January 30, 2007

B2B with K : My indebtedness, to Satish, Subash

Within hours after I posted the Recover, Soon piece, Kini bounced back with an engaging slice-of-life post on life in London of the sixties. Kini is skeptical if this sort of mutual nostalgia-fest would interest anyone other than the two of us. Maybe, it won’t, if you have in mind those who don't relate to either one of us or to London when the girls wore skirts shorter and the boys sported long hair (wonder if you can post a snapshot of yours of those days); the London of Twiggy and Beatles sensation.

My take is our nostalgia trip might interest others, if it has social context and a flavour of local history. Maybe our B2B could be of wider interest if we talk about today things in the light of our past experience. Take this Channel 4 inspired Goody-Shetty spat. What do folks say in your ‘geriatric land’ in coastal Kent? Do you have a race situation in Herne Bay?

Getting back to the 60s, Kini spending some days in Shepherds Bush gurudwara comes as news to me. I had always associated him with a South Kensington address, frequenting pubs in classy Earls Court or Chelsea with his artist and poet friends. My scene was more like the underground pub at Leister Sq, serving German beer, in litre (not in pegs); a noisy joint frequented by Punjabi paapaes and Pakistanis. My crowd was a group of Delhi coffee-house regulars that had been transposed to London.

It was a coffee-house contact, Satish Kohli, who met me at the railway station when I landed in London with 12 shillings in pocket; put me up with him at his Golders Green bed-sitter; and, even took on the landlady, an Indian widow who worked at our highcom. She didn’t relish my stay without paying anything. Satish didn’t dump me. We moved house, first to a cheap, working-class Holloway (known for it women’s prison), and then to Bayswater. I would always remain indebted to Satish Kohli. Wonder where he is; would you know, Kini?

Satish is not the only chap, to whom I feel indebted, but had neglected to stay in touch with, as I moved on in life. Subash Chopra is another guy. You know, Kini, I got into Northern Echo, Darlington, on his say-so. He had worked there before I joined. Subash put in a word for me with editor Don Evans as he was switching to another daily in Oxford (I reckon). Subash is the only guy in our gang who can rightfully claim he was on the Fleet St. Subash eventually had a stint as sub-editor on The Times, London.

At the Echo, a leading provincial daily that was next only to the Yorkshire Post, in terms of circulation, had good impression about Indian sub-editors because of the track record left by Subash and Sunny Rao who had gone to the Echo from the Times of India, Bombay. I joined the Darlington paper a couple of years after he had left. Yet my colleagues on the newsdesk still used to talk about Sunny's work.

Subash Chopra may have no reason to know this: 1) he was instrumental in my getting a break in mainstream journalism; and 2)The job he helped me get paid me enough to save the 100 pounds that I needed for my passage back to India. A group of us did it overland, in a 12-seater van, across eight countries – Belgium, Austria, Germany, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan.

B2B archive
A blog-to-blog chat
Confusing chronology
Our Fleet St. Days
Dr.Basu of India Weekly
Shroff Saab of Carmelite St.
Mr Chandra in Fleet St.
Mr Chandra of The Tribune, Chandigarh
A new Renaissance

B2B: Recover soon, Kini

Heard that Kini is going through a bad phase in his health condition. “So naturally, would be falling back a bit in my responses (to B2B posts)’, he e-mailed me, “hope you don’t mind”.

For those unfamiliar with his condition, Kini suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). He has, in his own words, an undiagnosed chest pain, leg pain and sleep problem; he’s wheel-chair bound, can’t walk much.

As a web account of CFS symptoms has it, this illness is accompanied by fatigue. …not the kind of fatigue one experiences after a particularly busy day or week, after a sleepless night or after a stressful event, but a severe, incapacitating fatigue that isn't improved by bed rest and that may be exacerbated by physical or mental activity. It's an all-encompassing fatigue that results in a dramatic decline in both activity level and stamina.

January 29, 2007

B2B with K: Irfan Khan re-discovers Kini

I had this rare phone call from Irfan Khan in Mumbai in the wake of an e-mail he had received from Kini. We, Irfan and I, have been in e-mail touch for some time now. Our exchange was usually about sharing media/web articles of mutual interest. I usually e-mailed friends and contacts about something I had written on the web, in the belief that they would be as enthusiastic reading the stuff as I was writing it. A friend of mine calls it GVK’s brag-mail. Many of them respond with flattering one-liners –‘very interesting’, ‘keep it up’, or some such suitably polite words. But a phone call was rare; and Irfan’s call went on for the better part of an hour.

It all started with my brag-mail alerting Irfan, among others,to a Desicritic piece -Blogging it out with my friend Kini. There was response from a few who suggested informative web links on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), of which Kini is a victim. Irfan sent Kini a one-liner, wishing him well, not knowing that Kini and he had been on the staff of Patriot daily, New Delhi, for a brief period in early sixties They had since moved their separate ways. With no reason or occasion to reconnect, for over four decades, Irfan couldn’t place Kini from my mail, but sent him a get-well message, as he would have done with any friend of his friends.

But Kini caught on, and responded to Irfan, reminding him of their Patriot connection (1963-64). As a low-paid newspaper reporter Irfan Khan used to own a car, which was exceptional for journalists those days, said Kini, adding that Irfan had once driven him to Vice-President Zakir Hussain’s residence for tea. “I was gobsmacked !”, said Kini in an e-mail to Irfan, of which he marked a copy to me. What does the word mean, Kini? I’m afraid, I haven’t heard of ‘gobsmack’.

Irfan told me on phone that the car Kini referred to was a gift from his mother, who wasn’t comfortable with her son driving a mobike,that he occasionally used for a cross-country ride (to places like Shimla). A car, his mother reckoned, was safer. And,Irfan said it came cheaper than his bike. Besides, petrol was 45 paise a litre (or was it a gallon?) those days.

Irfan has a UK-connect. He did a six-month stint on a Cardiff fellowship for journalists; was an intern with The Sunday Times, London; and related to many of those Kini has blogged about – Subash Chopra, Salman Haider, P T Chandra and many others. Happy to have re-discovered Kini through this bug called a blog, Irfan said he had half a mind to set up a blog of his own. I know he has a headful of stuff that he can blog about. He once told me he was working on a book. If he hasn’t done it yet, a blog would synergize material-gathering for his book in the making.

B2B archive
A blog-to-blog chat
Confusing chronology
Our Fleet St. Days
Dr.Basu of India Weekly
Shroff Saab of Carmelite St.
Mr Chandra in Fleet St.
Mr Chandra of The Tribune, Chandigarh

January 27, 2007

B2B with K: Mr Chandra of The Tribune, Chandigarh.

My friend wrote about the plight of a London-based Indian journalist in the sixties. Mr P T Chandra, then London Correspondent of The Tribune, Chandigarh, had seen better days when he maintained a large office off Fleet Street. But we, Kini and I, came to meet him at a much later time when he was down on his luck, life-style and his bank balance.

He still filed stories for his newspaper, working from a desk, set up for him at India House. The deputy high commissioner, Mr P N Haksar, was Mr Chandra’s friend.. I used to meet him occasionally when he dropped in at Dr Basu’s office, at Hindustan Standard/India weekly, Carmelite St..As Kini wrote, Mr Chandra, in a dark three-piece suit, looked more a company executive than a journalist in distress. Unlike Kini, with whom he opened out over half a 'bitter' at a pub on Tottanham Court Rd., Mr Chandra was rather formal with me, though friendly. And I, a junior reporter setting out to make a career in journalism, was suitably respectful.

Mr Chandra seemed, what I would call, in a state of constant battle to maintain self-respect in the face of adversity. His peers were understanding and helpful. But with rest of us Mr Chandra was constrained to maintain appearance of well-being. So the man inside that three-piece suit put between us a glass screen of small talk and polite enquiry, presumably, because he had no reason to know that I knew about his plight.

I learned from Dr Basu’s assistant, Mr Asoke Gupte that The Tribune didn’t send Mr Chandra a pay cheque. Instead, they banked a certain amount to his account in India. Of what use was a bank balance in rupees to someone having to pay his bills in London, in pounds sterling? If there was any system of ‘hawala’ in reverse, I didn’t think Mr Chandra resorted to such means, so low and illegal.

The sixties were the days of forex regulations. Indian newspapers had to seek foreign exchange clearance from the government to pay salary and maintain offices overseas. It was the Reserve Bank of India that decided whether or not a newspaper could have a fully-paid correspondent, and,if so, what would be the salary payable in foreign exchange.

Incidentally, those of us who came to Britain on immigration were entitled to a princely travel allowance of 3 pounds sterling (at the then rate of Rs.13 to a pound). It took me 10 days on the boat (from Bombay to Genoa) and another day on train to make it to London. I don’t remember how I stretched out my 3 pounds for so many days, and still managed to have 12 shillings to spare when I reached London. I would be interested to learn how Kini and Subash hitch-hiked from New Delhi to London on a total forex allowance of six pounds.

I have a confession to make here: Before boarding my boat – Lloyd Triestino’s m v Asia , a fully air-conditioned cruise ship – I had thoughtfully slipped in a 100-rupee note inside my sox. But then I found it couldn’t get me anything on the boat or in Europe. Small shopkeepers at Karachi,where the ship halted for a day, readily exchanged my money for eats and things we had on Mahatma Gandhi Rd., Karachi. A shop-keeper told me Indian money came in handy to smuggle in consumer delicacies such as Banarasi or Calcutta paan.

A note on The Tribune: In the mid-eighties, when I was posted TOI correspondent in Chandigarh, I had occasion to visit friends at The Tribune township. I know of no other Indian newspaper that has built a residential colony for its staff. The Tribune, Ambala (and later Chandigarh) is run by a trust. I wondered how a newspaper that is so employer-friendly could have treated Mr Chandra so shabbily. Perhaps, it was not the newspaper’s doing. Maybe Mr Chandra was a victim of our forex policy.
B2B archives:
A blog-to-blog chat
Confusing chronology
Our Fleet St. Days
Dr.Basu of India Weekly
Shroff Saab of Carmelite St.
Mr Chandra in Fleet St.

Goody girl is coming

The first thing I envisioned, on reading that Jade Goody (you know her, don't you?) has been granted tourist visa to India, was a protest demo, placard waving, and slogan shouting – ‘Goody, go back’. When I shared the thought with a friend, he quipped: “Get real, yaar; she’s no Simon Commission”.

Anyway, the Goody girl’s India visit is not going to go unnoticed by our media and TV. Sight-seeing-wise Jane would, presumably, take in the TaJ Mahal,Jaipur, and Delhi (would someone take her to Rajghat and tell her about a guy called Gandhi and his S Africa days?). Maybe she would do Mumbai, to get a feel of where and how Shetty (Shilpa) lives; and drop in at a Bollywood studio. Wouldn’t be surprised if some producer offers her a film role.

The point is: Jade Goody is in for interesting times. I have a question, though. Was it her own bright idea to visit India? Going by a London sourced report, India tourism office there had invited her “to experience India’s healing nature”. There were ads. to this effect placed in British papers. But then, the report quoting ministry sources in New Delhi had that the ads., placed to take advantage of the media coverage around the Big Brother row, were meant to be ‘satirical’. Goody however was welcome, paying her own passage. Jade wouldn’t be treated as India’s official guest. Nor would a red-carpet be laid out by anyone.

January 25, 2007

B2B with K: Shroff Saab of Carmelite St.

Earlier items:
A blog-to-blog chat
Confusing chronology
Our Fleet St. Days
Dr.Basu of India Weekly
No talk about India Weekly can be complete without a reference to Shroff Saab. Shroff Akhtar Ali was the quiet man; always pondering over something that had to do with the headline, the wordage or his re-write of someone else’s story - Kini’s and mine, usually. The man had licence to meddle with anyone’s text. And there was no appeal against his meddling.

I usually found him poring over the page-proof, red-penciling some stuff, making a dummy page or cleaning his pipe. Shroff Saab was a man of few words. He opened his mouth only when he was with the boss, Dr Tarapada Basu, usually to complain about something or someone. And his words carried weight with Dr Basu.

Kini and I were, what I would call, 'fair-weather' employees who used India Weekly as parking lot, that we left whenever we found something more promising, only to return when the thing didn’t work out. Shroff Saab was indispensable. He did things that no one else wanted to do; read the page proof, made up pages, kept nagging the printers on phone; and re-wrote our copy. His extensive use of red-pencil was usually a sticking point between us. My attempts to get friendly with him didn’t take me far. Possibly because he was a believer in the generation gap. And won't encourage my attempt to close that gap over an occasional beer at Coger.

But then I didn’t see Shroff Saab being friends with anyone else in the Weekly. Didn’t know how Dr Basu discovered such a workhorse, slogging it out on not much more than subsistence wage. Which was sad, for man who was over 60. Shroff Saab, like a true brown sahib, was dressed in three-piece suit (the only one he owned) or in a Harris tweed jacket. He smoked pipe, and wore a felt.

I didn’t know where he stayed or when he came to work. Whenever I came in, I found Shroff Saab already at his desk, puffing at his pipe, staring at a typed sheet, and ready with his red pencil. And he usually left office with the rest of us – Dr Basu, Asoke Gupte, Kini and I. Dr Basu liked to have everyone around in office till he chose to call it a day.

Never seen Shroff Saab going out with Dr Basu or Asoke Gupte for an after-office drink. As we all stepped out of the lift and lingered on at the pavement for while to exchange gossip Shroff Saab took leave of the rest of us, and walked away into the evening mist, towards Fleet Street.

Where he went, whether he took a bus or tube home, or if he had anyone to go home to remained a mystery to me. But I once heard Dr Basu telling someone that Shroff Saab longed to get home, to Aligarh. He had spent 18 years in England. His problem was he didn’t earn enough to save for his passage back to India.

I heard about his death from Kini when we last met in 1996 (I believe), Chennai.

Davos magic

...the magic comes when you let serendipity lead you forward. Almost everyone here does something interesting, and you are more likely than not find a common interest with someone you would never would have a priori guessed would be passionate about human rights, or technology, or the political situation in Bangladesh, or environmental change, or...

And of course, the best place to meet people are in the six person minivans. Last year I jumped into one and sat across from George Soros. People are accessible and interested in knowing more about everybody, and it creates a real opportunity to accelerate three month's of new meetings into three or four days.

(From a blog post in The World Eco Forum blog)

January 24, 2007

B2B: Dr.Basu of India Weekly

Kini, in his latest post, says I forgot to mention the media oligarch, Dr Tarapada Basu, who brought out London’s India Weekly in the sixties. A great soul (despite what Kini says).Tarada, as he was fondly addressed among the local Bangla crowd, was undisputed doyen of London-based Indian journalists of his days.

Representing Hindustan Standard, Calcutta, Dr Basu was much bigger than the professional designation he held. He was un-ransferable, unlike his colleagues in Hindustan Times, Indian Express and The Times of India, who came and went away from London once in three years or so.

A generous host, Dr Basu knew how to take care of his Calcutta boss, Mr Ashok Sarkar (if I got his first name right) of Ananda Bazaar Group.Mr Sarkar, along with Mr Tushar Ghosh of Amritha Bazaar Patrika, amd Mr Narasimhan of The Hindu made unfailing annual London visits (or was it twice yearly?) to attend Commonwealth Press Union meetings. Dr Basu set up meetings for them with higher British bureaucracy. He also ensured that the India High Commission hosted a reception for the visiting media barons.

Dr Basu was generous enough to allow India Weekly minions, such as yours truly, to use his office space at Carmellite St. If Kini and I can claim to have worked off the famed Fleet Street, it was due to Dr. Basu’s generosity. Had it not been for his patronage India Weekly would have operated from a garage in Southall or Shepherds Bush. Dr Basu once sent me on a week-long tour of England, sponsored by the Commonwealth Press Office. We were taken to Birmingham, Manchester, and some other towns, put up at five-star hotels, driven around in Austin Princess. Everywhere we went they lined up meetings for us with the mayor, local industrialists and other VIPs.

The press tour was for a group of journalists from Commonwealth countries. We were six of us, representing newspapers from Canada, Australia, Pakistan and India. The invitation was for Hindustan Standard. Dr. Basu made me its ‘representative’ for the purpose of the press tour. Who wouldn’t have nice thoughts for such a man? On another occasion, the Indians Association in Manchester invited Dr Basu to be the chief guest at their Independence Day function. He deputed me. I was required to make a speech, and take questions from the audience. I guess I was able to mask my nervousness from the audience. If my hosts on the dais noticed, they were decent enough not to embarrass me or report it to Dr. Basu.

Kini makes a reference to Goger, the Fleet St. pub we used to frequent. Would like to draw his attention to a zine5 piece I did some time back – My Fleet Street Stint.

Related items on B2B thread:
A blog-to-blog chat
Confusing chronology
Our Fleet St. Days

January 22, 2007

Who needs words when you’ve a picture?

The caption of this Page One photo in The Hindu reads: AMITY: Even as the violence-affected areas in Bangalore Cantonment were returning to normal, these two women walk hand-in-hand to procure their daily needs on Seppings Road, symbolizing communal harmony – Photo – K Gopinathan

After reading this I didn’t bother to go through the story. The caption says it all. The photo, however, appeared to convey a different story. It showed two women, one in head-to-toe burkha, and the other, sari-clad with her eyes to the ground, walking holding hands in the middle of a deserted street. The caption explained they were out to procure their daily needs. The women in photo were carrying no shopping bags. Nor was their evidence of any shops being open.

The women in the picture may well be friends, and good neighbours. But do they have to be shown walking down a street, hand in hand? The woman in sari seems not too comfortable facing the camera. Or could there be any other reason why she is seen with her eyes to the ground ?

A photograph, they say, is worth a thousand words (the wrong ones, perhaps).

January 21, 2007

Confusing chronology

London-based lawyer, promising author and a new-found e-contact, Vinod G Joseph, wrote to me, on reading my earlier post, that the chronology of my UK employment had him confused. "I guess you worked for the Northern Echo after your stint with the Afro-Asian Echo",he said, "And how long did you work for India Weekly?"

You are right, Mr Joseph.One could get confused over chronology. The Afro-Asian Echo turned out to be a six-month interlude. India Weekly was a kind of safety net for me. I went back to the Weekly after Afro-Echo. Its Nigerian publisher ran out of funds (read the loot) he had brought as he fled Lagos following a coup and the assassination of the then premier, Tafewa Balewa.

Our Nigerian publisher (can't remember his name now)didn't have money to pay us. India Weekly had its door open for us, if we did not fuss over their payment. I could have got as much as they paid, as unemployment allowance. But then, you don't wish to be seen by your friends and neighbours, going to the employment office, twice weekly, to sign up for the dole. Slaving for the Weekly at subsistance wages was a more dignified option.

Mercifully,within weeks of returning to the Weekly, I got the offer from The Northern Echo, Darlington, as sub-editor on their news desk...Before all this, I had done stints (for a few weeks at a time) on the dole queue(where you run into folks with Jade Goody mentality), as proof reader in a North London printing outfit (from where I got sacked), and as a packer with a garments wholesaler off Oxford Street.

I was the only packer who carried The Guardian to work, to be read in tea, and lunch breaks. The Mirror and The Daily Sketch were more visible at the workers canteen. During this period I did freelancing for a Calcutta film weekly, Cine Advance. This was how I got to meet quite a few visiting Bollywood people - Sunil Dutt, Sadhana, Dev Anand, Ramanand Sagar, Raaj Kumar and numerous other lesser knowns in Bombay film industry.

Cine Advance used to give me an impressive byline as 'Our London Correspondent', but no hard currency. The paltry payment they made on per-piece basis was sent to me in rupees after I returned to India. The film weekly was also generous enough to offer a job at their Calcutta office, on a monthly salary of Rs.600 (which wasn't bad in 1969)

Incidentally, London-based journalists representing some Indian newspapers used to get paid in rupees, deposited in banks back home.It came in handy when they visited India once in a couple of years. A significant chunk of my three year-stay in England was spent at Nrothern Echo (over an year), after which I chose to return to New Delhi (home sick), to join the National Herald, which opened its Delhi edition in 1969. Before leaving India I approached some dailies that didn't have a staffer in New Delhi. Most that didn't have their own correspondent were not interested. The Daily Sketch , London, condescened to have me as their New Delhi stringer. I was paid six pounds sterling for every piece they carried. And they didn't publish many of despatches.

But then the government recognised me as an accredited correspondent, invited to press conferences and media briefings at the external affairs ministry. So, there I was, a junior reporter at National Herald, and, at the same time, a foreign correspondent for The Daily Sketch in New Delhi. The arrangement continued till the Sketch merged into the Daily Mail.

January 20, 2007

A blog-to-blog chat with my friend Kini

My UK- based friend Kini,T R, has said some nice things about me in his blog. This is my pay-back piece. This way, he would need to access this blog to find out what I say about him. A b-chat between us, to be of interest to anyone else, ought to be more than an ego-cast. I would like to think this exchange isn't just a mutual back-scratching exercise. By this I don’t mean we adopt a reality TV mode in our b-exchanges.

Kini’s blog piece triggered nostalgia juice in me. He spoke of our co-editing of the Afro-Asian Echo in London of the sixties. Those were the days, when most young men in Delhi with a college degree looked towards the UK, if they failed to get into the IAS or find a covenanted company job, or,if they couldn’t become a college lecturer (as a stop-gap arrangement). Getting a work permit for England was easy those days for folks from Commonwealth countries.

Kini and I landed in London around the same time (May 1964?), though by different means. I took a boat from Bombay to Genova; and from there, a train (later day edition of the famed Orient Express) to London. And Kini, with a friend (Subash Chopra) hitch-hiked it all the way. I wish he blogs about it sometime in Gateway to India.

Afro-Asian Echo, as Kini said, was founded ‘on uncertain financial premises’; and folded within six months. Designed to serve the Afro-Asian community in England and Europe, the fortnightly Echo evoked, while it lasted, considerable interest in the African immigrant community. So much interest, in fact, that we once had a bunch of them Africans barging into my cabin to threaten us for having written an editorial, disaagreeably titled – OAU: Myth of African Unity.

Kini mentions Adil Jussawala and Farukh Dhondy (Is he still associated with Channel 4, Kini ?) who were commissioned to write for us. Would like to drop another famous name here, late Dom Moraes, whom I met, courtesy Kini. Incidentally, he was instrumental in introducing Leela Naidu (remember the old-time movies – Yeh Rasthe Hain Pyar Ke, the Householder?)to Dom Moraes. Leela used to work with Kini and me at India Weekly, brought out by a bunch of London-based journalists.

It was a labour of love for Ms Naidu. India Weekly paid us, Kini and me, subsistence wages that we cheerfully accepted. The other option for me, at that stage, was joining the dole queue. Would you know, Kini, the current whereabouts of Ashoke Gupta, who worked with us at India Weekly ? And, of its promoters such as Mr Iqbal Singh and Mr H S Gourisaria ?

Wouldn’t it be nice, if we could sustain this b-chat? We might even reconnect with some old friends.

January 19, 2007

Jade Vs Shilpa: The baddie gets the boot

The latest in British reality TV is that Jade Goody(Baddie) gets the boot; and Shipla Shetty stays in the Celebrity Big Brother house. If India’s Shipa (Beti) is declared a winner, it may well be interpreted as the triumph of British fairness and tolerance over racist pit bulls.

Acres of media space have been devoted to the Jade-Shilpa ‘reality’ spat. But the spate of words and sound byte expended on, what Brendan O’Neill calls, the bizarre invasion of real life by the British reality TV, doesn’t quite explain why the fuss. If it is about race, what is new? Aren’t we familiar with the status of prejudice in Britain? Do we need reality TV to put us wise on it? Many commentators in Britain, however, would have us believe that it is not about racism;it's about class – pedigree Vs pit bull, as Carole Midgley says in The Times.

Brendan O’Neill puts the ‘international handwringing over Jade v Shilpa’ in perspective, in a Spiked commentary. Excerpts:

Everyone wants a piece of the overblown Shilpa v Jade controversy…..Whatever you might think of the saddos who enter the house for a bit of airtime, this year there are even bigger saddos outside of the house using the show as an opportunity to posture and pontificate.

As Carol Midgley wrote in The Times (London), the CBB people knew what they were doing when they stuck Jade Goody’s somewhat uncouth and rowdy family – including her loudmouth mum Jackiey Budden – into a house with sophisticated Shilpa: ‘Endemol has gone for the lowest common denominator: pit bull versus pedigree….And it isn’t the first time C4 producers have tried to ratchet up cultural tensions on the show.
In Big Brother 6 they put mouthy working-class girl Saskia in the house, who said in a pre-recorded video that she has concerns about ‘foreigners’ in Britain. ‘They all want to kill us, bomb us. I don’t want to generalise, but I do’, said the silly woman.

BB producers cynically invent conflict for entertainment purposes, and then have the gall to voice ‘crocodile concern’ (as Carol Midgley described it) when that conflict causes controversy. The current Jade v Shilpa spat is actually a product of reality TV’s cynical treatment of individuals as lab rats to be thrown together to see what happens.

Germaine Greer – one-time feminist author who, since her own appearance on CBB two years ago, is now better known as a commentator on all things reality TV-related – says the treatment of Shilpa Shetty isn’t that surprising because ‘this is a racist country. To the vast majority of couch potatoes out there, Shilpa is a “Paki bird”.’
Jade and Jo and Danielle are like the chubby girls in the class jealous of their tall, beautiful and sophisticated classmate….Shetty still has a proper career. They’re being bitchy rather than racist.

In a piece headlined ‘Beauty and the beastliness: a tale of declining British values’, Stuart Jeffries in the Guardian says ‘The Big Brother house remains one of hate, divided between ugly thick white Britain and one imperturbably dignified Indian woman.

Read the commentary at Celebrity - Big Brother: a Zzzz-list scandal.

Additional read: Mick Hume – All the world’s a reality TV studio

January 15, 2007

A touching tale of an untouchable

Vinod George Joseph’s Hitchhiker is no ordinary Joe’s story. It’s an untouchablity tale told, touchingly, by a lawyer with literary aspirations. As a debut book Hitchhiker has been much reviewed; and foreword-ed by Anita Pratap (remember seeing her on CNN?). A word about her foreword. In her incarnation as book publisher Ms Pratap takes a swipe at her own (media) tribe. She says that among the many manuscripts she gets are some from outstanding journalists who can’t write.

Their offerings are ‘muddled and fuddled, showing neither talent nor promise’. Hitchhiker is not by a journalist. And Ms Pratap found it unputdownable – ‘grips you with its effortless prose; a language that is simple, sparing and unpretentious – almost Hemingway-like in its leanness’ (Ms Pratap lost me there). Such hype pre-sets reader expectations. Mr Joseph is however modest in his expectations from readers. As Hitchhiker author put it in his preface, “my only request to readers is that they keep an open mind until the end of the novel; and, hopefully, even after that”.

A message the author seeks to convey is that untouchability is an issue that we can’t wish away. It is like a jelly. You try to curb or crush it through law, it swells up in a non-cognizable form. Untouchablity is about social attitude; about our mentality. And you can’t legislate against a mentality. The mentality , of not just the perpetrators, but of many victims of untouchability as well. Their plight is brought out in touching details by the author in his account of a rape scene (Page 72). A woman, condemned to witness her daughter being gang-raped, doesn’t complain. She merely stands there, weeping.

Finally, she fell to her feet and started tugging at the legs of the men who were holding and raping her daughter. She didn’t scream; didn’t try to pick up a stone and hit the men on their heads. Just crying and begging softly so that no one else would hear of her daughter’s disgrace…… When Karuppamma’s father arrived, it was all over. He took in the scene and realized what must have happened….As he stood there in shock Solaimani (employer of the victim family) gave the man his wages, added another ten rupees, and told him, ‘the extra ten is for your daughter; take good care of her; we’ll need her again’.

The last ten words represent the last word on sheer temerity, no matter what the statute book might say on untouchablity. Speaking of words, I could not help notice that the forgoing paragraph could have done with some editing. The paragraph of 100 odd words has 15 too many. Having been a newspaper sub-editor I tend to view everything I read with an editorial mind.

The author, with help from the publisher’s editor, could have tightened the text, reduced it by 50 odd pages, without sacrficing style, sense, or substance. As it is, I find the book bulky and oversized. It hasn’t been designed for bedside reading. And I have this bad habit of doing most reading in bed.

Hitchhiker, Vinod George Joseph, 385 pages; Rs.350. Published by Books for Change, Bangalore. E-mail – bfc@actionaidindia.org.in ; shoba.ram@actionaid.org .
Reviews: Titles – Books for Change
Vatsanin Kirukkals
Hindustan Times

January 12, 2007

Vivekananda’s Mysore connect

Elsewhere, folks worship the ground on which he once tread. Here he was, staying with us in Mysore for full fifteen days, and we couldn’t care less. My reference is to Swami Vivekananada, who visited Mysore in 1892 at the invitation of the then Dewan of Mysore, Sir K Sheshadri Iyer. The building he stayed in (close to Maharani NTMS School on Sheshadri Iyer Rd.) is now in a shambles.The place stinks, what with emptied liquor bottles, cigarette butts and mounds of garbage left behind by people who engage in revelry. “One would wonder if the Swamiji ever stayed there”, says a Star of Mysore report by BRS (is that my friend, Mr Srihari?).

You’re right, BRS, going by the state of neglect of the place, the man who had stayed there might have been some plain Vivek A Nanda. Irony is that the story of such criminal neglect is repeated in the media on every anniversary day of the swami. And his 145th birth anniversary fell on Jan.12. To cite the SoM story of that day, the place has been turned into a public toilet and garbage dump. The only mitigating factor is that a part of the premises that is adjacent to a municipal school is kept reasonably clean because the students take turns to sweep the floor.

That the place comes under the jurisdiction of the municipal corporation is hardly a plus point. But then blaming the city corporation alone doesn’t absolve residents of their responsibility. Here was an opportunity for civic initiative by proactive NGOs and other public-spirited individuals. Why, even the very media that keeps recycling the story of monumental neglect every year could launch a fund-raising drive, mobilize interest groups and lobby the government for a plan of action.

To start with, a plaque saying - Vivekananda Stayed Here - 1982 - could be placed (at the Lions’ Club or Rotary initiative) at the much neglected structure. Local tourist operators ought to be encouraged to take visitors to the place as part of their conducted city sight-seeing tours. This way, the city corporation would be shamed into keeping the place clean, even if they don’t do anything else.

January 9, 2007

More on the Mysore commune initiative

Prem’s initiative in developing a river bank commune near Mysore evoked critical interest among many who sought additional info.

Prem Subramaniam’ response : I have been wanting to spend an active retiree's life in a non urban setting and towards this end tried to find a place where the weather is kind, water and access are not challenges, and proximity to an urban environment within easy reach. There are very few developers who would consider building just a few units on a large site and cluster them together leaving the open spaces as they are to be enjoyed even if titles maybe in individual names. Hardly any encourage a vernacular idiom of architecture combining native knowledge of conservation with other methods to live with less, seek elegance in simplicity, and to treat life as a celebration rather than renunciation.

What is happening are large gated communities and giving an illusion of an American suburbia. Or a fortress environment. My rough calculation indicated that for what you would now pay for a 1200 sq ft flat in Mysore, you could have a simple home as long as you got a few likeminded people together. Since it is difficult to find compatibility amongst a cluster of more than 10 people, the module I am working with is having a site of about 6 acres and developing only 1 acre on it in a cluster of about 5000 sq ft of common space and 10 units of about 1000 sq ft each leaving the 5 acres open and for mixed use of experimental farming and non obtrusive interventions.

In the course of my work I have been meeting individuals, from Uttaranchal, Himachal, and the North East and also from the Coorg area, who have achieved a measure of success. Their expereinces do not seem to have been adequately shared. I think just bringing about synergy between some of these would be interesting

At the present site I am testing land acquisition and transfer of title for urbanites like myself without any falsification or misrepresentation as well as using vernacular architecture and enhancing the open spaces with vegetation which blends with the natural habitation. Likewise experimenting with having environments suitable for what is already on offer in Mysore such as Yoga classes, small recitals/performances, etc

If we can, through this exercise, get adequate feedback to make the concept more robust and implement one site, and if this encourages others to improve/replicate, it would create the critical mass to consider providing additional facilities such as nursing, ambulance, and other medical help; help with services such as banking insurance e -mail, legal advice, extending a retail environment for local produce etc and make living in a non-urban environment a far more universally acceptable option.

On the outskirts of Pune, Satish Magar has created a township called Magarpatta by consolidating the land of local farmers and aggregating 300 acres with a 20 acre central green surrounded by 12 Commercial high rise buildings with residential, recreational and other facilities moving radially out. The original landowners retain the prime sites with bungalows. It has taken him 10 years to get to his current state but what is laudable is the desire to carry the original stakeholders and ensure that they remain primary beneficiaries.

January 7, 2007

Dreams of a commune on the banks of Cauvery

I heard the other day from an e-mail contact (one of the many that have survived MyMysore.com) about his plans to shift base to rural Mysore. Prem Subramaniam, along with two like-minded friends, has located 7.5 acres on the Cauvery bank, some 14 km from Mysore and four, from KRS. Prem belongs to a small, but growing, band of professionals looking for open living space, rather than the confines of luxury villa in a gated community, to retire in.

What's more, Prem and his friends would like to work with local people towards improving the hygiene/sanitation/education of the two village communities close to their site; and also improve natural habitat with the right mix of trees, plants; with help from the forest department in getting indigenous saplings. Organic farming could be taken up on a small scale. He would appreciate help from individuals and organizations that have requisite skill sets and share common values to allow Prem and friends to develop their site suitably.

His e-mail, which reads like a mission statement, speaks of showcasing the living traditions in the area around their proposed commune. Prem has in mind in this regard: 1) Sufi music associated with Srirangapatnam,
2) recitation of Sanskrit Shlokas as done in Melkote,
3) medicinal plants repository and alternate healing,
4) culinary skills,
5) yoga (Prem would like to hear from a teacher who would like to use their site),
6) nature walks and identification of flowers, plants, birds,
7) vernacular architecture and indigenous building skills,
.8) dance, and
9) story telling..

All going well, I may have a place to stay by the end of 2007 and am keenly looking forward to spending a considerable amount of time from then on, says Prem - premsubramaniam@yahoo.com

January 5, 2007

Mymysore dotcom(e) no more; it's dot gone

Those who have tried to access mymysore dot com in recent days would have confronted a blank page, with this explanation – ‘this site is under construction until further notice’. That’s pure poppycock. MyMysore site is dead. Our modest civic initiative on the web – MyMysore.com - became a ‘dot-gone’, with the dawn of 2007. I put it to death by instructing the software provider to de-activate the site.

It was case of euthanasia of a website crippled by terminal spamming. The spammers wouldn’t go away; and I didn’t have the staying power. My offer to hand over control of the site evoked no response. MyMysore dot com, though conceived as an all-inclusive forum, came to be perceived as website of, by and for a bunch of retired persons. Such perception defeated the very purpose of this civic initiative.

MyMysore site came to be dubbed as fuddy-duddy. Its critics said, among other things, 1) the Mysore site betrayed a middle-age bias; 2) it was run by a retired person who had nothing better to do; 3) was intolerant of views expressed by those other than his yes-men; 4) that Mysore could do very well without the considered opinion of GVK’s cronies; 5) the sky wouldn’t fall with the closure of Mymysore dot com; and 5) GVK was in the habit of announcing closure (of the site), only to garner support and sympathy.

My take is that our modest initiative on the web didn’t work, not due to a perceived middle-aged bias (I am pushing 68), but because of our failure to build up a critical mass, even of the middle-aged and the old. If only we had more of them who took to the site, raising issues, commenting on those raised by others, more often, we could have made a go of Mymysore dotcom.

At a personal level, the MyMysore experience has sharpened my interest in blogs and blogging. What’s more, the web experiment has indeed initiated a few people in Mysore into the fascinating world of blogging. And they include the oldies, who too believed they had things to say, but didn’t know how, and where they could have their say.

As for the spam and spammers that MyMysore dot com have had to cope with we had this interesting post by a certain Mr Mohan Singh. He had this to say:
I work in the States and a colleague of mine is a Mysorean and he mentioned the arguments and insinuations raging in this (Mysore) site. I read most of the posting here and they are really interesting. As some one whose job is in IT security area, here is a piece of information for those who are interested.
We have studied profiles of spammers. A spammer seldom presents himself ( almost all spammers in our experience are young men) as argumentative, dissenter , negativistic etc.. for the simple reason that focus will be on to him as a suspect.
But we found that it is one's friend for long years, colleague with whom one goes for a cup of coffee, jealous relative, a competitor etc.. who turn out at the end to be the culprits. Our company had had complaints from blog sites and on investigation we discovered that in more than 50% of the cases our suspicion ultimately narrowed down to the the person who ran the blog site or on his instructions his collegues spammed their own site to generate interest and attention. Cyberworld is an interesting world indeed.

Some of those who got initiated into blogging through the Mymysore site have moved to Mysore Blog Park. Also carried over from the demised site is Mysorean Directory that seeks to connect the Mysore-connected the world over.

January 1, 2007

It’s New Year, but not for everyone

Jan. One is celebrated the world over as New Year, but the celebrations are held at different times of the calendar year by people of varied faiths and nationalities. A greetings card I got from a couple in Houston, Revathi and Raj Nataraj, highlights the point to convey their greetings of peace and well-being to everyone, be they Muslims or Buddhist, Jews or Jains, Chinese or Moroccan, whenever they celebrate New Year.

While Egyptians celebrate Sekhmet in January, Persian’s Naruz falls in March. The Sikhs and Hindus have it in April – Baisakhi. New year comes in May to the Buddhists. Bolivia’s Machaj Mara is scheduled in June. And July is the month for the Armenian New Year. Zoroastrian Shenshare falls in August, the Jewish Rash Hashamah, in September.

October is when Moroccans have their New year. The Jains celebrate it in November. December is the month for Sikkimese Losoong. The year that starts on January 1 is Gregorian. We can run through the year’s calendar, greeting some people, in some parts of the world a New Year of peace, hope and globalised progress.