Sunday, December 28, 2008

What a phone call!

In this age of recession, one would think that people would be rather hard pressed to find adequate means of livelihood.Not so!

The other day, my sister and I were lounging about at home in the afternoon, lazily chatting.The spell of languor was rudely interrupted by the shrill sound of the telephone ringing.My sister picked up the receiver with a bored hello.

The latter narration is based on hearsay-from what she told me.

A guttural voice in a high crescendo-a great combination! "Ma'am, I got your number from a well wisher of yours.I wish to inform you that we are a group of priests who can come to your home to perfrom pooja. All of us have some problems in life-we work to alleviate them by chanting 21 incantations of 'Ganpati Atharvasheersha'. If you consent, we will come to your place and perform the same for 30 days."

Before my sister had time to collect her thoughts and reply, he continued, " If you tell us to come at 6, we will surely reach at least 5 minutes before 6. No train delays, hell or high weather will stop us. You will see Madam, how the atmosphere in the house gets charged by the chants.We only charge a nominal fee os Rs 11,500 for this.Please think about this and get back to me on this number."

My sister, laughingly flabbergasted, told me about this huge joke.After all, though we as a family are fairly religious, we had not taken leave of our senses to succumb to such a thing!
I suggested that we reply in any of the following ways should he call again:-

1.This is a house that is completely atheist and hates the words 'God' and 'Godmen' with equal fervour.
2.We'll make a wish and pay you the Rs 11,500 only when the wish comes true.
3.Whether you have a 'sample pooja' as a curtain raiser.

The guy called again in an hour, but this time it was my sedate brother in law who attended the call.Told the whole story by my sis, he patiently listened to the caller, who was citing precedents of the effectiveness of the ritual. He started a series of name dropping- a few names of famous people, particularly politicians, who had apparently profited by it. My bro-in-law very deliberately, in a baritone, said that our family thinking was a mixture of Shankaracharya's Advaitvad and Charvaka's hedonism. Till date, nobody among us was a devotee of Kumarila Bhatta or a Mimansaka.

The caller was kind of flummoxed and hung up.Humorous as the incident was, it led me to the disconcerting thought of how such brahmins gave the entire group a bad name. Of course, such tricksters exist in any community, but it is particularly galling to find them in a community renowned sometime only for learning and austerity!

A vacant feeling

A spike of pain searing through
the heart that lies exposed
in vulnerability.
You would think the heaving pain
would last out eternity
or provide the word inferno
a new dimension.
Unused to such pain, I saw myself
as only human, perfection less than perfect.
It was then my heart beseeched God
for the salve of affection to soothe and cure.
For the pain had been shoved aside
by a vacant feeling, a thought of nothingness
which alarmed me the most
by its hewn smoothness.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

My beloved Mumbai-how much do I grieve today?

It is only now that I have realized how much I love this city.When I am sitting changing TV channels with nerveless hands, watching images of blood, gore and sorrow and witnessing Mumbai bleed.

Yesterday night, I did hear the sound of the blast in Vile Parle near the Express Highway,but dismissed it in my mind as the sound of a firecracker.It was only after I watched the news at around 11 that I recognized it for what it was.

Then followed the first selfish thought that all my dear ones are safe, followed by the agonizing realization that this thought would be alien to those who had not been so lucky.

And my beloved city?Shorn of peace,safety and the self-assured glamour personified by the Taj and the Oberoi?How many, many times will we take the 'Spirit of Mumbai' for granted ?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Disdain's the fashion, dear!

We, close friends at office, have a very quaint and refreshing habit- an after lunch interlude of non stop conversation.And oh boy, is it non-stop!I have the rather unsettling reputation of being a chatterbox,which has stuck despite my denial.But I can assert that I am matched word for word,catchphrase for catchphrase, sarcasm for sarcasm by some of my pals there.

I was mentally going over the topics of discussion -and they were as varied as religion and atheism,music and cacophony,unbridled capitalism and equally unbridled communism.

I must mention some of my pals who have outstanding characteristics-a guy who's nice hearted but terribly anti-establishment.A gal who's got an amazing sense of humor and a wicked desire to kindle a controversy a second.Another gal who is emotional to such an extent that I sometimes expect to see billows of smoke issuing from her ears someday.

There are some other friends who are mostly silent spectators with a remark or two, but they do seem to really enjoy the arguments and the rush of emotions involved.

Today was just another of these conversations that started on the note of Raj Thakeray and the MNS ruckus which is the 'in' story right now.But I know not how,the talk first veered to different blogs and from a particular blog ,ostensibly by Rakesh Jhunjhunwala which has scoffed at Arindam Chaudhari(Planman Consulting), and then we started discussing various self help books by authors like Deepak Chopra,Robin Sharma,and the entire genre of 'thought' and 'self help' writers.A couple of us asserted that what they wrote was mostly trash and muck.

My emotional friend came out with the strong statement, "You folks have got used to sneering at everything from organized religion to North Indians to thought writers!Mujhe ye baat bilkul samajh mein nahi aati."

Hey vehemence floored us all for a moment .I was also partly floored by the phrase 'thought writers'-I could almost feel its double edge.One meaning-writers on thought or thinking.The other, much more amusing one-writers thought to be writers.

But the talk became a little serious with me wondering aloud whether it has become a habit with us to generally scoff at everything,peppering our sneers with holier-than -thou remarks.And the conclusion was -yes dude, disdain is IN!

Today's valuable talk led to a few conclusions:

1.Yes, we revel in disdain and love to scoff at something or the other simply because its considered really cool.

2. Every thought writer worth (or not worth) his salt has a fan following.

2.We are heartless people in a cushy job looking down at lesser folks from our heights.(This sentence was characteristic both of the emoter,who pronounced it,and the anti-establishmenter,who did not)

3.We are going to be better (read more politically correct) citizens from now on.

4.Every thing in the world has some value to someone, including trashy,no no, obscure writers.

Uff-enough gyan gained for a day,methinks.I will keep informing you whenever more such gems arise.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Surviving the meltdown

As usual, I was debating a nuance of policy with my boss in office.Somehow the conversation digressed to the bleak economic condition of today with bankruptcies, bailouts and redundancies galore.This is when you feel most lucky at working in a statutory organization setup,which is kind of impervious to both booms and busts.Dr Doom, are you listening?
However, when I read a news snippet about the Pakistani government being on the verge of bankruptcy, I was shaken out of my complacency.It seems,though a tad unlikely,that governments are capable of going bust too!

That was when I took immediate action.No, I did not draw up a financial master plan to save our economy, only a master plan to save myself from the meltdown.Let me list it out for the benefit of humankind-after all, I have to temper my selfishness with altruism.

1.The first consideration is 'roti' or food.As I am a vegetarian, and the prices of vegetables are shooting up like hell,I have made a list of gurudwaras with langars.They serve very tasty, wholesome food and I will ensure that familiarity does not breed contempt by gracing all of them in turn with my presence.

2.For 'kapda' or clothing,I have cancelled my plans of gifting old clothing to servants/needy.If anybody comments about my attire looking old, I will respond by using the time honoured excuse of "Don't you know this exhibition where they are displaying these costly pieces with a deliberate antique look?This is haute couture,yaar."Further, I plan to join tailoring classes and is possible, buy a spinning wheel.I can sport a halo of a follower of Mahatma Gandhi and save a bomb on cloth too.

3.'Makan' or housing is a problem in Mumbai at the best of times.More so when your pocket mirrors the dilapidation of the economy.But I have 2 solutions. One is to find a haunted flat in Mumbai-the more ghosts the better.People will avoid it like the plague and if you go to live there,there is an outside chance of finding a friendly ghost who might act like a djinn!The second is to purchase a good old jhuggi and rent it out.With all the possibilities of redevelopment,the rent you get from there might just cover a major portion of the rent you have to shell out for the flat you stay in.

The three major concerns having been met, the next like transport,entertainment,etc lend themselves to easy enough solutions.For instance, you might join a car pool without owning a car yourself ,on the strength of the sheer charm of your personality and wit.You might offer to meet the entertainment needs of your friends with they meeting your transport needs.Of course,rail travel in Mumbai will normally take care of both.Transport will be affordable and there'll be loads of entertainment what with the catcalls,fistfights and amateur musicals.And there is the added benefit of farewell to your gym membership with more than adequate exercise in the running for the trains and holding on for dear life once you've got into them.

Hey, not bad at all!I have just discovered that it is possible to stay alive,active and cheerful even in an expensive city like Mumbai.I feel like saying like John Donne'Recession,be not proud!'

( Dr Doom is an epithet for Marc Faber,who is determinedly bearish.

"Death, be not proud" is a famous poem by John Donne.Here's the complete text )

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mad theories on history-part I

One of my driving passions remains history,especially Indian history.When I say 'Indian',I refer to that wondrous land of a thousand contradictions and as many binders.Not the red variety-those fiery folks bearing warpaint and gaily feathered headgear.Btw, those fascinate me too, especially after "The last of the Mohicans"-both the movie and the book.

Digressions apart,I sometimes feel like doing an amateur psychologist act on Indian history.Let me retrace some situations which I have analysed beyond their skin deepness.An alternative occupation as a consulting psychologist seems attractive sometimes, especially if the patients are going to be as madly endearing as Robert De Niro in Analyse this/that.

A deep breath( Swami Ramdev has made it very hep nowadays,though you look rather like an panting idiot), and here goes!!

1.Most of us would be familiar with the story where King Nanda pulls the tuft of Chanakya, and Chanakya walks off in a huff swearing eternal vengeance.We would normally interpret this underlying issue as self respect, but I suspect a strain of aesthetics somewhere.The king was supposed to be a poora pleasure seeker, and he must have found the Chanakya look unnervingly unlike the flowing locks that kings used to sport then.Again,Chanakya must have maintained the shikha as a duty more than pleasure(After all, he was aesthetically sensible enough to use Visha Kanyas in politics), and would have mentally thanked the king making him more pleasing in appearance.But then, why the training of Chandragupta and the subsequent overthrow?Well, Chanakya could not reveal his satisfaction at his improved appearance and had to undergo the entire exercise as a grand gesture!Like the length of Cleopatra's nose, the state of his hair had changed the course of history!!

2.Muhammad bin Tughlaq-God, how I love this guy!!A potent combination of genius and madness, extreme cruelty with bouts of benevolence.He was apparently skilled in logic,philosophy,mathematics,astronomy and physical sciences,medicine and to top it all, he was a calligraphist! can imagine little Muhammad Tughlaq wanting to go kite flying while papa Ghiyasuddin sternly urging him to get back to study with his Maulvi."Son,how can you imagine writing hukamnamas in this horrid writing?And how on earth will you keep track of your troops and empire if you are unable to calculate 4 badams are to be distributed among 5 kids?"I guess this would be enough to drive anybody mad, and the poor kid succumbed.Of course,he started his career in insanity with an act considered common in the middle ages-the murder of his father.Ostensibly for the throne,it was more of vengeance for the loss of precious play hours.And his tryst with madness continued,but I guess posterity has taken revenge enough on him in the play of Girish Karnad-Tughlaq!Let me quote Mark Twain here-a classic is a book people praise but don't read.

That brings me to the end of this first edition of mad historical theories.I hope to continue this series with many more capers.

Disclaimer:This piece was written in a moment of temporary insanity :)

As for the lovely play, my due apologies to Shri Karnad.I have both read his play and praised it.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

NIce guys finish second?

This is the title of the autobiography of Mr B.K.Nehru, a cousin of Pt Jawaharlal Nehru.He had an illustrious career in the diplomatic service and government; he was also the Governor of J&K at a turbulent time.

Though I have not read the book myself,its quaint title set me thinking.Was it a reflection on Mr Nehru himself, whom was the quintessiential 'nice guy' or 'gentleman of the old school'?Or was it a statement of a fact thats perhaps does hold true today?

First,what is a 'nice guy'?I really can't say-but one thing, he would be surely devoid of the artificial gallantry and courtliness characteristic of the middle ages and more recently, in the erstwhile 'confederate' or southern states of the United States.

This century is the century of Mammon, of achievement.Being 'nice' is not really an asset if it hinders success and progress.

Success and progress which is measured in tangibles like how palatial is your home,the number of fancy cars lodged in your garage, the designer labels in which you strut, a wealthy husband or the society wife hanging on your arm........

'Nice' connotes some characteristics or values like politeness towards your elders or rather , during all interactions,playing each thought and action straight,doing at least all good that is possible without unduly hampering yourself.To put it very succintly, to avoid any action which is 'not cricket'!

It is frequently said that nice guys ( or gals) never make it to the top due to their refusal to do something morally troubling or personally distasteful to them.But then, 'achievement' is a fuzzy term.One may get as much satisfaction by avoiding a unpalatable action as by earning your first million.

I bet I'm sounding like one fuddy duddy loser-yet I maintain my right to remain nice:)