Thursday, December 30, 2010

Who is the best Test Cricketer of India?

Vangiparappu Venkatasai Laxman
The greatest spartan Indian cricket has ever seen.
Enjoy while it lasts.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Of Assent and Dissent

From Emily Dickinson to Dr Binayak Sen:
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur- You're straightaway dangerous
And handled with a chain
Do read Nation outraged by Binayak Sen verdict by Anil Mishra and Kunal Majumder (Tehelka, issue dated Jan 01 2011).

If Pakistan has its blasphemy laws then India has its laws on sedition.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On Litanies of Dutch Battery...

Litanies of Dutch Battery by N.S. Madhavan Translated by Rajesh Rajamohan.
Published by: Penguin Books India on 25 Oct 201
Format: Paperback
Extent: 324 pp
Cover Price: Rs 350              

When a fellow blogger translates a good book and the translation is also critically acclaimed it is time to celebrate. The reviews and endorsements have  been very encouraging. This is what Khushwant Singh has to say about the book in his column with malice towards one and all (Hindustan Times, Dec 19, 2010) :

In the past I was able to read between 30-40 books every year. This time I could read only 25. But some of them impressed me deeply. On top of my list is N.S. Madhavan's Litanies of Dutch Battery, translated from Malayalam to English by Rajesh Rajamohan (Penguin). It is an outstanding work of historical fiction which tells the story of the inhabitants of the Malabar coast from ancient times to the present; from the caste-ridden Hindu past dividing Namboodris and Ezhera (sic) toddy-tappers to Arab traders who brought Islam with them, built mosques and married local women whose children came to be known as Moplaha. A second influx comprising Portuguese, Dutch and English brought Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans and Syrian Christians. With the increase of means of communication Hindi films and songs of K.L. Sehgal came to Kerala and brought Keralites closer to Northern Indians. After Independence, it became the first State of India to elect a Communist regime, attain 100% literacy. It is a beautiful state, rich in its flora and fauna, inland waterways, which earned it the little of being 'God's own Country'. I only wish its title of the book was more comprehensible than it is. Click here to read the column as it appeared on Dec 19. The Hindustan Times is a paper which we subscribe to but I saw the issue of the 19th on the 20th after returning from seeing the Buddhist stupas at Sanchi (more on that later.)
A remarkable novel. Rarely has Kerala, the crossroads of global cultures and ideologies, been so sensuously and grippingly evoked’ - Pankaj Mishra

'Epic imagination . . . N.S. Madhavan has rejuvenated Malayalam fiction’ - The Little Magazine

Many of the writings on the book are endorsements or informative pieces.They would not qualify as reviews. Well, as long as they whet the appetite of readers...
From Himal: The stories of Dutch Battery (or Lantham Bathery, in Malayalam) are told by Jessica, who begins while still in the womb. She grows up to be a feisty teenager and a devout but reflective Christian. From her, we learn that the residents of Lantham Bathery name Vasco da Gama in their prayers, crediting him for both their conversion to Christianity and an end to their oppression as lower-caste Hindus. We hear how Amrita Sher-Gil, the painter, appears in Kochi and buys two easels, the most perfect that she has ever seen. We come to know that as a result of the rice shortage in Kerala in 1958, its communist chief minister introduced macaroni into the market – and was subsequently referred to as ‘Lord Macaroni’.

Litanies is set on the imaginary island of Lantham Battery, just to the north of Fort Kochi. ‘Historical’ anecdotes comprise the first half, with a prominent theme being the rise of communism in Kerala. The result, though, is the reader feels a little lost without a plot. One emerges in the second half, however, when Jessica is sexually harassed by her mathematics tutor. When she speaks up about the abuse, her family tries to shut her up, save for her grandfather. More interesting is that the response to Jessica’s plight by followers of god and Marx is the same: Let it be. The padre cannot intervene because her perpetrator is not a Catholic, and the local communist leader says she imagined it. In the end, Jessica has to choose between suicide and going mad – the latter her grandfather’s suggestion. (Meher Ali) (Click here  to see it on their website)

It was through Rajesh's blog that I came to know about Litanies of Dutch Battery. An excerpt: The mosaic Madhavan created when he inversed Jessica’s itsy bitsy memories through a glass has been a joy. I have traveled the places he narrated. I have studied in the school where Raghavan and Pushpangadan master taught in the book, I have watched the orange sunsets beyond the slender strip of Vypin behind Lanthan Batheri and I think I have met all the characters in person if I let go on this anachronistic time, really!

As a Malayali I feel it is sad that I can only read a translated version. That is the sad story of many like me who have lived all over India like gypsies thanks to their fathers being soldiers. But I am glad that a fellow blogger and good friend has enabled me to savour this piece of exquisite writing through such an exquisite example of good translation.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Winter Time is Guava Time in Mhow

With winter come hand-carts laden with guavas - a fruit which grows well locally. Called amrood in Hindi,  it is called jaam in  the local Malwi dialect of Hindi. Interestingly the fruit is supposed to be 'cold' hence unsuitable for the cold weather.

 Q: "How do you know winter has started if you live in an area where it does not snow?"
     A: "When the coconut oil freezes and your knuckles pain due to the cold when you drive a two-wheeler."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Talk on the Rajataringini - the 12th century Sanskrit Historical Narrative from Kashmir

Arundhati Roy's comment that Kashmir was never an integral part of India reminded me of this talk titled "Rajatarangini and the Making of India's Past" delivered by Chitralekha Zutshi at the Library of Congress on July 10 2008.

This is how the Library of Congress describes the event: Nineteenth-century European orientalists and philologists considered the Rajatarangini--a 12-century Sanskrit historical narrative from Kashmir--as the only Indian text to which the status of "history" could be accorded. Chitralekha Zutshi analyzes several late-19th and early 20th-century translations of this text by both Europeans and Indians to illustrate the mediated nature of the process of colonial and nationalist production of knowledge about India's past--indeed of the idea of history itsef--in British India.

According to the website: Kluge Fellow Chitralekha Zutshi is associate professor of history at the College of William and Mary. She is the author of "Languages of Belonging: Islam, Regional Identity and the Making of Kashmir."

Click here to listen to the 65 minute talk. Kashmiri Pandit friends whom I sent this link to were very happy to receive it.

It is indeed a lovely and fascinating collection of webcasts that have been recorded and made available through the internet. There are times when I close the door of my study and listen to these talks. I think I would have done that even if I were living in Washington D.C. as there are times I feel too lazy to attend events.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Saina Nehwal - the girl child who was not wanted.

Saina Nehwal the gold medallist in the badminton event of the recently concluded Commonwealth Games tells us, in an article titled Time for girls to come out and play she wrote for India Today, how tough it has been for her.
Some extracts:
" I was told that my grandmother did not come to see me till a month after my birth"

"My uncles and other relatives are against encouraging girls in every aspect and that includes sports. I hardly interact with them.My parents are more open. They back me all the way..."

Click here to read this beautiful article written by a brave and gutsy girl.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Salman Rushdie Talks about Luka and the Fire of Life

The novelist Salman Rushdie talks about Luka and the Fire of Life, a sequel to Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990).

Conversation with Mathew Sweet, BBC Radio 3, 12 Oct 2010.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Of Shyam Benegal's Bharat Ek Khoj and General Zia's Pakistan

Bharat Ek Khoj was Shyam Benegal's serial based on Jawaharlal Nehru's Discovery of India. This was telecast on Doordarshan (national television) during the late eighties on sunday mornings. It was one of those few well made serials on Doordarshan. And in spite of being rather academic in flavour it had a huge fan following.

The other day I happened to see a DVD set of this serial in an Indore bookshop. That led to a search for the DVDs on online bookshops. In one of these sites I came across a comment by a Pakistani viewer:

"When it went on air way back in 1980s, I was also a school going kid. In those pre-dish antena days, we used to struggle with our VHF aerial to catch Amritsar station of Doordarshan TV. Discovery of India was mesmerising experience for me. Those were the days when General Zia was in power through martial law and had put all kinds of censorship to distort history to make it more Islamic. Discovery of India not only allowed me to strike a mental balance but also enabled me to have an organic link with the past of my people, whom we were being taught to consider the Indian enemy."

Interesting. As Naipaul had once said "The convert denies his origins." Pakistanis have done this in a bewildering manner. When it comes to music and literature they have no option but to look eastwards towards their cousins on the other side of the Radcliffe line but when it comes to fundamentalism they look westwards and deny their subcontinental origins and roots. This denial of the pre-Islamic past was done with a vengeance during General Zia's time.

It is more than two decades since I read Naipaul's Among the Believers. If memory serves me right Naipaul talks about history books in Pakistan which talk of the Indus civilization (pre-Hindu) and then fast forward to the advent of Islam in the subcontinent and then to independence from Britain. Besides Jinnah, Liaquat Ali and some other politicians the heroes of Pakistan are their soldiers who, the text books say, fought valiantly against India.

Zia's efforts to Islamise Pakistan ended with the fundamentalists virtually taking over this 'moth eaten' state. It is a strange nation. We have Pakistani generals who plan the next invasion of India and interact with hardcore Islamic fundamentalists and then go home and listen to a Lata Mangeshkar song while sipping Scotch and patting their rather un-Islamic pet Pomeranians.

And we also have those who admit that Pakistan will never be able to host a Commonwealth Games. I do not know whether that is a blessing or a curse. But the admiration of India pleases the heart even though there is a Kalmadi connection.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Indian Media, Commonwealth Games and Sainath...

An amended text of an email exchange with a friend: Journalism is a demanding vocation. As appealing as it is, it lays your soul open to the world. Unlike most professions that are becoming micro-specialized and super-skilled, Journalism marries two diametrically opposite skills.

First - Judgment of the external world – all the contemporary events, people, perceptions et al. As a Journalist you are required to see, assess, and judge the world with all its hosannas and gravitas; it’s not easy especially so as you are required to do all that being aware of your own biases and prejudices. You are required to be gregarious, extrovert and open. Any wrong call anywhere in this process, you’ll end up looking a fool. The other skill is writing – how very distant it is from the first. Can you think of any other act that can be more intimate and personal for a human being ? ( Hmm , sex you may say but sex is motor, not cognitive i.e not exclusively human) So, whatever you have seen and assessed, you have to reflect in your own mind, arrange the facts, perceptions and arrive at a judgment. Then you have to express it clearly so others can see what you have seen.

Indian media – We all know the writing / presentation in Indian media is above average for a race whose language is not English. But it is at the judgment they are so poor. It’s not that they refuse to see it, they quite simply can’t see it. My intense abhorrence of them stems back to this - their utter lack of judgment. And not just that, their Indian sense of completeness: they are perfect and beyond mistake.

Many a months back when I passed through India there were enough reports to raise concerns about the shoddy preparations and siphoning scams involved but media failed to mount any pressure whatsoever to get the job properly done. Instead they were all busy covering M S Dhoni’s wedding or yet another utterly unremarkable cricket series in Sri Lanka.

Incidentally as it happens – the weekly I had read in transit in India was the first weekly to carry an article about the games scam. Here are the links for the archives of the three national weeklies:

India Today This is the one I had read. August 2 edition. That’s 8 weeks before the kick-off.

Tehelka Cover Story August 28. Think of it, this is the group which congratulates itself on investigative journalism.

Outlook None that I can see. And hover over April 12 edition. It sounds of singing praises about the game.

Kalmadi and co are old hacks. They’ve built a career sucking off public money. I hold the new Indian media equally if not more responsible. The first report of any mismanagement and corruption came in summer, when the whole infrastructure was scheduled to be finished before summer. Millions had been allotted over more than five years ago and the Media accounts for the public money just two months before the event. But then Indian media is nothing more than deadlines, plagiarism and scratching backs. It is an assembly of semi-educated dimwits who can’t sit down and think. They neither have any influence over the legislature above nor can they touch the masses below. They are an enormous unaccounted waste of ink and bytes.

You have to bear in mind this is not an event that is to be held in a distant no man’s land. These people - the journalists and the politicians, both are mostly based in Delhi and would have been seeing each other regularly – both professionally and socially. Today no one speaks of what media owed the people. If Kalmadi and Co didn’t do their jobs properly so didnt the media. Slagging off Kalmadi is totally useless, leopards and spots. He should have been disciplined long back by building political and public pressure around him. The Media didn’t. Now they just ‘report’ the happenings. Usual Status quo. They deserve each other. Though it’s not something to be proud to state, I don’t hesitate a minute to say I really wish as many countries withdraw from the games. There are many ways of learning and for some the harder way works. It’s just how it is.


Also find this wonderful article about P Sainath during his recent visit to Canada.

Finally, this is a bit dated but still relevant thoughts by perhaps the only man in India who understands the meaning of the world Journalism. Not that I endorse all of his views but I admire that he is serving no one but himself - a fundamental requirement to be taken seriously in journalism. His anger is plain obvious.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The First DSC Prize for South Asian Literature

The DSC prize for South Asian Literature has been instituted by the infrastructure firm DSC. They are also the main sponsors of the Jaipur Literature Festival.

The ten member advisory committee has the writer Nayantara Sehgal (whose mother Vijayalaxmi Pandit was Jawaharlal Nehru's sister), the economist and British MP Lord Meghnad Desai, journalist Tina Brown and historian Urvashi Butalia among others. It is this committee which chose the five person jury. The jury includes Lord Matthew Evans, Ian Jack, Amitava Kumar, Moni Mohsin and the chairperson Nilanjana S Roy.

The award is for English novels from South Asia.

The longlist for the first DSC Prize has been announced. It consists of fourteen novels. Here they are, in no particular order:

From India:

Amit Chaudhuri's 'The Immortals'

Chandrahas Choudhury's 'Arzee the Dwarf '

Upamanyu Chatterjee's 'Way to Go'

Rokkaiah Salma's 'The Hour Past Midnight'

Anjum Hassan's 'Neti Neti'

Tania James' 'Atlas of Unknowns'

Manju Kapur's 'The Immigrant'

Sankar's 'The Middleman',

Jaspreet Singh's 'Chef'

Aatish Taseer's 'The Temple Goers'

From Pakistan:

Ali Sethi's 'The Wish Maker'

Musharraf Ali Farooqui's 'The Story of a Widow'

H M Naqvi's 'The Home Boy'

From Sri Lanka:
Ru Freeman's 'A Disobedient Girl'

What can one say? May the best work win. That's all.

p.s. One must add that it is pleasing to see a USD 50,000 literary prize for South Asia.

Source: Outlook Magazine. Click here

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Notes from America

Terry Jones has chickened out on time. Rauf wouldn't give a hoot for his proposed quid pro quo. In the end, a few flags were burnt and angry rallies came out in familiar places shouting slogans like "rasist America v/s victim Muslims".

The talking heads went into a tizzy right from white house to the basement blogger introspecting on the bigot within, need for bigger concessions and chiding ignorant Joes and Bobs for their misplaced fears. From the right, speculations of global religious war carried a little more space than usual. The casualties this time have been the stand up comedians sense of humor and the average Joe's right to ignore the bigotry and carry on with his everyday dysfunctional debt ridden life in the time of regressive economy.

Even on the day of another memorial of September 11, its interesting to find how the debate invariably is about the secular credentials of the other, including religions and agnostic ideologies, but not about the intolerance and fanaticism of Islamic belief. It is always about the heightened sensitivity of every believer, but not the indifference of its majority when the passionate few among them assaults humanity in grand expressions of cruelty. Why there is never any movement from the "moderate" to fight the political and killer ideologies of its extreme member? Why is it easy to hide behind the status of minority and scuttle dialogues within the community or outside of it, even in the west where security and freedom of speech are held in higher standards?

Fundamentalism is always about the measure of the others liberalism until it vanquishes the other. Modern discourses and philosophies find it hard to counter fundamentalist ideology of Islam. Christianity and Communist ideologies went through intellectual and moral turmoils over centuries through inquisitions, church-state strife, world wars, collapse of states and on and on. However with Islamic ideology, there is no space for introspection or conversation. Its practitioners reject any critique and tactically attack all of it by bringing (amoral) equivalence of similar bigotries committed by the ideology or religion its critic purportedly stands for.

It is this turbulent True-believer syndrome, deafening rejection of dialogue and reforms from within make Islamic faith potent that seeks to carry the entire planet to a regressive monolith through great bouts of neurosis and pain.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Serious Men by Manu Joseph

I remember reading many well written articles by Manu Joseph in the Indian weekly Outlook edited by Vinod Mehta. Serious Men is his debut novel and has a Brahmin astrophysicist and his Dalit assistant as "the interdependent poles" (New York Times).

And this is from the review in The Independent (UK) by Peter Carty: "Manu Joseph's first novel elegantly describes collisions with an unyielding status quo, ably counterpointing the frustrations of the powerless with the unfulfilling realities of power. With this astute comedy of manners he makes a convincing bid for his own recognition as a novelist of serious talent, the latest addition to a roster of Indian writers who are creating fine literary art from their country's fearsome contradictions." Click here to read the review.

It will be interesting to see how his first novel fares.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Of Veil and the new Message

"In public gardens and in other places in this new town (which used to be old colonial town) can be seen young village Malays dressed as Arabs, with turbans and gowns. The Arab dress - so far from Pakistan, so far from Arabia - is their political badge. In the university there are girls who do not only wear the veil, but in the heat also wear gloves and socks. Different groups wear different colors. The veil is more than the veil; it is a mask of aggression. Not like the matted locks of RasTafarian in Jamaica, a man dulled by a marginal life that has endured for generations; not like the gear of the middle class hippie, who wishes only to drop out; these are the clothes of uprooted village people who wish to pull down what is not theirs and then take over. Because an unacknowldged part of the fantasy is that the world goes on, runs itself, has only to be inherited. "


"The West is eating itself up with its materialism and greed. The true believer, with his thoughts on the afterlife, lves for higher ideals. For a nonbeliever, life is a round of pleasure. "He spends the major part of his wealth on ostentatious living and demostrates his pomp and show by wearing of silk and brocade using vessels of gold and silver."

The new islam comes , and to the new men of the (Malay) village it comes as an alternative kind of learning and truth, full of scholarly apparatus. It is passion without constructive programme. The materialist world is to be pulled down first, the Islamic state will come later - as in Iran, as in Pakistan.

And the message that starts in Pakistan doesn't stop in Malaysia. It travels to Indonesia-120 million to 12 million, poorer, heterogeneous, more fragile, with a recent history of pogroms and mass killings. There the new Islamic movement among the young is seen by its enemies as nihilism; they call it "the Malayasian disease". So the Islamic passion of Pakistan, with its own special roots, converts and converts again, feeding other distresses. And the promise of political calamity spreads as good news."

- V.S. Naipaul (Among the Believers - Conversations in Malaysia)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Naipaul's Banquet Speech: 2001

An accidental discovery. Sir Vidia Naipaul's speech at the banquet during Nobel week 2001. Short and sweet.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Tweet on Vishy

For a change Vishwanathan Anand seems to have got a fair amount of media attention this time. But most of India continues to be in mourning because of India's early exit from the cricket T20 World Cup. Prolific blogger and columnist Amit Varma has compared Vishy Anand's World title triumph to a man with a Maruti 800 winning a Formula 1 car race. An apt comparison. Read the post by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Novel uses of the Internet

One of the greatest advantages of the internet is it’s infinite potential to accommodate any venture. Over the last few years, with the growth of numerous 2.0 sites there have been many efforts to use the web for a more specific, goal directed and referential purposes. I have always thought that one of the important subjects that the web could act as an useful medium is - History - an academic, obscure, often regarded as a boring subject. In recent times, one such effort to make it more accessible directly to the seekers has been the British Library digitalising the vast archive of 19th century newspapers. You can access it here. I am sure one can find many interesting stories hidden in those archives there.

The other, exciting and impressive effort is from India - called The Indian Memory project. It is an assortment of historical photographs sent by netizens to make a grand collection of Indians and Indian history across times, cultures and classes. Started by Anusha Yadav it is one of the most novel uses of the web I have seen in a long long time. Have a look here and contribute if you can.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Salim Baba

April 10, 2010: One of the offerings on the Youtube Screening Room.

"Salim Muhammad is a 55-year-old man who lives in North Kolkata with his wife and five children. Since the age of ten he has made a living using a hand-cranked projector to screen discarded film scraps for the kids in his surrounding neighborhoods. "

Duration - 15:15

Friday, February 26, 2010

When Karthik Calls Karthik Does He Need A Psychiatrist?

Hindi cinema tries to portray mental illness in 'Karthik Calling Karthik.' I am sceptical of mainstream Indian cinema trying to take up a serious issue like this. And subjects like mental illness can be used to make films which appeal to the voyeuristic instinct in the audience. I doubt that this film will make a mark among the classes and definitely not among the masses. Farhan Akhtar (the son of Javed Akhtar and the step son of Shabana Azmi), the protagonist in this film, shows that he is a good actor besides being a director with a professional touch. And the dusky Deepika Padukone who plays his girlfriend is lovely but thats all that she was supposed to be in this film. She was meant to portray a modern urban Indian girl who is going through her own heartbreaks as she searches for a 'gentle and caring' man.

Farhan Akhtar's acting is the redeeming feature and I would watch the film again just to see him. The end does became a bit text-bookish what with all the explanations. Nikhat Kazmi gives the film a 3.5 out of 5 in his review in The Times of India. Click here to see the review. I would give it a 3 (grudgingly).

[A promotional poster for Karthik Calling Karthik.]

The film also exemplifies something which has especially been seen in recent Bollywood films - technical excellence and a certain slickness which was totally absent till the 2000s. Call it a positive fall out of globalisation. Its a level playing field now as far as technology and gizmos are concerned. However most Bollywood films continue to remain of the kind that make one feel like gnashing one's teeth. The difference nowadays is in the number of good films which are being produced. This was impossible in the single-cinema days, the multiplexes today are able to absorb the loss which such films may incur thanks to the 300 plus crore rupees that '3 Idiots' can rake in in three weeks or the 120 crores that 'My Name is Khan' can bring in in a week.

I do not remember any really good mainstream Indian film about mental illness. I do remember a Kannada film I saw during the early nineties which was, if I remember rightly, about a man who got his kicks by making his wife have sex with other men and then hearing her talk about it. Girish Karnad had played the role of the psychiatrist in the same film. There was also Khamoshi, a Hindi film, in which Waheeda Rehman plays a nurse in a mental asylum who gets too close to a patient.

p.s. I realised later that Feb 26, the day I saw the film, was the date it was released all over India. This is another novelty. Couldn't imagine this some years ago. Hundreds, nay thousands of prints, being released in theatres all over the country and downloaded through satellite. The balcony ticket in Dreamland Cinema, Mhow costs Rupees Thirty. And the snacks in the canteen were all within Rupees ten a piece. The ambience of a small town, including the odd mosquitio, while watching the latest film. What more does one want? If only I were a fan of Bollywood.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Born In India...

I was thinking about British writers born in pre-independent India. These are the ones I know of:

(1) Eric Blair (George Orwell) Motihari, Bihar.

(2) Lawrence Durrell - Jamshedpur, Bihar.

(3) George Durrell - Jamshedpur, Bihar.

(4) Spike Milligan - Ahmednagar, Maharashtra.

(5) Rudyard Kipling - Bombay (now Mumbai).

Am sure there are more. Keep watching this space.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Last Scotsmen on Earth?

"The last Englishman on earth would be an Indian," - Malcolm Muggeridge.

What about the last Scotsman on earth?

The pipes and drums of a battalion of the Rajput Regiment, Indian Army