Sunday, December 16, 2007
I realized that I could bear the lights being out, and the fans being off, the phone being off, but what I couldn't take, finally, was the laptop being off. We've got used to such 24/7 connectivity, with a constant state of activity, that I really, truly felt like a drug addict on cold turkey. My fingers literally itched and I kept wanting to switch on, to just surf a bit, a teensy bit, I'm mean who'd know... But I'm proud to report, I didn't!
Anyway, the Batti bandh campaign - though well-meaning - seems a bit overoptimisitx, if you ask me. One hour of power-saving will save the planet, reduce global warming, save the beaches, etc. etc. I don't think so. It might have conscientized people - which it sadly didn't in any large, mass sort of way. It held the promise of becoming one of those post-Rang-de-Basanti campaigns (like the anti-reservation stir) where everyone hopped on largely because it seemed like such a cool thing to do. Everyone - and here I count myself in too - fwd'd madly and hopefully - but finally nothing much happened. I wonder why.
I was a bit sceptical - I mean what does one hour of switching off do? Actions towards saving the environment have to be more comprehensive, holistic and regular. So I loved what Sampath, the books editor at DNA wrote when I fwd'd him the mail (he's put it so well, that I simply have to quote him):
I am sorry but this one-hour thing- even if it is totally voluntary - seems to me only a smoke-screen that hides the real issues - our unfettered industrialisation, obsession with 9 per cent growth, investment in stock market (how can your stocks grow without the economy growing? and how can your economy grow without more of global warming caused by more industrialisation?), our refusal to respect or even tolerate subsistence economies wherever they are - our exporting of alternative ways of living and thinking (the tribals, for example) into the past as outdated.
then there is our patronising attitude towards all that is not 'cool' - and 'cool' is really a marketing invention that is tied up with global warming - ironic as it seems - right from tata safari dicor to rock concert in a flood-lit stadium, this sounds just like a silly rant here - but if i get some time off from not heating up the globe - i can elaborate on it. this is just a response - on the spur of the moment. nothing personal.
So there you are. Angrily, but succinctly put, I thought. I fully agreed with him, especially the bit about people only attaching themselves to 'cool' issues.
Only this: forget about global warming (towards which NOTHING can be done bec of all the problems mentioned), but if people can just conserve a little power, and hopefully it will be mapped by the BSES, then I think that it might be at least a few steps towards - well, power conservation - and nothing more!
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Finally took a chhutti - a small one - to
We usually stay in
Which is why the first time we were in
We went back this time, after three years, and things had changed. The power boaters were there, stinking up the air and oiling the water, and offering you 'dolphin rides'. There were tons of small, ugly resorts. Suddenly, it was Calangute again, without the milling crowds - for now.
And there was a new vulnerability around as well, a certain fragile air - because small fishing villages were clinging on to the fringes of the land not bought over by the resorts as yet. We saw this in many places: great Uglinesses of concrete nestled in clumps of green. There's nothing even remotely after-the-fact-ish here. It feels as if you're standing by and watching a murder; sighing even as they gut the body while it's still alive.
The village near our resort seemed sturdy, though. The houses were spacious and prettily painted, and pigs, roosters and kids frolicked around. (Early in the morning, the cock crowed - I'm sorry, but this thrilled me beyond belief!) The five or six large houses which made up the part of the village that we could see were literally squeezed between resorts, the Railways guest house and the Indian Oil one. It made you wonder how long the villagers would be able to hold out, and once they sold, where they'd go, what they'd do, and how compromised their lifestyle already was.
There were large smelly dumps on street corners and en route to the beach. When we suggested that the nearby hotels could get together and clear them regularly, we were told "we do that, but the 'locals' keep dirtying it." Aside from being monumental cheek, it seemed untrue simply because most of the garbage was made up of mineral water bottles and plastic bags. Which seem more touristy in nature, and obviously tourists come to resorts, don't they?
When I hear people talk about Travel (yes, important enough in our mags and papers to merit a capital letter) without reference to the human and geographical ecology of a place, I feel a bit surreal, like I've been transported to a Victorian text. I wonder for instance how the people of beach-side villages in Goa - who once must have been able to see the sea from their houses - feel about the sea view being a premium commodity now, accessible only to the privileged few.
I suspect it's just a matter of time before the rest of the village left near our resort sells up. Their resilience in the face of many offers makes them seem more fragile somehow... Our driver, for instance, spoke about how foreigners and other outsiders were buying up so much land that prices were escalating beyond belief. 'Goans, we were happy with small house and paddy field...' He seemed to imply that Goans almost sat back and watched the land being lapped up by others...
This was one level of feeling of course. Confusing me at the other was the sheer joy of being in a place where each sunset is a work of art. When people say 'painterly sunsets' they must mean those lurid shows put up by the beach and the sun and the sand at Colva. Seriously, it has to be seen to be believed - I mean, imagine a blue-grey sky lined with streaks of fluorescent pink! N enjoyed the sand with an almost devout fanaticism. She loved standing in the water as it pulled her - 'it's making me travel!' she'd shout. We'd be with her on the beach and keep telling her to watch the sunset and the huge, dome-like, pink-flecked sky, and she'd look up for a bit and then start her elemental sand-worship again. She found transparent, large-eyed crabs scuttling around and watched them in awe. It was beautiful, sad and then, beautiful again...
It made me feel that by bringing n up in a city we were robbing her of so much. Like my mom keeps talking about her childhood in her 'native place', and I think n wants to match up too. The only place she can think of with similar 'natural' attributes is goa. So the other day she tells my mom, "
Sigh, the eternal confusions of the liberal mind. Just aware enough to not be able to lose oneself and yenjaay, and too cowardly to actually do something about anything.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
So my 36th came and went quietly. Normally I feel this small giggle in my stomach around a month before the actual date, and it swells and grows into a giant laugh of excitement by the time that the day actually dawns. There is such an air of self-generated, fairly hysterical joy, that a good time is had – No Matter What. (Like Gouri says, since birthdays seem to be the only things our generation celebrates, we might as well do so religiously.) Every year on the morning after my birthday I resolve to grow up next year, to not make such a song and dance about it, to not do so much natak, and have a quiet sedate time. An adult birthday in other words.
This time, I had my wish. Most of my friends were out of town and Amit dragged himself in every night for the month before – looking exhausted and bleary-eyed. Not really a good time to drop generous hints about what I’d like. Plus there was this air of dread about illness and sorrow in a friend’s family, which left me feeling a bit singed too.
So there was none of that air of birthday breathlessness. But Amit rallied around manfully by taking me out to lunch, and getting me not one but three books (plus a Tony Ross story as a return gift which N had asked for pointedly)! Unfortunately, he had to go for a shoot in the evening, which left n and me at a loose-end, so much so that she actually asked me ‘Why no friends have come for your birthday, amma?’. Thankfully, Geeta and Hemant dropped in after a terribly hectic day with a home-baked pizza – saving me from n’s disappointment and making the evening a little more celebratory.
The three lovely books Amit got were all favourites: Candy is Dandy by Ogden Nash (which I’ve always loved, but been too much of a kanjoos to buy); Extravagoria a collection of bilingual poetry by Pablo Neruda, who I love; and a brilliant, illustrated book by Paro Anand and Atanu Roy called Wingless. Amit says he’s bought that last for himself, but I don’t care – he might as well have bought it for me, because I am a die-hard Atanu Roy fan. He’s an old Target hand, and something about his work – like Mario Miranda’s – makes my toes curl with pleasure. I don’t know about the writing in Wingless, but the illustrations are just too too delishyus.
So signs of adulthood so far?
1. No profound sense of excitement about birthday – see above.
2. A general drop in my vanity levels – I think one of the nicer things about having a child is the way it takes you out of yourself. Being a parent whacks you out emotionally and physically so much, that you (or at least I) simply don’t care about the Inconsequentials any more. I’ve always bordered on being careless about the way I look, but for the past three years, the greatest thing on my agenda has been catching up on my sleep, and holding on to the shreds of my back-health.
Like I said, though I’ve never been beautiful or terribly vain, there are always a few things you treasure in yourself right? Relatively nice skin in my case, and the fact that I’d managed to sort of keep a check on my weight problem for the past 20 years. And now here I am – as fat as I was in school (the biggest I’ve ever been) once more, and getting by without slitting my wrists, thank you. Never thought I could survive without the occasional face ‘clean-up, toning and massage’, but I have a weird rash that has made my skin unusually sensitive, and guess what, I can live without the facials and the clear skin. Never thought that I’d end up looking like my paternal aunts who always reminded me of variations on the White Queen in Alice with their big bones and weight problems, their weird skin, their hair loss (though I don’t know if you can call it loss if the hair seems to travel south to your chin!). But I often see them in the mirror now, and it doesn't devastate me as I used to imagine it would.
Now I’m just so grateful for every day that n and all of us spend being healthy and well; and for every bit of work that comes our way. Because I know that ill-health is really the worst thing that can happen to you; and that a violence-free existence with three square meals a day is a lot to be grateful for.
Sheepish admission no. 1: How shallow do I feel really? This was a terribly bitter piece till I did the math and realised that I was 36 and not, as I had thought earlier, 37!
Sheepish admission no. 2: Everything fell into perspective with a resounding thud when I suddenly remembered that it was at 36 that my mother, who was three months pregnant with her second baby then, lost her husband in a fatal motorbike accident in Kerala. She was always a blithe soul, forever joking, singing, mimicking people and generally being youthful, childlike almost, chatty and friendly, till this huge horrible thing happened. She had the baby, picked up every piece of her life, consolidated dad’s chaotic business, held on to her job as an engineer and brought up a confused, angry ten-year-old. And she never lost her smile, her sense of humour or her good cheer.
My gift to myself this year has been the realization (unlike before when it was a mere awareness, I think) of how huge a challenge it must have been for mom. How brave she must have had to be then to plumb within all that sorrow and the morning sickness to find the determination to go on. She too must have felt like an adult finally, losing not just her husband, but also some of her innocence.
Suddenly the world must have been full of sharks – some of them very close home as I remember – and life must have been full of negativity and pain.
Suddenly, at 36, she must have felt shockingly grown up.
Suddenly, at 36, my life seems more than full of gifts and joy.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Meanwhile, it's that time of my life again. When I make desperate, foolishly hopeful visits to the nutritionist. Before I had N, weight loss and weight gain were both easy-peasy. Now the gain part of it is miraculously easier. The loss part is tough - it's almost like what I'm trying to melt isn't fat really, but some sort of soft, pudgy-but-determined cement.
I hate the diet - as I guess I do all diets initially - and will grow to love it slowly, slowly, only if the scales start to shift a bit. If, in other words, my waistline goes back to the large it was - as opposed to the gianormous it is just now. (Then of course I'll turn into one of those diet bores who go on and on bending people's ears about their miraculous weight loss plans and this lovely dietician they know!)
I think dieticians are the Used Car Salespeople of the medical world. I mean look at how they dress - most I've met are women, and are almost always so poshly manicured, coiffed, and clothed. Always with that sheen of tastefully-used accessories and make up. Plus (now don't know if this is true or just the bile of a relatively-empty stomach talking), they always have this chirpy, twittishly happy and confident air about them. Sort of to say that you have to eat this crap, but by god, are you going to love it! They have these desperate oh just squeeze some lime over it and even death would be yummy, kind of suggestions. I think the super chirpiness comes from the fact that if you cheat a bit on your diet, you aren't going to turn over and die. Or lose a vital faculty. Unlike other medical people who you go to with this ask-me-to-swallow-glass-and-I-will air of obedience, dieticians know that they have to actually sell you a suffer now to gain three months later kind of plan. Poor things.
I am not a nice person to know just now. Expect some turbulence, everybody - those I meet every day, as well those I see here.
As if to prove my point, here's what I found on Wondermark!
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
I was. Still am, to some degree. What with the horrendous price tag, that pincer waist, those plastic-perfect legs, the general airhead demeanour (not to mention the toxic paint and glitter), the doll seems more like some rich paedophile’s fantasy than a toy. Barbies are structured so that they can't stand - their feet are arched exaggeratedly to convey high-heeled shoes. Way to go, doll-designers at Mattel. Let every kid aspire to grow to be a woman with a pretty face, big hair, long legs and no way to stand on her own!
Amit and I are official members of the Hate Barbie Club. We’ve always been. We were cussed enough to refuse my American niece a ‘Baahwbee’ and got her a tea set instead. When Amit’s niece wheedled for a Barbie kitchen set (“But it’s for my doll!"), we bought her a book instead. When I think of those moments of adult bull-headedness now, I cringe.
Friday, September 28, 2007
This morning, she was shown a snail in the loo, a medium-sized, active little bugger with a tingling pair of antennas. Last night Amit spotted it on one wall (how had it reached the second floor, for god's sake?). It had circumnavigated the loo - if you can do that with a rectangle - and n spotted it this morning on the ceiling. Now she thinks of the loo as an extension of her park, Diamond Garden, with the gogalgaays and the dragonflys. (Gogalgaay is marathi for snail - I just love the word. So much more evocative than the English!)
Why the sudden influx of the insect world? Amit's theory is that maybe the white light of the new CFL is attracting them. Or maybe we've had them before but never paid them attention - this is the first time we're making a really big deal bec of n, our captive audience. You are welcome to add some of your own!
Saturday, September 22, 2007
But I've never clearly understood why they hate careless people like me so. Stupid question of course. One with an answer that I am aware of intellectually, but am unable to accept at the emotional level. Put me in a large library with an ocean of books behind the counter, and I always bridle and cringe at the same time, feeling a mix of guilt and anger. Almost instinctively I start thinking, Shit, what have I lost now; and
Finally I've sort of got a peep into the archetype of the librarian. I re-read Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose after many, many years, and had this eureka moment when I understood and - more importantly - accepted the Dirty Looks given to me by all librarians past.
Eco's book is a detective story set in a medieval abbey where monks spend their days illustrating manuscripts in a large scriptorium. The most fascinating parts of the novel (for me ) are the ones that dwell on the monks who illuminate the manuscripts carefully - with gold, silver, jewel-bright colors, strange figures and animals. The scriptorium and the library hold precious books. They are painstakingly hand-crafted, and are therefore irreplaceable and priceless.
The library at the Abbey is also a fulcrum of seething emotions. On the one hand, there is the fact that it is a cleverly-constructed lode of knowledge (it's built like a maze and only the librarian and his assistant are privy to the route through it). It is a store-house of learning, but there is a school of thought within the abbey which feels that while books are precious, what they contain is not suitable for everyone. Knowledge and learning untempered by piety are considered dangerous. And intellectual joy and pride are both viewed with clear suspicion.
Plus of course, each hand-crafted, hand-written and hand-bound manuscript is a delicate treasure. Too much handling might destroy them. Effectively, the library is a place that hoards books for themselves and for the future. It is not storing up on them to help young monks broaden their minds (and perhaps their desires as well).
So the monks need permission from the librarian and sometimes the abbot as well before they can read a book. The young men seethe with intellectual curiosity and many resent the system of restricted access to the library. So much so that they are willing to trade sexual favours to be able to read certain books. To frighten the curious young illustrator-writers and keep them from exploring the library at night, it is locked and hallucinogenic herbs are burnt. Rumours of ghosts-of-librarians-past are fed.
Central to all of this ferment is the librarian, a man who must be well-versed in Arabic, Greek and Latin to qualify for the job. He needs a prodigious memory and must guard his treasure passionately. The librarians are next-in-line to becoming the abbot and as the abbey is a rich, powerful one, the post is obviously covetted. Young monks and old lobby for the post. Eco's librarian, Malachi, is a clever creation - a complex man who is insecure, has power, is sexually promiscuous and not-very-learned.
I think centuries of not being able to be sure that what you write can and will be preserved in handy, sturdy hardback (or now, soft copy), has imprinted on us a fear of and adoration for the written word, and for the books where they are collected. Though often full of abstruse theological debate (which you can skim through shamelessly), The Name... puts into perspective our general tendency to regard books as things that are to be prized, to be cherished, hoarded, and generally be considered irreplaceable. Printing has been with us for a couple of centuries, but it obviously hasn't penetrated our racial subconscious yet!
Coming back to my original point: The Name... made the librarian's anxiety clear to me. If books are fragile treasures, and if I were responsible for tens of thousands of them, I don't think I'd want the likes of me to hang around either!
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
The story is a retelling of the legend of the Wandering Jew. Here he lives in Calcutta of the 1700s as Abravanel Ben Obadiah Ben Aharon Kabariti. He records all the scandals of contemporary Cal - especially those of the British administrators - in a book called The Barn Owl's Wondrous Capers. Pablo, our hero, wants to find the copy that his grandfather had picked up once in Paris. At his grandfather's death, the book was given away, and Pablo sets about looking for it in Calcutta. He meets many people in the process and this story is a little about each of them. Interesting premise, interesting beginning, but somehow, it doesn't come together at all. And it goes on for a massive 280 pages.
The problem with The Barn Owl..., I think, is something that is common to many urban Indian writers (and here I count myself in too). We have, I feel, a multiplicity of stimuli, and we want to bring it all in. Unlike people who live in sanitized societies, living in India offers you so much everyday madness to play with, that you can't bear to leave anything out. And I suspect the temptation to do so is higher in a form like the graphic novel, since it's so visual and thrives on the kitschy, the slightly batty.
In The Barn Owl... it feels as if every thing that has ever struck Banerjee as odd or delightfully eccentric about Calcutta is brought in - irrespective of its role in the larger narrative. Yes, cities have their incredibly fascinating idiosyncrasies, but does it all have to come together, like, right now?
After a point, each vignette is treated in the same way. New characters are introduced and described and located every 5 or 6 pages, and then the story carries on to another character. You feel like there's going to be a crackling crescendo at the end, but there's just a whisper of drama there. In fact, hardly any at all.
It's all very wry and ironic, but finally, it simply doesn't pull together and become that convincing story.
About the visuals: opinion in this family is divided. Banerjee, though inventive and well-schooled in the storyboard-like delineation of a graphic novel, is not a skilled artist. His drawing is honestly a bit amateurish. Amit, as an artist and illustrator, can't tolerate bad drawing in a graphic novel, because well, you wouldn't put up with bad writing in a prose novel, would you? I see his point. But initially, I was like, ok, so it's not great drawing, but I'm all for democracy in these matters. Like, I loved the mixing of old photos of Cal with illustrations. And I admired the cinematic feel in general.
In a graphic novel, I can look at the drawings as being a part of the narrative and therefore not to be considered separately (unless of course the illustrator is so good that the work becomes art!). The bigger deal for me is the story. So long as the visual style merges with the story-telling, or at least, so long as the visuals tell the story well, it's ok with me.
At the end of The Barn Owl... though, I felt massively irritated because the story hadn't worked and neither had the art. It just seemed so self-indulgent and vapid. Amit has seen reviews of Kashmir Pending, a graphic novel published by Banerjee and he says it's a whole lot better than this one - at least in terms of skill. I certainly hope so.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
1. Enter your local branch of Crossword.
2. Engage with any of the cretins on call - the sales staff. Their daftness, rudeness, lack of awareness, will make you want to turn and flee. Or it will make you want to do them such physical harm that the cops will have to lock you in.
At Crossword they've never ever given discounts (unless it's during an annual sale). Because, after all, you are paying for the experience, the aahm-bey-ahnce. What with the air con and the coffee-shop attached, suddenly, it seemed nice to be able to do frilly stuff while browsing for books. And what's a 10 to 20% discount as compared to that?
Where Crossword - like most chain stores - suffered a bit was in their choice of staff. They hired pretty kids - chirpy and bright as buttons, but they weren't you know, book lovers. Chalo, so not everyone lives to read, ok, and you put up with a degree of ignorance. In fact, till about 6 to 8 months back, the Crossword Ghatkopar staff was decent, vaguely knew where the books were, and were at least enthusiastic enough to try and find you stuff. And more importantly, they weren't rude creeps.
But recently, I think there's been some policy-and-management change, which has been reflected immediately in the quality of the people they hire. At least this is the case at the Crossword in Shopper's Stop, Ghatkopar. Boy, I never thought I'd miss the button kids, but compared to the new bunch of yobos they've got, those kids were great! We had a shockingly unpleasant and painful experience there two days back. Don't want to go into the gory details here, but suffice it to say that the staff were nothing short of crass, ill-mannered louts.
The dip has happened ever since the Shopper's Stop guys bought up the place. At least in Ghatkopar, the staff are: 1. lazy, and they don't believe in looking for a book beyond checking their database - and as everyone knows, databases are not always a perfect reflection of what's on the shelves (I say this because I've had this experience in a Crossword); 2. ill-mannered louts who don't have basic skills like communication and - I'm so sorry to even say this - decent manners; 3. just not aware of or or interested in books.
I don't blame them for this. But what were their employers thinking when they hired them to man bookshops? Having hired them, how about training and / or orienting them a bit? Or say, giving them a crash-course in basic courtesy? And one in understanding books - not the literary criticism stuff, mind you, but where they are stacked and how they are to be referenced on the shelves?
You go to a small book store like Fort Book Distributor or Strand or even our Chembur-station Jayesh Book Store, and you suddenly re-realize that hey, you don't need coffee to buy a book. Because you get decent service, a discount and generally, a pleasant feeling of being attended to. Mind you, the salespeople here aren't MAs in Eng Litt either. They are aware of what they have in their shelves, and want to make sure - or at least try - that you get what you are looking for.
I called the Crossword shop-in-charge later that day and complained. She was pained and appalled at her staff - I think. And offered to come over and apologize. See, this is where people lose perspective. Can you imagine the busy, highly dignified manager at the Strand desk offering to do something so daft as come over and apologise to a customer? No, because they do their jobs all right, and don't behave like jerks in general. Cussed they might be, creeps they are not.
I wish chain store managers had an awareness of what a bookshop needs to be to its customers. It needs to be no-fuss, it needs to be a wee bit generous, it needs to have staff who at least know where the goods are. That's it. Nothing more.
(Ooh, on a prophetic note, I had a dream, just two nights before this incident, that for some reason, a Japanese guy was willing to open up a bookstore with us in Chembur! Cost no issue, he said. I woke up to change n's soaked PJs thinking busily to myself: ok, we'll buy the paper bags which they make from recycled newspaper at Sevadan, and not keep any plastic, and have an old-books bargain counter. And what shall we call it... etc. I switched on the light in the loo and told myself to calm down, it was a dream. Blah. My subconscious is getting too literal. )
Friday, August 24, 2007
My biggest bugbear in recent years - among other things of course - has been the amount we throw and how it clogs the world. More so now, since my recently-acquired small stake in the future, who just turned 3! Also, I did a piece for the Mumbai Mirror on rag pickers and recycling where I learned more about the Deonar Dumping Ground and the crazy task of segregation that rag pickers undertake at great risk to their health, for ridiculously low earnings. Then Amit got a look into the huge recycling industry in Dharavi and told me about the amazing amount of plastic and polyallsorts that land up there. It's staggering to think of what would happen to this city if Dharavi's recyclers stopped, or for that matter, if the rag pickers weren't so assiduous.
All in all, I was prime for the kill, but being a creature of great inertia, I was reluctant to take that fatal step and get the two bins; to join the ranks of The Segregators.
And because finally, two questions remained in my mind:
1. How to educate the bai and cook?
2. How to deal with the fact that the dust lady at the doorstep politely takes your two bins and pours them into one?
Ans. 1.: It's not rocket science - domestic help are smart and can pick up the ola-sukha (wet-dry in Marathi) funda quickly, especially if you discuss it and look over their shoulders a bit for a couple of days. Same goes for kids once you tell them how cool it is to be a wee bit concerned about the world. Failing that, wallop some sense into them (catch them young enough, and you won't need to - it'll become a habit).
Ans 2. Continue giving the wet garbage to the dust collector in the building, and collect the dry waste for about 7 days and give it to your maid/dust collector/designated rag-picker from Stree Mukti Sanghatana.
What to do if the SMS doesn't service your building / area? Ask your help - your maid, your dust-collector. Chances are they would be happy to take all the non-recyclable, plastic junk your family generates in a week. They can sell it/barter it (for a pittance, mostly; plastic waste like tubes, plastic bottles, lids, etc., can be exchanged for things like garlic). You would be surprised at the amount of plastic junk your family generates - even if you are, like us, fairly conscious in your use and disposal of plastic.
Just be careful to rinse things like tetra paks and milk packets before you put them in the recycling bin, and don't throw things like broken bottles in there.
The BMC keeps threatening to make it compulsory, but I think it's gone the way of the ban on plastic bags. Poof! A nice little mirage that turned out to be.
At the end of the day, we could do tremendous service to rag-pickers and the environment, if, as generators of garbage, we segregated it at source. It's not hard to learn or do, and here's the Stree Mukti site. It's a collective of a group of women rag pickers, one of who can be designated to come collect your plastic on a weekly basis. The SMS people can also answer your queries as to what precisely is dry and what is wet, etc. You can also check this site for a ready reckoner on what goes into which bin!
Segregating garbage at home teaches your kids to think about the city and its people and issues. It gives them a real sense of ownership about ecological and environmental solutions. I sometimes think that we Indians lack a sense of reaching out, of doing something simply because it is good-for-the-world and not asking the eternal what's-in-it-for-me question befor we do it. We simply don't do acts of selfless civic good. So I'll give money to the building religious event and I'll do x, y or z, because it directly benefits me. No, dude, honestly, being a responsible citizen benefits you more in the longer run!
Please pardon the soap-box stuff - it took me two years of inertia and thinking about segregating my garbage before I got my act together and started doing it. And hence the excitement!
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
People in the West use the term ‘fixer’ to describe what we call film / tv production here. ‘Fixing’ for international crews has taken me to some strange and wondrous places. Starting with Dharavi, to a mass wedding for famillies of cotton farmers in Vidarbha, all the way to the sets of Ram Gopal Verma’s Sholay (or Aag or Matchstick or whatever it is called now). Some time back, I worked with a BBC crew for a programme called Imagine, where Alan Yentob interviewed Amitabh Bachchan over a period of a year.
Months later, this Saturday, the same crew was back for a long interview scheduled with him. I had carried our copy of the Supremo comic with me. After three-and-a-half hours of a great interview (and some fantastic snacks from the chef at AB’s office), I snuck up to Mr. B and gingerly took out the comic from behind me. He held it close to his eyes, peered, and exclaimed, “Ah, Supremo!”
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
See when you need to think up a new lullaby every 30 days, you sometimes hit a dry patch. Which is when I remembered Munna bada pyaara / Ammi ka dulaara / Koi kahe chaand, koi aankh ka
Undra mojea mama,
aik aum sangtam tuka
mazorichea pillea laguim khell manddi naka.
Undir mama ailo,
ani pette kuxik liplo
mazorichea pillean taka eka ghansan khailo!
Mouse, my Uncle,
Listen, I’m telling you:
Don’t try playing with the cat’s little kittens!
Mouse Uncle came
And hid under the trunk
And the cat's kittens ate him up in one mouthful!
John summed it all up for me by saying, "Bohot kadva philosophy hai!" True, of course, especially when it's said in John's cool, Cheera Bazar style. I think that's true of most kiddie songs in Indian languages – punches are rarely pulled. Like this Gujju song Amit sings for n:
Ek bilaadi jaadi
Eine peri saadi
Saadi peri pharva gayi
Talav maa to tarva gayi
Talav ma hata magar
Billi ne aavya chakkar
Saadi chhedo chhuti gayo
Magar na mooh maa aayi gayo
Magar billi ne khaee gayo!
There was once a fat kitty
Who wore a pretty sari
Wearing the sari she set off for a swim,
Seeing a pond, she jumped right in!
In the pond was a crocodile
Kitty felt faint seeing his smile!
The sari came off in a pile
It was snapped up by the crocodile,
Who quickly gobbled up poor kitty!
(The translation has been beefed up a bit to make it rhyme – and because I know Gujju more than I know Konkani!)
I think it’s so refreshingly different from the whole Anglo/mainstream Hindi film tradition which tends to OD on the sweet.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
To fulfill my craving for robust Gujju veg food, Amit and I decided to go to Rajdhani, the new branch of the Opera House place in Ghatkopar. The first time we were thrown by the size of the Gujju mob outside who braved the heat and the rain to eat authentic Gujju food that they could, yes, eat at home as well. This time there was no crowd, and so we were happily set to sample their Kathiawadi cuisine. Amit was knife-keen, given that he’s from Kathiawad. But sorry, no specials, only the thali.
I've nothing against thalis, except that they are too fast-paced for me at times. But this one seemed ok, beginning with Surti Patiss and Khandvi. The meal went along at its usual clip, and slowly, very slowly, the surreality began to creep in. For one, we noticed that the waiters were using some strictly-coded, Stock-Exchange-type hand signals to communicate with one another. So the manager’s fingers twiddling magically as he chatted with a patron meant ‘Finger-washing needed here!’ If the captain (a tall, nice-looking Kathiawadi with earrings and a spaced-out manner) snapped his fingers in the air and held up three fingers, it meant ‘table three, rotlis!’ It was all very complex and entertaining, especially because I think it was meant to be discrete, but fell short by a couple of kilometres!
Then, as we chomped through the rotlis, mug ni daal, chaas, kadhi and ringna nu shaak (fantastically robust brinjal bhaji), there was a weird banging noise and people yelled loudly and discordantly. Whatthehell!! Were they coming for us finally? We turned in a panic and were surprised to see normal, smiling faces.
After this happened twice, we finally figured out what was going on. See, there was this gong, positioned cleverly at the narrow doorway, and planted firmly next to it was the solid manager. As you tried to leave, he’d tell you, “Hit the gong!’ So you struck the gong, and as soon as you did that, all the waiters – each and every stressed-out, harried, thali-serving, partitioned steel vessel-bearing fellow – would let out a loud ‘AAVJO!’ Nice way to keep up employee morale and self-esteem; and to interrupt any stray thoughts or talk that lunchers might dare to have.
After that, we were merely chewing between gong-watching. To please us, a family of gujjus left, laughing merrily and cheerfully and sounding the gong many times as they left; yelling out ‘AAVJO!’ in reply to the waiters’ continuous, raucous bellows. A five-member mallu family was next to leave, and I swear I saw the first guy try to sidle out. He made it past the Gong Meister, but the next guy got caught. He gave the gong an insignificant little tap, and scooted away. (Next to the whole shebang was a large sticker that said, ‘Mazaa aaya? Thali bajao!’) It was all too bizarre.
I hate places that take a simple, nice, enjoyable thing like having a meal and make it into an exercise in showy dementedness. More hip places – like a coffee shop in
Friday, June 22, 2007
So I bought a packet of Kurkure, and ate it, hating myself. If things go on like this, I might be reduced to the Monaco-biscuits-and-tomato-ketch combo of yore...
What do the rains make you long for? (And it doesn't have to be just food!)
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Ok, also found this blog thru a link that Hansa had sent. It's about Guerilla Gardening - the only way for us to go in this city, I think ! GG is where - if you're green and you care for the city - you use clever, fairly secret things like seed balls (aka seed bombs!) to convert vacant lots into gardens! Ha! Sucks to you, State!
And also on this site, a peek into Monet's beautiful garden - it's like so much ambrosia for the eyes!
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
now life is full of the wonders of multi-vision (is that what i should call it?)...
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Suddenly, after all these years and so many lessons in life later, I thought of the uber-trashy Love Signs yesterday. Why, you ask. Well, we're making a Big Buy, the first time we're getting into a loan situation, and I am all a-twitter. To say that I am risk-averse is to merely skim the tippiest tip of the iceberg. I am not cautious, mind you, I'm just superstitious and terrified of money matters. And Amit isn't just my diametric opposite; he's not just more confident in the process than me. He's positively blithe. He has faith in people, that they won't gyp him; that if we do enough ground-work, we can't be gypped. See, that's where we differ. I know the universe is out there, waiting with an anvil to drop on my head as I pass under a conveniently-located cliff. No matter what we do, I know we're going to be robbed blind, and - shudder - I know we don't have what it takes to stop Them.
So after nearly two months of obsessive, mind-numbing research, worrying and fretting (these last two on my part alone) and fighting (again, mine was the main voice), we finally did the deed yesterday. We came home, after the whole soul-sapping exercise, me feeling like a spent, limp dishrag, and Amit looking his cheery self.
It struck me then that he's this smiling, blithe spirit who hops from cloud-to-cloud, positive that their silver linings are at least a foot wide. I'm this dark, sulking spirit who lurks under the earth's crust, thinking bitter thoughts with a furrowed brow, and examining stray silver linings for the grey clouds attached.
The image made me smile. Till I realized that it has a touch of La Goodman to it. Clearly, you can take the girl away from the Goodman, but you can't take the Goodman out of her. And this on the day I discover that Surabhi has tagged me as a Thinking Blogger. I could have timed it better, no?
Saturday, June 02, 2007
My favourite book as a child was called The Rainbow Flower and it's vivid images and story stayed with me for ever - though I'd forgotten its name. Recently, I found it in a raddi shop to my utter delight. And now we've discovered that it's online too! I cannot believe that someone's had the love, the time and the sense of dedication to actually scan and put in the entire story accompanied by the book's beautiful drawings.
The story is simple. Zhenya, a 'good', if absent-minded girl, goes out to buy bread rings. She loses them (notice the dog nibbling at them) but is given a magic rainbow flower by an old woman. The flower can fulfill wishes, but each time it does, you lose a petal. Zhenya's wishes range from the desperate (getting her mom's broken vase fixed) to the slightly foolhardy (getting all the toys of the world - the pic shows lovely, cascading toys being sent back by a horrified Zhenya on the rooftop). But her last wish is the most useful and it gets her that precious commodity, a friend. The illustrations range from the dream-like to the very real. More than anything else, I loved Zhenya's character because she's not the most robust of fiction's kids. She's dreamy, clumsy, a bit unpopular, and a bit greedy. Zhenya was refreshing because I didn't have to aspire to be her; in parts, I was her already! Read the story and see more pics here.
There's more here too.
Monday, May 28, 2007
Saturday, May 26, 2007
I really felt like the universe was winking at me in a suggestive, encouraging manner. First, in a Bloom County strip Milo developed a crush on Betty, the epitome of American womanhood, and all that she stood for – clean living, mom, home-bakes, family picnics, a forgotten, pre-lapsarian America. Following a lead in The National Enquirer, he set off to find her and was shocked to meet a crusty, cynical broad, who actually didn’t know what a sheesh kebob could be.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Fifty minutes in the oven and the damned centre cooked. It looked like a vital organ – a thick, lumpy mass – stuck inside a cake, but by god, it had cooked. I shook my head in exasperation and then looked at the box again. What had I done wrong? That’s when I saw it.
Betty Crocker’s Moist Centre Cake Mix. The uncooked middle was the frickin’ Moist Centre.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
For those of you who have been wondering where I am (thanks for asking, Surabhi!), here's the answer: I’ve been busy resting my back. If you can call it that, since resting your back is the one thing that keeps you totally non-busy. You have to devise activities to keep the mind occupied, so that it doesn’t turn nasty and implode.
As a way to stay sane, n and I have been doing lots of crafty things. We’ve made salt-dough, shaped little things out of it, baked them, painted-and-varnished them (or as n says, ‘niced them’) and then stuck magnets on to them. Then we’ve baked cookies. Which n feels inordinately proud of. Especially as she is gobbling them up. You don’t know what an achievement this is for me – the cookie thing, I mean. Usually when Amit enters the house and smells vanilla essence in the air he winces. I’m a disaster at baking. But I unearthed a cookie recipe that was totally Anita-proof. And n and I are busy baking now. We’ve even tried a whole-wheat substitute and succeeded.
We’ve also made cornstarch colours (haldi, beetroot, palak) and I shamelessly let n splash them on her sheet of paper and splatter the wall. I decided to throw prudence to the winds wall-wise because there’s no other level at which the two of us can have fun together (the last time we went out together was two months back; and I haven’t lifted her since she was 6 months old).
The other fun thing Amit and I did was a series of workshops we took with some kids for The Pomegranate Workshop. I did writing with them and Amit did illustration – during separate sessions, of course. This was the second round of workshops for me and the third for Amit. The sessions were great fun – they helped us open up a lot more too! And the kids were adorable. Bright-as-buttons too.
Separately, we both noticed something odd and disturbing. Among kids between 11 and 14, the boys are a lot more out-of-the-box with their thinking. The girls on the other hand, tended to do well while still playing safe. We saw this across locations. Strangely, this is true only of the 12-and-above kids. Till that age, creativity levels are the same – except for individual variations of course.
Could this be a gender-related thing? Maybe a phase girls go thru? Does co-education have anything to do with it? I read somewhere that girls in co-eds tend to under-perform and try to conform to gender stereotypes… I know this sounds regressive, but sometimes I feel being in a same-sex school gives you a little more freedom to be yourself rather than trying to be your gender… Who knows, yaar?
Anyway, I couldn’t take as many sessions as I’d promised the Pommies I would, thanks to the back, but it was such fun! Gave me a fantastic headrush of joy to: 1. be out, 2. be with kids, and 3. do stuff with them and jog their minds a bit and push them and get them to think and write! Did poetry with the biggies, which was more fun than I imagined it would be – and the kids were wonderfully charged – both girls and boys!
You know, I always wanted to be a teacher…
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Kurt Vonnegut died on April 12. A Man Without a Country was his last book and it ended with a poem called Requiem:
When the last living thing
has died on account of us,
how poetical it would be
if Earth could say,
in a voice floating up
from the floor
“It is done.”
People did not like it here.
Monday, April 02, 2007
(I don't usually put my book reviews here, but this once I think I really want to. A shorter version was published in the DNA of Sunday, April 1, 2007. Copyright: DNA)
It’s one thing to possess writerly ambitions; to want to examine a complicated set of historical events and weave them into an interesting narrative. It’s quite another to actually have the ability to do so. Sujit Saraf’s The Peacock Throne has all the ingredients for an epic: a stretch in Indian history that is still fairly unexplored, and a multitude of characters. But the execution of the novel – its plot and characterization – is so uninspired that reading it becomes an exercise in endurance.
Starting in 1984 with the anti-Sikh riots, Saraf touches upon the reservation stir and the Babri Masjid riots, and ends in 1998. The usual suspects from Chandni Chowk people his book – small-time politicians, a social worker, a prostitute, a ‘fixer’ type, a chaivala and some street kids.
Everyone in the novel – rich or poor, Hindu or Muslim – is tarred with the same sternly cynical brush. Now if we must be told about the mercenary nature of human beings in excruciating detail over 750 pages, the writing had better be gripping. Saraf’s relentless cynicism, combined with his highly limited craft, makes for a crudely-executed, fairly disastrous read.
To begin with, his characterization and sense of structure are poor. His people are clichéd and sketchy – inexcusable in a novel of this size. Of the nine or so chief characters, only three seem fleshed out. They are Ramvilas the fixer, Kartar Singh and Sohan Lal. Saraf captures their idiosyncrasies in quick flashes. Which would be fine if they were the only people in the book.
But they are not. Gopal Pandey, the ineffectually-drawn chaivala, who the back-jacket indicates is the protagonist, is more non-negative than positive in a life-affirming way. Saraf’s description of social-worker-turned-journalist, Chitra, is again facile, clichéd and childishly cruel.
While Saraf is brutally honest about the Congress Party’s many sins, he is strangely coy about naming the BJP, preferring to call his party of right-wing Hindus the ‘Indian People’s Party’. If this doesn’t make you suspicious of his politics, his treatment of the Muslims in the book certainly will. They are uniformly venial, un-likeable and often, consciously dehumanized. In comparison, the IPP members – who incidentally set a man on fire during the anti-reservation stir – are almost flatteringly drawn.
Suleman Mian, the IPP’s Muslim rival in Chandni Chowk, is another alarming cliché. His world, when it is finally described, is portrayed so uni-dimensionally that Saraf’s total alienation from the character is obvious. Women and religious minorities tend to suffer in Saraf’s hands. Out of a lack of ability we sincerely hope.
Structurally, The Peacock… is divided into five parts. Between each, years pass and many life-changing events take place. These are almost always reported as having happened in the past. As a result, supposedly important moments lose their edge. And the narrative voice becomes an incessant, amateurish drone.
There are strands both bizarre and outrageous in the book. Inexplicably, Chitra asks older boys to show the younger boys how to masturbate, believing, for some reason, that these ‘demonstrations’ will protect them from being sexually exploited! Of course the exact opposite happens. There is an outrageous plot aside which has Suleman paying two Muslim boys to blow up Babri Masjid in case Kar Sevaks fail!
Predictably, the squalor of
Some scenes stand out in the book, like that of Kartar Singh being chased by rioters at the same time as a young, hungry Gauhar. Saraf’s descriptions of mobs and their orchestrated fury, and of police collusion during the anti-Sikh riots, are chilling.
Perhaps if Saraf’s historical ambitions were smaller, his book might have been better. Long novels, when well-crafted, can be extraordinary. For instance, Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, about the Emergency, was riveting, leaving you with a profound sense of loss and empathy. Saraf’s book leaves you with mixed feelings, chief among which is indignation that a tree in a sustainable forest somewhere died to bring you this tediously super-sized tome.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
When you’re three-feet-high and just learning to articulate your feelings (which means yell-storms every 45 minutes and contests of wills), this is a rather overwhelming thought. So n is worried about me in particular and all mommies in general. Does the goose in Jogger’s Park have an amma? Where is she? Does the pigeon have an amma? Where is she? Does Noddy have an amma? Does the child in the picture book? Anything that looks young and vulnerable, must be accompanied by its mother. Then the universe will be a safe place for babies everywhere, and n can relax.
And it’s not enough for the mom to be in the same frame – as in a picture or on tv. She has to be involved, doing whatever it takes to make n feel that the baby is safe. Like we have this xylophone-cum-book in which every page has the notes to a song, which is also illustrated. Sometimes she opens it and ‘plays’ each song, moving briskly and fairly tunelessly from one to the other. Last night I caught her staring worriedly at the picture of a song called Lullaby and good night, thy mother’s delight. It showed a mama bear who had apparently just finished tucking baby bear into his bed and was smiling down at him, affection oozing out of every anthropomorphic line.
So I asked, “What happened?” and she replied, “Where baby bear’s amma?” And I pointed to the ‘amma’ bear and said, “Right there.” So she stares at it some more and then asks, “Where she going to sleep?” Of course. Now I know what’s upsetting her. For someone who sleeps wedged prophylactically between her parents, the thought of a mommy ‘putting’ her baby to bed and then walking away is a crazy, nightmarish one. Especially as we all know that night is the time when 1. it’s dark. 2. bad dreams come, 3. there’s that scary thing called the moon lurking around!
Speaking of co-sleeping – or not – I spent a good year pondering over the Western concept of letting babies sleep alone. I swayed between ‘What a wonderful idea!’ and ‘How completely barbaric!’ It doesn’t work for me, but lucky are those who have the stomach for it!
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Unlike many writers these days, Robin's words don't tumble into one another; they don't become exercises in futile navel-gazing; and they are not there to make you drown in painful conceits. His writing is refreshingly pellucid. In many new Indian writers of English I find a fascination with wordy conceits, and little sincerity of purpose or subject (Sujit Saraf's embarrassing The Peacock Throne is a prime example). Perhaps what sets Robin's work apart is that unlike most of us he can't afford to poeticize violence, simply because he has been viscerally close to it. What a terrible thing to be grateful for.
Now that the book is out and has to be pushed, Robin has gone predictably coy. He's got a blog going at last (after 65,000 reminders). He promises to update regularly, to network and push his book a bit by having readings in other cities than his hometown Ahmedabad. So hopefully, City of Fear will come to a bookstore near you. Accompanied - hopefully again - by its writer. Do catch it if you can...
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
The same goes for language. If walk is walked in the past tense, then send must be sended, draw must be drawed, and go must be wented. When people - and babies - learn a language (or acquire it in the case of babies) they tend to observe a rule, learn it and then overuse it. It is not a mistake, it is just them sussing out the language's rules and trying to see what works. In a while, they figure out things like 'exceptions to rules' and then get the required discretion to become perfect speakers! When n makes these mistakes, I just love it! I mean, how long before she throws a complicated new coinage at me and sneers when I say, "Huh? What's it mean?"
Speaking of nice places, why is it a nightmare to be able to access a nice public space in this city? Whole families are congregating in malls these days for lack of anywhere else to go. The parks that remain - like Diamond Garden in Chembur - are bizarrely anti-poor and anti-people. Recently renovated with corporate help, Diamond Garden actually doesn't allow people to sit on its lawns! Of course, there is no proportionate increase in the number of benches, and so you have people trying to sit on the park's play equipment (which is no great shakes, but let's not go there).
Try asking the people in charge why this is so and the biases start becoming clear. 'Arre, if you let them sit on the lawns, then they will get food here!' I don't see how that can happen because the guards don't let you bring in food anyway. Probe further, and you hear the words them and they used so vehemently and so often that you soon figure out who they are referring to - poor Muslim families from nearby Shivaji Park and Govandi, of course! They 'dirty' the space and 'annoy' the 'rest of us' so that around big holidays, the garden conveniently shuts itself down! We are also told that they have their own garden given them by the BMC; can they not stick there? Talk about wanting to ghettoize people!
Suggest that there are other alternatives than this sort of apartheid, that hygiene can be taught to the poor - Hindu and Muslim alike - that the middle class is equally messy and irresponsible, and that the city owes its people public spaces, and all you get is a big fat fight. In which prejudice takes top spot, I'm afraid.
In a city that is slowly cutting off itself from this responsibility, I wonder what options we have left. Where do the poor go for an evening out? To a mall? To an incredibly-expensive multiplex? As a parent I know how restless n gets with the same spaces. But where's the variety of open spaces in this city; what can you access without having to travel in killing traffic? If you don't live in a gated township with an enclosed park and pool, are you not entitled to these simple, inexpensive joys?
Between prejudice and the monstrous greed of the powers that be, the future looks bleak. Very bleak.
(Sorry, the post started with baby's sense of space and ended in public spaces - bit of wandering happened! But it's something I feel strongly about, so am not going to cut away and put in elsewhere!)
Thursday, March 15, 2007
It's hard to think of her as having suffered physically, of having died. But if anyone had a capacity for life, an understanding of it and a love for all the sensations it could offer, it was her. I wish I'd picked up the phone and called when I first heard about the cancer from Sampurna. I wish I hadn't given in to awkwardness; had called and said, 'Rev, I heard; I'm so sorry.' She wouldn't have gone all awkward on me. She'd have smiled that generous smile of hers and said something wonderfully affectionate.
Among poets, she was one of the best. And among the most underrated. Though she was such a genuinely cheerful person, her poems were sometimes astoundingly sad. But they also had a quiet sort of laughter in them, so that while reading them, you could almost see her smile growing slowly till it filled her face and made her eyes shine.
Here is one that I found online. Not my favourite or anything, but just such a lovely piece of writing.
Picnic at the zoo
Most of the cages are empty, now;
once there were civet cats, panther and jaguar,
even a family of white tigers from the Sunderbans
that made a splash of light in the infernal dark;
a black bear and a binturong
I remember particularly,
because of its droll name.
They died or were moved
to kinder climes, perhaps.
But when the kangaroos (strange import!)
died, one by one,
the local paper said they
probably pined away.
Somewhere between the orang-otan
and the peanut vendor,
she lies stricken in the dust,
Victoria, Queen Empress,
head averted in clotted rage
as pigeons strut
and cheeky boys clamber
on that capacious lap
from which once flowed,
the long tedium of empire,
the unending reproach
of widowhood, somewhere
a haemophilic grandson;
and the men who walked away,
a recalcitrant son.
I wish I had met her before she died. Wish I had called. Wish I had made a trip to meet her - back and baby notwithstanding...
Perhaps the most wonderful thing about Rev was how much other people loved her. I hope she knew that, knew how many people would miss her and treasure her memory.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Yes, Tuesday is a rather dark, bizarre-but-fun book about a night, one Tuesday, around , when frogs, seated on lily pads took off and flew over small-town
Thank god, whatever his reasons, Wiesner chose to draw frogs thru the books and not pigs. The pigs are funny, but the frogs are goofy, dreamy, mischievous, surreal, and a whole lot more!