Saturday, December 29, 2012

Down with the moustache

The Husband was standing in front of the mirror, admiring his moustache and three-day-old stubble. La Niña, all of three years old then, and I looked at each other helplessly. We had just finished impressing upon him the need to shave off his moustache.


The Husband refused to do away with the moustache. He named some random people, strangers to me, who had admired his facial hair. We grasped the opportunity to remind him that we were the most important women in his life and that that fact gave our vote considerably more weight. But he only chuckled in our faces and said, “Pran jaaye par chehre ki shaan na jaaye (Gobbledygook about how the moustache should be cared for more than life itself).”

The corners of our mouths twitched downwards. But there was nothing we could do. Right then, of course. But the fight was far from over. He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day, one practice sentence in my Wren and Martin had proclaimed ages ago. I recalled it, applied it to my situation and bided my time.

It had all started in April 2011, when I returned home from the hospital, after giving birth to El Niño. Tired and exhausted as only the mother of a newborn can be, it was some days before I noticed that there was more hair on the Husband’s face than there ought to have been. He began by denying it. Mind you, he sought to deny the very existence of the moustache and stubble, even though it was clearly visible even to my bleary, sleep-deprived eyes.

After some days of denial, he proceeded to the next stage. He said, there was hair on his upper lip and cheeks of course, but it was nothing. After all, I wasn’t the only one who was sleep-deprived. Did I think he snored each time El Niño kept the neighbourhood awake in the middle of the night? Wasn’t I aware how hard new fatherhood could be? Or was I selfish enough to think only motherhood was the tough job? Surely I didn’t expect him to waste his time on grooming himself when all his instincts called him to be useful around the house?

I cowered back, ashamed of myself for having sought to sling mud on a hero who was obviously so perfect. And he exulted, thrilled with my shamefacedness.

For a few more weeks, I willed myself not to nag him about his whiskers. Cut him some slack, I told myself. If he is honest, he will mow the lawn on his face. If not, the attack may resume.

“Tomorrow I will shave it off,” he began to insist to each of my entreaties that he take off the unwanted foliage. But as Wren and Martin always warned us in the section on Tenses, Tomorrow never comes.

Or more importantly, hundreds of Tomorrows came and went, and the illegal encroachments continued to thrive.

Once I decided to use some force. Off to the bathroom you go, I commanded, and the next time I set eyes upon your face, it should be clean shaven. To my surprise, he actually got up and walked towards the bathroom, the picture of meek obedience. La Niña and I high-fived each other.

A few minutes later, when I peeked into the bathroom to see what was taking him so long, I was horrified to see him trimming, with a tiny pair of scissors, the fuzz below his nose. If you sent off your most trusted lieutenant to demolish some unauthorized slums that had sprung up in your neighbourhood, and you caught him issuing ration cards and voter identity cards to them, how would you feel? The Husband was actually cultivating a relationship with his moustache. I was aghast.

The worst thing was that my repeated threats that I would use the one trump card I had didn’t work at all. Twirling the ends of his moustache to a sharp swirl, not unlike a Hindi film villain of the ‘60s and ‘70s, he said, “You can do what you like. The moustache is going to stay.” And then, with a wink in his eye, he added, “And your threats mean nothing to me. I’m the one with the moustache. I call the shots here. My wish is your command.”

“Only if wishes were horses,” I said, resorting to good old Wren and Martin again.

But I knew that argument had not gone the way I wanted it to. If you were to seek to intimidate your opponent with your trump card, and he were to make off with it, how would you feel?

Sadly this is all the fault of Indian traditions. In India, a moustache, and/or beard, is seen as a symbol of virility and power. No wonder that for the longest time the Guinness title for the world’s longest moustache was held by an Indian. I bet no other nationality even tried to compete in the category.

While my mind dwelt on these thoughts, I was still clueless about why the Husband was letting this undergrowth thrive. And then I got to know the real reason. I got it from C who got it from B who got it from A who got it from the Husband, (Talk about stale news and Chinese whispers). Apparently, someone told the Husband that he looked too young to be the father of two children. So the mooch was a hasty attempt to earn some credibility for himself as a mature person, who could be responsible for the well being of two brand new people.

The motive brought a smile to my face, but my mind was made up. The facial shrubbery had to go. Earlier I had thought it would be wrong on my part to involve La Niña in this quarrel. But then I remembered what Winston Churchill had once said during the World War. “We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills.”

If Churchill, with all the armies and ammunition at his disposal, could still look for allies and mount a multi-pronged attack on the enemy, why was it wrong if I involved her in the fight against the fuzz?

La Niña dutifully obliged. She refused to let Dadda Dearest kiss her or hug her or hold her tight, complaining that his moustache hurt her soft skin. I played my part.

Did he lunge for the nearest shaver?

And give up his symbolic power? No way.

But one fine day, La Niña and I returned home from a trip to the park and found him clean shaven. He said he had been trying to shave around his moustache and had ended up shaving a little too much.

Sure. If that’s how you want to put it.


This post is a part of the 'Shave or Crave' movement in association with

Thursday, December 27, 2012


Title: The Devil's Madonna
Author: Sharon Potts
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing

At long last, a novel that is a page-turner in every sense of the word. This one was the 'unputdownable' we always keep hearing about. The plot offered a delicious surprise at every step of the way.
Kali, a young artist, is expecting her first child with her husband Seth Miller. Happy and contented both in the marriage as well as her work as an artist, there is nevertheless an emptiness within her heart as she aches to know more about her family’s heritage and history. The loss of her parents and grandfather at a young age and the reluctance of her 93-year-old grandmother Lillian Campbell, her only living relative, to share any information about the past have always left her nursing a sense of loss and disconnection. She therefore eagerly embraces Judaism, her husband’s faith, in an attempt to restore to herself the sense of belonging that she has never felt.
When Lillian lights dozens of sacred Yahrzeit Memorial candles, the traditional Jewish symbol of repentance, and nearly burns down the house and endangers herself, Kali becomes aware of the increasing paranoia that is consuming her grandmother. She realizes that the elderly woman is in thrall of some fear associated with something unsavoury in her past. When her inlaws and husband hint that Lillian may have been repenting for some misdeed to do with the Holocaust, Kali defends her grandmother strongly.
Assuming the role of a caregiver to her grandmother, Kali becomes aware of Lillian’s fears for her own life and for Kali and her unborn child. Her attempts to question Lillian drive the older woman into a world of nightmares. Kali is unsure if the fears are an effect of Lillian’s illness and the onset of dementia, or if something sinister is afoot.
Meanwhile concern for her grandmother and the reappearance of an old childhood friend, Neil, drive a wedge between Kali and Seth. And the dangerous games being planned and played out by geriatric specialist Javier Guzmann portend a realisation of Lillian’s greatest fears. Kali’s attempts to search her grandmother’s house lead her to a small painting. The final revelation of the horrible secret that has tortured Lillian all her life exposes Kali and her unborn baby in turn to the danger that her grandmother has feared all her life.
We, as readers, are able to piece together the details of Lillian’s mysterious past in Berlin in the 1930s through her senile mutterings and the dream-like memories of her befuddled mind. Through these ravings, it becomes clear to us, but not to Kali, that she is desperately trying to hide from something or someone. Someone who knew her at a time when she was Lili Lenz, a 20-year-old actress in Germany. Someone who has waited for many decades for the opportunity to trace her whereabouts and destroy her.
As readers, we feel torn between our knowledge of the nefariousness of Guzmann’s intentions and our inability to protect Kali, who is not only vulnerable, by virtue of her pregnancy, but also in immediate danger.
I found the writing of this book very fluid. Potts has shown herself a master at building atmosphere and creating tension. As Kali’s support structures begin to fall back all around, one gets a terrifying sense of the walls closing in on the vulnerable Kali.
The only false note in the narrative was sounded when Javier Guzmann got into flashback mode and looked back on himself as an 11-year-old boy bullied at school. While Potts succeeded in painting Guzmann as a menacing and dangerous man, I could not quite get a grip on why he should have sought to make his father’s desperate struggles his own. His own attempts to win over his estranged son were another subplot that wasn’t tied up well.
I must also admit that at first I was slightly disappointed to learn that there would be no happy ending for Kali, that, bereft of all her support systems, she would have no choice but to fight her life-and-death battle alone. But as I read on, I was glad that Potts had chosen a not-quite-perfect ending. It was a reminder to me that in the real world, love does not always conquer all, and that the wounds borne by millions of people in what was the darkest period of human history would most certainly have been too poignant to have been set aside like a cloak.
The strong characterization of Kali was tremendously appealing. Incidentally, the young lead is named after Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction and empowerment, or shakti. As a woman, I felt pleased to see how Kali took the responsibility of her own safety and that of her child in her own hands, without forcing herself to depend on any man.
The title is a brilliant coup, the significance of which made itself evident only once the heroine was thrust into the biggest crisis of her life. I would heartily recommend this to everyone.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Chip of the Old Block

When a child is born, most people start making guesses about which basic template the child’s appearance derives from. Does he/she look like the father or mother? Or maybe the blueprint has been borrowed from the grandparents, or even an old forgotten grand-aunt somewhere?

The face is deconstructed with the eyes, nose, cheeks, mouth and chin compared to its counterpart on the parents’ faces. Similarities and differences are minutely observed and a quick analysis made and dispensed with reference to the other parts of the body, such as the length of the fingers, the shape and size of the toes and the quantity and quality of the hair.
Regardless of the fact that the facial features of little babies alter almost on a daily basis, relatives and other acquaintances take particular pleasure in dissecting the face of the little one to find resemblance with family members, living or dead.
When La Niña was born, we had a lot of visitors from the Husband’s side. All of them insisted that the wee one was a spitting image of him. In fact, for much of La Niña’s early years, I would hear people gush, “Ooh, she’s a 100 percent carbon copy of him (meaning, the Husband).” Lest that not be enough for me, they would re-phrase for my benefit. “She is nothing like you.” This behaviour continues to this day. Just last month, we visited one of his relatives. The woman said to me, in the middle of a totally unrelated subject, “No one will ever say she is your daughter.”
Such comments, of course, pleased the Husband and he preened proudly. I, on the other hand, would be, despite my best intentions, hurt and disappointed.
As she grew, La Niña exhibited a bit of a sweet tooth. This tendency created a tiny flutter amid a family where almost everyone preferred spicy food. “This is a strange tendency,” they muttered. “Where could she have got it from?” The question perplexed them for a while. No one paid the slightest attention to me.
For a while they racked their brains, shaking their family tree vigorously, naming one distant relative after another, in the hope of throwing some light on the progenitor of this tendency.I watched the guessing game, my patience wearing thin. Finally I asked hesitantly, “Has it ever occurred to you that, in some respects, she may have taken after someone who isn’t from her father’s side of the family?” Their eyebrows rose in genuine surprise. I continued, “She could have taken after me.” Horrors! They reacted violently as though I’d just suggested that the courier boy or the milkman was the only other person in living memory who shared her fondness for sweets.
On a rare occasion, a friend mentioned that although La Niña more closely resembled the Husband, her nose was unmistakably mine. Rational as I am, I clung to that suggestion with a tenacity that would have been laughable, if it weren’t so pathetic.
Looking back, I wonder why I allowed myself to feel so disappointed and/or elated at such a trivial matter. It was indeed a most unreasonable expectation. How did it matter if La Niña looked like me or not? Why was I allowing other people’s perceptions to upset my mood? The notes of a rather cheesy Bollywood song, Tune mera doodh piya hai, tu bilkul mere jaisa hai (I have nursed you at my breast, you are just like me), wafted into memory.
Children, I told myself, are never going to be a 50:50 percent mix of both parents. There are factors known as dominant genes and recessive genes that are going to assert themselves in varying degrees. And yet we human beings, naïve as we are, take pleasure in hoping that our children will look exactly like us. The idea that elements from our gene pool are going to be perpetuated carries huge appeal for us. Even as growing children, we begin to appreciate the significance of being told that we are just like our parents.
The other thing I cannot understand is why we as Indians lay so much stress on what the child looks like. What purpose does it serve — this incessant peering into a baby’s face for real or imagined resemblances? Why does a little baby need to measure up to these yardsticks anyway?
Perhaps, at the bottom of it all, we all have a need to feel connected to those who came before us and to those who come after. I’ve had cousins who used to wear their mother’s heels and parade around the house. I know of daughters of teachers who held a ruler in their hands and tried to whack the stuffing out of their stuffed toys.
In the end, our genetic legacies tumble out of their hiding places at most unexpected periods of time. And contrary to the perceptions of some people, they are not limited to body shapes, facial features and graying and balding patterns. We see our children bent upon some task, their foreheads knit in severe concentration, and they remind us of our old grandmother who used to bend over some task in the same pose. We see our kids shouting, painting, enjoying a good book, swooning to the tune of one of our favourite ballads, and they remind us of ourselves, in a long-ago world.
Our temperaments, ways of communicating and listening, sense of humour, perceptions, beliefs and social skills, work ethics, temper, abilities and passions, likes and dislikes, they are all, to varying degrees, inherited. This discovery has done my heart a great deal of good.
I was thrilled to bits when I noted that La Niña, at eight months of age was showing unmistakably that her eyebrows were going to converge over the bridge of her nose. Just the way mine used to back when I was a little girl. La Niña also has my ability to drive her father out of his wits by mere words alone. Every day I discover a hundred things that bind her to me and to my family. The family, I have learned, is a large mirror and we all reflect one another at some time or the other.
So if there is anyone out there who still thinks La Niña is nothing like me, what can I say? You don’t know a thing.

This post was originally written for, on online community for parenting-related issues. You can read the original post HERE.


Title: 14 Hours: An Insider's Account of the 26/11 Taj Attack
Author: Ankur Chawla
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Pages: 164

Four years since time stood still.

Four years since November 26, 2008, the day on which terror attacked Mumbai on multiple fronts and left death and destruction in its wake.

Four years since the terrorists sought to break the spirit of a whole nation by attacking carefully-selected targets across one of its prime cities and unleashing fear and death everywhere.

Those who lost their dear ones on that day sought closure recently when Ajmal Kasab, the lone terrorist captured alive, was executed by the Indian government.

Against this backdrop, we see the launch of 14 Hours: An Insider’s Account of the 26/11 Taj Attack by Ankur Chawla, a survivor of the attack. An operations management trainee at the hotel at the time of the terror attack, Chawla’s book seeks to capture the 14 hours that he was forced to spend in the Taj Mahal Palace and Hotel, hiding and in fear. The book, however, leaves a singularly insipid taste in the mouth. 

The style of writing is banal, and it is really hard to believe that the author could actually have spent 14 nerve-wracking hours, fearing for his life. As a piece of reportage, it merely consists of Chawla recounting the events of that night, without giving us any understanding of his feelings as he lived through that horrific night. The fact that this wasn’t an ordinary game of hide-and-seek but one in which they were hiding from the raw fear of death hovering very close doesn't come across to the reader.

Outside the Hindi news channels were going berserk with their pronouncements of maut ka tandav (dance of death). The English news channels, only slightly restrained, drew our attention to the game of mayhem that was being played in the stately halls of the Taj. And yet, Chawla, caught in the cross hairs of that bloodbath, remains curiously unmoved. His narrative is devoid of emotion.

There is no deep sympathy expressed for Karambir Kang, the general manager of the hotel then, who lost his wife and two children (not three, as Chawla has noted) that day.

The Prologue smacked of self-promotion. Chawla started the book by launching off into a detailed description of how he came to do a course in hotel management and how he landed a job at the Taj, as if it were a piece of chick-lit he were attempting.

There are some instances which are funny in spite of the gravity of the situation and Chawla has done a good job of describing these. These incidents include the refusal of the casual hire to part with his phone even though the phone that Chawla is giving him is four times more expensive and the case of another casual hire who is able to fall fast asleep in the midst of the extreme threat.

The cover depicts an image of the iconic dome of the Taj on fire. It is an image that has seared our consciousness. Unfortunately, the narrative fails to live up to the expectations created by that image. Besides the casualness of the narrative, the book also suffers from many typographical and grammatical errors. Through the course of one telephone conversation, Chawla’s mother refers to him as betaji.

Instead of a lengthy prologue, the book would have been better served by an epilogue briefly describing the casualties at the Taj, and the attempts made by the Taj to help those in need of help.

Somewhere in the middle of it all, however, the pace did pick up. It is only then that the gravity of the danger they face seems to assail a lot of the people within. Until then no one is really sure of what has happened, and understandably so. We on the outside had recourse to the media which kept us informed, but for those on the inside, it must have been even more frightening considering the fact that for a long time they did not know what they were up against.

Chawla has also managed to bring out the details of the thousand and one things that are required to keep a 5-star hotel running well.

If only Chawla had avoided the chatty tone and sought to infuse more sensitivity into his account, this would have been a book that I would readily recommend to others.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

The last tree speaks

This used to be a forest, you know. A forest where animals prowled and the tiger ruled. For hundreds of years. Now the tiger will never hunt in these parts again and the forest will never be.

Ironically, they have plans for reviving this forest. At least that is what I heard some of them saying. I nurtured faint hopes for a while, particularly when they made some attempts to knock me down and went away. I told myself that they had changed their minds. That I would not be the only tree alive in this vast wasteland. That it would be as it used to be.

The hopes didn’t last long. The bulldozers returned – to finish the work they had started.

And the plans became clear. Apparently, the reason they had demolished the forest is because they planned to clear the land and construct a massive housing complex here. Even to my ears, it sounded ridiculously ambitious. The complex is to consist of more than a 100 buildings of 15 storeys each. They say there is need for this monstrosity.

I heard them describing the layout. The buildings will be spread across this entire 100-hectare area. About 50 yards to my right, they plan to erect a state-of-the-art entertainment and recreation centre called Giggling Stream. Ironically, it was the very site where a giggling stream used to flow for hundreds of years. Until they filled it up in an exercise they called a reclaiming of land. And the real giggling stream was no more.

All around me was a huge grove of trees, mango, coconut, the stately Ashoka, the banyan, the palm tree, the sandalwood tree, and so many others whose names bring tears to my eyes. We all lived together in harmony. Your ancestors were wise people. They believed in green wealth. When they ate our fruits, they were grateful, and they showed their gratitude by plowing the seeds back into the soil and harvesting it with the sweat of their brows.

Ironically this grove will now play host to those apartment buildings that I told you about. And the complex is to be called Natural Harmony. Each building is to have similar names, evoking the beauty and splendour of nature. How strange indeed that while the trees hold no appeal for them, humans are hugely enamoured of the monstrosities that will sport our names!

You see, the builders like to prove that they are cultured folk. So some of those names will be in Sanskrit and others in English, and some others in Spanish and Italian, but all will evoke nature. I also overheard them say that the entrance to each building will be graced by an interesting fibre glass display which will offer glimpses into the origins and uses of the specific tree that the building is named after. That’s good, huh? That will give your children the chance to know more about the gulmohar and the mimosa and other trees. It will give the residents the illusion that they are truly surrounded by nature.

A team of landscape designers has been contracted to work on the site. This looks like a wasteland right now. But that will soon change. These landscaping chaps will transform the area. Once the buildings are constructed, they will swoop down, and work their magic. Freshly manicured lawns will unfold and beautiful potted plants will be placed at certain sites to enhance the beauty of the place.

In a matter of days, no less. It will be so much of an improvement over us trees that used to hold sway here. At least, that is the message the brochures are proclaiming. Ah, you should see the pictures there. I wonder if the forest looked like that when all the trees were alive and thriving. Unfortunately, no one ever thought of immortalising us into a brochure.

They even plan to get in some birds into the premises. So that when the residents pick up their first cuppa in the morning and head out to their spacious balconies to savour it while they read the daily quota of bad news (to supply which, by the way, thousands of trees are killed every day to make newsprint), their ears will be treated to the sounds of the koel and its friends.

Take my word, it won’t last long. No matter how much you spend to bring in these birds, they won’t stay here if there are no trees. Those wooden birdhouses aren’t going to interest them. They need trees for shelter. And birds aren’t easily fooled. Your language has a word, bird-brained, but make no mistake, our two-legged feathered friends are wiser than you. They won’t be taken in by the artificial gulmohar and Himalayan mulberry.

Nature is an intricate mechanism in which each creature, no matter how large or humble, depends on others for its existence. You upset that delicate balance when you felled all those trees.

Some of the wild animals that you displaced have begun to encroach on your civilised life. That bothers you. And yet you won’t take responsibility for this mess.

I miss my friends, all of them. Above ground, it seemed as if each one of us stood proud and tall, unmindful of the others. But beneath the ground, our roots were entwined. And when you uprooted the first, you struck against all the others.

You don’t realise it yet, but that is how it is with everything. You cannot destroy the least without destroying all others and ultimately, yourselves.

And now, in case you’re wondering why I’ve escaped the fate of my friends, I must tell you it was only because they found my wood too strong to cut down, so they’ve gone to the next town for reinforcements. They should be back any time now. Ah, there they are.

Ironically, we trees survive drought, disease and storms, but are powerless in front of fools.

What is that? You want to know if I have any last words.

Oh yes, I do.

Here they are:

I really must stop using the word ironically.

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda 

Friday, November 30, 2012

I see the finish line (NaBloPoMo Day 30)

NaBloPoMo November 2012
One post every day in November

It has been statistically proven that most New Year’s Resolutions are abandoned on the 12th of January. Strangely and coincidentally, I was able to stick to my NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) resolution of posting once every day only up to the 12th of November. As long as this period lasted, I was happy. The muse seemed to be favouring me.
The children went out of their way to oblige me. It was amazing the way they consented to sleep early, leaving me time to switch on the computer and write. Every morning I knew exactly what I was going to blog about. Ideas popped up from everywhere – newspapers, books, a chance conversation. It was all too good to be true.
It didn’t last. By Day 13, my mind was what they call a blank canvas. Nothing suggested itself. Books, magazines and newspapers started holding their ideas close to their chests. I was at the end of my tether. Time was running out. What would I blog about? Oh well, I thought. Once I put the kids to sleep and sat in front of the computer, something would come up.
The kids wouldn’t go to sleep that night. I don’t know what high-sugar goodie they were fuelled up on but they just refused to sleep. I was ready to tear my hair out. How would inspiration strike if I was too busy running after the kids?
The day went on and many others followed its example. I began to fall behind. I began to wonder how I would ever be able to catch up? What on earth had possessed me to sign up for this One-post-every-day business?
Having embarked on this exercise, I was determined to finish it. It didn’t matter if I wasn’t able to win. Finishing the race became important. But that posed another challenge, a variation on old mathematics problems. If one woman cannot complete one post in one day, then how can she complete 18 posts in a week?
It was tremendously stressful. But I was determined to fail gloriously, if at all. The ploy worked.
Slowly the muse began to smile on me. Inspiration began to knock on a regular basis. Putting the kids to bed is something that I haven’t got a handle on yet. But I gave it my best shot.
Thankfully Blogger allowed me to cheat. It offered me the facility of blogging and backdating my post, and helped boost my confidence. The sight of all those live posts did me good, even though my handful of readers probably realized what I was doing. Also, I dipped into my own writing, stuff that has never been seen by anyone but my closest friends, and put it on the page.
The exercise helped me. I am so excited at nearing the finishing mark, even though everyone else has probably packed up and gone home, that I am actually contemplating going through this NaBloPoMo business once again. The discipline has helped. I have learned something that writing gurus have always shouted themselves hoarse about. The more you write, the more you can write. In the end, there is no substitute for actual work. If you want to write, you have to roll up your sleeves and do it. In front of a computer, if that’s what works for you. Or on little scraps of paper with a pen or a pencil (the method that works for me). No amount of wishing or dreaming can help.
Before this month, I used to think that as a harried mother of two, I would never be able to find time to write. Now I know better.
There will always be things to do. Kids will need to be fed and looked after, menus will have to be planned and prepared. Deadlines at work will swoop down upon me with no less ferocity. But if writing matters to me, I will make time for it. Just as I make time for all the other things that matter to me.
If you’ve been with me on this journey so far, I’d appreciate it if you’d continue to drop by to check on me. And while you’re here, leave a comment. Or two. Or three. Or more.
If you like my posts, leave a long comment.
If you love them, make the comment longer.
If you hate it, better not saying anything. There is enough of hate in the world. Let’s not have any of it on this blog. If you leave a hateful comment, I will delete it. Ha!
If you can’t think of anything encouraging, laudatory and positive thing to say, just leave one of those “Kilroy was here” type of comments. I’ll understand that you are a man/woman of few words.
Having said that, I hereby declare NaBloPoMo 2012 to be a success.
Now to see if the resolutions I make at the beginning of Year 2013 fare any better.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Project Extermination (NaBloPoMo Day 29)

NaBloPoMo November 2012
One post every day in November

Ogden Nash once said, “God in His wisdom made the fly, and then forgot to tell us why.”

Surely that can be said of the cockroaches too.

I have often wondered what induced the Creator to make the cockroach. Don’t tell me about the ecosystem. I’m sure something else could have been found to fill its place.

Cockroaches are never any good to the general public. They are just a nuisance, what with having to (although unwittingly) feed them and house them. And they do nothing to justify their keep. It seems strange then that they are allowed to exist in such large numbers when their absence would be so heartily welcomed. They aren’t even good to look at. The word eyesore would describe them to a T.

Broadly speaking, they can be divided into two categories. Those belonging to the former are strictly terrestrial. Unable to sever their relations with Mother Earth, they are seen scurrying about from place to place.

The latter of the aerodynamically stable breed are by far the more formidable. These have been known to fly at the remarkable speed of six-and-a-half feet every one and 3/4th seconds. The flight may not be the fastest in the insect kingdom but the landing does give the jitters.

The cockroach is universally recognised as a creature of the worst order. Call an opponent an oaf or a nincompoop or a rascal and you will find your expletives bounce back at you. Refer to him by any other word of abuse and your words might not have any effect. But call him a cockroach and you will see the rare spectacle of your enemy, quivering with rage and indignation, his self control shattered.

The above fact should suffice to impress upon you my feeling of utter disgust on seeing them. It should also convey my deep desire to witness the extermination of the entire race. I wait in hopeful anticipation of the day when the Ministry of the Conservation of Rare Species declares the cockroach as nearing extinction.

Meanwhile, let us use every weapon in our armoury. These guys may survive a nuclear blast, but they are powerless against poison and footwear. And if there are any people that enjoy eating weird foods, let us ship these creepy-crawlies to them. Hopefully, no one will speak up in their defence.

This article is also from the personal archive.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

In defence of the Bombay local trains (NaBloPoMo Day 28)

NaBloPoMo November 2012
One post every day in November

A famous American comedian once said, “Don’t knock the weather. Nine-tenths of the people couldn’t start a conversation if it didn’t change it once in a while.” With sincere apologies to him, I would like to take the liberty to say, “Don’t knock our local trains. Nine-tenths of all amateur literary ‘geniuses’ in this part of the country wouldn’t be able to write a word if it weren’t for trains.”

This humble attempt at writing, for example, owes its existence to the Bombay local trains. I am of the opinion that our local trains are deserving of a little more respect than we have been accustomed to giving them.

For where else but here would you be regaled by a rendition of music ranging from Gandhiji’s favourite bhajan to the latest Hindi film rage, brought to you by a couple of urchins to the accompaniment of two little pebbles?

Where else but here would you be badgered by a whole crowd of little sales executives, graduates from Nature’s School of Business, marketing their wares which could be anything from hair clips to ribbons, from nighties to nail polishes, from fruits and vegetables to hair adornments of all kinds, all of them shouting at varying decibel levels, each trying to get to a higher crescendo?

Where else but here would you find ‘state-of-the-art’ technology fans that world only when you bring a slender object (preferably non-living) in contact with them?

Where else but here would you learn to balance on one foot for more than an hour or have someone stand on your foot and be able to do nothing about it except mutter under your breath simply because you don’t know who to yell at, thus learning the qualities of sublime patience and understanding, so very essential for success in today’s relationships?

Those people who have not had the opportunity of spending at least some time in a ladies compartment have been missing an opportunity which, for want of a better word, I shall term ‘interesting’. The ferocity with which they gobble bananas, guavas, idlis and other edibles would make them strong contenders for the eating records in the Guinness Book of World Records. One must be careful and see that one makes cautious manoeuvres with regard to locomotion if one wishes to avoid friction. When they fight for place to rest their tired limbs, it is like cocks fighting for a place to roost, though I am told the latter are more subtle.

The ladies compartment has often been compared to a fish market. I don’t see why the general compartment has been spared in this regard. In all fairness, I declare that the general compartment looks like a mass of buffaloes, quiet for most of the time, occasionally groaning when their horns butt into one another. The reason they don’t gossip is not because they don’t feel like it, but because they are too busy playing cards.

Trains, are thus, the very lifeline of Bombay. If the motormen ever went on strike, life in suburban Bombay would come to a standstill.

This last paragraph is for the reading pleasure (or pain) of those diehard critics of Bombay, who declare that Bombay is an unthinking, unfeeling city. They have only to spend a few minutes in one of our local trains to have their ideas refuted. For where else but here would you exchange tidbits about domestics, rising prices, recipes, working conditions and just about anything? Where else would you open your heart to a complete stranger? Where else would you live a fast life and yet have the time to stand and stare? Where else does the pulse of Bombay throb? Where would Bombay be without trains?

(Since I have been unable to write an original post, I have posted here my first piece of original writing, something I wrote in my second year of college. I showed it to a friend, who showed it to another, who showed it to her dad. Said dad was an editor at The Economic Times, and he gave me some valuable feedback that I still cherish. The piece was written when my lovely city was called Bombay. Sigh!)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Book Review: THE EDGE OF THE MACHETE (NaBloPoMo Day 27)

Title: The Edge of the Machete
Author: Abhisar Sharma
Publisher: Westland
Pages: 333
My GoodReads Rating: 

The Edge of the Machete by noted journalist Abhisar Sharma is the second of The Taliban Conundrum trilogy, with The Eye of the Predator and The Dark Side of Me being Books 1 and 3.
CIA operative Jason Wilson has just been executed most brutally. His killer, Aamir Sherzai of the Tehreek-e-Taliban, a bloodthirsty jehadi, has the killing filmed and uploaded on YouTube.
Jason’s best friend and fellow agent Eduardo Gomez, Ed, for short, is eager to avenge his death and volunteers to be part of a secret mission to destroy, from the inside, a conglomeration of the most deadly terror organisations in the world, all of whom intend to kill in the name of religion.

Transforming into Sarfaraz Khan, he cleverly implants himself into the Beast, the heart of the most devious terror mission ever, located in Pakistan.

While there he meets the British-born white Shaun Marsh, now a converted Shahid Khan, who is led by circumstances and his own conflicting emotions to take up the jehadi cause.

The third outsider here is an Indian journalist, Rahul Sharma, who has been kidnapped and imprisoned in the Beast. All three are obstacles in the eyes of Sherzai, and it seems only a matter of time before they fall prey to the wiles of his machete.

With a plot like that, I was eager to see what the book would offer. The author has done a fantastic job of recreating the tensions and milieu of the hotbed of unrest and danger that is the AfPak region. His background as a seasoned journalist has helped him to make his fiction more realistic. There were many times when I got the impression that I was reading a most well-researched piece of non-fiction.
Sharma has been able to draw upon his 17 years of experience in broadcast journalism to create a backdrop that is fraught with peril for the infidel. Against this volatile backdrop, the author has created a fictional world that touches one with the sincerity of his intentions.

There were some things, however, that stuck out sorely, particularly the many typos and editing errors. Also, the tendency of so many of the characters to scratch their eyebrows with their fingernails is annoying. As is the author’s need to call attention to this habit.
One glaring inconsistency, Ed comes to learn of the events that led to Jason’s death when he reads Jason’s diary, handed to him by Sherzai. We do not get a glimpse of the contents of this diary, but we get to read a third-person account of the brutal killing. Since this entire section is preceded and followed by Ed’s response to the diary, one wonders if Jason’s ghost had returned to write down the gory details of how he was put to death, not to mention the gratuitous description of his sexual encounter.

Where the author slips up shoddily is when he tries to recreate the idiom of the Americans at the CIA headquarters in Langley. There is a world of difference between American English and British English, a fact that he does not seem to have taken into account. Sharma’s Americans get their slang wrong. They insist on peppering their conversations with words like ‘arse,’ when even the most cursory viewing of Hollywood films would have told Sharma that an American would have used the word ‘ass’ instead.
Also, a Senator’s repeated usage of the phrase, son of the soil, seems like a direct translation of our homegrown bhoomiputra concept. Similarly, the passages delineating the close friendship between Ed and Jason are annoying. ‘Brothers from different mothers’ is a cliché I would gladly have done without.

The book could have been made shorter, and tighter, had some sections been edited out. These include the Uzbeki torture scene, which do not necessarily propel the action onward, and could have been left out of the story without affecting it adversely.

The writing itself perks up remarkably once Ed dons the guise of Sarfaraz Khan, and stays that way even as it goes on to introduce us to Marsh, the second of three guys whose stories intersect and lead us on to the climax of this book.
Unfortunately, the back story, though interesting and remarkably well-written, just takes up too much paper, occupying more than two-thirds of the book, with Marsh’s story being the most detailed, followed by that of Ed. That might explain the short shrift given to Rahul Sharma, whose story starts in the here and now. We are told that he met his wife, Marsh’s ex, when he, and she, went to an ashram in Haridwar to exorcise themselves of their demons. At this point, the author mercifully realises that it is about time he tackled the main plot of the story and spares us the details of those demons.

Perhaps if there had been a little more of Sarfaraz and the psychological battle of wits that takes place between him and Ed, rather than the tired Bollywood technique of a talking reflection in the mirror and a slight swagger in the walk, it might have been more explosive. You feel a fair amount of sympathy for Rahul who is going to pay for his overeagerness for a good story with his life.

There were some parts of this book that were extremely well-written, and a few that stood out for all the wrong reasons, chiefly editing-related issues.

For me, this machete was dull in parts and sharp in others.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Later may be too late (NaBloPoMo Day 26)

NaBloPoMo November 2012
One post every day in November

Our world is an intricate creation; the slightest loss
In this delicate balance will inevitably lead to chaos.

How paradoxical that looking after it, a task of importance
Is in the hands of man, a creature prone to greed and negligence.

Despite being dependent on Nature and her bounty
He little hesitates in rendering her resources scanty.

Whether one subscribes to Genesis of the Theory of Evolution
One admits to the scale on which Mother Earth has come to fruition.

Yet in ravaging her and reversing the earlier process
He has very soon carried his vices to an excess

The hills, valleys, forests, oceans and their wealth
Are steadily being depleted; openly, not in stealth.

It’s time to stand up and arrest these trends
If, for our past extravagances, we wish to make amends.

Heed this warning, rise to the challenge, or fate
Now is the time to act. Later may be too late.

This poem was written when I was in college. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Statue speaks (NaBLoPoMo Day 25)

NaBloPoMo November 2012
One post every day in November

If you ask the average human being if he/she is happy, most will immediately think of it as a good opportunity to entertain you with a list of all the pains and worries that they suffer from.

Not I. My existence has its own problems, but I have learned to accept them stoically and to acknowledge that for me at least there will be no respite. I never complain. When I do, no one hears me anyway.

Most human beings have their happy moments and their unhappy moments. I just have an endless experience of the same kind of moments.

Scott Adams, the creator of the widely famous comic strip, Dilbert, said, “Accept that some days you are the pigeon and some days the statue.”

Me? I’m always the statue. Figuratively. And literally.

I have a miserable existence. For the most part, I’m ignored. And that happens on my good days. People walk past me, an endless stream of men, women and children, old and young, hurrying, rushing, to get to work, to catch a train. Talking on the phone. Running.

On my not-so-good days, birds poop on me. Their droppings fall on my head, my shoulders, the folds of my granite clothes and the most on my right hand. I’m pooped upon all the time. The pigeons are the worst. I can’t react, much less fight back.

My arms ache but stretching my limbs is out of the question. Some days my nose feels tickled. And if all that isn’t enough, there is a homeless guy who lives around here (I suspect he isn’t all right in the head) who uses me as a clothesline to dry his dirty linen in public.

Thankfully, I was no great politician or statesman in my time. I shudder to think what might have happened had that been so. I recently read a newspaper. Actually a page from the newspaper got dislodged and hit me in the face). There were some food stains on it, as though it had been used to wrap something, possibly vada pav. I could actually smell the vada pav. It was that real to me. Memory is a strange thing.

The wind blew hard, trying to get the page to get away from my face. It obeyed, and settled down on my right hand. My right hand is always stretched out, you see, pointing at something out there on the distant horizon. A horizon I can no longer see, because your ugly buildings are everywhere.

The page was talking about the statue of some politician which had been desecrated. Smeared with goo, or dishonoured with a garland of shoes or something. I forget the details. The report said that a lot of people went crazy when that happened. They attacked some others, and a lot of people were injured. A curfew was announced. And some people couldn’t lay their hands on basic necessities.

Waste of energy, if you ask me. And all because a statue was insulted? Don’t they know that statues are beyond all this? Pigeon poop or garlands of shoes, they are both equally irrelevant in our scheme of things. Fretting over them is a waste of time and energy. Eventually the rain comes and washes it all off. The poop, that is. Not the shoes. The shoes just stink more. Thankfully, I can’t smell. Unlike human beings, I’m not stupid enough to choose to wallow in unpleasant memories.

Nor do I get any sycophants visiting me on my birth or death anniversaries. I’m one of those people in whose honour they erected a statue they forgot about. I have no followers, no disciples, no supporters. Not that I miss all that. How does it matter if you have a garland of fresh flowers one day and a coat of fresh paint on two days of the year? It won’t stop the pigeons from pooping.

I wish they hadn’t erected this statue to me though. For reasons that have nothing to do with the poop. I’d rather have had no statue and have people ask why not, than be burdened with this massive granite and iron body and have people ask why.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The age of internet explorers (NaBloPoMo Day 24)

NaBloPoMo November 2012
One post every day in November

Technology has spoiled us rotten. It has made us slack.

In recent years, I have discovered within myself an increasing tendency to rely on technology even in situations where there is no technology to be relied upon.

For example, when we misplace our phones, we routinely call ourselves and allow the ringtone to lead us back to it. The trouble is that I expect this method to serve at all times. So when I can't find the TV remote or the newspaper or a set of keys, I am frustrated because the manufacturers of TV remotes and keys, and the publishers of newspapers don't equip them with ringtones or GPS technology to enable us to trace them.

Facebook has spoiled me too. Now whenever I like something, I wish there was a LIKE to click upon, to save me the trouble of committing myself to an actual verbal statement.

And when I make a mistake, I long to Undo it or go back to a previously saved version of things, when everything was to my satisfaction.

Who can remember telephone numbers anymore? And when was the last time you did any exploring outside the Internet?

This excessive reliance on the Internet, and I am supremely guilty of it (I use Google as a verb), is probably messing the neurons in our brain, causing parts of it to blink and shut down because they don’t feel so needed anymore.

We no longer remember information. We just don’t feel the need to, when any information in the world is just a Google-search away.

In a series of experiments, Columbia University psychologist Betsy Sparrow and her collaborators, Daniel M Wegner of Harvard and Jenny Liu of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, found that people are more likely to remember things they do not think they can find using a computer and vice versa.

When I was in college, we didn’t have the Internet. So when we needed material for a presentation or paper, we would troop to our massive library and spend hours reading, making notes, trying to remember, forging connections between what we were reading right then and things that we remembered from a previous reading. I still remember how I gaped, with mouth open, no less, when I saw all the volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica ranged together in a row. The collective information within those pages seemed to be limitless.

When we participated in quizzes, we relied on extensive reading and our memory to help us sail through. Answers were not a click away.

Today, all we need to do is put in a string for a Google search, then copy-paste and save. If we don’t like the information we get, we can always revise the search string and try again. The next time we need the same information, we might remember the names of the websites and blogs where that information will be available. Or else we might remember the name of the file in which we have saved it, and the folder where the file resides. But the actual information itself? Now you’re asking for too much. We have Google to bail us out, don’t we?

What happens when a particular Google search takes us to a site with incorrect information? Let’s not think about that.

The advent of cellphones with their ability to store telephone numbers had a similar effect on our ability to remember numbers. There was a time when the average office employee could rattle off at least 20 telephone numbers, without thinking.

Today, we’re lucky if we can remember one number, and that our own. Why make the effort to remember, when we’ve got 100 numbers on Speed Dial, and our phones can ‘remember’ 500? I was forced to do a fair bit of recalling last year, when I lost the display on my phone suddenly. Most of the numbers had been saved on the phone itself, so moving the SIM card to another phone did not help. I had to dredge through my memory to retrieve almost forgotten numbers of friends and family members. It was a difficult task, and I was grateful for what memory threw up.

But what if memory hadn’t obliged? Just as muscles atrophy when not used regularly, so do synapses in the brain. Do we want our brains to dispose of our mental filing cabinets? What might happen to our memory banks then? Of course, memory banks themselves are quite suspect as those who are being cross-questioned in the witness box will be quick to tell you. As Austin O'Malley said, “Memory is a crazy woman that hoards colored rags and throws away food.”

Of course, it is entirely possible that we are worrying for nothing. Over the centuries, numerous people have worried that our memories might be adversely affected by inventions such as the gramophone, the printing press etc. Even the venerable Socrates had feared that the written word would cause humankind to lose its memories.

It’s certainly nice to have Google around. After all, it would be impossible to remember everything there is to know in an ever-changing world. But let’s not become too dependent on it. What would happen if the Internet were to vanish one day?


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