Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What's Your Sexual Orientation Tonight?

Till yesterday, I hadn't heard of the acronym LGBT. L stands for lesbian, G for gay, B for bisexual and T for transgender. Collectively, they form a community that is now known as the sexual minority. Since I largely live in my own world, I had no idea this is LGBT pride month. On Sunday, they held a pride march on Chennai's Marina beach. And on Monday, US president Obama hosted a reception for them.

Good for them. Everyone in this world has the right to live the way he or she wants to. And there needs to be favourable public opinion and suitable laws to help them do so. Even though the mindset is beginning to change in India, a lot of us still consider members of the sexual minority as objects of either sympathy or ridicule. All they want is acceptance -- that we accept them the way they are -- but we are being tight-fisted about that.

But I have a problem. Which is sort of technical, or perhaps ethical, in nature. I can understand lesbians and gays and transgenders being classified as sexual minorities. But bisexuals? From what I understand, a bisexual is someone who is sexually attracted to and can have sex with a male as well as a female. In other words, a bisexual is someone who can have the best of both worlds. Does that make him a minority? If anything, he is a majority-majority. He is like the native of a feudal village where he enjoys the status and privileges of being a member of the upper caste and then comes to the city to get a job under the quota meant for scheduled and backward castes.

This is not to say one cannot be a bisexual. I am not even making a judgment if it is wrong to be one. If nature has made them that way, who are we to sit on judgment. All I am saying is, why accord a special status to them, as if they are victimised? If at all, it is people who often fall victims to them -- directly or indirectly. A woman would rather discover that her husband slept with her woman friend than find out that he is also sleeping with his male colleague. Our history as well as contemporary society is also replete with cases when men, drunk on their sexual prowess, have not only raped their wives but also sodomised young, soft-looking males at the first given chance. Would you plead for the sexual rights of such men? And if yes, then plead for what -- that they continue having the best of both worlds?

I know this is the age of political correctness and consensus, but there should be a limit. I mean, if you are having sex with your wife or girlfriend and at the same time getting a blowjob from your male servant, be my guest. I have no issues. But please don't claim to be a sexual minority and join the gay pride march. Stay home and have your fun.

Also, why are those who are into animals been excluded from the group of sexual minorities? After all, walls of Khajuraho temple depict bestiality as well and it is not uncommon to hear funny anecdotes about a man mounting a cow or a donkey or a horse. There are porn films that show animals returning the favour to women.

I think I know why no one is fighting for the rights of those who have sex with animals. Since this is the age of political correctness, consensus is very very important when it comes to sexual intercourse. And there is no way of telling if the donkey or the horse had been consenting.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Being A Celebrity

This evening, going through the archives of pictures put out by wire service, which I do often when I am not subbing a copy or thinking of a headline, I came across a set of pictures of Zakir Hussain, the tabla maestro. The pictures showed him obliging autograph-seekers after a show in Mumbai. I found myself transported down memory lane.

I have only one ambition in life: to become a celebrity. Someone whose art or body of work is acknowledged by the world, someone who the world respects and listens to and fetes every now and then. For me, though, it boils down to earning the admiration of intelligent, broad-minded women, attracting the envy of successful men, getting the attention of waiters at a restaurant, being invited to cocktail parties peopled with interesting characters and, of course, enjoying all the money that comes with being a true celebrity (as opposed to the kind who is invited to cut the ribbon for a local shopping mall or salon).

Fortunately, I am in a field where, if I slog my ass off day and night for the next 10 years, I stand a strong chance of becoming a celebrity of sorts before I touch 50. But unfortunately, since I am already 38, I have no time to lose in order to ensure that celebrity arrives well before erectile dysfunction. A celebrity with an erectile dysfunction is as good as a blind man going around Madame Tussauds wax museum in London. Let's hope for the best.

Why did I mention Zakir Hussain? Because it was him who kindled my dream, 20 years ago, to become a celebrity. The year was 1989, or perhaps 1990. I was in college in Kanpur, and one fine morning, after a futile wait for a girlfriend at the tempo-stand (where three-wheeled tempos or 'share autos', as they call them in Chennai, halt) I was walking down to my college. I was mighty pissed that she didn't turn up, and the anger made me walk faster. Soon I was passing the two hotels that fell on the way, and outside one of those hotels, I found two men talking to each other. They wore white kurta-pajamas and were extremely fair and well-groomed. A small crowd of onlookers had gathered around them. I paused for a while and looked at them. They were so worth looking at: there was something about them.

I've seen them somewhere, I told myself, but I just couldn't figure out where. So I stood on and watched. I didn't feel awkward to stand there because I was hiding behind a crowd of rickshawpullers and peanut-sellers. One of the white-clad men, who was somewhat short and had grey sprouting from his unshaved chin, was saying something animatedly, whereas the other white-clad man, tall and wearing sunglasses, was listening to him like a cool cucumber with his hands folded over his chest.

And then it all came to me! -- the short man was Zakir Hussain and the tall man in sunglasses was Shiv Kumar Sharma, the celebrated santoor player who had also composed the music for Silsila and Chandni. Doordarshan, after all, was still showing Desh Raaga, one of the national-integration videos it played in between the evening news and the prime-time serial.

Once I was able to recall who these men were, I realised it was not just their fair skin that had attracted the crowd of onlookers. It was the glow of success and celebrity on their faces that did the trick. At first glance, even I did not know who they were, but I could instantly tell they were important people. That's the glow of success. I covered the remaining distance to my college in no time: my feet were propelled by the fact that I had spotted two celebrities. During that short walk was born a dream: that I too should be celebrity someday, even if it means arresting the attention of a handful of passersby and rickshawpullers.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Midnight Thoughts: Of Pancham And Michael Jackson

Two of my good friends, after they read the previous two posts that were about my forthcoming book, greeted me with sarcastic comments.

"So you are promoting your book, eh?" said one.

"You should have been a PR person," said the other. When I asked why, he said, "Look at the way you are promoting your book."

I was sort of pissed, to tell you the truth. One, I am not promoting my book -- a book that is yet to see the light of the day even though it has gone to the press. I have only been sharing my thoughts, just as I do about other subjects close to my heart, such as sex, Scotch and Pancham. Two, if I don't promote my own book, then who will? It is a 'prestige issue', after all: you would want it to sell a million copies, won't you?

But I am fully aware that you can't promote your own book. It is outright stupid to even consider doing that. If that was the case, any millionaire who can't write for nuts but who fancies himself as a writer would have been on the bestseller lists. There is only person who can promote a book, and that is the reader. A reader reads it, finds it good, and spreads the word through his or her mouth (or email or SMS). That's how a book sells. Or so I believe.

A good book, according to me, is one that holds you by the balls and doesn't let you move until you've turned all the pages in one sitting and exclaimed, "Wow, now that was something!" But there are also good books that spare your balls but keep tugging at your heart: you read 20 pages one night, and another 20 pages the next, till you have completed the book and exclaimed, "Wow, now that was some story."

As a first-time writer, I don't even know if the book will qualify to be in the 'good' category, leave alone its classification under the balls-grabbing or the heart-tugging variety. So fuck it. I don't even want to talk about it anymore till it is actually published, which is about six weeks from now.

Today I want to talk about Pancham, or R.D. Burman. Today is his birth anniversary. Had he been alive today, he would have been 70. And rocking, or may be not. If he is rocking today -- even today -- that's only because the music of Vinod Chopra's 1942 - A Love Story became a hit barely months after Pancham died. The success of its music made people look back, once again, at the genius of R.D. Burman. But the man himself was no longer alive -- to either celebrate or to give quotes. (Director Priyadarshan told me at a party that RD's swan song was actually Gardish, which happened to be released much before 1942).

It was Pancham's death that slapped home the point among music lovers that India's most talented composer was no more, and thus began the R.D. Burman Movement, which continues even today. Today, even 15 years after his death, it is considered to be fashionable to be an RD clone or an RD fan. But where were these people when R.D. was going through a lean patch? Except Gulzar and Ramesh Behl, they had all written off Pancham and dumped him. Including the namak-haram Dev Anand, whose movies -- the ones directed by him, that is -- sold mainly due to Pancham's music.

I strongly believe in nature's justice. That is why I am not surprised why Subhash Ghai, once upon a time hailed as the 'showman' of Bollywood, is no longer worth even 10 minutes of a journalist's time. Ghai had signed up Pancham for the music of Ram Lakhan, and the trade journals credited R.D. Burman as the music director for this multi-starrer movie. But one fine morning, Ghai dropped Pancham and went on to hire his old buddies, Laxmikant and Pyarelal, to compose the music for Ram Lakhan. Laxmi-Pyare were old buddies of Pancham: they had been assistants to his illustrious father, S.D. Burman. But R.D. could not stomach being dropped so unceremoniously and in the end suffered a heart attack that eventually snuffed the life out of him a few years later.

Today R.D. is king. His music rules. But where were all the lovers of his music when he was down and out? Does one have to die to assure you of his genius? Take the case of Michael Jackson. I would be lying if I say I grew up on Jackson's songs. Actually I did, because his best songs came around the time I was growing up. Only that I didn't quite know that those songs belonged to Jackson: I only knew that Michael Jackson was some big pop star and therefore one of the landmarks of my adolescence. Even my parents knew that there was somebody by the name of Michael Jackson.

Cool, so you are now shedding tears for him and all that. But did you even spare a thought for him while he was attending those hearings in the court as a broken man? At the time you thought, "This man has had a lot of fun in life. He is a celebrity and must be having so much of money. What fun to see him get buggered." Today, just because he has died and will no longer come alive, you are rediscovering his genius. Can you get anymore fake?

True geniuses are never bothered by public reaction -- or the lack of it. They merely leave their genius behind for the rest of the mankind to debate on it for generations to come.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Fear And Victory

My sincere and heartfelt thanks to each of you who commented on my previous post and wished me well for the book. I really need your wishes because, while on one hand the book is long out of my system and I am waiting for its release as if it has been written by a distant cousin or an acquaintance, on the other I am gripped by the what-if anxiety because it will be ultimately published under my name.

What if it sells only 95 copies? What if it sells only 256 copies? What if only 445 and then forgotten forever? Will my friends or people at workplace -- or you, dear reader -- silently laugh at me? -- "He used to be so smug. But look, his book sank without a trace. No wonder he is avoiding us these days."

My fears are not without reason. I know quite a few people -- fellow journalists who are about my age and who are supposed to be the star writers of their respective papers -- who have written books but are yet to be acknowledged as 'authors'. One such person I know of recently wrote a book which, unfortunately, failed to click, but that did not prevent him from selling the complimentary copies he had got from his publisher to his colleagues at a discounted price. I mean, he actually went around the office selling his book and collecting the cash and returning the change.

There is another, who I have great respect for but who writes books that have titles which go over people's heads. Why I respect him is that he still soldiers on: doesn't matter if any of his books doesn't sell more than 300 copies. There are about a dozen examples I can give -- of people who are considered as 'authors' only by themselves. How can I forget Ms X, who has some 15 books under her belt, but you find those books only on her shelf and never in a bookshop.

That should explain why I am nervous. But then, fortunately, I have this other half in me who has had the book long out of his system and who no longer cares when exactly the book will hit the stands and how many copies it would sell. That half is already in a self-congratulatory mode. The reason behind his celebration? Well, to quote him accurately: "Bugger, do you even realise that you have actually progressed from wanting to write to book to have actually written one?"

Yes buddy, I do realise that. I know I've won, even if I sell only 55 copies.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Book

In a few weeks from now, when you walk into your favourite bookstore, you are most likely to spot, among the new releases, a book titled, Chai, Chai -- Travels in Places You Always Stop But Never Get Off. Priced at Rs 250 and with the number of pages adding up to only 234, it will not dig too deep either into your wallet or time. So please buy it and read it. Who knows, you just might find your story in it.

The book tells the story of places we are all familiar with, and yet we know almost nothing about them. These are the big railway junctions where millions of travellers kill billions of hours every day, either while stretching their legs and having a cup of tea or waiting for a connecting train to take them to their destination.

These places are milestones of one's journey, and over the years go on to become the milestones of one's life; and yet no one quite knows the world that lies outside the railway station in these places. The reason is simple: these places merely facilitate your journey to your destination; they are never the destination.

So I decided to make these junctions my destination: instead of merely hopping off the train and looking for the chaiwallah and killing time on the platform till the signal turned green, I got down along with my rucksack and walked out of the station in search of a hotel.

A conscientious journalist is supposed to do his homework well before embarking on a journey or an assignment. But before I began travelling for the book in mid-2007, I discovered, to my horror, that I had nothing to be guided by. Take, for example, Mughal Sarai, which figures prominently in the book. I can't imagine a Bengali family living in north India that wouldn't have heard of Mughal Sarai: for decades it has been the biggest railway junction on the way to Howrah from Delhi, and it still is. And yet I found nothing during Google search that could give me even a faint idea how the town looked like. So when I reached Mughal Sarai at 3.30 on a chilly November morning, it was as good as arriving in a small town in Africa.

Irrespective of how the book does, I am glad I got off at these junctions. For one, I would no longer be curious about what lies beyond the railway platform whenever my train halts at one of these junctions. Two, I happened to discover the India whose existence we city-dwellers either don't like to acknowledge or are not aware of. And let me tell you, that is the real India. Our India is like a pack of cards: it crumbles even if a white man in the US happens to sneeze over it. But the India I discovered is sturdy: it has withstood greater battles than 'economic slowdown' and still continues to smile.