Friday, December 29, 2006

On The Road, 36 Miles

The world is round, but life moves in one straight, interminable highway, in the form of a perpetually ongoing marathon. Everybody is running, the rich rubbing shoulders with the poor, the artist with the beggar (often they are one and the same), the priest with the atheist, the man with the woman (how can I forget that?) and so on. There is no discrimination in the marathon: all get their share of the road in the run of -- or, for? -- life.

They are all running at different speeds and are constantly egged on by bystanders as they approach one milestone after the other: ...1999, 2000, 2001, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and now 2007. While they are running, the bystanders throw in goodies: water, eatables, energy bars and what not. Some are lucky to have things thrown directly at their hands, some grab them, the rest keep running, making do with whatever little comes their way -- if at all.

The bystanders are faceless, formless people but they have names: God, Luck, Destiny, Chance, Kismat. If they are kind to you, you are likely to run the race comfortably. But even they can't guarantee if you will reach the finishing point, for the simple reason that there is no specified finishing point for an individual runner. You could drop down at any point, in which case four co-runners will carry you off the road on their shoulders. Then they will return to the road to resume their run.

This is also the only road where sex happens in the open, amid people who are running and in between people who are running (what fun!). A baby is born, which begins its race in the arms of its mothers and then goes on to run on its own tiny feet. Years pass, and the tiny feet grow while in motion (like the feet of the hero in some of the 1970's Hindi movies), and they too join the race in a full-fledged manner.

Since there is no fixed finishing line, who is the winner?

The one who runs 90 miles slowly and steadily without the help of energy bars? The one who runs through the crowd with dazzling speed, forcing others to slow down and look, but who collapses only after 50 miles? Or the one who somehow gets thrust with lot of energy bars that keep him ahread of the rest of the crowd throughout the 70 miles that he runs? Or the one who manages to snatch some energy bars and chocolates and goes on handing them down to the deprived, without bothering how long he is going to sustain the race?

No easy answer to that. It is like asking if for the small New Year party that you are throwing, whether you would prefer the food to be cooked by your mom or by celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor. But the race must go on. And for the race to go on, each runner must consider himself or herself to be the potential winner, if not the winner.

These thoughts came to my mind because I've been running for exactly 36 years now, and yet another milestone is approaching. Have I fared well enough so far to consider myself a potential winner, or am I a loser? Worse, am I just an average guy?

Friday, December 22, 2006

Madras Music And Me

Madras is music. And the music can strike you anytime, anywhere. Such as one in the night, on your bed: you are sleeping and suddenly someone is beating the drums on the street. Or, you are going for your morning walk, and accompanying you are the strains of nadaswaram emanating from a neighbourhood temple.

In fact, this is one thing about Chennai that continues to fascinate me, even though I am going to complete six years here (another being the huge, bright hoardings). It makes me feel I’ve just woken up in a new city, opening my eyes to a new culture. And then, of course, there’s the music that’s made in the studios of Kollywood.

When I first landed here, in January 2001, the songs of Minnale were a rage. I was, however, not new to Tamil film music. Thanks to the popularity of A R Rahman and cable television, I had heard and seen many a popular Tamil song – my favourite being Kalluri saalai from Kaadhal Desam. Sitting in Delhi, I was swept off my feet by the pulsating energy in the song and the choreography.

But Minnale songs were a class apart. They played just about everywhere, and still haven’t lost their appeal. Perhaps I am partial to Minnale songs because they were the first to catch my ear when I set foot in Chennai. I immediately went a bought a CD, sorry, cassette. Then came 12B. And sometime later, the super hit O podu, from Vikram-starrer Gemini.

At the same time, I also began a backward journey: picking up old hits of Illayaraja. My fondness for this genius was tinged with the fact that I live on the same street as him, and every time I pass his house, one of his racy tunes automatically starts playing on my mind.

Even as I dipped my feet on this side of the river called Music, I did not fail to notice those taking holy dips on the other side – the Carnatic crowd. I have always run away from classical music – be it Hindustani or Carnatic. In the North, there is no need to run away because Hindustani music is the preserve of a select few, but in the South, Carnatic music is weaved into daily life. And the media coverage of Carnatic musicians or their concerts hardly helps. They are always presented as a staid, boring lot: a picture of two look-alike sisters holding violins and lifelessly looking at the camera, a jargon-laden report of a mridangam player’s concert, the same old Bharatanatyam pose – you can’t even tell whether the performance took place today or ten years before.

Perhaps the media treats the Carnatic musicians as too hallowed – so hallowed that it chases away fence-sitters and possible converts like me. Something even the musicians might not like: they too, I am sure, would like to see more converts in their audience than ‘enthrall’ the same crowd year after year. And they key to this is openness and flexibility – on their part as well as the media’s.

My first brush with Carnatic music was at Music World in Spencer Plaza. They were playing a catchy, new-age composition on saxophone which gripped me so strongly that I went to the counter and enquired about the player. Kadri Gopalnath, they said. I bought the cassette right away.

If Kadri Gopalnath plays the same kind of stuff during Margazhi, I would be the first one queuing for a seat. But I am still scared of going anywhere near the sabhas. According to me, they are out of bounds for lesser mortals like me – people who tap their foot to film music.

As a journalist, however, I am aware what goes on during Margazhi – it is the climax for dozens of dreams, the culmination point of months of hard work, the playground for rivalries, the hotbed of petty politics and what not. But the most amazing part is the spirit that makes Margazhi happen year after year – a solid, self-renewing monument to a culture that defines Madras.

And what a time for the music season to take place! One moment, you are in a sabha, alternately slapping your palm and the back of it on the thigh; and the next moment you are in a shopping mall or a hotel, where you are welcomed with, “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…” And back home, you’ve the latest film music – Kollywood or Bollywood – on TV. How much more music can you ask for?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Waiting For Guru

Ever since I have been in Chennai, I have watched the shooting of quite a few Tamil movies -- mainly song and fight sequences. Even a war scene, in Mani Ratnam's Kannathil Muthamithal (forgive me if I've spelt it wrong). These shootings took place in the old Express office on Mount Road.

Among the stars I've seen in action are Vikram, Vijay, Sarath Kumar, Ajit Kumar, Jyothika, Rambha... and some more whose names I do not know or recall. And very recently, I missed the opportunity of watching Rajnikant in action for Sivaji -- ah, never mind.

I have always wanted to know how a shot looks on the screen, with the dubbing and the background music and the special effects. But the idea of sitting through an entire Tamil movie, just to watch a couple of scenes whose shooting I had witnessed, is not really enticing. There are only two Tamil movies I've seen in theatre till date, Kandukondein Kandukondein and Pudupettai. The former I saw on my own in a Delhi theatre and fell in love with, so much so I packed my bags and came down to Chennai. The latter I was dragged to.

Anyway, I am now eagerly waiting for the release of a movie, parts of which I've seen being shot: Guru. Guru is based on the life of Dhirubhai Ambani and his famous spat with media baron Ramnath Goenka.

Mithun Chakraborthy plays Ramnath Goenka, and for the role he wears cropped grey hair and a khadi kurta and dhoti. He runs two papers, Independent and Swatantra Bharat. During the shooting, Mani Ratnam got the Express signboard covered with that of 'Independent', and it was copy of 'Swatantra Bharat' that Mithun Chakraborthy was holding during his showdown with his reporter cum son-in-law Madhavan. I have already written a detailed post about the shoot.

Mithunda, in spite of his long years in Bombay, still retains some of the Bengali accent. Each time he screamed at Madhavan, "Tum ek reporter ho, reporter (you are just a reporter)!", he would say something that sounded like "reportar". But the accent should go fine with the role because the media baron in Guru is a Bengali. What a great actor!: perfect in each retake. The retakes were happening because Madhavan was goofing up.

Mithunda is another reason why I am waiting for Guru. He still rocks. I will give you an example why. During the shoot of Guru, I posed with Mithun for a friend's camera. While going on my annual, Diwali trip to Kanpur, I copied a whole lot of pictures, including this, into a CD so that I could take prints there. At the photo studio, a young man, barely 18 or 19, scanned through the pictures, checking for the resolution. The moment he saw my picture with the actor, he jumped up in shock: "Arrey! Yeh to Mithun Chakravarty hai!"

Till then, I had only read literary exagerrations such as, "He fell from the chair when he heard the news" or "She jumped off the chair in surprise."

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Mysore, Bangalore and Shivaloka

I don't believe much in Gods, but then, when it comes to Shiva, I could be a fanatic.

My faith in him is deeply personal and has nothing to do with religion or rituals. As a child, he was my God for no particular reason -- just that I found his face very kind and understanding. As an adult I worship him for particular reasons -- he is a cool God who smokes, who drinks, who shakes a leg whenever mood strikes, and whose persuasive powers when it comes to certain matters are so strong that even Vishnu succumbed to them and assumed the form of Mohini. Above all, he is the founder of yoga.

During my travels, if someone mentions a Shiva temple, especially an obscure or a very popular one, I make it a point to stop by. The idea is always to meditate and seek inner peace but that never happens thanks to the pimps who don't want you to linger there unless you keep giving them money. What's the point going to God's abode if you have to stand in a long queue, cough up money at every point, and finally when you manage a glimpse of God, you are shoved aside so that the next person can get a view. What for? Perhaps to pray, in those fraction of seconds: "God, please get my daughter married this year! Please, please please!"

But during my recent visit to Mysore, I finally found what I had been looking for. There is God indeed.

About a kilometre or two from the Chamunda Devi temple sits the gigantic Nandi bull. If you stand by the bull, you get an excellent view of Mysore city. At that spot, under a rock, is a cave temple dedicated to Shiva. You might not even notice the temple unless you are told about it. The entrance is so low you have to bend to get in. I bent and put one leg in, only to realise to there was no space inside. The temple cannot hold more than eight people. Maybe 10. I took that leg out and waited.

Two visitors came out and I went in. I sat before a modestly decorated Shivalingam, and in the background a techno version of chants was playing. The volume was high enough for me to get turned on, but low enough not to disturb the half a dozen Westerners meditating there. What a sight watching them meditate. One of them, however, had her eyes open, and they were filled with tears -- as if she had met her son after 20 years.

And then there was the priest -- a very unsual one. Unlike the white-robed ones who extract money out of you, this one was elderly with a flowing white beard and dressed in saffron. He could have been a yogi from the Himalayas. He sat there upright and silent, holding a plate of mishri (tiny sugar cubes) and extending it to those who had finished with their prayers.

I sat down to meditate, but the music -- currently the Hanumatstotrani was playing -- was overpowering and so was the sight of the eldest of the Westerners meditating. He was so engrossed that you could have run away with his shirt. I realised I was not fit for the place. Before leaving I asked the priest softly: "What's the CD you are playing?" He replied, very gently: "It's called Veer Hanuman."

I promised myself to return again and also to buy the CD, and got into the car, which was to take me to the Bangalore. My companion said there was another Shiva temple -- 10 minutes before the Bangalore airport. The drive from Mysore to Bangalore was completed in just over two hours, and believe me, Chennai's East Coast Road pales before this highway. But once we hit Bangalore, it took us another two hours to reach the Shiva temple near the airport. You have to invent a new name for traffic in Bangalore, because traffic is something that moves, and in Bangalore it doesn't.

Anyway, we reached the temple with just about enough time for me to catch the flight. It's next to Kids Kemp, on the Airport Road. I am, in fact, ashamed to call it a temple. It's a money-making machine. In any case, it's machines that move everything here -- be it pumping water (read Ganga) out of the hairlock of the giant Shiva that overlooks its premises, or making a fake cobra hiss furiously or bringing to life a dead cow whose is supposed to be the benefactor of Shiva's miracle. At one place even Shiva's hand moves back and forth in blessing, or aashirwaad.

Such 'moving' miracles you find in a narrow man-made cave, to enter which you have to pay Rs 10, and your ticket is checked by a pansy young man who happens to have a revolver tucked in his trouser (al-Qaeda threat?). Once you come out of the cave, you can buy a 'special' gold coin, make a wish and throw it into a pool so that your wish could come true. My greatest wish, at the moment, was to get out of the 'temple'. Which I did, well in time to catch my flight.

Back in Chennai, I hunted for Veer Hanuman. At times music comes to you on a platter, at times you have to seek it like you were seeking God. I hunted for the CD whole of last night and this morning. And as I am writing this, while downing my evening quota of drinks, I have listened to the Hanumatstotrani over a hundred times. Faith does pay off, so long you are not rigid, such as enjoying a Hanuman song in a Shiva temple. I am going to Mysore again.

Chamunda Devi

I don't believe much in Gods, but then.

About two months back I was in Mysore, to get the feel of the place so I could write a piece on R.K. Narayan's 100th birth anniversary. I went to most places in the city, including Chamundi Hill, which finds mention in Narayan's stories. The drive up the hill was scenic and peaceful, but as I was about to reach the top, my mother called. The moment I took the call my car took a bend and the signal got cut. I called back. No signal. Mom called again, and the line got cut. Panic set in. The moment I reached the top, I forgot everything else and looked for a corner where the signal was strongest. I got through to home.

Mother had called to whine: it was one of those Didn't-I-tell-you sort of things. I lost my cool. In the middle of a full-fledged argument, I sought to light a cigarette to calm myself, but in the process dropped my camera. The flap opened, exposing the film. Should I have cried? Instead, I pulled out the film in anger. It turned out to be Draupadi's saree: never-ending! My Mysore pictures had gone. I discreetly dumped the film behind one of the stalls and bought a new roll. But the sun had gone down. There was no option but to return. "How about a glimpse of Chamunda Devi?" a voice inside me asked. "Fuck it!" I replied and walked towards the car.

Two days ago I found myself in Mysore. Was it Chamunda Devi? Anyway, I didn't take chances this time and went to the temple, bought a special ticket for Rs 20 and had a glimpse of the goddess that had blessed Narayan. And the day I went happened to be Friday, which is supposed to be the day to be there -- at least the vendors selling flowers and kumkum told me so. And this time I took my digital camera and proudly posed around the place.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Is Your Condom Too Big? Take Heart

If you are internet-savvy and religiously read 'fowards' sitting on your mailbox, you've probably heard the news. That:

A survey of more than 1,000 men in India has concluded that condoms made according to international sizes are too large for a majority of Indian men.

The study found that more than half of the men measured had penises that were shorter than international standards for condoms.

This is a BBC report, not a mischievous fabrication by Ganga Mail, so you better read it with a straight face. But you could find your face being lit up with envy if you read yet another, similar, BBC report filed in August this year:

A range of extra-large condoms has been launched in South Africa, to cater for "well-endowed" men.

"A large number of South African men are bigger and complain about condoms being uncomfortable and too small," said Durex manager Stuart Roberts.

As if being beaten by South Africa in cricket was not bad enough.

Back to the survey on India. The part I found most interesting:

Over 1,200 volunteers from the length and breadth of the country had their penises measured precisely, down to the last millimetre. The scientists even checked their sample was representative of India as a whole in terms of class, religion and urban and rural dwellers.

Which means someone began with the presumption -- in order to rule out any discrepancy -- that a rich man could be longer than a poor and vice versa; or a Sikh could be longer than a Parsi and vice versa; or a business baron in Bombay could be better endowed than a rickshaw puller in Jhumri Talaiyya and vice-versa. How I wish comparable statistics were available, but they had to represent India as a whole, and now the verdict is out: We're small.

Before men start feeling miserable and their women start plotting a vacation to South Africa, let's pause and think. Sex, after all, lies in the thinking and not in the actual act. A dildo should suffice for the actual act; why then need a man? That's because a dildo is either battery- or self-operated -- it does not have a brain. And it is the brain that tickles the sex buds. The brain knows when to start, when to go fast, when to slow down, when to stop, when to cuddle, when to talk -- the dildo doesn't even have a voice.

But the dildo has one advantage: it can be as long as you want it to be. At a sex shop in London's Soho area, I once saw a bunch of young girls choosing from among colourful dildos -- they could have been in a bookshop browsing through Jeffrey Archers and Sidney Sheldons. Finally they found the right one -- gleefully so -- and got it gift-wrapped: perhaps a birthday gift for a friend. I don't know whether their choice was based on length or girth -- or maybe both -- but I still remember the colour of the fake you-know-what: pink!

But any thinking woman, in my opinion, would prefer a fullsome evening over fullness. If their preference is otherwise, they can happily go to Soho or South Africa. Now did I hear someone say, "Dude, what if I want fullsome as well as fullness?" My answer: Define fullness. I mean it is unfair to measure Indian men's penises and condemn them to be smaller than the 'international' crowd without a corresponding survey on their female counterpart.

By the way, why this debate? Indian men and Indian women are having lots of sex and producing children, and when an Indian woman gets tired of her man, she runs off to another Indian man and not a South African. So relax.

The whole condom story, according to me, is an 'international conspiracy' to sell more condoms. I have, after all, never ever come across a man who has complained that his condom was too loose the night before. Have you?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Wish That Was Me

The most awesome demo of ashtanga yoga I've ever seen. Wish I was like that --but am on my way.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Why Do Wives...

Most often people land up on other people's blogs while googling up a bunch of words. Once in a while I list the words/expressions that lead people to mine. Some of the quests on google that directed people to Ganga Mail this morning:

"Why do wives fuck around"

"Why men turn down their wives sexually"

"How Bengali women shop for bra"

"Tamilnadu women wearing underwears"


Friday, December 01, 2006

The Flight to Bangalore

Today is the first day of the last month of the year. In other words, the beginning of the end of another year. Christmas decorations are already in place in the malls, and some of the shops have started playing carols. Wonder if that's a bit too early.

But then, Carols always fascinate me, especially when they are racy and in the form of medleys. One of my favourites is a Latino salsa medley, and my most favourite carols are Frosty The Snowman and Feliz Navidad. The tunes warm my heart, but they also spray it with sadness, for the same reason: how time flies! It is like taking the flight from Chennai to Bangalore: you've just removed your seat-belt and are sitting back when the pilot announces landing and asks you to tie the belt again.

Each time you travel from Chennai to Bangalore, you earn miles. But every time Christmas approaches, a year gets subtracted from your life. I would rather fly and forget, than spend hours in bookshops that play the carols and get reminded of the inevitable. So next weekend am off to Bangalore.

Thursday, November 30, 2006


A well-meaning reader, in response to my previous post, scolded me: "Hey...very soon you will lose your popularity...Is SEX the ultimate thing in your world?" My turn to respond.

To begin with, there is no question of losing my popularity because I am not popular. Technorati ranks me between 50,000 and 60,000; and the average number of unique hits by blog gets every day rarely exceeds 150.

Sex and popularity, by the way, are not inversely proportional. Some of the most popular blogs on this planet happen to be sex blogs. In fact if I steal pictures and stories from them these blogs, apart from writing about sex, the popularity of Ganga Mail is bound to soar. But my blog merely carries thoughts on sex, and does not intend to provide sexual gratification.

And what's wrong in having thoughts about sex? Having thoughts about sex is better than thinking about sex. And what is wrong in thinking about sex? If people didn't indulge in it, the world would have resembled the Sahara desert or the Amazon forests. But there is a school of thought, which includes preachers and saints, which believes sex is OK as long as it is limited to procreation. Then there is a school -- and most Indians belong there -- which equates sex to early morning ablutions: it's a function that has to be performed, but you should be as discreet as possible and also not talk about it. It's like having a glass of water: you feel thirsty, so you go to the kitchen, get a glass, open the tap, fill the glass and drink it. Similarly, when you feel lusty, you wait for the elders/kids to sleep, then switch off the lights, and quickly perform the act while being careful not to make any noise. The man turns around and goes to sleep, while the woman -- well, does she matter?

These two schools of thoughts get highly irritated whenever sex is treated as a source of pleasure. They want the act to be as brief as having water: they get scandalised when sex is treated as a full-course meal.

Actually most of the time, it is not even irritation -- just plain jealousy. Given a chance, they would wring sex by its spine to extract as much pleasure as possible, but, alas, they have certain obligations and -- at times -- limitations. Not that they don't try to find a way out. One episode is still vivid in my memory even though it is five years old. I had just come to Chennai, and one of my pastimes then was to look up the Hindu classified columns and hunt for shady massage parlours. It was the hunt and the atmosphere of those places that gave me the thrill, not that I sought anything from them. One such parlour happened to be in Spencer Plaza, which was right opposite my office. I hopped across. I wanted a facial. I walked in and was shown a chair. As the female attendant prepared for the facial, I noticed the occupants of the next two chairs through the mirror: I was stunned. They were two old men -- so old that you could've imagine them only in a hospital bed or coughing endlessly in a bed at home. But presently they had taken a short holiday to heaven. I felt sorry for them: at 80, you can seek sexual gratification only on the sly, at least in India.

But why should I feel sorry for those pot-bellied, middle-aged men, who keep their wives and daughters behind bars, curse channels like MTV, and hand out ostracisation threats to young women living in the same apartment who dare to entertain men in their homes? These are men who lech at women on the roads, stare at the curves of their women colleagues and, if out of town on official work, keep whore-hunting on top of their agenda for the evening.

On Minto Road in Delhi, there used to be a cabaret called Blue Star. Now they have shut the cabaret and turned it into a 'family restaurant', but each time I pass the place, I can see the ghosts dancing. The audience would mainly comprise middle-aged men, who would have the full course meal in the cabaret and drink the glass of water at home. They would insist on stuffing 10-rupee or 50-rupee notes into the panties of the dancers.

Talking of cabarets, there used to be one in Nagpur, called Lahori Deluxe. Wonder if it's still there. Once we all -- as in journalists covering the BJP -- went there, to witness the coronation of Bangaru Laxman as the party president. Can't recall the year exactly: I think it was 1999. We had taken the G T Express from Delhi and got down at Nagpur, where we spent three days. I had not seen Chennai till then and was very curious how the South looked like, so I was very upset that I had to detrain midway without the travelling the whole distance (that's when the desire to come to Chennai was born).

Now there are two varieties of journalists: one, the young and the not-so-experienced, and the other old or not-so-old but experienced. The categorisation, however, has no bearing on the quality of journalism or writing. Anyway, the BJP programmes got over in the evenings, and journalists like me -- the young and the not-so-experienced -- would wonder how to spend the nights. One night we went to Lahori Deluxe, bought tickets for the front row, and walked across to a bar to create the thirst for lust. Back in the cabaret theatre, we took out seats. Minutes later we saw a huge group trooping in -- the old and the not-so-old, who otherwise assumed a serious and business-like look. Sex seemed to be the leveller.

The point is, eveybody has sex on their minds -- and most often it is priority no. 1. Only that the no. 1 position is either masked or marked dormant for the sake of other considerations -- the primary among them being, "What will people say." The masking could also be the result of the years of conditioning: "Sex is a bad thing", "Sex is a bad thing", "Sex is a bad thing". Come on, even the Supreme Court has said that if you deny sex to your woman, it could become a ground for divorce.

The bottomline: sex is not a bad thing. It is a good thing. Don't gulp it down like a glass of water, but savour it like a three-course meal. I know my thoughts make me a "bad person", but I am never constrained by the thought: "What will people say." Because people say something, and do something else. They do something when people are watching, and something else when no one known is around. I invite such people to come out in the open and let go: life is too short to be lived in denial or to do things on the sly.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Sunday Musings, Written on Monday

You wear a ring given to you by someone very dear -- father, grandfather, girlfriend, etc. It brings you good luck and all that. Then one day you lose the ring. How would you feel?

Seven years later. The person who gave you the ring is no more, but one afternoon, you find the ring. It was hidden in one of the pouches of your suitcase. How would you feel?

You take the ring to the jeweller and ask him to polish it. The evening you go to collect it, the jeweller falls at your feet. "Sir, the ring got stolen!" How would you feel?

Life goes on, meanwhile. The same old whisky, Pancham, books and sex. Talking of sex reminds me: the other day I was chatting with a friend, a female. Except for food, almost all our interests match. But I did not know that sex was a common interest too, till the conversation that afternoon suddenly twisted towards it while we were discussing Casino Royale, the new Bond movie. That reminds me: if you haven't seen Casino Royale yet, go see it.

I am not much into new movies, that too English movies, for the simple reason that I don't follow the accent most of the time. I piece together the plot mostly through the body language. But for some movies I make an exception. Jhankar Beats and Mathew McConnaughey-starrer Sahara I have seen a couple of times in the theatre and subsequently bought their videos. And I am going to watch Casino Royale again and buy the DVD whenever it comes out. The stunts, especially in the first half, are breathtaking: it looks hair-raisingly real.

So back to the conversation I was having with this friend. No paraphrasing, no gist, no inferences -- I am just going to Ctrl C + Ctrl V (I am taking off her name though):

She: hey, how's your throat ya, havent asked you in ages

Me: throat is a lot better

She: new post wanted, new post wanted

Me: meaning?

She: on your blog baba

Me: oh

She: december is comingggggggggg ggggggggggggggg gg i will have sex again... a fucking YEAR's drought... can you believe that (her boyfriend is back in December)

Me: do u have sex only with certain men?

She: only with people I have relationships with

Me: i mean does it HAVE to be that guy?

She: oh y.e.s.! i dont do the casual sex thing

Me: can we have an interim relationship?

She: you are like my big brother... achha tell me something, what is tantric sex?

Me: dunno really.. but i guess it is about continence, as in when u do it without coming, etc. etc.

She: ohay... Sting once had tantric sex for 16 HOURS ya

Me: tantric sex cud be without sexual contact, when two people sit in front on each other

She: and do what? compose sonnets on each others beauty?

Me: have stimulation and orgasm by the sight

She: please!

Me: seriously

She: penetration is the be-all and end-all of all existence

Me: no, sex is everything but penetration... penetration is by the way

She: not for me

Me: u dont realise it, but is

She: but it HAS to end with it

Me: nooooo...

She: arrey for me it does

Me: the most important part is the moments/minutes after the penetration, followed by the post-coital smoke

She: penetration is the only climax. Period.

Period. December is coming.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Those Were The Days

Nice to be back. Not so nice, however, to read my previous post, I Am One. Few things I would never have written in normal course have found their way into it, and that's because I did not write the post. It was ghost-written by two gentlemen, Mr Impatience and Mr Director's Special. That night was my blog's first anniversary, and early next morning I had a plane to catch, so there was hardly any time to light cigarettes and ponder, month by month, about the year that was. But how can the mind work in a hurry without assistance from alcohol; so I hired the services of Mr Director's Special.

By the time I got a chance to reread my post, in my old office in Kanpur, a dozen comments were already in. Too late to make changes. Never mind. Even organisations don't make changes when it is too late. Such as my old office. Flashback: I am in college, studying journalism. A respectable but a decaying Lucknow-based newspaper called Pioneer is repackaged from Delhi under the stewardship of Vinod Mehta and it goes on to become the toast of the town (Delhi, that is). Doordarshan carries ads, showing its in-house cartoonist Sudhir Dar drawing a caricature of Rudyard Kipling, and the caricature coming alive! What a stylish paper, we think.

As a student of journalism, I start buying the paper, the Lucknow edition. My subscription begins on a bad note: "Babri Masjid demolished." Turmoil. Conflict. Debate. I write a letter to the editor. It gets published. I take the clipping to my classmates. They sneer: "See, how he is showing off!" A year later Pioneer launches an edition in Kanpur. I get a job. Trainee sub-editor. Salary Rs 1800.

Those were the days of typerwriters for the reporters. For sub-editors like us, there was the horse-shoe table. The chief-sub at the head of the table, and the juniors spread out in a semi-circle across the table. He would hand over the copies for editing, we would edit with pen, write the headline on a separate sheet of paper and attach it to the copy and return it to him.

The peon, Ram Ratan, would take the copies to the composing section, where someone would type it -- on the computer. Print-outs would be taken, according to prescribed sizes, and paste-up artists would paste them on specified positions on 51-inch sheets of paper. The prints of these sheets were finally fitted into the printing machine. By the time the paper went to bed, it would be about 2 o' clock: too late and too risky for me to go home.

For a while I would play games on the computer in which stories were typed, and after the operator shut it down and went home, I would return to the editorial room, make a pillow of newspapers and doze off. That was my routine, night after night, for one whole year. The sound of the printing machine is a good sleep-inducer, believe me. In contrast, the noise of the broom can be disturbing: the sweeper woke me up every morning at 7. Only once did I oversleep, when I woke up to the chief reporter's customary call to the peon: "Ek chai le aana (bring me some tea)."

Ram Ratan, the peon, was my best friend. I borrowed money from him when needed, and also shared his food. The money was to buy semi-porn magazines like Debonair or Fantasy, or to go out on dates. The money could have been borrowed from my father, but at the time, in the fresh flush of employment, the idea was not to borrow from home. Just as I did not want to carry food from home: what, then, would be the difference between me and those who brought home-made food, religiously took their day offs and rushed home as soon as their bit was done? I had wanted fire, and not home food-induced hunger, in my belly.

Within months, I found myself propelled to Delhi, where home-cooked food was not even an option. I was one of the hundreds of pilgrims, fighting it out in the Mecca of Indian journalism for a place under the sun. Kanpur was history.

But history is the starting line of every journey. To measure how far have you gone, and in which direction have you gone, you need to keep revisiting history. Ever since I left Kanpur, everything has changed at the Pioneer -- from the management to the number of staff (there are only two people in Kanpur now who are manning the local bureau). But never did I imagine, while playing 'bricks' on the black and white computer during after-work hours in 1993, that I would check my blog on the same terminal 13 years later!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I Am One

Today, October 17, my blog turns a year old. More appropriately, I turn a year old as a blogger. When I had started, Diwali was round the corner. So it is now. I remember about the Diwali because after writing the first few posts, I went home on my annual vacation to Kanpur. And in Kanpur, I would go to a cyber cafe to see if anyone has commented. One night, cuddled inside a quilt in the Kanpur chill, I had a dream: 35 people had commented on a certain post. In the morning I rushed to the cyber cafe: "0 comments".

My first post was about God. It was about things I wanted to say but could not have written in my paper. The next few posts were poems, rather amateurish, reflecting my state of mind at the time: women, women everywhere but not a woman to .....

I am not leaving the space blank so that you can make wild guesses. I have left it blank because I myself did not know why I wanted a woman: To have sex? To be my wife? To be a live-in? To be just a girlfriend? Maybe I was used to having one around all the time, and now the absence of one needled me.

After getting internet connection at home, I had withdrawn myself into a virtual cocoon where emotional and intellectual gratification were unprecedented, but physical gratification was nil: I went to bed alone after making love to online lovers. Life went on like this for one whole year. Occasionally, a flesh-and-blood lotus would sprout, but would remain at the centre of the pond where my arms could not reach. I fantasised about them by writing poems such as Dream and The Kiss. These two poems were written in Kanpur, in a diary borrowed from my father. They were written for a dimpled beauty.

The stay in Kanpur was blanketed in dreams and fantasies and desires. Reality staged a return in Chennai, where the cocktail of loneliness and music made sentences flow night after night, resulting in lengthy posts that stand testimony to the search of a man who didn't quite know what he was searching for. Maybe some attention. That began to trickle in too, gradually, in the form of comments. I can never measure the gratitude I owe to my initial commentators. They had finally ended the drought of "0 comments".

By now, blogging had become an obsession. Whole day I would wait to get back home, pour a drink, recline on the mattress and switch my laptop on. And long after the world had finished its socialising, mine would begin. With a drink in hand, I would begin circulating, striking conversations with beautiful but faceless people, who I knew only by their exotic Yahoo IDs. In between talking to them, I would be writing a post, and occasionally would Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V a few paras to one of them -- just to seek their opinion. Then they would sign off, one after the other, and I would return to finishing my post, lonely as before.

One year of blogging is not a very long journey, considering that there are bloggers who have been around much longer and are more prolific. But my journey has been highly eventful, considering how seamlessly my personal life had weaved into the virtual. No pseudonym, no mask; standing bare in a theatre peopled by stangers. No links to the morning's newspaper reports, no editorialising, no sermonising; just the truest account of my life. If someone cared and showed interest, some of the pain that went into the writing was compensated for.

In journalism they say: You are as good as your last byline. The same is true for blogging. You write every night for months, and your readership steadily climbs up. But you stop for a while, and the readership climbs down as steadily. This happened to me in February this year. I was in peak form as a blogger, stewing in a heady concoction of loneliness, alcohol and music, when Rishikesh beckoned. As I prepared for the Rishikesh trip, mother fell ill. When someone, even if she is only 56, is a heart patient and a diabetic, a trip to the hospital can make you imagine the worst, and I was presently packing, in a great hurry, for Kanpur. Still I took my yoga mat and pants along, just in case circumstances permitted me to travel Rishikesh for the yoga festival.

Mother recovered. Perhaps because I finally made her a promise that must have tempted her to hang on: "Ok, I will get married." And off I went to Rishikesh, with dreams of making out with a Swedish or Danish yoga enthusiast. In between yoga classes, I spoke, on the phone, to my would-be-wife. Sitting on a bench by the furiously-flowing Ganges, I would speak to her for hours. Yet another conquest, I thought. In the end, she conquered me. For once, I did not complain. I was calm, totally peaceful. So peaceful that in the month of March, I wrote only one post, By The Ganges. And for once I had written a post for myself. Most readers, in any case, had stopped coming to my blog because of my long absence.

I had to start all over again. But this time with innocuous, neutral subjects such as pens and, even, Chennai. The readers returned in greater numbers, thanks to Desipundit (the site is now closing down). But you can't ignore your instincts for long, so I wrote about sex too (and I consider this post as one of my best and most honest, if not the best). But the cake was taken by the account of Mani Ratnam's shoot for Guru. The post earned me unprecedented readership and even today, four months later, about a dozen people come to my blog every day to read it.

Today, the readership does not matter so much to me, in the sense that it is no longer a life-and-death question. There was a time when I took my ranking on Indianbloggers very seriously. It varied from no. 10 to no. 25. Occasionally it was no. 40 or 50, and once it even jumped up to no. 3, thanks to the Mani Ratnam post. But the website seems to be down, and I don't really care anymore. What matters to me more now is the luxury to write night after night, especially when I know that it's a luxury I can't afford anymore. I am no longer lonely after all, because I now have a wife. But then, having a wife does not mean your search has ended, especially when don't know what you are searching for.

So what am I trying to say? It's simple: my wife has a smile that is so genuine and cute that every night, I am forced to postpone the search to the night after. And the night after. Meanwhile, out of habit, I happen to write a post apropos of nothing, such as this.

Hey, wait a minute, this post is not for nothing: this is my first-anniversary post, and I got a legitimate reason to write it only because of Atul, who tagged me. Thanks Atul.

Wonder how it will be when I meet Atul and other fellow bloggers. But at the moment, I would like to meet R, my mysterious yet a good friend who had insisted that I start a blog in the first place. R, you listening? I know you are (the smile smiley).

Friday, October 13, 2006

Nineteen Years Ago

My watch says 7.40 pm. If I go back in time, this very moment, by precisely 19 years, I would find myself in Kanpur, as a 16-year-old, who has just got home after loitering with friends in the post-Durga Puja and pre-Diwali spirit.

The intervening period between the two festivals is the most joyous for any school-going boy: one holiday has ended and another is about to begin. And if the school-going boy happens to be an adolescent, nothing stokes the freshly-acquired attraction towards the opposite sex more than the evening, autumn air.

So there I was, back home in time to follow the routine: study for a while, watch the 8.30 pm news on Doordarshan while having dinner, watch the succeeding serial (those days they were worth it), study for some more time, and go to sleep.

The TV was switched on. Those days the top news was necessarily about the IPKF operations in Sri Lanka: "10 Indian soldiers killed", "3 Indian soldiers killed", "5 Indian soldiers killed"... after a point it became routine. But the death of Indian soldiers had to be priority, so even on the evening of October 13, 1987, the first headline was about the IPKF operations. The subsequent headlines were about politics and this and that, and finally: "Playback singer Kishore Kumar is no more."

Air was sucked out of my lungs. How can Kishore Kumar ever die? Only a few months ago, I had seen him in Kanpur. He had come to the city, as the guest of the Indian Air Force, to perform at the Green Park Stadium. My parents thought there would be stampede at the stadium, and that their favourite son might die, so they didn't let me go (I would never forgive them for that), but they had no reason to stop me from going to the nearby Air Force ground, where Kishore Kumar was being felicitated the evening before the show.

A local orchestra (belonging to Prashant Chatterjee, about who I've written in a recent post) was belting out popular Kishore Kumar songs while the singer himself was sitting in the front row of the audience along with wife Leena and sons Amit and Sumit. After a while, as a consolation to the crowd that had gathered, Amit came to the stage and sang a couple of songs, Yaad aa rahi hai and Yeh Bombay sheher haadson ka sheher hai.

Then the compere announced that Kishoreda would himself come to the stage. I could not believe my eyes. I felt what a sadhu would feel upon sighting God after 15 years of meditation. Kishore Kumar, dressed in a maroon kurta-pyjama, announced that he would sing Zindagi ek safar hai suhana... (Andaaz). One had expected him to only sing, but he danced as he sang -- a man who had had two heart attacks. After he finished the song, the compere came to get the mike but Kishoreda turned him away: "Nahin, ab mujhe mood mein aane dijiye (now let me get into the mood)." Then he went on to sing Main hoon jhumroo and, along with his son, Yeh dosti hum nahin todenge (the original he had sung with Manna Dey).

I vowed that evening that once I start earning, I would go to Bombay to watch a Kishore Kumar nite. But the dream came crashing within months. Same thing happened with my other idol, R.D. Burman. He came to Kanpur in 1991, the year I had lost the last of my classmates to various engineering colleges and was branded a "bad student" by my utterly middle-class parents, who now wanted me to study even harder. But I silently told them "Fuck you" by spending my time with India Today and Indian Express and Sunday and Society instead of the Brilliant Tutorials course material. Anyway, I missed R.D. And he died within two years. Another dream dashed.

I took my revenge shortly after by filling up my rack with cassettes of Kishore Kumar and Pancham. A lot of those cassettes remain at home, serving to activate the tear glands of my mother. I have, meanwhile, switched over to CDs.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Bye Bye Malgudi, Hello Mysore

October 10 is R K Narayan's 100th birth anniversay. My tribute to him:

Under the overcast sky, the green of the paddy fields looked as dense as the grey above — so picture perfect that I could have tried my luck with National Geographic if I was not standing at the door of the train. In fact, when a hill appeared in the backdrop of the lush greenery, I did turn to fetch my camera. But I found my path blocked by the suitcase of an elderly fellow traveller who announced with an apologetic grin, “Mysore is coming.”

Mysore is one of those places like Siberia: you’ve always heard about it, but you never really see anyone booking a ticket to get there. For the lay traveller, the city is on the itinerary only when a trip to Bangalore permits enough time. It was hardly surprising then, when, 90 percent of the passengers on the Chennai-Mysore Shatabdi Express detrained in Bangalore.

Mysore is also a city whose mention — particularly if you have never been there — conjures up some image or the other in your mind: it could be colourful silk sarees or the smoke emanating from a sandalwood agarbatti or just a soap. But as I sat in the nearly-empty train presently pulling out of Bangalore, the faces of two elderly men floated in front on my eyes every time I tried to visualise Mysore.

One is 90 years old, while the other would been exactly 100 if he were alive.

Read on


Those who have bothered to wonder why I was not blogging for a while, the following piece -- my latest column for the paper -- should explain:

These days, very often, I feel like a two-year-old, letting off loud wails as I am pinned down by four people and a fifth trying to empty a bottle of bitter medicine down my throat. A two-year-old possibly can’t read the label on the bottle, but I can: “Happy Married Life”. I can hear the person holding the bottle telling me: “Don’t fuss. Once you gulp it down you will be fine. It is for your own good.”

They had said the same when they made me a sacrificial lamb, dressing me up like a groom, five months ago. And who are these people, anyway? They don’t have individual names but collectively, they are called “society”. They had said my life would become stable, but I can see myself heading towards mental instability.

After 35 years of living like a compulsive vagabond, whose social responsibilities were confined to the triangle of I, Me and Myself, it isn’t easy at all to find a fourth dimension added to life. There are times when I am sitting at home, trying hard to write, when I am gripped by a sudden irritation: “What’s she doing here?” Then, after gathering my thoughts, I answer myself: “Oh, she’s my wife. She is going to be staying here too.”

That is, when I get to write. For years I have been a nocturnal writer, whose brain cells came alive only five hours after sunset, when I would switch on my laptop, stare at the screen for a while and start typing. These days, when I switch on the computer, the wife asks: “Are you going to blog or write for the paper?” When I say blog, I am given a look which says: “When will you get a life?” When I say I am going to write for the paper, the look that is given to me says: “Couldn’t you have written that in the office?”

The point is she never translates those looks into words; instead, she silently waits for me, with dinner and all, till I finish. Which makes me even more irritated. But then, irritation is not the solution, adjustment is. So of late, to begin with, I have cut down on my blogging. Wonder what next. Anything is fine as long as I don’t reach the other extreme: becoming hen-pecked. But the symptoms, to tell you the truth, point towards that.

The other night, after work, I went for a drink with a colleague who has been married for quite some time now. I have gone drinking with him on countless evenings, and most evenings, he would want to get home after a point. “She has prepared the food, I have to eat at home,” he would plead.

I would brush aside pleas with liquor-inspired wisdom: “You are a writer, a poet. You are an individual, not someone’s husband. Doesn’t matter if you don’t eat at home one night.” We would finally part close to midnight.

But the other night, we were barely into the second drink when I began looking at the watch. Wife had already called twice, first to ask: “Cabbage or cauliflower?” And then: "Rice or roti?" I rushed him through the third drink and, as we were walking towards the parking, we noticed a Malayali restaurant, Tharavad. “Let’s eat something,” the colleague said. “Not today,” I pleaded and hopped into my car.

The next day the colleague forwarded me a joke: A lion had thrown a party exclusively for lions. They were drinking and dancing when they spotted a mouse dancing too. The host lion roared: “Only lions are invited. How did you dare to come?” The mouse replied: “Before I got married, I was a lion too.”

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Music Menu on Ganga Mail

Atul has tagged me, rather I should say he has handed a child his favourite toy. Thanks, Atul. Here I go:

Your favourite lyricist and the lyrics you remember the most:

Yogesh. Kai baar yuhin dekha hai, yeh jo man ki seema rekha hai... (Rajnigandha).

Your favourite song on friendship

Humko to yaari se matlab hai... (Andar Bahar). Suresh Wadkar and Shailendra Singh sing for Pancham.

Best song portraying life’s emotions; about life, full of life

Yeh jeevan hai, is jeevan ka... (Piya Ka Ghar). Kishore Kumar, the voice of this song, sang it for his elder brother Ashok Kumar several times when he sat in a dark room (people were too numb to remember switching on the lights) mourning his wife Shobha, who had died that day.

Which song are you humming today?

Aap ke kamre mein koi rehta hai... (Yaadon Ki Baarat). It really begins with Kishore's humming. Actually been humming the Bengali version of it, Bondho dwaare ondhokare thaakbo na, also sung by Kishore and Asha.

One song which brings tears to your eyes

Main har ek pal ka shayar hoon (Kabhie Kabhie). Sahir-Khayyam. Wrote a post about it long ago.

A song which gives you hope, reason to try again and again, a reason to say that life is beautiful

Har koi chahata hai ek mutthi aasman... (Ek Mutthi Aasman). I would rate it one of Madan Mohan's best. Listened to it several times once upon a time when my fling was having a fling with someone else.

When you want to be with yourself, silent and content but with music, with song would that be?

Dard-e-dil, dard-e-jigar... (Karz). A song best enjoyed through headphones, or else you might miss the little embellisments in Laxmi-Pyare's lavish orchestra for this number. Listen to the reverse roll of the violins when Rafi says, Purdah giraya aapne. As if curtains are really rolling down!

If you have to express your love for someone with a song which would that be

Tera mujhse hai pehle ka naata koi... (Aa Gale Lag Ja). Sahir-Pancham combo.

Five songs which you listen to the most

Raat banoon main aur chaand bano tum... (Mangalsutra). A Pancham gem.

Aawaz di hai aaj ek nazar ne... (Aitbaar). Bappi at his best.

Poochho na yaar kya hua... (Zamane Ko Dikhana Hai).

Bachke rehna re baba... (Pukar).

Mere liye soona soona... (Anand Aur Anand).

Monday, October 02, 2006

Durga Puja

Vijaya Dashami day: About twenty years ago, on this day, this very moment, I would have found myself among the huge crowd at the community ground near my home in Kanpur, watching the end of the 10-headed paper-and-bamboo Ravana.

After Ravana was reduced to ashes, the crowd would rush out, leaving behind 30-40 families, the Bengalis, who would now wait for the arrival of the shanti jal (holy water, though literal translation would be 'water of peace'). Shanti jal is the water collected after the idol of Goddess Durga is immersed, and in the case of Kanpur, shanti jal is also Ganga jal.

Eventually the party which went for the immersion would return in trucks, and the priest would sprinkle the water with mango leaves. Sweets were distributed and people wished other, touched the feet of the elders, and went home. From the next evening, till Diwali, Bengali families would visit each other, often unannounced, to, well, eat. The menu usually would be an assortment of sweets and salty snacks. If the host was generous, there would also be ghughni -- chanaa masala.

I don't think that happens anymore. At least you don't go to anyone's home unannounced: now there is the telephone over which you could either get invited or invite yourself over. In any case, cable TV has cut out the dependency on neighbours for evening entertainment/timepass. You now live in a self-contained world where everything is available with a press of the button -- even dinner. And what is the point going overboard with celebrations when the kids are no longer kids but have become the new generation, scattered in various cities and living in their own self-contained islands and celebrating Puja in their own way?

But some things don't change. Like the weather. No matter how hot it gets during the day, there is a mild chill in the evenings. And just before the sunset, the air is fragrant and smokey, dhuan dhuan. That's when you know Durga Puja is round the corner, and that the festive season, which would last till the year-end, has begun. The fragrant air brings in, more than anything else, plenty of memories and the reminder that once upon a time you were a kid: wasn't it just the other day, when we spent entire days at the neighbourhood pandal, and in the night went pandal-hopping?

One of the chief attractions of Durga Puja during my childhood was the 'orchestra' -- a local orchestra party would present latest Hindi songs, and those days you didn't have the synthesiser, so there was the piano accordion and quite a few violins. My earliest memories of watching an orchestra dates back to 1977. An ageing ex-Air Force employee called Prashant Chatterjee, hugely popular in Kanpur at the time, was performing at the same community ground with his team. All the Kishore Kumar songs, including those from Hum Kisise Kam Nahin, were sung by a young, bearded, bespectacled man called Abhijeet Bhattacharya. Today, the world knows him as Abhijeet, the singer. Last Saturday, when I was making the front page, I saw a UNI picture of Abhijeet and Sanjay Dutt posing before a Durga idol in Mumbai. My memories went back 30 years and I front-paged the picture.

I wonder what has become of Prashant Chatterjee. I pass his house every time I visit Kanpur, but I am too scared to find out.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

French Leave

I had been away for only 24 hours, but when I returned to Chennai after scouring every corner of the maze of quiet streets called Pondicherry, I felt I was returning after 24 days. I also felt as if I had left a fusion music concert mid-way and pushed open the door of a disco to find a top-of-the-pops blasting on my ribcage.

Read more

Saturday, September 02, 2006


Only when the pillars start crumbling, one after the other in quick succession, do you realise that a generation is breathing its last and the next has taken over. The transition can happen even before you bat your eyelid. In just five years, the pillars that propped my childhood have fallen like ninepins. These are people whose immortality you take for granted — people like Ashok Kumar, or Dadamoni, the evergreen jovial father/grandfather.

Sometime in 2001, Ashok Kumar gave a long interview to Filmfare, in which he pondered about life and death. At the time, he was one of the few who could talk with authority about both: he had lost his two brothers and his wife in the late 1980s. He did not go for their funerals because, as he said in the interview, he hated saying goodbye like that. Ashok Kumar died soon after.

Today I am reminded of the interview because he had also mentioned, while bemoaning his lonely life, that a handful of people still kept in touch with him, and one of them was Hrishikesh Mukherjee. “He called me the other day to say he loves me,” the veteran actor had said. Today, Dadamoni and Hrishida could be scripting another Aashirwaad or a Mili — to be screened exclusively in the theatres up there. Between 2001 and 2006, so many seemingly-permanent fixtures of Hindi cinema — and of my childhood — made an exit from this world.

These are people who you wish never died, because when they die, you not only feel sad about their passing away but are also reminded about your own mortality. When the icon of your childhood dies of old age, it means you have left your childhood far behind and are set to approach middle age. This is a fact you really can’t make peace with, and that is why the death of actors is so disturbing.

But they died: even the ones who were thought of to have conquered death. Like Sunil Dutt. The man pulled himself through innumerable tragedies — his wife’s painful death from cancer, his son’s addiction to drugs, a plane crash, paralysed legs and what not. Yet he capped his political career by becoming a minister at the Centre. But one day he dies, suddenly and painlessly. Can you beat that?

But death beats all. My generation’s association with Om Prakash and Lalita Pawar goes back to the day we first bought our black-and-white TV. The TV went on to change shape and colour, but the two remained on the screen — the comedian father/uncle and the wicked mother-in-law. I had thought they were immortal, but they left this world. So did the mother of all screen mothers, Nirupa Roy.

One feels so helpless. Amid such helplessness, Dev Anand provides a ray of hope: he is perhaps the only actor who seeks to defy nature by playing roles that are half his age, which, currently, is eighty-plus. But his younger brother Vijay ‘Goldie’ Anand, who directed Dev Anand in landmark movies like Guide, died in 2004.

Three more people died between 2001 and 2006: Johnny Walker, the king of unadulterated comedy; Amrish Puri, the unadulterated artiste but highly ‘adulterated’ villain; and Naushad, who I believed would live on forever as a testimonial to the era when making music required the precision of a surgeon rather than the promises of a general practitioner who never let his patients down.

Why is death so impatient in rushing people out of this world? Maybe it is not. It is just that we humans refuse to recognise death as reality: we always see it as a distant reality— distant to the extent of being an impossibility. But when someone like Hrishikesh Mukherjee dies, it amounts to the death of not just a human being but also a generation.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uncle Moon At 60

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

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

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

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Writing: A Personal Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Independence Day Thoughts

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

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

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

3. Maximum City, by Suketu Mehta.

4. Sahara, a journey by Michael Palin.

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

6. Newsweek and Economist magazines.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Three Enemies Who Ruined My Game

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

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Friday, August 11, 2006

Madras Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should We Hire Dr Watson?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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