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SoS – Save our Skulls, Save our Souls

Image may contain: 2 people, including G Krishnan, selfie and closeup

I started using “chauffeur driven” bike hires over the past few days, God knows these guys need to make a living too. Asked him why he wasn’t providing a helmet to the customer riding pillion, when he himself donned suitable headgear to protect his skull. His answer made my jaw drop, and an onlooker captured my pole-axed expression – people are apparently reluctant to wear a helmet that someone has used earlier.

I admit that it may going too far with the multi-million dollar sharing economy that Uber Ola AirBnb and their ilk have propelled, if one had to put on inner-wear and lingerie used by others previously, but helmets?

So let me go ahead with an SoS from Abba


It took a percussionist like Brian Ganch, who came over from the US a year back, and got himself a custom-designed mridingam, while he stayed at my place, to apprise me of what went into its making, and that getting the tonality and rhythm is no mean feat ever. So when I saw the movie Sarvam Thaalam Maayam, released outside India as Madras Beats, this morning, that has the sound emanating from the mridangam as its epicentre, there’s no denying that a layman can garner knowledge from overseas, what may have become run-of-the-mill, closer to home.The movie had some great guest star-musicians, like Sikkil Gurucharan, Unnikrishnan, Srinivas and Karthik.  Yet the honours are with Nedumudi Venu, whose role as Palakkad Vembu Iyer, an uncompromising doyen of the mridangam, I could jubilantly relate to as I could legitimately claim antecedents to the very same district, though for music from that particular instrument, I am less connoisseur and more aficionado. 

There are slanted digs at Harvard, and tutorials over Skype, which the venerable Vembu Iyer frowns upon – nothing to beat direct interaction. Yet the hallmark is what is possible in the realm of music, with the cross-over between class and caste, and those less-privileged enabled to enter an esoteric field, that holds lessons for us; and there are nuanced embellishments with which the director gets his point through – the scene where our hero caresses his mridangam while sitting alone in his workshop, with an ecstatic, almost beatific smile, is far more erotic than that of the pre-marital fling that he has with his lady-love.

There have been films galore on this angle, right from Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje in the 50s, to Shankara Bharanam and Sindhu Bhairavi, in the 80s, which has a Suhasini taking over the singing baton, from a supercilious Sivakumar, whose rendering of the kirtis has part of the audience yawning, and portly ladies gossiping in the auditorium, and as she sings to the hoi polloi, the audience is mesmerised, then breaks into applause. 

AR Rahman has the cutting-edge in this movie; the title song which brings about a comprehensive cohesion and amalgam of music (fie to fusion) and dance elements across the country, in a bare five minutes, is both a visual and auditory treat, even as the protagonist hones his skills in the Trichur chenda melam, and gets to the denouement where he provides percussion to the classical singer Bombay Jayshree, before ringing curtains down.

And Brian, if you do get to read this, hope you will see the movie too, if you could take a break from the Sound of Music tour across your country – for an exponent of the mridangam, this is a must-watch – it’s right up your street. 


Image result for sarvam thaala mayam


Tuning into Soul in Bali


                                                   CAT’S CRADLE by KURT VONNEGUT                                                      

When I was called upon to make hotel and sightseeing arrangements for a marriage group to Bali, for a large extended family coming in from various points across the world for the celebration in the Island of the Gods, I seized upon it as a God-sent opportunity to visit the place myself.
To simply say that it was in my bucket-list ( I writhe at the word ) for years, begs the question. The man who brought Bali in focus for me, was an extraordinary, incredibly charming globe-trotting TV presenter, and combined with his wit, simply awed me, The episodes that were beamed across India were titled “No Reservations”, though there were other popular versions worldwide. In Rajasthan, as a guest in a palace, he wondered how to be suitably attired for a royal dinner, and later filmed himself assenting with his jaws agape to a prominent astrologer who advised him which Gods he should propitiate ” to be successful and satisfied in the bed ” ( the astrologer’s words, not Bourdain’s )

Even to vegetarians like myself, the manner in which he presented the culinary arts and forms as they exist in different climes and countries, was more than just attractive, it was captivating and riveting; one could almost sense the aroma wafting across from the screen of the TV set. 

 It’s one year on, to the day now – he will continue to endear himself as a consummate travel man to thousands, for ever.            I

In his Bali sojourn, which place he made a trip more than once, he makes a unique statement, willy-nilly a question that he posed to himself and answered it too on screen: ” Why would anyone come here, and ever want to leave this place ? ”  
In one brief comment, he was capping Bali as the traveller’s ultimate destination.
This trip was followed by a marriage and he got a baby daughter, and in an interview he opined that no destination could bring as much happiness and contentment as having a baby daughter of one’s own. If anyone could say “My cup runneth over “, Anthony Bourdain it was. 
Then the unthinkable happened, almost exactly a year ago to the day – the charming, witty man, who had everything going for him, who couldn’t possibly ask for anything more that the planet could give him, took his own life.

More things are wrought by prayer in Bali than this world dreams of ( apologies to Tennyson ) – and Of Course, wrought by Yoga too !!!
When it became apparent that I was actually going to get on that plane to Bali, it occurred to me that I should dig into the book Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. I had scrupulously avoided this book, and movie too for that matter, after reading the reviews, particularly recounting about the men in it, as saccharine and syrupy. Quite possibly this book by itself generated more traffic into Bali than all other books and movies combined, since it first saw print in 2006. 
 The book startled. The first man, her husband, whom she divorces before beginning her roller-coaster travel experiences, comes across as a bit of a monster, if anything. In the book, he even demands royalty from the book that she was publishing, in order to agree to the divorce. Long way indeed, from the time of Arthur Wellesley, who simply communicated to his paramour, “Publish and be damned”, or as some aver, “Write and be damned”. The way the Stars and Stripes country conducts domestic household crises too, is obviously different from how it pans out anyplace else on the planet.

 But the food part is crucial enough to her travelogue; though her “Eat” narrative is in Italy, when she describes how a wrong intake of food could upset the digestive system, she has this to say, which had me sitting ramrod straight and erect, as she indiscriminately jabs the very city that I was born and grew up in, trod the back streets and alleyways of, splurged on oily pungent condiments with suspect ingredients, and am still alive to tell the tale:

 “””” I’ve met travellers who are so physically sturdy they could  drink a shoebox of water from a Calcutta gutter and never get sick “””” 

Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love )

 Even if inured by virtue of my birth in that City of Joy that Elizabeth Gilbert does not think particularly highly of, I took no chances with my own diet in my four days in Ubud, quite the pulsating heart of Bali, sticking to basic vegetarian food, and washing it down with the local brew Bintang.   The chauffeur who took me around, mentioned that pork was one of the delicacies in Bali, which instantly reminded me of Elizabeth Gilbert’s own narration – after a year and a half of a certain degree of abstinence, she has an inebriating beverage, digs into generous portions of pork at an evening party, and the following night and day this translates into a wanton unbridled sexuality that, full credit to her, she does not hesitate to describe; an example of the correlation between what we consume and how we think and act, which all of us have experienced in some degree, or other. whether into any form of yoga practice or otherwise.
Ubud fascinates; the Palace has extempore dances and music sessions, for students in training as well as performances by adepts, as do the precincts of various temples. Yoga sessions are practically de rigueur, in various, all positive, ramifications. International Yoga Day, June 21, is being heralded with fan-fare.
Mr. Anthony Bourdain, my everlasting Pranams and Respect to you Sir !  Maybe, just maybe, you could have tried Yoga too.


    Louvre, Move Over !               OR  Auguring an Asian Century ? 

The Museum Puri Lukisan Ubud, could well give the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in NYC a run for its money, not to speak of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. And that writer who wrote on the Da Vinci code, Louvre and the Vitruvian Man, using italics unsparingly, even laughably, for enhanced suspense, would have simply collapsed at the aura of myth and mystery in this Museum. And Leonardo, whose 500th death anniversary we marked this May, would have appreciated.

Airlift Abroad, Terra Firma India

Movies, as with books, even blog-posts, need to have at least a degree of minuscule verisimilitude, even if the narrative nudges fantasy, for the audience to relate at least marginally, to simultaneously with their eyeballs and imagination, rake in the moolah and sustain the investment in the product and on screen. So if liberties are taken, whether forgivable because brief, or the contrary with hyperbole, and notwithstanding whatever the critics may pontificate, is in the ambit of the first person singular to draw her or his own conclusions, especially when what is termed “social media” rules the roost. Great expansive sagas, like Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, or even mundane ones like Alex Haley’s almost-forgotten Roots with its Black American Experience, aren’t they unlikely to get what they deserve in terms of attention-spans, far less currently, with folks that are more attuned to a me-too age ?  I had to summon the question-mark so as to avoid the all-encompassing hash-tag of the current decade, Devil Forgive.

In October 1994, I would trudge from my travel agency office, across to Air India, in Marshalls Road, a seven-minute jaunt, every morning. This was for the confirmation of seats of some eminent personages, and more importantly, for the credit notes from the venerable the-then, monopolistic airline for the cancellation of tickets of similar eminent folks, whose travel itineraries would have metamorphosed into cancellations and reissues, and weren’t they entitled ?  I was one among scores, who agglomerated from various travel agencies, many of whom had deputed their key staff to badger the airline representatives to expedite.

Come November, I was with the fledgling airline Qatar Airways, which had come into existence the very same year. The initiator of the airline was Sheikh Hamad Al Thani, himself a pilot, from the Qatari Royal Family, and took it upon himself to personally pilot the civilian aircraft to every new destination that came within its expanding ambit on the global map. The national animal, the oryx, emblazoned on all its aircraft, underwent a marginal modification some months after Sheikh Hamad exited, but that’s another story.

So one month after the sweat of a daily metronome trudge to the Air India office in the ground floor, I found myself sitting in the first floor, facing the Regional Manager of my national airline, with Mr. CM Manuel, who had recently retired from the same venerable entity, and was affronted with a overwhelming question by any yardstick- ” Do you know who your Boss is ? He is featured in the Guinness Book for a World Record ” .Mr CM Manuel, was the first all – India Sales Manager of Qatar Airways, and apparently, as the phrase goes, a legend in his own lifetime.

To be continued……








India – travel tips

Packing your bags for India?

Before you plan your trip to India, please visit the following sites on the web:




Seeking spirituality and a Visa

The author Evald Flisar, on his arduous journey from Slovenia to India

‘Down my road’ has meant many things in my varied and busy life, but recently it has become “down the road to getting an Indian visa”. I first came to this astonishing country in 1974, during an overland journey from Australia to England that lasted almost a year. Needless to say, I fell in love with what I found and have since been back 16 times for longer or shorter periods. I would come as a backpacker, a student of Buddhism and Hinduism, a spiritual seeker, and for the last 12 years to attend the Indian productions of my stage plays (seven produced so far) or the inaugurations of the Indian editions of my books (12 published so far!).

Some people say that I am half Indian by now. That may be true, but I still need an Indian visa. It has never been difficult to obtain one, but recently it has turned into a nightmare. To get one from the consular section of the Indian Embassy in Slovenia, you have to turn up in person with a filled-in application form, two square (2×2) recent photographs with a white background, bank statements for the last six months to prove that during your stay in India you can support yourself, with your fingers intact because you will be finger-printed, a passport of course, and with 193 EURO in cash to pay for the visa (no credit cards!). It is somewhat easier and cheaper to get an e-visa from the comfort of your home, but even there you can only narrowly avoid a fit of rage when you discover that in Slovenia nobody makes square passport photos with a white background, and that for uploading the photo (once you manage to get one with the help of at least four clever friends) the JPEG has to be more than 10 KB and less than 100 KB, and that a PDF of the passport must not exceed 300 KB or be less than 20 KB.

And then the real trouble starts down your road to India. Filling in the application form. They want to know which places you want to visit, and why, which countries you have visited in the last 10 years, and all about your mother, father, wife and employer, education and the sort of work you do or have done in the past, and quite a few things besides, including the address of your stay in India. You may intend to visit seven different places, but under “address in India” the form will allow you to enter only one (for example, Ashok Hotel, New Delhi). You may be retired, but the form insists on entering the name and address of your employer, even their phone number! What to do? There is a list of countries that you may click for place of birth and nationality for yourself, your wife, your father and your mother, but my father and mother were born before the First World War in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and there is no such country on the list! So you have to improvise and click Yugoslavia, which also no longer exists, but is at least on the list, and clickable. And then, after giving your credit card details to god knows who, you are promised to receive your e-visa within 72 hours. Something unexpected happens: the visa arrives by e-mail within three hours! And you can visit India for the 17th time! Even though, while filling in the form, you were forced to lie, and not only once.

Evald Flisar, the most widely translated Slovenian author, has so far visited 98 countries.

Footnote: Hampi beckons:


The Queen is Dead, Long Live the Queen !

I finally hauled myself up to see a movie, in a multiplex, that is.

And it’s only because the critics got talking. I give below the three articles that saw me investing in a movie ticket, after a long time, and then of course spend on the concomitant acts that go with it, parking, wading through traffic, and the rest.



Following review is:



Heroine-oriented emancipation sagas are becoming big hits, even if emancipation is achieved only in glamorous foreign lands

CELEBRATING EMPOWERMENT:Queen’s success is validation that audiences are open to a range of women-centric films, from heavy-duty dramas to small, breezy dramedies. Picture shows a still from the film.

CELEBRATING EMPOWERMENT:Queen’s success is validation that audiences are open to a range of women-centric films, from heavy-duty dramas to small, breezy dramedies. Picture shows a still from the film.

Kangana Ranaut’s film Queen deserves to be celebrated for many reasons. For one, it is “a Kangana Ranaut film.” She is in every frame; a heroine with no need for a hero opposite her. Two, the film has turned into one of the unlikeliest of hits, grossing more in its second week than its first. (In these multiplex times, collections typically fall steeply in the second week.) Three, the film’s success is validation that audiences are open to a range of women-centric films, from the heavy-duty Vidya Balan dramas like Kahaani to these small, breezy dramedies. These were the lessons we took away from the success of English Vinglish two years ago, though that film came with a stronger USP and the return to the big screen of one of Hindi cinema’s biggest heroines.

A troubling trope

Queen and English Vinglish are both well-crafted films and really hard to dislike, but they rely on a rather troubling trope to illuminate their heroines’ emancipation. In English Vinglish , Shashi, a housewife who doesn’t speak fluent English (and who is, therefore, frequently mocked), goes to the U.S. and enrols in an English class to learn the language. In Queen , Rani, a woman who is dumped by her fiancé on the eve of the wedding, takes off to Paris and Amsterdam and discovers that she doesn’t need a man to lead a life. Both Shashi and Rani are unsophisticated in the sense that they wouldn’t fit into a Farhan Akhtar movie — and this makes their transformations all the more remarkable. In a culture where cinema is essentially an offering at the altar of the hero, who can deny these heroines their moments in the sun?

But did Shashi have to go to the U.S.? Did Rani have to go to Paris and Amsterdam? Doesn’t India offer its women enough experiences and opportunities for emancipation? And wouldn’t audiences flock tothose movies?

Two things here. It is the filmmaker’s prerogative to tell the kind of story he or she wants to tell, and in telling this story — in the case of these films, the small-town-girl-goes-abroad-and-finds-herself story — the more extreme the culture shock, the more the flailing one has to do, the more well-earned the epiphany. (In films as in life, the greater the adversity, the more feel-good the triumph.) So it isn’t surprising that Queen and English Vinglish packed their heroines off to distant corners of the earth. When Shashi cannot manage a conversation in English with her daughter’s teacher in Mumbai, how will she manage in New York? When Rani has led such a sheltered life in her overprotective and middle-class Delhi environs, however will she fend for herself in Europe? These are rock-solid dramatic constructions. The fear of drowning is far greater in the deep end of the pool.

My question is simply this: Don’t these deep ends exist in India? Do new experiences happen only in new countries? Take Highway , where a New Delhi princess finds herself when she’s kidnapped by a thug and given the two-cent tour of the non-air-conditioned India. Or take One By Two , the Abhay Deol flop released earlier this year. The heroine, the Mumbai-based Samara, leads a life every bit as Bohemian as Rani’s Parisian friend. Samara isn’t shy when it comes to sex. (Her friend-with-benefits wants her to move to… Amsterdam! Is the country’s tourism department actively wooing Bollywood?) She deals with an alcoholic mother and a distant father. In other words, had Rani made it to Samara’s tony Mumbai suburb and moved around with people like Samara, she’s as likely to have had those life-changing epiphanies. She’d still have seen people she’d never seen earlier. She’d still have done things she’d never done earlier.

The secret of success

The point isn’t to fault Queen , which achieves its modest aims with a good deal of grace. The point, rather, is to understand why films like Queen and English Vinglish succeed the way they do, when other emancipative you-go-girl sagas like Highway fall behind. Forget the qualitative factors — acting, filmmaking, and so forth. The list of films that scored on these aspects and yet failed at the box office extends to the moon. It’s the feel-good fantasy, essentially, that people are buying into. You walk away from Queen and English Vinglish on a high. You walk away from Highway wanting to slit your wrists. Besides, Homely Indian Woman Conquers the World has a better ring (and ka-ching ) to it than Rich Little Delhi Princess Slums It Out in Small-town India.

That’s why the character of Shashi resonated so much with moviegoers. Shashi is a great cook, and she runs a small catering business that keeps its clients coming back for more. Yet, it’s her mastering of English in glamorous New York (as opposed to one of the numerous learn-English institutions inside India) that’s shown to be the real achievement. Her big speech in the end is delivered in English. This is ludicrous in a film that says your family should accept you as you are. But had that speech been delivered in chaste and fluent Hindi, which your maid servant can manage, the fairy-tale spell would have been broken.

Isn’t it nicer when the First World falls at your feet?


In a culture where cinema is essentially an offering at the altar of the hero, who can deny these heroines their moments in the sun?



Another review:

Queen: She rules

Kangana Ranaut as Rani, in a role of a lifetime, makes Queen an absolutely delightful journey.

Kangana Ranaut as Rani, in a role of a lifetime, makes Queen an absolutely delightful journey.

Which is why Queen is such a refreshing holiday from the routine. This is not your regular makeover film where a small-town girl becomes a modern bombshell and/or finds her Prince Charming/true love overnight. This is not a revenge film of getting even after being left at the altar. This is not even a film about women’s issues.

Vikas Bahl’s Queen explores a girl’s identity as an independent entity. It’s about a rooted Indian girl who goes on a holiday to find herself, far away from her family, friends, culture and society. Films of this genre often liberate their heroines only to have them fall in another societal trap by transforming who they are or making them find what they want in another man. As if women need men to be complete. Not Queen.

Queen is also the rare Hindi film to pass the Bechdel test (Feminist Alison Bechdel came up with a test to evaluate gender bias in films — it has to have at least two women in it, who talk to each other, about something besides a man).

Kangana Ranaut as Rani, in a role of a lifetime, makes Queen an absolutely delightful journey. She wins us over first with innocence, small-town charm, vulnerability, spirit, strength, warmth and her gradual confidence. There’s a scene in the first half of the film where a thief tries to grab her bag in Paris. As scared as she is, she does not let go. She puts the strength of her entire body in holding on to the bag… Other films would have manipulated this situation to give the already troubled girl yet another conflict — losing her passport.

But how this scene plays out tells us everything about how different Queen is. This is not the story of a victim. This is the story of a girl who fought it alone, held on to her identity and made us root for her spirit.

Like all good journeys, Queen refuses to follow an itinerary. Or structure. Just as you prepare for a story of a small-town girl who finds a liberal girl friend (who shares the same name as her fiancé) and you think you’re ready for a story of their friendship in Paris, Queen packs us off to Amsterdam, to continue her journey alone. Off to meet new people. Minus the baggage of the first into the second.

Many films would have felt the need to break for interval at a point where the girl has to make a difficult choice. Queen breaks for interval after she has made her choice. It’s a great departure.

Vikas Bahl’s vision is so uncompromising and earnest that you are likely to excuse the leisurely pace with which the film unfolds. He spends a good length of the first half in making us invest in his heroine.

And it pays off because halfway into the film, we love this girl. We are rooting for her. We want her to have a great holiday. As protective as we are about her, we know she is going to be fine.

The destination does not matter in a journey film. The idea of a vacation is to have a blast. To let your hair down, make friends, party hard and explore. Places, time and people.

Book yourself a ticket. Kangana makes for a great companion. You are guaranteed a good time. Hear a song you want to dance to? Doesn’t matter if you can’t. Just follow her lead. Hungama Ho Gaya…

Genre: Coming of age


And now, from the inimitable Chetan Bhagat:

Wake up and respect your inner Queen

Chetan Bhagat

The only other time a Bollywood movie has inspired this column is when I wrote about Cocktail. In that film — a modern, London-based love triangle — the free-spirited hero finally chooses a girl because she is more traditional. Of course, filmmakers have a right to make what they want. But, the fact that our films needed to pander to such conclusions saddened me. It made me write a column about Indian men’s inexplicable love for phulkamakers. I appealed to them to forsake hot phulkas and celebrate our working women in the interest of the nation.

That aside, I had become resigned to the idea that Bollywood would never take a bold, liberal stance when it came to women. Even if a film dared to, the box office, comprising a conservative Indian audience, would punish it severely. I am happy — in fact, delighted — to be proved wrong. In the past few weeks, a fine film called Queen has not only said what needed to be said, it has also demolished old box office expectations.

The film, marketed as a fun entertainer, has done more for the feminist movement and women’s empowerment than people will give it credit for. Queen is the story of Rani, a Punjabi girl from a conservative family living in West Delhi. Amazingly, like most Indian girls, she isn’t even aware of the cloistered and confined life she is living. Her worldview is limited to getting married, wanting the ceremonies to go well, and ensuring that people dance enough. She seeks her husband’s or parental approval for most of life’s decisions — from taking up a job to joining a college.

Dumped at the altar, Rani goes on a solo honeymoon to Paris and Amsterdam to get over her pain. On her first trip abroad, she befriends a free-spirited girl and shares a room with three male backpackers, all of different nationalities.

Her first exposure to the free world — a society where nobody questions you about your sexual, parenting and career choices — baffles her but also becomes a coming of age lesson like none other. All her friends are somewhat dysfunctional, not so well off and unsettled. They are everything Indian parents do not want their children to be. Yet, they seem happier with their lot than the well-settled life so many middle class Indians aspire to. Suffice to say, Rani learns to stand up for herself and becomes a Queen. She rejects the man who dumped her but is now stricken with remorse; even going as far as thanking him.

By Bollywood standards, the film has a highly unconventional ending. Yet, it worked with the audience. That alone is cause for celebration.

There are hidden messages in the movie, perhaps more than the makers even intended. One, we have trapped our women. We think we care for them, but we suffocate them in the name of security, safety, morality, tradition or culture. We are not comfortable with an Indian woman expressing herself. A woman has to be a good daughter, sister or wife. It isn’t enough for her to be just, well, herself. In some ways, they endure disguised slavery. In the civilized, developed world, where women have choices, they do not choose to live like this. Every girl in India deserves a journey of self-discovery like Rani.

The film also shows us the need for India to integrate with the Western world. When are we going to do that? We are so lost in our caste and religion politics, so close-minded about anything foreign, so caught up in the duties society imposes on us, so pressurized to get marks and land a job that we don’t live as free and full as humans can. When did you hear of Indian students taking gap years after college to explore the world? How will we react if a girl says she wants to try out a few relationships before she settles down? In the name of preserving morals, we want to tie our women up. What has that led to? Where are there more rapes? Here in don’t-date, don’t-drink, don’t-wear-modern-clothes India; not in Europe, where dating is a personal choice, alcohol is available at every corner-store and people are free to wear swimsuits on beaches.

We need to ask some questions. Where have we gone wrong in our traditions and what do we need to change? We need to unshackle our women. We need to learn, connect and behave in tune with the free world. Not just Rani, not just women; but also all of us need to awaken and respect our inner Queen.

And now for my own contribution of  verbiage:

Kangana has become a veteran, of course, and this would be one role that, for lack of a better phrase, suits her like a glove. But it’s not just about a movie that gives scope for histrionics, it may well be about giving, Indians at least, a new perspective on life – that’s why the high/low brow, every-which-way critics,  could not just pan it.

About the time she sheds the unwieldy cumbersome suitcase that she hauls all the way from Delhi into Paris, on a single-person honeymoon, panting as she tugs it up the stairs into an upper floor of a budget hotel, and as she settles a few days later with the ubiquitous backpack in the train to Amsterdam, and disgustedly hisses into her cellphone to her erstwhile beau, ” you dunderhead, your queen is dead “, the metamorphosis of the nondescript young Plain-Jane lady from a lesser than middle-class Punjabi family with minimal aspirations, into an independent devil-may-care one, is more than half-way through, before the interval.

Where her observations rule the roost, for how she behaves and acts, is when she observes to her housekeeping friend in the budget hotel, whose invisible presence is first known to her from grunts and screeches from an adjoining room where the friend provides sexual gratification to a guest, and later queen assures her that she would not rat on this to the hotel management, which would mean goodbye to the job, about an uncle of hers back in Rajouri in India, who never smoked or drank, yet perished of cancer. The message is clear, do your own thing, else you regret it on your dying day.

The same message of do-your-own-thing, is again brought up by her, when she does get into Amsterdam, into a rodent-infested room (worse, washroom), and temporarily upset about having to share it with three others, who are all young masculine members of homo sapiens. One is a tall hefty black man, to whose presence she wakes up after a nightmare, and screams out loud unable to comprehend if he is part of the nightmarish dream or worse, nightmarish reality. Another is a unwashed Russian expatriate named Olexander, whom she later affectionately calls Sikander, and in an introspective moment when she mutters loudly  ” I think I should be doing my own thing ” and Sikander says ” whoever stopped you ” , we know which way the rest of the movie is going to head.

Are there any loose ends in this movie ?  Yes, for one, it is about she and her three new-found male friends-cum-roomies in Amsterdam, selling “gol-guppays”  ( popularly known as puchkas where I come from ) by the dozen to an uninitiated crowd of tourists. As most Indians would know, just consuming a couple of this stuff would ensure that any Neanderthal or Netherlander would spend an entire ensuing day within the confines of his apartment, more particularly washroom, whether or not it was rodent-infested.  But the director’s cuts more than make up for such minor stomach-churners.  As queen’s marriage becomes a non-starter, her matriarch grandmother regales her, without any amusement, by stating cheerily that she had a crush on one Faisal, pre-partition, and then when she had to migrate,  fell in love and married queen’s grandfather, in a refugee camp.  There is visual sarcasm at the beginning too, the beau breaks up unceremoniously with her in a Cafe Coffee Day shop, where the emblazoned by-line in the background ” A lot can happen over coffee ” takes on a whole new meaning with Kangana displaying a broken heart, to no avail.  Yet, I was personally charmed by the scene where Kangana accompanies the tall black man, her roommate, to the promenade where he strums the guitar, and she goes around with a hat asking for alms, in the surrounding crowd. Thumbs up, to the Queen there – woebegone intimidated girl has turned into a spunky woman.

But it’s the finale of the movie, that is without conclusion – well that the movie begun with a Bobby blandly commenting, that All’s well that end’s well – when queen sits before her prospective smothering mother-in-law, who comments gushingly on her plunging neckline, and queen exits the house just as the lady brings her a cup of tea, having returned the sacrosanct ring to her erstwhile beau, – she prances away like a fairy down the road away from the house, feathers become her rather than fetters. The intricate and meticulously applied mehndi, that adorns her hands pre-marriage that did not take off, is very apparent during her Paris stay, slightly less so as she boards the train backpacking to Amsterdam, and as it starts showing traces of invisibility during her escapades with her three motley men-friends there, this unique adornment of sub-continental auspiciousness during wedlock, gets obliterated completely as she returns that ring in Delhi, in a movie-run of little over two hours.   Bravo !


The Finale would be with Freddy Mercury and Queen :

Modern Media : Greed for more Truth with a pinch of spicy masala

When I was in college in the 70s, it used to be said “A rumour can get halfway round the world, before the truth can get its boots on”.  No one would say that no more ( double-negation intended, since much-loved by the, Ahem, Americans ), – the surfeit of the media-induced high, in the electronic media and print, do seem to be hijacking one version, to run a parallel road with falsehood keeping pace, and McLuhan’s “The medium is the Message”, rules the roost, the didactic be damned. I would personally go with this particular verse from the Bhagavad Gita, as the broad swathe across the entire country has Satyameva Jayate emblazoned in every court of jurisprudence right from district to Supreme level, and in all its legal-tender currency notes of all denominations. In the Kurt Vonnegut novel, God Bless you Mr. Rosewater there is an endearing sequence where the inebriated millionaire protagonist hands over a huge cheque to a writer, to go ahead and write more and more truth, and to come back for more funds in the pursuit of it.

So like any driven youth in college, I did consider joining a newspaper, till one of the professors narrated his version of journalism, where a reporter was chided by the chief editor, that his reporting and headlines were too abstruse and verbose, and instructed the young chap to be more earthy and accessible for readership by the hoi polloi. The subsequent day, he had to report on the incident of a nurse in an institution for the mentally challenged, where an inmate assaulted her with an offence on her bodily person, and vanished into the yonder without trace. The headline next day ran ”  Nut screws and bolts “.  That story from the professor put paid to my journalistic ambitions.

But that has not prevented me from having a just short-of-obsessive interest in reading the newspapers, of which I take two from the print edition every day, the Hindu and the Times of India, and give a beady eye to every headline in the morning, loudly chortling on how the same tidbit of news is reported differently,  the loudest reserved for the headline anyway, with the rest of the story, meriting raised eyebrows, with grunts,  sniggers and giggles.

So what turns us into this kind of vicarious lifestyle anyway ?  Probably it is an element of “There’s more to this than meets the eye” .  In short, perhaps suspicion and doubt as the play of human nature, are fellow-travelers, concomitant with belief and faith ?

As I trudged with a heavy bag of books from my school all of 45 years ago, winding my way back home, I would pass through Wellesley Square in Calcutta, and now I wonder if the same Wellesley it was, who said something that is acquiring greater relevance, increasing significance, today than when he said it close to two centuries ago. The words are ( and maybe the words are  relevant to the entire blogging fraternity, too ? )


A couple of months back, a few of us old class-mates, located in different parts of the country and world , met for a few days to have a break, and recollect the old times. Among other things, we discussed the doughty Sashi Tharoor, the most famous personage from our Alma Mater,  who was not yet caught in the horrible turn of events that he is today.  Sashi was a year and batch senior to us, and the entire class looked up to him as a person extraordinaire, what with his dapper looks, and academic brilliance. Over the years, we followed his work and career closely. I personally think , and most would agree, that his most remarkable contribution is with regard to the Vietnamese Boat People;  alas, that is all but forgotten in the world of today that thrives on instant gratification; human memory getting shorter over time, on do-gooders ?

So whether or not the media takes its usual lunge at the public figure that he is, and he finds it tough to come to terms with the unexpected departure of his spouse, the very same media would do well to pronounce that there is no element of Mea Culpa in this. Sashi Tharoor is too sincere and straightforward a chap for that, as much without pretensions as he is brilliant in the representation of his thoughts. And if Sashi ever gets to read this, as a Xaverian I would simply state  his old school motto,  Nihil Ultra once again, though he will remember this only too well.

Looking East, wide-eyed

In the flurry and bleat of celebrating Independence, we need to reassess what does and does not count , for nation-states, as they exist today. Religion or the lack of it ? Ethnicity ? Language ? Leadership ? Ambition-Foolhardiness-Selfishness ? Economics and Money ? Or just plain all or none of It ! And does it matter, when the buzz-word is globalisation ?

So the erstwhile USSR still has the annual grand parade at the Red Square, even as what is today the CIS, was till fairly recently its veritable ribs; it’s over two decades since the physical as well as symbolic Wall between two of Germany got broken, for the nation to become one, and now that very same Germany appears to shore up both the EU and the Euro to face up to global economic realities, and naming those less-fortunate countries in Europe may be less than fair on my part, when many millions in my own country, and if numbers count, more than any of the specific countries in Europe, face the challenge of day-to-day living where the predominant concern is still where the next meal is going to come from.

So it was that when I went to Malaysia once again – and I had lost count of the number of times I had that privilege –  and which privilege came to me on the day subsequent to the Anniversary for the leading deity Lord Krishna in India, which ensured that the contingent of 42 people of which I was part of, consisted of half the number professing the Islamic faith. So close to 70 years on, were we on an eclectic path where all could prosper, or closer to being thumb-sucking juveniles where only individual pockets could be lined?

On the aside, I would venture to say that Malaysia appeals, not just because the wide variety it has to offer the visitor, combining nature, modernity, history, heritage – the works; but is a functioning and prosperous democracy, that permits criticism and a free press and a fair judiciary, that (hmm, I hesitate to put this forward) is the envy of neighbouring Singaporeans, ( common history notwithstanding ) the wealthier among whom take weekend breaks across the border, to buy groceries, essentials, or merely to savour the air that tastes of greater freedoms. So it was with considerably awe that we, the forty-odd of us assembled at the threshold of the hotel near Chinatown, on the robust morning of the 31st August, a bare fortnight after the unfurling of the flag of Independence of India ( or Pakistan for that matter) witnessed the supersonic fighter jets that flew across in tandem one after the other, with ear-splitting extra-terrestrial sounds, leaving a single straight column of smoke that dissipated in a few minutes, leaving us to take in the rest of Kuala Lumpur with its people celebrating an event of their freedom on that day in 1957, no doubt acquired with blood, sweat and tears ( apologies to Sir Winston ) and as much perseverance and self-belief, as any other nation-state.

The day preceding Independence Day, 30th August, was Jummey Ka Din, and in this Islamic state,which if I remember right, was just about the last stop-over for V.S.Naipaul in his “Among the Believers”, the weekly holiday continues to be a business-like day of the Sabbath, though that by itself is a bone of contention, ( whether it ought to be Saturday or Sunday, when did the Lord exactly rest ? )  and my motley crew, a melange and pot-pourri of the sub-continent, proved to be the very amalgam of the positive pluralistic concepts that the Chacha espoused, whether in our out of prison, elevating him at least in my mind, a notch above Bapujis, Mahatmas, Netajis and Shaheeds, and even Quaids; and the excoriating, searing, boldness of his statement  ” I wish to declare with all earnestness that I do not want any religious ceremonies performed for me after my death. I do not believe in such ceremonies, and to submit to them, even as a matter of form, would be hypocrisy and an attempt to delude ourselves and others “, makes him deserve a permanent thumbs-up from the vast majority who inhabit the same sub-continent

Scarce did it ring the half-hour after one in the afternoon, in the sprawling area of Genting, styled as a latter-day Las Vegas, possessing a gambling-area with round-the-clock activity which die-hard faiths would pronounce as haraam, did I have to indicate to those whose dedication to Time was exemplary, where the Hall for Namaaz was. Even as every hotel room in every city and town in the country has on its ceiling an arrow indicting the direction of the Kaaba.  In an entire country, following the tenets of Islam, where the roll of dice, flip of card, and swirl of roulette was banned, this Highland had got it by statute and gubernatorial permit.  And over the past year, Singapore emulates with a Bay Sands. No doubt it is business interests that drives the activity, but, alas, the writing is on the wall :  it’s may prove detrimental to the Singapore psyche ( meaning economy too ) whether or not it does to the Malaysian one. And whether or not the Singapore GDP and Prosperity Index is going to be affected, the earlier that Singapore forges the historical link with Malaysia to become one entity, the better for it.

After Namaaz, and a slightly belated lunch, we moved on to Batu, that boasts of the largest worldwide figure and statue of Lord Muruga / Subramanya, with size and dimension that the with-it crowd of gals and guys of today would describe as “aaw-some”.  Aside: the gold paint, simply tons of it, came from Thailand, and very assiduously put on the statue for a permanent glow, and the ethereal background lighting as dusk sets in, does make one hush out that description that the gals and guys of today vent out, imposing enough by day.

And now, got the summoned up gumption to make things add up.

The pic below is of the National Mosque in Malaysia. Although I had passed by it as a “photo-stop” on several occasions in previous years, this was the first time that the guide thought it befitting to make a grand entry into its precincts. Grand certainly it is. As I clambered up its august stairs, after circumventing the ritual cleansing of feet, with my socks on, felt no doubt this was occasioned by the fact that my troupe of 40, all Indians, consisted of close to half professing the Islamic faith.  When we were at the threshold of the sanctum-sanctorum, a large board said ” NON-MUSLIMS NOT ALLOWED “.  Now, as a novice to all forms of absolute faith, I was personally befuddled.  But the extensively bearded, skull-cap-clad Muslim gentleman, pulled in the other Hindu guys, into this Hall of Peace, all but jeering at the couple of young volunteers that were expected to keep the uninitiated out.

I took this opportunity ( yeah, God-given ) to check with those volunteers where they were from, and both said ” Iraq”.  I was and am, familiar, with that particular part of the world, because the unfortunate ( some of whom become dead too ) come to the city of my domicile for medical treatment, with their kith and kin,, and as oft as not, the kith/kin return with body-bags that are filled up with human remains. Luckily, that young Iraqi stripling at the entrance, said that he had nothing against non-Muslims, except that they should enter the prayer-hall, clean in body and spirit. I recited the Kalima to him promptly.

When the Twain meet

Getting into a public domain, such as a blog post, calls for a degree of gumption beyond the scope of ordinary mortals, even though millions worldwide are actively involved in this pursuit. Many would say it is a kind of bravado, close to exhibitionism. So personally, if my contributions for the edification of those at large, or only for that of yours truly, or merely to rant and rave, or just mutter inanities, or sweet, or nauseating, or as the with-it crowd of today says, “awesome”, nothings to oneself, well, this blog thing may actually make “what a wonderful world”, ring true to my ears, and perhaps yours too.

Writing, in blog form or otherwise, calls not just for talent, put perseverance and doggedness, and those who are out of the ambit of writing on a professional basis, find the demands beyond their ken. There was the brilliant thinker Bernard Shaw ( many refer to him as the best contributor to the English language after Shakespeare –  and that’s a deliberate attempt to avoid the appellation “awesome” to either of the names mentioned), who said that any writer worth the name writes, just as a cow gives milk.  And the socialist-inclined Shaw averred too, that whatever was worth writing, had to have the didactic element in it, meaning, unless it attempted to contribute not just for the edification of the people at large, but also for social equality, it simply was not worth it – no doubt that was the reason his prefaces were larger than the plays themselves.

So when I recently picked up Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and read the following lines in the Preface:


Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; PERSONS ATTEMPTING TO FIND A PLOT IN IT WILL BE SHOT……………..

And at that, I had all my hair standing on end, my heart palpitating, an embarrassing sweat breaking out of my pores, what would the lovely women I vainly tried to endear myself to think of this ageing lecher, should I give up reading Mark Twain ?

Now, I confess that I am left-leaning, and inclined to assay that anyone, male or female, who has emanated from a mother’s womb in that particular city ( Calcutta ) on this planet, as I did, not only possesses  what may be regarded as an aberration and disfigurement by most today, is left-leaning from birth, but continues to remain so through his adult life, virtually till his last breath. Not for nothing is it that Calcutta was the capital city of an undivided India, with the gubernatorial writ running well Eastward till Singapore, and Westward till Peshawar; but more jocularly was it commented, that when Bengal sneezes, the rest of the same undivided India catches a cold, – perhaps even a fatal pneumonia. Rabindranath Tagore, perhaps the only poet to have, as history would have it, penned the national anthems of two countries, Bangladesh and India, whether or not he intended it in the first place, would have agreed on the contagious pneumonia as far as the sub-continent is concerned.

( To be continued )