Archive for September, 2010

Earlier, this evening I heard two neighbours squabbling in the parking lot. I think the argument was over the use or misuse of parking space. I heard a woman tell the other “izzat se baat karo” and then she promptly let off a stream of invectives of the MC, BC and F variety! These neighbours usually chat every evening on the bench outside their building, so what happened today? It’s amazing how every little thing escalates into something that soon becomes uncontrollable.

Sorry for being such a cynic, but thanks to the amount of bad blood that this mandir-masjid issue has generated, it will take another hundred years for either community to erase the feeling of hatred and distrust that now exists. And with the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court coming out largely in favour of the BJP and like-minded parties and groups, I am afraid we have a long way to go before this issue is taken to its logical conclusion.

So can we stop calling it the ‘disputed structure’? Or do we have to wait for the Supreme Court decision? I am also curious to know how the Temple Trust intends to construct a temple in two-thirds of the area right next to a spot where a mosque might come up. I can already sense the feeling of unease that will pervade in the area. I am afraid those days of a mosque and temple coexisting side-by side are over.

Yes, yes I know there are villages where these things happen, but the poor villagers are simple folk who are more worried about their next meal than listening to devious politicians like Advani, Modi , Singhal, Shahabuddin, Gilani and the rest. And let’s not forget the Mulayams, Lalus and those from the Congress who don the pseudo-secular Gandhi topi and incite the mobs. They will ensure the issue is kept alive.

What I find intriguing about this verdict is that the learned judges have agreed that Babur either demolished a religious structure or built a mosque over the ruins of one. They also agreed that the Ram idols were placed in the mosque in December, 1949. What the judges don’t say is whether the priest’s action of placing the idols in the mosque was right or wrong. Are they also implying that the action of the priest and the demolition of the mosque were justified? They leave both these points open to conjecture. Let me state that I am going by the initial news of the verdict aired by TV channels and from here.

The Waqf Board has already said it will appeal. They don’t seem in the mood to accept the verdict and “move on” as the BJP and RSS wants them to do. More importantly, will the moderates among the community be able to control the more fanatical lot? Who is going to stop the hardliners if they decide to take the more dangerous path? And then there is the terrorist and our ‘friendly’ neighbours who are ever willing to fan the flames.

Now that the verdict has gone in their favour the BJP is sounding very calm and almost generous. But how long before it raises the issue of Mathura and Kashi? Can they let go of such a golden opportunity, especially when elections are around the corner and it will give them the opportunity to tell the voter, “they did it”. What if the Muslim leadership takes an aggressive stance and refuses to accept even a Supreme Court verdict? And there is always the possibility of the apex court overturning the High Court decision? Will the BJP be as magnanimous then? Something tells me this issue is far from over.

Isn’t it ironical that politicians who swear by Lord Ram and Ram Rajya, have no qualms in dividing his birthplace into three pieces to achieve their ends?


I was driving back home this evening listening to the sounds of Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson singing and playing the flute in Thick As A Brick, when I remembered the blog post by a student who wrote about how after a hectic day of classes and assignments she came back to listen to Pink Floyd’s Time. She wrote that it did wonders to her mood.

I completely understood her viewpoint because nowadays I listen to music for around three hours every day in my car, when I drive to and from Lavale or elsewhere! Yup that’s how much time I spend in my Swift every day The quirky sound of Anderson’s flute and Martin Barre’s rasping guitar, the heavy sounds of AC/DC, Deep Purple or The Wall, really help me to shut out the mayhem outside. Thank God for car stereos and THANK GOD for music.

The first English song I had heard was sometime in the early 1970s – and that too by default. I remember I was in school and had missed my bus. As I waited for a while before making the trek to M.G. Road to board the next one, I heard the sound of the piano and this very rich voice singing.

Some of the students were listening to an album on a record player, and I learnt it was called ‘Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player.’ The song was ‘My High Flying Bird’ and was sung by someone called Elton John. That was my initiation into the world of English music. To me the lyrics were sheer bloody poetry. If you don’t believe me, check it out for yourself.

Then in 1974 I heard Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon in Rourkela, where I was holidaying with my cousins. It was amazing music. I’d never heard anything like that before and don’t think after. The sound of the clock in ‘Time’ and the slot machine in ‘Money’ completely freaked me out. And the wails of the guitar were like nothing I’d ever heard before. I asked the guy whose house I was in, to play it a louder, and a little louder and then a little more. It was an ethereal experience and I think I understood the meaning of goose pimples that day. It was also the day I realised that rock music is appreciated only when listened to loud!

The next time I got that feeling was when I heard The Eagles singing ‘Hotel California’ over Radio Australia in 1976 or ’77, when it had just been released. RA used to have this programme in the afternoon from 2.40 p.m. to 4.30 p.m. where they played the top of the pops. Even though it was shortwave radio and one had to keep adjusting the antenna, it was just awesome listening to song. Today I am delighted when my son keeps telling me to play the CD.

In September 2008, just ten days after terror hit Mumbai, I drove down there to watch Tull perform live with Anoushka Shankar at the Shanmukhananda Hall. I’d never seen Tull perform live before and felt like I was back in college! It was a wonderful experience and I think Anderson had the audience up on their feet even before the performance started, when he said, “We had to play here tonight. We had to send a message to those lunatics that we weren’t scared of them.”

Which reminds of an interview I read sometime in the Mid 1990s when Jethro Tull was supposed to play in Mumbai for the first time. One question that the reporter asked Anderson had my colleague Sudheer Gaikwad and me shaking our heads in disbelief. It showed how little the guy knew about music and also how important it was to understand your subject before reporting on it. And Anderson’s answer was one that only a funny Brit could give.
Q: Why does Tull guitarist Martin Barre copy Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler?
A: That’s probably because Knopfler uses a ‘Barre’ guitar.

For those of you who don’t know, Dire Straits burst onto the music scene a decade after Tull, and here’s something from the Internet on Martin Barre: Barre’s signature solo on the 1971 Jethro Tull standardAqualungwas voted by the readers of Guitar Player magazine as one of the top rock guitar solos of all time. Also, in 2007, this solo was rated one of the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos by Guitar World magazine. Dire Straits’ leader Mark Knopfler, in a 2005 interview, called Barre’s work with Ian Anderson “magical”.

That also convinced me that only someone who understood music should ever review music albums. Which is probably why I never did, because while I listened to a lot of music, I didn’t know a C from a D or a barre from a note and still don’t!

Don’t take life so seriously…

Posted: September 27, 2010 in blogging
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My favourite quote is “Don’t take life so seriously, no one gets out alive.” I’ve lived by those rules all these years and now as (according to some of my young friends) I am heading into the sunset, I am hardly going to change that view. I hope my students follow that dictum when they are my age and wherever they are! They will be amazed at how far they can go in life with a smile on their face.

But it’s amazing how much manure grows between the ears of some people. They could fertilise their backyard with it. A few days back I was asked by a student whether the news of my resignation was true. Well, if my resignation had been ‘seen’ by a student lying on the institute director’s table, it had to be true. Only I had no clue!

When I found out from where this bit of information emanated, I confronted the person. This kid told another that he had heard me telling someone that I had been offered the post of editorial consultant for an English magazine. He assumed that since I had been “offered” this post I would naturally be quitting. I don’t know, from where he got this bit of inspired thinking. He passed on this “information” to someone else. I don’t blame him, because he probably thought he had got a “scoop”! But this is the point from where 2+2 became 22! From here on, my offer letter became a resignation letter which had already found its way to the boss’s table. Of course, neither the employee nor the boss had a clue!

So by the time I got to hear about it, I was, according to some people, on the verge of bidding goodbye to the institute! It’s surprising how much time people have on their hands in the midst of assignments, projects and the impending semester-end examinations! I wish they took as much interest in what they had come here to do, instead of whining on about this and that, everyday. That at the end of this farce, I still have my wits around me and can still laugh about it, has a lot to do with my favourite quote. The thing is I get mad too, and I don’t forget, but unlike some people I know, I don’t let it affect me.

Like today, as I was dropping my wife off at her place of work I saw something that made me laugh. We were at a traffic intersection just before 9 am, when the traffic lights hadn’t started functioning. One car just about grazed past another. Both cars stopped in the middle of the intersection. The drivers kept staring at each other, neither wanting to budge, even as horns blared all round us. We too were trying to weave our way around the mess. Suddenly both aggrieved drivers shot out of their respective cars and began slapping each other.

It was the most absurd scenario, because nothing had happened to either car. Suddenly a cop materialised out of somewhere and began to placate the two idiots. Instead, he should have done to the two guys what they were doing to each other. It would have brought the problem to an abrupt, albeit painful end. Since I was getting delayed, I didn’t wait to see whether he did or not. It was only after I dropped off my wife, did I think back on the incident and start laughing.

Take even me for instance. I am a punctuality freak. I hate going late anywhere – unless I am in an accident. I once reached a big fat Punjabi wedding, at 7.30 p.m. because the card stated that. The wedding party, however, landed up at 11 p.m.! I was hopping mad at being made to wait. Then my wife told me “Why get mad at them? Always reach an hour or so late for such events.”

A few years earlier, I also reached the Poona Club at 7. 30 p.m. for a wedding reception slated for 8.00 p.m. The bride reached over an hour late. This time I had reason to complain. I was the groom.

Now that Suresh Kalmadi’s goose is all but cooked, here’s a question I would like to ask Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sports Minister MS Gill. What were they doing talking through their respective butts these past few years, when they should have been getting off it and getting the job done? Why didn’t they stop Kalmadi from spreading the ‘Wealth’ around when they had the time and the authority? I guess the inclination was missing.

You can blame Kalmadi all you want for this Commonwealth Games disaster, but is he alone responsible? Shouldn’t this have been the direct responsibility of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his various ministries? After all, this entire exercise involves a lot of government departments not just one, so why did they all sit back and allow one man to run riot?

This isn’t the Pune Festival we are talking about, where there are bullock cart races organised in the suburbs. This is the Commonwealth Games where so many countries of the world would be participating – even if they were mostly a bunch of second-rung athletes from a lot of inconsequential countries who were coming along for the ride.

Why did the Prime Minister wait till two months before the CWG to kick Kalmadi’s ass – figuratively speaking. If the mild-mannered Sardar could have done that literally and liberally, the country wouldn’t be in the mess it is at present. Why I say this is because it is hard to believe that the prime minister was unaware of the fact that Kalmadi and his cohorts were engaging in large-scale corruption. When the rest of the country knew it, how is it that he didn’t? He is either totally incompetent or couldn’t care less. If anyone should take moral responsibility for this gargantuan disaster it is the Prime Minister.

And then there are enough powerful politicians with an axe to grind with Kalmadi, ready to jump on the anti-CWG bandwagon. I am sure they’re all sitting back and chortling at the disgraceful events that are unfolding in Delhi at present. That politics was being played out over the Games was obvious to anyone who understood an iota about politics and political happenings. This entire exercise was one of Congress+Kalmadi versus the Rest and the Rest was winning from Day One, because an inept government with an ineffectual leader allowed things to go adrift.

Strangely enough the media has been writing and speaking about all that was wrong with the organisation of the Commonwealth Games from the beginning. So how is it that the government didn’t think it was worth acting upon? And tragically this has been the case with every political event in the country. There is a tendency to let things drift until it reaches a point of no return. While that says a lot about the country’s politicians, it also speaks a lot about the so-called power of the media!

There is a lesson in this for all those who believe that it is always the media’s job to “do something.” What were the people doing when this charade was being played out over all these years? Did we (and I include myself) file a public interest litigation against Kalmadi or the IOA or did they launch a campaign which would force the government to step in. The answer is a big NO. So let’s not rage against the system that we are a part of and have done nothing to change.

We know that once the Games are over (assuming that they will be held), there will be a massive cover up. Kalmadi will obviously be the fall guy and face a temporary banishment. Everyone will congratulate each other for ‘punishing’ the guilty and things then will return to normal. This is how things have turned out on every occasion earlier – be it in sports or politics. What’s the guarantee it won’t happen again? Can you blame the citizen for becoming a cynic?

A student of mine asked me earlier whether we should just sit back and accept it when we know the country is being screwed by the politicians. We can vote out the corrupt or turn to the judiciary. We can cast our vote every few years and hope that the man or woman we send to Delhi will make our lives better. But even then there is no guarantee, because we aren’t really sure that the person we choose to represent us will ensure for us a better life.

And then there is the judiciary, which we always thought would come to the rescue of the common man. But look at what happened in a northern state. The Chief Justice met the Chief Minister and soon after the judge looking into corruption cases against her is divested off the case! Then some former law minister says that more than half of the judges are corrupt. So who do you turn to?

The fear of flying….

Posted: September 19, 2010 in journalism
Tags: ,

Just the other day I met a publisher who asked me to work on a 50-page English magazine for the youth – a serious magazine which would talk about positive thinking, career, and personality development but with a few ‘light’ features, without any stress on fashion, gossip, scandal or films. The gentleman also has a Hindi magazine on the same lines and suggested that articles could be transcribed from Hindi to English and reworked to suit an English readership.

It’s difficult to bring out a magazine today which doesn’t have anything on who’s sleeping with whom or who’s bitching about whom or who’s wearing (or not wearing) the latest in fashion! But I’m willing to give it a shot. But where do I find the students who will work with me on this venture?

Let me take you back a few years. In the midst of the pressures on the News Desk of various newspapers where I worked, whenever I wanted to show my irritation at some goof up by one of my juniors, I would stand in the middle of the copy desk and say in mock exasperation, “Who the hell hired you bunch of no-hopers?” And everyone at the copy desk would cheerfully shout back, “You did!”

It was said in fun, but I appreciated the hard work (though I hardly ever said it!) the people at the Desk put in. They were willing to work on any of the beats they were assigned. The guy working on the World desk would willingly swap places with the copy editor on the Nation desk. It was another matter that we had moved them to the respective desks after judging their strengths and weaknesses, so they were told to stay put. The point is they were willing.

It’s in marked contrast to what I’ve seen these past few years in the media schools that I have taught. A lot of kids don’t want to try something new. They have already decided they want to write ONLY on politics, fashion, lifestyle, or whatever subject, they find interesting, even before they fully comprehended the term ‘reporting and writing’ in its entirety. I’ve also had students who’ve come to me and said they would love to write but have no idea what they can write on. I tell them to jot down their interests and come back to me. I don’t know whether it’s the fees they’ve paid or the humongous curriculum that stops them for attempting something out of the ordinary. But I don’t hear from many of them after that. Is it that they don’t like the challenge and don’t want to think?

How anyone can become a ‘complete’ reporter if one doesn’t attempt to write on every subject, at least in their formative years, is a mystery to me. I wonder what will happen to them when sometime, somewhere their superiors tell them they just aren’t good enough at what they’re doing – and they realise they can’t do anything else, because they never tried to when they had the opportunity.

The college website and the newspaper published by students of an institute where I teach is probably an exception to this rule. Since its launch last year, the students have worked on both the portal and the newspaper with a passion and commitment that I don’t see in most kids today. Many of them have put aside their personal differences and egos and diligently worked on the magazine and they are now reaping the rewards. Seeing the advantages and the benefits, now even the undergraduate kids of the same institute are all set to launch their own portal and newspaper.

No one – and I mean no one – in all my years in journalism ever told me not to write on a particular subject. And nor did I feel that I could not or should not – at least not in the beginning of my career. With the help of a red ink pen, my seniors showed me the way and left it to me to decide how good or bad how I was! So, there was a lot of crappy and sloppy stuff that I wrote but it was a wonderful learning experience. But that did not deter me. It made me realise that there were certain subjects that I could not write on and should not attempt to. But that came later in my career.

So the publisher has now asked me to put together a team of eight to ten youngsters, who can write, transcribe and design the magazine. I am wondering who has the courage or the drive to take on that responsibility. The thought of forming and then leading a team, is just the ‘kick’ a student requires. Sadly, the answer I get most often is “I am not cut out for this.” Is it the fear of failure that stops them from taking up a challenge?

As Richard Bach said in Jonathan Livingston Seagull, “How much more there is now to living! Instead of our drab slogging forth and back to the fishing boats, there’s reason to life! We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly!

Is there anyone willing to prove me wrong?

Ok, here’s a quick quiz? And don’t surf the Internet for answers, be honest with yourself.

• What was the exact date of the bomb blasts in Sarojini Nagar in New Delhi?
• When were the bomb blasts in Greater Kailash Market and Karol Bagh in New Delhi?

How many of you guessed correctly? Let me be honest, even I didn’t know the precise answers to these questions. So why can’t we recollect the dates of the blasts in Delhi? Is it because those who got killed were people just like you and me (I mean the middle class) who were out there shopping, looking for a bargain in the middle class markets of Delhi when they were blown to smithereens? So what am I getting at?

I’ve been reading with interest Salman Khan’s comments on the terror attacks in Mumbai on 26/11 and the reactions to it by politicians. According to the websites, this is one half of his comment: “It was the elite that were targeted this time. Five star hotels and all. So they panicked. Then they got up and spoke about it. My question is why not before. Attacks have happened in trains and small towns too, but no one talked about it so much.”

I can’t seem to find the other half of his comment on Pakistan’s involvement (or the lack of it) anywhere. But if he has said that Pakistan is not involved then he should be condemned, because by now the world knows that Pakistan was in it neck deep.

But coming to the first half of Salman’s comment, what has he said that is so wrong? Moreover, why has it angered the political class, most of who were anyway missing when people were getting slaughtered and when policemen and hotel staff died in the line of duty on 26/11 in Mumbai? Like always, they know they can get their two minutes of fame if they drag the name of a film star into a needless controversy. So why not do it? So let’s not get swayed by all the nonsense and breast-beating indulged in by the politicians at Salman’s comment.

People have died in blasts set off in Mumbai’s local trains and in buses, or in Delhi’s GK Market, Paharganj, Akshardham, but no one remembers and no one cares, because it was the little guy who died. No one lit a candle for them and no one ever held placards that said “Enough is enough!”

The unpleasant truth is that one of the main reasons why 26/11 remains etched in public memory, is because the Taj Mahal Hotel & Oberoi Trident is frequented by the rich and famous, many of whom were in there, when the terrorists stormed the two places. I remember the comments by the Shobha Des and the Suhel Seths of the world who were outraged by what happened at the two hotels. I also remember the reactions of the man on the street and it was precisely what Salman said – that the only reason why everyone was making so much noise is because this time it’s the RICH THAT GOT HIT. Earlier, when the poor man on the street got blown up everyone forgot about it in a few weeks time.

Incidentally, more people died at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (58), Cama Hospital (8) and Leopold Cafe (10), Chabad House in two hours of mayhem than either at the Taj Mahal Hotel (32) or the Oberoi Trident (36) in over three days. And let’s not forget the NSG commando and the brave cops who were killed in action. I am also not implying that I don’t sympathise with the people who lost members of their family in either of these hotels or the bravery of the hotel staff that placed itself in the line of fire to protect the guests. But the truth is we still remember 26/11 more for the mayhem that unfolded at the two hotels and not so much for what happened at CST or elsewhere in the city. So if Salman Khan said what he said, what was wrong?

This morning I was on my way to SIMC, Lavale, when at the intersection near the Bombay Engineering and Group (BEG) on Deccan College Road, I saw a young girl on a scooter with a look that really captured the mood of most people in the city. It was one of complete resignation, tiredness. This is what we have been reduced to.

Sometime earlier, in jest I told my wife that one of these days I was going to step out of the car with the crowbar I keep under the seat and smash the headlight of the car behind me if the driver honks. But there have been days I’ve actually felt like doing something drastic to the guy in the car behind mine! For example, I can’t understand why people honk in a traffic jam or a traffic intersection. When they honk do they expect that my car and I will like Mary Poppins and her damn umbrella, just rise in the air and fly over the traffic? Since I am not the violent type, all I do is swear at the guy from within the confines of my car, with the glass rolled up. My wife says she can’t see the point in swearing at someone who can’t hear a word! My reply is it makes me feel a lot better!!

But about a year ago I was at a railway crossing in the city waiting for the gates to go up. A car drove up behind mine and started honking. For a second I thought the gates had gone up, but it hadn’t. Then after a while the car honked again. This happened a few times after which I lost my cool. I stepped out, walked back the car and saw a lady inside, told her to roll down the window and gave her a mouthful. I then walked back to my car and waited for the gates to open. There was no more honking, not even when the gates were opened!

Take what happened last month and is continuing to date. Idea Cellular has problems with their billing system and I get calls every few days telling me that my calls will be blocked if I don’t pay my bill. I settled my bills on the 24th of last month! Every time I get a call from them I go through the whole exercise of explaining the issue and they say, “Ok Sir, the issue has been resolved.” Later in the day or the next day I get call from Idea Cellular telling me that my bills are still unpaid! Ideally (no pun intended) I would like to go over to the Idea office and shake them up, but after the time I spend travelling and lecturing, I am in no mood to argue with some idiotic billing clerk who doesn’t know her mobile phone from her lipstick.

Yesterday, as I drove to Lavale from Viman Nagar I saw smartly dressed policemen stationed every 400 metres all along the route. They were in attendance for the crown prince of Indian politics – Rahul Gandhi, who was in the city. Where do these uniformed gentry disappear to when it comes to manning the traffic when we need them and saving us from these torturous journeys?

And then there was the traffic cop who tried to levy a fine because I had parked my car in an area which he claimed was a ‘No Parking’ zone. I asked him to show me a ‘No Parking’ sign anywhere on the road and when he realised there wasn’t any he resorted to some old fashioned ‘dada-giri’. By then other car owners who were also about to be penalised gathered there and raised a hue and cry. The cop had to beat a hasty retreat. Not for one moment am I suggesting that Pune’s Traffic Police is not doing their job. I know they are terribly understaffed and underpaid. But if they enforced road discipline systematically instead of cosmetically, things would be so much better.

So coming back to the girl on the scooter…she was waiting for the light to turn green, her chin cupped in her palm, her elbow resting on the dashboard of her scooter. It was her face that caught my attention. For one so young she had a look that said “I’d rather be someplace else.” I understood that look completely. I travel three hours every day shuttling between the places I lecture. And it’s not the distance but the journey that frustrates me. If that isn’t bad enough, I have to listen to crap from the telephone man to the traffic cop, avoid errant drivers and lunatics on two wheelers, ans listen to neighbours squabbling over either the elevator in the building or the minimal rise in Society fees. It make me wonder how I still keep my sanity around me.