Thursday, December 29, 2005

Hair Yesterday, Gone Today?

I am sure this happens to many others as well. Every day, sometime between the sun sets and when it decides to rise again, I step into a party zone where I meet quite a few interesting people: pretty young and not-so-young things who are also intelligent, men who are too witty for their age, old friends, newly-made friends and so on. Only that I am not dressed for the party -- I could just be wearing a lungi or a pair of boxers. God alone knows what those pretty things might be wearing on the other end. At times I am tempted to imagine, but how can you imagine someone's attire when you haven't even seen them -- it would be an exercise in futility. But we men often thrive on the art of imagination. Anyway, coming to the party I went to this evening. I ran into a girl who called herself iamtoobrainyforu. The conversation went like this:

iamtoobrainyforu: Hi Bishy. U busy?

Bishy (that's me): Not really.

iamtoobrainyforu: Who would you vote as the person of the year? A. Rahul Dravid. B. Sania Mirza. C. Amitabh Bachchan. D. Manjunath E. Sonia Gandhi. F. Manmohan Singh. G. Nitish Kumar.

Bishy: I have no opinion.

iamtoobrainyforu: Why not? Choose one.

Bishy: (since her question reminded me of Kaun Banega Crorepati) Amitabh Bachchan.

iamtoobrainyforu: Why???????? To make him feel better?

Bishy: No, he is too good.

iamtoobrainyforu: In what sense?

Bishy: He is just too good. Period.

iamtoobrainyforu: Great fan, huh? I have one question, for which a fan like you can give an appropriate answer.

Bishy: Shoot.

iamtoobrainyforu: Does he wear a wig?

Bishy: Maybe, I do not know.

iamtoobrainyforu: I want an answer.

Bishy: I am not his barber, sweetheart.

iamtoobrainyforu: I had a Rs 100/- bet with my friend on this issue. It's still not sorted out.

Bishy: I will give Rs 200 each to u and ur friend.

iamtoobrainyforu: What for?

Bishy: To stop guessing and leave the poor man alone.

iamtoobrainyforu: But if he does wear a wig?

Bishy: Big deal if he does.

iamtoobrainyforu: I will lose respect for him in the sense that he is not himself. Why cover up ????Why not be bald????

Bishy: Well, to me he looks natural.

iamtoobrainyforu: Rajnikant is natural. He doesn't wear a wig outside. At least he doesn't fake it.

Bishy: But it looks like a joke.

Before I could explain why it looks like a joke, as in Rajnikant appearing bald-headed when he is not shooting, imatoobrainyforu had to sign out. So I am offloading my thoughts here. I really find it funny when one morning you see pictures of Rajnikant -- the Rajnikant -- appearing in some function looking rather unkempt, not to mention his receding (and greyed) hairline. And recently, pictures in some papers showed him completely bald.

By some magic -- and it happens only in Chennai -- those pictures would be transformed into posters the very next morning and pasted on walls throughout the city. Fine by itself, but not when those walls also have posters showing stills from Chandramukhi, Rajni's latest movie where he looks as old as he looked 20 years ago -- head full of hair and those sunglasses on the yes. One is reality, another is fantasy. To a discerning mind which has seen those recent pictures of the real Rajni, the fantasy wouldn't be even fantasy: it would be sheer absurdity. Yet Rajni sells. People disregard, and disbelieve, his real looks: they choose to go by the look the make-up artist gives him.

The same is the case with Sathyaraj, another Tamil actor. Unlike Rajnikant, who has been quite popular in Bollywood, Sathyaraj was an unknown figure to me till a colleague interviewed him featured him in the paper. From what I gather, Sathyaraj, even though he is well past middle age, still plays roles that should ideally go to men less than half his age. But in real life, he has no qualms acting his age: he is a bald, old man even though incredibly fit. The audience, no doubt, has seen him bald, but they take the wig for real when they see him in the movies.

Cinema is a make-believe world, no doubt, but in Tamil Nadu they seem to understand it better than anyone in the rest of the country. Here, when they step into a theatre, they discard the images of Rajnikant they had seen in that morning's paper into the bin where they usually throw used paper glasses and paper plates. Dev Anand would have been better off in Chennai: he need not have made efforts to sport that 'evergreen' look 24/7. On second thoughts, Dev Anand is better off in Bombay: one would dread to see his real self at 82 and spoil the image that one has formed of him since the days of Tere Ghar Ke Saamne or even Guide.

Coming to Amitabh Bachchan. Big deal if he wears a wig or if he doesn't. His charisma remains intact. Even if he wears a wig, he does so carefully: he gives the impression that his hair has aged naturally, past the days when his famous hairstyle induced millions of fans into the middle-parting. He is neither like Dev Anand who, even at 82, has a head full of hair, nor like Rajnikant, who appears bald in real life but sports a thick mane in the movies. Now someone who can make even his hair act, you can imagine what an actor he himself his. But who ever doubted the acting skills of Amitabh Bachchan?

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

How Old Are You?

When I signed up with Blogspot two months ago, I mentioned my correct date of birth. I even put up a picture of myself, taken by me, with a webcam. The profile page showed my age as 34. I was rather pleased, because I had turned 34 in December 2004, and when I signed up with Blogspot in October 2005, I was expecting them to take those 10 months into account. The figure remained 34 even on the evening of my 35th birthday and, for a moment, I thought I was going to be 34 forever.

But after I had seen off all the guests who came for the birthday party I clicked on my Blogger profile out of curiosity. I found my age showing, suddenly, as 35! Techonology, obviously, makes its own calculations once you have stated a certain date of birth.

But there are areas where technology fails. And that's the heartening bit. For example, the picture of mine that I've put up on the blog was taken when I was 34. Then one day I turn 35. The next year I turn 36. And four years later I turn 40. Is technology capable of automatically subtracting from the existing hair on my head or adding to the grey on it in accordance with the passing years? Is it capable of adding, on its own, a few wrinkles to my face just the way it would add years to my age? The answer is 'no'.

The moral of the story? No matter what your age is, you can be as old as you want to look. Just the way you can be as old as you want to feel.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Nature And The Society

Twice or thrice a week, late in the night when I am usually tapping away at the keyboard, I hear a knock on my door. I instantly know who it is, for he never rings the bells but knocks. He is a friend -- a man who runs a grocery store on the next street. (I've mentioned him in one of my previous posts). He would have had a long day, and after closing the shop, he would expect to unwind at my place by taking the lid off his mind. The subjects we discuss range from religion to sex, and often before we start talking, I pour myself a drink. Alcohol can transform small talk into a conversation.

Two nights ago I heard the knock. I was already drinking and in the middle of writing. I was determined to wind up the piece before diverting my attention to him but the story he began to tell made me push the laptop away and start typing on the keyboard inside the head.

There is boy, about 14 or 15, who comes to his shop very often, to buy bread, eggs and stuff like that. The father of the boy also shows up once in a while. "A young, good-looking man, just like Arvind Swamy" -- that's how my friend describes the father. That morning, the father came to the shop to get a pre-paid mobile connection. He filled out the application form and when my friend, the shopkeeper, saw his date of birth, he could barely believe his eyes: 28 December 1974. Unable to hide his surprise, he asked the man: "That boy who comes here, isn't he your son?"
"Yes, he is."
"How old is he?"
"And you are 1974-born?"

The man told my friend a story. The story would have been very common but for the age of the characters involved. A 16-year-old boy falls in love with a classmate. One day, when no one else is around, lust gets the better of them, rather him, and they end up doing what they shouldn't have. Soon after their parents discover their affair and seek to separate them. But they elope. Many years later -- many years after the child is born -- the couple's parents come around. Today, they all are living happily ever since.

How happy is that happily, I do not know. When the son is 20, the father would be 36. They might have to answer uncomfortable questions. But then, answer to who? The society? The society is prone to asking uncomfortable questions anyway. It loves to finger you and pokes it nose into your life. Still, I -- in my present age -- would not like to be seen as the father of a son or a daughter who is 15. It sounds so odd. I mean it is not just done.

But if it is not done, then why does Nature bestow reproductive abilities to a human being at the age of 13 or 14? And Nature does not do anything without reason. Well, women did become mothers at that age till only a few decades ago. And men, in the olden days, usually became fathers even before they were 20. That way, our "Arvind Swamy" can hold his head high, even though the society might think of him as a creature to be kept in the zoo.

On second thoughts, the zoo might be a better place to live in for people like him and his family. The zoo, after all, showcases Nature's creation. Whereas the society creates rules for Nature's creations and makes this world appear like a circus. We are all part of the Great Circus, aren't we? We, like the monkeys and the bears in the circus, always dance to somebody else's tunes and rarely follow the instincts Nature endows us with.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Afterthoughts Of A Capricorn

Tomorrow I will stand at a point that is equidistant from youth and middle-age. I don't know if that calls for a celebration, but I will celebrate anyway. On the eve of the celebration, Life has just handed me the report card. It measures me on a scale of 10.

For my ability to dream, I have got 10.

For my ability to translate those dreams, I got 5 (actually 4, but I am ashamed to admit that).

For my relationships, 2 (this year has been bad).

For online relationships, 8.

Reading, 7.

Writing, 8.

Sex, 4.

Career, 9.

Blogging, 12.

At the bottom there is a comment: "Even if you the capacity to achieve, you will achieve only if you want to achieve. So get your act together. You hardly have time." If I get my act together, which I promise I will, the figures in the report card would remain the same next year -- only some interchanging:

For my ability to dream, 10.

For my ability to translate those dreams, 12.

For my relationships, 8.

For online relationships, 2.

Reading, 7.

Writing, 8.

Sex, 8.

Career, 9.

Blogging, 4.

Thoughts Of A Capricorn

In another six days from now, we would all be trampling upon 2005 and stepping on to 2006. But my breath still smells of the whisky I had had the last New Year party, and my tongue still bears the residue of the salt in the wafers that had accompanied the drinks.

Maybe the images of that party remain vivid because it wasn't a party in the first place -- it was only a meeting of precisely five people who had gathered in the warmth of a home in Besant Nagar, not far from where people rendered homeless by the tsunami must have been huddled that night.

Circled around bottles of beer and glasses of whisky and bowls of wafers and peanuts, we sat on the floor, listening to Hindi songs of the 70's and 80's. And then the mobile phones started ringing and a few people started bursting crackers on the street. We looked at the clock: it was already a few minutes past midnight. We raised our glasses, wished each other, and returned to the music.

Another year had passed. Another year sliced off our lifespan, and now, even before I could work that night's alcohol off my system, Time is once again out with the knife. This is one pain which Capricorns feel more than anyone else. Especially Capricorns who were born around the yearend: I am one of them.

Last year I had planned my birthday rather meticulously. At seven in the morning, my parents were arriving. And at seven in the evening, a couple of my friends were coming home for dinner. But before any of them could arrive, the tsunami came.

First caller: Good morning, Bish! Happy Birthday! Did you feel the earthquake? I felt it, man!
First caller (again): Bish, did you hear that! The sea is coming in!
Second caller: Happy Birthday! Did you hear the latest? My maid says the sea is coming to swallow us.
Third caller: Are you up? I am going to Marina to take pictures. Want to come along? By the way, Happy Birthday!
Fourth caller (my mother, from Vijayawada station): Are you ok? What is this happening in Chennai? The train is late by 12 hours... (the train was running late because of the fog in North India).

Sunday. I had a bath, put on a new shirt (birthday gift, by my boss), and set out for Marina. Vehicles were allowed only upto a point, so I walked the remaining distance, about 2 km. There was chaos on the road. People were excited. I imagined the might of the waves when I saw an Ambassador car perched on top of the railing at the beach. I walked back. The gravity of the destruction hit me only when I swtiched on the TV. We were in the middle of a full-scale disaster.

My rest of the day was spent doing commentaries for BBC Bengali service. In between, I found time to fetch my parents from the station. And in the night, I was drinking and having dinner with a completely unexpected set of people: journalist friends from Delhi who had rushed in. It felt like being in the Press Club. Any kind of tragedy, so long as it doesn't touch you, can be fun. We get sadistic pleasure out of watching it. It's like picnic.

How else do you explain the crowd of onlookers around a man who has just met with an accident? Nobody moves a finger to help, but they all stand and watch. Long ago, when I was eight or nine, a bus had fallen off the bridge into the Ganga near my home. For two days they laboured to retrieve the bus and the bodies. The crowd watching this gruesome exercise was so huge that peanut-sellers and balloon-sellers put up their stalls. Water vendors and soft drink-sellers were there too.

Birthdays, by the way, are no less tragic than tsunami. Tsunami, in fact, is better. It kills only a few thousand people at a time and kills them instantly. The birthday kills all of us, slowly and without our knowledge, slicing a year off your life every year. Year after year.

Friday, December 23, 2005

On The Galle Road

It is 7 p.m., and I am at the seaside town of Bentota, sitting in a tiled-roof bar that is practically empty and that is now playing Akon’s I am so lonely, I have nobody. Over the music you can hear the whirring of a generator running in a building not very far away. It isn’t a generator, though; it’s the sound of the ocean. Presently that sound is drowned by the rattling of the seven o’ clock train that is passing by. The rail track is just a few feet away from the balustrade of the bar. That’s how it is in Sri Lanka. Wherever you go, a rail track always follows you, just like that faithful dog in the Hutch commercial. Even when you go to a local bar. The track, of course, doesn’t follow you inside the bar; it waits for you outside, as is the case now. I look at the passing train. Like many things in Sri Lanka, the rail coaches have something old-world about them...

Full story

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The One O' Clock Train

I am waiting for the 1 o' clock train
Everything else can wait
The train stops for 15 minutes
sometimes it is late.

She sits by the window
looking out for me.
I run and reach for her hand
dodging the men selling tea.

Time is short: 15 minutes
And so much to talk
But she will come again tomorrow
When the watch shows 1 o' clock.

I had a dream this morning:
she slips a piece of paper into my hand
before fading out of the platform
a small note written in long hand.

"Time has come. In the station
you don't have to roam.
I am your destiny,
take me home."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Love In The Time Of Internet

Believe me, I can smell words. I can feel their texture. I don't see faces in them, but I can see emotions in those faceless faces. I fall easily in love with them, and if they have a distinct identity, I fall in love with the writer as well.

Time was when writers were people who wrote novels and short stories, and even if you fell in love with them, there was nothing you could do about it: they were way beyond your reach.

Things have changed. Today, if you want to savour words, you no longer have to browse at bookshops or dig into dusty libraries. Words are floating around these days, catching you attention even while you brush your teeth. And people who type them out are no longer writers in the conventional sense: they are people who blog, people who leave comments on blogs, people who IM you, people who text message you on the mobile phone, people who e-mail you.

And since these wordsmiths -- who are people like you and me -- don't live in ivory towers, you can reach out to them and tell them how much you are in love with their words, or how much you are in love with them. And if luck is with you, you will soon have love blooming.

The point I am trying to make is: thanks to internet, the scope for two people falling in love had widened dramatically. And for the better. In the traditional course, you first fell in love with someone's eyes or lips or height or hair (aankhen and zulfein have featured commonly in Hindi love songs). In short, it has been lust at first sight, which went on to assume the form of love as years rolled by. But there are times when you might fall for the hair or the eyes, but the minds simply don't match -- which you discover only when it is too late.

He likes Chinese but you love Indian. She adores Pink Floyd but you are crazy about Kishore Kumar. You love to read in bed but he wants the lights out by 11. You want to have a post-dinner smoke but she says: "If you smoke, I am not going to let you touch me." Suddenly, her hitherto-serene eyes become menacing, his height turns out to be intimadating and so on. That's what happens when lust is garbed in the clothing of love, or when lust is mistaken for love. And that's what happens with most "lovers" in India, though no one will ever admit that, because it is considered politically incorrect to say that you are overcome by lust and not love.

The internet takes care of such complications. It breeds, according to me, genuine love. And that's because the mind connects first. You might not be able to touch her cheeks with the back of your palm, but you are able to touch her mind. And vice-versa. You know each other's tastes, you are aware of each other's habits, you are familiar with each other's eccentricities. The only thing you are in the dark about is the looks. But when minds meet, do looks really matter? It's all in the mind, after all -- even sex.

They say sex is between the ears, and not between the legs; and I entirely agree. Because you might be in the middle of passionate love-making, but a mere knock on the door or just a beep on your phone can make you limp. That is because if you are a thinking person, you are bound to wonder: Who could that be at the door? Who could have SMS-ed me at this hour? Suddenly you switch off your physical senses and switch on your practical self.

So the bottomline: the mind matters. And technology today ensures that the matching of minds happens much before the matching of the kundali, or the horoscope. What more can you ask for? The looks? Well, if he or she is as good-looking as you had imagined him or her to be, you are lucky. If not, you are still not unlucky. Looks, after all, don't matter much after the first few months: you tend to get used to it. But habits do matter. If she swtiches on the bedside lamp at the same time as you do, and if she knows when to swtich that lamp off and turn her attention to you, life becomes blissful. After all, the route to sexual gratification passes though the heart, and not the genitals. Genitals are just an excuse. They are by-the-way. You can pleasure them anyway. Even without a partner. But to massage the mind you need a partner. And what better place to find such a partner than the internet, where minds meet long before the eyes do?

Before I sign off, let me share a poem that caught my attention while I was flipping through a recent issue of the Spectator magazine this evening. I wish I had written these lines, but they already belong to someone called John Mole:

The Secret Garden
Why did we go there after dark
To carve our initials in the bark,
Why was daylight not for us
But bittersweet and dangerous?

Why did the innocence of trees
Bring my conscience to its knees,
Why was a vacant starless sky
Our coverlet or canopy?

Why did we touch then stand apart
Like twin halves of a broken heart,
Why did the knife fall to the ground
So guiltily without a sound?

Why did you cry out, turn and run
As if ashamed at what we'd done,
Why was the cut we made so deep?
Why can neither of us sleep?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Pictures From Sri Lanka...

Sunset in Colombo.

The adonis who took me on a boat ride
on the Bentota river.

A young couple on the Colombo beach
who agreed to pose.

Young Buddhist monks outside Galle station.

Yours truly posing by the Galle Road,
in front of a
tsunami-damaged monument.

Again on the road to Galle. The sea
behind killed about
20,000 in this
area alone exactly a year ago.

With one of the dare-devils who throng
the parapet of
the Dutch fort at Galle,
offering to jump into the ocean for money.

A daredevil jumps into the ocean.

Tsunami is past. Time to buy Lux

Sri Lankan beauties!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Of Women And The Drops In The Ocean

This evening, fate put its final seal of approval on two of my beliefs, both related to plane journeys: one, my luggage comes the last on the conveyor belt; and two, I will never have a woman sitting next to me. This evening another plane ride ended: plane load of women, but none next to me.

It's one thing to take a woman along on a trip, but quite another to find one -- a total stranger -- sitting next to you. Eyes meet, elbows touch, conversation happens; and if you are in luck, she might even ask for your card. Even if she doesn't, and just says goodbye at the end of the journey, you have at least had a good time. At least you don't pay attention to the jerks and jolts during the take-off or landing or when the plan hits an air pocket.

The absence of a woman companion doesn't pinch you so hard during the onward journey, as it does on the return. Because during the onward journey, there is still some hope that you might find someone on the return flight. But when a puzzled-looking man's hunt for his seat ends on the empty seat next to yours, that hope is killed too. You feel like tearing your hair.

That is why I was in a sour mood on the flight from Colombo this evening. The problem, for me, is not just the lack of women. Interesting men can often make up for that. But by some strange twist of fate, I am invariably saddled with men who barely make conversation, the reason for which becomes clear shortly before landing: they shyly push their disembarkment form towards me and ask me to fill it for them. This -- let me admit it -- makes me feel as smug as a woman's company would have. This is my destiny, in any case.

Now a little about how I almost missed the flight. Rather how I thought I would miss the flight. Bentota, a sea-side town where I spent two nights, is about three hours away from Colombo airport, which itself is a good hour and a half from Colombo, the city. So I started from Bentota at 1.30 pm in order to be in time for the 7 pm flight. The taxi breezed through various small towns -- Kaluthara, Mt Lavinia and so on -- but when it hit Colombo, it began to move at a snail's pace. Traffic was thick and refused to move. 3.30 pm already and, ideally, I was supposed to report by 4. The airport was still 20 km away.

I began to have visions of spending yet another night in Sri Lanka, this time not in the comfort of the Taj hotel, but maybe in the airport itself, provided they booked me in the next flight and allowed me to hang around for the night. Worse, the local ATMs showed PIN error whenever I inserted my card, so not much money either. But luck knows how to compensate: I was in the airport at 4.20 sharp. I was one of the first passengers to report.

In hindsight, I could have saved those 20 extra minutes and prevented myself from building up to a near-heart attack. Only if I had not taken that detour in Colombo.

Before going for lunch at the hotel restaurant in Bentota, I thought of pouring myself a drink. A drink is what I wanted after a rejuvenating Ayurvedic massage. One drink led to another, then another, and yet another. Then a quick lunch and a goodbye to the hotel staff. But they wouldn't let me off without a glass of the king coconut water.

We were barely out of Bentota when I could feel my bladder filling up. I mentioned my condition to the driver but his English was no better than my Sinhala. He just grinned. In India, when you drive a distance of 65 km or so, you are bound to come across open spaces or at least unattended walls on which you can relieve yourself. But here there were none. One town led to another, and whatever walls you drove past belonged to either some shop or a respectable insititution. Had I been in India, I would have considered it my birthright to ask the driver to stop by one of these walls so that I could get lighter. But I saw not a single soul facing these walls with one hand invisible -- a common sight in India even in the heart of a city.

Finally, I decided to be more explicit. "Please stop at a toilet," I told the driver, raising my little finger. He finally seemed to understand because he grinned and nodded. But he didn't stop: there was no place to stop. I gritted my teeth and kept shifting on my seat. At last we hit Colombo, and the driver turned left from the highway into a lane. The lane opened up to the sparkling blue waters Indian Ocean. But between the ocean and the end of the lane are a pair of rail tracks, and I thought the driver would say, "Do it on the rail tracks." I was mentally preparing myself to do it on the rail tracks when I noticed a few lovebirds walking on those tracks, hand in hand.

No, no -- I told myself -- I can't spoil the scene for them, especially in a country where nobody seems to be peeing in public. Even the driver didn't want me to do that, for he directed me, "Cross the tracks, cross the tracks, do it in the ocean." Ocean: The word sounded so mighty!

I climbed up the shrubby elevation, crossed the two tracks, and reached the sandy stretch wetted moments ago by furious waves. There, I relieved myself -- an exercise that seemed to last forever. When I zipped up and began to return, I recalled the adage: Each drop makes the ocean. Maybe now I know why it is called the Indian Ocean. It takes an Indian to make that ocean. Sri Lankans, who are the ones to be truly surrounded by the Indian Ocean, are too shy and sophisticated to contribute to its volume.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Bookworm, Sleepworm And Pancham

A couple of days ago, I posted something titled Of Mice and Men (scroll down a little to read that in case you haven't). In that I presented an imaginary situation where I am seeking to, well, make love on the first night to a wife who happens to be a bookworm. People who left comments said they had a good laugh when they read my stuff, though one of them said I was stretching my imagination a bit too far.
To be honest, I was neither laughing nor did I have the intention of making people laugh when I wrote the piece. For me, the scenario of a husband making love to a wife who is totally immersed in her book, even at the time of the sexual act, can be very real life. I have seen at least one marriage break down because of the woman's love for books (a man professing his love for books at the wrong moment can be equally disastrous). This woman, a former colleague now, stacked up books even in her wardrobe. And once she had started reading a book, it was amost impossible to draw her attention away. Her husband put up with her for two years before deciding to file for divorce.
Today, another kind of indulgence came to light. A friend's friend, who happened to read this blog, confessed about being guilty of doing something similar. She confided to my friend: "I am not a bookworm, but you can call me a sleepworm." Her story: when her husband makes love to her, she dozes off occasionally. The husband panics, thinking she has passed out. He pats her cheek to make sure she is fine: she is fine enough, only that she is too tired and has fallen asleep.
While my friend was narrating the story, I imagined this scenario about her friend:
He (while still at it): Tum so gayi kya? (Did you fall asleep?)
She (waking up): Tum aa gaye kya? (Did you come?)
And they both go to sleep happily ever after. I mean they both go to sleep happily after that.
Anyway, enough scenarios about sex. I think one should just let people be. Only that I don't want my would-be wife to be a bookworm or a sleepworm. With that thought, I would like to sign off for a few days. I am going away to recharge my batteries. The persistent rains in Chennai have completely drained me out: I have never felt gloomier. The sole source of warmth during the wet season was this small family of bloggers I have out here. Thanks, all of you, for your kindness.
I do not know if any of you is going to miss me while I am away. But for those who are nice enough to spare a thought for me, I am going to leave behind a few thoughts about R D Burman, also known as Pancham. Pancham, as those who love him know, was not just a composer but is a way of life. There are people whose evenings are incomplete without Pancham, and people whose days are made because of Pancham.
Pancham never disappoints. For the day when it is raining, he has Rimjhim Gire Saawan, Sulag Sulag Jaye Man. For a romantic night, he has Aapki Aankhon Mein Kuchh Mehke Hue Se Raaz Hain. For teenagers, he has Khullam Khulla Pyaar Karenge Hum Dono. He has something for everyone. There are exceptions, of course -- people who think Pancham copied from the West. But these are people who are never into Hindi music in any case, and who set out with the notion that Hindi music is inferior to what those guys make in the West.
Well, Pancham did lift some of his songs from the West, but at least he gave those lifts an Indian ambience, an Indian touch -- no mean feat. In any case, Pancham is not remembered today because of those few songs inspired by or copied from the West. He is worshipped today because of the manner he blended the soul of the West with that of the East, blended tradition with technology, blended classical with the contemporary. A copycat dies a quick death, but Pancham, even 11 years after his death, remains the most popular music director of the country. He still sells more than anyone else. Ask your nearest Music World outlet and they will tell you.
Pancham, the human being, will be remembered soon, on January 4 -- his eleventh death anniversary. For a few years, year after after, I wrote a tribute every January 4-eve, more as an exercise to justify my admiration for him. Now I no longer feel the need to justify: the world seems to be agreeing with me. But nothing prevents me from reproducing what I last wrote about him -- just to celebrate that justification on the eve of the death anniversay. This is what I wrote in January 2003.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Remember December 6?

This morning I sat down to edit a correspondent's copy when my eyes fell on the date it was filed. My eyes paused because the date seemed too familiar: December 6, the day 13 years ago Babri Masjid was flattened in Ayodhya and the course of Indian politics took a decisive, and a divisive, turn.

Since then, various political and religious groups have been observing December 6 as the 'day of victory', 'day of pride', 'day of shame', Black Day, and so on. But this year, the anniversary went completely unnoticed. When there is so much else happening -- cricket in politics and politics in cricket -- who would care to remember December 6?

But I don't think the anniversary was ignored just because of other preoccupations. I think the people of India have matured and moved on. They have better things to do. Even the people of Ayodhya are desperate to move on but they, sadly, are still caught in the mandir-masjid dispute. I was in Ayodhya last year while covering the 2004 elections in Uttar Pradesh. I would like to share what I wrote then. I wrote this and this.

Salt And Sugar

Last Saturday, I was at a friend's party where I met a producer who narrated an anecdote to me. He is making a Hindi film which is being shot in Chennai and which has Shakti Kapoor on the cast.

No matter what others might think of Shakti, I simply love that man -- his mannerisms, his accent and, above all, the way he gets startled in the movies each time the hero springs a surprise on him. He just makes my day. And who can forget the trademark "Aaaooo!!" -- the sound that the wide-eyed Shakti spat out before mouthing each of his dialogues in Tohfa, starring the hit trio of Jeetendra, Sridevi and Jaya Prada. So when the producer mentioned Shakti Kapoor, I pestered him for more information. That's when he narrated the story.

Shakti Kapoor was staying at the Taj Connemara. Unlike many other stars, Shakti does not throw tantrums and even brings his own Scotch. So one evening before he settled down to drink, he opened the mini bar to look for eatables. There was a pack of peanuts (or was it wafers?), but Shakti's popping eyes popped out even further when he saw its price on the menu card: Rs 100 (he must have given the packet his trademark startled look, and might have also exclaimed, "Aaaooo!" But one can't verify that). A hundred rupees for a pack of munchies was too much, he decided, and off he marched to the Foodworld at Spencer Plaza, which is literally a two-minute walk from the hotel. There he bought five packets of the same munchies and walked back to the hotel. On his way back, of course, there were many fans who gave him company. How I wish I was one of them.

The morning after this party where I heard the Shakti Kapoor story, I went to the neighbourhood store to buy cigarettes. The owner of the store has become a good friend: he never lets me leave without ordering tea for me from a shop which is just across the road and which is also owned by him. That Sunday, over tea, he told me a story.

There is a man working in an office nearby who, according to my friend, has tea five times a day from that shop. But the man is a diabetic. In normal course, a diabetic, when ordering tea, says: "Don't put sugar in mine." But this man always says: "The sugar you are about to put in my tea, just parcel it for me." End of the day, he must be having quite a quantity of sugar to take home.
Technically, the man's demand is valid: he is entitled for those two spoons of sugar, and if he doesn't want them in the tea, he can always carry them home. But I have never, ever, come across anyone doing something like that. When I mentioned this man's habit to a friend, her reaction was : "How sweet!"

Do you, by the way, see any similarity between this man and Shakti Kapoor?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Of Mice And Men

Tonight after I switch off the laptop I am going to read Alchemist, a book which, I am ashamed to say, I have never read till date. My sense of shame deepens every time I see it mentioned on a blogger's profile as one of his or her favourite books. But a random thought is crossing my mind at the moment and I cannot resist putting it down here: What if I marry a bookworm who loves books more than anyone or anything else?

The positive side is that all my books will be taken care of. My grandchildren would not need spend money on buying any of Maugham, Hemingway, Steinbeck or Naipaul: they will inherit the collection. But not all children or grandchildren are considerate. My brother recently picked up the entire collection of Hemingway, for Rs 20 each, from a pavement in Kanpur. Each of the books had the same inscription: "To my Sona, from dear Baba." The date inscribed was sometime in 1986.

My commonsense suggested that it was a Bengali man who had gifted the books to his daughter, because fathers are usually called Baba by Bengalis, and daughters are often lovingly called Sona -- literally meaning gold. I don't know under what circumstances the books found their way to the footpath, but I shudder to imagine a similar fate for my own collection which has been built, with my hard-earned money, over several years.

Anyway, that's digressing from the subject. Why agonise over distant future? The thought that had come to my mind was what if my going-to-be wife happens to be a bookworm. I can imagine this scenario when the clock strikes eleven and when (Indian) couples usually initiate what they are supposed to do on the first night of their marriage. I enter the room and shut the door behind me. She has been waiting for me. The conversation begins.

Me: Tonight, darling, a new chapter begins in our life...

She: (Supine on the bed in her bridal finery) One second, let me finish this chapter, please ... Er, have you seen off all your friends?

Me: Yes, they have all gone home to their wives. And here I am, finally with my wife...

She: Oh darling, you are such a sweetheart... Have you read Of Mice and Men? That is another great book Steinbeck has written. It is there in my father's place, I will get it for you. Now let me finish this chapter honey (blows a flying kiss).

Me: Oh you smell so good...

She: Doesn't it?! Oh I love the smell of fresh ink! Here, smell it (she holds the opened pages of Grapes of Wrath to my nose. I grab the book from her).

Me: I wish I could run this rose bud along your spine... How will it feel?...

She: Hey, hey, don't put the book away like that, you will break its spine! (Grabs the book back and caresses it. I begin to caress her. She continues to read).

Me: You are so beautiful...

She: It's a beautiful story, I told you... Are your friends gone?

(By now I start doing what a man is supposed to. Her legs cooperate, but her hands are still holding the book and her eyes are on its pages.)

She: Are you done?

Me: Yes.

She: Did you come?

Me: Yes.

She: Good. Now lie down next to me like a good boy and let me finish this chapter. Just remind me to get you Of Mice and Men. You must read that.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Thoughts On A Cloudy Afternoon: Hot Samosas And A Goon

The older you grow, the memories of younger days begin returning with greater intensity. And the farther you go away from home -- the place your were born and you grew up in -- the greater the pace with which nostalgia chases you. There is no escaping them. Everything you experience today has a reference point somewhere back then, somewhere back there. Even when I saw, and read, news about Abu Salem recently, I could not help thinking about the days when I knew, from close quarters, a criminal who was not as big time as Abu Salem but big time enough to make news in the local papers.

I was in class six. Maybe class seven. The age when forbidden things look attractive, and when forbidden things are as harmless as the samosa. Parents told you not to eat such stuff or you will get cholera, something that tempted you all the more. So there was this man who would enter through the back gate of the school with a basketful of samosas during the recess, and he would be instantly surrounded by a dozen outstretched hands each holding a coin. A samosa cost 50 paise. Soon enough the nuns found out about the man and they got the back gate locked. They, like parents, were also against kids eating "outside stuff."

But the samosa-seller was a man with determination. He began standing outside the boundary wall. During recess, his head would appear from behind the wall and immediately a dozen hands would go up. He took the coins and handed out the samosa(s) on a piece of notebook paper. Since all this had to be done quickly, in case a nun would appear and chase him away, he often did not have the time to notice who was paying how much. A few mischievous students often took advantage of his hurry: they would just stretch out their palm, without the coin, and would find, placed on it, a couple of hot samosas. The days I carried no money, I was tempted to do the same, but.

I had a classmate called Vinay Shukla. Even classrooms have a class barrier, which divides students who are good at studies and students who aren't. The two classes don't like to mingle. But Vinay and I got along well, and he was one of the few I hung around with during the recess. One morning, I carried no money (when I say money, I mean anything between 50 paise and five rupees), but I craved for samosas. "You want one?" asked Vinay, "wait, let me try." He had no money either, but he went into the crowd of samosa-seekers, stretched out his hand and told the man, "Here, here, I just gave you one rupee. Give me two samosas." He came back to me and handed over the two samosas. I insisted that he have one but he refused.

Things change with the onset of adolescence: you begin to become conscious of the class barrier. Somewhere here Vinay and I began to drift. Rather, he began to withdraw. And by the time we reached the age when students also discussed science and mathematics apart from Kapil Dev and Amitabh Bachchan, Vinay had completely withdrawn himself from my life. Soon after he left the school: you could not continue there if you scored less than 60 percent in class ten.

I often ran into Vinay here and there: he would smile but not encourage any conversation. What could have talked about anyway: I would be going for Maths tuitions, with my notebook in hand, and he would be standing at a street corner with a bunch of guys who were branded as "loafers." I then found Vinay spending more and more time in that street corner, which had become their adda, the meeting place. By now he was avoiding even eye contact with me. We had become strangers.

One day, I saw a katta, a country-made pistol, tucked under his belt. On another day, I saw a huge knife under the belt. From common acquaintances, I got to know that Vinay and his gang were regularly being rounded up by the police.

That was the time of my life when, till then, I had never read a Hindi newspaper. Kanpur, where I lived, did not publish any English paper. Lucknow did, but we preferred to get the paper from Delhi, even though the news was a day stale. Didn't make much of a difference because at the time, news was once-in-a-24 hours business, not a 24-hour business. But a strike in the University forced us to buy a Hindi paper because that gave local news and I wanted to know about the fate of the exams.

One morning, while scanning the local pages, I noticed a news headlined, Badmash Munna Maara Gaya -- A goon called Munna has been killed. The report said he had been killed in a fight between two gangs. The accompanying picture showed a young man sprawled on the road. His lifeless hand still clutched a pistol and his sunglasses were intact in his breast pocket. I recognised him instantly. Munna was the nickname of Vinay Shukla.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Melody Of Romance

My good friend Baradwaj Rangan, who is a nostalgia specialist like me, called this afternoon. "Are you at home? Just watch Star Utsav. Right now."

"What's going on?" I asked.

"Just watch it, right now," he said and hung up.

I switched on the TV and found the channel. Mithun Chakraborthy on the drums, and Salma Agha on the dance floor. She is writhing to Yeh raat mein jo nasha hai... Memories went back to school days. I had seen this movie, Kasam Paida Karne Waale Ki, on video. The 'video' was new those days. Some enterprising bunch of guys in the neighbourhood, called bhaiyyas, would hire the VHS tape of the latest movie and hold a screening, in a specially erected pandal. Anybody could watch it, paying Re 1.

I was seeing the movie again now, after 20 years. The songs gets over and Mithun and Salma Agha walk out of the nightclub. She takes off on her bicycle but gets waylaid by goons. Mithunda appears. He takes care of the baddies and then offers to drop her home in the bicycle. "What if we get challaned?" she asks coyly. "Big deal," he replies, "At the most they will deflate the tyres." Shyly, she sits on the bar and off they are. The cycle ride in the silent night, with a whistle playing the backgroud, is the beginning of their romance.

Today, the scene looked so hilarious. Rather ridiculous. But twenty years ago, no one would have laughed. On the contrary, thousands might have been inspired to drop their girls in a similar fashion. Perhaps we are no longer innocent. Those days, even the accidental touching of hands deserved a close-up shot, and even in real life, the touching of hands was considered a milestone in the long road to romance.

But then, there are movies made at the same time, and even before, such as Silsila, Kabhie Kabhie and Trishul (and of course all of Guru Dutt films), where the romance does not seem outdated or does not look like a joke as in this case. Why so?

The answer, in my opinion, lies in the craft of filmmaking. Silsila is A-grade, a classy movie where the nuances of romance are conveyed in a sophisticated manner. Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki, on the other hand, is a B-grade movie. There is no chemistry between Mithun and Salma Agha, they merely seemed to be donning 'romantic' expressions on their faces at the instance of the director. In any case there isn't any scope for chemistry in that scene. The close-ups merely show each one's 'romantic' face in isolation: Mithun or Salma could be standing on a balcony or on the beach instead of being on a bicycle. They are shown riding together only from a distance, and there you cannot tell whether they are the actors or extras.

But then, this is one of those movies where romance is by-the-way, where the director wants to make the audience wait for the final confrontation between the hero and the villain. Come to think of it, most of our movies are like that, aren't they? But the songs they have are all about romance. Maybe because music can be made only out of romance. Romance, after all, is another name for melody. And vice-versa.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Monkey Man

The story I narrate here is a true one, though I have changed the names of the characters for reasons that should be obvious enough. I had thought of developing it, at some point, as a short story. Maybe I will some day, when I consider myself capable of being a full-time writer rather than a journalist who also writes. But for the moment I am happy sharing it here, because I feel an immediate urge to share it, even though it is going to be narrated here rather crudely.

The story begins in 2001, when I shifted to Chennai from Delhi. I had no friends in the city. Colleagues preferred to remain colleagues, not wanting to get familiar too soon, and the women there decided to put me on a probation period. They all seemed to be buying time before deciding whether I could be a friend or remain an outsider. But there was one colleague who, by default, had to be a friend: he was almost my age, and, like me, a bachelor. We liked women, we liked Old Monk rum. His name was Santosh. His name is Santosh, for he is still a colleague and a good friend.

Santosh lived in a mansion -- the bachelors' hostel kind of accommodation that is commonplace in Chennai. Usually we drank either at my place or in one of the wine shops around Mount Road, but occasionally I would go over to his room, which he shared with a fellow Keralite called Vinod who, as far as I recall, was studying business administration. It was a small room, eight by eight perhaps, and it had a smell that would tell you not only the marital status of the occupants but also the place they hailed from -- the lemony smell of soap and shaving cream and that of wet towels mixed with the odour of coconut oil and banana chips.

We drank there out of plastic cups, and the snacks and dinner would be delivered by a boy called Ramesh, who would get them from the hotel on the ground floor. Ramesh must have been in his late teens, a cheerful and energetic boy who could be recognised from a mile because of his shiny eyes and protruding teeth. But he was talkative, and when he sat through our conversations, would often be asked to shut up by Santosh. He would immediately shut up, only to open his mouth again. And the boy spoke four languages: fairly good English, broken Hindi, but perfect Tamil and Malayalam. Even though he had studied only till class eight, he had something to say about everything that Santosh and I talked about. Vinod would hardly speak: he would keep listening to us while having a textbook open on his lap.

Somewhere in between the cigarettes would finish, and Ramesh, the Boy Friday, would be sent to fetch a packet. His job was to help out in the hotel in the daytime: in the evenings he would hop from room to room in the mansion, striking up conversation with the inmates. But Ramesh, for some reason, had grown fond of Santosh, and would prefer to spend most of the evenings in his room. So much so that when Santosh and Vinod decided to shift out of the mansion to a tenement in Mylapore, Ramesh begged to come along. "I can't share the rent," he pleaded, "but I will cook for you and do whatever you want me to." My friend Santosh, who always hides his kind heart behind a tough face, agreed.

So I began to see more of Ramesh. In the common Indian setting, he would have been called the 'servant boy', but he wasn't really treated as one because he always opened his mouth and managed to contribute to the conversation. He even spoke on politics. He was almost like one of us, only that he did not drink and he was the one who was bound to do the cooking and clear the kitchen afterward.

One night, Ramesh was re-christened as Monkey Man. Those days, there was this rumour about a Monkey Man roaming the streets of Delhi who scratched people's faces and vanished. That night Santosh asked him to get the clothes that had been left for drying on the terrace but Ramesh refused. "What if the Monkey Man comes?" he pleaded. Santosh gave him a playful, but a tight, slap and renamed him as Monkey Man.

Delhi's Monkey Man might have been imaginary, but this Monkey Man had a history: he had run away from home when he was 12 or 13, after his mother ran away with another man and his father committed suicide. He had preferred looking out for an adopted father such as Santosh rather than accepting a step-father. And Santosh did behave like a father at times. He slapped Monkey Man every time he smoked a Gold Flake. "Monkey, I don't have a problem if you smoke a bidi. But don't smoke stuff you cannot afford." He also received slaps if he put too much water while cooking the chicken curry.

I remember telling Santosh to let such a nuisance go away, lest Monkey Man became a pest. But Santosh always said: "Where will he go?" Besides, he would always remember to get six idlis packed for Monkey Man on days no cooking was done at his place. But at the same time Santosh badly wanted to get rid of Monkey Man because he was tired of him: the Monkey Man spoke too much, besides goofing up with the cooking. Santosh's room mate Vinod, however, remained unaffected. He ate when he wanted to, he ate whatever he was served, and often he ate when the two of us were still drinking. We forgave him because he was still studying, but behind his back we called him "selfish".

Then one day Vinod got a job, with a mutlinational bank. And soon after, Santosh, my friend, got married. Their Mylapore house got vacated, and with it the dreams of Monkey Man. I did not hear about Monkey Man, the boy with shiny eyes and protruding teeth, for months and months. "Good for you," I told Santosh, "or else he would have latched on to you. You would have kept playing his father."

Then one morning Santosh told me: "Ghosh! You remember Monkey Man? He called me today. He is selling credit cards. Do you want one?"

A few months later, one morning, Santosh called: "Ghosh, remember Monkey Man? That bastard, you know what he did? He himself got a credit card and spent all the money. He came to my place just now. His wallet was full of money. I saw it with my own eyes. He is now selling credit cards for another bank."

A year later, one morning, Santosh called again: "Ghosh, do you know Monkey Man has joined that bank?! He is a full-time employee, that same joker!"

Another year later, one morning, Santosh called again: "Ghosh! You know what? Monkey Man is getting married! He just came home to give me the card."

About ten months later, one afternoon, I got a call from Santosh. "Ghosh! You know what, Monkey Man is a father now! He called me this morning, saying, 'Santosh anna, you are the only person I could think of calling and giving the news.' I almost cried."

And this evening Santosh told me about his recent visit to Monkey Man's home -- a home that is equipped with every facility that a man can think of. Monkey Man's wife served him bondas prepared, as they say, by her own hands. And while she was in the kitchen, their child slept, peacefully, on their luxurious bed. Monkey Man is a big man today, even senior to Vinod, Santosh's old roomie, who happens to be working in the same bank.

Sometimes, happiness does come to the people who really deserve it.

The Diary Of A Blogger

One of the downsides of being a journalist is you can never indulge in any activity, not even your pastime, without taking mental notes that could be used in the near future as raw material for a story or column. So much so that you find an activity gratifying only after you have written about it. So after a few weeks of blogging, I ended up writing the following column for my paper. After the paper went for printing, I realised I could have written much more, but the scope of the subject is so wide that you are bound to miss out many things. So if you like what I wrote, I would be happy. If you feel offended for some reason, I am sorry.

The neighbourhood I moved into a little over a month ago has — or so I am told — about a 100 million homes. So far I have been able to look into only a few. Most of them are warm and friendly, a few, extraordinarily welcoming, the rest polite enough to keep a conversation going. The interior designs of these homes vary, naturally, with the sensitivity and temperament of the occupants: some only have the bare essentials, some over-decorated with colours, and some cluttered with too many details.

A handful of my neighbours have really been nice to me. They not only paid me return visits but they now make it a point to meet up almost every day. We all have stories to tell, thoughts to share, words of wisdom to spill. And through them I am meeting many others. My circle is growing. Life isn’t bad at all in Blogosphere — yes, that’s the name of the neighbourhood I’ve moved into. Every day is a party, where you hold forth every morning or evening — and often late in the nights — on subjects of your choice.

But it is a very lonely party. No one is there in reality: the inhabitants don’t have a face or a torso, only the mind, which is visible in the shape of written words. These written words are the sole identity of a blogger. I am one now.

Not so long ago my image of a blogger was that of a bleary-eyed man who barely leaves his computer except for taking, maybe, bathroom breaks; who has food home-delivered and whose computer table is cluttered with empty coffee cups and Coke cans and peppered with bread crumbs and cigarette ash. Then one day a friend suggested: “Why don’t you blog?”

No ordinary friend this — within weeks of meeting her I fell madly in love with her. We shared the same taste in music and literature. We had the same feel for words. We were obsessed with the craft of writing. The chemistry simply worked. But it worked without the physics or the biology: we never met. She was one of those kindred spirits you chance upon in cyberspace — who you know only by a Yahoo! ID but who makes you eat out of her hand even without revealing her face. So I signed up at

Thus began my journey from the Earth to Blogosphere. Upon arrival, I found that Blogosphere not only had a flourishing literary scene but also parallel, and thriving, journalism. Poetry, tiny pieces of fiction, diaries, essays — these are commonplace. And then there is the journalism — news, views, reviews, reportage, travel writing, which can be found in plenty. What is really an eye-opener is the ‘investigative journalism’: a blogger often doubles as an investigative reporter, without intending to be so.

A young Chennai blogger who calls herself Nina ( drew attention of the electronically-literate community to the plagiarism going on in a newspaper highly regarded in the South. The star film-reviewer of the paper, Nina pointed out, had been lifting passages from the New York Times. The reviewer happens to have his own website which shows him sitting with his laptop and smiling at the camera, while the accompanying text proudly claims that he had spent 21 years in that paper covering dozens of important events. But now the reputation lay punctured by a blogger, who quoted passages from earlier-published reviews in NYT alongside reviews written by him for the same movies.

Gone are the days when copies of NYT or the London Times were delivered only in the hallowed corridors of newspaper officers. Those days you could copy — this is not to suggest that people copied — because you knew nobody would get to know. The world has shrunk. Today, almost every blogger has linked electronic editions of NYT or Guardian (even New Yorker) to his or her blogsite. They read everything. Steal from other papers and they will instantly know.

Bloggers also gave a tough time to the new-age management guru Arindam Chaudhuri, who runs the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM). A couple of bloggers, Rashmi Bansal (editor of JAM magazine whose views you can read at and Gaurav Sabnis, an IBM employee (, had ‘exposed’ the IIPM, alleging that the institute was not as great as it claimed to be. A nasty blog war ensued in these sites. According to newspaper reports, IIPM demanded Rs 25 crore from JAM for the “presumed loss of goodwill.” And Sabnis, an IBM India employee, according to the reports, not only lost his job but was also served with a Rs 125-crore legal notice from the IIPM.

The point is, blogging is no longer a passion or pastime. It is serious business. In countries where the press is not free, bloggers are the real journalists. In vibrant democracies, bloggers are turning out to be watchdogs. And in India, you now have bloggers’ meet and awards.

I avoid writing about current affairs not only because I would run out of ideas (and steam) when I write for the newspaper, but also because the blog is a personal space, a diversion, an outlet. So I post stuff about my take on life, my nostalgia, my moods — something a serious newspaper reader might not find very amusing. Out there, however, there are many kindred spirits who relate to my thoughts, just the way I relate to theirs. I am discovering new bondings, new chemistry — the chemistry which works without the physics and the biology.

Postscript: Last few weeks it rained heavily in Chennai. One weekend was so bad that I did not step out of home. Those two days, I sat in front on the computer, writing and surfing blogs. I did not shave. The food was ordered — all the meals. The ashtray was full. Empty cups were all over the place. By Sunday night my eyes hurt and I began to feel giddy. Monday morning when I saw myself in the mirror, I looked like the blogger I had once imagined.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Of Death And Orgasm

Imagine I am a very popular blogger who goes by the name, say, Wordsmith. Fellow bloggers don't know his personal details except that he is a Virgo and he works in the field of publishing. They, of course, know all about his personal life and love to read about it. Then one day Wordsmith dies. Will the fellow bloggers, for who Wordsmith had become more than a soulmate over the months, ever get to know he is dead?

I often imagine a similar scenario for people who make friends in chatrooms, something increasingly common these days. There are people who never fully give out their identities to each other but still are good friends: often to the extent of not being able to do without talking to each other. The heart says: "Go, meet that person." The head says: "No, don't do that. You like talking to that person, just stick to talking. Who knows what that person could be in real life?" I know people who are more than friends to me, who mean the world to me, but who, so far, have remained identity-less. If, God forbid, one of them dies suddenly, I will never get to know. And vice-versa. Only the messages and e-mails will stop coming, and I will keep wondering why.

By the way, will such a death be considered as the death of an electronic entity, or the death of a human being? That's another thing I wonder about.

Not all my wonderings are as morbid. It is just that in the past few weeks, especially past few days, I've spent a lot of time in what people call Blogosphere. Suddenly, there are a set of people who matter to me: what they think matters, what they say matters. It is like having a small, cosy office: you walk in and you see them all sitting in their cubicles. You say 'hi' to each and take your seat. If you find someone missing, you wonder: Where is he (or she)?

My second wondering, well, a few might find it morbid as well, but I can't help expressing myself. It's about sex. As in people having sex.

Many of us have grown up -- and there is no denying that -- watching at least a few porn movies, Western porn that is. And in these movies, the actors make a lot of sound. So much that even the distant neighbour would know what you are watching -- they all have the standard soundtrack. I don't wish to describe those sounds in detail but they are usually about the female asking the man to do it harder and then announcing that she is approaching an orgasm: "I am coming, I am coming. Don't stop now" sort of thing.

Now this is another area where the West has immensely influenced India. It is common for couples in India to make such sounds, especially the "I-am-coming type." Now don't ask me how I know that. But it is interesting to note that such sounds are made only in English. A couple might be speaking Hindi or Tamil or Kannada in their day-to-day life, but when they make love, they do it in English. Even the much-reiterated "I love you" is in English, leave alone the "I am coming-I am coming."

I guess the English language makes things far easier. You can say "Fuck!" and "Shit" a million times and get away with it. And can also say "Fuck you!" and "Up your ass!" and be considered cool. But try using the vernacular translation of these words and you could find yourself mouthing something outright dirty. Or risk getting beaten up. Why the discrimination?

That makes me wonder: how do couples who don't speak a word of English cope with the onset of orgasm? They obviously cannot say, "I am coming, oh, I am coming!" Perhaps they make that exclamation in their own language, whatever that may be. But try translating "I am coming, oh, I am coming!" into your mother-tongue. Doesn't it sound, well, a bit funny?

How Date Became Tryst

We have all read, or at least heard about, Jawaharlal Nehru's famous Tryst With Destiny speech which he made on the midnight of August 14-15, 1947. But what Nehru had written in the first draft was 'date with destiny', and not 'tryst with destiny'. 'Date' was later changed to 'tryst' because of its supposed negative connotation, as in people going on a 'date'.

Recognise the writer who is obliging readers with his autograph? The first correct answer will get a copy of any one of his books. :) Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 02, 2005

A Song For The Yet To Be Born

I am not married yet but when I marry, whenever that is, I know what I want: a daughter. For two reasons:

1. Daughters are loving and loveable. From a very early age, they become ladylike, in a very cute way. They are more receptive and more compassionate. Boys are brats.

2. This is the more important reason. I want to sing for my child Aaja Mere Pyaar Aaja, which was sung in the late seventies by Hemant Kumar for the film Heeralal Pannalal (Shashi Kapoor, Randhir Kapoor, Zeenat Aman, Neetu Singh and Premnath). The music director was R D Burman. Premnath, a police officer in the movie, sings this song for his small daughter, Neetu Singh, before fate intervenes and takes the child away from him (can't recall if she was kidnapped or got lost in the Kumbh-Ka-Mela sort of thing). In the end, she recognises the father because of the song.

Now, it would be futile to praise Hemant Kumar. So much has been said about him already. The ultimate tribute came from composer Salil Choudhury, whose songs accorded Hemant Kumar (Hemanta Mukherjee to the Bengali audience) a God-like status in Bengal. "If God ever had voice," Salil Choudhury once said, "it would be Hemant Kumar's." The evidence lies in the scores of songs -- in Bengali as well in Hindi -- that Hemant Kumar has left behind. (By the way, he was the only singer who would light up a cigarette in the middle of a recording, in front of the microphone: the smoking, he believed, gave his voice a grainy effect.)

But of all his songs, Aaja Mere Pyaar Aaja will retain the no. 1 slot in my list of his favourites. As far as my knowledge goes, this was the last Hindi song he recorded. And this was perhaps the only song he sang for R D Burman. I would be glad if I am corrected on these details.

Listen to the song and you'll know what I mean. CDs of Heeralal Pannalal are not available (I don't know why. Even music cassettes were never available: I had been looking for 15 years), but now you do get it in some of the collections of Hemant Kumar.

Thought Of The (Wet) Day: Why Blog?

Chennai is once again gloomy and wet. This morning, while I was still in bed, it felt as if the thunder would bring down my apartment. It is now four in the afternoon but it is as dark as four in the morning. I don't feel like leaving the warmth of my lamp. I will blog.

In the past two weeks I visited many blogs. Read their stuff. Some are so good that I could not move on without leaving a comment. And some posts have been eye-opening. Many of the comments -- a mix of dull, thought-provoking, mischievous and hilarious -- are worth a read too. In all, enough material for the journalist inside me to suggest: Why not write about blogging in your column? In fact, last night I began writing. So far wrote only two paragraphs, which I see no harm in sharing here.

There must be about a million houses in the neighbourhood I moved in a month ago, and so far I have been able to look into only a few homes. Some homes are warm and friendly, some extraordinarily welcoming, some indifferent, and some don’t encourage unknown visitors. The interior designs of the homes vary with the temperament of the occupant: some only have the bare essentials, some are over-decorated with colours, and some cluttered with too many details.
Some of my neighbours have been really nice: they even paid me return visits. A few I meet almost every day now, and through them, the others. My circle is growing. I am happy to have checked into Blogosphere – yes, that’s the name of the neighbourhood. The inhabitants don’t have a face or a torso, only the brain, which is visible only in the shape of written words.

That makes me wonder: If a journalist can write what he wants to in his columns, why should he (or she) blog? I don't know about other journalists, but I know my reason. Journalism provides food for my stomach, blogging provides food for my soul. The reader of my newspaper, or my editor for that matter, will not be interested in my dark moods, or in things that bring me joy. They wouldn't care if a woman shattered my heart or if I found a new love in life. Blog is the only space where I can take the load off my chest. It is like writing a diary. But unlike the diary, which is hidden away after the day's entry has been made, the blog is published. The contrast might be striking; but I see no contrast.

It is all about reaching out. When you write a diary, you reach out to yourself; you seek solace in your own company. When you blog, you seek to reach out to people who can identify with your thoughts and what you might be going through. All this thanks to technology. And also thanks to technology, you can keep your identity a secret if you wish to. So in the end, it is no different from writing a diary: only that you now have the choice who should read it and who should not.

That brings me to the basic question: Why do people write? And, more importantly, why do people write and want to be read? The answer to the second question possibly lies in the opening line of my favourite Kishore Kumar song I listed in my previous post, Har Koi Chahtaa Hai Ek Mutthi Aasmaan, Har Koi Dhoondta Hai Ek Mutthi Aasman, Jo Seene Se Lagale Koi Aisa Ho Jahaan, Har Koi Chahtaa Hai Ek Mutthi Aasman -- Each one wants a fistful of the sky, each one is seeking a fistful of the sky, each one is seeking a world that will embrace him.

As for why people write, two writers have this to say:

What is the ultimate impulse to write? Because all this is going to vanish. The only thing left will be prose and poems, the books, what is written down. -- James Salter.

...writing is more than a way of enriching one's day. Not to write is not to contemplate; not to contemplate is to fail to extract the full value or meaning of one's experience; it is to allow life and time to run meaninglessly past. The contemplation that goes with writing, and the clarity it requires, make for calm. It is for me the equivalent of religion. -- V S Naipaul.

Need I say any more?

So happy writing. Happy reading. Happy blogging. You might find, who knows, some Ageless Bonding.

My Most Favourite Kishore Kumar Songs

Think Kishore Kumar and you think of Yeh Shaam Mastaani or Zindagi Ka Safar. Good songs, no doubt, but played and heard so often that they have become cliches. The real gems hide in the corners of various albums. Often they have to be discovered. Some sung nearly 30 years ago, but what freshness they retain! My ten most favourite Kishore numbers:

1. Main akela apni dhun mein magan (Manpasand)
2. Mere liye soona soona (Anand Aur Anand)
3. Har koi chahta hai ek mutthi aasmaan (Ek Mutthi Aasman)
4. Aanewala pal (Gol Maal)
5. Phir wohi raat hai (Ghar)
6. Raah pe rehte hain (Namkeen)
7. Tu chaand nagar ki shehzaadi (Duniya)
8. Toone abhi dekha nahi (Do Aur Do Paanch)
9. Mere dil mein jo hota hai (with Rafi and Lata, Aap Ke Deewane). This is a must listen.
10. Hum bewafaa: the happy version (Shalimaar). Short song, Kishore hums all the way.