Airlift Abroad, Terra Firma India Wednesday, May 30 2018 

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 Tuesday, May 29 2018 

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 ! Thursday, Apr 17 2014 

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 Sunday, Jan 19 2014 

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 Tuesday, Sep 10 2013 

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 Saturday, Aug 17 2013 

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 )

A passing apology of a tear, to the Least of My Sisters – Rest in Peace, Rizana ! Thursday, Jul 18 2013 

Is the law an ass ?

Certainly, if your sense of justice has to view the glass as half empty, your conclusion about the asinine aspect being predominant in the exercise of the law, even if the august exercise thereof is not actually blind, would be correct.

That the law is entrusted with arriving at truth, is also a given. There’s that wise old man Solomon who entrusted a baby claimed by two Moms, to the one who decided to forego the kid rather than have it halved like a loaf of bread, so a certain degree of wisdom is required in the exercise of law too. Latterly is the story, of a Pontius Pilate, who symbolically washed his hands of passing judgement, on a certain Jesus, who kept silent when asked to describe what is or is not truth, to be relegated to the crucifix, by the throaty mob.

As a kid, I read that a lie can get halfway round the world, before the truth can even get its boots on ( Mark Twain ) . That, fortunately or otherwise, was before the days of the glorious internet. Now, both just plain run parallel. And even if I rather think my own Uncle Gandhi was rather pompous in penning an autobiographical “Experiments” with oh-oh “Truth”, let’s face it, Truth is more a feeling, than some recitation of fact, as the silence of that Jesus corroborated some evidence of Truth.

In India, even if it’s not actually confusion worse confounded, they had Personal Law, Religious Law, Panchayat Law, and of course the hand-me-down law of the Civil, Constitutional and Criminal Judicial System that has district courts, high courts, and the Supreme One, which are to be executed in letter and spirit by the Law Enforcement Departments.  Like in so many countries, the political and constitutional interpretations of the law do not always see eye-to-eye.

Among the many relegated to the dustbin of history in India, is the Shah Bano case. It had a head-on confrontation between the Muslim Personal Law, and the regular legal system.  Simply put, Shah Bano, an aged lady,  if I remember right, was divorced by her husband who married another, and when she claimed regular monthly maintenance as an indigent, from her husband, the Personal Law and Constitutional Law ran at cross-purposes. The political and legal machinery countrywide, actually ground to a halt on this story, and the press went to town for at least a year – luckily the electronic and visual media was not that rampant, else there would have been thousands of sore throats every day.

So as we call ourselves increasingly globalised, and the unevenness of the distribution of wealth, and the consumption of resources becomes ever-increasingly apparent, as also the truth of that half-naked Fakir’s statement that the world has enough for everybody’s need, but not enough for anyone’s greed, it is equally necessary that the legal system crosses international boundaries, and especially those that are given to flaunting their superior practices in ensuring freedoms and justice to oppressed peoples across the world, should do so more promptly where they see that those who are well-endowed financially, crush those without a voice mercilessly, in such manner that nary a whimper of the cry of their soul may ever be heard as long as this planet lasts.

If the name Rizana Nafeek rings a bell in the mind of the reader who has had the patience to wade through this write up, to this point, I have to hand it to you !  That’s the name of the impecunious young girl from Sri Lanka, who got executed on 9th January this year, in Saudi Arabia, for the “murder” of a four-month old boy Naif, who she clearly said ( bayaan is the word in Urdu/Arabic, but who the shit cares ?) choked on the milk she fed him.

So let me choke now on Shakespeare’s words in Hamlet “Something is Rotten in the State of Denmark”


Ramadhan Kareem : Dalai Lama Version 2013 Thursday, Jul 11 2013 

As I try to keep up with wishing Ramadhan Kareem a few across some different time zones, in different continents, I got to hand it to His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, that he got it all right.  Someone, and I’m too fagged out to google it, said that a picture speaks more than a thousand words, so I should leave it at that. His Holiness, as reported, was immensely pained over what happened at Bodh Gaya barely a few days ago; and even though we ordinary mortals take the responsibility that it will not be allowed to recur, alas, we learn the hard way ( being less Enlightened ? )

India Dalai Lama
Hindu priest Shivratri Deshikendra, right, watches Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, center, playfully tug the beard of a Muslim priest Mohammed Usman Shariff during an event organized to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s 78th birthday at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Bylakuppe, about 220 kilometers (137 miles) southwest of Bangalore , India, Saturday, July 6, 2013.

The above pic takes the cake ( eggless and halal, I promise you ) .  Your imagination is dirtier than mine.

Watery Graves, Terrestrial Thuds, Fanciful Flights Wednesday, Apr 24 2013 

The ambivalent relationship, even torridly erotic love-affair, if you will, that South Asians ( you better take the liberty of naming the countries, if you wish to be country-specific ) have had with the ones in the Gulf, oil-rich, and petro-dollar rich, all but culminated with the turn of the century, not just with some Twin Towers in a global commercial capital  crumbling to smithereens, but because that very relationship, slowly but surely, soured; the pipers with gold-laden pipes may have called the tunes, but just ask anyone who has had even an iota of the experience there, and the unanimous conclusion would be that, far from the Goras, it is the Arabs who have driven South Asia together as one ilk. The oil-economy, even if environmentally degrading, would sustain for a few more decades, but the  deed was done.

In the early 80s, when most of my college mates, and all of my relatives, had migrated to the greenback currency country, and I found the opportunity to get to the Gulf, I clutched at it as would any man in water a straw. Objective: get rich quick !

I found myself in a Lebanese-managed company, when that country was in the news worldwide, ( cannot take the luxury of judging “for all the wrong reasons”) and today has the unique distinction of having more of its citizens living outside its geographical boundaries than within it, giving an entirely new interpretation to the writer Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat”.

But I digress.  As dusk set in on 31st October 1984, and I trudged my way back from work, in a darkening Ruwi High Street, several tall, dark, well-built people came to me one after another, and whispered ” Aaj India-waalon ka din bahut bura hai, bahut kharaab hai ” etc.

To elucidate, these bipeds like me, were, unlike me, all Pakistanis, unlettered, barely seen the walls of any kind of scholastic institution, and people who toiled by the sweat of their brow, far away from their home and hearth, and they were commiserating with me, and I most certainly did not have my nationality emblazoned on any part of my anatomy, for the unexpected killing of the Prime Minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi.  When I rack my memory, I think this could be the second time that I felt, yes, man could be deemed a political animal, not just merely a “rational” one. For, perhaps, emotion rules the roost ?

The first time, that it occurred to me that man could indeed be a political animal, was as a toddler, winding my way home from school, when inadvertently I found myself in the sprawling Calcutta maidan, on a wintry evening in 1971, again as dusk was setting in and the street-lights were not on yet, and a personage by the name of Mujibur Rehman, later affectionately called Bangabandhu, astride the Ochterlony Monument, later named Shaheed Minar, thundered the words “Amar Shonar Bangla” ( My Golden Bengal ) , words that were penned by the Bard of the same Bengal, whose hundredth anniversary of being the first Asian personage to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, is being marked, as you read this ! That he refused to have the honour, returned it in fact, that the Prize itself was being bestowed in the name of the Alfred who had the pricking of conscience, in that he had created something that was destructive in nature, for humankind and other creatures on the planet, and finally, insult to injury, the Prize actually, has been purloined several years ago, theft of the first order, without it being retrieved, guilty possessor unknown, all tells of another tale, which are but incidental to the proud Bengalis themselves, whose hearts yet resonate with his rendering of word, so do the incidents really matter ?

So this blow-hot-blow-cold of the South Asians revealed itself in telling ways, and some may well be worth recounting.

Dr. Rahim ( err, I took the liberty of changing his name here, though not his religion, as he is now one of the most eminent practicing Doctors in Saudi Arabia, and I would be less than prudent in dropping it ), in the couple of days he would visit his home city in India, would in the brief time he spent with me in my office before getting back, recount without emotion any interesting event that would transpire back in his work-place in the Gulf.

On June 6, 2007,  Typhoon Gonu made landfall in Oman, a country that was relatively a stranger to cyclones. There was one man, an indigent bearded Bangladeshi worker, who predicted this three days prior, about floods and destruction following the typhoon, and no one heeded it – why should they? it was an unknown factor in its recorded history, even from the time of Sindbad the Sailor.

But when events had it that this unlettered character from Bangladesh, was deadly accurate in his prediction ( more than 50 Omanis perished with Gonu, and over a billion dollars worth of assets destroyed ), he was promptly incarcerated, for both in the Kingdom, and the officially declared Faith, such predictions were not in consonance with the Law of the Land, the Sharia.   My own aside on this : a Bangladeshi, especially from the coastal regions of the Bans and Chittagong and so on, has a sixth sense about when there is a chance of water overpowering land, and this man had voiced his feeling, maybe even concern.  No doubt he is back in his homeland, where he feels more at ease and comfortable, today, in home and hearth, probably in the coastal area off Chittagong.

The next incident that the Doctor related to me, by which time he had moved to his current practice in Saudi Arabia, transpired on the 25th November, 2009, in Jeddah;  enormous and unexpected flooding occurred in the city, never known to have transpired in recorded history, and this time, it was a Pathan from Pakistan, who saved no less than 14 nationals of the country of which he was an expatriate, before perishing in the engulfing waters himself. They got his name this time: Farman Ali Khan. And his family was amply compensated for his valiant effort that saved others’  lives. But what the good Doctor told me is, that this time round, this unlettered Pakistani’s name was emblazoned for the knowledge of posterity, on the very road where the Saudi nationals with their imported luxury cars, were carried away by the current. Naming roads, just like building statues, may not particularly corroborate to the tenets of Islam, which encourages neither. Hopefully Farman Ali Khan is remembered in both the country that he left, with the objective of improving the circumstances that his family were in back home, as well as the country to which he went to work, or would the waters have washed away the memories of his sacrifice too ?

Now, to relate the third incident, which transpired in Dubai, that too, at the Burj Khalifa, still, socking it skyward, touted as the tallest building in the world; a gentleman who is connected with servicing the machinery for global giants, KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino’s and the like, recounted this to me, and dear reader, if you got this far, you need a solid heart to stomach this. He had to visit Dubai in the course of this work, in May 2011, and when he had some time to spare, went off to visit the Burj Khalifa. To his consternation, when asked where he hailed from, and he said India, everyone, Arab and otherwise, stared at  him agape. When he inquired why his nationality should stir up such attention, he was told that barely a couple of days earlier, a long-time employee of Indian origin, had taken the extraordinary step of ending his earthly existence by catapulting off the Burj Khalifa. One reason ostensibly given was that he was not granted leave of absence to be with his family back home, by his employers. This carrot and stick theory in an Arab ambiance, with homo sapiens originating from South Asia but who find themselves in that particular geographical region,  that may well be described as the relationship between the dispossessed and the masters, is no doubt pejorative, and may even be passe.

Be that as it may, Thereby Hangs a Tale !!

Thumbs up, you buggers from South Asia, I think I will throw my weight behind you ( and I don’t have a choice, either ) !!

Kashmir – Sublimely Ridiculous, Ridiculously Sublime Tuesday, Feb 5 2013 

Someone, actually that religious fanatic Shakespeare, used an expression “Music of the Spheres”, and that maverick endlessly-smoking author, who died 2007, Kurt Vonnegut, riling at the US invasion of Iraq in public lectures, rather expressed the same thing:


What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.

And all music is.

Now why would I get into that ? Plenty of professional writers began their profession as music critics to start with, including such eminent, and more relevant today than during their own lifetime, personages as Bernard Shaw.  But the majority of bloggers, a latter-day euphemism for pretenders like yours truly, are like morning walkers, just about trying to keep their mental and physical faculties reasonably alert, by expressing themselves to the wide yonder.

This babble is induced by a fatwa – interpreted today by a cleric, Grand Mufti, no less, as Advise – on three girls from Kashmir who “went underground”. – aw hell, they could perhaps be permitted to sing, but to jive in public…..let everyone shriek an emphatic No.

Unfortunately, neither do I know of the girls, not even their names, and worse, nor heard of their music, except one small snippet which I was surprised to hear was written by Baba Bulleh Shah – I am ashamed to say that I did not even know of this august personage, till a few years ago, but now seems to me that this person’s fame acquires not just greater renown in the Sufi tradition of Pakistan and India, but more so in Kashmir.

Now, my own original Kashmiri will always be Chacha Jawaharlal, who was not particularly known to be an aficionado of music, and my father would always chortle to me , “you know, Nehru regularly called the harmonium ” that awful instrument” ” .

That instrument, of course, is something that is endemic in, and particular to, the sub-continent, like plenty of diseases and fragrances, and it is still used by the most prominent of musicians to string the “sapta-swaras”, or the seven notes, that a prancing Julie Andrews made famous in an original Second-World-War based movie called “Sound of Music“. Now, coming to that particular war, the opposing, meaning Failed, side of Hitler, drew its inspiration from Wagner, and if you, dear reader, wish to pass judgement, I would most certainly encourage you to listen on. Latterly,  Zubin Mehta, the conductor, then of the NY Philharmonic, met opposition to its rendering in the then Promised Land of the Jews, before being selected as Director for Life, of their Philharmonic.  If someone did actually say that Music is food for the Soul, I really have to wonder whose Soul he or she is talking about ?

Coming to the three girls who had to quit the stage, and while the media may have its uses, it certainly seemed to make the small fire churn out more smoke than it deserved, the particular song that they vocalised before being ushered off, for being a threat to faith and society, had a beat that not only is easy to shake a leg to, as the girls did, but one that I particularly enjoyed in the Pakistani movie           ” Khuda ke liye “, a title which I would like to render loosely as ” For God’s Sake, you nitwit “:  The picturisation is not that of the original movie, but I think it is more appropriate for the land from where these three kids who got tapes fixed on their mouths, and their legs bound, hail from:

Coming to the movie itself, it had the protagonist who is himself into the music scene, gets to Chicago in a music class, woos a young American lady, presenting her with a cd of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and following the fall of the Twin Towers, in the closing scene ends up in the arms of his mother in Lahore as a living vegetable, even his eyes blank, and only his thumb twitching.

Those who have followed the life of the late Pandit Ravi Shankar ( not Kashmiri Pandit, I will get to such a personage at the end of this write-up) may recall that when during his first stint across the shores of India, even shared the stage with the inimitable Jimi Hendrix, whose virtuoso performances with the guitar, as recordings, can stun those who listen to it even today, and Jimi died when he was just 26, when the venerable Pandit was a young maestro, with an influence on the Beatles generally, and George in particular.   The Pandit is on record stating that he quit the scene in the west, after incidents like Jimi smashing and burning his guitar on stage – Woodstock comes to mind, though this smashing and burning of the guitar, a peculiar equivalent of the harmonium, occurred at the Monterey Pop Festival.  The Pandit Ravi, after all, is in the tradition of gharanas, court-musicians, in the style of a Samrat Tansen, whose Malhar could usher in rains, and Deepak could light up lamps in storms  ( Talk of Candles in the Wind, holding the record for the largest selling single in the history of recorded music) !

There is another element to music though, that steps from the mundane to the divine,  that the cacophony of sound can never capture, but can be caught by teasing the silence that occurs in between. The Maestro Ilayaraaja does this, as no doubt, others do, too. Abida Parveen does it, for one, with her vocals. This can be heard in quiet corners of Kashmir, no doubt.

But we do not need to exercise our grey cells that much. Several years ago, when the veteran journalist MJ Akbar, interviewed the then opposition leader, and now late, ex-PM of Pakistan, Benazir, she asked him, are you a Kashmiri, and he candidly answered “Yes”, and in another interview of his ( talk of the hunter becoming the hunted ), when asked about his leitmotif in life, actually came up with a Mohammed Rafi song that sustains him.  As a young kid, this particular song always did actually get me puffed up in anger, after all, how could anyone just take anything lying down, through one’s existence on the planet? ; and those who understand Urdu will sympathise with the sentiment, but with age making the bones brittle, I would like to go with MJ Akbar and  his song of life:

But before the song wafts away along with the fatwa of the Grand Mufti, on the three girls, who will no doubt be both heard of, and heard, sooner rather than later, I would encourage the dear reader who has been persistent enough to read this far, to actually read the novel of that other most-famous writer of Kashmiri origin, Salman Rushdie, Shalimar the Clown, which book, if in the right hands that are inclined to cinema, can be picturised far better than what is supposed to be his masterpiece, Midnight’s Children, a bit of a damp squib as a rendering on celluloid.  Shalimar has his original home-state Kashmir as background, and grips like a suspense novel, though it has towards the end, that repugnant feel of the oxymoron “magic realism” that is attached to his other famous work. Rushdie, unlike the three teeny-weeny girls,  is no stranger to the fatwa-phenomenon that today’s electronic media finds most newsworthy, and drums up for all it is worth.

But music, song, dance, religion, and the Kashmiri Pundit…..I have to sign off with this, this guy has got the mix. I rather envy him. You will hear more of him too. I hope he gets to sing with the three girls out there, and again, sooner rather than later.

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