Monday, May 11, 2009

Last Saturday

Last Saturday was one of the most pleasant day-offs I've had in a long time. Usually, in my eagerness to make the most of my off-day, since they are well-deserved these days, I plan ambitious things but end up going to the same malls and indulging in retail therapy. This Saturday, by default, I did things I that like but had not done in a long time. Soon after I woke up, at 11 in the morning, two parcels arrived. They contained the four books I had ordered from a few weeks ago.

Lying in bed, I had finished, by lunchtime, Portrait of Hemingway by Lillian Ross. A slim book, it's an account of the two days that Ross, a New Yorker writer, had spent with Hemingway in New York. A quote from Hemingway that I shall always return to for inspiration when I (or other people) feel my writing is crap:

"I started out very quiet and I beat Mr Turgenev. Then I trained hard and I beat Mr de Maupassant. I've fought two draws with Mr Stendhal, and I think I had an edge in the last one. But nobody's going to get me in any ring with Mr Tolstoy unless I'm crazy or I keep getting better."

Since Hemingway made this remark while he was drinking champagne, it is possible that it was alcohol that made him pat his own back. But it is also true that only when you are drunk you actually gather the courage to boast about the hard work you put in into your passion. When you are sober, you usually try to be modest.

While having lunch, I skimmed through A Literate Passion, a voluminous compilation of letters exchanged between Anais Nin and Henry Miller, the two writers who freed the subject of sex from cage of taboo in the early 20th century. The letters, I realised to my great gratification, only validated my long-standing belief, which I would try to articulate as simply as possible: a curvaceous or a chiselled body can only make you lust, momentarily, for a member of the opposite sex. Whereas, it is the mind of the person that actually makes you crave for him or her. It does not matter how she looks or how big or small her breasts are: once you are in love with the mind of that woman, her physical attributes automatically become so perfect that you can't wait to watch her taking her clothes off. And when you eventually do it, it is the minds that have the sex, even though the genitals take the credit. But then, just as you need a pen to express your thoughts, you need the genitals to express and satiate the cravings of the mind. They are just the medium.

In most such unions of minds, there is always a villain, usually in the form of a spouse. In the case of Miller and Nin, the roadblock was Hugh, Nin's husband. Let me quote from two letters:

Oh, Henry. I don't know what is the matter with me. I am so exulted. I am almost mad, working, loving you, writing, and thinking of you, playing your records, dancing in the room when my eyes are tired. You have given me such joys that it does not matter what happens now -- I am ready to die -- and ready to love you all my life!

How are you? I have been anxious about your cold. Hugh is leaving Sunday night for London for two nights. I'll write you again about it. I would love it if you would put your typewriter in a taxi and ride over -- or if you are tired after Renaud's visit just come over for a rest. I will need one too...


And then, this letter written by Henry Miller in sheer panic:

Anais --

A horrible blunder has been made. You mailed me the letter to Hugo, the day you arrived, and you sent mine to him. Hugo has been trying frantically to get in touch with me. Sent Amelia here who left the enclosed note under the door. She was here in the morning and again this evening. I thought in the morning it was Hugo himself and that he was here to "get" me -- so I didn't answer the door...I may have to leave town until Hugo goes. That depends on his behaviour. For the present I am staying here, behind locked doors...But don't meet Hugo alone for the first time -- if you must meet him. Take care!!

Love, Henry


After lunch I watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and took a short nap. In the evening I was expecting a friend-cum-colleague, one of the very few people in Chennai I've met to love and understand Kishore Kumar. A 'musical night' was long overdue between the two of us.

After I poured the drinks, I dug into my playlists and the various music folders in the laptop. And that's when I realised that there were songs, which once upon a time constituted by daily routine, lying unheard for months and months. What a relief it was to listen to them again: it was like meeting up with old, loyal friends. I don't want to bore you with the list of songs which, once upon a time, played on my speakers every single day and which were lying neglected all these months till I found them again last Saturday.

But there is one song I must mention. It is a simple, lovely song, whose lyrics and music have been composed by Ravindra Jain and which is sung by Kishore Kumar. It is from the film Pati, Patni Aur Woh, in which the inimitable Sanjeev Kumar portrays the Indian version of Henry Miller, albeit a non-literary one -- a married man who finds stimulation in his bright, young stenographers and tries to woo them by spinning an imaginary tale that his wife is terminally ill. The song blames Sanjeev Kumar's behaviour on the apple -- the fruit which Adam and Eve were forbidden from having while they lived in paradise. How beautifully it tells the story of Adam and Eve in a few lines. Here goes:

Naa aaj thhaa, naa kaal thhaa
koi mushkil thhi, naa hal thhaa
Lekin kya thhaa, bus ek phal thha
Yeh phal khaana manaa hai, sub unse kehte thhey
yeh phal khaana manaa hai, sub unse kehte thhey
Adam aur Hawwa donon jannat mein rehte thhey
Adam aur Hawwa donon jannat mein rehte thhey...

Dono ka dil lalchaya, us phal to tod ke khaya
dono ka dil lalchaya, us phal to tod ke khaya
Ek shola sa lehraya, unmey shaitan samaya
ek shola sa lehraya, unmey shaitan samaya
unko jo hargiz na karna, kar baithe thhey
unko jo hargiz na karna, kar baithe thhey
Adam aur Hawwa donon jannat mein rehte thhey
Adam aur Hawwa donon jannat mein rehte thhey...

Kudrat ko gussa aaya, donon pe jurm lagaya
Jannat mein rehne waale, jannat se gaye nikaale
Oopar se girey woh nichey
oopar se girey woh nichey
Phal aaya pechhey peechey
yun sadiyon ne dum toda
phal ne peechha na chhoda
yun sadiyon ne dum toda
phal ne peechha na chhoda

Kehnewaale yun unka afsana kehte hai
kehnewaale yun unka afsana kehte hai
Adam aur Hawaa ab is duniya mein rehte hain
Adam aur Hawaa ab is duniya mein rehte hain


There was no today, there was no tomorrow
there were no problems, there was no need for solutions
But there was only one thing -- a fruit
"Never eat this fruit," they would all tell them
Adam and Eve, who used to live in paradise

But they were greedy, and they plucked the fruit and ate it
Fire of passion leaped, and the devil got inside them
They had done what they were not supposed to do
Adam and Eve, who used to live in paradise

Nature got angry, it penalised both
Those who lived in paradise were now thrown out of paradise
They fell from the skies, and the fruit followed them
Centuries passed, but the fruit did not stop chasing them
And now, we are told that Adam and Eve live in this world, amidst us.


It is 3.30 in the morning now and I am a bit hungry. Guess what I am going to eat before I hit the sack? An apple.

Saturday, May 09, 2009


I sit in front of the computer tonight to ask a question. This is a question that does not have an easy answer: the right answer may be considered as wrong and the wrong as right. This is also a question that cannot be satisfactorily settled by law. This is a question that can only lead to more questions and torment you. But logically, shouldn't every question have one correct answer which is not clouded by different points of view? I hope it has, and that's what I am seeking.

To ask you the question, I need to tell you a story. It is about someone I know, rather knew, for he is no longer in this world. It is the story of AK, my dear friend.

AK was a small-town boy who had a way with words ever since he was in school and after a couple of years of struggle in Delhi, landed the job of a creative writer with an ad agency. Sincerity and talent saw him climb the ladder fast, and soon he had women falling all over him. AK, being a small-town guy at heart, relished their attention but was not up to entertaining a woman he did not intend to marry. He directed all this energies at wooing a girl in the office next-door, whom he was so crazy about that he would have even jumped off the twelfth floor in order to prove his love for her. The girl indulged him initially, but finding him excessively possessive, fled from the relationship and found a new boyfriend. AK was shattered.

Next thing I saw was AK's wedding invitation. He was marrying one of the girls in his office. A year later, they had a child. He steadily rose up the ladder, bought two cars and a house. His salary was a matter of envy among his friends, but he would shrug off remarks that he was doing so well and would settle down for a drink with us, saying, "Achchha chhodo woh sab yaar, kuchh Kishore chalao (now leave all that aside, play some Kishore Kumar songs)."

Soon I moved to Chennai and our weekly sittings were reduced to once-in-two months phone calls or text messaging. I learnt, not from him though, that he had bought another house. When I heard this piece of news, I wished I had joined advertising instead of journalism. But I was happy for AK. He was an emotional fool who deserved good things in life.

One day, four years ago, news came that AK had died. He had contracted a strange fever, and even before the doctors could diagnose it, he had slipped into coma and died. I was too shocked to shed a tear for him. I only thought of his young wife and child: how must they have taken it? I didn't know the wife too well, but had met her enough number of times to imagine what she must be going through. Somehow, I did not think of AK's parents, the elderly couple living in a small town in Uttar Pradesh. Their lifestyle had in no way changed because of AK's zooming career, but they, like other parents, felt rich in the fact their son was doing well.

I am telling you the story of AK because today, out of the blue, I ran into his sister. I had last seen her many years ago, during a party at AK's place, and now I was face to face with her again. We both recognised each other instantly, and several moments of awkward silence followed. I did not know what to say. I began by enquiring about AK's wife, rather widow. "I hope she has taken it in her stride," I mumbled. "Yes, she is doing well," the sister replied, "she has married again, though I don't know where she is these days." A restaurant was close by and I took her there and ordered coffee.

"You know, my father has been in and out of the mental hospital ever since. He is now like a vegetable. Imagine, he had to cremate his own son. My mother is a strong woman, but she can't take it anymore," the sister said, trying to stiffen her lips to fight tears. She then told me things which I don't think I can ever get over, considering that AK was such a dear friend.

AK's father's only desire, after he lit his son's funeral pyre, was to keep him alive by wearing his clothes. By the time he gathered his senses to ask his daughter-in-law to pack his departed son's clothes, the young widow replied, "But I have already given them to the maid. I would have kept them if I knew you wanted them."

I don't know if the old man protested, but the world had no time for the elderly couple who had given birth to AK and had raised him. It was showering sympathies and money on the wife, who AK had met only a few years ago and had married only on rebound. Being the emotional fool that he was, he had not only bought the two houses in his wife's name but also had had the two home loans insured. His death turned out to be a windfall for her. Am saying windfall because she remarried within four months. She couldn't have found a groom in just four months unless she knew someone from long ago: it was as if she was waiting for AK to die. Anyway, that's her life and it does not bother me. What bothers me is why, when a man dies, the world heaps sympathies on the wife alone and not his aged parents whose pain is manifold.

Now, imagine a man who has just had an arranged marriage. He hardly knows his wife, and his wife hardly knows him, except that they have slept on the same bed for a few nights and made love and had a baby. One day, soon after the marriage, the man dies. Who should be the beneficiary of the sympathy and the funds? The wife, who is still a stranger to the home; or the aging parents, who will find the loss irreplaceable?

One can understand the wife being the beneficiary in the traditional, joint family system, where the husband and his extended family, including his parents, have the upper hand and the wife is more or less a glorified maidservant whose sole role is to keep the elders happy. A woman who has just lost her husband has nothing but a blank future to stare at. She is torn by the personal loss and the responsibility to raise the kids single-handed.

But roles have reversed in the nuclear-family era, especially with women also working. Today, it is the aged parents play glorified servants when they visit their well-to-do son and his newly-acquired wife in a big city. The wife not only comes from a well-to-do family but also earns as much as -- if not more than -- the son. In such cases, why should all the money and sympathy go to a woman who is emotionally and financially equipped to tide over the tragedy, and not to the parents who invested their youth in bringing up the child and spent their savings educating him? The answer, anyone?

Parents obviously don't want compensation, for no amount of money is going to bring back their son. But shouldn't someone be considerate enough to give them a hug and say, "I know what it means to lose a child"? But the world would rather score brownie points with a young widow. Such is the world. May AK, now that he is up there, use his supernatural powers to look after his devastated parents.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Vicedom Wisdom

"Thoda unconventional likhte ho, magar achchha likh lete ho," Ms A blushed as she commented about my blog. Translation: Your subjects are a bit unconventional, but you manage to write well.

Ms A is a well-bred, sophisticated woman who I was meeting after twenty -- yes, twenty -- years. I had met her only once, in 1989. She must have been 21 or 22 then, and I was 18. She had come to pick up her younger sister from the tuition classes we attended together in Kanpur, and after the classes we all went out for lunch. The younger sister was about my age and I had a crush on her. Though I must admit that I was floored by Ms A as well when I saw her.

When I met Ms A recently after those twenty years, she had read quite a few of my posts, and I could see her searching for words to describe my blog before settling for 'unconventional'. She was being polite, the sophisticated woman that she is. What she clearly meant was: "You write mostly about sex and stuff, but you manage to pull it off well."

But what do I do? If I write about something else, no one reads or reacts. My previous post was about politics and cricket, but it clearly failed to impress people: only four comments for a post that took me as many hours to write. So I better stick to my territory. In any case, I love, more than anything else, to celebrate vices and taboos. It is our vices that makes us virtuous. No vices, no virtues. The Ganga Mail is a lounge where you come to have a smoke and a drink after spending a whole day pretending to be a non-smoker and a non-drinker. So please come, be my guest.

But once upon a time, I used to be a nice boy who had no vices whatsoever. I did not smoke, I did not drink, and I had not seen a naked woman yet. I did not tell Ms A that the process of me becoming 'unconventional' began around the time when I first met her twenty years ago -- when the gates of vicedom were finally thrown open to me.

It all began in 1988. I had just passed class 12 and was legally still not an adult. Seventeen years and a few months old. I was one of the foot soldiers preparing for the great war looming on the horizon -- cracking the engineering entrances. Not exactly the thing I really wanted to do, preparing for the war, that is, for I had found my true calling by then. But then you do certain things because they are expected out of you, and you do tend to indulge those harbouring expectations up to a point.

So I did all the right things. After enrolling in the B.Sc. course, I 'dropped' the first year giving a medical certificate (some form of hepatitis, if I remember it right). That was the way to go about it: you drop the first year so that you can devote yourself entirely to engineering entrances and leave no stone unturned. I also joined tuition classes. The tuition classes were my passport to the outside world. The classes were held at the home of a chemistry professor who lived in Rawatpur, about 15 km away from my home in Kanpur. (About 5 km further down the road from Rawatpur is Kalyanpur, where IIT-Kanpur is).

Chemistry was, obviously, taught by this eccentric but highly committed professor who was on the staff of one of the city colleges, while physics and mathematics were taught by a moonlighting IIT professor. Though I must say that none of them seemed particularly interested in the money. They were both mad men tangled up in formulas and equations.

My exposure to the outside world began with a simple mathematical expression: 4+4. It was the title of the first soft-porn movie (or porn movie for that matter) I'd ever seen. It was one of the D-grade Malayalam movies which wasn't even dubbed into Hindi. Why bother dubbing it when no one had spent those precious five rupees to follow the dialogues or the stories? They were all there only to watch the nude scenes, which were spread out evenly across the length of the film. Most often, the nude scenes had no connection with the movie, which itself was crudely made. But did any of this matter?

Porn is one thing, apart from beauty, which makes language irrelevant. Bare tits are bare tits, doesn't matter if the woman who owns them speaks Spanish or Malayalam. Anyway, the movie with a mathematical title set off a physical and chemical reaction inside me -- someone who had never seen a naked woman before, live or otherwise.

That night when I got home after watching 4+4, I found my father pacing up and down the street. His worry was understandable: it was almost midnight, and it was highly unlikely that I would be so late unless I'd met with an accident. Hell broke loose. I silently cursed the two chaps who had dragged me to the theatre. Actually they didn't drag me, but the way they would describe scenes from movies they had previously seen, I found it impossible to say no to them that night. Those two guys were Pawan and Panku, both imps of the highest order. They, like Ms A's younger sister, were my tuition mates: they were extremely bright and intelligent, but mischief was their middle name. They taught me how to smoke, and they gave me my first taste of alcohol.

I still remember: it was my 18th birthday and my parents happened to be in Calcutta to attend a family function. I called some friends over, including Pawan and Panku, to spend the night at my place watching movies. No prizes for guessing the kind of movies we watched. When Pawan and Panku arrived that evening, they came with gift-wrapped box. It turned out to be a quarter bottle of whisky. That night, Pawan made egg curry and before dinner, we all shared the whisky. A quarter bottle between six people -- it was like having two spoonfuls each of cough syprup. Yet we felt pleasantly high enough to sit through the night watching the movies, smoking Classic cigarettes, which cost 90 paise apiece then.

Today, I do not know where Pawan and Panku are. It is funny that people who come into your life like a storm also disappear like one. One moment you can't do without them, and the next moment they are gone and you don't even miss them because by then, somebody else would have come in like a storm. Progression of life. Many years ago, I was told that Pawan and Panku were in some engineering college. They, in all probability, would be married by now with kids and all and, who knows, might have turned teetotallers and given up smoking too. And here I am, still keeping their flag flying high. In many ways, I haven't grown a day older ever since I met the two of them.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Two Games That Don't Interest Me

There are two kinds of games, or should I say battles, going on at the moment. Both are equally entertaining and both of immense public interest. But, alas, they do not interest me. Not even a bit.

Why should I be interested in the general elections when I know pretty well that my life is not going to change one bit, irrespective of who the new Prime Minister is? (The only instance when my life has changed drastically due to a government decision is that I can no longer smoke in pubs and restaurants, which only makes me keep away from pubs.) Whoever forms the government will have to flow along with the tide: it will have to do a tightrope-walk between global pressures and domestic obligations. As a result, my life and your life will remain the same, as it is today and as it was three years ago. Don't prostrate before the new government in gratitude if you suddenly find yourself being able to pay your electricity bills through SMS. Technology is a juggernaut no government can't stop. If your life has been made a little easier in the last few years (for example, you no longer stand in interminable queues to book a train ticket and instead go to, the credit goes to technology.

Personally, I don't care who leads the coalition at the Centre, Congress or the BJP. The BJP of today is no better or worse than the Congress. The Congress, on the other hand, is a much more responsible and well-behaved party than it used to be a couple of decades ago. So if I am asked, at gunpoint, to choose between the two, I would go for the Congress.

I covered the BJP as a reporter from 1996 to 2000, the period that saw it transformation from the principle Opposition party to the leader of the ruling coalition. I have spent countless afternoons at their 11, Ashoka Road headquarters in New Delhi. In the initial years, I was very impressed by the whole set-up at the BJP office. Most of the party leaders were very down-to-earth and highly approachable. On the other hand, it would be a Herculean task to meet even an out-of-job Congress leader: you had to plead your way through several rings of stenos and secretaries and personal assistants. I vividly remember that afternoon in April 1996 when I, as a cub political reporter, nervously walked around the BJP office, like a blind-folded man feeling the walls and trying to find his way out into a 500-word story, and ran into a bearded man with a kind smile. "My name is Narendra Modi. I am the national secretary of the BJP," the bearded man introduced himself.

Those days, if you discounted its Hindutva agenda (which it eventually dropped), the BJP was a party you strongly felt should be given a chance. The Congress had become synonymous with corruption and nepotism, and people were tired of it. The BJP, on the other hand, was a 'clean' party: it was pro-Hindu all right, but its leaders were not corrupt and were highly disciplined. Many of them were bachelors who chose to remain married to the cause of the party rather than embrace luxuries that they could have availed of as leaders of the biggest Opposition party.

But the moment it came to power, it became another Congress party. While it took decades for the Congress to fall prey to the perils of power, it took barely months for the BJP to demonstrate that it was no better. The discipline it took great pride in went to the dogs. Suffice to say that today, the two people who helped build the mass base of the BJP, albeit on the Hindutva agenda, are no longer with the BJP -- Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharati. If Advani could not retain them, how can he retain the faith of his voters?

You must be at times hating the fact that the most powerful woman in India happens to be an Italian. But let me tell you, we Indians behave well when a white man is in charge. In Indian-ruled India, the son of a local MLA can barge into a restaurant well after midnight and arm-twist the manager into serving him by saying, "Do you know who I am?" But in civilised nations -- I am sure Italy is one of them -- such lines do not work. It is not suprising, therefore, that the Congress party is a lot more civilised today.

Needless to say, I would prefer Manmohan Singh over Advani. But I doubt if Manmohan Singh would remain the Prime Minister after this election if the Congress party wins. I somehow have a feeling that Rahul Gandhi would be India's next CEO. If the Congress victory is convincing, then Manmohan Singh, the decent man that he is, will say he needs to take it easy after the recent heart surgery. Upon which, the self-appointed acolytes of Sonia Gandhi, such as Mani Shanker Aiyer, would rush to the podium and beg Sonia to be the Prime Minister. Upon which, she will make a short speech, recounting the sacrifices the Gandhi family had made for the nation, and propose her son's name. Upon which, the Congressmen, notwithstanding their individual heartburn, will prostrate before the new king. I may be horribly wrong, but there is always a chance of things unfolding in this manner if the individual performance of the Congress party is impressive.

In any case, my own future will not be any more promising and any less bleak. Therefore, the elections don't interest me.

The other battle that is being fought is the IPL championship. I haven't had up my mind whether the Twenty20 format is the best form of cricket or the worst, but it certainly is entertainment. The problem, however, is: who do I cheer for? As a Chennaiite, I might be rooting for Chennai Super Kings, but why should my adrenalin keep pumping when I am watching a match between Rajasthan Royals and Deccan Chargers? And since my favourite bowler is in one team and my favourite batsman in the other, whose side do I take?

The problem with Twenty20 is that most matches have a nail-biting finish, and unless there is national pride involved, it is not worth biting your precious nails.