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Showing posts from May, 2014

Sweetie Gandhi

Historical Fiction “My force is ready, Sweetie,” said Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw on 3 Dec 1971.  Indira Gandhi did not display her annoyance at being called Sweetie because she could not afford the display at that time, much as she loved displays.  She wanted to win the war with Pakistan and Manekshaw was the only person who could do it for her.  It took seven months for the military leader of India to give her the assurance that his fighters were ready.  Ms Gandhi wanted immediate solutions.  Manekshaw said, “I’m a fighter.  Honest fighter.” Seven months ago, his question to Ms Gandhi the Prime Minister was, “Have you read the Bible?” “What has the Bible got to do with this?” asked Sardar Swaran Singh, Foreign Affairs Minister.  “See the first pages.  ‘Let there be light,’ said God.  And there was light.  Now you say, ‘Let there be war.’  And there will be war.  Wars can take place at the whim and fancy of any ruler.  But are we prepared?  Going to war witho

The Luminaries

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Book Review Author: Eleanor Catton Publisher: Granta, London, 2013 Pages: 832       Price in India: Rs799 There are some books which extract a sigh of relief from us as we turn their last page.  The winner of the 2013 Booker Prize belongs to that category.  You feel relieved that it has come to an end at last.  You feel like a child who has successfully put together all the pieces of a complex jigsaw puzzle after a gruelling struggle. 14 Jan 1866.  Crosbie Wells is found dead in his cottage.  Anna Wetherell is found almost dead elsewhere.  Emery Staines has vanished.  Francis Carver has sailed away in a barque that he bought from Alistair Lauderback presenting himself as Crosbie Wells.  An amount of 4000 pounds (a huge sum in those days) is missing.  Alistair Lauderback has a connection with the real Crosbie Wells which the former does not want to acknowledge.  832 pages are devoted to unravel the above mysteries which are all related to one another.  Hokitika

Season of Peace

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You don’t mess with the Zohan is a 2008 Hollywood slapstick comedy.  Zohan is an Israeli counter-terrorist who becomes bored of all the violence and moves secretly to the USA where he becomes a hairdresser assuming the pseudonym of Scrappy Coco (names of the two dogs with whom he had shared the flight).  He lives in the lower Manhattan where Middle Eastern Americans abound. The Palestinians and the Israelis live on opposite sides of the street.  Zohan becomes a freak success in the salon run by a Palestinian woman named Dalia after giving a haircut to an old woman with whom he also has sex soon after the very ‘loving’ haircut.  Dalia’s business booms because of Zohan’s double services and a corporate magnate who wants to evacuate the emigrants in order to construct a roller coaster mall is beaten.  A lot of hilarious comedy and much Hollywood action later, Zohan the Israeli marries Dalia the Palestinian.  Pope Francis at the wall built by Israel The movie brings out in i

Admirer of Beauty

John Keats admired beauty.  Otherwise he could not have written the poem ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’.  The poem narrates the story of a knight in the middle ages who met a beautiful woman in some wilderness.  She, the beauty, allowed him to take her on his horseback to some places as he wished until finally she took him to her cave and lulled him to sleep.  When the knight woke up, the beauty had disappeared.  He went in search of that beauty all over the valley. Keats’ poem ends with the statement that the knight is still searching for the beautiful woman in that valley years and years after she deserted him.  You would think he was a ghost in case you met him there in that valley.  Seekers of beauty became ghosts in Keats’ era (early 19th century) But Keats belonged to an era when people, at least some people, quested after truth which they thought was beauty.  “Beauty is truth and truth beauty.”  Didn’t Keats write that too?  And you don’t need to know anything more than

Paroxysms of Truth

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Proceed at your own risk “I contend that there are no whole truths , there are only pertinent truths – and pertinence, you must agree, is always a matter of perspective .” The quote is from the arduous novel that won the Booker Prize last year, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.  The emphases are added by this author who is still plodding through the novel one week after he started reading it. When Mr Narendra Modi, the Emperor of the South Asian Region, invited the whole Luminaries of the (defunct) SAARC continent to his coronation ceremony, truth began to wiggle and wriggle in my solar plexus until it became a paroxysm.   I had decided to ignore politics in my writing.  But my new Prime Minister won’t let me do it, it seems.  He is the actor par excellence.  Nobody in Indian politics will ever outshine him in histrionics, I am quite sure. Robert Graves may be inspired to resurrect himself from his grave to write yet another sequel to his unparalleled novel, I, Cl

Busy People

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In 1928, eminent economist  John Maynard Keynes wrote in an essay that in a century the standard of life in Europe and America would improve so much that people would have a lot of leisure.  By 2028, “our grandchildren,” wrote Keynes, would have to work only about three hours a day. The economist was quite wrong, it seems.  14 years away from his predicted time,  the standard of life improved, no doubt, but work or work-related activity has increased more than ever even in the continents he mentioned.  In our own country too, the standard of life has improved considerably.  But we find that the working hours in offices have increased rather than decreased.  In spite of superior technologies like the computer in place of the typewriter, and rapid communication systems like the email, we find ourselves busier than people of the previous generation.  In fact, people had much more time for relaxation in the olden days.   I remember how people of my parents’ generation used to spend

All the best, Mr Modi

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"That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind," said Neil Armstrong when he landed on the moon.  Great conquests make some people feel unduly proud, while they make others humble.  Mr Narendra Modi’s speech in the Central Hall of the Parliament yesterday showed us a totally different face of the man.  He was humble and tame.  Gone were the characteristic hubris and mockery of others.  "I have seen new facets,” said Mr Modi.  New facets that prompt him to be a leader of the poor and the downtrodden, a leader of all the people in the country.  Let me quote him in full: “A government is one which thinks about the poor, listens to the poor and which exists for the poor. Therefore, the new government is dedicated to the poor, millions of youth and mothers and daughters who are striving for their respect and honour. Villagers, farmers, Dalits and the oppressed, this government is for them, for their aspirations and this is our responsibility. A

Let diversity remain

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A former student of mine made the following suggestion on FaceBook.  Most European languages can be traced back to a root language that is related to Sanskrit – the sacred language of the ancient Vedic religions of India. Many English words actually have Sanskrit origins. It's a shame however that in our own country we don't adapt anything unless it comes recycled from the west. We must reclaim what's ours and give it a deserving place. A message from the Prime Minister can do wonders in that direction. What do you think, would it not be great if NaMo takes his oath in Sanskrit? The writer later clarified that he was not very serious about it.  However, he had given me a jolt already because I had noticed him as a student who was too passionate about exclusive nationalism.  Personally, I don’t take individual views seriously unless they become a threat to public welfare.  Now that the young man is becoming highly articulate riding on the exultant wave of BJP’s ‘

The Enemy Within

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I celebrated the onset of the summer vacation watching Life of Pi on Star Movies.  I haven’t read the novel and hence don’t know how far the movie is loyal to it.  Experience has taught me that movies generally do much injustice to written texts.  I liked the movie, however. The tiger as well as the other animals on the lifeboat may be an invention of Pi.  Though he tells us another story replacing the animals with human characters, he leaves us with the option of choosing between the two tales, without ever telling us conclusively which the real version is. The film is a kind of fable with a moral.  Religions and gods are as good as stories and myths in man’s attempt to discover meaning in life, shows the movie.  They are all palliatives in times of anguish.  Man liberates himself from his pains by transmuting the pain into a narrative.  Religion does the same thing in a slightly different way.  Perhaps, religion has the added advantage in the form of omnipotent and omn

Dignity

“Clean my toilet,” said principal to peon in the India Public School. “I’m a peon,” asserted the peon. “Narendra Modi is our Prime Minister, you know,” said the principal menacingly.  “You have to obey now.” “I choose to quit.”  The peon was very proud of his caste profession. The peon resigned.  “Dignity of labour,” he gave reason. And he became a toilet cleaner in Mona Towers built on land taken over from farmers by Namo Builders and Developers in collaboration with the USA.  The only problem now is that he doesn’t know how to convert dollars into Indian rupees.  J

Modi Market

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“Modi Bhagwan ka Jai Ho!” greeted the phone call.  It was my friend, Joseph.  I don’t know whether he said ka or ko or ki or ke or ku .  My knowledge of Hindi is as bad as his and my knowledge of vowel sounds is not as good as Prof Higgins’s.  “Why are you so thrilled?” I asked.  “Excited about being sent to some gas chamber or something?  Freudian death wish!” “Nahin, yaar.”  It was interesting to hear Hindi from someone who never spoke that language with me.  Some people are intractable survivors.  “I managed to sell all the stock I have been holding in my portfolio for over two years.  The moment Modi’s party won the elections the stocks simply sold out at a decent profit.” “Jai Ho!  Hail Modi!”  I said in spite of myself.  “It means that now I can sell the little land I have in Kerala for some profit.”  Enthusiasm is contagious, as Rajneesh Baba said. “You don’t have to sell it, yaar,” said Joseph with the enthusiasm that Goebbels had when the Second Worl

50 Years after Nehru

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Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, died 50 years ago (27 May 1964).  Tomorrow the country will get to know a new Prime Minister, most probably.  How far will we have come from Nehru then? Nelson Mandela, while admitting Mahatma Gandhi’s influence on him, said, “But Nehru was really my hero.”  Nehru was a true democrat, explained Mandela in his Rajiv Gandhi Foundation lecture on 25 Jan 1995, who strove to ensure a life with dignity for every citizen.  Nehru transcended the narrow boundaries like religion that tended to divide man against man.  Arguably, Nehru’s greatest contribution to India was his concept of secularism.  Today the word causes frowns on the foreheads of the country’s culture guardians.  The Congress that ruled over India after Nehru is to be blamed partially for those frowns.  But the lion’s share of the blame should go to the vested interests of certain other political parties and religious organisations that refused to understand Nehru

Cenotaphs of Orchha

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Off the Betwa river, the skyline of Orchha is marked by the pinnacles of the cenotaphs constructed in memory of the Bundela kings and lords.  The chief hobby of most kings and lords in the olden days was conquest.  The victors and the vanquished fill the pages of our history books in the colour of blood.  Orchha’s cenotaphs have stood for centuries reminding us of the futility of all victories.  All cenotaphs and mausoleums remind us of the ultimate fate of all human beings: “Out of dust, to dust again,” as Bahadur Shah Zafar wrote after being imprisoned by his British conquerors.  But the last Mughal Emperor also wrote the following lines in the same poem. You pressed your lips upon my lips, Your heart upon my beating heart... Life is a love affair.  A series of love affairs, rather.  We love people, things, and whatever else adds delight to our life which would be a dreary enterprise without these love affairs.  Political power and sublime art, religious pie

The Dumbness of Orchha

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Our tourist guide was deaf and dumb.  Chaturbhuj Temple Maggie and I landed in Orchha rather unexpectedly.  We had no idea what lay in store for us there except that some parts of the movie, Raavan, were shot there.  The auto driver stopped in the parking lot and pointed at an ancient structure and mumbled something.  I asked him what it was and he said while pushing his auto into its parking corner, “Mandir (temple).  There’s also a mahal (palace).”  He did not look cooperative at all.  He must have been irked by the cop who swindled Rs 50 out of him at the UP-MP border though he added that amount to our fare in the end.  “What fault did you commit so that you had to bribe the cop?” I asked when he had returned from the cop.  “It’s the routine...” he mumbled with palpable irritation. The Ascent We ascended the granite steps of the Chaturbhuj temple.  A honeycomb lay hanging on the arch at the entrance.  There was a priest conducting some rituals and a few devote

The Eagle of Orchha

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Orchha lies 15 km away from Jhansi.  While Jhansi is in Uttar Pradesh, Orchha is in Madhya Pradesh.  Tourists probably don’t take interest in Orchha which has nothing much to offer except what is known as Jahangir Mahal.   I happened to reach Orchha by destiny.  Purely by destiny.  There's much I have to say about that destiny. Destiny can wait.  Like history.  In the meanwhile, here is a picture of the eagle I captured from the Jahangir Mahal at Orchha. It may be difficult to see the eagle.  Its body merges with the structure of the "temple".   I zoomed my camera lens.  And the pic is below.  Is the eagle of Orchha real? I started writing this blog with the caption "The dumbness of Orchha" and then changed it.  Because I can't express all that I saw in Orchha within a few words.    Orchha taught me much.  But give me some time to write about it, please.   In the meanwhile, let me say I turned a bourgeois after reaching Orchha b

Ghost

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Pratap got into the old style elevator of the 14-storey building in Connaught Place.  He was going to pay the premium of his Relevance Life Insurance at the office on the 8 th floor.  Built during the days of the British Raj, the building which looked quite ghostly had elevators with grille doors.  Pratap drew both the grilles shut and pressed on number 8 on the panel.  As the lift was about to raise itself with a thud, a shabbily dressed man with a grisly beard crept into it through the grille. “How did you that?” asked Pratap whose rationalism couldn’t accept a solid body making its way through iron bars. “I am a ghost,” said the fellow traveller. “Oh, I see.”  Pratap looked at the guy with his rationalist eye and wondered what this phenomenon could be.  E=mc 2 .  Mass can be converted into energy.  But not this way.  Pratap was still exercising his rational brain when the ghost started sobbing louder than the noise produced by the crawling lift. “Hey,” said Pr