Monday, December 27, 2004

Homeland-Insecurity dept.

Lovable American Desi works like a mule, pouring bucketfulls of sweaty money into the American social security system (which he knows is going to give him a royal thengaa), only to find himself swindled out of an ethnic identity and emotional security. With great enterprise (and some steadfast support from his best buddy -- also a Desi), he extracts a two-week leave and returns to his Des for some spiritual R&R.

Aforementioned Desi is actually Shah-Rukh Khan in a Caravan, who in a subtle masterstroke is also simultaneously running a giant sleeper ad campaign for Phillip Morris Inc. Calmly he winds his way unobstructed through the idyllic countryside in search of his lost Aaaya. There he meets interesting, lovable, quirky people with some equally quirky problems. Also a really dapper school teacher (with what seems like an inexhaustible wardrobe of the best Kanjeevaram silk), who, after a still-born first impression, he manages to thaw into some edible state after a cleverly disguised item number masquerading as a Ram-Leela performance. Together they run amok reminding all those country bumpkins what bumbling fools they really are. The country bumpkins listen patiently, agree, then help Desi Dude build a neat-little science project.

The dude though, himself briefly dithers before he makes the obvious choice -- he dumps his silver Jag and a swanky apartment (with wooden flooring and designer plumbing!!!) plus a job managing a satellite that looks strangely like Space Shuttle Columbia for a lifetime of replenishing his Desi Ma'am's Kanjeevaram wardrobe.

Oh, and all the time he's away, best buddy faithfully handles his boss John Q.Something and covers for him with unselfish generosity. Like any other typical Desi, he covers his manager's ass without coveting his manager's job.


Sigh! If only real life could be that simple...

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

since-we-are-in-verse-mode dept.

I can see the world turning in its haste to engulf itself
I do not see myself segregated from it; I am It, it is Me
I am but a little eddy in a heady whirl of unheard voices
A little furl of cloth in the violent seas, merrily riding on

I have been a criminal, a liar, deeply have I offended
(I have even felt softly rising, the pangs of remorse)
I have walked upon this earth, on my own feet, jaded
And declared: none was like me, nor will there be another

Monday, December 20, 2004

one-before-i-turn-in dept.

With every aching bone, and a tired mind,
embrace the night; welcoming, knowing
Shoved around in the bustle outside
for you, the gift: the joy of forgetting

Sunday, December 19, 2004

there-and-back-again dept.

In the last four days, I have travelled almost 900 kilometres, 450 of
which I drove myself. Which isn't much, considering my previous expolits in the great American emptiness, but significant nevertheless.

And at each end of the journey, waits a different life, with people with a different idea of who I am, holding on to radically incompatible symbols that represent the idea of who I am for them. And whats more, holding out the unreasonably intransigent expectation that I yield unquestionably to their stupid prejudices. More than the driving, its the patience that has to be shown with childish incomprehension that is more tiresome.

I think I know now how kindergarten teachers feel :).

Friday, December 17, 2004

Going to Sleep

Now that day wearies me,
My yearning desire,
will receive more kindly,
like a tired child, the starry night

Hands, leave off your deeds
mind, forget all thoughts;
All of my forces
yearn only to sink into sleep.

And my soul, unguarded,
would soar on widespread wings,
to live in night's magical sphere
More profoundly, more variously.

-- Hermann Hesse

Fading star, memories of those that were,
With the eye, firm, beholding the new light
The coldness within, will stay awhile, awhile
Softly, the wind blows, the day arrives.

Cold, cold heart, indulge me some more
Partake of this, the unstained warm delight
No sun waits for the the dew drop's shiver
No pain falters , a leaf is not that shall not wither

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

that-same-old-tune-again dept.

Again a tryst with my old friend, the grim reaper. This time he was standing ominously in a passage, and I sighted him and looked him in the eyes. Some part of me must be indentured to him, for him to stalk me so obsessively. One day, under a clear sky we shall meet, and settle our account.

bull[ae]-shah-di-gal dept.

In one of my desultory channel browsing sessions (the only effective algorithm to watch television without ending up buying a .44-steel-cast Magnum and shooting up everything in sight), I was rivetted by a video on one of the Punjabi music channels. A Sardar in full regalia, strumming a six-string all over India. The artist: Rabbi Shergill, and the song was "Bulla ki Jaanaa", his rendition of the famous Kafi by 18th-century Sufi saint Bulla-Shah (also known as Bulle-Shah, I'm told, but that does not mitigate his name one bit ;)). Needless to say, since I have recently been impressed by many things Punjabi (pronounced Ohye, Punhjhaabbee!), I managed to get my hands on the album.

I was impressed with what seems to be a debut album. The lyrics are good (all in Punjabi), with a few classical selections like the Bull[ae]-Shah poem, and some by other famous Punjabi poets. Rabbi writes amazingly perceptive lyrics himself, but comes up a little short on composition. The result is this odd feeling you get on the B-sides of listening to Walt Whitman recited to the tune of Raghupati Raghav Rajaa Ram. Well, maybe it needs a bit of getting used to or maybe the engineering on these songs is a little overwrought. But this man's talent as a bard/balladeer is undeniable. In this age of mindless Britney-pop, he is a true visionary, a man with depth and true insight, and most important of all, great emotional sincerity. No wonder he was given the boot by all the recording labels before being signed on by the guys who founded Tehelka.

A good read is this article by Minty Tejpal of Tehelka, documenting Rabbi's journey.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

and-in-other-news dept.

The doctrine of puritanism must probably be as old as religion itself (or perhaps, it is religion itself?). Every few years sees the emergence of a new species -- a new shade of the same old color. There must exist some well-defined pattern behind this cycle of resurgence and demise. There also seem to be many flavors of puritanism -- one that arises out of economic upheaval, one that is brought on as a reaction to rapid social change etc. etc.

I don't know much about history, but here's a highly readable article that describes the evolution of English Puritanism. The article's main theme is a polemic that correlates it with the current wave of Christian conservatism that Bush seemed to ride on to victory in the recent U.S. Presidential Elections. But still, readable nonetheless...

Saturday, December 04, 2004

yawn dept.

Read this on a blog somewhere...
It is a great privilege to work with individuals who possess a scientific temper and an inquisitive and open mind. More so because India is so pathetically fanatical about its cults and religions and irrational belief systems and such people are in short supply. How often does one have to squirm in silence on encountering irritating bottom-dwellers who will prattle on about their latest pyramid business scheme, or rant ceaselessly about other religions and modes of thought other than their own. Its refreshing to meet people who have the self-belief to say "we don't have all the answers", and not try to ascribe to their own ideas some atrociously inflationary levels of importance.

That there is an inhumane racial, economic (whatever, just add to the list) social hierarchy strangling independent thought in this country is obvious. Go to any city and talk to the young men and women just out of schools. Listen to the content of their language. Eighty percent of it is junk that is purely related to their immediate social environment ("XXX met YYY and they had dinner at ZZZ"). The ability to abstract is zero. The ability to relate to those not within their social sphere is zero. Well, but is the situation any different elsewhere? Probably not. I remember in college having to struggle to find friends that I could relate to. So much of our thought is lost in the nuances of our language. And so much of our thought is governed by the way we use language. How is a rational man to hold on in a sea of humanity that refuses to give up its senseless babble about trivialities?
The author does make some pertinent points but commits the fallacy of self-contradiction by showing a fanaticism for tolerance and an intolerance for fanaticism. There are many individuals that one does come across, if one looks hard enough, who transcend their environment. The author seems to have been blinded by bitterness (quite possibly, brought upon by some traumatic experience).

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

the-time-is-now dept.

I have always had problems with punctuality, ever since I was in school. I remember being meted out different kinds and levels of punishment for being tardy (standing outside the class for an hour, a jog around the school playground, a dressing down by the school principal) -- and it doesn't seem to me that any of it has made any shred of difference to my innate nature.

Of course what is cute and cuddly in school is actually quite off-putting and unsexy as an adult. People make the most blood-curling faces, and trash you in the most explicitly embarassing terms for wasting their valuable time.

My father, for one, as long as he was alive, never missed a chance to let me know how I never had any sense of time. As if the fourth dimension never existed for me, that is.

Then how does one be on time? In an age of distractions and constant crises and temptations, how does one maintain fidelity with the stoically marching hands of the Great Merciless Timekeeper?

A thoroughly intractable problem.

Monday, November 29, 2004

platitudes-from-the-plateau dept.

At times like these, things even themselves out nicely. There is nothing to look forward to in anticipation, nothing to smoulder at in resentment, and no ghosts to retire into their graves. There is just the vague sensation of being.

Life moves at a steady, humdrum pace, and the indomitable fear for personal survival kicks in and provides the only sustenance.

There's some distant rumbling up-ahead. Hopefully there might even be a nice, ass-kicking storm coming to dispel the monotony of existence.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

insipid-social-observations dept.

This one truly boggles the mind, and warps the brain. Where have all those ugly rock stars gone???

Sunday, November 21, 2004

useless-rascals-i-say dept.

Some senseless weirdos ('Samskruti-Sanrakshak', as my late and great grandpaw used to call 'em) hate the 'Pune Times'. Why??? Oh, Why??? For the love of God and all that is holy, what will they take away from me next!!!

I love the smell of Pune Times in the morning...It smells!!!party!!!party!!!
didn't-know-a-guitar-could-do-that dept.


Tuesday, November 09, 2004

disclaimer dept.

Udayan Shinde may have been accused of being a nihilist. The allegations are flying thick and fast but the reports have not received official confirmation.

This in spite of my last blog entry about him.

Until then I can only preemptively put out this in his defense -- in his own words:

There is a mind-boggling array of belief systems in the market, out there. Try any one of them. If one works for you, fine, great, wonderful. But do not at any point have the temerity to think that what you subscribe to is the absolute truth. There are no absolutes. Only approximations to the truth. We accept them because they satisfy certain aesthetical constraints hard-wired into our brains (or deep-programmed by our environment).

Ideally, one should accept the belief system which can do most to better one's lot in the human social hierarchy, and of course, feels good in the bargain.
life-in-the-truck-lane dept.

Those were simpler times. The trucks were Tata or Ashok Leyland, the cars were Premier Padminis or Ambassadors (in about '84, also Marutis -- for a brief period Dolphins and Standard 2000's) or Mahindra Jeeps.

The roads were rough and two-laned, Television was only one channel (two if you lived in one of the four metros) -- evenings were black and white on the regional broadcast, colour on the national service (which began at 9:00pm).

The news was a brief capsule of Ministers cutting red-ribbons on dams, hydel power stations and sahitya sammelans (here they only lighted lamps, and got some footage on the podium, babbling continuously with the sound turned off). When they went off, on came Rajiv Gandhi, reading from a script, "Humein Dekhna Hai...".

Friday nights meant NDTV's The World This Week hosted by Prannoy Roy. And after hearing about Ronald Reagan being shot, and Israel decimating Lebanon, the family would collectively sigh, "Thank God we're Indian".

Election nights meant analysis by Prannoy Roy and Vinod Dua with an old classic thrown in for good measure. V.P. Singh won once (I wanted him to win, he looked like such a righteous old chap), and prattled on about Mandal this, Mandal that.

Ice cream meant a choice between Kwality and Jumbo or Joy (Later on, Dinshaw's added itself to the list), eventually all succumbing to Vadilal. Soft drinks meant ThumsUp or GoldSpot (with the occasional horror experience of RimZim and Campa Cola).

Playing Pakistan meant being whipped by Imran or Javed or both.

The monotony of school and play was punctuated once a year by the local jatra, where we would buy dumroos, tin motor-boats fueled by miniature oil-lamps, a wooden talwaar-dhaal set, and feathered paper caps that smelt really bad (like a chicken coop to be precise).

Indira Gandhi was shot by her bodyguards. I was at home, at the dining table, eating dahi-bhaat when I heard the news.

The only things worth holding on to from those times were the comics.

Vishal Patel writes about this and more here. 'Uproariously funny', is the verdict.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

lounge-lizards dept.

Udayan Shinde has already found a mention on this blog. Publishing here, some very cryptic paragraphs I found in a text-file on his computer.
There is something subtly intoxicating about five-star hotel lounges. Yet when I find myself in one of them, being there sends me into an endless reverie. Maybe its the shiny gloss on the furniture, the people (important-looking, always) huddled in clusters talking in low, hushed tones. Or the pithy words on the coaster: "Culture is the attainment of perfection", and the like. Or the persistently floating, understated, yet inescapable aroma wafting around the hallways (in spite of all the cigarette smoke).

Maybe its a state of mind induced in a person of humble economic origins on confronting the ritualized life of those higher up in the economic pyramid. I think such an environment foists introspection on the thinking mind, while on others, it enforces a sense of general well-being, akin to an endless free-fall. Perhaps, using phrases like 'humble' and 'thinking mind' is only conceit -- after all, we are all sentient beings, and the environment into which we are born or led into is, arguably, predestined. It is, of course, quite possible that beneath the frothy layers of projected well-being, there is foment -- each pair of eyes, constantly scanning, evaluating, planning, understanding (or trying to understand).

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

oil-and-ketchup dept.

Looks like the Yanks prefer their crude to their ketchup, as expected (by me, of course). Its going to be Bush for the next four. Yay!!!

As my friend and great political pundit Amrut Joshi said, "Bush will win. He is more fun."

And during his victory speech, the newly reelected president announced a new draft legislation where all Americans would be shipped off to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while the entire American economy would be outsourced to India. "That way, the fiscal deficit becomes someone else's problem", he explained.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

still-life-with-boredom dept.

We are all vain, fickle animals. How cruelly do we so casually spurn the affections of those that love us, and yet squander our lives over merciless infidels? Surely it must amuse the all-merciful, in his omniscience, to watch us weave our tangled webs of self-deception and deceit. Perhaps, 'Al-Nawaz', in one of his sombre moods, lamenting his lost love, caught a glimpse of the infinite, and trying desperately with his (at the time) limited vocabulary to distill the essence of his experience, wrote down this:

In the courtyard, the flowers bloom, the Indian rose, dispels all gloom
The insects swarm, and plunder it all; and beauty thus, begets its doom

There was a house, in the lane, where I lament my lover's reign
She gave me joy, and infinite pain; sweet pain, alas, taken too soon

All around, the call resounds, the faithfull crouch and bow their heads
For some the crowd is divine; to some, beckons the solitude of their rooms

The priest offers heavenly bliss, yet frowns upon the brimming glass
Peace, sheikh, for we are the anointed ones, who sorrow's dregs consume

Love was not all unkind, 'Nawaz', she offered her right, reassuring hand
Cursed was I, I yearned for all; vain desire led me to my doom

Saturday, October 30, 2004

loss-for-words dept.

I don't know how I had never come across the Hrishikesh Mukherjee movie Satyakaam, despite having read so much about it. Ah, that statement was so naive! Haven't I often experienced the mysterious arrangements of nature as she, with an amused smile, moulds time, space and causality like a lump of clay?

It should suffice to say, then, that I have seen the movie, and am at a loss for words. Very few movies leverage the cinematic medium to the fullest extent, even fewer transcend it. This is surely one of them.

I shall say no more. This review has said it before me, more eloquently than I could ever have.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

first-of-as-many-parts-as-it-takes dept.

Gelo woke up with a start, in the dead of the night. Only seconds later, the cobwebs of residual sleep had been dusted off. He paused, bemused, at this sudden interruption of his well-ordered regimen. This was a singular experience in the life of a man of power. A man who had been assidiously cared for even before he had been conceived (The idea of him had haunted his father and his grand-mother for the better part of almost a quarter century). For a man of his stature, his magnificence, even the mildest case of insomnia was an issue of the gravest national importance.

He turned his gaze to the table near the wall, where his crown was placed. Even in the faint moonlight, the jewels encrusted in the crest gave off a sinister sparkle. The end result of perhaps three generations of intrigue, murder, and other unspeakable acts of wantonness. Of course, Gelo did not think all of this as he looked at it. He was not trained to think of these things. He was not even expected to think of them. God forbid he had a bout of introspection and pondered the justification of his means before his ends. There would be chaos! Darkness!

He was expected to provide reassurance, bearing, pomp and circumstance. Others would do the thinking for him.

None of this, of course, crossed his mind. As he gazed at his crown, a niggling doubt had just wiggled its way through the neural pathways of his brain, finally triggering a chain of chemical reactions, that in his case would inevitably converge towards a resolve.

Scratching his chin with a lazy satisfication, "Pyrrhos...Archimedes", he yawned.

That done, he closed his eyes, and with a soft moan, sank back into his bed, and snuggled into the sweetly perfumed softness of his concubine.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

obituaries dept.

Its been a month since Udayan Shinde finally crossed the threshold into the great unknown. Perhaps the next world shall be kinder to him than the one he so briefly inhabited. I, on the other hand, must resign myself to the fragments he left behind. Perhaps my whole existence was a manifestation of his own imagination, and soon, I shall watch the world I know and hold to be so true, dissolve before my own eyes until I, myself, am slowly erased into nothingness. But for now, I do with the occasional visit to his weary, desolate house. I do with reading the lines in his mother's face, the jadedness in her eyes -- (Oh, heaven, release me from that haunting spectre!); eyes that give away the arbitrary, empty meaninglessness that her life has now become. And sometimes I hear the vulgar laugh of fate echoing in the unkempt recesses of his house, and in vain try to stifle the terrfying thoughts that enter the mind of a condemned man.

I have the consolation of knowing that he died quickly, painlessly. Also of knowing that both the police report and the autopsy have exonerated him of the vile charge of trying to end his tangled, confused life himself. Its a gamble really, every day, when we so casually try to drive those brutish machines on our roads. All that remains for me to do, then, is to chronicle my own perpective of this tangled web he wove (oh! but such a fine pattern it was!); to leave it to posterity to judge him and understand him.

I confess that I saw him only as any other man. We all have aspirations, loves, hates, talents and flaws. Udayan had his. But it was his constant struggle to understand, to rein the wild steed that fate had so cruelly forced under a man of such delicate sensitivity that to me, separated him from other men I have known.

In the final email I received from him before the end, he wrote:

I think I have finally discovered my place here :). There is nothing more traumatic than estrangement, nothing that gnaws away at one's soul like the curse of alienation. But I think I'm learning to deal with both of them. I once wrote to you that I thought life had no pattern, that it was only a bunch of random occurences to which no motive could possibly be ascribed. Perhaps I was a bit harsh in my judgement, definitely more than a little hasty.

Yesterday, on Bajirao Road, looking for food, I entered an obscure khanaaval, and ordered some Usal-paav. The Usal, steaming hot with a generous side-helpuing of rassa, almost made the hair on my skin stand on end. And the paav, dipped in this divine concontion, simply melted away in my mouth. Random, life may be, but it is extraordinary how beautiful in its simplicity it can be too, *sometimes*. On the very same day, I found myself in IBH looking for a lucid explanation of queuing theory, when I smelt the whiff of an intoxicating perfume. Who the wearer had been, whether a man or a woman, I do not know. But I felt humbled that nature should so conspire to reserve for me this singular, delicate moment of sensory delight.

You must think I'm going crazy. Sometimes I don't know myself why I write such things to you ;) -- perhaps I'm not helping my cause. But even If I were really only a raving lunatic, I can assure you of the sincerity of my convictions :).

BTW, I think i've finally figured out how to write poetry. The form comes easily, with practise, but the content is harder to work on. In my opinion (and there's a strong caveat on that ;)), intuitive writing is somewhat shallow, deliberate, false. Most of the poems I like have consistent themes and develop them using innovative metaphors. I intend to try this out (easier said than done, right? ;)) -- may require some discipline and patience and *lots* of time, but hey, time is all I've really got, right?


Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Veerappan-est-mort!-Vive-Veerappan!!! dept.

According to all the news channels, infamous sandalwood smuggler and kidnapper Veerappan is now no more. The official version says that the joint Special Task Force created by the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu police departments finally hunted him down after years of sustained intelligence gathering operations in the sandalwood forests.

Yeah, right!

What we have not been told, however, is that the man responsible for ridding the world of this notorious anti-social ruffian was none other than S.K.Gowda, sarpanch of Ramangiri village on the outskirts of the sandalwood forests, and on the fringes of the territories that Veerappan called his own.

Here is the truth behind the veil of lies that officialdom has so elaborately constructed around the entire episode...

Blessed with matinee idol looks even in his fifties, with thick eyebrows, and a stack of pristine, glossy hair with streaks of silver running through them (almost as if painted by the creator himself with his divine 15 no. brush), S.K.Gowda is part of the task force in better times. Responsible for the group's intial successes, he incurs the terrible anger of the forest brigand.

Violence and death are now so mundane that even the most horrific of deeds do not move us anymore. Populations are wiped out by famine; rioteers indiscriminately loot, pillage and ransack neighbourhoods. Women and children suffer unthinkable abuse at the hands of psychopathic chauvinists and perverts. It should be no surprise then, that Veerappan's ruthless mass-murder of Gowda's own family should go unnoticed by the national media. Neither is the blatant arrogance with which the government disowns him after both of his arms have to be amputated when an impetuous, unauthorised reprisal goes horribly wrong.

Reduced to farming his dying fields, and, dressed in a spotless white kurta and pashmima shawl that hides his discomfiture, stalking the dark galleries of his ancestral home like a sulking ghost, Gowda confronts the terrible meaninglessness and emptiness that is his life. And then, discovers reserves of strength in his mind. A strength he has no idea ever existed.

Like the Count of Monte Cristo, he finds vengeance his only aim, and he channelizes his terrible hatred to one end -- the destruction of Veerappan and his cohorts. Stealthily he assembles a village militia to counter the barbaric forest men. In Javagal and Veerangal, two ex-convicts, he finds able lieutenants. One-by-one they pick off Veerapan's men until they force a final confrontation.

In a finale as bloody and viscious as the worst in the annals of human warfare, Veerappan's band is wiped out. Not without heavy casualties. Javagal, in an unprecedented act of bravery, or maybe stupidity, blows himself to pieces when he misjudges the timer on some explosives that have been strategically placed in Veerappan's path.

It is only hours later that the task force is notified, and police officers and Karnataka Pradesh Congress Commitee members rush to Ramangiri to claim all the credit for the destruction of the century's most elusive criminal.

But Gowda still lives. Alone in that massive edifice erected by his ancestors which he has made his labyrinth. And here he waits patiently for the end, when he shall be summoned again by his creator in his next life -- there again to confront his nemesis. Again to play the part that fate, that harsh mistress, has decreed he play...

Sunday, October 17, 2004

the-play's-the-thing dept.

"So I hear you are leaving for the US tomorrow?"

"Yes. uhhh...My flight..uhhh..leaves on Tuesday."

"What is it you do exactly, again?"

"Well, uhhh...My company...uhhh...provides software consultancy services to American software companies. I'm ...uhhh... going onsite for upcoming release, where..ummm..."

"Oh, so basically, you're going to go there and tell them why this button doesn't appear on this window, and where to point the mouse and click...hyuk, hyuk, hyuk...."

"ahhh...ha..ha...something like that..."

"Where do you normally go then, (sneer) New York, Chicago?"

"No...actually, San Jose, usually...ummm...California. That's where most software companies are."

"So what do you do in your company? How many (sneer) people do you have working under you?"

"I ... uhh... don't think of them as working under me, but yeah...ahhh...that depends..."

"Arre, these software companies usually pay really well , you must be senior now right, arre they must be paying you well, na?"

"Uhhh...ok, I guess ."


"So, did you go anywhere when you were in the US? कुठे-कुठे गेला होतास?"

I.Well,.uhhh..once...I... we...uhh... went to LA..."

"Oh, I'm sorry, you (sneer) wanted to say something?"

", please, go ahead..."

"Ahem, so I went to LA with my advisor, with some friends from the eFF-dEE-aYYY."


"Food...FOOD And DRUG ADMINISTRATION...they approve all the drugs in the US, our work falls under their jurisdiction. So we went to this restaurant which is owned by Spielberg's parents. You know, the film director. His parents are really old, and they actually run the restaurant. We met his mother...Spielberg's mother. She is a really nice old lady. Amazing people, the Spielbergs."

"So why don't you (sneer) do your post-graduation?"

"I...uhhh...there was a time I thought of doing that...but..uhhh...ummm...Well, I guess I..uhhh..wasn't up to it..."

"Hey, (sneer) you should really consider it, its really great. So let's go then? Oh no, please, let me..."

Thursday, September 30, 2004

i-told-you-so dept.
The mess in Iraq gets harder to clean up.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

crazy-li'l-thing dept.

The poetry of Persian poet Al-Nawaz can still be heard at street corners in the towns of Khorasan. A new English translation by Engelbart Fitzwater of his lovelorn poetry can now be found in the neighbourhood Crossword's. Al-Nawaz lived almost four centuries ago in the dusty and disease ridden neighbourhoods of the cities of Khorasan, but his desires and unrequited passion still resonate today. One of the earliest known master of what was to become the 'ghazal', his keen insight sometimes is overshadowed by the unmitigated intensity of his unconnsummated love.

The target of his lustful affections, unfortunately, is lost to us in the mists of history. But the intensity of his feelings still live on in these ghazals, even though we can only speculate as to the identity of his muse.

It is my intention to serialize some extracts from the book here, to trace the growth of his poetry from the transparently obvious to the deep mysticism and unforced, unpretentious maturity of his later work.

So, to begin with, a simple offering:
Like an earnest field, I waited for a mass of grey
When only a twinkling of a drop would wash me away

The dull night and the silence, dear friend
Only your heartbeat keeps oblivion at bay

'Tis verse for the heart we recite, not holy writ
Things yet unwritten, one still has to say

Some things are born and crawl, others perish
You are the one that willingly lost his way

Gaze at the moon, 'Al-Nawaz', savour its contours
For she must set, night too gives in to day

Friday, September 24, 2004

holding-my-breath dept.

Most of the national channels are reporting (only in text) that the film I mentioned in my last post -- श्वास -- has been nominated for the Oscars. Now I can't find anything on the web, and it seems too early for Oscar nominations to be announced. Most likely its been selected as India's entry for the Oscars.

Anyways, great day for Marathi films, literature, culture. Every Marathi should be proud!

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

rotten-fish dept.

Just had a glance through N.P.Gogate's wonderful novella भाऊचा धक्का. It was a revelation to see that Marathi literature, even after the recent loss of the erstwhile masters, still manages to throw up a few gems now and then.

Gogate writes sparse, knife-sharp prose that pierces like a rapier to the heart of the matter. But in spite of his terseness he has a great sense of atmosphere, and especially notable are his wonderful descriptions of the fish markets in and around Mumbai. They almost bring out the sultry odour of pomfret and zhinga selling in the open stalls.

Marathi literature and cinema seem to specialize in the analysis of childhood and the preservation of childish innocence (Sane Guruji's श्यामची आई being a case in point, so is the recently released, National-Award-winning movie श्वास). Gogate does not dare stray from the formula in his debut, but even inside the strict matrix of his formula, he establishes himself as a thinker of great originality and freshness (can't say that about the Mumbai fishmongers' wares that permeate the goings-on in the book though).

So Gogate's novella brings us Shailesh Kolvandkar, an intense, rootless young adult trying to explore his own past. His search leads him to a small fishing village (one of the many now being slowly consumed by that relentless narwhal of a city -- Mumbai) on the Malabar coast, and there he plants himself expectantly, waiting for his past to catch up with him.

What Shailesh sees instead is a dynamic, rapidly changing world, with the giant city closing in, and old ways of life being permanently obliterated. After spending many pages trying to save an old Kolin from losing her shop to the 'big fish', Shailesh comes to realise the inevitability of change, and more importantly, the fruitlessness of clinging on to the past.

Part of his search is consumed by an obsession for the pomfret with the perfect smell to match his childhood memories. In his torrid affair with a bright young Koli girl, yearning to leave the dying community, he finds the odor of his dreams (don't ask me where or how!!!), and that is essentially the beginning of the end.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

dozing-at-work dept.

Why are some things inherently soporific? Telecom, for instance. Can't seem to stay awake through any lecture on Telco infrastructure technology. Maybe its the gentle, rocking beat of acronyms flying thick and fast. But my eyelids begin to droop, and the speakers voice fades gradually until it becomes a distant echo on some static-ridden, ancient PSTN line.

Have to read this article posted on /. to cure my inexcusable ignorance.
Also, got to get through this interesting CPU performance analysis up at AnandTech.

Google may be working on a new browser. Why, in heavens name, I do not know. Maybe they're only brow(ser)-beating a certain other company into upgrading its own.

Monday, September 20, 2004

glassy-eyed dept.

A casual discussion over lunch brought back memories of college and university. Not the kind that have to do with social situations, but the purer more important(?) kind, of work and learning and instruments and misconceptions.
The Economist has an interesting piece in its technology quarterly this fortnight, which talks about “cognitive enhancers”, or drugs that sharpen mental responses and enhance mental acuity.

According to the article drugs are currently in clinical trials and are only a few years away from hitting the market.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

polish-sausage dept.

Hmmm....I saw this awesome Polish film recently (one of the lesser known films of the famous communist-era director Kitti Fektowski) which begs to be remade with an Indian locale. I only vaguely remember details of the plot, but here's a brief summary:

A poor farmer is beset with problems -- his crops fail for two successive years, and he finds himself neck-deep in debt with the local money-lenders. In the midst of all this turmoil (he is beaten up by goons hired by the loan sharks, and the threat of losing his fields is very real), his son picks up a stray dog and brings it home.

The poor man doesn't need another mouth to feed, and ignores the poor mongrel until, as is the way with most of our childhood infatuations, his boy loses interest in this new-found plaything.

One drunken night, when he is alone under a lustrous full moon casting a clear ethereal light on his dying fields (captured brilliantly by the cinematographer using some sort of diffusing filter), and on the verge of a grisly suicide by guzzling down a vat of pesticide, the farmer notices the dog (now out of canine adolescence and entering adulthood) beside him. There is a look of sneering contempt on the dog's face (I don't know how they managed to capture that).

The recalcitrant farmer stands down, and possibly to make amends, makes the dog his 'pet' project . He takes him everywhere he goes, and where the dog goes, he follows. His family is distressed, horrified at his blatant neglect of his fields.

Then one day, the man has an epiphany that changes him forever. On a plain, arid piece of god-forsaken land, he and his dog are confronted by a pack of voracious wild dogs. The farmer's dog brilliantly counterattacks and sends them 'pack'ing. This scene was particularly hair raising -- looked as if they used a bunch of steadycams, whirling around at canine perpective level. The fight was brilliantly choreographed (some shades of John Woo there?).

Anyway, the farmer sees the error of his ways -- sees that history is forged by those who take, not by meek submissive fools (like the one he has been). The scene fades out with a long-shot of him hysterically laughing and rolling about on the ground while the dog watches on with a perplexed look (although there is perhaps a hint of a knowing wink in that look.)

Then the predictable climax follows -- the farmer hatches diabolically cunning, fiendish schemes to pick off his enemies one by one, until he is left the undisputed master of his fields, and more. The film ends with the man reconciled with his family (his wife, full of disdain and a distant coldness before, now warms up to him after he rapes her in a pig-sty in a particularly steamy scene.). The final scene has him glaring down at the expanse of his dominion, with a monster harvest in the offing, watching his dog tearing down like the wind through the waving stalks of wheat (or barley or maize or what-have-you). I laughed and cried and basically had a ball watching it. Forget the name of the flick though. Maybe imdb has some stuff on it...

Friday, September 17, 2004

classy-at-the-theatre dept.
I managed to watch three films during the just concluded Asian Film Festival, right across the street from my house. The Chinese film Postmen in the Mountains left an indelible impression on my mind, not so the other movies, with the possible exception of one other film, newcomer Samyak Sandipani's My friend Saleem.

The film documents the friendship between two undergraduate engineering students who come together in one of Maharashtra's private engineering colleges. This is a pathbreaking film (maybe I use that qualification too freely) possibly the first to take a candid, realistic look at higher education and student life in our colleges.

Rahul is from the countryside from a typical small-town middle class family (the kind that budgets for buying soap). Akhilesh is the son of NRI parents living somewhere in the Middle East or in Souteast Asia. By a strange quirk of fate, these disparate creatures are thrown together in the same dorm room, and the film builds its narrative from there.

A montage of small, poignant sequences during the titles introduces us to both of these characters as they embark on their journey to the college. Once there, predictably enough, the film follows the inevitable clash of cultures between the determined, bookish and overly pragmatic Rahul and the free-spirited, sensitive, na‹ive Akhilesh as they both come to grips with new surroundings.

After this, the film splits into two narrative threads that are occasionally intertwined and then unify into a single logical whole as the film climaxes.
Akhilesh falls for a girl quite obviously not meant for him, and gets his heart broken, trying to compete with his 'localite' competitor.

This is a brave attempt to analyse adolescent social groupings in modern India. A spate of 80's American 'high-school' movies (The Breakfast Club, Breaking Away, or the more recent Mean Girls) have superficially dealt with this issue, but Sandipani opts for a more profound look at the underlying socio-economic and cultural factors that decide how young people of today factor in peer pressure and media images into their decision making. He seems to make the interesting hypothesis, for instance, that economic awareness greatly affect individual maturity. In a male-dominated culture like India, women very rarely are allowed to fend for themselves, and this causes their world view to become skewed -- they see the world only through the eyes of men around them. Akhilesh's experiences somehow seem to reinforce this hypothesis, and he finds himself unable to surmount the social barriers erected against him (through innuendo, deceit and misrepresentation) by his competitors.

A much more fascinating and profound narrative thread, however, revolves around the serious, academically inclined Rahul. He ends up being cruelly manipulated by one of his professors who publishes some of Rahul's work as his own. Shaken and disillusioned by what he considers to be a betrayal of the scientific spirit, more than anything else, he quickly descends into a vortex of ruthlessness and cynicism.
He only manages to rediscover his humanity when he helps Akhilesh deal with his heartbreak, and manages to recover his 'soul' from the brink of infamy.

Along the way we see interesting exchanges between Akhilesh and Rahul, as their relationship evolves from a wary mistrust (often descending into irritability) to mutual respect and acknowledgement.

The end finds them, if a little chastened, looking ahead to life as independent, free-thinking individuals, assured of their own place and identity and yet sensitive to the environment around them.
regarde la pluie dept.
The rains have now left for the North. The days are now stiff and cold with a hint of golden yellow that warms the face in the afternoons, but only a hint.
Only two weeks ago, on a sunny weekend, I would wake up (not later than 10) to the chirping of unknown birds. Outside the kitchen window I could see the shivering leaves of shrubs, bathed in a necklace of dew-drop diamonds.
If I closed my eyes, I could hear the traffic on the road outside, falling at me like tired sea-waves, in crests and troughs.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

and yet....
It is possible to defraud the reaper. A man can scatter the seeds of his imagination during his lifetime among the people around him, and immmortalise his essence.
It is far more cruel then, to starve a man of the opportunity to express his identity then to cut his throat.
deathly serious dept.
Death lurks at every corner. It is the curse of mortals and possibly their only salvation. Yet we are so oblivious to it, until it strikes sudden like a malicious viper gliding in the grass and takes a living man in its grip.
And yet the venom persists and festers even after the dead are only a figment of our imagination. Because with death, also die memories and words and emotions and a host of other components that make us individual sentient beings. It is only with sudden realisation that you internalise the fact that part of you is dead forever, too.

Saturday, September 04, 2004


Curzon's Books is a really small bookstore I came across this week in one of the by-lanes of Prabhat Road. The shop is run by an old Anglo-Indian lady, claiming direct descent from, of all people, Lord Curzon. It was already considerably disorienting for me to see someone of foreign descent managing to entrench themselves in Pune's Brahmin heartland. Add to that the unthinkable idea of her running a book-store catering to readers of Marathi. That she should claim descent from one of the most hated Viceroys of colonial India, infamous only for his ill-advised partition of Bengal, and later his obstinate opposition to the women's suffrage movement in Britain does not cast any illumination either. Stranger things, however, are known to have happened.

But then again, I digress.

One book in particular caught my eye for the sheer audacity of its title. पुण्याचे कुत्रे आणि त्यांचे साम्राज्य (पुरुषोत्तम प्रका., पुणे) (The Dogs of Pune and Their Empire) by Dr.V.S.Rajpurohit.

Dr. Rajpurohit claims to be a reader in Sociology at the University of Pune. I must confess to not having heard of anyone of that name, and some queries to acquaintances haven't been of much use either. The most obvious hypothesis is that the author is writing under a pseudonym. But that does not explain the need to so brazenly declare oneself a fraud. Surely, a book with as intellectual a tone as this would inevitably fall into the hands of the most ruthless of cynics that this city has to offer (yes, I refer to certain world-famous individuals from one of the equally world-reknowned 'Peths' of the old city).

Perhaps with his brazenness, the author also expresses his amorality -- his disdain for the laws of men and yet an affinity for the canine world that surpasses in its (well, for lack of a better word) dogmatism, the most fanatic of religions.

The book itself begins innocuously enough, by etching out in well-measured words, the geographical lay-out of Pune. Very meticulously, and with the air of a master violinist tuning his instrument, Rajpurohit (I have resigned myself to calling him by that name) catalogs the breeds and social hierarchies of the mongrels that inhabit its streets. Typically, he completely ignores the domesticated variety, preferring to look at them as only passive gene-pools that scatter their seed now and then to the 'real' population outside.

The subsequent portions of the book then set an unrelenting pace for ideas and insights that lasts till the end. This is where Purohit is in full flow, as he paints before us a vivid, evocative picture of the lives of these canine dwellers. Their street-wars, their alliances and betrayals, lust and affection, not to forget their ugly yet unalienable facets -- cannibalism, incest and disease. He shows a remarkable zest and empathy for their stories, and an even more astounding analytical mind when it comes to guaging their territorialism and sense of good and evil. For instance he tells us that the small lane that straddles Raviraj Hotel off Bhandarkar Road is home to a bunch of albino siblings. From certain genetic markers (this scientific discourse was frankly beyond me), Rajpurohit deduces the existence of an "illicit, passionate tryst of unmitigated lust between a pure Dalmatian and a common mongrel of mixed blood". The siblings themselves, claims Rajpurohit, stake their claim on the extent of this lane (not more then a hundred steps long), and exhibit a unique degree of discipline and organization in their pack behaviour. A token based system ensures that the road is constantly watched. Each individual takes turns resting and fornicating. Occasionally they will venture out into the other surrounding bylanes of Bhandarkar Road. On such occasions, the unit displays military precision in their attacks on their fellow canines, and a very well-defined hierarchical system for distributing the spoils of war. The description is almost too surreal to be true.

Refreshingly, unlike other Marathi authors, Rajpurohit does not shy away from classical English references either. "Let loose the dogs of war...", he snarls, spewing forth vitriol in his tirade against the Pune Municipal Corporation's pest control department.

So it is with some bewilderment that I consider the case of Dr.Rajpurohit. He writes in a highly stylized, idiomatic Marathi, and feels completely at home with the lastest forensic techniques in his field as well as classical English literature. One wonders, whether a man of such diverse faces would find the world of men large-hearted enough to accomodate him. It is only inevitable then, that such an excellent man should go to the dogs.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

another-day dept.

Another tiring day, spent fixing bugs. Only 3 weeks ago I was in another country, living a different life, staring at a different colour of wall when I came home.
All this constant migration is making me rootless.
It already has, actually.

Monday, June 07, 2004

spanish-connection dept.

About two years ago, a friend of mine mentioned that Jorge Luis Borges was the greatest author not to be awarded the Nobel prize. I had never heard of this Borges fellow. Not a single mention even from people I had expected to be in the know about this here literature business.
Then some months after that, I was in the US, and I went through Barnes&Noble looking for this enigmatic person (I couldn't even spell his name then), and found him.
My initial reaction on reading Collected Fictions, a translation by Andrew Hurley, were ummm..everything from perplexity to jealousy to plain distaste to sneaking admiration.
Borges is a hard author to read. (Maybe it was just the translation). His language, especially later in his career, is very laconic, terse, yet replete with allusions and casual references to things that any average human being may not have a clue about. So looking beyond the name-dropping that his books are riddled with, and parsing this into something closer to our own understanding requires some work.
But beyond that, A few quick notes on Borges as a writer.
- Does not write about psychology, politics, social problems etc. the way the other novelists do.
Umm, to put it another way, these themes play cameos in his story, but never have star value.
- Focuses on ideas, they are central theme of the story. In fact his stories are always about ideas he has, rather than the other way round for most novelists.
- Writes tersely, laconically -- a sentence sometimes sums up what could be a 1000-page novel. e.g. "Just as some men court a woman just to get her out of their mind...". Just that single sentence can potentially spawn a slew of movies, novels, poems, whatever.
- Writes Apocrypha. True genius is incredibly lazy. Ordinary mortals will first build the outline of the plot, then construct the story/novel/movie etc. around it. Borges builds his plot, then assumes that the story has already been built, the gaps filled, the grunt work done; and then reviews this as the work of some fictional character.
Truly awesome.
He is not funny or ironic enough though (although he still has a lot of humour in his books -- he stops short of parodying himself, sometimes, although he does that too).
Pu La Deshpande has written similar stuff with equally great insight, but with a much superior class of wit and humor.

Friday, April 09, 2004

dead-poets-society dept.

Two poets have always haunted my soul. At least it seems that they have been with me always, but I only really
have been familiar with them for the last three years or so.
I had heard mention of both of them, but being somewhat allergic to poetry (love poetry, yuk!!!) I'd never really read any at all,
let alone the so-called premier Marathi poets. It was only out of morbid curiosity that I picked up (read, stole) Mardhekaranchi Kavita
from my grandfather's study, to understand what the fuss about Pipaat Mele Olya Undir was. I found myself sucked into a vortex
of undefinable angst and beauty and sincere anguish and everything else, that I am still trying to navigate.