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.