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.
On a mailing list I’m part of, I came across this wonderful excerpt from a book called Thinkertoys:
Imagine a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb toward the banana. As soon as he touches the stair, spray all the monkeys with ice-cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result - all the monkeys are sprayed with ice-cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.
Now, turn off the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and will want to climb the stairs. To his surprise, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs he will be assaulted.
Next, remove another of the original monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.
Again, replace a third monkey with new one. The new one goes to the stairs and is attacked. Two of the four monkeys that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.
After replacing the fourth and fifth monkeys with new ones, all the monkeys that have been sprayed with ice-cold water have been replaced. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs. Why not? Because as far as they know that’s the way it’s always been around here.
I have a feeling that this is the problem with Indian television programming and Indian newspapers. Hardly anyone thinks outside the box. And the box is old. There’s a great opportunity not being taken here because no one has courage and imagination. Pity.
You might say in reply that hey, you pray, and consequently many good things have happened to you. But the causation is flawed. Your success is a combination of luck and hard work—as all success is. Other people also pray as much as you, and have achieved nowhere near your level of success. Indeed, poor people probably pray more than rich dudes. But if there is a god, she clearly doesn’t believe in bribery and ass-licking.
I enjoyed watching the film, but if there was one thing about it that truly sucked, it was the story. Even accounting for the necessary suspension of disbelief while watching a Bollywood film, the story was ludicrously bad. Everything else about the film was excellent: the screenplay was immaculately crafted, the dialogues were easy and natural, the acting was delightful. Even though Aamir Khan’s lecturebaazi about something everybody already knows got occasionally tiresome, I enjoyed the film. But think about it, what a silly story. And they’re fighting for credit.
Regardless of whether the story was good or bad, I think Bhagat is right to feel hard done by. While much of what made the film so entertaining was not in the book, that is the case with many adaptations—Slumdog Millionaire being a case in point. The genesis of the story was certainly the book, and by having a story credit at the start of the film that did not include Bhagat’s name, the film-makers were being intellectually dishonest. Hell, what would it have cost them to put Bhagat’s name there, along with Abhijat Joshi and Raju Hirani? It was silly on their part not to do that—though I’d say that the resultant publicity has done everyone involved a world of good. Bhagat’s books must be flying off the shelves, and I don’t imagine he will be pissed for long.
Also, the contract itself is ridiculous. Bhagat actually signed his film rights away in perpetuity. This is crazy. A standard clause in most adaptation rights in the West is that if the film isn’t on the floors within a particular period, the rights revert to the author. What if Chopra’s team lost interest in this film, moved on to other projects, and Danny Boyle came to Bhagat and said he wanted to make a film on his book? Bhagat would be helpless, because the rights would be with VVC, who could either be churlish and refuse to part with them, or could benefit from the resultant windfall without Bhagat seeing any share of it.
The clause about discretionary payment is also most WTF. It didn’t hurt Bhagat in the end, but still…
Admittedly, Bhagat was probably not in a strong bargaining position at the time the contract was signed. But this should serve as a cautionary tale to any other novelist today selling film rights to Bollywood.
He should totally follow this up with “Twitter Anthem”. And Tom Vadakan should should do a rap in the middle of that which goes, “Tweet is a lonely man, yo, Tweet is a lonely man. But I won’t feel bitter, cuz I’m not a quitter, I’ll put on my glitter, and get my ass on Twitter, yo, cuz Tweet is a lonely man, yo, Tweet is a lonely man.”
It’s somehow appropriate for a lazy half-Bong to come up with a sleeper hit. Open Magazine‘s latest issue has a feature story titled “Silent Bestsellers”, and My Friend Sancho is one of the subjects of the piece.
There was actually a decent amount of buzz about the book both before and after it was published, so maybe it’s not so much of a sleeper. But it’s true, as the author of that story says, that “cocktail crowds don’t trip over each other trying to grab a photo op” with me. It is entirely their loss, I must say, for my company is more intoxicating than a Long Island Iced Tea spiked with Bhang.
In other personal news, the December issue of the Indian edition of the magazine T3 has compiled The T3 Tech 100, their list of 100 movers and shakers in the technology world. Anil Ambani comes in at No. 82, Jimmy Wales is No. 83, and Amit Varma is No. 84. (This Indian list doesn’t seem to be online, but here’s a screengrab, if I may call it that.) Shah Rukh Khan is No. 86, and I hope this settles once and for all the longstanding debate about which of us is a bigger stud.
No, but really, it’s an interesting list. Stephen Fry clocks in at No. 4, ahead of Steve Jobs (7), Steve Ballmer (10), Barack Obama (18), Bill Gates (27), Tim Berners-Lee (36), Mike Arrington (58) and Jeff Bezos (63). Go figure.
The last time I made such an august list was in April this year, when Business Weeknamed me one of India’s 50 Most Powerful People. The local auto drivers haven’t got the memo, though, and keep refusing to go where I want. Like, dude, do you not know who I am? I’m the juggernaut, bitch.
Maybe I should act in a Shah Rukh Khan film instead of him.
My friends waved at me from the buffet counter not knowing what the human sperms did to me during those fifteen minutes.
This is Sherlyn Chopra writing about… well, I really can’t summarize on a family blog such as this what she is writing about. Read it for yourself.
Her post also contains the magnificent line, ‘A tall white hunk dressed in a black suit walked up to me.’ But just when you think this is like some nice, romantic Yashraj film, there’s a touch of Bunuel. Masterful.
That said, I have more respect for Sherlyn Chopra’s writing skills than Bobilli Vijay Kumar’s. This is the man who once wrote, as my friend Prem Panicker pointed out, that Raj Singh Dungarpur is the ‘uncrowned grandfather of Indian cricket’. Week after week, he writes columns that mangle metaphors, torture idioms, and in general try too hard to show his mastery of the language. But just when you thought you’d seen it all, he comes up with this gem:
Tiger Woods is finally realising that life is not always a bed of roses. He has slept in so many, anyway, that he would have known that a prickly one was just a birdie away.
However, even in his wildest dreams (and as we know now he does have wild dreams, even if you don’t count kinky sex or foursomes), he wouldn’t have expected that he would end paying such a heavy price. Will he really need to put away his club to save the marriage?
Tiger is, of course, not the first person to fish in muddied waters; nor will he be the last high-profile athlete to play the field so well. The only reason he has become the butt of all jokes is because, ironically, he is Tiger Woods.
Mind you, this is the sports editor of the Times of India writing. When his reporters write like this, he probably pats them on the back proudly instead of making them stand in a murga pose outside the ToI office for six hours, which is the only apt punishment.
When I had to deal with the Toronto Censor Board over The Brood, the experience was so unexpectedly personal and intimate, it really shocked me; pain, anguish, the sense of humiliation, degradation, violation. Now I do have a conditioned reflex! I can only explain the feeling by analogy. You send your beautiful kid to school and he comes back with one hand missing. Just a bandaged stump. You phone the school and they say that they really thought, all things considered, the child would be more socially acceptable without that hand, which was a rather naughty hand. Everyone was better off with it removed. It was for everyone’s good. That’s exactly how it felt to me.
Censors tend to do what only psychotics do: they confuse reality with illusion. People worry about the effects on children of two thousand acts of murder on TV every half hour. You have to point out that they have seen a representation of murder. They have not seen murder. It’s the real stumbling-block.
Charles Manson found a message in a Beatles song that told him what he must do and why he must kill. Suppressing everything one might think of as potentially dangerous, explosive or provocative would not prevent a true psychotic from finding something that will trigger his own particular psychosis. For those of us who are normal, and who understand the difference between reality and fantasy, play, illusion—as most children most readily do—there is enough distance and balance. It’s innate.
Besides the consequentialist argument, there’s the small matter of censorship being morally wrong. But leave that aside. In times like these, when images of sex and violence are practically ubiquitous, censorship fails even in its own aims. Indeed, in another couple of decades, it will be as impotent as it is redundant. Censor boards will still continue to exist, of course, like the telegram-wallahs who ring the bell every Diwali to ask for bakshish. Such it goes.
And really, all actors or filmmakers or artists of any kind who have ever been part of a censor board should be ashamed of themselves. Check out the disgraceful Sharmila Tagore, head of India’s censor board, talking about how she believes that “censorship must go. But I firmly believe the time hasn’t come yet for India.” Such condescension.
Korean director Ounie Lecomte walked away with the Silver Peacock for ‘A Brand New Life’, which translated her own experiences as a child into a collective film. She also received a cash prize of Rs 15.
There’s a part of me that wants that to be a typo, so that the prize is Rs 15 lakh. (That’s actually quite likely.) But there’s another part of me that wants the director to actually have received Rs 15, in three tattered five-rupee notes, the kind your auto driver tries to pass on to you when you’re in an absent-minded haze. I can imagine the baffled director hold up one of them and ask a festival volunteer, “How much is this in my currency?”
“I’m not sure, ma’am, I don’t know anything about your currency.”
“Ok then: How far can it go in India? I mean, what can you spend it on?”
What: Launch of My Friend the Fanatic by Sadanand Dhume. The author will read from the book, followed by a conversation with Amit Varma, and then a session of audience Q&A.
Where: Crossword Bookstore, Kemps Corner, Mumbai.
When: 7pm, November 27, 2009.
Dhume is a former WSJ and FEER writer who left journalism a few years ago to write a nonfiction book tracing the rise of Islamism in Indonesia. I loved the book, and will write about it again later. The subjects I’ll chat with him about this evening will include the nature of belief, the rise of Islamism in Indonesia, what it has in common with radicalism elsewhere, the dilemmas and challenges a nonfiction writer confronts while writing a book of this sort, and the growing popularity of Savita Bhabhi in Java. Try and come if you’re in the area.
And do check the book out. It sounds very serious and all, and it is, but it’s also very funny and light in its own way. You’ll enjoy reading it.
I used the word “complicity” a bit ago. I like the word. To me, it indicates an unspoken understanding between two people, a kind of pre-sense, if you like. The first hint that you may be suited, before the nervous trudgery of finding out whether you “share the same interests,” or have the same metabolism, or are sexually compatible, or both want children, or however it is that we argue consciously about our unconscious decisions. Later, looking back, we will fetishize and celebrate the first date, the first kiss, the first holiday together, but what really counts is what happened before this public story: that moment, more of pulse than of thought, which goes, Yes, perhaps her, and Yes, perhaps him.
As I read, an incoming SMS made my phone beep. I ignored it till I finished the story, and then I opened the SMS that I reproduce for you here:
From VM 53131
Will your Friendship turn into Love? To know the answer Sms BOND (Ur Friends Name) to 53131 e.g. BOND RANI. Rs.3/Sms
Isn’t it just horrible that more people read VM 53131 than Barnes?
Where there is tragedy, art follows. 9/11 sparked off much post-9/11 art and literature, as it changed the way many artists viewed the world. 26/11 may not seem that big a deal for India, but it did affect many of us in Mumbai quite deeply. The partner, Jasmine Shah Varma, who is an art curator, decided last year to explore how different artists would react to it. She got in touch with 13 artists she admired and asked them to contribute to an exhibition she was putting together—the one line theme she gave them: “Nothing Will Ever Be The Same Again.”
The exhibition opened at the Hirjee Gallery (on the first floor of Jehangir Art Gallery) on Tuesday, and runs until November 16. The work on display is fascinating. Some of the artists have engaged directly with 26/11, while others have explored broader concerns sparked by the central theme of the show. You can check out some of the work here; and here are a couple of media reports about the show: 1, 2. And here’s the Facebook page.
The work is much more powerful than these photographs indicate, so I suggest that if you happen to be in South Bombay, drop in and check out the work. The image at the start of this post is a stunning 45” by 77” work called “LoveToLive” by Pradeep Mishra, while the painting above is “Mock Practice” by Prasanta Sahu, and the one below is “In Transit - 5” by Malvika Andrew. But there’s a lot else that’s worth seeing.
It seems that Elesh Parujanwala, the ‘winner’ of Rakhi Ka Swayamwar, is “deeply hurt and angered” by the things his supposed fiance, Rakhi Sawant, has been saying about him. Among other things, he feels her comments about him not being rich enough were “stupid and unnecessary”. Quite.
In other news, we are told that nine female inmates of the Bhopal Central Jail have applied to take part in Rahul Dulhania Le Jaayega. Amazingly, 16746 other women are also keen to marry Rahul Mahajan. WTF indeed.
To all these ladies, I’d like to offer the advice Elesh should have gotten before he embarked on his adventure: Don’t. Crib. Later.
The wonderful thing about our epics is how open-source they are. Over the centuries, people have been free to remix them and interpret them as they like. Indeed, Hinduism itself has been open-source, to the extent that you can be an atheist and still be a Hindu. Pwnage, no?
Sadly, in recent times, pseudo-fundamentalist forces have tried to reshape Hinduism as a static, puritanical religion—the same kind of people who protest at Paley’s film, and who object to all kinds of things in the name of Hinduism. They have been strident and militant, and their claims to standing for Hinduism are taken more and more seriously because the counter-claims are too muted. Indeed, the finest counter to the likes of the BJP and the RSS is perhaps not from a standpoint of liberalism or secularism or anything like that, but from a standpoint of Hinduism itself. The intolerance of Hindutva is anti-Hindu—that is a potent case to make, because it strikes at their very raison d’etre.
Having said that, if recent election results are anything to go by, most people get that intuitively anyway.
I’ve been tweeting on and off about Bigg Boss 3, which I’m totally hooked to, and for those of you still immune to its charms, I present a clip that might persuade you to give it a shot. Check out Raju Srivastava’s magnificent Bhojpuri version of “Jack and Jill”—it starts at about 3:20 in the video below:
Raju is totally my favourite to win Bigg Boss this season. Did you see him with Sher Chops in the pool the other day?
If you’re in the mood for action-packed, pulpy writing, I offer you the following extract from The Iliad by Homer:
But the Argives rose in grief to avenge that boast—skilled Peneleos most of all. He charged Acamas—Acamas could not stand the attack, he ran—and Peneleos stabbed at Ilioneus instead, a son of the Herdsman Phorbas rich in flocks, Hermes’ favourite Trojan: Hermes gave him wealth but Ilioneus’s mother gave him just one son… the one Peneleos lanced out beneath the brows, down to the eyes’ roots and scooped an eyeball out—the spear cut clean through the socket, out behind the nape and backward down he sat, both hands stretched wide as Peneleos, quickly drawing his whetted sword, hacked him square in the neck and lopped his head and down on the ground it tumbled, helmet and all. But the big spear’s point still stuck in the eye socket—hoisting the head high like a poppy-head on the shaft he flourished it in the eyes of all the Trojans…
This is from the Robert Fagles translation. Homer, I submit, was the Eli Roth of his time—just as William Shakespeare was the David Dhawan of his time. Classic-schmlassic, it’s just fun to read these guys!
I am the most courteous man in the world. I pride myself on never once having been rude, in this land full of the most unutterable scoundrels, who will come and sit down next to you and tell you their woes and even declaim their poetry to you.
All India Uncut readers are hereby invited to the Mumbai launch of The Englishman’s Cameo, Madhulika Liddle’s debut novel. I will be in conversation with the author. Details:
Event: Launch of The Englishman’s Cameo by Madhulika Liddle. More: Liddle will read from her book and then be in conversation with Amit Varma, followed by audience Q&A. And?: And high tea after that. Ooh! Venue?: Oxford Bookstore, 3, Dinshaw Vachha Road, Mumbai. When is this?: 6.30 to 7.30pm, Saturday, October 10.
Regardless of whether you can make it for the event, I recommend you check out the book. It’s being slotted as “a Mughal murder mystery”, and is set in 1656, in Shahjahan’s Delhi.
It is wonderfully evocative, and makes you feel you’re actually in that time and place: during a break from reading the book, I found myself reaching for the paandaan, reminding myself not to stain my choga this time. More importantly, it’s a wonderful read, and hard to put down once you’ve started.
It stars Muzaffar Jang, a maverick minor nobleman of Shahjahan’s court who unwittingly begins to do detective work when one of his friends is accused of a murder he didn’t commit. One thing leads to another, more murders take place, and a minor character, bemused by Muzaffar’s passion for the strange bitter brew called coffee, hits upon the idea of diluting it with milk. It’s terrific fun, and I hope it’s just the first of a series.
Anyway, be there, meet the author, ask her questions, get the book signed by her, and have high tea. And just think, later you can act all snobbish and tell your friends that you went to a literary launch. Much pomposity is possible!
HT reports that the I&B ministry has just given the go-ahead to the producers of a film called The Indian Summer to shoot in India. However, after going through the script, it wants four scenes deleted from the film—these show “a kiss between Nehru and Edwina; a dancing scene; one where Nehru says ‘I Love You’; and a scene showing them in bed.”
Normally, when two people have an affair, there is kissing, there are confessions of love (or lust), and there is carnal action. I don’t see the point of pussyfooting around all this—an affair without these would not be an affair, so why should a film about an affair have to avoid these?
The government also insists that the film carry a disclaimer that it is a work of fiction. Why not keep those scenes then?
The ministry says it is doing this because it doesn’t want anyone to “show Nehru in a poor light.” That is bizarre: I don’t think his alleged affair with Edwina shows him in a poor light—the guy was human, after all. (Most Indian men would probably think more highly of him because he scored with a white chick, but leave that aside.)
And even if it did show Nehru in a poor light, so what?
Anyway, as revenge on the Indian government for this preemptive censorship, I suggest that the producers get Salman Khan to play Nehru, and have him sing a Himesh song as Edwina runs around a tree. That will show them.
A philanderer of 22, appellant Phul Singh, overpowered by sex stress in excess, hoisted himself into his cousin’s house next door, and in broad day-light, overpowered the temptingly lonely prosecutrix of twenty four, Pushpa, raped her in hurried heat and made an urgent exit having fulfilled his erotic sortie.
A hyper-sexed homo sapiens cannot be habilitated by humiliating or harsh treatment, but that is precisely the perversion of unreformed Jail Justice which some criminologists have described as the crime of punishment.
It may be marginally extenuatory to mention that modern Indian conditions are drifting into societal permissiveness on the carnal front promoting proneness to pornos in life, what with libidinous ‘brahmacharis’, womanising public men, lascivious dating and mating by unwed students, sex explosion in celluloid and book stalls and corrupt morals reaching a new ‘high’ in high places. The unconvicted deviants in society are demoralisingly large and the State has, as yet, no convincing national policy on female flesh and sex sanity. We hope, at this belated hour, the Central Government will defend Indian Womanhood by stamping out voluptuous meat markets by merciless criminal action.
The gentleman who wrote this is Justice Krishna Iyer. One can only assume that he proposed to his wife in some other language. Or maybe he spoke like this, and she went, Enough, enough, I’ll marry you, but please don’t go on and on in English. You libidinous brahmachari, you!
The larger issue here is why Justice Iyer waxed so purplacious. I blame colonialism. Even after the Brits left, English remained a marker of class in India. The better your English, the more highly you were regarded (even by yourself). This led to a tendency of showing off how fluent you were in the language, and from there, to this kind of overkill. For Justice Iyer, the language he used was as much a signal as a tool: It signalled his sophistication and his class. Or so the poor fellow thought.
I believe this is also partly responsible for why style overwhelms content in so much Indian writing in English. As kids, we’re too used to parents and teachers and peers telling us, Wow, this is so well-written, your English is so good. (As opposed to Wow, your narrative was compelling, I lost myself in the story, I couldn’t put it down.) So they end up giving more importance to the language they use rather than the narrative they’re building, while the former should really be slave to the latter. Pity.
And we also see this a lot in our local trains. Two random people will be arguing over something, and then one of them will break into bad English, as if to say, I"m superior to you, I know English. You lout! And then the other guy will say something to the effect of Hey, I know English too. Only you can speak or what? Bastard! And so on.
I’d like to see Justice Iyer get into one those local train fights, actually…
I don’t know about advice, but I would ask aspirants to join advertising only if they were truly interested in people. Because that is what it’s all about. I see too many people who are too self-centered, too wrapped up in their own world in advertising today. It’s not about a great felicity with words or magic with visuals at all. It’s about being interested in what the peon who brings your tea dreams about. Ask yourself, do you really care about the fantasies of a housewife who does not have a life so the others in her family can? Do you know what a rainbow tastes like to a little street child? Do you really understand what a cell-phone means to an illiterate woman in Balia whose husband works as a vegetable vendor in Mumbai? If you don’t give a damn, please stay away from advertising. Write a book, paint a masterpiece, make a movie that wins at every international festival, but DO NOT join advertising.
I’d modify that a bit and say that in my opinion, this advice holds true for literature and cinema as well. So if you don’t care what the peon dreams, don’t write a book or make a film either. You can go paint a masterpiece, though.
And really, speaking about writing, there are too many books written these days by writers who stick their heads up their own arseholes and describe what they see. That reflects in their sales as well—who besides friends and family can tolerate the view up there? A little less self-indulgence, and some looking around at the fascinating world around them, would help.
And no, duh, do you really expect me to take names here? I’m not getting into no lit controversy, ever!
This comment, made by PatrickO on the Le Monde website and quoted by the Guardian, sums up my feelings on the Roman Polanski case exactly:
What would have happened if Mohamed, a factory worker from a working-class, immigrant-heavy suburb, had been accused of the same crime?
The argument that Polanski deserves some sort of special treatment because he is such a great filmmaker is absurd. Everyone’s got to be equal under the law. It’s irrelevant how long it’s been, or how they arrested him, or how many people sign petitions arguing for his release. He’s been accused of a crime, and the legal process should treat him the same as anyone else—including Mohamed.
If any argument can be made in his favour, it has to be based on the particulars of this case. That argument should be made in court. It is an argument for his acquittal, not for a pretrial release.
Given that he’s already pleaded guilty to having sex with a thirteen-year-old girl, I don’t see what that argument could be. But that’s for the courts to decide.
I’ve often made the point that parenthood is a massive responsibility, and way too many people become parents before they’re ready for it. Well, here are a few things that validate that belief:
Exhibit one: A Shiv Sainik named Kailash Patil had named his kids Uddhav and Raj after the now-warring Thackerays. Well, Patil is now pissed at the party because they denied a ticket to the candidate he supported. So is is renaming his son Uddhav to Anand. Who knows, if he later ends up in the Congress, he might change Anand’s name to Rahul. Imagine what all this does to the poor kid.
Exhibit two: An Australian baby of Indian origin gets eczema. Her dad, Thomas Sam, happens to be “a college lecturer in homoeopathy.” No doubt driven by hubris and dogma, he insists on treating her with homeopathy alone. Her condition becomes worse, and turns into a “severe skin disorder.” Her father refuses to change course. The girl dies. The parents are arrested—and I recommend that instead of getting a lawyer for themselves, they take Phos1M or Arsenic Iod. Anyway, what’s the point of my sarcasm now? The kid is dead.
Exhibit three: I’ve blogged about this before, but today was the first episode of Pati, Patni aur Woh, so I was reminded of it. What kind of parents would rent their babies out to a television channel? How can they live with themselves after doing that? What will their kids feel about it when they grow older? I’m baffled. Normally I’m a sucker for reality shows—but this one’s just a bit too bizarre.
One more priceless case in the annals of taking offence. BBC reports that Nigeria’s government “is asking cinemas to stop showing a science fiction film, District Nine, that it says denigrates the country’s image.” Apparently the Nigerian ganglord in the film has the same surname as a former Nigerian president—Obasanjo—among other sins. Their information minister, Dora Akunyili, has been quoted as saying:
We feel very bad about this because the film clearly denigrated Nigeria’s image by portraying us as if we are cannibals, we are criminals.
The name [of] our former president was clearly spelt out as the head of the criminal gang and our ladies shown like prostitutes sleeping with extra-terrestrial beings.
Imagine the misunderstandings that this could lead to. For example, a Nigerian lady could be walking home from the supermarket when an alien steps in front of her. ‘Excuse me,’ says the Nigerian lady, ‘please let me pass.’
‘No,’ says the alien. ‘I am horny. First we will copulate.’
The Nigerian lady gasps. ‘Oh, how dare you? I am not that kind of woman.’
‘Gimme a break,’ says the alien. ‘I’ve watched District Nine. I know the truth. All Nigerian women sleep with aliens.’
Yes, yes, I know that’s a bit far-fetched. But I didn’t start it!
For a moment, I almost thought “Lenovo G550 Notebook” was a ToI headline—sure, it does say “ads by Google” below, but that’s small and you see it later. The font and the bullet point make it seem like it’s just another of the top stories on the site. Such it goes.
And in case you’re wondering what Ayesha Takia has lashed out at Baba Ramdev for, well, the dude apparently said that all actors were “characterless”. Some actors complain about that themselves when they’re not getting any roles, but that’s not what the good Baba meant. Ah, well, whaddya expect?
I tweeted a couple of hours ago about the bizarrely headlined feature on Sherlyn Chopra (“Have Breasts, Will Talk”), but the most WTF thing about the article wasn’t any of the priceless quotes from Sherlyn, or the report’s inept attempts at eloquence, but the para at the end:
While it’s clear that the Internet is the way of the future, she has entered into an exclusive agreement with Times Internet Limited. Under this agreement exclusive mobile rights of all her mobile content lie with Times Internet Limited, specifically to be provisioned by Indiatimes 58888, on SMS, WAP, Voice and all operator platforms. “It’s a great honour! With most actresses shedding their inhibitions, there is a lot of competition on the internet. And I love it. It compels me to redefine excellence,” she says. You can follow more about Sherlyn. Get her mobile downloads, for example, send messages or listen to her thoughts, straight from her. Just call 58888799 or SMS SHERLYN to 58888. Call rates are Rs 7 per minute and SMS rates are up to Rs 3 per message.
This is ostensibly a feature article, mind you. So much for the wall between editorial and business.
Nevertheless, isn’t it delicious how they snuck that quote in the middle? Sherlyn has my best wishes for redefining excellence in the context she mentions.
The partner’s show the other day was organised as in the picture above—the postcards were on coloured panels specially made for the show. Well, a few hours before the show began, a dude walks into the gallery. At this point, only the coloured panels are there—no postcards, no art to look at. This dude spends ten minutes walking around the space. And then he walks up to J and says:
This is really a very interesting show. It reminds me of Rothko.
I’m not kidding. This is the kind of thing I’d normally make up—but this time, it really happened. That’s art for you, I guess.
As many of you would know, the partner makes her living curating art shows. Well, her latest show, Card-o-logy, opens today, and I’m enormously excited about it. It features 60 artists who have painted five picture postcards each, and many of the 300 resulting works of art are just stunning. The artists are a mix of well-known veterans, mid-career painters and young guns, and many of them have taken the chance to get out of their comfort zone and try new things.
When Jasmine had the idea last year, she had the following aims in mind:
1] Get all these well-known artists to work under the constraints of this new format that most of them had never tried out.
2] In recessionary times, come up with work that anyone could afford. Some of these artists sell in 7 figures, and art lovers have a chance to pick up their work here from Rs. 500 onwards. Most of the works are priced between Rs 3000 to 8000.
3] Compel art viewers to immerse themselves in the show, as they will have to in order to take in all the 300 works. They can’t simply stand back with a cocktail glass in one hand, take a sweeping look around the room, and satisfy themselves that they’ve viewed the exhibition. The very size of the works demands a more intimate viewing.
I can’t think of a comparable exhibition in India in which 60 top artists have showcased 300 works at such affordable prices, and you can see some of the works online here and here. However, the size of those images don’t do justice to the actual works, and if you’re in Mumbai, I suggest you hop over to Hacienda Art Gallery at Kala Ghoda between September 4 (today) and September 18.
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.