from 1996 to 2000, recording its transition from the largest Opposition to being the ruling party.

It was Advani who made the BJP untouchable, and it was Vajpayee who had made the party touchable all over again, with regional parties like the TDP and the DMK supporting his government. But with the exit of Vajpayee, the poet-politician whose appeal cut across party lines but who is now too old and too unwell, the BJP has returned to being an untouchable. And it is likely to remain that way unless it stops talking about the Ram temple in Ayodhya. Really, which Indian or a Hindu today is bothered about the building of a Ram temple in a town as small and as remote as Ayodhya? As it is, the people of Ayodhya are not at all happy with the BJP, which I discovered during a visit to Ayodhya amid the 2004 elections.

The BJP, take it from me, is not going to come to power in the near future, Even the BJP knows that. But what is wrong with the Congress? Why has it lost its balls? Why is India's best known artist, M.F. Hussain, being forced to live in exile and now being granted citizenship by Qatar? Can't Sonia Gandhi or Manmohan Singh stand up and say that Hussain belongs to India and that he should return? But they are scared. We are all scared. Today, we all live in an atmosphere of fear.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Four Years

Today, February 26, is exactly four years ever since I first spoke to the woman who went on to become my wife. The sequence of events remains frozen in my mind.

February 2006: I was supposed to take the train from Chennai to Kanpur, spend a few relaxing days at home and then proceed to Rishikesh to attend the International Yoga Festival. But just two days before I was to take the train, news came that my mother was in hospital. She was serious. I flew down. I knew that attending the festival was now out of the question, but I still remembered to carry my yoga mat along, just in case she got better, as she always did in the past.

Miraculously enough, she began to revive the very evening I landed. In two days she was back home and life, for us, returned to normal. I resumed my yoga practice and looked forward to attending the festival. I was so glad I had brought the mat along.

So that morning, I had just finished my yoga session and was still lying in savasana when a message from an unknown number beeped on the phone: "Are you in some complicated yoga pose or free to talk?" I realised it was a Kolkata number. I rolled up the mat and went to the terrace to speak to her, for the first time. Till then we had only exchanged emails.

Subsequently, during the course of the day, we spoke to each other several times. But it was only at night, around 10.30, that we settled for a really long conversation. It happened to be Shivaratri, the night of Shiva, my favourite god, and priests at the nearby temple were chanting his name over the loudspeakers.

The chanting was still on when we hung up around three in the morning. The man who went to sleep that night was no longer the man who resisted or ran away from the thought of marriage. He finally wanted to get married, to the woman he had just finished talking to.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I fail to understand how someone Google-searching the words "boobs shucking in delhi of female" lands on a blog as pious as Ganga Mail. Another soul searching for "accedental panty seen while bathing in haridwar" was also directed to my blog around the same time.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


the flawless sculpture
for hours together,
I felt dizzy and fell
and woke up
in flawland.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Thank You

Many posts of mine in the recent past have been devoted to Chai, Chai, my debut book. So much so that I find it embarrassing to bring it up again lest it makes you yawn. But tonight I realise that during the emotional roller-coaster ride in the past few months, I had completely forgotten to say two simple words: Thank you.

A big 'Thank You' to each one who bought the book. Without your interest, it would have been impossible for Chai, Chai to go into a second reprint within five months of its publication. No, that does not make me another Chetan Bhagat, not even remotely. But the sales of my book have been steady enough to call for successive reprints and that makes me happy.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

10 Smokey Thoughts

1. When you give a Rs-500 note to the shopkeeper to buy a packet of cigarette worth Rs 94 and when he returns the change to you, which includes four Rs-100 notes, you somehow feel he is giving away some of his own money to you. Just like you feel richer when see you find four Rs-100 notes in your wallet instead of just one Rs-500 note.

2. It is more pleasurable to smoke a cigarette when you walk up to the shop to buy a packet, compared to lighting one that is already in your pocket.

3. I dislike sharing my cigarette, and hate it when someone extends two parted fingers seeking a drag. Though I don't tell him or her that I dislike it, because the person is usually a friend.

4. I absolutely dislike it when men leave their saliva behind after taking a drag from your cigarette. As for women: be my guest.

4. I don't like people bumming cigarettes, though I myself bum one occasionally, very occasionally. But bumming a cigarette as well as borrowing your lighter -- unpardonable. Bumming a cigarette, borrowing your lighter and not returning the lighter -- death penalty!

5. One should let smokers be, as long as they are not blowing the smoke on your face. Or as long as they don't smoke in the same room. But don't make them look, or feel, like criminals.

6. The lungs of a man running a shop at Nandanam signal or at the Pondy Bazaar-Mount Road junction would be no better or worse than a regular smoker. He smokes non-stop even without lighting a cigarette.

7. As an adolescent, I hero-worshipped models of cigarette ads, Jackie Shroff included. Secretly fantasised about being one someday (perhaps the unrealised dream manifested itself in the profile picture of mine on this blog, self-taken about four years ago).

8. I smoked my very first cigarette at the age of 19 when my parents had gone to Delhi to collect a prize of my behalf for the cartoon I had submitted for a nationwide anti-smoking cartoon contest. I could not go to Delhi because I had exams.

9. It feels so good to light up a cigarette while having a drink. It feels even better to light up after good sex. Heaven is when two red lights glow in a dark room smelling of sweat.

10. The real test of determination is not about giving up smoking. The real test, if you are a habitual smoker, is to limit your consumption to four or five cigarettes a day. I so envy people who smoke just two cigarettes a day or just one in two days. I don't want to be a non-smoker, I want to be them.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Holiday And Home

If doing nothing also amounts to doing something, then I did a lot during the last weekend which I spent it Bangalore. Which mostly included sitting in the balcony and gazing at the horizon, at times with a glass of beer in hand and at times with whisky.

In the newly-developing areas of Bangalore, especially on the road to the new airport, there is still a lot of nothingness to gaze at. When not in the balcony, I would be either in the pool which the balcony overlooked, on lazing in bed with The City Of Falling Angels, a beautiful portrayal of behind-the-curtain Venice by journalist John Brendt, or at the dining table, eating authentic Bengali food. Doing a lot, yet doing nothing. You can afford it only when you are the guest of an indulgent host.

Finally, the Shatabdi Express had to pull up at Chennai Central this morning. I wished I had a host waiting for me, who would take charge of my life from the moment I landed at the station. But this is Chennai, my home: I am the guest, I am also the host. What happens when the guest, back from a soothing trip to Bangalore, expects to be pampered whereas the host, who is bogged down by life, is in no mood to indulge? What happens is this: under the blazing sun, you, the host, hunt for an honest autorickshaw driver to take you home, where the host waits for you with a long list of things that need to be done -- some doable and some you want to be done but which are simply not under your control.

It takes no time for reverie to turn into reality: one moment you are in the comfort of a balcony and the very next moment you are pushed up against the wall. One moment you have someone lobbing a cushion at you while you are lazing on the bed: "Here, keep this under your head or you'll sprain your neck." And the very next moment you have another someone throwing darts (or shooting arrows) at you just because you are lazing in bed: "Aren't you ashamed to be still lying there? Don't you have an action plan in life?" You are jerked out of bed. Holiday becomes home. Reverie becomes reality. Life becomes a bitch. But then, such is life.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Flight Of Love

Imagine yourself on a plane that is flying really low over a breathtaking landscape. You are in the window seat and you are awestruck. But the person on the next seat is a total stranger who is immersed in a book or a newspaper: it is so pointless and silly to tug at that person's elbow and say, "Look, look!" And since your mobile phone is switched off, it is also impossible to call up a loved one to describe what you are witnessing. Even if the various airlines allowed you to keep your phones on, what would you really describe? Whatever you describe would make no sense to a person who is geographically elsewhere, engrossed in work or some domestic chore.

So you are left with no choice but to feel the beauty of the landscape and not talk about it. Either there is no one to talk about it, or even if there is, the person would never understand the exhilaration you are going through. It's the same thing with love: you only feel it, but don't talk about it. When you are in love, it is like inhaling the beauty of a place all by yourself, but the moment you talk about it or start describing it, love becomes like a fresh loaf of bread gone hard.

Love is something which is meant to be felt and not analysed. The moment you analyse, love gets downgraded to either like or lust. If, from the flying plane, you look at the landscape below and figure out that you love the sight only because you see a river emerging between two mountains, then love becomes like. If you look below and wish you owned a piece of land by that river, love becomes lust. It is only when you fly over the landscape, breathing in every moment of its beauty without reasoning or wanting, that you know you are in love.

Love, therefore, is difficult to achieve. It is as rare as those moments when you happen to be in the window seat while the plane is flying low enough on its way to an exotic destination. Like and lust, on the other hand, are as common as a city coming into view as soon as the plane is about to land.

It's all about feeling it. Feeling each other is secondary. So why these thoughts on love? Because Valentine's Day is approaching and I thought I must do my bit. I hope to write more on the subject before February 14 comes knocking, but in the meantime please read this as well -- something I wrote four years ago.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Saju And I

This Sunday I spent the entire afternoon at Saju's place, finishing a bottle of Bacardi between the two of us before settling down, at five in the evening, for an impressive lunch cooked by his wife. I dozed off as soon as I got into the car and my wife was left to guess her way from Velachery to T. Nagar. Not that my being awake would have helped: neither do I drive nor do I know the roads of Chennai very well. Back home, I slept for a while and then woke up intending to write but after answering a few emails and messages went off to sleep again. A day wasted. But since the drinking session took place with Saju, I would call it a day well spent.

Saju and I go back a long way, right from the day I landed in Chennai precisely nine years ago. He was the only person in the office who was well-dressed: shirt smartly tucked in and wearing black leather shoes. Standing on the terrace of the old Express office, we had a small introductory chat. I was 30 then, he 28. One thing common that emerged between us was our liking for Old Monk Rum. Women were still not discussed for the next few days because an air of formality was still hanging in the pleasant January breeze that blew on the terrace. Saju would still call me Mr Ghosh.

For the first few days I had a good time. Everybody at office was keen that I settle down in Chennai first before rolling up my sleeves and getting down to work, so I took advantage of their generosity and roamed Mount Road during the daytime, spending a lot of time at Higginbothams and a bookshop called The Bookshop in Spencer Plaza. (Landmark was yet to come to Spencer Plaza, and when it did a year or so later, killed The Bookshop).

For the good time in the evenings, Saju would be my sole partner. We would go to a wine shop on Ethiraj Salai, which had a bar on the first floor. Since the wine shop was adjacent to a popular restaurant called Shamiyana, the bar too was referred to by the same name. Going to Shamiyana meant going for a drink.

In the dimly-lit, noisy bar, infested with all kinds of people, from masons to marketing executives, the journey of our friendship began. Saju and I. Our alcohol-lit eyes could not hide anything from each other: first we shared our dreams and desires, and then, as weeks passed, we began sharing our disappointments and desperation as well.

The best part about drinking with a trusted pal after a day's work is that the drinking session becomes an exercise in introspection. You are determined to make the next day even better. It is like writing a conscience-awakening diary at the end of the day. One can, of course, write a diary instead of having a drink with a friend. But I am no Gandhi. I cannot experiment with truth in a sober state because truth, in my opinion, precipitates in the mind only after you are a few drinks down. The truth that you see shining while in a sober state is only the truth that you would like to see, not the real truth.

But if you are the kind who is drinking as well as writing a diary upon getting back home, then you are writing literature. All you you need is a good editor and a publisher, if at all you are interested. Sorry for digressing. So I was saying how evenings spent at this particular bar cemented the friendship between Saju and I. After a point it did not matter where we drank, what mattered was the time spent together drinking.

When the going was good, we drank together in celebration. When life turned out to be a bitch, we drowned our sorrows in the bottle. We were happy on the whole, our dreams acting as a cushion against our disappointments and our desires taming the desperation. Saju got married in 2002, and I went for his wedding to Aluva in Kerala; while I got married in 2006, and Saju came for my wedding to Kolkata.

But some things did not change: Saju and I raiding bookshops and then having a drink together. Neither of us was rich enough to raid the bookshop every day, but we were collectively rich enough to share a half-bottle of whisky every single day. (Somewhere down the line, we had switched over from rum to whisky). Then came a time when we both had to change jobs, and we no longer saw each other everyday. From being together for nearly 10 hours every day, we began to see each other only once in five or six months. Suddenly, there was no one to share your secrets with, leave dreams and desires and despair. Telephonic conversations are so superficial: you can only ask stuff like "How are you?" and "What are you up to?", and the answers are rarely honest.

Of late, I have begun to meet Saju more often. It feels so good, but it also reminds me of the water that has flown under the bridge since those good times. My mother, till the time she died five months ago, would enquire about Saju on a regular basis. She had a soft corner for him because she knew he was her son's only good friend. She had even bought a saree from Nalli in Delhi to wear it for the launch of her son's book, but she missed the event narrowly, just by a few weeks. At times I feel like presenting God with a garland of shoes for what he has put me through. But God must have been too busy with the attention of other devotees to pay attention to my plea for keeping my mother alive till the book came out. She was not even 59 when she died.

It was only after I conveyed the news to Saju that evening that I felt relieved and prepared enough to see my mother lying on a bed of ice. The rest of the world was condoling, but Saju was the only one who would have understood. Today, after my mother's death, I see Saju more often. From meeting him once every few months, I now meet him once every few weeks. It is a happy situation, as well as tragic in many ways.

Saju and I are like bottles of wine left side by side to mature by the vineyard owner. We don't know when we are going to be taken up for consumption so that people can enjoy vintage wine, but we have seen each other mature during the past nine years. We both have sufficient grey on our heads now and some grey sprouting from our chests too. We no longer look the same as we do in the albums that contain pictures taken only the other day -- maybe a few years ago. We both have grown old, and our friendship now tastes like matured wine.