My first novel, My Friend Sancho, is now on the stands across India. It is a contemporary love story set in Mumbai, and was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008. To learn more about the book, click here.
This notice is perhaps a bit late, and I apologize for that, but in a few hours, I’ll be reading from My Friend Sancho, and chatting with writer Sridala Swami about the book, in an event in Hyderabad. All India Uncut readers are invited. Details:
Event: Amit Varma reads from My Friend Sancho and chats with Sridala Swami. Date: Saturday, August 29, 2009. Time: 6pm. Venue: Odyssey bookshop, Vikrampuri Kharkhana, Secunderabad. Inducement: High tea.
Do drop in and say hello. As the book’s been out there a while, Sridala and I will talk about other stuff as well, such as writing in India and so on. The audience will be part of it, so do join the conversation.
On another note, my publisher informs me that My Friend Sancho is the biggest selling Indian novel released in 2009. I’ve seen unofficial sales figures for this year’s releases from all the major publishing houses, and MFS is ahead by a long way. I’ll share MFS‘s sales figures for the year as 2009 draws to a close.
It’s already been on all the bestseller lists: India Today for June and July, Landmark for those same months, Just Books for a few weeks in that period, and all the Crossword outlets that I checked. (Each outlet has its own bestseller list.) Even better, a friend just sent me a picture of a pirated copy of MFS on a Delhi pavement. I’m not sure how my publishers feel about that, but I’m naturally delighted.
Much of this is word-of-mouth success, so all of you who liked the book and told your friends, thanks for that.
Drama, drama, drama—that’s all our newspapers want. The Indian media’s been full of two overblown stories in the last few days, so much so that I feel I need to wear a mask before I pick up a damn newspaper. First up, there’s swine flu. Swaminathan Aiyar examines some numbers and finds:
[In India] 1.37 million people die annually of respiratory diseases and infections, 7,20,000 of diarrhea, and 5,40,000 of tuberculosis. These are staggering numbers. They imply that on an average day, 3,753 people die of respiratory diseases and infections, 1,973 of diarrhea, and 1,479 of tuberculosis.
Seen in this light, 20-odd swine flu deaths are almost laughably trivial.
If there is an epidemic in India, it’s the hysteria over swine flu, not swine flu itself. I’m not complaining, because for the last few days, the places where I usually hang out have been less crowded than usual. Things are getting back to normal though, but with narrative-hungry journalists all around, other infections will no doubt pop up.
Like Shah Rukh Khan. The outrage over Khan’s detention at a US airport is most silly. Our media, if you go to the heart of it, is not outraged because of the racial profiling in play—that’s old hat, at least eight-years-old in the context of the US, and I didn’t see Bombay Times cry a river when Rohinton Mistry had to cancel a US book tour because he was fed up of being questioned at airports, or when hazaar random Indians have been questioned over the years. Racial profiling story—not pushed before because there’s limited masala.
Shah Rukh spices it up. Our media’s on this story because of the celebrity angle. How dare they mess with Shah Rukh? Don’t we fawn over Brad Pitt when he comes to India? India has arrived, Slumdog won Oscars, Shah Rukh is loved by hundreds of millions, Madonna wears only a bindi to bed, blah blah blah. How could they not have recognised our hero? That’s what the outrage comes from, the celebrity angle with a pinch of nationalism thrown in—and it makes me want to barf.
If the cops threatened to slap section 377 on Shah Rukh and Karan Johar, you can bet there would be outrage about that as well, because the guys are celebs. But it’s been happening to ordinary people for decades, and the media hasn’t given a damn. It’s the celeb angle that makes stories here, ordinary people don’t count.
There is a theory that all this is a publicity stunt for Shah Rukh’s forthcoming film, My Name is Khan, which is supposedly about racial profiling. I find it hard to believe that he can get US authorities to cooperate with him on a publicity stunt, so that’s a bit beyond the pale. But it is entirely possible that after the incident happened, he decided to milk it in the media. But that’s the game, and I wouldn’t blame him for that. I’d blame the media for making such a fuss about it.
Or maybe it’s our fault, because the media only gives us what we want? As it is, we are to blame for Shah Rukh being a star in the first place. A curse upon us.
How many of you think Shah Rukh should be locked up in Guantanamo for his bad acting alone? Hmm, I thought so.
India can’t get enough of Rakhi Sawant. After the swayamwar where she found herself a fiancee, she is now going to simulate being a parent on a reality show. Along with her man, Elesh Parujanwala, who was named by a Canadian Bong after his favourite fish, she is taking part in a show in which five celeb couples will spend time bringing up borrowed children on television. Check out this snippet from the news item:
Rakhi and the audience may be used to her infamous low-cut blouses, but obviously, the bachchas aren’t. And, as a source present at the launch of the programme told us, one baby couldn’t help but explore the territory! Embarrassing? You bet!
If the kid becomes a techie when he grows up, he’ll at least have prior work experience in silicon valley. And think of the TRPs of the show now, as millions of Indians tune in to live vicariously through a baby’s exploration.
Ribald jokes apart, this is one reality show concept that I find appalling. Are the parents of these kids actually renting their babies out? Other reality shows feature adults being placed in situations of their own volition—but babies? How could someone do that?
Parenthood is a massive responsibility, and it’s irresponsible to become a parent if you can’t live up to that. I see too many parents around me who are simply not ready for that role, who have unfairly screwed with their kids by bringing them on the planet. This is a fine illustration of that.
Here’s Peter Roebuck talking about the three stages of a cricketer’s development—but I believe it also applies to writers:
It begins with natural ability that takes a fellow as far as it can. Then comes a period of introspection in which the complications of the game are encountered and, to a greater or lesser degree, resolved. Finally the player reaches the final stage of a hazardous journey, beyond complexity, towards full understanding. This third stage is called simplicity, but it is profundity.
The thing is, with a cricketer, it is easy to tell which stage he is at, with little scope of self-delusion. Phil Hughes and Mitchell Johnson know, from their results on the cricket field, that they need to work out a few things. But writing is a subjective matter, and many writers may not know when there are problems with their game. As a result, they’ll never then do the necessary introspection and hard work needed to take them to the next level. That is why, the most important quality for a writer is surely humility—writers must be brutal critics of their own work, and must ruthlessly employ what Ernest Hemingway called “a built-in bullshit detector.”
On the flip side, that often erodes self-belief. It’s a thin line.
Over at The New York Times, I find that Jose Saramago’s coming out with a new novel, based on “the real-life epic journey of an Indian elephant from Lisbon to Vienna in the 16th century.”
I’m a fan, so I can’t wait. And on that note, I read a fine piece by David Brooks today on a subject that seems rather Saramagoesque. It’s based on a question asked by a commenter over at Marginal Revolution: “What would happen if a freak solar event sterilized the people on the half of the earth that happened to be facing the sun?”
Saramago’s themes still seem fantastic to us, but other fiction writers have to confront the relative bizarreness of reality itself. As Philip Roth wrote in 1961:
The American writer in the middle of the twentieth century has his hands full in trying to understand, describe, and then make credible much of American reality. It stupefies, it sickens, it infuriates, and finally it is even a kind of embarrassment to one’s own meager imagination. The actuality is continually outdoing our talents, and the culture tosses up figures almost daily that are the envy of any novelist.
That’s true of India certainly—and it means that writers here really can’t complain. They’re surrounded by fascinating stories, and it’s up to them to catch them from the ether and turn them into print.
Sach Ka Saamna is the recently started Hindi version of The Moment of Truth, and is riveting once you start watching it—even if it does overlap with that other reality show, Is Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao. So what problem do our politicians have with it? Well, Kamal Akhtar, a Samajwadi Party MP, doesn’t like it that “obscene questions are asked by the anchor of the programme.”
“The host asked a woman in the presence of her husband if she would have physical contacts with another person to which she said no,” he said. “But her polygraph test said the answer was wrong. What kind of impression would it have created?” He sought a complete ban on the show.
I don’t get it—on whose behalf is Akhtar complaining? The participants of the show take part in full knowledge of the risks they incur, and that’s a choice for them to make. As for viewers, well, Akhtar is being hugely condescending when he assumes that we impressionable folks will be swayed by the show into infidelity, or suchlike. Listen, we already know what the world is like; we already know what human beings are like; we understand our urges, and know the consequences of giving in to them. Akhtar may want to foist a fantasy world upon us where nobody has anything to hide and everybody speaks only the truth—but that world does not exist, and is faker than the fakest Ekta Kapoor serial.
If anything, Sach Ka Saamna drives home the truth that most human relations contain some element of deception. In a viscerally direct way, it reveals the human condition. That can only help us become better human beings—to begin with, it might make us a little less sanctimonious.
That’s a matter of opinion, of course. Some people may hate the show, and are entitled to do so. But that is where the matter should end—not in calls for a ban. If Akhtar is so disturbed by Sach Ka Saamna, I have a suggestion for him—change the channel.
Or actually, no. He might then catch Is Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao and demand a ban on that because it reminds him of parliament.
The absence of clarifying commas makes that headline slightly misleading, but it’s a hell of a story either way. Basically, this dude named Mohammed Sayeed wants to divorce his fifth wife, Subina, who gets pissed off and allegedly tips off the cops to some business hera-pheri he is doing. He’s arrested, just as he’s planning marriage to a woman whose bail he organised. And what a woman!
Sayeed’s love interest is Kausar Begum alias Umme Kausar, 26, who had married 11 men from various parts of the country and abroad. Each time she claimed that it was her first marriage.
“She would then foist dowry charges against her husband him and fleece him [sic]. Police said marriage was just a medium for Kausar and her sister to cheat rich men.”
It’s a fascinating story. I wonder, did Sayeed know about Kausar’s past and fall in love and want to marry her regardless? What kind of feelings did she actually have for the men she married? What would she have done if she fell in love with one of them? What if this realisation struck her after she’d duped him? What if one of the men she duped loved her even after being duped? Questions, questions: there’s much scope for something novelistic to come out of this—though this particular novelist has other things on his plate for now. Such stories there are around us!
Chandni Parekh recently forwarded me a hilarious press release she received on behalf of the actor Purab Kohli. Given that press releases are intended for the public domain, I’m reproducing it in full here, typos, spellos and grocers’ apostrophes intact, for the charm of it:
Please find below a small snippet on Purab Kolhi. He is currently shooting in Ahmedabd
Fun time khakra time.
Do you know that Purab is a big fan of: khakra’s. He always has them on shoots. He’s even got his regular supplier in Bombay who he keeps getting refills from.
But now in the heart of Gujarat he is discovering a whole new world of khakra’s. He just can’t stop eating them on the sets of Hide and seek Apurva lakhia’s co production with Moser Baer. Purab has been shooting in a farm house where he is finishing the family’s stock for the year. “They have hidden secrets here, have you tried the muthiya khakra’s” says Purab over the phone.
Looks like he’s going to come back with excess baggage.
I wonder if poor Kohli knows what his PR man is up to? Really, is this what we’ve come down to when it comes to promoting films? Khakras? (Or even khakra’s?)
Who knows, one day all this may come together in the headline, “Will Purab Kohli wear a bikini?” (Or “Will Sonam Kapoor wear a Khakra?”) Today’s parody is tomorrow’s headline, so don’t laugh, who knows?
Charan Singh Sapra, the president of the Punjabi Cultural and Heritage Board, is upset with “the continuing demeaning portrayal of the Sikh character in Hindi cinema.” ToI reports:
If a script demands a character to be a Sikh, then the community is more than willing to help filmmakers, Sapra adds. “We will guide them exactly how to portray a Sikh. Thus, they won’t end up hurting sentiments.”
Immense goofiness. All good storytelling is about flawed characters—so why should every Sikh in a film be a perfect Sikh? Mr Sapra doesn’t understand that films are about individuals, that a Sikh character in a film doesn’t represent all of Sikhdom, and is not meant to be representative. If Ranbir Kapoor plays a Sikh in a film, he is not implying that all Sikhs are like that character, any more than The Godfather implies that all Italians are gangsters or Borat implies that everyone from Kazakhstan wears a mankini to the beach.
And really, what is all this talk of ‘hurting sentiments’? I think most Sikhs are too sensible and mature to be hurt by something they see in a film, and sensitive Mr Sapra is probably not representative of his community. Maybe someone should guide him on ‘how to portray a Sikh’?
That said, Sapra is right when he says that Bollywood often stereotypes Sikhs. But mainstream Hindi cinema stereotypes almost everything, and Bollywood stereotypes of Sikhs, from what I can recall right now, seem to be largely positive, portraying them as robust, jovial and kind-hearted folk. What’s the problem with that?
It’s a gallery about big breasts in Hollywood, and the captions are quite hilarious. Note the many euphemisms for boobs that they use, clichés and variations on clichés, all of them: ‘steaming big naturals’; ‘twin assets’ (three times); ‘busty bosom’; ‘hot twin peaks’; ‘accentuating curves’; ‘enhanced fuller twins’; ‘real nice set of bombs’; and so on. I wonder if copy editors are trained in this kind of writing—I’d really like to see the manual.
And today, I came across a completely WTF gallery:
This is a gallery of ostensible nip slips—with ToI blurring out the nips when they slip. Given that this is an internet gallery, and that the uncovered nips are a search away, this is most bizarre. Why have a gallery of nip slips and cover the nips? What’s the point?
(Note that I noticed the gallery only due to my purely academic interest in WTFness. That’s not the kind of headline you expect to see on India’s No. 1 newspaper site. I have no interest in nips or twin assets. Really.)
ToI‘s galleries are rather interesting from a sociological perspective, actually. Here’s another one:
There’s an old saying that journalism is history’s first draft, so for all you journalists reading this, I offer these words by Milan Kundera:
... this is the most obvious thing in the world: man is separated from the past (even from the past only a few seconds old) by two forces that go instantly to work and cooperate: the force of forgetting (which erases) and the force of memory (which transforms).
It is the most obvious thing, but it is hard to accept, for when one thinks it all the way through, what becomes of all the testimonies that historiography relies on? What becomes of our certainties about the past, and what becomes of History itself, to which we refer every day in good faith, naively, spontaneously? Beyond the slender margin of the incontestable (there is no doubt that Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo), stretches an infinite realm: the realm of the approximate, the invented, the deformed, the simplistic, the exaggerated, the misconstrued, an infinite realm of nontruths that copulate, multiply like rats, and become immortal.
Spot on—and this is why I think one of the most important qualities of a historian or a serious journalist is humility: know that the truth is always more complex than it seems, cast aside all preconceived notions, and then do the best you can.
Check out this fine performance of one of my favourite songs, “Just The Motion”, by the great Richard Thompson:
I love Thompson’s guitaring in this, understated but expressive. You can also listen to Linda Thompson sing it here—the song is from their 1982 album, Shoot Out the Lights. Another version I like is by David Byrne in the tribute album Beat The Retreat.
I am deeply indebted to you and Amit Varma on such a multievent day for me :-
1. First meeting witth a music teacher just postponed due to rain.
2. Interview at Fever 104 FM after 5 PM today.
3. Contacted by AajTak/HeadlinesToday for possible coverage soon.
4. Telephone interview with Poh Si Teng for Agence France-Presse and the Wall Street Journal.
More power to Doctorsaab. I wish I could have just a fraction of his courage and self belief.
She belongs to a lower caste, which is aggressive by nature, and she wouldn’t have submitted herself so easily. They are known for being aggressive.
You know, I don’t care now whether Ahuja is guilty or he’s being framed. A side that makes an argument like this deserves to get its ass kicked. They should lock Ahuja up and throw away the key—and if he feels horny all alone in his cell, throw in Shivde.
The American TV show Fox and Friends is often funnier than Saturday Night Live—unintentionally. Check out Brian Kilmeade expounding on America’s marital habits:
And here’s another classic ramble from Kilmeade a few days ago on the Iran crisis. ‘This guy does not get along with that guy’ is the most coherent it gets—it’s spectacularly downhill after that.
And moving to Indian television, I’m hooked to that incredible trainwreck of a show, Rakhi Ka Swayamwar. So much WTFness abounds that I’m craving normalcy by the end of it. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out on YouTube, most of the episodes so far seem to be available there
This is going to be one reality show where I’m going to feel sorry for the winner—even though he’ll at least be marrying into the same species.
The video below is surely the most inspired Michael Jackson tribute ever. Goodness me.
Mr Chaudhry has also performed an English version of “Beat It”, as well as many, many other songs. The first I heard of him was when a reader named Catfish forwarded me his rendition of Avril Lavigne’s “Skater Boy” a few months ago. The nonchalant matter-of-factness at the start is superb, isn’t it?
The reason I didn’t blog about his marvellous videos when I first discovered them was that it seemed cruel. Here’s a man, in perfect good faith, uploading videos of himself singing karaoke, something that most of us would never have the guts to do; and here we all are, watching and laughing. I’ve always found those early episodes of Indian Idol and American Idol rather cruel for how they make fun of those horrendously bad singers in the early auditions. Sure, we can joke about how it’s their choice to put themselves out there, and tut-tut their self-delusions. But I would contend that we’re all self-deluded in different ways—most of our delusions stay private, so lucky us.
I finally decided to embed this video because I find Mr Chaudhry immensely endearing, and I’m sure most of you would agree. And besides being a likable old man, he’s also putting himself out there, ineptly and awkwardly trying to make the best of what he’s got. Isn’t that true of most of us?
My friend Salil Tripathi was in Bombay this week to promote his marvellous new book, “Offence: The Hindu Case.” This is part of a series that examines the growing intolerance around us in the name of religion: Kamila Shamsie looks at the Muslim case, Brian Klug at Judaism and Irena Maryniak at Christianity. Regular readers of IU will know that this is a subject close to my heart: I’ve unleashed countless rants on how giving offence is treated as a crime in India, and of the consequences of that for free speech. Salil’s book lays out the case for free speech wonderfully well, and if the subject interests you, I recommend you buy it. (You can pre-order it here or here, and it will also be on the stands soon.)
But this post isn’t just a plug: one of my favourite parts of the book is a poem Salil wrote for his mother, Harsha Tripathi, dedicating the book to her. I was quite moved by it, and with Salil’s permission, I’m reproducing it here:
My Mother’s Fault by Salil Tripathi
You marched with other seven-year-old girls,
Singing songs of freedom at dawn in rural Gujarat,
Believing that would shame the British and they would leave India.
Five years later, they did.
When you first saw Maqbool Fida Husain’s nude sketches of Hindu goddesses,
When I told you that some people wanted to burn his art.
‘Have those people seen any of our ancient sculptures? Those are far naughtier,’
Your voice broke,
On December 6, 1992,
As you called me at my office in Singapore,
When they destroyed the Babri Masjid.
‘We have just killed Gandhi again,’ you said.
Aavu te karaay koi divas (Can anyone do such a thing any time?)
You asked, aghast,
Staring at the television,
As Hindu mobs went, house-to-house,
Looking for Muslims to kill,
After a train compartment in Godhra burned,
Killing 58 Hindus in February 2002.
You were right, each time.
After reading what I’ve been writing over the years,
Some folks have complained that I just don’t get it.
Varun Gandhi’s infamous hate speech and journalist Soumya Vishwanathan’s murder will be made into a film titled Ganatantra, being directed by JP Dutta’s assistant Surender Suri.
Rajan Verma, who essayed the role of Kasab in Total Ten, a film on the 26/11 terror attacks, is now playing Varun Gandhi. He says, “The film shows Gandhi in positive light.. as an able man, not given the place he deserves in the political party. The film will also depict a love story between the characters played by Varun and Soumya.”
The only thing not WTF about the above excerpt is that the actor who played Kasab is now playing Varun Gandhi. The rest of it leaves me speechless. I especially wonder what poor Soumya’s friends and family feel about this. Who thinks up these storylines?
That isn’t the only WTFness in that article. A gentleman named Kanti Shah is quoted as saying:
Yes, I am making a film on the Shiney Ahuja rape case. Shooting will begin soon. It is titled Rape and newcomers Imran and Sapna will play the characters of Shiney and the maid. Although the film will be based on true events and there will be no fictitious details added, there will be song and dance sequences.
Go figure. ‘Tasteless’ doesn’t begin to describe these guys. I need a plastic bag.
Former Bond girl Denise Richards has done some passionate scenes with Bollywood star Akshay Kumar in Kambakkht Ishq and says he is a good kisser.
Richards insists that no man in Bollywood can match his skills, reported contactmusic.com.
I’m guessing Richards must have done a rigorous survey of Bollywood kissers to come to such a conclusion. Like, she walks into a mall and catches a good-looking young man (GLYM) who looks like he might be in Bollywood (but isn’t really).
Richards: Hey, you there. Are you a Bollywood kisser?
GLYM: Er, well, ahem, yes, I could be.
Richards: Okay, then I need to kiss you. [She gives him the deepest kiss ever, her tongue almost coming out of the back of his head.] Mmmm. That was nice, but I’m afraid you’re not as good as Akshay Kumar.
GLYM: I see. Um, well, there is something I can do better than him, you know.
Richards: [Already getting ideas and feeling horny] And what may that be?
GLYM: Um, do you need any C++ programming?
Bonus link: Check out these slideshows about “Bollywood’s most kissable celebs”: From Rediff; and AOL. Any excuse to put together a slideshow with hot pictures.
The report says that Clooney has “hired a psychic to help him contact his favourite pet, a black pig named Max who died three years ago.”
I can just imagine how it all plays out. Clooney and his psychic are sitting at an ouija board in a dark room.
Psychic: George, I will tap on the board three times to say hello, and then you will hear three more taps on the board. After that, my body will be possessed by Max’s spirit, and you can talk to Max through me. Ok?
Clooney: Okay. But you know what, don’t mind and all, but I’m a skeptic about these things. So first I’ll ask you, I mean Max, a couple of questions to make sure it’s him.
Psychic: Sure. [He taps three times on the board. Three more taps are heard after that, and then the psychic throws his head back as his eyes start rolling in their sockets.]
Clooney: [Very excited] Max, Max, is that you?
Clooney: Max, Max, I need to ask you a question. Are you listening?
Clooney: Max, Max, when you saw me for the first time, what were your first words to me?
Psychic: Oink oink!
Clooney: Max! Max! It’s really you! [He hugs the psychic, who dirties his pants, thereby increasing Clooney’s ferocious nostalgia.]
Ok, fine, that’s a bit cruel. George, if you’re reading this and are offended, I apologize. But really, dude, a psychic to contact your dead pig—what were you thinking?
In the last couple of years, I’ve moved from “Learn to Say ‘No’” (journalism) to “Learn to Monetize” (writing novels)—which is problematic, because you can’t really learn to monetize in this field. Being a novelist is not like any other profession, and even publishers will tell you that they don’t really know what makes a book tick. You could write kickass books year after year and not have anyone notice; or you could be in the right time, at the right place, and be an overnight success. Unlike other professions, there’s no road map to success.
I made the choice that I did knowing the tradeoffs involved—I wouldn’t make anywhere near the kind of moolah I’d make if I stayed in journalism or went back to television; but I’d wake up every morning looking forward to getting down to work. I think that’s worth it—until my savings run out and I can’t meet the rent. Thankfully, MFS has sold well enough to ensure that won’t happen anytime soon. (15,000 copies so far, my publisher tells me, which makes it a huge bestseller by Indian standards—the benchmark for being a bestseller in India is 5000 copies.) My earnings from this don’t cover opportunity cost, of course, but they keep me afloat while I write the next one, and that gives me more joy than all the journalism I ever did.
While on success, Udhay also points me to a lovely essay by Po Bronson on the subject. Here’s an excerpt that sums up my feelings on the subject quite exactly:
There are far too many smart, educated, talented people operating at quarter speed, unsure of their place in the world, contributing far too little to the productive engine of modern civilization. There are far too many people who look like they have their act together but have yet to make an impact. You know who you are. It comes down to a simple gut check: You either love what you do or you don’t. Period.
In response to a friend’s comment on Facebook that Bengali paunches are holy, I offer you this little rhyme:
Ode to a Bengali Paunch by Amit Varma
A Bengali paunch may be roly-poly,
But I deny rumours that it’s holy.
It is the center of base desire,
The origin of a Bong’s carnal fire.
We get turned on by mastaard feesh,
By paabda, rohu and illeesh.
Porn for you is chingri for me,
It’s divine, but not holy, you see.
Would you like a Lobongolotika?
Would you like a lobongolotika?
Or some other form of aphro-desi-ka?
The holy paunch faces serious threats
From Gold’s Gym and such bourgeois outlets
Preserve our bhuri, we Bengalis must
A symbol of our glory, about to bite the dust
Let the paunch be the new erection
To show young bongs the right direction
I propose a paunchy statue as public art
To grace the crossing at Gariahat.
Malayalam writers are in the enviable position of writing for Adiga’s rickshaw puller and not just about him.
‘Enviable’ is exactly the right word there. Indian writers in English don’t have access to that rickshaw puller as a reader—quite apart from the fact that most of us wouldn’t have the ability to make it worth his while even if he read in English. By virtue of the language we write in, our readerships in our own country are constrained. At the same time, of course, it is easier for us to reach out to a global audience—though I wish some of our writers didn’t pander only to them.
As long as India in all its mad and magnificent diversity is available to me as subject matter, I can live with the fact that my possible readership is just a small fraction of my countrymen. If she can’t be my lover, I’ll make her my muse.
While on Koshy, her debut collection of short stories, If It Is Sweet, is out in the market. I’ve only read one story so far from the collection, “The Good Mother”, and I was blown away by it. Right at that masterful first paragraph, you know this woman can write. I can’t wait to get at the rest of the book.
Readers of India Uncut will know how much I love Alice Munro’s work (1, 2, 3), and I’m delighted that she’s won the Man Booker International Prize. (This is different from the Man Booker Prize, in that it’s not given for a single novel, and is akin to the Nobel Prize.) Literature isn’t a horse race, but if I was forced at gunpoint to name who I consider the greatest writer alive, I’d pick Munro. Indeed, if she wrote nothing else but this story, I’d pick Munro. Much joy.
Nobody messes with the national anthem. Rediff reports that the Supreme Court has slammed Ram Gopal Varma for his “distortion of the national anthem in his forthcoming film Rann.” The “vacation bench” has been quoted as ruling:
We have read it. It gives a totally negative sense. It seems every line of national anthem has been proved wrong. Nobody has got a right to tinker with the national anthem.
So remember, not only do you not have the right to express your opinion on a song, but songs, especially anthems, have rights. Don’t tinker with them.
In a Facebook conversation where I was moaning and agonizing over the brilliant Adam Lambert not winning American Idol, Salil Tripathi pointed me to this splendid commencement speech by Ellen DeGeneres:
I love the guy on the left of the screen. He’s having a good time.
I’m pleased to inform you that My Friend Sancho, my first novel, has started hitting the stores. We’re having a phased nationwide release, and the book should be in stores in Mumbai today (or latest tomorrow) by Saturday, and in the rest of the country before May 12. I’ll also be having launch events in five cities. All five events are open to the public, and India Uncut readers are invited to all of them. The details are below—as are links to the Facebook event pages to confirm your attendance:
Mumbai, May 9: 6 to 9pm at Crossword, Dynamix Mall, Juhu. (Basically, the Juhu PVR building.) Sonia Faleiro will be in conversation with me, and that will be followed by coffee and snacks. Here’s the Facebook page.
New Delhi, May 13: 6.30 to 9.30pm at Agni, The Park. Nilanjana S Roy will be in conversation with me—and there will be cocktails and nude belly dancers from Arabia. (Ok, no belly dancers. Sorry.) Here’s the Facebook page.
Kolkata, May 15: 6.30 to 9.30pm, Oxford Bookstore, Park Street. Anjum Katyal will be in conversation with me. Beverages and snacks will also be there, mixing discreetly with the crowd. Here’s the Facebook page.
Bangalore, May 16: 6 to 8pm, Crossword, Residency Road. Anjum Hasan will be conversation with me. Here’s the Facebook page.
Do drop in for any or all of these events and say hello.
Slightly disappointing news for overseas readers: Due to all kinds of complications, MFS won’t be available on Amazon etc for at least a couple of months. It’s a massive bummer for me, as many of you had written in asking when you could buy it in the US or UK. We’re hoping to fix that by July, and I’ll keep you updated.
Carol Ann Duffy has pulled off a three-in-one achievement by becoming Britain’s newest poet laureate: she is the first woman, the first Scot and the first openly gay person to hold that distinction. In the year that America elected a black president, this is most fitting. I’m rooting for the amazing Adam Lambert to win American Idol, which will make him the first gay winner of that show—and what a landmark year it’ll be.
Anyway, to celebrate all this, let me share with you a poem by Duffy that I rather like:
Mrs Darwin by Carol Ann Duffy
7 April 1852
Went to the Zoo
I said to him — Something about that chimpanzee over there
reminds me of you
Speaking of simian beasts, did you know that Shamita Shetty’s room was ransacked by baboons in South Africa recently? Even baboons, it would seem, have evolved to the point that they’re besotted by celebrity.
[I’d embedded the video here, but its embedding has now been disabled. Click here to watch it.]
After Boyle’s performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables, the sales of that soundtrack soared. And now Pugh. Good for the soundtrack, good for these singers. Les Misérables forever; les misérables no more.
Sometimes, when I am restless or upset, I walk up to the corridor of my house and look at the watchman. I come back quietly to my room and thank God for He has given me so much. I sit and count my blessings and the love that people have been giving me at every step.
It’s good to reflect on how lucky we are, but this dude has to go look at the watchman for that?
I wonder how the watchman feels about it. There he is, sitting quietly, bored senseless, looking out at the random fans waiting outside the gate of the house, waiting for his shift to end so he can head back home and sleep, and Salman Khan comes out and stares at him. Then Salman smiles, flexes his muscles, and heads back in with a lilt in his step. I wonder if, at times like that, and others, the watchman reflects on how very lucky he is.
We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind — mass-merchandizing, advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the instant translation of science and technology into popular imagery, the increasing blurring and intermingling of identities within the realm of consumer goods, the pre-empting of any original imaginative response to experience by the television screen. We live inside an enormous novel. For the writer in particular it is less and less necessary for him to invent the fictional content of his novel. The fiction is already there. The writer’s task is to invent the reality.
Actually, we lived in a world of fictions even before all the things Ballard mentions came about—for how we see the world and ourselves, and the narratives we construct to make sense of everything, are also fictions of a kind. But yes, many more subplots are formed and crystallized by the media around us—not that it helps us make better sense of things.
It’s all such a mess that if God existed and was a writer, and sent Her work to a publisher, She’d get a rejection straight away. Or Her publisher would send Her a note: “Manuscript accepted. Much editing needed. Editor on way.”
And then a man in a black hat and overcoat would step up and say, “Hey, we meet again. Remember me? Lucifer. We dated once. I’m your editor for this book. Let’s cut your work down to size, shall we? To begin with, we need to get rid of those 100 million blogs you’ve put in there. Major excess, Girl, pure self indulgence.”
Early one morning, as the clock strikes five, Salman Khan steps out of his house. He’s wearing a tracksuit and sports shoes, and attached to his arm is a nifty iPod. He starts playing his Himesh Reshammiya playlist, and begins to jog.
Salman jogs. Himesh starts singing “Aashiq Banaya Aapne”. Tere bin sooni sooni hain baahein/ Teri bin pyaasi pyaasi nigaahein/ Tere bin bin asar meri aahein/ Tere bin.
Salman begins to run. Tere bin lamha lamha sataye/ Tere bin bekarari jalaaye/ Tere bin chain mujhko naa aaye/ Tere Bin.
Salman begins to sprint, sweat pouring down his bare chest inside his tracksuit. Aashiq banaya-aa-aa/ aashiq banaya-aa-aa/ aashiq banaya aapne!
And then, when he’s really engrossed in the song, Salman feels something beneath his feet. Damn, he thinks, Mumbai’s roads suck.
Just then, someone starts shouting at him. He switches off the iPod and turns around. It’s a pavement-dweller, a woman, standing there and screaming at him. Then Salman looks down at her feet and realises what he ran over: two other pavement dwellers. This woman’s family. No wonder she’s screaming.
“Hey, lady, I’m sorry,” he says, in that weird accent that passes for foreign in some of his films. “I didn’t mean to run over them. But you should chill, you know. I’m saving the planet. What’s a pavement dweller or two in that cause?”
“Saving the planet?” asks a blogger who happens to be there, leaning against a lamp post. “What do you mean, saving the planet?”
“I’m running to lose weight, man, I’m running to be more slim. So I’m saving the planet.”
Actor and Samajwadi Party leader Sanjay Dutt was on Saturday booked on an obscenity charge for allegedly saying that given a chance he would give jaadu ki jhappi (magical hug), made famous by his Munnabhai flicks, to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati.
“A case has been registered against Sanjay Dutt for making derogatory and undignified remarks against BSP supremo Mayawati during an election rally on the K.P. Hindu College ground in Pratapgarh on April 16,” a senior police officer told PTI.
Mr. Dutt allegedly said he “will give jaadu ki jhappi and pappi (magical hug and kiss) to the people of Pratapgarh and given a chance I will do the same with the Chief Minister and BSP supremo Mayawati.”
I find obscenity laws immensely silly, and it’s quite WTF that when politicians are going around spewing venom at the each other, this dude is getting booked for jokingly offering jhappi and pappi. Yes, Dutt has the brain of an infant, but unless he actually forces himself on Behenji and gives her a jhappi-cum-pappi, the law shouldn’t come into play. Are we such an immature nation that we can’t even talk of these things?
Anyway, imagine this: Mayawati hears of Sanjay’s comments, and expresses disgust. She finishes her work for the day and goes to bed. And then, lying alone in the darkness, turning with a heavy heart on a soft bed, thinking of all the sacrifices she has made for her people, she sighs softly. She remembers: Jhappi! Pappi!
Just then the doorbell rings. She waits, and the seconds seem like hours. Then the intercom buzzes.
Madam, her minion says on the other side of the line, A politician from the Samajwadi Party is here to see you. He’s a filmi kind of guy.
She pauses. Ask him to wait five minutes, I’ll just get ready.
She gets up, switches on the light, and in record time combs her hair, washes her face and brushes her teeth. She puts on her best silk salwar suit. And she applies a dab, just a dab, a subtle pappilicious dab of lipstick. Then she picks up the intercom and says, Send him in.
The launch dates for my first novel, My Friend Sancho, have been finalized, and I’m pleased to share them with you now. I had earlier mentioned that the book would be out by the middle of April, but we had to delay that just a bit, and it will now be in bookstores across India in the first week of May. The launch dates:
Mumbai: May 9, Crossword, Kemp’s Corner. Delhi: May 13, Agni, The Park Kolkata: May 14 or 15, Oxford Book Store Bangalore: May 16, Crossword Chennai: May 18, Landmark
I’ll confirm all these details closer to the dates. Barring Delhi, all the other events are open, and India Uncut readers are invited to come and throw tomatoes. I’ll be in conversation with Sonia Faleiro at the Mumbai event, and with Nilanjana S Roy in Delhi. We haven’t yet finalized the details of the other events, so watch this space.
To get a glimpse of the future of Indian television, consider these two news items:
1. Rakhi Sawant has announced a new reality show on NDTV Imagine in which she will begin “a nationwide search for her perfect husband along with the support of the audiences.” Fifteen dudes will be shortlisted, and at the end of the season, she will marry one of them. (If the marriage doesn’t last and the show is a success, she could do it again next year.)
2. A study has revealed that Varun Gandhi has “emerged as the new favourite of prime time TV news in the past two weeks.” After his controversial comments against Muslims, he “managed to achieve 22.57 hours of prime time coverage across six prominent channels,” about 9 hours more than the IPL, which was the second-most talked about topic.
You know where all this is going, don’t you? Yes, I hereby propose that Varun Gandhi be enticed to take part in the NDTV Imagine show, Rakhi Ka Swayamvar. He is eligible and from a noted family, she is voluptuous and hunting for a groom, and they both generate TRPs like cows generate milk. (Don’t ask why that image came to mind.) Also, it will keep the man out of politics, and the country needs that.
And will he win? Well, duh! I mean, imagine the Q&A round:
Rakhi: If someone attacks me, what will you do?
Varun: If someone raises his hand against you, I will cut his hand off.
Rakhi: If someone forcibly kisses me, what will you do?
Varun: If someone kisses you, I will cut his head off.
Now, in this context, she is totally going to find his comments romantic, not repulsive. And even if Varun doesn’t cut off Mika’s head, he could certainly take a leaf out of his father’s book and get forcible nasbandi done on Mika. Imagine the TRPs if that happens live.
Also imagine if, while walking to the mandap, Rakhi and Varun fall into a well and are trapped inside. Oh, the news, the viewers, the ratings, the media planners swirling in ecstasy! I have seen the future, and it is this, it is this, it is this…
(Rakhi link via email from Kind Friend. More Rakhi on IU: 1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.)
One of the things I hate about the Indian literary scene is the writers who set their stories in India but write for a foreign audience. So instead of ‘dal’ they write ‘lentil soup’, and instead of ‘silk kurta’ they write ‘loose-fitting silk shirt’, and so on. I call them ‘tourist-guide writers’, more concerned with catering to Western demand for exotica than to the authenticity that would be true to their subject matter. Whatever. At least there is some rationale to their approach.
But why would an Indian publication, catering to Indian readers who know what Indian words mean, adopt the same approach? My readers know how very fashionable I am when it comes to clothes—except those who have met me personally—and I’ve been following the local coverage of the fashion weeks pretty closely. And time and again, I see Indian clothes being referred to in Western terms. For example, churidars are constantly being described as ‘leggings’. This is understandable if someone is writing for the US edition of Vogue, but all the local newspapers, as well as Rediff, which caters to an Indian and NRI readership, have taken to this.
I find this inexplicable for two reasons: One, ‘churidar’ is a lovely, sonorous word, and all Indians know what it means. Two, leggings tend to be form-fitting all the way from the waist to the ankle, while churidars are generally looser at the thighs. Besides being unnecessary, the substitution is also wrong.
There is similar confusion over salwars. Consider the outfit Shah Rukh Khan wore at the Manish Malhotra show a couple of days ago, which has been described variously as ‘pathialas’ [sic], ‘an Afghani salwar’ and ‘black harem pants’. Now, folks over in Patiala and Afghanistan can argue over the first two, but how is that thing he’s wearing ‘harem pants’? Why do we need to make our writing Western-friendly even when writing for Indian audiences?
Is it because the correspondents in question are so enthralled by coverage of Western fashion in foreign magazines that they find it necessary to stick to their glossary of terms? Or that Indian words, somehow, have become infra dig?
Also, does this attitude reflect something broader around us?
I love this video, and as blogging has been slow recently, let me share this with you:
The chica is hot, isn’t she? And the character David plays in this video, for some unfathomable reason, reminds me of Aurelio Zen. I’m sure absolutely no one else feels this way, but I’m a bit weird sometimes.
In an earlier post featuring Sanjay Dutt’s neanderthal (or simply pre-modern) comments about women, I’d quipped that I wondered if he’s put a dog collar on Manyata. An interview of his in today’s Hindustan Times indicates that he has—and she’s tied to the kitchen. Check this out:
HT: Did your wife convince you to get into politics?
Dutt: Manyataji takes the decisions in the kitchen.. aaj biryani banegi ya phir kabab or chicken. That’s where she rules. In other matters I decide what’s to be done.
I guess Dutt thinks this kind of talk is very macho—‘See how I keep my woman in line, I’m a real man, asli mard, ha ha ha.’ And if he is elected as an MP, he will no doubt have the same attitude towards his constituents as he does towards his wife—he will rule them, not serve them. During elections, he’ll fold his hands and will show much concern towards their needs—like a man wooing his beloved. Once he’s elected, if he is, he’ll only see what he can get out of them, and not give a damn about what they need, or what he had promised on bended knee. ‘Biriyani jaldi lao, bhook lagi hai.’ That kind of shit.
Such irony it is that his father was so different in both regards. How far this seed has fallen from the tree…
The London Telegraphhas a story on Camilla Power and Chris Knight, two anthropology lecturers who are leading demonstrations against the G20 summit. It tells us:
Educated at the Skinners’ Grammar School for Boys and University College London, he is a founder of the Radical Anthropology Group (RAG), which explores the origins of society from a Marxist standpoint. The pair have developed theories on the central role of women’s menstruation cycles in the development of civilisation.
Instantly I Googled, and found this study. It features the magnificent sentence, “The coalition of non-cycling females needs to grab any female who is menstruating, preventing philanderer males from taking her away.” I so want to read the Amar Chitra Katha issue on this—and imagine the fun if Ekta Kapoor comes across this study.
Also, imagine how differently human civilisation would allegedly have evolved if sanitary pads had been invented a few centuries ago.
He [Abhishek Bachchan] is the real ‘Padma Shri’ and I’m his ‘Padma Shrimati’ (giggles).
Immensely cloying cuteness, but they’re a young couple, so fine, we can forgive them that. But if we are to take this line of thinking further, Amitabh is Padma Babuji, Jaya is Padma Mom, and Amar Singh is Padma Uncle. I think all government awards are a waste of taxpayer resources—true achievers hardly need government validation—and this is a perfect opportunity for the government to stop this Padma nonsense. “No more government awards,” the minister in charge should announce. “Our sentiments have been hurt.”
Immense celebration happened on the day the Oscars were announced, for I’m a huge fan of AR Rahman and was overjoyed to see him win. And immense WTFness happens today, for Rahman says:
This award legitimises our music and the aspirations of hundreds of other musicians.
Legitimizes our music? All these years, all 17 of them since Roja, millions of us have loved Rahman’s music—so it wasn’t legitimate all this time? The crores of records sold in India, the four national awards, the 11 Filmfare awards, hell, the love of all his fans—and it takes an Oscar to “legitimize” his music? Et tu, Rahman?
I know many Indians still have this pathetic colonial hangover that leads them to crave validation from the West. I’d assumed that Rahman, just by virtue of being so good, had more self-respect than that. Well, such it goes…
Update: A number of readers have written in to say that maybe Rahman just happened to use the wrong word, that English isn’t his first language, that maybe he simply meant to say that Indian music has now got its overdue recognition from the West. I guess that’s a fair enough explanation of what may have happened.
Immense national pride comes at sharing with you the astonishing news that Abhishek Bachchan is planning to make “at least six public appearances in as many cities in 12 hours” in his effort to enter the Guinness Book of World Record. I kid you not:
On Friday, Abhishek Bachchan may make and break a unique Guinness World Record. It’s that of a film star making the maximum number of public appearances in 12 hours. Beginning Friday morning, when Delhi-6 releases, Abhishek will travel to as many events in as many cities as possible within 12 hours.
Speaking from Dubai yesterday, where he was attending the film’s premiere, an excited Abhishek said, “I heard of some German actors who set a world record by making five public appearances in 12 hours. I want to beat their record. I will do at least six to seven appearances in 12 hours in six cities. It could even go up to seven cities.”
Needless to say, I’m right behind him—India needs this record. In fact, I propose that Bachchan tries to do 60 cities in 12 hours instead of just 6. How can this be done? Simple. He should hang upside down from a private helicopter, which then then flies across the country, swooping down low over every big city on the way. The helicopter can even hover at some town squares so he can drink some water and sign an autograph or two, so that Guinness can’t complain that hanging upside down from a helicopter isn’t really a “public appearance.” 60 cities, I’m thinking, is a cinch.
And what if he gets bored during all this because he has no company? No problem. Masakali, dude!