Vantage point

Friday, January 30, 2009

What does NDTV's Silence Mean?

It is now almost four days since Chetan Kunte posted his unconditional apology. It is now over two days since bloggers and tweeters took note of this. Here is my latest question - why is NDTV silent on this? Why is the mainstream media silent on this? The closest thing to non-personal-blog presence for this story so far is the CounterCurrents piece. And well, it is a self-described "indy media" site.

Let us assume for the sake of argument that what Kunte wrote was indeed libelous, and something that required strong action. If so, why is NDTV mum on it after all this while? The story has certainly spread in the Indian blogosphere like wildfire. NDTV and/or Barkha Dutt should have, by now come out with at least a statement on this whole issue to present their side of the story. If they are convinced they have done nothing wrong, why not come out and proclaim their innocence? And why the silence from others like CNN-IBN, TimesNow, Indian Express, Hindustan Times, Mint and so on? Why is this not a story?(If I am wrong and this matter has indeed made its way to the mainstream media, please let me know).

When someone re-posted Kunte's post on facebook a few weeks ago, Barkha Dutt promptly and fierily responded thus -

you may want to know that the author of this email- a certain Mr. Kunte who lives in Holland.. has been sent a legal notice by NDTV for the rubbish and lies peddled in this email.

Best Regards

Barkha Dutt.


Mr Saini,

Just because some random bloke can sit at a computer and make up stuff doesnt mean he or others like him need to be dignified with responding to their utter and total rubbish. rubbish is what it is. And as already mentioned. Mr. Kunte has been served a legal notice for libel by NDTV. That should give you some indication of where we and I stand. The freedom afforded by the Interent cannot be used to fling allegations at individuals or groups in the hope that they will then respond to things that arent worthy of engagement.

If you have any remaining questions my column on media coverage is available online.
Happy New Year.

And yet, no response on the viral outbreak of reactions to Kunte's apology? Why? Does the answer perhaps lie in what Barkha Dutt said above? Everyone who has weighed in on the issue so far are "random blokes" writing "utter and total rubbish" who "aren't worthy of engagement" and need not be dignified with a response?

Whatever the reason, I wonder if NDTV and the mainstream media as a whole will just bury their heads in sand, and hope everyone moves on? Or will we see some sort of a response?

I hope at least foreign correspondents in India take note of the story. Like Mark Magnier of the LA Times who had a piece on the central issue here - how the media conducted itself during the 26/11 attacks. Two things that stood out in the article -

a) Barkha Dutt is referred to as India's Christiane Amanpour? Really? By whom? The only place I found her referred to directly as such was Shobhaa De's blog. Heh.... the defense rests. A more accurate description - India's Geraldo Rivera.

b) Look at this utterly condescending and bizarrely rationalizing comment from Barkha Dutt - She contends that Indians have been badly shaken by the violence and do not know how to process it, venting their anger first on politicians, then bureaucrats and now the news media.

Oh, so we all need a shrink then? The media did nothing wrong. It's just that our fragile minds are too shaken so we are blaming three people who are not at fault in this issue at all - politicians, bureaucrats and the news media.

Anyway, I digress. I hope to see some mention of this whole brouhaha in the mainstream media soon, no matter what spin is put on it. If not the Indian media, then at least foreign media.

I Lost My Dog and All I got was a Lord Ram Poster

This happened some time in 1989/90, a few weeks before Advani's rathyatra. I was a 9 year old boy, and like most 9-year-olds those days, heavily into Enid Blyton. Deeply impressed by Timmy from Famous Five and Scamper from Secret Seven (and a bit by Rocket from Chacha Chowdhury), I too wanted a dog of my own. But my parents would have none of it. We lived in a small 450-sq-ft apartment, money was kinda tight, and I had other demanding demands which the parents were already busy fulfilling. Plus, my mom had a mild phobia of dogs and her trump card argument was - "who will take care of the dog when you are at school? I certainly won't!" So all my "I want a dog" whines fell on deaf ears.

Like anywhere in India, our neighborhood also had a healthy stray dog population. They would keep spawning puppies on a regular basis. I would look longingly at the puppies, often wondering if I should just bring one home. But strict parental directives against such moves made me resist. Until Don. Don was also a stray puppy, but he had a more regal look to him. He (and others born with him) clearly were of mixed parentage. My guess is Don's mother had managed to seduce one of the pedigree dogs in the neighborhood (my guess is Mr. Yardi's labrador) when the owner wasn't paying attention. So Don did seem to have a je ne sais quoi that other puppies lacked. To seal the deal for my then-amateur-astronomer self, he also had three circular spots on his back in a somewhat straight line, like the three stars in the belt of Orion.

So I gave in and took him home. Mom and Dad obviously raised hell. But I cried and fought back. Prolonged debates ensued. The settlement reached was that the puppy would not be allowed in the house but sit on the stairs outside. That's the way he stayed for a few days. I appropriated one of the bowls in the house and declared it Don's bowl. Got al old jute sack and made it his "bed". Why Don you ask? Two reasons - my favorite movie with only positive thoughts associated with it in the pre-Farhan-Akhtar days was Don. And with the Hugo Weaving series fresh in my mind, I thought of Don Bradman as the next best thing to god.

After my Mom, it was the building residents' turn to play villain. They objected to having a dog on the stairs. What if he poops all around, they asked. What if he bites someone, they asked. Keep him in your house, if you want, they said. But my parents wouldn't budge. So I made promises of taking him for walks twice a day and cleaning up after him if he emptied his bowels in the building. And I promised I'd save enough from my pocket-money to get him a shot. There were protests and objections all around, but my frequent crying ensured that no one kicked him out.

In a few days, Don began to win hearts and minds. My mom started taking some interest in his well-being. And even the building folks, who first scowled and spat when they saw him started patting him on the head as they walked by. Plus, even at that young age somehow Don had the instinctive cleanliness to hold it in until I took him for a walk, and piss only in the shrubs. Things were going fine. Until. Until that fateful night.

I had seen signboards and posters advertising an Elocution Competition in the neighborhood. The theme, if I recall correctly was why our nation is great, or why it will be great, or some such. I was a big elocution freak back then, with some school-level and Ganpati-festival prizes to my name. I decided to take part. The competition was at 8 pm in the night. So I went there with some friends, and with Don in tow, much like in Enid Blyton novels. However, when we got to the venue, we came to know that there was more to the elocution competition than it seemed.

The stage had a massive portrait of Lord Ram with some sort of a temple in the background. There was also another big poster with a lotus on it, next to a bow-and-arrow. The elocution competition had been organized by a local BJP/Shivsena leader. And as I now realize when I look back at the incident, they had just used the elocution competition to attract kids and indoctrinate them about the Ayodhya issue, which back then had not reached massive proportions. The agenda for the night was like this - a speech by some local RSS chap, followed by a speech from the local BJP/Sena leader, then some prayers/shlokas administered by some sadhu-type chap in saffron garb, and then the elocution competition.

Of course, there were some nice snacks and chocolates for everyone, so we too the food and sat on the mattresses laid out for us. That's when one of the organizers came and rather rudely asked me what a dog was doing with me. I said it was my dog. He said, no no, you can not have a dog here. Go home, leave him there and come back. I protested, he persisted. In a decision I was to regret for the rest of my life, I felt it would take too long to walk back home and then come back to the event. So I took Don a hundred yards or so away from the event, tied him to a lamppost there and came back. I didn't think the event would take too long.

Then the speeches started. And the speeches went on and on. After about half an hour or so, I got up to go check on Don, when another one of organizer guys came and sternly told me "If you go out, don't come back. We don't want the speakers disturbed." Another regretful decision - I caved and sat there. Listened to the speeches. I came to know that evil invaders had destroyed Lord Ram's birthplace and built a mosque there. That the hindus were still making reasonable requests of just getting that land back. But the evil muslims were being disrespectful and weren't willing to negotiate. That was the first time I learnt of the whole Babri Masjid issue. But I wasn't paying too much attention. I kept thinking about if Don was okay. My friends assured me he would be fine.

Finally the indoctrination ended and the elocution competition started. Most of the kids who were from a school affiliated with the local BJP/Sena leader, gave speeches with a lot of emphasis on India once being a "soney ki chidiya", our civilization's glorious past, etc etc. Maybe their parents or teachers had prepped them according to the tone of the event. My friends and I were from more "secular" schools, so what we spoke was rather light on the sort of stuff they would like, and more on the lines of unity-in-diversity, scientific progress, end-to-corruption etc.

Needless to say, when the competition ended and the prizes were announced, neither me nor my friends won anything. However, all of us participants were given a "consolation prize", which was a big 3ftX2ft posted of Lord Ram, with the temple in the background, and some lines on it in the "mandir vahi banayenge" vein. As soon as I got that "prize", I ran out of the venue to the lamppost where Don was tied. You guessed it. No sign of Don. He was gone, nowhere to be seen. I started crying, and asking people walking by if they had seen a dog with 3 spots. No one had. By then my friends reached there and tried to console me.

We searched in the nearby lanes and gullies but to no avail. It was already past 11 pm, so my friends were keen on getting home. I wanted to stay back and search, but they convinced me to go with them. So I walked home, crying all the way, with the Lord Ram poster in hand. When I got home, I told my mom what had happened and demanded that she come with me to look for Don. She also did her best to pacify me and explained to me that Dad was out of town, and it wasn't safe for a woman and a little kid to wander the streets at midnight.

I was up all night, alternately crying and sulking in bed, with my mom doing her best to make me feel better. The rolled up poster was in my hand all night, and obviously, in my grief and frustration, I had gripped it too hard in a lot of places, so it was completely crumpled. The next morning my mother allowed me to miss school and we went to the venue and searched for the dog. We searched in a radius of 1 km, but could not find him.

For the next week or so, whenever I got time, I would look for Don. When I was home, I would keep looking out of the window in the hope that he might find his way back. But nothing of the sort happened. Finally I gave up. My parents offered to get me another dog, but the episode had left me too heartbroken. I would never own a dog after that. In fact even my obsession with others' dogs ended. And since then I have never been much of a dog person.

Many years later, when I was 18, I got a new study table with drawers. So I was sorting out all my old stuff from the shelves and moving it to the drawers. That's when I came across a crumpled roll of faded glossy paper. I unrolled it, and recognized it as the same Lord Ram poster from that fateful day. And thought to myself, the Ayodhya issue directly or indirectly made our nation pay a tragically enormous cost. Add my first and last dog to that cost.

Did NDTV apologize to Barkha Dutt? Hilarious!

This is a classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. A friend pointed out something hilarious about the whole Kunte-NDTV episode. itself had carried an IANS story criticizing media coverage during 26/11, and this story had quoted Chetan Kunte's contentious post extensively. The story WAS here. Why WAS? Because the link now gives a 404 error. Maybe NDTV was sued by its own lawyers on behalf of Barkha Dutt, and they took the post down with an apology to Ms Dutt.

So as itself reported -

"Appalling journalism," says Chyetanya Kunte, a Netherlands-based engineer, on his web blog Nov 27.

"In one instance, Barkha Dutt of NDTV asks a husband about his wife who is either stuck or held as a hostage. The poor guy adds in the end about where she was last hiding. In another instance, a general of sorts suggests that there were no hostages in Oberoi Trident. Then Dutt calls the head of Oberoi (live) and the idiot confirms a possibility of 100 or more people still in to slay," Kunte says.

Thank heavens for google caches, although I strongly suspect NDTV might get this cleared from the caches soon. Heh!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

NDTV - Self-righteous, ill-advised or both?

By now, anyone who has any exposure to blogs or twitter must know about the Kunte-NDTV flap. Chetan Kunte wrote a blog post criticizing NDTV's and particularly Barkha Dutt's coverage of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks (the blogpost is only available through Google cache). The post is gone from Kunte's blog, and instead we see this apology that makes for a very sad reading.

It does not take a PhD in reading between the lines to guess what happened. NDTV probably sent Kunte a legal notice, asking him to pull the post down, apologize, never write about them again, and pay an absurdly massive amount of money. Remember this legal notice from a few years back? Seems like NDTV might have used the same basic wording.

And here's my guess of what might have happened next. NDTV probably sent the legal notice. Kunte, probably satisfied that the post had done its job by raising awareness, must have agreed to take the post down. But NDTV lawyers, or maybe even Barkha Dutt herself (I don't know for sure) might have insisted that unless he issues a sniffling apology, they will take him to court and demand crores and crores. And who knows, since they seem to have been following the IIPM playbook so closely, maybe they even tried to contact his employers to pressure him (again, I don't know if this is true.... just speculating).

I don't know which of these opinions I feel more strongly -

a) NDTV should be ashamed of browbeating a lone blogger using legal threats. They can dish out rough stuff, but clearly can't take it. Some humility might take NDTV and Dutt a long way. Sadly, the media, the watchmen of the society seem to consider themselves more equal than others. This self-righteousness and goonda-ism using legal cells is not something one would have expected from a news organization.

b) Forget the rights and wrongs, but NDTV has made such a big mistake tactically. Even if they didn't like what Kunte wrote, forcing him to post an apology was extremely ill-advised. Obviously, bloggers and tweeters and facebookers would pick up on it, and the blowback to NDTV would spread all over the internet. And it seems to have started already. Influential and widely read bloggers such as Shripriya, Patrix, Rohit, Prem Panicker, Sandeep among others have already written about this. The contents of the post, and further criticism and "shame on you"s for NDTV will receive greater publicity and attention than Kunte's original post ever did.

What remains to be seen is, how will the other news channels, i.e. NDTV's competitors handle this news? Since their own 26/11 coverages didn't exactly receive bouquets, will they take a "chor-chor mauserey bhai" approach and ignore this story in solidarity with NDTV? Or will the competitors actually report on this and take the opportunity to claim they are better than that? Can't you just picture Rajdeep Sardesai on screen talking about this story at the top of his voice, probably with Mahesh Bhatt, saying "CNN-IBN is mature enough to take criticism in its stride. Mahesh Bhatt, why do you think our competitors are making an issue out of one blogger's opinion? Your response??" And how will the newspapers react? There are enough interconnections between TV channels and newspapers to kill the story everywhere but on the internet.

No matter which way you spin it, the story does not reflect well on Barkha Dutt and NDTV. If by some minuscule chance they are reading this, my suggestion to them, based on having lived through a similar situation - just apologize to Kunte, praise free speech, blame the matter on some misunderstanding or miscommunication with your legal cell, save face and move on.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

Since everyone seems to have an opinion about the movie, here is mine. I enjoyed watching it. Good movie. The story is entertaining, moves rapidly, and ends well. It bagged a bunch of Golden Globes, and might do well at the Oscars too. Good for Danny Boyle, Vikas Swarup, A.R. Rahman and all.

But really, the movie is not some seminal classic that it is being made out to be. Very little repeat value, and nothing memorable that will stand out in my mind after even a couple of years. No enduring greatness. And this opinion has nothing to do with the depiction of poverty, the seedy underbelly, and suchlike that has a lot of Indians riled up. If you want to watch a truly great classic with all that and more, I'd suggest watching Salaam Bombay! at once.

Much more entertaining than Slumdog Millionaire, have been the reactions to it. People are taking it way more seriously than they should. Right from the critics, reviewers and award juries who are hailing it as some groundbreaking work of art depicting the human condition, to the riled up Indian columnists, pundits and bloggers who are upset at what they think is cynically calculated, excessively scatty and opportunistic portrayal intended as a conscious or subconscious slight to India.

I was particularly amused by Nirpal Dhaliwal's post at the Guardian film blog. First of all, there was a lot of ad hominem in it, which is always enjoyable, most of it directed at Bachchan and Bollywood - blusterer, no-talent, stupid, moronically, blind, incapable, worthless trash, idiotically and so on. Most entertaining.

He also calls SM the "best film made about India in recent times", and as a counter-argument offers up turkeys like Jaane Tu, Rock On, and Love Story 2050. He also claims that a realistic and non-escapist movie like SM, focusing on anyone but the middle class elite, could only have been made by a westerner. So let's all collectively forget Matrubhoomi, Chandni Bar, Traffic Signal, Water, Black Friday, and other such movies, and agree with him.

Let the madness continue!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Candlemakers' Petition 2009 - Against Online Petitions

We, the undersigned candlemakers of the world, have formulated this petition, much like brave candlemakers from the 19th century did, with the hope of some rational redress. In these times of grave economic difficulty, we hope our petition will get a more favorable reception than our predecessors' did. In that old petition, the old candlemakers requested that the sun, the biggest threat to our livelihood be blocked out. It was not acted upon. To make matter worse, electricity intervened, and made our survival increasingly difficult. Demand for candles dropped manifold and our industry was threatened by extinction.

And yet we survived, by innovating. We survived, because we popularized the idea of candlelight vigils. Candlelight vigils were (and are) a brilliant concept. They massage the conscience and give the common man the false sense of having done something concrete, without the inconvenience of actually doing anything concrete. They don't really spur any action or bring about any real change in the world, but nevertheless allow a large number of people to live under the misconception of having made a difference. And last, but not the least, these vigils boost the demand for candles, and help us candlemakers put food on the table for our families.

But how are we expected to continue to operate as an industry while co-existing with online petitions? Millions of online petitions such as this one and this one threaten our very existence. Until online petitions came along, our candlelight vigils were the last word in futile and convenient empty gestures. But online petitions are even more futile, more inconsequential, and are a lot more convenient than candlelight vigils ever could be. It is the convenience part that hurts us the most. Now people can massage their consciences and feel self-important without as much as buying a candle, lighting it and marching. All they need to do is click, and their conscience is massaged and self-importance is boosted. As low as the price of conscience-massaging is in candlelight vigils, it is almost zero in online petitions.

How can we candlemakers be expected to compete in such an un-level playing field? before you know it, online petitions will have made candlelight vigils obsolete. The resulting blow to candle demand all over the world will all but devastate our industry, and the thousands who depend on it for their livelihood.

Do we need to remind everyone that we are in the middle of a historic recession? A shutdown of the candle industry will not help assuage the world's economic woes in any way. We are not asking for government largesse or taxpayer-funded bailouts. All we ask for is that online petitions be banned forever, and the livelihood of us candlemakers be secured.

Yours Sincerely,
Candlemakers of the World

Friday, January 09, 2009

Sakharam Gatne by Pu La Deshpande - Part 2

Salil's translation of Nagpurkar reminded me that the second part of my translation of PuLa's Sakharam Gatne has been due for almost two years now. So better late than never, here it goes.

Read Part 1 here.

About ten days later, the sentence “I apologize if I am culpable of interrupting your contemplations, Sir.” pricked me once more as Gatne stood at the door. This guy had run through some 2000 pages in a matter of a little more than a week. I took the books from him and asked,

“So did you like the books?”

But Gatne was standing still, with his eyes moist. I was shocked.

“Gatne don’t cry.” I said.

“Please forgive me, Sir.”, he said in a choked voice.

"What's wrong? Weren't you able to make time to read the books?" I asked.

"Of course I did!" Gatne said thrusting his minuscule chest out, "In accordance with your directive, I burnt the midnight oil and got through every treatise. Please peruse this detailed record."

And he handed me a notebook. Even in that serious situation, his use of the words 'directive' and 'peruse' made me suppress a smile. So I perused. I opened the notebook, its pages covered with the most elegant handwriting I have ever seen.

"In it, I have written a concise but comprehensive abstract of every book you so kindly entrusted me with."

Sure enough, the first page had the word ABSTRACT written on top. Below it, Details of Reading Duration - 8:30 p.m. to 1:35 p.m.. Then Folio Count - 232. After that, the author's full name, publisher's name, publisher's address(!!), price of the book, and more information. After that, he had written the abstract. And what an abstract it was - The plotline is exceedingly prepossessing. Character-building is immensely alluring. The tale unfolds in three metropolises - Mumbai, Nagpur and Lucknow...

It was as if he had written an inquest for each book, but in really pretty handwriting. Gatne's dedication towards literature never ceased to amaze me. And of course, long complicated words and phrases had gathered all over the notebook like moss in a dinky pond - prohibitively bewitching, pulchritudinous, endearing expanses of enduring emotions, tch tch tch! Finally, I realized I had been silent for too long, so I said,

"Very good, son. Looks like you have studied all these books in great detail."

But he looked even more distressed, and said,

"Alas, this is the aftermost episode in my literary life."

"Aftermost episode? What do you mean?" I asked, alarmed that maybe this kid had decided to commit suicide or something.

Gatne was sitting there, trying very hard to tell me something, but whenever he opened his mouth to speak, he would start crying even more. It was an extraordinary turn of events and I had no idea what to do. Finally, Gatne managed to control his bawling, and started talking,

"Please....please...please....forgive me, Sir. I will never inconvenience you in any manner in the future."

What was that supposed to mean? A few days back, I had told some of my friends about Gatne's extraordinarily annoying personality, and we had all had a nice laugh at his expense. I wondered if he had found out about it somehow, and was feeling hurt because of it.

"You have assisted me and enriched my life beyond expectations, Sir. Many meek and needy sentient creatures flourish in the patronage of a great redwood, but how can the great redwood be cognizant of its own boundless beneficence?"

This last sentence made me feel a bit relieved, because it showed that at least Gatne had returned to his normal self. And since he had used the metaphor of a redwood tree for me, I suddenly started wondering if the hair in my nostrils was due for clipping again, and smiled. He saw me smile and said,

"It is understandable for you to feel amused by my devotionary plaudits. But my days of savoring the compassionate cornucopia of your selfless affection, are sadly all but bygones. Often during one's existence.."

"But Gatne, what has happened?" I interrupted him before he could chomp into another thesaurus in his mind.

"Well, it is time for the beginning of a new juncture in my existence". This kid was really beyond control. This signboard painter's son was talking about "junctures in his existence" as if he was some hero from a Greek tragedy.

"What juncture?"

"I am ashamed to even admit it.." Gatne trailed off uncomfortably. So I asked him,

"Have you fallen in love with someone?"

"NO!!", he said, once more thrusting out his 28-inch chest. "No! No! No! Because in this imperfect world, there is no such thing as true pellucid love."

"Who the hell told you that?" I asked.

"Sir, it's a quotation from your play The School of Birds," he instantly replied.

Sigh! In my mind, I slapped my own forehead. Actually that "quotation", I mean line, was just a throwaway line said by a humorous character in that play.

"Okay fine, but then what's wrong with you? You are intelligent, so young and yet you have read more books than I ever will in my lifetime. And you're crying?"

"What can I do, Sir? Circumstance is the most prolific manufactory of lacrimal secretions, as Olimbe has said."

"Olimbe who?" I asked, expecting to be educated about another unknown hack.

"The teacher at my coaching class."

Whoever this Olimbe was, if I ever meet him, I'll be sure to hang him upside down from a tree, and suffocate him with the smoke of burnings books on the ground. Manufactory of lacrimal secretions indeed!

"So what are these circumstances you are facing?"

"My father does not understand the grander objective of my time on this earth." Gatne said.

I thought of Gatne's signboard painter father. He was after all a man who measured letter by the inches and filled them with paint. Obviously, how could he understand the grander objective of the time on this earth of a modern-day Proust in his home? If someone says "grander objective" to him, Gatne's father is probably more likely to respond, "What font do you want that in?".

"But what makes you think your father does not understand the grander objective of your time on this earth?"

"My father has hatched the heinous conspiracy of getting me married," with his lips trembling, Gatne finally let the cat out of the bag.

"What's so heinous and conspiratorial about getting you married?" I asked. "If you don't want to get married, just tell him so."

"That is precisely the imploration I have come to you with. I don't care about my own wants. After all, the battlefield of life is littered with occasions in which you end up mortally wounded."

"Huh? Getting married is usually a nice and happy occasion. What's there in it to be mortally wounded by, Gatne?"

"I don't care about my own ambitions. In accordance with my respected father's wishes, I don't mind obediently getting myself clasped in the laborious chains of marital bonds. Lord Ram is my ideal after all. Like him, I will also obey my father."

"Okay, so what do you want? You want me to come and talk to your father?" I asked.

"I leave that to your wisdom, Sir. I am ready for marriage." Gatne answered.

That confused me even more. If this brave young soul was ready for marriage, then what was I supposed to do about it?

"I am ready for not just one, but even ten marriages if that's what will gladden my father's heart." Gatne added. "But I did not want to chagrin you or let you down, Sir.

I looked into Gatne's eyes to see if I could detect any signs of dementia.

"Chagrin me? Let me down? Why would your getting marriage let me down?" I asked.

"It might have escaped the voluminous recesses of your memory, Sir, but not mine. I always read the message and the autograph I got from you on the first day we met." Gatne said. "Your message is - Always Stay Supremely Loyal to Literature.

Dumbfounded, I got ready and went to meet his father. Our rickhaw took us to an old spacious house. We went inside and I saw a heftily built man walking down the stairs. He had a big bald head, a thick curved mustache, huge pot belly and had tilak smeared on his forehead. This massive gentleman in his 50s was surprisingly the father of young scrawny Sakharam Gatne. We exchanged pleasantries.

My preconceived notions about Gatne's house turned out to be completely wrong. Signboard painting was just one of the Gatnes' many businesses. I am sure his wealthy father had never even held a shaving brush with his own hand, let alone a paint brush. Because as soon as he climbed down the stairs, he told a servant standing there with a shaving kit that he did not want a shave today. I was surprised at how a literary sapling like Sakharam had sprouted in this obviously commerce-minded household.

"Welcome to our house, Sir. Please come in." Gatne Senior said in a booming voice. "Sakhya, go ask someone to arrange for some tea and snacks." Sakhya ran inside, not unlike a mouse scooting into his hole.

After about half an hour of our conversation, I came to know that the Gatnes also owned six buildings in Pune. I also came to know that apart from an old widowed aunt, there was no other woman in the Gatne household. And I also came to know that since that aunt wasn't in the best of health these days, it was very important to add to the female presence in the household. That regal-looking man had not remarried after his wife died, on the 12th day after Sakhya was born.

"I know from first-hand experience how hard it can be growing up with a stepmother, so didn't want to put Sakhya through it. I won't lie to a learned man such as yourself, Sir...... I have had three affairs with three women until now." Gatne Senior confessed while staring at his diamond ring. Although their styles were as different as possible, I could see where Sakharam got the trait of sharing too much information with others.

"But today, thanks to the blessings of great people like you," he continued, "we have almost everything we could ever need." Gatne's father's obvious wealthiness, and the blessings of someone like me.... it seemed very weird to put those two in a sentence together. It seemed like saying that year's monsoons showers were thanks to the blessings of a faucet.

"Sir, please, Sir, do anything you can and get my son ready for marriage." he implored. Such a huge man was mewing in front of me like a kitten. "I tell you, the girl is really one-of-a-kind and unique. Kind, loving, good looking and from a good family. You must have heard the name Songaonkar Jewelers."

I though, of course, people like me only hear the names of jewelers, but I resisted the temptation of saying it out aloud to him.

"Sir, they have a huge palatial house in the heart of the city. And she is the only daughter. She is also educated, has gone to school. Plus, their horoscopes are matching perfectly according to the astrologer. But Sakhya is being stubborn and refusing. Says he has promised you something, so can't get married."

"No, no." I said. "Nothing of that sort."

Then he took me upstairs to Sakhya's room. The room had huge bookshelves filled with all kinds of books. On one wall, there was a picture of Sane Guruji, and next to it, a picture of me! And below my picture, was a big painted plaque-like board with the line Always Stay Supremely Loyal to Literature neatly lettered in, with an enlarged replica of my signature below it.

I finally got Sakharam to agree to the wedding. At his wedding, I gifted him my entire collection of books - each and every one of them. Written on the first page of every book was a new message - Always Stay Supremely Loyal to Literature and to Life.

After barely nine months, I got evidence of Sakhya being supremely loyal to life as well. Sakhya's father came to my house with sweets in a silver bowl and with the good news of his grandson's birth. A while back Sahya had given me sweets on passing HSC. Now his father was giving me sweets on having a grandson.

Sakharam Gatne's life was finally on track. The detour of literature was now out of the picture, and he was on his way.

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....and Nagpurkar

A couple of years back, I had translated two-thirds of P.L. "PuLa" Deshpande's essay "Punekar, Mumbaikar aani Nagpurkar". I translated just the Pune and Mumbai parts, and left the Nagpur parts for some enthu Nagpurkar. I don't know what connection Salil Bijur has with Nagpur, but he has gamely translated the remaining essay. So here are PuLa's views on Nagpurkars, courtesy Salil.

Do you want to be a Nagpurkar? If so, then it is very easy to satisfy this great desire of yours. Only one condition, is that you should not live in Nagpur. You can't show off your Nagpurness in Nagpur because everyone there is eager to show off, so who'll notice you? So it is possible to show off your Nagpurness staying in Pune or Mumbai. Wherever you are, keep saying you are from Nagpur and keep praising

How much ever ghee your plate might have, praise the Nagpuri Varhadi ghee. Even while eating biryani, praise the Nagpuri wada-bhaat. Even in a chilly winter, start praising "the Nagpuri summer, the oranges..." so much that the listener starts sweating in winter. Keep in mind you're miles away from Nagpur while saying this otherwise in Nagpur the reaction would be "Shut up! What crap are you talking
about?" Even if the person you're talking to is from a town like Ratnagiri or Dhule, start your conversations with "You Pune Mumbai people.." and proceed to show off your generousness. So while offering your guests tea, start off with "You Pune Mumbai people are so stingy.. Here have some tea."

Talk as if only in Nagpur can a person be passionate about food and drink. But be careful about the food items you talk about. Otherwise a Goan could list out 20 varieties of mackarel and you wont be able to talk about more than your wada-bhaat. In these moments while talking to a Mumbaikar, steer your topic towards oranges and cotton. Because a real Mumbaikar honestly considers orange as something swallowed with castor oil, and cotton as something that grows in mattresses and one day tears out of it.

If you want to show off you Nagpurness in Mumbai, make sure your victim is by the name of say Nadkarni or Dhurandare and start off in Nagpuri Hindi, because a real Mumbaikar doesn't fear ghosts as much as he fears Hindi. The real mother tongue of a Nagpuri Maharashtrian is Hindi and similarly the real mother tongue of a Mumbai Maharashtrian is English. However there is no similarity between this English and
the English spoken in England. (Pune's English, however, was born in the rivers of Mula Mutha and died on their banks.) A Nagpurkar does not need to worry about English. According to one language expert, Pune's English is Sanskritized, Nagpur's Hindi is Marathicized and Mumbai's Marathi is Anglicized.

It is a myth that it is necessary to eat paan to be a Nagpurkar. Everyone eats paan, but if you want to show off your true Nagpurness then at the next time you are visiting your Punekar or Mumbaikar friends, make sure there is no arrangement for paan and start off rudely with "No paan?" to humiliate them. "Can't order it from
somewhere?" The host don't know where to order from and is shamed again so more points for you. "No? Then can't you get some supaari?" Then the host brings some masala supaari. "Pah! This is masala supaari! Even the beggars in Nagpur don't eat this!" and you score a win. But in case the host manages to get paan for you, then spit out straight from the window and colour the neighbours' walls. Don't give
a damn, just make sure that your Nagpurkarness is made evident.

But despite your rudeness, keep showing how magnanimous you are. So even if you are in Mumbai and plan to stay there in your retirement, keep inviting others - "Some day come to our Nagpur... in the winter season... we'll have some nice oranges... some time checkout our rains". It is a different matter that since it is cheaper to buy oranges in Mumbai than to travel to Nagpur so no one will actually consider your offer.


Anyway, this was just an insight into our upcoming book on this topic. The book is ready, but whether the chairman of the book release function should be a Punekar, Mumbaikar or a Nagpurkar - that decision is a major crisis!


Thursday, January 08, 2009

My Boyfriend and My Girlfriend!!

My most beloved man on television interviews my most beloved woman on television. Jon Stewart is funny, smart, incisive, and no matter how tricky the situation is, always knows the right things to say. And although I don't always agree with Rachel Maddow ideologically, she brings to news the kind of intellectual honesty, insightfulness and meaningful dialog that I expected to see on American new channels when I came to this country, but never did until her show started.

My wife, knowing fully well my admiration for the two, has generously made a concession - the only time I am allowed to cheat on her is if I have a threesome with Jon and Rachel. Of course, neither Jon (presumably!!) nor I are into men, and neither is Rachel, so it is an easy concession for the wife to make.